Take a pit stop on your journey through Andalucia and check out Gibraltar. Here’s all you need to know about hiking Gibraltar’s Rock and the kind of views you’ll see!
Andalucia is sprawling with whitewashed villages and rolling hills, but it also allows you to visit a territory of England at the same time…The Rock of Gibraltar. You get to visit 2 countries in one day or even 3 if you head to Tangier, but that’s a story for a different blog. Even if Gibraltar is not on your radar, you’ll want to take a pit stop here simply to soak up the differences in the architecture, language, currency, and even the scenery as you venture up the rock. The views from this tiny southernmost country of Europe will NOT disappoint!
Allot yourself at least 4 hours to spend hiking Gibraltar’s rock. If you are pressed for time or not the hiking type, there are taxis and cars for hire that will take you on a tour of the rock instead.
First of all, park outside of Gibraltar. You must drive across the tarmac of the airport, which means depending on the number of flights that are set to land or take-off upon your arrival, driving in can sometimes take longer than anticipated.At times this can take up to 3 hours to get through, so walking across the border is the simpler option. Where to park on the Spanish side is easily marked as you approach the border and you will pay for parking upon leaving. Once you pass the border and go through the easy customs office, you will walk across the runway and have a panoramic view of the Rock ahead of you. As disappointing as it is, you will not get a shiny new stamp in your passport, so prepare yourself.
There are 2 different ways to get up the Rock: enter from Jews’ Gate at the southern end or from Casemates Square. I decided to go up from Casemates Square and visit the Moorish Castle first and end at Jews’ Gate. Once you reach the first guard tower, you will need to pay either £5 for just the walking portion or £17 to gain access to the castle, the WWI caves, the Skywalk, and the highest point of the Rock at O’Hara’s Battery. The extra £12 is worth it just for the spectacular view at the top!
There are multiple different paths you can take depending on the type of hiker you are; nature lover, history buff, thrill seeker, and monkey trailer. Most paths overlap, but all
end (or begin) at the same spot. As you continue to climb, the views of Gibraltar itself and Algeciras across the bay continue to get more breathtaking. Eventually you will make it to the Monkey’s Den, which is everyone’s favorite aspect of the Rock. These brazen monkeys are Europe’s only free roaming primates, but don’t be fooled by their stoic and nonchalant manner, as it’s all an act! At the top of the Charles V wall you will see the majority of the monkeys lounging around waiting for that rookie hiker to put down their bag (yes…that was me!) and pounce. Good luck getting your bag back! You want to document the moment you have views of the highest point, the astonishingly blue Strait of Gibraltar, views of Morocco, and the monkeys, but whatever you do, keep your belongings with you at all times. Those monkeys are not afraid to jump on you, hitch a ride on one the taxi tours, or even nose through your bag, because yes, they know how to open zippers and be more curious than you’d like.
Monkey wants my bag!
Just chillin’ and soaking up the sun
The face when you try to reach for your bag that was stolen
On a clear day it feels as if you could touch Morocco because of how close it is. This vantage point really shows why Gibraltar is such a key territory of Europe and its trade. If the site of Morocco is too much of a tease and you are urged to touch upon the African continent and add a 3rd country to your Spanish trip, you can find day trips from Gibraltar, Algeciras, or even Tarifa.
Overall, the hike is exhilarating, expansive, and leaves you in awe; just be prepared to walk up A LOT of stairs and get thrown in the wind a bit. If anything, after the hike you’ll be ready for a good fish and chips meal on Main Street before heading onto your next destination.
Andalucia will provide you with an intimate setting of Spain that is rich in history and vast in its beauty. Ronda and its surrounding towns are definite musts if you visit this part of Spain.
Ronda is about a 1 hour and 30-minute drive from Malaga. My first impressions of the countryside were centered around the number of wind turbines across the landscape, but also the bright green and yellow hues that seemed to be painted across the rolling hills. Upon arriving in Ronda, you will see a number of streets lined with perfectly umbrella-like trimmed orange trees with the occasional bright fuchsia and purple bougainvillea tree mixed between. Nearly all the streets are winding, narrow, and cobblestoned. Carrera Espinel is a walking-only street filled with shopping and eateries that will lead you straight into the Plaza de Toros de Ronda, the largest bullring in Spain.
Where to Eat
You will find many places to eat while walking along Carrera Espinel. Just a few blocks off of the walking street, you’ll find great local favorites along Calle Comandante Salvador Carrasco. I tried Bar San Francisco, an excellent choice. Around the Puente Nuevo there are plenty of outside seating areas that provide a great view of the bridge. I highly recommend Le Chuguita, known by tourists and locals alike for its 0.80 Euro tapas plates. It opens at 8:30pm and is packed by 8:45pm.
Where to Park
The streets are lined with cars on one side or the other. You can find street parking, but keep in mind if the curb is painted yellow that is a paid spot. Look for non-painted curbs if you go the street parking route. There are a number of paid hourly parking garages within the city just outside the main walking street or there’s a free overnight lot on Calle Comandante Salvador Carrasco across from Bar San Francisco, which I highly suggest is the best option. Good luck!
Where to Stay
I stayed in a great Airbnb here in the middle of the city just 2 blocks from the walking street that had a balcony that overlooked the whitewashed walls around me. A plus to this spot was having a grocery store and markets right in front so I could grab a snack to hold me over till dinner time since most places close at 4pm. New to Airbnb? Here’s $40 off your first rental!
There are plenty of hotels around the bullring and bridge that allow for great views.
1. Puente Nuevo
The main reason people flock to this little country village is because of its memorable bridge. Puente Nuevo connects both old and new parts of the town and is steeped in history regarding its construction. There are multiple viewpoints one can choose in order to discover the various angles of the bridge. From the bullring, one can choose to walk along the gorge until whitewashed buildings across the way can be viewed; this will allow your eyes to land upon the monumental bridge. As you get closer one can appreciate the level of detail that went into the construction. In the center arch of the bridge, there is a single wooden door with a tiny terrace on either side which used to be a jail and depending on the crime, people were thrown to their deaths out of the door down to the gorge. Unfortunately, you cannot get any closer to the bridge other than walking over it. On the other side of the bridge, there is a garden you can walk through that has views of the bridge, more of the gorge, and views of the lush green countryside on the outskirts of Ronda. No matter the time of day one gazes at the bridge and the surrounding whitewashed buildings, it is a spectacular sight – a mesmerizing sight – from colors of stark white to orange and brown brick to reds and golds.
While exploring Ronda and looking down from the imposing bridge, I knew I wanted to explore further. If you get a map from the tourism office, the hiking route is not clearly indicated. I’ll attempt to provide you with a clearer path…Walking across the Puente Nuevo into the old town, follow the road until you appear to be leaving the town and come across some stone stairs. At the bottom of the stairs, you will turn right and continue along the twisting road until you reach the point where it turns into a dirt path. There is a way to drive down, as cars are parked at the bottom, but what’s the fun in that?! There are a couple different points where you can stop to soak in the scenery all around you. Note: the path all the way to the end is not for the faint of heart but is completely worth it. If you are willing to crawl under fallen tree limbs, walk along a foot-wide path, and jump over a large enough hole, then you will enjoy some views that not everyone gets the opportunity to see. After surpassing the break in the path, you will walk through various ruins where people appear to once have lived.
Ronda’s bullring is not the oldest in Spain, but it is the largest and first one that was completely constructed by stone, rather than stone and brick. The inaugural event occurred in 1785. Today it is preserved for history and is still utilized as a horse-riding school. Following the walking tour, you will come across a horse arena which is as elegant inside as the bullring itself. You will witness the corrals where the bulls were kept and prepped for their big debut in the ring along with bullfighting outfits from some of the most famous fighters that graced the ring. Once inside the ring, take time to absorb the enormity of the structure as the dark yellow dirt blends in with the pillars and seating as if to make it one continuous arena. Stand in the center and envision what it must have been like for the spectators to file in and find a seat among the 2 tiers for the day’s events.
View from the seats
View from the seats
Where the bulls were kept before their event
The bullring is very well preserved
To see the bullring in its entirety, head to the hotel across the street and head up to the rooftop bar. Grab a local wine or beer to peer into the arena and take in the surrounding vistas at the same time. At sunset, this is the perfect spot to spend an hour or two as you watch the colors all around you become a kaleidoscope of patterns.
4. Walking Along the Moor
Take advantage of the beauty of the countryside, with the rolling mountain tops of the Sierra Nevada, the rows of olive trees, lush green farm lands, and the bright pinks and purples of the flowers along the path way. You will find benches and lookout points all throughout the walk where you can sit to soak up the Spanish sun perhaps while enjoying some churros and chocolate. The pathway will take you straight to the Puente Nuevo. It’ll be hard to get lost.
One of the viewpoints along the moor
The old part of Ronda leading towards Puente Nuevo
Looking down into the moor
5. Day trips
Although Ronda is much smaller than I had anticipated, I am still glad I stayed there 2 nights. It is a great spot to use as a base if you end up taking day trips to the surrounding villages. The two I highly recommend are Setenil and Zahara.
Setenil de Las Bodegas
A town like no other, Setenil is one that is hard to forget…or even fathom how it was possible to create. It is a town built practically into the mountain cliffs. No matter how the natural rock formations are, people somehow adapted the constructed homes to the shape of the cliffs. Along the main street there are plenty of cafes and restaurants to sip a café con leche and take in the wondrous creation. The awe does not stop there though… get lost among the many alleys and see how narrow the buildings are and enjoy the illusion of the rock cliffs crashing down any day.
This tiny town is one of the few on one of the largest lakes in the area. I first imagined the lake to be dark brown in color, but as soon as I turned the corner, I was amazed at the aqua blue color instead. So amazed, in fact, that I stopped the car in the middle of the stretch of road and got out to take pictures with the town in the background. The town is as cute and tiny as a button though. Upon walking up the flower potted, steep, and winding street you enter the main square where you encounter people gathered under orange trees enjoying their tapas or coffee. No matter where you glance, views of the lake are not far. The best view though is from the castle at the top of the mountain. You really get a feeling of how big and blue the lake really is.
View from the top of the castle
Driving up on Zahara
Castle and church of Zahara
Although Ronda is tiny, the history, location, and views are like no other. I was so glad I discovered this little corner of the world and it turned out to be one of my favorite parts of this Andalucía road trip.
Panama has much more than a bustling capital city. Get off the grid and head to the beach and enjoy the natural beauty Panama has to offer from the beach to the rainforest in a volcanic crater.
The first impression of Panama City, Panama, as you fly into Tocumen International Airport Panama is a sprawling metropolis with high rise buildings of all shapes and designs. If you plan on driving while visiting, make sure you are bold and patient. Bold because at times there seems to be very few rules of the road, and patient because of the massive amount of cars you will see at any given time. Don’t be surprised if it takes you nearly an hour just to get out of the city.
There are a few must dos while in the city such as watching a ship go through the Panama Canal or wandering the historic streets of Casco Viejo; but if you’re like me, being bombarded by cars and hoards of people is not really the vacation I seek…so get out of the city and head to the beach.
I recommend steering your way towards the district of San Carlos. Here you will get the perfect combination of beach and rainforest.
Coronado is one of the larger towns in San Carlos situated on the edge of the Pacific Ocean. The town itself has drastically grown and changed over the years, for the better, and has a wide range of shops and grocery stores to fill your needs and pantry. Parts of Coronado, such as the hotel and BnB listed below are all within a gated community that is bustling in its own right. There are many houses, turned BnB or Airbnb, that you can select while you enjoy the sights and experience a truly relaxing vacation.
Within Coronado, you’ll even find a hot spot restaurant called Luna Rossa. It has a huge rancho, an outside covered area where one can enjoy a meal with a pleasant breeze during the hot months. If air conditioning is more your thing, then enjoy the inside area. Regardless of seating area, you will be served delicious authentic Italian dishes. You can’t go wrong with anything your taste buds are in the mood for that day. One of my favorites is the Tiramisu – the true Italian tasting dessert like you have never tasted before.
How to get around
Despite the heavy traffic in the city, renting a car will be your easiest way to get around, especially while in the rural areas of the country. If you’re the adventurous type, feel free to try the local buses or cabs.
Into the resort and golf life? This is the place for you. Located on the water and slightly off the beaten path you won’t be disappointed with the various room views and amenities this hotel has to offer.
Looking for a more personal touch? Check out this super cute BnB where the owners will make you feel right at home. If you’re in need of some relaxation, they even have meditation and yoga classes that they offer in their outdoor space next to the pool.
Or are you looking for something a little more private or quiet? You can find plenty of beach condos on Airbnb. My personal favorite is Rio Mar. It is especially beautiful with its 4 unique pools and beachfront where one can watch surfers, boogie boarders, or small groups of people enjoying the waves in the morning and afternoon as the tide ebbs and flows. Don’t forget to walk on the sparkling black and white sand beach at low tide where frequently you are the only one around. New to Airbnb? Here’s $40 off your first rental!
What to do
Drive an hour up the mountain to the town of El Valle. This town is situated on the floor of a large volcano crater. There is so much to see and do here that you can stay a couple days or make a day trip out of it. You can experience the cloud forest along with the exotic flora and fauna that call this mountain home.
To see the exotic butterflies of the mountain, head to the Butterfly Haven where you will get to chance to learn about the various types and see them in action as you walk among them in the garden. If you’re lucky enough, they may even land on you! This is also a good time to use the “slow-mo” feature on your phone 🙂
If you want to take to the canopy and fly through the trees, check out ziplining. Canopy Adventure is a great guided hike that takes you up into the forest as you zipline across Chorro.
El Macho Waterfall is the largest in the area at least 100 feet above the forest floor. If zip lining across this wondrous natural beauty isn’t your thing, feel free to hike to the falls to see its beauty instead.
Need a little skin care TLC? Venture to the hot springs and mud baths to cover your body with volcanic healing clay that is said to be extremely beneficial for your skin. Once the clay is dried and rinsed off, enjoy a nice hot spring in the one of the tubs. This is a small area, but for $4 it’s a great experience.
No trip to El Valle is complete without wandering the stalls of the artisans and food market. This is a great spot in the center of the town that is not to be missed as you know whatever you may purchase supports the locals and their craft.
From the beautiful cool canopy of El Valle, head to the water to bask in the warm waters of the Pacific. Depending on your budget check out Vista Mar Marina to pick a water activity or for a budget friendly option, go in search of a fisherman at the Rio Hato
Market to see who may be willing to bring you aboard his boat and show you around the coast of Playa Farallón for a good deal. Personally, this gives you a much more personal experience. The best part of being off the coast of Playa Farallón is some of the history that you get to experience. You’ll see one of Noriega’s abandoned beach houses that has been overgrown with vegetation due to the fact that no one wants to take it over due to possible “bad juju”. Not far off the coast is Isla Farallón which is surrounded by teal blue colored water and filled with great snorkeling opportunities. The water was so inviting that I didn’t even wait for the fisherman to stop the boat fully, that I jumped right in. The island is filled with grottos; but be careful, as the waves can be somewhat strong the closer you get to the island. Also, watch your feet! There are tons of sea urchins that make the grotto their home, so don’t be surprised if you accidentally step on one.
From the beach to the rainforest there is so much to discover, so take your time to explore the beauty of this off the beaten path landscape. Often the most unexpected places leave a lasting memory.
I’ve traveled since the time I was a baby, but now I was ready to do my first solo trip. I bought a ticket, grabbed a bike, and traveled for 3 days across France to experience a trip that would open my eyes to new discoveries of myself and what I was capable of.
Over the years, I’ve been to so many places, mainly with family then with organized group trips. I didn’t feel ready to tackle being in a new country or city on my own…until not too long ago.
I was lucky to find a great roundtrip ticket to Paris during peak summer season with Scott’s Cheap Flights that I couldn’t pass up. Discovering Paris the November before, I knew I wanted to get out of the city to discover a new part of France. After much research, I landed on Alsace; but honestly, I don’t think I could have gone wrong with anywhere.
Next was the hard choice of what to do and how to get around. You can only get so far each day on foot and I didn’t want to be tied down to a train schedule too much. So I settled on a bike! I found Detours in France that helped me set up my trip. I highly recommend to anyone interested in this type of exploring. The company is entirely self-paced and sets everything up for you prior to arrival, including my 4 nights in hotels and 2 dinners. This allowed me flexibility to wander different little towns along the way and go at my own pace. Now, most people I told about my upcoming solo biking trip seemed to be in disbelief that I would even consider something like that. Ok, maybe it’s not the first travel idea a majority of people have, but I was excited to take on this new adventure and make my own memories.
My Bike Tour: Highlights from Strasbourg to Colmar
First stop: Strasbourg. I had seen so much of this unique city in pictures and it was the sole reason I decided to come to Alsace region and bike for 3 days.
Golden hour in Strasbourg
Adorable ginger bread houses
Taking in the views and watching the boats in the canal
Boat ride through the canals
I knew as soon as I walked off the train in Strasbourg, I was going to love this little corner of the World. The cobblestone streets, the flowers, and all the colors of the buildings made me feel as if time had stopped. I walked from La Petite France to the cathedral in the city center at least 2-3 times to really soak up every angle of the city. Just my tripod and me.
I was filled with so much excitement. With each step I took, I was more confident and more carefree. I learned to stop and take in my surroundings, take as many pictures as I could, and have fun with it even though I was on my own. I learned to laugh at myself, especially when I was trying to the get the perfect picture at the perfect angle with my tripod as people passed by probably questioning why I was sitting on the ground next to a bridge or laying on a ledge. There’s something about being in a different city other than your own and feeling as if you can do anything out of the ordinary. There should be no regrets. Get out of your comfort zone and make memories you want to share with others and memories you want cherish for a lifetime.
All 3 days of my bike trip were very different from one another; but the scenery, colors, and excitement never wavered. I passed swans enjoying their morning bath, an amazing amount of corn, wheat, and hay fields and adorable little towns along the way. No matter if I made a wrong turn, (which happened frequently), I was filled with so much joy and confidence. I’m sure I added at least an extra hour or 2 to my journey each day with the number of stops I made to take pictures, but that’s what I was there for. I wanted to learn and absorb as much as I could.
Obernai was filled with history and castles…and by far the best meal of the trip! This town was so prosperous back in the 1500s that it had 2 fortifications around the city, 20 towers, and 4 tower gates. I was lucky enough to stay at Hôtel Le Gouverneur with a bedroom overlooking the mote on the wall of the old fortification. The town itself has so much charm from the buildings to the people. If you walk around long enough, you’ll notice the buildings start to change colors and have a more alluring feel to them as sunset get closer.
Colmar’s center square
Walking along the wall outside of the city
Carousels seem to be a requirement in this part of the world!
This trip was the epitome of adventure. Besides the fact that I was on my own, I allowed myself to wander and say yes to things even if it would take me off the suggested path. The best diversion I had was a nearly 2 hour round trip hike to the top of a mountain to explore and take pictures of the remains of an abandoned chateau that I could see from the road. I was determined to see it no matter how long it took me. I wanted to see the view of the countryside and vineyards from that perspective – plus it was a welcomed break from pedaling. I didn’t have a map of where to go, so I was hoping I was following the correctly painted signs up to the top. At times the images would change slightly, but I just trusted that my feet were heading in the right direction. And they were, because when I made it to the top, the abandoned stone structure was so impressive. Walking over the draw bridge into the roofless chateau I felt like a little girl creating my own castle fairytale. There were windows on the 2nd story I knew I wanted to look out of, but there was no other way of getting there except to free climb the wall. And that’s just what I did. I found little grips and holes in the stone for my hands and feet and up I went. This detour was not planned or expected, but it will remain as a major highlight of the entire journey.
Climbing to get a better view
I made it and it’s totally worth it!
From Obernai to Ribeauville the colors of the buildings just seemed to get brighter and the flowers decorating the many fountains became more beautiful.
Despite how tired and sore my legs were, I still had one more stop on my grand solo adventure and I was ready to get to Colmar to walk around La Petite Venise. I was lucky enough to also be able to catch the quarter finals of the World Cup where France advanced and eventually won the Cup in the end. The streets will filled with people and there were so many flags everywhere you went. It wasn’t very hard to figure out where to watch the game, since as I turned a single street corner I found the hoards of people grouped around bars and red, white, and blue smoke bombs going off everywhere. From the overly excited atmosphere of people to the gorgeous building facades, the experience of watching a championship soccer match in Europe was one of a kind.
La Petite Venise and the streets surrounding it were magnificent. If one could construct a gingerbread village of all sorts of colors and shapes, I imagine it would look exactly like this. La Petite Venise was a lot smaller than I had anticipated, but there was still a lot to take in such as the smells and sights of the covered market hall right off the river. It was filled with all the things you want to take home for dinner. I grabbed some cheese, a fresh baguette, and grabbed a bottle of wine for myself, found a little spot next to a fountain to eat and watched children play and the locals hang outside their windows while watching the tourists down below. I was lucky enough to not only see Colmar at dusk, but also in the early morning when there was no one around. I had all the streets to myself to play and wander. I found streets that I hadn’t discovered the day before and may have been even more fantasifull. I imagined the locals starting their day by singing “Bonjour” from “Beauty and the Beast” and dancing on those cobblestone streets.
I wouldn’t change anything from my first solo trip as I made the most of each day and made my own memories that will last for a lifetime. I learned a lot about not just the towns I biked through, but about myself and what I am capable of doing. There’s no looking back now, only forward to my next big adventure!
Paris is a huge city with so many things to see and do. From the must sees to hidden gems, here is list of things to add to your list while in the City of Lights.
Has there ever been a city that you always dreamed of visiting, but hadn’t had the chance yet? Silly as it may sound, Paris was that city for me. Before I knew it, within a year, I had visited the City of Lights (although I prefer City of Love) 3 times and at very different times of the year! Each time I got a different glimpse of the city and became more comfortable with exploring the city’s corners.
Here are 7 things to do in Paris that any tourist, whether it’s their first or 5th visit, shouldn’t miss!
Walk along the Seine
You must take a stroll along the River Seine to experience Paris from what I think is the heart of the city, as well as to see a majority of its iconic landmarks. You can walk from the Eiffel Tower to the Louvre or even Notre Dame. Paris is bigger than you think, so be sure to wear comfortable footwear! If you don’t feel like walking, there are plenty of options, as Paris has a great ride share system. Try to download the app Lime before you get to Paris so if you see an e-bike or e-scooter randomly lying around, feel free to pick it up and ride around the city for as long as you’d like. I went for about 9 km on an e-scooter and it was such a fun way to get from one end of the city to the next. Enjoy a ride along the Seine and stop at the various bars that line the river to recharge and act like a local.
Picnic on the Champ de Mars
For as long as I can remember, grabbing a baguette, some cheese, and a bottle of wine and finding a nice spot on the green lawn of Champ de Mars, has always been on my bucket list. Staring up in amazement at the Eiffel Tower never gets old for me, and I’m sure picnicking in front of her won’t either. So find a boulangerie, buy something delicious to snack on and a drink, and spend an hour people watching and relaxing in the best place in Paris.
Bucket list item checked off!
Climb to the top of the Eiffel Tower
The next best thing after a picnic in front of the Eiffel Tower is actually being on top of the Eiffel Tower. You can purchase tickets ahead of time, but it’s not necessary. I would highly recommend walking up as far as you can go rather than taking the elevator. You can only go so far up the stairs before having to the take the elevator to the 3rd platform. So, if you aren’t afraid of heights, walking up roughly 700 stairs gazing at the metal that holds up this massive structure is mind blowing. Once you get to the top it will have been worth it, as you’ll be able to have a panoramic view of the great expansion of the city which is absolutely beautiful.
Climb to the top of Arc de Triomphe
The Arc de Triomphe is also very impressive. It is hard not to stare at the craziness of the traffic in the roundabout all the way to the architecture of the Arc. The grandeur of the structure is even more impressive the closer you get. It may not be obvious, but it is possible to climb the 284 steps to the top and be in the center of the roundabout’s star. From the top you can peer down at the many avenues including Champs-Élysées and have a great view of the Eiffel Tower. No matter where you stand in Paris, the magic of Paris is never too far!
Visit the Museums
There are so many different types of museums to choose from in this city. From the classic artists to the modern styles there is something for everyone. Of course, no trip to Paris is complete without visiting the Louvre. If you’re only there to see the Mona Lisa, then grab a map and follow the signs, but don’t forget to let yourself be curious about the other rooms in this massive palace. From the Louvre, it’s an easy walk over the Ponte des Arts to visit Musée d’Orsay. The building itself used to be the old train station, so take a moment to gaze up at the enormous clock that adorns the front of the building. Musée d’Orsay is one of the largest museums in Europe and holds the largest collection of impressionist and post-impressionist artists. So be sure not to leave it off your list!
Other museums to check out:
– Grand Palais which has a multitude of various exhibitions throughout the year and Petite Palais which is the museum of Fine Arts.
– Workshop of Lights is the most unique exhibit I’ve ever been to. Submerge yourself inside of the paintings as you sit, watch, and listen as artwork moves across the walls from floor to ceiling. This is a MUST!
– Louis Vuitton Foundation is nestled in the largest park of Paris, Bois de Boulogne. Its glass structure is very unique just as the art found inside. There is also an intimate concert hall, so check out the list of concerts that may be performing while you’re there.
Stroll through Montmartre
Every section of Paris has something unique about it. I find Montmartre to be one that is charming and artistic. Everywhere you look you will find an adorable shop filled with local artists and local designers. This area makes for some great souvenirs, especially along the main drag in front of Sacre Coeur. My favorite aspect of this area was the block next to Sacre Coeur where a number of local artists set up their easels and just paint away. Each one has their own unique style from either classic art to textured looks that give the canvas another dimension.
Travel tip: visit this area during the off season as there is wall to wall people in the summer and not as enjoyable strolling around the market and streets.
Go on a Hunt for Rue Crémieux
This hidden gem is in the 12th arrondissement and will be the most colorful street you’ll visit in Paris. On Rue Crémieux you will find brightly colored home fronts that are sure to put a smile on anyone’s day. It’s not a very long street, but the rainbow of colors is what makes it so unique. From pink, to green, to purple, you’ll find every color under the rainbow. Since this is still a hidden gem, there aren’t too many tourists who venture this way, which is probably good for the locals who actually live here.
There is so much to see and do in Paris that you can’t go wrong no matter what corner you visit. Paris is all about getting lost. You won’t go a day without finding new streets that will fill your curiosity, that will coax you into eating buttery croissants, and gazing at the beauty of the Eiffel Tower at any given moment.
Thailand is on everyone’s bucket list. Whether in Bangkok or Phuket, here are some of the must do activities while spending at least 10 days in this beautiful country.
When you think of Thailand, you most likely think of pristine white beaches with clear blue waters, delicious food, and elephants…and that’s exactly what you will get!
Thailand had been on my travel wish list for some time and I finally managed to get there on a cultural yoga retreat. In 2017 I joined a yoga studio and got to know one of the instructors, Michelle Ruiz, really well. We both shared a love for travel and lucky for me, she had decided to organize a 10 day retreat to Thailand. She was eager to share one of her favorite spots of the world with her yoga tribe.
I think the most daunting thing about traveling to Asia is the length of flight time just to get there, but once you’re there it is all worth it.
Use Bangkok as a Pit Stop!
Bangkok is a great starting point to get your body adjusted to the new time change and to stretch your legs for a couple days. It’s a bustling city with skyscrapers and mega malls, but don’t be fooled with all the big city vibes as you can still visit the many temples Bangkok has to offer.
I stayed at the ultra-lux Marriott Sukhumvithotel in the heart of the city. The hotel is beautiful and in a great location, has a pool overlooking the city, and a breakfast buffet that is delectable with a variety of local fruits and daily juices to jump start your morning. There is a metro stop in walking distance, amazing massage parlors right around the corner (and basically everywhere you turn), and great shopping near by.
If you’re looking to stretch out your muscles from the long journey, then walk no further than 200 meters from the hotel to Asia Herb. You will experience a top notch Thai massage with essential oils of your preference and for any length of time you desire. A true reinvigorating experience.
There are many temples or Wats all over the city. The easiest way to see them is probably by booking a packaged tour, like our small group did. The tour lasted for at approximately 6 hours of the day, but included lunch in Chinatown. If you don’t like the idea of being tied down to a schedule for 6 hours, then a group tour isn’t for you. I have included 3 must see temples to visit in case you decide to venture on your own.
Wat Arun – This wat is one of Bangkok’s most well known landmarks and can be easily accessed by a boat or ferry. It is situated on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River which means it catches the sun’s first rays in the morning which reflects off the pearly white facade of the temple. While walking around the wat, you will see meticulously painted porcelain that adorns the spires with all sorts of figures and designs.
Intricate design and detail
Wat Pho – Also known as Temple of the Reclining Buddha, this wat has the largest collection of buddha images and statues. If you’re into yoga don’t be afraid to document your skills alongside any statues! You will also find the Reclining Buddha, which is nearly 151 ft long (46 m) and the largest there is in Thailand. Once you come around its 14 ft long feet, you’ll notice 108 bronze bowls lining the wall on your way out. It is believed that anyone who drops 1 coin in each bowl will receive good fortune.
Grand Palace – Not too far from Wat Pho, you can visit the Grand Palace known for housing the Emerald Buddha. The Temple of the Emerald Buddha is regarded as the most sacred Buddhist Temple in Thailand. You may envision this Buddha to be impressive and somewhat of a large structure, but it is roughly 2 ft tall and carved from a single jade stone. An interesting tradition is that the King of Thailand changes the Emerald Buddha’s robes three times a year, depending on the season – summer, winter, and rainy seasons.
Erawan Shrine – This shrine is right in the heart of Bangkok and directly off of a busy intersection near a shopping area. Despite its hectic location, there are countless people who come to worship at the shrine and hope that their prayers will be answered. Don’t hesitate to buy a ring of flowers to lay at the base of the shrine and ask for a wish to come true! There are also traditional Thai dancers who people pay a little extra for, in order to hope their prayer will be answered. What do you have to lose?! Delve into the culture and enjoy the journey…
Octave Lounge & Bar – If you want a view of the city at sunset go to the Octave Bar. You will get a 360 degree panoramic view of the city and its hustling streets. As the sun sets and the lights of the city turn on, enjoy a beverage or a bite to eat while being on top of the city. Lucky for me, it was conveniently situated at the top of the Marriott Sukhumvit Hotel, so I didn’t have far to go.
After a couple of days taking in the sights and sounds of Bangkok, you’ll be ready for a more relaxing scene. What better place to relax than at the beach! So head south to Phuket for more culture and even more beauty.
Take me to the Beach!
There are direct in country flights from Bangkok to Phuket. The flight is about an hour long and will cost you under $100 roundtrip. If your hotel doesn’t provide transportation from the airport once you land, I would try to arrange something before you get there. If not, you won’t be stranded as there are people willing to pick up an extra ride. Just be aware, taxi services in Phuket can be pricey!
Where to stay
This really depends on the type of vacation you are looking for. If you are looking to be in the middle of it all with activities and parties day and night then Patong Beach is the area for you. If you are looking to stay on the beach, but have the more relaxing vibes surround you, then the boutique hotels around Cape Panwa is the spot to be.
I stayed at My Beach Resort and had a view of Big Buddha, a private pool, and an amazing sunset overlooking the bay for 5 whole days. The staff was so hospitable and had an array of wonderful food for breakfast and dinner. There was nothing better than watching the sky turn into a kaleidoscope of pinks, oranges, and purples while staring up at Big Buddha from his mountain top while sitting on the beach or poolside.
You don’t have to go far to search for a great quality massage. Within a 5 minute walk from the hotel there are multiple spas to choose from. My favorite was Chill Spa which was family operated. Staying in Phuket for a few days you can try a new massage every day. Go for a 90 minute full body massage one day, then the next do an hour long foot massage. No matter what you choose, the only thing you’ll regret is not being able to do the massages back home as often. Besides feeling absolutely amazing, the Thai family running the spa were the happiest and friendliest people. While getting a foot massage a couple of the ladies began talking to me and we tried to carry on a conversation for a good 30 minutes with lots of hand gestures and smiles. After our friendly conversation, they decided to make me some tea and offered me some fresh lychee (which are my favorite) and mango to snack on, all while still getting pampered. I felt like I was a part of their family by the time I left.
What to see and do
Wat Chalong – The first thing you notice about Wat Chalong is how vibrant the reds andgolds are. As you enter the main temple building where 3 buddha statues sit, the first thing you notice is how gold they are. The tradition is to add to the plethora of gold leaves covering the statues, while respectfully visiting the temple. It is said, that while you place a gold leaf on the buddha and make a wish, your wish will come true. If it comes true, you must come back to the temple to set off firecrackers as a way to say thank you to Buddha. It is very common to hear multiple firecrackers going off while there, so it must be true!
Big Buddha – Sitting at roughly 147 feet tall, Big Buddha offers panoramic views and sweeping vistas of the island. As you get closer to the statue, you marvel at its grandiosity and peacefulness at the top. The statue is layered with beautiful white jade marble that sparkles in the sun. While walking around you will hear birds chirping and the sounds of thousands of thin gold leaves acting as wind chimes as the wind passes through them. Each gold leaf is left by a visitor who writes a message on the leaf in hopes that the good spirit of the Buddhists who live in the temple and the winds will bring peace and gratitude.
Elephant Sanctuary – If you have ever wanted to play with elephants for a day in their (somewhat) natural habitat then this is the place for you! You can decide to do a morning or afternoon visit, but I feel a morning visit is the best time to go as they are nice and hungry after their night’s slumber. The nice thing is that the sanctuary will arrange a pick-up time for you from your hotel so all you have to worry about is remembering your camera and bathing suit.
As soon as you arrive, you are bound to run into a couple elephants greeting you at the entrance and just begging you to feed them. Don’t be afraid to hop in there and pick up a sugar cane that is on the ground to offer them. You may even get a nice elephant trunk kiss at the same time! Watching them maneuver their trunks to pick things up and search for things on the ground is mesmerizing. After a brief introduction and setting of rules, visitors are asked to bring buckets of bananas, corn, and watermelon up to where the gentle giants are waiting patiently. Take advantage of their gentleness and give them hugs and kisses as much as they will let you. If you’re lucky enough, you may even be able to play with a baby elephant who is still learning his rank and being quite mischievous.
After feed time, it is mud bath time! The mud is thick, squishy, and somewhat slimy, but if you don’t get in there, then the Thai workers will playfully force you in by plastering mud all over your back when you’re not looking! Once you get over the unusual feeling of being covered in mud, rubbing it all over the elephants’ tough leathery skin is so much fun. But the fun doesn’t stop with the mud, because it has to come off; so off to the watering hole we all go. This doesn’t only allow you the opportunity to get slightly cleaner, but you get to be in the water while the elephants roll and swim in pure joy. You get the opportunity to be at their eye level and to the point where you could practically lay on their back. Just be aware of their feet under the muddy waters. Someone did get stepped on by an elephant foot and did a little damage to a toe…but what a great story for when you get home!?
The entire experience of spending time with these gorgeous creatures gives you a glimpse into how smart and gentle they really are. If you are an animal lover this will be an experience you will never forget.
Old Phuket Town – Another area rich in history is Old Phuket Town where you will see a European, specifically Portuguese, influence in the architecture throughout the streets. History tells of Europeans who were invited to the area, as it used to be an old tin-mining country. Most of the buildings now have been transformed into shops, restaurants, and hotels/hostels so there is plenty to see while walking the streets. You can’t go wrong with any Thai dish, but don’t forget to eat as much sticky rice with mango as possible!
Phi Phi Islands – Last but not least, you can’t visit Phuket without spending at least 1 day (try to do 2-3 if possible) island hopping around the Phi Phi Islands. It’ll take about an hour to get to your first stop, so find a good spot on the boat and just gaze at the towering limestone mountains that seem to sprout from the water all around you. You will have multiple stops throughout your day to include snorkeling, Maya Bay, where The Beach was filmed, Monkey Island, some caves where Vikings left their mark, and more. My personal favorite spot was snorkeling among the colorful ocean fish and creatures, and walking along the white powdery beaches. Spend as much time snorkeling and don’t be afraid to wander from the boat…you never know what you may come across. Underwater you will see vibrant schools of fish, and coral of all colors; and if you’re lucky maybe you’ll even spot some clown fish or Nemos as one of the guides shouted out! The water is the clearest of blues and aqua greens I have ever seen. Pair the emerald waters with the pearly white beach and you have an image of a beach from your dreams. At each stop, be sure to take the time to really soak up your surroundings and the beauty of nature. It’s not everyday you get to wade in water and lie on beaches that are as incredibly beautiful as these.
The hospitality of the Thai people, the rich culture, and the natural beauty of Thailand is the reason for this country to be a top travel destination. I was lucky to end my trip to Thailand with a yoga session overlooking the majestic bay from the My Beach Resort, and it is one vinyasa I will not soon forget. Michelle Ruiz, our travel and yogi guide, offered a deep stretch and a mindfulness yoga practice in a lounge that had glass doors fully open to the outside elements and fresh breeze coming through. In the distance, a rain cloud was slowly approaching and the temperature quickly dropped a few degrees. Then just like that…it began pouring. Despite the gentle rain, my warrior poses stayed strong. It wasn’t until the end of our yoga session, while in savasana, that I was fully drenched. The raindrops soaked my entire body and while in my state of gratitude I took this as a sign that Thailand was thanking me for the visit and asking me to return soon.
Christmas markets galore! Wander through the wide array of Christmas Markets in Copenhagen.
Europe is filled with wonder and adventure all throughout the year; however, during Christmas time, Europe turns into a winter wonderland and is…oh so dreamy. Germany and France typically top the Christmas market charts every year, but Copenhagen is one that tends to be overlooked.
How to get around
Upon arriving at Copenhagen airport, the easiest way to get to the city center is via train. The train system is very easy to use and a great way to get to the city center and also to the outside of the city to see more of the countryside including the wide array of castles Denmark has to offer.
Copenhagen is a very walkable city, but don’t hesitate to hop on a bike to explore the city like a local. Most of in the inner-city streets are blocked off to cars which makes strolling down the cobblestone streets while you window shop or take in the meticulous architecture of the buildings easy.
Where to stay
I stayed at the 4 star Copenhagen Admiral Hotel which was neighbored the Royal Palace and was just a few blocks from the colorful Nyhavn. The building itself was converted from an 18th century warehouse and seems to have retained the large wooden beams within the rooms in order to retain some of its historical intrigue.
Nyhavn is an absolute must. Besides walking among the most colorful buildings of Copenhagen, the street is lined with lights as far as the eye can see. All along the canal there are stalls set up filled with all sorts of different ornaments and trinkets to take home. If you get the munchies or get too cold, don’t forget to stop by one of the stalls where you can try Glogg or Danish rice porridge. These will surely warm you right up from the bitter cold.
Open from November 9th – December 23rd
2. Hans Christian Andersen Market
Take a step back into your childhood memories of the stories of “The Little Mermaid”, “The Ugly Duckling”, “The Snow Queen”, and many others while walking through the Hans Christian Andersen Market located in Nytorv Square. Each stall is named after one of his well known fairy tales, there is a majestic carousel for the kids, and of course Santa. Walking through this market will spark your imagination as you fill up on more mulled wine and hot chocolate.
Open from November 16th – December 21st
3. Freetown Christiania
Besides the Christmas market, Freetown Christiania is a unique experience in itself. The area and the market are unconventional, but provide an abundance of intrigue and sometimes even bewilderment. Along the street walls you will see a multitude of street art that brightens up the town, but gives it its character. While walking among the stalls, take in the unique handmade items, while also talking in the scented ambiance of the market.
Art and color at every turn.
Open from December 8th-20th
4. Kongens Nytorv
Not far from Nyhavn, wander to the Christmas stalls of Kongens Nytorv in the heart of the city where you will get the best views of the traditional Christmas decorations and lights on the Hotel D’Angleterre and the Magasin department store.
Open from November 16th – December 22nd
5. Tivoli Gardens
Perhaps the most festive and best Christmas market of them all is at Tivoli Gardens. It has remained tradition to turn these gardens into a true winter wonderland filled with rides, wooden houses, life size trains, Christmas trees of all sizes and decorations, snow filled areas, sleighs, and so much more. It is as if you have been transported to the North Pole where all your Christmas dreams come true!
Open from November 17th – December 31st
You won’t regret adding Copenhagen to your Christmas Market destination list. There’s so much for the senses and one’s imagination, but just be sure you check out the dates of the markets so you don’t miss out on anything!
Italy has a lot of amazing places to visit, but Tuscany is in a league of its own. Here is a road map of some must see cities and towns to visit while you explore this gorgeous region.
When most people think of Italy, they tend to think of pizza, pasta, vino, and of course the many landmarks from the canals of Venice to the colosseum in Rome. For me, there is no better place than the rolling views and sunsets of Tuscany. I may be biased since I was born in Pisa, but every time I return, I find more hidden gems all throughout this region.
Visiting the larger cities allows you to capture the rich history of Tuscany, but the beauty of Tuscany lies in its small towns on your way from one city to the next. I’ve put together a little road map to get you started on your trip throughout Tuscany.
Where to start? Vicopisano!
A short 30 minute drive east of Pisa you will find the adorable little medieval town of Vicopisano. I would recommend that you stay here while spending a few days (or weeks even) exploring Tuscany. It is a quiet town with lots to do from hiking, wine and olive oil tasting, cooking classes, and tons of markets on the weekends. You can find the most authentic, chic, and charismatic rooms or even houses to stay in that makes it feel like you are returning home after a day of exploring. Stay in a tower house at Casa Colomba or the little 1 bedroom studio at Nido Bianco – you can’t go wrong! During your stay in Vico, learn about the history of its once many towers and the ancient books that still remain in the tower house or take a stroll in the Tuscan countryside as you pass cyprus trees and poppy flowers.
(25 min drive)
Pisa is a quaint city with the river Arno flowing through it dividing the city into east and west. On the west side lies Miracle Square or Piazza dei Miracoli. Imagine walking under a thick century old stone wall where on the other side you encounter an immense pearly white marble tower (that just so happens to lean), with lush green grass and a massive marble cathedral – it will appear as if you have stepped into a painting. The square, especially the tower, never ceases to amaze me. The grandeur of the white marble is something that takes you by surprise. You cannot leave Pisa without attempting to find the perfect place in this grand square to take your perfect picture with the leaning tower to make everyone back home jealous. Get creative with it!
If you want to wander the city to get a different vibe, walk along the Arno and see where the locals hang out. If you’re lucky enough to plan around it, visit Pisa in June during the Luminara di San Ranieri (June 16-18) to see a century old tradition where every bridge and building along the river is lit up for 2 days by candlelight. It is an evening that you will not forget!
Head to the beach – Marina di Pisa
You can’t go wrong with the food in Italy, but for some of the best seafood, head to Marina di Pisa. This is a must for some delectably fresh seafood caught that day. Remember Italy is all about the food, so before you dive into the platters of calamari and anchovies…yes anchovies, head to Sunset Cafe to watch the sunset over the horizon while you enjoy an aperitif and nibbles. Sit on bamboo mats on the sand and watch the golds, pinks, and oranges paint the sky that lead you into the evening.
Bike around Pisa’s old medieval rival, Lucca
Meet Pisa’s medieval rival – Lucca. The unshakable solid wall that once used to protect the city against invaders still stands and provides visitors an above view of the city if one chooses to walk or bike around it – which I highly recommend. Besides the beauty of the trees that line the path and listening to Italians carry on conversations as you pass, the beauty also lies with the city itself. From the red roofed houses to cathedral towers to gardens sprinkled throughout the city, you get a glimpse of how life may have been centuries ago. Once you have biked around the walled city, you have earned yourself a plate of pasta. Venture to the city center square, Piazza dell’Anfiteartro. You will enter through one of four gateways that leads you into the square, actually elliptical in shape, which is surrounded by a ring of buildings that once used to be an old Roman Amphitheatre – an enchanting backdrop while eating a lovely Italian meal in the open piazza.
Visit some of the most famous landmarks and paintings in Firenze
No trip to Tuscany would be complete without a visit to the dynamic city of Florence; a major city during the Medici family years. You can take a walking tour of the city that gives you insight to buildings and secret passageways that the family once used to travel unbeknownst to the people and artisans along the Ponte Vecchio. While on Ponte Vecchio stroll by the stalls to gaze at the ornate gold jewelry and lavish gems that line the bridge. Wander and get lost in The Uffizi museum to witness the masterful paintings of da Vinci, Michelangelo, Botticelli, and so many more. The building itself, once a palace, is its own art piece from floor to ceiling. One important statue that is not located inside the Uffizi is the statue of David – perhaps the most famous statue in the world. You can first marvel at this statue just outside of the Uffizi in the piazza; just be aware this not the original David. The real statue is safe in another museum, Galleria dell’Accademia, protected from the elements.
Perhaps one of the best views of this city, the center of the Renaissance age, is from the Piazzale Michelangelo, where you can see the Duomo and all the red terracotta roofs that surround it. Best to take this in at sunset, as Italy has some of the most beautiful and divine sunsets I have ever seen.
Walk back in time in Siena
(1 hour and 40 min)
One of my favorite spots to visit is Siena. There is something unique and different about it compared to its neighbor, Florence. No matter which road you take, all roads lead to the Piazza del Campo. This is the famous square where The Palio occurs every year on July 2nd and August 16th. Most of the year you will find the Piazza to be a quiet open space to grab a cappuccino or a pizza and people watch. On the days of the Palio, it is transformed into a medieval race track with sand, as horses race around the square to determine which neighborhood wins the victory bragging rights for the rest of the year. Each neighborhood is represented by a mascot and a distinctive flag, so as you wander the streets of Siena you will see all sorts of mascot memorabilia for sale. What better way to become a part of the festivities than finding the mascot that speaks to you and join in on the fun!
(1 hour and 20 min)
Besides Vicopisano, Castellina is probably the smallest town on this list, but well worth the visit. It’s a sleepy town filled with store fronts selling genuine leather purses and belts, authentic wood cutting boards, and much more. There are unsuspecting tunnels that you can stroll through to go from one end of the town to the other, a museum in a castle, and a church with an early 15th century fresco of Madonna with Child. It’s so small that you can easily combine this visit with Siena while you treat yourself to yet another deliciously creamy gelato.
Italian men catching up in front the the church
Gorgeous doors everywhere
Fresh drinkable water
Visit Roman Ruins in Volterra
This is my most recent find and one that I would like to explore further. Volterra sits upon a mountaintop and overlooks the wide expanse of the countryside below. It is a city that dates back to 7th century BC and still has evidence of Roman influence from the Roman Theatre ruins and Parco Archeologico. The Roman Theatre is a spectacle in itself as you can still see several rows of seating that lie against the hill for people to watch and listen to music or theatre, while the park still has water basins that look like tubs strewn along various parts of the green lawn. Be sure to bring quality footwear, as there are many steep hills you may be venturing over.
Stroll through the city of towers – San Gimignano
(1 hour and 10 min)
All medieval cities once had a variety of towers to keep the city safe, but due to war or simply urban renewal, many towers have been destroyed over time. Luckily, San Gimignano has been able to safeguard 14 of their towers; hence, its nickname of the City of Towers. Despite the fact that the town is a busy tourist attraction, you can still witness many locals living their day to day life. You will see their laundry hanging to dry or old men sitting on a doorstep together enjoying an espresso and probably talking about the most recent soccer match. I do recommend arriving in town as early as possible though, because once the afternoon arrives, so do all the tour buses. Luckily there are some hidden streets not ventured by many, so you can still get away from the crowds if you’re willing to get lost in adventure a bit. Besides eating at the Gelateria Dondoli which has the claim to fame for having the “Best Gelato in the World” in Piazza della Cisterna, a must see spot is Punto Panoramaico to gaze out over a classic Tuscan view and to watch the sun slowly rise or set over the towers.
There is so much to discover in Tuscany that one trip won’t ever be enough. Whether you have a home base, like in Vicopisano, or if you take up a new apartment every few days, the memories and beauty of Tuscany will never fade; if anything, they will only have you coming back for more.
My first trip without friends and family was with an organized group called Contiki, to the enchanted island of Ireland. This couldn’t have been a better first trip to do on my own. I loved it so much that I want to go back and explore more of the western side of the island. Besides the beauty of the green countryside and the jagged shorelines, the Irish people are what makes the adventure to this little island in the northern Atlantic so memorable. The Irish are the wittiest, funniest, and most genuine people I’ve ever met. If you end up sitting next to someone at a pub, don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation with them. Even better yet, if you find a pub that has live music, don’t be afraid to get up and dance the night away!
Contiki is a great organization for travelers, ages 18-35. Their trips incorporate culture, adventure, downtime, and plenty of wiggle room for those who want to venture out on their own. The best part of using an organization such as Contiki is that the planning of the trip is entirely done for you, so no need to think of where to go, how to get there, what type of activities to do, etc. Just buy your plane ticket and show up! Their trips show you the best of what the country has to offer, at a relatively decent price for young travelers. Along the way you meet like minded people from all over the world, with whom you form a bond with over the span of your trip and sometimes even beyond. So if you are nervous about traveling overseas either by yourself or with friends, then check out what Contiki has to offer because once you do it once, you’ll want to go back for seconds!
Arriving in Dublin was definitely a whirlwind. Going from the United States to Europe, you always end up losing a day of sleep since you get to your destination so early, but don’t let this stop you from exploring. Despite how tired I was, I couldn’t contain my excitement about finally being there; so I pushed through as long as I could without any rest…which was probably way too long, but…YOLO right?!
Dublin is vibrant with a mix of old and new architecture and so much history. My first stop was Temple Bar. It is actually more amazing than pictures can show. The bright red paint makes it stand out from the rest of the store fronts, but it’s the flower plants and vegetation that gives it its true charm. I knew this would be a spot I’d be coming back to, particularly to try my first real Irish Guinness. While walking along the cobblestone streets, I stumbled upon Temple Bar Food Market that sold artisan breads, cheeses, olives, and so much more local and seasonal food items. It was adorable and had so much for the senses to take in. The presentation of the cheeses and olives, and the pastries were out of this world. I could have gone home with so much charcuterie and cheese, but chose some finger foods instead, as I continued to wander the brick-layed buildings and streets.
All sorts of goodies
After restoring yourself with some local food, I recommend taking a stroll across Dublin’s first pedestrian bridge, Ha’penny Bridge; people watching in St. Stephen’s Green and searching for four-leaf clovers; walking the grounds of Trinity College and, if you’re lucky enough, visiting The Book of Kells Exhibition; and, finally, just taking in the entertainment and window shopping throughout Grafton Street.
In the evening, Dublin is a completely different city. It comes alive with its music streaming out of every pub and jolly people enjoying pints (or half pints) of Guinness everywhere. Stroll down Dame Street to check out the local pubs before returning to Temple bar. The spirit of the Irish people fills the air and is so contagious that you will feel the energy on every street and in every person you pass. The best advice I can give for Dublin’s nightlife is to become a part of it; dance all night long, sing at the top of your lungs, and let loose like you’ve never let go before.
Must See Cities and Activities
Kilkenny was one of my favorite little spots on the trip. It is not a large town, but has a massive castle in the middle of town which now belongs to the people of Kilkenny. They are able to use the grounds as if it is their own, so you will see soccer games, birthday parties, and picnics all over the green lush rolling grounds. To see this small medieval town in its entirety, take a bike tour to learn about its history, ride along the river, and throughout the castle grounds.
Pucker up and head to Blarney! Blarney is known for a chunk of limestone rock that was embedded into the castle walls. Legend has it that whomever kisses the stone will acquire the gift of gab. Whether the gift of gab is bestowed upon you or not, walking the lush green grounds of the castle and seeing the vivid purples and reds of the flower blossoms makes the small trek up the castle well worth it.
Blarney’s nooks and crannies
Puckering up for the gift of gab!
No trip to Ireland is complete without a visit to the Cliffs of Moher. To really capture the magic of the cliffs, spend a few hours hiking the trails following the edge of the cliffs. If you’re lucky enough, the cliffs will be in clear view, but if they are hidden behind the thickness of fog, don’t fret. Patience is a virtue and it will reward you as eventually the thick white fog lifts and the cliffs will appear in front of you in all of their majestic beauty.
Just call me Galway girl. To me, Galway is by far the prettiest area and most authentic part of Ireland. Spend multiple days here if you choose to plan your own trip. You won’t regret it. Galway is a great homebase allowing you to explore the western side of Ireland. Do not forget to explore the adorable streets of Galway filled with cobblestones and multi-colored building facades. This is where you will hear the most “trad” Irish music no matter which street you are on….and if you request a street musician to play “Galway Girl”, don’t be surprised if they give you a confused look…yes I was that person!
A great day trip from Galway is to take a ferry over to Aran Islands to experience how life on these tiny islands is. Visit the largest of the islands called Inis Mór (Inishmore). The ferry ride isn’t always for the faint of heart as the waves over to the islands can make the ride quite choppy. So if you need your dramamine make sure to take it prior to boarding. The best way to see what the island has to offer, along with its rich archaeological history, is by bike. Close to the ferry drop off, one can rent a bike and grab some groceries to have a picnic at some point along the journey through and around the island. At the opposite end of Inishmore is the historic site of Dun Aonghasa. It is a three terraced walled fort that sits upon the 300 ft high cliffs. Archaeologists have done multiple excavations and discovered items from 1500 BC. The vistas from the top of the cliffs, as well as looking down the cliffs to the clear blue-green waters, are breathtakingly spectacular, albeit slightly unnerving. Along the path to these ancient ruins you will find smaller stone structures, horses and sheep, and fields upon fields neatly divided by hand-built stone walls that distinguish property lines.
Feeding horses along the road
Ruins along the road to the cliffs
Time to cross the border into Northern Ireland to visit the UNESCO site of Giant’s Causeway. The red hexagonal rock columns jutting out from the ground is one that can’t be missed. As you walk along the marked path you will see all forms of rock structures that you can climb. At times these formations act as a staircase to the next rock. I highly recommend obtaining an audio device before starting your journey through this remarkable place. The audio will give you a glimpse into key rock formations that tell the tale of a giant. Fionn the giant is said to have built the causeway as a way to reach and challenge a giant in Scotland. So while you’re taking in the majesty of the causeway, pay close attention to the fable and keep an eye out for one of Fionn’s shoes.
Columns throughout Giant’s Causeway
The last stop on this whirlwind tour is Belfast and Londonderry. Besides being the home of “Game of Thrones”, Belfast has some rich history to include political and religious turmoil. Let us not forget that it is also the birthplace of the Titanic. The story of the Troubles can be experienced via a walking tour through the city to see murals and various architecture that represent people’s emotions and their stories. The walking tour will not only provide a visual of the stories of people affected between 1971-1998, but the story of the awful attack of Bloody Friday and how far the city has come since the Peace Process agreed by the two parties in 1998. The detailed stories will bring you back in time and allow you to experience the somber history.
But the value of the experience is recognizing that despite our differences, we as a human race are capable of overcoming such turmoil and unrest.
This tiny island made up of both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland has so much to offer and is rich in history. The Irish people are some of the best storytellers and have some of the best fun using all their musical talents. A trip to Ireland will provide a wide range of activities for all types of people. You will fall in love with this little piece of land and it will leave you a lasting memory. And if you are like me, you will leave wanting you to see more of what this green luscious land has to offer.
Traveling means something different for everyone, but we all have a common theme. Traveling broadens our minds and shapes our idea of life. Have you ever sat down to think, what traveling means to you? Here’s what wandering to far off places means to me.
Wandering to far off distant places has different meanings for everyone. For me, traveling is a way to be spontaneous, learn, and get out out of my comfort zone. I think if we love traveling it’s because we all seek some sense of adventure no matter how big or small. I have been lucky enough to travel since I was a little girl. I had parents who instilled in me qualities all independent travelers need – open mindedness for others and their culture, as well as confidence. I don’t think if I had these qualities I would be where I am today. Neither for my passion for travel, nor my daily life.
People often ask which place I have visited is my favorite. I honestly can’t answer that. Every country is so unique and I will always have special memories linked to them: the “firsts” of something, throwing catch in front of Buckingham Palace, stepping into elephant tracks while drinking tea on safari, snorkeling in crystal clear water to find Nemo’s, waking up before dawn to watch the clouds dissipate to unveil Machu Picchu, or even a first solo trip biking through France. The list goes on and that is why I can’t have only one favorite.
These experiences shaped me into who I am today and have fueled my desire to seek adventure and have more of those special moments. For this reason, I am inspired to travel more each year and sometimes to places not as well-known. It is also important for me to share my adventures with friends, family, and any other traveler I may be able to inspire. Traveling has many ups and downs, but in the end it’s only the ups we remember. Exploring unknown areas, either with a group or by yourself can seem daunting for many, but I’m here to tell you that you CAN do it. You will survive and you will only become more confident from each trip you take.
I hope you come along this journey with me, because I’m far from hanging up my carry-on just yet!