Nov 24, 2014

10 European Cities You Shouldn't Skip

We all have our bucket lists. Mine is constantly growing, constantly overflowing with dreams of fabulous getaways to come. During our brief 3 years living abroad, I collected experiences and memories from dozens of great cities around Europe. When we came home from our various adventures, we'd download our thoughts and vibes from each destination with our friends. Through these conversations, we learned not every traveler shares the same love for the same cities. The phrase "to each, his own" never rang so true! We've all got those places that just didn't mesh with our travel style, or we experienced hiccups that left us scratching our heads and wishing for a re-do (or a never again!). Even with varying travel tastes and unlimited dream destinations, there are a handful of cities I ALWAYS recommend for any traveler planning a European getaway. Interestingly enough, even though they're all housed on one continent, each city is vastly different and offers a myriad of cultural experiences all their own. Here's my list of 10 European cities you really shouldn't skip...

This one's a no-brainer in my book. Who wouldn't want to visit a historic floating city…in Italy, no less?! While a major tourist mecca, Venice holds some of most gorgeous photo ops, delicious cuisine, and opportunities to walk amongst some of the most stunning architecture along the Adriatic sea. Yes, hotels can get expensive in high season. True,  Venice takes a bit more planning than some…but those colors, the pasta, the ornate squares! So worth the extra effort!

Best time to visit: April-May or late Sept-October

Must-see sights: San Marco's Square, Grand Canal, Rialto Bridge. If you fancy a day-trip from Venice…the island of Burano is the place to see.

Venice Eats: When I tell you Dal Maro's-Fresh Pasta to Go is the best pasta in Venice, I'm not kidding. It's #1 on Trip Advisor and when we tried it firsthand, MIND BLOWING! The best part? It's CHEAP! Find a spot along the canal to sit and dine for a true (and delicious) bite of Venice culture.

Traveler Tip: Go off the beaten path and get lost in the Venetian alleyways. The city is like a labyrinth, but is well marked with landmarks, so you're never truly "lost." 

Athens was an unexpected bright spot on our Mediterranean Cruise in 2013. You tend to only hear of the economic turmoil, the sketchy streets, and the political unrest when this city is mentioned…but what you'd be surprised to find is that the juxtaposition of ancient Greek history and bustling modern city life makes Athens a beautiful sight to behold. If you take the time to be aware of your surroundings and keep up to date on any pertinent travel warnings, there should be no reason why Athens wouldn't be on your bucket list!

Best time to visit: Late fall/winter into early spring. Summer gets hot and crowded!

Must-see sights: The Acropolis, Temple of Zeus, Olympic Stadium, Mount Lycabettus, & shopping along the Plaka. If you're into day-tripping just outside the city, head to Cape Sounion for epic sea views from the Temple of Poseidon.

Traveler Tip: If you can find a local guide to take you around the city, do it. They're great for giving detailed knowledge of the vast history embedded in Athens.

Some of the nicest people in the entire world live here. Some seriously delicious stout beer also calls Dublin home. Even though some skip the city in exchange for the noteworthy attractions along the Irish Coast, Dublin is a perfect home base to launch your Ireland adventure. From Temple Bar to Grafton Street, you can't deny Dublin's eclectic vibe and Irish charm. The folk music scene isn't too shabby either!

Best time to visit: For the best weather travel June-September…for less crowds travel March-May (although avoid St. Paddy's Day if you can!)

Must-see sights: Guinness Storehouse, Temple Bar District (and bar), The Long Room & Book of Kells inside Trinity College, & views from Ha'Penny Bridge.

Dublin Eats: For brunch-KC Peaches. For Irish Stew-The Old Storehouse in Temple Bar District. For quick and tasty fish & chips-Leo Burdock's. For sushi-Banyi Japanese. And for a pint- TEMPLE BAR!

Traveler Tips: Hoof it. The city is large, but if you stay close to the city center, most attractions are walkable (check out my Dublin itinerary map here). You'll see more and get a real feel for city living when you pound the pavement. And if you should need public transportation, the city bus is your best (and cheapest) bet. 

Ahh London town, my most favorite city in the world! Home to Big Ben, brilliant British accents, the always fascinating Royal Family. There's a lot to love about London, but some travelers avoid it because it's always quite crowded (and boasts some higher price points). This tends to be true for most cities, but what others see as crowded, I find electric. There's no shortage of things to do and see in London…and it's quickly become city I recommend seeing once, twice, and more if you can (and should, because there's no way to do it all in one trip!).

Must-see sights: Big Ben & Parliament (take a tour if you have time!), Buckingham Palace, Kensington Palace & Gardens, Harrod's, Shakespeare's Globe Theater, Tower Bridge, the Tower of London, shop in Covent Garden, Tate Modern Art Gallery, Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square, take in a show in West End (London's theater district) and the list goes on and on… :) For a fun day trip for fellow "Potterheads", venture out to Watford Junction just outside of London and visit the Warner Bros. Harry Potter Studio Tour!

London Eats: Best fish & chips in London (in my opinion!)- St. James Tavern near Piccadilly Circus , Afternoon tea in the Drawing Room at The Ampersand Hotel, & grab a picnic lunch from Harrod's Food Hall.

London Sleeps: Exceptional views: London Marriott at County Hall 
Exceptional value for location: Premier Inn London County Hall

Traveler Tip: Buy an Oyster Card and utilize the city's extensive Underground (subway) system. Quick, easy, and always fun to "Mind the gap!".

This place is a true beer and chocolate-lover's dream! But it often gets skipped over for larger Belgian cities like Brussels. Truth is, Bruges is much cuter. Like a page ripped straight out of a storybook! What more could one want than canals, frites, and smell of warm waffles wafting around the streets? It's the perfect size for a weekend getaway, but packs a large punch with its charm and decadent cuisine.

Best time to visit: Spring time and during the holiday season. If you're a beer connoisseur,  Bruges hosts a great two-day beer festival every February.

Must-see sights: views from the belfry, De Halve Maan Brewery tour (oldest and only brewery inside the city walls), windmills along the city's edge, and canal boat rides. If you come during the holiday's be sure to catch the Bruges Christmas market!

Bruges Eats: Cambrinus for excellent cheese croquets, flemish stew, and an extensive Belgian beer collection. Rose Red Cafe for a few night caps. The Olive Tree if you're craving Greek cuisine. Chez Albert for amazing Belgian waffles!

Traveler Tip: Choose a hotel within the city walls. The city is small, but you want to be where the action is. B&B-type hotels are prevalent (and wonderful!) here, so take advantage of homey accommodations and free breakfast! Hotel Flats Leopold is a good place to start. :)

Spain has a flavor all its own. Colorful, lively, filled with passionate people and an extensive historic background. Barcelona might just be the perfect example of Spanish charm and culture. While it can be touristy (it's Spain's most popular year-round destination after all), the exciting sights and gorgeous weather far out way the annoying crowds. And let's not forget the intriguing architecture and out-of-this world cuisine. Barcelona is a true mecca for cultural delights for both the eyes and mouth!

Best time to visit: Late spring and early summer for gorgeous weather. Spring and fall to avoid large tourist crowds.

Must-see sights: Park Güell, La Sagrada Familia, El Born District, La Ramblas, the Barcelona harbor, Mercat la Boqueria, Plaça Reial, Casa Milà,

Barcelona Eats: TAPAS! SANGRIA! CAVA! SEAFOOD! Acoma Cafe & Tapas Bar was a serious favorite on our last trip.

Traveler Tip: Feel like a day trip to escape the hustle and bustle of city life? The cliffs and monastery of Montserrat are calling your name! 

This former Germany expat may be a bit partial, but Munich is always on my list of favorite cities to fest in. Why wouldn't be seeing as it's home to one of the biggest beer festivals in the world? But Munich has much more to offer its visitors than just beer and brats (although please indulge in both!), there's gobs of history oozing from every building and square around the city. Not to mention half-timbered houses and gorgeous flower boxes on almost every window. You just can't beat Germany's architectural flair!

Best time to visit: Early fall (for Oktoberfest) and late spring/early summer.

Must-see sights: Munich Residenz, Town Hall Square, Rathaus Clock, Odeonsplatz, and the Frauenkirche. We took a Third Reich tour with a company called Sandemans (for €15) and it was excellent!

Munich Eats: Hofbräuhaus is a Munich staple, must be done!

Traveler Tip: If you're into fun festivals, then make sure you visit during Oktoberfest. It's like a Germany rite of passage. Everyone's gotta do it once! And it's not just for beer drinkers…think of it as a giant carnival. Fun for all ages! And for a humbling historic day trip, head just outside of Munich for a tour of Dachau Concentration Camp.

Paris gets a bad wrap. Rude locals, so-so food, tourists everywhere…poor Paris, doesn't sound like fun. Truth is, we LOVED our Parisian getaway! The food was amazing (who doesn't love wine, cheese, crusty baguettes, and crepes?!) and the views from various vantage points across the city are enough to send any shutterbug's camera into overdrive. If you can get past the droves of tourists and ignore the occasional huffy waiter, you'll see Paris is chock full of lovely landmarks, history, and museums worth writing home about. This is one city you should definitely "get high" in! ;)

Best time to visit: Spring into early summer or late September through November.

Must-see sights: The Eiffel Tower (duh), Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame, stroll through the Lourve, the Catacombs, views from the Montparnasse Tower, shopping and dining along the Champs Elysées.

Paris Eats: Macarons at Ladurée are a MUST. Le Dôme Cafe just around the corner from the Montparnasse Tower has a great Croque Monsieur (typical Parisian quick meal) & seafood dishes.

Paris Sleeps: Hotel De L'Empereur: adordable and in the heart of the 7th arrondissement, with great views of Napoleon's Tomb and a metro stop right around the corner!

Traveler Tip: Grab a late picnic dinner (bottle of French wine included) from any local bakery, grocery store, or deli and grab a spot on the lawn of the Champ de Mars. You'll have the best seats in the house when the Eiffel Tower begins to sparkle! Just ignore the hawkers. And if you're in Paris for a few days and want to see LOTS of sights, the Paris Pass is an excellent deal!

Zermatt in the crux of wintertime is absolutely magical. A true winter wonderland if I ever saw one! After all the Christmas markets across Europe are closed up for the season, a Swiss ski-cation is just the ticket to keep your wanderlust bug satisfied as the gloom of the winter months rolls in. If you're ski-inclined or just like wandering snow laden villages, Zermatt is has a little bit of something for everyone! Go prepared to enjoy cozy blankets, a little adrenaline-pumping adventure, and some seriously lovely snowfall. 

Best time to visit: December through March if you're looking for snow. And you should be looking for snow. :)

Must-see sights: Skiing alongside the Matterhorn (Glacier Paradise, Gornergrat, & Riffelberg slopes), hiking the Matterhorn trails, Iglu-Dorf Bar on the ski slopes, & shopping for fondue pots in town.

Zermatt Eats: Traditional Swiss Fondue is a must try! You can find it at many local restaurants in town. Also stop into Bar 55 for a nice winter-inspired cocktail or a simple hot chocolate with a nip of Baileys. YUM!

Traveler Tip:  If you plan to drive to Zermatt, keep in mind the town of Zermatt is completely car-free. You can park your car at the Matterhorn Train Terminal in Täsch (14.50 CHF a day) and take the train shuttle into Zermatt for 8 CHF each way (approx. 12 minute ride).

Before moving to Europe, I didn't know much about the Czech Republic and certainly hadn't heard of Prague. I imagine many Americans can admit that as well. Come to find out, it's a total hidden gem. Vibrant with Eastern European culture, colorful cityscapes, and plenty of sights to keep you entertained, Prague impressed me from start to finish. So much history packed into one river-adjacent city, you'll need more than a long weekend to enjoy it to the fullest!

Best time to visit: Late spring, early fall, and Christmas time (Prague Christmas Market).

Must-see sights: The Charles Bridge, Astronomical Clock in Old Town, Prague Castle, the Jewish Cemetery, the "Man Hanging Out", & the Lennon Wall.

Prague Eats: Trdelník (trust me, they're amazing!). Interested in something other than Absinthe? You can try a pint of Prague's famous X33 beer at U Medvídkû.

Traveler Tip: There are lots of ways to enjoy Prague! If traditional tours aren't your thing, maybe try the Prague Pub Crawl, the Czech Beer Festival in May, or view the entire city from a hot air balloon!

For more destinations you shouldn't skip, check out my WANDERLUST page!

Nov 21, 2014

FRESH FACE FRIDAY [& Blog Hop!]: Meet Jamie & Kaelene

Is everyone frozen yet? What in the world, Arctic Air Invasion? And it's only November?! Whew, a cold and stormy winter it's sure to be! Well, for the majority of the US. We here in Central Florida are chilly, but nowhere near the kind of frozen most states are experiencing. I can honestly say I don't miss that part of living in North Carolina. I did, however, have to bust out my first pair of long pants these last couple of weeks as we've dipped into the 60's from time to time. Yesterday we touched the mid-40's (!!!). It felt a little reminiscent of Germany weather (chilly, gloomy, cloudy, rainy) and weirdly enough, I felt comforted by it. But today, we're snapping up to the mid-70's again and the sandals are back out. I imagine I'll develop a nice cold from the wonky weather, but at least we're feeling some flashes of fall. I have to admit…it's super strange trying to listen to Christmas music while passing droves of palm trees and people in shorts and sunnies. Total atmosphere flip from the last 3 years abroad. Can't say it feels much like the holiday season, but I'm trying to will it here with every Christmas commercial I see. Well, all except the snow and freezing temps. Those can just hang back a bit. I'll get my fair share of it while we're home in NC for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Anywho, enough weather ramble…I hope your weekend is shaping up to be a stellar one wherever you are in the world! And if you're up for some Friday fun, check out these two expat bloggers, link up your own blog to the hop, and make some new friends! Ooo, and don't forget to enter the mega MINTED giveaway! Just a few days left! Happy Friday, all!


Friends, meet Jamie…expat in the UK, blogger, and true travel-lover with a taste for unique destinations. Over on Jamie's blog, Gunter's Abroad, you can find great recaps of her travels (ski-lovers unite!), yummy recipes, hotel reviews, and thoughtful peeks into her life as an expat navigating life far from home. I've thoroughly enjoyed roaming around Jamie's creative space and drooling over all her UK adventures! What a fabulous country to experience expatdom! Go say hi and get lost and Jamie's blog today. You won't regret it!

Jamie's Favorite Posts:
Nice & the French Riviera
Expat Life: What They Didn't Tell Me


This beautiful blonde is none other than the author of Unlocking Kiki, a fun travel-inspired blog sharing Kaelene's story of expat life in Iceland! Kaelene is well-versed in sharing gorgeous travel recaps, informing expats on life in Iceland, and allowing readers small sneak peaks into who she is as a globetrotting gal. It's fun to reminisce my own expat life through her experiences abroad. And those Iceland photos, WOW! Makes me want to hop a plane today! Don't miss your chance to get to know Kaelene and follow along with her journey!

Kaelene's Favorite Posts:
Life Lessons Learned Abroad
Kaelene's ABC's of Travel
An Awkward American in Iceland

My Favorite Posts:
10 Must See Places in Iceland
5 Tips for Making Friends Abroad
The Beginning of My Travel Story


Welcome to the
No prompt, just fun!

Hosted by: Casey @ We Took the Road Less Traveled

Rules for hopping:
1| Follow your host & co-hosts (first 3 links), pretty please! 
2| Link up your blog's homepage or Bloglovin' page.
3| Hop around, meet new bloggers, and leave them love!
4| Have fun? Spread the word and share this blog hop with your friends!
5| Want to be a co-host? Click here for more info! 

Grab a button and share the blog hop love!
We Took the Road Less Traveled
Tweet about this blog hop!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...