HomeGirl Behind the BlogLove StoryWanderlustCasey-NAVvacations (1)Sponsor

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 18, 2014

Spreading Holiday Cheer with Minted [GIVEAWAY!]

Isn't it glorious? CHRISTMAS CARD SEASON IS UPON US! I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a huge fan of Christmas. I mean, who isn't? One of my favorite traditions when the holiday season rolls around is sending out Christmas cards to all our family and friends. In fact, since D and I have been married, we've sent out a family Christmas card each year! I love rifling through our photos from the year and creating special collage of memories to mail off to our nearest and dearest. It's the perfect way to remind your loved ones that you miss them, are thinking of them, and wish them all the best in the coming new year. Truth be told, there have been years where I felt too busy, too wrapped up in life to even choose a card to send. But then I remember how important it is to spread holiday cheer (and keep snail mail alive!) and I somehow find the time to design the perfect holiday card. Thankfully, Minted makes the whole Christmas card process super easy, customizable, and just so much darn fun to do!

Nov 14, 2014

Bacharach, Germany

It's no surprise that we LOVED the Rhine River region during our 3 years living in Germany. In fact, I can't count how many time we frequented various villages along the river…sipping local wine, wandering the cobblestone streets, enjoying the slow-paced European way of life. Ahhh…total bliss. Living in the entryway city to the upper Rhine region (Wiesbaden) provided many perks, most notably the close proximity to fabulous wines and spectacular views, so it's easy to see why it ranks right up there as one of my favorite areas of in all of Germany (followed closely by Rothenburg & literally all of Bavaria). A few months before we said our final goodbyes to our life in Deutschland, we made it a point to have one last visit to a town we hadn't visited along the Rhine. Needless to say, our day exploring Bacharach was nothing short of lovely.

Bacharach is another one of those charming wine towns brimming with half-timbered houses, wrought-iron signs, and rich history peeking around every colorful alleyway. Did I mention wine? Of course, how could I not? There's a handful of great vintners stationed right in town, with their vineyards wrapped all around the city like blankets of grape heaven. We spent the afternoon snapping photos all around town, ducking in and out of cute antique shops, and taking in the amazing views from the town walls and Wernerkappele ruins. We also tried a scoop of Bacharach's famed Riesling wein-eis (Riesling ice cream)…DIVINE!

While you won't need a full day to explore (unless you fancy a castle hike to Burg Stahleck or a long, leisurely visit to a winery), Bacharach is yet another perfect example of quaint German charm. If you're visiting Germany from the states, I'd recommend making a weekend out of the Rhine River region--including stops in Boppard, St. Goar, Rüdesheim, and Bacharach, of course!

Have you ever visited Bacharach?

Want to see more Rhine River villages? Find them here!

Nov 12, 2014

Coffee Talk v.10

  • If you ever wanted to know what life is like with a Dachshund, this article hits the nail on the head. It's funny, now that Tuck is back in our lives, I've grown to adore that pup more and more. He's such a different dog than when we left him with my parents 3 years ago. More loving, much sweeter, and he LISTENS! I guess that comes with age, but I also like to think our absence made all our hearts grow fonder. But, he still is a classic Dachshund through and through. The whole putting the ball under the couch thing is our one constant battle. But that sideways run, tho. Too cute for words!

  • I honestly can't believe it's almost Thanksgiving. And that Christmas is right on our heels. It's been almost 5 months since we left Germany. Life moves too dang fast, you guys.

  • Change "studying abroad" to "living in" and this article speaks volumes to the state of my heart right now. Christmas market season is upon us and I may or may not have checked out plane ticket prices. Not happening, unfortunately, but Germany is still in the forefront of my mind these days. I miss it constantly. Ruined is an understatement.

  • I finally had my first Universal Studios Orlando experience. That place is SO different from Disney, but in a really fun way. I can't believe I'm saying this, but Harry Potter was the best part (hello, butterbeer!). I really loved our day there even though I was terrified on 99% of the rides I rode. It's definitely the kind of amusement park you should enjoy with friends. Doing so made our day there even more hilarious (re: they all enjoyed laughing at my scaredy cat-ness). We might actually become Universal passholders now, too!

  • I had every intention of announcing the super awesome new endeavor I've been working on for the last month, but I'm still not quite ready just yet. A few loose ends need tying up first. I truly underestimated how long this process would actually take, but through the delay I've learned that in order for something to really work, really matter, and really become a success...it takes TIME. I can't rush this. So, keep staying tuned? ;)

  • It's beginning to finally feel a bit like fall here in Central Florida. At least in the early morning and at night. We're not in scarf and boot weather just yet, but I'm feeling like it's more and more possible with each passing day.

  • The house is slowly but surely starting to feel more like a home. We still have far too many half-empty rooms, but I'm beginning to shush that nagging inner voice that's been telling me I need to get it all done NOW. Money doesn't grow on trees, that's for darn sure!

  • I haven't taken a single photo with my DSLR camera in over a month now. It feels weird, yet sort of liberating. Not having to lug that beast around with me every place I go has been nice (and my back and shoulders are rejoicing!), but I'm sad that I don't have beautiful photos of recent travels to share. That's just not a major part of my life right now. It's still a tough pill to swallow.

  • Speaking of my lack of exciting travels, I've lost numerous Instagram followers since moving back to the states. I knew it would happen with the change in feed scenery (it's only natural), but I wasn't expecting it to sting this much. I know it's so stupid to even care, but the truth of the matter is, it's a constant reminder that our life is so very different from what it once was. Like a raw wound that won't heal because I can't quit picking at it. I've got to learn to be ok with the fact that people may not care or feel invested in our lives now that we're not jaunting off to swoon-worthy destinations on the regular. I can't apologize for the change in life direction. Or the fact that we really love visiting Disney World.

  • In other news, I've been quite obsessed with a few things lately: shaken green teas at Starbucks, the new Taylor Swift album (I know, I hate myself, too), this bath robe, watching TrueTori & Couples Therapy (trainwrecks--I can't look away!), Emily Jefford's art prints, big bowls of salad for dinner, this European push-pin map (need it!), and spending way too much time walking the aisles of World Market.

What's been happening in your world lately? 
Let's chat!

Nov 10, 2014

Cape Lookout, North Carolina

Ain't she a bute? There are a million things about the North Carolina coast that are worth seeing and gushing about...this gorgeous lighthouse and national park is definitely one of them. As I mentioned in my previous post retelling the story of our amazing family beach vacation, we did practically nothing that whole vacation. The only exception to nothing that we "older kids" did do was visit the Cape Lookout Lighthouse & National Seashore. It was a semi-cloudy morning and there were rain showers in the forecast, so we figured taking one day off from baking in the sun on the beach wouldn't be a bad idea. From our Emerald Isle beach house near the Pointe, it was a leisurely 1.5 hour drive to Hawker's Island where we caught to ferry to the Outer Banks (Cape Lookout, to be exact). We armed ourselves with our cameras, bathing suits, and a family-sized bag of Cool Ranch Doritos (we clearly thought our day through) and made our way to do some beach sight-seeing.

On the ferry from Harker's Island, you could choose from two destinations. One straight to Cape Lookout or one that also made a stop at Shackleford Banks, a gorgeous island inhabited by dozens of wild horses (the oldest documented horse population in America, mind you). As much as I wanted to stop and run with the pretty horses, we opted to stay on the ferry and skip that particular stop (time was limited that day). We did, however, watch them eat and run freely across the island from our ferry seats. Such a crazy place to see so many beautiful horses! But...on to the Cape!

Before making our way to the lighthouse itself, we decided to explore the park and the beach. We'd heard there are some amazing shells that land on the shores each morning, so we pulled out our shell bags and started combing the beach for a few souvenirs. Sadly, all the large conch shells were either broken or had been scooped up by early risers, but we still got some gorgeous shells to commemorate our day there. I, of course, spent quite a lot of time snapping photos. It was super clear to see why Nicholas Sparks chooses to set his books all along the NC coastline...it's truly fairytale worthy. The sea oats swaying in the wind, the crashing waves, the daymark patterned light beacon commanding the coastal skyline...it's enough to send any beach-lover straight to Cloud 9. 

By the time mid-day rolled around, so came the ominous clouds and piercing winds. We'd dodged rain and storms all week long, but this one wasn't going to pass us over. After the shell gathering adventure and a quick rest on the beach (with a friendly seagull and our bag of Doritos), we decided we better make our way to the top of lighthouse before they closed it for the storms. The 163 ft. high Cape Lookout Lighthouse gave us 207 steps to its highest vantage point. Once we were standing at the top, you could feel the chill and moisture in the air, not to mention the whipping winds gusting by us as 20+ miles per hour. We were told to hang on to the handrails and not wander to the rear of the lighthouse because the wind gusts were enough to blow a grown man off. Yikes. Even with the wind howling and the dark clouds rolling overhead, we took in some insanely gorgeous views. Stormy weather looks good on the Outer Banks. Not every beach could say that.

Naturally, as we made our way down the lighthouse steps and towards the ferry dock, the bottom fell out. I'm talking non-stop heavy rain for at least an hour. We were cold and soaked riding the rocking ferry back to Harker's Island, but laughed the entire way. A day and adventure we'll remember for vacations to come. Now D and I have a goal to see as many of the NC lighthouses as we can. 1 down, 20 to go! Guess we need another NC vacation, stat!
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...