5 reasons you should avoid Halong Bay

Halong Bay in Vietnam is a beautiful and mystical place. But is it really worth visiting? We’ll tell you our top 5 reasons to avoid Halong Bay

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Halong Bay is this beautiful, magical, mystical place in Vietnam… or rather, it should be.  It was voted one of the New 7 Wonders of nature.  It’s on so many people’s bucket list.  It was supposed to be the highlight of our trip to this ancient South-East Asian country.  We looked forward to our cruise for weeks.  We imagined being on this cool-looking junk boat, floating amongst the karst limestone mountains jutting out of the water.  But what we experienced was far from this dream.

Tour boats in Halong Bay Vietnam
Tour boats in Halong Bay

The tour packages

Each company will have some specific things that are unique to it, but trust us when we say that there is not much creativity with the service providers in Halong Bay.  Having shopped over 15 different cruises, here is what we found were the main options.

Tourists kayaking in Halong Bay Vietnam
Tourists kayaking in Halong Bay

Mostly, all providers will take you to the highlights of Halong Bay.  This includes a trip to Sung Sot (Surprise) Cave, kayaking at Luon cave and the lookout at Ti Top island.  Usually, food and water bottles are also provided in the package.  Most tour operators will offer transfers to and from your hotel in Hanoi.  All you have to do is decide how long you want to stay in Halong Bay.

  • 2 days / 1 night on the boat: Keeping it short and sweet so you can experience the Bay and the main highlights.
  • 3 days / 2 nights with Cat Ba island: You will spend one night on the boat, another on Cat Ba island.  You also have the chance to sleep at Monkey Island (on Cat Ba, just a different location), though you will pay a premium for this.
  • 3 nights / 2 days on the boat: This is the option we went with because we wanted to get the most out of our time in Halong Bay.  It included everything mentioned above, and was supposed to include a trip to the Virgin Cave, time on a beach, a visit to a traditional pearl farm and floating village, and kayaking at a different cave than Luon.

As for the cost of the cruise, it can vary from one boat to the next.  There are luxury boats and more basic ones.  We chose a middle range boat, paying $500 US for the both of us, but it seems like even that was not ‘good enough’.

A cruise in Halong Bay is not cheap.  In fact, compared to other things you can do and see in Vietnam, it is a lot more expensive, especially since these boats are geared toward ‘tourists with money’.

Derek riding a long boat in Halong Bay Vietnam
Derek riding a long boat

Looking back at this trip now, we wish we had known more about visiting Halong Bay.  Not only would we have skipped out on this experience, we would have saved a ton of money, our environmental impact would have been lessened, and we probably would have had a better time overall.

So here are all the reasons we would highly recommend you avoid Halong Bay when you head to Vietnam.

Environmental reasons

This will always be our main concern when we travel.  We are always super conscious of what our environmental impact is.  This world is beautiful, and we want to keep exploring it.  The best way to do this is by making sure that we have the least negative impacts on the places we visit.

Ti Top beach Halong Bay Vietnam
Ti Top beach, Halong Bay’s premier beach

Unfortunately, when you visit Halong Bay, your impact is huge, and you can feel it all around!

Food waste

Every single meal we had on our boat was plentiful.  Although delicious, there was too much variety and the quantity of food was almost a joke… but not a very funny one!

Making spring rolls onboard our boat in Halong Bay Vietnam
Making way too many spring rolls onboard our boat

At the end of the meal, everyone would feel so bad seeing barely-eaten plates leave the table.  We brought it up with the staff, asking them if they could make less food considering there was so much waste.  We were told that this is how they do things and there was no way to change this.

Sure, this food was then thrown overboard to feed the marine life, or used to feed the pigs.  Some may argue that it’s not wasted if it’s being eaten by others, but we beg to differ.  Just think of the amount of time and resources it took to make these meals.  They could have fed so many other people.  For us, this is a waste!

Plastic pollution

From providing plastic bottles, single-use condiments or toiletries, rubber gloves for the staff handling food, the amount of plastic on the boats is shocking.

Beautiful karsts in Halong Bay Vietnam
The beautiful karsts of Halong Bay

What’s more shocking however, is that most of these plastics end up in Halong Bay.  The staff (and probably a few tourists) just throw everything off the boat.  We’re no longer surprised to see plastic bottles floating around, but during our 3 days in Halong Bay, we were dumb-struck when we saw rubber gloves, chairs, life vests and bits of styrofoam floating around.

That is the part of Halong Bay no one talks about.  Sure, the limestone karsts are beautiful.  Sure, the mood created when floating around is mystical.  But seeing this much plastic is just disgusting.  A sad reminder of what we have done to our planet.

The pollution created by these cruises is the main reason we would recommend skipping this experience and avoiding Halong Bay.  But there are many more reasons!

The service providers

While surely some tour providers do have nice boats in their fleet, many of them are old.  Most show signs of not-so-gentle use, and even more boats are in need of repair… or at least a new paint job.  The tour that we took was of the latter variety.

Sailing through Halong Bay Vietnam
Sailing through Halong Bay

You won’t get what you paid for

After talking with the others on our three different boats, we all realized that we all didn’t get what we paid for.  Those who had paid for bigger rooms had the same thing as everyone else.  The activities we were supposed to do were not as described.  Most were either rushed or had us surrounded by hundreds of people doing the same thing, making it rather unpleasant!

A ton of tourists at the virgin pond in Halong Bay Vietnam
A ton of tourists at the virgin pond

We were supposed to have a deluxe room, which we did not get.  We were supposed to have time on a beach… that didn’t happen.  Instead, we stayed docked in the middle of Halong Bay, near the pearl farm, for nearly two hours.  The pearl farm was actually just a ploy to get unsuspecting tourists to buy things in order for the cruise operators to get a kick-back.  And the kayaking we were supposed to do at different caves, well… we were taken to the same cave three times.

You may think that this was only a stroke of bad luck for us.  But having spent time on three different boats, and having spoken to three different groups of people, we realized that this was par for the course.  The overwater bungalows that people had booked on Monkey island were falling apart (despite costing a premium) and had no windows and mosquito nets with holes in them.  The rooms people were given on the boats were sub-par or simply not what they had requested.

Carine gazing out the boat in Halong Bay Vietnam
Carine gazing out of our boat

Had we been the only ones who had an unpleasant experience, we would have been quick to dismiss this, but we spoke to so many people who agreed that had they known what they were going to go through for the next few days, they would have avoided coming here as well.

The hosts and staff are unpleasant

Because this trip to Halong Bay is one of the most popular tours in the country, you can feel it in the attitude of the hosts.  Each boat has their ‘guide’ who usually shares tidbits of history and lore behind Halong Bay and its various sights.  Because these guides work almost every single day, you can feel their lack of enthusiasm during the whole stay.  They obviously give the same speech day-in and day-out!

If it were only the lack of enthusiasm, we would have understood.  However, when we brought up the problems we had during our stay, and the fact that we didn’t get what we paid for, the staff, both on the boat and at the sales office, became extremely rude and disrespectful.  This is when we understood that we had just been scammed by a very large and ‘reputable’ business.

We don’t complain often.  We always try to find the silver lining in every experience.  And when we do complain, we do it in a respectful and solution-oriented way, in the hopes that we help the business improve their services so others can have a better experience.

However, this time was different.

A long boat in Halong Bay Vietnam
A long boat cruising in Halong Bay

We were called liars when we told the cruise provider that we had never been to the beach we were supposed to go to.

We were called stupid when we said we had been taken to the same kayaking spot three times.  They told us that the spots just looked the same to us… come on.

The view from a lookout in Halong Bay Vietnam
The view from a lookout in Halong Bay

We were met with insults for every complaint we had.  Not only from the cruise provider, but from the staff at our hotel where we booked this cruise as well.  You can only imagine how annoyed and insulted this whole experience left us.

Too crowded

At this point, do you expect anything different?!  Halong Bay was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site twice, in 1994 and 2000.  It’s called the “descending dragon bay”.  It spans over 1,553 square kilometres.  It’s made up of 1,969 islands and thousands of limestone karsts.  Basically, it’s what Vietnam travel dreams are made of!

But when you think of something so mystical and beautiful, you know that there will be a ton of people there.  After all, there are over 550 cruises that operate in Halong Bay.  In 2017, the Bay was host to close to 3 million tourists. The numbers have only increased in the following years.

A ton of tour boats in Halong Bay Vietnam
A ton of tour boats clogging up Halong Bay

This means that the peaceful experience you are looking for likely won’t happen, unless you pay a pretty penny.  Almost all boats leave and arrive at the same time.  They all have a rotation of highlights that they visit.  Every single place we went to was swarming with tourists… even the “lesser known” spots!

The Ti Top island lookout was so packed that it felt like we were being herded up the mountain like goats, up a narrow staircase, just wide enough for two.  When we got up there, we were surrounded by people posing for selfies, pushing others around them to get ‘the shot’.  After five minutes up there, we were ready to throw ourselves down the hill.

The Sung Sot Surprise cave was much of the same.  Crowds of people being pushed down the same path.  Guides pointing at the same rocks with the same old jokes.

Look! This one looks like a penis!” *Insert awkward laugh.

Look! That one is a monkey with a big penis!” *Insert odd look and even more awkward laugh.

Look! That one is a hole. You know, like a lady hole” *Insert final eye roll.

Ok! Can we turn this into a drinking game already?!

Carine heading to the virgin pond in Halong Bay Vietnam
Carine heading to the virgin pond

It was the same thing at the ‘secret’ Virgin cave.  Same again for the tourist-trap pearl farm.  It seemed like every single stop was packed with tourists.

And at night, if you had the ‘luck’ of being parked next to a party boat, well, you got to know just how crowded 1,553 square kilometres actually feels.

Tips to have a better experience

All hope is not lost.  You can still have a great experience in Halong Bay, but at least now, you know what to expect.  Here are some other tips to make the cruise even more enjoyable.

Choose a less touristic spot

Instead, of going to Halong Bay, we heard only wonderful things about Bai Tu Long Bay.  Although the karst islands are more spread out, you will have a more peaceful experience there.  If we were to redo this experience again, we would choose Bai Tu Long Bay.

Spend less time on the boat

Actually, just spend less time in Halong Bay.  Sure, we were wrong to pick the 2 nights on the boat, as it seems like it was more of a kayaking trip than we anticipated for.  However, our friends who went to Cat Ba island didn’t have a great experience either.

Karsts in Halong Bay Vietnam
The famous karsts of Halong Bay

Instead, we would recommend you save your money and either only do a day trip to Halong Bay from Hanoi.  If living on a junk boat is on your bucket list, then opt for a one-night/ 2 day cruise.  You will see the best of Halong Bay, without getting over-whelmed by the crowds and pollution.

Take the eco-friendly route

There are a few cruise providers that are eco-friendly.  They don’t waste food, try to reduce the amount of plastic that they use and even have clean-up efforts to make Halong Bay in Vietnam more beautiful.  Pick one of those providers!

Also, make sure to bring your own toiletries, and a reusable water bottle like the LifeStraw Go.  This will make a huge stride in trying to reduce the amount of trash and plastic that end up in Halong Bay.

Plan your timing

Although we had pretty good weather during our stay in Halong Bay, most mornings and nights were overcast and grey.  Don’t let bad weather spoil your trip, because nothing is worst than going to Halong Bay and not seeing what you came to see.

Cave in Halong Bay Vietnam
One of many caves in Halong Bay

From March to June are the best times to visit.  Low season is from June to September, so expect to get better deals, but also expect some storms.  Make sure you keep an eye out on the weather forecast for that!

October and November are high season and it will be sunny.  December is going to be cool, cloudy but dry.  While January and February are cold, foggy and drizzly, so maybe not the best time to go.

Sailing through Halong Bay Vietnam with many other boats
Sailing through Halong Bay Vietnam with many other boats

Sure, some people might then say, “You know what, the tour wasn’t great, but at least you got to go to Halong Bay!  It’s so beautiful, I can only imagine what it must be like to be sitting on the deck of the boat, taking in the beauty and serenity of this natural wonder!”

And they would be right.  Halong Bay is beautiful.  Unlike anything we have to offer here in Canada, or in many of the countries that we visited.

The view from a lookout in Halong Bay Vietnam
The view from a lookout in Halong Bay

The unfortunate truth however, is that Halong Bay is taking the same path as places like Maya Bay in the Phi Phi Islands of Thailand, Borocay Island in the Philippines, or Machu Picchu in Peru.  All of these places are limiting the amount of tourists who can visit because of the negative impacts of this mass tourism.  Some are even closed indefinitely to allow them to return to their previous splendour.

If tourists keep flocking to Halong Bay the way they have been the past years, it too may need to be shut down.  While doing so would help the area, the loss of jobs would devastate the local economy.  The fact that the amount of people visiting Vietnam in the past 3 years has doubled and that tourism accounts for a significant part of the country’s GDP should be motivation to find a sustainable solution.

Getting to Ti Top beach by longboat in Halong Bay Vietnam
Getting to Ti Top beach by longboat

Have you ever been to Halong Bay?  How was your experience?  We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.


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5 reasons to avoid Halong Bay in Vietnam. As beautiful as it is, there are tons of reasons to remove Halong Bay from your bucketlist. Wediditourway #vietnam #halongbay #travelguide #ecofriendlytravel

40 pictures to make you fall in love with Vienna

Vienna, Austria’s capital, is a beautiful city. Whether you are looking to enjoy the architecture, the food, the concerts or the people, Vienna has something for everyone. We fell in love and these pictures will show you why.

Vienna, a city where, over 100 years ago, a revolution took place.  Philosophy, physics, music and a culture of art were born here.  It was done with the help of notables such as Schlick, Einstein, Mozart and Egon Schiele.   This UNESCO world-heritage city centre was also the home to the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud.

The famous St-Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna, Austria
The famous St-Stephen’s Cathedral

Dubbed the city of music, it is here that we kicked off our epic European train trip.  It set the bar very high for what was to come on our journey through the beautiful old continent that is Europe.  Strolling down the historic streets of Austria’s capital, how could we not fall in love with Vienna?

The National library in Vienna, Austria
The National library

Home to almost 2 million people, Vienna has been voted as one of the top cities to live in year after year.  It boasts some of the most epic castles, museums galore, historic sites, concerts, churches, and the famous Viennese dessert, sachertorte!  Whatever you’re into, you will find it here.

The State Opera House in Vienna, Austria
The State Opera House

The best way to take in this European gem, is by taking a leisurely stroll through the city.  You will be drawn in by the wonderful sights scattered throughout.  Make sure that your camera is handy, as it’s one of the most photogenic cities we’ve been to.

See the fountains in the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna, Austria
See the fountains in the Schönbrunn Palace

Getting lost in the maze of streets is a pleasure, to say the least.  Around every corner, there is architectural beauty ready to greet you.  The State Opera House will fill your ears with enchanting music.  Monet’s French impressionist paintings and Picasso’s surrealism will take you back a century at the Albertina museum.  The Riesenrad, a 200-foot plus ferris wheel, will give you a view of the city like no other.

The Karlskirche in Vienna, Austria
The Karlskirche

Then, treat yourself to the opulent beauty of the many Viennese churches.  You will be excused while you pick your jaw up off the floor, as the sheer beauty and design will leave you awe-struck.  Being no strangers to churches, temples and mosques, we were still taken by the sheer beauty we witnessed.  St Stephan’s, St Charles, St Peter’s, the Votive church, the list goes on and on!  These imposing structures are designed with such an overwhelming sense of luxuriousness, that you would think yourself at the Vatican itself.  They are scattered all over the city, making it easy to turn a street corner and come upon one ready to be discovered.

The opulent Dominikaner Kirche in Vienna, Austria
The opulent Dominikaner Kirche

If grand palaces are more your thing, head to the outskirts of the city, where you will discover the sweet serenity that comes from walking the grounds of the Schönbrunn Palace. In yesteryears, it was the summer residence of the Habsburg house (who’s family sigil may remind you of a certain golden-haired ruling family in one of our favourite HBO shows, Game of Thrones).  Today, it can serve as a portal to another time, where you can almost imagine the elite of the past vying for control of the Austrian empire.

Setting up the Christmas tree in front of the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna, Austria
The Schönbrunn Palace

As you walk the peaceful grounds you can daydream of the long history of royalty who called this their home.  The fall colours come to life in the rows of trees that lined the grounds.  You can catch perfect reflections on the many fountains, making the setting even more magical.  The crowning piece of the gardens is the Gloriette, where you will gaze out at the view of the city and the castle.

The spectacular Gloriette in Vienna, Austria
The spectacular Gloriette

The few days that we spent in the capital of Austria were grey and gloomy, but this wouldn’t stop us from marvelling in its beauty and its history.  Visiting this gem, it’s easy to imagine how all of these historical figures made names for themselves, given the inspiring nature that Vienna offers.

The winding Danube river in Vienna, Austria
The winding Danube river

Have you ever been to Vienna?  Did you also fall under its charm?


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wediditourway Vienna

 

Top tips to have the best European train trip

There is something so romantic about train travel, nowhere more so than through the European countryside. But you still have to be prepared. Here are the top tips to have the best train trip possible with the Eurail pass.

Who has never dreamed of exploring Europe by train?

There is something so romantic about train travel, nowhere more so than through the European countryside.  This was a huge bucket list item for us, and was a dream come true for us to partner with Eurail and discover the beauty of this old continent together.

 

It was also the perfect way to end our 15-month adventure around the world!  With so much to see and do, here’s how we made the most of our train trip through Europe, and how you can too!

Why choose the train?

There is nothing better than sitting back in comfy seats, and enjoying the view out your window.  Watching the scenery change from one stop to the next, from one tunnel to the next, from one country to the next.  You don’t have to worry about strenuous security checks, long lines at customs, or any of the usual hassles that come with flying.

Best of all, train travel can be super spontaneous!  You can show up at a train station on a whim and grab the next train to your location.  We loved having the flexibility to change our plans and take off to a new location without the heavy planning and expensive cost of plane travel!

Passing by the cutest Austrian town on our way to Salzburg
Passing by the cutest Austrian town on our way to Salzburg

In fact, one of the best things about taking the train, is that it’s one of the more eco-friendly ways of traveling.  By now you should know how we love being eco-travelers.  Trains emit between 66 and 75 percent less carbon than cars and airplanes.  Trains are also more sustainable in terms of energy consumption, use of space, and noise levels.

And finally, train travel is by far the most comfortable way to travel across borders.  With smooth turns and solid rails, you can forget the bumpy bus rides or turbulent flights.  With plenty of leg room, and handy tray tables (or even actual tables), working on the train is so much more pleasant that trying to get work done on a plane.  Regardless of if you want to work or just enjoy the ride, the atmosphere in the train feels less crammed and is more enjoyable than any other mode of transportation.

Crossing the river by train on our way to Salzburg
Crossing the river by train on our way to Salzburg

This is why, the train is our all-time favourite!

What Eurail pass to get?

The best choice for your Eurail pass will depend on how many days you want to travel, how many countries you want to explore, and your style of traveling.  For example, the Global pass is available for a few days, up to three months, and can be used all throughout Eurail’s network of 31 countries.  Or, you can opt for a country pass that is valid from one to four countries.

Passing by The Cologne cathedral in Germany by train
Passing by the Cologne cathedral in Germany by train

You can also choose to buy your tickets individually, but this might mean that you spend more money than you expected.  It will also mean that you need to be either very loose with your itinerary, or plan it all out.  Yes, that seems like polar opposites, and there’s a reason for that.

By keeping your itinerary loose, you can show up at the train station and pick your next destination on the fly (which you can also do with a Global pass or a country pass).  Or, you will have to know exactly when you want to go where.  However, you will only be able to buy your ticket to the next destination once you get to the city you are leaving from.  So it really depends on your style of travel.

Passing by Austrian mountains
Passing through the Austrian mountains

When we were debating on what pass to get, we found that the tool on the Eurail website was super helpful to see what pass was best suited for our needs.  We could input how many days of travel we wanted, and what countries we wanted, and voilà!  We were presented with the best option for us!  The 1-month continuous Global pass was it.

Now, we had the flexibility to travel to as many countries as we wanted, when we wantedfor up to 30 days.  If that’s not the ultimate freedom, we don’t know what is!

How to plan your trip?

Our goal was to get the most out of our Eurail pass, but we also wanted to enjoy the cities we visited.  Even if a part of us wanted to do 30 cities in 30 days, we figured that might not be so wise.  Our crazy idea was to visit as many countries as possible, without killing ourselves, so we opted for 13 cities in 30 days (well, 32 days, but you know what we mean!)

Being silly at the Budapest train station, Hungary
Being silly at the Budapest train station, Hungary

Once again, the Eurail website and their Rail Planner app were the best tools we could have asked for!  We could not recommend them highly enough, regardless of what type of traveler you are.  You can pick what city you start from, where you want to go and at what time.  Both tools will show you all trains from start to finish, the number of stops in between, train transfers and if you need a reservation.

So to make your ultimate itinerary, start with the countries you want to visit.  Then pick the cities you want to visit in each country.  Obviously, this is the simplest way to get started.  Now, let’s start having some planning fun!

Looking out the window on our way to Prague
Looking out the window on our way to Prague

Pull up the handy timetables available on the app or on the website and start with your first city (where you’ll be leaving from or where your plane lands).  Then, pick the second city you want to visit.  We found it helpful to look at Eurail’s map and see what the closest connecting city was.  This was done to ensure that we don’t spend too much time on the train, and to check if we could get to the next destination (city #3) easily.

Going one city at a time, you’ll be able to build your itinerary quite quickly.  Just make sure you keep the next city in mind when building it.  This will help you be more efficient with your time on the train.

As for the number of days in each city, that depends on your style of travel and your goals.  We spent two days in each place, knowing we would come back to these countries or cities.  If you want to take your time, then feel free to do that.  This is not a race.  Just go at a pace you are comfortable with!

Day trains vs night trains

Sometimes going from one city to the next via train can take some time, like when we traveled from Prague to Krakow, and then again on towards Bratislava.  That’s why in some cases, your best bet might just be to take a night train.

Our bed for the night on our way to Bratislava
Our bed for the night on our way to Bratislava

By doing this, not only are you saving yourself one night’s accommodations, but you’re also not missing out on time to explore your destination.  You’ll arrive early in the morning, ready to go on your next adventure.

If you have a long trip, usually 8 hours or more, do yourself a favour and take the night train.  You’ll get to your destination nice and rested the next day.  We would recommend grabbing a sleeper car and getting in a good night’s sleep.

Working on the sleeper train on our way to Bratislava
Working on the sleeper train on our way to Bratislava

You could always opt for a regular seat, if you are the type to sleep sitting up easily.  But the seats don’t always recline too much, and you’ll have your head bop around all night (yes, even with a neck pillow), so go ahead and spend the extra money.  Get yourself a cabin, get some good shut eye, and go out to explore the next day!

Cabins are comfy, safe and clean.  The beds are pretty spacious, enough so that Derek (and his whole 6’4″ frame) could even almost fit in them!  You can even choose between a private cabin, or shared cabins (between four and six people).  To us, it was a no-brainer – it made night travel so much fun!

First class vs second class

The price difference between first class and second class on Eurail’s network is not significant.  So if you’re not strapped for cash, we highly recommend opting for first class.  Traveling with the added service and comfort will justify the extra cost, without a doubt!

Our first train ride, heading to Ceske Budejovic
Our first train ride, heading to Ceske Budejovice

If you’re wondering what the differences are, here’s what to expect.  In first class, the seats will recline and are more spacious.  This means there are less people per wagon, making it more comfy and quiet overall.  An added bonus for long-term travelers like us, is that first class wagons usually have more room for luggage as well!  Sometimes, on some high-speed trains, the first class ticket will include a meal.

Second class train tickets are going to be more affordable, but you have a lot less space, because the seats are smaller and there are more per wagon.  Also, because most people travel second class, you may need to reserve your tickets in advance.  Having first class tickets, we never had to worry about pre-booking our spots as there were always seats available on our trains.

 

If the majority of your train trips are going to be short (1-2 hours long), you may not need to splurge on first class tickets.  Because we had a few days where we spent 5-6 hours on the train, it was well worth it for us to choose first class tickets!

Tips to make the best of your train travel

We learned quite a few things while we were on the train, things we wish we knew before we embarked on this adventure.  We hope these tips will help you avoid some of our mistakes!

Walking through the streets of Bratislava
Walking through the streets of Bratislava

Bring water

This will always be our #1 tip for any type of travel.  Always bring water with you, because water is life!  But being the eco-warriors that we are, we would recommend you bring a reusable water bottle so you can easily fill it up, or get yourself a LifeStraw Go so you can turn any water into drinking water!

Checking out Prague
Checking out the sunset in Prague, Czech Republic

Bring snacks

Not all trains are created equal!  Some trains have a restaurant in them, where you can get drinks, snacks and actual meals.  We tried quite a few items on the train menus across Europe, and we can attest that they are delicious!

The most magical view ever at Lake Bled in Slovenia
The most magical view ever at Lake Bled in Slovenia

But in case you take a train that doesn’t have a restaurant integrated in it, make sure you bring snacks.  This is our #2 rule in life, in travel, and in relationship advice.  You never want to travel with a hangry person, so avoid the situation altogether!

Give yourself time

When you are building your itinerary, check if you have a connection.  If you do, leave yourself enough time between the trains.  The trains are very punctual, so if the change is tight, make sure the connecting train comes often so you don’t have to spend a night in a city if you miss the second train.

A beautiful day in Prague
A beautiful day in Prague

Luckily, we never ended up missing a train, but we did have to run between one platform and the next to make the next train.  Often, we were ok with having 5-10 minutes between them.  We did get lucky however, in the fact that none of our trains were delayed.  And although we ran into some maintenance issues with some trains, the Rail Planner app made it easy for us to get back on the right track, so it was fine!

Make your reservation early

Most of the trains we took did not require a reservation, so we would just hop on the train and pick an empty seat.  However, some trains to more popular cities require reservations.  If they do, make the reservation as early as you can!

Jumping for joy in Amsterdam
Jumping for joy in Amsterdam

For us, it was our train to Paris that needed a special reservation.  We thought we would be ok reserving our seats 24 hours ahead of time, but we were wrong!  We couldn’t get on the specific train we wanted, so we had to take a few connections to get to a location that had 2 free seats into Paris.  We made it all the same, but having known this, we would have made the reservations online much earlier!

Enjoying the sunset in the main square of Ceske Budejovice
Enjoying the sunset in the main square of Ceske Budejovice

Also, if you are traveling in the high season (summer in Europe is a dream), make sure you reserve your tickets in advance.  Trains tend to fill up faster, especially in second class.

Not all trains are created equally

Depending on the country you’re in, if it’s a ‘international’ train or a local one, you will notice that there is sometimes a huge difference in services, comfort, and amenities.

Working and chilling in 1st class on the train
Working and chilling in 1st class on the train

Before you get on the train, you can always check what is included online or on the app.  This will help you be more prepared for the trip to come.  We sometimes found out the hard way that a train was not equipped with Wifi or power outlets (even in first class), which made working on it a little harder.

Validate your tickets

Before you board your first train, make sure you get it validated at the station.  You will also need to fill out the travel form so the staff can stamp it.  These are not long to do, but to avoid any problems and save time in the long run, make sure you do them!

Kissing in front of the Hundertwasser house in Vienna
Kissing in front of the Hundertwasser House in Vienna

Find a hotel near the train station

Going from one city’s train station to the next every other day meant finding a hotel near the train station.  Being able to hop off the train and simply walk to your hotel means you don’t need to find transportation after your train ride, and makes for easy timing when you need to go catch your next train.

 

Seemingly every European city’s train stations are usually situated close by to the old parts of town, where you will likely be spending most of your time.

Ask the staff

The staff on the train, and working at the counters were probably the nicest people we have met!  They were all so helpful and accommodating, especially when it came to getting those reserved tickets to Paris.

Wandering through Ceske Budejovice
Wandering through Ceske Budejovice

Don’t be shy, just go ask them if you’re confused about your platform, your wagon or seats.

Count your days

This mainly applies to Canadian and US residents.  We found this out the hard way, though luckily, not the expensive way!

 

As Canadians, we have a limit as to how many days we can stay in Europe, and more specifically, the Schengen area.  This area is a made up of 26 European countries that created common entry and exit requirements to remove the need for internal borders.  This same agreement allows us foreigners to travel freely between these countries without having to go through border controls.  This is super convenient for sure!

We don’t need a visa to travel to these countries for stays of up to 90 days in any 180-day period, so 3 months out of 6.  If you leave the Schengen area and return within the same 6-month period, the previous stay counts against the permitted 90 days.

Enjoying the view on our way to Prague
Enjoying the view on our way to Prague, Czech Republic

If you plan to stay for longer than 90 days, you have to contact the high commission or embassy of the country or countries you are traveling and obtain the appropriate visa before you travel.  If you don’t obtain the appropriate visa and you stay longer than the 90 days in the Schengen area, you may be fined or deported.  So count your days and make sure you avoid any troubles!

Our itinerary

Just in case you were curious, or crazy enough to attempt the 13 cities in 30 days, here is what our itinerary looked like.

Our one month itinerary through Europe
Our one month itinerary through Europe

We ended up staying two nights in each city.  This gave us about two days to explore each city.  We started our adventure in Vienna, Austria, then headed to the Czech Republic to visit České Budějovice and Prague.  We then took a night train to Krakow, Poland and after two full days there, we were off to Bratislava in Slovakia.

We took another night train to head to Budapest in Hungary.  Then, it was Zagreb, Croatia, followed by Ljubljana in Slovenia.  We then made our way back to Austria, checking out Salzburg this time.  Then we met up with friends for 3 days in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Romance in Bratislava
Romance in Bratislava, Slovakia

As our month was coming to an end, we spent a single night in Frankfurt, then four days in Amsterdam, two days in Maastricht and finally made our way to Paris, where we headed back home from!

If we were to redo the trip, we would probably take an extra day in each city.  Not that we didn’t have a blast doing it this way, but it did get tiring after a while, and we would have loved to visit more of each place.

No visit to Budapest is complete without hitting up the baths
No visit to Budapest is complete without hitting up the baths

We loved our month long adventure though Europe.  We discovered so many cities.  We traveled in comfort and style the whole way through.  We were able to get work done easily, either catching up on blogging, or even planning the itinerary for the city we were getting to.  Overall, we could not have imagined a better way to end this 15-month trip.


Disclaimer:  This article is produced as a part of our collaboration with Eurail.  We were given 2 one-month Global passes that allowed us to travel by train through Europe.  However, all the opinions and commentary in this article are our own unbiased account of our trip.


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Things to do in Maastricht: Your ultimate city guide

If you are looking to explore Maastricht, a beautiful gem of the Netherlands, here are our recommendations. Discover what to see, where to go, how to get around, and where to stay.

Maastricht was not originally on our list of cities to visit during our European train tour.  Our friend from Leiden recommended we head out here as it’s cute, calm and fun to discover.  In the end, we’re so happy we took his advice and headed here.  Although it’s a small town, and there’s not a ton to do here, it was one of our favourite places to discover.

Maastricht Town Hall in Maastricht, Netherlands
Maastricht Town Hall

Highly walkable, Maastricht was like Amsterdam‘s less hectic, but just as cute little sister.  Even though there are still tons of people biking around, you don’t feel like you’re constantly going to be run over by someone!  The streets are just as cute, lined with the old historic homes.  The markets around the city do not disappoint, and the locals are some of the friendliest we’ve met.

Originally a Roman settlement, Maastricht has become famous for a few reasons.  First is the world renown Maastricht University, home to over 16,000 students, almost half of which are foreign students.  Next is the Maastricht Treaty, better know as the formation of the European Union in 1992 and the creation of the Euro currency.

When to go

Maastricht is slightly more humid, so temperatures vary greatly here.  This reminds us greatly of our home town of Montreal, in Canada.  The humidity has a way of making everything feel a lot colder (or hotter) than it actually is.  The type of temperature that hits deep down inside your bones.  Regardless of when you go, make sure you bring an umbrella – the rain is just as unpredictable here as it is in Amsterdam!

If you like warmer weather exploration, Maastricht is hottest during the months of June, July, and August.  This also coincides with the busy tourist season.  July, August, and September are when the prices are high and the crowds flock in.

What to do

As we mentioned, there’s not a ton of things to do here, which is perfectly fitting with the laid-back feel of the city.  You can cram it all into one super busy day, of take two and do it at a leisurely pace.  We opted for 2 full days in Maastricht, and it was just perfect for us.  Another plus, the weather was highly cooperative!

Fort St. Pieter

We don’t usually do many guided tours, but when in Maastricht, we highly recommend coming to visit the Fort St. Pieter.  Our guide was funny, informative and highly knowledgeable, which made for a very entertaining tour.  Also, a guided tour is the only way to visit the Fort.

Fort St Pieter in Maastricht, Netherlands
Fort St Pieter

Maastricht has a highly strategic position in the Netherlands.  It’s at the intersection of the Netherlands, Belgium and France.  The location of the fort is also strategically chosen, up on the only hill in the area, it provides a great vantage point to protect (or sack) the city.  Truth is, the fort was built as an answer to one of the French attacks that broke the famous line in 1673.  The angular defensive fort was built a couple of hundred years later.

 

During the tour, you will learn a lot more about the history of the city, the fort and the “special” relationship between France and the Netherlands!  You will be able to visit the inside of the fort, go down to its tunnels and climb to the top as well.

 

You can buy tickets for the Fort online or directly at the Fort ticket office.  There is usually a daily English-speaking tour at 12:30 pm, and it lasts a little over an hour.  Tickets cost 7.20 Euros for just the fort, but we highly recommend the combo ticket to explore the Underground caves as well.

Underground caves

The only way to visit the underground caves in Maastricht is by going in a guided tour.  Heck!  How else do you plan to navigate through 20,000 corridors underground with minimal lighting?

A map of the North cave complex outside of Maastricht, Netherlands
A map of the North cave complex outside of Maastricht

Luckily, there are daily English tours at 2 pm that leave from the same ticket area as the Fort.  If you take the combo tickets for the fort and the caves, you will pay 11.50 Euros and have a perfect day (especially if it’s rainy).

Make sure you wear comfy shoes for your tours, you’ll be on your feet for a good part of 2.5 hours.  The weather in the cave is at a constant 11 degrees Celsius, and can very at the fort, so dress in layers.

 

Again, this tour is highly informative, entertaining and so much fun.  Learning the history of the caves, how people lived down here and how they are being used today was fascinating.  The coolest thing was walking around with no lights.  A slightly odd feeling for sure!

Basilica of Saint Servatius

It’s nearly impossible to miss the Basilica of Saint Servatius.  It’s in the coolest areas of the city, backing onto the town’s main square, Vrijthof.

The Basilica of Saint Servatius in Maastricht, Netherlands
The Basilica of Saint Servatius

Although this is the fourth church that has been built on this same site, it is still the same location of the grave of an Armenian missionary, Saint Servatius.  He was also bishop of Tongeren and died in Maastricht in 384.

We tried to visit the church, as it looked beautiful, but it was closed both times we went – once at night (around 7-8 pm) and again the next morning.  We were told that it is possible to visit the church, as well as its crypts and treasury where they have many relics.  Maybe you will have more luck than us!

Sint-Janskerk

Sint-Janskerk is located right next to the Basilica of Saint Servatius.  It’s a Protestant church that is iconic with its red tower – impossible to miss as well!

The Sint-Janskerk church in Maastricht, Netherlands
The Sint-Janskerk church

It’s possible to visit the inside of the church from 11 am to 4 pm on most days, as well witness Sunday Mass there, at 10 am.  Entrance to the church is free, but it will cost you 2.50 Euros to climb the tower.

Helpoort

Also known as Hell’s Gate, Helpoort is the oldest standing city gate in the Netherlands.  It was built in the 13th century as part of the city fortification that protected Maastricht.

Hells gate, also known as Helpoort in Maastricht, Netherlands
Hell’s gate, also known as the Helpoort

We thought it had a pretty cool name, until we found out that it was because of the fact that prisoners were kept in its tower. Luckily , those days are gone, as it later served as a residence, storage space and a workshop.  Today, the gate is home to a museum about the history of Maastricht’s fortifications.

Basilica of Our Lady

The Basilica of Our Lady stands tall and proud in Maastricht.  It’s dedicated to Our Lady of the Assumption although it is often referred to as the Star of the Sea.  This is because the church’s main devotion is Our Lady, Star of the Sea.  Inside, you can even see some figurines depicting these stories.

The Basilica of Our Lady in Maastricht, Netherlands
The Basilica of Our Lady

The church is beautiful inside and out.  Inside, you can find a treasury that holds some beautiful artifacts.  There is even a little chapel on the side that seems to be independent from the main church.

The Our lady Star of the Sea chapel in Maastricht, Netherlands
The Our Lady Star of the Sea chapel

Waldeckpark

Maastricht’s city park is the best place to take a stroll.  Just outside the old city walls, you can walk around and see a variety of sights that were actually quite unexpected!

A sculpture of a sitting bear in the city park of Maastricht, Netherlands
The sculpture of a sitting bear in the city park

These wooden sculptures that can be found all around the river that cuts through the park.  There was even an art installation that talks about various animals that have gone extinct or that were mistreated in a local zoo.  Well, actually, this is what we gathered by using Google Translate on the signs that were posted!

 

The Waldeckpark is a beautiful place to walk around, take in the calm and beauty of nature, and get away from the hustle and bustle of the city (although it’s not very hectic).  Luckily, we had a somewhat sunny day and got to hang out here.

City Hall and Market Square

Situated in Markt Square, and right across from our hotel, the City hall was impossible to miss for us.  Although you can walk inside, there isn’t much to say about the City Hall, other than how beautiful it looks, both during the day, and all lit up at night.

The market outside Maastricht city hall in Maastricht, Netherlands
The market outside Maastricht City Hall

The market sets up every Wednesday and Friday, right in front of the City Hall.  Here, you will find pretty much anything and everything you could possibly need.

There are between 200 and 300 stalls that pop up from 9 am to 4 pm, selling everything from clothes, fabric, flowers, fresh produce, fish (only on Fridays) and so much more.  Just note that the Friday market is larger than the Wednesday counterpart.

Check out a Christmas market in Vrijthof

We got quite lucky with this one!  We went to Maastricht at the perfect time to check out a Christmas market.  In case you didn’t know, we love Christmas markets.  They are the perfect place to pig out and try all sorts of delicious local treats and meals.  Obviously, we wash it all down with mulled wine!

The Vrijthof Square Christmas market in Maastricht, Netherlands
The Vrijthof Square Christmas market

The Maastricht Christmas market did not disappoint!  It runs from December 1st to January 1st, every day of the week.  There is a skating rink, a huge ferris wheel and tons of stalls that sell souvenirs, food and pretty much anything you would want!

 

The Market is set up in Vrijthof Square, right by Sint-Janskerk and the Basilica of Saint Servatius.

Boekhandel Dominicanen

From the outside, Boekhandel Dominicanen looks like a church.  But when you head inside, you will find the coolest bookstore in the world!  It’s probably the most beautiful bookstore we have ever stepped foot in!

From the second we walked in, we were in love.  The vibe here is so cool, and so impressive.  To browse through books in this majestic and regal setting is an unreal feeling!

The entrance to the Boekhandel Dominicanen bookstore in Maastricht, Netherlands
The entrance to the Boekhandel Dominicanen bookstore

Initially, this was a 13th century Dominican church.  Five centuries later, the church’s ecclesiastical function ended, and it began being used as stables, a bike shed, exhibition space and a party hall.  It was only in 2006 that it became a bookstore.

 

Today, it is an independent bookshop (it used to be owned by a chain), and there are more than 700,000 visitors that come to see this beauty each year.  Inside, you can find new and used books, in English, French, Spanish, German and Italian.  There is also a music department, a café, and it’s even used as an event/exhibition hall from time to time.

Walk around the old City Walls

Maastricht has always been an important historical location, strategically.  It has been attacked by would be conquerors more times than it cares to remember.  For this reason, it should be no surprise that, centuries ago, the city was fortified and enveloped by a large and sturdy city wall.

Today there are only remnants of this once great fortification, but what is still standing is still beautiful to lay your eyes on.  For those of you like Derek, who is a geek and loves old time castles and fortifications, walking around the old city wall is a must!

A part of the old city walls in Maastricht, Netherlands
A part of the old city walls

It is one of those activities that can surprise you, like when we stumbled onto the serene scene above.  This is only one of many sights the wall has to offer, all of which emit a historical aura not to be missed.

Where to stay

We loved our stay at the Hotel de la Bourse.  It was in the perfect spot, right where the market takes place and within walking distance of all the sites, restaurants and just above an amazing cafe, what more can we ask for!

Hotel de la Bourse Maastricht Netherlands
Great place to stop for a coffee or beer at night

It was also super easy to get to from the train station.  We walked there with no problem in maybe 15 – 20 minutes.  No need to grab a bus or taxi, which is always great.

They provide breakfast which had everything we wanted, a great way to start the day. The room was large, with a desk where we could work from, which is oh-so important for us!  

 

It also checked off our most important box, a big comfy bed!

The staff were very friendly, providing great recommendations and keeping our bags while we visited the city after we checked out.  Sometimes, the little things make a huge difference!

The market outside of Hotel de la Bourse in Maastricht, Netherlands
The market outside of Hotel de la Bourse

Where to eat

La Bodega: Who travels to the Netherlands and doesn’t want to eat Spanish food?  Ok maybe not everyone, but if you are in the mood for something light, or some alcoholic beverages, you should stop by this delicious Spanish Tapas restaurant.  Whether you are into meat, or a vegetarian, they will have something yummy for you!  We tried some jamón ibérico croquettes, along with some mushroom croquettes, patatas bravas and pan con tomate.  It really was like being back in Barcelona.

Patty ‘n bun: In the mood for a burger and some fries?  Patty ‘n bun has burgers that leave you wishing your pants stretched a bit more than they do!  We tried the pulled pork burger (you will need multiple napkins, be warned!) and the veggie burger made of beetroot and of course a side of french fries.  The space is also really cool, especially this super retro 90’s mural they have.  Be sure to bring cash though, because they do not accept credit cards like Visa or Mastercard.  They accepted another European one, we clearly didn’t have!

A section of the old walls guarded by cannons in Maastricht, Netherlands
Canons guarding a section of the old walls

Maastricht definitely has that quaint, small town vibe that we love.  Being here just before Christmas added a little something to our experience too.  Highlights?  Visiting the caves and Fort St. Pieter gave us insight into the city’s history we otherwise wouldn’t have gotten.

If you ever are in the Netherlands, you just have to take a day or two, and come visit this University city that is teaming with energy.


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There are a ton of amazing things to do and see in Maastricht, Netherlands. Here are our recommendations of what to do, where to stay, what to eat and how to get around. Tips, tricks and more to have the best time in Maastricht #Maastricht #travel #Netherlands #traveltips #cityguide #thingstodo

Things to do in Amsterdam: Your ultimate city guide

If you are looking to explore Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands, here are our recommendations. Discover what to see, where to go, how to get around, and where to stay.

Welcome to Amsterdam!  Since the day we started planning our trip, we knew we wanted to go to Amsterdam.  The beautiful canals that maze through the city and the unique homes that line them had seduced us.  The fact that you can bike around just had us swoon even more!

The sun sets over the canal in Amsterdam, Netherlands
The sun setting over the canal

We had four days here, but could have easily taken a few more weeks!  Whether you want to tip toe through the tulips, bike through the many canals, visit some epic museums, or live the “high life”, Amsterdam definitely has you covered.

When to go

The weather in Amsterdam is quite mild, as much in the summer as the winter, so anytime is good to visit the city.  Though no matter when you go, be sure to pack an umbrella – the rain in Amsterdam is unpredictable!

Beautiful architecture in Amsterdam, Netherlands
Beautiful architecture in Amsterdam’s Vondel Park

Tourist season in Amsterdam is between mid-April to mid-October, though crowds peak in July and August.  The weather is best at this time.  If you go out of this timeframe, you can expect cheaper prices in restaurants and hotels, as well as more peaceful exploration.

If you are heading to Amsterdam to check out the tulips in the fields nearby, make sure you go from April to mid-May.  That’s when the fields will be in full bloom!

What to do

There is more than enough to see and do in Amsterdam.  If you’re looking for a quiet day at the museum, or to go wild in the Red Light district, there is something for everyone.  You can choose to stay in Amsterdam for a few days, or even two weeks, and you’d still have more to discover.  You can bet that we’ll be coming back!

A lovely sunset over the canals of Amsterdam, Netherlands
A lovely sunset over the canals of Amsterdam

Anne Frank House

Everyone knows about Anne Frank, the famous diarist who hid from the Nazis during WWII with her family in this iconic house on a canal called the Prinsengracht.

The Anne Frank house in Amsterdam, Netherlands
The Anne Frank House

Today, the house that was Anne’s fathers workshop, where Anne and her family hid, serves as a museum that showcases the story of Anne Frank.  Also known as the Secret Annex, it is a must for those who want to tour the third most visited museum in the Netherlands.

The Statue of Anne Frank in Amsterdam, Netherlands
The Statue of Anne Frank

Just know that the house has been left bare, as per Anne Frank’s father’s request.  You will not see the rooms dressed as they were during the war.  Instead, artifacts and prints are showcased on the walls.

Bike around

Biking is serious business in the Netherlands, and nowhere more so than in Amsterdam!  We absolutely love this, as any measure that takes cars off the streets, and makes people exercise, is a huge plus in our books.  Not to mention, biking is a great way to get around the city!

A great sunset over the canals of Amsterdam, Netherlands
A great sunset over the canals

We did notice a few things that were kind of odd about the bike culture in Amsterdam though.  The first is that no one, seriously not a single person, wears a helmet!  How does a society that values biking so much not take bike safety seriously?!

Bicycles in Amsterdam, Netherlands
Bicycles in Amsterdam

The second thing is how little of the road/sidewalk/space is dedicated to pedestrians.  Since there is a very well-established infrastructure dedicated to biking in Amsterdam, much of which was taken from pedestrian sidewalks, it leaves very little room for people who want to walk around.  So if you do, watch out!

Discover some fun neighbourhoods

There are quite a few neighbourhoods and areas that are super fun to discover and walk of bike around.  There may not be a ton of ‘historic’ things to see or do around there, but they are really beautiful and just great to stroll around.

Jordaan

One of the coolest neighbourhoods in Amsterdam!  It’s full of cute boutiques, restaurants, and bars.  Enjoy your time here.  If the weather permits it, sit and just people-watch.  It’s one of our favourite things to do!

Cute houses on the canal in Amsterdam, Netherlands
Cute houses on the canal

The 9 streets

Another famous area, mainly because it’s oh-so-cute!  These small streets, lined with adorable shops and cafés, are the perfect place to chill around.  Be sure to check out the cool art galleries while you’re there too.  This is the perfect spot to stroll around on your way to or from the Anne Frank House.

The sun peaking over the buildings by the canals in Amsterdam, Netherlands
The sun peaking over the buildings by the canals

Dam Square

To be honest, we’re not quite sure what this area is called, but it’s surrounded by all these cute canals, tons of restaurants and shops.  It’s also right by the National Monument, tons of shops (if that’s what you want) and all the canal views you can get!  Plus, you’re steps away from the next stop on our list.

Dam Square National monument Amsterdam Netherlands wediditourway.com
The National Monument in Dam Square

Royal Palace of Amsterdam

Welcome to one of the residences of King Willem-Alexander.  The Palace stands proud in Dam Square and is a beauty to discover.  Luckily, it’s possible to tour the Palace, as it is open to the public as often as possible.

The Royal Palace in Amsterdam, Netherlands
The Royal Palace

Originally, the Palace was built to be Amsterdam’s town hall, until it found its true calling as a Palace!  Today, it’s recognized as the largest and most prestigious building from the Golden Age.

Museum hopping

There are tons of museums to choose from in Amsterdam, many of which are situated in the Museum Square, known as the Museumplein.

It’s home to some of the world’s most famous museums such as:

  • Rijksmuseum: National art and history museum
  • Van Gogh museum: Art museum dedicated to Vincent Van Gogh and other artists from his time
  • Stedelijk: Modern and Contemporary art museum
  • Royal Concertgebouw: Amsterdam’s Royal concert hall, considered one of the world’s best
  • Moco: The Modern Contemporary Museum Amsterdam, home to works from Banksy, Icy & Sot and a permanent exhibition from artists like Andy Warhol

If you love museums, you are in luck in Amsterdam.  We took the time to visit the MOCO, and absolutely loved it!  So many iconic works of art in such a small place.

One thing that we did not love, and something we have noticed lately at many museums through out the world, is people there simply to take pictures of themselves in the museum.

We understand this to a certain extent, after all we take pictures for Instagram all the time.  But to take up a whole exhibition hall to take 35 pictures of yourself in varying poses, while others who have paid to come to this place are trying to enjoy the art…

I mean come on, we live in a society here!  If you aren’t bothering anyone, then who cares.  But I was taking a picture of one of my favourite pieces of art at MOCO, when a woman who was taking her millionth picture of her friend in front of a piece “excused” me to move so she could take her shot…

Don’t be that guy/girl, just don’t.

Vondel Park

The Vondel Park, named after the 17th-century playwright and poet Joost van den Vondel, is a huge park situated West of the MuseumPlein and in the borough of Amsterdam-Zuid.

The entrance to the Vondel Park in Amsterdam, Netherlands
The entrance to the Vondel Park

Apart from the beautiful lakes, trees and paths that line this park, it also is home to an open air theatre, as well as many restaurants and cafes.  It’s the perfect place to spend a lazy afternoon lounging with a book or a picnic basket.  Just make sure you bring an umbrella, the rain in Amsterdam is unpredictable.  We got fully rained on, even though it was a fairly sunny day!

Part of the Vondelpark in Amsterdam, Netherlands
A serene view at the Vondel Park… right before it poured down on us!

Molen De Otter

What visit to the Netherlands is complete without seeing some beautiful, old windmills?  The Molen De Otter is the only remaining one in Amsterdam proper, and has been restored to working order.

The Molen de Otter, the last windmill in Amsterdam, Netherlands
The Molen de Otter, the last windmill in Amsterdam

At almost 400 years old, this windmill was originally built as a sawmill, designed to saw wood.  Today it is not operational, and it has been proposed that it be moved from its current location.

It wasn’t the only windmill we got a glimpse of while we were in the Netherlands, but we couldn’t skip our chance at seeing one from up close!  You can’t officially “visit” it, but you can get quite close up and admire its beauty, and history.

Blomenmarket

Tulips and the Netherlands go together like peanut butter and jam.  Cultivated here for over 300 years, the country is famous for its production of these pretty flowers.  The famous Keukenhof gardens see over 7 million tulips bloom a year, and welcomes over a million tourists per year.

The famous Bloemenmarkt tulip market in Amsterdam, Netherlands
One of many, many tulip stores in the Blomenmarket

Canada and the Netherlands also have a unique relationship, one that is celebrated by the gift of tulips!  During the Nazi occupation of The Netherlands in WWII, The Dutch Royal family, including future queen Juliana, were sheltered for three years.  For this act of kindness, the Dutch government sent 100,000 tulip bulbs to Ottawa, the capital of Canada.  Every year since, 10,000 tulip bulbs are sent as thank you.

Tulips from the Bloemenmarkt in Amsterdam, Netherlands
Tulip bulbs for sale at the Blomenmarket

While you’re at Blomenmarket, make sure you stop into one of the many cheese stores that line the street for a free tasting of delicious dutch cheeses from around the country!

Coffeeshops

For those who don’t visit Amsterdam for windmills, or tulips, they might come here to visit the local coffeeshops.  In case you didn’t know, they don’t exactly sell coffee in these shops though… If you’re looking for coffee, head to the local cafés.

A typical coffeeshop in Amsterdam, Netherlands
Thirsty?  LOL.  You won’t find much coffee here – this is one of Amsterdam’s infamous coffeeshops

Marijuana culture in Amsterdam is infamous, having been officially tolerated since 1976.  This has, in a way, defined the city and has created marijuana tourism the likes that no other city has ever seen.  At one point the city boasted over 1,500 coffeeshops, but the city cracked down in the 90’s, and today there are roughly 250 of them.

Edibles in an Amsterdam coffeeshop
It really comes in all shapes and sizes

If the smell bothers you, be prepared, because past noon, the smell of marijuana wafts through Amsterdam like a 1970’s rock & roll concert.  Rock on Amsterdam.

Check out AFC Ajax

Being crazy Canucks (read, Canadians), we love hockey, but I mean we LOVE hockey.  Well, in Amsterdam, the equivalent love of theirs is football, and their hometown Amsterdam Ajax of the Eredivisie league, Dutch football’s top division.

Johan Cruyff Arena home of the Amsterdam Ajax football club
Johan Cruyff Arena home of the Amsterdam Ajax football club

We couldn’t miss out on our chance to experience football in Europe, so we checked out a match between the Ajax and Ado den Haag.  The final score was 5-1 for the home team, a score that resembled more hockey than football, but we aren’t complaining!

The atmosphere was pretty insane, especially in the superfan section where drums could be heard all game long.  With an average attendance of almost 50,000 crazed fans per game, you can begin to understand the scene.

As some Spanish people told us, the Dutch league may not be La Liga (Spain’s top league), but this certainly topped the North American MLS and was an experience we strongly recommend if you are in town and there is a match.

Heineken experience

One of the most famous brewers in the world is Heineken.  Even if we aren’t huge fans of their beer, we wanted to check out the brewery.  Being a Dutch company that has been around for almost 150 years in the heart of Amsterdam, they have turned what was their original brewing facility into a modern day museum/virtual advertising campaign.

We went one rainy afternoon, and though we may have walked out slightly tipsy, were left with a bitter taste in our mouths, no puns intended!

The Heineken brewery museum in Amsterdam, Netherlands
The Heineken brewery museum

After touring the original Budweiser brewery in České Budějovice less than a month prior, we were quite impressed as the tour of their actual brewery showed us their history, brewing process and also included a beer tasting.

But touring the Heineken “brewery” was a different experience.  Lacking was the feeling that a local beer was brewed here, because it is not.  The Heineken Experience is more of a marketing machine than it is a brewery.

The information was lacking, and two thirds of our experience were walking through a maze of all the things Heineken sponsors, from sports teams to nightclub experiences…  It just wasn’t a great experience! It was almost to the point that they should pay us to walk through this virtual advertising experience… but at least we got “free” beer out of it.

If you have a rainy evening, or if you REALLY love Heineken beer, then maybe this is a good place to hang out.  If not, you may want to skip this one!  If you go, make sure you buy your tickets online, and get them ahead of time.  You’ll save some money and skip the line.

Go skating at Ice*Amsterdam

What better activity for a couple of Canadians like us than to go ice skating!  As much we love ice skating, considering Carine used to figure skate and Derek still plays hockey, the weather wasn’t cooperating with us.

Go for a skate outside the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, Netherlands
Go for a skate outside the Rijksmuseum

It was a balmy 10°C, so the ice was more of a swimming pool than an ice rink, but that didn’t stop a ton of locals and tourists alike!  For €5 you can skate to your pleasure if you have skates, otherwise a 2-hour rental will run you €11.

The Iceamsterdam skating rink outside the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, Netherlands
The Ice*Amsterdam skating rink

Incredibly, the rink is open from November 17th until February 3rd and is located behind the Rijksmuseum, right in the heart of Museumplein.  We say incredibly because the average temperatures from November through February go from 10°C down to a still above freezing 6°C.

Light Festival / Canal Cruise

Since 2012, every end of November, Amsterdam is host to their annual Light Festival.  This year, it showcased 30 artworks over 50+ days, and can be seen throughout the city’s canals.

The best way to see them all, is to take a night time cruise of Amsterdam’s canals, once specifically centred around the festival.  We did this with Blue Boat Amsterdam Canal Cruises, whom we were told were the best in the business from our hostel.

For €24 per person, we cruised the canals for 90 minutes and were able to take in the most prominent exhibitions the festival has to offer.

The cruise itself was nice and seeing the light festival was cool, but to be honest I think we would have preferred to take a cruise during the day to see the city better and not to be so cold.  So if you do want to go at night, they do provide blankets to keep you warm, but you should still bundle up.

Where to stay

We could not have loved our stay more at Stayokay Amsterdam Vondelpark.  Not only was the location absolutely perfect, the atmosphere was also amazing.  Situated right by Vondel Park, it was the perfect spot to discover the city.  We also had access to bikes, which made the whole experience even more fun and easy!

Chill out in the common area at Stayokay Vondelpark in Amsterdam, Netherlands
Chill out in the common area at Stayokay Vondelpark

Getting out of bed was pretty hard in the morning, considering how comfy the beds were, but luckily, we had some motivational help!  Their buffet breakfast in the morning was the best way to get our day started.  They even included the typical Dutch bread with jam and sprinkles.  Our new favourite breakfast! We also enjoyed hanging around the lobby, in one of the many hangout spots.  It was the perfect space to work, or to grab a bite at their restaurant, or even grab a drink and people-watch.

Rent a bike at StayOkay Vondelpark in Amsterdam, Netherlands
Rent a bike at Stayokay Vondelpark

The staff at Stayokay Amsterdam Vondelpark was also super friendly and helpful.  They went above and beyond to make us comfortable.  They gave us some great recommendations on things to do and see.  We also loved how eco-friendly the hostel was trying to be – from the shampoo and soap that was given to their efforts to create awareness around single-use plastic.  We totally love a place that fits with our values.

We could not recommend this hostel more!  Even if you think you don’t like hostels, Stayokay is so different!  They offer private rooms, and all the convenience and amenities of a hotel, without the uptight attitude.  With such a vibrant and fun vibe, we’re convinced that everyone will love this place!

Where to eat

Vegan Junk Food Bar: When you want to eat healthy, but also want some junk food, this is THE PLACE to go.  Even Derek, who is not a vegetarian, couldn’t get enough of this place.  He literally begged to go back for seconds.  Carine had the Original VJFB Burger with truffle fries, and Derek had the Shawarma fries.  Neither of us were dissapointed… in fact, we were very happy!

Original VJFB Burger at Vegan Junk Food Bar in Amsterdam
Original VJFB Burger at Vegan Junk Food Bar

Stroopwafel: Ok so maybe this isn’t somewhere to eat, but it is something to eat that you shouldn’t pass up!  Walk around and you will surely find somewhere to try this delicious Dutch dessert.  Take two slices of baked dough (like waffles), sandwich in some caramel syrup filling, and you have yourself a Stroopwafel.  They are as delicious to eat as they are fun to say!

Delicious stroopwafel in Amsterdam, Netherlands
Delicious stroopwafel

We loved our time in Amsterdam.  Don’t be to surprised to see us back there again soon.  There is so much to see and do, and the vibe is so cool that we just couldn’t get enough.

Have you ever been to Amsterdam?  Did you love it as much as we did?  Let us know in the comments!


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There are a ton of amazing things to do and see in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Here are our recommendations of what to do, where to stay, what to eat and how to get around. Tips, tricks and more to have the best time in Amsterdam #Netherlands #travel #Amsterdam #traveltips #cityguide #thingstodo

Things to do in Salzburg: Your ultimate city guide

If you are looking to explore Salzburg, the gem of Austria, here are our recommendations. Discover what to see, where to go, how to get around, and where to stay.

The hills are alive, with the sound of music!  How can you not walk around the beautiful streets of Salzburg and not think about the iconic movie from our childhood?!  The  old cobblestone streets, the beautiful architecture, the hills surrounding the city, the fortress sitting atop the hill – everything about Salzburg is just magical.  With so much to do and see, you need a good three days in the city to take in all the sights.

Salzburg may not be as large as the capital of Austria, Vienna, but to us, it’s like its charming younger sister.  Cute little streets that create a maze in the Old Town.  Friendly people smiling at you for no good reason, but their natural joie-de-vivre.  The Fortress that dominates the cityscape and makes the city look regal.  The mountains that surround the city, and make you want to break out in song, as if the Sound of Music soundtrack is on a loop in your head.  The fog and clouds that roll in and out and add a little je-ne-sais-quoi, making the whole city feel like a fairytale.  How can you not fall under the charm of this beautiful city!?

When to go

Although it gets quite chilly in the winter and really hot in the summer, the weather in Salzburg is usually quite mild.  The crowds come in with the heat, around July and August, just in time for the Salzburg Festival.  Then, you have the cutest Christmas markets that are set up in December.  Expect to see more tourists at these times of year.

 

If you are looking for peace and quiet, and more affordable pricing, the spring, early summer and autumn (September/October) are awesome!  Just be warned that you will have to deal with some rain… or a lot of it, like we did!

What to do

There is a lot to do and see in and around Salzburg.  It all depends on what you enjoy doing and where you want to spend the most time.  Walking around from one site to the next is easy, though some may need a bit more stamina to get to.  If you’re a fan of the Sound of Music, make sure you take it all in as this was one of the main shooting locations of the iconic movie.  You can even sign up for a tour that will take you to all the famous spots!

Looking at the Hohensalzburg Fortress from across the river in Salzburg, Austria
Looking at the Hohensalzburg Fortress from across the river

Hohensalzburg Fortress

Sitting atop the Festungsberg Hill, the Hohensalzburg Castle is impossible to miss from any vantage point in the city!  Its construction began in 1077, and it continued to expand for centuries after that.  It served as a fortress, military base, home to the archbishop, and to royalty.  It has quite a rich history, and the beauty of it is that you can visit it all today.

The Hohensalzburg Fortress seen through the early morning fog in Salzburg, Austria
The Hohensalzburg Fortress seen through the early morning fog

To reach the top, you can either use the pathway, or the funicular cable car.  You can guess what we took!  The funicular gets you up from the bottom to the top of the hill in about a minute.  How can our legs compete with that?!  The price of your entry ticket will include the lift.  Make sure you get them online, to skip the line and save some money as well!

 

Once you are up there, you can walk around the grounds, go through the museums (getting the all-inclusive pass will allow you to visit them all), walk up to the top of the tower with an audioguide, take in the amazing views and pretend that you are royalty!

St Peter’s Abbey

Situated near the entrance for the Fortress funicular, the Abbey is dedicated to St. Peter.  It was originally built over old Christian remains in 696 by Saint Rupert and has stood there ever since.

The cemetery of St Peter's Abbey in Salzburg, Austria
The cemetery of St Peter’s Abbey

You can peacefully walk around the cemetery grounds, admiring the beautiful tombstones.  You can also visit Austria’s oldest library with thousands of books (only accessible by guided tour) or the Long Gallery with its many paintings.  You can also go down into the catacombs.

The crucifix outside St Peter's Abbey in Salzburg, Austria
The crucifix outside St Peter’s Abbey

For fans of the Sound of Music, you may recognize this cemetery and the catacombs as the place the Trapp family used as a hiding place before escaping to Switzerland.

Mirabell Palace & Gardens

There is something so regal about Salzburg.  Home to countless historic sights, it’s no surprise it’s still considered it one of Europe’s most beautiful cities.  Listed as a cultural heritage monument, and built in 1606, the Palace was mainly used as a pleasure palace for royalty.

The Mirabell Palace in Salzburg, Austria
The Mirabell Palace

Although we didn’t have a chance to go inside, we loved walking inside the gardens, where you have amazing views of the Fortress and the Cathedral.  There are tons of fountains and statues around making the Palace look even more majestic.

 

For fans of the Sound of Music, it was also here that Maria and the children dance around the Pegasus Fountain, while they’re singing “Do Re Mi”.  At the end of the scene, the Trapp family stand on the steps in front of the Rose Hill to sing the song’s final bars.  Derek didn’t know the lyrics to the song, so we couldn’t recreate the scene ourselves!

Salzburg Cathedral

This beautiful baroque Cathedral is situated in an enclosed square next to the Salzburg Residenz.  It’s a beautiful place to visit, with a rich historical past.

The Salzburg Cathedral in Salzburg, Austria
The Salzburg Cathedral

Since being built in 774, the Cathedral has been demolished and rebuilt several times.  Today, it stands as a striking piece of architecture, only making the cityscape more beautiful!  It may look quite simple from the outside, but it’s actually quite beautiful and striking inside, where it counts.

The square outside the Salzburg Cathedral in Salzburg, Austria
That is not a real person on the giant gold ball… we totally thought it was at first!

We were lucky enough to go for Sunday Mass, and the sound of the choir, along with the beauty of our surroundings made it even more impressive.  If you choose to go at this time, please be respectful as it’s a place of worship.

Mozart’s birthplace

This is one of the world’s most visited museums.  Any classical music fan will not only love this city, because of all the museums, monuments and places dedicated to Mozart, but his birthplace is one of the most special.

Mozart's birthplace and museum in Salzburg, Austria
Mozart’s birthplace and museum

You can find it right in the Old Town.  There is a plaque on the front, as well as signage to tell you exactly where it is… you’ll also see a crowd there, so it’s hard to miss!  You’ll need a good hour to visit the museum where you will learn details of his childhood life, the musical instruments he owned and composed his famous symphonies with.

Nonnberg Convent

Another famous Sound of Music spot, the Benedictine Nonnberg Convent sits above the city, at the foot of the Festungsberg.  In the movie, this was Maria’s convent, when she was a nun.  In fact, every morning at 6:45am, you can hear the actual nuns of the convent sing Gregorian Chorals.  If you’re not a morning person, you can also hear the choir during special holidays!

The Nonnberg Convent in Salzburg Austria
The Nonnberg Convent

You can visit the frescoes in the so-called “Paradise” which is located below the Nuns’ Gallery.  You can also see the altar in St. John’s Chapel, but you need to ask for the key at the convent entrance.  Walking around the grounds, you will get a beautiful view of the city, and of the Hohensalzburg Castle.

Old Town

Walking around the Old Town was one of our favourite things to do in Salzburg.  But can you really blame us?  It’s one of the largest UNESCO World Heritage sights by area.  It’s lined with beautiful boutiques and restaurants.  The architecture of each building is stunning and the cobblestones only add to its charm.  If you want to spend an afternoon getting lost, this is the place to do it!

The cityscape of Salzburg, Austria
The cityscape of Salzburg

Kapuzinerg

If you want to get a little active during your time in Salzburg, and get an insane view of the city, head to Kapuzinerg.  We hiked to the top of this hill in the hopes we’d find another schlössl, which in our limited knowledge of German, was supposed to mean Castle, right?!  Like the Schönbrunn Schloss in Vienna, right?!  WRONG!  Turns out the ‘Franziskischlössl’ at the top of the hill is actually just a restaurant!

The Franziskischlössl restaurant on top of the Kapuzinerg in Salzburg, Austria
The Franziskischlössl restaurant on top of the Kapuzinerg

But that’s ok, because the hike itself was quite beautiful.  There are many trails to choose from.  The leaves were a bright red, the views we got of all corners of the city were stunning, and especially the view we had of the Fortress!  Just wow!

The view of Kapuzinerg hill from the Hohensalzburg Fortress in Salzburg, Austria
The view of Kapuzinerg hill from the Hohensalzburg Fortress

Kollegienkirche

Whenever we see a church, we love to walk in and explore it, and this even more true in Austria.  They are always stunning and so different from one to the next.  Kollegienkirche was actually more of a surprise than any other church we’ve seen.

The Kollegienkirche in Salzburg, Austria
The Kollegienkirche

From the outside, it looked like any other church we’ve seen.  But when we walked in, we discovered this very simple and beautiful church.  On top of it, there was an art exposition going on, with this impressive and imposing piece rolled on the ground with broken glass, as well as stunning portraits.  We would love to tell you more about the piece, but everything was in German.  Regardless, this piece was really moving.

 

Christmas markets

Pretty much the best thing about Europe at the end of November and most of December is the amount of Christmas markets that pop up!  And Salzburg is no exception with its Christkindlmarkt.  In fact, almost every square in town was taken over by a Christmas market.  Talk about merry!

 

If you know us, you know we’re not big on shopping for things.  This is not why we love the Christmas markets.  Instead, we love them because of all the food and drink we can get there.  Stalls and stalls selling local and traditional fare.  The souvenir mugs that you can fill and refill with mulled wine and apfelpunsch, a boozy apple drink.  Seriously, could life get any more perfect?!

Other sights we’ll need to come back for

Obviously, the two days we had were not enough to visit everything in Salzburg, which is why we recommend spending three.  We also hope you get better weather than we did (hello rain and clouds).  There were a few things we will need to come back for.  If you have more time, we highly suggest you check them out!

Hangar-7:  Created by the Red Bull gang, Hangar-7 looks like the coolest place.  Located at the Salzburg Airport, it not only houses the Flying Bulls aircraft fleet and a collection of Formula 1 race cars, but it also hosts art exhibitions, has a restaurant, two bars, a lounge, and a café.  A must see next time we’re there!

Hellbrunn Palace:  Built between 1612 and 1615, and located 15 minutes from the center of Salzburg, Hellbrunn Palace is not only a beautiful place to visit.  Make sure you check out its trick fountains as well.  And for you Sound of Music fans, you may just recognize a special gazebo there!

Leopoldskron Palace:  If the weather had cooperated, we would have never missed this iconic palace!  Built in 1736, this palace used to be home to archbishops and royalty.  It was also the main shooting location for the Sound of Music.  Today, it’s mainly a hotel.  Although certain places are closed to the public, there is a day in November that they allow non-hotel guests to visit the grounds.

Where to stay

If there is one place we recommend staying in Salzburg, it’s at Townhouse Tessa.  But don’t get us started as to why!  Actually, we’re going to tell you anyway!

Chilling in our room at Townhouse Tessa in Salzburg, Austria
Chilling in our room at Townhouse Tessa

First off, even before we got there, we were given access to Heym Collections website, where we could learn more about the city of Salzburg, and an overview of all the sights.  We were also sent our ‘key’ electronically, so we can get into our amazing apartment, quick and easy.  The key was sent on an app, and all we had to do was tap our phone on their door, and Open Sesame!  It was so easy and convenient.  We loved it!

Then, Townhouse Tessa was in the most perfect location.  We walked to every single spot we mentioned here.  It was so close and convenient.  You can even see the Fortress from the balcony.  We were steps away from all of the Christmas markets, which was great for discovering all the local foods and drinks.

 

Finally, the apartment itself was stunning.  Decorated in such a modern yet timeless manner, you could see that there was such attention that was paid to every little detail in the room.  As if the bed wasn’t comfortable enough, we loved hanging around in the living room, reading a book on the extra large couch.

At Townhouse Tessa, we really felt like we were at home, in the middle of this beautiful city.  We could not recommend it highly enough!

Salzburg Card

As always, depending on what you plan on doing while you are in Salzburg, you may want to get yourself the Salzburg Card.  It will give you access to the city’s museums and attractions for free or at a discounted rate.  You’ll get to use public transportation for free as well.

Take a look at the perks you get, and if it sounds good to you, you can get yours online.

A view of the Hohensalzburg Fortress from the Kapuzinerg hill in Salzburg, Austria
A view of the Hohensalzburg Fortress from the Kapuzinerg hill

We loved discovering Salzburg.  From the exploring the fortress and Old Town, to hiking Kapuzinerg, catching views of the city from every possible angle, we had a great time here.  It helped that one of us was a Sound of Music fan, but even if the movie is not your thing, you will surely find something that will make you fall under its charm.  Although it’s not as large as Vienna, the quaint and enchanting mountainous setting got us.  We’ll see you soon Salzburg!


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There are a ton of amazing things to do and see in Salzburg, Austria. Here are our recommendations of what to do, where to stay, what to eat and how to get around. Tips, tricks and more to have the best time in Salzburg #Salzburg #travel #Austria #traveltips #cityguide #thingstodo

Things to do in Ljubljana: Your ultimate city guide

If you are looking to explore Ljubljana and Lake Bled, the gems of Slovenia, here are our recommendations. Discover what to see, where to go, how to get around, and where to stay.

People often overlook Slovenia for their next holiday getaway.  It’s no surprise as this small country of 2 million inhabitants is mainly unknown, despite its rich history.  It’s not that visible on Instagram.  It’s not on many bucket lists.  But, to be honest, that’s the great part about it.  You can discover its beauty all for yourself!

Ljubljana, the country’s capital is a small and quaint city.  There’s plenty to explore here, but it’s also a great place to unwind and relax.  It has a bit of everything for everyone, from castles to dragons to fairytale day trips.  So here’s how to spend a quick 48-hours here.

A view of the city from Ljubljana castle in Ljubljana, Slovenia
A view of the city from Ljubljana castle

The people of Ljubljana are laid-back, friendly and often smiling for no reason.  Though we can’t really blame them.  We would be smiling too if we lived in such a cute city… especially considering its abundance of bars and outdoor terraces.

Ljubljana is a small town.  Pretty much everything you want is walking distance from the centre of the old town.  The streets are lined with delicious restaurants, cute boutiques and don’t be surprised if you stumble upon a market or two.  You can criss-cross the canals, get lost walking around a maze of streets, fully taking in the beauty of this place.

When to go

If you’re looking for heat, festivals and tons of outdoors drinking and eating, the summer is the best time to check out Ljubljana.  The city comes to life with festivals drawing in tons of tourists.  Just note that it does get quite crowded then.

If you want to enjoy warm and sunny weather, without tons of tourists, May and September are awesome for that.  When we were there in November, the weather was cold but still bearable.  And if you want to check out the Christmas markets, head there in December.

What to do

As we mentioned, there isn’t a ton to do here, which is why two days is the perfect amount of time to see what we’ve lined out.  It includes a trip to Lake Bled and a day in Ljubljana.  However, if you want to make two day trips from the capital, consider spending a third day.

Ljubljana castle

Perched on top of a hill, the Ljubljana castle keeps a watchful eye on the city.  You can take the funicular up for 2.20 euros (or 4 euros for both ways).  If you want to get a little workout in, there are also stairs to get up there.

It’s free to stroll around the castle and in courtyard.  If you want to check out the museum or go inside the castle, you will need to pay an entrance fee.

The courtyard at the Ljubljana castle in Ljubljana, Slovenia
The courtyard at the Ljubljana castle in Ljubljana, Slovenia

From the castle, you can get beautiful views of the city.  We loved walking around the grounds at night, seeing the lights of Ljubljana sparkle in the darkness.

The bridges of Ljubljana

One of our favourite things to do in Ljubljana was walking around the canals and crossing all the famous bridges in the city.  A map could be helpful (but you really don’t need one).  Just walk around the Ljubljanica River, you will cross them all!

Locks on the bridge of love in Ljubljana, Slovenia
Locks on the Mesarski bridge (or as Derek calls it, the bridge of love)

Dragon Bridge

By far, the coolest bridge we’ve seen in a while.  Pointing you toward the Ljubljana castle, this bridge is guarded by four dragons.  That’s one more than the Khaleesi, making this bridge even cooler (especially for us Game Of Thrones fans).

The Dragon Bridge dates back to 1888, and was built in honour of the 40th anniversary of Emperor Franc Jožef I.  It’s our favourite bridge in Ljubljana.

Cobbler’s bridge

This is a decent bridge, with cool columns, but what makes it interesting is how it got its name.  The Cobbler’s bridge is actually one of the oldest bridges crossing the Ljubljanica River.  It dates back to at least the 13th century.

The Cobbler Bridge in Ljubljana, Slovenia
The Cobbler’s Bridge

It didn’t quite look like what it does today.  It started as a wooden bridge with butcher shops on it.  Maybe the emperor of the time was a vegetarian, because he didn’t like the stench from the meat, so he paid to have them relocated.  The butchers were replaced by shoemakers and that’s where the name come from.

If you look hard enough around the bridge, you may even find an art piece paying homage to them.

Triple bridge

We really wonder where the name for this one comes from!  Just kidding, it’s actually pretty obvious.  This bridge has three different passages.  They connect and intersect across Ljubljanica River.  Made up of white stone and ornate columns that frame diagonal stairs.  They lead to underground walkways and bars.  It’s fun crossing this bridge a few times, never on the same path!

Tromostovje bridge in Ljubljana, Slovenia
Tromostovje bridge, also known as the triple bridge

As if that doesn’t make the bridge cool enough, it’s also in a prime location.  Across the beautiful pink Franciscan Church and Prešeren Square.

Prešeren Square

Prešeren Square is the central square in the city.  It’s actually a major meeting point where they hold festivals, the Ljubljana carnival, concerts, sports, political, and protest events.  It may not have much going on while you’re there, so it’s not a must, unless you want to check out the next stop.

Cerkev Marijinega oznanjenja

This is a beautiful pink Franciscan church dominating the square.  The Franciscan Church of the Annunciation was built between 1646 and 1660, and actually replaces an older church that was on the same site.  Its colour is symbolic of the Franciscan monastic order.  

The Cerkev Marijinega oznanjenja church in Ljubljana, Slovenia
The Cerkev Marijinega oznanjenja church

Since 2008, the church has been protected as a cultural monument of national significance of Slovenia.  Its quite imposing and beautiful so we understand why.  Just make sure you don’t follow our lead and go when it’s actually open!

Vurnikova hiša

This beautiful pink building is just so cute!  The Vurnikova hiša is one of the city’s most famous buildings.  Built in 1921, with its intricately decorated facade, it stands out from the surrounding buildings.  It’s celebrated as one of the finest examples of Slovenian national style architecture.

Vurnikova hiša in Ljubljana, Slovenia
The beautiful Vurnikova hiša

Unfortunately, the building is not open to tourists, but it sounds beautiful as much on the inside as it is on the outside.  It comes complete with a large reception hall, a glass ceiling constructed from small blue squares of glass with an inbuilt decorative strip made from various coloured bottles.  To add to it, the staircase hall, on the first and second floors, is decorated with stained-glass windows depicting geometric motifs.  Now if only we can find a way in!  Can anybody hook us up?

Central market

We just love markets.  We love seeing the locals come together, get friendly with each other, and just go on with their daily loves.  It’s always a great place to people-watch… oh, and try local food!

The Ljubljanica river near the central market in Ljubljana, Slovenia
The Ljubljanica river, with a view of the indoor market

There are 2 parts to this market.  The outdoor part in the main square, as well as the indoor part.

Cathedral of St. Nicholas

It’s hard to miss the Cathedral in Ljubljana.  Its dome dominates the cityscape but it was only built in 1842.  Originally a fake dome was painted on the arch above the centre of the cross.

Its location was originally where you could find a three-nave Romanic church.  After the fire of 1361, it was re-vaulted in the Gothic style, and then underwent several changes.  It was burnt down again in 1469.  Not such a lucky history!

Bronze doors of the Cathedral of St. Nicholas in Ljubljana, Slovenia
Bronze doors of the Cathedral of St. Nicholas

We really liked this cathedral.  The way the doors had figures melted into them, the beauty of the decor inside, the intricate design all made it very special.

The fountains & statues

Ljubljana is home to many beautiful statues and fountains.  They are littered all over town, but unfortunately for us, they are covered for winter… While I’m sure this helps to preserve them, especially in the long term, we would have loved to see them!

Cute way of preserving their fountains in the winter in Ljubljana, Slovenia
A cute way of covering up their fountains and statues in winter

Day trips

Lake Bled

Lake Bled is a fairytale land dream come true.  We’re not sure if the residents of Bled know how lucky they are to live in such a beautiful place.  We highly recommend you take a day trip there from Lake Bled and spend a whole day exploring its beauty.

A view of the Pilgrimage Church of the Assumption of Maria from Bled Castle at Lake Bled, Slovenia
A view of the Pilgrimage Church of the Assumption of Maria from Bled Castle

This is a beautiful place to walk around, no matter what time of year you go.  The lake, nestled in the valley, surrounded by mountains and cliffs is the best view you can ask for.

There’s not a ton to do here apart from the main attractions, such as the castle, the lake and island and the lookout point.

Wooden boats to bring you to the Pilgrimage Church of the Assumption of Maria at Lake Bled, Slovenia
Wooden boats to bring you to the Pilgrimage Church of the Assumption of Maria

Going up to the castle is a must.  It is beautiful and brings you back in time with things like an old fashion forge, wine cellar and print shop.  Visiting the castle will only set you back 11€ per person, definitely worth it in our opinion.

There is also a museum, which you get access to when you buy your ticket.  It’s small but interesting, so take the 20-30 minutes and check it out.

Sunflare through the gate at Bled Castle Slovenia
The beautiful gate at the Bled Castle

The best time to go is before 10 am, before the crowds start coming in.

To get to Lake Bled, get to the main bus station in Ljubljana and take the bus to Bled (platform 7). It takes about 1h20 min. Bled is the last stop and you can walk to the lake from it.

The Ljubljanica river in Ljubljana, Slovenia
The Ljubljanica river

Lake Bohinj

We didn’t have a chance to make it to Lake Bohinj, but it’s on our list for our next trip to Slovenia.  Take the sights around this beautiful lake, go hiking and just enjoy the beauty and serenity of the place.  If you are in the area, make sure you head there!

Where to stay

When in Ljubljana, we stayed at Atticus B&B, and cannot recommend it highly enough.  Equipped with dorms and private rooms, the B&B has everything you need to have an amazing stay.  Another plus, the location is perfect!  It’s close enough to everything you want to see, just a stone’s throw from the Ljubljana Castle.

The rooms are located on the last 2 floors of the building, in the attic.  But don’t expect them to be creepy like grandma’s old attic.  These rooms are beautiful.  With wooden beams and bright ceiling windows, they are so cozy.  If we could have, we would have moved in!  The beds are comfy, and we loved the multi-functional desk where we could get work done!

We adored having breakfast at the café downstairs.  We had everything we needed to get the day started on the right foot.  How can you go wrong when you’re being offered the most delicious chocolate croissants ever and a hot delicious coffee?!

The highlight of our stay however, was meeting and talking to the owner, Minca.  She was such a vibrant and sweet person.  We saw her work tirelessly to help her other guests have an amazing time in Ljubljana.  She had some great recommendations for us as well.  Talking to her, it was impossible not to leave without a smile plastered on our faces.  Minca, we hope our paths will cross again, and expect to get a postcard soon!

Where to eat

There are a ton of delicious places to eat in Ljubljana, and you have quite a selection of meals as well.  From cheap eats to super fancy meals, there’s something for everyone.  These are the two spots that we really enjoyed:

Gostilna Dela: Situated right in from of Atticus, not only is Gostilna Dela affordably priced, the food is excellent, with a menu changing every day (or so).  But what we loved most about this restaurant, is their purpose.  They offer vocational training to young people who are more vulnerable.  People without formal education, with disabilities or with special needs.  We loved this about them.  We also loved their pumpkin risotto!

Gujžina: A little more on the pricey side, Gujžina Prekmurska Gostilna is absolutely delicious.  This is where you can try traditional Slovenian food, although they specialize more in the cuisine from the northeast of the country.  They make the most amazing cheeses (we had sunflower seed and pepper), as well as melt-in-your-mouth knodels.  Their gnocchi with pumpkin seed pesto was out of this world.  We had never had pumpkin seed oil before, but after this meal, we have fallen in love, and want it on everything, all the time!

The Ljubljanica river at night in Ljubljana, Slovenia
The Ljubljanica river at night

Ljubljana and Lake Bled really stole our hearts.  We went with no expectations, but we were blown away by their beauty.  You have all the charm of Europe, in the cutest little packages!  Cozy, warm and friendly, we can’t recommend Slovenia highly enough!


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There are a ton of amazing things to do and see in Ljubljana, Slovenia. Here are our recommendations of what to do, where to stay, what to eat and how to get around. Tips, tricks and more to have the best time in Ljubljana #slovenia #ljubljana #travel #lakebled #traveltips #cityguide #thingstodo