Top Things to do in Tromsø, Norway

Top Things to do in Tromsø, Norway

Located within the Arctic Circle, Tromsø is the most densely populated area in northern Norway. The popularity of this destination has been increasing over the past number of years, as many people are attracted by the breathtaking scenery, the natural landscapes and of course being known as one of the best places in the world for catching a glimpse of the northern lights. Here is a list of the top things that you must do or see when you are in Tromsø.

Northern Lights Tour

For me, seeing the northern lights was priority number one when I was in Tromsø and the main reason which brought me there. Being located under the Aurora Belt you have the best chances of seeing the lights. However, it’s important to keep in mind that seeing the Aurora Borealis is never guaranteed. It all depends on the weather and a bit of luck. The best time of year to see the aurora is from September to April, so make sure you plan accordingly to avoid disappointment.

There are several companies in the city that organize northern light tours, so my recommendation would be to wait until you arrive and then reserve a tour based on the weather forecast. The weather changes so quickly up there, so what looks good a few days out might be completely different when you get there. Pre-booking your tour can be good and bad. It can be a good idea if you are only visiting for a short time, want to make sure you see the northern lights and want to guarantee a place with a particular company. We did this but there was a bad side to it as well. Our first tour was amazing as we were extremely lucky to have a clear night with lots of activity. However, because we didn’t know how the first night would be we pre-booked a second night and to our dismay it wasn’t as good as the first night. Don’t get me wrong, it was still amazing to see the lights again for a second time but looking back now we would have been very content after our first tour.

 

Choosing a tour company can be a tough task, but after reviewing a few different companies online the best one seemed to be Chasing Lights. With over 800 reviews on TripAdvisor it was hard to argue that they weren’t the best.

Chasing Lights offer an “unforgettable and adventurous outdoor experience”. Their maximum group size is 13 people so it feels a lot more personal than jumping on a large bus. Their service is amazing, they provide hotel pick up, thermal suits and boots to keep you warm, hot meals and beverages, a campfire and they even share photography tips and take photos throughout the tour as well. On top of this they have great tour guides who are very knowledgeable and don’t give up till they find a glimpse of the northern lights. I think this is what separates them from other companies. To sum this up perfectly, on our second tour we drove close to the Finnish border before doing a u-turn in the hope of catching a glimpse of the lights somewhere further south.

 

Whale Watching

During the winter months large numbers of humpback and orca (killer) whales gather near the coastline of Tromsø to feed. These tours will generally operate from mid-October to mid-February, but will be weather dependant so my advice would again be to wait until you get to Tromsø before booking anything.

Like the Northern Light tours there are several companies in the city that organize whale watching trips. The main difference between the companies is the type of boat they use. There are large fishing boats, small sailboats and catamarans and also speed boats too. For our tour we decided to book with Arctic Adventure Tours as they used a RIB with a small group size. This would give us a great opportunity to see these amazing mammals up close and personal.

The tour lasts roughly 4-5 hours and starts with Arctic Adventure Tours doing a pick up from the centre of Tromsø at 9am. From there you drive a short journey to the harbour where they provide you with Arctic suits and lifejackets. Once everyone is suited and booted it’s onto the water to start the search. During the trip you are served hot chocolate and given some snacks to heat you up. Once the tour is finished and you arrive back at the harbour you are driven back to Tromsø. For me this tour was an amazing experience. To be able to witness these giants of the sea so close was truly special. It is one that I highly recommend to anyone who is in Tromsø during these months.

 

Fjord Excursion

The breathtaking fjord landscapes in the Tromsø region are some of the finest Norway can offer so it’s a tour not pass up on. Touring the fjords is a great day trip as it allows you to kick back relax and soak up the stunning surroundings. Especially if you’ve been out the night before chasing the lights. Like the other tours, there are several companies in the city that organize fjord excursions, but we decided to go with Chasing Lights.

We had such a good experience with them and enjoyed their small personal tours that we chose them again.

They operate in small groups and go by mini-bus, so it’s very comfortable. They stop and let you experience the surroundings, walk on foot, take photos and enjoy the scenery. They also provide lunch and hot chocolate during the trip too.

 

Explore the City

Although Tromsø is a relatively small city, there are lots of things to see and do. Whether it be walking around browsing the shops or exploring one of the many museums you will not be short of things to see and do.

You should try visit the following places, however, if you are stuck for time I would recommend the latter two:

  • The Polar Museum, here you can learn about polar expeditions. You will meet men, women, ships and equipment that were essential for life on the sea and in the Arctic and you can also learn about the history of seal hunting in the Arctic.
  • Polaria. Located just five minutes walk from the centre of Tromsø. The Polaria has an Arctic aquarium, interesting exhibits, a panoramic cinema, and a gift and souvenir shop.
  • Walk over the Tromsø bridge and visit the Arctic Cathedral. The Arctic Cathedral is characterized by its bright white and triangular architecture and is now a landmark of Tromsø.

  • If you are tired of experiencing Tromsø on the ground, you should take a cable car ride and view the city from the mountain top. Fjellheisen is the name of the cable car, and it takes you up to Mount Storsteinen, which overlooks Tromsø. The short ride up takes you to a viewing point where you can have phenomenal panoramic views. You can see the whole of Tromsø from the viewing point and you can also see snowy mountain ranges in the distance. At the top of the mountain there is a cafe, which serves food and drinks and has a fire on so you can heat back up before making your way back to the city centre.

Eat & Drink

Another option when exploring the city is to sample the local pubs, cafes and restaurants. The Nordics are known for being crazy expensive and Tromsø is no different. Although it’s a small place there are so many places and options to choose from, even if you are on a budget. Over the course of our trip we were able to sample a few places. Here are the places I would recommend:

  • For breakfast and especially coffee make sure you check out Riso mat & kaffebar and Art Cafe. Prices weren’t too bad and the quality was great.
  • For bars make sure you check out the famous Mack’s Beer Hall. There are over 100 beers on tap so it is a place not to be missed. Warning the beer can be expensive here. Also make sure you visit Huken Pub. This small pub is filled with retro furniture, has a great atmosphere, serves locally produced Mack beer and makes the most epic burgers. No seriously, these burgers were incredibly good, make sure you try them.
  • For restaurants, check out Mathallen (located just off the main street) and the Kitchen & Table (located in the Clarion Hotel). Both serve a mix of international and great local dishes such as fish and reindeer.
  • For travellers on a budget there is a large Eurospar supermarket where you can pick up supplies to either cook yourself or buy things for breakfast or lunch. There is also a Burger King, multiple sushi restaurants and other convenient stores. Also being a student town there are bars and restaurants that offer deals.

Other

Depending on the time of year you visit there are more activities and things to do. During the winter months you can go dog-sledding, reindeer sledding, snowmobiling, cross country skiing and witness the polar night. During the summer months you can do more water sports like kayaking, hike and witness the midnight sun.

Exploring Iceland in 4 days

Exploring Iceland in 4 days

In April 2015 my dad and myself set out to find the infamous Northern Lights and discover all that Iceland had to offer. Unfortunately we came up short on both fronts. The weather was too wet and cloudy to see the lights and we discovered that Iceland has a lot more to offer and 4 days just isn’t enough time to see and do everything in this magnificent country.

Here is what we got up to on our trip.

At the time we took this trip there was no direct flight from Dublin to Iceland, that is unless you took a chartered plane and went with a tour operator, which is what we did.

Now WOW Air fly directly to Reykjavik a couple of times a week. Check out their flight schedule here.

Day 1:

Thursday – The Blue Lagoon

We arrived into Reykjavik airport and made our way into the city to the hotel (Radisson Blu) straight away. The bus journey takes about 45-60mins. 

Because we only had 4 days in Iceland we had a pretty good plan of the things we wanted to see and do. As a result we had a quick turnaround before heading to one of Iceland’s most visited sites, the Blue Lagoon.

We took a 4.15pm bus with Reykjavik Excursions from our hotel and returned on the last bus @ 9.15pm back to Reykjavik city. The Bus takes roughly 45mins+ to get there but a little longer on the way home as it stop at the numerous hotels.

Being one of the main visitor attractions in Iceland it does get very busy so buying admission online before you arrive is advised. However you can always chance it and buy admission on the day like we did. 

There are several different packages to purchase. We went for the Premium package, which included a free drink, flip flops, a robe, a towel and a locker.

Once in the lagoon, make sure you grab a drink from the in-pool bar, check out the natural steam bath and go to the observation deck for great panoramic views of the lagoon and surrounding area. Also try putting the silica mud on your face. It can be found in buckets around the lagoon and it’s great for your skin. 

That night we had a northern lights boat tour booked, but due to bad weather it was cancelled. The company policy allows you to reschedule for another day or even other activities. 

**Tip** To maximise your time, head straight from the airport to the Blue Lagoon. There are multiple bus services that go there and it’s only a 15 minute journey versus 45+ minutes from Reykjavik city centre. There is large luggage storage at the Blue Lagoon so bringing your suitcase isn’t an issue. 

Day 2:

Friday – Golden Circle Tour

For our second day we had planned to do the Golden Circle Tour, so we rented a car from Red Car Rental (located at the bus depot). We had booked a medium sized car but got upgraded to a large 4×4, which was great for driving in the snowy conditions. Renting the car worked out way cheaper than paying for a company tour. Also, renting your own car means you can stay at the sites for as long as you want instead of being rushed off and missing these great attractions. Trust me when your at the sites you won’t want to leave.

We visited all of the usual Golden circle sites such as Gulfoss, the Geysers and Pingvellir National Park along with a few small stops like a natural hot springs and another national park.

This tour is a must as it allows you to witness some of the most amazing natural wonders of the world. They look even more spectacular when surrounded in the snow, so try go in the Winter or Spring months.

Day 3:

Saturday – City tour on foot. 

After two days on the go with activities we decided to stay in the city and explore all that Reykjavik had to offer. We started the day with another epic buffet breakfast in the hotel and followed it up with some massages in the hotel spa. After a nice relaxing morning we walked into the city and tried some of Iceland’s famous cuisines, hotdogs and lobster soup. We checked out Hallgrímskirkja (the famous church), the boat sculpture at the viewpoint and the opera house by the harbour.

Reykjavik is a pretty small city and everything is within walking distance. There are lots of really nice boutique shops, restaurants and bars around so there is plenty to see and do.

That evening we went to Kopar restaurant in the old harbour for dinner. We had the 9 course tasting menu which was exceptional, I highly recommend it. 

The tasting menu consists of 3 starters, 3 mains and 3 desserts. It includes an amazing Daim Cheesecake, which has my mouth watering as I think of it now.

Day 4:

Sunday – South Coast tour

The only tour we had pre-booked prior to arriving in Iceland was the Glacier and South Coast tour with Extreme Iceland. The highlights are seeing some amazing waterfalls, visiting the black-sand beach, climbing the fourth biggest glacier in Iceland and taking in some great Icelandic scenery. This is a minibus tour that operates from Reykjavik and it gives you the opportunity to take in some great sites and scenery with experienced guides and a small group.

The first stop on the tour was Seljalandsfoss waterfall. It’s unique because you can walk behind the falling water. 

After climbing behind Seljalandsfoss we jumped back on the bus and geared up for hiking the glacier. We were given crampons, harnesses, ice axes and helmets and were on our way.

Sólheimajökull glacier is part of Myrdalsjökull, Iceland‘s fourth largest glacier that covers the infamous volcano Katla. The hike is fairly easy and is suitable for all ages and fitness levels. Climbing the glacier was definitely the main highlight on this tour for me. But I could be biased, as climbing a glacier was a bucketlist item for me so it was great to be able to tick it off.

Reynisfjara, the black sand beach is where we go after the hiking. In Reynisfjara you encounter stunning basalt columns, vast black sands with the majestic sea stacks of Reynisdrangar dominating the horizon.

The last stop of the tour is at Skógafoss Waterfall. This impressive waterfall is one of the most visited sites in Iceland and for a good reason. There are two great photo opportunities at the waterfall, one at the base of the fall and the other at the top. The view from the top involves a steep climb but the view is pretty amazing so it makes it all worth while.  

After a long journey back to Reykjavik and a quick freshen up we made our way into the city for dinner. We ended up in a restaurant called Fiskfelagid or Fish company in English. It’s a more upmarket restaurant so it was a little bit pricey but worth every bite. We got a mix of sushi, cod, catch of the day and pork belly. All dishes were amazing.

Day 5:

Monday – Massages & chill/optional trip to Blue lagoon and home.

On our last day in Iceland we had a couple of hours free before being collected to head to the airport. Because we had done everything we planned to do, we chose to use the hotel spa and relax after a hectic few days. However other things to do on your last day include, visiting the Blue Lagoon, exploring the city or choosing one of the many half day tours on offer. 

To sum this post up, Iceland has so much to offer, from its breathtaking scenery to adrenaline rushing activities to its amazing food. It was definitely one of the best trips I’ve ever been on. I was completely blown away by this stunning country and can’t wait to go back and explore it again.

How to Spend a Long weekend in Berlin

How to Spend a Long weekend in Berlin

One of my travel goals for 2015 was to go to Germany, as it was a country I had never been to before. The city has so much history and is well known for its Christmas markets, so in December of 2015 we booked a long weekend in Berlin.

Berlin is such a big city and there is so much to see and do. In order to make the most of your time there, I would recommend preparing a list of the things you want to see and do in advance and familiarise yourself with the layout of the city.

Here is how we spent a long weekend in Berlin.

Day 1:

When we arrived into Berlin Tegal airport we jumped on the local bus (X9 or 109) to the U-Bahn (UB) station which took us into Berlin city centre. The bus and UB ticket cost about €2.50 and only took 20-30 mins. Taxis into the city can be expensive so using public transport is something I would advise, especially if you are travelling on a budget.

We stayed in an Airbnb apartment in the area Neukölln, which is just south of the city centre and takes only a few minutes to get out to on the UB. It is an up and coming neighbourhood with plenty of bars and restaurants on offer.  

It was late enough when we arrived at our Airbnb apartment so we decided to grab some food nearby and wait until the next day to really explore the city.

We used the Yelp app and luckily found a place called BBI which was nearby. It was ranked #1 for burgers in Berlin so we had to check it out. They certainly lived up to their reputation as the burgers were awesome. I got the special El Gordonita burger and Siof got a gluten free chicken burger. 

After stuffing our faces we grabbed some drinks in the local shop and made our way back to the apartment. 

Day 2:

The next morning we got up early and took the UB to Mitte (City centre). We went for breakfast in a place called Spreegold, which is only a 5 minute walk from Alexander Platz station. It had a great menu with lots of healthy options and was reasonably priced.

After breakfast we walked to the Brandenburg Gate in search of the free walking tours, which we had heard about from friends. We luckily arrived just in time for the 11am free walking tour with New Europe- Sandemans. Check out their website for other tour times as they run them several times a day. They leave from the Starbucks beside the Brandenburg Gate and hold red umbrellas so you won’t miss them.

The tour lasts approx. 3hrs, is very informative and takes you to all the top tourist spots with great commentary and information throughout. The tours are tip based, so it allows you to pay what you think it is worth. 

On the tour you visit sites such as, the Brandenburg gate, the Holocaust memorial, Hitler’s bunker, the Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie, Gendarmenmarkt (Christmas market in December) and ends at Humboldt University (where Einstein attended). All in all it was a great way to see and learn more about Berlin and Germany’s history. I would definitely recommend the free walking tours to anyone who is visiting Berlin for the first time or for those who just want to learn more about the history. 

After the tour we went back to the Gendarmenmarkt Christmas market, ranked one of the top markets in Berlin, to have a look around and to take a break and have some food and a drink.

Our rest didn’t last too long as next on the list was the Typography of Terror museum. The museum contains photographs and information about the SS and SA during Hitler’s reign. The images and information on show are very powerful from start to finish. Depending on your reading speed and attention span the museum can take about an hour or more to get through.

After the museum we wandered up to Postdamer Platz for some food before visiting another Christmas Market at Alexander Platz. After a very long day of walking we decided to get a drink and put the feet up.

Day 3:

We read about a breakfast place on Yelp, located halfway between our apartment and Mitte, but when we got there we found out it was closed due to the Christmas holidays. Luckily we found a good spot close by called Schuchmanns.

After breakfast we made our way back towards the Brandenburg Gate to see the Reichstag and to take the Alternative Berlin Tour. Although we never actually made it into the Reichstag, due to time constraints and availability, we learned that you should pre-book your entry to the glass dome at the top of the building as it offers great views of Berlin. We opted for the Alternative Berlin walking tour instead.

There are a few Alternative Berlin tours that operate in the city, some go from Alexanderplatz and others from the Brandenburg Gate. We took the Sandemans one which cost €10 and left from the Brandenburg Gate at approx. 1pm. 

This tour shows you a glimpse of Berlin the post war and post Berlin Wall days. You get brought to different neighbourhoods where graffiti is the main attraction. It was definitely an interesting tour as it brought you to places you’d never go yourself and gives you a better appreciation for Berlin.

The tour ends in the neighbourhood Friedrichshain which is a top spot for restaurants, bars and clubs. Make sure you check it out.

We grabbed some dinner and cheap drinks in Tempo-Box on Simon-Dach-Str. before we made our way back to the Gendarmenmarkt Christmas market for a final browse and a few drinks to end the night.

Day 4:

On our last full day we found another nice place for breakfast, not too far from our apartment in Neukölln. It was called Cabslam and has some delicious dishes on offer and well worth trying. This was by far one of the best food places we went to on our trip.

After breakfast we made the short walk across Neukölln to rent some bikes. We got them from Rent a Bike 44 and it cost €4 for the day. FYI, the place looks closed from the outside but all you need to do is press the bell on the door and someone will come then.

We cycled through Templehof Park which was once an airport during the Cold War and still has two long runways going through them. The park is meant to be a great place to visit during the summer months so if you are visiting then make sure to pack a bag of food and drinks and hang out. 

From Templehof Park, we cycled back across the city to the East Side Gallery in Kreuzberg.  We wanted to get a better look at the famous graffiti which occupies both sides of the Berlin Wall. This is one of the busiest tourist spots in Berlin so getting a picture perfect shot can be tough. 

As it was NYE and we were heading to the free NYE event at the Brandenburg gate we made our way back to drop the bikes off and get ready for the evening’s festivities.

After a quick turnaround, we jumped on the UB and made our way to Mitte where we got dinner in Beef Bull Club. If the name hasn’t given it away already it’s a steakhouse. It’s a popular restaurant so we were lucky to get a table. If you plan going here you should try book in advance. It’s a little pricey but the food was worth it.

At 7pm we walked towards the Brandenburg Gate and entered the NYE event where millions of people from all over the world were attending. Once in we wandered the street exploring all the market stalls, which included all types of food, drink and souvenirs. There was live music and acts performing right up till midnight before the fireworks show started. 

As the night was coming to an end we made our way back to the apartment and closed out our Berlin trip.

It was a great couple of days spent walking, exploring new places and eating and drinking. There is still so much more to see and do in Berlin which means another trip back will be on the cards in the future.

Here’s a list of all the things we saw and did:

  • Brandenburg Gate
  • Holocaust Memorial
  • Hitlers bunker
  • Luftwaffe air base
  • Berlin Wall
  • Typography of Terror museum
  • Checkpoint Charlie
  • Gendarmenmarkt (Christmas market)
  • Postdamer platz
  • Alexander platz
  • The Reichstag
  • The Alternative walking tour
  • East wall gallery
  • Kreuzberg (neighbourhood)
  • Friedrechsen (neighbourhood)
  • Templehof park (old airport)

An Awesome Two-Week Itinerary for Vietnam

 

Day 1 –  Ho Chi Minh City

Our Australian adventure was over and it was time to head home with a little pit stop in Vietnam. We flew from Melbourne to Kuala Lumpur and then flew to Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) the following morning.

Once you arrive in Vietnam you have to go to a separate desk to get your visa stamp before seeing immigration officers. You have to fill in a quick information sheet and give 1 passport photo and also pay USD$45 for a single entry 30 day visa, longer stays incur a larger fee.

After we passed through HCMC immigration and got our bags we headed outside to catch a taxi to our hotel. Some advice, don’t pay at the desks inside and outside the airport for pre arranged taxis they look to charge you 300,000 VND (€10) which is a hugely inflated price to what you can actually pay. Head straight to the taxi rank it’s on the left as you leave the airport building. Look out for two companies, MaiLinh (Green taxis) or Vinasun Taxi (white taxis) they seem to be the best and most reputable. These taxis are legitimate and they only use the meter. Our taxi took about 30 minutes to reach our hotel in the city centre and it came to 140,000 VND (less than €5) but our driver didn’t have change of 100,000 so he let us off with paying 134,000 VND.

He dropped us to the door of our hotel where we were met by a friendly and welcoming front desk. We were staying in Saigon Sports 3 Hotel, which is situated on Pham Ngu Lao right in the heart of District 1. We got a private room for two nights and it cost us €38 (USD$50). Paying €9.50 a night each is a huge difference from Australia prices and one that we welcomed with open arms. The hotel is good value for money and the staff is very helpful.

Mimi at the travel desk had organised our train tickets and helped us book some trips, which was great.

The location of the hotel is brilliant as it’s within walking distance to most of the city attractions such as the War Remnants Museum, Reunification Palace, Ben Than Market and Notre Dame church and also the main backpacker area with lots of bars and restaurants.

After a quick shower to freshen up we headed out to explore HCMC. We got our first beef and chicken pho in a place called Phuong Mai art and cafe, which is beside the Ben Thanh market. The service was great and they even showed Síofra how to use her chopsticks. We got two bowls of pho, an orange juice and a beer and it cost us €9.

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We walked around the crazy Ben Thanh Market and strolled around for a while before making our way to the War Remnants Museum, which was open again at 1.30pm. It closes everyday for lunch from 12-1.30pm so make sure you plan around it. The museum is well worth a visit and only costs 15,000 VND (50c).

There’s lots of US Army tanks, choppers and planes in the courtyard before you enter the museum where there is lots to read about the Vietnam War. There are also lots of very powerful photographs of events throughout the war and the after effects it has had on the Vietnamese people and country.

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On the walk home it was an adventure in itself. Crossing the roads in HCMC is not for the faint hearted. Thousands of motorbikes drive the streets in what can only be described as a free for all and you just have to put the head down and go for it.

After a well needed lie down we went out for some food. We ended up in a Mexican restaurant called La Casa but ordered Vietnamese food. Again our whole meal came to around €9 and was pretty good.

We took a stroll up the busy Bui Vien Street in District 1 and went into The Hideaway bar for some 80c beers and cocktails.

We didn’t stay out too long, but on the way home we decided to get foot massages. We went to a place called 881 Massage and got neck and foot massages for 60 minutes for 180,000 VND (€6). It was a great way to unwind after a long day.

Day 2 – HCMC

We were up early enough as we were going on a tour to the Cu Chi Tunnels. We booked with a travel company around the corner from the hotel called An Travel. The full day trip cost us 168,000 VND (€6) but entry to the tunnels wasn’t included, this was an extra 90,000 VND (€3). Also not included is the price of lunch or the option of shooting guns.

We arrived at the Cao Dai Temple at 12pm and saw a ceremony. It was strange but cool to see. I would however recommend just doing the half-day tour and skip the temple, as it is another 4 hours on a bus.

After the temple we stopped for lunch. Lunch cost us 155,000 VND (€5) and wasn’t that bad.

After lunch we made our way to the Cu Chi Tunnels. When we arrived we watched a video of the war and the people of Cu Chi and how the tunnel network worked. It was very interesting to see how they worked and how they were beneficial during the war. As we walked through the jungle we were shown various different traps and bunkers and went to the shooting range. If you wish to try shooting the guns you can choose which weapon you want and shoot targets in the range. The prices start from 25,000 to 45,000 VND per bullet and you have to buy a minimum of 10 bullets. I shot an M60 from an army car which was pretty cool and came to roughly €10.

 

The tour ended with us entering the tunnel network and making our way through the dark underground. You can exit the tunnels every 10 meter’s or so but if you brave it till the end you will go through 110m in a tight dark space. The tunnels are so humid and being a little claustrophobic I didn’t last too long.

I would definitely recommend the tour to the Cu Chi Tunnels, as it gives you a good insight into life in Vietnam during the war, especially for the communist guerrillas who designed and lived in the tunnel network.

We arrived back in HCMC at 6.30pm and showered before getting some food. We went to a place just off the Main Street, I can’t remember the name of it but it was pretty nice. We tried some Fried Noodles with beef and got some cheap beers and again our bill came to like 150,000 VND (€5). We went to a pop up bar on the side of the road that had plastic chairs and tables and it cost us 12,000 VND for a beer. We spent a while sitting and talking to fellow travellers before making our way back to the hotel.

Day 3 – HCMC

Check out wasn’t till midday so we took our time checking out, as we knew we weren’t catching a train till 11pm so would have the whole day to do stuff. We missed our free breakfast so we left our bags in the hotel and went searching for some food. We tried some bread egg from one of the street vendors, which was pretty tasty. Síofra wasn’t the biggest fan though so we went to Allez Boo where we got some eggs and fruit shakes.

We went to the Reunification Palace at 1pm when it reopened after lunch. It cost 30,000 VND (€1) and took us just over an hour to get through it. This is where the presidents of the Republic of Vietnam used to live. The palace has replica tanks to the ones that crashed through its gates when the north overpowered the south. They also have a replica of the fighter jet that bombed the Reunification Palace too. It was an interesting tour especially if you have any interest in the history of Vietnam.

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After this we went for a drink in the Ben Thanh market and had a proper look around for some presents and souvenirs. We bought a few t-shirts and bags and it was ridiculously cheap. We didn’t buy too much as we didn’t want to be carrying stuff for the duration of our travelling.

After enduring the blistering heat amongst the markets it was time for a well-deserved drink. We went to the Spotted Cow and caught the Super 15 Rugby Final, which was an added bonus.

After building up an appetite again we decided to get some dinner. We went to a place called 5 Oysters, which we heard so much about from people we know and fellow bloggers. Siof’s something new for the day was Saigon fried noodles and we also tried some pork and shrimp spring rolls. All were very tasty and again it was another cheap meal so was well worth it.

We strolled up the busy Bui Vien Street one last time before picking our bags up and heading to the train station.

Mimi and co at the Saigon Sports 3 Hotel were extremely kind and helpful throughout our stay and I couldn’t recommend staying here anymore. It’s value for money and location alone are enough to be satisfied but the cleanliness of the rooms and kindness of the staff really made our stay more enjoyable.

We got to Saigon train station and boarded our overnight train to Nha Trang. We were in a 6-bed berth and luckily we got the bottom bunks. Also luckily for us we had a nice berth with no “dodgy” characters in it.

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Day 4 – Nha Trang

We arrived into Nha Trang station at 5.35am and jumped into a taxi to our hotel. We were staying in Sun City Hotel, which was only about a km away and cost 35,000 VND in a taxi. The hotel is located just a two minute walk from the beach and has great views from the breakfast room. We got a private room for one night and it only cost us €18. Unfortunately when we arrived we were told that we couldn’t check in till 2pm however after getting a quick breakfast and sitting at reception for a bit they allowed us to check in just after 7am when the reception staff arrived for work. Our room was brilliant it had a huge queen size bed and an extra single bed, a big bathroom, a flat screen TV and it looked very new and clean.

Since we only had two days in Nha Trang we decided not to go for a sleep and make the most of our time, so we jumped in a taxi to the Po Nagar Cham Towers. A defining attraction of Nha Trang, these Cham ruins are the best kept in Vietnam. Set on a hill with views overlooking the river crowded with fishing trawlers, the whole complex is quite impressive. The Chams started to build the towers in the seventh century to honor Yang Ino Po Nagar, Mother of the Kingdom. Of the original ten edifices, three now remain. The entrance fee is 30,000 VND (€1) and the site opens from 7am to 7pm.

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Next on the agenda was a trip to the Thap Ba Hot springs, famous for its mineral mud baths. There are various different packages to choose from and they all vary in price. We chose option 3 “Hot mineral mud bath privately” and we paid 500,000 VND (€17) for a 20-minute private mud bath, a 30-minute natural hot mineral water bath and unlimited time in the various other swimming pools.

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It was a strange experience but one I’d recommend doing whilst in Nha Trang. By the time we got back to the hotel we were ready for bed, so we took a quick nap before heading out. After sleeping through several alarms we eventually got up. After reading several blogs recommending a place called “Galangal” we decided to check it out. It is a traditional Vietnamese & street food restaurant. Their ethos is to produce quality Vietnamese food the way it should be without changing them to suit Western tastes. We decided to go all out and ordered a few different dishes to share. We got the stir-fried chicken with pineapple, vegetables and cashew nuts, BBQ pork skewers served with rice paper and vegetables and charcoal grilled swordfish steak in a spicy sauce served with steamed rice and salad. All three dishes were amazing and it didn’t cost too much (€14 I think).  I’d highly recommend going to Galangal, as it didn’t disappoint to all the good reviews we heard.

Being so full we had to walk off our dinner before getting a few drinks, so we wandered through the night markets and down the beach. As we strolled down the beach we made our way to the Sailing Club Bar where we tried some of their specialties, the Jam Jars. It was a great beach bar with good tunes and if you didn’t want to go crazy on the dance floor you could chill on one of the many beanbags on the beach.

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We managed to stay out past 1am before we got tired again, however apparently once the Sailing Club ends people head to the backpacker bar Why Not.

Day 5 – Nha Trang

We got up early (8am) to head to the beach before the blistering heat. On the way I tried some more egg bread from the street vendor at the top of our road, and we walked for a bit until we found somewhere that did fresh smoothies/juices. Trying both of these things is something I’d recommend when in Nha Trang.

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It was about 9am by the time we got to the beach and it was already pretty hot so we decided to rent sun loungers to stay out of the sun. All along the beach there are sun loungers and they charge different prices, we went near the Sailing Club, which cost us 35,000 VND each.

After a couple of hours at the beach we had to head back to the hotel to check out. It was lucky because it was so hot and we would have been scalded alive. We were a bit hungry after checking out so we went to Olivia Pizza And More and got a couple of sandwiches. After this we jumped in a taxi to the Dam Markets, as it was too far to walk in the blistering heat. It wasn’t as good as the Ben Thanh market in HCMC which was disappointing as we put off buying more in HCMC. It was still too hot to be out in the sun so we decided the air conditioned Nha Trang Center was a good place to go to see if we could pick up anything. Unfortunately the prices were very similar to home so we said we’d wait till Hoi An and Hanoi to buy our presents.

Eventually after a couple of hours the temperature dropped so we went back to the beach for one last swim to cool down. When we got back to the hotel they allowed us to have showers before we caught our overnight bus to Hoi An. This was great as they offer people a late check out up to 5pm to do the same thing but you have to pay for half a night’s accommodation.

We had booked our bus with the travel desk in our hotel and it cost 220,000 VND (€7.50). The bus was meant to be picking us up at 6.30pm but due to monsoon rainfall it was delayed by 45mins. Within this 45mins so much rain had fallen that there was a stream outside the hotel about a foot deep. What happened next was just comical and you couldn’t help but laugh at the situation. I slipped on the wet hotel steps with two bags on and cracked my head off a wall at the bottom, and then we had to walk to the end of the road with no umbrellas or jackets on and had to trudge through a foot of water. Needless to say our first overnight bus experience in Vietnam was going well.

Once we got on the bus we were shown our seats/beds. They are reasonably comfy but if you’re a tall person then you could be in trouble. I’m only 5ft10 and it was quite a struggle to find a way to fall asleep. It was just for one night and all part of our Vietnam experience so we didn’t mind too much.

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Day 6 – Hoi An

We eventually arrived in Hoi An at 8am 2hrs late, this was due to the monsoon in Nha Trang which delayed us.

We were meant to be collected by the hotel but they thought we were in at 6am so they had left. A taxi there didn’t cost much though so it was all good. We stayed in Sunshine Hotel and got a private room for €42 for two nights.

When we arrived we were able to check into our room thankfully, which was great, as we had spent the last 12hrs on a cramped bus. It was a big room with a nice bathroom and was very clean.

We got some breakfast from the hotel and then made our way into the town. The town is about a 20-30 minute walk from the hotel however the hotel provides a FREE shuttle bus service and also offers FREE bicycles. As we didn’t know where we were going we took the shuttle.

We began walking around the old town and got some linen dresses made for presents for 450,000 VND (€15) in total.

We continued venturing through the streets admiring all the tailors and shops. As we were walking past the local market Síofra got roped into a manicure and eyebrow threading by the craziest Vietnamese woman, who insisted she get one. She tried roping me into getting them too but I resisted and settled for a beer instead.

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As we continued to stroll around it was getting very warm so we went back to chill by the pool and got some food.

We got ready and caught the shuttle bus back to town for dinner. We ended up in a place called Lowland’s restaurant, which was right on the river. Síofra started to feel unwell so we didn’t stay out for long. We put some lanterns into the river for good luck and watched them float down. After this we went over the bridge to the night market for a quick look. It’s not much of a market; it’s more souvenirs and novelty gifts but was still nice to see.

Day 7 – Hoi An

We woke up and took advantage of the FREE buffet breakfast the hotel offers before we got bikes out and cycled into the town. We looked in many shops to see if we could pick up presents and I got a dress made for my sister who sent me an image of what it looked like. The dress cost me $30 and was going to be ready later that evening.

 

I wasn’t feeling great and we were set to do a cooking class so we headed back to the hotel. We were picked up by the cooking school at 11.30am and brought to the local market. Here we got shown various different things, which we would use for cooking later in the day.

I was starting to feel seriously unwell so we left the cookery class to recover. We rescheduled our cooking class for following day as we thought we’d be feeling better. The rest of the day was spent trying to recover by sleeping and drinking lots of water.

After a couple of hours sleep we got bikes out again and cycled into town. Síofra was feeling better so she got food while I picked up Naoise’s dress. It turned out brilliantly and looked exactly like the picture.

Day 8 – Hoi An

After a good nights sleep and lots of water we both felt a bit better. We checked out, left our bags in the hotel and cycled into town one last time.

We stopped for a drink in Fusion cafe, which is on the other side of the river and after spent time roaming the streets looking for some last minute presents.

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We got back to the hotel and chilled by the pool till our taxi to the airport came. We paid 300,000 VND for it and took 30 minutes to get to Da Nang Airport. We had to get a private car as the travel agent we booked with didn’t have a shuttle bus that would have got us to the airport for the time we wanted. Upon further viewing in other travel agents we found out that they offered a shuttle for a time we wanted, so make sure you look around before booking like us.

When we got through security there wasn’t much shops or restaurants so I’d strongly advise not getting there too early. As we hadn’t been feeling well and hadn’t eaten in quite some time, we were over the moon to find a Burger King because we needed some familiar food.

Our flight to Hanoi took just over an hour and we were met by someone who was dropping us to our accommodation. I think the hostel charged us AUD$23 to be picked up. Taxis will cost something similar and there is also a shuttle bus that costs a little less too, but takes a little bit longer.

We decided to stay in Hanoi Backpackers (Downtown), which is situated, in the old quarter of Hanoi. We chose to stay here over a hotel as we had booked our Ha long Bay trip with them and thought it would give us an opportunity to meet people before going.

It took us a good 45 minutes to get to the hostel from the airport; from there we checked in and were shown our room. We got a double bed dorm which only cost us €9 a night so we saved a bit.

Once we got settled in we wandered the busy streets of the old quarter taking in all the action. We made our way up to the night market for a look before heading back to the hostel.

Day 9 – Hanoi

We got up early and took advantage of the FREE breakfast on offer and went out exploring Hanoi again. We walked down the side of Hoan Kiem Lake and decided to head to the famous Hoa Lo Prison, which is also referred to as the Hanoi Hilton by American POW’s. The entrance fee was 20,000 Dong and it again gave insights into how much the Vietnamese suffered over the years. It was interesting to see and again if you like dabbling in a bit of history it’s something you should see. Unfortunately a lot of the other museums were closed for the day as it was Friday so make sure you double check the opening times to any of the others such as the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum before you get to them.

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After a quick refreshment stop we made our way to the north of the old quarter to the Dong Xuan Market. It was pretty big and well worth a visit if your still looking to pick up some last minute presents or souvenirs. However, after visiting other cities I’d strongly recommend you to buy your knock offs and tailored clothes in HCMC and Hoi An. There are some really good shops that sell products too so make sure to keep an eye out for them.

It was very warm and we were hungry so we stopped by the hostel for some lunch. Surprisingly enough it was really good western food.

After lunch it was time for more shopping. This time we found a shop that sold what genuinely seemed like legitimate Converse, Vans, Toms and Nike Runners. We took full advantage of this and bought in bulk and received a hefty discount.

After a long day of walking around in the humid sun we stopped to get a drink and some well needed AC to cool down.

We headed back to the hostel to freshen up before making our way to Green pepper bar where we kicked back on our small plastic chairs and make shift table with some Bia Hanoi. This beer is locally produced everyday, has no preservatives and is sold until it runs out so make sure you head out early.

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Day 10 – Ha Long Bay

We were up early for our trip to Ha long Bay and Castaway island.

After some breakfast and a quick roll call we got on a bus that took us about 4 hours to get from Hanoi to Ha long Bay port.

When we arrived at the port we were split up and put onto two different boats, Hanks boat and Mamas boat.

We were put on Hanks boat, which was a little smaller, but it didn’t make much difference, as the two boats would be attached for the evening and night. Once we got onboard we were all brought to the top deck for an introduction and a welcome shotgun of beer.

Afterwards we went back downstairs for some lunch where we were treated to a mix of seafood, beef and breaded pork, which was pretty good. We continued to cruise through the bay having a few more beers and getting to know one another until we got to an inlet where we got in kayaks and paddled through caves and took in the amazing scenery. After a while we made our way back to the boat where we were allowed jump off the top.

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After swimming it was time for a quick shower before dinner was served at 7pm. Dinner was again a mix of seafood, beef and chicken and again was pretty good. As we ate we cruised on to the inlet where we would be mooring for the night.

After dinner the drinking games started and “happy hour” began with a buy 2 get one free offer. Beers cost 30,000 VND and spirits 35,000 VND.

As the boats were attached we were able to cross-boats for a massive game of kings cup where cross-dressing, forfeits and dance offs were in full swing. One of the tour guides was only doing his second trip so he had to do 6days of initiation, which included a danger shotgun (flaming toilet roll), which was for our amusement. We retreated back to our boat for AC and to cool down but it turned into another drinking game. The tunes fizzled out at about 1.30am and people began to tire after a long day.

 Day 11 – Ha Long Bay

We were woken at 7am for breakfast where there were a few sore heads.

By 8am it was already sweltering and we were all chilling on the top deck, some braved the sun while others hid in the shade.

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A few brave souls began to shotgun cans at 9am and rum was passed around until it ran out.

Just after 10am we transferred boat to a smaller one that would bring us to the Castaway Island.

Eventually after a while we made it to the Castaway Island. It was nestled between the sea stacks and looked like paradise. It had amazing views from the huts; it had a volleyball net, rock climbing, kayaks and a bar. We settled into our dorm huts and had a nice lunch of sandwiches and noodles. After lunch we went swimming and began the activities of rock climbing and tubing. The tubing was great fun so make sure you do it.

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As it cooled down we took kayaks out to explore some of the other islands in Ha Long Bay. The scenery was unbelievable and it’s an experience I’ll never forget.

When we arrived back we were greeted to another shotgun before dinner. The dinner was great and again was a mix of everything.

The drinking got into full swing shortly after dinner and we began playing another big drinking game with crazy rules. The tables turned into a dance floor and the party continued before EVERYONE went swimming to see the plankton. It was a super moon so we didn’t see anything because it was so bright but it was still good all the same. The partying continued into the early hours of the morning before people headed to bed.

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Day 12 – Hanoi

For those who were heading back to Hanoi we were up at 7am. There were LOTS of sore heads bracing themselves for the long trip back to Hanoi. Some chose to stay another night on the island whilst the rest got on the boat home. Once we made it back to Mamas boat the food was served to try help cure the hangovers.

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We finally made it to the port and faced a 4hr bus journey back to Hanoi. After a torturous day travelling we arrived back to Hanoi at 5pm. We picked our bags up from the hostel and moved to a new hotel for the last night. We decided to go all out on our last night and stayed in the Tirant Hotel, which is a 4 star hotel not far from the hostel. We paid €45 for one night in a private room. Upon check-in we were upgraded to a bigger room as they were undergoing renovations to the rooftop area and compensated us with a bigger room. The room was huge and was a great way to finish our trip. We freshened up and went for food in Thai Express. It was good Thai food and reasonably priced. We wandered the night market before heading back to the hotel as we were wrecked after our Ha Long Bay trip.

 Day 13 – Hanoi

After a great nights sleep we got up at 9am to catch our free breakfast, which was really good. We took advantage of our room and chilled in it until we checked out at 12.

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We were staying near the airport that night so we left our bags in storage while we went shopping for the day.

For lunch we went to a place called Gecko, which had really nice sandwiches and has a few restaurants all close to the hotel.

We continued shopping for the last few things before stopping for some drinks, as it was just too hot.

We needed to kill some more time and had money to use so we decided to get one last massage in a place just around the corner from our hotel. We haggled with them and got foot, neck and head massages for 200,000 VND each.

We got reception to book us a taxi from the hotel for after 7pm, but a private car arrived and it cost us the same as a taxi would have, 330,000 VND (€12).

We arrived to our airport hotel and how it was a difference from our nice 4 star hotel in Hanoi. We got a private room for €11 but it was the most basic room I’ve ever seen. It was in what seemed like a dodgy area and had nothing around it except a cafe or two. If you decide to do something similar to this make sure you eat before you leave Hanoi and arrive as late as possible as there is nothing to do and there’s not even any English TV channels in the rooms. There is however FREE Wi-Fi so that was at least something.

I had read some reviews that no taxis would drop you to the airport as it is too short a journey so you are forced to use the service the hotel provides which costs $4 which in the scheme of things doesn’t sound that expensive but in Hanoi or anywhere in Vietnam a journey that short would never cost that much.

Day 14 – Travel Day 

In the airport at 7am as we faced 34hours of travel till we got home.

After spending the guts of two weeks in Vietnam I can now say that it is a beautiful country with great food, people and lots of interesting things to see and do. Our biggest concern prior to travelling was the amount of time we had. We thought 13days wouldn’t be enough time to see and do everything we wanted to, but we made the most of our time by getting up early and travelling at night.

We did miss out on a few things and would have liked to stay in some places longer but this gives us an excuse to return.

Ideally you should have longer to explore Vietnam as the pure size of the country takes time to get around. However saying that it most certainly can be done in as little as 13days.

What to do in Croatia for 2 weeks

What to do in Croatia for 2 weeks

Croatia has definitely become one of my favourite destinations of late. I was there last in 2013 just before I went on my year long travels, and loved it so much that I had to go back. I usually like to explore new countries and places I’ve never been before, but Croatia was just so appealing that I had to go back. With its crystal clear water that is perfect for swimming and snorkelling to the exquisite food, it was a no brainer really.

For this trip, Síofra and I planned to see some new places along with one or two favourites from our last trip.

After doing some research we decided to check out the city of Zadar, Plitvice National Park, Split and the islands; Korcula, Hvar and Brac.

Here is everything we did/saw/ate, you name it, in the 2 weeks we were there.

• ZADAR

We took a flight on a Friday and arrived in Zadar pretty late so we literally found our hotel and waited to explore until the following day.

The hotel was about a 20 minute walk from the city centre (old town), however our hotel provided bicycles free of charge, so we rolled down there in 5 minutes. We were able to lock the bikes up just before you enter the old town and left them there for the day.

During the day we explored the cobblestone laneways, climbed the bell tower of St Anastasia’s Cathedral and sat in the square, people-watching whilst eating pizza slices and having a drink.

We also sat by the famous sea organ and went for a few swims off the promenade.

That evening we had dinner in a restaurant called Bruschetta. It had been recommended in another blog that I read, so we decided to check it out. The food was a little pricey (for Croatian standards) but very good. I got grilled sea bass and shrimp and Síofra was able to get a gluten-free dish of steak with veg and chips.

After this we rushed to the sea organ to watch Zadar’s famous sun set with a few beers we picked up in the supermarket. It gets very crowded for the sunset. My advice is to arrive early or else find a spot on the pier before the sea organ for the same view with less people. It won’t disappoint.

Once it gets dark the sun salutation starts to light up and this is a great spectacle that you should check out.

After this, we headed to the Garden Bar where we got some great cocktails and looked out over Zadar from the walls.

Once we finished here we headed to the Ledana Lounge and Bar Zadar where the party went on till the early hours.

• PLITVICE LAKES

The next day we rented a car from Uni-rent and drove from Zadar to Plitvice National Park. It cost roughly €130 for 48hrs. This included insurance, excess cover and a GPS. We checked multiple companies online but uni-rent offered the best rates. The office is located in the old town so it’s very convenient for picking up.
It took roughly 2hrs to drive there and you drive mainly on the A1 motorway for most of the journey so it was an easy enough drive.

We arrived at our accommodation the Golden lakes rooms before 12 but were unable to check in.

Our host gave us some great tips for the park and said it would take about 6hrs to complete.

We parked the car at entrance number 2 for the day and made our way into the park. Make sure you park here, it’s a better car park.

As per our hosts advice we took the bus from station 2 to station 3 in the upper lakes. From there we followed path H downwards. We came across some amazing waterfalls and were blown away by the colours of the lakes.

 

 

Eventually after some time we reached boat station 2 and took it to station 3 to finish out the lower lakes.

The lower lakes were even better than the upper lakes. They are very picturesque and offer some great opportunities for photos. There are a few harder climbs to do here but nothing too difficult. The views are worth it.
We finally reached bus station 1 and took our last trip to where we started the day.

We were both wrecked after 5+hrs of walking in the heat but it was definitely worth seeing.

****Tip – Wear comfy shoes. It’s a long day on your feet and the board walks can be dodgy at times. Bring food and water, you’ll save money and take lots of pictures, you’ll want to see them again later. The only negative thing about the day is you cannot swim in the lakes, which trust me is very difficult to hold back.

There isn’t a lot around the national park so don’t expect to be doing too much else. There are a few restaurants around but most of them are located in the hotels and guest houses so prepare yourself.

 

 

• SPLIT

The next day we had a 4 hour drive to Split. Unfortunately we didn’t get to spend too long in Split but the old town and the palace are definitely worth a walk around. Some of the restaurants and ice cream parlours looked amazing. Nightlife is also meant to be very good here.
Split harbour is a hub for the ferries to the islands and also connects many cities by bus so it’s always busy. We both said we would like to spend more time here the next time.


• KORCULA

That afternoon we took the catamaran ferry from Split to Korcula and it cost 80 kuna each. There are multiple ferries that serve the islands and run daily. Check out the ferry summer schedule here: (1) and (2)

The catamaran ferry takes 75 minutes to get to the island of Hvar and takes just over 3hrs to get to Korcula.

We stayed in Guesthouse Franica in Korcula town, which was just beside the port and old town. It was reasonably priced but very average. We ended up booking the wrong room type so we were a little disappointed with what we got.

We decided to explore the old town for a bit before stopping at a bar called Salvantes where there was some live music that ran into the early hours. They do some good juices and smoothies here in the daytime too.

The next day we got up and explored the old town and Korcula town a little bit more. After this we decided to take a bus to the nearby town of Lombarda, which is known for having better beaches.

A return bus ticket cost 25 kuna per person and the timetable ran every hour from the bus station beside the old town.

Lombarda is a very small town with a few nice beaches, restaurants and shops. We chilled on the rocks and swam for a while before picking up some lunch and some ice creams and then made our way back to Korcula.

We showered and got ready before heading to Massimo cocktail bar for some sunset drinks.

The bar is on top of one of the old turrets and offers the best views of the sunset. Drinks get hoisted up by ropes because the stairs are too steep to carry them up so it’s pretty novel to see. It’s not that pricey for drinks but get there early as it gets very crowded.

After this we went for dinner in one of the many restaurants along the old town walls. I can’t remember the name of it but they all offered similar menus of seafood, meat and pasta dishes. We both got different kinds of grilled fish and both were great.

We went back to our accommodation for some pre drinks and then headed to the strip of bars where it was already getting lively.

Sail Croatia was in town, so there were some large crowds around. These all headed to Boogie Jungle (a nightclub just outside the town) later on in the night so the bars started to empty out at around 1. Arka Bar and Dos Locos were good bars.

We woke the next day, got some breakfast and took a taxi boat to the island of Badija just off Korcula. It cost us 50 kuna per person for a return ticket. Return taxis started at 4pm and ran every hour till 7pm.

The island is quiet and there are some great spots to swim, snorkel and relax. It’s a nice place to get away from the crowds back in Korcula. One bit of advice bring food with you or eat before you come as there is only one restaurant on the island and it’s overpriced.

That night we went for dinner in Bistro Gajeta along the old town wall. Our waiter was extremely helpful and humorous. He recommended we try the homemade pasta, which was pretty good.

After dinner we climbed the bell tower in the middle of the old town which gave great views of the harbour and the island. We climbed it at night time so visibility wasn’t that good so I would recommend climbing it in the daylight.

Arka bar was busy again so we headed there for a few drinks and played some pool before calling it a night.

Our ferry to Hvar the following day was in the afternoon so we just lay out in the sun and went swimming until then.

The Ferry from Korcula to Hvar cost 90 kuna and only took 75mins. (Timetable)

• HVAR

We used Airbnb for our accommodation in Hvar and it was amazing. We were met by our host off the ferry and she gave us some information about Hvar; where to go and places to eat etc. before driving us in her car to the apartment. On the way she stopped at a viewpoint and pointed out the nearby Pakleni Islands.

We arrived at the apartment and everything about it was great, from the location and the amenities to the amazing view of the harbour.

Our host was very nice. She made us traditional Croatian doughnuts and gave us some fresh lavender when we were leaving, which was a very nice touch. If your staying in Hvar definitely check this place out.

The first day we arrived we lay out in the sun and went swimming beside the Amfora Hotel.

That night we went to Mizarola, an Italian restaurant in the main square. It’s good food and relatively cheap. We even got free dessert.

After walking around for a bit we went to BB club on the seafront for some drinks. It’s located beside Carpe Diem Bar. They had a dj and a live saxophonist playing.

The following day we decided to rent a Scooter Bike. We booked it from Fontana travel agency on the main pier and it cost 200 kuna for 24hrs and you could also have 2 drivers at no additional cost.

We started in Hvar town, then had a quick pit stop in Milna before heading to Zaraće where we sat in the sun, snorkelled and had some great iced coffee in one of the small restaurants. We then bypassed Sv. Nedjelja and Stari Grad and made our way to Jelsa and Vrboska.

Jelsa is a small town with lots of restaurants around the harbour and seemed nice but quiet. We didn’t walk around for too long but I’m sure there’s lots of things to do there.

We made the short trip back to Vrboska and headed straight for the beach, where we relaxed in the evening sun.

We returned to Hvar town as the sun was setting.

We paid for petrol twice during the day, each time only costing around 14 kuna. It was money well spent as we saw some great beaches and places that you wouldn’t see otherwise.

As we got back pretty late most of the restaurants were already packed, but we eventually got a table at Bistro Marinero, where we got our daily dose of grilled fish.

Afterwards we went to Ka’lavanda Music Bar Hvar. It’s located down a laneway at the top of the square near the bus station. It has an unreal cocktail menu and plays good tunes. However, beware the drinks are pricey.

The following day we went back to Fontana Travel agency, but this time it was to enquire about boat hire.

We got a small 5hp boat with a canopy and it cost us 450 kuna for the day which included petrol. We also received a discount because we had booked the scooter bikes with them the day before.

After getting a quick tutorial on driving, parking and anchoring the boat we were on our way. We sailed around the Pakleni Islands for the day; Jerolim, Markinkovac (Stipanska, Mlini and Ždrilca) and Palmižana. We stopped at Ždrilca for a few hours and got some food and then we anchored in the bay of Palmižana and Jerolim for some swimming and snorkelling.

It was a great day and something I highly recommend doing.

There are many other options for renting boats including having your own skipper. We liked doing our own thing but see what works best for you.

That evening we got an early dinner, went back to the apartment and had a few pre-drinks before hitting Carpe Diem and Carpe Diem Beach Bar.

Carpe Diem Beach Bar is a must when you’re in Hvar. From around 1am taxi boats depart the main pier and bring you to an island just off Hvar.  All that is on the island is a nightclub, which includes multiple bars, lounge areas, a swimming pool and even food.

It costs 150 kuna for entry to the beach bar and a return taxi boat. The taxi boats run regularly until 5am.

Other nightclubs and bars worth checking out are Pink Champagne Nightclub and Kiva Bar which is good for cheap cocktails at the start of the night.


After an active few days we decided to head to Hula Hula bar (located past Hotel Amfora) for lunch and some much-needed R&R.

Hula Hula bar is also a must when you’re in Hvar. It does great food, has great drinks and great “craic” (as we say in Ireland).

We sat out in the sun for the afternoon before heading back to Hula Hula bar for some drinks and to watch the sunset.

For dinner we went back to the square. We decided to try the restaurant, Ex Rocco this time. They have great food and the service is very good. It was our favourite of the restaurants in the main square.

Afterwards we went to Slasticarna for ice cream. Our host had recommended this place and it didn’t disappoint. It’s located opposite where the taxi boats go from. There are lots of umbrellas and tables outside, you can’t miss it!

For our last full day in Hvar we got up early and climbed to the fort. The fort overlooks Hvar and the nearby Pakleni Islands and offers some amazing views. Although the trek up there can be tough in the heat the views make it all worthwhile. My tip is to go before the sun gets too hot so before 10am.
After grabbing some quick-lunch we made our way down to the beach, near Hula Hula Bar, and we rented some sun beds. It cost us 100 Kuna per person. Go early in the day to make sure you get value for your money.

After spending the day chilling in the sun, snorkelling and sipping on a few beers we went to enjoy one last sunset in Hvar.

We went to Falko Bar which is out past Hula Hula Bar. It has a more chilled out and relaxed atmosphere with hammocks and bean bags.

Being our last night in Hvar we decided to go to the #1 restaurant, Dalmatino Hvar. It had incredible customer service and very tasty food. They even gave us some delicious free bread to start and flavoured brandy samples after each course.

The restaurant is a fish and steak house so you can’t go wrong with your choice.

I advise you leave your name with the wait staff early in the evening or you’ll be waiting for a table for a long time.

It is a very popular spot and very busy so definitely get there early.

After walking off our dinner we went back to Ka’lavanda Music Bar Hvar for some drinks and to chill out.

• Bol

The quickest and cheapest option to get to Bol from Hvar is by taking an excursion boat. It costs 100 kuna per person and takes roughly 2hrs. Tickets can be purchased in Fontana travel agency (on the main pier, where we rented the scooter and boat).

The boat leaves at 3.30pm, so it means you still get half a day in Hvar and the evening in Bol which much more favourable than the other options.

Bol is a relatively small town. It’s 2km in length from the port to the famous Zlatni Rat beach.

We stayed in Hotel Daniela which was ideally located in between both.

The room was basic but had all the essentials such as fresh towels, air conditioning and a fridge. Also included in the room price was free breakfast. The breakfast was simple but tasty with a nice selection of hot and cold food.

The town itself is pretty small and most of the restaurants and bars are located along the seafront.

The first night we chose the restaurant Topolino as the menu looked good and it was very busy.

After walking around for a bit we decided to stop in Varadero Cocktail Bar on the seafront and chilled, listening to the music.

There are a lot of beaches in Bol, including the famous Zlatni Rat Beach, where we went to both days. The first day we paid 150 kuna for two beds and an umbrella as the sun was just too hot to sit in.

There’s plenty of food/drink options and activities to do on the beach including; an aqua park, para-sailing, SUP-ing and kayaking.

We tried our hand at the Aqua park, which was great fun but a lot harder than it looks. Pricing is reasonable and they offer different durations too.

That night we went to a restaurant called Vagabundo. It’s located at the start of the town if you’re coming from Zlatni Rat. The menu has a great selection of meat and fish options. Prices were above average but worth it. We ended up in Varadero cocktail bar again that night after dinner.


The second day at the beach we took shelter in the trees. This was much better as we didn’t have to pay for beds and an umbrella and got a nice breeze too.

Make sure you check out Aura cocktail bar at the end of Zlatni Rat too. It’s a nice place to chill out at the end of a long day at the beach.

They have beach parties regularly during July and August so make sure you check them out. They have different acts and performers playing throughout the summer.

For our last night in Bol and Croatia we went to Bistro Pumparela for dinner. It’s located at the end of the pier where the ferries pull in. I went for one of the house specials, which was Beef Steak cooked on a hot rock. You can also choose Tuna steak. It was an interesting concept and one that I wanted to try for a while.

We had one last stroll around before heading back home to pack.

• The Long Journey Home

We took the 6.30am ferry from Bol to Split. It costs 55 Kuna per person and takes roughly 60 minutes.

This is the cheapest, quickest and best option for getting back to the mainland. If you don’t do this you have to get a bus or an expensive taxi to the other ports; Supeter or Milna and then get a ferry, which is both timely and costly.

Once we arrived in Split we made our way to the bus terminal (which is located at the end of the pier) as we had to catch a bus back to Zadar for our flight home.

The buses run very regularly as there are several different bus companies handling this route. It cost 110 kuna per person for the bus trip to Zadar and it took roughly 4 hrs despite the timetable saying it would be quicker. Make sure you leave yourself enough time to get back as they do tend to deviate from the scheduled times.

The bus drops you at the bus station in Zadar which is about a 20 minute walk or a 2 minute taxi to the old town (city centre).

Buses then run from the old town (next to the ferry office) or the bus station to the airport for 25 Kuna per person and the journey takes 20 minutes.

So there you have it, a full two-week itinerary for the beautiful Croatia. I couldn’t recommend the place any more. If reading this or looking at the pictures hasn’t made you want to put it next on your list of places to visit, I don’t know what will.
If you have any questions about anything, leave a comment and I’ll get back to you.

The Most Instagrammable Places in Iceland

The Most Instagrammable Places in Iceland

It’s no secret Iceland is a top destination for travellers these days. With its dramatic landscapes full of mountains, active volcanoes, glaciers, black sand beaches and of course waterfalls, Iceland is a photographers dream. So much so, that I’ve now made two visits there in the last two years and no doubt will be planning another in the near future.

Since this country looks so great on social media I’ve put together my favourite and most Instagrammable places in Iceland to get your photo wish list started. From natural hot springs to off-the-beaten-track waterfalls, these spots will create a gorgeous Instagram gallery of your trip to Iceland.

*I’ve grouped the pictures together based on locations so you can start to plan your trip with ease.

Here are the best places to Instagram in Iceland.

  • Blue Lagoon

A trip to Iceland isn’t complete unless you’ve visited the famous Blue Lagoon. It’s one of the most visited spots in Iceland for good reason. The mineral-rich silica mud and seawater are said to have natural healing powers, particularly for the skin. But it’s not the Blue Lagoon luxury spa treatments that make it one of the top Instagrammed spots in Iceland, it’s the milky blue water set amongst the lunar-like landscape.

  • Reykjavik – Hallgrimskirkja

Reykjavik

Iceland is full of natural wonders of insanely beautiful proportions, but the country’s colourful capital has some pretty Instagram-worthy spots too. Hallgrimkskirkja is probably one of my favourite spots. This iconic church in downtown Reykjavik can be found in the skyline of the city, offering great 360-degree panorama views of the city below.

THE GOLDEN CIRCLE

  • Gullfoss

Iceland has thousands of waterfalls, over 10,000 to be precise, that so many of them don’t even have names. That being said, Gullfoss is an Icelandic icon. Perhaps because it’s easily accessible on a Golden Circle tour. Gullfoss is the most visited waterfall in Iceland and it’s easy to see why.

  • Geyser

Another attraction on Iceland’s Golden Circle route is Geyser. Its name is Strokkur and it erupts around every six minutes, shooting the boiling water 20-30 meters into the air.

  • Thingvellir

The most historical area of Iceland is in Thingvellir, where the old parliament buildings are. It’s also the only place on earth where the tectonic plates can be seen above ground. It’s even possible to snorkel or dive in the crystal clear water where the North American and Eurasian plates come together. There’s amazing photo opportunities everywhere, especially if there’s snow. *For any Game of Thrones fans, this is also one of the spots they’ve filmed at.

  • Reykjadalur Hot Spring Thermal River

Ever wanted to swim in a natural hot spring in the middle of the mountains, well then I’ve got the perfect place for you.

Reykjadalur is located just 40 minutes from Reykjavik and offers an amazing setting for a day hike. The hike is about 3 km long and will take about 45-60 minutes one way depending on the number of photo stops you take. The hike is relatively easy.

This hike is a must, especially,  if you’re driving the Golden Circle or heading further afield to the main attractions in the south, as you literally drive right past this relatively unknown site.

  • Kerið Crater

Kerið or Kerid is a volcanic crater lake located in south Iceland, along the Golden Circle. If you’ve just come from Reykjadalur Hot Spring Thermal River, and are continuing onto the Golden Circle you will drive right past this little gem, so keep an eye out for it.

  • The Northern Lights 

Northern Lights Blog

The northern lights (Aurora Borealis) is something that’s on most peoples bucket lists and luckily, Iceland is one of the best places in the world to see them. The best months to see this natural phenomenon is between September and April.

  • Icelandic horses

SOUTH ICELAND

  • Plane Wreck at Solheimssuder

Although it’s more difficult to get to after the access road closed, this abandoned plane wreck is a sight to see. Solheimssuder is one of the most interesting places in Iceland, as it’s one of the few incredible sights in Iceland that isn’t natural. Since the access road is now closed, it’s about a 40-minute hike one way.

  • Vatnajökull Glacier

Vatnajökull is the largest and most voluminous ice cap in Iceland, and one of the largest in area in Europe.

  • Ice Caves (October to March)

If you’re hiking one of the many glaciers, then try to and fit the ice caves into your tour too. They are a spectacle to witness.

  • Seljalandsfoss

One of the most popular stops on the South coast is this stunning waterfall. What makes it so unique is the fact you can walk behind it, and this makes for amazing photos.

  • Skógafoss

Skógafoss is one of Iceland’s biggest waterfalls. It’s located on the southern coast and is actually quite close to Seljalandsfoss. There’s a stairs/path beside it that offers great views of the waterfall from the top and the surrounding areas.

  • Landmannalaugar

Not a place I’ve managed to reach on either of my trips, but had to include it. With its mind-blowing landscapes, multi-coloured mountains, and less-visited waterfalls it really should be a place to visit. If you do manage to visit, make sure you snap a photo of Iceland’s infamous and most active volcano, Hekla.

  • Reynisdrangar/ Reynisfjara/Black Sand Beach

Reynisfjara beach is definitely the most iconic black sand beach in Iceland. With spiky basalt stacks jutting out of the ocean and basalt columns on the beach, it’s not to be missed.

  • Vik

For a stunning view over the southernmost point of mainland Iceland, climb up behind the church in Vik. You’ll be able to capture the iconic red and white church, the houses in the village below and the incredible black sand beach against the Atlantic with Reynisdrangar in the distance.

  • Svartifoss

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Happy Waterfall Wednesday! 💦 Photo by @marcpg5

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Unfortunately, time constraints prevented me from getting to Svartifoss waterfall in Vatnajökull National Park. People in the visitor centre said it’s around a 30 minute easy up hill hike to the base of the falls though.

  • Jökulsárlón

One of the biggest disappointments from my trips to Iceland is not making it to Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon. This place is meant to be a magnificent sight to see. With icebergs breaking from the glacier and floating in a lagoon before being pushed out to sea. It’s such a spectacular setting that it’s even appeared in movies from James Bond to Batman. This location will be top of my list for my next trip to Iceland for sure.

WEST ICELAND

  • Kirkjufell

The most popular spot in the Snaefellsnes Peninsula is the cone-shaped Kirkjufell mountain. Most people will recognize this place as it’s probably the most photographed mountain in all of Iceland.

  • Dynjandi

If you’re in the Westfjords, make sure you don’t miss Dynjandi. This waterfall is actually a series of waterfalls stacked over 100 meters high on top of one of another.

  • Látrabjarg

Látrabjargis is the westernmost point in Iceland and is also the most visited spot in the Westfjords. During the summer months, it’s home to an overwhelming number of birds, including Puffins.

NORTH ICELAND

  • Dettifoss

Dettifoss is apparently Europe’s most powerful waterfall and can be hard to get to but is worth it for those views.

  • Goðafoss