You’ve planned your trip and booked your flight to France, but there’s one question left: where to stay in Paris? Where are the best neighborhoods in Paris for that matter? For most people, going to Paris is the trip of a lifetime — so it’s all the more important to carefully choose where to stay.
This post was updated in September 2019.
Paris was the first city I ever fell in love with, and after eighteen years, it’s still my favorite city in the world. On my first visit, I skipped away from my school group to climb the towers of Notre-Dame; these days, I’m more likely to escape for a plate of oysters and glass of champagne in the Saint-Germain neighborhood.
I’ve now visited Paris more than a dozen times and usually stay in two or three different places on each visit. At this point, I’ve gotten to know lots of different neighborhoods, I’ve learned the benefits of staying in different places, and I know the kinds of experiences that make a trip to Paris special. In short, when it comes to the best places to stay in Paris, you’ve got plenty of options!
Where to Stay in Paris
Everyone wants to know where to stay in Paris, but I think most people like being in a quintessential Paris neighborhood — a place where you can buy fresh baguettes and marvel at the wrought-iron balconies. There is a lot of diversity in Paris, but most visitors like to stay somewhere that looks like the Paris of their dreams!
Paris is divided into 20 arrondissements (neighborhoods) and they are numbered in a spiral, the center being Ile de la Cité, the island in the Seine home to Notre-Dame. Neighborhoods with lower numbers are closer to the center; the 12th-20th arrondissements are the outer edge. Parisians refer to the neighborhoods by their number.
Best Neighborhoods in Paris
If I were choosing the best neighborhoods in Paris, at the top of my list would be the Marais and St. Germain, followed by the good part of Montmartre.
I think the Marais is the best neighborhood in Paris overall because it has so much to offer — it’s a creative, colorful neighborhood filled with interesting boutiques, beautiful parks, and some of the quirkiest architecture in the city (hello, Beaubourg). It’s also home to the best crepe restaurant in Paris (Breizh Cafe, probably my favorite place to eat in Paris) and the best cheap meal in Paris: the falafel at L’As du Falafel, which is best eaten as a picnic in the Places des Vosges. When you stay in the Marais, you have easy access to art, shopping, and several metro lines that can take you all over the city.
I think St. Germain is another one of the best places to stay in Paris because it has retained its Left Bank artistic culture over time. This is the neighborhood where Sartre, Hemingway, and Dali used to hang out amongst the Lost Generation. You can sit in one of those famous cafes by day, or check out the galleries and bookstores (including my favorite, Shakespeare and Company) that line the streets. When you stay in St. Germain, you have easy access to the Jardin Luxembourg, the Musée d’Orsay, Notre-Dame, and plenty of other metro lines.
Montmartre is wrapped up in mystique, but it definitely has its highs and lows. Parts of Montmartre make you think it’s the most beautiful Paris neighborhood — where the white buildings line curvy steep streets. Then you get the seedy parts of Montmartre: the sex shops and aggressive touts who try to part you with your money. But if you’re able to concentrate on the good parts, it’s without a doubt one of the best places to stay in Paris. Staying in Montmartre gives you easy access to the Sacre-Coeur (go up to the very top at sunset!), the cheesy but wonderful Moulin Rouge! show, and plenty of beautiful cafes and boutiques.
The Marais (3rd/4th), in my opinion, is easily the best neighborhood in Paris. It’s central with lots of metro lines. It’s got several attractions, like the Centre Pompidou and the Hotel de Ville. There are lots of wonderful restaurants and cafes, the architecture is magnificent, and the shopping is superb. In fact, I think the Marais is the best shopping neighborhood in the city — there are tons of independently owned boutiques as well as luxury shops and wonderful markets.
The Marais was historically home to marginalized communities in Paris, including the LGBT community and the Jewish community, and as a result it’s got a nice cultural mix to this day.
Where to Stay in the Marais:
Luxury: Hotel Les Bains Paris
Mid-range: Hotel Georgette
Budget: Hotel Bastille
Check out hotels in the Marais here.
If you’re looking for Left Bank Paris, the neighborhood of Hemingway and Camus and Sartre, St. Germain (6th arrondissement) is a nice option and my other favorite neighborhood in which to stay. While it definitely has its share of tourists, you’ll find wonderful (and longtime famous) cafes, interesting little shops, and streets full of life.
St. Germain (full name: St. Germain-des-Pres) is well-located in Paris. The Jardin du Luxembourg is nearby, and it’s close to Notre Dame and the Musée d’Orsay as well. But what makes this neighborhood special is that it feels small and close-knit, like you’re a bit removed from the hustle and bustle of Paris. If you’re looking for where to stay in Paris, you can’t go wrong here.
One other thing: lots of travelers want to stay in the Latin Quarter of Paris. I’m not a fan of this neighborhood — it has gone from a quirky student neighborhood to a tourist zone filled with mediocre restaurants no Parisian would patronize. I recommend actually staying in St. Germain instead. It’s right next door and has the bohemian vibe you crave.
Where to Stay in St. Germain:
Luxury: Hotel Villa d’Estrées
Mid-range: Holiday Inn Paris St. Germain-des-Pres
Budget: Hotel de Nestle
Check out more hotels in St. Germain here.
If you love Moulin Rouge! and Amélie, Montmartre (18th arrondissement*) is your dream neighborhood. It’s one of the places in Paris that feels like a movie set. However, there’s a reason why I gave it an asterisk. Montmartre can be wonderful, but you need to do a little extra research to make sure you’re in the good part.
While much of Montmartre is the village-like urban neighborhood frequented by Amélie Poulin, some parts are seedy, especially around the Pigalle area. Rue Lepic (pictured above) and its side streets are lovely; Boulevard Clichy near Pigalle and further east is full of sex shops. Perhaps not one of the best places to stay in Paris if you have small kids.
The best way to know if you’re in a good part of Montmartre? Google Streetview is my go-to tool. Take a look at the neighborhood, especially the blocks surrounding the hotel, before you book your accommodation. The good news is that Montmartre hotels tend to be a bit cheaper than other areas of Paris, and it’s one of the best neighborhoods in Paris when it comes to value for money.
Where to Stay in Montmartre:
Luxury: Mom’Art Hotel and Spa
Mid-range: Mercure Paris Montmartre Sacre Coeur
Budget: Best Western Le 18 Paris
Check out more hotels in Montmartre here.
Where to Stay in Opéra (9th arrondissement)
The 9th arrondissement won’t be on a lot of lists — while it has the Opéra, it isn’t big on attractions. And while it’s very Parisian, it’s not as famously charming as other neighborhoods. I didn’t give it a second thought until I stayed at my friend’s apartment in the 9th and saw what a great base it made for exploring Paris.
The 9th is a residential zone with the Galeries-Lafayette department store on one end (perfect views of the Eiffel Tower at sunset) and the edge of Montmartre on the other end. As a result, there aren’t a ton of tourists swarming the streets here (a rarity in central Paris!). There are lots of restaurants, bars and cafes, and there’s lots of life without a single establishment pandering to tourists.
Where to Stay in Opéra:
Luxury: Hotel Saint Petersbourg Opéra
Mid-range: Hotel 34B Astotel
Budget: Hotel France Albion
Check out hotels in the 9th here.
Where to Stay in Île Saint-Louis (4th)
If you want to be in the dead center of the city, yet a place that doesn’t feel like Parisian Disneyland, Île Saint-Louis is one of the best places to stay in Paris. It has a wonderful feel — almost like its own small town — and even though it’s next door to Île de la Cité and the massive crowds of tourists visiting Notre-Dame, Île Saint-Louis is almost a world away. It’s like the world suddenly goes quiet as soon as you cross the bridge.
The restaurants are nice and you shouldn’t miss Berthillon, home of Paris’s most famous ice cream. The black current ice cream is fabulous and one of my favorites. The boutiques aren’t bad, either.
Where to Stay on Île Saint-Louis:
Luxury: Hotel Saint-Louis en L’Île
Midrange: Hotel du Jeu de Paume
Budget: Familia Hotel Paris (three blocks away from the island)
Check out hotels in Ile Saint-Louis here.
Where to Stay in Louvre/Les Halles (1st arrondissement)
Finally, if you want to be incredibly central and walking distance from most of the major sites, consider the center of the city: the first arrondissement. You’ll have easy access to the Louvre, the Jardin des Tuileries, Place Vendôme, Notre-Dame, and almost every major transportation line. A lot of people consider it one of the best neighborhoods in Paris for that reason, but I think it’s a little too commercial and lacking in character.
Keep in mind that being central comes with a price: Paris hotels tend to be most expensive in the first arrondissement. A lot of people who don’t know where to stay in Paris book their accommodation here because they assume it will be easier to get to the sights. But don’t forget about the metro. It’s cheap, it’s easy, it goes everywhere.
Where to Stay in the 1st Arrondissement:
Luxury: Mandarin Oriental Paris
Mid-range: Hotel Moliere Paris
Budget: Tonic Hotel du Louvre
Check out more hotels in the 1st arrondissement here.
Where NOT to Stay in Paris
Don’t stay outside the main 20 arrondissements. You’ll be far from the center and while many of Paris’s surrounding suburbs are lovely, some of them are the most dangerous areas in Paris. Whenever you hear about riots and violence in Paris, it’s usually in these rough suburbs.
Don’t plan your stay around being close to a certain attraction. Paris’s metro is easy and efficient enough to navigate your way anywhere — you don’t need to stay within walking distance from the Louvre in order to visit the Louvre.
“Near the Eiffel Tower” actually isn’t that great. The neighborhoods near the Eiffel Tower are upscale residential areas. They’re fine, but they’re expensive and a bit boring, in my opinion. Besides, you can see the tower from all over the city.
“Near the Champs-Elysees” is worse. A lot of people (including the Four Seasons) think this is one of the best places to stay in Paris, but I disagree strongly. Definitely go to the Champs-Elysees at least once, but it’s filled with shops you can find anywhere and it’s absolutely swarming with tourists. It’s Paris’s Times Square. There are better places.
Don’t stay in a hotel near the airport. Unless it’s for one night only and your flight leaves at 6:00 AM the next day. Paris’s two airports, Charles de Gaulle and Orly, are both far outside the city.
Best Luxury Hotel in Paris: Hotel Villa d’Estrées
I’ve stayed in a few luxury hotels in Paris and my favorite is Hotel Villa d’Estrées. I relaxed the moment I stepped in. It was elegant, streamlined, and old-fashioned but not cliche. The bathroom had a beautiful vanity and the windows had a view over St. Germain.
While Paris hotels are usually known for being cramped and tiny, my room at the Villa d’Estrées was spacious and actually had room for a couch.
And the location? Magnifique. St. Germain, a 30-second (!) walk from the St. Michel metro stop and just steps from the shops and galleries of St. Germain, making it one of the best places to stay in Paris. Even though an Irish pub is next door, you don’t hear the noise of it at all.
Other Top-Rated Luxury Paris Hotels:
Hotel Les Bains Paris
Hotel Plaza Athenée
International luxury chains: Four Seasons George V, Mandarin Oriental Paris, Hotel The Peninsula Paris, Park Hyatt Paris-Vendôme, Shangri-La Hotel Paris
Image: Joe deSousa
Best Hostel in Paris: St. Christopher’s Hostel — The Canal
As hostels continue to innovate and turn into modern budget getaways for travelers of all ages, exceptional properties are popping up all over Europe. That said, unlike Lisbon or Berlin, Paris doesn’t have any game-changing hostels.
However, there is one nice Paris hostel that I do recommend: St. Christopher’s Hostel on the canal. It’s a relatively new hostel, built in 2008, and it’s airy and vibrant with impeccably clean dorms, large bathrooms, key card security, and a wild bar downstairs to meet fellow travelers.
St. Christopher’s is part of the Europe’s Famous Hostels chain, and I’ve found all their hostels to be well maintained with a great social environment.
The location on Canal St. Martin is offbeat and fairly out of the way, but there are plenty of nice cafes, a grocery store, some Vietnamese restaurants, and three metro stops within a ten-minute walk.
St. Christopher’s has another location near Gare du Nord, and while I can’t vouch for it personally, it’s worth checking out as well.
Other Top-Rated Paris Hostels:
Le Village Montmartre
The Loft Boutique Hostel
Vintage Paris Gare du Nord
Check out more Paris hostels here.
Don’t Visit Paris Without Travel Insurance
A lot of people think travel insurance is an unnecessary expense — I couldn’t disagree more. Travel insurance is vital. It’s saved me hundreds of dollars and for one of my friends, who slipped and broke his back while traveling, his travel insurance saved him hundreds of thousands of dollars. Another friend, who broke her foot while traveling, got her insurance to get her a business class flight home to keep her foot up.
If you get pickpocketed on the metro, travel insurance will refund you what you lost.
If you slip on the stairs at Notre-Dame and break your ankle, travel insurance will refund your medical costs and will get you home for free.
If you get appendicitis while in Paris, travel insurance will cover your medical costs.
If an immediate family member dies while you’re halfway across the world, travel insurance will help you get home immediately.
These are unpleasant things to think about, but it’s so important to be prepared for the worst.
I use and recommend World Nomads Travel Insurance. They’re a great fit for almost every traveler. Take a look at their policies before you buy to make sure they’re right for you.
My #1 Paris Travel Tip
Make sure your accommodation is within a short walk of a metro stop, or, ideally, a few metro stops on a few different lines. You’ll be riding the metro a lot, so being close will make your time in Paris so much easier. It almost doesn’t matter where to stay in Paris when you can get around so quickly on the metro!
In the past, I’ve stayed in places that were a long walk (around 12 minutes) from the metro in areas that weren’t well traversed. This made me uncomfortable walking home alone at night, and while I stuck it out at the time, I wouldn’t stay that far away again.
Any trip to Paris should be the trip of a lifetime. I hope this guide brings you close to making your Paris dream come true.
READ NEXT: 100 Travel Tips for Paris
Essential Info: For flights to Paris, I find the best rates on Skyscanner. Double-check to make sure you got a good price.
Looking to book a tour in Paris? Here are the best tours in the city. I especially recommend seeing the show at the Moulin Rouge, going on a food tour, and taking a day trip to Monet’s gardens at Giverny.
Want to see more of France? G Adventures has several small group tours that include Paris.
Have you been to Paris? Where’s your favorite place to stay?
More accommodation guides: Where to Stay in Barcelona, Where to Stay in Boston
The post Where to Stay in Paris — Best Neighborhoods and Accommodation appeared first on Adventurous Kate.
Where to stay in Tokyo? There are so many options! Whether you want to be surrounded by skyscrapers and sleeping in a pod hotel or, close to designer shopping and in a cool hostel, there is a place in Tokyo that is perfect for your trip. The best place to stay in Tokyo for one traveler isn’t necessarily the same for every traveler.
Tokyo is a city that quickly takes ahold of you. Its eclectic mix of traditional and modern attractions, huge electronics stores and tiny counter bars, the brightest neon signs and the most dimly lit izakaya, make it surprising, chaotic, delightful and mind-boggling in the most incredible of ways!
This post was updated in September 2019.
Deciding on where to stay in the largest metropolis in the world can be overwhelming. However, the sheer size of the city has meant that many neighborhoods offer different looks, feels and points of interest to visitors. Deciding on your priorities for your trip will therefore make it considerably easier to decide on a Tokyo neighborhood that suits your travel style.
After almost a decade of being based in Tokyo, here are our recommendations for places to stay in this incredible mega-city!
This post is written by Jessica and Hai from Notes of Nomads, who lived for several years in Tokyo. They are the ultimate Tokyo experts, and when I decided to put up a Tokyo accommodation guide on the site, there was no question that I wanted them to write it!
And for the record — my personal favorite neighborhood to stay in Tokyo is Shinjuku! And if you can afford the Park Hyatt Tokyo, DO IT. It was one of the best hotel experiences of my life.
Shibuya Crossing — via Pixabay.
Best Area to Stay in Tokyo
What’s the best place to stay in Tokyo? It’s different for every traveler. Some travelers like to be in the most convenient
Know that Tokyo is an immense city, but it has an excellent public transportation, so you’re always able to get to where you need to go. Also, neighborhoods are often pushed up right against each other. Ginza, for example, is right next to the Marunouchi neighborhood that contains Tokyo Station.
That being said, here are our picks for the best areas to stay in Tokyo:
Shinjuku is the center of the city, home to nightlife, restaurants, millions of skyscrapers lit with neon lights, and the very well connected Shinjuku Station.
Asakusa is a neighborhood where you get value for money, as well as some of the best food options in the city. Plus you have easy access to traditional Japanese temples.
Tokyo Station in the Marunouchi neighborhood is very convenient for day trips outside the city, as many of them leave from there. On top of that you’ll find some of the city’s best luxury hotels and a beloved ramen street.
Ginza is about the glamour and luxury — if you want to shop and explore Tokyo’s fascinating department stores, this is the best place to stay in Tokyo! You’ll also find lots of excellent restaurants and cafes.
Okutama is a quiet neighborhood away from the city center and if you want to have easy access to nature, it’s a very good choice for where to stay in Tokyo.
No accommodation guide for Tokyo would be complete without mentioning Shinjuku! If you want to enjoy city views, nightlife, and being in the center of things, this is your place. (Note from Kate: Shinjuku is my pick for the best place to stay in Tokyo.)
Shinjuku Station is the busiest train station in the world, serving more than 3.5 million passengers a day. While shinkansen trains do not depart from this station, a number of JR lines, private rail lines and subways do. Staying in the area means that you are always connected, even if that also means sometimes getting lost in the overwhelm of this station.
Shinjuku really has it all with a great variety of shops, electronics stores and depaato (department stores), as well as your pick of fantastic restaurants. If the idea of exploring Tokyo by night and being close to food, shopping and entertainment sounds like your idea of fun, Shinjuku is the best area to stay in Tokyo.
Popular places to visit at night include old-school Omoide Yokocho (Memory Lane) where small hole-in-the-wall eateries serve up everything from conventional noodle bowls to frog sashimi, Kabukicho district for its cheap izakaya and karaoke joints, and Golden Gai, where stacked wooden rabbit-warren bars take you back to former times. (Note from Kate: Golden Gai is so cool! I wrote about it here.)
In Shinjuku, you can enjoy the city lights at street level or head up the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building for free views over the city — a great place to catch the sunset, especially on a clear evening.
Where to Stay in Shinjuku:
Luxury: Park Hyatt Tokyo
Mid-range: Hotel Sunroute Higashi Shinjuku
Budget: Hikari House
Find more deals on Shinjuku hotels here.
With 160,000 restaurants in central Tokyo alone, it’s no easy task to isolate one neighborhood in particular as the foodie destination. Honestly, you can find excellent food choices all over the city and restaurants to satisfy any taste or budget. Hell, many people even rate convenience store food among some of their best eats! (Note from Kate: Truth. I love my 100 yen convenience store onigiri!)
The whole city (and country for that matter) has extremely high food standards, but we settled on Asakusa for a few reasons. One is that it is filled with traditional snacks and restaurants where you can sample lots of different Japanese treats and dishes. Soba and tempura are two traditional Japanese dishes that Asakusa is particularly well known for.
Another is its food accessibility. Japan is typically a challenging country for those with dietary restrictions, especially with so much of the cuisine based on fish products. However, Asakusa has a great range of vegetarian, vegan and halal restaurants, making it easier to find food for all kinds of diets.
If Asakusa feels overwhelming at first, venture away from the highly visitor-frequented Sensoji Temple and the Nakamise shopping street leading up to it. You’ll quickly find a more residential side to Asakusa, one where life goes on at a slower pace and you can find many local shops.
Foodies will also no doubt be interested in the nearby Kappabashi Street. It has been coined “Kitchen Town” and is best known for its high-quality kitchen knives and plastic food models (like the ones you see in restaurant windows in Japan). You can actually book a lesson to learn how to make these fake food samples for yourself!
For those simply wanting to pick up some practical souvenirs, Kitchen Town also has beautiful bento boxes, useful kitchen gadgets and classic chopsticks.
Where to Stay in Asakusa:
Luxury: The Gate Hotel Kaminarion by Hulic
Mid-range: Asakusa Hotel Hatago
Budget: Hotel Mystays Asakusa-bashi
Find more deals on Asakusa hotels here.
Tokyo Station in Marunouchi is the best place to stay in Tokyo if you plan on doing day trips by train. The surrounding neighborhood gives you easy access to both Narita and Haneda Airports and to a number of subway and train lines, including the city’s central loop, the Yamanote line.
It’s a great base for day trips, especially those to the Tokyo Bay area, such as Yokohama, Kamakura, the Tokyo Disney resorts, and for traveling between cities. From here you can take the shinkansen (bullet train) to other popular destinations like Kyoto and Osaka.
Marunouchi is at the heart of Tokyo’s financial district, and while it has long been a busy area for the city’s salary men and OL’s (office ladies), the refurbished Tokyo Station has transformed the area from a transport and business hub that trails of commuters would simply pass through, into a destination in and of itself. It’s long been known as the best area to stay in Tokyo for business travelers, but plenty of tourists enjoy it for the same reasons.
Tokyo Station stands as a rather interesting contrast to the modern, non-descript office buildings that dominate the area. The iconic European-style redbrick building was originally constructed in 1914. After surviving the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, it was later burned and gutted during fire bombings in WWII. A reconstruction project to restore Tokyo Station to its former 1914 charm was completed in late 2012.
Tokyo Character Street features 20 stores dedicated to well-known Japanese characters and TV show merchandise, while if you’re in the mood for noodles, Tokyo Ramen Street is operated by eight renowned names on the city’s ramen scene. You can find more food variety on Kitchen Street on the first floor main concourse between the North Yaesu and North Marunouchi exits.
For those wanting to visit the Imperial Palace and its East Gardens, it’s an easy 10-15 minute walk from Tokyo Station.
Where to Stay in Tokyo Station/Marunouchi:
Luxury: Shangri-La Hotel Tokyo
Mid-range: Sotetsu Fresa Inn Tokyo
Budget: Tokyo Ekimai Bay Hotel
Find more deals on Tokyo Station/Marunouchi hotels here.
Ginza is one of the most coveted addresses in the city and home to high-end fashion and dining spots. Think of any of the world’s top luxury brands and they’ll probably have a storefront here, along with Japanese luxury brands you’ve never heard of.
If high fashion and luxury goods are what you’re after, then Ginza is the perfect place where to stay in Tokyo. While weekdays are preferable for fewer crowds and more personalized service, a great time to enjoy this shopping district is actually weekend afternoons, when Chuo Dori is closed to vehicles and becomes a lively pedestrian street.
Ginza is also home to some of the best restaurants in the city. These are the kinds of places that will leave a dent in your wallet but also allow you to walk away with that satisfying feeling that it was totally worth it. Tokyo is home to some of the best Michelin-starred restaurants in the world, and Ginza is one of the best areas to stay in Tokyo if you’re looking to experience them. Top guidebook restaurants are always popular here, so it’s best to ask your hotel to make a reservation for you in advance to avoid disappointment.
Ginza is also located near Tsukiji with its incredible selection of sushi restaurants, and is well connected to other popular areas for food, shopping and sightseeing on the Ginza, Marunouchi and Hibiya lines, such as Asakusa, Ueno, Shibuya, Omotesando, Akihabara and Shinjuku.
Where to Stay in Ginza:
Luxury: Hyatt Centric Ginza Tokyo
Mid-range: Hotel Gracery Ginza
Budget: Hotel Monterey La Soeur Ginza
Find more deals on Ginza hotels here.
Splurging on the Right Things in Ginza
Contrary to popular belief, Tokyo actually has a lot of green spaces — and one of the best spots to enjoy nature in the city is Okutama. They exist in pockets all over the city, so it actually isn’t difficult to find a park or garden for a walk or to simply chill out in. There’s even a tranquil ravine known as Todoroki Valley within the confines of the 23 inner-city wards.
For those who want to get into the “wild,” so to speak, you simply have to go west. The west side of Tokyo is where it’s at for the hikers and nature lovers. Many tourists visit Mt Takao on a day-trip, but to get further off the tourist trail and into national park territory, we recommend Okutama in Chichibu Tama-Kai National Park.
Even the train ride there (approximately 2 hours from Shinjuku) has many visitors on their feet in the train carriage gasping at the views, especially around Sawai and Kawai Stations. In fact, many people get off around there for hikes and mountain climbing. A popular peak in the area is Mt Mitake and can be accessed from Mitake Station on the same line and a cable car can then take you part of the way up.
Okutama Station itself sees fewer visitors but it’s also a wonderfully picturesque place to go hiking, white-water rafting, forest bathing and visit hot springs. If you’re interested in camping or staying in more remote accommodation, you’ll find those options here.
Keep in mind that the Asian black bear is found in the area (yes, there are bears in Tokyo!) so hikers are advised to make their presence known by talking and making noise along the trials. Some hikers like to wear bear bells.
While we wouldn’t recommend basing yourself here for your entire time in Tokyo because of its distance from downtown, and limited bus services and dining options, a night or two will allow you to see a completely different side of Tokyo that you probably never knew existed.
Where to Stay in and around Otaru:
Mid-range: Shukubo Komadori-Sanso
Budget: Guesthouse Nishiki
Find more deals on hotels in Okutama here.
Tokyo image by @Pixabay.
Best Places to Stay in Tokyo
There are so many places to stay in Tokyo, they could fill books. To make it easier, we’ve chosen three of our favorites.
The Park Hyatt Tokyo is our favorite luxury hotel in Tokyo — and if you have the money to spend, you will have an outstanding experience. If you love the movie Lost in Translation, this is THE place where to stay in Tokyo.
The Hotel Sunroute Higashi Shinjuku is an excellent, solid choice for a mid-range hotel in the epicenter of Tokyo. It’s hard to find any fault with this place.
K’s House Tokyo is an excellent hostel, home to some of the cheapest dorms in the city as well as budget-priced private rooms. If you’re trying to keep expenses down, this is a very good spot.
Read on for more in-depth descriptions of each property.
Best Luxury Hotel in Tokyo: Park Hyatt Tokyo
For those wanting a luxury stay in Tokyo, it’s hard to go past the Park Hyatt of Lost in Translation fame. This 5-star hotel in Nishi Shinjuku occupies the top 14 floors of a 52-story tower, giving guests unparalleled views of the city and the chance to live out all their Lost in Translation fantasies at the New York Bar.
Facilities include world-class drinks and dining, pool, spa, gym and fitness center.
(Note from Kate: I said it above but I’ll say it again — this hotel is fantastic, and the views are unreal. If you’re a Lost in Translation fan in the least, you must stay here.)
Click here for the best rates at the Park Hyatt Tokyo.
What’s It REALLY Like to Stay at the Park Hyatt Tokyo?
Well, in Japan, don’t expect wide hotel room but, cleanness is always on point. This 3*** star hotel room is no exception, for more or less IDR. 1.2mio a night, with good location (next to subway station, a lot of konbinis around and one Donki store not too far), I think Sunroute Hotel is a good choice for beginner to explore Tokyo. #msalwayshungrytokyo #travelgram #room #hotel #recommended #travel #sunroutehotelhigashishinjuku #higashishinjuku #tokyo
A post shared by EDITH FYANSA (@ms.alwayshungry) on Mar 30, 2018 at 5:01am PDT
Best Mid-range Hotel in Tokyo: Hotel Sunroute Higashi Shinjuku
This three-star hotel is a comfortable western-style accommodation with reasonable pricing. Its biggest asset is its location, just 1-minute walk from the nearest subway station and 10 minutes from the main JR Shinjuku Station, putting it in the best area to stay in Tokyo.
The hotel’s facilities include free Wi-Fi, two restaurants and a 24-hour front desk.
Click here for the best rates at the Hotel Sunroute Higashi Shinjuku.
We had a Shaved Ice party tonight! Yay!? Thank you all for coming?? #Tokyo #Japan #kshousetokyo #asakusa #kuramae #travel #solotravel #guesthouse #backpacking #backpacker #love #hostel #world #instagram #instagood #like #smile #followme #東京 #ホステル #ゲストハウス #日本 #浅草 #蔵前 #イベント #event
A post shared by K’s House Tokyo (@kshousetokyo) on Jul 28, 2018 at 5:24am PDT
Best Hostel in Tokyo: K’s House Tokyo
For those looking to stay in Tokyo on a budget, K’s House in Kuramae (Asakusa) is an excellent choice. If you’re wondering where to stay in Tokyo while also wanting to save money, this is a great spot.
There are mixed and female only dorms for those wanting the cheapest possible stay, as well as budget-friendly private rooms for solo travelers, double rooms for couples, twin and multi-capacity rooms for friends and larger traveling parties, and family rooms for those traveling with kids.
Facilities include free Wi-Fi, communal areas for socializing and a rooftop terrace. This hostel has no curfew. Note: there is another K’s House in Asakusa (K’s House Oasis) with similar facilities but less room variety.
Click here for the best rates at K’s House Tokyo.
Tokyo Travel Tips
Get an IC card. Electronic public transportation cards such as Pasmo or Suica will save you time and hassle trying to figure out individual fare prices for each train journey on your own (and it also gives you a small discount). Get them from ticket machines (500 yen refundable deposit) and add cash for spending. You can also use these cards at most vending machines and convenience stores.
If you do buy a paper ticket and are not sure which value to buy, just get the cheapest one and you can pay the difference at the other end. You’ll find fare adjustment machines near the ticket gates. Simply pop your ticket in and it will tell you how much you owe.
Consider a rail pass. If your plan is to visit several cities in Japan, the JR Rail Pass can be a huge cost saver. While they have been doing limited trialing of in-country JR Pass purchases, it is still easier (and cheaper) to organize the pass from your home country. A voucher will be sent to your address, which you can then exchange for the pass in-country.
While the rail pass is best used for inter-city travel, if you still have validity, you can also take advantage of using it on JR lines during the Tokyo portion of your trip.
Take advantage of lunch sets. Grab a lunch set for the cheapest, best-value meal deals. Many restaurants have daily lunch specials, known as higawari ranchi, which usually include a main, side, a drink and sometimes a small dessert.
Japanese restaurants are notorious for having many different menus. You might need to sift through them to find the one with the daily lunch specials on offer.
When you’re really hungry, get more rice. If you’re finding Japanese servings a little smaller than what you’re used to back home, many restaurants offer larger servings of rice at either no extra charge or for a very minimal extra cost. Simply ask for gohan oomori.
In Japan, it is polite to eat every last grain of rice in your bowl, so only order larger servings if you plan on finishing it.
When you don’t know where to eat, check out department stores. Department stores can be found near train stations around the city, as well as Ginza, and they are an easy go-to for food. As a rule of thumb, there are restaurants on the top floor(s) and a food hall in the basement. These basement food halls are called depachika and are home to an array of delicious food options.
It’s also where you can find food-related gifts and those legendary $100 square watermelons beautifully gift-wrapped to perfection.
Ask for a recommendation. If you don’t know what to order, you can ask for a recommendation by saying osusume wa? It’s an easy way to find out what’s popular or the restaurant’s specialty dish.
Expect to wait in line. Queuing is like a national pastime in Japan, and sometimes the wait at popular attractions, special events and restaurants – especially newly opened ones – can be several hours.
It’s always useful to check about ticketing and reservations in advance. You may be able to get advance tickets that will allow you to skip some of the waiting time, or for specific restaurants you want to visit, ask your accommodation to help you with making a reservation ahead of time.
Mind your chopsticks. One of the most important areas of Japanese dining etiquette involves chopsticks. Think of them as for the action of eating only.
If you like to talk with your hands, be sure to place them on the chopstick rest or over your bowl or plate. Never wave them around, point with them or leave them standing in your bowl. The latter is a funerary act, as is passing food to another chopstick to chopstick, and should be avoided.
If you are using your own chopsticks to put food on the plate of another, it is polite to flip them around and serve from the fat end.
Travel Insurance for Tokyo
A lot of people think travel insurance is an unnecessary expense — that’s far from the truth. Travel insurance is vital, even in a destination as safe as Japan. It’s saved Kate hundreds of dollars and for one of her friends, who slipped and broke her foot while traveling in Italy, her travel insurance bought her a business class ticket home and saved her thousands of dollars.
If your purse is stolen on the shinkansen, travel insurance will refund you what you lost.
If you slip on the steps of a temple and break your ankle, travel insurance will refund your medical costs and get you home for free.
If you get appendicitis while in Tokyo, travel insurance will cover your medical costs.
If an immediate family member dies while you’re in Japan, travel insurance will help you get home immediately.
These are unpleasant things to think about, but it’s so important to be prepared for the worst.
AdventurousKate.com uses and recommends World Nomads Travel Insurance. They’re a great fit for almost every traveler. Take a look at their policies before you buy to make sure they’re right for you.
Tokyo Awaits You!
There you have it – those are our tips and recommendations for places to stay in Tokyo during your trip. Tokyo may be huge but it also has options to suit any kind of traveler. Once you figure out where to stay in Tokyo, the rest of your trip will flow out naturally from there. Simply pick an area that most suits your travel style and use the city’s incredibly vast public transportation system take you to see the rest.
Meet the Tokyo Experts
Jessica Korteman and Hai Huynh are Australian travel personalities who recently relocated to Australia after several years of living in Tokyo. They write about their travels on their blogs Notes of Nomads and Travel Solo Anyway, produce videos on their YouTube channel, and regularly appear on Japanese TV and print media.
They are the founders of Instameet Community Japan and are the countrywide Instameet Managers for Instagramers Japan – join one of their free monthly photo walks during your next trip to Tokyo!
What’s it Really Like to Travel in Japan?
Have you been to Tokyo? Where’s your favorite place to stay? Share away!
The post Where to Stay in Tokyo — Best Neighborhoods and Accommodation appeared first on Adventurous Kate.
When I think back to my travels in Baku, Azerbaijan, one anecdote comes to mind. I’m driving through the highway as we speed past modern, silver buildings interspersed with sand-colored mosques and souks, set back against the arid landscape. My guide points out a cluster of buildings on one side of the highway.
“See those buildings?” he tells me. “Our journalists live there. They get to live there for free.”
I smile weakly and say, “Oh. For free. Cool.” Inside, I’m thinking, really? In exchange for what?
That’s what it’s like to grow up in a country without freedom of the press. Journalists living in government-provided housing is seen as something to extol to international visitors, rather than something that should be kept under wraps.
That’s not to say that Azerbaijan is horrifying. Far from it. I found Baku to be an intriguing destination, quite often perplexing, and well worth a three-day visit with my boyfriend before traveling on to Georgia and Armenia.
Azerbaijan: A Modern Land of Fire
Azerbaijan is known as the Land of Fire — this is a country where flames can and do burst out of the earth in unexpected places. There are places close to Baku where you can see eternal flames billowing out of the ground, or even from the water. And the reserves of natural gas cause unusual geological effects, like bubbling mud volcanoes.
And sitting in the middle of that fiery desert, on the banks of an inland sea, is one of the world’s most prolific collections of modern architecture. The most famous of which are three modern towers shaped like flames, lighting up with even more flames at night.
If you mention modern architecture set against a desert, where do you think of first? Dubai, maybe, or Doha, Qatar? I got a similar vibe from Baku. Azerbaijan is rich with oil money, thanks to its location next to the Caspian Sea, which had led to insane levels of recent development.
While Dubai and Doha have their share of modern buildings, Baku sprawls like neither city. As you’re driving around Baku, it seems borderline uncanny that you can cruise over so many hills and still see all kinds of modern, interesting buildings.
Within this unusual setting, there are a lot of cool places in Baku to explore and enjoy.
Best Things to Do in Baku
The good thing about visiting a city like Baku is that there isn’t an established tourist trail — you don’t need to hop from sight to sight.
Have dinner overlooking the Flame Towers. On a whim, I ended up at Panoramic Restaurant. While most of the windows face away from the Flame Towers, there is a tiny outdoor patio with only three tables that has a view of the Flame Towers! Do what I did — go early in the day to check it out, then make a reservation for that exact table for sunset that evening.
Explore the old city of Baku. This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a place where the architecture differs enormously from the rest of the modern city. The old city dates back to the 6th century and it gives you an idea of the incredible cultural history in this region from Zoroastrian, Sasanian, Arabic, Shirvani, Persian, Ottoman, and Russian cultures. The Maiden Tower is a great spot for a view of the Flame Towers. And just outside the old city is the Azerbaijan Carpet Museum.
Visit the markets. What struck me about Baku’s markets is how immaculate they are. I’m used to seeing piles of produce flung in every direction; it seems like Azerbaijanis make every effort to shape their produce into the most aesthetically pleasing piles. The conical shapes on the mango slices and dried flowers are perfect.
It extends to larger fruits, too. Apples were stacked in clean straight lines; perfect green watermelons made up the perimeter. One table even grouped tomatoes not just by type but by size, arranging them into perfect mounds!
Normally I’m a bit uneasy at markets because I feel guilty when I don’t buy anything, but I felt more relaxed here. That and men kept giving me macadamia nuts to sample — the best macadamia nuts I’ve ever tasted. (Did I buy any? Nope. Macadamias are one food that I avoid because if I have one, I’ll have a million.)
Check out Heydar Aliyev Center. In a city filled with modern architecture, this is one of the most famous buildings of all (and a symbol of Azerbaijan, named after its most beloved leader). The building contains a museum and conference center with rotating exhibitions. But even if you don’t go inside, it’s worth it, because it’s in the middle of a giant park, which becomes a place to see and be seen at sunset.
This is easily the best Instagram spot in Baku. I recommend coming around sunrise or sunset for the best light.
Enjoy the cafe scene. While the old city was surprisingly more dead than I expected, I loved the neighborhood just east. This area was filled with all kinds of interesting cafes and restaurants, and I loved walking around and exploring.
Spend an evening down by the Caspian Sea. I was a bit surprised that there was so little seafood on the menus in Baku, despite being located on the sea. But there is one place where seafood is the star: Derya Fish House.
Once you step out of your cab, you arrive to a windy waterfront filled with locals celebrating the end of the day. Oh, and it’s cheap! The two of us had a whole fish, bread, a bowl of olives, eggplant caviar, lemons, pickled vegetables, cheese, and pomegranate sauce on the side for just $18.
Best Day Trips from Baku
The best day trip from Baku is its most famous day trip — to Qobustan to see the mud volcanoes and petroglyphs. Qobustan National Park (sometimes written as Gobustan) is just under an hour’s drive from Baku.
Qobustan is known for its mud volcanoes. To get to them requires an off-roading vehicle. When my car pulled to the side of the road, I assumed we’d be getting into some kind of jeep — but was I ever surprised when we got into a tiny Soviet-era Lada! It didn’t look like it would last a day in the desert, let alone go off-roading to mud volcanoes!
And soon we reached the mud volcanoes.
The gurgling is a lot slower than I thought it would be — just a constant, slow BLURP! BLURP! every few moments. Like the volcano had eaten a lot of beans that day.
The landscape is beautiful and dramatic — but that wasn’t all we’d see.
Next up in Qobustan was the petroglyphs — ancient rock art. I’ve seen ancient rock art in other parts of the world, like Kakadu National Park in Australia, but this rock art is uniquely impressive. You see people dancing, people hunting, petroglyphs of animals. It has survived remarkably well, and this is why Qobustan Rock Art Cultural Landscape is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Seeing Qobustan was one of the highlights of my time in Azerbaijan, and I feel like you can’t go to Baku without making a stop here. See tours to see Qobustan’s mud volcanoes and petroglyphs.
The other half of my day was spent touring the famous sites on the opposite side of Baku. Here you’ll find two more attractions that prove that Azerbaijan is the land of fire: Ateshgah, the Zoroastrian fire temple, and Yanar Dag, where the fire bursts from the earth.
Ateshgah is a temple on the outskirts of Baku. It was built in the 17th and 18th centuries, though ceremonies have taken place on the same site as early as the 10th century, and it has been a center of worship for Zoroastrians, Sikhs, and Hindus. The flame inside the temple is naturally occurring, but it actually went out in 1969 due to environmental destruction. The fire today is lit by Baku’s main gas supply.
At Yanar Dag, you can see a steady fire burning from the bottom of the hill. Fed by natural gas, this is another fire that never extinguishes. It was so toasty down by the fire — I have never wanted to have a stick and a bag of marshmallows so much in my life! (And let’s not kid ourselves, a bag of graham crackers and chocolate waiting by the table.)
Ateshgah and Yanar Dag are two places that show you how interesting of a natural environment Azerbaijan is. See tours to Ateshgah and Yanar Dag here.
What kind of food will you be eating in Azerbaijan? Delicious food. Surprisingly good food. The dishes I ate were most similar to Turkish cuisine, fresh and flavorful. While there were some similarities to their Georgian and Armenian neighbors, Azerbaijani food is very much its own thing. I was only in the country for a few days, so this is by no means an exhaustive guide, but it contains several of my top hits.
I ate a lot of dolma — vegetables stuffed with a mixture of rice and meat. While “dolma” can mean stuffed grape leaves or cabbage leaves in other cultures, in Azerbaijan it can mean any kind of stuffed vegetable.
Also popular are kebabs of all kinds, and plov, roasted rice and meat dishes.
Eggplant dip was everywhere — made from roasted eggplant, peppers, and onions and mixed with a variety of herbs and spices. This was the perfect start to a meal. You eat it with bread.
My absolute favorite dish was at Panoramic Restaurant in the Old City — I can’t remember the name and REALLY should have written it down, but it was a skillet filled with chicken, cherries, potatoes, and chestnuts. It sounds like a winter dish but it was solely on a hot summer night.
While you don’t see a ton of fish on the menus in Azerbaijan, you will down at restaurants on the Caspian Sea like Derya Fish House. I recommend ordering a grilled white fish with pomegranate sauce on the side — it brings the same kind of acidity that you get from lemons.
As for Azerbaijani wine, it does exist and it’s worth sampling, but it’s nothing to write home about. Georgia and Armenia have much better wine.
Azerbaijanis love sweets and pastries, and I tried a few different kinds of baklava — one made with walnuts, one made with almonds, one made with hazelnuts. I honestly think walnuts are king — they need that slightly bitter flavor to cut the sweetness. Hazelnut baklava was dangerously sweet!
And Azerbaijanis are crazy about tea. Tea breaks are important punctuation marks of the day. You can sweeten tea with jam, and they serve it with small pastries.
This is just a sample of the delicious food I ate in Azerbaijan.
Want to learn more about Azeri cuisine?
Go on a food tour in Baku.
Travel Azerbaijan with JayWay Travel
On this trip I traveled as a hosted guest of JayWay Travel, a boutique travel agency specializing in Eastern and Central Europe. I’ve worked with JayWay Travel in Ukraine in the past and they do such a good job putting together bespoke itineraries where you don’t have to worry about a thing. JayWay recently added Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Armenia as new destinations where they have local experts.
For my three-day trip to Baku, that meant pick-ups and drop-offs at the airport; a full-day private tour to Qobustan and the fire region, including a stop at a market; a local SIM card, and support throughout the trip. That was perfect for me — I knew my first day would be spent napping and taking it easy due to the weirdly timed flight (see more on that below), and I liked getting to do my own exploring on the final day.
As I always say, if you’re an experienced traveler, you don’t need JayWay in order to travel. But JayWay is perfect for your parents, older travelers, less experienced travelers, and experienced travelers who want someone else to plan their trip for a change. It’s an enormous time-saver when you’re busy, too.
The Caucasus is a fantastic travel destination, but it’s not nearly as easy to travel as Europe. Azerbaijan is a country just waking up to tourism, and they don’t have the established tourism infrastructure of other countries. It’s a good place to have a helping hand.
Learn more about JayWay’s Azerbaijan trips here.
Where to Stay in Baku
Most of the time when I visit a new city, I stay in the old town or old city because it’s usually the prettiest, most central part of town. Baku’s old city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which made it seem like a slam dunk, and so I stayed at a hotel in the old city, the Deniz Inn Boutique Hotel.
While I had a good stay there, I actually don’t recommend staying in the old city of Baku. It’s beautiful but it’s mostly inaccessible to cars (to get an Uber or taxi, you need to walk a distance outside the old city); you are constantly going up and down stairs; there are lots of aggressive touts around the Maiden Tower; there aren’t as many cafes and restaurants as you would think. If you have mobility challenges, you should absolutely avoid staying in the old city.
If you do want to stay in the old city, the Deniz Inn Boutique Hotel is a nice midrange choice. It’s comfortable, the internet works well, it’s not too deep into the old city, and the staff are great. And the best thing about this hotel is that it has an Illy cafe in the lobby. Reliable quality coffee isn’t always easy to find!
So which Baku neighborhood is best? I recommend staying in a hotel just east of the old city. This area is home to lots of cool restaurants, cafes, parks, and nightlife. And because it’s part of the main city, cars can drive the streets and you can hail Ubers close to your hotel. Most of it is flat, though there are some steeper parts.
Recommended Baku Accommodation:
Luxury: JW Marriott Absheron Baku
Midrange: Passage Boutique Hotel
Budget: Hotel Hale Kai
Find deals on more Baku hotels here.
Azerbaijan requires a visa for most visitors. In the past it was difficult and expensive for most westerners to get an Azerbaijan visa for longer than a few days. Now it’s MUCH easier and cheaper — you can get an e-visa online for just $20! See the full list of nationalities eligible for the e-visa here.
You order the visa online, it takes around three days to process, and you print it out and bring it to immigration with your passport. Don’t keep it on your phone; bring an actual printed copy.
Order your visa directly from evisa.gov.az. NOTE: THIS IS THE CORRECT SITE; DO NOT BE FOOLED BY IMPOSTERS! There are many third party visa sites that mimic the layout of this site, then try to charge you $50 for the same exact thing. I almost got fooled by one of those sites.
Flying to Baku with Azerbaijan Airlines
I flew nonstop from New York to Baku on Azerbaijan Airlines. This is the one direct flight from the United States to Azerbaijan. The flight takes 11 hours and currently flies twice per week.
While it’s awesome to fly nonstop, the flight leaves at an awkward time: it departs New York at 11:30 AM and arrives in Baku at 6:30 AM, which is 10:30 PM New York time. As a result, you probably won’t be able to sleep much if at all, and you’ll likely spend your first day in Baku in a jet-lagged stupor. Plan a low-key day for your arrival if you take this flight.
I was lucky to fly in Azerbaijan Airlines’s Comfort Club, as someone special upgraded me for my birthday. Comfort Club is like the stop between premium economy and business class.
You get comfier seats and a TON more space (the seats go much further back but don’t lie flat), you’re served multiple courses for meals, and you get lounge access at the airport (in my case, the cheese-and-champagne-filled Air France lounge at JFK). I was able to stick my feet straight out without touching the seat in front of me (I’m 5’4″). I didn’t get into the entertainment but there was a decent selection of movies. For an 11-hour flight where I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep much, I was so glad to have this level of service!
If you’re coming from the US on another line, you can get connections on Turkish Airlines and Lufthansa. Azerbaijan Airlines flies to cities including Tbilisi, Tel Aviv, Paris, London, Dubai, and several Turkish and Russian destinations.
Travel to Azerbaijan BEFORE Armenia
If you’re planning to travel throughout the Caucasus, you should try to travel to Azerbaijan before Armenia. It will make your life much easier.
Azerbaijan and Armenia don’t have diplomatic relations, and all borders are closed. Armenians are not allowed to enter. (While Armenia doesn’t have diplomatic relations or border crossings with Turkey, Armenians are allowed to travel to Turkey anyway, so Azerbaijan is much stricter.)
When I arrived in Azerbaijan, I was asked if I had ever traveled to Armenia. I said no, and there was no evidence of Armenia in my passport. But I do know people who have been interrogated heavily for traveling to Armenia previously, regardless of their nationality.
If you have visited the region of Nagorno-Karabakh, which is Azerbaijani land currently occupied by Armenia, you will automatically be rejected. (They also ask you if you’ve traveled to Nagorno-Karabakh when you apply for your visa, which will also earn you a rejection if your answer is yes.)
However, Armenian immigration officials are more forgiving. They do ask you if you visited Azerbaijan and why, but if you only visited as a tourist, they don’t care and they let you in without any problems. This is why I recommend visiting Azerbaijan first and Armenia second. (It’s best to go via Georgia, either by land or by plane.)
Unfortunately, ethnic Armenians of different nationalities (whether they’re American, Russian, French, Lebanese, Argentine, or something else) are often rejected at the border based on their last name. From what I’ve researched, it seems to come down to the mood of the immigration officer, and I’ve heard that some people try to convince the immigration officials that their last name is Persian.
If you’re an ethnic Armenian who wants to travel to Azerbaijan, or a person whose last name ends in -ian or -yan, I recommend you do more research. This is beyond my pay grade.
Traveling to Baku: The Takeaway
I’m very happy that I got to travel to Baku — but I think this is a one-and-done trip. Which is fine! Not every destination has to be an “I can’t wait to go back” destination. I’m so glad that I visited and had the experience this interesting city had to offer.
Looking back at my two-week trip to the Caucasus, I think that starting with Baku was a good idea. I was able to take advantage of the only nonstop flight to the Caucasus from New York, and then I moved on to Georgia and Armenia, which were both more impressive. I wouldn’t have done it any differently.
Chisinau and Minsk: Two Offbeat Soviet Cities
Essential Info: My trip in Baku was entirely organized by JayWay Travel, a travel company that organizes custom private tours in Central and Eastern Europe. They organize everything as soon as your feet touch the ground in your country, from flights and tours to airport pickups and a cell phone or SIM card. JayWay recently added Azerbaijan as one of their new specialties, along with Georgia and Armenia.
In Baku I stayed at the Deniz Inn Boutique Hotel. Rates from $56.
When using Uber to get around Baku, be sure you check the license plate — some drivers here operate with a different car than the account they claim to have. Never get in a car unless they match.
Travel insurance is essential before every trip — in case of an emergency, it could save your life and finances. I use and recommend World Nomads for trips to Azerbaijan.
Many thanks to JayWay Travel for hosting me on my Caucasus trip, including covering my expenses in Azerbaijan. All opinions, as always, are my own.
Have you traveled to Azerbaijan? What did you think?
The post What’s it REALLY like to travel to Baku, Azerbaijan? appeared first on Adventurous Kate.
The Îles-de-la-Madeleine are a mysterious archipelago just north of Prince Edward Island in Canada. They’re isolated, hard to reach, and precariously perched in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where the wind whips like mad and erosion threatens their existence.
But these are islands of great beauty — of bright red cliffs and lighthouses, of purple cottages and seal colonies, of craft beers and creamy cheeses and lobster rolls served in the back of mini-marts.
This July I traveled on a 10-day expedition cruise of Eastern Canada with OneOcean Expeditions. I became interested in this journey because it visits so many random, hard-to-reach places in Atlantic Canada. But I got most excited when I saw the Isles-de-la-Madeleine on the itinerary — the destination I wanted to visit the most!
The expedition was fantastic — one of the best trips I’ve taken in a long time. And by the end of the voyage, despite the incredible places we visited, the Îles-de-la-Madeleine were my favorite.
What was it about these islands that stole my heart?
Traveling to the Magdalen Islands
The Îles-de-la-Madeleine are known as the Magdalen Islands in English (or the Maggies, if you’re feeling cheeky). So which term is best? You’re in Quebec, so the French name prevails, even if it’s more of a mouthful: the Îles-de-la-Madeleine. Five syllables: EEL-duh-la-mad-LEN.
The original inhabitants of the Îles-de-la-Madeleine were the indigenous Mi’kmaq people, who hunted the once-abundant walrus; by the late eighteenth century, walrus had been overhunted to extinction in the region. In the seventeenth century, the first French settlers migrated to the islands.
People from the Îles-de-la-Madeleine are called Madelinots, and as Acadians, they tend to have more in common with their Atlantic Canada neighbors than mainland Quebec. Expect to see plenty of Quebec and Acadian flags flown throughout the islands. The population is about 12,700.
The islands are 94% francophone and 6% anglophone. English-speaking Madelinots mostly live in some of the furthest communities of the Magdalen Islands: Grosse-Île, Île d’Entrée, and Dirty Harry (yes, that’s its real name).
A Windy, Tempestuous Archipelago
When my zodiac lands on the Îles-de-la-Madeleine, I’m struck by how windy it is. The islands are famously blustery, making them a hotspot for kitesurfing and windsurfing. It can throw visitors for a loop — some people are surprised by how hard it is to bike in the wind, and tent campers are often unprepared for the reality of sleeping outdoors!
We arrive in La Grave, a village of tiny gray cottages cheered up with bright yellow and green trim. The Acadian flag, like a French flag with a yellow star in one corner, flies proudly throughout the village. It’s an overcast day, and these punches of color add life to the monochromatic landscape of gray and beige.
But what I most want to see is the cottages — the bright, colorful homes that I’ve seen in posts about the islands. And as soon as we hit the road and drive to the other islands, we see them — tiny purple cottages nestled into nooks, sumptuous yellow homes holding court over the hilly landscape. In the distance are red cliffs topped with lighthouses.
Being in the Îles-de-la-Madeleine feels like living in another time. Everything seems stripped down to the basics — cottages and fishing boats and honest livings. Who needs anything more than that? If you told me that the internet existed here, I might not believe you.
The islands, however, face major issues related to erosion. The surface area of the islands shifts constantly, which makes the total number of islands change continuously (sometimes two islands are joined and sometimes they’re not). While that’s been the case for centuries, the real worries are how this low-lying archipelago will deal with climate change and rising sea levels.
They’re already feeling the effects as harsh storms climb their way up the East Coast. After Hurricane Dorian in 2019, Madelinots have been asking for more aid from the province to protect against further erosion; the province argues that they don’t have enough money to do so. You can read more about that here (in French).
It’s not surprising that the islands have been losing population over the years, as young people leave for opportunities elsewhere and arguably more solid ground.
At the same time, though, there’s hope. In the form of a brewery.
As I enter À l’abri de la Tempête, the islands’ beloved brewery, I feel like I’ve been catapulted into the present day. This funky bar with its modern-day decor feels like it could be somewhere deep in Brooklyn. And it was started by two young women who wanted to bring a modern business to their beloved islands.
Is this the future? More young people coming back, more businesses coming to the islands? Are people going to continue fighting for funding to protect their environment? Are people going to believe in the tourism potential of their hard-to-reach islands and make them even more of a draw?
Perhaps, according a Madelinot woman working in a shop in La Grave.
“Everyone always leaves,” she tells me. “All the young people, they go to study and they don’t come back. But now they’re finally starting to come back. Six babies in my family were born here this year!”
The Best Things to Do in the Îles-de-la-Madeleine
There are so many things to do in the Îles-de-la-Madeleine. Whether you’re focused on outdoor adventure, camping off the beach, or exploring a pretty little village, there’s something for you. Here are some of the best things to do:
Wander the shops and boutiques of La Grave village. La Grave, located on the southern island of L’Île Havre-Aubert, is arguably the most picturesque part of the Magdalen Islands.
Here in La Grave, the best thing to do is just walk around, check out the shops, and enjoy the seaside setting. I particularly loved the chocolate shop — they make the most fantastic salted caramel truffles!
La Grave is also home to the Musée de la Mer, a museum covering the history of the islands.
If you’re going to have lunch in La Grave, try to go on the earlier side — there are only a few cafes here to satisfy the large crowds. Cailin and I had a great meal at Marché Resto, a mini-mart with a restaurant in the back, and it seemed like only locals knew about it. More about that further down.
See the red cliffs.
You’ll find gorgeous red cliffs all over the islands — this one, my favorite, is by the Cape Lighthouse on the west coast of Île-du-Cap-aux-Meules. PEI may be more famous for its red dirt and cliffs, but the Magdalen Islands are just as stunning, if not more so!
Do note that exploring the cliffs can be dangerous — many are continuously eroding and may not hold your weight. Stay at least three meters away the edges of the cliffs, keep to marked paths, and follow all signs.
Gorge on local cheeses at Pied de Vent Fromagerie.
One of my favorite stops in the Îles-de-la-Madeleine was La Fromagerie du Pied de Vent. The name Pied de Vent (or “foot of wind”) refers to the sun rays peeking out from the clouds.
You can drop into the fromagerie and buy cheeses, but if you really want to get into it, take the tour! You’ll explore the pasture, witness the cheese-making process, and of course do lots of tasting. The 90-minute tour takes place on selected days between mid-June and late August (call them to make sure) and costs $15 CAD ($11 USD) for adults and $5 CAD ($4 USD) for children.
I definitely bought a few of the cheeses to enjoy back on the ship! (Cailin was less than pleased that I brought back one of the stinkier varieties, but as any cheese connoisseur knows, the stinkier the cheese, the better!) My favorite was the Jeune-Coeur (Young Heart).
Check out an authentic smokehouse at Le Fumoir d’Antan.
When I saw a herring smokehouse on the itinerary, I’ll admit that I wasn’t too excited. But Le Fumoir d’Antan ended up being one of the highlights of my time on the islands. I expected an unpleasant fish processing plant — but this is a family-run smokehouse where they smoke the fish the same way they have for generations. And it smells AMAZING inside!
Tours including a tasting are offered from June through August at 3:30 PM for $5 CAD ($4 USD) per person, free for children under 5.
There is a tall hill behind the smokehouse that is good to climb for panoramic views of the surrounding cottages. I definitely recommend going up there for a few photos.
Kitesurfing, kayaking, hiking, and more.
Take advantage of that insane wind by finally learning how to kitesurf! If not, there are plenty of other outdoor activities.
Kiteauxiles offers kitesurfing courses for all levels. L’Istorlet offers kayak and stand-up paddle board rentals and tours, including sailing trips and seal watching kayak excursions. Excursions sur Mer offers a variety of boating and fishing tours, including zodiac tours. The tourism board has a collection of hiking trails listed here; you can also buy a guide to the islands’ trails at their office in Cap-aux-Meules.
Enjoy craft beers at À l’abri de la Tempête
One of the coolest new establishments on the Îles-de-la-Madeleine is À l’abri de la Tempête, a women-founded brewery with a variety of local beers on tap! The name means “Shelter from the storm” — an apt choice for somewhere as windy as the Magdalen Islands.
The brewery was opened by two women in 2002, who dreamed of opening a new kind of business in their home community. The beers pay homage to the harsh climate and isolated location. You’ll find flavors made with local herbs and algae, and they even have a smoked beer made in collaboration with Fumoir d’Antan, the local herring smokehouse!
Not only does the brewery have great beers — but the entire bar is decorated in style. And it’s set in a former crab processing plant, overlooking sand dunes and the ocean!
The brewers say their beers come with “un peu de folie” — which you could translate as “a bit of fun” or “a bit of madness.” I think both are appropriate here.
If you’re staying for a few days on the Îles-de-la-Madeleine, chances are you’ll have less-than-ideal weather at some point. That’s when you come here — for the shelter from the storm.
Chat with the incredibly friendly locals.
To be honest, the Quebecois don’t have the greatest reputation among travelers, which isn’t fair to the lovely people who live there. I’ve known many travelers to Montreal who have felt stung after asking, “Parlez-vous anglais?” and getting an eyeroll or a response in rapid-fire French. I wish it weren’t the case, but it’s pretty common.
I had my guard up when I arrived in the Îsles-de-la-Madeleine — I speak French, but did I speak enough French to get by here? I walked into Marché Resto, a mini-mart with a restaurant in the back, unsure of how to order. Why couldn’t we have just gone to a normal restaurant with normal rules? I hoped I didn’t look stupid to the lady behind the counter.
So I summoned my nerve and asked — and she smiled and told me I could order here and pay her, then take the receipt to the back and they’d make the food.
Looking back, I don’t know what I was afraid of. Everyone was eager to welcome visitors and happy to speak English as best they could. And Cailin and I got to enjoy fresh lobster rolls and a big dish of poutine.
How to Get to the Îles-de-la-Madeleine
They don’t make it easy to get to the Îles-de-la-Madeleine. It can be complicated, time-intensive, expensive, or all three. But if you’re willing to invest effort in getting to these islands, you’ll be rewarded.
There are direct flights to the Îles-de-la-Madeleine from Quebec City, Montreal, and Gaspé. However, these flights tend to be very expensive, especially during the summer months. Check Skyscanner for the cheapest rates.
There are regular CTMA Ferries to the Îles-de-la-Madeleine from Souris, Prince Edward Island. The journey takes about five hours each way. Throughout the year the ferry departs PEI at 2:00 PM and departs the Îles-de-la-Madeleine at 8:00 AM; additional departures are scheduled in July and August. Book as soon as you can because this ferry tends to sell out.
The rates jump up sharply during high season, from June 15-September 14 . Low season/high season rates are $35.10/54.30 CAD ($26/41 USD) for adults, $28.60/43.90 CAD ($22/33 USD) for seniors, $14.15/$27.35 CAD ($11/21 USD) for kids under 12, and free for kids under 5. Vehicles under 21 feet are $71.20/101.25 CAD ($54/76 USD). See the web site for additional vehicles.
There is a bus to the Îles-de-la-Madeleine from Quebec City with Autobus les Silons. It leaves weekly from mid-June through early September, departing Quebec City on Thursdays and departing the islands on Wednesdays. It stops in Riviere-du-Loup, Edmundston, Fredericton, Moncton and Charlottetown and takes 21.5 hours altogether, including the ferry from PEI. The full trip from Quebec to the islands costs $265 CAD ($199 USD) one-way and $429 CAD ($323 USD) round-trip for adults; see the site for other pricing.
There is one weeklong cruise to the Îles-de-la-Madeleine from Montreal on CTMA Cruises. You leave Montreal on Friday afternoon and you arrive on the islands by Sunday morning, staying through Tuesday evening. The cruise does a stop in Gaspé, Quebec, allowing a seven-hour stopover to explore the region, then the ship returns to Montreal early Friday morning.
If you have the time and money, this is a nice way to get to the islands for three days without worrying about the travel logistics. Rates for inside cabin with shared bathroom start at $1,019 CAD ($768 USD), based on double occupancy, and outside cabins with private bathroom start at $1,419 CAD ($1,070 USD).
And OneOcean Expeditions’ Canada’s East Coast Fins and Fiddles route stops in the Îsles-de-la-Madeleine for one day. Is one day enough? I would have loved more, but this is a great start.
Some locals sail to the Îsles-de-la-Madeleine from Prince Edward Island and Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. While the vast majority of fishermen will not take a stranger with them on this journey, you never know — make the right connections and charm the right people and you might be able to hop on a sailboat there. Keep in mind this is at your own risk.
Traveling to the Îles-de-la-Madeleine with OneOcean Expeditions
I chose to travel on the East Coast Fins and Fiddles expedition with OneOcean Expeditions because their itinerary included so many hard-to-get-to destinations in Atlantic Canada. As soon as I saw that itinerary — Sable Island! Gros Morne! Percé! Anticosti Island! St. Pierre and Miquelon! — I knew I had to do this trip. But the Îles-de-la-Madeleine were the destination I was looking forward to the most.
OneOcean gives you opportunities to do all kinds of excursions: hiking (often both easy and challenging hikes in the same location), biking, kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, birding, cultural tours, etc. In the Îles-de-la-Madeleine they offered a “gastro tour” with visits to the fromagerie, fumoir, and brewery, along with lots of scenic stops around the islands.
I almost chose the biking excursion here, but after being warned that it would be super-windy, I decided I’d rather stuff myself with cheese and beer. That was definitely the right decision.
Do know that traveling on an expedition means you’re held to the whims of the weather. We lucked out with good weather in the Îles-de-la-Madeleine, but we weren’t so lucky with other destinations. We missed half the day on Prince Edward Island because it was too windy to bring down the zodiacs down; sadly, we missed Francois completely because it was too windy to anchor in their narrow fjord. The fact that we made it to Sable Island in questionable weather was nothing short of a miracle.
In short, it’s possible that bad weather may keep you from the islands. Is that a risk you’re willing to take? It’s a risk I was willing to take.
One day wasn’t enough in the Îles-de-la-Madeleine — but one reason I took this trip was to find out which places I’d like to visit for longer. And I’m doing it — just one month after the trip ended, I went back to Newfoundland!
My Favorite Moments Cruising Eastern Canada with OneOcean Expeditions
Where to Stay in the Îles-de-la-Madeleine
Where’s the best place to stay in the Îles-de-la-Madeleine? Accommodation in the Îsles-de-la-Madeleine tends to book out far in advance in the summer months, so I urge you to book accommodation as early as possible.
You won’t find large hotels here. Instead, focus on small guesthouses, B&Bs, and hostels.
Camping is a popular option in the Îles-de-la-Madeleine — though keep in mind that it’s extremely windy and there aren’t many trees to shelter you! Many campgrounds offer cabins as well as campsites. Three of the most popular campgrounds are Parc du Gros-Cap, Camping Belle Plage, and La Salicorne.
Top-Rated Îles-de-la-Madeleine Accommodation
Upscale B&B: Auberge Havre-sur-Mer or La Butte Ronde
Mid-range Guesthouse: Auberge Madeli or Motel L’Archipel
Hostel: Auberge de Gros-Cap or Paradis Bleu
Check out more accommodation in the Îles-de-la-Madeleine here.
Travel Insurance for the Îles-de-la-Madeleine
While the Îles-de-la-Madeleine are an incredibly safe destination — the kind of place where everyone knows each other and people leave their doors unlocked — it’s essential to have travel insurance. Even with a country with good healthcare like Canada, travel insurance can save your health and finances in your time of need.
In the Îles-de-la-Madeleine, you’re dealing with a weather-vulnerable destination. This could end up impacting you if your flights or ferry are canceled.
Additionally, travel insurance will cover you if the islands’ crazy wind knocks you off your bike, or if you sprain your ankle while hiking up one of the hills to see the view.
Get yourself covered — I use and recommend World Nomads Travel Insurance for trips to Canada.
I enjoyed the Îles-de-la-Madeleine so much that I’m hoping to return next summer — most likely in tandem with a trip to PEI, another place I want to return. Now that I know what I know, this trip will require a lot of advance preparation. Stay tuned to see how it goes!
Looking back to my time on the islands, in one shop I held up a shirt with French on it and tried to parse out the meaning — it was an expression I hadn’t heard. “Qu’est-ce que ça veut dire? What does this mean?” I asked the woman who worked behind the counter.
“It is like, I miss the islands, I think,” she offered.
“Ah. So it’s like les îles me manquent.”
“Oui! Les îles me manquent!” she exclaimed with a smile. “Très bien.”
Two months later, les îles still do, in fact, me manquent. I hope I get back there soon.
The Cabot Trail: Nova Scotia’s Best Road Trip
This post is brought to you by OneOcean Expeditions, who hosted me on their East Coast Fins and Fiddles expedition through Eastern Canada. All opinions, as always, are my own.
Have you been to the Îles-de-la-Madeleine? Does it look like your kind of place? Share away!
The post Reasons to Travel to the Îles-de-la-Madeleine, Canada appeared first on Adventurous Kate.
Where to stay in Rome? The Eternal City seems to have infinite options. This is a gorgeous, complicated, chaotic city filled with beauty and art and fountains and screaming motorbikes. For many travelers, Rome is their first foray into Italy — and what an introduction it is. But first things first: what is the best area to stay in Rome?
This post was updated in September 2019. Image above by Pixabay.
It’s hard to write an introduction to the city because everything to be said about Rome has seemingly already been said during its 2,772-year history. The Roman Empire defined western culture and shaped our world and we are still feeling the effects of their influences today.
That’s a pretty impressive resume for just one city. But what does it mean for your trip? As a visitor it can be challenging to narrow down the best places to stay in Rome.
Do you want to wake up with a view of the Colosseum out your window?
Do you want to stay in a cozy apartment in the medieval heart of the city?
Do you want to wake up to the smell of espresso and the buzz of a residential neighborhood coming to life?
Rome may be eternal, but it’s not lacking for diversity, especially when it comes to its different neighborhoods.
After living in Rome for a combined six years, we have combed the different Roman neighborhoods looking for local eats, charming markets, history, shopping, and more.
Here are the best Rome neighborhoods, no matter what kind of traveler you are.
This post is written by Ashley and Alex of In Pursuit of Adventure. As Rome experts, they definitely have the knowledge of the best places to stay in Rome and are eager to share it with you!
Enjoy this post — and I agree with them; the best place to stay in Rome is Trastevere!
The Trevi Fountain — image via Pixabay.
Best Area to Stay in Rome
The best place to stay in Rome depends on who you are as a traveler and your travel goals. Some people like to be close to the main attractions, some people prefer to have a quiet, neighborhood-like atmosphere, and some people want to be surrounded by the best restaurants in town.
We believe that Trastevere is the best overall neighborhood to stay in Rome — it’s a beautiful, local neighborhood filled with far more Romans than tourists. There is excellent nightlife and even though you’re close to the center, it feels like you’re in a fun neighborhood nobody else has heard of.
If you’re a foodie, you want to stay in Testaccio. This neighborhood is home to Rome’s best restaurants, markets, and food tours.
If you want to be in the heart of the main attractions of Rome, the Centro Storico, or historic center, is the best neighborhood for you. This is a good option for first-timers.
If you’re crazy about ancient history, consider staying in Monti, with easy access to the Colosseum and Roman Forum.
Prati is a neighborhood just a stone’s throw from the Vatican, which is the best area to stay in Rome if you want to be in the center of things while also enjoying typical Roman life.
And if you’re all about fashion and style, you want to stay in a hotel near the Spanish Steps.
Read on for more details about these fantastic neighborhoods.
We think the neighborhood of Trastevere (tras-TEH-ver-ay) is the best place to stay in Rome overall. It has everything we look for in a Rome neighborhood: fantastic restaurants, charming alleyways, a youthful vibe, and that quintessential Roman look. Trastevere was our home for just over two years and we may be biased, but hear us out!
Over those two years we fell in love with the beautiful winding cobblestone streets, local restaurants and the vibrant nightlife filled with students, locals, and tourists alike. Every time we go back to visit our old neighborhood, we feel right back at home.
Trastevere is also ideally located. It is just on the other side of the Tiber from the Centro Storico which is the historic center of Rome. It’s the best of both worlds: centrally located but not overrun with tourists.
Besides the great location, one of the best things about staying in Trastevere is the vibrant nightlife that comes with it. The neighborhood is populated with locals and students from the nearby universities. The streets are filled with wonderful bars and great restaurants that fill to the brim every night. If you want to mingle with the locals then you better start your night out at Bar San Callisto with an Aperol spritz, then go from there! (Note from Kate: Dar Poeta is an awesome pizza place in Trastevere.)
Lastly, Trastevere is one of the best preserved medieval neighborhoods left in Rome. Trastevere will transport you back to the 1200’s with its faded elegance, buildings in loving disrepair and cobbled, narrow streets that twist and turn until you come upon pristine piazzas.
If you choose to stay in Trastevere, you’ve done well — it’s a special place. We think that experienced Italy travelers will especially appreciate Travestere for where to stay in Rome. Keep in mind that due to being a residential neighborhood, most accommodation here is small guesthouses and B&Bs with only a few rooms.
Where to Stay in Trastevere:
Luxury: VOI Donna Camilla Saveli Hotel
Mid-range: B&B Arco Del Lauro
Budget: La Civetta di Trastevere
Click here for the best hotel deals in Trastevere.
The best Rome neighborhood for foodies is Testaccio! If you love food and don’t mind staying a little outside the center of Rome, the local neighborhood of Testaccio is the best area to stay in Rome for you. This is a neighborhood in Rome that has kept its traditional roots while embracing change, especially when it comes to food and markets.
Testaccio is where locals go to eat. Throughout the neighborhood are little restaurants that have been serving up delicious Roman cuisine. The most well-known place is Flavio al Velavevodetto, which is almost impossible to get into on Sundays because the place is packed with Roman families!
Testaccio is also home to the amazing Mercato Testaccio. This modern structure recently replaced the older markets in Testaccio, but all the fantastic old school vendors have come here to sell their produce.
In addition to these vendors, Mercato Testaccio has a host of new spots offering up anything from panini to vegan offerings to street food. Of particular note is Mordi e Vai, one of the most popular places to grab a panini in Rome. They specialize in Roman cuisine and are most well known for taking local main dishes and serving them up between two slices of bread. Make sure to grab a panino and then spend time wandering this amazing local market!
While there are plenty of traditional restaurants for you to enjoy there are also plenty of restaurants putting a new twist on the the Roman kitchen. Il Trapizzino is one of our personal favorite restaurants on the cutting edge of Roman street food. A trapizzino is a little cone of pizza bianca hollowed out and stuffed with your choice of fillings like chicken cacciatore, eggplant parmesan, Roman tripe, or chicken with peppers. Trapizzino is part of what Italians call “lo street food.” It’s a casual way to enjoy Italian cuisine, since food trucks don’t really fit in the streets here!
If you are a food lover, there’s nowhere better than Testaccio. Also, if you would like to to learn more about the Testaccio food scene, there are plenty of food tours available, like this 3.5 hour Testaccio food and wine tour.
Where to Stay in Testaccio:
Luxury: Seven Suites
Mid-range: B&B Testaccio
Budget: Hotel Re Testa
Click here for the best hotel deals in Testaccio.
Love Italian food? Don’t miss the best food region!
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The Centro Storico, or historic center, is the best Rome neighborhood to be in the heart of it all — the perfect neighborhood if this is your first visit. In the Centro Storico you can wake up steps away from Piazza Navona or see the famous market in Campo de Fiori come to life or watch the sunrise over the Pantheon.
While the neighborhood can be touristy, the Centro Storico includes the famous sites of Campo de Fiori, Piazza Navona, the Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon and has more than enough charm to offset the tourist crowds. There are plenty of charming alleyways and streets to get lost in, including the Via Giulia, one of the prettiest streets in Rome, featuring a stunningly graceful archway by Michelangelo.
This neighborhood is excellent if you want to be walking distance from all the major sites and well-connected. While the metro doesn’t run through this area, Largo Argentina is a transportation hub for all the major buses and trams. Did I mention there is a huge taxi stand at Largo Argentina, too? This makes Prati one of the best places to stay in Rome if you’re traveling with people who can’t walk too far, as it can be nearly impossible to flag down a taxi elsewhere in Rome.
Additionally, some of our favorite restaurants are located in the Centro Storico. Whether you are looking for a fresh mozzarella delivered daily from Campania or homemade pasta from some Italian grandmas or artisanal gelato or even a local wine bar, you can find it all in the Centro Storico.
And if you love to shop, don’t forget to take a wander down Via Coronari, which has independent shops featuring vintage goods, bespoke Italian clothing, and hand-blown glass. If you have family and friends who want you to bring back souvenirs, the Centro Storico is a great choice for where to stay in Rome.
(Note from Kate: Don’t stay in the Centro Storico if you hate tourist crowds. Rome is a very busy city, especially during the summer months, and the tourist crowds are their most intense in the Centro Storico. If you want to experience a quieter Rome, consider visiting in the off-season, from November to March — it’s still worth it.)
Where to Stay in the Centro Storico:
Luxury: Sina Bernini Bristol
Mid-range: Trevi Beau Boutique Hotel
Budget: Babuccio Art Suites
Click here for the best hotel deals in the Centro Storico.
Monti is the best Rome neighborhood for history lovers. A quiet neighborhood made up of small serpentine streets in the heart of Rome, staying in Monti can mean staying in the neighborhood of Julius Caesar.
This historic neighborhood is conveniently located close to several metro stops and Termini train station, but you wouldn’t know it — it’s actually tucked into a valley between three of Rome’s seven hills. This keeps the neighborhood quiet and charming. This may have been a slum in the days of Ancient Rome when it was known as Suburra, but it couldn’t be more lovely today!
Here you can base yourself close to the Colosseum and the Forum, which border the neighborhood. Also nearby is Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome’s oldest church, dating back to 432 CE and where Gian Lorenzo Bernini is buried.
Surrounding these sites are structures built by Emperor Trajan, including his markets, column and forum. Several medieval towers from the Middle Ages dot the landscape, and you’ll also find San Pietro in Vincoli, the church of St. Peter in Chains and home to Michelangelo’s statue of Moses.
This ancient neighborhood is also very popular with Rome’s hipsters. You can find them around the fountain in Piazza delle Madonna di Monti or enjoying an aperitivo at nearby restaurants and bars. Stroll the ancient streets, admire the galleries and shops, and revel in the creative atmosphere nurtured by artists since the 1930s.
Where to Stay in Monti:
Luxury: Villa Spalletti Trivelli
Mid-range: 1880 Atypical Rooms
Budget: Mok’House B&B
Click here for the best hotel deals in Monti.
Prati is best known for being the home of the Vatican, and if you consider yourself a Renaissance Man or Woman, this is the neighborhood to call home. The Vatican Museums are home to an immense collection that includes some of Europe’s finest works of art: from classical sculptures, renowned Renaissance paintings, and most famously, the Sistine Chapel.
In addition to Prati’s Vatican Museums, you can also tour St. Peter’s Basilica and wander the piazza in front of the church designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
Prati also is home to Castel Sant’Angelo. The roots of this building date back to the early 100’s CE when it was constructed to be the tomb of Emperor Hadrian, a Renaissance man (if you can apply that term to a man born 1400 years before the Renaissance!) in his own right. (Note from Kate: I think Castle Sant’Angelo is the best place in Rome to watch the sunset!)
While this neighborhood has its fair share of history, it is also known for its wide streets, Art Nouveau charm, and its fast-paced lifestyle. This is a neighborhood where Romans live and work and you can find them shopping at the local markets, commuting to their jobs,and of course indulging in some retail therapy on the weekends on famed shopping street Cola di Rienzo.
While this neighborhood may not look classically “Roman,” it offers visitors a chance to experience a different side of Rome, embrace their love of the arts, and escape the tourists. It’s one of the best places to stay in Rome if you want a lot of variety on your trip.
Where to Stay in Prati:
Luxury: Le Meridien Visconti Rome
Mid-range: St. Peter Guest House
Budget: Hotel Nautilus Rome
Click here for the best hotel deals in Prati.
The Spanish Steps — image via Pixabay.
If you’re in Rome to explore the fashion scene and show off your style, you have to book a hotel near the Spanish Steps (La Spagna). This neighborhood is anchored by the iconic steps but also by the high-end shopping street, Via dei Condotti, which features the shops of some of the most famous Italian designers like Prada and Gucci.
Embrace your inner Audrey Hepburn, grab a gelato, and sit on the steps to watch the fashionable Romans parade by. Or grab a cocktail at two-level rooftop bar on top of the The First, you can enjoy 360-degree views of Rome, including the Spanish Steps.
Or embrace la dolce vita and head to Via Margutta to stroll the artistic haven where Federico Fellini used to live. This brick lined, ivy strewn street is full of charming art galleries and retains the soul that drew Fellini to this neighborhood. This is where to stay in Rome if you want to feel like you’re in a movie from the 1950s.
No matter where you stroll near the Spanish Steps, it’s the best area to stay in Rome to indulge in your stylish fantasies and truly live the sweet life.
Where to Stay Near the Spanish Steps:
Luxury: The First
Mid-range: Condotti Palace
Budget: Domus Spagna Capo le Case
Click here for the best hotel deals near the Spanish Steps.
Rome at night — Image via Pixabay.
Best Places to Stay in Rome
What are the best places to stay in Rome overall? We recommend three properties in particular, one high-end luxury hotel, one mid-range property, and one hostel.
If you’re looking for a luxury hotel in Rome, we highly recommend The First.
An excellent mid-range hotel that we love is Hotel Forum.
And if you’re looking for a good hostel, The Yellow is an absolute gem.
Read on for more in-depth descriptions about these properties.
Comfort taken to a whole new level: the Junior Suite at The First captures the Italian way of enjoying beauty and style.
A post shared by The First Hotel (@thefirstroma) on Jun 15, 2018 at 1:06am PDT
Best Luxury Hotel in Rome: The First
Why just grab drinks at this luxurious hotel when you can stay here? The First is in the heart of Rome near the Spanish Steps and is the perfect luxury stay for someone who has always wanted to spend the night at an art gallery. Besides impeccable amenities, this 200-year-old palace has been lovingly restored and highlights the contemporary artwork of some of Italy’s most influential modern artists.
This intimate 29-room boutique hotel provides an elegant retreat from the chaos of Rome, embracing the modern in the Eternal City. Hire your own personal shopper to dive into Italian fashion, experience Michelin-starred dining, and explore the world of modern Italian art at Galleria Mucciaccia when you stay at The First.
Check current rates at The First here.
Our American Bar! ???
A post shared by Hotel Forum Roma (@hotelforumroma) on Sep 8, 2017 at 3:14am PDT
Best Mid-Range Hotel in Rome: Hotel Forum
Hotel Forum is an affordable hotel in the heart of Rome across the street from The Forum. This four star hotel is located in a historical 18th century building and is the perfect stay for someone who wants to be walking distance to all the major sites and in the charming neighborhood of Monti.
The hotel is classically elegant and has a rooftop bar where you can watch the sunset over Rome. Plus, you don’t have to break the bank to stay at this elegant hotel in the heart of Ancient Rome.
Check current rates at the Hotel Forum here.
Our American Bar! ???
A post shared by Hotel Forum Roma (@hotelforumroma) on Sep 8, 2017 at 3:14am PDT
Best Hostel in Rome: The Yellow
While not the cheapest hostel, The Yellow is consistently named one of Rome’s best hostels. The Yellow isn’t just a hostel but also venue for amazing local music, a place to meet locals and expats at the popular bar, a yoga studio away from home, and so much more. The Yellow has really worked hard to create a community around their hostel and it shows. The Yellow in Rome is ready to be your home in the Eternal City.
Check current rates at The Yellow here.
Travel Insurance for Rome
A lot of people think travel insurance is an unnecessary expense — that’s far from the truth. Travel insurance is vital. It’s saved Kate hundreds of dollars and for one of her friends, who slipped and broke her foot while traveling in Italy, her travel insurance bought her a business class ticket home and saved her thousands of dollars.
If you get pickpocketed on Rome metro, travel insurance will refund you what you lost.
If you slip on the Spanish Steps and break your ankle, travel insurance will refund your medical costs and get you home for free.
If you get appendicitis while in Rome, travel insurance will cover your medical costs.
If an immediate family member dies while you’re in Italy, travel insurance will help you get home immediately.
These are unpleasant things to think about, but it’s so important to be prepared for the worst.
AdventurousKate.com uses and recommends World Nomads Travel Insurance. They’re a great fit for almost every traveler. Take a look at their policies before you buy to make sure they’re right for you.
Three Weeks in Northern Italy: An Itinerary
Rome at night — image via Pixabay.
You Will Love Rome!
Rome is a multi-layered city and it has so much history that deserves your time. Choosing where to stay in Rome will be one of the biggest decisions of your trip. Still, no matter what neighborhood you choose, be sure to get out and explore the others. They all have something to offer and play a role in this chaotic, historic, charming city.
Remember to relax, enjoy that long lunch, linger over coffee and stop for an aperitivo or two. Embrace the pace of your neighborhood and truly experience the Roman lifestyle. We love Rome and we want everyone to love Rome.
Click here to compare the best deals on hotels throughout Rome.
While the Roman empire may have fallen, all roads will eventually lead you to Rome — this city has a way of drawing people in.
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Meet the Rome Experts
Ashley and Alex are two travelers from California who are addicted to living local. They run the travel blog In Pursuit of Adventure and focus on eating, drinking, and living locally across the globe. Lately they’ve been writing about the dishes of Peru. They also are the authors of Eat Local in Barcelona: A Guide to Catalan Cuisine.
Have you been to Rome? Where’s your favorite place to stay?
The post Where to Stay in Rome — Best Neighborhoods and Accommodation appeared first on Adventurous Kate.
A day trip to Paris from London is the perfect addition to a trip to England! Thanks to the fast and efficient Eurostar train, it’s never been easier to visit Paris for a day.
Honestly, one day isn’t enough for Paris — ideally, you should spend as much time there as you can. But not everyone has lots of extra time to spend. So is it worth it if you only have one day to spare?
Absolutely — taking the train from London to Paris is always worth it. Even if all you have is one day, you can still make it the best day ever. But if you’re only visiting Paris for one day, it’s best to plan your trip carefully so that you get as much out of it as you can.
This post was updated in October 2019.
(Image: Steve Cadman)
Take the train from London to Paris.
The train is far and away the best way to visit Paris for a day. Eurostar trains depart from London’s St. Pancras station, arrive at Paris’s Gare du Nord, and take about two hours and 20 minutes each way. This is the Chunnel train to Paris that goes underwater, beneath the English Channel. You go from the center of London to the center of Paris, plus the train journey is exceedingly pleasant.
The bus from London to Paris, by comparison, takes more than seven hours. Not worth it. Driving takes just under six hours if you don’t hit traffic.
You could fly from London to Paris, but I wouldn’t recommend it for a day trip. The flight only takes about one hour and 10 minutes, but you have to factor in getting to the airport 90 minutes before your flight, plus nearly all of the London airports and all Paris airports are located significantly outside the city and take a long time to get there.
(If you insist on flying to Paris for the day, I recommend either flying from London City Airport, which is centrally located though often very expensive, or flying from Heathrow and taking Heathrow Express from Paddington Station, which takes just 15 minutes.)
Book a day trip to Paris via train here.
Be realistic about how much you can see on a Paris day trip from London.
One day is not enough for Paris, nor is it enough for everything you will personally want to see on a day trip to Paris from London. You can’t see the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay and go to the Eiffel Tower and climb the towers at Notre-Dame and walk around Montmartre and see the show at the Moulin Rouge. In fact, I wouldn’t advise visiting more than one museum on a day trip to Paris.
I encourage you to choose one or two activities that are absolute musts and to plan your day around them. Supplement your day with activities that are close to your main priorities.
For example, if seeing Notre-Dame is a priority, you can easily fit in nearby destinations like Saint-Chappelle, Île Saint-Louis, Shakespeare and Company bookstore, and the Marais.
If you want to spend part of your day in Montmartre, visit the Sacré Coeur, take a long walk down Rue Lepic, see Amélie’s Café des Deux Moulins, and walk down to the Opéra before checking out the rooftop terrace at Galeries-Lafayette.
And if you absolutely must visit the Louvre on your Paris day trip, take time to wander the Tuileries Gardens, visit the Palais Royal, and grab a hot chocolate at Angelina before window-shopping at the jewelry shops of Place Vendôme.
Include downtime in your itinerary.
It’s easy to spend a Paris day trip going from attraction to attraction, but I think the magic of Paris is found in the in-between moments. Sitting in a cafe with a coffee or a glass of red wine. Wandering cheese and pastry shops. Crossing the Seine over and over again with no destination in mind.
It doesn’t take a lot of effort to get of the beaten path — just go to a new neighborhood and wander in whatever destination pleases you. I wrote a whole post about it.
What to Do on a Day Trip to Paris
I always tell people to travel to the destination that makes their pulse race. And that goes for Paris, too. Prioritize the things that make you excited — the things that are most important to you personally, not the things that you think you should do. If you’re not into art, you don’t have to go to any museums! You can have a day trip to Paris from London without seeing the Mona Lisa.
If your favorite movie in high school was Moulin Rouge! or Amélie, spend time walking around Montmartre.
If you love Monet, Van Gogh, and Degas, go to the Musée d’Orsay for the best collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings in the world.
If you’re a die-hard Doors fan, go see Jim Morrison’s grave at Père Lachaise Cemetery.
READ MORE: 100 Travel Tips for Paris
Beyond that, I think how you should explore Paris depends on your travel experience level. If you’re an experienced traveler, you can handle exploring by metro on your own. If you’d like something a bit easier, or if you or your companion have limited mobility, I recommend a hop-on-hop-off Paris bus tour. It takes you from attraction to attraction and lets Paris unfold in front of you.
Bonus: if you book this day trip from London to Paris by train, they include a hop-on hop-off bus tour for free.
Perfect Itinerary for One Day in Paris
Book an early train from London to Paris and a late train back to London. You can book the train independently; you can also book a package that includes train tickets and a hop-on-hop-off bus tour here.
Morning: Notre-Dame and vicinity. Arrive at Gare du Nord and transfer to the metro line 4 toward Mairie de Montrouge. Get off at Saint Michel Notre-Dame. Stop for a quick coffee if you’d like and head up to Notre-Dame. Visit the towers if you’d like for photos of the gargoyles. Next, walk east to Île Saint-Louis and wander the streets. If you’re feeling really indulgent, get an ice cream at Berthillon!
Head north toward the Hotel de Ville and explore the streets of the Marais, heading further upward. Stop by Pierre Hermé for macarons — they’re the best in the city. Just be sure to eat them the same day.
12:00 PM: Lunch at Breizh Cafe in the Marais. This restaurant is home to outstanding Brittany-style buckwheat galettes and sumptuous crepes. I usually get a galette with egg, cheese, and artichoke followed by a salted caramel crepe for dessert, along with their delicious cider. Make a reservation in advance if possible (it helps massively if you speak French); if you’re uncomfortable doing that, try showing up when they open at 12:00 PM.
Alternative lunch: walk up to Rue des Roisiers and wait in line at L’As du Falafel, one of the best cheap lunches in Paris. Order your falafel and walk a few streets away to Place des Vosges, where you can enjoy your falafel “sur l’herbe” or sitting on a bench.
Afternoon: Art and the Tower. Visit one of Paris’s world-class museums in the afternoon. Since you’re visiting Paris on a day trip and have limited time, I urge you to buy skip-the-line tickets in advance, and be sure to double-check which museums are open that day.
The Centre Pompidou (Beaubourg) is close by; if you’re a fan of modern art and architecture, this is a great choice. There’s a fabulous view of the Eiffel Tower from the top, too. Buy Centre Pompidou priority access tickets here. Another option? Head to the Louvre and see the Mona Lisa (La Joconde) for yourself! The Louvre can be overwhelming; I recommend limiting yourself to two or three sections of the museum (I happen to love the golden Gallerie d’Appolon). Buy skip-the-line tickets at the Louvre here. My favorite Paris museum is the Musée d’Orsay, which is home to incredible Impressionist paintings in a fantastic old train station. Buy skip-the-line tickets to the Musée d’Orsay here.
Finally: see the Eiffel Tower up close. How you see it depends on how much time you have. You can take a hop-on-hop-off Seine River cruise if you have time; I recommend taking the Metro Line 9 to Trocadéro for the most stunning surprise view of the tower when you turn the corner. From there you can take all the photos you want.
I do not recommend actually climbing the Eiffel Tower. Why? Because you won’t be able to see it in your photos! But if you insist, once again I recommend buying skip-the-line tickets due to your limited time. Make sure it includes the summit.
Instead, I recommend getting a good view from the nearby Arc de Triomphe. It’s a 20-minute metro ride on the 6 from Bir-Hakeim/Champs de Mars Tour Eiffel to Charles de Gaulle Étoile, five-minute cab ride, or 30-minute walk. Climb the Arc (once again…yep, skip-the-line tickets are best here) and enjoy views of the Eiffel Tower as well as down the Champs-Elysées to Place de la Concorde.
A cheaper alternative is to go to the rooftop of the Galeries Lafayette department store in the 9th. It’s not quite as close as the Arc, but it’s free to visit with a fabulous view. One hour before your train: arrive at Gare du Nord, preferably by metro. You have to go through immigration here, so it’s wise to arrive one hour before your departure. Enjoy that train ride back to London, awash in your Paris memories. Now would be an excellent time to dive into those macarons you procured earlier.
Solo Female Travel in Paris: Is it Safe?
Do’s and Don’t’s For a Day Trip to Paris from London
I’m not going to begrudge you for doing what you think is best for yourself, but here are some tips:
Do keep track of the time change. Paris is one hour ahead of London.
Do research opening times in advance. Especially so for museums. The Louvre and Centre Pompidou are closed Tuesdays, while the Musée d’Orsay and Musée Rodin are closed Mondays, to start.
Don’t leave central Paris. This tacks on a lot of time to what is already too short of a trip. Versailles, for example, is just outside Paris but can easily eat up half a day. That also goes for Chartres, Giverny, Reims, the Loire Valley, the beaches of Normandy, EuroDisney, and other day trips from Paris.
Do guard against pickpockets. If you use a purse, I recommend using a black crossbody purse that zips shut, preferably made of leather or faux leather. Keep your hand on it. You can also keep valuables in the hidden pocket in a Speakeasy Travel Supply scarf — I guarantee nobody will pickpocket you there!
Don’t leave love locks anywhere. They’re damaging to structures and your lock will be removed anyway. Just enjoy the city of love without vandalizing it in the process.
Do bring a digital guidebook. Guidebooks aren’t dead — they’re actually super helpful. I recommend buying a digital copy of Lonely Planet Paris and keeping it on your phone for reference.
Don’t go to the top of the Eiffel Tower. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. This may seem like shocking advice, but when you’re on top of the Eiffel Tower you can’t see the Eiffel Tower. It’s like going to the top of the Empire State Building in New York — the most iconic building will be missing from your photos. Definitely go to the base of the Eiffel Tower and the Trocadero Gardens for the best views, but if you want a good view from a building, I recommend the top of the Arc de Triomphe (close proximity), the rooftop of Galeries Lafayette department store in the 9th (a bit further away), or the top of the Sacré Coeur in Montmartre (furthest away but sweeping views over the whole city).
Do not, under any circumstances, forget an umbrella! Paris’s weather is similar to London’s, but only London gets the overcast weather fame. The weather changes quickly in Paris and rain can come out of nowhere, even on an otherwise sunny day. I’m a fan of the LifeTek travel umbrella, which is small enough to pack away but strong enough to hold its shape on a windy day.
What to Wear on a Day Trip to Paris
Parisians have a well-earned reputation for being among the best dressed in Europe. So what should you wear on a day trip to Paris?
It depends on the season, but my go-to outfit is a nice top or sweater, slim or skinny dark jeans, a faux leather moto jacket (this one from Zara is similar to mine) or sleek winter coat, and a beautiful scarf or pashmina (Speakeasy Travel Supply makes gorgeous scarves with a secret hidden pocket — perfect for Paris!).
For shoes, I recommend a pair of black flats with good arch support (I swear by black Abeo flats from the Walking Company). If it’s cold, you might prefer a pair of black boots; if it’s hot, you might prefer these chic but comfortable black sandals. Or stylish sneakers like these white leather Cole Haan sneaks. Top your look off with tasteful makeup, nice jewelry, and a pair of dark sunglasses.
You might enjoy dressing up a bit, especially if it’s warmer out. Wearing a nice dress makes for better photos and could earn you more cordial treatment from locals or even get you mistaken for being local.
What not to wear: Shorts, athletic sneakers, baseball caps, and t-shirts will immediately brand you as a foreigner anywhere in Europe, but especially so in Paris. I recommend leaving these items at home.
Ready to go? Book your day trip to Paris by train here!
Have you done a day trip to Paris from London? Share away!
The post How to Plan a Day Trip from London to Paris by Train appeared first on Adventurous Kate.
How can I even begin to describe traveling in Newfoundland? How do I describe the beauty of the landscapes, the kindness of the people, the moments that I will treasure forever?
When I got back from my trip to Newfoundland, I would tell people, “Newfoundland is a lot like Ireland, but more colorful and with fewer tourists.”
What does “like Ireland” mean, anyway? Is it that the locals welcome you like family, speak with borderline incomprehensible accents, and tell the most wonderful stories? Is it that the weather’s nothing to write home about and you could be in a winter jacket in July, but rain or shine, the place reverberates with spectacular beauty? Is it that folk music fills the air, not as an act put on for visitors, but as part of the cultural fabric of the society?
Because that’s Newfoundland!
Many Newfoundlanders are of Irish origin — a big reason why the Newfoundland accent has Irish undertones and the pub scene of St. John’s could rival that of Galway.
But there’s a huge difference. Ireland is swamped with tourists; you could argue that certain parts of Ireland, like the Ring of Kerry, are victims of severe overtourism. Newfoundland, by contrast, has far less tourism. Here, you will never worry about Trinity or Twillingate being packed to the gills with tour buses and umbrella-toting guides. Even in the highest of high season, I was one of few tourists everywhere I went.
Newfoundland is the kind of place that makes you say, “Why isn’t everyone traveling here?!”
Travel to Newfoundland
In some ways, my travels to Newfoundland began last summer. I went to see Come From Away on Broadway with my mom and sister. It tells the story of Gander, Newfoundland, the tiny town that welcomed 6,700 stranded airline passengers on 9/11.
I went in with no expectations and I was blown away. That show is magical.
Normally, I avoid any entertainment related to 9/11. I lived through that day; I think of it constantly. It still upsets me so much that it’s not my choice of subject matter for entertainment.
Come From Away is different, though. It avoids the horrific details of 9/11 and instead focuses on a unique, uplifting story. Gander was a small town with an airport and their population nearly doubled overnight. But the locals opened their homes and hearts to the stranded passengers, introducing them to the quirks of Newfoundland life and showing them kindness at a time when everyone was scared. It was about friendship and generosity — but also folk music, and Screech, and kissing the cod.
I had to visit this place for myself.
I came home from the show that night and started looking up flights to Newfoundland for September. “I’m finally coming!” I wrote to my friend Candice, a proud Newfoundlander, frequent travel buddy, and one of my fellow OG travel bloggers.
Sadly, that trip didn’t end up happening; I had too much going on in September 2018. But when I attended an industry event with lots of Canadian tourism folks the following January, I made sure to schedule a meeting with Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism.
It paid off. We had our meeting, we talked Come From Away, and they invited me to visit for a campaign in August.
First, know the terminology: Newfoundland and Labrador refers to the province, which is made up of Newfoundland (the island) and Labrador (the region on the mainland northwest of Newfoundland, adjacent to Quebec). The province has a population of 519,000, 92% of which lives in Newfoundland.
I was shocked to hear that Newfoundland and Labrador didn’t join Canada until 1949! Before then it was a British colony. In 1931 a pink, white, and green flag was adopted as the flag for the Republic of Newfoundland, though it was never a republic. You still see the flag around the island: some fly it as a celebration of their history and culture, while some fly it in the hopes that Newfoundland will be independent someday.
On your trip to Newfoundland, you’ll most likely fly into St. John’s, which is on the east coast of the island. From there, you can pick up a car and head out.
(Keep in mind that St. John’s lost many of its international airline connections abroad after 737 Max planes were grounded in March 2019. Today they have nonstop flights from Toronto, Montreal, Halifax, St. Pierre, and other destinations in Newfoundland and Labrador.)
Alternatively, you can navigate by Candice’s Newfoundland tattoo. (Seriously. Don’t underestimate the value of being able to flip your wrist over and say, “See, we’re here now, and you’re going here next.)
St. John’s, the City of Color
St. John’s stuns you the moment you see it. Nestled against the craggy coast are brightly colored houses in turquoise, orange, purple, sky-blue, and every color you can imagine. My first activity was a photography tour of the city with Far East Photography Tours. Owner Maurice “Mo” Fitzgerald took me to see various photo spots throughout the city.
“You’re shooting with a Fuji,” Mo said as we started. “The film simulation modes are the best thing about Fuji. Do you ever shoot on Velvia?”
Velvia is a kind of Fuji film that gives you bright saturated colors, especially blues. On Fuji cameras, you can change the film simulation settings to Velvia, which makes the JPEG files come out extra bright and colorful.
“Not really,” I confessed. “I tried it once in the Caribbean. I liked it. But I shoot in RAW — what’s the point if the Velvia disappears once I upload them to Lightroom?”
But I switched the settings to Velvia anyway and took a photo. Check out the difference:
Sure, it would mean more work, but I could always add a Velvia preset to Lightroom, or just edit them with a heavier hand on the saturation. The important part was getting to see the saturation in the first place as I took the photo — that would guide my photography.
St. John’s is famous for its brightly colored houses, which keep the neighborhoods looking cheerful during the long, dreary winters. They call the neighborhood Jelly Bean Row, even though it doesn’t refer to any specific row in particular.
Don’t come to St. John’s looking for a specific set of houses like the Painted Ladies in San Francisco — there isn’t any one row of houses more famous than the others. Just walk around and find the corner that looks good to you.
I was particularly amused to find that Victoria Street was steep, colorful, and filled with hanging flower pots — just like Victoria Street in Edinburgh, my favorite street in that city!
“What’s your favorite color?” Mo asked me.
“Hot pink,” I replied without hesitation.
Mo knew exactly where to find a hot pink house for me. “I try to find a house for everyone’s favorite color.”
“That is my dream home,” I told him.
I am so glad I got the Velvia tip from Mo on the first day, because it changed how I took photos the whole trip. Velvia is MADE for Newfoundland. Whether you’re shooting the brightly colored homes of Jelly Bean Row or the cliffs, bays, and cottages of Trinity, or one of the best sunsets of your life in Twillingate, it all looks SO much better in Velvia.
Fishing in Newfoundland and Kissing the Cod
I’ve done a lot of crazy things on my travels. Swimming in Antarctica. Volcano-boarding in Nicaragua. Dancing until dawn with Vikings. Getting shipwrecked in Indonesia.
But until Newfoundland, I had never gone fishing. (How?! I have no idea.)
That changed when I went out on a fishing trip with Quidi Vidi Fishing Charters. We would be fishing for cod, the fish that has been the lifeblood for Newfoundlanders for so long.
The Beothuk, the indigenous people of Newfoundland, were the original people to fish for cod. Later, the British, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and even Basques traveled to Newfoundland to fish the rich waters. However, over the course of several centuries, the fishing was extensive and in the early 1990s, it was estimated that waters only contained 1% of the cod they once had.
In 1992, a moratorium was placed on cod fishing in Newfoundland. More than thirty thousand people lost their jobs and it severely damaged the economy.
While the moratorium has since been lifted, today there are a lot of rules and regulations around cod fishing in Newfoundland. On the day I went fishing, we were only allowed to catch and release. Which was fine! It was still a lot of fun.
Soon I caught my first fish ever. I was giddy with joy.
“Now you have to kiss it,” the men told me. “It’s what we do in Newfoundland.”
I puckered up and gave my fish a big smooch on its back. It responded by defecating.
Later that day, I caught the biggest fish of the day! Look at the size of that guy!
We had a nice group on the boat — me, a guy from New Hampshire (we quickly figured out we grew up an hour apart), and a family from Toronto with two parents and three kids. The family had recently done a 180 on their travels, the father told me, giving up their usual beach vacations for interesting adventure trips, and finding that this was both cheaper and more fun.
The weather turned, as it often does in Newfoundland, and soon we were fishing in a cold drizzle. And soon after that I realized I was fishing in the rain with a big grin on my face. I barely noticed. I was having too much fun catching fish.
Whether it was out on the fishing boat in the rain, or sitting in a shed drinking beer afterward, that’s when I first felt at home in this unique part of the world.
Newfoundland is filled with quirkily named towns — Heart’s Desire, Come by Chance, Tickle Cove. But let’s be real — the town that everyone wants to know about is DILDO.
Yes, it’s real. There is a town called Dildo, Newfoundland. Jimmy Kimmel did a whole special about it. He was named the honorary mayor.
I was driving from St. John’s to Trinity and Dildo was just a short detour off the highway — I HAD to do it. Fourteen minutes later I was parking by the “Welcome to Dildo” sign, taking the best selfie of my trip.
It was incredibly foggy in Dildo — in fact, one of the first things I learned about Newfoundland was that the weather there is CRAZY. It goes from foggy to clear and back so fast!
The fog made it really hard to photograph, but I did my best.
Dildo’s Hollywood-style sign made me laugh so hard!
Hell yes, Dildo is worth a detour for the selfie alone. Oh, and if you’re into beer, be sure to swing by the Dildo Brewing Company. Yes, they sell t-shirts, and if even if you don’t make the drive to Dildo, you can buy their merchandise in St. John’s, too.
I had high hopes for Trinity. I knew that it was one of Candice’s favorite places in Newfoundland, and considering how much I trust her, I knew that it had to be somewhere special.
Then I drove into Trinity and gasped.
That was one of the best views I had ever seen. A tiny village filled with brightly painted houses. Rocky cliffs around the edges; a soft cloud wrapping around islands in the background. It felt like something out of Neverland.
Trinity has a few attractions — some historic homes, and I visited a few sites for the Bonavista Biennale (more on that below). But this is a great place just to relax, an important component of Newfoundland travel. And even if you’re a busy traveler who doesn’t want to slow down, the Bonavista Peninsula is full of places to visit.
If you’re staying close by, Trinity has gorgeous surrounding towns, like Port Rexton (don’t miss Two Whales Coffee Shop and its delicious vegetarian sandwiches) and Champney’s West. Both are incredibly photogenic.
I stayed at the Artisan Inn and was quickly welcomed to Trinity and shown what makes the region so special. I was delighted to meet Marieke Gow, whose family owns and runs the inn. I don’t know what I expected in a town with a year-round population of approximately 17, but Marieke is a dynamic woman my age who travels almost as much as I do! (With no winter tourists in Trinity, she wisely spends the cold months in warm places.)
The Artisan Inn has both rooms and cottages for rent, and they have an acclaimed restaurant called the Twine Loft. I set up shop for the night in the Blueberry Cottage, the whole house to myself.
Forgive the hyperbole, but seriously — this cottage was perfect. The decor was perfect. The amenities were so modern. The village was out of a storybook. There was an ice cream shop next door with local Newfoundland flavors — including partridgeberry! I could not get enough out of this place.
Oh, and let me add that this was probably the third time in my career that I had a three-bedroom house to myself as a solo traveler, and choosing your bedroom is pretty weird and fun.
Oh, and the food? OUTSTANDING. As I enjoyed a roasted duck breast with Marieke and her fiancé Jon, I regretted only having one night here and wished I could stay for longer.
And as I ate my partridgeberry pancakes for breakfast the next morning, I strategized about how I could come back. Maybe for a writing retreat? Maybe in the fall so it would be cheaper and quieter?
(Since then, Candice told me that she and the Newfoundland travel blogger girls love to go to Trinity for few days in the fall and stay at the Artisan Inn — they’re all friends with Marieke. Candice wrote about it here; Melissa wrote about it here.)
Bonavista Art Biennale
Every other year, the Bonavista Biennale takes place on the Bonavista Peninsula: it’s a collection of themed art installations. Their mission is “to make a positive cultural, economic and social impact on the Bonavista Peninsula through curatorial excellence in the presentation of contemporary visual art.”
This year the themes were connectivity, floe, and art, with art by indigenous, Canadian, and international artists. There were 21 art exhibitions throughout the peninsula, clockwise from Duntara to Trinity. I was to do it in reverse.
Consequently, this is where I became frustrated.
I had a brochure with all the exhibition sites listed. And the first two were easy to find. But then it became nearly impossible to find the rest of them. “Champney’s Cove”? That was an entire body of water! “Fisherman’s Protective Union Store”? Google Maps hadn’t even heard of it!
I drove around in confusion, thinking to myself that I would tell the organizers to make the places easier to find next year.
And then it hit me.
You’re not supposed to use Google Maps.
This exhibition is a way to explore Newfoundland. The point is to drive to a town with an exhibition, then drive around until you see the little red Biennale signs. Don’t see any? Talk to a local.
That was the biggest moment of my trip. It was like a massive shift took place in my brain. Newfoundland isn’t built for modern technology — it’s built on the assertion that you can find your way, and the people will get you to where you need to go.
“Every set of directions in Newfoundland includes a color of a house, a church, and ‘You can’t miss it,’” Marieke told me.
And with that, I was no longer a visitor looking to check off 21 sites. I was an explorer of Newfoundland’s villages, searching for artistic treasures.
At 2 Rooms Contemporary Art Exhibitions in Duntara, I walked among the clay chains of Jason Holley, the material symbolizing their weakness, not their strength.
At the Old Post Office in Port Rexton, I gazed upon the artwork Meghan Price made out of the layers of colorful materials in athletic shoes. “New Balance” represents the Earth’s crust and is a profound statement on the state of the environment and the economic and social factors that put it in danger.
At St. Mary’s Church in Elliston, a Gothic-style wooden church, Barb Hunt and Jane Walker covered it with rows of paper flowers symbolizing the death and decline of Newfoundland’s rural communities. It ends on a hopeful note and it made me think of my time in the Îles-de-la-Madeleine and the woman who told me that young people were finally coming back.
And my favorite exhibition — at the Fish Store on the Mockbeggar Plantation of Bonavista, artist Camille Turner reckoned with Newfoundland’s role in the slave trade in The Afronautic Research Lab through video and a collection of primary sources.
As I drove north to Twillingate, I sighed with happiness. After days of uneven weather, the sky had turned solid blue and it looked like it was going to stay nice. No more rogue Dildo fog! (Wow, there’s a sentence I never thought I’d write…)
Twillingate. Isn’t that a romantic name? Perched on a northern peninsula, it feels like the end of the world. Every spring, giant icebergs float down from the Arctic and settle around Twillingate’s harbor, earning it the moniker “Iceberg Capital of the World.”
In many other countries, Twillingate would be swarming with tourists. But this is Newfoundland, so there were very few, even in late August. But that may change soon due to the efforts of Twillingate and Beyond, an effort of two sisters looking to grow the tourism industry in their hometown.
Mandi Young and Joelle Blandford are thoughtful entrepreneurs and proud Twillingate residents passionate about sharing their town with the world. And they’re doing that by offering a variety of services on a small scale.
There’s the Artisan Market, a shop featuring handmade crafts by 80 artists from Newfoundland and Labrador: hand-knitted mittens, photography, indigenous artwork. I fell in love with the brightly colored patchwork quilts! The market also has a cafe with coffee, pastries, and a beautiful tea setup.
And they’ve opened three different kinds of accommodation in Twillingate. A four-star mid-range hotel (Sunshine Inn, where I stayed, pictured above), a luxury apartment with a jacuzzi called the Drift Away Suite, and a hostel called Hi Tides Hostel. All are located on the same block, along with the Artisan Market.
Sunshine Inn was lovely and cozy and quiet, with great sea views, and I appreciated how the doors all opened by keycode so I didn’t have to carry keys. You can buy that quilt and the decorative pillow at the Artisan Market.
Mandy and Joelle have their sights on the next steps of tourism in Twillingate. They’re thinking about putting together winter travel packages with activities like snowshoeing. And there are businesses that Twillingate needs, like a bakery and a barbershop (“We get our hair cut in people’s basements”). But they know that the most critical aspect is bringing in young people — to visit, but also to live here.
I feel like these women are the future of Newfoundland travel. Twillingate is just waking up to tourism on a major scale, and while so many Newfoundlanders are bemused that tourists are interested in their island, Mandy and Joelle understand tourism clearly and see what needs to happen next.
And then came the best single activity of my time in Newfoundland — dinner on the beach with Experience Twillingate. Chef Crystal Antsey brings visitors to the beach and cooks over a campfire, serving fresh local produce.
I expected a typical seafood boil on the beach. I’ve done that a few times before — but this one went so far beyond anything I’ve ever experienced.
Crystal is a chef at the Canvas Cove Bistro in Twillingate, cooking up outstanding cod tacos and tomato-based seafood chowder. (Side note: getting a native New Englander to willingly eat tomato-based chowder is about as likely as a Red Sox fan cheering for the Yankees. Yet I ordered that chowder and LOVED that chowder. That’s how good Crystal’s food is.)
We started with a walk to the beach as Crystal foraged for plants along the way, showing us what grew nearby and what was edible. Joining me were Melinda and Steve, a recently retired couple from Vancouver who were traveling all over Canada with their dog.
We picked blueberries off the bushes, told stories, laughed, and walked to the beach. Crystal set up a campfire and got started on dinner, throwing slabs of butter into cast-iron skillets.
We started with scallops, served in their own shells and topped with edible flowers.
Next up, chanterelles, cooked in teeny tiny cast iron pans with fresh herbs.
We dined on buttery crab legs — so tough to get the meat out (at least for me) but SO deliciously worth the effort.
And finally, cod and COD TONGUES! Cod tongues have long been a staple of Newfoundland cuisine. And they’re not as bad as they sound. If you cook them in a lot of pork fat, like Crystal does, of COURSE they are amazing!
You can see footage from the night and watch me eat a cod tongue in the video above.
And finally, we finished with “small pies” — NOT tarts, Crystal pointed out, but small pies — filled with partridgeberries and topped with cream. The perfect finale to a dinner on the beach I’ll never forget.
The night ended with perhaps one of the top five sunsets of my life.
I loved this evening so much. I definitely lucked out with the weather and the company, but it was as close to a perfect night as I’ve had while traveling. If you’re visiting Twillingate, please promise me that you’ll drop a line to Experience Twillingate. Tell Crystal I sent you.
It seemed like the quirks never ended in Newfoundland! Some of my favorite moments? Definitely staying at the Round da Bay Inn in the Captain’s Quarters — a nautical-themed room that was a sailor’s dream. There were model ships on the walls, the headboard was shaped like the front of a boat, green and red lights twinkled in the back, antique maps were on the wall. But hilarously, it came with a captain’s hat and blazer for photos!
Also, the town of Elliston calls itself “the root cellar capital of the world.” It also has the largest puffin colony in the world that you could see from land, but still! Root cellars! The expression that flew through my head was, So I got that goin’ for me, which is nice.
I ordered toutons for breakfast one day, hearing they were a Newfoundland specialty. What did I get? Round slabs of fried dough, topped with maple syrup and served with a plate of potatoes. Carbs on carbs on carbs? Why not!
There’s a beer here made from ice chipped off icebergs. It’s called Iceberg Beer and it’s as delicious as its cobalt bottles are beautiful. (Incidentally, beer in Newfoundland can be shockingly expensive, to the chagrin of locals. I paid $26 CAD ($20 USD) for a six-pack of Iceberg near Gros Morne on my OneOcean expedition back in July.)
I bought wine made from blueberries and blackberries at Auk Island Winery in Twillingate. It was called Fifty Shades of Bay. I took it on six flights (St. John’s to Montreal, Montreal to New York, New York to London, London to Bologna, Bologna to London, London to Bari) — and eventually opened it on a balcony in Lecce, Italy. It tasted…bizarre. Like fizzy berry juice. Worth tasting? Sure…I just wouldn’t be so quick to call it wine.
And in the town of Gander — which, somewhat disappointingly, looked more like an average landlocked town in Massachusetts than part of Newfoundland — I grabbed a coffee, sat in Tim Horton’s, and people-watched as locals greeted each other with cherished familiarity. I wondered who of them welcomed the Come From Aways into their home in 2001.
Becoming a Local in Newfoundland
After my road trip ended, I decided to spend a few extra days hanging out in St. John’s. I would be working wherever I would be; why not just spend a little longer in Newfoundland?
That’s when the real Newfoundland magic began to happen.
It started while I worked on my computer at Rocket Bakery. I looked up and recognized a red-haired man across the room. We had both worked at the Jumping Bean the day before, and in that instant, smiled and nodded at each other in recognition.
I got up to grab another coffee and ran into someone I actually knew — a friend of Candice’s whom I had met briefly at the bar a few days ago. We greeted each other and I filled her in on the past week.
I went out to dinner with Candice and her friend Leila, who works in television, and before the meal was finished, she booked me an appearance on NTV to talk about my travels in Newfoundland.
Shortly after that, Marieke from the Artisan Inn in Trinity came to St. John’s, and we gabbed like crazy, catching up on every moment I had spent since leaving Trinity.
Candice and I showed up at Bannerman Brewing Company for the second day in a row and the same waiter welcomed us back warmly.
Getting to feel those connections over and over again was what really made me feel like a real Newfoundlander.
Getting Screeched In
But the strangest and best Newfoundland tradition, in my opinion, is to get “screeched in.” If you’ve seen Come From Away, you know about this — it’s a baptism of sorts that indoctrinates visitors, making them honorary Newfoundlanders.
You can get screeched in privately with locals, or do it with part of a group at one of the many pubs on George Street in St. John’s. We went to Christian’s Pub, Candice’s favorite bar for screeching in visitors.
The process is simple. Everyone gets on their knees and recites an oath. (Honestly, the hardest part is figuring out what he’s saying in his Newfoundland accent and repeating it.) Then you eat a chunk of bologna, also known as “Newfoundland steak.” Then you kiss a frozen cod on the lips. Then you down a shot of “screech,” or local rum.
My fellow tourists and I cheered each other on as we pressed our lips to the frigid fish. It was official — by getting screeched in, we were “real proper Newfoundlanders” now!
If you travel to Newfoundland, you absolutely must get screeched in. It’s a special experience.
Hiking Signal Hill
And finally, on my last day, the trip finished with some of the most beautiful scenery yet. Candice and I hiked Signal Hill, right from the steps of her house to the top of the hill. At times St. John’s feels like it’s built in the most ridiculous location — why on top of all those hills?! — but that leads to some scenic hiking as well.
Signal Hill is a short hike. It takes as little as 45 minutes from the base to the top, and you can walk there from downtown St. John’s. With our extra distance, it took us 90 minutes altogether, surrounded by craggy rocks and soft green grass.
This was St. John’s. This was Newfoundland.
And frankly, I barely took any photos. I didn’t care. By this point, it was all about feeling Newfoundland.
Candice and I got to the top, then decided to head back to town for beer and cod tacos.
Best Time to Travel to Newfoundland
The best time for Newfoundland travel is during the summer months: June through September. July and August will have the warmest weather, and because Newfoundland doesn’t get overwhelmed with tourists, you don’t have to worry about peak season being too crowded.
The only issues from traveling during the summer are that flights can get expensive and rental cars can sometimes be all booked out. Book at least a few months in advance. I recommend checking flights on Skyscanner and making sure rental cars are available.
If you want to see icebergs in Twillingate, your best chances are from mid-May through mid-July. If you want something much quieter, the fall can be gorgeous, though keep in mind many places won’t be open.
All that being said, know that Newfoundland has unpredictable weather. It changes constantly and could be worse than you expect. You could visit for a week in August and it could be cold and rainy the whole time. I was in St. John’s for seven days total and they were all gray and rainy except for one. The weather was much nicer in Trinity, the Bonavista Peninsula and Twillingate.
My recommendation? Newfoundland travel is best during the warmest months, but don’t plan on having great weather. It’s like Ireland that way. Go in with low expectations (and a windbreaker and umbrella), and if you have sunny skies, enjoy every minute of it.
Solo Female Travel in Newfoundland
Newfoundland is an excellent destination for solo female travelers, as long as you’re happy to drive. Newfoundland is an extremely safe destination and you will be warmly welcomed by everyone you meet. Some will be used to seeing travelers; others will welcome you with curiosity and perhaps even incredulity.
You’ll be spending a lot of hours in your car, driving from place to place, so be sure to come armed with audiobooks. I recommend The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx, a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel that takes place in Newfoundland. There’s just something magical about hearing her gorgeous descriptions of the cliffs and mountains and forests as you drive through Newfoundland’s spectacular landscapes.
The one drawback of traveling alone in Newfoundland is that it will be hard to get photos of yourself in remote, gorgeous places. You may want to bring a tripod and self-timer and get comfortable with them before your Newfoundland vacation.
Additionally, be sure not to get too complacent about safety. Yes, Newfoundland might be the kind of place where people leave their doors unlocked, but that doesn’t mean you should do the same thing. There are bad apples even in the most phenomenally safe places. Take the same precautions you would anywhere else: Keep your valuables on you while in transit. Don’t get too drunk. Get travel insurance (I use and recommend World Nomads).
Finally, brake for moose. I saw one moose on the road in Newfoundland — an adolescent on the smaller side — but you must NEVER hit a moose. Hitting a moose will usually kill you, as they are tall and will fall through the windshield and crush you. It’s not like hitting a deer. Always brake for moose.
Top 10 Travel Safety Tips for Women
I feel like this is just the beginning of my love affair with Newfoundland. I need to come back. There’s so much more I want to see, but there’s so much temptation to revisit the same places, enjoying them a second time and seeing all my Newfoundland friends again!
I feel that now is the time to travel to Newfoundland, before the rest of the world realizes what a treasure it is. You may argue that that time is years away — but I’ve seen it play out in a similar destination.
In 2012 I was the first travel blogger invited to the Faroe Islands, back when most people hadn’t heard of them. It was the height of high season and I was one of half a dozen tourists, max, almost everywhere I went. Seven years later, dozens more travel bloggers have visited and one blogger friend told me about being one of 30 people on the ferry to Mykines. THIRTY.
I could see Newfoundland travel taking a similar route. All the ingredients are there for it to become a major destination. All it needs is the attention. And while that will bring economic opportunity to the island, it won’t always be as it is now. I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to discover Newfoundland as an undertouristed destination.
You should take that opportunity, too. It’s a little too easy to fall in love with Newfoundland.
The Cabot Trail: Nova Scotia’s Most Beautiful Road Trip
Essential Info: Plan ahead for your trip to Newfoundland — flights can get expensive and there aren’t always enough rental cars on the island. I recommend checking flights on Skyscanner and making sure rental cars are available.
Definitely get a SIM card for Newfoundland, but keep in mind that lots of areas have no service. I got my SIM card from Lucky Mobile. You may want to download offline maps for your driving.
In St. John’s I stayed at the Alt Hotel St. John’s for the first two days, a comfortable, beautiful design hotel with a great lobby in a perfect downtown location. Terre Restaurant downstairs is outstanding. Rates from $134 USD. Book the Alt Hotel here or check out more St. John’s hotels here.
Later, when I stayed in St. John’s on my own dime, I stayed in a private bedroom at my friend Melissa’s house, a short walk from downtown, which she rents out on Airbnb for a very reasonable $55 CAD ($42 USD) per night. Great budget option. You can see it here.
Far East Photography offers private photography tours for 1-3 people. Rates range from $200 CAD ($151 USD) for two hours to $400 CAD ($302 USD) for four hours.
Quidi Vidi Fishing Charters offers a variety of fishing tours. I did the QV Tour, which included a few hours fishing and fried fish afterward, and cost $150 CAD ($113 USD). Your experience may be catch and release depending on the day of the week; if you get to keep your catch, you can learn how to gut and clean a fish.
I got screeched in at Christian’s Pub in St. John’s. You need to register at least 30 minutes in advance; the pub doesn’t have much of an online presence, so drop in during the day to check the times and sign up. Getting screeched in costs $20 CAD ($15 USD).
If you plan on working remotely in St. John’s, I recommend setting up shop at Rocket Bakery (check their schedule to avoid daytime events first), the Jumping Bean on Duckworth St. (closes at 5 PM), Coffee Matters, or the Alt Hotel lobby. There’s a Starbucks if you’re in a pinch.
In Trinity I stayed at the Artisan Inn. You can rent individual rooms or whole houses. My house was the Blueberry Cottage, a beautifully decorated three-bedroom house with water views. Twine Loft is a fabulous restaurant; be sure to order your meal ahead of time. Room rates from $145 CAD ($109 USD); Blueberry Cottage rates from $325 CAD ($245 USD). Book the Artisan Inn here or check out more Trinity hotels here.
The Bonavista Biennale takes place bi-annually and will next take place in August-September 2021. I highly recommend making the Biennale a priority if you’re visiting at that time.
In Plate Cove West I stayed at the Round da Bay Inn, a motel with quirky themed rooms like my Captain’s Quarters. Rates from $125 CAD ($94 USD). Book the Round da Bay Inn here.
In Twillingate I stayed at the Sunshine Inn, a lovely, modern, and comfortable four-star hotel with a great common area. Rates from $135 CAD ($102 USD). The Sunshine Inn is affiliated with Twillingate and Beyond, which also has a hostel and a luxury Drift Away Suite next door. Book the Sunshine Inn here or check out more hotels in Twillingate here.
Experience Twillingate offers dinner on the beach in Twillingate, usually a 4-5 course feast. Contact them directly for the current specials and pricing.
Be sure to have travel insurance for your trip to Newfoundland. Whether you’re in a car accident or you get appendicitis or bad weather cancels your flights, travel insurance will help you in your moment of need. I use and recommend World Nomads for trips to Canada.
Many thanks to Newfoundland and Labrador for hosting me in Newfoundland, covering flights and my travels from St. John’s through Twillingate and back. I stayed in St. John’s an extra five days at my own expense. All opinions, as always, are my own.
I’d like to give a special thanks to the Newfoundlanders who welcomed me with open arms and made my trip so special. I can’t wait to return.
The post Travel to Newfoundland, Canada, and You’ll Never Want to Leave appeared first on Adventurous Kate.
Going to the Blue Lagoon is a must for anyone traveling to Iceland! It’s the most popular tourist attraction in Iceland — it seems like nearly everyone who visits Iceland works a trip to the Blue Lagoon into their itinerary.
And being the most popular destination, there are plenty of guides and how-tos for the Blue Lagoon Iceland. But to be honest, I was surprised by how many things I didn’t know.
I’ve visited the Iceland Blue Lagoon several times, in different kinds of weather. As you can see by my photos, I’ve seen the Blue Lagoon on a gorgeous day in May; I’ve also visited the Blue Lagoon on a cold and rainy August day. It wasn’t ideal, but it was still worth visiting the Blue Lagoon in the rain.
Before you go to the Blue Lagoon, here’s what you should know.
This post was updated in October 2019.
Book the Blue Lagoon with Transportation from Reykjavik
Blue Lagoon Iceland
Is the Blue Lagoon in Reykjavik?
The Blue Lagoon is not in Reykjavik. It’s in Grindavík, close to the airport and about 45 minutes from Reykjavik.
Two-thirds of Iceland’s population may live in Reykjavik, but the Blue Lagoon is quite a distance away. If you haven’t rented a car, you’ll need to book a transfer with a tour company. You can book Blue Lagoon tickets with round-trip transportation from Reykjavik here. The drive takes about 45 minutes each way.
That said, Reykjavik is a fabulous city and being based here is the best option for visiting the Blue Lagoon and exploring the nearby region. See below for where to stay in Reykjavik.
Is the Blue Lagoon a natural spring?
The Iceland Blue Lagoon is not a natural spring. While Iceland is a country brimming with natural hot springs, the Blue Lagoon isn’t one of them. The land is natural, as is the lava that shapes the pool, but the water is actually the result of runoff from the geothermal plant next door.
The plant was built first, and it uses Iceland’s volcanic landscape to produce heat power. The runoff is filtered straight into the Blue Lagoon, which is what heats the water.
That doesn’t mean it’s dangerous or toxic — far from it! It’s just not the natural phenomenon that many people believe it to be.
Best Time to Go to Blue Lagoon
When is the best time to go to the Blue Lagoon? If you want to have the space to yourselves, I recommend going as soon as it opens, first thing in the morning. If you’re waiting at the Blue Lagoon right as they open and you rush in the locker room, you could be one of the first people in it! (This is also the best option if you want to get photos without other people in them.)
If you want to be a bit of an overachiever, you could check the flight schedule at Reykjavik airport and plan your trip when the fewest flights are arriving and departing. Personally, I think this is a bit overkill, but some people who live for data enjoy doing this.
In terms of the best time to visit Iceland, you have options. While Iceland is very popular throughout the year, there are the fewest tourists during the winter months. If you want to experience a quieter Iceland, I highly recommend visiting during the winter. Keep in mind that it’s a cheaper time to visit, flights will likely be less expensive, and fewer tours and activities will be available.
The Northern Lights are most likely to be seen during the winter months and around the vernal and autumnal equinoxes (March 21 and September 21). You are extremely unlikely to see them in the summer. As always, you can plan to see the Northern Lights, but they are finicky and unpredictable and many an Iceland tourist has been disappointed at missing their chance.
My advice? Don’t make your trip all about the Northern Lights. (Frankly, there are places much more reliable than Iceland to see the Northern Lights, like Alaska and northern Norway.) Go in with cautious optimism. If you see them, great! If you don’t, you’ve still had a fun trip to Iceland.
Most tourists choose to travel to Iceland during the busy summer months. This is when you’ll have the best (and warmest) weather, though keep in mind Iceland weather can be brutal and ever-changing! You’ll also have the greatest amount of sunlight. This is when Iceland will be at its most crowded and expensive, but most activities should be available.
If you choose to visit Iceland during the summer, be sure to book as much as you can ahead of time. Many hotels, flights, and activities will sell out in advance.
Book the Blue Lagoon with Transportation from Reykjavik
Blue Lagoon at Night, via Pixabay
Blue Lagoon at Night
Can you visit the Blue Lagoon at night? Yes — but the opening hours vary based on the time of year. From June through mid-August, the Blue Lagoon is open until 11:00 PM or midnight.
Iceland Blue Lagoon Hours:
1 January – 30 May: 8:00 AM-9:00 PM
31 May – 27 June: 7:00 AM – 11:00 PM
28 June – 18 August: 7:00 AM – 12:00 AM
19 August – 31 December: 8:00 AM – 9:00 PM
One advantage of visiting the Iceland Blue Lagoon at night is that it has a peaceful, dusky, almost spooky atmosphere. Most of the visiting children will have left by night.
However, don’t plan to get images of the Blue Lagoon at night underneath a dark sky. If you visit during the summer months, midnight in July will only be a bit dusky; frankly, it will be a lot darker in late December at 9:00 PM.
Is it possible to see the Northern Lights at the Blue Lagoon Iceland? Don’t plan on it. Most of the images you’ve seen of the Northern Lights have been in places with little to no light pollution. The Blue Lagoon is full of light. Proper Northern Lights tours will take you far outside the city to see them.
Snorkeling Silfra: The Coolest Thing I Did in Iceland
How Deep is the Blue Lagoon?
The Blue Lagoon is a maximum of 1.7 meters (4.7 feet) deep. For this reason, all children are required to have a guardian while in the Blue Lagoon.
Blue Lagoon Temperature
The Blue Lagoon has a temperature usually ranging between 37 and 40 degrees Celsius (98 and 104 degrees Fahrenheit). It feels like a nice warm bath. However, keep in mind that the outdoor temperature and weather mean that the temperature can fluctuate a bit higher and lower.
Do you have to shower before going into the Blue Lagoon?
Not unlike spas in Europe and around the world, you must take a shower before going into the pool. The Iceland Blue Lagoon goes one step further and requires you to shower naked. Don’t worry if you don’t want to be naked in public: while some showers are out in the open, there are now several shower stalls that lock for privacy.
Once you’re rinsed and your hair is conditioned, you can put your bathing suit back on and head on into the Blue Lagoon.
Should you book the Blue Lagoon before or after your flight to Iceland?
Try to time your visit to the Blue Lagoon to your flight to Iceland. If you have super early flights to Iceland, you may not be able to do this — but if you have a morning or afternoon arrival or an afternoon or evening departure, you should take advantage of hitting up the Blue Lagoon on the way to the airport.
The Blue Lagoon is much closer to the airport than Reykjavik. Going to the Blue Lagoon en route to the airport will save you time.
If that’s the case, I recommend booking a private airport transfer via the Blue Lagoon. This will give you two hours to enjoy the lagoon on the way to the airport, giving yourself more time to spend doing other things in Iceland, plus you won’t have to worry about getting onto a bus with strangers.
If you’re visiting Iceland as a stopover between North America and Europe, you’ll find much more convenient times for visiting the Blue Lagoon from North America to Iceland to Europe than if you are flying from Europe to Iceland to North America.
Did you book the cheapest flight to Iceland?
Skyscanner usually has the best deals.
Should you combine a Blue Lagoon visit with another tour in Iceland?
If you’re only visiting Iceland for a few days, you can save time and money by booking tours that include multiple activities in a day. Here are some suggestions:
1) Visit the Blue Lagoon and tour the Golden Circle.
2) Visit the Blue Lagoon, tour the Golden Circle, and visit Kerid volcano crater.
3) Visit the Blue Lagoon and go on a whale watching cruise.
4) Visit the Blue Lagoon and go on a cultural sightseeing tour of Reykjavik.
All four of these tours include admission to the Blue Lagoon in the price.
Your hair will get DESTROYED at the Blue Lagoon.
The one thing that everyone says is, “Use lots of leave-in conditioner.” The locker rooms at the Iceland Blue Lagoon offer lots of conditioner, so that made it easy.
The water at the Blue Lagoon is not good for your hair. I would especially be cautious if you have natural, curly, or color-treated hair.
I thought my curly hair would be okay. Well, after covering my hair in conditioner, twisting it up in a French twist, leaving the conditioner in, and going into the Blue Lagoon, then coming out, rinsing my hair, conditioning it like crazy, and leaving it in again — my hair was destroyed for the next five days.
Take my advice — even if you condition your hair, don’t let it touch the water. You’re not missing out on much if you don’t.
Iceland Blue Lagoon Pricing
The Blue Lagoon doesn’t make it easy to find out how much they charge. They don’t have a list of prices; you can only see the prices on specific days, five to six months in advance. Adult tickets are sold to those who are age 14 and older.
Tickets are sold in tiers: Comfort, Premium, and Retreat Spa. Comfort and Premium just vary in terms of amenities, but the much more expensive Retreat Spa tier gives you access to a private spa and private area of the Blue Lagoon Iceland.
Comfort tickets at the Blue Lagoon cost 76 EUR to 86 EUR ($84-94), depending on the time of year. Comfort tickets include entrance to the Blue Lagoon, silica mud mask, use of towel, and first free drink of your choice.
Premium tickets at the Blue Lagoon cost 98 EUR to 107 ($108-118), depending on the time of year. Premium tickets include entrance to the Blue Lagoon, silica mud mask, use of towel, first free drink of your choice, second mask of your choice, dining reservation (optional), and sparkling wine with your dining reservation.
Retreat Spa tickets at the Blue Lagoon cost 565 EUR ($621). Retreat spa tickets include entrance to the Blue Lagoon, access to the private Retreat Spa (four hours), access to a private changing room, The Blue Lagoon Ritual, Retreat Lagoon, skin care amenities, access to the Spa Restaurant, and first free drink of your choice.
Which tier is best at the Iceland Blue Lagoon? Personally, I think that Comfort is more than fine — there’s no real point to Premium. But if you want to go all out and have the cash to spend, go ahead and do the Retreat Spa.
Iceland’s Phallological Museum: A Strange Must-See
Blue Lagoon Experience
I enjoyed my time at the Blue Lagoon. Being the kind of girl who loves extreme heat, I thought the water wouldn’t be hot enough for me, but it turns out that there is a super-hot section just for cold-blooded ones like myself! You can see it in the above picture — it’s where the steam is coming out.
It never gets too hot in Iceland — in my spring and summer trips, temperatures hovered in mid-40s Fahrenheit (about 10 C), which made the pool nice and toasty, and not so cold that walking outside was like Nordic torture. It felt just fine.
If you visit the Blue Lagoon in winter, it will be colder, but that just means you should get in the water a little bit faster. It’s nice and cozy year-round.
The Blue Lagoon gives you wristbands that you can use for purchases while in the water. This is a brilliant way of paying for items without having to keep an eye on your purse or wallet. The wristband system also prevents people from buying more than three alcoholic drinks.
The Blue Lagoon has a sauna and steam room, as well as an exclusive section. You can get a variety of spa treatments, including a massage on a float right in the Blue Lagoon! There are cocktails at the swim-up bar, but I prefer the smoothies instead, which you can conveniently pay for with your wristband.
Overall, if you’re going to Iceland, the Blue Lagoon is one of those experiences that you just have to try. But if you can, I recommend you do it on the way to or from the airport — and I beg you, don’t let that water touch your hair!
Blue Lagoon Iceland Address
Visit the Blue Lagoon in Iceland at:
Blue Lagoon Iceland
Norðurljósavegur 9, 240 Grindavík
+354 420 8800
Reykjavik, Iceland — image via Pixabay.
Where to Stay In Iceland
Where’s the best place to stay in Iceland? If you’re only staying in Iceland for a few days, Reykjavik makes an excellent base for exploring western Iceland. Here are my recommendations for Reykjavik accommodation:
Luxury: 41 — A Townhouse Hotel
Mid-range: Hotel Odinsve
Budget: Igdlo Guesthouse
Hostel: KEX Hostel
Check out more hotels in Reykjavik here.
Why Iceland is Perfect for First-Time Solo Female Travelers
Essential Info: The Blue Lagoon Iceland has several different tiers of pricing: Comfort, Premium, and Retreat Spa, with entry as cheap as 76 EUR ($84 USD) in the colder months. Ticket prices vary based on the date and time of booking. Book tickets to the Blue Lagoon including a transfer from Reykjavik here.
Iceland is full of awesome tours, from ice climbing to whale watching to snorkeling between the techtonic plates. Check out some of the best tours here.
For flights to Iceland, I find the best rates on Skyscanner. Double-check here to make sure you got a good rate.
Looking for a group tour to Iceland? G Adventures has several Iceland tours, all with small groups.
The best way to get from the airport to downtown Reykjavik is the Flybus. It’s cheap, easy, and runs frequently.
While Iceland is one of the safest countries in the world, it’s vital to get travel insurance before your trip. If you get seriously injured and require an air ambulance home, it could save you literally hundreds of thousands of dollars. I don’t travel anywhere without insurance, and I use and recommend World Nomads.
Many thanks to the Iceland Tourism Board and the Blue Lagoon Iceland for hosting my first visit in 2012. I’ve since returned and have paid my own way. All opinions, as always, are my own.
The post Things No One Tells You About the Blue Lagoon, Iceland appeared first on Adventurous Kate.
Sometimes a moment makes your month. That’s what happened in September.
At Traverse in Trentino in June, the closing keynote included blogger Sassy Wyatt, who writes about travel and disability and is visually impaired. She pointed out that bloggers should be writing descriptions of their photos in the alt text field, because that’s what visually impaired people use to understand the photos.
At that point I had been blogging for seventeen years, professionally for nine years, and had no clue that alt text was for this purpose. I didn’t know it was even a thing. And that shows how little people with disabilities are given consideration in the blogging/online publishing world.
“Whenever I write my alt text,” my friend Alistair said as he moderated the keynote panel, “I pretend that I’m writing directly to Sassy.”
I started writing image descriptions in my alt text immediately — and I, too, pretended I was writing directly to Sassy. That top photo reads, “Kate wears overalls and jumps in the air, holding skewers of lamb in each hand, mountains and blue sky behind her, in Gran Sasso National Park.” It takes a bit more time, but it’s not complicated, and it makes a huge difference. Sometimes I’ll put jokes in the descriptions.
That’s not all I’m doing, though. If you follow me on Instagram at @adventurouskate, you may have noticed that whenever I talk in my Stories, there is now a transcription underneath. And that’s something I should have known better about — I have friends who are deaf, including friends in the travel blogging community. I should have been doing this all along.
It’s not perfect, and I know I have a long way to go — but I hope that this is making my site more accessible to more people. And this month I found out that yes, it is.
I saw Sassy at Borderless Live in London this month and got a chance to talk to her in between sessions.
“I just wanted to let you know that since your talk at Traverse, I’ve started using descriptions in my alt text,” I told her.
“I know you did! I read your blog,” she said with a grin.
That didn’t just make my day — it made my month. Sometimes it can feel like the behind-the-scenes work is screaming into the void — but knowing that someone is now directly benefiting from the alt text made me SO happy.
Bloggers, start writing descriptions in your alt text. You probably already have visually impaired readers reading your site, and this will make it much more enjoyable for them!
New York, NY
Bologna, Ostuni, Lecce, Monopoli, Bari, Matera, Altamura, Turi, Alberobello, Locorotondo, Foggia, San Domino, San Nicola, Termoli, Gran Sasso National Park, Cupra Marittima, Porto San Giorgio, Porto Recanati, Loreto, Urbino, Ravenna, Quattro Castella, Reggio Emilia, Basilicagoiano, Polesine Parmense, and Parma, Italy
Prague, Czech Republic
Lecce. A low-key city in many ways, filled with beautiful and sometimes perplexing architecture. Hot year-round, cheap year-round, and not too discovered by tourist hordes just yet.
Monopoli. The perfect base for a week of Puglia exploration. A small but oh-so-beautiful town perched on the beach, with lots of good restaurants and perhaps Italy’s best gelato.
Parma. Man, I thought I liked it before, but now I REALLY love Parma! So much joy and color, so many cool shops, interesting and artsy and cheap, cheap, cheap.
A great Borderless Live conference in London. This was the first Borderless Live conference ever, and I loved listening to inspiring creators talk about how they work. I also gave a talk on the current state of blogging, ethical issues, and writing for your existing, faithful audience rather than catering 100% to newcomers from SEO.
Spending extended time in Puglia. I’ve been to Puglia once before, a brief trip to Gargano and Alberobello, but this time I spent nearly two weeks and got to see a ton of the region. Puglia is amazing — great weather, gorgeous coastline, and excellent food, especially if you don’t eat meat.
I revisited Alberobello but enjoyed so many places, especially Lecce, which was interesting and low-key in all the right ways; the coastal town of Monopoli, which was such a beautiful and perfect base; and the inland town of Locorotondo, which may be one of the prettiest small towns in Italy I’ve ever visited. It ended with a VERY Italian trip to the Tremiti Islands, which it turns out are quite pretty but quite dead in September!
Visiting four new Italian regions. My goal to visit all 20 Italian regions is coming along nicely, as I visited Basilicata, Termoli, Abruzzo, and Le Marche for the first time ever! I made sure to have a memorable experience in each region.
First up was Basilicata, and I visited the stunning city of Matera, built on sassi (caves) where people were still living as late as the 1960s. I’ve wanted to visit Matera for well over a decade and was happy to finally get there. Also, it was my 150th UNESCO World Heritage Site! Hopefully next time in Basilicata I’ll head to the west coast to see Maratea.
Molise is the least visited region in Italy, but we dropped by the seaside town of Termoli and had a local Molise specialty: a pampanella sandwich (peppery, vinegary ribs on a bun). It was tasty. Molise is a small region and doesn’t have much for attractions, so I doubt I’ll make it a priority to return — but you never know…
Next up was Abruzzo, and we drove through Gran Sasso National Park, which is astounding in its beauty. Best of all was stopping at Ristoro Giuliani, a butcher shop in the middle of absolute nowhere, surrounded by mountains. You buy your meat — including arrosticini, the local specialty, or little skewers of lamb — and cook it on one of the grills in front of the shop! It was such a special experience, the kind of place that you can’t believe exists. I want to go back to Abruzzo and see more of the national park!
After that, we had a few days in Le Marche, staying at an agriturismo near the coast. Le Marche doesn’t get the fame of its neighbors like Tucany and Umbria, but there’s a lot to love here. There was a food festival, a Porsche festival, and two hilltop towns: Loreto and Urbino. Urbino was a highlight of the trip — such a beautiful town. They have a local pasta called passatelli, made from bread crumbs, parmigiano, and egg.
A return to Emilia-Romagna. You guys have been listening to me rave about Emilia-Romagna for eight years now, so there’s nothing new there. I think Emilia-Romagna is like Italy in miniature, with cool cities and incredible cuisine. It was fun to return to old favorites, like Parma and Ravenna, and have some new experiences, too — like learning all about culatello, one of the world’s finest meats. I actually bought half a culatello to bring back to Prague.
A great STS conference in Ravenna. I always have a good time at STS and it was great to see friends, pick up tips, and spend time discussing how we can best influence people in our industry to do better, more ethical work.
Arriving in Prague for the first time in 15 years! Can you believe it’s been that long? Last night I was here, I was a 20-year-old college student, drinking Bailey’s and hot chocolate on the street and dancing all night long at the five-floor club.
This time is different — my boyfriend has lived in Prague for the past 18 years and is fluent in Czech, so I’m experiencing the local side of the city. A lot of people complain about how touristy the Old Town is — but the Old Town is such a tiny part of Prague. You see almost no tourists outside the city center.
Lots of good times with friends. Good times with friends up and down Italy, especially in Emilia-Romagna. Probably my favorite moments was in Bologna when I briefly dropped out of sight and my friends’ three-year-old daughter said, “Hey, where’d that little guy go?”
An illness that snowballed into horrific insomnia. I felt like I was getting sick on the flight to Europe, and the cold hit in full force once I arrived in Bologna. I went to the farmacia for my usual pills (you know you spend a lot of time in Italy when you have a go-to brand of Italian decongestant pills). They didn’t work very well.
And suddenly, the night before my presentation in London — just like the night before my last presentation in Trentino — I was up ALL NIGHT and could not sleep. It just could not happen. Melatonin had no impact. Then the same thing happened two nights later. I was an exhausted mess and wanted to cry.
It turns out it was the medication — pseudoephedrine can cause insomnia. Who knew?! My mom told me she can’t take Sudafed for that same reason. As soon as I got off it, I was sleeping well again.
Just keep that in mind — if you are taking pseudoephedrine and can’t sleep, that’s probably the reason.
A pinched nerve — just to start. I had a sore neck, blamed it on crappy Italian pillows, then the pain began to shoot down my arm a few days later. Most likely a pinched nerve — and a physio visit in Prague showed me that my body really needs some alignment work. I guess this happens when I’m on the road and out of the gym for a few months. It will take some work getting back to normal.
Blog Posts of the Month
Reasons to Travel to the Îles-de-la-Madeleine, Canada — This was my favorite stop on my 10-day OneOcean Eastern Canada expedition this July. Here’s what made it so special.
What’s It REALLY Like to Travel to Baku, Azerbaijan? — Baku was a strange, offbeat city, and while I had a good time, I doubt I’d go back. Here’s why.
Most Popular Photo on Instagram
This is the first full-length bathing suit photo that I’ve published since 2011. Up until now, I’ve only done bathing suit photos from the waist up. It feels GOOD. For more updates from my travels, follow me on Instagram at @adventurouskate.
What I Read This Month
Four books read this month and I am up to 64 in 2019, which means that I will most likely exceed my record of 72. I guess I can officially say goodbye to reading 100 in 2019…that’s not going to happen!
There There by Tommy Orange (2018) — This novel is told from the point of view of several American Indians living in and around Oakland, California, in the days leading up to the Big Oakland Powwow. There’s the teenager who knows nothing of his heritage and teaches himself how to dance from YouTube, the woman fleeing her abusive husband in Oklahoma, the documentary filmmaker eager to tell Indian stories. They all converge on the powwow, which erupts in conflict.
This book painted such a different view of Indians. (First off, learning that the “Don’t say Indian — say Native American or American Indian!” drilled into me from childhood is wrong.) I never knew anything about Indians living in urban areas today. This tells the story of people trying to survive after having their culture, family, and meaning torn away from them. Some people believe that PTSD can be passed down generation by generation — this shows that it’s the case. Generational poverty and substance abuse continue to harm Indian communities today. But even as it’s an “important” book, it’s also a beautiful, engrossing, and entertaining novel. Highly recommended.
Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done by Jon Acuff (2017) — Why do so many people struggle with finishing what they start? This book sets to figure out why. Jon Acuff ran a course helping people achieve their goals, he was surprised to learn what actually got people across the finish line. In a nutshell, it wasn’t getting people to work harder — it was taking the pressure off. The greatest obstacle to us achieving our goals is perfectionism, and that’s what keeps people from finishing.
This book was a really great read, and highly recommended for self-employed creatives. Acuff has a great sense of humor, too, and I chuckled throughout the book. A lot of these examples make a lot of sense. But the truth is that reading books like these is all for naught unless you put what you learn into practice.
When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel H. Pink (2019) — Timing is a lot more scientific than we think. There are different “chronotypes” that people fall into — the times that we work best as humans. Most people work best in the morning, fade in the afternoon, then rally back in the evening. But not everyone is like that. This book breaks down how timing affects how we work, and how we can best organize our days to get our work done.
Well, I’m now terrified of ever having to see a doctor in the afternoon thanks to this book. In all seriousness, though, I found it to be a fascinating read. I’m not quite sure where I lie — there have been times when I’ve gotten so much work done between midnight and 3 AM, but I feel a lot better about myself when I get a day’s worth of work done by 7 PM. Maybe I should keep experimenting. But the single best tip I got from this book is the “nappuccino” — drink a coffee, then take a short nap. Caffeine takes about 25 minutes to kick in, so once you wake up, you’ll feel amazingly refreshed and ready to work again.
A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult (2018) — This novel, told backwards in time, describes the day a terrorist murders several people at an abortion clinic in Jackson, Mississippi, and takes several others hostage. It’s told from several points of view: the cop talking the terrorist through the situation from the outside; his teenage daughter, who was in the clinic to get birth control; an undercover anti-choice protestor pretending to be a patient; the doctor, whom I knew immediately was based on Dr. Willie Parker; and some other characters.
Typical Jodi Picoult novel — you know exactly what you’re going to get. Morality issue. Legal-medical drama. Surprise twist ending. Cop or firefighter husband talking about how much he loves his wife even though she’s put on weight in recent years (though this book tended to be more about him gushing about his daughter). Gay characters with perfect romantic relationships without a single blemish. But damn if they’re not engrossing books. This one was an easy read that kept me enthralled until the end — and I actually didn’t guess the ending this time. And the book is a sobering reminder of how difficult red states make it for women to access abortion care: one clinic serving an entire huge state, mandatory two-day procedures, court orders that can be delayed simply by a judge going on vacation. We need to work to make it easier for low-income and disadvantaged women to access these services.
Coming Up in October 2019
My original late September plan was to drive north from Emilia-Romagna into Friuli-Venezia Giulia then drive to Prague via Slovenia and Austria — but we had to be in Prague a little earlier than expected, so we switched it around. I’ll be in Prague for a little over two weeks, including a weekend getaway to Olomouc, which I hear is a lovely city. It will be nice to discover a bit more of the Czech Republic, a country that is too often overlooked.
After that, I’m flying to Venice, not visiting Venice, but driving east into Friuli, visiting Trieste, Aquileia, and staying at another agriturismo. Italian region #17! What can I say about Italy at this point that I haven’t yet?
After that, I head back to Bologna briefly to catch my flight, then I fly back to New York and will remain there the rest of the month. After being on the road more or less constantly since June 1, I’ll be glad to be back in one place. Halloween in Harlem is INSANE — Broadway swarms with thousands upon thousands of kids, no joke — but this year I hope to finally make it to the Village’s Halloween parade.
Any suggestions for Prague? Share away!
The post AK Monthly Recap: September 2019 appeared first on Adventurous Kate.
For the past few years, I’ve toasted the New Year with a glass of champagne and said, “This will be the year that I finally travel to Georgia.” For around a decade, Georgia has been at the absolute top of my travel wish list, and dreams of mountain peaks and khachapuri swirled in my head.
So what took me so long? I don’t know. I think I was waiting for the perfect opportunity. And this summer, while drinking wine at a bar in Trento, Italy, the perfect opportunity arose.
Lots of my friends were going to be in Georgia this summer, it turned out. And JayWay Travel wanted to run a blog trip to one of their newest destinations: Georgia. I knew I had to hop on to that!
Within weeks, a trip was planned — six of my blogger friends and I would explore Georgia as JayWay Travel guests.
I touched down in Tbilisi on my 35th birthday and spent the next two weeks exploring the country. We drank qvevri wine fermented on rooftops. We hiked through villages covered with ancient stone towers. We explored hidden architectural treasures behind unassuming doors. We stomped through a mud-drenched road.
Did Georgia live up to my expectations? It absolutely did. I consider Georgia my favorite new country of 2019, and of the 82 I’ve visited, I think Georgia definitely merits a spot in the top 10.
There are so many reasons. Tbilisi is such a unique city — I can see why so many people love it. And Svaneti brought epic scenery. I loved the churches and monasteries and natural wonders.
But there is one factor where Georgia absolutely outdid itself, and it’s the food. Georgian food is EXCEPTIONALLY good, and inventive, and different from what you’ve had elsewhere. Georgian food is so good that I felt like every night, I was having one of the best meals of my life. I can’t believe it’s not more famous in the States.
Let’s dive into what makes Georgia great.
Table of Contents
Tbilisi is one of the coolest capital cities I’ve discovered in recent years. Its beauty hits you in different ways — in its setting on the Vere River, cliffs rising up on either side. Tbilisi is a beguiling mix of centuries-old monasteries and modern architectural marvels, like the Peace Bridge, pictured above.
Tbilisi is so unique that I’m having trouble comparing it to any other city. If we’re talking about looks, perhaps Istanbul comes the closest, if you swapped out the mosques for churches.
Some of Tbilisi’s tree-lined streets remind me of the Vinohrady neighborhood in Prague or the Palermo Viejo neighborhood in Buenos Aires. And the orange roofs bring the Balkans to mind — maybe a bit of Albania mixed with Croatia. I feel echoes of Medellín in the wavy hills of the city.
But how does Tbilisi feel? It’s a huge, sprawling city rife with endless possibilities. It’s filled with outstanding food for perplexingly cheap prices. It’s got nightlife into the early hours and people out on the streets. It’s got luxurious surprises tucked into unexpected places. And it’s a lot of fun — but could easily be a little too much fun. In that sense, Tbilisi is Bangkok!
Tbilisi is toasting local orange wine on the rooftop of a restaurant against a blue-purple sunset.
Tbilisi is the Baths District, where you can walk on ancient bridges and stroll past waterfalls before going for a soak in buildings that look straight out of Uzbekistan.
Tbilisi is full of cats. Like in Istanbul, people take care of the strays. Meg from Food Fun Travel actually carries cat food in her purse to feed the Tbilisi kitties!
Tbilisi is long blocks of crumbling gray buildings interspersed with bursts of color — like Pin Pon, a neon yellow and green coffeeshop.
Tbilisi is a colorful riverfront, where cable cars zoom to the other side and monasteries watch from above.
Tbilisi is bright yellow vans parked against mural-covered walls.
And Tbilisi is on its way to becoming the new Digital Nomad Land. Yes, the work-online-and-travel set has discovered Tbilisi!
A lot of my location independent friends have made Tbilisi their home, both temporarily and long-term. And for good reason — Tbilisi is cheap, fun, and has a thriving expat community.
Fabrika is the center of this community — it considers itself an “urban hotspot and multifunctional place” and it’s part coworking space, part lounge, part hostel, part artist studio. I’m fairly sure that if I lived in Tbilisi, I’d work here all the time. Some of my friends chose their Tbilisi apartments based on proximity to Fabrika!
But if you’re not living in Tbilisi long-term, it’s also a great place to stay for a few days. And I stayed at the best place.
JayWay booked a special hotel for my birthday — the Communal Sololaki. This is my favorite hotel where I stayed in 2019, and I recommend it SO SO SO highly. If you’re willing to spend the money, you will be thrilled with it.
The Communal Hotel is decorated in a mid-century-modern meets bohemian style, and I love how they don’t shy away from bold, dark colors. I stayed in the bathtub suite, lined with mirror tiles. That’s where my infamous birthday bathtub photo was taken!
Communal Sololaki also has one of the best hotel breakfasts I’ve ever had — perhaps even the best. Breads and cakes and all kinds of fruits, dishes full of berries, juices and vegetables and several kinds of cheeses. Everything served on a collection of mixed dishes, some ornately patterned, some vintage, that went together so well. And on top of that, they’d make you eggs if you wanted.
The hotel has a communal focus, so the guests share a table together. You’ll enjoy chatting with the guests — people who travel to Georgia tend to be interesting and well-traveled.
But for me — and for most people — the absolute highlight of Georgia is the food. Georgian cuisine is perhaps the single best thing about traveling in Georgia.
Of course, the food is one of the highlights of every travel destination — but Georgia goes further. The quality is consistently excellent, the food is unique, and the dishes are something that you’ll crave long after leaving Georgia. Over and over, I felt like I was eating one of the best meals of my life in Georgia.
So what will you be eating?
If you’ve heard of any one Georgian food, it’s probably khachapuri — Georgian cheese pie. Typical khachapuri are flat, closed, and stuffed with sulguni cheese.
I was under the impression that khachapuri all looked like the one that I’m holding in the photo above — boat-shaped, with an open top, with an egg yolk and pat of butter. Not the case! That’s actually an adjaruli khachapuri, a popular variety originating in southwest Georgia. You tear off the ends and use them to mix up the egg, butter, and cheese, then you keep tearing off the bread and dipping it in the middle.
Just know that if you order a khachapuri, it will look like the closed, flat one above. If you want the fun-shaped one, make sure it’s an adjaruli khachapuri.
Most meals in Georgia start with a variety of dips, usually walnut-based, and we would eat them with bread. Beets and pomegranate seeds add bursts of color.
And now, meet the love of my life — Georgian walnut salad. It’s made from cucumbers, tomatoes, a few red onions, and held together with a walnut paste made with herbs. I was OBSESSED with this salad. How can something so simple be so outrageously delicious?!
The absolute best walnut salad I had was from Bina 37 in Tbilisi. It may have been the best thing I ate in Georgia.
Lobio was also a standard at every meal — Georgian stewed beans. That’s not the greatest photo above, but these beans were SO delicious and fresh, always served in a vase-like container. I’m not a big fan of beans, but I served myself a generous portion of lobio whenever possible.
For main courses, stew-like dishes were popular. This was chicken stewed in onions and tomatoes with fresh herbs.
Grilled meats were popular as well — usually chicken or pork. This was pork grilled with red onions.
Oh, and khinkali. These dumplings are ubiquitous and are usually stuffed with meat, though they sometimes have cheese, mushroom, and potato khinkali as well. They usually cost no more than 25 cents each. I think the most I ever ate in a single sitting was five or six, so that is one cheap meal!
Lots of restaurants have khinkali on the menu but won’t allow you to order a ton because they won’t make any money. Stick to khinkali shops if you want a giant plate of dumplings.
If I had to point out any flaws about Georgian cuisine, perhaps it’s that they often cook grilled meats into oblivion rather than leaving them juicy. And Georgian cuisine is fairly bread-heavy; it’s unfortunate that celiacs can’t eat signature Georgian dishes like khachapuri and khinkali. Vegetarians can eat well in Georgia; vegans are more limited but can find plenty of things to eat. Overall, there wasn’t a ton of variety in Georgia — we tended to eat dips and walnut salad and lobio and khachapuri at every meal.
My advice is to stay active throughout your Georgia trip, take a break from the heavy stuff occasionally, and plan to eat on the healthier side after you come back.
Georgian restaurants are very popular throughout Central and Eastern Europe, but they haven’t caught on in Western Europe and North America. But between the increased travel to Georgia and growing media coverage of Georgian cuisine, I’m sure that we will see more Georgian restaurants within the next decade.
If I had to pick the single best meal of my trip, it was at Shavi Lomi in Tbilisi. Get a reservation in advance.
Georgian Wine Country
Did you know that the Georgians were some of the earliest wine-makers in the world? They’ve been at it since roughly 6000 BCE, taking advantage of the soft climate with mountains and breezes from the Black Sea.
Most wine tourists in Georgia will head eastward to the Kakheti wine region and towns like Telavi and Sighnaghi. It’s an easy day trip from Tbilisi.
But we did something different — we went to Baia’s Vineyard in the Imereti region of Georgia, just outside Kutaisi in the northwest of the country. This is a bit off the beaten path for Georgia tourism but it was worth the journey. Especially to visit a women-owned winery!
Baia specializes in small batch wines made with organic methods. The wine is made in qvevris — clay jars that are stored in the ground.
What a fantastic stop. Frolicking amongst the vines was fun; learning about qvevri wine and seeing the holes in the ground was interesting; the meal they served us was sensational.
Kutaisi is a worthwhile stop on the way to Svaneti — it breaks up a very long trip from Tbilisi. Make the most of your time in Kutaisi by including a stop at a wonderful Imereti winery like Baia’s.
But if you want to go somewhere truly special in Georgia, I highly recommend that you travel to Svaneti. It is massively out of the way, but it’s a gorgeous, interesting region that is so different from the rest of the country.
When I dreamed of traveling to Georgia, Svaneti was always at the top of my Georgia travel list — I would painstakingly plan out itineraries, then fret that I didn’t have enough time to include the mountainous region.
I’m so thrilled that this trip was centered on Svaneti. Svaneti is easily the most picturesque place I visited in Georgia, mountains and villages strewn with ancient towers.
Mestia is the largest city in the Svaneti region and your base to exploring the mountains. It’s a developing town built around the needs of tourists: you’ve got mountain chalets and simple guesthouses, pubs and restaurants with fireplaces, shops selling outdoor gear, and one great coffeeshop (Erti Kava) if you need your fix. Mestia reminded me a lot of Zakopane, Poland, another popular getaway to the mountains.
Mestia is also a good place for getting to know Svan culture. First up was Margiani’s House Museum, with a recreation of a Svan home from medieval times. (While it was closed when we arrived, our JayWay guide pulled some strings and got us a private visit.)
I especially appreciated the Museum of Ethnography, which is a surprisingly modern museum filled with interesting art and artifacts. There are outstanding views of Mestia from the roof.
Another highlight of my time in Georgia was taking the cable car in Mestia to the top of Zuruldi ridge. You take two sets of cable cars to the top, where you can enjoy the highest restaurant in Mestia! There are views of the mountains in all directions and it makes a spectacular backdrop for photos.
And one of the best nights of the trip was when we went to a bar in Mestia and got to see some impromptu Georgian dancing!
There is essentially one road to Mestia — it takes about three to four hours from Zugdidi, in the northwest of the country. You can get a marshrutka from the train station; marshrutkas usually include a one-hour break on the way. Some people push straight through from Kutaisi (4.5-5 hours) or even Tbilisi (8-9 hours). Some travelers like to take the overnight train from Tbilisi to Zugdidi.
There are also limited flights on Vanilla Sky Airlines from Tbilisi to Mestia. The flight takes one hour and only costs 90 GEL ($30). These flights tend to sell out in advance and can only be booked at the office; my JayWay contact in Tbilisi booked the tickets before I arrived.
If you travel to Svaneti with JayWay, you’ll have private transportation by car.
And if you REALLY want travel bragging rights, you’ll travel to Ushguli. Ushguli is the UNESCO World Heritage-listed village in Upper Svaneti and it feels like you’re teetering on the edge of the world.
Why does it earn you bragging rights? Because the drive there from Mestia is TERRIFYING. The first 40 minutes or so are a bit bumpy, but then it turns into giant swells back and forth where you creep along at a snail’s pace. I couldn’t even watch — I lay down with my eyes closed and my headphones in.
I can’t stress this enough: driving in Georgia is complicated enough as is, but the drive to Ushguli is even more so, requires a 4X4, and should only be driven by professionals. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO DRIVE YOURSELF TO USHGULI. BOOK A RIDE IN MESTIA. We ended up passing tourists who thought they could make it but gave up halfway through.
Once you arrive, though — you’ll be amazed.
Ushguli is comprised of several villages along the road. Only one, Chazhashi, has the UNESCO designation. The main village, Chvibiani, is where you’ll find most amenities for travelers.
From what I heard, Ushguli has changed a lot in recent years. You can tell by seeing how many new properties have sprung up among the stone towers.
I have a guidebook to the Caucasus from a few years ago saved to my phone. It was published in 2016 and states that Ushguli only has accommodation with shared bathrooms. I’m glad to update that — in the past few years, several Ushguli hotels now have ensuite bathrooms, including the Hotel Panorama, where we stayed.
Keep in mind that Ushguli is as basic as it comes. Don’t expect internet access or luxury hotels. Being somewhere so isolated is its own luxury.
UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Georgia
Georgia has three UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Gelati Monastery, Historical Monuments of Mtskheta, and Upper Svaneti. All are worth visiting.
Upper Svaneti, my favorite of the three sites, does not constitute all of Svaneti — the only village with UNESCO designation is Chazhashi, which is part of Ushguli and is pictured above. It’s hard to get to but unique and very much the rough journey, in my opinion.
“Preserved by its long isolation, the Upper Svaneti region of the Caucasus is an exceptional example of mountain scenery with medieval-type villages and tower-houses. The village of Chazhashi still has more than 200 of these very unusual houses, which were used both as dwellings and as defence posts against the invaders who plagued the region.” —UNESCO
Gelati Monastery is just outside Kutaisi. It’s known for its architecture and design — and if you go, it has nice views over the hills.
“Founded in 1106 in the west of Georgia, the Monastery of Gelati is a masterpiece of the Golden Age of medieval Georgia, a period of political strength and economic growth between the 11th and 13th centuries. It is characterized by the facades of smoothly hewn large blocks, balanced proportions and blind arches for exterior decoration. The Gelati monastery, one of the largest medieval Orthodox monasteries, was also a centre of science and education and the Academy it housed was one of the most important centres of culture in ancient Georgia.” —UNESCO
The inside is a celebration of Georgian sacred art.
Is Kutaisi worth visiting as a city? While Gelati Monastery is lovely, Kutaisi isn’t the most exciting city around. I recommend spending half a day exploring Kutaisi and use the rest of your time exploring the surrounding areas, like the wineries of Imereti and Prometheus Cave. I had some great khinkali at a place called El-Depo.
The city of Mtskheta is just outside Tbilisi and an easy day trip (or even just an afternoon day trip). Here you’ll find three monuments that together make up the UNESCO World Heritage-listed properties of Mtskheta: Jvari Monastery, Svetitstkhoveli Cathedral, and Samtavro Monastery.
“The historic churches of Mtskheta, former capital of Georgia, are outstanding examples of medieval religious architecture in the Caucasus. They show the high artistic and cultural level attained by this ancient kingdom.” —UNESCO
Mtskheta is a popular place for Tbilisi residents to get married. Keep your eyes out for bridal parties!
Georgia has 15 sites on the UNESCO tentative list — Davit Gareji Monastery, Tbilisi Historic District, Uplistsikhe Cave Town. Who knows what we’ll see added next?
Georgia is CHEAP, CHEAP, CHEAP!
Georgia is a phenomenally budget-friendly destination. If you live simply in Georgia, pricing is similar to Eastern Europe and even some parts of Southeast Asia (!!). While the Caucasus region is budget-friendly in general, Georgia is cheaper than both Armenia and Azerbaijan.
If you’re traveling Georgia on a backpacker’s budget — hostels or simple guesthouses, mostly cheap meals and lots of khinkali, limited paid activities, transport via marshrutka — you can get by on as little as $30-40 per day.
If you’re going out to a nice dinner with wine, it would be tough to go more than $25 per person, and you could have a nice meal with wine for $10.
If you’re stopping in Tbilisi, you can stay at the high-end design hotel Communal Sololaki for $91 per night or one of the suites for $125 per night. Or head to Fabrika, the coworking space and hostel, where a nice double with a shared bathroom goes for $40 and a dorm room bed goes for $6. (You know when I last paid $6 for a dorm bed? Vietnam in 2011!!)
I was stunned at the cost of a flight from Mestia to Tbilisi on Vanilla Sky — just 90 GEL, or about $30 USD.
Georgia is occupied by Russia.
Not all of Georgia is accessible and open to tourists — there are two parts that are currently occupied, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. If you want to visit either of them, you’ll need to secure visas to these regions.
Abkhazia, a semi-autonomous region in Georgia’s northwest, has a long, complicated and sad history. It’s been in conflict with both Georgia and Russia since the 1920s, and things intensified when the Soviet Union disbanded. At one point the Abkhaz took part in expulsion and ethnic cleansing of Georgians. I recommend reading up on the conflict; it’s more than I can summarize here. Georgia contends today that Abkhazia is occupied by Russia.
Visiting Abkhazia is complicated — they get very few Western visitors. That said, this region does have some tourism value. It’s a popular spot for Russian travelers to enjoy the mountains and the Black Sea. My friend Megan has written a guide to traveling Abkhazia here.
South Ossetia, a region in north central Georgia, was invaded by Russia in 2008 — you may remember that news story continuously interrupting the Beijing Olympics. South Ossetia also requires special travel permits, but unlike Abkhazia, it doesn’t have much tourism value.
I have a Georgian friend from South Ossetia who lives in Tbilisi now, and he hasn’t gone back since the invasion.
Why do I mention this? It’s a sensitive subject for Georgians. Know that if you travel to Abkhazia or South Ossetia — particularly Abkhazia — Georgians may be furious with you. If you talk about these conflicts with Georgians, this is a time to listen more than you talk.
I love a country that comes with its own set of quirks, and that’s definitely Georgia! Probably the most outlandish thing I did in Georgia was check out Stalin’s personal train in the city of Gori.
Most people assume that Stalin was Russian — but he was actually Georgian. Stalin was born in Gori in 1878 when Georgia was part of Russian Empire and came to power when the Soviet Union was founded in 1922.
Gori has gone a bit all in on Stalin — the train is part of a Stalin Museum and there’s a Stalin statue you can pose with. But most insane are the collections of souvenirs with that infamous “young hot Stalin” picture, where early 1900s Stalin could pass for a 2019 hipster. (Not including it here. You can Google it.)
And the writing! I was in love with the Georgian script — so elegant and flowing and long and skinny.
If I were into tattoos and cultural appropriation, I’d probably end up getting inked with some Georgian script.
Georgia runs on Dunkin! Don’t you love that sign?
Georgia has some monasteries built into caves! This was a very cool monastery perched on a cliff in the town of Chiatura.
Georgian monasteries are strict about attire. Women need to cover their heads and wear a long skirt that covers their knees, even if they’re wearing pants. Monasteries will have baskets near the front with head coverings and tie-on skirts for women. Men wearing shorts will not be allowed in.
The Chronicles of Georgia are one of the stranger monuments in the country! It’s meant to look ancient, but it was built in 1985 and perched on the edge of the “Tbilisi Sea” (or the “Tbili-sea,” as my portmanteau-coining self called it.) It’s covered with images of Georgian historic figures and scenes from the Bible. I’m surprised we haven’t see it in a Marvel movie yet.
And if you’re as big an SNL fan as me, you’ll have “The Chronic!” “What?” “Cles of Geor-gi-a!” stuck in your head for the rest of the day.
And there was a very memorable meal in Mestia where the restaurant owner and his uncle took a shine to our group. They were blown away when they found out we came from so many countries — the US, UK, Australia, Italy, and Argentina. The nephew kept bringing us wine and chacha, a potent Georgian liquor; the uncle didn’t speak much English but loved saying, “Wow!” and singing James Brown’s “I Feel Good!”
The nephew gave Tom a glass of wine that was filled to the brim, then they drank their glasses in one go with their arms entwined, the Georgian way!
Then the uncle wanted to join in — they brought Tom another extremely full glass (!) and the uncle entwined his arm with Tom’s, downing the glass in less than ten seconds.
“Now kiss!” said the uncle.
“Wait, what?!” Tom exclaimed.
It’s normal, the nephew told him. In Svaneti they kiss on the cheek after sharing wine.
Is Georgia Safe?
Generally speaking, Georgia is a safe travel destination. Most travelers who do proper research in advance and use common sense will travel Georgia without any major safety issues. And when it comes to gun violence, Georgia is a thousand times safer than the United States.
The only aspect where I give pause is the driving. Georgians are very often reckless drivers, speeding and overtaking continuously. I recommend being extra cautious when crossing the street and always using your seat belt when riding in a vehicle.
While Abkhazia and South Ossetia are typically no-go destinations, the vast majority of Georgia travelers will not set foot in these regions.
As for solo female travelers, I traveled with a group of friends on this trip, so I don’t personally have solo female travel experience here. But judging by what I experienced, as well as what other trusted friends of mine have experienced, I see no reason not to travel Georgia alone. I would love to return and travel solo in Georgia.
As a developing country with limited travel infrastructure, I wouldn’t recommend Georgia for first-time solo female travelers or first-time international travelers unless you were traveling on a guided trip.
Top 10 Travel Safety Tips for Women
Cheap Flights to Georgia
One of the problems of Georgia travel is that Tbilisi is not a major air hub. If you’re flying into Tbilisi, you’ll likely connect through Istanbul, Kyiv, Doha, or another major city. Kyiv is a common stopover for Americans; I loved Kyiv and even got to visit Chernobyl! Flights can be pricey depending on the time of year and when you book. Skyscanner tends to find the best prices.
BUT — there’s a much cheaper option. Nowadays there are cheap flights to Georgia, but not to Tbilisi — to Kutaisi instead. The budget airline WizzAir has very cheap flights to Kutaisi from destinations all over Europe, including London Luton, Berlin, Prague, Copenhagen, Poznań, Barcelona, Tallinn, and many more.
Is it worth it to fly into Kutaisi? If you’re heading toward Svaneti, you absolutely should. It cuts down a few hours of the drive. You could explore in and around Kutaisi, travel on to Svaneti, take the Vanilla Sky flight back to Tbilisi, then take a marshrutka to Kutaisi for your flight out.
But even if you’re not traveling to Svaneti, if a cheap flight to Kutaisi shaves a few hundred dollars off your expected fare, why not do it?
If you’re flying from the US, I’d recommend pricing out two round-trip fares: one to a major European city, and another from that city to Kutaisi on WizzAir. Keep in mind that as they’re separate fares, you’ll be in trouble if one set of flights is delayed and you miss one. Give yourself a wide berth, and get travel insurance (I use and recommend World Nomads) just in case your luggage gets lost along the way.
I flew WizzAir from Kutaisi to London Luton. WizzAir is actually pretty decent if you fly “Wizz Go,” which includes a checked bag, carry-on bag, better seating options, and priority boarding. Hilariously, WizzAir is the only airline currently flying into Kutaisi Airport.
How cheap is cheap?
Price out the latest flights to Kutaisi and Tbilisi on Skyscanner.
The Downsides of Traveling in Georgia
I’ll be honest with you — Georgia travel is still very rough in many ways. You should know this before you plan your trip. That picture above was when we arrived at our hotel in Kutaisi and found out that THE ENTIRE ROAD had been torn up, even sidewalks, and once it started raining, turned into a mud pit. Thankfully our driver was able to get the car out and JayWay moved us to another hotel for the trip back.
I found traveling in Georgia very similar to traveling in Albania. You can read about what travel in Albania is like here. In both countries, you’ve got limited and rough transportation, awful driving, poor road and sidewalk conditions, and limited information available on the internet.
Transportation in Georgia is rough. Most of the transportation between cities is via marshrutka, or shared minibus. While sometimes they can be comfortable, often they’re more akin to a chicken bus in Latin America, cramming in people and luggage. (Ask our friend Nate, who was given a child to hold on his lap on one marshrutka journey!)
There are a few trains in Georgia, but the only trains that make sense for tourists to take would be the one from Tbilisi to Batumi, and the one from Tbilisi to Zugdidi (if you wanted to catch a marshrutka to Svaneti), and the ones eastward into Azerbaijan or southward into Armenia.
There are very few domestic flights in Georgia — there’s a flight from Tbilisi to Batumi on Georgian Airways, and I actually got to fly the route from Mestia to Tbilisi on Vanilla Sky Airlines. You can’t book Vanilla Sky online — you need a travel agent to go to the office in Tbilisi.
But if you travel with JayWay Travel, as we did, transportation is much more comfortable — we had private drivers for the whole time in Georgia and they booked my Vanilla Sky flight for me so all I had to do was show up.
Not a lot of businesses have much of an internet presence. This made it especially hard to do things like check restaurant menus in advance. Most restaurants, bars, and cafes tended to have a Facebook page rather than a website.
Most significantly, the driving in Georgia is horrific. I’ve seen a lot of bad driving around the world, and while I’m convinced that the Maltese are the most reckless drivers in the world, the Georgians aren’t far behind them. You see a lot of speeding and overtaking while driving into oncoming traffic. If you hail a taxi in Tbilisi, it isn’t unusual for drivers to smoke out the window and talk on the phone constantly. Also, 40% of the cars have the steering wheel on the wrong side.
I would not recommend the vast majority of travelers rent a car in Georgia. You should only drive here if you’re a highly skilled driver who thrives on adrenaline.
Finally, I would not recommend Georgia to travelers with mobility issues. The roads and especially sidewalks are uneven and torn up — very difficult to get around, and nearly impossible if you use a wheelchair.
Ordinarily, I would say that Georgia is best for travelers who are accustomed to traveling in developing countries. BUT — if you’re not, traveling with JayWay Travel makes it so much easier to travel in a developing country.
Travel to Georgia with JayWay Travel
I traveled on this Georgia trip as a guest of JayWay Travel, a bespoke travel agency specializing in Central and Eastern Europe. I’ve worked with JayWay Travel for trips to Ukraine and the Caucasus, and both were great trips. JayWay added Georgia as a destination in 2018.
JayWay builds custom trips to destinations and organizes your trip in full, arranging hotels, transportation, special experiences, and guides along the way. They also give you a SIM card or even a cell phone so you can stay in touch easily.
Not all travelers need that amount of trip planning — but the best thing that JayWay does is make developing countries easier to handle. For example, their drivers are so much better than typical Georgian drivers. You don’t have to deal with a driver who constantly smokes out the window — JayWay’s drivers have much nicer vehicles and take their jobs seriously.
JayWay also sets you up with excellent local guides throughout your trip, including a contact in Georgia who runs your trip. Gio is JayWay’s man in Tbilisi, and he doubled as tour leader for our trip. With Gio, you’ll be in excellent hands!
The guides handle so much of the day-to-day in Georgia. They’re accustomed to what Americans expect for customer service (and Georgia really isn’t there yet in terms of service). They can also add more into your trip: we had a few hours of downtime in Tbilisi between flights from Mestia to Yerevan, so they added in a short Mtskheta tour.
We had a few other short-term guides on our trips: Nata taught us about all things Svaneti; Luca took us around the best of Mtskheta, and George took us to his favorite bakery en route from Tbilisi to Kutaisi.
Some of the other advantages of traveling to Georgia with JayWay: they handle things like getting tickets on Vanilla Sky airlines, which is complicated to do if you’re out of the country. When we found out the entire road was torn up in front of the Kutaisi hotel, they switched us to another hotel mid-trip (the hotel was reportedly angry about this, so I’m glad I didn’t have to deal with this myself). And when I got sick, they got me to a pharmacy.
Let me put it this way — my parents are in their sixties and seventies, and while they both have travel experience, it’s almost always been in developed countries. I wouldn’t feel comfortable with them traveling in Georgia independently, but I would feel very comfortable if they were traveling Georgia with JayWay.
Kazbegi — image via Pixabay.
Where Else to Go in Georgia
This is by no means a comprehensive trip to Georgia — there are so many wonderful places that I didn’t visit. Most Georgia travelers don’t take the time to go to Svaneti, and by spending my time there, I missed out on some traditional Georgian destinations.
If you want to immerse yourself in vineyards and wineries, head east to the Kakheti wine region and towns like Telavi and Sighnaghi.
If you want some beach action and nightlife, head west to the Black Sea and the resort town of Batumi.
If you want to be in the mountains but don’t have time for the journey to Svaneti, head to Kazbegi, pictured above, just a few hours from Tbilisi.
If you’re looking for an unusual and visually stunning monastery, Davit Gareja is worth a visit.
This is just the beginning — there are plenty more places to explore!
Traveling in the Caucasus
If you have enough time, I recommend traveling to all three countries of the Caucasus at once. They’re so isolated and tough to get to that this can save you a lot of time. I would only do this if you have a good amount of travel time and are willing to sacrifice more time in Georgia to see Armenia and Azerbaijan.
If you have at least two weeks, you can fit in some highlights of all three countries. If you have ten days, I would primarily base in Georgia with a few days in Armenia and would exclude Azerbaijan. If you have a week or less, spend it all in Georgia. (That being said, if you have two weeks and decide to spend it all in Georgia, that would still be time very well spent.) JayWay puts together custom itineraries; here’s a three-country sample itinerary.
With limited time in Armenia, I would base in Yerevan and do day trips to monasteries: I’d prioritize Khor Virap, Nora Vank, and the Areni wine region. You could also visit Lake Sevan or Dilijan. With limited time in Azerbaijan, I would base in Baku and do a half-day trip to Qobustan.
What’s It Like to Travel to Baku, Azerbaijan?
Travel Insurance for Georgia Travel
Travel insurance is absolutely necessary for travel to Georgia. It’s vital for any destination, but especially for Georgia, a developing country. While I love traveling to developing countries, it can be a huge pain dealing with a travel mishap in a developing country — and travel insurance protects you and your finances from ruin.
Georgia is filled with lots of uneven sidewalks and streets. You could easily trip or fall the wrong way and break an ankle or wrist. If that happens, it sucks — but it’s a lot worse if it happens and you don’t have travel insurance. The same thing if you get appendicitis and need to be hospitalized, or if your wallet is stolen when out in Tbilisi, or if you need to cancel your trip last minute due to a family emergency.
Get travel insurance — seriously. For trips to Georgia, I use and recommend World Nomads travel insurance.
The Future of Tourism in Georgia
If you’ve read any of my blog posts in the past, you’ve heard me say, “Go now, because it’s really nice right now and won’t be like this forever.” That’s an argument I’ve made about Newfoundland, Guyana, and Puglia in Italy; an argument that sadly has come to fruition in the Faroe Islands and Little Corn Island, Nicaragua.
I feel the same way about Georgia — it’s on the verge of being discovered by mass tourism. Once that happens, it will change forever. The time to visit is now.
So what do I think will be happening in the future? For starters, I think soon we’ll begin to see high quality accommodation developed at all price tiers. Perhaps some high-end agriturismo-like farmstays in the wine regions. Tbilisi could use a luxury hostel.
Tourism in Tbilisi is interesting — most of the city is blissfully untouristed, but popular areas already feel overwhelming. Some streets are lined with restaurants where the employees try to get tourists to come in. Areas around the Peace Bridge, the cable car, and the hot springs are actually swarming with touts trying to sell boat tours and the like. Other cities have banned these guides from operating in public areas; I hope we see this happen in Tbilisi.
Speaking of Tbilisi, I think it’s going to be a major new digital nomad hub. Maybe not on the level of Chiang Mai or Medellín — but definitely up there.
I think there is HUGE potential for backpacker transportation companies in Georgia. You see them in Central America, South America, and Southeast Asia — companies that run journeys from backpacker hotspot to backpacker hotspot in comfortable, air-conditioned vans. Let me tell you, taking one of these on a six-hour drive from Lanquín to Flores in Guatemala was a million times better than taking four different chicken buses. Imagine that on a route from Ushguli to Mestia to Zugdidi to Kutaisi to Tbilisi!
I think we’re especially going to see more tourism from Central and Eastern Europe. Travelers from these countries don’t have as much money to spend, but between Georgia’s low costs and the cheap flights to Kutaisi, Georgia is an increasingly attractive option.
Overall, Georgia is going to become a powerhouse destination in the next decade. I recommend visiting before everyone else does.
Top 10 Travel Safety Tips for Women
Essential Info: This trip was organized by JayWay Travel, a custom private tour operator specializing in Central and Eastern Europe. JayWay plans bespoke trips and I highly recommend them, especially for making travel smoother sailing in developing countries like Georgia.
I recommend getting a Georgia guidebook because there isn’t a lot of information online in Georgia. Lonely Planet Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan is great. I recommend buying the digital version direct from Lonely Planet and keeping the PDF on your phone. (I love my Kindle but hate using the Kindle for guidebooks.)
In Tbilisi I stayed at Communal Sololaki, which I absolutely ADORED. It’s a modern design hotel with an outstanding breakfast and a communal ethos. Highly recommended, especially if you can get the bathtub suite.
On my return to Tbilisi I stayed at Boutique Hotel Khokhobi, in the dead center of the Tbilisi Baths district. The hotel was beautiful and comfortable with amazing balcony views, but I would only recommend it for night owls, as there was loud music playing at the surrounding bars until around 12:15 AM. The windows did not block out the noise. If you usually stay up past that time anyway, it’s a solid hotel choice.
In Kutaisi I stayed at two properties. Hotel Ponte was a good, comfortable mid-range hotel in a great location, but they didn’t handle the road construction situation well. Hotel Argo, a few streets away, was much more upscale and sumptuously comfortable with huge suites.
In Mestia I stayed at Chalet Mestia, which had phenomenally comfortable beds and pillows! Great location in the center of town. Poor internet, but that seems to be a Svaneti thing.
In Ushguli I stayed at Hotel Panorama, which had simple ensuite rooms and no internet. Considering the remoteness of Ushguli, it’s one of the best options in town. Nice dinner and breakfast.
Travel insurance is essential for travel to Georgia — it could save your life or your finances. I use and recommend World Nomads travel insurance.
Have you traveled to Georgia? Does it look like your kind of destination? Share away!
The post 24 Reasons Why You Should Travel to Georgia in 2020 appeared first on Adventurous Kate.