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How to Spend a day in Verona

 

Fair Verona. Home to Romeo and Juliet, the second oldest Colosseum in Italy and excellent pizza, pasta and gelato. Well known for it’s excellent location close to Lake Garda, Verona makes the perfect place for a city break during your travels to Italy. I visited Verona for the first time back in June whilst I was in Italy to attend my 4th annual Traverse conference which was being held in the small city of Trento, nestled in the Dolomites. I only had time to spend a day in Verona but still managed to tick off most of the sights and get a real feel for the city during this short time. The city centre is pretty compact and is super easy to get around on foot, with all the major attractions in walking distance of each other, so only having a day in Verona really isn’t a problem and is actually doable! Here’s what I got up to during my visit, and how I recommend you spend a day in Verona too…

 

Check out the Verona Arena

 

me in front of verona arena

The historic Verona Arena

 

This was the first thing I did when I spent a day in Verona and it was a great way to get my bearings and to kick-start my time in the city learning about some of its fascinating ancient history. Tickets cost 10 euros and offer access into the main Arena as well as the tunnels surrounding the amphitheatre. The inner part isn’t huge and is a bit underwhelming if you have been to the iconic Colosseum in Rome, but I would say it is still worth a visit if you want to learn more about Verona’s history during Roman times. Built all the way back in 30 AD, on a site which used to be pas the city walls, the Arena is in fact one of the best-preserved ancient structures in the world. Nowadays, the Colosseum is used to host concerts, shows, sporting events and plays throughout the year in Verona and is a great hub seating up to 30,000 guests in the middle of the city, with the surrounding restaurants, bars and café’s in Verona’s main square being great places to people-watch.

 

Climb the Torre dei Lamberti tower

 

verona rooftops from the top of the tower

The amazing views over Verona from the top of Torre dei Lamberti

 

Located behind Piazza dei Signori, the Torre dei Lamberti is one of the tallest towers in the city at 84 metres high and is definitely worth a visit if you’ve only got a day in Verona. Construction first began in 1172, with the bell tower being added in 1295. Some 110 years later, the top of the tower was struck by lightning and remained damaged until restoration works began 16 years later in 1448. For just a couple of euro’s you can either hop in an elevator or walk the staggering 368 steps to the top of the tower, which in my opinion is a much more exciting option, especially when you are rewarded with stunning panoramic views over the city below! Catch a glimpse of the iconic terracotta rooftops, the winding river Adige and some of the beautiful houses and courtyards that can be found across the city, making your journey up to the top well worth a visit, especially at sunset or after dark when the city is lit up and dazzles below you right before your eyes!

 

Visit Juliet’s Balcony

 

me in front of juliet's statue

Well it’s worth a try, right girls?!

 

Definitely one for the Verona bucket list, but beware of the crazy amounts of tourists all flocking to do the exact same thing! Located on Capello Street, Juliet’s Balcony is perhaps one of the most famous tourist attractions in Italy, and for good reason. Based on the iconic Shakespeare play Romeo and Juliet, Juliet’s Balcony is said to be the place where Romeo declared his eternal love for Juliet, and you can visit the onsite museum which allows you to take photos on the world famous balcony. Although ridiculously busy, I still think it’s worth stopping by to tick this one off your list of things to do if you only have a day in Verona. There’s a life-size bronze statue in the courtyard garden below and, according to legend, if you touch Juliet’s right breast you will be granted eternal love! I’m not sure how accurate it is though gals – I tried it and, guess what, I’m still single 😉

 

Take the cable car up to the top of Castel San Pietro

 

the views from the top of the castel san pietro

One of the best viewpoints in Verona!

 

This is an absolute must see when spending a day in Verona, and the best time to visit is at sunset so you can watch the city turning a vibrant shade of orange as the glow of the sun reflects off the red rooftops below. A trip in a cable car up to the top of Castel San Pietro, part of Verona’s castle complex, will set you back just a couple of euro’s, and you can take a slow walk down the sloping hill afterwards if you prefer to return on foot instead. The views from the top of the hill are breath-taking, and especially good during sunset – I would recommend taking a good hour or so out of your day in Verona to visit this so you have enough time to go up and down and take in the amazing views as well!

 

Walk along the River Adige

 

the beautiful ponte pietra bridge

The best known bridge in Verona, the Ponte Pietra

 

The Adige is the second longest river in Italy, flowing over 400km through the northern part of the country towards the Adriatic Sea, and it is the same river that runs through Trento, the place that I was visiting next after spending a day in Verona. Cross the many bridges to see the city from both sides as the river runs below you, and walk the as far along as you wish to explore some of Verona’s beautiful surrounding countryside away from the hustle and bustle of the city centre. Verona’s most famous bridge, the Ponte Pietra, is a Roman arch bridge which provided the city with access to the Arena and was completed in 100 BC, making it the oldest bridge in the city. The arch nearest to the right bank of the Adige was rebuilt by lord of Verona Alberto I della Scala in the 1200s and sadly four of the arches were destroyed in world war two but rebuilt in 1957 using original materials.

 

Where to stay

 

the exterior of stravagante hostel verona

StraVagante Hostel Verona. Image courtesy of booking.com

 

I was on a budget so stayed at the brand new StraVagante Hostel which had only recently opened and really enjoyed my stay as the hostel was clean, comfortable and central, with much more of a hotel feel than a hostel which I really liked. The hostel is in a great location for both the airport and train station – I arrived by plane and found the Aerobus super easy and cheap to use (make sure you buy tickets – 6 euros each way – at the ticket office or on the bus using cash) and the train station was just a 10 min walk away too. If you’re looking to spend a little more, there are plenty of great hotels to choose from in central Verona, including the Grand Hotel des Arts and Hotel Milano and Spa.

 

Where to eat/drink

 

piazza bra in verona

Piazza Bra, a great place for food and drinks in Verona

 

Unfortunately I didn’t eat out much at all during my day in Verona as I wasn’t there for very long, but I did manage to have a fantastic pizza in Piazza del Signori, right near to Juliet’s Balcony. Verona has a fantastic foodie scene and there are plenty of restaurants serving pizza, pasta and gelato so you can indulge in alllll the Italian food; I’d recommend eating in Piazza Bra and Piazza delle Erbe as well as the areas by Torre dei Lamberti and the Colosseum for a brilliant choice of authentic Italian restaurants. I was actually pretty gutted that I didn’t eat out anywhere else during my time in Verona, but I guess that’s just another excuse to go back, right?!

As you can see, I had a great time soaking up the ancient Roman feel about this beautiful city, and what Verona lacks in size it certainly makes up for in charm, culture and history! If, like me, you only have the time to spend a day in Verona, I would definitely recommend you see these main sights as they are all totally doable. I would definitely return to do a day in Verona if it was planning a trip back to Italy, which I am sure I will do in the next year or two, and I would try and visit Lake Garda next time too as that place has been on my bucket list for soooo long. Have you ever been to Verona before? I’d love to know what you thought of it!

 

stood in front of the river adige in verona

Saying a fond farewell to fair Verona – I will certainly be back!

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3 Nights in Trento: Exploring The Dolomites at Traverse 19

 

Earlier on this summer I spent 3 nights in Trento (Northern Italy) as part of my fourth annual Traverse conference weekend. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know that I have been a07ttending Traverse conferences for the past 4 years now, travelling to Cardiff, London and Rotterdam, so I was super excited when The Dolomites was revealed as the location for Traverse 19! Despite visiting Italy numerous times before, I have never been to the northern part, and was particularly excited about the prospect of exploring the Dolomites, which are home to some of the most beautiful landscapes in Europe! After enjoying 2 nights in Verona, I was super excited to hop on a super quick 1 hour train and spend a further 3 nights in Trento exploring everything that this pretty Alpine town had to offer. Here’s what I got up to during my 3 nights in Trento, and what I would recommend you see there during your visit too…

 

Wander around Buonconsiglio Castle

 

The beautiful views from the castle balcony

 

The most important castle in Trentino, Buonconsiglio Castle is the residence of the Prince Bishops and an iconic symbol of Trento. Built in the 13th century, the castle is split into three different parts, reflecting different historic eras of the city, showcasing arts and incredible frescoes from the Renaissance, Baroque and Gothic ages. Nowadays, the castle is an open air and indoor museum, with visitors able to access almost every part of it, and every year an excellent summer exhibition runs activities and workshops for schools. I would definitely recommend climbing the stone staircase towards the upper part of the castle, where there are some seriously stunning mountain views from the top balcony!

 

Take the cable car up to Trento Alta

 

Just look at that amazing landscape!!

 

This was probably my favourite thing about my 3 nights in Trento, and it was the perfect way to get my bearings and start exploring the city as this was the very first thing I did when I arrived (after devouring some pizza, of course). From Piazza del Duomo, a few other bloggers and I made the short walk across the River Adige over to the Trento Alta cable car, located at the foot of one of the enormous mountains that dominated the Trento skyline. As we had Trentino visitor cards, our cable car journey was totally free, but otherwise it costs just a couple of euros for the return trip. A rapid ascent will see you reach the top of Trento Alta in just a matter of minutes, and believe me when I say you will be totally mesmerised when you see the breath-taking views that are waiting for you when you get there! I’ll let the photograph above do the talking…

 

Walk inside Trento cathedral

 

Trento Cathedral

 

Trento Cathedral, also known as the Cathedral of San Vigilio, is located in Piazza del Duomo, right at the heart of the city, with the majestic Fountain of Neptune in front of it. Built in the 6th century, over an ancient temple dedicated to the city’s patron saint, the cathedral as we know it now wasn’t constructed until the 11th century, when the Prince Bishop Uldarico II started work on it. The Roman Catholic cathedral is decorated beautifully inside, with Gothic architecture, ornate frescoes and a stunning rose window at the front, also known as the Wheel of Fortune. I admired the Cathedral from the outside many times when I was passing by the main square, but it wasn’t until I went inside on my last day that I really appreciated it’s true beauty – this place is an absolute must visit during your 3 nights in Trento!

 

Base yourself at Piazza del Duomo

 

The glorious main square, Piazza del Duomo

 

The focal point of the entire city, Piazza del Duomo is at the core of Trento and is the main square from which everything leads off. The surrounding cobbled streets are home to numerous bars, cafe’s, shops and restaurants, with the glorious mountains providing an impressive backdrop. The main part of the Traverse 19 conference was set up in Piazza del Duomo, and it’s a great place to base yourself in order to get your bearings of the city. Enjoy lunch and dinner in one of the many restaurants surrounding the piazza, or simply people watch whilst sat at the Fountain of Neptune to enjoy the views from wherever you’re positioned.

 

Where to stay

 

My balcony at Hotel Albermonaco

 

I stayed in the quirky Hotel Albermonaco during my 3 nights in Trento, located near the train station and directly adjacent to the castle. My room had a spacious balcony with amazing views of the mountains and castle which was a pleasant surprise as I hadn’t expected any view at all given that the price I paid was super cheap! Along with tonnes of other travel bloggers who also attended Traverse 19, I recently contributed to this accommodation guide to Trentino, which was put together by Teresa from Brogan Abroad. As Trento is a fairly small city, you’ll be able to access pretty much all of it on foot no matter where you choose to stay, but I found being close to the castle and the train station super handy at the Albermonaco, and it was just a 10-15 minute walk away from the main square too!

 

Where to eat/drink

 

Traditional Italian gelato in Trento

 

Fortunately, my Trentino visitor card and my Traverse 19 ticket came with some complimentary/discounted food and drinks vouchers that I could use throughout my visit during my 3 nights in Trento, but I did get to sample a lot of different meals and check out numerous restaurants and bars during my trip too. A few fellow bloggers and I decided to head for dinner at local restaurants most evenings, whilst lunches and evening drinks were generally included at the conference days. Particular restaurants which stood out to me were Uva e Menta and Ristorante Antica Trattoria, which served excellent pastas, pizzas, meat and fish dishes. Pretty much anywhere around the Piazza del Duomo is recommended, and it’s really not hard to find good food in Trento!

 

Trento really is a hidden gem at the heart of the Dolomites, and a fantastic place to base yourself if you want to explore more of northern Italy. As I mentioned, Verona is just an hour away by train, and is in close proximity to Lake Garda too – somewhere that has been on my bucket list for soooo long! I’d definitely suggest giving yourself at least 3 nights in Trento to spend time exploring everything properly, but you could easily spend a week or two using the city as a base and then discovering plenty of the surrounding areas nearby too. Have you ever been to Trento before? I’d love to hear what you thought of it!

 

Walking along the river Adige

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48 Hours in Valencia: The Perfect Spanish City Break

 

 

Beautiful Valencia. Famed for its football team, its extra long beach and for being the home of everyone’s favourite Spanish dish, Paella. The third largest city in Spain, Valencia was the second stop on my recent interrailing trip with my sister, breaking up the journey between Madrid and Barcelona. It was equally as beautiful but much less touristy than the other two cities, which we actually loved and it felt so nice to explore somewhere that wasn’t super crowded. We stayed just outside of the old town centre, in the new modern area, but within walking distance to the old town and all its attractions. Valencia is almost like a city of two halves; its old town square being home to the historic cathedral and bell towers, and then the more modern part of the city with its enormous Oceanarium, bioparc and state-of-the-art science and culture park. Although we only had 48 hours in Valencia, we felt this was definitely enough time to see everything and tick off plenty of the best known sights from our list. Here’s what we got up to, and what I would recommend you do there too…

 

Discover the gothic architecture

 

views from Valencia cathedral

Views from the top of Valencia Cathedral

 

Did you know that Valencia has its very own Gothic architecture? Influenced by the city’s Roman past and Mediterranean construction techniques between the 12th and 15th centuries, some of Valencia’s most popular landmarks represent this type of Gothic architecture. The main square, Placa de L’Amoina, is where the gorgeous Valencia Cathedral is located, along with it’s adjoining bell tower and incredibly ornate interiors, with the ceiling said to be inspired by Rome’s Sistine Chapel. The cobbled streets surrounding the cathedral are brimming with shops, bars, café’s and restaurants , and you can climb the tower for stunning panoramic views over the entire city below. Whilst wandering the streets during our 48 hours in Valencia, we found a super cool area called Plaza Redonda, a unique area filled with tapas restaurants and boutique stores laid out in a round circle, offering traditional Spanish food and souvenirs. La Lonja de La Seda, otherwise known as The Silk Exchange, is a one of the most civil Gothic monuments in Europe with history dating back to the 15th century, and it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.

 

Walk through Jardin del Turia

 

Torres de Serranos Valencia

The Torres de Serranos lit up at night

 

Spanning nine kilometres of lush gardens, winding foot paths and sports areas, the Turia Gardens (or Jardin del Turia) is one of the largest urban parks in Spain and runs alongside the former River Turia that once meandered its way through the city. Torres de Serranos is the gateway to the old style Valencia, linking the gardens and the new town with the history of ancient monuments in the old town. We actually walked through the gardens to get from our hotel to the old town many times during our 48 hours in Valencia and the walk was so lovely, with plenty of trees, flowers and plants lining the pathways. The walk between the towns takes around 20-30 minutes depending on how fast or slowly you’re going, and you’ll pass no less than 18 bridges above you as you make your way there. As well as being the gateway to the old town, the gardens are sprinkled with modern touches and are also home to the City of Arts and Sciences centre and plenty of sports and recreational areas with football pitches and tennis courts too.

 

Chill out on Malvarossa Playa

 

palm trees on the beach in valencia

The palm trees at Malvarossa Playa

 

I wasn’t sure if we would have time to head to the beach during your short 48 hours in Valencia, but I am so glad we did as it was definitely one of the highlights of our time there! Instead of spending an afternoon there soaking up the midday sun, we actually headed over at around 5pm to catch the last parts of the early evening sunshine and still got to enjoy the heat whilst we were there. We headed for dinner on the beachfront and enjoyed a cocktail or three as the sun started to set behind us. Malvarossa Playa was super lively and there was so much going on that we could have easily spent another day/night checking out all the other bars and restaurants. There’s also plenty of water-sports action if that’s what you’re in to, and the long stretch of sand makes the perfect place for a spot of sunbathing.

 

Visit the Oceanografic Centre

 

Valencia's Oceanografic Centre

Photo credit: www.musement.com
Valencia’s Oceanografic Centre

 

Located in the Arts and Sciences complex at Jardin del Turia, and with impressive architecture that looks similar to Sydney’s iconic Opera House, the Oceanografic Centre is one of the tourist attractions that’s a real must see during your 48 hours in Valencia. Laid out over two levels, with nine underwater towers housing over 45,000 marine species, the Oceanografic Centre is considered to be more of a training and research centre as opposed to a zoological park, making it an aquarium like no other. Split into ten geographical areas, from the Mediterranean and tropical seas to the polar oceans of the Arctic and Antarctic, you’ll spot more than 500 different species of marine life, including sharks, sea lions, manta rays and penguins. There’s also a separate dolphinarium, with training talks and daily feeds as well as shows at the auditorium which seats over 2000 people. If all the fantastic marine life isn’t enough to tempt you to the Oceanografic Centre during your 48 hours in Valencia, I’d highly recommend checking out the underwater restaurant where you can sit and watch some of the amazing species of fish swim right past you as you dine.

 

Where to Eat

 

valencia's central plaza

The central plaza in Valencia – great for eating out!

 

There are an abundance of restaurants, café’s and bars to choose from during your 48 hours in Valencia, most of which can be found in the old town, on the streets that lead from Placa de L’Amoina, where the cathedral is located. On our first night we ate in a tiny restaurant overlooking the cathedral, which was super cute and really cheap considering how good the location was. Our pizzas cost around 10 euros, and we had a cocktail each too. On our second night we hopped in a taxi from the old town square to Malvarossa Playa, the long stretch of sandy beach that I mentioned earlier on in this post. There were so many lively restaurants and bars to choose from, and there was even a club at the end of the pier too. We ate in a small beach bar that served an eclectic menu of Spanish and Italian dishes and enjoyed great sea views as we dined. We stayed out quite late that evening as it was a Saturday night and we were hitting up the cocktail bars, but a taxi back to our hotel was only 10-15 euros and was around a 20 minute drive away.

 

Where to Stay

 

The Expo Hotel Valencia

The rooftop pool at The Expo Hotel Valencia

 

We stayed out of the old town, in the new area with the El Cortes Ingles shopping centre just behind us which seemed to be v popular in Spain! Our hotel, The Expo Hotel, was around a 5-10 min taxi ride from the train station, where we came in and out of because we were interrailing, but it wasn’t too far from the airport either. A 20 minute walk through the Jardin del Turia took us under some of the historic bridges and through the gate at Torres de Serranos which marked the entrance to the old town. The Expo Hotel had a rooftop bar and terrace with fantastic city views which we loved, as well as a rooftop swimming pool too! It was super handy having the shopping centre right behind us and there was a courtyard of restaurants to choose from too if you didn’t fancy walking all the way into the old town for dinner. We ate lunch in one of the restaurants on the day it was raining and it felt like we were locals not tourists! Our room was spacious and modern, and the hotel was really stylish throughout, in a great location. If you want to stay in the heart of the action during your 48 hours in Valencia, I would recommend staying in the old town instead to really soak up the atmosphere.

 

My sister and I absolutely adored this city, and we discovered that 48 hours in Valencia was definitely enough time to explore and take everything in. We loved relaxing on the beach, enjoying the amazing foodie scene and admiring the gothic architecture. Valencia felt like true authentic Span, more like one of the Balearic islands than one of it’s cities, and I felt it was super similar to Palma in Mallorca with it’s ancient landmarks combined with lively nightlife. We had a fantastic 48 hours in Valencia and I would recommend this city to anyone looking for a true taste of Spain in a really beautiful city. Have you been to Valencia before? I would love to know what you got up to over there!

 

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Two Nights in Madrid: Visiting the Spanish Capital

 

 

Only have two nights in Madrid? Don’t worry, I did too, and I promise you’ll have enough time to see most of the sights and explore as much as you can during your short time there! Madrid was the first stop on my recent Spanish interrailing adventure with my sister, where we took in the beautiful cities of Barcelona and Valencia too, and what better place to begin than the beautiful capital city? From the lively squares of Plaza Mayor and Puerta del Sol to the Royal Palace and the Temple of Debod, there’s so much to see and do that you’ll want to return again and again. Here’s what we got up to during our two nights in Madrid, and some top tips for making the most of your visit there too.

 

Visit The Royal Palace

royal palace of madrid

The Royal Palace of Madrid

 

One of the cities most famous attractions, the Royal Palace of Madrid should be the first thing you tick off your list during your two nights in Madrid. The palace is the official residence of the Spanish royal family and was built back in 1735. With over 3400 rooms and one million square feet of floor space inside, it’s the largest functioning royal palace in Europe. Today, both the palace and gardens are open to the public during certain times and are certainly worth a visit. My sister and I kickstarted our two nights in Madrid by wandering around the gardens and admiring the palace’s extraordinary architecture from the outside. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to go inside and do a tour as they only ran at certain times of the day, but we climbed the rooftop of the cathedral opposite to get a good birds eye view of the palace and its forecourt. We did manage to watch the Changing of the Guard though, which takes place every Wednesday and Saturday at 11am.

TOP TIP: If you’re an EU citizen, admission to the palace is free Mon-Fri 4pm-6pm from Oct-Mar and Mon-Fri 6pm-8pm from Apr-Sept. Quick, make the most of it before Brexit happens guys 😉

 

Chill out in El Retiro Park

 

el retiro park

The beautiful El Retiro Park

 

This was one of my favourite spots of Madrid because my sister and I stumbled upon it purely by chance whilst we were out wandering around the city on our first day. Located off the Gran Via, the main shopping district, El Retiro Park is a gorgeous green space stretching over 125 hectares with flowers, trees and plenty of places to sit and watch the world go by. There are small bars and cafes selling snacks, lunches, drinks and ice creams, as well as a gorgeous blue lake where you can rent a paddle boat and row across the water. The park is huge and is also home to Palacio de Cristal, a glass palace overlooking a huge pond filled with hundreds of tiny terrapins, and the Teatro de Titeres, the only theatre in Europe that puts on puppet shows every weekend! We walked a lot on our first day and rewarded ourselves with an ice cream and a mini siesta in the sunshine at El Retiro Park, but we could have easily spent longer there as it was such a beautiful place and didn’t feel too touristy either.

 

Soak up ancient history at The Temple of Debod

 

the temple of debod

The Ancient Egyptian Temple of Debod

 

I am an absolute sucker for ancient history, particularly anything to do with Greek or Egyptian stuff, so when I found out that Madrid was home to an second century Egyptian temple I just HAD to go and check it out! Built waaaay back in 200 BC, the Temple of Debod was under threat in Egypt many moons later in 1960 due to the construction of the Aswan Dam. When Spain stepped into help with saving this and the nearby Abu Simbel temples, the Egyptian state donated Debod to the country in 1968. The temple was dismantled and flown over to Madrid, then rebuilt in Parque del Oeste, right near the Royal Palace. Since 1972, the modified Temple of Debod has been open to the public; entrance is free, but make sure you’re prepared to queue as only a small number of visitors are allowed in at a time. It really is a fascinating temple, with hieroglyphics and ancient markings carved into the walls, and it’s one of the few ancient pieces of Egyptian architecture that you can see outside of Egypt.

 

Explore the many cathedrals 

 

The beautiful Almudena Cathedral

The ornate Almudena Cathedral

 

The capital of Spain has GOT to have it’s fair share of cathedrals, right? Correct! There are plenty of churches and cathedrals to see during your two nights in Madrid, with some of the most stunning architecture and gothic style features. We made our way over to the Church of San Francisco, which was unfortunately closed when we got there but the gorgeous rose garden behind it was well worth a visit, with pretty views over to the city in the distance. We also visited the Crypt at Almudena Cathedral, a Neo-Romanesque church built below the ground that houses hundreds of ancient tombs as well as a 16th century image of the Virgen de la Almudena. The star of the show however has to be the beautiful Almudena Cathedral itself, located right opposite the Royal Place of Madrid. Construction began back in 1879 but was not completed until 1993, the same year it was consecrated by Pope John Paul II. Nowadays, the cathedral is arguably one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions, and you can climb the staircase to the rooftop for breath-taking panoramic views across the city below, and visit the onsite museum too.

 

Go shopping along the Gran Via

 

The buildings along the Gran Via are nothing short of spectacular

The magnificent buildings along the Gran Via

 

Likened to London’s West End, I enjoyed the Gran Via way more than I thought I would and actually loved strolling along it each day when we were getting around the city walking to and from our hotel. With gothic style buildings and designer stores lining the streets, the Gran Via was super lively both during the day and at night too. There were a handful of casinos and nightclubs as well as grand theatres showing amazing West End and Broadway shows like Anastasia the Musical, Ghost and The Lion King, making the Gran Via a fantastic entertainment district for locals and tourists alike. The Gran Via is absolutely buzzing at any time of day, and is the beating heart of the city, especially after dark when everything is lit up and it becomes a real hub with everything staying open until the early hours. You certainly won’t be short of things to see and do during your two nights in Madrid if you base yourself close to the Gran Via!

 

Where to eat

 

the colourful plaza mayor

The colourful Plaza Mayor is a great place to eat out

 

I suppose the bad thing about only having two nights in Madrid is that you can only try a handful of restaurants during your short stay, which is super annoying given that the foodie scene in the city is AMAZING! On our first night we ate at an authentic tapas restaurant just off the Gran Via and indulged in allll the patatas bravas, cheese and chorizo washed down with sangria. On night two we headed to Puerta del Sol to a tiny Italian restaurant just off the main square and ate up some delicious pasta. For lunches we did the classic supermarket food ‘picnic’ as we were out exploring all day everyday and were happy to just eat on the go so we could splurge in the evenings, but there were tonnes of cool places to stop for lunch too. The colourful Plaza Mayor, pictured above, also looked like a fantastic place to eat out as it was lined with tonnes of restaurants, but it looked quite a lot pricier than some of the other nearby restaurants. For something a little different, check out Mercado San Miguel, a covered market with bars and mini cafe’s serving every kind of Spanish food and drink you can think of, located a 5min walk from Plaza Mayor.

 

Where to stay

 

views over to the red rooftops from our hotel room

Views over the Madrid skyline from our hotel room

 

During our two nights in Madrid we stayed at the Hotel Madrid Plaza Espana by Melia, a stylish hotel right on the Gran Via, at the heart of the city. After taking the metro from the airport (tubes run every 5 mins from 6am-2am at either T2 or T4 and cost 3EUR per journey plus a small 2EUR airport supplement) we got off at the Plaza de Espana stop and our hotel was literally opposite, just a 10 second walk away. The hotel was in the perfect location for exploring all that Madrid had to offer and we walked absolutely everywhere, only using the metro on our last day to get us over to the train station. Our room was huge with spacious beds and modern bathrooms, and the view from our window wasn’t bad either! Make sure you ask for a room on one of the higher floors to get views like this too. There were other Melia hotels to choose from in Madrid, as well as Eurostars properties too, but we had a fantastic say at our Plaza Espana Melia and I would definitely stay here again if I ever came back to Madrid.

 

Although two nights in Madrid was enough time to tick off pretty much everything that we wanted to, there was so much going on that you could easily spend another day or two wandering around the city and discovering even more. Madrid is a charming place and we fell in love with the foodie scene, the ancient landmarks, the gorgeous green spaces (v unusual in a city as large as Madrid), and the great nightlife. Have you ever spent two nights in Madrid (or longer) before? I’d love to know what you thought of it too!

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Three Days in Barcelona: Exploring with Marco Polo Guides

 

reading the barcelona book in barcelona!

Reading my Barcelona Marco Polo Guidebook

 

Ah beautiful Barcelona, one of the most famous cities in Europe, and the Catalonian capital of Spain. The last time I visited back in May 2014 I ended up bed bound for pretty much all of the entire trip after being horrendously sick for 48 hours, so I was itching to get back and explore the city properly this time, over five years later. Barcelona was the last stop that my sister and I visited on our recent Spanish Interrailing adventure, along with Madrid and Valencia, and it was the perfect place to end our holiday. From Gaudi’s iconic Sagrada Familia and Park Guell to the vibrant St Joseph’s Market and bustling Las Ramblas, Barcelona is a tourist’s haven and offers the perfect city break escape. Along with the help of my trusty Marco Polo Guidebook, here’s what I would recommend you see if you have three days in Barcelona, and what we did during our time there too…

Wander down Las Ramblas

Las Ramblas, view of the busy street

A view of Las Ramblas from our hotel

Perhaps the most famous part of Barcelona, and the focal point of the entire city, Las Ramblas is the lively street that is an absolute must see during your visit. Marvel at the street performers, have dinner and drinks in one of the many bars and restaurants, or stock up on souvenirs at the variety of shops on offer. Las Ramblas is busy at any time of day, but comes alive at night when the bars and restaurants stay open late and revellers from the nearby Gothic Quarter spill out on to the street. My favourite part of Las Ramblas is St Joseph’s Market, located right in the middle of the street and at the heart of the action. Inside, you’ll find tonnes of stalls selling everything from organic fruit and veg to sweets, savoury snacks and souvenirs. The bright colours of the fruit, all sold in cute little €1 pots, will mesmerise you as you meander your way through the tiny gaps between stalls, and there’s so much food to choose from that you’ll end up coming back every day for your lunch, just like me and my sister did!

Visit La Sagrada Familia

inside of sagrada familia, me with the audio guide

Using the audio guide to make our way around

The outsided of La Sagrada Familia

The beautiful La Sagrada Familia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This place is truly breath-taking and nothing short of iconic. We hadn’t actually booked tickets online before our visit as we had completely forgotten – I got back from Australia the week before so am blaming the jet lag – but we needn’t have worried as our fantastic hotel reception sorted us out with some last minute tickets. We booked the audio tour which was around €30 each and gave us access to all parts of the cathedral. The Cathedral itself is an absolute masterpiece featuring incredible architecture and history, giving an insight in to the life of its famous creator, Antoni Gaudi. Although it is not finished yet, the Cathedral is truly memerising. My sister and I found the audio guides super helpful and I’d definitely recommend these when booking your tickets. La Sagrada Familia is away from the city centre, so it took us a good hour to walk there from our hotel on Las Ramblas, but we did break up the walk with a stop at the Arc de Triompf and a cake break opposite another of Gaudi’s creations, Casa Mila, before catching the metro back to Las Ramblas instead of walking. If there’s one thing you tick off during your three days in Barcelona, make sure it’s the spectacle that is La Sagrada Familia.

Chill out on Barceloneta Beach

me in front of the marina in Barcelona

The beautiful Barcelona marina

One of the most popular parts of the city, Barceloneta Beach attracts thousands of tourists each year and is a great place to relax and unwind after a busy few days of sightseeing. To me, it seems weird to be spending time on a beach when you only have three days in Barcelona, but on our last day my sister and I welcomed the chance to chill out after a hectic week of exploring three Spanish cities in seven days, and walking at least 20km every single day. Barceloneta Beach is a huge stretch of sand right by the marina, dotted with sunbeds, umbrellas and a few beach bars too. It was super crowded when I went, but I think that’s because it was the Saturday of the bank holiday May weekend here in the UK at the time. Having said that, it was a great place to people watch, read a book or listen to music whilst watching the waves lap against the shore, and there were boat rides and water sports on offer in the sea too. We didn’t get chance to take the cable car over the ocean, but I have added that to my list for my return visit next time!

Climb to the top of Montjuic Hill

views from montjuic hill over barcelona below

The breath-taking views from the top of Montjuic Hill

Something else that we didn’t quite manage to tick off was the Magic Fountain show that lights up the skies after dark on certain months of the year. Located at Montjuic Hill, this is a spectacle not to be missed, although sadly it wasn’t on when we were there as May is the only month (apart from Jan & Feb) that the show doesn’t run – gutted! We did however still walk from Las Ramblas to Montjuic Hill, following the 2-3 hour walking route that was on page 103 our trusty Marco Polo Guidebook, and had such a great time exploring a totally different area of Barca that we hadn’t seen before. We passed the Plaza de Espana along the way which looked like the Campanile in Venice’s San Marco Square. When we reached the summit, the views from the top of the hill were absolutely amazing, and it didn’t feel like we were in Barcelona at all as we gazed over the city below and spotted the mountains in the background. I’d definitely recommend you make a stop here during your three days in Barcelona to see a totally different side to the city!

Explore the Gothic Quarter

me and my sister on the roof of catedral de barcelona

Exploring the rooftop of Catedral de Barcelona

I really loved this area of the city, and we spent almost every evening there during our stay having drinks and indulging in some people watching! There are plenty of bars and restaurants around and the Quarter is super lively. With its tall palm trees, decorative fountain and ancient buildings, this place feels like a  mini oasis right in the middle of the busy city. Just off from Las Ramblas, the Quarter is easily reached from all areas of the city and is best explored on foot, but you will also find tourist bikes being offered left right and centre if you prefer to be shown around by someone else. Right around the corner is the gorgeous Catedral de Barcelona, with its gothic architecture and stunning interiors. It’ll cost you 7 euros to get in, but don’t forget to head up to the top of the roof for a small fee of €3 where you’ll be rewarded with incredible panoramic views over the entire city, and you’ll even spot La Sagrada Familia in the distance.

TOP TIP: Page 29 of my Marco Polo Guidebook informed me that entrance to the cathedral is free Mon-Fri 1pm-5:30pm, Saturdays 1pm-5pm or Sundays 2pm-5pm, so head there between those times if you’re on a budget. Ladies, make sure you cover up as you won’t be allowed in if you’re wearing shorts and a vest top, as I found out! (they sell scarves at the entrance for €1 though so you can purchase one of these if you don’t want to go back to your hotel room and get changed).

Where to Stay

picture of hotel room

Our room at Eurostars Las Ramblas

We treated ourselves to a top 4* hotel for our three days in Barcelona as we wanted to round off our Spanish interrailing adventure in style, but there are plenty of other budget friendly options too. I’ve previously stayed in the 2* Meson Castilla, right at the top of Las Ramblas, and that was in a great location although the rooms were pretty small, and a bit dated. There are plenty of hostels to choose from if you’re backpacking, and I’ve heard that Safestay and Generator are both good picks. For something more luxurious, I would wholeheartedly recommend our beautiful hotel, Eurostars Las Ramblas, which was at the heart of the action on the city’s most famous street. We had a balcony room overlooking Las Ramblas and could people watch til our hearts content. The huge rainforest shower was amazing, the beds were super comfy and we couldn’t fault the staff! Other top hotels include the W Barcelona and the H10 Casanova. Barcelona is a huge city, and you can hop on the metro at any time if you want to save your legs, but most hotels are really centrally located so you’re never too far from everything, no matter where you stay.

Where to Eat

me with my cocktail!

Look at the size of those cocktails!

my sister with her cocktail

 

My sister and I ate out every night of our stay, and we certainly picked some fantastic restaurants! On our first night we headed to the marina but couldn’t find any restaurants that weren’t stupidly overpriced, so we made our way over to Catedral de Barcelona and ended up eating right next to it, in a gorgeous restaurant called Taverna del Bisbe, which served the most amazing tapas. On our second night we stayed close to home as we had done so much walking and didn’t fancy venturing too far from our hotel, so we just ate at one of the casual restaurants out on the terrace in the middle of the street, where we had incredible paellas and cocktails the size of our heads – they were €20 each but they were amazing! Our last night took us to the Gothic Quarter where we dined at Restaurante Rossini , the most authentic Italian that could’ve been right in Tuscany if you didn’t know you were in Spain! The food was amazing – the calzone’s were like enormous pillows that we struggled to finish – and we popped over to one of the nearby bars afterwards to watch Liverpool FC knock out Barcelona in the semi final of the Champions League which was certainly a night to remember! If you’re staying on Las Ramblas I would recommend eating anywhere along there or in the Gothic Quarter, but if you’re staying a bit further afield there are plenty of other fantastic bars and restaurants to choose from too.

These are just a few of the top sights to see during your three days in Barcelona, but as the city is so huge, you could easily spend a week there ticking off plenty more landmarks. You can probably tell that I absolutely adored visiting La Sagrada Familia, and it was beyond my wildest expectations, but I loved discovering the Catedral de Barcelona too and was pleasantly surprised about how much I enjoyed it! Next time I visit I would like to take the cable car over the sea, head over to Park Guell and stop by the Magic Fountains for one of their iconic evening shows… I guess that gives me plenty of reasons to come back! Have you ever been to Barcelona before?

NB. This post was sponsored by Marco Polo Guides  but all words, thoughts and images are of course my own.

st josephs market

st josephs market

The bright colours of St Joseph’s Market