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My 2020 New Year’s Resolutions & Travel Plans

Happy New Year everyone!

I hope you had a wonderful time celebrating on new years eve? I spent my night with friends in Cheltenham, dressed in 1920s themed fancy dress and welcoming 2020 in style! I have to say, I have been reflecting a lot on the past year lately, and even the last ten years as we say goodbye to the 2010s and welcome in a brand new decade. I’ve grown a lot in the past ten years, from a shy sixteen year old to a confident, outgoing 26 year old who is grateful for many things in my life. I am grateful to have such wonderful family and friends around me, grateful to this blog for allowing me to have a hobby which I absolutely love, and grateful for the fantastic travel opportunities I’ve had in more recent years.

 

 

As I get older I definitely think you start to appreciate things more, and also start to feel more content with life, rather than constantly wanting more or pushing for things to be better. Don’t get me wrong, I am hugely ambitious and will always want to achieve more things, travel to more places and make more memories, but I don’t feel the need to set myself 10-20 resolutions that are unrealistic and will make me feel like a bad person if I don’t achieve them. With that in mind, I thought I would write down just 5 things I want from 2020, and hope that, by the end of the year, I can achieve all of them and feel content after what I’m sure will be another crazy 12 months for me! Here they are…

 

 

I want to buy a house

 

 

A pretty big ask, but something I finally feel I am now ready to do. I have saved up a house deposit for a number of years now, but kept putting it off to go travelling instead – oops! In 2016 I had just short of £8000, which would have been my share of a deposit, but decided to travel around America instead. A couple of years later in 2018 I had £10,000 but decided to blow half it on the trip of a lifetime to Australia. Do I regret my decisions to travel? Not for one second! But I do wish I’d have kept a bit more money back so I could have started building my savings back up a little quicker! I am however now in a place where I have comfortably saved a deposit and am more than ready to put down some roots here in Oxfordshire and have a little place to call my own. I’m actually going to look at buying with my sister, when the time comes, as we are both in the same boat and it means we can actually afford to buy a house instead of a flat. I’m confident that 2020 will be the year that I finally get on the property ladder, and am excited to help make my dreams a reality before 2020 is over!

 

 

I want to focus on my new job

 

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Working hard or hardly working?! 🌴 I actually took a couple of hours out of my holiday to go and do a site visit at this gorgeous hotel in Vilamoura whilst I was away recently… but it's not a hardship to work when your job is as good as this! 🌎 TBT to wearing a blue dress against a blue sky next to a blue pool 💧 . . . #throwbackthursday #hotelviews #portugal #vilamoura #algarve #europe #holiday #septembersunshine #loveportugal #lovethealgarve #visitportugal #visitvilamoura #visitalgarve #algarveportugal #algarvealive #algarvetourism #algarvecoast #vilamouramarina #vilamouraalgarve #vilamouralife #portugaltravel #portugal_lovers #portugal_places #portugal_photos #europetravel #travelgram #darlingescapes #instatravel #mytinyatlas #anantara

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During a time when everyone seems to be quitting their jobs to blog full time, I’m actually doing the opposite and taking a step back from my blog to focus on my day job. Don’t worry, I will still be blogging regularly and sharing relevant content, travel guides and life updates with you along the way, but I’m not going to be constantly pitching to brands and looking for sponsored posts this year as I really want to focus on my job instead. This is my second full time job in the travel industry and, now that I’ve finally found out what it is I want to do with my career, I really want to put all my energy into making it a success. Working at a luxury travel firm means I am lucky enough to learn all about new product and get to experience some amazing 5* hotels and resorts first hand too, so I can combine my love of travel and content creation and apply it to almost every aspect of my job role. I feel like I’ve finally found what I am meant to be doing with my life and am excited to continue my career in the travel industry over the next 12 months and beyond.

 

I want to travel to 5 countries

 

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🚨My 2019 Year in Review is here!! 🚨 ((Link in bio)) My #topnine photos from 2019, a year which has seen me quit my job, do a travel writing internship at the Sunday Times, have my work published in a magazine, celebrate 5 years of blogging and get myself a brand new job in the travel industry which I absolutely love! 🌎 Not to mention seeing my all time faves Westlife and Spice Girls in concert, as well as watching Robbie Williams and Celine Dion along with 70,000 others in Hyde Park! 💃 2019 has also been my best ever year of travel, after I spent 6 weeks traveling around Australia and a further 6 weeks having holidays and taking work trips around Europe. Highlights include skydiving over Uluru, driving the Great Ocean Road, snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef, inter-railing round Spain, riding a gondola in Venice and doing Christmas markets in Riga. 🌟 8 trips abroad, 19 flights and 12 weeks travelling out of 52 weeks of the year, not bad huh ✈️ 2019, I think you might just have been my best year yet! Feeling so full of love and happiness for the past year, and the past decade, and I'm so grateful to have my amazing friends and family around me. I hope 2020 is even better ❤️ It took me 4 hours to put this blog post together – I hope you enjoy reading it! ✨

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I travelled to 7 countries in 2019 and 9 countries in 2018, so have done really well over the past couple of years, but I think that aiming to tick off 5 countries this year is definitely doable. I’m going to be really busy with work and saving up for a house this year, so I think some of my travel plans might have to take a back seat, but that’s not to say that I won’t be going on plenty of little mini trips throughout the year, so am confident I will still visit at least 5 countries! In terms of travel plans, the only thing I have set in stone at the moment is a trip back to Scotland to have a second atempt at climbing Ben Nevis! I am also bridesmaid for two weddings next year, for one of my best friends and one of my cousins, so I have 2 hen do’s to attend which will be lots of fun. I’d like to do a few European mini breaks and I am also hoping to squeeze in a Christmas markets interrailing trip around Poland in December with my sisters. Work sent me on two trips last year and I have only been here for six months, so I am hoping that in 2020 I may get to take a couple more work trips which would be amazing! I’d also really like to explore more of the UK this year, and am planning on heading back to Cornwall for the first time in 3 years which is seriously overdue! I’d also like to go back to York, and head over to Edinburgh and Cambridge for the first time if I can squeeze them in, so I’m hoping for another fun filled year of travel, but don’t think I’ll end up as far afield as Australia this year!

 

I want to start working out three times a week

 

 

I started this towards the end of last year, but then it was December which meant Christmas was coming and I just wanted to spend the entire month eating food and not worrying about exercise! However, I do think January is a great time to start new hobbies/make new promises, so I do really want to start working out three times a week to add some proper exercise into my life. I am not a gym person at all and can’t think of anything worse than running on a treadmill or doing spinning classes, but I experimented with some power walking and dance fitness videos last year and found a couple that I really liked, so I think I’m going to give them another go and try to stick to them this time! I am so unconfident with my looks at the moment, I definitely feel I have put on weight on my hips and stomach and on my face too, which I hate, so I really want to start incorporating exercise into my weekly routine this year so I feel fitter and stronger and look better. Fingers crossed I find a workout routine that works well for me – I also need to get my fitness up for Ben Nevis in May – wish me luck!

 

I want to start dating again

 

 

I’ve definitely lost confidence with dating recently. In fact, my last date was back in January 2019 which is a whole year ago! It feels a bit ridiculous that I’m writing this on my resolutions list to be honest, as I think sometimes things like this happen without thinking, and if something’s meant to be its meant to be, but I also think that you only get out of life what you put in, and I can’t sit around all year waiting for someone to just walk into my life! So I think in 2020 I am going to make a conscious effort to try and get out into the dating world again. I really really hate online dating, but it seems to be the only way that people meet at the moment, as I don’t go out in the evenings that much anymore and I’m always going away/making plans so I think I’m going to find it harder to meet guys if I’m not looking online as well. I don’t want to make promises and say that I’m definitely going to go looking for love and am going to start attending speed dating events or singles nights (as much as my mother would want me to!) but I’m just going to put myself out there a bit more and try to boost my confidence. Let’s see how this one turns out and, who knows, by the end of the year there may or may not be someone new in my life! If anyone knows any decent looking guys who love to travel, please send them my way?!

 

 

No matter what happens in 2020 I am going to try and be more present and content with life rather than getting bogged down with feeling like I constantly have to better myself, or comparing myself to others. I’m going to try not to worry about what everyone else is doing because everyone is different and life should be taken day by day, at your own pace rather than being determined by others actions. I get so upset sometimes worrying that I’ve not got a house or a husband or have had a baby like some of my friends and cousins have. I get upset that it hasn’t happened to me yet, that I’ve been single for nearly six years, that I’m so far away from all of those things happening to me when, really, it’s all I’ve ever wanted in life.

 

Everyone’s ‘decade challenges’ on social media have been filled with people saying that they went to uni, graduated with a degree, met the love of their life, got engaged, got married, bought a house, had three kids, got two dogs and a cat and had countless holidays to Disneyworld over the past ten years, but my decade has been very different to that. I didn’t go to uni, or get married and have kids, but I passed my A Levels, I’ve spent the past 8 years working full time, I’ve bought two cars, I’ve been diagnosed with a serious health condition and become a charity ambassador, I’ve saved up for a house deposit, I’ve travelled to 30 countries and I’ve ran a successful travel blog. My decade looks very different to lots of girls my age, but I’ve learnt that it doesn’t matter, because this is what I’ve achieved in my life, and what I am hugely proud of.

 

 

By the end of the next decade I will be 36 years old (OH MY GOD I WANT TO CRY AT THE THOUGHT OF APPROACHING 40!!!!) and I really hope that, by then, I will have achieved the other things I wanted to achieve this decade. I hope I’m happily married with a couple of kids, a dog, and a nice house and that I still love travel as much as I do now. I hope that I’m still super close with my family and friends, that I’ve still got a great job that will allow me to support my family but, most importantly, I hope that I am happy. Money doesn’t matter to me, only health and happiness. I hope my grandparents are still alive, I hope that my parents are still loving life, I hope that my future kids are healthy. I seem to have gone off on a tangent, and I guess this post has turned into more of a ‘hope for the next decade’ post rather than a 2020 resolutions one, but I’m just excited to see what the next ten years holds for me and everyone in my life. Whatever it holds for you, I hope it brings you happiness.

Happy new year (and new decade everyone!)

Love Jess x

PS. I wonder if I’ll still be blogging in ten years’ time, or if blogs will be a distant memory by then with social media taking over completely?! I bloody hope not!

 

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How to Spend a Festive Weekend in Riga, Latvia

 

 

A couple of weeks ago I returned from my last trip of the year (and the decade, which sounds WEIRD!) after visiting the beautiful Baltics for the first time with my sister. We spent a festive weekend in Riga exploring the cobbled streets of the Old Town, wandering around the gorgeous Christmas markets and enjoying some traditional Latvian food which made for a fantastic weekend getaway before the madness of Christmas was here! I actually won this trip as a competition prize from Traverse Events and Magnetic Latvia when I was in Italy attending Traverse 19 in June, so it was a great way to end my wonderful year of travel and made a change from heading to sunnier climes! Here’s what I got up to on my festive weekend in Riga, and what I’d recommend you do there too…

 

Check out the Christmas Markets

 

With not one, not two but THREE Christmas Markets dotted around the city, it’s not hard to see why you’d opt for a fantastic festive weekend in Riga. The biggest (and best) ones are located in the Doma Laukums (Cathedral Square) and are breath-takingly beautiful. Situated right in front of the impressive Cathedral, the wooden markets are decorated in traditional European style and sell everything from mulled wine and hot chocolate to gingerbread houses, sweets and hog roasts. Christmas music fills the air, with live folk dancing and carol singing occurring daily, and there’s often real snow falling from the sky as Riga is notoriously cold in December! The entrance arch, with Christmas trees and twinkling lights lining the opening really makes you feel as if you’ve stepped into a scene from Narnia, and its such a magical place to walk around at any time of day, but especially in the evening when the skies are dark and the lights are out in force! Take a walk over to the Esplanade to check out one of the other markets, located just in front of the striking Nativity of Christ Cathedral, a Russian Orthodox Church which is free to enter and definitely worth a visit. At these markets you’ll find stalls selling similar products and a real life rabbit village (yes, you heard me right) where super cute fluffy bunnies are kept in a huge pen complete with Lego houses, toy buildings and more. What a place!

 

Try traditional Balsam at Black Magic

 

 

 

I had heard lots about Balsam before my festive weekend in Riga and knew that it was a ‘rite of passage’ when visiting Latvia, so where better to try some for ourselves than in Black Magic, a beautifully medieval café/bar which was a former apothecary selling all sorts of lotions and potions back in the 1700s, and in particular black Balsam which was used to treat ailments and made from 24 different ingredients. Inside, the lights are dimmed and you are served by candlelight – choose from a range of delicious chocolate truffles, cakes and sweet treats, all made from the traditional black Balsam, or just order shots or cocktails of it at the bar if you’d rather taste it that way (and if you’re made of strong stuff!) If, like me, you’re a bit of a lightweight, I would suggest ordering a hot blackcurrant drink with Balsam as it’ll warm your cockles slowly and allow you to taste it a little more gently than just ordering a hard core shot which is full of alcohol! Black Magic was a hidden gem and even had a secret room behind a bookcase which you pushed open to enter – I had read a few blog posts recommending this place and I can agree that it is definitely worth a visit during your festive weekend in Riga! 

 

Wander around the Old Town

 

 

Probably our favourite thing to do during our festive weekend in Riga was simply just to walk around the Old Town soaking up the festive spirit in the air and admiring the historic buildings that were dotted around. I felt the cobbled streets and red coloured buildings were reminiscent of Prague and other European cities, but Riga is much smaller and I felt had much more character too. Whenever I visit somewhere new I always make a point of learning as much as I can about its history, so we paid a visit to the War Museum and the Museum of Occupation, both of which gave a fascinating insight into Latvia’s history. I was absolutely shocked and saddened to learn that Latvia has only been ‘unoccupied’ for 50 years of its 800 year history after the city was founded in 1201, and it was very moving to read stories of occupation from older times, as well as more recent times in the Second World War, right up until Latvia was listed as Independent from the Soviet Union in 1991. The House of the Blackheads is well worth a visit if you are interested in learning more about this – the building was destroyed in World War Two and only reopened in 1999, so it is literally only 20 years old and the restoration is remarkable. Tickets cost just 6 Euros for entrance to all parts of the House, including the original cellar and the grand ballroom.

 

Climb St Peter’s Church Tower

 

I have climbed many a Church Tower in my time, and have seen some epic sights from up high whilst on my travels, but the views that greeted me from the top of St Peter’s Church were truly breath-taking and really made our festive weekend in Riga extra special! Taking an elevator 123m up to the top made a welcome change from climbing god knows how many hundreds of steps I usually have to tackle when taking part in this kind of thing, but the views at the top were one of the most rewarding I have ever witnessed! You could see for miles in every direction from the top of the Church, and we were able to spot the red roofs of the buildings below, the blue waters of the Daugava River in the distance and the various landmarks and sights that make Riga so special from up high. Tickets cost 9 Euros but they are definitely worth it for the incredible panoramic views you get from the top – just don’t forget to hold on to your hat as it is ridiculously windy up there!

 

Have lunch at the Centralais Market

 

 

We did this on our last day once we had seen all the sights so that we could spend a bit more time and really enjoy our visit to the Centralais Market! Brimming with food, drink, arts and crafts stalls, as well as fantastic places to sit down and eat lunch/ dinner or have a drink at the bar, the Centralais Market was a great place to warm up from the cold and while away a few hours. We wandered around the stalls, tasted some samples of cheese and other yummy delights and enjoyed lunch from one of the food stands – delicious potato rosti’s with amazing toppings which were sooo good! I think in the evening this place really comes alive and is a great place to party, but we were just happy to find somewhere warm for a few hours and enjoy some fantastic food during our festive weekend in Riga!

 

Where to stay

 

We stayed at the Wellton Riga Centrum Hotel and Spa during our festive weekend in Riga, located on Kaleju Iela, just opposite the Galerija shopping centre and within striking distance of the centre of the beautiful Old Town. Café’s, bars, souvenir shops and supermarkets lined the streets surrounding our hotel, which were super handy and being just a few minutes’ walk in any direction from the Old Town meant we were in the perfect location for being able to get around and see all that the city had to offer. The train station was just a 10 minute walk away, as was the nearest bus stop which served the 22 line, making it super easy for getting to/from the airport (tickets can be bought on the bus for just 2 Euros each way!) I think there are 3 Wellton’s in Riga, and I would highly recommend the one we stayed in as it had a fantastic Spa which was sooo needed after a busy day of sightseeing in sub zero temperatures! Our room was clean, spacious and modern and breakfast was served until 11am which was perfect for us as we struggled to wake up early what with the 2 hour time difference from the UK and the lack of daylight that saw the sun rising much later than we were used to!  

 

Where to eat/drink

There are an abundance of quirky restaurants, bars and cafes in Riga serving a mixture of traditional Latvian food and modern, Western menus as well as chain restaurants including Costa and TGI Fridays if you like your home comforts! Classic Latvian dishes include stewed sauerkraut, potato rosti’s, meats marinated in rich sauces, soups served in bread bowls, dark rye bread and of course the famous Balsam which Riga has become so well known for. We chose to eat our evening meals at traditional restaurants during our festive weekend in Riga, including the legendary Folkklubs, one of the most popular places in the city which serves classic Latvian dishes alongside live folk music as you dine! I would highly recommend Folkklubs on Peldu Iela for an authentic Latvian dining experience, but be prepared to wait ages for a table, and even longer for service as the place seems to be super busy every night of the week! For something more modern, head to OGLE restaurant near the House of the Blackheads where you’ll be treated to pizzas, pastas and dishes from the woodfired grill as well as delicious cocktails at great prices.  

 

As you can see, my sister and I had a magically festive weekend in Riga and we came home feeling full of Christmas spirit! I would highly recommend visiting Riga at any of time of year as it is super interesting to learn about its history, see its beautiful landmarks and indulge in its traditional Latvian food, but all of this is heightened at Christmas, so December is a definitely a great time to be heading over there. Have you spent a festive weekend in Riga before? Or have you got plans to head up to the Baltics any time soon? Vilnius and Tallinn are next on my bucket-list, so I’m sure I’ll be planning trips there for 2020 very soon – send me allll your travel tips please!

NB. I won this trip as part of a competition prize with Traverse Events and Magnetic Latvia with no obligation to post. All words and photos are of course my own.

 

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Restaurant Review: The Botanist Cheltenham

 

Last weekend I headed over to Cheltenham to catch up with some of my old work girls and was lucky enough to be invited to review The Botanist, one of the best restaurants in town, with my friend Steph. I had been twice before, once for lunch with my sister and once for an evening meal and drinks for my leaving do just before I went to Australia, but I was super excited to be back as I got to try out the brand new autumn menu this time! With 18 restaurants in various locations across the UK, The Botanist offers fantastic food, drink and live music in a beautiful secret garden style setting, as well as brilliant cocktail, gin and ale tasting masterclasses with crafted experts. I had wonderful evening during my visit, with the food, staff and new menu all being super impressive! Here’s what I got up to during my trip to The Botanist Cheltenham…

 

The location

The Brewery, Cheltenham

 

Situated on the corner of The Brewery, one of the newer parts of town, The Botanist Cheltenham is in a prime position to explore all that the town has to offer. There are shops, restaurants, bars, a Hollywood Bowl, a Lost Worlds Golf and a Cineworld all at the Brewery, as well as popular hotel chains Premier Inn and Holiday Inn Express being just around the corner. With both indoor and outdoor seating, The Botanist Cheltenham is in the perfect place for people watching at any time of day and is easily accessible from every part of the town, with a huge NCP car park just across the road too.

 

The restaurant

The pretty interiors at The Botanist Cheltenham

The plant wall on the right is so Instagrammable!

 

 

Decorated in signature The Botanist style, with references to botanical gardens including plant pots and flowers aplenty, the interiors at The Botanist Cheltenham are seriously dreamy. Split into two sides, there are lots of seating areas both to the right and left of the bar, with booths, bigger and smaller tables and even a private dining room for guests to use exclusively. The floor to ceiling plant wall to the left of the bar is the perfect place to capture those all important Instagram pics, and there’s enough floor space to get up dancing if the live music gets you in the mood.

 

The menu

The new autumn menu at The Botanist Cheltenham

The brand new autumn menu at The Botanist Cheltenham

Launched in mid October, the brand new autumn menu at The Botanist Cheltenham showcases a fantastic range of starters, mains, sides and desserts as well as the ever popular cocktail/drinks menu offering an eclectic range of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, with most of the cocktails available as mocktails too. In addition to the main a la carte menu, which is available from lunch and dinner daily from 12noon til late (or from 10am Fri-Sun), there are also separate kids, non-gluten, breakfast and Sunday roast menus too. Serving everything from home comforts such as bangers and mash and fish and chips, to the signature Botanist pies and famous hanging kebabs, the new autumn menu has something to suit all taste buds, with mains ranging from £9.95 – £19.50. The nibbles, starters and sides start from just £2.95, with the deli board and grill section offering popular dishes including steaks, burgers, meats, fish and cheeses. Finally, the yummy dessert menu serves up mouth-watering dishes including lemon tart, cookie dough and the iconic chocolate brownie hanging kebab, the perfect end to every meal!

 

The food

Our amazing hanging kebabs

Yummy starter dishes

Excellent cocktails

 

Steph and I ordered from the brand new autumn menu and were super impressed with all of our meals. We were treated to three courses and two cocktails each so certainly made the most of trying as much as we could from the new menu! For starters I chose the garlic mushrooms on toast whilst Steph opted for calamari, both of which were delicious. For mains we chose the famous hanging kebabs, one halloumi with seasoned fries and one surf and turf with sweet potato fries, all of which were AMAZING. Finally, for dessert, we both ordered the Nutella and biscoff bread and butter pudding which was absolutely incredible and totally melted in the mouth as we ate it! During dinner we had two cocktails each; I opted for a raspberry daiquiri and a raspberry disaronno sour (which was served with dry ice in a plantpot!) whilst Steph chose a passionfruit colada and a lychee and rose martini, all of which were super scrummy and the choice of cocktails on the menu was excellent.

 

The staff

 

The entrance to The Botanist Cheltenham

 

We were so well looked after during our visit and cannot thank the fabulous staff enough for making our visit to The Botanist Cheltenham truly outstanding. Our waiting staff, Georgie and Alex, served our food and drinks promptly and were friendly, welcoming and very informative when we were had questions about some of the items on the menu. Mark, one of the managers, came over to introduce himself towards the end of our visit and asked for some feedback which I gladly gave him as we had such a fantastic time. Natalia, on front of house, was equally as welcoming and friendly and even gave me a hug as we said goodbye at the end of the night – what a lovely lady! A big thank you to all the staff who looked after us so well during our visit, we will both certainly be back very soon.

As you can probably tell, I had a wonderful evening catching up with my old work friends in a beautiful setting right in the heart of Cheltenham. The food was amazing, the cocktails were scrummy and the live music and busy bar area made for a fantastic place to spend a Saturday night. I will certainly be back to The Botanist Cheltenham next time I am in town to visit my friends, and can’t wait to enjoy many more lunches and dinners there in the future. Book your table online to ensure you don’t miss out on availability – it’s getting busier and busier now that Christmas is creeping ever closer!

NB. All my food and drinks were gifted for the purpose of this review, but all words and photos are of course my own.

Thank you to The Botanist Cheltenham for a fabulous evening!

 

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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!