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Travel Guide to Valletta, Malta: Europe’s Capital of Culture 2018

 

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Good morning beautiful Valletta! #VisitMalta

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Listed as 2018’s European Capital of Culture, Valletta is a lively city brimming with history and culture and it has been on my bucket-list for the past few years now. I was lucky enough to get the chance to visit Valletta during my recent Mediterranean cruise and, as it was my first time in Malta, I was super excited to wander around and couldn’t wait to explore. Malta actually turned out to be my 25th country and it was an amazing place in which to celebrate this achievement! I literally only had a day in Valletta which wasn’t nearly enough time to experience it all properly, but we did do quite a lot in our short time there, and we got a good feel for the city during this time. Luckily, I had my trusty Marco Polo Malta guidebook with me which really helped us plan our time and make the most of the few hours that we had to spend there. The book covers the entire areas of Malta and Gozo, but there’s a fantastic detailed section of the capital city, along with maps, photos and plenty of recommendations of things to see and do in Valletta, which was super helpful. If, like me, you only have a day to visit this pretty place, this is what I recommend you do there…

 

Take a glass elevator up to the Barrakka Gardens

 

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*NEW BLOG POST* ((link in bio)) A #Travel guide to #Valletta 🇲🇹 I got to visit this pretty city during my #Mediterranean cruise last summer and it was one of my highlights of the entire trip! 🚢 We spent our day in the Maltese capital wandering around the cobbled streets, checking out the enormous harbour and admiring panoramic views from the city walls 😍 I used my trusty @marcopologuides book to navigate myself around Valletta and it was an absolute God send! We found the cutest restaurants and bars after following recommendations from the book and the street maps came in super handy 🙌 Come and find out what I got up to whilst exploring 2018's European Capital of Culture, and it just happened to be my 25th country too! 🌍 . . . #ad #wanderlustwednesday #travelblog #travelblogger #bloggersofinstagram #girlslovetravel #visitmalta #marcopolo #travelbloggersofig #instatravel #travelgram #darlingescapes #mytinyatlas #cruise #europe #malta #igersvalletta #igersmalta #lovemalta #maltaphotography #maltagram #vallettamalta #lovevalletta #citybreak #cityscape #europetravel #europe_pics

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Once we had docked and left the ship we headed towards the general direction of the city centre and stumbled across a modern looking lift that connects the Grand Harbour with the Barrakka Gardens. I had spotted this place in my Marco Polo guide book and really wanted to visit, so we bought our tickets (€1 each) and headed up in a glass elevator towards the top exit. Installed in 2012, the elevator is 58m high and, within a matter of seconds, we arrived at the Upper Barrakka Gardens. Home to fountains, flowers and war memorials, both the Upper and Lower Barrakka Gardens are a beautiful place to wander round and, as the Upper Gardens are the highest point of the city walls, they make the best place from which to marvel at the 2000 year old Grand Harbour below. For the past 500 years, Valletta’s guns protected the harbour from naval attack, and there is now a daily operation, the Saluting Battery, which is one of Valletta’s most famous attractions, and possibly the oldest Saluting Battery that is still in operation. Every day at 12 noon, soldiers begin a ritual and cannon fire can be heard and seen over the Grand Harbour as a mark of regulating peace across the city. I’d recommend getting to the Gardens early to get your spot for the Saluting Battery as it gets super busy and you’ll be pushed to find a decent spot much past 11.45am!

 

Visit the historic Fort Saint Elmo

 

 

Separating the Grand Harbour from the smaller Marsamxett Harbour, Fort Saint Elmo is a star shaped fortress that is perhaps best known for its role in the Great Siege of Malta back in 1565. After the 40,000 strong Ottoman Empire tried to invade the island in May 1565, a garrison of over 8000 soldiers and 700 Maltese men stood strong and resisted for four weeks until the Ottoman’s eventually took over St Elmo, but at the loss of 8000 of their men. The Ottoman’s then set their sights on St Angelo and, in August 1565, Malta saw some of the bloodiest battles of the Holy War. By September, the Ottoman troops finally started to retreat after losing thousands more men, and the Great Siege ended on 8th September 1565. This day became one of the most important dates in Maltese history and marks the founding of the capital city of Valletta, named after Grand Master Jean de la Valette, who was buried in the city three years later. Nowadays, Fort Saint Elmo is home to the National War Museum and offers a fascinating insight into its history as a working fortress, as well as pretty harbour-side walks along the sea.

 

Marvel at the Grand Harbour

 

 

As we were on a cruise we got to see this from the best view possible, whilst sailing in and out of the fantastic port during our visit! The Grand Harbour is truly stunning, and was one of the biggest ports we visited whilst on the cruise. There are loads of ships lined up that dock regularly and, after being in use as a natural, working harbour for over 2000 years, this place proves that Valetta really is the gateway to Malta and the rest of the Mediterranean. If you’re not on a cruise and want to see the harbour from land, head back up to the Barrakka Gardens for incredible panoramic views over the waterfront and fortifications below.

 

Go shopping down the high street

 

 

As a former part of the British colony until it gained its independence in 1964, Malta has a distinctly British feel to it, particularly in Valletta, which made us lot feel right at home! Our lovely Queen Elizabeth remained the Queen of Malta until the country became a Republic in the 1970s, and there are still a huge number of British ex-pats that still live and work in the country. Valletta was one of those cities where I instantly felt safe, and where I could easily navigate my way around, probably because the locals were so friendly and everything is sign posted in English which helped – there was even a bright red British post box right next to the tourist information centre! Walking down the main street felt like walking down any of our Great British high streets back home. There were tonnes of designer stores and well known retail shops including New Look, La Senza and even Peacocks – my own local high street doesn’t even have one of them anymore! Although it felt weird walking round all the normal shops like I do at home, it was interesting to see how our British culture is received abroad, and how similar Valletta is to some of our British cities, minus the gorgeous waterfront location and it’s fabulous city walls of course!

 

See the Triton Fountain

 

 

I had spotted this landmark in my Marco Polo guidebook and was super keen to see it during my visit to Malta as I love anything to do with mythology and legends! Located right near the City Gate of Valletta, Triton’s Fountain is one of Malta’s most recognisable and most important Modernist landmarks. Completed in  May 1959, the fountain comprises of three bronze Triton’s (Greek gods/Mermen also known as messengers of the sea) holding up a large platter, balanced on a seaweed base filled with water. The fountain is used as a stage for shows and national celebrations and each of the Mermen’s faces can be seen from the City Gate. The water and the Triton’s symbolise Malta’s links to the sea and were said to be inspired by the little-known Turtle Fountain in Italy’s capital city of Rome. When we visited there were lots of other monuments and art displays located in the central plaza where the fountain is based. I think this was to do with the Capital of Culture events that have been running across Valletta throughout 2018, so this really added to the area and the plaza was a really lovely place to stop for a drink or some food and marvel at the sculptures that were present.

 

Discover the stunning cathedrals

 

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St. John's Co-Cathedral in Valletta #VisitMalta

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Valletta is brimming with churches and cathedrals as it is quite a religious city, so I was in my element as one of my favourite things to do when exploring a new city is to wander round it’s many saintly buildings. Most of them were displayed in the Marco Polo guidebook, but the ones which caught my eye were the impressive Saint John’s Co-Cathedral, and the pretty Saint Paul’s Pro-Cathedral. St John’s is the most famous, with an elaborate design, 9 individual chapels, 2 tall bell towers and a stunning altar adorned with statues and Baroque style decoration. Built between 1572 and 1577, St John’s is a Roman-Catholic Cathedral and is dedicated to Saint John the Baptist. Nowadays the Cathedral is one of the most visited attractions in the city, and is well worth a visit. St Paul’s on the other hand is an Anglican Church and is built in a fantastic Neo-Classical style which dates back to the 1800’s. The spire from the top of the building is one of Valletta’s most recognisable landmarks rising to over 200ft, and it’s Corinthian columns make it look similar to the Pantheon in Rome. A pro-cathedral is a church with cathedral status but is not the main cathedral in the city, which is why St John’s is more famous in Valletta.

So as you can see, I didn’t have much time at all, but still managed to fit in plenty of things to see and do in Valletta during my quick visit there. I really loved the honey coloured buildings, cobbled streets and fantastic buildings that are dotted across the city, and it’s history and culture was fascinating too. The fact that it was right on the water front made Valletta appeal to me even more, as I love the idea of a city break on the sea so you can still get your fix of the ocean whilst wandering around and exploring a new town on foot. I really want to return to Malta to see what the rest of the island has to offer and I would like to take another day trip to Valletta too in order to see more of this stunning city. Have you been to Malta before? The Marco Polo Malta & Gozo guidebook really helped me to plan my trip, and I’d recommend it to anyone looking to visit this country too!

Love Jess x

NB. This post was sponsored by Marco Polo, but as always, all words and opinions are of course my own!

 

 

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My Travel Guide to Paris, The City of Love

 

Ah, beautiful Paris, the city of light, the city of love and one of the most famous cities on the planet. Prior to my visit to the French capital on my recent inter-railing adventure, I had only ever been to Paris once whilst on a day trip from Disneyland. Although I whizzed around trying to see as much as I possibly could, it’s such a huge city and I found it so hard to fit everything in. Luckily this time round I had way more time to spare and managed to see pretty much everything I wanted to during my time there. Here’s what I got up to on my Easter weekend visit…

 

Stroll along the River Seine

 

 

One of the prettiest parts of Paris is definitely the River Seine. I walked alongside it during my last visit and couldn’t wait to see it on a sunnier day, taking a gentle stroll along the many bridges and spend some time people watching. Given that we were staying at Saint Germain, we were perfectly positioned to access the Seine and walked alongside it each morning to get to and from the city and our hotel. Why not grab a chocolate crepe and devour it whilst walking along the river? You can’t get more Parisian than that!

 

Visit The Notre Dame Cathedral

 

 

This was my second visit to the Notre Dame and it was even more impressive than I had remembered. We spent a good hour here on Easter Sunday, listening to the bells chime and admiring the incredible architecture from every angle. It was sooo busy though and the queue to get inside was ridiculously long, so we came back to the cathedral a couple of days later and managed to walk straight in – it seems 9am on a Tuesday morning is a good time to beat the queues! Inside it was even more amazing than I had remembered and the stained glass windows truly were a sight to behold.

 

Discover the Hidden Passages of Paris and visit Montmartre

 

 

Prior to my visit I was contacted by tour company Triple (formerly known as Local Guddy) asking if I would like to review one of their many European tours, all ran by locals in their respective cities. As I was going to be in Paris, I wanted to discover a different side to the city and picked a tour that was a little less obvious and one that covered more than just the standard touristy sights. After scrolling on the Triple website, it was the Hidden Passages of Paris tour, run by local teacher turned guide Lucien, that jumped out at me immediately. Running for approx. two hours (€30pp) Lucien was to start at the Royal Palace of Justice before taking us to some of the ancient hidden passageways (old buildings and arcades that used to connect different districts of the city) which are now used to house an abundance of restaurants, cafes, hairdressers, shops and bars. As there were only two of us on the tour, it was super informative, yet informal, and we really got to know some different areas of Paris that you won’t find in the guidebooks. Lucien was a fantastic guide, very knowledgeable, and friendly too – nothing was too much trouble. As there were just the two of us we actually finished the tour early, but instead of walking away and leaving us to it, Lucien asked if there were any other areas of the city we wanted to see and he gladly walked up to Montmartre with us when we expressed our interest in visiting this area. He accompanied us up the steep hill to the top of the Sacre Coeur where he left us to carry on with our day. Lucien was fantastic and Triple were great at being on call if I had any queries in the lead up to the tour. Thank you to both Lucien and Rebecka at Triple for a wonderful tour that turned out to be one of the highlights of our Paris trip!

 

Wander through the Luxembourg Gardens

 

 

The Luxembourg Gardens were a pleasant surprise to both my sister and I – we had no idea they were so close to where we were staying in Saint-Germain and they were a real hidden gem. The weather wasn’t particularly warm during our trip, but luckily we did have sunshine for a few hours when visiting the Luxembourg Gardens. A series of outdoor gardens linked with bridges, fountains, ornaments, trees and lots of beautiful flowers made this place look like heaven on earth. There is a small onsite café serving drinks, cakes and snacks making it the perfect place to enjoy some much needed respite after a busy day of exploring. Paris can often be a little overwhelming at times as it’s streets are so busy, so taking a stroll around these beautiful gardens is a lovely way of slowing the pace down a little.

 

Stop off at The Louvre

 

 

Home to the largest collection of art in the world, the Louvre is the most famous museum on the planet and one of the most iconic buildings in history. Located in the 1st arrondissement on the right bank of the River Seine, the Louvre is home to almost 40,000 objects dating back centuries ago. It is perhaps best know for housing the world-famous Mona Lisa portrait by Leonardo Da Vinci. Receiving over 8 million visitors each year, the Louvre is undoubtedly popular and it is highly recommended that tickets are bought online rather than just showing up on the day! We didn’t actually go inside the Louvre as the queues were insane and we hadn’t booked tickets, but to be honest we were limited on time and would rather have spent our days in Paris outside than in. It is worth seeing from the outside though, and getting a selfie with the all important pyramid is a definite bucket list item.

 

Ride up to the top of Montparnasse Tower

 

 

This was something I was soo excited about doing as I LOVE rooftops and had climbed the Eiffel Tower last time, so when the lovely team at  Euroventure kindly gifted me two tickets (€17pp) I was so grateful and jumped at the chance to see the Parisian skyline from a different angle. We chose to go at dusk, at around 7pm, so that we could see the skyline both in the light, and after dark once the sun had set. Located in the 15th arrondissement, just a 20 minute walk from our hotel in Saint-Germain, we found the tower easily enough and it is ENORMOUS at an impressive 210m high! Upon arrival we took a short ride up in the elevator and found ourselves at the top of the tower where we were met with the most amazing panoramic views over the city. There is a café/bar on site and this actually became the place where we stopped for dinner after realising we were far too hungry to go wandering around an area we weren’t familiar with in search of some much needed food. A short staircase climb took us to the very top of the tower, which was open air and home to a number of sofa’s, chairs and large seating areas as well as another bar which is open in high season. The views from the very top of Montparnasse Tower were absolutely breath-taking, and it was the perfect place to watch the sun go down, as well as to spot the Eiffel Tower lighting up after dark when it sparkles on the hour, every hour each day from 7pm. A magnificent experience and the most delightful way to end our last night in pretty Paris.

 

Getting around

 

 

I know this is super touristy, but in my opinion the best way of getting around is jumping on a hop on, hop off bus and relaxing on the top deck whilst the driver takes you around to admire all the sights. There are a number of different companies to choose from and we picked Big Bus Tours Paris, just because their stop was nearest to our hotel and we saw them driving around the streets more often than some of their rival companies. A little on the pricey side, our tickets were €36pp for a 1-day ticket. Looking back I would have preferred to do a little research and get a better deal as we saw tickets with CitySightseeing for less than that for a full 24hr ticket, but hindsight is a wonderful thing! We stayed on board for the majority of the two main routes, the red line and the blue line, which gave our little legs some much needed rest whilst we hopped on and off at whatever sights/areas took our fancy. As Paris is so huge, I do think that taking an open top bus is the best way of getting around and an audio commentary was a great way of seeing the sights without wasting too much energy! We did use the metro to get to and from the train station which was handy and super cheap, otherwise we tended to walk to the other places when we weren’t using the bus tickets.

 

Where to stay

 

 

During our time in Paris we stayed in the lively Saint-Germain area which was the perfect place to base ourselves for our 2 night trip. There are sooo many places to stay in Paris, some better than others, and I did struggle at first to find somewhere as a base. With so many options it can be a little overwhelming, but after a friend recommended the Saint-Germain area for its trendy jazz scene and its close proximity to the River Seine (5 min walk away), I knew that was definitely where I wanted to be. Saint-Germain isn’t too huge but there are plenty of bars, café’s, shops and restaurants to visit during your stay. There are plenty of choices for hotel options but we picked the beautiful Hotel de Seine, conveniently located on Rue de Seine, right opposite a pharmacy and a few doors down to a little green grocers where we bought fruit and pastries each morning for breakfast. You’re right in the heart of the action, a stone’s throw from the busy entertainment district and just a 5 minute walk from the nearest metro station to connect you to the rest of the city. The hotel was beautifully decorated in traditional Parisian style with comfortable bedrooms, lavish bathrooms and a cute reception/breakfast area. The staff were so friendly and helpful, especially when our ongoing train to Luxembourg got cancelled because of the SNCF train strikes – reception lady was on hold for ages and was great at being a translator for us! I would highly recommend Hotel De Seine for anyone looking to stay in the heart of Saint-Germain when visiting Paris.

I really enjoyed my time in Paris, even if it did feel super busy and crowded during our visit. I think because we went over Easter weekend it was just so packed and way too touristy, but I did enjoy being at the Notre Dame on Easter Sunday as that was definitely a bucket list moment for me. Yes it was busy in the city, and yes it sometimes isn’t as pretty as it looks with it’s dirty streets and smelly subways, but overall I did enjoy my time there and feel like I saw everything I wanted to see. I’m not sure if I would go back purely because it didn’t totally blow me away, and because there are sooo many other cities I want to visit, but it’s gotta be done at least once in your life, right?! In the words of Audrey Hepburn, Paris is always a good idea.

Love Jess x

NB. I was invited on the Hidden Passages of Paris Tour with tour company Triple, and I was a guest of Euroventure’s who kindly sent me up Montparnasse Tower. Both experiences were gifted to me for the purpose of this review, but as always all thoughts, comments and photos are of course my own.

 

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Travel Guide to Warsaw: 48 hours in the Polish capital

 

 

Last month I had the pleasure of visiting Warsaw for the first time, and it was my first ever visit to Poland too! Warsaw was the first stop on my recent inter-railing adventure with one of my best friends, and it was the perfect city from which to kick start our time in Europe. Warsaw is brimming with colourful buildings, cobbled streets and tonnes of history, and with so much to see and do it was impossible to get round everything in just 48 hours, but here’s my tips on making the most of your short time in this amazing city…

 

Take a FREE walking tour

 

 

I really love free walking tours and feel they are the best way to discover a new city for the first time, especially if you only have a couple of days and want to squeeze in as much as possible! The free Old Town Walking Tour in Warsaw begins right underneath Sigismund’s Column and departs every day at 10.30am. Our tour guide was so friendly and really gave us an insight into the history behind Warsaw, going into particular detail about the horrendous destruction of the city during world war two. The two hour tour passed by a number of points of interest and within that time we saw pretty much every important landmark there was to see in the historic Old Town, and got to make some brilliant photo stops along the way too.

 

Wander round the Old Town

 

 

If, like me, you only have a couple of nights in Warsaw I would definitely recommend basing yourself in the old town as I think this is the most popular area of the entire city. With its historic cobbled streets, vibrant market square and a vast array of colourful buildings, old town Warsaw is a UNESCO world heritage site and is best explored on foot meaning everything can be seen within a day or two. I really enjoy visiting cities that have a small historic centre, particularly if I’m pressed for time, as it means I can really immerse myself in the atmosphere and soak up the culture at the same time too. Don’t forget to climb the clock tower just opposite Sigismund’s column for spectacular panoramic views of the castle square below, and a visit to the famous mermaid statue is a MUST too!

 

Walk along the Vistula River

 

 

After a busy day of sightseeing I love nothing better than venturing a little out of the city and just taking a gentle stroll along the river. Warsaw’s old town is so compact that it was nice to explore a little further afield and see other parts of the city that were completely new to us, and the views from across the river were pretty stunning too! A wander along the Vistula will take you to Warsaw Zoo, Park Praski and the quirky neighborhood of Praga, which was the location for the award winning film The Pianist.

 

Visit one of the many museums

 

Warsaw is full of interesting museums to visit, containing everything from war and jewish history to music, science and modern art. I do think it’s difficult to find the time to visit museums if I’m on a super short city break though, so I don’t tend to put them at the top of my list, but there are so many in Warsaw that I just HAD to include them in my guide! We actually wandered around the Museum of Warsaw, which is located in the archway/city gate just behind the iconic market square, and found the history so interesting. Another must-do is the Uprising of the Jews and the Palace of Culture which is somewhere I really wanted to head to but sadly we ran out of time!

 

Where to eat/drink

 

 

There are a variety of restaurants in the old town, most of which serve a mix of traditional Polish food and popular European dishes too. We chose to eat at a local restaurant called Zapiecek on our first night as it was just a few doors down from our hostel and served amazing pierogi (dumplings) which are a traditional Polish dish. Serving a variety of mains including everything from pork and chicken to salmon and sausage, Zapiecek restaurants can be found dotted across Warsaw and are a must visit when looking for somewhere to eat in the city. Other restaurant recommendations I received, but sadly didn’t dine at, were Magda Polka in the Castle Square, and Michelin starred U Fukeria which can be found in the market square, just opposite the famous mermaid statue.

 

Where to stay

 

 

During our time in the city we chose to stay at the super cool Oki Doki Hostel, one of the only original pre war buildings left in the city. The location couldn’t have been more perfect for us as we were right in the middle of the old town with a number of shops, bars cafes and restaurants within a few minutes walk. We were staying in a private double room on the third floor with our own en suite bathroom. The beauty of staying in a private room is that you pay hostel prices for hotel standards and this couldn’t have been more true for our stay at Oki Doki. The communal areas including the kitchen, garden and breakfast place were kept very clean and tidy but were also great places to hang out and meet fellow travellers. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Oki Doki Hostel to anyone looking for a comfortable stay at a fantastic price right in the heart of Warsaw’s old town. Special thanks must go to Agata for making our stay so wonderful!

I could have spent at least another two days exploring everything that Warsaw has to offer, and even then I still don’t think I’d have scratched the surface! Considering Warsaw lost pretty much everything during World War Two, the defiant spirit of this city is incredibly powerful and shines through its core. Have you ever visited Warsaw before? I’d love to hear what you thought of it!

Love Jess x

 

 

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An Evening on the Thames with CityCruises London Sundowner

 

 

 

Starting as we mean to go on…

 

A few weeks ago my sister and I had the pleasure of hopping on board The Sundowner, London’s number one evening cruise, hosted by the wonderful City Cruises team. This 2 and a half hour cruise showcases iconic London landmarks that line up along the Thames and can be seen from every angle, both in light and in the dark too. Canapes and sparkling wine greet you on arrival, whilst a local musician or jazz band play on board as you sail down the river. Sound too good to be true? It really was something special…

The cruise departs Westminster Pier at 6.30pm and lasts for approximately two hours. Once on board you’ll be treated to a complimentary glass of fizz before a delightful selection of canapes are passed round. The cruise is named The Sundowner in summer and Riverlights in winter which I think is super cool as everything is completely lit up after dark during the colder months! The boats’ downstairs has a large seating area with panoramic windows and a fully stocked bar, whilst upstairs holds plenty of uncovered seating and offers amazing views.

 

The upper deck of the Sundowner

 

As the Sundowner starts at Westminster Pier, it’s only right that the first landmarks you’ll spot are the iconic Big Ben and Houses of Parliament. You’ll get an amazing view of both as you pass them by, and you’ll see them again on the return journey too. The cruise then passes under several bridges before turning around and taking in some of the most famous sights in the city, such as The London Eye, The Globe Theatre, The Shard and HMS Belfast before going underneath the glorious Tower Bridge.

Tower Bridge is undoubtedly the highlight of the cruise, and passing underneath it is definitely one of those ‘bucket list’ moments! You’ll get photo opportunities aplenty as the boat goes quite slowly and there’s plenty of time to take pictures from every angle you can think of whilst gazing in awe at one of London’s most iconic symbols.

 

The mighty Tower Bridge

 

 

There was a really nice atmosphere on board, everyone was super friendly and the jazz musician who entertained us for the duration did a fantastic job. He played an eclectic range of golden oldies and recent chart hits, offering something to suit everyone. There were couples, solo travellers, families and groups of friends on board showing that this type of cruise really is perfect for all.

I really enjoyed my time on board The Sundowner and would recommend it to anyone looking to see the sights of the city from the comfort of the River Thames. There’s nothing quite like enjoying a warm summers evening in the heart of our capital city, and unwinding with bubbly and canapes was the perfect way to end a lovely day in London.

 

The Shard – the tallest building in the UK

 

The Sundowner cruise runs Wednesday-Sunday and departs Westminster Pier at 6.30pm, returning at around 8.30pm. Tickets are priced at £32pp. Children under 13 years of age are sadly not allowed on board. CityCruises are currently offering a fantastic FLASH DEAL on all Sundowner cruises – book before 18th September to receive a 20% discount! Travel must be taken Sunday-Friday before 31st October.

What are you waiting for?! Treat yourself or your loved ones to a delightful cruise along the Thames – you can thank me later!

Love Jess x

NB. I was invited by CityCruises as a guest for the purpose of this review, but all words, thoughts and photos are of course my own. A big thank you t

 

 

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Travel Guide to Sofia: The historic Bulgarian capital

 

Standard ice cream shot whilst on a sunny city break 🍦🍦 Look at those blue skies 😍😍 #Sofia #Bulgaria #visitsofia

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OK so this is post is waaaaaayy overdue, but better late than never, right?! I visited Sofia back in May after snapping up flights with Ryanair for £30 return. Yep, you heard correctly, £15 each way for the 3hours it took to get from Birmingham to Bulgaria. This trip was totally unintentional and completely unplanned, but when my lovely friend Toni and I decided to frantically browse Skyscanner for cheap flights to anywhere, we realised this bargain was too good of an opportunity to pass up. Fast forward seven days and we were sat on our flight heading across to the furthest Eastern European country I have ever visited! Here’s what we got up to during our time in Bulgaria, and I’ve listed my top highlights for this cultural capital city…

 

Take a FREE walking tour

 

 

I absolutely LOVE free walking tours and feel they are the best way to discover a new city for the first time, especially as they help to get your bearings when you’re wandering around like a crazy person trying to find out where everything is. The free walking tour in Sofia begins outside the Palace of Justice, right in front of the steps, and departs every day at 11am. Our tour guide, Vasil, was so friendly and informative throughout the whole event, which lasted around an hour. Within that time we saw pretty much every important landmark within the city centre, and got to make some brilliant photo stops along the way. Although we didn’t have time to go inside the churches etc during the tour, we got a good idea of the places we wanted to come back to and explore a little later on. Thank you Vasil for an amazing first couple of hours in Sofia!

 

Visit the Alexander Nevsky cathedral at night

 

 

This is probably the most famous landmark in Sofia and, in my opinion, definitely the most beautiful! As soon as I knew I was heading over to the city I made it my mission to visit the Alexander Nevsky cathedral as soon as possible. We actually walked past that place a number of times during our stay, it’s an incredible piece of architecture and looks good from every angle, especially from the inside. I particularly loved it when it was lit up at night though, as it literally glowed in the dark and made for the most beautiful picture! Sadly my camera couldn’t do it justice, so this picture is from my lovely friend and fellow travel blogger Allison who is currently spending some time in Sofia and calling it her temporary home… Thanks Allison!

 

See the ancient remains of Serdica

 

 

If you’re in to your history, you will LOVE ancient ruins, artefacts and crumbling remains as much as I do. Did you know that Sofia is over 6000 years old?!?! Nope, I didn’t either until I got there and took the fantastic walking tour. The city was known by many names until it became the Sofia we know and love today, and the ancient remains of Serdica date back thousands of years. Wander towards the metro station and you’ll find ruins that were discovered when the council started digging and building the metro line back in 1998. There’s also a brand new hotel (Arena de Serdica) that has just opened and original Roman ruins that were discovered during excavation can be found in the lobby, where an exclusive exhibition housing the 3rd century Roman Ampitheatre has been made. Learning about the history of Sofia was one of my favourite things to do in the city and it made me fall in love with it even more!

 

Explore the many different religions of the city

 

 

There aren’t many cities where you can find a Mosque next to a Catholic Church, but in Sofia it’s something that’s pretty normal! The city is home to a whole host of different religions, from Muslim and Jewish to Catholic and Protestant, but there is no divide present in the city whatsoever, it feels very united and everyone really seems to come together, no matter what their religion. We spent time wandering around the churches and admiring them from every angle. My particular favourite was the Church of St Nicholas, with it’s tiny crypt underneath welcoming visitors into it’s Wishing Room. I did make some wishes, and I do hope they come true!

 

Climb Mount Vitosha

 

 

So we didn’t exactly climb Mount Vitosha, and the tale of how we got up there in the first place is a pretty ridiculous one!! To cut a long story short, we got in a taxi hoping to head towards a rooftop bar with panoramic views for drinks and cakes before our flight home, but the taxi driver got a bit lost, didn’t speak good English and wasn’t sure where he was going. After an hour we arrived at said rooftop bar, only to find that it was CLOSED and was most definitely not in use! Luckily there were a few staff members on site who allowed us to access the roof terrace in exchange for a few Bulgarian Lev – I am sooo glad we did this as it was well worth the hours taxi and the views from the top were INCREDIBLE. Obviously I would have liked to have climbed it properly, but it was an adventure and an experience and was worth all the taxi hassle. If we had more time we would have actually hiked the mountain, and explored the nearby Stone River and Golden Bridges too as this looked super cool, but there’s always another excuse to come back!

 

Stay in a central hotel 

 

Central Hotel Sofia

 

We stayed in a brilliant hotel. right in the heart of the city, and it had everything we needed and more. As the name suggests, Central Hotel Sofia was exactly that, slap bang in the middle of everything and the location couldn’t have been more perfect. The hotel is a 4* and has all modern amenities you could wish for. It was clean, smart, and excellent value for money. We paid £30pp per night for a good size twin room with en-suite bathroom and had a really comfortable stay. I’d highly recommend this hotel to anyone looking to stay somewhere central, modern and affordable in the heart of Sofia.

 

Eat just outside of the city

 

 

Everything is so cheap in Sofia, that meal times are an absolute steal and you can taste some wonderful food without paying a small fortune. Although the central boulevard is brimming with restaurants, bars and cafe’s, I’d recommend getting a taxi a little further out of town to see where else you can eat. After a recommendation from a local friend, Toni and I decided to jump in a cab and make our way over to Pod Lipite, a small restaurant just 5 minutes from the city centre that serves traditional Bulgarian food and hosts traditional Bulgarian singers and dancers who play every night for their guests. This place was super cute and cosy and served the most amazing food from salads and soups to chicken and beef dishes. We both had an incredible meal, with an alcoholic drink each, and the bill came to just £17!! It’s little places like Pod Lipite which really allow you to take in the culture that a city has to offer, and this meal out was definitely one of the highlights from our trip to Sofia.

 

So there we have it, my Sofia travel guide in a nutshell! Despite spending just 2 nights/3 days here, we saw pretty much everything we wanted to see and I definitely think it was enough time. Obviously we could have spent hours more properly exploring each of the churches, or taken a full day to hike Mount Vitosha, but a 2 night stay will give you enough time to see a lot of the city and worked really well for us. Hopefully this post inspires you to think about choosing Sofia for your next city break, even though it might not be an obvious choice it’s a real hidden European gem. Have you ever been to Sofia before? Tell me what you thought of it, I’d love to hear your comments on this charming place!

Love Jess x

 

Had the best time exploring the beautiful city of #Sofia with my wonderful friend of 10 years 💖

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