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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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A travel guide to Rotterdam, the quirkiest city in the Netherlands

 

Back at the end of May I headed to Rotterdam for a long weekend of fun, adventure and travel blogging as I made my way to my third annual Traverse conference which was being held outside of the UK for the very first time! Anyone who knows me will know how much I LOVE Traverse, and how I think it is still the best travel blogging conference on the planet. After catching the Eurostar from London and spending half a day in Amsterdam, I jumped back on the train and headed towards Rotterdam where I was based for 3 nights and spent lots of time exploring this quirky city. Obviously most of my weekend was dominated by the conference, but I still spent a lot of time wandering around Rotterdam and ticking off the main sights, so I really got a feel for the city and absolutely loved my time there! Here’s what I got up to, and what I would recommend you should see if you’re heading there any time soon…

 

Wander around the Markthal

 

 

This place is amazing and is definitely one of the biggest attractions in Rotterdam! Home to hundreds of food and drink stalls and plenty of arts and crafts stalls too, you’ll find everything you need under one roof! The architecture of the building is incredible too, with its unique shaped structure and it’s mirrored roof, the Markthal is definitely a sight to behold. Opened in 2014 and located right in the middle of the city, just round the corner from the Maritime Museum and the pretty harbour, the Markthal is a great place to while away a few hours and indulge in some bargain hunting. It’s also a good way of tasting some of the local Dutch delicacies that are on offer too!

 

Marvel at the Cube Houses

 

 

This was probably my favourite thing in Rotterdam, and definitely the most colourful! The quirky Cube Houses are actually a series of 38 interconnecting flats/apartments which have become a  bit of a tourist attraction in their own right. Residents living on site are often greeted by hoards of tourists wanting to take a selfie with the bright yellow cubes in the background, and one resident has even opened up his doors as a museum allowing visitors to wander around inside during his opening hours.. money making genius I say 😉 Designed by architect Piet Blom, the Cube Houses are fast becoming Rotterdam’s hottest attraction and their outlook on to the stunning marina  below make them even prettier.

 

Party at the Witte de Withstraat

 

 

The busiest street in Rotterdam, and definitely the most lively, the Witte de Withstraat is the party capital of the city and home to hundreds of bars, café’s, shops, restaurants and hotels making this the perfect position for visitors to base themselves at the heart of the action. This place is busy enough during the day, but it really comes alive at night. You’ll be spoilt for choice with the huge array of restaurants to pick from, all serving authentic Dutch dishes at very good prices. I found Rotterdam to be fairly cheap and didn’t spend an awful lot of money during my time there, which is always a bonus when you’re on a budget! This place was definitely the most atmospheric part of the city, and I was glad we were able to base ourselves there for the duration of our stay. The train station was just a 10 minute walk away, as was the big attractions including the Markthal and the Cube Houses, so this street is well worth checking out whilst you’re in Rotterdam.

 

Walk across the Erasmusbrug Bridge

 

 

Designed and completed in 1996, the 802 metre long Erasmusbrug is a combined bascule and cable-stayed bridge which connects the north and south parts of Rotterdam. The second largest bridge in the Netherlands, the Erasmusbrug was named after an important Christian renaissance humanist who was known as the Erasmus of Rotterdam. Crossing the Nieuwe Maas, a distributary of the Rhine River, the bridge can easily be driven over or walked across and is quite an experience. Views of the river below are stunning, and crossing the bridge is a great way to explore both the northern and southern parts of the city in a short amount of time. It took a good 30 minutes or so to walk across the bridge though, so be prepared for a little hike whilst you’re en route!

 

 

Where to stay

 

 

Luckily I won a competition with Traverse so my accommodation was totally gifted to me for the duration of my 3 night stay, but I would whole-heartedly recommend the King Kong Hostel if you’re looking for somewhere fun to stay. It is very budget friendly and in a great location, right in the heart of the Witte de Withstraat and within walking distance to just about everywhere in Rotterdam (10 mins from train station). The hostel has a crazy monkey theme running through it, with cages on the walls, bananas on tap and King Kong himself painted on the outside. The rooms were clean and the beds were comfortable – we stayed in a dorm room for 3 and we had our own toilet, sink and shower room. The only thing I disliked was that the walls were quite thin and it was so hot we just had to open all the windows but it was soo loud outside that I could barely sleep – Rotterdam is a party city and most of the bars opposite and next to us were open until 6am!! Make sure you grab some earplugs from the front desk as this helped me eventually drift off. A really cool place though and I’m so glad I stayed here, but if you want a little luxury check out the Marriott and Hilton hotels near the train station.

 

My 3 nights in Rotterdam were a bit of a whirlwind due to back to back busy days and long nights of partying whilst at Traverse 18, but I really threw myself in to it and had such a great time. The sun was shining for our bank holiday weekend which made it even better, and really showed the city off as everything looked so beautiful in the sunshine. The Eurostar from London was suuuper easy and it was great to be just a short train ride from Amsterdam too – I would definitely recommend visiting both cities whilst you’re in the Netherlands, they are so close so it would be rude not to! Rotterdam was really hip, quirky and offered plenty of things to see and do for all ages. Now that I’ve been I probably wouldn’t return as I would like to concentrate on seeing other areas of Holland, but this place is most definitely worth a visit! Have you been to Rotterdam before? I would love to know what you thought of it!

 

Love Jess x

 

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A Travel guide to Hamburg, Germany’s Second City

Last August I had the pleasure of flying to Germany for the first time when I was invited on a fantastic summer time press trip! I had met the wonderful Jessi Schmidt, the face of the Hamburg Tourism Team, at Traverse 2017 in London and we had a really great meeting where we talked all things travel, she introduced me to her city and I introduced her to my blog. We really hit it off after partying together at the Traverse closing event, but even so I was still pleasantly surprised when I was contacted by Jessi a few months later asking if I wanted to Come to Hamburg with her to explore her home city! It didn’t take too much to convince me and, naturally, I said yes! Despite never really knowing much about Hamburg or having it particularly high up on my bucket list, I have always wanted to visit Germany and so jumped at the chance to attend my third press trip of the year. Jessi had put together a fantastic itinerary for myself and 4 other bloggers over a weekend in August, and here’s what we got up to during our time there, and my top recommendations for Germany’s second city…

 

 

Visit the infamous Reeperbahn

 

 

Perhaps one of Hamburg’s best known areas, the Reeperbahn is a mile long street which is full of life and a must see during your visit. Despite it’s seedy reputation for sex, drugs and for being home to one of the biggest red light districts in Europe, the Reeperbahn looks totally ‘normal’ during the day time and is quite a striking area, but after dark it transforms into a neon jungle and comes alive at night. Located in the St Pauli district, and brimming with bars, cafes, shops and restaurants, the Reeperbahn is just a short metro ride from the city centre and attracts thousands of tourists year after year. We walked along the road after taking a street art tour and then went on to visit other areas in St Pauli. My favourite building on the Reeperbahn was this cleverly designed office block which really reminded me of the famous Dancing House in Prague! Can you see the similarities too?

 

 

 

Explore the historic shipyards

 

 

The first thing we saw on our first day in Hamburg was the impressive shipyards, which are probably the most famous area of the entire city, and the most historic too. Founded in 1189, the Port of Hamburg is the second busiest port in Europe, and nicknamed Germany’s Gateway to the World. It’s harbour occupies a large chunk of land and is sat on the River Elbe, just over 100km from the North Sea. As central Europe’s main port, the shipyards have played a major part in Germany’s maritime history and it’s strategic location has been a huge factor to its success. We actually walked up a mini hill opposite the port where we could get a good spot overlooking the harbour front, ready to watch the sunset over the shimmering waters below. Our tour guide gave us an insight into some of Hamburg’s maritime history, and the role the port had played over the centuries, and I found it really interesting and loved learning a little more about a city which is largely unknown to me.

 

 

Go stand up paddle boarding

 

 

So I know this isn’t your average city break activity, but when I’m on press trips I like to take part in all aspects of the itinerary and really like to challenge myself. I had never been stand up paddle boarding before and thought that was only done in the sea, so I was a little apprehensive about doing it on a cold river which looked just as uninviting as the Thames in London! It was a relatively warm day though and the sun was starting to break through the clouds, so after arriving at the super cool Supper Club Hamburg, I decided to get my bikini on, grab my oar and get out on the water! After a brief safety lesson the rest of the group and I had made our way out on our boards and onto the Outer Alster Lake, one of the tributaries of the Elbe River. We spent a couple of hours meandering around the lake, going under bridges and passing numerous Hamburg landmarks along the way. I found SUP’ing quite difficult at first, mainly because I was scared of falling in the dirty waters, but once I’d found my balance I soon started to relax and really enjoyed the experience – what a quirky, alternative way to discover a new city!

 

 

Attend a festival

 

 

Summer is always a great time for a city break, but August turned out to be a brilliant time to visit Hamburg as there were a number of different festivals on during the weekend we were there. On our first night we headed to the local fun fair, with tonnes of rides, an enormous ferris wheel, plenty of stalls and bars and home to the biggest portable rollercoaster in Europe! This place actually reminded me a lot of Winter Wonderland in London, just minus the Christmas theme, and the night ended with fireworks which was a great way to finish our first day. Our second night was spent at the famous Vogelball, an annual live music festival with funky stalls, pop up street food and quirky entertainment. Although the music wasn’t really my kinda thing, I embraced it and really enjoyed my time there, plus getting our hair and make up done beforehand was a real treat! Our last day ended with the ice cream festival, and we definitely saved the best til last! I bloody love ice cream and was running around like a big kid trying out as many different flavours as I possibly could, whilst learning all about how different ice cream is made, of course. There are many different festivals on in Hamburg throughout the summer, and I was lucky enough to experience three of them in my two nights there which really added to my trip.

 

 

Wander down by the water front

 

 

This area of Hamburg came as a total surprise to me and I had no idea it existed until our last day! After our itinerary had ended we had a few spare hours before our flight back to London and so a couple of the other bloggers and I took it upon ourselves to do one last bit of exploring before we headed home. We weren’t sure what we were looking for but knew that we wanted to find some good food and do a little sightseeing, so we were in luck when we found the water front with its array of gorgeous restaurants and pretty central square! We wandered over to the water front and sat down for lunch at one of the busy restaurants, admiring the enormous fountain which shot up into the sky, reminding me of the Jet D’Eau in Geneva. After lunch and a little exploring, we stumbled upon the gorgeous St Michael’s Church and the impressive Rathaus Building (City Hall) – I’ve included a photo of this at the bottom of the post as this place really caught my attention, and was one of my favourite things about this area.

 

 

Where to stay

 

 

We actually stayed a little out of the city, in the brand new Prizeotel Hotel which had not long opened. I really loved the style of the hotel, with it’s cutting edge design and futuristic/space theme, and the rooms were compact, cosy and perfect for what we needed. I did think it was quite far out of town though, as we had to get in taxis to get into the centre and couldn’t really walk to any local shops or bars, although there was a metro station about 10 minutes away which was well connected to the rest of the city. I think if I were to visit again I would definitely stay somewhere more central, perhaps towards the old town area where the Rathaus Building and water front was, as this was my favourite area of Hamburg.

 

 

Where to eat/drink

 

 

There are hundreds of places to eat and drink in Hamburg, namely the Reeperbahn and St Pauli districts if you’re looking for somewhere lively. On our first night we ate at a trendy Mexican restaurant in St Pauli but there were loads of places to choose from in the area. We had a little showaround of a few restaurants as part of our street art tour earlier on in the day and got a good feel for the place. Dinner for our second night was at the Vogelball festival and we just grabbed some street food, so I didn’t really try any typical German food during my time in Hamburg but I hope to do this on my return visit one day. The Fishmarket down at the harbour front is a must-see if you’re wanting to taste some of the freshest fish in the city, although this wasn’t really for me as I don’t eat fish, I heard great things about it – especially the live music which kicks off early in the morning!

 

Have you ever been to Hamburg before? What did you think of it? It’s quite a large city and not easy to get around on foot, so we used our Hamburg Cards to make use of the excellent public transport links, including the metro, buses and yellow taxis. I am hoping to return to Germany at some point this year as I have my eye on a Christmas Market break to Berlin in December, but I definitely need to see how my travel plans go for the rest of this year first! Big thanks again to Jessi and the Visit Hamburg Team for putting on a fantastic weekend and for looking after me during my time in the city.

NB. My flights, hotel, transport and activities were all sponsored by the Visit Hamburg Team as part of the Come to Hamburg initiative which invites bloggers, journalists and press members to experience Hamburg for the first time, but all thoughts and opinions are of course my own.

 

 

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Pisa travel guide, one of Italy’s most iconic cities

 

 

Picture perfect Pisa; the gateway to Tuscany, the icon of Italy and one of the most famous places on the planet. Best known for its historic leaning tower, Pisa is a must see when visiting Italy and you only need to spend a few hours there to fully appreciate this tiny city. I spent half a day there whilst on my recent trip to Florence and here’s a step by step timeline of what I got up to during my visit…

 

10am – Catch a train to the city

 

 

As we were staying just outside Florence, we actually flew into Pisa airport (way cheaper than flying into Florence!) and got a train from the airport straight to Pisa Central Station, leaving our luggage in the lockers there. We wanted to do Pisa in the day before heading to our hotel later on that night and it was so doable. You can hop on a people mover from Pisa Airport to Pisa Central (€1.80 per ticket) and you’ll be in the centre of Pisa in no time. If you’re coming from Florence, trains run from Santa Maria Novelli station every hour, and from other Italian cities like Rome, Milan and Verona very regularly too.

 

11am – Head straight to the Square of Miracles

 

 

Once arriving at Pisa Central Station you can either walk 20 minutes to the Square of Miracles, the plaza where all the monuments are located, or you can hop on a bus which will drop you off right at the front of the entrance. It was super hot when we visited and, as we were limited on time, we were a little lazy and got the bus. It would have been nice to walk along the river and see a bit more of the rest of the city, but I don’t think we were missing out on too much to be honest. Once you get to the plaza you’ll see everything you want to see…

 

12pm – See the iconic leaning tower

 

 

Wander through the archway at the front of the plaza and… voila! The iconic leaning tower of Pisa – one of the most famous monuments on the planet and a striking symbol of Italy. Marvel at it from the ground, or climb its 296 cobbled steps for a true bucket list experience – just make sure you book tickets online beforehand (you get allocated a time slot) as the queues are INSANE and slots are sold out regularly.

 

1pm – Enjoy pizza and gelato in Pisa

 

We spent time wandering around the plaza and then enjoyed a spot of lunch on the grass right next to the leaning tower. One of my favourite things about Pisa was actually just sitting in the sun and people watching! We saw hundreds of tourists and people taking SO. MANY. SELFIES! (myself included) but it was fun, and it’s gotta be done when in Pisa, right?! There are a few cafes/sandwich places selling overpriced pizza/pasta/ice cream and there’s a McDonald’s just outside the plaza (obvs) – food isn’t great on the plaza but it’s convenient and it’s a quick fix after a busy few hours of sightseeing.

 

2pm – Walk around the Cathedral for free

 

I’d recommend heading here first to pick up your free ticket as you get allocated a time slot and can plan your day a bit better if you get everything done first and then do the cathedral visit at the end, or get an early time slot and do it first so you have free time afterwards. Both the exterior and interior of the cathedral is built in a Romanesque style which is truly stunning and well worth a visit – I loved walking around and soaking up its 1000 year old history! The baptistry is also worth a visit too; you can buy a combined ticket to visit all buildings (the cathedral, the baptistry and the leaning tower) which is excellent value for money.

 

3pm – Head out of town and onwards to your next Italian destination

 

 

By now you’re probably fed up of the hoards of tourists and the hundreds of tripods/selfie sticks/self timing cameras that have been spoiling your view or stopping you from getting your Instagram pics. By the time I was done with Pisa I really wanted to get away from it and retreat to somewhere a little quieter, so we hopped on the bus and went back to Central Station ready to head onwards to Florence for our impending weekend stay. It may be short and sweet, but half a day in Pisa sure is plenty!

So there we have it, my travel guide to spending half a day in Pisa. As you can see, we spent just 4 hours in this city and it really was enough to see everything that we wanted to before heading back to Florence.  You can of course spend as little of as much time as you want in Pisa, but there weren’t many hotels/restaurants dotted around other areas of the city as pretty much everything is centralised around the Square of Miracles. I don’t know if I’d go back – now that I’ve done it I don’t see any need to, but I’m so glad I visited and I’d recommend a day trip to Pisa to anyone looking for a stop off during an Italian interrailing adventure, or as a day trip from some of the major city break destinations. Have you been to Pisa before? Let me know what you thought of it!

Love Jess x

 

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A Travel Guide to Bruges: The Beautiful Belgian City

 

If you’ve been following this blog, and my social media channels, for the past few weeks, you’ll know that I’m STILL posting content from my recent European inter-railing adventure which took place over the Easter holidays, and I had the best time running around with my sister! After 2 nights in both Paris and Luxembourg, we were so happy to arrive in Bruges for our third and final stop, and we certainly saved the best til last! Despite both of us visiting Belgium before, neither of us had been to Bruges and we couldn’t want to explore this chocolate box city. Here’s what we got up to during our time there, and what I would recommend you should definitely see if you only have a short time there…

 

Climb the Bruges Belfry Tower

 

 

One of the most iconic buildings in the entire city, the Belfry Tower is a sight not to be missed when in Bruges. Built in 1240 and packed full of history, the Belfry is certainly an interesting climb to say the least! Standing 272ft tall, with fabulous views from the top over the Markt Square below, the Belfry climb was the first thing my sister and I did when we arrived in the city and it was a great way to kick-start our time there. The climb is by stairs only (366 steps to be precise) and is super steep so please take extra care if you have difficulties walking and make sure you wear the right shoes! You pass the large bells on a couple of floors whilst making your way to the top and it is super windy right at the top, despite being slightly closed in, so take an extra layer if you need it.

 

Take a boat ride around the canals

 

 

I knew my sister and I just HAD to take a boat ride during our time in Bruges, and this really was a great way to see the city from a different perspective. We had wanted to do a boat trip along the River Seine in Paris a few days earlier but didn’t get time, so this was a worthy second best and really made our trip that extra bit special. It’s a very obvious thing to do and one of the most popular attractions in the city, but I love embracing my inner tourist so was happy to lap it up. You can hop on a boat from just about anywhere in Bruges, and each one can take you to different canals but I imagine most companies take guests to similar areas each time. The cost was around €8pp for a 20-25min ride which was a steal and a fraction of the price of what it would have been in Paris, but obviously a very different experience too.

 

Learn about the history of chocolate at Choco-Story

 

 

If you’re anything like me, the main reason you’ll be visiting Bruges is to get your hands on allllll the Belgian chocolate, and let me tell you, this place certainly does NOT disappoint in that department! With chocolatiers, chocolate café’s and chocolate stands at every turn, Bruges is a coco lovers delight. The city even has a museum dedicated to the history and origins of chocolate, from the humble cocoa bean to the lavish truffles we love and know today. Check out Choco-Story as a fun thing to do when it’s raining or cold outside – we did this on our last morning as it was a little chilly and it was a great indoorsy thing to do, plus it was super interesting to learn all about my favourite food, and there were plenty of tasting opportunities along the way. The museum is laid out over multiple floors and is really interactive, with videos, games and a souvenir shop as well as a live demo at the end!

 

Wander out towards the Bruges windmills

 

 

City breaks can often be a bit overwhelming, especially in a small place like Bruges where everything is fairly crammed in and the streets are filled with tourists at every turn. On our last day, the sun was shining and we’d pretty much ticked off everything we had wanted to see and do, so my sister and I took a 20 minute stroll out of the city and found the Cruise Port which is where all the large ships and cruise liners dock when visiting Bruges. Just opposite the port was a large green park boasting numerous windmills, also known as Molino de San Juan, and they were certainly a sight to behold! It was so lovely to wander round the park, admire the windmills both from afar and up close, and perch on top of the hill for a spot of people watching. One of the hills is quite high and you can see lovely views of the river/port and the Belfry spires in the distance. The windmills themselves were actually closed when we went, but I think you can go in them during the summer months for a small fee. Spending a couple of hours at this place was a great way to end our time in Bruges, and we left feeling refreshed after spending some time away from the hustle and  bustle of the city centre.

 

Enjoy Belgian frites in the Markt square

 

 

Where better to find a true taste of Belgium than at in the Markt Square? The focal point of the entire city, and the prettiest place to stop and watch the world go by, the Square is home to a number of restaurants and shops as well as the famous Belfry Tower and some museums too. My sister and I took great pleasure in devouring some of the tastiest, saltiest, crispiest fries we’d ever had and took some time out to chill and enjoy the ambience of the square, with its horse drawn carriages and ornate buildings dominating the area. We also did the same with Belgian chocolates, Belgian waffles and just about every other kind of Belgian food we could get our hands on! No visit to Bruges is complete without a visit to the Markt Square, and it’s not hard to see why.

 

Visit the Basilica of the Holy Blood

 

 

There are many Churches in Bruges, and the city is well known for its ornate religious buildings, but the Basilica of the Holy Blood is definitely its most famous. History tells us that Thierry of Alsace brought a red-stained cloth to the Basilica after the 12th century Second Crusade, and the cloth was said to have the blood of Jesus Christ on it. The cloth has been held in a secure vial since the Church was built in the 1100s, and thousands of visitors have either seen it or been invited to the altar to pray whilst holding their hands over it – whilst not touching it of course. A service is carried out every day at 2pm inviting church goers to witness the cloth and I think this age-old tradition will continue for centuries to come.

 

Getting Around

 

 

As it is fairly small, Bruges is best discovered on foot, and making your way around the cobbled streets is definitely the best way to explore this ancient city. I loved strolling down the old fashioned streets lined with shops, café’s bars and restaurants, and really got a feel for traditional Belgium by discovering Bruges in this way. You can of course hop on a boat like we did to explore a little further afield, and to see the city from a different perspective, and we saw lots of cyclists too if you enjoy getting around by bike. I would say walking is your best bet though, as it is so compact and you can see as much or as little as you want to whilst you’re there.

 

Where to Stay

 

 

We had splashed out on accommodation in Paris and Luxembourg so knew we needed to tighten our belts a little by the time our Bruges stop came around. Luckily, we found an Ibis located in the heart of the city centre which was absolutely perfect for us and catered to our every need. A steal at just €140 for 2 nights, the Ibis Brugge Centrum was clean, comfortable and just what we wanted. Walkable from the train station and every attraction in the city, the hotel enjoys a fantastic location and offers guests brilliant value accommodation. We particularly liked that our street facing room had a view of a gorgeous cobbled road (super quiet and quaint) and we felt that we were right in the middle of the action as we were just a 5min walk from the main square and close to all the main city landmarks. I would definitely recommend the Ibis for those looking to stay in the heart of the city.

 

Although super small, Bruges is packed with history, charm and culture and is up there with one of the best European cities I have ever had the pleasure of visiting! I loved my stay so much that I am already planning a return visit, but this time for Christmas Markets to see the main square all lit up and sparkly! Have you ever been to Bruges before? Let me know what you thought of it, I’d be keen to hear all your travel tales!

Love Jess x