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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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Three Days in Barcelona: Exploring with Marco Polo Guides

 

reading the barcelona book in barcelona!

Reading my Barcelona Marco Polo Guidebook

 

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

Wander down Las Ramblas

Las Ramblas, view of the busy street

A view of Las Ramblas from our hotel

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

Visit La Sagrada Familia

inside of sagrada familia, me with the audio guide

Using the audio guide to make our way around

The outsided of La Sagrada Familia

The beautiful La Sagrada Familia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Chill out on Barceloneta Beach

me in front of the marina in Barcelona

The beautiful Barcelona marina

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

Climb to the top of Montjuic Hill

views from montjuic hill over barcelona below

The breath-taking views from the top of Montjuic Hill

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

Explore the Gothic Quarter

me and my sister on the roof of catedral de barcelona

Exploring the rooftop of Catedral de Barcelona

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

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

Where to Stay

picture of hotel room

Our room at Eurostars Las Ramblas

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

Where to Eat

me with my cocktail!

Look at the size of those cocktails!

my sister with her cocktail

 

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

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

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

st josephs market

st josephs market

The bright colours of St Joseph’s Market

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5 Marvellous Things to Do in Melbourne, Australia

 

With its impressive skyscrapers, quirky street markets and pretty waterfront setting, Melbourne is one of the trendiest cities in Australia, and it’s not hard to see why. I spent two nights solo in Melbourne right at the start of my 6 week Australian adventure and it was the perfect city from which to begin my time Down Under. With plenty of cheap flights from numerous worldwide cities, flying into Melbourne is hassle free and makes getting to Australia super straight forward. Once you’ve touched down at Tullamarine Airport you could easily spend a week wandering around the city or heading a little further afield. However, if, like me, you only have a couple of days to explore, here’s my recommendations of things to do in Melbourne and how to maximise your time in Victoria’s biggest city…

 

Check out the Queen Victoria Markets

 

queen victoria markets, melbourne with skyscrapers in the background

 

Located in North Melbourne, these markets are one of the biggest in Victoria and attract thousands of people each week. With hundreds of stalls and market traders set up, you’ll find everything from souvenirs and ornaments to clothes, shoes and jewellery. Established in the 1860s, they are the largest surviving 19th century markets which continue to trade five days a week and are popular with both locals and tourists alike. I loved wandering around the markets on my first day in Melbourne; they were located just a 5 minute walk from my hostel (YHA Melbourne Metro) and were the perfect place to pick up a bargain before venturing into the city… don’t forget to pop into the meat and fish food courts for delicious snacks, meals and fresh local delicacies.

 

Wander down by the Southbank

 

a boat crossing the river in melbourne with skyscrapers in the background

 

I wasn’t intending on seeing a huge amount on my first day in Melbourne as my jet lag was HORRENDOUS, but somehow I just kept walking and walking until I eventually came to this pretty part of the city which I had no idea even existed! After ending up at Federation Square, the focal point of Melbourne, I crossed underneath one of the cities many bridges and found myself walking alongside the River Yarra. A short stroll took me past all the impressive skyscrapers and right into the heart of the Southbank. This area is very much for the commuters and city workers and the vibe was much less touristy and much more local which I absolutely loved. Understated bars and restaurants were dotted between office buildings and apartment blocks, giving the area a real buzz and an insight into Melbourne life away from the tourist traps.

 

Have lunch at Federation Square

 

federation square, melbourne with skyscrapers in the background

 

After hours of walking I found myself desperately hungry and in need of some fast food, so I headed to one of the stalls on the main shopping street in the CBD and grabbed myself a bit of lunch which I devoured whilst doing some serious people watching. Located right at the heart of the city, and exactly opposite the landmark Flinders Street Station, Fed Square is brimming with people at any time of day, but particularly with commuters in the CBD taking breaks or heading to and from work. Home to a couple of convenience stores, museums, bus stops, tourist info stands, public toilets and even free wifi, the Square is the perfect place from which to recharge your batteries and decide what other things to do in Melbourne you want to tick off next.

 

Climb the Eureka Skydeck for panoramic city views

 

Eureka Sky Tower, Melbourne in the distance with river and palmtrees

 

Located in the Southbank, just across from the River Yarra, the Eureka Skydeck is one of Melbourne’s most visited attractions. Standing 297m tall, and officially listed as the highest public vantage point in the Southern Hemisphere, this gold plated skyscraper is also home to the world’s first and only ‘Edge Experience’ – a glass cube projecting out from the 88th floor that suspends visitors high above the city for incredible panoramic views over Melbourne’s lively neighbourhoods below. There aren’t many places you can get a birds eye view, so this place is an absolute must see during your time here. I’d recommend going at dusk so you can see everything in the daytime and then watch the city come alive at night as it starts to light up after the sun sets.

 

Go penguin spotting at St Kilda

 

a little penguin on the rocks at St Kilda, Melbourne

 

Sadly I didn’t get chance to do this during my short time here, but I’ve heard that visiting the beautiful St Kilda beach is one of the best things to do in Melbourne. Located just a short tram stop (6km) from the CBD, St Kilda is a quirky area brimming with bars, cafes, shops and restaurants as well as plenty of hotels and hostels. The Esplanade hosts Australia’s biggest music festival every February, attracting crowds of 40,000+ to the huge event, which is completely free to enter. In addition, the iconic pier attracts beach lovers whilst the retro Luna Park is great for thrill seekers. The famous penguins (pic above was kindly sent to me by one of my friends!) can be spotted every night of the year on St Kilda beach at the breakwater and the best time to see them is just after sunset. I drove past St Kilda when I left Melbourne to head on my tour of the Great Ocean Road, but I know I’ll be back one day to explore this fantastic part of the city.

 

As you can see, Melbourne is a really diverse city with attractions appealing to everyone. If you’re a foodie and a shopper, the Queen Victoria Markets will be right up your street. Or if you’re more of a sightseer, head to the River Yarra to hit up the Eureka Skydeck for awesome city views. I really loved my time ticking off plenty of things to do in Melbourne and would definitely go back for a few days if I were to return to Australia in the future. Have you been to Melbourne before? I’d love to know what you thought of it!

 

NB. This post was sponsored by flight company JustFly but, as always, all words, thoughts and opinions are of course my own!

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Accommodation Review: Wombats Hostel London City

 

 

 

 

Whilst on my recent internship at The Sunday Times Travel Magazine, I had the pleasure of staying at Wombats Hostel for a couple of nights during my two weeks in London. I was in need of somewhere to base myself for the first week, and on the first two nights I didn’t want to have to worry about finding a friends to stay at, or having to get the train to and from Oxford each day, so I booked myself into Wombats ready to embrace London life. Wombats have a series of budget hostels across Europe, from Vienna to Berlin, with a variety of rooms and locations to suit everyone. Whether you’re travelling as a group or riding solo, Wombats is the place to be. Here’s the lo-down of this quirky hostel, and everything you need to know about what to expect from your stay…

 

The Location 

 

 

Set in a historic building  that has been a hostel since the Victorian era, this place was first used in 1865 as a base for sailors before their overseas trips. Situated on Dock Street near Wapping, just 5 minutes from the historic St Katherine’s Docks, Wombats Hostel London City is perfectly positioned to explore everything that the Great British capital has to offer. After an easy 25 minute walk you’ll reach the likes of The Shard, City Hall, the Tower of London and of course the iconic Tower Bridge. I was working in offices at London Bridge, right opposite The Shard, and chose to walk each day so I could really get to know my surroundings and it was so much better to soak up the fresh air and riverside views rather than commuting by tube. If you do need to use the tube during your stay though, you’ll find Tower Hill is the nearest station, just an 8 minute walk away.

 

The Rooms

 

 

I stayed in a private, en suite double room which was comfy, clean and had everything I would need for my two night stay. I couldn’t believe it was a hostel as it totally had the feel and style of a hotel, but without the expensive price tag! The double bed was comfortable and there was plenty of floor, wardrobe and draw space to use. The bathroom was clean and modern with the most incredible rainforest shower which I just didn’t want to leave in the mornings! I definitely felt that my room gave me a little bit of luxury, and total privacy, which was really important to me for this particular stay. Obviously I can’t comment on the dorm rooms, but I’m sure they were of a similar quality throughout, minus the privacy of course. Wombats offer a variety of private and shared rooms at an unbeatable price.

 

The Staff

 

 

The staff at Wombats were so fun and friendly and really made me feel welcome throughout the duration of my stay. I didn’t check in until after 9pm as I’d had a long day at the office and then met a friend for dinner, but despite my late arrival everything went smoothly and I was shown to my room right away. I was presented with two breakfast vouchers and two drinks vouchers to redeem during my stay, and was told where to find the communal areas such as the bar, kitchen and dining area. Everyone was super friendly and I really felt that I was looked after during my stay. 

 

The Facilities 

 

 

 

This hostel has everything you’d need for a comfortable stay and offers plenty of things to do whilst on site. The breakfast area doubles up as a bar in the evening, with comfy futons, plenty of chairs and a big screen for watching sports events with fellow guests. There’s a communal kitchen for those of you who want to cook instead of eating out, and there’s also a courtyard patio and a pool table. I didn’t spend much time in the communal areas as I was staying for business not pleasure (sadly) but I had breakfast both mornings and used the kitchen to cook a meal on one of the evenings and found both areas to be absolutely fine. There were plenty of people around, but I didn’t really stop to chat or get to know any of the other travellers as I was short on time what with having to get to and from work each morning and evening. There was a good atmosphere in and around the hostel though, with plenty of groups and other travellers staying, so I think the bar would have been a great place to meet new people if I’d had the time to check it out properly.

 

 

As you can see I had a great stay at Wombats Hostel London City and would definitely recommend this hostel to anyone looking for budget friendly accommodation in a fantastic central location. Having a private room was brilliant whilst I was doing my internship as it gave me somewhere relaxing to come back to after a busy few days of office life. I would most definitely stay at another Wombats if I ever needed accommodation in any of their other European cities and I wouldn’t hesitate to book their London hostel again. 

Thank you Wombats for an awesome stay!

 

NB. My 2 night stay was provided complimentary to me on a B&B basis as I was a guest of Wombats for the purpose of this review but all thoughts, opinions and photos are of course my own.

 

 

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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 and a full travel guide to 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) . . . #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 made for a great travel guide to Valletta, and I’d recommend it to anyone looking to visit this country too!

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