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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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How to plan your European interrailing trip on a budget

 

 

Last month I took my first trip of 2018 as I went inter-railing round Europe (again!) with my sister. After inter-railing round Italy together back in 2016, we were super excited to be back on the road again, but this time exploring three countries in a row: France, Luxembourg and Belgium! We’d planned the route fairly quickly and, once we decided that we wanted to use the Eurostar to get there and back, had chosen our starting point as Paris and our final destination as Bruges, so just had one stop in between meaning that Luxembourg was the obvious candidate! Getting to and from the UK and each city was extremely easy, and both stress and hassle free. My sister and I organised every aspect of the trip before we left and we managed to get a week-long stay, including transport to and from the Eurostar stations, national and international trains plus six nights’ accommodation in 3-4* hotels for just £437pp! We had given ourselves a budget of £600pp for the entire week and well and truly smashed it. I like to think I’m quite good at getting a bit of a bargain, and this trip was certainly a steal. Being the geek that I am I’ve even worked out all the individual costings for this trip and included them in my total  pricing breakdown below. Want to know how I got a week’s inter-railing trip for less than £500pp? Let’s find out…

 

UK transport

 

 

Obviously this one depends on where you’re based, and I am lucky to live in Oxford so am very close to London, but our capital can be reached easily by most of the UK’s major cities, which makes getting to St Pancras Eurostar Station very accessible. We were travelling on Easter Sunday which may have slightly put the prices up, but usually a one way ticket from Oxford to London costs around £10 per adult, and is cheaper for me as I have a young person’s rail card. The Eurostar tickets themselves, from London – Paris and from Brussels – London were pretty reasonable and each journey was less than £70pp return. Have a look to see which trains are cheapest/most expensive on the day of travel as you could save a lot of money by going later in the day, or earlier on in the morning, or even the day before or after if you’re really flexible and want to get the best deal possible!

Costings:

Oxford – London return train – 1x adult, 1x rail card holder = £28.90pp and £19.05pp

London St Pancras – Paris Gare du Nord one way train – 2x youths = £65pp

Brussells Midi – London St Pancras one way train – 2x youths = £53.30pp (don’t forget your ticket should state that departure is from any Belgian station and includes onward travel between cities ie if you’re staying in Bruges and need to get back to Brussels Midi for your departing train, the journey between Bruges and Brussels is included in your ticket price, you don’t need to buy an additional ticket).

 

International trains

 

 

Sadly we were hit by the dreaded SNCF train strike during our time away – they had only just started and it caused havoc! Our train from Paris to Luxembourg was cancelled and, because it was bank holiday Monday, none of the phone lines were working and no one on the website online chat/social media pages were able to get back to me. Luckily we were able to use our existing ticket free of charge on the next available train which was only 3 hours later than our scheduled train, but if that one had been cancelled I don’t know what we would have done! I would recommend downloading the SNCF app for live updates to your train as this came in handy when the website crashed! All other trains ran smoothly though and international train travel is so enjoyable for me as I love the scenery between cities and the excitement when I pass over the border into a new country! My top tip is to book your trains as far in advance as possible for the best rates, be flexible on timings, and don’t forget if you’re under 26 you qualify for youth prices.

Costings:

Paris – Luxembourg international train (direct) – 2x youths = £25.61pp

Luxembourg – Bruges train (change at Liege) – 2x youths = £29.14pp

 

Accommodation

 

 

We picked some fantastic hotels for our trip and it made such a difference to have somewhere cosy and warm to come home to after a busy day of exploring. I knew the cities we had chosen weren’t the cheapest on earth and so we would have to use a significant amount of our budget to cover the cost of accommodation, but I think we did well considering we got 6 nights for under £600 which is just less than £300pp for the entire duration. I usually look at private rooms in hostels to keep costs down, but actually we found hotels that were still within our budget and so decided to spend a little bit more in order to get maximum comfort and security during our stay. Being a travel blogger, I usually reach out to hotels and offer my services (writing a review/promoting on social media) in exchange for a discounted/complimentary stay, however sadly I didn’t find any hotels that were free on my dates that were able to collaborate with me on this occasion which was a real shame. I did expect this though as we went over Easter weekend and the kids half term holidays, so be careful when you choose to travel if you are trying to pitch to hotels!

I am a big advocate of using online promo codes/vouchers to book hotels though and my travel hack when booking accommodation would be to book using Expedia. I have used them for years and never had a bad experience! For every hotel I booked I was able to find a 10-15% off voucher online (literally just Google Expedia promo code and one usually always comes up!) and also received up to 200 nectar points for each booking which is another bonus for me. I’ll be talking a bit more about the hotels I stayed in over the course of the next few weeks as I will be putting together individual travel guides to each city, but I wanted to keep this post purely about the costings/planning of an inter-railing trip so hopefully these tips will come in handy when you’re looking to book something!

Costings:

Hotel De Seine, Paris – 2 nights = total £246 = £123pp

Hotel Parc Belle Vue, Luxembourg – 2 nights = total £204 = £102pp

Ibis Hotel Brugge Centrum, Bruges – 2 nights = total £140.98 = £70.49pp

 

Activities/optional tours

 

 

Luckily as a travel blogger I am able to reach out and pitch to tour companies/excursion brands in order to enhance my trip and book some much needed add-on’s. On this occasion I was lucky enough to work with tour company Triple and holiday company Euroventure whilst in Paris. I went on a guided tour around the secret passageways of Paris with Triple and went up the famous Montparnasse Tower with Euroventure and both of these experiences really enhanced our stay. Again I will be writing about both tours in more detail when my Paris travel guide goes live. I also worked with the Luxembourg Tourism Board whilst I was exploring their beautiful capital city and was offered complimentary visitor cards which enabled us to make use of free public transport, free museum entry and discounted entry to a range of other attractions which really helped our budget in a city which is quite expensive! Where possible, pitch to brands in order to keep costs down – you’re probably going to be writing about them for your blog anyway, so you may as well get something in return for it. Obviously we did more tours/trips whilst we were there, but here are the ones we pre-booked/pre-paid before we left and what they cost/saved us in money…

Costings:

Montparnasse access for 2 adults, Paris = £17pp – GIFTED to us by Euroventure

Guided passageway tour for 2 adults, Paris = £30pp – GIFTED to us by Triple

Luxembourg card for 2 adults, Luxembourg = £17.50pp – GIFTED to us by Luxembourg Tourism

 

Total breakdown

 

 

Transport: £284.55 (£142.28pp)

Accommodation: £590.98 (£295.49pp)

Extras: £129 (£64.50pp) if we hadn’t been kindly gifted them.

GRAND TOTAL = £437.77pp – still would have been under £500pp even if we had paid for the optional extras!

So as you can see, there were lots of different elements to this trip which did make it add up, but everything was kept at a relatively low cost, which definitely helped to stick within budget. Obviously we had additional spending money for food/drink, other excursions and attractions we wanted to visit, and this was covered by the euros we used for spends. When planning an inter-railing trip like this I would definitely take into consideration the time of year, dates of travel (ie try and go mid-week where possible) and try to book transport as far in advance as possible. As you can see, even with a train strike, we were still able to travel to our intended destination and it didn’t affect our holiday too much, but having as much planned in advance really helped to take the stress away from what was otherwise quite a hectic trip. We had a brilliant week away and I can’t wait for my next adventure… inter-railing is definitely my favourite method of travel and I hope this might inspire you to take a similar trip in 2018!

Have you ever been inter-railing before? Get in touch – I’d love to hear your train tales!

Love Jess x

 

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48 Hours in Ljubljana, Slovenia & a Fairytale Day Trip to Lake Bled

 

 

I know I start most of these posts with the same line, but if you’ve been following my blog for the past few months you might remember my travel guides to Warsaw, Prague and Salzburg from my autumnal inter-railing adventure last September that I took with my friend Toni. We spent nine days travelling around Europe and had the most magical time. The last stop of our adventure was lovely Ljubljana, and I think we certainly saved the best til last! This was my first visit to Slovenia, and it’s capital city had been high up on my bucket list for the past couple of years, since the tourist hype from the fairytale Lake Bled found its way on to my Instagram feed. My time in Ljubljana exceeded all of my expectations, and I had the most amazing couple of days which ended my inter-railing adventure perfectly. Two nights/three days was definitely enough time to spend in the city, and I even had time to take a full day trip to Lake Bled and explore some other beautiful areas too including the stunning Vintgar Gorge and the medieval town of Skofja Loka. Here’s what not to miss during your stay…

 

Look out for the numerous city bridges

 

 

As Ljubljana is fairly small, it’s super easy to walk around and it helps that it’s connected by a series of historic bridges in the middle!  Well known for being home to no less than SEVENTEEN bridges, the Slovenian capital is a visual treat and it’s bridges add to its interesting history. My favourite ones were the iconic Triple Bridge, Dragon Bridge and Butchers Bridge too. Dating back to the 1800s and at the heart of Preseren Square – the focal point of the city – the Triple Bridge is the city’s most famous and most visited too. I also loved the Dragon bridge which was built in 1901 with yep, you guessed it, huge green dragon statues at the end of each walkway. The Butchers Bridge is lined with glass walkways giving a view of the Ljubljanica river below, and the support cables either side are decorated with ‘lovelocks’ left by tourists and locals alike. I walked along these bridges many times during my stay to get from one end of the city to the other as they connect the old town with the new town and I found it to be a great way to get my bearings and explore the area!

 

Cross over the Ljubljanica river

 

 

Ljubljana is a modern, up and coming city with cool bars, nice restaurants and plenty of green spaces in between.  If, like me, you love nothing more than wandering around for hours and exploring a new city on foot, you will fall in love with Ljubljana. During the summer months I imagine the streets will be packed with tourists, but during my visit in September it was fairly quiet and we pottered about quite happily. Much like the bridges, the Ljubljanica river is at the heart of the city and its’ one of the most well known features. The city comes alive at night, and the numerous bars, cafe’s and restaurants that are dotted along the riverbanks make it a vibrant place to be no matter what time of year you’re visiting.

 

Climb up to the top of the castle tower

 

 

One of my favourite things to do when exploring a new city is climb a tower, or find a castle, or do BOTH! Luckily in Ljubljana I was able to do just that and discovered the medieval fortress that has been present since the 11th century. The castle was thought to have been constructed in the 15th century, and it’s prominent position on top of a hill enables it to take in some spectacular views over downtown Ljubljana below. After a short walk from the central Preseren Square, Toni and I took the funicular up to the top of the castle fortress where we were treated to stunning views over the city below just as the sun was starting to set. Exploring the castle grounds at dusk was a magical experience, as was catching the last of the sun’s rays as the red roofs shone in a bright orange glow on our first afternoon in Slovenia… Truly mesmerizing!

 

Take a day trip to Lake Bled…

 

 

Despite only having two nights to cram everything in, we knew that no visit to Ljubljana would be complete without a day trip to the most talked about lake in the world right now… the stunning Lake Bled! The wanderlust inducing images that I’ve seen all over social media made me want to visit this place months ago, and I’m soo glad we were able to squeeze in a visit during our time in Slovenia. The wonderful guys at Roundabout Travel booked me on to their full day Alpine Fairytale Tour which sounds as magical as the name suggests. One of the highlights was of course the magnificent Lake Bled which looked incredible against a backdrop of blue sky and yellow sunshine as we enjoyed a warm sunny day in September. Bled was everything I thought it would be and a little trip across to the island on a traditional Pletna made for the most photogenic boat ride I have ever taken. Despite its beauty, Bled was absolutely HEAVING with tourists and their annoying selfie sticks, especially at the cafe at the top of the hill which gave us some breathtaking panoramic views of the lake below. We did however enjoy an ice cream with our view before climbing up to the castle and seeing yet more spectacular scenery. I can see why it’s so popular – it took my breath away every time I looked at it and looked picture perfect from every single angle!

 

…and Lake Bohinj…

 

 

On our Apline Fairytale Tour we spent a full nine hours exploring different parts of Slovenia that you can’t see whilst in Ljubljana alone, and the tour really gave us a chance to see other important areas of the country. There was only six of us, and our tour of the Julian Alps began with a visit to the traditional medieval town of Skofja Loka, elevated 1000ft high and built in between two rivers, where we walked along its cobbled streets and stumbled across its ancient town square. Next up was a stop at Triglav National Park, with its resident glacial lake and mountainous backdrop. I’m gonna be a little controversial here and say that I actually thought this place, Lake Bohinj, was EVEN BETTER than Lake Bled because the mountains surrounding the lake were insane and there was literally no one around and it was so peaceful and beautiful and I just loved it so much. Isn’t it amazing what you can discover when you steer away from the tourist hot-spots and find hidden gems like this?! Our tour guide was amazing – super knowledgeable and really friendly whilst allowing us plenty of free time to explore at our own pace too – thank you Jerry for looking after us during our time in Slovenia!

 

…Oh and pay a visit to Vintgar Gorge too

 

 

As if you needed any more reasons to visit Slovenia than your very own WATERFALL! I had never heard of Vintgar Gorge until I booked on to the Alpine Fairytale Tour and it definitely ended up being one of the highlights of our entire trip, not just on our visit to Slovenia. Walking through the Gorge, with it’s caves, bridges, narrow walkways and glorious waterfalls was a truly amazing experience and one I definitely won’t forget in a hurry. You can walk at your own pace whilst following the trail, stopping to take in the scenery and to take a million photos like I did. The walk takes around an hour to complete and isn’t too difficult, just a little hilly and narrow in places but there are plenty of people about and a cafe/shop/toilets at the end for you to make use of. I got the most stunning photos of this place and every now and then I have to pinch myself and remember that I ACTUALLY went there because it was just so beautiful. If you get the chance to visit this place whilst in Ljubljana, please please go – I promise you’ll love it just as much as I did!

 

Where to eat/drink

 

The restaurants along the riverbank come alive at night

 

 

Ljubljana is brimming with trendy bars, cafe’s and restaurants to choose from during your stay and we were certainly spolit for choice when it came to finding some yummy food after a busy day of exploring. After crossing the Dragon Bridge you’ll walk alongside the Ljubljanica river and find numerous places to choose from. There are restaurants from all corners of Europe, most notably Austria and Italy where Slovenia takes lots of food influence from, and we ate in a fancy Italian restaurant one night which was AMAZING. We also found a cute cafe which served traditional Slovenian cakes including apple pie, derived from Balkan influences and one of the most popular dishes in the country. Whatever your tastebuds desire, you’ll be spoilt for choice in Ljubljana.

 

Where to stay

 

Image Courtesy of Cube Central Rooms For 2

 

As my friend and I were inter-railing for ten days we were on a budget and most of our accommodation consisted of hostels/cheap hotels. We were a little limited for choice in Ljubljana as we left it late to secure anywhere and we found there was a huge conference event taking place during the weekend we were there which meant that lots of hotels were already booked up months in advance. I did however manage to find a little gem just a stones throw away from the centre of the city which meant we could enjoy all the sights with the comfort of knowing that everything was within walking distance. Cube Central Rooms For 2 provided exactly as the title suggests – compact rooms for two in an unbeatable central location. This place was neither hostel nor hotel, more like tiny little self catering apartments with shared common rooms and bathrooms. Perfectly formed, despite being super small, and with key codes instead of physical keys, our double room barely had any space for ourselves let alone our suitcases and hoards of clothes, but it was cute and the beds were comfy which is all we really needed. I think the rooms were all full during our stay, but we rarely bumped into any other guests at all and pretty much had bathroom use whenever we wanted it – no queues for the toilet in the middle of the night! If you’re looking for luxury, this isn’t the place for you, but if you just want somewhere to rest your head for the night and enjoy a peaceful residential location just away from the city centre, I would definitely recommend Cube Central Rooms For 2! Thank you to Petra the lovely receptionist for making our short stay so comfortable!

 

As you can see, I managed to fit an awful lot in to my short time in Ljubljana, but I am sure there are many things that I missed and did not get chance to include. If, like me, you’re limited on time I would suggest that these sights are a good place to start. Ljubljana is so pretty and so full of greenery it would be nice to just find a park on a sunny day and enjoy the scenery, but equally it’s great fun for a jam-packed city break and the area has so much to offer. Have you ever been to Ljubljana before, or is it on your bucket list for 2018? Let me know as I would love to hear your thoughts!

Love Jess x

NB. My stay at Cube Central and my tour with Roundabout Travel were offered to me at a discounted rate for the purpose of this blog post, but all thoughts, images and notes are of course my own.

 

I'm currently drafting my #Ljubljana travel guide and it's giving me alllll the throwback feels 😍 The Slovenian capital was the last stop of my interrailing adventure back in September and I think we definitely saved the best til last! Here's the view from the top of Ljubljana Castle with the red roofs, green trees and shady mountains in the distance 🏰🏔 #ThrowbackThursday #VisitLjubljana #Slovenia #ifeelsLOVEnia . . . #travel #bloggers #travelblogger #wanderlust #worlderlust #travelphotography #traveladdict #instago #instatravel #travelgram #inspo #passionpassport #incredibledestinations #tourism #darlingescapes #lonelyplanet #beautifuldestinations #mytinyatlas #icelollyloves #travellover #girlsvsglobe #europe #interrail #girlslovetravel

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48 Hours in Salzburg: Discover The Magic Behind The Sound of Music

 

 

If you’ve been following my blog or social media channels lately you’ll know that I have recently returned from my epic inter-railing adventure around Europe with my lovely friend Toni and we had the most amazing ten days! After back to back whistle stop tours of Warsaw and Prague, next up on our trip was the stunning Austrian city of Salzburg. Famed for its Sound of Music film locations, its authentic puppet museum and its beautiful castle on the hill, Salzburg stole my heart as soon as I stepped off the train and I fell totally in love with everything about it.  I was lucky enough to arrange a meeting with the lovely Stephanie from Visit Salzburg who really helped us to plan our break to make the best possible use of our time, as well as providing us with our trusty Salzburg cards, but I  could have easily spent another day wandering around the Mirabell Gardens or admiring the view from the castle courtyard. Being the avid travel blogger that I am, I planned my trip well and did everything I wanted to do and more, so here are my tips on making the most of your short time in this incredible city…

 

Take a Sound of Music tour

 

 

An absolute must see whilst in Salzburg, The Sound of Music by Panorama Tours  offers a fun filled half day for all the family. With either a morning or an afternoon slot, and pick up from the central bus station, the tour starts and ends in the same location and ferries you around all day. Stopping at iconic film locations in and around Salzburg, the route begins at the beautiful Mirabell Gardens, where the famous Do-Re-Mi was filmed. You’ll then be driven to the Leopoldskron Palace, the location for the Von Trapp house and the lake and gardens where the boating scene took place. Next up is the Hellbrunn Palace grounds with its gazebo where the musical number ‘Sixteen going on Seventeen’ was filmed.  Afterwards you’ll stop by Nonnberg Abbey, the convent used in the film, and the Salzburg Lake District area where many of the picnic and outdoor scenes were filmed. Your sixth and final stop will be the beautiful town of Mondsee, where you’ll enjoy some free time to explore the cafe’s and shops at your leisure, before heading inside the stunning St Michael’s Church where Maria and Captain Von Trapp were married. The four hour tour was truly amazing and I thoroughly enjoyed visiting all the locations and seeing all the sights, as well as having a singalong on the tour bus in between stops! If you’re a Sound of Music fan this is the only tour you’ll want to take in Salzburg.

 

 

Wander around the Castle Courtyard

 

 

Gazing up at the castle on the hill

 

If you’re anything like me, castles will be one of your favourite things to see in any city and the Hohensalzburg Castle certainly didn’t disappoint. Set on top of the Festungsberg, a small hill at the heart of the city, the castle is complete with an incredible stone fortress and gives a real medieval feel when walking around the site. Erected by the Prince-Archbishops of Salzburg, who were already powerful political figures, construction first began in 1077 with expansions, including the towers and ring walls, later added in the 1460s. Situated at an altitude of over 500m, the castle offers incredible panoramic views over the old town and nearby hills below and is the focal landmark of the entire city. Take the funicular up to the top of the fortress and then wander round the interior and exterior of the castle at your leisure – don’t forget to check out the amazing Marionette museum to see the history behind this puppet art and you might even be treated to a miniature opera too!  The funicular ride and castle entrance are both free with your Salzburg card.

 

Discover DomQuartier’s architecture

 

The pretty cathedral and carousel on site for the Rupertikirtag Festival

 

This was my favourite part of the whole of Salzburg as it looked oh so beautiful both during the day time and lit up at night too. We were lucky to be staying whilst the historic Rupertikirtag Festival was on and were treated to fairground rides, marching bands, traditional food and a real authentic Austrian party. Despite the Festival giving plenty of reasons to keep us occupied, the DomQuartier area would keep you entertained for hours even if the Festival wasn’t taking place. The cathedral-museum complex, designed in traditional Baroque style, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is home to five museums and the stunning cathedral which is the focal point of the entire area. Choose to explore the state rooms of the Alte Residenz, the terrace above the cathedral arches or St Peter’s Abbey with its spiritual treasures exhibition of the oldest abbey in the German-speaking world. The stunning cathedral is one of the most amazing buildings I have ever seen; everything from its stained glass windows and its intricate altar to its enormous ceilings and its silent underground chamber complete with chapel and light room, left me with goosebumps and was a real highlight of my trip to the city. Don’t miss out!

 

Visit Mozart’s Birthplace

 

Photo courtesy of Visit Salzburg Tourism Board

 

Built in the 12th century and located in the centre of the historic old town, Number 9 Getreidegasse was the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in 1756, the seventh child of Leopold Mozart who was a musician of the Salzburg Royal Chamber. As we all know, the young Mozart became one of the most famous musicians the world has ever seen, and was perhaps best known for his iconic composition The Magic Flute. In 1880 his birthplace was turned into a museum and it has been welcoming guests ever since. Visitors can find out about the early life of the classical composer where they can see his first musical instruments being exhibited and they can also take a tour through some of the many residency rooms inside the building. Owned by the Mozart Foundation, entrance to the museum is free with your Salzburg card.

 

Where to Eat/Drink

 

Inside the cafe of the decadent Hotel Sacher

 

There are plenty of bars, restaurants and cafes to choose from in Salzburg, and they can be found in and around the DomQuartier area. We actually failed at being good travellers as we didn’t have a proper sit down meal at all during our time there – bad Jess!! On our first night it was pouring it down with rain so we sat in the common room in our hostel and watched The Sound of Music whilst eating takeaway pizza and chips! Our second night was spent having a traditional Austrian dish consisting of potatoes and sausage which we quickly chomped down whilst attending the Rupertikirtag Festival in the cathedral courtyard – think Oktoberfest and you’ve got it! I’d highly recommend taking the time to check out some of the other restaurants in the city centre though as they looked fantastic, and one thing you absolutely MUST do is have a slice of Sacher Torte (heavenly dark chocolate cake/cheesecake) at the world famous Hotel Sacher, the place that Julie Andrews stayed in whilst she filmed the Sound of Music!

 

Where to Stay

 

Photo courtesy of Hostelworld

 

As this was an budget inter-railing trip we spent both nights in Salzburg at the YoHo International Youth Hostel, located halfway between the train station and the historic city centre, both of which were a ten minute walk away. The hostel was kitted out for all ages and provided clean and tidy accommodation in an unbeatable location. Although pretty basic, our bunk bed room was a private room and did the job but we had shared toilets and showers which wasn’t ideal –  you could pay more to have a private en-suite room though if you’re not keen on sharing bathrooms. The bar and breakfast area was a great way of socialising and meeting fellow travellers and they play The Sound of Music film in the downstairs common room EVERY SINGLE NIGHT so I would suggest embracing this whilst you’re in Salzburg and making the most of the cheap pizza and giant screen! I’d highly recommend this hostel to those looking for a cheap place to stay for a couple of nights as hotels in Austria are notoriously expensive – thanks to the team for making our stay a great one.

Although not as big as the other two cities we had visited prior to our stopover in Austria, what Salzburg lacked in size it certainly made up for in charm. With its cobbled streets and wonderful cathedral at its small historic centre, there’s a lot to see in Salzburg and 48 hours gives just about enough time to do it all, especially if, like me, you have a snazzy Salzburg card. Thanks again to the lovely Stephanie at the Salzburg Tourism Board for helping to make our time in the city so special, and for our wonderful Salzburg cards, I can’t wait to return one day!

Love Jess X

NB. Our Salzburg cards and Sound of Music tour were complimentary for the duration of our visit and for the purpose of this post, but all thoughts and comments are of course my own.

 

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Prague Travel Guide: 48 Hours in the Czech capital

 

After my friend Toni and I kicked things off in Warsaw, the next stop on our inter-railing adventure was picture perfect Prague. I had already visited the Czech capital a few years previously, but was excited to go back and experience the city in warmer weather instead of in winter as I spent the whole of my last trip being FREEEEZING!! I spent my second visit to Prague seeing the sights again and finding new things to discover. Brimming with cobbled streets, stunning gothic architecture and an enormous amount of history, there’s so much to see in Prague and its hard to do it all in just 48 hours, but here are my tips on making the most of your short time in this fascinating city…

 

Take a walking tour

 

There’s nothing I love more than discovering a new city by foot, and the cobbled streets of Prague let you do exactly that! There are many different walking tours that’ll show you the city’s best sights and some of them are even free too. We took a free walking tour of the old town in the morning and then paid for a castle tour in the afternoon, which gave us access to the wonderful castle complex before finishing up at the iconic Charles Bridge. I know what you’re thinking, two tours in one day? Yep. Seven hours of walking? Yep. Our feet hurt and we barely sat down all day, but we made friends with everyone in our group and hung around afterwards with them for dinner, then for drinks, then we partied til 3am and we had the BEST TIME EVERRRR!

 

Explore Old Town Square

 

 

 

The focal point of the entire city is undoubtedly the old town square, with its astronomy tower, gothic church (Our Lady Before Tyn) and cobbled streets oozing character, charm and history. In and around the square you’ll find horse drawn carriages, souvenir shops and plenty of cafes, bars and restaurants to keep you occupied. At night the square totally comes alive and the tower and church are both lit up beautifully. Don’t forget to stand in front of the astronomy tower on the hour to see its enormous clock face come alive and create something very special. Prague’s New Town, with its Dancing House and famous Wenceslas Square are well worth a visit, but it’s the Old Town that totally steals my heart every time I visit this spectacular city.

 

Wander across Charles Bridge

 

Charles Bridge is one of the most amazing bridges I have ever walked across, and I’ve found myself just stopping in my tracks and gazing at it every time I’ve been lucky enough to be there. Built under the order of King Charles IV in 1352, the bridge crosses over the River Vltava and is part of the so called Royal Route. With statues, gargoyles and gothic towers at either end, the bridge is rich in history and is an absolute must see on your visit to Prague. Don’t forget to visit at night to see it lit up in all its glory!

 

Leave your mark on the John Lennon wall

 

 

I didn’t get to do this on my last visit, mainly because I didn’t know it existed and I had no idea what it was! Basically this wall is designed for anyone to come and leave their mark and express themselves, and is in memory of the late great John Lennon. The colours on the wall were so striking and it was such a cool, alternative thing to do in a city as historic as Prague. You can also stop by the world famous John Lennon pub if you fancy a pint – it’s conveniently located just across the road!

 

Discover the largest castle complex in Europe at Prague Castle

 

 

I’d been to Prague castle before on my last visit but kind of forgot how beautiful it was, especially when I was at the top of the fortress where the sun was shining and illuminating the pretty red roofs below. Our afternoon walking tour gave us access to the castle complex, including the grounds of the royal palace, the cobbled courtyards of the beautiful basilica and the inside and outside of the impressive St Vitus Cathedral. You could easily spend a few hours wandering around the complex, and exploring it’s many historical buildings too, and it was definitely a highlight of our visit to Prague.

 

Where to stay

 

 

We stayed in the super cool Sophie’s Hostel, located in a quiet neighbourhood just a 10 minute walk from Wenceslas Square and a 25 minute walk from the Old Town. The hostel had a real boutique hotel feel about it, and was much more glamorous than a standard hostel you’d expect to find. We had booked a private double room and we’re delighted to have been upgraded to an enormous apartment on arrival for the duration of our stay! We made the most of our giant bedroom, separate kitchen and big rainforest shower in the bathroom and loved having so much space all to ourselves. The bar and reception staff couldn’t have been more helpful throughout our stay, and we loved our pancakes at breakfast too! I would highly recommend Sophie’s Hostel as a fantastic place to stay during your visit to Prague, and it’s a great base for access to both the old and new town, as well as the airport and train station too.  Special thanks must go to the Sophie’s team for making our stay so wonderful!

 

Where to eat/drink

 

There are plenty of bars, restaurants and cafes to choose from in Prague, and most of them can be found in and around Wenceslas Square and the Old Town Square. We chose to eat in some of the side streets in the old town, as they generally tended to be much cheaper than the eateries that were situated on the square itself. We ate beef goulash in traditional tavernas and enjoyed wonderful meals both evenings – with so much choice you’ll find good food everywhere in Prague. We also ended up in the super cool Absinthe Bar on both of our evenings and had absolutely no regrets the next day – it was such a cool place to visit and our new friends from the tour loved it too!

Although I’ve been to Prague twice now and have seen such a lot during my time there, I know there are tonnes of other things to see and do that I haven’t even discovered yet. If you’re short on time though, this 48 hour guide should give you a good starting point on the main sights to cover and will stand you in good stead for your trip. Have you ever visited Prague before and would you go back like I did? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Love Jess X

 

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