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Kotor Travel Guide – 1 Day in Montenegro’s Fairytale City

 

Last month I returned from my first ever cruise and had the most amazing time exploring new parts of the Mediterranean I had never visited before. I was on board Marella Cruises Celebration ship doing their ‘Sail the Three Seas’ itinerary and after a day in Dubrovnik, our next port of call was charming Kotor, one of Montenegro’s most beautiful cities. A trendy destination for 2018, Kotor is fast becoming THE go-to place for your next European city break, and with its cobbled streets, quaint town square, dramatic mountain backdrop and water front location, it’s not hard to see why. I only spent half a day in Kotor as we had an early sail away on our cruise (the ship departed at 4pm) but we sailed in nice and early so still got to see a good chunk of the city before we had to leave. If, like me, you only have a few hours to spend here, this is what I recommend you should do…

 

Wander round the Old Town

 

 

Walking on foot is always the best way to get around, and what better way to explore a new city than to soak up its charm and culture from its pretty old town? Kotor is a tiny city, and its old town is even smaller, with cute cobbled streets, an abundance of restaurants and shops, and some gorgeous buildings thrown in too. The old town was just a short stroll from the harbour where our cruise ship was docked, and the walk past the waterfront and the ancient archways brought us right in to the heart of Kotor within a matter of minutes. One thing I really loved about the old town was that it was completely pedestrianised, so we could wander around as much as we liked without having to worry about cars or buses driving by loudly and filling the air with petrol fumes!

 

Climb St John’s Fortress and it’s city walls

 

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*NEW BLOG POST* ((link in bio)) A Travel Guide to #Kotor City walls ✅ Red roofs ✅ Waterfront location ✅ Mountainous backdrop ✅ The pretty city of #Kotor makes the perfect place for a quick European weekend getaway ✈️ Kotor was the second stop on my recent #cruise with @tuiuk and I think it may have just been my favourite destination of our entire itinerary 🌍 We walked along the cobbled streets and marvelled at the many churches before meandering through the ancient archways and taking a walk along the glamorous waterfront where we found luxury yachts, enormous cruise liners and posh boats a plenty 🚢 If you're planning a trip to the prettiest city in #Montenegro, come and read my #travel guide which has just gone live on the blog on today's #wanderlustwednesday! 💻 journeyswithjessica.net #marella #marellacruises #marellacelebration #cruiselife

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I wouldn’t recommend doing this in the height of summer as Kotor gets very hot, but during the cooler months, a hike from the old town up to St John’s fortress is an absolute MUST. Starting at the North Gate, wander through the old town and then climb up alongside the city walls to discover more of Kotor than you can see from the ground. The construction of the walls started way back in the 9th century, but it wasn’t until the 15th century that the walls joined together to form a loop up into the hillside, stretching for a full 4.5 kilometres. Your hike will take you 260m above sea level and you’ll climb over 1350 steps, up steep slopes and winding stone staircases, until you reach the top of St John’s Fortress (or San Giovanni as it is also known) where you’ll be treated to the most amazing views over the bay of Kotor below. What an absolute TREAT this sounds like! I was gutted I didn’t to do this during my visit as a) it was ridiculously hot at 35 degrees, and b) the hike takes approx. 2-3hrs to complete and we just didn’t have enough time to fit it in to our short stay. It’s at the top of my bucket list for my return visit though!

 

Walk down to the water front

 

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Don't mind me, just posing in front of expensive boats like it's the most normal thing in the world 🙋 I'm currently writing up my #travel guide to #Kotor and can't wait to share it with you all! This pretty city is fast becoming the new go-to place for a European break in 2018, and with cute cobbled streets, an ancient old town and a glamorous waterfront like this, it's not hard to see why! 😍 I LOVED my time in #Montenegro when I visited as part of my recent #cruise and am already planning a return trip to explore more of this gorgeous country 🌍 Have you ever been to Kotor before? On this miserable windy day in England, I know where I'd rather be rn ✈️ #TBT #VisitKotor #VisitMontenegro #MarellaCruises #GoMontenegro #Insta_Montenegro #MontenegroWildBeauty #KotorMontenegro #KotorBay #CruiseLife #Europe #TravelGuide #TUI #ThrowbackThursday

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This was easy for us as we HAD to walk past the water front to get into Kotor itself, but if you’re not visiting on a cruise I would definitely recommend taking the 5-10 min walk from the city centre down to the waterfront. The walk alone is worth it just to look at the line-up of magnificent yachts, cruise ships and fancy boats all docked in the harbour whilst their owners descend on the city. It can get extremely busy in the city centre when cruise ships are in town, and as Kotor is so tiny, it can feel a little overwhelming and very overpopulated in a short space of time. That’s why I think spending some time down on the water front allows you to get away from the hustle and bustle of the busy streets and gives you a little breathing space, plus the views of the harbour with the magnificent mountains in the background are seriously stunning!

 

Visit one of the many Churches

 

 

I absolutely adore churches and try to see at least 1 or 2 in every city that I visit when I’m travelling, so I hit the jackpot with Kotor which is home to a number of religious buildings and each one tells their own story. All of the churches are either Catholic or Orthodox, with the majority being Orthodox, and they are dotted all across the city, with some perched high up in the mountains too. We went inside the miniature St Luke’s Church which was ornate and delicate with a stunning altar and small confessional room to the rear. We also visited the stunning St Tryphon’s Cathedral, the most famous in the city, which was built in 1166 and houses the relics of St Tryphon, the Patron Saint and Protector of Kotor. If you’re feeling energetic, hike up to the hills where you’ll discover St George’s Church, a 1000 year old ancient building perched at the back of St John’s hill which can be reached when climbing the city walls. These are just a few of the many Churches that can be found in Kotor, I just wish I had time to see them all!

 

Take a boat trip round the Bay of Kotor

 

 

We didn’t really fancy the idea of getting off one boat and on to another one so we didn’t actually take a boat trip around the Bay of Kotor, but if I hadn’t been visiting whilst on a cruise I definitely would have done! We saw tonnes of sales people up and down the waterfront trying to lure passing customers to one of their pretty boats, with yachts, small boats and even speedboats offering fantastic rides around the bay. As we had already seen the bay whilst sailing in to Kotor, I didn’t feel it was necessary for us to do a different boat trip here, and knew the sail away later that evening would be just as spectacular as the sail in that morning, with incredible views around the fijord each time. I would however have loved to do a speedboat or small boat tour around the Blue Caves of Kotor as this place looked amazing! The waters are gorgeously clear (and blue, obvs) and offer fantastic snorkelling spots. On most of the tours we were offered you can combine the Blue Caves with a stop off at Our Lady of the Rocks, an ancient church and museum which is one of Montenegro’s most popular attractions situated on its own island just in front of Perast, a UNESCO World Heritage Town. I’d definitely do one of these tours next time I return to Kotor and would recommend it to anyone who has time to do a 3hour tour whilst they are in the city.

 

These are the main things I would recommend to do if you’re short on time, but if you’ve got a few days to spare I would also squeeze in a visit to the nearby town of Budva, which looks stunning and I’ve heard amazing things about it! There’s also a tiny beach in Kotor, tucked around the corner away from the old town but I could see it from my cruise ship and it didn’t look like it was too far to walk to at all, so if you want a little beach time then you can do that too. Oh and if you’re visiting whilst on a cruise, make sure you wake up bright and early for the sail in – it was INCREDIBLE! My favourite sail in of the entire trip – gliding into the fijords was breath-taking and honestly one of the most magical travel experiences of my life. Montenegro is truly gorgeous and I can’t wait to return one day! Have you been to Kotor, or other parts of Montenegro before? I’d love to know what you thought of it!

Love Jess x

 

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Top 10 Tips for First Time Cruisers In Their Twenties

Doing the Titanic pose all by myself cos this Rose doesn't need a Jack in her life 😎 I've been home for just 24 hours and I'm already missing being at sea 🌊 Words can't describe the amazing experience I had on my first ever cruise 🚢 I was so nervous before going as I suffer so much with travel sickness (ironic as I'm a travel blogger) but luckily I was absolutely fine and kept well the entire time! It's only now that I'm home I'm suffering with motion sickness despite being back on land! What is THAT all about?! 😩I think it means I need to book another cruise asap, I'm a total convert now and loved waking up in a new place each day, but my favourite thing was spending hours looking out at the blue waters, with nothing but the ocean staring back at me 🐬 Can I go be a mermaid again please? #cruiselife #titanicpose #takemeback #marellacruises

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If you’ve been reading this blog for the past few months you’ll know that I booked the holiday of a lifetime a year ago, way back in August 2017, and have been banging on about it ever since! My mum’s 50th and my grandad’s 80th birthday’s had to be pretty special, right? So when 12 of us decided we wanted a mega family holiday to celebrate these two milestones, a cruise was right at the top of our list, although it may not be the obvious holiday choice for me as a young 25 year old! I made no secret of the fact that I’d never been on a cruise before, and that I suffer with horrendous travel/motion sickness everywhere I go, so volunteering for a cruise may have seemed plain stupid, and I was very nervous prior to travel. My nerves were short lived though as my first cruise experience was absolutely INCREDIBLE! I travelled with TUI on their Marella Celebration ship and loved everything about being at sea, from waking up in a new destination each day, to watching glorious sunsets every evening from the top deck, feeling the wind in my hair and gazing into the blue waters below. It really opened my eyes to a new way of travelling, and completely dispelled the myth that cruising is ‘only for old people (!)’. If, like me, you’re in your twenties and are a little nervous about taking your first cruise, hopefully this blog post will help to put your mind at rest as I talk you through what to expect from your first experience at sea, and share some top tips to help you prepare for your holiday.

 

Dress for all occasions

Whatever the weather, and whatever the time of year, you’ll still need to take plenty of clothes for your cruise holiday, especially if (like me) you change outfits three times a day when you’re away! I packed as if I was going on a beach holiday as it was mid-end August and 30-33 degrees in most places we visited, so took tonnes of tops, shorts, skirts, playsuits, swimwear, sandals etc etc. You can generally wear whatever you like during the day, but I know dress codes vary in the evening depending on which cruise liner you’re travelling on. Marella Cruises are very laid back with their dress code, so I just took party clothes and all the ladies I saw wore dresses each evening out, whilst the men were in trousers/jeans and a top/shirt, but I saw lots of men wearing tailored shorts in the evening too. We had one ‘formal night’ which wasn’t that posh and, although lots of women wore long dresses (not ball gowns) and the men wore suits, not everyone did and you certainly didn’t have to. It can get a little chilly up on the deck when you’re sailing at night, so take a light cardi with you if you’re planning on heading out on top, otherwise the climate depends on where you go but I found the Med in August to be super warm even at midnight!

 

Plan your time in each port

I wish I’d done more of this so I could have maximised the time I had in each stop, but looking back I just kinda went with the flow and enjoyed not being super organised during my first cruise. I am SUCH a planner so I really should have thought this through more, but I actually didn’t know what I wanted to do in each destination until I stepped off the boat after docking. Before you travel you’ll get sent a detailed itinerary of your route, and suggested excursions/things to do in each port. I didn’t pay much attention to this until I was actually on board, which was a mistake as often with the excursions you needed to book up to 48hrs in advance, so by the time I thought about booking a trip it was often too late. I did however come across lots of local tour companies that can be found ashore and their trips are often cheaper than if you were booking through the cruise ship directly, so you can save some pennies but just make sure you’re back in time before the ship departs for the next stop! I was travelling in a group of 12 and not all of us wanted to spend loads of time in the ports, so we tended to get up early to watch the sail in (a must if you love sunrises!) and then had breakfast on the deck before getting off the ship around 10, exploring the port for a few hours and then heading back to the ship for a late lunch and an afternoon of sunbathing. I would have been more adventurous and spent more time in each port if I’d have planned my time properly, but it was quite nice to get a taster of each destination and then spend the rest of the afternoon relaxing and enjoying the best of what the boat had to offer –  it was a holiday and not a sightseeing trip after all!

 

 

Look up the entertainment on board

Obviously each ship/cruise liner varies, but Marella Cruises offer a fantastic selection of on-board entertainment both in the daytime and in the evening. We loved the relaxed and friendly atmosphere round the pool areas, which was created by the musical trivia, pub quizzes, bingo and various other games that were played throughout the day. If you decide not to get off a the port and just spend time on the ship instead you’ll find you’re never short of something to do. On our day at sea I was worried I was going to get cabin fever and would be bored but it was actually really nice to spend some time sunbathing, exploring parts of the ship we hadn’t seen yet, and swimming in the pool. I even booked a spa day for my mum and I which was soooo needed! Other liners will undoubtedly have plenty of things to see and do whilst on board, and the evening entertainment is usually fantastic, with Broadway theatre shows, duty free shopping, live music and casinos aplenty. Most cruise liners offer top notch entertainment, with high quality dancers, singers and actors etc so you needn’t worry about planning your evenings whilst on board.

 

Take limited cash

I wish I had known this before I travelled, but every day is a learning day! I took 300 euros with me for my trip and only ended up spending 200, which is pretty good going but I stupidly thought you could only pay in local currency, and didn’t realise that you set up your account when you first arrive on board as everything is operated using a cashless system. This is great if you’re not wanting to take large amounts of cash abroad with you, and I know most cruise liners operate in this way. Your account is open from the minute you dock to the moment you disembark the ship at the end of the holiday, and can be used to buy drinks at the bar, items in the shops and photos in the lab. I loved this idea, but as everything I bought was in pounds, I didn’t realise that when I wanted to settle my account at the end of the trip in cash, paying euros meant that I lost out on the exchange rate and ended up paying more than I needed to. You can pay in pounds in cash or by using your debit/credit card, and in hindsight I kinda wish I had done that as my bill came to £167, but I wanted to get rid of my euros and ended up spending €216 which is a huge difference when you compare the two currencies side by side. Either way I knew I wanted to get rid of my cash euros, but next time I will just take small amounts of cash and use it for spending in the ports, rather than using it to pay my bill, and will pay that off using pounds instead. Hopefully this tip will help you guys to avoid the mistake that I made!

 

Opt for an all-inclusive food and drinks package

Packages vary with different cruise liners, but I would 100% recommend booking an all-inclusive food and drinks package for your first cruise. Most packages can be purchased before travel, or you can upgrade during your trip, but Marella Cruises had a reasonable rate for their packages, and ours was actually included within our price as we got a special group deal when booking a year in advance. The best thing about an all-inclusive package is that you don’t have to get your wallet out and pay any money for drinks/additional extras during your holiday. I mean, I know you’ve kinda already paid for it before travel, but soft drinks, cocktails and beers etc all add up, and I loved drinking as much as I wanted each day without feeling like I was spending any money. If you don’t drink a lot then maybe the package isn’t worth it, but drinks on their own were around £5-£8 per drink, so even if you have 2-3 a day the cost soon adds up! I loved the feeling of not spending physical cash when I was on-board, and will definitely opt for the all-inclusive package next time I go cruising.

 

 

Stick to adults only cruising

A no-brainer for us, as we were travelling in a large group of 12, and I was nervous enough about getting close to the edge of ship without worrying about 8 million children running around! I really loved the chilled out vibe of our Marella Cruise, and I think it really helped that there were no children on board. Queues at food stations and the bars were generally not as long, and all entertainment/trips were geared towards adults not kids meaning everything appealed to us. I would advise booking an adults only cruise for your first one just because everything is much more laid back, and I can imagine kids running around the deck is quite annoying! Not to mention the fact that I’d never have got in the pool if there were kids in it! Adults only, for the win.

 

Be aware of the tipping policy

Again, every cruise-liner is different, so check with your travel agent about this before you go, but tipping is either included or not included on-board and it is best to be prepared before you travel so you know what to expect. I think more expensive liners like Princess and Royal Caribbean operate a tipping policy, but on our Marella cruise we were told that all tips are included within your package, so there was no need to pay extra. We did however receive outstanding service from our waiters and cabin cleaners during our trip and, because we were a group of 12, we wanted to give them a little extra to say thank you. This is completely optional though and not compulsory at all given that all tips are included with Marella cruises.

 

Don’t use your phone when you’re at sea

This is probably the single most important piece of advice I can offer. If you’re from the UK and have a phone tariff which allows EU roaming (most of us do) you absolutely MUST turn off your data roaming whilst you’re at sea, otherwise you’ll incur charges for using your data. And the charges are extortionate, trust me! To be honest it is best to just turn the phone off so as not to incur charges from sending/receiving texts and phone calls too. Whilst you’re at sea your phone will run on a maritime tariff which is stupidly expensive! I just used my data when I was at port each day then switched my phone off in the evenings, but if you want to take pictures and use the rest of your phone you can do that just make sure data roaming is OFF! Seriously, my aunty got charged £52 for a 7minute phone call whilst we were at sea. Just don’t risk it guys! There are usually wi-fi packages you can purchase but these can be expensive and often they are low-speed, so I wouldn’t say they are particularly worth the money. Save that Facebook status til later and enjoy a social media detox, that’s what I did!

 

 

Work out which room type is best for you

Inside cabins, outside cabins, balcony cabins, deluxe balcony cabins, suites and luxury suites; the options are endless when cruising, and there are room types to suit all on board! Whether you’re a solo traveller looking for a single room, or a couple needing a double, there are plenty of room types to choose from, and inside and outside cabins differ in size and type too. I really didn’t want a room which felt too confined/claustrophobic as it was my first cruise, so I chose an outside cabin with a porthole. I would have liked to be higher up on the ship, but to be honest being on deck 1 (the lowest) didn’t actually bother me. Having a porthole was nice as it was great to have natural light and have a look when we were sailing, but sometimes I closed the curtain over the window so if it came down to price and there was a significant difference, I actually wouldn’t mind having an inside cabin! Almost everyone in our party had outside cabins (twins/doubles) apart from one who had a balcony at triple the price! I have to say, it was so lovely to see it and my aunty and uncle loved waking up and sitting out on their balcony first thing in the morning, but you’re hardly in your room when you’re cruising so, personally, I really don’t think they are worth the money especially when the decks can be reached in just a few mins and you can be outside in no time! There really are options to suit everyone though, so it’s worth finding out what room types are on offer before you book.

 

Don’t worry if you get sick – you’re in good hands!

I was sooo nervous about my first cruise because I get so sick when I travel, but luckily I was absolutely fine the entire time! Sea-bands work a treat for queasiness by the way, I suffered with that a little but wasn’t actually sick at all during my holiday, I felt worse when I got back on land! If you do get poorly though, fear not because there is a pharmacy and doctors on board, so you’ll be well looked after if you’re in need of some TLC. As bugs and illnesses can spread very quickly on board a cruise there are sanitizing stations at almost every area, both in and out, so please make sure you use these whenever you can to minimise illness and to have a happy, healthy cruise!

 

I could go on forever with the amount of pointers I could share from my first cruise as a twenty something girl, and nothing quite prepares you for your first time at sea, but I hope this post gives you an idea of what to expect as a first time cruiser (whether you’re in your twenties or not), and offers some tips to make the most of your holiday! I absolutely loved my time away and will be posting a full review of the exact itinerary I took with Marella Cruises so you can see where I went and what I got up to. Have you ever been cruising before? Or have you never been but have got one booked? I’d love to hear your thoughts, and do let me know if you have any other questions that I haven’t covered as I would love to try and help!

Love Jess x

 

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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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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