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Three Days in Barcelona: Exploring with Marco Polo Guides

 

reading the barcelona book in barcelona!

Reading my Barcelona Marco Polo Guidebook

 

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

Wander down Las Ramblas

Las Ramblas, view of the busy street

A view of Las Ramblas from our hotel

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

Visit La Sagrada Familia

inside of sagrada familia, me with the audio guide

Using the audio guide to make our way around

The outsided of La Sagrada Familia

The beautiful La Sagrada Familia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Chill out on Barceloneta Beach

me in front of the marina in Barcelona

The beautiful Barcelona marina

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

Climb to the top of Montjuic Hill

views from montjuic hill over barcelona below

The breath-taking views from the top of Montjuic Hill

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

Explore the Gothic Quarter

me and my sister on the roof of catedral de barcelona

Exploring the rooftop of Catedral de Barcelona

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

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

Where to Stay

picture of hotel room

Our room at Eurostars Las Ramblas

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

Where to Eat

me with my cocktail!

Look at the size of those cocktails!

my sister with her cocktail

 

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

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

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

st josephs market

st josephs market

The bright colours of St Joseph’s Market

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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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A Travel Guide to Bruges: The Beautiful Belgian City

 

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

 

Climb the Bruges Belfry Tower

 

 

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

 

Take a boat ride around the canals

 

 

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

 

Learn about the history of chocolate at Choco-Story

 

 

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

 

Wander out towards the Bruges windmills

 

 

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

 

Enjoy Belgian frites in the Markt square

 

 

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

 

Visit the Basilica of the Holy Blood

 

 

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

 

Getting Around

 

 

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

 

Where to Stay

 

 

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

 

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

Love Jess x

 

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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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A Day in Oxford with Marco Polo Guides

Last weekend I spent a sunny Saturday wandering around my home city of Oxford, playing tourist and exploring it through different eyes as I joined a group of fellow travel bloggers and travel industry professionals for a fantastic event. Well known travel guide book company Marco Polo Guides, named after the famous Venetian merchant and explorer, were our hosts for the day and we were in Oxford to celebrate the launch of a brand new guide book for the city. This event was rather historic for Marco Polo, with it being their first ever blogger event, and with this book being the first ever UK guidebook (outside of London) to be published. The weather was super kind to us and we had a wonderful time checking out the landmarks, finding little hidden gems and talking all things travel with some wonderful bloggers and professionals. Here are my highlights from this wonderful day…

 

 

Brunch at Handle Bar Café

 

 

We kickstarted our day with late brunch at quirky café The Handle Bar, right in the heart of the city centre but tucked down the quiet St Michael’s Street, away from the hustle and bustle. This place was super cool and doubled up as a bicycle repair garage a well as a café. Specialising in dietary requirements, there were plenty of healthy, vegan and vegetarian options to choose from. Most of the fellow attendees went for a healthy poached eggs and avo combo, whereas I went for a big full English and made sure I enjoyed every mouthful! Although super busy, the vibe was really laid back, the staff were so friendly and lovely and it was a great place to meet everyone for the first time.

 

Bar & pub stops at The Varsity Club and The Turf Tavern

 

 

After brunch we walked up the high street towards the famous Covered Market, which is home to tonnes of little shops, cafes and boutique stores. We wandered around the market and then had some free time to explore. As a local girl, I have walked round the Covered Market approx. 5000 times and although it is lovely, there isn’t loads to see. However, when I suggested heading to rooftop bar The Varsity Club for views of the dreaming spires, a large proportion of the group wanted to follow suit and I gladly lead the way up the steep staircase to this hidden gem located on Oxford’s High Street. Sunshine? Check. Aperol spritz? Check. Rooftop views? Check. What more could you want on a sunny Saturday afternoon?! After we re-grouped and went on a bit more walking, we then decided to head to famous pub The Turf Tavern, just off Holywell Street, and parked ourselves in their rather small but very cutesy beer garden. A regular haunt of the likes of CS Lewis, Thomas Hardy and, more recently a whole host of political figures including Margaret Thatcher and Bill Clinton, this historic Grade II listed building is super popular with locals and tourists alike and is a must-visit when in Oxford.

 

Walking tour of the city

 

 

As it’s so small, Oxford is best explored on foot and you can definitely see it all in a day. Obviously I’ve lived here all my life so I know pretty much everything there is to know about Oxford, but I know walking is always the best method of discovery – trust me when I say that parking/driving is a nightmare! Our walking tour took us from the Covered Market, down the High Street and towards the Head of the River where we stopped to watch the boats going punting up and down the Thames. We then made our way past both the Queens and Oriel colleges before stopping to take lots of photos down pastel coloured Holywell Street which is an Instagrammers DREAM! After that we headed towards the Bodleian Library, Sheldonian Theatre and the Bridge of Sighs before making our way towards the most famous landmark in the city, the beautiful RadCam.

 

Free time at the Radcliffe Camera

 

 

Probably my most favourite building in oxford, and definitely the most popular, the Radcliffe Camera is a sight to behold at any time of year, but even more so when the skies are blue and the sun is shining! Belonging to Oxford University, and built in the 1730s in a Neo-Classical style, the Camera is used to house the Radcliffe Science Library and is situated just behind the High Street, between Brasenose and All Souls Colleges. The square it sits in is always busy with tourists, but it’s location opposite the pretty St Mary’s Church is enviable and I would definitely recommend climbing the steps of the church tower for breath-taking panoramic views of the Camera and the rest of the city’s spires below.

 

Champagne afternoon tea at The Vaults & Garden

 

 

We ended our day the way we started it – with lots of food and drink! Perfectly positioned directly opposite the Radcliffe Camera, the Vaults and Garden Café is within the crypt of St Mary’s Church and its outdoor garden offers unspoilt views of the Camera itself. We sat inside as there were so many of us, and the interior was beautiful, with original stone walls from the church and a lovely décor too. We were treated to the most amazing afternoon tea, with sandwiches, cakes and scones as well as hot and soft drinks and some bubbles too. Sitting down for afternoon tea in such a beautiful setting was the perfect way to end a fantastic day filled with travel, blog talk and lots of fun! The staff couldn’t do enough for us, they were all so friendly and super welcoming so I will definitely be coming back to the Vaults and Garden for more sweet treats and I already can’t wait to tell my friends all about it!

 

As you can see, our day consisted of lots of walking and lots of food and drink stops which was a great way of seeing the city and spending quality time with my new blogger friends. The team at Marco Polo were fantastic, super friendly and really welcoming. It was so nice to attend a local event as I am always travelling to and from London to attend blogging courses/conferences and work-shops etc, so it was so nice to stay so close to home! I was born in Oxford and have grown up there so obviously know the city like the back of my hand, but it was amazing to experience it in a different light and share some of my insider tips with the rest of the gang too. Have you ever been to Oxford before? What do you like most about it? I know I’m biased but I think it’s one of the prettiest cities in the UK, and there really is no place like home!

Love Jess x

N.B. A huge thankyou must go to Hayley, Senja, Diane and Petra from Marco Polo for putting on such a fantastic event, and to the Handle Bar and The Vaults for a wonderful brunch and afternoon tea to start and end the day! I was invited to this event as a guest of Marco Polo Guides, but as always all thoughts, comments, and words are of course my own.