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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.

 

 

 

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Travel Guide to Geneva, the Chic Swiss City

 

 

Last summer I had the pleasure of spending a couple of days exploring the Swiss city of Geneva. It was my first time to the city, and to the country of Switzerland, and nothing could prepare me for its undeniable beauty (and its extortionate prices!). My visit to Geneva came at the start and end of my trip to the ski resort of Nendaz, where I spent a week enjoying summer in the Alps for the first time in my life. Just a short flight from London (1h 40m), Geneva plays host to the United Nations HQ and is the perfect place for a short weekend city break no matter what time of year. Surrounded by stunning countryside and boasting an enormous, clear blue lake with the famous Jet D’Eau water fountain at its heart, Geneva is truly captivating. The cobbled streets of the old town provide history and culture, contrasting perfectly with the snazzy sidewalks of the new town, with its designer shopping quarter reflecting the city’s wealth. I only had 1 night/2 days to explore this pretty place, but here’s what I got up to during my time there…

 

Marvel at the Jet D’Eau & wander round Lake Geneva

 

Lake Geneva in the summer sunshine

 

The focal point of the entire city and probably its most famous attraction, Lake Geneva and it’s wonderful Jet D’Eau are an absolute must-see when in the Swiss capital. You can’t really miss them to be honest, and you wouldn’t want to either as they are stunning! The blue water shimmers in the bright sunshine whilst the Jet D’Eau, an enormous fountain that shoots water 100ft high into the air, dominates the city skyline, with surrounding mountains in the background. You can take a boat across the river to see the rest of the city from the water, or just simply walk around the lake and admire it from every angle whilst staying nice and dry. I walked round the lake a couple of times during my short stay in Geneva and loved nothing more than parking myself on a bench, devouring some gelato and staring into the deep blue water watching the world go by. Look out for the swans though – they are EVERYWHERE!

 

Take a stroll around the Old Town

 

The gothic St Pierre Cathedral

 

I’m a sucker for an Old Town, and I wasn’t sure where Geneva’s was during my first couple of hours as I wandered around aimlessly on my own whilst waiting for the other girls on my blogger trip to arrive. However, after consulting my map and tearing myself away from the Lake for a few minutes, I realised that the Old Town lay just behind the busy district quarter and could see the spire of St Pierre’s Cathedral peeping from behind the tall buildings. The Old Town is quite small, but really cute with cobbled streets, tiny buildings and traditional shops and restaurants. Just as you’d expect, there was a wonderful cathedral right at its beating heart, and St Pierre’s was a really beautiful church with a tall, striking spire. The Old Town is also home to the longest wooden bench in the world, The Marronnier de la Treille, and was built in 1767. At 413ft long, the bench snakes around Geneva’s promenade and is tucked behind the city hall, overlooking the pretty La Treille Park. Despite having almost every aspect of an Old Town, this area didn’t actually have a central market square from which everything centred around, and I kind of missed that element when comparing Geneva to other European cities. It is split right in half from the New Town to the Old Town though, so I guess the split kind of centres everything, I just missed having a market square to wander round!

 

Wander through Jardin Anglais

 

The famous flower clock with the Geneva ferris wheel in the distance

 

One of the most popular areas of Geneva is without doubt the beautiful Jardin Anglais. Best enjoyed in summer, the gardens are a colourful spectacle which come alive in the sunshine and create picture perfect photo opportunities at every turn. The famous ‘clock face’ is built into the floral displays and is the busiest place for a quick selfie, although you may have to battle your way through the crowds first! You can take a train through the gardens for a relaxing ride around the park, or why not hop on a boat at the edge of the pier and take a trip over the lake? There are small shops, café’s and ice cream vans at every turn offering plenty of food and drink if you fancy a picnic, but you’re still just a stones throw from the Old Town with its winding cobbled streets if you’re wanting to eat a little more substantially.

 

Shop til you drop in the business quarter

 

The water front divides the old and new town in the city

 

For a city with so much history, it may surprise you to see a vast row of ultra-modern office buildings and high end stores and eateries right in the middle of the city. Located just behind Lake Geneva, and with St Stephen’s Cathedral and the Old Town in the distance, the business quarter screams luxury and adds a new dimension to Geneva. Women totter around in high heels, guys stride confidently in their suits, and there are children being pushed in designer prams everywhere you look! Geneva is well known for its jewellery and watch-making, and this plays a huge part in the retail market here. I don’t tend to shop or spend much time in business quarters when I’m on a city break, mainly because I can’t think of anything worse than going clothes shopping when I’m abroad, but this place has a different feel to it and I was weirdly drawn to its luxurious centre. Whilst you wouldn’t catch me in Prada, I did find myself wandering around for an hour admiring all the glamorous locals and people watching to the max whilst I was stuffing my face with gelato and trying to look posh! When in Geneva…

 

Where to eat/drink

 

The marina is home to a number of restaurants, cafes and bars to enjoy

 

I had such a short amount of time in Geneva that I didn’t really get chance to sample the Swiss cuisine or try out any of the local restaurants. As I spent the night in a hostel with my blogger friends, and it was chucking it down with rain, we actually decided to get food from the supermarket for a quick meal and had a movie night in the hostel common room, chatting with fellow travellers and soaking up the bacpacker vibes before we were treated to 5* luxury in our ski chalet over in Nendaz! We passed a number of fancy restaurants by the lake and in the old town though, and they did look amazing! There were some on the waterfront with gorgeous views, and some tucked away down side streets in the old town, and they all looked super cute but quite expensive. As we were staying close to the train station, there wasn’t a large selection of restaurants within close walking distance and we didn’t want to go far as it was raining so much. If I had  more time though, and wasn’t on as much of a budget, I definitely would have wandered down to the lake to check out some of the eateries that were on offer. I know cheese fondue is huge in Switzerland (we had it loads in Nendaz!) so I would highly recommend treating yourself to this delicious dish whilst you’re in Geneva!

 

Where to stay

 

Image courtesy of Booking.com

 

As we were only there for one night at the start of our blogger trip, we didn’t want to pay a lot of money and were on a limited budget. Everything in Geneva is damn right expensive,  but when we found a hostel for £30pp we jumped for joy and booked it as quickly as we possibly could! We stayed in City Hostel Geneva which was in a great location, not far from the train station and within walking distance to all the major attractions in the city. Unfortunately it was really hot that night and the air con wasn’t great, but it was only for one night and we survived! The proximity to the train station really helped though and I would definitely recommend this place if you’re looking for somewhere cheap to stay in a city which is super expensive. Otherwise, have a look at some of the independent/chain hotels located near the train station, they all looked very fancy and expensive, but if you can afford to splash the cash then there’s no better place to do it than Geneva!

 

As you can see, my time in Geneva was short and sweet but super fun, and it made for a lovely start and finish to my week long trip in Nendaz. Although one of the most expensive cities I have EVER visited, Geneva is one of those places with serious wow factor, and you actually don’t mind paying over the odds to just enjoy being in the Swiss city. Summer was a great time to visit and made the gorgeous lake look even more blue and sparkly, but I can imagine in winter the place feels super festive and looks amazing too. Whatever time of year you visit, you’ll be sure to have a magical stay in wonderful Geneva. Have you ever been before? Let me know what you thought of it, and if it was worth the money!

Love Jess x

 

Til next time, Geneva!

 

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Prague Travel Guide: 48 Hours in the Czech capital

 

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

 

Take a walking tour

 

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

 

Explore Old Town Square

 

 

 

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

 

Wander across Charles Bridge

 

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

 

Leave your mark on the John Lennon wall

 

 

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

 

Discover the largest castle complex in Europe at Prague Castle

 

 

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

 

Where to stay

 

 

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

 

Where to eat/drink

 

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

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

Love Jess X

 

*NEW BLOG POST* September Newsletter: Read what I've been getting up to this month! ((link in bio)) #wordpress #newpost #newsletter

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Travel Guide to Sofia: The historic Bulgarian capital

 

Standard ice cream shot whilst on a sunny city break 🍦🍦 Look at those blue skies 😍😍 #Sofia #Bulgaria #visitsofia

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OK so this is post is waaaaaayy overdue, but better late than never, right?! I visited Sofia back in May after snapping up flights with Ryanair for £30 return. Yep, you heard correctly, £15 each way for the 3hours it took to get from Birmingham to Bulgaria. This trip was totally unintentional and completely unplanned, but when my lovely friend Toni and I decided to frantically browse Skyscanner for cheap flights to anywhere, we realised this bargain was too good of an opportunity to pass up. Fast forward seven days and we were sat on our flight heading across to the furthest Eastern European country I have ever visited! Here’s what we got up to during our time in Bulgaria, and I’ve listed my top highlights for this cultural capital city…

 

Take a FREE walking tour

 

 

I absolutely LOVE free walking tours and feel they are the best way to discover a new city for the first time, especially as they help to get your bearings when you’re wandering around like a crazy person trying to find out where everything is. The free walking tour in Sofia begins outside the Palace of Justice, right in front of the steps, and departs every day at 11am. Our tour guide, Vasil, was so friendly and informative throughout the whole event, which lasted around an hour. Within that time we saw pretty much every important landmark within the city centre, and got to make some brilliant photo stops along the way. Although we didn’t have time to go inside the churches etc during the tour, we got a good idea of the places we wanted to come back to and explore a little later on. Thank you Vasil for an amazing first couple of hours in Sofia!

 

Visit the Alexander Nevsky cathedral at night

 

 

This is probably the most famous landmark in Sofia and, in my opinion, definitely the most beautiful! As soon as I knew I was heading over to the city I made it my mission to visit the Alexander Nevsky cathedral as soon as possible. We actually walked past that place a number of times during our stay, it’s an incredible piece of architecture and looks good from every angle, especially from the inside. I particularly loved it when it was lit up at night though, as it literally glowed in the dark and made for the most beautiful picture! Sadly my camera couldn’t do it justice, so this picture is from my lovely friend and fellow travel blogger Allison who is currently spending some time in Sofia and calling it her temporary home… Thanks Allison!

 

See the ancient remains of Serdica

 

 

If you’re in to your history, you will LOVE ancient ruins, artefacts and crumbling remains as much as I do. Did you know that Sofia is over 6000 years old?!?! Nope, I didn’t either until I got there and took the fantastic walking tour. The city was known by many names until it became the Sofia we know and love today, and the ancient remains of Serdica date back thousands of years. Wander towards the metro station and you’ll find ruins that were discovered when the council started digging and building the metro line back in 1998. There’s also a brand new hotel (Arena de Serdica) that has just opened and original Roman ruins that were discovered during excavation can be found in the lobby, where an exclusive exhibition housing the 3rd century Roman Ampitheatre has been made. Learning about the history of Sofia was one of my favourite things to do in the city and it made me fall in love with it even more!

 

Explore the many different religions of the city

 

 

There aren’t many cities where you can find a Mosque next to a Catholic Church, but in Sofia it’s something that’s pretty normal! The city is home to a whole host of different religions, from Muslim and Jewish to Catholic and Protestant, but there is no divide present in the city whatsoever, it feels very united and everyone really seems to come together, no matter what their religion. We spent time wandering around the churches and admiring them from every angle. My particular favourite was the Church of St Nicholas, with it’s tiny crypt underneath welcoming visitors into it’s Wishing Room. I did make some wishes, and I do hope they come true!

 

Climb Mount Vitosha

 

 

So we didn’t exactly climb Mount Vitosha, and the tale of how we got up there in the first place is a pretty ridiculous one!! To cut a long story short, we got in a taxi hoping to head towards a rooftop bar with panoramic views for drinks and cakes before our flight home, but the taxi driver got a bit lost, didn’t speak good English and wasn’t sure where he was going. After an hour we arrived at said rooftop bar, only to find that it was CLOSED and was most definitely not in use! Luckily there were a few staff members on site who allowed us to access the roof terrace in exchange for a few Bulgarian Lev – I am sooo glad we did this as it was well worth the hours taxi and the views from the top were INCREDIBLE. Obviously I would have liked to have climbed it properly, but it was an adventure and an experience and was worth all the taxi hassle. If we had more time we would have actually hiked the mountain, and explored the nearby Stone River and Golden Bridges too as this looked super cool, but there’s always another excuse to come back!

 

Stay in a central hotel 

 

Central Hotel Sofia

 

We stayed in a brilliant hotel. right in the heart of the city, and it had everything we needed and more. As the name suggests, Central Hotel Sofia was exactly that, slap bang in the middle of everything and the location couldn’t have been more perfect. The hotel is a 4* and has all modern amenities you could wish for. It was clean, smart, and excellent value for money. We paid £30pp per night for a good size twin room with en-suite bathroom and had a really comfortable stay. I’d highly recommend this hotel to anyone looking to stay somewhere central, modern and affordable in the heart of Sofia.

 

Eat just outside of the city

 

 

Everything is so cheap in Sofia, that meal times are an absolute steal and you can taste some wonderful food without paying a small fortune. Although the central boulevard is brimming with restaurants, bars and cafe’s, I’d recommend getting a taxi a little further out of town to see where else you can eat. After a recommendation from a local friend, Toni and I decided to jump in a cab and make our way over to Pod Lipite, a small restaurant just 5 minutes from the city centre that serves traditional Bulgarian food and hosts traditional Bulgarian singers and dancers who play every night for their guests. This place was super cute and cosy and served the most amazing food from salads and soups to chicken and beef dishes. We both had an incredible meal, with an alcoholic drink each, and the bill came to just £17!! It’s little places like Pod Lipite which really allow you to take in the culture that a city has to offer, and this meal out was definitely one of the highlights from our trip to Sofia.

 

So there we have it, my Sofia travel guide in a nutshell! Despite spending just 2 nights/3 days here, we saw pretty much everything we wanted to see and I definitely think it was enough time. Obviously we could have spent hours more properly exploring each of the churches, or taken a full day to hike Mount Vitosha, but a 2 night stay will give you enough time to see a lot of the city and worked really well for us. Hopefully this post inspires you to think about choosing Sofia for your next city break, even though it might not be an obvious choice it’s a real hidden European gem. Have you ever been to Sofia before? Tell me what you thought of it, I’d love to hear your comments on this charming place!

Love Jess x

 

Had the best time exploring the beautiful city of #Sofia with my wonderful friend of 10 years 💖

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