Learn How To Travel The World And Maximize Your Vacation Days
So you’re not a travel blogger, you have a full time job (like me) and you also want to travel the world. What is between you and an epic wanderlust lifestyle that you see on instagram? With a little planning you can keep that 9-5 and still sneak off to travel the world a few times a year, despite pressure from your boss or even your family. It’s your life and you have to live it in a way that works for you, your budget and your boss.
So, let’s discover some tricks that can help you go far and wide with just a few days off from that essential job that will pay for that plane ticket!
Use long weekends to stack up a 3-6 days trip. Request one to two of your banked holiday/sick days off. Combine it with a federal holiday and you will create a window with enough time to go as far as Europe.
Does your company offer birthday float holidays? If so, these are usually valid for one month before and after the actual date. Tack this on to a long weekend if possible or a (cough-cough) sick day.
Set up Google flight notifications. This will allow you to keep and eye on multiple flights and price fluctuations. Once your vacation days off are approved you will be ready to book.
Set up an account with hotels.com. Similar to the google flights strategy you will be able to keep an eye on hotels to match your flight and price needs once you are ready to book. Look for free cancellations if things at work go wrong. I book many hotels throughout the year and keep them as a place holder until I can get the flight booked too.
Look for direct flights and most importantly the red eye flight, which will save you a whole day to explore. It will be essential that you sleep well on the plane so when you arrive all you need is coffee and to stash your luggage at the hotel.
Here are my tips for Red Eye Flights: Skip caffeine the day of your flight, take a sleep aid, have a cozy jacket to keep warm, an eye mask, ear plugs, slippers (ditch your shoes while keeping it civil), get a window seat and eat some sleep inducing carbohydrates before the flight.
Above all, don’t wait on anybody else. Buy your ticket when it works for you and your work schedule. If that friend can join you that is fantastic. If not, go and meet up with all the other solo-travelers out there, the experience will really be yours and yours alone.
How Far Can You Go?
I recommend having a minimum of 4 days to go to Europe. Big city hubs like London, Amsterdam or Paris are easy to get to, don’t require a visa and direct flights are frequent and cheap. Take a red eye flight to your destination and choose a late flight home. You will arrive home late at night but you will also be in time for work the next day. That’s the day to drink more coffee.
If you only have 2-3 days of time off there are many shorter flights that will allow you to have a memorable adventure. Try a relatively shorter 3-5 hour flight to Hawaii, Caribbean, Tulum, Vancouver, Montreal, Miami, San Diego, Portland or Nashville. Of course it will depend on your starting destination.
Admittedly, I am a planner. I plan, book and secure my trips 6-12 months ahead of time. The best prices can be found with a bit of notice, you can even get a deal on a great hotel room.
Take note of “vacation request” filling dates and then file on time. Pressure in the work place can be lower around Thanksgiving, Christmas and also when your own boss is on vacation; so think about making a run for it around these times without missing much in the office.
Keep in mind Michelin Starred restaurants, concerts and popular tours will sell out. Reserve and purchase tickets ahead of time to catch those special events and outings that you will remember years from now. Planning ahead allows you to not miss out, a fundamental position I hold.
If You Can’t Plan Ahead
If planning ahead is really not for you consider using a few tools to help you with your last minute escapes.
Try the app Hotels Tonight to book a hotel that same night at a great rate. Also, look for last minute deals found on sites like Hotels.com, Cheap Tickets or Google Flights (see the “explore” section).
Alternatively, take a last minute road trip. If you waited until last minute and it is also Fourth Of July weekend, avoid the insane expensive without missing an adventure.
Popular road trips include: The South West, Big Sur to L.A, The Florida Keys, Vermont, the Oregon coast or the closest National Park to you. Road trips are usually a lot cheaper and can be a ton of fun since you can pack all your outfits and toys for beaching and hiking alike.
Have An Itinerary
Read blogs (like mine) or take a travel guide, (like Lonely Planet). Keep a list of important must see sites for yourself to ensure that you are maximizing your vacation time and fulfilling your dreams of seeing the view from the top of the Eiffel Tower (go very early) or dinning at Noma in Copenhagen (book very early).
My strategy is to divide out each day with a plotted list of the sites & events you have in mind. I usually have a concert, tour or a special dinner reservation and a few museums (know their off days). Keep a few open slots as your plans might get derailed for some totally awesome reason that you couldn’t have planned, even if you tried.
Happy travels and best wishes for those vacation requests. I have a few I’m waiting on too. Tag me on Instagram! I can’t wait to see where you go. #girlwelltraveled xoxo
The Wynwood Warehouse District has become the urban core of Miami, largely because of the development of the Wynwood Walls, maintained by the Goldman Global Arts Foundation. Since the arrival of Art Basel in 2002, the Miami art scene has been flourishing and the Wynwood’s trajectory of growth and ingenuity has inspired art communities worldwide.
The transformation of the Wynwood District has brought several fine eateries, clothing boutiques, art galleries, famed art collections, gift shops, a very lively night scene and is home to the largest collection of street art and mural art in the world. Wynwood for is art, but also for eats. Save some time for a stroll around the neighborhood and some libations and nosh along the way.
The Art: Must-see highlights
The Wynwood Walls & Wynwood Doors
These are the original murals started in 2009 by Goldman. The walls became a way to showcase the underserved and underrepresented street art called graffiti. The warehouses have been transformed into an outdoor area that includes about 12 large scale murals that are recreated yearly by international talent. The walls can be best be photographed early in the day as the crowds by mid-morning can be a challenge if you want a whole wall scene to yourself. Alternatively, the neighboring walls throughout the area are much quieter and offer remarkable works. Just be aware of your surroundings since Miami is a big city, shall we say.
The Margulies Collection at the Warehouse
This warehouse art collection was one of the first art foundations to make Wynwood their home in 1999. The collection was vastly expanded in 2004 and shows major exhibitions that coincide with Art Basel. The extensive collection contains sculptures, paintings, & photography that are well renowned and are worth over 800 millions dollars.
Rubell Family Collection
One of the largest privately owned and publicly accessible contemporary art collections in the world. The 45,000 sq/ft collection contains works by famed artists like Koons, Haring, Sherman, Basquiat as well as emerging contemporary artists.
Wynwood Art Walk & Tours
Every second Saturday join thousands of people for a festive evening of art, food, music and craft beer. The neighborhood comes alive and makes for a great Saturday night out, hours are roughly 6pm-midnight. Try a guided buggy tour if you want to get a little more out of this exciting monthly event. Private or group tours are also available during other times and many of the guides are artists who have murals in the area. If you are unfamiliar with art, or graffiti arts, I highly suggest you take a tour for perspective and further appreciation. https://wynwoodartwalk.com
The Eateries: Must Eat & Drink
Panther Coffee Roasters
This small batch, award winning specialty coffee roaster is so good you can smell the yummy, deep flavors as you walk by. Start your day here to get reeved up for your photo shoot and plan your route. Caffeine buzzing is fun. Keep and eye out on for their partner restaurants for a second chance to taste the quality brew.
Morelia Gourmet Paletas- Designer Popsicles
This is the spot to go. They several flavors to choose from, I was torn between the Passionfruit with condensed milk vs. a pineapple & mint. I went for the newer version of a creamsicle and added sprinkles. Man, a popsicle to remember, in fact all day I was thinking about that icy treat.
Zak the Baker
Zak, The famous Kosher baker, notable as a semifinalist for the James Beard Award of Outstanding Bakers, bakes for Whole Foods, and has a cult following. The Wynwood Bakery cafe serves light fare, bakery centric foods and is closed Saturday.
President Obama sky rocketed this taco shop into fame. I confess I wanted to eat here, but the line was 40 people deep, and I was jonesing to take pics of the walls vs. what are bound to be some great tacos. They are open late if you’re still enjoying the night scene and need a nighttime snack.
Wynwood Kitchen & Bar
Pairing Global-Latin cuisine with famed global street artists. The highly acclaimed restaurant serves small plates and tapas style bites great for sharing. Experience world famous art with seating outdoors among the Wynwood Walls or indoors where the art is equally striking and equally famous.
A food hall of Asian Cuisine and lively nightlife. Options include Japanese, Poke, Sushi, Thai, Chinese, two bars and a pavilion with rotating DJ’s late into the night. Try the Asahi Beer with the frozen foam, colder than cold. Look for YIP, serving yummy Dim Sum: fresh shrimp steamed dumplings, and soft shell crab bao. Love this place.
Kyu offers excellent wood-fired, Asian inspired fares in a chic setting just outside the Wynwood walls. Winning “best new restaurant” from the James Beard Foundation makes total sense to me. I had the locally sourced grilled broccoli, baby bok choy & crab bao with local beer by Wynwood Breweries. Everything was excellent and the vibes were good ones. I also commend the concept of this restaurant where sustainability is paramount, for every one tree they use they replant five. I dig it.
Wynwood Brewing Company
Miami’s first micro brewery and Tap room of craft beers, is family owned and widely popular. Tastings and special events are available. Check out their crisp blonde masterpiece “La Rubia” sold in restaurants across Miami and the perfect antidote to the Miami heat.
Shopping: Gifts and Gadgets
The original vandals of Wynwood since 2001. My favorite shop selling graffiti prints, t-shirts, graffitied Nike shoes, ball caps and more. I got a sweet Wynwd graffiti t-shirt (made in Miami) and some stickers. Inspiration for my tag: #GWT
The Wynwood Shop
Selling emerging brands that specialize in gifts, crafts, paints, jewelry, art, clothing, home decor and more. The Wynwood shop is a collaborative space for startups, artists and creators to have retail presence and share ideas. They also have pop-up shops and have live music events throughout then year.
A favorite Detroit, made in America, kind of hipster store for watches (love these), bikes (want one) and leather goods. All their products are extremely well made, high in style, with an antique type edginess.
The Wynwood Art District in Miami is a major player in the art world and now a major destination in Miami. See it for yourself and enjoy all the art, excitement and flavors the destination has to offer. All Of my photography here was taken with a Moment Wide Lens. Tag me on Instagram, I always love seeing pictures of the new murals as they are recreated. #girlwelltraveled @girlwelltraveled
What do you shoot on ? A common question for photographers and bloggers.
As a travelholic who packs light and queen of quick trips, I quickly left my bulky mirrorless camera behind and opted for Moment mobile lenses and an iPhone X; because the best camera is the one you have with you.
Moment lenses are compact professional grade lenses for mobile cameras. Mobile phone photography is better than ever, and Moment Lenses enhance and expand the type of photography you can achieve with just a cell phone in hand.
I am a Moment Lens Ambassador because the product has changed the way I photograph and travel the world. Don’t forget to tag your work #shotonmoment #momentlens #momentwide on social media. Moment also curates global travel & photography trips.
The Moment Lens Family: 18mm Wide Lens, 58mm Telephoto Lens, Macro Lens, Anamorphic Lens, and Superfish Lens.
See: Moment Mobile Lenses for more information and access to all the Moment Lenses, products and phone cases. Feel free to tag me on Instagram, I’d love to see your work there too. @girl_welltraveled on instagram and hashtag #girlwelltraveled
As a Moment Ambassador, I do get a small commission. Rest assured, I only recommend Moment because I love their products. All Photos here shot on my Moment Wide Lens and iPhone X.
The grand city of Imperial Russia was founded in 1703 by Peter the Great after his triumph in the Great Northern War against the Empire of Sweden. Although, the capital has since changed to Moscow, St Petersburg remains the cultural capital of Russia.
The history of Russia is best understood by knowing some of Imperial Russia’s Tsars who ruled until the Russian Revolution in 1917. At minimum it is essential to know Peter the Great who was the founder of St Petersburg and great modernizer of Russia. Catherine the Great whom brought European culture, ideology, vast art collections and national expansion. The assassinated Tsar Alexander II who is best known for abolishing serfdom and Nicolas II who was the last Emperor of Russia until the fall of the Romanov Dynasty at the beginning of the Russian Revolution. Social and political unrest followed and brought on the Soviet Era with the spread of communism led by Marxist Lenin.
Fascinating history aside, St Petersburg is a magical city containing world-class art museums, ballet, architecture, churches, Imperial palaces, and one of Europe’s most vibrant nightlife scenes. For me, a Top 10 city of the world, there I said it. This trip really did mean everything to me, and with 5 sunny days in mid-October, a miracle was granted.
Important Before Going: Rubles: Order from your bank so when you arrive you have some cash. Cash is needed for tipping (10% in restaurants) and for certain vendors. Otherwise payment by credit card is mostly available. Notify your bank before leaving so ATM /charges will be approved.
Visa: Most foreigners require a visa for entry and can be somewhat challenging to obtain. Refer to the Russian Consulate website for the best option for your area and nationality. Most importantly plan ahead and the receipt they give you on entry is essential for exiting, so keep it safe.
When to go: May-July is exceptional and known as the time of White Lights when the sun never fully sets and festivals abound. I chose October and reveled in the fall colors and shorter lines. Winter is cold with shorter days, but equally beautiful, I am sure.
The Winter Palace was constructed in the early 1700’s and home to the Monarchy until the Russian Revolution in 1917. Best known resident, Catherine the Great, had a love of European culture and vast art collection that has now become the State Hermitage Museum. This museum is amongst the largest worldwide and holds the largest collection of paintings in the world.
The impressive palace rooms should not be missed, keep and eye out for the Malachite room, the Gold room, the Grand Church, the Throne room and Nicolas Hall. There is a lot to see and if you have been to the Louvre you will understand my advice to see it over a few days. If you have one day to see it, pick and area of interest and enjoy the many corridors and views of the Neva River. If you are visiting during high season, be sure to order a ticket online to lessen the wait times. A small extra fee will allow you this privilege.
The State Russian Museum
Established in 1895, this state museum is the largest Russian fine art collection and easily a favorite of mine. The museum is formed from nationalized private collections, the Hermitage, Alexander Palace, and The Imperial Academy of Arts. The collection is composed of art from the 12th to the 20th century and will leave a lasting impression. If the line is long, check the second entrance in the back, next to the canal.
The largest private museum of contemporary art in Russia, containing nearly 3000 pieces. Erarta’s mission is to support Russian artist at home and abroad, showcasing over 300 artists. The museum contains permanent and temporary exhibitions and continually adds to it’s collections with a focus on talent over populous movements. The museum has many works of art from the Soviet and post Soviet era that show a dialog of resistance and repression of the people. A fascinating account of history in this beautiful, inspiring museum.
Located an hour outside of St Petersburg this glorious seaside Baroque palace, gardens and famed fountains were inspired by Versailles. Peter the Great began plans for Peterhof soon after Russian expansion and his victory over the Swedes. Construction began in 1714 and was quite a feat considering the wetlands and elevation involved. Most interestingly the 64 fountains in the Grand Cascade are not controlled by pumps but rather by flow of gravity and fed by natural springs. Be sure to come March to October to see the fountains in action.
The palace contains around 30 elaborate rooms, the gilded and mirrored ballroom, the Chesma Hall of naval paintings, Picture Hall of portraits, the oriental rooms, among other ornate rooms.The museum and palace are open all year and are recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Rococo palace and gardens are in the town of Tsarskoye Selo (Pushkin), 15 miles south of St Petersburg.
The palace was summer residence to the Tsars and commissioned by Catherine I in 1717. The palace was expanded and redesigned by architect Rastrelli in a grand rococo style. Don’t miss the Great Hall, Amber room, The portrait hall, and the palace Chapel.
German forces had nearly completely demolished the palace structure during the occupation in WWII. Keep an eye out for photographs at the end of the palace tour that show the destruction and document the massive undertaking to restore this Imperial Palace to its former glory.
The expansive Catherine Gardens are truly spectacular and are composed of many building and structures like the Creaking Pagoda, Siberian Marble Bridge, the Cameron Gallery, and the Chesme Column. The Siberian Marble Bridge is at the far end of the lake is of particular interest. The magnificent bridge was modeled after the Palladian Bridge in England using marble from the Ural Mountains and is a beautiful dusty grey blue. Truly a highlight and an excellent place for photography.
Originating in Italy, popularized in France, refined and perfected in Russia. With the world’s top ballet dancers, you are bound to see the very best ballet of your life. Be mindful that ballet in Russia is a grand occasion and locals very much dress up for the theater, it is highly suggested you do too. Two ballet theaters in St Petersburg are famous worldwide and are both housed in equally beautiful theaters.
Composed of two theaters, the “Old” Mariinsky I (1860) and the “New” Mariinsky II (2003). The theaters show world class opera and ballet and are home to the Mariinsky: Ballet, Opera and Orchestra companies. The Ballet company has produced some of the worlds greatest talent. Ballet stars shine bright here, Baryshnikov, Nureyev, Pavlova, Zakharova, Balanchine & Niijinsky to name a few. I saw Don Quixote, easily the best talent I’ve seen yet, so precise. It is highly suggested to buy tickets online well ahead of time, especially during the celebrated White Nights.
Founded in 1833 by Tsar Nicolas I and recently luxuriously renovated and celebrated as a premier musical theater at the forefront of contemporary ballet and world theater. See award-winning, cutting edge Ballet and Opera at it’s finest. I saw the newer production of Sparta and it was a spectacular action packed ballet. It is best pre-booked online as well.
Peter and Paul Fortress
The first stone building in St Petersburg built by Peter the Great after the Great Northern War in 1703, and the original citadel of the city. The fort was a prison and execution site for Bolsheviks and rebels during times of unrest. Now, the fortress serves as the burial site to nearly all the Tsars and as a state museum. The Peter and Paul Cathedral’s gilded bell tower stands 402 ft tall and is the tallest in the city center. The fortress walls overlook Neva River and the sandy beaches below are widely popular during summer months. Also, a fantastic spot for photos and lunch with views across the bridge to the Hermitage.
Church Of The Savior Of Spilled Blood
This Iconic and beloved landmark of St Petersburg was built 1883-1907 as a memorial to assassinated Tsar Alexander II who had been attacked by an anarchist on same grounds in 1881. The Imperial family commissioned the church under rule of Nicholas II and is said to have cost over 4 million rubles. The church resembles St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow and holds more mosaics than any other church in the world. The 7500 Sq meters of mosaics depict biblical scenes and have extremely fine detailing. The church had been badly damaged during the Soviet era and also during WWII, it is now fully restored and serves as a mosaic museum rather than a place of worship. An absolute must see.
St Isaacs’s Cathedral
This Neoclassical Russian Orthodox cathedral was ordered by Tsar Alexander I and was completed after 40 years in 1858. The largest cathedral in Russia, with the gold platted dome rising 333 ft. The pedestrian walk-way offers a 360 degree view over St Petersburg and the River Neva. The interior is impressively covered with monumental paintings, mosaics, sculpture, stain-glass, stone works and malachite and lapis columns. Be sure to buy a combo ticket and take the 300 steps to the top.
This historic landmark Art Nouveau building was completed in 1904 and is located on the central vein that is Nevsky Prospekt. Originally designed for the Russian branch of the Singer Sewing Company and inspired by the Singer Building in New York (demolished in 1968). This exquisite six-story Art Nouveau structure was meant to be a skyscraper, as in New York, but Imperial law dictated that no building shall be taller than the Winter Palace. The building is now home to the superb House of Books, Singer Cafe, and VK headquarters (Russian Social Network).
The immensely popular Ginza Project restaurants all have different themes and serve wonderful Russian specialties. One of my favorites, Mari Vanna, serves authentic Russian cuisine and has frequent live music by local musicians like singer Alexander Kuropatkina. Consider trying Borsch, creamed salmon soup, dumplings, and Russian tea served with pryanik, pashkha and jam. Other favorites were Ginza’s popular Koryushka with a beachfront terrace and cottage styled Katyusha on Nevsky Prospekt.
The Kupetz Eliseevs Emporium
Housed in the historic 1903 Art Nouveau building, this food hall and trading company dates back to 1812. The interior has been restored to its former glory and is an absolute marvel for the eyes. The shop sells tea, coffee, confections, fine foods and Russian specialties such as caviar and vodka. I chose loose leaf black tea with Siberian berries & white tea with silver needle.
Said to have some of Europe’s best nightlife, there are plenty of bars to choose from. The trendiest district is Rubinstein, and along the hallmark street of Nevsky Prospekt.
Craft Cocktails are perhaps best curated in St Petersburg, where mixologist create their own tinctures and potions from Russian berries and herbs. My favorite is Sea Buckthorn which is a small yellow berry known to grow in Siberia and the Himalayas. Bartenders also look the part, tall handsome, bearded young hipster, done right, type of fellows.
Jazz Bars: Dom 7, The Hat, 48 Stul’yev, all have excellent live music and no cover. Prohibition/Craft-cocktail Bars: Kabinet, Apotheke, The Depressive, El Copitas, & Orthodox.
The Wynwood Hotel is a new design hotel in the heart of St Petersburg. The hotel is named after the art and design district in Miami and has a beautiful mural painted by the Russian artist, Pokras Lampas. Breakfast is included and served in the Jungle cafe. In summer season the roof top bar is a beautiful spot to have a drink and look over Kazaan Cathedral. Staff are gracious and friendly, rooms are generously big, with clean modern amenities. The front desk was kind enough to help call cabs for me, to/from the airport, Palaces, and around the city. This is essential, as hailing a cab on the street is really not done or recommended. I will definitely be staying at the Wynwood again, a total treat.
After Spending just shy of a week in St Petersburg I am already dreaming up another trip to see more of one of my very favorite cities in the world. To me this city has something special, intangible, a perspective of humanity that resonates with me. Yes, my kind of town indeed. Perhaps next time I will see the White Lights and include a train trip to Moscow.
As always, feel free to leave a question or comment, I’ll be happy to reply. All photography here taken with a Moment Wide Lens. More pictures from this trip can be seen on Instagram @girl_welltraveled
Set out for Stockholm’s Island of Djurgården with this biking itinerary including lunch stops and notable highlights. This garden island is part of the Stockholm archipelago and is one of the nicest areas to bike in the city.
Start early at Stockholm’s City Hall, Stadhus. Take a look around the gardens & consider climbing the tower for a more expansive view of the city.
Then ride east toward the Royal Swedish Opera House, along Tegelbacken.
➾ Note old town, Gamla Stan to your right and the grand Royal Palace.
Continue along Strömgatan & pass the Grand Hotel onto Stallgatan and coming to the next harbor.
Follow the bike path on Standvägen, along the docked boats and ride across the first bridge on the right.
You have arrived to the island of Djurgården, one of the best parks in the world for city biking. Djurgården is home to the famed ABBA Museum, Vasa Museet, Skansen open air-museum, Nordic Museum, Manor-museums, quaint cafes and tranquil paths that transverse this garden island. Eventually, you are bound to find grandma’s house, but you’ll probably just be served tea and cinnamon buns without the red cloak & wolf saga.
Start by turning right at the blue gate, Blå porten. In the 18th century this blue gate marked the entrance to the King’s hunting grounds.
Now, you are free to wander the gardened paths. Follow the water and admire the many statues as you come to a few lovely options for lunch.
➸ Wärdshuset Ulla Winbladh has outdoor seating and serves Swedish cuisine, notable fresh fish. A reservation may be needed during peak times and is also popular for dinner.
➸ Villa Godthem, has outdoor seating with river views, serving classic Swedish gourmet. They will have your pickled herring, plus other tasty options.
➸ Girl Helin Cafe is a popular place to Fika, to take coffee and delicious cakes. They also serve light meals for lunch with a park view.
Continuing on to ♜ Rosendals Slott, a summer palace of King Karl XIV Johan. Tour the garden on your own or buy tickets for a look inside this well preserved hideaway fit for a king.
Next, pick your own route by following the waterway or plow through one the many paths that lead to the eastern most tip, marked by the lovely cafe Blockhusporten. Take a look around at the passing ships and across the water to the distant fountain sculpture by Karl Milles “God our Father on the Rainbow, in honor of the creation of the UN.
Then come to one of the finest Swedish art museums, Thielska Galleriet, featuring 20th century Swedish and French art. Noteworthy are works by Anders Zorn and Edvard Munch among others collected by banker Ernest Thiel. The gallery has a restaurant, sculpture garden and is closed Mondays.
Continue biking the southern section of Djurgården, and along Djurgårdsvägen, hug the path near the water as you head toward the next must see stop, Prins Eugens Waldemarsudde. The former home of Prince Eugen and now manor-museum house the prince’s personal art works, an impressive Japanese wood-block collection and hosts temporary exhibits.
The manor has unmatched views of the harbor and contains a sculpture garden with work by Rodin, amongst other beautiful iron works. There is a cafe, fabulous gift shop selling prints & souvenirs, and is also closed Mondays. Leaving Prins Eugens Waldermarsudde, and in case you missed all the other cafes, is cafe Ektorpet. A cozy house in the woods that serves salads, coffee, & waffles in a casual atmosphere.
Get back onto Djurgårdsvägen and pass by the ABBA Museum, unless that your jam, pass the amusement park, unless thats your ride, and come to Vasa Museum. Unique to Stockholm, the Vasa museum revolves around the war ship Vasa, salvaged after it’s sinking in 1628. The museum highlights Sweden’s cultural heritage, maritime history, and is well loved by the 1.5 million visitors each year.
It’s been a long day with all the sights, so next stop at my favorite beer garden, Ölbryggan. Craft beer is served on the terrace with a superb view of the city & passing boats. Open late until 11pm in the summer.
Wrapping up the journey, bike around the last corner and you will arrive back at the bridge and blue gate, Blå porten. Djurgården has much to offer and can keep you busy for several days, my suggestion is choose a few things to see in greater detail and a nice lunch stop. If you have questions ask in a comment below, I will be happy to reply.
The Ring Road: a 6 day itinerary with tips, highlights and packing guide
Most people prefer to take 10+ days to drive the 828 mile Ring Road in Iceland. We had 6 days. We made the most of our time, seeing the majority of top sites without a sense of rushing, nor missing out (taboo to me). Along the drive you will see beautiful seaside towns, Icelandic country side, glaciers, volcanoes, jagged fjords, waterfalls and lots of really cute horses.
We had our bookings separated by 3-5 hours of incredible, scenic driving each day. No day was too long, and we had plenty of time to stop along the way. One day in the west, north, east, south east, south west, and Reykjavik before flying out the following day.
Ring Road Key Facts and Tips:
~ Pre-book your rental car well in advance and opt for the extra insurance that covers gravel and sand damage. A 4X4 vehicle is recommended, but not necessary if your staying on the main road. Driving the Ring Road will cost about $300-$400 in petrol/ gas. We drove clock wise, but either way is fantastic.
~ Also pre-book your hotel stays, in recent years the Ring Road has become a very popular route, we pre-booked about 9 months out and stayed in a combination of 4 star hotels, guesthouses and hostels at good rates.
~ Have a credit card that has PIN access, you will need it to get gas past business hours. If you don’t have a PIN, you will need to sign for the charges during business hours. You can also buy gas cards from the gas station to use after hours. No need for cash in Iceland.
~ Most gas stations have an excellent selection of take away sandwiches, coffee, etc. To save time we snacked during the day and went out for one nice meal each night, which was a nice way to relax and reflect on all the sites of the day.
~ Each major site is marked with ⌘ on a easy to spot road sign all along Route 1, The Ring Road. It’s good to read up ahead of time so you know what is a must see for you, and what to skip, like the plane crash site verses a beautiful waterfall. Easy win on that one for me.
~ In Iceland you’ll spend about $50 per dinner, alcohol is very expensive so consider buying it duty free at the airport. Don’t be surprised to see traditional Icelandic dishes of horse, reindeer, whale and shark on the menu. Vegetarian options are offered too.
~ Keep in mind Iceland has delicate and dangerous terrain, staying on the roads is strict law and good sense. Head warning signs, they really mean it.
~ Bring: Water/wind proof clothes, waterproof hiking boots, warm pj’s, extra socks, a warm hat, scarf, swim suit, towel, water bottle, knife (for picnicking), guide book, download an “off line” google maps with sites saved, car charger, tunes, snacks, sunglasses, warm clothes of wool or fleece rather than cotton, camera with extra batteries, & shampoo/ conditioner (not all guest houses provide this).
~ Skip the bottled water. Iceland has some of the very purest water on the planet, fill your own along the way and save some plastic and some paper $.
~ Souvenirs: Wool sweaters (Lopapeysa), Lambskins, Reykjavik Rain Coats, hiking boots from Ellingsen in Reykjavik, local photography, craft Icelandic Himbrimi Gin, and outdoor gear from excellent Icelandic companies: Cintamani, Icewear, & 66 North.
Day One: Snæfellsnes Peninsula on the west side is said to be a mini Iceland, containing everything on this small peninsula that Iceland has to offer. Driving from the KEF airport took about two hours and on our first day we were able to see a lot. Our first stop was the seaside walk between the towns of Arnarstapi and Hellnar. Strolling along jagged rock coves you will see lots of bids, beautiful rock formations, crashing waves with mountains and waterfalls in the distance. From there we drove around Route 1’s most western side and alongside Snæfellsjökull Glacier. The glacier was mostly bogged down with heavy fog and cloud on this day so we only caught a glance of the mighty glacier.
Perhaps now is a good time to let you know, the weather is temperamental in Iceland. Keep an open mind and bring warm clothes. Instead we saw some really beautiful country side and the most photographed mountain in all of Iceland, Kirkjufell. For the famous waterfall-mountain combo view, walk up to Kirkjufellsfoss and watch the magic happen. This is a well known place to watch the northern lights, best seen September to March.
To see the Northern Lights you will need dark, clear skies and luck. Check the Aurora forecast to increase your chances with the App Aurora. Also, unless you have professional photography equipment you won’t be able to capture the northern lights, if you only use a camera phone, use the App: Northern Lights Photo taker.
For dinner we stopped at Bjargarsteinn, a cozy, warm dining room with a view of Kirkjufell. They serve authentic dishes from Iceland, cod, horse, lamb, and also a vegetarian option.
Our hotel for the night was Lava Water Accommodations. Our room had two twin beds, a shared bathroom and a lovely shared kitchen. The facilities were new, extremely clean and one of my favorites from the trip.
Day Two: Our next stop was five hours to the north at Lake Myvatyn. Along the way we saw beautiful mountains, horse filled pastors, views of the sea, floating icebergs and distant Fjords. Consider stopping in Akureyri for lunch and to have a look around the church and shops. Just thirty minutes outside of the town you will find the walking paths to the waterfall Godafoss, a main highlight. The waterfall can be accessed from either side of the river and the northern entrance with get you just a bit closer to the falls.
As you arrive in Lake Myvatyn drive around the southern side to Skútustasagígar. Stop to take the short walk around the pseudo craters and for hill top views of the lake. There are several trails that weave around the lake and are well marked. Our stay here was at the Foss Hotel Lake Myvatn and was our favorite. The hotel has a beautiful sauna, viewing deck overlooking the lake, and includes a breakfast buffet.
Don’t miss the Myvatn Nature Baths which rival the famed blue Lagoon. The hot springs facilities are new, clean and overlook the lake. The waters were very therapeutic and had a nice variety of temperatures. Their excellent cafe serves soups, fresh salads, dinner entrees and look for the locally made Icelandic rye bread called Rúgbrauð, baked in the earth by geothermal heat.
Day Three: We set out early for our three hour drive east to Egilsstadir. Just over the first mountain pass is Hverarönd, a collection of geothermal pools of bubbling fumaroles that steam sulfuric steam. A beautiful, exciting stop and part of what makes Iceland so unique. Take care if you wear contacts, the acid can bind to the lens, as we found out.
Look out for the original highway erected by Viking settlers in the 800’s, these stone cairns showed travelers the safest route to follow. Locals will be upset if you make your own though, for good reason they are protective of the natural landscape.
Next is the must see waterfall Dettifoss, the most powerful waterfall in Iceland. Take the first, western exit to arrive at my preferred vantage point for this location. This is a double feature stop with the nearby gorge and waterfall called Selfoss. The best place to photograph Dettifoss is high on the outlook platform looking down onto the waterfall.
On to the Eastern town of Egilsstadir. Here we stayed at the adorable Berta Guest House which was clean, comfortable, included a simple breakfast, comfy beds and was central to town. Don’t miss the local fable of the giant worm, Lagarfljótsormur, a lake monster seen several times over the last hundred years. The lake is beautiful and worth a walk while you look for Lagarfljótsormur.
Day Four: We set out early and braved the foggy drive to the most Eastern fjord, Seydisfjordur. A small fishing village just off the Ring Road with views of the fjords, waterfalls and town to explore. Don’t miss the rainbow walkway leading to the church. It was created by some local folks who could not make it to Pride in Reykjavík, so the made their own. The town and local businesses fully support the now annual parade and are surprised at all the attention that it draws to this small town.
Back on Route 1 we continued past vast fjords full of beautiful still waters, lamb filled pastures, fishing villages, fog and sun splashed vistas. This was some of the most beautiful scenery we had experienced yet. We arrived in the peninsula town of Hofn three hours later. Hofn has a great look out point at the end of this small peninsula that offers views of the Skaftafell National Park and glacier tongues in the distance.
One of the most popular activities in Iceland is horse back riding. Even a beginner can feel comfortable since the Icelandic breed of horses are small, and cute as can be. We found a great riding company: Hlídarbergshestar í Borgarhöfn (+354 866 6242) or email@example.com to make a reservation. We booked a private two hour tour with the owner and rode us out to the fields, across the plateau and through three rivers. We also experienced the tölt or gait that is unique to the Icelandic breed.
Our stay that night was the new and modern, Lilja Guesthouse in Hella. A Scandic style hotel with beautiful views of the glacier, private bathrooms, included breakfast and had a excellent restaurant for dinner, try the Cod and local beer.
Day 5: Southern Iceland is full of highlights, try to make time for the glacier lagoon Jökulsárlón, diamond beach, a glacier excursion, the black sand beach, waterfalls, a hike, and the thermal river. From Hof and heading along the southern Route 1 and along side Skaftafell National Park find the first major waterfall, Svartifoss. A dramatic 20m waterfall flowing over hexagonal basalt columns just a short trail away from the parking lot.
Continuing on to Reynisfjara, the famous black sand beach. On a very low tide, look for the basalt columns on the southern face, it has the best columns for an easy but dramatic looking photo. The cave may also be accessible, however, take extra care to read the signs about sneaker waves and heed the warnings, the ocean is very unpredictable here.
Next you might consider booking glacier hike, guiding companies will provide you with the necessary safety gear. Sólheimajökull is beautiful glacier were you can take a easy walk up to the start of the glacier for a quick view, or book a longer tour up on to the ice. An hour and a half tour gets you a crampon lesson, tips for walking on the glacier, a historical narrative, and folk tales from the local guides as they take you up on to the ice for a look. Longer hikes are also available if you have more time or stamina.
Lots to see, next up the world famous waterfall Skógafoss. This 60x 25-meter waterfall will leave you in awe, plan on taking a while at this spot. The 500-ish step staircase to the top has a breath taking view of the waterfall, valley below and on to the ocean. Consider hiking further back to the beginning of pórsmörk valley, a hiking oasis. We hiked the first few miles into this hike and it left a profound impression. I plan to return to continue on to complete the rest of the multi-day highland hike to Landmannalaugar.
Next see the popular Seljalandsfoss, famous as the waterfall you can walk behind. Bring your rain coat as it’s very wet. For quieter scenery try Gljúfrabúi, a hidden waterfall with a narrow canyon and pools. Our stay this night was at the hostel style Riverside Guesthouse in Hella. Rooms were private, simple, with shared bathrooms and right in town. Nothing fancy, just a place to sleep, shower, & a full kitchen for your use.
Up early and on the road. The thermal river in Reykjadalur Valley has been on my hit list since my last trip. An easy 45 min hike up a mountain, past thermal bubbling sulfuric pools, you will arrive at a lush green valley with a beautiful river, walking deck and simple changing facilities. The water is warm, clean and beautiful making it a perfect spot to relax the day away with a picnic. Although, we had rushed off after a good long soak to see the capitol, Reykjavik, the last bit of our astounding journey.
We arrived in Reykjavík just in time for a mad dash shopping spree on Bankastræti street, followed by a happy hour sampling. Our stops included the roof top bar in the Loft hostel (great city view), Kofi Tómasar frænda (happy hour deals), and the popular ROK (ambiance) near the Hallgrimskirkja Cathedral. Don’t miss the Sun Voyager sculpture as part of the shore walk along the harbor, as well as Reykjavik’s many art murals.
For dinner, the Reykjavik Fish Restaurant serves great seafood dishes, stews, salad and local beer. Also try the Hlemmur Food-hall for cocktails, dinner, & coffee in a lively setting (look for craft cocktails made with Icelandic Himbrimi Gin).
Our stay this night was at the Icelandicair Hotel Reykjavik. This modern hotel was spacious, had luxury spa facilities, a good restaurant, shops and free parking. It is also near Perlan, a landmark museum and architectural feat, which has a observation deck, revolving glass dome restaurant and rotating geological exhibitions.
Feel free to leave a comment on the forum. Iceland is very special to me and is one of my favorite places on this earth. I plan to return many more time and would love to hear your thoughts, or answer any questions you have on this post. Happy Travels. More Pictures from this trip on Instagram @girl_welltraveled
San Francisco’s Must-See Sites And Top Things To Do
San Francisco, the city by the bay hosts more than 15 million visitors each year. There are famous landmarks, romantic neighborhood eateries, hills, more hills, world-class museums, is famously inclusive and is also the tech capital of the world.
Mild year round temperatures make San Francisco a great place to visit anytime. Despite that city is still well-known to be chilly and foggy so bring a jacket no matter what time of year you visit. Temperatures stay between 59-68 degrees most months of the year, However, the very best time to come to the Bay Area is between the end of September and until the end of October. The fall months are warmer than the summer, with clear skies, very little rain and you will be right in time for “crush” season in wine country.
Golden Gate Bridge
Completed in 1937 this world-famous landmark bridge blends perfectly with the Marin headlands and is painted “International Orange”. This beautiful bridge can be best photographed from the entrance to the bridge, Baker Beach, or from below at Crissy Field. Walking or biking across the bridge offers breath-taking views of Marin, the city, and surrounding area. Also, the bridge is not in Golden Gate Park as one might assume, it is located at the northern tip of Park Presidio. There is a toll fee to drive from Marin (north) to the City. Driving South to North (toward Marin) is free & biking/walking is free.
The Golden Gate Park
The 1,000 acre park contains many museums, culturally significant destinations and is host to annual festivals like Outside Lands, Strictly Blue Grass and Wanderlust. Some of the best sites are the De Young Museum, The Japanese Tea Garden, The Botanical Garden, Academy Of Sciences, and Stow Lake where pedal boats are for rent. Biking is a great way to get around the park, or there is free bus on weekends. At the far west end of the park is Ocean Beach, where views of the Cliff House Restaurant will be to your right. The far east end is also the beginning of Haight street. If 60’s nostalgia is of interest, walk along Haight street where time stands still, you will still find smoke shops, records shops and off-beat hippy shops.
Palace Of Fine Arts
Erected in 1915 for the Panama-Pacific Exposition this structure has become one of the most visited and recognized landmarks in the city. Late morning and early afternoon will grant the best lighting for photography. This is an extremely popular place for wedding, engagement and Quinceñera photo shoots because of the monumental Neoclassical architecture. The lawn area is a top picnic and people watching spot alongside the grassy slopes. This is an easy add-on stop if you do the bike ride to Sausalito.
Home to perhaps the best shot of the Golden Gate Bridge and a terrific sunset spot. The Beach is located in the Park Presidio near the bay’s outlet. Keep an eye out for whales, sharks (I’ve seen two here), seals, and the far end are… errrr…naked people, mostly older men. Steer clear unless you want and eye-full, even on cold days. Above Baker Beach and walking toward GG bridge there are trails that curve through the cliffs of Fort Scott, these trails will pass several fortified emplacements from the 1800’s. Walking this trail brings you to the parking lot and entrance to the Golden Gate Bridge.
Bike to Sausalito
This is a must-do bike ride and if you have the energy and the weather agrees. Rentals can be obtained near Fisherman’s Wharf at Blazing Saddles or at Sports Basement near Crissy Field, these guys will even pick your bike up in Sausalito so you can walk on the Ferry and walk off at The Ferry Building in downtown.
Riding west along the bike paths and along the bay front you will approach the Golden Gate Bridge. Be sure stop to take pictures at Crissy Field, and continue up to the bridge. Several signs will lead the way.
Crossing the bridge will grant you stunning views on a clear day. The path then curves along to the right, you will follow the signs to Sausalito.
This seaside town is a small one but offers a few good restaurants for lunch. Seafood is famous at Spinnaker, Scoma’s and The Trident. Most bikers will Ferry back to the city, buy a ticket online and be sure to get the latest schedule.
If you miss lunch in Sausalito, the Ferry Building is a great place to grab some food and has many local eateries. Try: Slanted Door, Hog Island Oyster Co., Cowgirl Creamery, Gott’s Roadside & Blue Bottle Coffee.
If you rented a bike at Fisherman’s Wharf, return your bike rental and grab a hot chocolate at nearby Ghirardelli Square. Then take the trolley back to Union Square if you’re staying downtown.
Lands End Trail
This coastal walk is a beautiful wind-swept trail that takes you from the Eagles Point Trailhead in Sea Cliff to the Sutro Baths Ruins at the beginning of Ocean Beach. The trail is around 2 miles each way and is mostly flat with one steep section of stairs. While your there don’t miss the hidden Labyrinth, Mile Rock Beach, and the furthest western viewpoint, Point Lobos. Whales are seen frequently in March/April & Nov/Dec. Consider stopping at The Cliff House for lunch, drinks and killer views.
If time permits the nearby Legion of Honor Museum, shows European art, international exhibits and has a lovely outdoor terrace Cafe.
Home of the famous trolley car routes, crooked Lombard Street and lovely eateries. Take a trolley ride from downtown or even better, walk the hills. The best view of the city and down to Alcatraz is at the very top, at Jones and Union Street. Wine tasting: Union Larder, Bacchus Wine Bar or nearby Park Tavern in Little Italy For dinner: Milano, Frascati, Seven Hills, or Gary Danko.
Not usually a place I would recommend but how can 1.4 million visitors each year be wrong. Maybe it’s the fascination with the mafia & Al Capone, or the epic escape tales. I eventually did make it to Alcatraz for a special exhibition buy Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei, a hugely popular exhibition commenting on freedom and human rights. The island can be accessed from Pier 33, buy tickets online and go early to be sure you have enough time to see the sites. My favorite area is the Prisoner Garden which has great views of the city and bridge.
Pacific Heights and the Marina District
These two fashionable and up-scale neighborhoods are always bustling with day time strollers, shoppers and nighttime pub crawlers.
Check out the landscaped Lyon Street Steps, which offer a dynamite view of the bay, GG bridge, The Palace of Fine Arts and Alcatraz. The step summit is at Broadway & Presidio Avenue and is also the beginning of “billionaire’s row” where picturesque mansions line the steep hills of the bay.
It’s a friendly walking district so feel free to stroll around the shops and find a spot to perch for the evening.
Drinks & Happy Hour: Belga, Tipsy pig, Sessions at the presidio, and Brixton
Wine tasting: California Wine Merchant, West Coast Wine, Cultivar and Bar Crenn.
For Dinner: A16, Blackwood, Pacific Catch, Ace Wasabi, Causwells, Delarosa and Baker Street Bistro.
If you only have a half day and want to see some of the California coast, try Gray Whale Cove. This dreamy beach-cove is 30 minutes from San Francisco and on a warm sunny day is great place to relax the day away. The water is very cold and dangerous here. I don’t recommend swimming, although people do. A rental car would be needed or Uber possible with the ride back being ..tricky? Not enough time? Try Baker or Ocean Beach.
This district is what some try to pan off as “up and coming”. If you go here, go early by Uber or cab. This neighborhood is popular with locals who think it’s hip. Ok, so now why do I write about it? Because locals insist this is a must-see place and it contains an important place. The best bakery ever, Tartine. Seriously, it worth the trek to come here. The cafe is divine and it’s also crowded, just wait in line and order a lot. Don’t miss the divine Lemon Tart, coquette, croissants, cappuccino and a full country loaf to take home. Walk off the massive calorie consumption at nearby park Mission Dolores Park, a favorite Sunday afternoon hang out.
More time to explore?
See: Coit Tower & Little Italy, Union Square, China Town, Fillmore District, Sunset District restaurants, Japan Town, The Castro, and Grace Cathedral.
Sadly recent policy changes coupled with a housing crisis have helped create a very large homeless population. There have been violent occurrences and a lot of petty theft. Stay north of Market Street in the main area around Union Square, avoid the Tenderloin neighborhood or SOMA. Take a taxi or Uber to your destination and never leave valuables in your vehicle. Best to take them with you. Sorry to bring this up, but I want you to be safe and have a good time.
Athen is a city often overlooked and thought of as a stop over to get to the islands. On the contrary, Athens is a cosmopolitan destination, worthy of as many days as you can spare. I recently spent 7 days in Athens and would have gladly taken more. You will keep yourself busy with world class museums, shopping, ancient ruins to explore, roof top bars with that famous Acropolis view, beautiful city streets, clean beaches with sparkling waters, and nightlife that continues well into the next day.
Unless you see it for yourself, it’s hard to imagine the scale and shear beauty of this 5th century BC citadel. All the photographic opportunities will keep you busy finding the right viewpoint, waiting for light to be just… right. Also, the walk up to the Acropolis is filled with archeological finds, lookouts, olive trees, and informational signs detailing much of the historical importance.
Tips: Go early (best light/ lighter crowds), consider booking a guide, buy the “combo” ticket (online is best) so you can also see Ancient Agora (keep reading), and arrive by way of the western gate at the Propylaea. This western entrance is bound to make an impression on you as you enter the gate and climb the intimidating stairs. You will feel the presence of the gods, obedient and humbled as intended, I am sure.
Athens Gate Hotel
Consider booking a table for dinner at this roof top restaurant with a gorgeous view of the Acropolis. The food is great and the view is one of the very best in all of Athens. Come sunset the glow of these ancient ruins could be that moment to remember always. The summers breeze pairs well with white Greek wine, another must try in Greece, as well as the memorable baked cheese and mandarin appetizer.
Hotel Grande Bretangne
A fabulous roof top bar with high-end cocktails where the stage in literally set for you to take that instagramable shot. The bar staff were even nice enough to help us out when we struggled with our selfie. This is also likely Athens best hotel if your into 5 star hotels with luxury spas and a roof top pool.
The Museum of The Acropolis
The cafe at the top serves great frappe and lunch and seating is indoor or outdoor, both have a panoramic view to the Acropolis. Plus, this is a must see museum in Athens if you are remotely interested in these ancient ruins. Also a budget friendly pick, tickets to this museum are a bargain at around $5.
What to Buy
The street vendors and shops along the neighborhoods Monastiraki and Plaka sell great gifts to come home with. I liked the evil eye bracelets, Korres lotion & body products, honey from Crete, decorative purses, and wine if space permits. My favorite Athens high end jeweler is Ilias Lalaounis, a museum of her life’s work is also in central Athens if buying a piece is out of the question. http://www.iliaslalaounis.eu
Best Beach Spot
Just outside of Athens is Astir Beach, a beautiful, clear, unpolluted beach to swim at. Astir Beach Club is part of the Astir Palace Hotel and was the summer play ground for Sinatra, Jackie O’ and many more. For around $45 you will get a beach chair, umbrella, shower facility (with hair dryers) and access to their restaurants and bars. Is is worth the price? Yes, we made a whole day of it, we showered there and went out in the party town of Glifada after. The beach cove on the other side is free, and just as beautiful if you don’t need the shower facility.
The Ancient Agora ruins have many paths to explore, weaving around artifacts, foliage and include a museum of ancient antiquities. This beautiful site can easily take much of the day and can be bought as part of a combo ticket to the Acropolis ,which is valid for several days. Ancient Agora is a must see site.
The Benaki Museum
This former family mansion of the Benaki family houses art and artifacts of Ancient Greece. A beautiful collection of paintings, costumes, jewelry and pottery. After a goo look around head to the cafe on the top floor which has a beautiful view of the National Gardens and serves excellent cappuccino & frappe. https://www.benaki.gr
This neighborhood on the outskirts of Athens is a great place to cafe away the day and is nighttime hotspot. Beaches near by are also great for swimming, try Casablanca Bay or my favorite, Astir beach (mentioned above).
Dinner in Plaka
There are numerous tavernas to choose from and all serve delicious traditional Greek cuisine, you can’t go wrong.
Try: Horta, souvlaki, moussaka, fresh fish and the cedar/pine like aperitif Mastika, although Raki will surely find you first. Fresh fruit is somehow more delicious here in Greece and makes for a perfect desert. Food is paramount in Greece and is often what people remember from this beautiful county. Greece is food, Greece is family.
Changing of the Guard
Each Sunday at 11am this full ceremony draws huge crowds to see the changing of the guard in front of The Monument of The Unknown Solider. Arrive early. Alternatively, the guards do change out every day at noon and can be seen marching back and forth displaying their fancy foot work, stomps and all. Their military uniform are impressive especially high summer in 92 degrees of sweltering heat. Keeping yourself hydrated is key and easy to do with the best tap water in all of Europe, seriously. Athens is amazing. #amazingathens
Instagram for more photos and tips: @girl_welltraveled