Toronto CN Tower Toronto was my family's destination of choice between Christmas and New Year for 2016. Every year, we try and go away during that period and while looking at destinations for this year's trip and realised I hadn't properly written about our last Christmas trip! If you're looking for a Winter break, here's a little itinerary for visiting Toronto!

Day One

Start the Day with an Epic Breakfast

Renaissance Toronto Downtown Hotel Breakfast If you read my review of the Renaissance Toronto Downtown Hotel, you will know that the breakfasts in this hotel are pretty damn epic and should be tried by everyone. RELATED: That hotel sounds amazing right? Read my review of the Renaissance Toronto Downtown Hotel here!

Guided Tour of the City

Toronto Christmas Skyline Toronto Flat Iron Building I talways recommend a free walking tour when you first arrive in a city as they are a great way to orientate yourself and learn about the city you are visiting. However, we visited Toronto in late December and temperatures were plummeting below freezing. For that reason, many of the walking tour companies were running a limited service (if at all), so we were left searching for an alternative. We found Gerardo on Tours By Locals who organised a drive-through tour of the city, gave us in depth knowledge on a city he is clearly passionate about and generally set-us up well for our trip. We covered so much in our time with Gerardo that it would be impossible to list it all here but highlights include the Discovery District (home to the beautiful University of Toronto buildings), Casa Lomas (from the outside, we later re-visited to go inside), the Distillery District and a secret little spot for a great skyline view of Toronto without having to visit Toronto Island.

People Watch In Nathan Phillips Square

Toronto Sign Nathan Phillips Square As we were visiting in December, the ice rink was open and people were visiting in masses to skate in-front of the famous "Toronto" sign. Given the fact that I can barely walk in a straight line without falling over (this goes for my sister too), we decided not to give skating a go - there wasn't even a rail around the edge to hold on to! But people watching was just as fun!

St Lawrence Market

Toronto St Lawrence Market Christmas St Lawrence Market is Toronto's answer to Borough Market and was extra fun to explore with all of it's Christmas decor! The perfect place to stroll around and escape the bitter Winter wind! Much of the market is aimed at locals with fresh produce for cooking, but we did find some great little "cafe" type stalls for drinks and cake! Distillery District Toronto Brewery District Mill St We were briefly introduced to the distillery district on our earlier tour with Gerardo but decided to return later on in the day to explore properly. The one thing I wish we had done is visit the district at night when it's buzzing with people! If you are visiting during a cold day, make sure you check out the chocolate shop and get one of their hot chocolates!

Dinner in the CN Tower

Toronto View From CN Tower Nighttime The CN Tower is arguably the most recognised building in the city and for good reason! One of the first things we booked (after the flights and hotel of course) was a chance to have dinner in the revolving restaurant. The entire experience was great (other than the rude waiting staff) and I will be writing a full post about the restaurant in due course! Stay tuned!

Day Two

Niagara Falls Helicopter Niagara Falls View from Helicopter  The opportunity to experience Niagara Falls was essentially the reason that we chose to visit Toronto for our annual family Christmas trip, so it's safe to say that I was excited for this day! As we were visiting in December, the boat trip through the falls wasn't running but we did manage to take a helicopter ride over the falls as well as complete the "journey behind the falls"! On the way back from the falls, we also visited Niagara-On-The-Lake which is the most gorgeous little town and tried the famous Canadian ice wine! I won't ramble about this day too much as I have a whole blog post dedicated to this day which you can read here!

Day Three

Casa Lomas

Toronto Casa Lomas Family If this isn't the first time you've read my blog, you'll know that I absolutely love castles! Casa Loma was built in 1911 as the home for Sir Henry Pellett - while it's not strictly a castle (Wikepedia describes it as a "Gothic revival style house and gardens), it's pretty damn close (albeit much newer than the Castles you see in Europe) and definitely worth a visit! Casa Lomas put on loads of Christmas activities (mainly aimed at kids) including having reindeer on the grounds!

Shopping on Bloor Street / Yorkville Avenue

Toronto Christian Louboutin Bloor St This area of Toronto is the "high end shopping" district - think Fifth Avenue and Regents Street. As we visited shortly after Christmas, the "Boxing Week" (week?! We only have a day in the UK!) sales were in full swing. Some of the shops are really gorgeous - my favourite being the bright red Christian Louboutin design! My only purchase was a Kate Spade black backpack which was heavily discounted! I've used it practically every day since, so I'm very happy with my bargain purchase!

A bit more shopping in the Eaton Centre...

Boxing Day sales scare me, in the UK they are filled with hundreds of people pushing and shoving to get their grubby hands on the best deal. This was not the case in Toronto and it was a really pleasant experience! So we decided to carry on our shopping escapades with a trip to the famous Eaton Centre which is more high-street orientated than Bloor / Yorkville.

Take a Winter Wonderland Stroll Through Queen's Park

Toronto Queens Park Winter Snow .... Or any of the park areas really! We loved strolling through Queen's Park while the snow was settling, it was really beautiful and felt like a proper Winter Wonderland!

See A Show

Toronto Disney On Ice Did you know that Toronto is home to a whole host of theatres? I didn't! There were so many great ones to choose from, so making the decision will be the hardest part! As we had my "little" sister with us (20 years old with the mental age of an 8 year old), we were all dragged to watch the latest Disney on Ice show. It certainly wouldn't be my first choice but it was fun having 6 year old girls stare and judge you for knowing all the words and singing along loudly without shame.

Day Four

Steam Whistle Brewery

Toronto Steam Whistle Brewery On our hunt for something close-by to do on our day of departure, Steamhouse Brewery was recommended to us by the lovely people of of the internet and we had a great time! The motto of this brand is to "do one thing really really well", so they only produce one type of beer but boy do they know what they're doing! I'm not a huge fan of beer but it's fun to see how these things work - our tour guide was super friendly and funny which added to the whole experience!

Lunch on the Harbour

Toronto Skyline Despite the fact it was December, on our last day in the city the sun was shining which made for a beautiful stroll along the harbour where we decided to have lunch. If you've got spare time in the city, I highly recommend spending some time in this area - there are even little beaches with deck chairs along the route (which we obviously did not use in December)!

Fly Home

And like that, our first ever trip to Canada was over and we were headed back to the less snowy but equally cold UK!

Other Options

Toronto Islands

A short ferry ride from the mainland harbour are Toronto Islands. Gerardo (our tour guide on the first 2 days) spoke glowingly of the Islands in the summertime as they are a nature lover's paradise - however we were visiting in the dead of winter and boats were not running frequently enough for us to enjoy the islands. This is where you will get the ultimate skyline shot of the city!

A Whole Host of Museums

Toronto is home to a whole host of museums. From some of the more "normal" establishments such as the Royal Ontario Museum and the Art Gallery of Ontario, you'll also find some more quirky treats such as the Bata Shoe Museum & the Hockey Hall of Fame!

Ripley's Aquarium

Directly outside our hotel and the CN Tower was Ripley's Aquarium which looks blimmin' HUGE! If you've got some spare time to kill, this looks like a fab activity, especially with kids! But if you've read my Versatile Blogger Award post, you'll know that I have a completely irrational fear of fish and all sea creatures, so this was a big no no for me!

Catch a Baseball game at the Rogers Centre

The Rogers Centre is home to the baseball team the Toronto Blue Jays. While our hotel had a view into the Rogers Centere (cool right?!), unfortunately there weren't any games on while we were visiting! So there you have it, a fab 4 days in Toronto! Have you ever been? Where would your perfect Winter break be?

Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post and all thoughts are my own.

Danielle1      
Budgeting European City Breaks Macedonia Ohrid Wall "How do you afford to always travel" is something I get asked by certain friends/family members of mine on a regular basis. Yet said individuals have been known to spend 2 weeks every year in an all-inclusive resort that costs around £1,500+ per person just for those two weeks which just isn't my style! In 2016 I went on less European city breaks than I would have liked too - I had to spend too much annual leave on exams/study time unfortunately! I only managed 5 city breaks, but the total cost was £1,405.21 (average £281 per trip for flights, accommodation and spending money). When I've told people this, they've seemed shocked and confused - so I thought I'd set it all out in a blog post!

Krakow, Poland

Krakow Poland Auschwitz
  • Flights = £81
  • Hotel = £72.50
  • Spending Money = £110
  • Total = £263.50
  • Dates = Friday 18 March - Tuesday 22 March 2016
  • Total days = 5
  • Annual leave = 3

Ohrid, Macedonia

Ohrid Macedonia Church Budgeting City Break
  • Flights = £51
  • Hotel = £43.86
  • Spending Money = £64.94 (see full breakdown here)
  • Total = £159.80
  • Dates = Sunday 22nd May - Wednesday 25 May 2016
  • Total days = 4
  • Annual leave = 3

Salzburg, Austria

View Salzburg Austria Budgeting Europe City Break
  • Flights = £38 (after using £50 RyanAir gift card)
  • Hotel = £124
  • Spending Money = £152.15 (see full breakdown here)
  • Total = £314.12
  • Dates = Friday 3rd June - Monday 6 June 2016
  • Total days = 4
  • Annual leave = 2

Cologne, Germany

Burg Eltz Cologne Germany Budgeting
  • Flights = £60.98
  • Hotel = £73.69
  • Spending Money = £170
  • Total = £304.67
  • Dates = Friday 26 August - Monday 29 August 2016
  • Total days = 4
  • Annual leave = 1
  • Bank holidays = 1

Edinburgh, Scotland

Edinburgh Scotland Budgeting City Break
  • Flights = £83.96
  • Hotel = £81
  • Spending Money = £198.16
  • Total = £363.12
  • Dates = Thursday 1 September - Sunday 4 September 2016
  • Total days = 4
  • Annual leave = 2

Summary

  • Total spending = £1,405.21
  • Number of days abroad = 21
  • Total annual leave days used = 11
  • Percentage  of fun had = 100%

Booking.com

So What Are my Top Tips?

Work out what your priorities are £1,400 is still a lot of money, but in 2016 travelling was a priority for me and was worth every penny. I don't spend money on clothes and accessories (although I definitely used to!) and that definitely helps to save. This £1,400 was spent over the course of a year, so if you want to experience the 5 city breaks listed above, you'd need to save £116 per month - given that my main blog audience are 18 - 25 year old females (much like myself), making the huge assumption that you are in a full time job without the responsibilities of kids or a mortgage, this could be entirely achievable depending on your priorities. In 2017, I haven't taken half as many trips as this but I'm currently saving every penny and thinking about getting on the housing ladder - priorities change and that's okay!

RELATED:  Find out what I've given up in order to save money for travel here

Travel at non-peak times where possible I could have been FAR stingier with my spending on travel during this year. A prime example is my trip to Cologne. I was limited on annual leave by this point and had to utilise the August bank holiday weekend meaning flight costs rocketed. Our £60 return flights from London Stansted with RyanAir can be snagged for £18 most of the year (these seats are also always included in RyanAir's sales). And generally speaking, flying mid-week will be cheaper than utilising a long weekend (something I am a big fan of given my lack of annual leave), so if you work unusual hours, you could be quids-in! Be flexible I have the Skyscanner widget on my Android phone homepage, so I am constantly able to see what the cheapest flights from London in the next month are. When Skysanner were advertising £25 flights to Ohrid (Macedonia), I knew that I HAD to have them. I hadn't even heard of this city, but I know it's not normally in the "cheap flight" category! After a quick google, I knew it was beautiful and I knew I had to go.

RELATED: Have you seen any cheap flights to Ohrid? If you manage to catch them, read all about my time there here! You won't be disappointed! 

Make sure you understand the budget airlines So above I mentioned that I saw £25 flights to Ohrid but I actually paid £50, what happened there?! Well, budget airlines have to make their money somehow and Wizz Air make you pay for normal sized cabin bags. Where possible, I fly with RyanAir who allow you to have one normal sized cabin bag and one small personal item (like a handbag, backpack or laptop bag) included in the price of your ticket!

RELATED: Do you know what's included in your ticket price? Read my guides for RyanAir and Wizz Air!

How Could You Save More Money Than I Did?

My biggest downfall when travelling in 2016 was having to make lots of little short breaks, this means that I was continually paying for return flights to the UK. I spent a total of 3 weeks in European cities during the year - so if you could get 3 continuous weeks off work and pick cities that are relatively close to one another, using public transport to get from one to the other will be much cheaper than continuously flying to and from the UK! Also, you'll notice that my spending money in a city is normally on par with the flights and accommodation. This is because I like to FULLY immerse myself in a city and do absolutely everything that's on offer. I rarely leave a city without having ticked off all of the "must see" tourist attractions. If you slow down and don't feel the need to spend money on every single entrance fee, you will definitely save money.

Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post and all thoughts are my own. Danielle1

     
Before I arrived in Morrocco, I was worried that I hadn’t given us enough time to explore the city of Marrakech. I’d become so fixated with our three days of excursions that I couldn’t possibly give any of them up! More worry set in when it took us HOURS to get through security at Marrakech airport. I mean hours. The security queues were so long, officers examined everyone’s entry cards and passports in the greatest detail (for a moment, we thought that we weren’t going to be allowed into the country because the security officer didn’t believe that Callum was the same person as the photo in his passport)! So in the end, we got into Marrakech at about midday and we were left with closer to 1.5 days to explore the city. Thankfully, (almost) two days in the city was absolutely perfect for us and I wouldn’t have structured our trip any other way! Here’s what we got up to in our two days in the city (with some bonus options if you have 3 days in the city)!

Day One 

Check into your riad and enjoy some mint tea Marrakech Riad More kerfuffle arose as we couldn’t find the man that was meant to pick us up from the airport. Luckily, a lot of the men doing hotel pickups know each other and when I questioned where he was, another man phoned him and told him to come back  (that’s how long it took us to get through airport security – our pick up man had left)! At this point, I was already in love with the welcoming hospitality of the Moroccans. Once we were in the riad, we certainly weren’t disappointed. The staff sat down with us and drew all over a map to make sure that we knew where we wanted to go and how to get back to the riad – Marrakech is a crazy maze of winding roads after all! After this, we were shown around the riad and treated to complimentary mint tea on the roof terrace. I quickly became obsessed with the mint tea in Morocco and if you visit, you’ll definitely be offered some during your stay! After finishing our tea and dumping our belongings into our room, we set out to explore! Jemaa el-Fnaa (The Main Square) Marrakech Doorway Medina WallMarrakech Souk El Kessabia Our first port of call was to have a wander and get our bearings - I had intended to do a guided walking tour, but with the delays of the morning, we had well and truly missed the start time! So instead, we took some time to weave our way round the back alleys of markets and shops around our hotel to the main square of Marrakech. The square comes alive at night, whereas in the day the square was mainly filled with orange juice carts. But we stopped off for lunch at Cafe France (a very popular restaurant in the square for tourists. Not the most authentic Moroccan cuisine, but it was quick and easy). Koutoubia Mosque Marrakech Koutoubia Mosque We continued our self guided tour of the square with a trip to the nearby Koutoubia Mosque. We didn’t enter the mosque  (it isn't open to tourists) but we definitely took the time to admire the architecture. I am a huge fan of Moroccan style architecture apparently! Jardin Marjorelle Marakech Jardin Marjorelle Cat Marakech Jardin Marjorelle Girl Marakech Jardin Marjorelle Mural Marakech Jardin Marjorelle Fountain Marakech Jardin Marjorelle Cacti Our riad was in the perfect position to visit Jardin Marjorelle  as it was only a 20-ish minute walk away (the garden is outside of the Medina walls and we were staying by one of the exits closest to the garden). The garden is famous for its bright blue and yellow building which was once home to the incredible designer Yves Saint Laurent. We overheard a fellow tourist sum up the area perfectly - "looks like this bloke had a shit tonne of money but bloody good taste". It was beautiful and an oasis of calm in the bustling city. This is the perfect place for photos and we saw a few professional photo-shoots during our time here – that’s how pretty the area is! Entry is 70 MAD which is much more expensive than many of the other attractions in Marrakech but it was well worth it. Callum would say that it was worth it purely based on the free WiFi and amazing Pokémon Go spawns... Dinner at Latitude 31 Marrakech Latitude 31 Chocolate Sphere After heading back to our Riad to freshen up, we spent a lot of time on TripAdvisor deciding where to eat. Our Riad wasn’t located directly off the main square and we were absolutely exhausted after a day of travelling and exploring, we wanted somewhere close and easy... alas, we stumbled across latitude 31. This is a pricey restaurant by Moroccan standards however, we had 3 courses with soft drinks and it came to 520 MAD (about 41 GBP) for both of us, which isn’t bad at all by English standards! The restaurant menu is filled with traditional Moroccan foods with a modern twist and all of our courses were out of this world. We were first presented with a complimentary amuse-bouche. The three appetisers were a small creme brulee, a chicken dish and a fish dish. The two I ate were amazing (I gave my fishy one to Callum as I don’t eat fish). Next up, I had a dish that at first looked like a tagine but was a refreshing twist on the traditional tagine.  The chicken was layered with caramelised tomatoes which were so sweet and delicious! Callum had the mixed grill platter and raved about it for the rest of the trip! Finally we both had a “chocolate sphere” (pictured above) which consisted of a hollow ball of chocolate filled with fruits which were then covered in warm chocolate sauce – yum! After successfully filling our stomachs, the restaurant owner treated us to a complimentary cocktail which were also gorgeous.

Day two  

Saadian tombs Marrakech Tombs Girl Marrakech Tombs InteriorOur first port of call was the Saadian tombs which I’m quite aware sounds a bit depressing, but I promise it wasn't! The area is really beautiful. A common theme in Marrakech attractions is that information is given in Arabic and French with no English translation, so it might be worth researching the attractions that you want to see before you visit. The mausoleum houses around 60 members of the Saudi Dynasty and has become popular with tourists due to the pure beauty of the site. This isn’t a huge area, so you won’t need TOO long to explore it. Even though we arrived fairly early, queues were already forming to see into the different rooms – however the queues were definitely worse as we were leaving, so this is probably a good place to see early in the day! El Badi Palace Marrakech El Badi Stairs Marrakech El Badi Landscape Next stop was El Badi Palace which I’d read to be very run down ruins and nothing in comparison to Bahia Palace (see below). In true Danielle fashion, I actually preferred El Badi Palace! We struggled to find the entrance for quite a while but it was definitely worth the wait. For the most part, this is a ruined palace, however it’s absolutely huge and I can only imagine how grand it would have been in its prime. There are plenty of corners, underground tunnels, nooks and crannies to explore. This is one of the fee places that appeared to have English translations on most of their information boards too! My love for Moroccan architecture has been strengthened once more! Bahia Palace Marrakech El Bahia Palace Marrakech El Bahia Palace Fountain Marrakech El Bahia Palace Tiles Now for the much more built up and stereotypically beautiful palace. If you’re a big fan of Moroccan tiles and colour, this is the place for you. Once again, the palace is much bigger than you think it will be – I’m sure Moroccans have mastered the art of making buildings 10 times bigger on the inside than they look from the outside (it definitely puts Doctor Who's Tardis to shame)! This is an undeniably beautiful palace and will be the background of many Instagram photos if you are that way inclined! Lunch in the square As we headed back up north, we stopped once again for lunch in the square, this time opting to eat at Zeitoun Cafe  where we had the most delicious Moroccan style sandwiches with a view over the square for a spot of people watching! Explore the Souks Marrakech Spices Marrakech Souks Trinkets Our Riad staff had told us that we would most definitely get lost in the Souks but I think we did quite well! Before arriving in Morocco, I had downloaded the app “City maps to go” which you can use offline and whilst no GPS companies have mapped out the winding alleyways of the Souks, it was a good way of seeing whether you were coming closer to the exit or not! We didn’t pick up anything during our time shopping – I’m not one for bartering! But I was obsessed with their hand painted beautiful plates. Once I’ve bought a house, maybe I’ll think about buying plates! Ben Youseff Madrasa Ben Youseff Madrasa Marrakech Marrakech Ben Youseff Madrasa Couple This is definitely another attraction that you will want to read about before visiting if English is your only language! Alternatively, I know many people have hired guides for the day and completed similar itineraries  to the above without the need for research. This was the most prominent Islamic College in the Marrakech area and led to many great scholars. This was one of the largest theological colleges in North Africa and housed up to 900 students - it's hard to believe that 900 students stayed in the small dormitories (many of which had no windows) but that's a small price to pay for apparently one of the best religious teachings in North Africa! If any universities looked like this in the UK, then maybe I’d have gone to uni!  This is another attraction for the instagram-holics! Dinner and exploring the main square at night  As mentioned previously, the main square comes alive at night time, so on our last night, we opted to eat slightly closer to the main square so that we could check out the square in all its glory of an evening. As we had been on 3 days worth of excursions prior to this day in which we had no choice when it comes to food and had been served repetitive tagine / chicken meals for the duration, we were most definitely "tagined"-out. So instead wee opted for a restaurant that was popular on TripAdvisor and served a menu of varied cuisines (if you're also getting sick of tagines, be sure to check out Kui-Zin). Unfortunately at our time of visit (March 2017), a large part of the main square was under construction, so I don’t think we got the full impact of the area. With a positive outlook, the square is beautiful - stalls selling mainly handcrafted Moroccan souvenirs, beautiful women offering henna tattoos, bustling restaurants, street music. However, there is a dark side to this square; Morocco do use animals in the tourism trade extensively. I was saddened by the monkeys on chains and kept in small boxes – hopefully the world will learn!

If I had one more day  

While I think my 2 days in Marrakech were perfect, if I were to spend one day longer in the city, here's what I would do! Spa day Morocco is famed for its Hammam style of massage/bath and if we had an extra day, I would have loved to try one! We decided to skip this activity as we have both had Turkish baths previously (which are ever so slightly different - you can learn about the difference here), so we felt more inclined to go out and explore what Morocco had to offer! Cooking class Another thing that Morocco is famed for is it's food! We loved the food on our trip (despite getting a bit "tagined"-out towards the end) and it would have been so interesting to see the pros at work/learn how it's done! Guided Souk Tour The souks are a mess of colour, winding alleyways, stalls and activity. We didn't purchase anything whilst we were there on the basis that a) nothing caught our eye and b) we weren't actually sure what was worth buying and for what price! You can hire guides to take you around the souks and get all of the top tips and tricks! Overall, our time in Marrakech was amazing and I would recommend it to anyone who is looking for a trip to experience a culture that is completely different from their own, eat great food, meet incredibly friendly and helpful people and generally have a great time! Have you been to Marrakech? What was your experience like?

Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post and all thoughts are my own. Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Danielle1

Two Days in Marrakech Pinterest

After dipping my toes into the realm of UK travel last year and discovering two of my favourite cities (Edinburgh and York, you are beauties), this year I have vowed that I will see more of our glorious little nation. My first port of call in 2017 was the "Island City" of Portsmouth - did you know Portsmouth is technically an island? I didn't - you learn something new every day! Myself and my buddy Alex jumped in the car early one Saturday morning to visit our uni-going friend Graceybum (who would probably prefer to be referred to by the name Grace but that's boring) and we had the BEST weekend. I am now very concious of the fact that Grace has shown my blog to her uni buddies and they are probably sniggering at the fact that someone could write a travel blog post about Portsmouth... shut up guys, I promise I have super exciting posts about Morocco and Canada coming up. When I returned to work, all I heard was "what is there to do in Portsmouth!? That must have been boring" - oh how wrong they are! When you live somewhere, you don't tend to truly explore the area like a tourist would, so we decided to make Grace visit all of the touristy areas! Get ready for the ultimate tourist-fest!

Day One

Drive!  First job of the day was to jump in the car and drive our ass' to Portsmouth - it takes us around 2 hours to get to Portsmouth from our near-coastal towns in Essex, so it's the perfect journey for a weekend! Alternatively, Portsmouth has great train connections to London and the surrounding areas. Grab an Amazing Late Breakfast / Brunch IMG_4841 v2IMG_4843 v2 Before arriving in Portsmouth, Grace had expressed that she wanted to visit The Tenth Hole for breakfast/cake/both. We obviously happily obliged and I shouted from the rooftops to anybody at work who would listen about how amazing the cake in this cafe looked, so obviously this was our first stop. I opted for the the breakfast bruschetta followed by a GIANT slab of chocolate fudge cake and they were both incredible! (If you're reading this The Tenth Hole, please have your bakewell in stock next time I visit - the photo on your website looks TOO good to be true)! Play a Round of Crazy Golf (... or two) IMG_4858 v2 The Tenth Hole is situated on a golf course, which lead to the revelation that Alex had never played golf of any kind before (not even crazy golf), which obviously meant we had to enlighten her on the sport of champions. So we headed down to Treasure Island Mini Golf and completed both crazy golf courses like the absolute cool kids that we are. If crazy golf isn't your thing (I refuse to believe that you visited the sea-side if you didn't play a spot of crazy golf), there are fairground rides and Clarence Pier in this general area - or you can skip to the next stage of the journey... Enjoy the Beach!  IMG_4855 v2IMG_4867 v2 A beach? In England? In February? Yep, you're right, we were blessed with some freaky weather during this weekend and a stroll across the beach was just what the doctor ordered. Splash The Cash at Gunwharf Quay A few years ago, you could count on me for a shopping trip, I'd have been recently and I'd know exactly what each shop is selling at that present moment  right now, I couldn't care less. So it's very strange for me to really enjoy a little shopping area! Gunwharf Quay is an outlet designer shopping centre right in the middle of the city - it's sleek, it's modern and it's surrounded by loads of fab looking restaurants - perfect! Take a Trip Up the Spinnaker Tower IMG_4945 v2IMG_4905 v2IMG_4894 v2Tile 2Now, for perhaps the most touristy item of all - if you're only in Portsmouth for a short period of time, it would be rude not to visit the Spinnaker Tower really! This led to lots of freaking out on my part while trying to get onto the glass floor section of the viewing area - note to self: you don't like heights. Annoyingly, the Spinnaker Tower's windows are tinted blue and whilst the view is fab, taking photos is an absolute nightmare!

Day Two

More Amazing Breakfast... Duh IMG_4919 v2 After yesterday's amazing breakfast, we knew that day two's breakfast would have to be pretty damn good to top it. We headed to Feed and the food was unreal - I opted for the Eggs Benedict (apparently I had an fixation with eggs this weekend) but all of the full English options looked amazing! The Historic Dockyard IMG_4926 v2 Another big "must" if you want to be the ultimate Portsmouth tourist is a trip to the Historic Dockyard to see the likes of the likes of the Mary Rose and the HMS Victory. Tickets looked pretty pricey, but as we were entering,  a nice security man told us that there's a free ticket available if you just want to wander around and not actually enter any of the ships - so we opted for that! Portsdown Hill  IMG_4953 v2Slowly running out of ideas for things to do in Portsmouth, we turned to trusty old TripAdvisor and decided to take a drive up Portsdown Hill for pretty views of the city and the opportunity to play with horses! Grace says that the view from Portsdown Hill is even prettier at night when the city is all lit-up and pretty! Fort Nelson IMG_4987 v2IMG_5001 v2 On the way up to the viewpoint on Portsdown Hill, we drove past Fort Nelson and were sold at the "FREE ADMISSIONS" sign glaring in our faces, so on our way back down the hill, we decided to make a pit-stop. The fort was MUCH bigger than we had expected and is the perfect activity to fill a few hours without breaking the bank (although you would need to drive there). Take a Trip to Southampton Tile 1 On the weekend of our visit, Southampton's Westquay was having a "Festival of Light", so we decided to head down in the evening to check it out and attempt to take some nice photos (emphasis on the word "attempt"). Eat More Food We tried so hard to find Bills, only to be turned away at the door (apparently everyone else at the festival also wanted to eat in Bills) but we stumbled across Thaikhun and fell in love with their Thai food - I'm very upset that they don't have any Essex / London branches! With very full stomachs, we jumped back in the car to start our 2 hour journey back to Essex. After a surprisingly good weekend (tourist attraction-wise, I knew the company would be good!), I'm looking for more UK cities to explore for the weekend - where would you recommend? Have you been a tourist in your own city recently? I'd love to hear about it!

Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post and all thoughts are my own. Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Danielle1

I never do hotel reviews; namely because I don't think a hotel is what makes your trip. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule where your accommodation is really the crux of your trip - I'm thinking glass igloos in Finland and luxury safari lodges in the Serengeti! Because of that, I don't splash out on hotels and the two things that I really look for during the booking process are a) good location and b) cleanliness. I'm an easy to please sorta girl! So, you might be wondering why I've decided to write about a chain restaurant? Well, the Marriott group have excelled themselves with the Renaissance Toronto Downtown Hotel. Primarily because the location is so unusual, but also the AH-MAZING food.

Location

suite_bi_level_bed_6291Photo Credit: Photo of room with stadium view is taken from the Renaissance Toronto Downtown website
This hotel is located partly INSIDE the Roger's Centre (home to the Toronto Blue Jays baseball team) which is pretty unique in itself. The window in my parent's room looked into the stadium - so if you're an avid baseball fan, you'd be able to catch all of the action from the comfort of your bedroom! Myself and my sister had a somewhat less appealing view of a railway line from our window - so if you're not into baseball and want fantastic window views, this may not be the hotel for you. Although, maybe don't disregard it so quickly, it has a lot more to offer! If you've ever been to Toronto, you'll know that The Roger's Centre is directly next to the CN Tower, so this hotel is a great for a lot of the tourist attractions including the CN Tower, Aquarium, Steamhouse Brewery etc. Given that the the hotel is close to the waterfront and Toronto is a large city, depending on the time you have and your walking capabilities, you may need to get a taxi to some of the more Northern tourist attractions such as Casa Lomas.

Rooms

IMG_3870 v2.JPGIMG_3866 v2.JPGThe combination of modern decor, high levels of cleanliness, ample space and all the amenities you could need make for a very comfortable stay. My absolute favourite thing about the rooms were the beds. Those things were so damn comfy - if I could have packed the pillows, duvet and mattress in my case, I definitely would have!

Restaurant

IMG_3888 v2IMG_4090 v2 Now, this is where the review gets really good (and not because of the small Starbucks inside the hotel - however, that was convenient). The hotel has a Mediterranean restaurant called Arriba inside and the food is out of this world (mainly at breakfast). Most people have heard me say that hotel breakfasts are, in many cases, overrated (and I still stand by that statement). however, Arriba really pulls all of the stops out in the morning. It's not the cheapest breakfast in the world, but the money is well worth it when the food is so good that you go to bed excited to wake up and eat! My favourite breakfast was the banana bread french toast stuffed with bacon cream cheese with sliced banana, bacon crumbles, fresh berries, toasted almonds and maple syrup (it would be rude not to have maple syrup whilst in Canada after all!) We did also eat in Arriba one evening and the dinner menu was much smaller than the breakfast selection but the food was great regardless!

Overall

[cws_sc_progress_bar title='Location' progress='90' progress_style='thin' custom_colors='0'][cws_sc_progress_bar title='Food' progress='100' progress_style='thin' custom_colors='0'][cws_sc_progress_bar title='Cleanliness' progress='100' progress_style='thin' custom_colors='0'][cws_sc_progress_bar title='Staff' progress='85' progress_style='thin' custom_colors='0']   Yes, it's a chain hotel. Yes, hotel's don't make your entire experience while travelling. Still, would I recommend this hotel to a friend? Most definitely. If you're interested in booking this hotel, be sure to check out prices here! Have you ever been to Toronto, what is your favourite hotel?

Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post (although it does contain affiliate links) and all thoughts are my own. Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Danielle1

Booking.com

London Winter Pavement LightsLondon Oxford Street LightsLondon Winter Snow Big BenLondon Harry Potter Studios HogwartsLondon Festive Afternoon Tea B Bakery
Where photos are not my own, the watermark shows the credited author. Please click on the photo to view the original source.
Working in London means I take it for granted and don't go out of my way to enjoy what the city has to offer. I rarely visit London at the weekends seeing as I have to do the 3 hour round commute every week day already! However, London is the perfect place during Winter (despite the bitterly cold weather). So in an attempt to get myself out and exploring this beautiful city, here is the ultimate Winter London Bucket List!
  1. Visit the ultimate Christmas London destination - Hyde Park Winter Wonderland
  2. See the Covent Garden decorations because who doesn't love a giant reindeer?
  3. Ice skating at Somerset House (once I stop being a wuss)
  4. See the amazing window displays on Oxford Street
  5. Eat festive treats at Borough Market (... and the non festive treats... JUST EAT EVERYTHING)
  6. Explore the lights of Kew Garden After Dark
  7. See a Christmas show on the West End - Cinderella pantomime anyone?
  8. Stumble across Christmas Markets
  9. Take a frosty walk around the many parks - who knows, you might be lucky and get snow!
  10. See Trafalgar Square's  giant Christmas tree (which apparently resembles a gerkin this year lol)
  11. Grab a mulled wine... or two!
  12. Splurge on loved ones in Harrods and Hamley's for the little ones!
  13. Curl up in a cosy English pub to escape the cold because there's nothing better than a hearty pub lunch!
  14. Treat yo'self to a luxury Christmas decoration from Liberty (and then cry when it comes out of the loft broken next year)
  15. Explore the WHOLE Christmas floor at Selfridges (and probably the other floors too, just for good measure)
  16. If Somerset House isn't your cup of tea, head to Canary Wharf for futuristic skating surrounded by skyscrapers
  17. Experience a luxury Fortnum and Mason Christmas Hamper
  18. Go for a festive afternoon tea
  19. Get squished in the crowds watching the New Years Eve fireworks
  20. Eat your way through the Taste of London Festive Festival (which is stupidly in November and I have now missed)
  21. Go behind the scenes of the films and visit the Harry Potter Studios for "Hogwarts in the Snow"
  22. Hit the Boxing Day sales (... if you're brave)
  23. Drink in a rooftop WigWam surrounded by Winter Nordic Viking decor at Queen of Hoxton
  24. Shop, eat and Drink at the Southbank Winter Market
  25. Test your cold threshold by taking a drink at The Ice Bar
  26. Just explore and enjoy all of the pretty twinkly lights!

RELATED: Want to see my all-year round London bucket list? Be sure to read this!

I absolutely love the city at this time of year and definitely want to take a trip one weekend in December - is there anything else you love doing in London? Also, I'm heading to Toronto this Winter, recommendations for Toronto are welcomed! :-)

Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post and all thoughts are my own. Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Danielle1

It's no secret, I bloody loved Edinburgh. We booked the trip as a surprise for my friend Grace's 21st birthday and it was one of my favourite trips this year! In total, we spent 4 days in Scotland and here's all the things we recommend you should do! Day One Check Into Hotel and Then Head for Lunch at Deacon Brodie's Tavern We quickly checked into a private 4 bed room at Edinburgh Safestay Hostel and then headed out on the search for food before our first activity! I can't recommend Deacon Brodie's Tavern enough. The food was incredible and definitely set us up for a full day of exploring! Anywhere that does macaroni cheese as a side is a winner! P.s. Everywhere in Edinburgh does macaroni cheese - it's incredible. Become Familiar With the Royal Mile The Royal Mile is the centre of the action in Edinburgh and is where you will find most of the main attractions (or they will be nearby at least)! Our hostel was perfectly situated just off of the Mile, so it was in the prime location for some great restaurants (I can't count the number of hearty pubs and cute cafes on this one road!) as well as shops (it took a lot for me to resist buying complete tartan outfits). Take the Sandeman's Free Europe Walking Tour It wouldn't be an Escaping Essex city guide without a recommendation for a free walking tour really would it? We had Max as our guide and he was brilliant (so much so, that we booked another tour with him the following day). Sandeman's New Europe are one of my favourite tour companies, and as always the tour covers the majority of the free sights you will want to see in the city. The website lists the following sights within the 2.5 hour tour, but it felt like we saw much more!
  • Edinburgh Castle
  • St Giles’ Cathedral
  • Heart of Midlothian
  • The real Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
  • William Wallace and the Stone of Destiny
  • Greyfriars Kirkyard (cemetery) and Greyfriars Bobby
  • The Royal Mile
  • Edinburgh’s Old Town
  • Mercat Cross
  • National Museum
  • Covenanters’ Prison
  • Martyrs’ Memorial
  • The Scottish Writers Museum
  • Grassmarket
  • The original ‘Hogwarts'
  • The Hub
Grab Some Food and Head For a Drink As we arrived in the city mid-way through the day and were completely exhausted, we wandered around for a while after the tour before heading to a local shop, picking up a pack of cards and heading back to the hostel bar to chill obviously! Even if you're not staying at The Edinburgh Safestay Hostel, you can go to Bar 41 for cheap drinks and good food (they also had events on throughout the week - we respectively failed the pub quiz). If you're more at home in a pub, do not fear, Edinburgh has a pub basically on every corner to fill your needs! Day Two  Browse The Royal Mile Market   Located inside the historic Tron Kirk is a gorgeous market filled with independent crafts, arts and fashion traders. My friend picked up a pretty epic pair of tea-pot earrings and I was almost drawn in by some cute prints (before realising I have no wall space left for more prints!) Make the Most of The Long Walk To The Botanical Gardens We underestimated the long walk to the botanical gardens, it was looooong (made slighly better by the fact that Edinburgh is amazing for Pokemon Go... lol). While the walk is long, there are some good little photo stops along the way! My favourite being the Scott Monument (you can't miss it, it looks like a giant rocket), this is the largest monument dedicated to a Scottish author (Walter Scott), so it's pretty special. With the backdrop of Princes Street Gardens, it's definitely worth a photo stop and if you're feeling a little bit more active, there are 287 steps to the top! Explore the Botanical Gardens There's something so god damn relaxing about being in botanical gardens, I loved my visit to one recently in Cologne and Edinburgh was just as good. As an added bonus, bring a friend who works in horticulture to show you around and pronounce all of the funny plant names. The gardens are pretty huge (especially if you pay to enter the greenhouses too) and with the long walk there, this is easily a half-day trip.

RELATED: Read about my time in Cologne's Botanical Gardens here

Head Back to the Royal Mile Visit the Castle With my friend's love for horticulture now suitably satisfied, it was my turn to inflict my love of castles on the group! Edinburgh Castle can easily take up another half-of your day as there's plenty to see in the castle (including a graveyard to the army dogs - which melted my stone cold little heart). We visited a few days after The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo and the stage was still in place which blocks the main view of the castle when you are walking towards it - so if you're a photography buff, you might want to avoid Edinburgh at that time!

RELATED: Do you love castles too? Read all about my latest castle jaunts here

Optional Extras Near The Castle The castle is at the far end of the Royal Mile, so when you're in the area you might as well see everything else that the area has to offer. After a long day of gardens and castles, we were shattered and in desperate need of food, but if you have some more energy than us, the main two attractions are:
  • Camera Obscura - A world of optical illusions which sounds like a fun day out for all ages! Apparently there are some epic views of the city from the roof!
  • The Scottish Whisky Experience - Directly opposite Camera Obscura is the ultimate place to try Scottish Whisky! With none of us being big Whisky drinkers and one of us actually being allergic to alcohol, we decided to give this one a miss but I've heard great things!
St Giles Cathedral On our walk back down the Royal Mile to the hostel, we made sure to pop into St Giles Cathedral which is absolutely gorgeous. When we visited (September 2016), a boat used in the current refugee crisis was on view, a really harrowing sight. The Dark Side Tour & Calton Hill  As if we hadn't walked enough today, we decided to take another walking tour. We loved Max so much after our Free Walking Tour in the previous day that we booked onto The Dark Side Tour for the following evening! Edinburgh has a very spooky past and the stories were great (especially when told by Max)! I would highly recommend this tour if you like to hear a little horror story (and if you don't... don't worry, I'm a wuss and I was fine)! During the tour, you'll tick another of Edinburgh's bucket list items off of your list - Calton Hill! What's even better is that you will visit the hill at sunset which is really gorgeous in early September. Day Three  Take A Day Trip Into The Scottish Highlands Whilst Edinburgh is absolutely incredible, sometimes it's nice to head out into the countryside. We decided to take the FREE Scottish Highlands Tour with The Hairy Coo and I couldn't recommend it more. The company were so incredible that they deserve their own blog post and you can read all about our experience here. Learn From Our Mistakes We decided to go for a wander in the evening as one of my favourite times to explore a city is when they are lit up at night... apparently not all that much of Edinburgh is lit up (unlike some of my favourite evening cities such as the view of Parliament from Fisherman's Bastion in Budapest or the view of the Castle in Prague from across the river or the Wesminster area of London). The castle was lit blue but was very hard to photograph! Day Four  National Museum With some time to kill before our flight home that afternoon, and a number of options to chose from in the city, we decided to go to the National Museum (we were mainly swayed by the giant posters of turtles outside telling us that the National Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition was on.... turns out we read the signs wrong and it was next week, oops). I'm not usually a big museum fan, but this one was great! There were plenty of interactive exhibitions and it reminded me of the London Science and Natural History Museums - a good day out! Plus... did you know that a mega sloth once existed?! Eat in The Elephant Cafe I am a huge Harry Potter Fan, so a trip to the Elephant Cafe was an absolute must! This is the cafe that J K Rowling began writing the famous novel series in and for good reason - the food and drinks are great! Make sure you peep into the toilets to see the messages that fans have left scribbled on the walls!

RELATED: Want to find more Harry Potter locations in Edinburgh? Read all about them here!

Shop in Cute Independent Stores Edinburgh is a creative city. It can be felt in the aforementioned memorials to Scottish writers, J K Rowling's inspirational presence, the Scottish Writers Museum, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the sheer number of crafty independent stores. The arts are really celebrated in this amazing city and it's amazing. We headed up Victoria Street and the surrounding roads popping into cute shops, my favourites were Miss Katie Cupcake (specialising in handmade jewellery) and Museum Context (a shop for creative unique interiors). The Things We Missed After exploring the shops and getting some food, it was time for us to head to the airport to catch our flight home. Edinburgh is an incredible city and there were a tonne of other things we could have spent our time doing, so to make this post as informative as possible, here's some other really great options to fill your days in Edinburgh! In the City
  • Real Mary King's Close - We tried really to visit this underground city tour on our last day but unfortunately they had a power cut just as we tried to visit!
  • Arthur's Seat - TripAdvisor lists this as the number one thing to do in Edinburgh and it's very unlike me to have not completed one of the best tourist attractions in a city! However, we were restricted for time and the hike to the top of Arthur's Seat wasn't too appealing on our very worn-out legs but I'm sure the views would have been great - there's always next time!
  • Palace of Holyrood House - This is the official residence of the Queen in Scotland and it looks VERY grand! If I ever find myself back in Edinburgh, I will definitely be making a visit!
  • The Edinburgh Dungeon - Having visited the London Dungeon's, we felt like this was an tourist trap we could probably miss!
Seasonal
  • The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo - Annually Edinburgh Castle becomes the stage for military tattoos performed by the British Armed Forces, Commonwealth and International military bands.
  • Edinburgh Fringe Festival - In late September, the city comes alive with the world's largest arts festival!
  • Christmas Markets - As with any European city, supposedly Christmas is a great time to visit!
  • Hogmanay - This is the Scottish word for "New Year's Eve" and the celebrations in Edinburgh are huge! Their fireworks displays are world renowned!
Day Trips/Excursions During our time in Edinburgh, I stumbled across some things on the Edinburgh TripAdvisor page that looked great but on further inspection were nowhere near the city centre - if you're in the area for longer than a few days or have access to a car, these could be the spots for you!
  • Craigmillar Castle
  • Inchcolm Abbey
  • Gilmerton Cove
  • Jupiter Artland
  • Portobello Beach
  • Hopetoun House

Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post and all thoughts are my own. This post does however contain affiliate links which I may earn a small commission from should you purchase from the respective company. Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Danielle1

Booking.com

Day One (1/2 Day) Wahoo, after a very early morning, we were off to Germany! After taking a while to check in to the hotel and subsequently falling asleep for much longer than anticipated, we were off to explore the city for the afternoon! The Cathedral Our first stop was obviously the world famous cathedral which is definitely the best place to orientate yourself. There is one word for the cathedral - huge. Like, actually huge. Almost scary huge. I've seen a lot of European cathedrals and this one is definitely up there with the best! I took millions of photos of the cathedral during our time in Cologne and I can't believe how much the lighting affects one building, it looks different in each photo! Botanical Flora Gardens After searching for food, we headed to the Botanical Gardens as we thought it would be on route to our next destination but it was a much longer walk than we expected! Although it wasn't a bad walk by the river in the sunshine. The gardens are beaaaautiful and definitely worth your time if you're in the area on a sunny day! Free Walking Tour After spending some time in the gardens, we headed to the meet point of the Free Walk Cologne tour. I would definitely recommend this company, our guide (who's name now escapes me) was really informative and funny! Cologne has a lot of history and given the fact it was such an important hub in World War II. Among all of the mains sights of the city (including the cathedral), you will see lots of little bits that you may have missed while wandering the streets of the city unguided - including the narrowest house in the city (the 2nd narrowest in Europe!) & underground Roman ruins (actually located in an underground multi-story car park!). Moan A Lot Because You Wore Silly Sandals And Now You Have Blisters My least favourite activity of the trip. Day Two Take a Day Trip! We all know that I was using Cologne as a base to explore a nearby castle (standard Danielle behaviour). So on our second day in Germany, we headed to Burg Eltz and you can read all about our experience here. I'll shortly be writing a post on exactly how to get to the castle because the internet wasn't very helpful during my research, so let me know if there is anything you want to know! If castles aren't your thing, there are plenty of other cities/towns that are an easy train ride away including:
  • Dusseldorf
  • Frankfurt
  • Bonn
  • Aachen
  • Trier
Day Three We were hoping to go on another day trip on day three, but my feet had turned into two giant blisters, so we decided to spend the day in Cologne and try to do as little walking as possible! Chocolate Museum I'm normally a history/nature lover while I'm travelling, choosing to avoid more commercialised tourist traps but we LOVED our time at the chocolate museum! A lot of the reviews on TripAdvisor moaned that there weren't enough free samples - we only got 2 but they were bloody incredible! Eat Yourself Into Oblivion  With it being ridiculously hot, we spent some time in a small beer garden near the Chocolate Museum downing steins of cold drink and of course eating my favourite - CURRY WURST! National Socialism Documentation Centre Yes, that does sound like a really boring building. But I can assure you that it's not! The Documentation Centre was previously used as a Nazi prison and the information inside is a harrowing reminder of the holocaust. The above-ground floors of the building are used as a museum and do a good job of explaining what life in Cologne was like during the war (although I don't think the museum was quite as harrowing as places like Typography of Terror in Berlin and House of Terror in Budapest - both of which I would HIGHLY recommend). Make sure you ask for an English audio guide, many of the displays in the museum are written in German only. The audio guide makes the experience much more poignant with the most memorable aspect for me being the room which explains how minority parties were treated, namely anybody that was gay, disabled or had mental illnesses - really awful stories! The really harrowing aspect of this attraction are the underground prison cells. The wall carvings left my various prisoners have been preserved and notice boards translate the carvings into English - I've never seen anything like it and would highly recommend that you take a visit. Eat More Food and Do Some (Window) Shopping To get back to our hotel, we had to walk through a large shopping area (the mains streets being Schildergasse and Hohe Straße), so we spent some time window shopping (and actual shopping for plasters that would cure my broken feet) as well as getting dinner and exploring some more of the streets in the city centre. Day 4 (1/2 Day) Take A Stroll Across Hohenzollern Bridge Hohenzollern Bridge is the iconic bridge that can be seen in practically all photos of Cologne. The bridge is lined with love locks and it's lovely to stroll across here, taking a look at all of the locks and maybe leaving one of your own! Get a View of The City From Above After exploring all of the city at ground level, the best way to get a birds eye view is to head to Koln Triangle and pay the small 3 euro fee to reach the top of the skyscraper. This is where you will be able to get that iconic shot of the bridge, cathedral and city skyline! Take a Cruise Down The River  Rhine Our last activity of the trip was to take a cruise down the River Rhine. There are loads of different companies which line the Rhine and run at various times during the day, we picked the one that had people queuing up well in advance of the departure time hoping that they knew more about the reputation of these companies than we did! Tickets are cheap and it's a great way to spend an hour. We were a bit stupid however, leaving it to our last day in the city. Our first 3 days were 30 degrees and nothing but sun... our last day was rainy, dark and windy - you win some, you lose some! And with that, our trip to Germany was over and it was time to head back to the airport before flying back to England. See you soon Germany!

RELATED POST: Is Cologne Worth A Visit? 

Looking for some more great things to do in the city? Maybe try visiting during these times:
  • Easter - Cologne Carnival - Each year, Cologne is home to the largest carnival in the German speaking area and it sounds mental! If you take the free walking tour mentioned above, they will tell you all about it!
  • Winter - Christmas Markets - Cologne is known for it's incredible Christmas markets, so there's no better activity to get you in the Christmas spirit!
Have you ever been to Cologne? What was your favourite thing to do?

Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post and all thoughts are my own. Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Danielle1

If you've read this post about my recent trip to Germany, you'll know that my long weekend in Cologne  was booked because I was in search of one particular magical castle. So, I didn't really know what to expect from Cologne. I won't lie, it was never at the top of my list of cities to visit in Germany, let alone in the world, but I'll do anything for a castle. So Let's Start With The Pros... That Cathedral To say that I've travelled to a lot of European cities and seen a lot of churches and cathedrals is an understatement. I can't remember the last time I visited somewhere that didn't feature a grand cathedral. So you'd think that I have a bit of cathedral fatigue now (I've even got bored of writing the word in this post). But holy crap, this cathedral blows the socks off many that I've seen. It's. So. Big. And so imposing. There's something eerily beautiful about the exterior and the inside is pretty damn nice too. The Food I am obsessed with curry-wurst. So maybe I'd be happy with anywhere in Germany but Cologne definitely delivered the goods when it came to dining. Everything we ate was great - we even ate twice at the same Italian restaurant (not very German we know, but it was so damn good!). Throw into the mix that Cologne is home to the Lindt Chocolate Museum and you know that you're in for a treat! And oh my bloody god, that stuff is gooooood. Christmas Markets Cologne is famous for it's German Christmas Markets. Whilst I didn't visit in Winter, so I can't confirm nor deny how fab they are, I've hear from reliable sources that they one of the best in the country! A Great Transport Hub Cologne has a fantastic main train station and is close to some great places - day trips a plenty! If you're not a fan of moving all of your belongings around regularly, this would be a great base! We took an amazing day trip to Burg Eltz but there were so many other places that we wanted to try - Aachen, Trier, Koblenz, Dusseldorf, Bonn, Essen and Frankfurt to name a few! That Laid-Back Care-Free Vibe Germans have a stereotype of being very strict and organised (my kind of people). You can expect that attitude to go completely out of the window in Cologne! And On To The Cons... It's Not The Most Charming City In The World Don't come to Cologne expecting gorgeous rows of fancy old buildings or a charming Old Town city centre like many European cities. I think this is why I didn't click too much with the city. I love old architecture and charming cities/towns. Cologne is a relatively new city. It was was almost completely destroyed in World War II - the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force alone dropped almost 35,000 tons of bombs on the city. However, the laid back care free attitude of Cologne means that planning permissions/building regulations in the city's rebuild programme were very lax and you do stumble across some interesting buildings! On one walk along the river, we spotted a tiny house with a giant turret attached! A Rough And Ready Vibe With such higgly-de-piggledy building structures, the city has a much more "rough and ready" vibe than many European cities I've been to. And lets's face it, Cologne doesn't have the best reputation as of late given the New Years Eve 2016 assults and the more recent knife and gun attack of August 2016. We had absolutely NO reason to feel unsafe whilst in the city, but if you're of a nervous disposition, maybe stick to the uber-charming "nothing bad could ever happen here" looking cities. Things to Do  Whilst we didn't struggle to fill our time in the city, this is mainly because I made some bad shoe choices and ended up with horrendous blisters early on. I was in so much pain that sitting down and spending a lot of time eating seemed like a good idea! The freak heat-wave we encountered during our time there also slowed us down, we took a lot of time to stop and get a drink/try to cool down. With all of this taken into account, we spent near enough 3 days in Cologne enjoying the tourist attractions. We then took 1 day to visit Burg Eltz. Had I been on top form however, we could have explored the city much quicker and had more time to day those day trips I mentioned earlier! In Summary... If you're limited on time in Europe, maybe skip Cologne. Most people come to Europe to escape into our beautiful charming cities, and you won't find much of that here. It's ugly (by today's standards) but it's also a direct reminder of 20th century history (given that 95% of the city had to be rebuilt in the 50s). Therefore you may still find it worth visiting, because of course learning and understanding the history of the world is important. Unless you are only interested in fairytale-perfect postcard images. It's no secret that I find central European cities such as Budapest and Prague the most charming, and the South Eastern region of the Balkans the most beautiful area of Europe. Cologne is a modern city but if that's what you are after - go wild! On the other hand, if you're looking for a cheap weekend getaway, this could be the perfect place. If you're from the UK, Stansted Airport has RyanAir flights flying to Cologne multiple times every day and they are usually dirt cheap. Book in advance and see prices as low as £10 each way. Ours were around £60 return on the August bank holiday weekend - given the popularity of this weekend, this is still pretty incredible! What makes things better is that the flight is little over an hour long - a very easy getaway! Plus... Burg Eltz is TOTALLY worth it. Fancy a few more opinions? Britt has written a fantastic post about her not-so-fantastic time in the city which you can read here.

Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post and all thoughts are my own. Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Danielle1

Oh the beautiful land of Mozart and The Sound Of Music. When I first started looking into a trip to Salzburg, I'd be lying if I said I knew what there is to do there. In fact, the three of us were so busy at work before our trip, that even when we arrived, we weren't too sure on what there was to do in Salzburg! We actually wanted to go to Vienna but accommodation costs were extortionate at the time and Salzburg seemed like the next best fit! As soon as I started looking into it, I knew I would fall in love with the city. Fast forward a few months and here I am, an avid Salzburg fan, and with good reason! This is how we sent our 3 days in the beautiful city! Check Into Cityhotel Strumer Tube Upon our arrival in Salzburg, we hopped in cab and headed to our hotel City Strumer Tube, which I would definitely recommend! It's cheap and cheerful and the girls working on reception are some of the most friendly and helpful hotel staff that I have ever met! Explore the Old Town  After checking in, we were ridiculously excited to get into the city centre and start exploring! As with most Central/Eastern European cities, the "old town" is where you want to start your trip. Gorgeous buildings, amazing architecture and a beautiful river! Peak Into the Salzburg Cathedral  There are plenty of cathedrals and churches in Salzburg (particularly around the Old Town) but my favourite is the Salzburg Cathederal. Never before have I seen somewhere so pristine and white. The gorgeous facades inside the cathedral are so ornate and different to anything I've ever seen before! Pick Up a Salzburg Pass Whilst exploring the Old Town on our first afternoon in Salzburg, we picked up a Salzburg Pass from the Tourism Office - I would definitely recommend this if you want to see all of the main attractions in Salzburg.

RELATED POST: Find out how much money you can save by using the Salzburg Pass here!

Take Cruise Down the Salzach River The first thing we noticed in the Salzburg Pass brochure was a river cruise, and we just HAD to do it. It's not often that you get to do a river cruise for "free" - okay, technically it's not free because we paid for the Salzburg Pass, but you end up saving so much money, the pass pays for itself! Logic ;-). Pop Into Mozart's Birthplace If you don't have a huge interest or passion for Mozart / classical music, I'd maybe tell you to skip this attraction. Unless you have the Salzburg Pass and can therefore get in for "free" like we did! We had heard so many great things about this museum but left feeling slightly underwhelmed. But then again, it would probably be wrong to visit the land of Mozart without visiting his birth place! The one thing that I found particularly interesting to see were Mozart's original handwritten music sheets. Explore the Famous Graves and Catacombes of Petersfriedhof Whilst still in the main city centre, we headed over to St Peter's Cemetery, the oldest cemetery in Austria. It was so beautiful (is that strange to say about a cemetery...?). Whilst it might not sound like the most glamorous attraction, it is in the main city centre and is definitely worth a visit! Head Back to the Hotel and Attempt to Visit Mirabell Gardens After flying in and wandering around the whole of Salzburg in one day, sadly our first day was coming to an end. Our hotel was really close to Mirabell Gardens and Palace, so we decided to go there before heading back to our hotel and then going out for dinner. Unfortunately it decided to absolutely chuck it down with rain - it's safe to say that the gardens didn't look all that pretty in torrential rain! Queue spending the evening trying to find more places in our hotel room to hang up our soaking wet clothes.... Wake Up Bright and Early For a Trip To Hohensalzburg Fortress On our second day, we headed straight for Hohensalzburg Fortress. This is without a doubt, my favourite thing to do in Salzburg! I am an avid lover of castles and fortresses, as are the two girls I was travelling with. We spent hours here and probably could have spent longer! The Salzburg pass includes one ride up to the Fortress on the funicular, it's pretty steep, so prepare yourself if you are scared of heights (we let out a few girly squeals...).  But seeing as the fortress is high up, the views are incredible as you can imagine! The fortress is absolutely huge and we felt lost a few times - a great way to spend half a day! Take A Bus Over To Hellbrunn Palace & Trick Fountains Hellbrun Palace is slightly outside of the city centre, so catch a bus from Hohensalzburg Fortress (probably the closest attraction to the Palace). Hellbrunn Palace is absolutely lovely and the gardens are gorgeous in the sun. I'd also definitely recommend taking a tour of the Trick Fountains. The stories of the King who installed all of these "trick fountains" to make his guests jump are hilarious! Be warned, you will probably get a bit wet! Make a Quick Stop at the Zoo  Zoos aren't my cup of tea, but there is a zoo right next to Hellbrunn palace, so if you're thinking of doing both attractions, it makes sense to do it in the same day! We popped into the zoo quickly to see the goats in the petting centre - my friend loves goats! Otherwise, I wasn't overly impressed with the size of the enclosures and we left pretty quickly. Make a More Successful Visit to Mirabell Gardens!  On our way back to the hotel at the end of a busy day filled with fortresses and palaces, we tried to visit the Mirabell Gardens one more time! This time was much more successful, the sun was shining (just ignore the puddles on the ground) and it's a really gorgeous place to explore. And of course, this is another place where the fortress looks particularly impressive (my OCD tendencies absolutely love that the view of the castle is directly in the middle of the garden formation). Some Unsuccessful Day 3 Planning On the evening of our second night, we ended up doing some very unsuccessful planning for our third day in Austria. We wanted to make a trip to Hallstatt the next day and deliberated our options endlessly before booking a guided tour.

RELATED POST: You can read all about our decision making and the options you have on getting from Salzburg to Hallstatt here!

See the City from above using Monchsberglift  Given that our trip to Hallstatt wouldn't be taking place until the afternoon, we had to find a way to pass the morning away. We took a look at our trusty tourist map and saw that there was a "great view point" listed. As avid fans of "pretty places", we headed straight over to Monchsberglift! The lift takes you up to one particularly good viewpoint, you can then walk around the woodland area stumbling across other great sights - a lovely walk on a sunny day! To get to the Monchsberglift, you will probably need to walk down my favourite little street in the city (Gstattengasse). I thought that I was being a bit weird by really liking this street as there isn't really anything of note here, the buildings are just nicely painted... but apparently not, it's rated on TripAdvisor as the 47th best thing to see in Salzburg - knew I wasn't going completely mad! Shop On Getreidegasse Getreidegasse is a very traditional-looking shopping street, great for strolling through and having a quick window shop! There's lots of great shopping areas around the Old Town (including a lot of luxury high-end brands!). Take A Trip to Hallstatt! And finally we were off to Hallstatt for our final afternoon in Austria - there's plenty to see and do here, so the town has a whole blog post dedicated to it - you can read all about that here. After our lovely trip to Hallstatt, we headed back to the hotel to pack up all of our things ready to say goodbye to the lovely Austria in the morning. Austria you were fantastic and I can't wait to visit again!

RELATED POST: Want to know how much this whole trip cost? Find out how you should budget for Salzburg here!

The Things We Didn't get to do  As with all quick weekend trips, there are a few things we didn't get to do, these are:
  • Untersberg - This is probably the attraction that we were most upset about missing. The cable car up Untersberg mountain wasn't running when we visited Salzburg but the views look absolutely gorgeous (just have a quick google image search to see for yourself!).
  • Sound of Music Tour - Okay, I haven't actually seen The Sound of Music (shock horror!), so I would have felt like a bit of a phoney if I actually went on this tour - but hey, I should tell you that it exists!
  • Eagles Nest - My inner history nerd is a bit upset that we never did a day-trip to Eagles Nest (Hitler's former residence). Whilst this is technically in Germany, you can reach it within an hour when driving from Salzburg!
  • On a similar theme of crossing the German border, I would have also loved to have explored the Bavarian mountains or taken a trip into Munich (probably would have needed longer than a day to fully explore what Munich has to offer!).
  • Mozart concert dinner - yes, you read that right! If you have some cash to splash and want a Mozart concert while you are wined and dined, Salzburg is the place to do it!
  • Stiegl-Brauwelt - Also included on the Salzburg card is a brewery tour! I took the Heineken brewery tour in Amsterdam (read about that here) and I'm not a fan of beer, so felt like I could sit this one out!

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    Danielle1