Disneyland in One Day: Attractions to Entertainment

Think it’s impossible to do Disneyland in one day? Think again.

 

Who says Disneyland is just for kids? As much as I love to travel the world and immerse myself into new cultures, I also like to let loose and have fun sometimes. Disneyland is magical, no matter how old or young you are. In fact, there are so many things to do at Disneyland that it’s hard to know where to begin. And if you only have a single day to take it all in, you’ll want to be sure you choose wisely. Take it from someone who visits Disneyland for at least one weekend each year—you can pack in a lot of rides, food, shopping, and entertainment if you know how to plan your day properly.

So if you’re planning to do Disneyland in one day, and you’re overwhelmed by the number of things to do, follow this handy guide to make the most of your fun-filled day.

Disneyland in One Day

Pro Tip: If you’ve been thinking about trying a solo trip, it’s the ideal location. It’s safe, there are tons of things to do, and you’re never really alone—simply strike up a conversation with the person next to you in line if you’re feeling a little lonely. It was where I took my first solo trip back in 2000, and it opened my eyes to a whole new world. Since then, I have traveled solo to countless countries.

Getting Started

First, it’s important to understand all of the different parks and attractions that make up the Disneyland Resort. Located in Anaheim, California, it’s made up of two theme parks, Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure, as well as the Downtown Disney District and three Disney-themed hotels, Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa, Disneyland Hotel, and Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel. For the purposes of this guide, we’ll focus on Disneyland Park specifically.

Disneyland in One Day

Pro Tip: If possible, spend an entire weekend in Anaheim, and purchase a Park Hopper Ticket. This allows you to “hop” back and forth between the two theme parks at will.

Stay someplace close to the park. There’s no shortage of hotels, ranging from the upscale and pricey Disney offerings to the Good Neighbor hotels. While these hotels are officially a part of the Disneyland Resort, they are all endorsed by Disney, within walking distance of the resort, and typically meet certain standards. Some, such as Super 8, are easy on the budget, while others, such as Marriott, come with a loftier price tag. Use Google Maps to check the walking distance from your hotel to the Disneyland Park entrance (not the resort or the Downtown District—it can be a fair distance to the park from here).

I’ve stayed at half a dozen different hotels in the area over the years, ranging from budget to beautiful. Last time I was in Anaheim, I stayed at the Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites Anaheim in Walnut Street. The staff was extremely helpful, and the hotel as very clean. There is an onsite restaurant, swimming pool, and shuttle service to Disneyland. And it’s about a 10-minute walk if you cut through the Downtown Disney District.

Disneyland in One Day

If it’s in your budget, head to a character breakfast early in the morning. These elaborate all-you-can-eat buffet breakfasts include every kind of food you can imagine. Eggs, waffles (in the shape of Mickey’s head), pancakes, breads, cakes, cereals, pastries, and fruit are just a few of the items on the menu. But the real treat is that your favorite characters interact with you while you eat. It’s a blast and a great way to get pumped up for your day at the parks.

Disneyland in One Day

I like to book Goofy’s Kitchen at the Disneyland Hotel for 7 a.m. By the time we’re done eating, the park will be about ready to open, and we don’t waste any time getting right to the rides. But beware…the breakfast doesn’t come cheap. You’ll pay a pretty penny for the privilege of partying with Goofy and his friends.

Main Street U.S.A.

When you first enter the park, take a few minutes to soak up the atmosphere. It truly is the happiest place on Earth, and the feeling of euphoria that washes over you the minute you walk through the gates is almost surreal. From the seasonal decorations and colorful building facades to the old-fashioned trolleys and barbershop quartets, the energy is infectious. It’s like stepping into another dimension where you simply can’t keep the smile off your face.

Disneyland in One Day

Once you get past the inevitable gush of excitement, it’s time to set your feet in motion. The first place you’ll find yourself is Main Street U.S.A. Modeled after a typical mid-1900s American town, it’s like taking a time machine to bygone days. Only there’s a bit of a catch—aside from a few eateries, Main Street is mostly a shopping extravaganza. And all of the stores are open until one hour after the rides shut down. For this reason, skip the stores until the end of the day. This will test your will power. Even if you’re not a big shopper, there’s something about Mickey Mouse merchandise that reels you in. Not to mention they pump out sweet smells from the bakery to tempt your tummy. But you’ll have plenty of time to take them in at the end of the night, I promise.

Disneyland in One Day

However, I recommend on an exception to this rule. If you’re planning to purchase a pair of mouse ears, stop in at the first store on the right-hand side of the street if you’re facing the castle. It’s called the Mad Hatter, and you’ll find all shapes styles, and sizes of hats, from mouse ears to ball caps and fascinators to replicas of the hats your favorite characters wear—like Goofy. They’ll even embroider your name on the side (remember that when strangers mysteriously greet you later in the day). There will be other opportunities to purchase hats throughout the park, but if you buy it early in the day, you’ll get the most bang for your buck. Trust me, the crazy Toy Story topper that seemed super cool in the park won’t seem quite so nifty once you get back home. You’ll really only wear it in the park, so you might as well wear it all day.

Disneyland in One Day

Pro Tip: Depending on the type of ticket you purchase for the park or where you are staying, you may be entitled to enter the park one hour early on certain days of the week. Magic Mornings, as they’re known, are a great way to capitalize on a limited timeline since the park is often fairly quiet in the early morning, and there are few—if any—lines for even the most popular rides.

Next door to the Mad Hatter, there’s a small theater that features Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln. While there’s no doubt that Honest Abe was a remarkable figure in US history and the animatronics Disney uses to create a lifelike representation of Abe are also remarkable, it’s about 15 minutes long, and it gets stale after about five. Unless you’re a huge history buff, keep walking. Before you get too far, take a few minutes to look at the brochure you received when you walked through the gates, and establish a game plan for the day. You can also view the current brochure and park maps online to prepare for your trip in advance.

Entertainment

Things to note are the times for parades that take place at various times throughout the day and the fireworks show that happens in front of the castle. Even if you’re not traditionally a fan of parades or fireworks, Disney takes them to a whole new level. You’ll want to make sure you make it back to Main Street U.S.A in time to catch these awesome spectacles and any other live shows that might be taking place throughout the day, such as character meet and greets, theater performances, and live bands.

Disneyland in One Day

Also, note if the nighttime spectacular Fantasmic! is showing. It typically takes place two times a night on the Rivers of America in Frontierland. Live-action characters reliving scenes from their imaginations, movies playing on screens made from water fountains, and a battle between good and evil play out before your eyes. Words cannot describe this show. Don’t miss it if you can help it. Once you’ve decided the shows you want to see for the rest of the day, you can start making your way around the park. Once you’ve decided the shows you want to see for the rest of the day, you can start making your way around the park.

Attractions

If you’re going to do Disneyland in one day, you need to know which attractions—or rides—are most worthy of your time. Disney does an excellent job of describing each ride on its website, so rather than try to reinvent the wheel, I’ve put together a list of attractions throughout the park and ranked them by priority to help ensure you can do Disneyland in one day. Some are classics you simply can’t miss, even if they aren’t as exciting as other attractions. Others are an exhilarating experience you can’t replicate anyplace else, while others aren’t all their cracked up to be. The Disneyland website does a great job of describing each of the park’s “lands” so you can read all about the rides in more detail.

For whatever reasons, I always turn left when I get to the end of Main Street U.S.A. and start my day in Adventureland. So, I’ve listed the attraction sin order of how I typically encounter them. All rides have been ranked according to how classic, cute, thrilling, an unmissable they are up to a maximum of three in each category. If you plan accordingly and follow these recommendations it is possible to do Disneyland in one day. Of course, this itinerary assumes you don’t have any young children visiting the park with you—in that case, you’ll likely only get through a portion of this plan in one day.

❤️ = classic   🌟 = must see   🐭 = cute   🚀 = thrilling   🚫 = skip

Adventureland

AttractionRating
Enchanted Tiki Room❤️
🐭
🚫
Jungle Cruise❤️
🐭🐭
🌟🌟🌟
Indiana Jones Adventure🌟🌟🌟
🚀🚀🚀
Tarzan's Treehouse🚫
The Tiki Room is cute and classic, but it's a lot of time for not a lot of reward. And the treehouse is nothing more than a steep climb up and awkward trek down. Jungle cruise is a classic that's both funny and cute. It's worth a trip. No matter how long the line, Indian Jones is worth the wait. It's an exhilarating thrill ride.

Disneyland in One Day

New Orleans Square

AttractionRating
Pirate's of the Caribbean❤️❤️❤️
🌟🌟🌟
🚀
Disneyland Railroad❤️❤️❤️
🌟
Haunted Mansion🌟🌟🌟
🚀🚀
Pirate's of the Caribbean is one of the park's original attractions and still an all-time favorite. It lives up to the hype of its namesake movies, and don't be surprised if you find yourself back in line for a second, third, or even fourth ride. The same goes for the Haunted Mansion. Also one of the original attractions, it's ghoulish in a magical way, and its magic has stood the test of time. The railroad actually stops in several parts of the park and is a good way to rest your feet if you want to spend some time just kicking back.

Disneyland in One Day

Disneyland in One Day

Critter Country

AttractionRating
Davy Crockett's Explorer Canoes❤️
🚫🚫🚫
Splash Mountain
🌟🌟🌟
🐭🐭🐭
🚀🚀
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh🌟
🐭🐭🐭
You have to paddle the canoes yourself, and if you don't you won't get back to shore. It's a lot of work, especially if anyone if your canoe isn't pulling their weight. The Pooh ride is adorable, but if you have to wait more than five minutes to get on, move along to the next ride. But Splash Mountain is a must see. In fact, it's my laughing place (you'll get the reference after you go on the ride). From the outside, all you see is the two-story drop, but inside is an incredible and adorable world of animatronic critters singing, dancing, and telling the tale of Brer Rabbit. It's worth getting wet for!

Disneyland in One Day

Pro Tip: Some rides have a single rider line. If you don’t mind being split up from your traveling companions, this is a great way to get on rides faster. On a hot day, the line up for Splash Mountain can take hours, so head to the exit, where you’ll find the line for single riders. Often, you’ll walk right on the ride. Indian Jones typically has a single rider line as well.

Disneyland in One Day

Frontierland

AttractionRating
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad🌟🌟
🚀🚀
Pirate's Lair on Tom Sawyer Island❤️
🚫🚫🚫
Mark Twain Riverboat❤️
🚫🚫🚫
Sailing Ship Columbia❤️
🚫🚫🚫
Aside from the thrills and spills of the Big Thunder runaway train, you can skip past most of the other attractions in Frontierland. The Pirate's Lair is nothing more than a playground, and the two sailing ships simply sail around the lagoon. It's a slow journey that will keep you from experiencing some of the other more exciting rides.

Fantasyland

AttractionRating
Sleeping Beauty Castle Walkthrough❤️
🌟
Snow White's Scary Adventures❤️
🌟🌟
🐭🐭🐭
Pinocchio's Daring Journey❤️
🌟🌟
🐭🐭🐭
Peter Pan's Flight❤️
🌟🌟🌟
🐭🐭🐭
Mr. Toad's Wild Ride❤️
🌟🌟🌟
🐭🐭🐭
King Arthur Carousel❤️
🚫🚫🚫
Storybook Land Canal Boats🌟
🐭🐭
Dumbo the Flying Elephant❤️
🐭🐭
🚫🚫🚫
Casey Jr. Circus Train🐭🐭
🚫🚫🚫
Mad Tea Party❤️
🚫🚫
Alice in Wonderland🌟🌟🌟
🐭🐭🐭
Matterhorn Bobsleds🌟🌟🌟
🚀🚀🚀
"it's a small world"❤️
🌟🌟
🐭🐭
So much of Fantasyland is adorable and classic, but it's also geared toward children. Aside from Matterhorn Bobsleds, Peter Pan's Flight, Alice and Wonderland, and Mr. Toad's Wild Ride are the only attractions truly worth the wait (and you will wait 20 to 60 minutes for them). If you have time, Snow White and Pinocchio are similar in style, and you can often walk right on them. Sometimes at night if we have time, we'll come back to ride the Storybook Land Canal Boats, and "it's a small world" is great if you need a few minutes off your feet or out of the sun. Much to most people's surprise, the castle is not a ride—you literally walk through it—so it just takes a few minutes.

Disneyland in One Day

Pro Tip: FASTPASS is great…in theory. But it’s not always all it’s cracked up to be in reality. If you get a FASTPASS for a ride in Adventureland with a return time four hours later, you’ll likely be on the other side of the park when your time comes around. It’s not always practical to return. Since the number of FASTPASS tickets you can hold at any one time is restricted, be sure to choose wisely so you don’t end up wasting opportunities.

Mickey’s Toontown

AttractionRating
Roger Rabbit's Car Toon Spin🌟🌟
🚀
Gadget's Go Coaster🚀
🚫🚫
Donald's Boat🐭🐭
🚫🚫🚫
Chip n' Dale Treehouse🐭🐭
🚫🚫🚫
Goofy's Playhouse🐭🐭
🚫🚫🚫
Mickey's House🐭🐭
🚫🚫🚫
Minnie's House🐭🐭
🚫🚫🚫
Honestly, I don't typically spend a lot of time in Toontown. It's geared toward young children, so there's not a lot for adults to do. Roger Rabbit's Car Toon Spin is a blast and worth the trip to this part of the park.

Tomorrowland

AttractionRating
Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage🐭🐭
🌟
Autopia🚫🚫🚫
Star Wars Launch Pad🌟🌟
Space Mountain🚀🚀🚀
🌟🌟🌟
Star Tours—The Adventure Continues🚀🚀
🌟🌟🌟
Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters🐭🐭
🌟🌟
Astro Orbiter🚫🚫🚫
There's lots of fun stuff to keep you on your toes in Tomorrowland. Even if you're not a Star Wars buff, Star Tours is an amazing and immersive experience. If you are a fan of the movies, the Star Wars Launch Pad has lots of cool movie memorabilia and interactive activities. Space Mountain is notorious for being one of the biggest thrill rides in the park. Astro Orbiter is a lot like Dumbo, so choose one or the other if you've got some spare time or the line is short. Buzz Lightyear is actually an interactive ride that allows you to battle against the bad guys. It's super cute and a lot of fun. Nemo is pretty slow going but kind of cute. But skip Autopia—chances are you already have a license and can drive on real streets. The kids driving behind you likely do not, and you may get a bit of whiplash if they rear end you.

disneyland in one day

Pro Tip: On some rides, such as Splash Mountain, your picture will be taken while you’re on the ride. When you get off, take a picture of your picture. It’s almost as good as if you buy the real one. On other rides, such as Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, you can email the picture to yourself for free after the ride.

Eats

There are so many delicious treats at Disneyland. Some favorites include churros, Mickey Mouse-shaped ice cream sandwiches, turkey legs, mint julep’s, and pineapple dole whips. For a healthy snack, you can also get fresh fruit and dill pickles at various locations throughout the park.

Disneyland in One Day

If you didn’t fork out for breakfast with the characters, Carnation Cafe is a great place to grab a bite if you like table service. River Belle Terrace also has a decent, cafeteria-style breakfast selection. The Mary Poppins’s themed Jolly Holiday Bakery Cafe has plenty of pastries and sweet treats to fill your tummy.

If you follow this guide, by lunchtime, you’ll likely be someplace in the middle of the park. If so, you’ll want to grab a bite to eat in Fantasyland. At Village Haus Restaurant, you can find burgers, flatbreads, and French fries. Walk a little farther in Fantasyland, and you’ll find Troubadour Tavern just outside Mickey’s Toontown. Here, you can grab grub with a German flair, including bratwurst with sauerkraut or pretzel bites.

If you’ve been snacking all morning and want a later lunch, wait until you get to Tomorrowland. Galactic Grill is a space-themed eatery with a wide selection of fast food offerings. Or there’s Red Rockett’s Pizza Port, a cafeteria-style restaurant with all kinds of pasta, pizzas, and other Italian favorites.

Side note…my personal favorite place for lunch or dinner (or both) is Bengal Barbecue in Adventureland. I’m a pesco pollo vegetarian, and I just love the Chieftan chicken skewer. But what I love even more is the tiger tail bread dipped in the Chieftan chicken sauce—so good that my mouth is watering just thinking about it. Be sure to ask for an extra side of Chieftan chicken sauce just for dipping. You won’t be sorry.

Of course, all of these places and others offer dinners as well as lunch, but if you’re looking for something a little more special for dinner, Blue Bayou is an excellent choice. As you sail on Pirates of the Caribbean, you’ll notice people dining under the stars right next to the bayou. Specializing in Cajun and Creole fare, Blue Bayou is a unique dining experience you won’t find anyplace else. But be sure to reserve in advance—getting a seat at this exclusive restaurant is no easy feat.

Shopping

Throughout the day, you’ve likely popped in and out of the various shops in each of the lands and picked up a few souvenirs along the way. Some shops carry special items you won’t find in other parts of the park, so it’s a good idea to give them a quick once over. I recommend checking out the Adventureland Bazaar, the shops of Royal Street in New Orleans Square, Pooh Corner, Pioneer Mercantile, “it’s a small world” Toy Shop, Gag Factory – Toontown Five and Dime, and The Star Trader. Each of these places has some unique and cool items you won’t find anywhere else in the park.

Now that the day is done, be sure to check out the shops of Main Street U.S.A. that you skipped past when you first arrived at the park to pick up some last-minute mementos of your visit to Disneyland. Most of the shops are connected on the interior, so you can pass right from one to the next without ever stepping foot outside.

Some of my favorites include Crystal Arts, which has lots of affordable collectibles, including custom hand-blown glass creations and Christmas ornaments. If you’ve got a sweet tooth, you won’t want to miss the Candy Palace and Candy Kitchen, where they serve up all sorts of tasty treats, including chocolates, lollipops, fudge, popcorn, and more. Emporium is the ultimate one-stop Disneyland shop. It sells just about eery type of Disneyland-themed merchandise you can imagine, such as clothes, hats, mugs, plush toys, trinkets, and more. You’ll definitely want to stop here. And if you’re a true Disney connoisseur, you absolutely must visit The Disney Gallery. Here, you’ll find exquisite collectibles and one-of-a-kind works of art from some of Disney’s most talented artists.

It may sound like a lot, but it is possible to do Disneyland in one day. Expect to get up early and stay out late, but it will be worth every moment of fun you have. What are your favorite rides, shops, and places to eat? Leave a comment to share your ideas.

One Day in Barcelona, Spain: From Gaudi to the Gothic Quarter

So you only have one day in Barcelona, and you want to see as much as possible.

 

Barcelona is a lively city with lots to see. But if you’re ready to pull up your socks and put in a long day, you can pack in many of the main sights.

Be sure to stay someplace central so you can get off to an early start and be right in the heart of the action. We found the most adorable traditional Spanish apartment on Airbnb that was located right across the street from the Arc de Triomf and Parc Ciutadella. Situated in a trendy, Bohemian community in the heart of the Old Town, it was only about 1 10-minute walk to Las Ramblas and other popular attractions. Use this link for a discount on your booking.

One day in Barcelona

One day in Barcelona

One day in Barcelona

Now that you’ve found the perfect place to rest your head, let’s take a look at how to spend one day in Barcelona so you can see plenty of what this exciting city has to offer.

Morning

Get up early so you can enjoy the energy of the morning rush as people sip their morning espresso before dashing off to work. There’s an energy alive on the streets of Barcelona that simply isn’t found in other parts of the world. You can literally feel it buzz through you as you wend your way through the city’s streets. You simply have to experience it for yourself. It’s incredible. You’ll find plenty of pastry shops where you can grab a Danish or croissant. If you prefer a full meal in the morning, there are lots of curbside cafes that offer local delicacies or a traditional English breakfast of toast, eggs, and sausage or bacon. If you’re staying by the Arc de Triomf, El Nostre Pa on Passeif de Luis Companys is a great place to grab a bite to eat. You can either enjoy your meal inside the shop or take it to go and walk across the street to eat in the green space surrounding the Arc de Triomf.

One day in Barcelona

Now that your stomach is sated, it’s time to start your journey. If you enjoy walking, this one-day guide has plenty of it, but some sites are quite a distance apart. When you conjure up images of Barcelona in your mind, the one attraction that likely stands out most in Gaudi’s infamous Sagrada Familia. A visit to this fair city simply wouldn’t be complete without making a stop at this towering basilica. This is the first point of interest on our one-day tour.

one day in barcelona

One day in Barcelona

Construction of the UNESCO World Heritage site started in 1882 and is projected for completion in 2026—100 years after the death of its enlightened architect Antoni Gaudi. The site of La Sagrada Familia is perpetually under construction, with large cranes extending out at every angle—something you don’t typically see in the online pictures promoting the basilica. Still, it’s a sight to behold with its detailed sculptures and 18 sky-scraping spires that exude both Gothic and Art Nouveau styles. Each of the church’s three facades is ornately decorated to highlight the story of Jesus’s life, and the interior of the building is equally as impressive.

It will take you about 30 minutes to walk to La Sagrada from the Arc, and you’ll want to spend an hour or so wandering around the site once you arrive. The details are so intricate that it’s impossible to take it all in, but drink up as much as you can before starting off again, this time, in the direction of the Park Güell.

It’s a 40-minute walk to the park from La Sagrada, so you may opt for a taxi to help keep your feet fresh since there’s still a lot left to see later in the day. Spend an hour or so wandering around the public park, which is home to even more of Gaudi’s masterpieces. In 1900, wealthy Spanish entrepreneur Eusebi Güell commissioned Gaudi to build an estate for the elite. Gaudi adorned the area with his unique designs. A few years after Güell’s death, his family gifted the area to the city as Park Güell.

One day in Barcelona

Much of the park is open to visitors to wander around at leisure. However, if you want to get up close and personal with Gaudi’s designs, you’ll need to purchase a ticket for an exclusive part of the park known as the Monumental Zone. Here, you’ll find the serpent-inspired mosaic terrace, the infamous El Drac mosaic salamander and other mosaics, and the main park entrance. An additional ticket is required to visit Gaudi’s house, la Torre Rosa.

Pro Tip: Get in line to purchase your ticket before you begin exploring the public parts of the park. You’ll likely have to wait a while just to make your purchase, and once you do you’ll be given a time to return for entry into the exclusive area. While you’re waiting, you can check out the rest of the park, which includes Gaudi’s colonnaded pathways and bird’s nests. Alternatively, you can pre-purchase tickets that allow you to skip the line.

Afternoon

Once you’ve had a chance to wander around the park, it will be mid-day. By now, your stomach will be rumbling, so be sure to stop for lunch. You can either grab a bite nearby or head toward your next point of interest, where there’ll be plenty of places to whet your whistle.

From Park Güell, you’ll make your way to Passeig de Gràcia in the Eixample area of Barcelona. It’s about 40 minutes of walking, so once again, you may want to hail a taxi for this leg of the trip. Passeig de Gràcia is home to some of the city’s finest shopping, including everything from Cartier and Hermes to H&M and Zara. Like the shopping, food vendors runs the gamut from takeout tapas joints to trendy and chic upscale restaurants.

One day in Barcelona

One day in Barcelona

In addition to all types of fashion-forward clothing chains and popular restaurants, you’ll get to glimpse two more of Gaudi’s masterpieces on Passeig de Gràcia: UNESCO World Heritage Sites Casa Milà and Casa Batlló. Walk up one side of Passeig de Gràcia and back down the other until you reach Plaça Catalunya, the place where the Old Town and newer Eixample part of the city meet. If you don’t dawdle, only stop into a few shops, and chow down on street food as you walk, you make your way from one end of Passeig de Gràcia to Plaça Catalunya in an hour or so.

One day in Barcelona

Considered the city center, Plaça Catalunya is a massive that square boasts a number of fountains and statues and is the gateway to many of the Barcelona’s most important streets, including the popular pedestrian street known as La Rambla. Walk south from Plaça Catalunya to reach La Ramblas, the hub of tourist activity in Barcelona. The tree-lined street is approximately three quarters of a mile long and is completely free from vehicles. Here you’ll find street artists entertaining the thousands of tourists that stroll this street every day. You’ll also find dozens of street cafes and boutiques where you can buy all types of clothing, souvenirs, and gifts.

Pro Tip: Be sure to try the churros and chocolate. The local delicacy consists of fried pastry that is dusted in sugar and cinnamon and served with a cup of sweet, creamy chocolate. You can find the combination on the menu at just about every eatery in the area.

one day in barcelona

One day in Barcelona

At the southernmost tip of La Rambla, you’ll reach the Christopher Columbus Monument at Port Vell. If it’s still light out, you may want to make your way across the street and walk along the pier a ways. And if you’re feeling really adventurous, from here, it’s only about a 20-minute walk to the beach. Slip off your shoes and dip your toes in the sand for a short stroll along the water before the sun goes down.

Evening

Once darkness falls, it’s time to head to Barri Gotic, or the Gothic Quarter. It’s about a 20-munte walk from the beach, and the main attraction here is the Catedral de la Santa Creu i Santa Eulàlia, or Barcelona Cathedral. Its soft lights cast an amazing aura over the area at night. After you’ve taken in this impressive sight, get lost in the narrow and winding streets of the Gothic Quarter. Take your time enjoying the one-of-a-kind offerings at the unique boutiques and pick up dessert at one of the tasty pastry shops.

One day in Barcelona

one day in barcelona

By the time the shops start to close, you’ll be ready to call it a night. It’s a short 20-minute walk from the Gothic Quarter to the Arc de Triomf, where you can kick off your shoes and give your feet a much-deserved rest.

If you only had one day in Barcelona, what would you add to this list? Leave a comment below with your suggestions. We’d love to hear from you.

One Day in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: From Corcovado to Sugarloaf

So you only have one day in Rio de Janeiro and you want to make the most of it?

 

There are so many incredible things to do in Rio de Janeiro that it’s almost overwhelming. But there are only a handful of must-see sites top the list, and the good news is that you can pack most of them into one very full day. You simply can’t visit Rio without making a stop at places like  Sugarloaf Mountain, Ipanema and Copacabana, the Carnival parade route, Maracanã Stadium, and Corcovado Mountain, which is home to Christ the Redeemer.

It’s fairly easy and inexpensive to take taxis or public transportation to most parts of Rio. However, there’s a bit of risk involved—during peak season some of the best things to do in Rio de Janeiro can be extremely busy. Some people spend hours just standing in line to on the cable cars at Sugarloaf. For this reason, it’s a good idea to opt for a guided tour.

Pro tip: If you do decide to head to some of the top attractions on your own, consider buying a skip-the-line pass. Depending on the time of year of your visit, it can be a real time saver.

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At first glance, it may seem like the cost of city tours in Rio is outrageous—it’s certainly much more than you would spend in other parts of the world. But once you start adding up the price of admission to the top sites, as well as cab fare to each one, you’ll realize the price is pretty fair. And leaning on the experts to get you to all the right places is invaluable when you only have one day in Rio de Janeiro. They know the best times to visit each place to guarantee you can see as much as possible. Even if you have more than one day to check out the sights, a city tour is a great way to kick off your trip to give you a feel for the area. Normally, I would recommend a hop on hop off bus to get acquainted with a city, but Rio de Janeiro doesn’t have one.

Pro tip: There are plenty of tour companies offering comprehensive city tours that you can pre-book, or you can ask your hotel for recommendations. At the end of the day, they’re all about the same price and visit the same places, so it’s often more convenient to buy your tour in advance of your trip.

If you’re ready, let’s begin looking at all of the things to do in Rio de Janeiro in just one day.

Morning

Since most city tours won’t do much more than take you for a drive past the infamous Ipanema and Copacabana Beaches, try staying someplace close by so you can take a morning stroll in the sand. For affordable elegance, the Best Western Premier Arpoador Fashion Hotel is a perfect choice. Located on a side street just a five-minute walk from both Ipanema and Copacabana, it’s ultra-contemporary and luxurious decor will make you feel like you’ve spent a fortune on a five-star hotel when you paid three-star rates. But if you’re looking to truly splurge on your visit to Brazil, nothing compares to the ultimate indulgence of the Belmond Copacabana Palace Hotel.

rio de janeiro

rio de janeiro

rio de janeiro

The Best Western offers a delicious—and complimentary—breakfast spread of pastries, cereals, and made-to-order hot dishes that is sure to tickle your taste buds. Get up early to enjoy a quick bite at the hotel and then spend and hour in the soft white sand of Rio’s premiere beaches. If you’d like to try a local eatery instead, you’ll find plenty of full-service snack shacks beachside. You can watch the waves roll in as vendors set up stalls renting beach chairs and local “salesmen” peddle Brazilian sarongs called kangas.

rio de janeiro

rio de janeiro

rio de janeiro

Most tours offer hotel pick up and will likely arrive between 8:30 and 9:30 a.m., and while you won’t have a lot of time to take in both beaches, it’s still worth taking the time to check them out. Once you’re safely tucked into your seat on the open-top tour bus, you’ll be whisked through the streets of Rio toward the number one tourist attraction in the city: Christ the Redeemer. I’ve written all about what to expect when you arrive at Corcovado Mountain and make your way up to the statue of Christ in a separate post since it’s an experience in and of itself.

rio de janeiro

rio de janeiro

rio de janeiro

Depending on the type of tour you take, you can either take a bus, train, or car just about to the top of the mountain. For here, you’ll need to climb about 200 steps to the top (there is an elevator if you need it, but if you’re able, I recommend the walk). There are lots of great views on the way up. Regardless of your religion, Christ with his arms outstretched will take your breath away. When you’re done taking pictures of the exceptional views from Corcorvado, you’ll still have plenty of time to browse around the souvenir shops for a memento of your visit.

rio de janeiro

rio de janeiro

As you drive through the streets, you’ll catch a glimpse at the notorious and colorful favelas, or low-income shantytowns that take up a great deal of real estate in Brazil’s urban and rural communities. You’ll also drive by the massive Sambadrome where Rio Carnival takes place each year. As you stop at the side of the building for a closer look, you can almost hear the spicy samba beats and the thunderous roar of the 90,000-person crowd as the heavily adorned dancers and floats pass by. Well, maybe not quite since it’s pretty much a big, concrete park without the glitter and shine of the Carnival, but you get the gist. Touted as the biggest stage on Earth, the tiered seats offer an unparalleled view of the electrifying Samba Parade.

rio de janeiro

rio de janeiro

rio de janeiro

For sports enthusiasts, the tour makes a quick stop at Maracanã Sium, which was originally built to host the 1950 FIFA World Cup. At the time, it could hold nearly 200,000 people, making it the world’s largest stadium. However, a renovation completed in 2013 decreased its capacity to fewer than 80,000. Still, as the largest stadium in Brazil, it’s an impressive site. It’s at about this point in the tour that the bus will pull up outside a recommended souvenir shop so you have a chance to pick up gifts for friends and family back home.

rio de janeiro

rio de janeiro

Afternoon

By now, the better part of your morning will be over, and your tummy will be starting to grumble. What better wait to sate your stomach than to head to a Brazilian barbecue? And don’t worry if you’re not a meat-eater—I’ve been a pesco pollo vegetarian for more than 20 years—there are plenty of other foods on the menu, including a plethora of salads and side dishes. I promise you won’t leave hungry.

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For the carnivores in the group, you will be treated to an experience like no other. From the moment you’re seated, a revolving door of servers carrying ready-to-carve meats of every kind will start to approach from every angle, and they won’t stop until you’re walking out the door. Lamb, chicken, pork, beef—you name it, and they have it. And they are careful to also include vegetarians in the experience, bringing specially crafted cheesy buns and fried bananas for you to much on. Many tours include the cost of the meal in your ticket price. The only reason you’ll have to pull out your wallet is if you want to buy a beverage.

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With your tummy taut from all the delicacies you enjoyed, it’s time to get rolling. After all, there’s no time to spare when you only have one day in Rio de Janeiro. For the next leg of the tour, you’ll spend some time driving around the city and taking in the sights from inside the motorcoach.

Pro tip: There’s often limited space on the top, or outdoor, part of the bus, which is the prime viewing location. At each stop, aim to get back to the bus a little bit earlier than prescribed so that you can be first in line to get one of the outdoor seats. It’s dog-eat-dog when it comes to these things.

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From here, you’ll head toward the Metropolitan Cathedral of Saint Sebastian. Constructed in the 1960s and 1970s, the church looks like something out of an apocalyptic comic book. Inside, the floor-to-ceiling stained glass windows are a true work of art, lending a sense of beauty to the otherwise unusual structure that is almost reminiscent of a Mayan temple in its shape and design.

rio de janeiro

rio de janeiro

The penultimate stop of the tour takes you for a drive past the Lapa Arches en route to the Selaron Steps. Not every tour includes this stop, but our thoughtful and knowledgeable guide, Julio, thought we might enjoy a quick pit stop here, and it turned into one of the highlights of the trip. Designed as a tribute to the people of Brazil by Chilean artist Jorge Selaron, the 215 colorful steps are covered from top to bottom in a mosaic of tiles and mirrors. Street vendors and souvenir shops line the sides of the steps, which are abuzz with crowds of people. There’s also a great souvenir shop where you can taste a local liqueur as well.

rio de janeiro

rio de janeiro

rio de janeiro

rio de janeiro

rio de janeiro

After a short break at the cathedral, it’s back on the bus for the final stop of the tour, the highly anticipated Sugarloaf Mountain and its high-speed cable cars. If you’re afraid of heights, there’s a lovely green space just before the entrance to the cable cars where you can wait for the rest of the party. You find a few kiosks offering kitschy souvenirs and churros, among other street food. You can even walk down to the nearby beach to watch the surfers ride the waves.

For the adventurers who choose to ride to the top of the mountain, you won’t be disappointed. The views are incredible and well worth the whopping six-minute ride—that’s right, I said six minutes. Honestly, no matter how severe your fear of heights is, you can do anything for six minutes. In the blink of an eye, you’ll be there. And if you time it right, you’ll get to see the sunset over Christ the Redeemer on the other side of Rio. It’s majestic, and you can read all about the experience in a separate post I wrote on Sugarloaf Mountain and the cable car ride. There a plenty of places to eat and shop at Sugarloaf, so don’t worry if you haven’t found a special token to remind you of your time in Rio. You’re bound to find something at Sugarloaf.

rio de janeiro

rio de janeiro

rio de janeiro

rio de janeiro

Evening

The sun goes down fast in Rio de Janeiro, so by the time you get back on the bus, it will be just about nightfall. You’ll get back to your hotel between 6:30 and 7 p.m. And if you’re up for it, a fun way to spend the night is at the Plataforma Samba Show. Filled with music and dance, each night performers our their hearts and souls into a high-energy cultural performance. And for the icing on the cake, the performers showcase some of the recent Carnival costumes. It’s a fun way to cap off your jam-packed day in Rio.

rio de janeiro

rio de janeiro

rio de janeiro

I’ve been to hundreds of cities and towns in more than 50 countries on 5 continents, and I can truly say that none compare to Rio de Janeiro. Its beauty is unrivaled. There are so many things to do in Rio de Janeiro that I can hardly wait to return and take in even more. But if you only have one day in Rio de Janeiro, this guide provides the perfect way to make the most of your time.

Have you been to Rio? What’s your favorite thing about it? What other sights would you put on your must-see list? Leave a comment and let us know.

One Day in Chicago: From Land to Water Activities

chicago
Chicago

One Day in London, England: From Soho to St. Paul’s Cathedral

There are so many things to do in London, England.

So what should you do when you only have one day to spare? It’s a big city with lots of amazing sights to see. The good news is that if you don’t dawdle, you can pack in many of them in fewer than 12 hours. Follow this comprehensive plan, and you won’t miss out on anything.

Morning

Staying at a central hotel is key to seeing as much of London as possible in just one day. I stayed at a cozy and quirky boutique hotel in the heart of Soho. The upscale Hazlitt’s Hotel is in an ideal location if you’re planning to walk to London’s main attractions. The staff is exceptional, and the beds are some of the comfiest I’ve ever slept in. And did I mention my room had a claw-foot tub? It was pure bliss.

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There’s not much to do in London before 10 a.m., so sleep in a little and then make your way to the Covent Garden district for a traditional English breakfast. If you choose to stay at Hazlitt’s or another nearby hotel, after about 10 to 15 minutes of walking, you’ll be in the very heart of the Covent Garden district. London is such a great walking city that it’s worth every step.

There’re loads of shops along the way, and it’s fun to do some window—or actual—shopping en route. You’ll pass everything from trendy clothing stores like my personal favorite Anthropologie and future queen Kate Middleton’s former employer Jigsaw to quirky, upscale jewelry shops like Les Nereides. So good…and don’t even get me started on the number of cafes and bistros you’ll see. If you’re not too hangry, hang tight and wait until you get to Covent Garden Market before chowing down.

london londonlondonLondon

You’ll find plenty of casual restaurants offering affordable prices—by London standards—at Covent Garden Market. I chose to dine downstairs at The Crusting Pipe, where I got poached eggs and toast for just £6. That might sound like a lot, but it’s a steal of a deal considering the prime location. If you sit outside, you’ll likely be treated to live entertainment by one of the many talented street performers that are known to busk in the area. And if the mercury is low, they’ll even leave a blanket on your chair to help keep you cozy.

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After breakfast, spend a bit of time strolling through the streets and stopping in at some of the market shops. Offerings range from handicrafts kiosks to gourmet tea boutiques (many of which have affordable afternoon teas). It’s a real eclectic mix where you just might find a one-of-a-kind keepsake. My Pomeranian is the proud owner of a handmade Union Jack coat, for instance. But I digress…there are still so many things to do in London. The hands on Big Ben will be roundabout noon by now, and you’ve got a ways to walk before you’ll get to see them.

London

Afternoon

Once you’ve had a good look around Covent Garden, make your way toward Henrietta Street and walk for half a block, until you reach Southampton Street. Take a right on Southampton and walk another block or so, until you hit Strand. From here, just keep on walking, and eventually you’ll reach Trafalgar Square, where you’ll find the National Gallery. Admission is free, so pop in and take a look around. The gallery even offers suggestions about must-see sites for people who are short on time, which you definitely are if you plan to see the best of London in one day.

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When you’re done taking a quick look around the gallery, toss a few pennies in the Trafalgar Square fountains, and walk straight across the street to the traffic circle on Strand. Take a quick picture with Charles Statue at the roundabout, and then curve right toward Whitehall. After just a  few minutes, you’ll be yourself snapping selfies with the poker faced guards at the Horse Guards Parade. The entire journey from Covent Garden to this point shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes of total walking time if you don’t stop anywhere along the way.

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From here, it’s smooth sailing to some of the most popular sites in London. If you’re facing the Horse Guards, turn left and start walking along Whitehall, which will eventually become Parliament Street. Soon, you’ll be ticking off the boxes on your to do list like mad. Up first, 10 Downing where the prime minister resides. Across the street-ish, you’ll see Big Ben and the parliament buildings, and up the road is Westminster Abbey…they’re all along this route. Take your time, and breathe it all in.

Pro tip: You’ll know you’re heading in the right direction if you see lots of red, double-decker, tourist buses as you walk. Let the buses be your guide.

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Over the next hour or two, simply drink in your surroundings. Take pictures, walk around the Abbey, and soak it all up like the sponge that you are. Want an authentic souvenir? Check out the House of Parliament Shop on the corner of Great George Street and Parliament Square. Then, hone in on the London Eye and start walking in that direction. Crossover the Thames River via Westminster Bridge, and walk along the water until you reach the famed Ferris wheel that offers an unparalleled view of the city. Afraid of heights? Me, too. The only thing I’m more afraid of than heights is wasting money, so I bought a skip the line pass in advance and forced myself to take the plunge.

Pro Tip: Depending on the season, the line to get on the London Eye can be prohibitively long if you’re on a tight schedule. Pre-purchasing a skip the line pass is a must to ensure you get right on the ride.

London

From here, a fun idea is to visit Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. And it’s easy to get to from the London Eye—no map required. All you need to do is walk along the banks of the Thames until you come to a rustic, round building. According to Google maps, it should only take about 30 minutes, but I wandered in and out of shops along the way so it took an hour or two.

Pro Tip: By now your stomach may be starting to grumble. When it comes to seeing all you can in one day, eating on the go is a necessity. Grab a bite to eat from someplace on the street, something like a pastry or a burger that you can eat while you walk.

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It was about 2:30 p.m. when I arrived at the Globe, and the next guided tour was starting in a half hour. This gave me just enough time to check out about half of the exhibits in the museum portion of the theater before joining the rest of the group. The tour takes only a half hour, and if you’re lucky, you’ll get to see some of the actors rehearsing. When I was there, the girl next to me swore up and down that one of the actors was from “Game of Thrones” was onstage, but I’m not convinced.

London

At £16, the price of admission to the theater ain’t cheap, but for a Shakespeare buff like me, it’s well worth every penny, and it’s a unique experience. The globe provides unparalleled insight into what life was like in Elizabethan times. After the tour, you may need another half hour or so to check out the rest of the exhibits. Then, be sure to check out the shop, which is filled with an abundance of merchandise featuring some of the most famous quotes from Shakespeare’s infamous plays. You may even choose to dine at one of the cafes or bars located on the theater premises.

Evening

You’ll already have put in a packed day at this point, but it’s not quite over yet. When you leave the theater, walk out the doors and over Millennium Bridge toward St. Paul’s Cathedral. This is where members Lady Diana and Prince Charles go married. I took a minute to pretend I was a princess and walked right down the center aisle. Located at the highest point in the city, St. Paul’s is the home of the Anglican church in London and is a sight to behold with its enormous domed roof and other adornments. Stay for a service if you don’t have any other plans for the evening. If not, spend 15 or 20 minutes taking a look around and then start of in search of your next attraction, which will likely be dinner.

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By now, it will be about 6 p.m., and you’re bound to be hankering for something savory. Just about a block up the street from the cathedral on Ludgate Hill is a little bistro called Joe’s Kitchen. Casual, trendy, and affordable, Joe’s was the perfect place to kickback and enjoy some fish and chips. The generous portions came at an affordable price and truly hit the spot. And the service was fast and friendly, which suited my needs perfectly.

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Once your appetite is sated, it’s decision time. How will you spend the rest of your night? I chose to make my way back to Soho to take in a Broadway-style production. If you’ve got the time and your feet aren’t too tired from your earlier adventures, it’s only about a half hour walk along Strand to Leicester Square. Here, you find half-price ticket booths just like the ones in Times Square, New York. If you’re lucky, you might be able to snag yourself a deal at one of the hottest tickets. I happened to get a seat at the very final showing of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” at a fraction of the regular rate. I also happened across the adorable Primrose Bakery along the way, where I grabbed a delicious cupcake to snack on after the show.

London London london

Other options for the evening include heading back toward Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and catching a performance there. Or you may choose to simply take a stroll along Oxford Street to do a little shopping at the plethora of trendy boutiques and chain stores that line either side of this long and bustling street. Before you know it, the moon will be casting its cool glow over you, and your jam-packed day in London will be over.

I know, I know…what about Buckingham Palace and the Tower of London? You only have one day, so something’s gotta give, right? That said, if this is your first time in London, you’ll definitely want to take in these awesome sites. However, if you’ve been to London plenty of times, this offers you a fun alternative to get a little bit off the beaten path while still taking in some of the attractions that never get boring no matter how many times you see them.

Alternative Agenda

I wouldn’t want to leave you hanging, so I’ve also included a few other options for your day in London. As an alternative, you could always skip the morning at Covent Garden to take in the palace instead. Then, substitute the afternoon visit to Shakespeare’s Globe with a trek to the tower. Both are completely viable—and doable—alternatives. I love a good, long walk in a new city, but keep in mind you may need to hop onto the London Underground or hail an infamous black taxi to make it the extra miles in just one day.

The walk from Soho to Buckingham Palace takes a little over a half hour. Try to time your visit with the changing of the guard for a bit of extra fun, and be sure to check out the palace shop. You can even take a tour of the interior or enjoy afternoon tea if you’ve decided to hit the palace later in the day. When you’re ready to continue with the rest of the tour, simply walk straight down the main road leading from the palace, called The Mall, and it will take you all the way to Trafalgar Square in just under half an hour. From here, you know what to do!

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If you are dying to see the crown jewels, you’ll definitely want to skip Shakespeare’s Globe and head straight for the Tower of London. If you’re walking from the London Eye, you can still walk along the Thames past the Globe, but you’ll want to cross back to the other side at some point. I recommend the Millennium Bridge so you can still stop at St. Paul’s Cathedral en route. It’ll take you just under an hour to make the journey if you don’t stop anywhere along the way. If you’re super short on time and only have a few hours to spend or simply aren’t up for quite such a long walk, consider taking a hop on hop off tour instead.

Have I missed anything? Drop me a comment, and let me know. I would love to know what attractions you’d visit if you only had one day in London.

Untold Morsels

One Day in Albufeira: From Old Town to the Strip

Albufeira, Portugal is a sight to behold.

 

With its rocky cliffs and sandy beaches, Albufeira is the perfect place to get away from the hustle and bustle. Located in the Algarve, the southernmost part of Portugal, Albufeira is a hot tourist destination. In fact, the entire region sees about 10 million people pass through each year making it the most popular place to visit in Portugal. There are a dozen or so cities in the region, and each one has its perks, so it can be hard to decide where to set up your base. I settled on Albufeira because it’s big enough to have plenty to do but not so big that you’ll feel like you’re in just another city. It’s also a great home base if you want to venture to other cities in the region. Many tours take off from Albufeira, so there is always something to do here. Lagos and Silves have a similar vibe.

Regardless of where you stay in the Algarve, you’ll fly into Faro, the region’s capital. Despite the many tourists that fly through this region each year, there is no easy way to get from Faro to other parts of the Algarve. There is a train to Albufeira, but from everything I read, the service isn’t great, and the train station is miles from the city center. And while there does seem to be a fairly frequent bus passing through, the station is about a mile from the city center. On this particular trip, I had been flying for 30 hours and couldn’t fathom lugging my bags on and off buses and trains any longer. Before leaving home, I purchased a round-trip shuttle ticket for just 26 Euros.

Albufeira is a tourist town, so there are tons of hotels to choose from. Most are flashy resorts with lots of amenities, but there are a few boutique offerings and tons of rental apartments. There are a few key areas, including the marina, the Old Town, the Strip, and near the town hall. Each one caters to different interests. If you’re looking to spend some time sailing or on boating excursions, the marina is the obvious choice. If you’re all about the nightlife, then the Strip is the place to be. While the town hall area is known as more of a shopping district. I stayed in the Old Town, which is also close to the beach. It’s quiet and quaint—the perfect location for a relaxing escape.

Morning

I stayed at the Sol e Mar Hotel, which is right on the beach—literally. You simply walk out the backdoor of the building and you’re right on the beach. You can enjoy the sights and sounds from the hotel’s two beachside restaurants and gelateria, or you relax on one of the lounge chairs set up in the sand. But that’s not all…walk through the front door, and you’re smack dab in the center of the Old Town. It’s the best of both worlds.

There’s no need to get an early start in Albufeira. Nothing—not even restaurants—open until at least 9:30 a.m. And that’s pushing it. You can always eat the hotel restaurant if you’re up early or head out for an early morning stroll before breakfast, which is exactly what I did. I walked out to the beach and turned right, toward the big rock. You can’t miss it. Just past the rock, there is a rocky ledge where you can climb out and sit by the water. I brought along a book and read for a little while, taking in the morning sun.

Then, I walked back toward the Old Town and grabbed a curbside seat at one of the cafes on Rua 5 de Outubro, Tasca D’Alkhaz. I’m not great at relaxing, but the pace in Portugal is so slow, it’s hard not to tune out the world and just relax.

By the time you’re done eating, most boutiques should be open. Spend an hour or so walking through the white-stone cobbled streets, taking in the white-washed buildings and checking out the shops. If you’re all about the shopping while on vacation, Albufeira isn’t the best place for you to visit. There aren’t a ton of shops and most are pretty kitschy. But it’s still fun to check out. And if you’re looking to purchase a local specialty, you’ll find plenty of vendors selling cork jewelry, purses, shoes, hats, and more.

After you’ve finished wandering through the old town, head toward the escalators near the beach. It sounds strange, but you can’t miss them. They are right at the edge of the Old Town. Ride to the top, and take a few snaps of the beautiful view. Then, wait on the corner of the street for the Albufeira Tourist Train. Albufeira is a lot bigger than it seems, and this adorable little train is a great way to get around to the major sites. For just 4 Euros, you can get a day pass to ride as much as you like. A round-trip tour takes about 40 minutes, and it stops at four convenient locations.

I got off at the Brisa Sol Hotel and walked around the area for an hour or so. Most of the storefronts at the Bellavista complex across the street are closed, though you will find a cute pet shop tucked in a corner on one of the upper levels. There are a few other shops and restaurants, but not much worth noting. When you come out of the complex make a left, and walk down Avenida dos Descobrimentos for a minute or two. Across the street, you’ll find a little shopping center. Again, there’s not much inside other than a food court and grocery store, but I always enjoy checking out where the locals shop. Aside from those two shopping centers, you won’t find much more in this neighborhood. I hopped back on the bus and stayed on board for the next two stops, returning to my starting point at the top of the escalators.

Pro tip: You can expect a train every 20 minutes, until about 7 p.m., when the schedule switches to every 40 minutes.

Afternoon

A walk to the marina is a great way to spend the afternoon. Head back toward the Sol E Mar Hotel. If you are facing the doors, turn right and start walking down Rua Jose Bernardino de Sousa. After about a block, you’ll come to a fork in the road. If you stay to the left, there is a waterfront path that takes allows you to take in the beach from above as you walk through some residential areas. Again, you’ll encounter a few cat colonies as you make your way down the trail. And simply keep walking. But before embarking down that pathway, you may want to stop in at the Museum of Sacred Art. It’s right smack dab in the center of the street in the former Chapel of San Sebastian. And though it’s just wee, it’ll only cost you 2 Euros to check out.

When you’re done, continue you waterfront walk toward the marina. First, you’ll come to the commercial port. There’s no need to walk downhill to get a closer look, there’s not much more to see than what you’ll glimpse from up top. There’s a little cafe where you can grab a smoothie or a coffee before continuing your journey. After a few minutes, you’ll round a corner across from a restaurant called Castelo do Mar. On your left side, there will be a stairwell leading down to the marina. Climb down, and you’ll be right along the water. Walk a little farther, and you’ll find a series of kiosks where you can book a seaside adventure, such as dolphin viewing, parasailing, or a cave excursion. Most take off mid-day, so you may be too late to take one on the same day. Just ahead, you’ll see a plethora of colorful buildings. Here, you’ll find arcades and restaurants where you can relax and enjoy a bite to eat or play a few games. When you’re done, simply follow the same route back to the Old Town.

After all this walking, you’ll be ready for a bit of a rest. It’s a great time to relax in a lounge chair by the beach or maybe take a late-afternoon nap. I opted to grab my book and sit by the water for a while. With the warm sun on my skin, it was a wonderful way to while away an hour or two. To cool down, I grabbed a vanilla gelato from the gelateria at my hotel. So yummy.

Evening

For dinner, there is no shortage of family-run restaurants in the Old Town. Everyone is friendly and welcoming, but they won’t pester you to eat at their establishments. Instead, they’ll gladly show you the menu and strike up a conversation. In a refreshing twist, there were plenty of vegetarian options at most restaurants. I enjoyed a delicious mushroom stroganoff at, ironically, Pampas Steakhouse. The wait staff were friendly and eager to please, the portion was sizable, and the meal was really good. I felt like I got great bang for my buck. Other delightful dinner options include Urban Pizza and La Locanda dei Segreti. To shake things up a bit, I decided to try a different restaurant for dessert. I had a hankering for cheesecake, and Doce Jardim had exactly what I was looking for. I spent an hour or so chatting with some fellow travelers while I enjoyed my tea and cake.

After dinner, I decided to take advantage of my all-day pass for the tourist train, and hopped back on board. I decided to take a ride down to the Strip. I was in Albufeira in the off-season, so most of the city closed down at sunset, which suited me fine. But from what I understand, it’s a hopping little place in the summer. And while there wasn’t much open on the Strip but the odd pub, the sheer number of bars, nightclubs, and peep shows in the area suggest the entertainment is as hot as the weather in the summer months.

I found a little bakeshop called Pao Da Aldeia one end of the strip and picked up a midnight snack. Then I headed back to the train stop to wait for my ride home. By the time I returned to the hotel, it was about 9 p.m. It was a full, and very fulfilling, day.

Have you been to Albufeira? How would you spend the perfect day there? Share your ideas with the Wanderlust Wayfarer Facebook group.

Oregon Girl Around the World

 

One Day in the Algarve: From the Seaside to Castles

So you’re in the Algarve region of Portugal for just one day, and you want to take in as much as you can.

 

No problem. Local touring companies offer amazing options for folks who want to pack in as much as they can in one quick trip. The best way to source the perfect tour is to simply ask at the reception desk at your hotel. Prior to my trip to the Algarve, I was so overwhelmed by the variety of tours offered in the area that I didn’t book anything. Immediately upon arrival at the Sol e Mar Hotel in Albufeira, my home base for the next three days, I asked the woman who checked me in what she would do if she only had one day. She didn’t even need a minute to think about her response—she quickly pulled out a brochure and told me her favorite tour. She then proceeded to call the tour company directly and had me booked in no time flat.

Pro tip: You will need to pay your hotel for the tour, and the payment will need to be in cash. Make sure you have a few extra Euros handy to cover the costs. Also, you can purchase tours from street vendors—they may even be a few dollars cheaper. But if you purchase through your hotel, you can rest assured your tickets will be valid.

Over the course of about 10 hours, the Historical Algarve Tour takes you on a whirlwind adventure through several small town and scenic sites. It’s the perfect way to get a glimpse of some of the most popular attractions. Here’s what to expect.

Morning

Your hotel will have a designated meeting time and spot for the tour. You’ll be picked up promptly at this location and taken to another spot to meet with a larger motorcoach. But your journey hasn’t started just yet…first, you need to journey to one more location, where you may need to transfer to another bus, depending on the tour you are taking. This may sound like a lot of work, but it all goes very quickly and smoothly. My pickup time was 8:30 a.m., and by 9 a.m. I was happily en route to my adventure.

The first stop is a traditional Portuguese town called Silves. After parking along a main road, your guide will take you on a brief walk through the narrow, winding streets. A steep climb up the cobbled roads brings you to Silves Cathedral. It will cost you 1 Euro to take a look inside this Gothic gem—a steal by today’s standards. Afterward, a short walk brings you to Silves Castle, where, for just 3 Euros, you can get breathtaking views of the city from the sides of its towering walls. Though the castle is the best-preserved in the country, aside from the exterior walls, there is little else to see, unless you fancy a refreshment or two from the adorable cafe in the center of the castle ruins.

You’ll have about an hour to spend in Silves. It’s not a ton of time, but it will give you a taste of this charming community. If you’re fast, you can take in both the castle and cathedral and still have time to roam one or two of the bustling side streets off the main road before returning to your bus. The shops don’t have a ton to offer tourists, but it’s a great way to peek inside the lives of the locals, even if only for a few minutes.

Once you’re safely strapped back into your comfortable seat, your bus will make its way through the winding mountains toward the tiny hilltop town of Monchique. You’ll pass through ancient towns, fields of fruit and nut trees, and rolling hills. The sights and stories are truly like something out of a fairy tale. Though you won’t have a chance to exit the vehicle in Monchique, you will get to see the quaint cityscape before riding on to Foia, the highest point in the Algarve.

Unfortunately, when I visited Foia, it was very foggy and overcast, so I can’t tell you much about what you should see from the top, but I’m told that the view is spectacular. There is a little shop selling souvenirs, including hand-painted tiles, cork purses and shoes, pottery, wool sweaters, and trinkets. But the main event is the tasting of a local liqueur. The line will be long, and you’ll feel a little like cattle as you’re shepherded through the narrow aisles of the shop to sample the special treat.

You’ll have about a half hour to spend at this stop. There are public toilets available to use free of charge, and there is a small cafe where you can grab a quick bite to eat. If you have a few extra minutes to spare, consider spending them outdoors. One of the other travelers on my tour told me it was good luck to pile three rocks on top of each other at the top of Foia. So I did just that. They were the tiniest rocks in the world, but I don’t think that has any impact on the outcome.

Afternoon

By this time, you’ll likely be feeling tiny hunger pains in the pit of your stomach. Fear not—your coach will make a stop at a family-run restaurant for a hearty meal. But beware…there is a preset menu and the cost of the meal is not included in the price of your tour. For 13 Euros, you’ll get your choice of beef, pork, chicken, or fish prepared in a traditional way.

Your tour operator will come around the bus and ask your preference as you make your way to the restaurant so that the meal will be ready when you arrive. In addition to the main course, your table will be set with lettuce and tomatoes, wine, juice, and bread. I had the fish, which was breaded and served with lemon and tartar. I’m not sure what kind of fish it was—I hadn’t heard of it before, and the texture was…odd. So I chocked it up as an experience. For dessert, you’ll be served traditional sweets made from almond paste, as well as a cup of espresso. The sweet treat was delightful.

I was traveling alone, and I enjoyed my meal with three other women who were also traveling solo. We laughed and shared stories of our travels—it was a highlight of the day for me. The time passed quickly, though I am sure we were there for at least an hour. Before we knew it, the restaurateur had come around to collect our payment, and we were on our way again.

Pro tip: It’s a good idea to carry a bit of cash on this tour to cover all of the unexpected extras. About 20 or 30 Euros should do the trick.

Originally, I thought about opting out of  the meal but then realized there may not be another opportunity to eat on the trip, and I was right. If you don’t plan to eat at the restaurant, be sure to pack a few snacks in your bag or pick something up that you can take with you at one of the other stops. And keep in mind, there is nothing else to do at the restaurant site. It’s a little shop in the middle of nowhere, so there isn’t much else you can do while the rest of your group eats.

Following your traditional Portuguese dining experience, you’ll make your way to Sagres, Cape St. Vincent, which is the southernmost point in Europe. Here, you’ll have about 30 minutes to walk out among the rocks overlooking the sea. If you’re daring enough, you can even sit with you legs dangling over the edge of the rocky cliffs. I kept a good distance from the ledge, but many of my fellow travelers climbed across the rocks to get a closeup glimpse of the rough seas below. Here, at the end of the world, you’ll also have a chance to visit the strongest lighthouse in Europe, Baleeira. It makes a beautiful backdrop for your already amazing photos of the area.

Evening

Just when you think the tour must be coming to a close, you make your way to one last stop: Lagos. And you’ll have about an hour and a half to spend walking through its winding streets. By now, the sun will be low in the sky, but the streets will be alive with the hustle and bustle of busy people. From the picturesque marina to the bountiful boutiques, there’s plenty to see and do in Lagos. In fact, the next time I visit Algarve, I’ll make it my home base.

The main sites to visit here include the fort, St. Anthony’s Golden Church, and the former slave market, which is now a museum. In the time I had, I managed to walk several streets, visit the church, and spend some of my hard-earned cash in the local shops. It was one of the most eventful stops of the day. By the time our visit in Lagos was over, night had fallen, and it was time to return to Albufeira.

The coach dropped me off at the same place it had picked me up that morning, which was just a short walk from my hotel. It was after 7 p.m., and most of the shops had shut their doors for the night, including the 7/11 where I had hoped to pick up a midnight snack. I roamed the quiet streets of the Old Town for a while before settling in at Urban Pizza, a popular restaurant that is always buzzing with activity. As the rain drizzled down outside, I sat next to a warm propane heater while enjoying a fungi pizza. It was a wonderful way to wrap up an amazing day.

Finally, about 12 hours after I left my hotel, I returned for a good night’s rest. It was a packed day, and I felt like I had experienced so much of the best parts of the Algarve.

Have you been to the Algarve? What was your favorite part? Share your experience with the Wanderlust Wayfarer Facebook group.

 

 

One Day in Reykjavik, Iceland: From Modern Streets to Tasty Eats

Guest Post by Robin Young Burinskiy

Visiting Iceland gives you a once-in-a-lifetime chance to experience unparalleled geological phenomena.

 

Hot springs and geysers are geothermally-heated water rising up from the center of the Earth. The waterfalls and mountains were formed by the continual collision of the North American and European continental plates, which may eventually divide Iceland in half. All around you, you’ll see the evidence of ongoing changes in the Earth’s crust, and it’s something you simply can’t miss.

We bought our tickets last-minute because of a deal that WOW was running. We stayed in an Airbnb for the first time on this trip, and I would recommend giving it a go in Iceland if you’re game. So much of Reykjavik was built very recently, so the apartments can truly be as nice as hotels, for the same or lower cost. We stayed in an impeccable, hyper-modern one-bedroom off of Laugavegur; another couple we met ended up in the home of a former member of Of Monsters & Men.

Because we decided to visit last-minute, we didn’t put much thought into when the best time to visit Iceland might be. We were there from November 8 through 12, and the daylight hours were from about 9:30 to 4:30. In the summer, it’s light for a much larger portion of the day; and in late December, it’s only light for about 4 hours per day. I’m glad that we visited during a time when we had about 8 hours of daylight in which to explore; but since we were visiting outside of the normal tourist season, our plane tickets and excursions were cheaper than they would have been a few weeks earlier. This made early November a smart time to visit, but I will say that it’s now on my bucket list to return in the summer to experience a whole different side of Iceland.

The weather in November is a mixed bag. It can be the best time to see the northern lights; however, rain is also a strong possibility. The weather seems to behave in a cyclical manner, with 4 or 5 days of rain alternating with several clear days.

We spent one day exploring Reykjavík itself. If you happen to be blessed with a day of nice weather, take advantage of it! Visit all of the places at the top of your list and take all of the pictures you can, because the unpredictable weather can change in minutes. Sights we saw:

Go on tours around the country! I was worried that tours would be restrictive or gimmicky… I was wrong. They’re essentially like public transportation that takes you right from your doorstep to all of the sights you could ever want to visit. You’ll hear fascinating stories about the country’s natural and cultural history as you travel between destinations, and you’ll get to see in one day what other people might see in a week for just $100 to $200 per person (which is more than worth it!). I recommend Reykjavik Excursions, which the locals echoed because it’s the longest-running tour company (and they’re also the same buses that take you to and from the airport).

Expect to spend a lot on food and drinks in Iceland. The sticker shock is unavoidable. The food is worth it (expect to pay $45 to $65 per plate at a nice restaurant), but a bottle of wine may not be. It can set you back $150 to $200 (apparently because Iceland only recently began to allow alcohol), so you may want to stick to a glass of local beer (we recommend Einstök White Ale if you’re a fan of Belgian whites!) and reallocate that money toward your meal instead.

The dishes you have to try: The salmon is 100 percent wild and is absolutely delicious. If you want to try a fish you’ve never had before, I highly recommend Arctic char (just like salmon in texture, but with a milder taste) and plaice (a delicious, meaty white fish that even those who find white fish boring will love!). They’re extremely proud of their lamb in Iceland as well—I don’t eat it, but Alex got it almost every night! Lastly, skyr is a type of yogurt that has been enjoyed in Iceland for over a thousand years. It’s very high in protein and has a characteristic tangy flavor that fans of Greek yogurt will love.

About 99.5 percent of Iceland residents speak English—likely better than some North Americans! If you feel anxious or guilty about visiting a country without knowing a single word of the language (like I often do), that’s not a concern here at all.

A short trip isn’t wasted in Iceland. Reykjavík is a surprisingly tiny city, both in terms of its population and its physical size, and you’ll have seen it all in 1 to 2 days. In addition, much of the island is largely uninhabited. If you spend two or three days on tours around the country, you’ll leave feeling like you truly experienced so much more than you would in a larger country. If you don’t have time for lengthy vacation, Iceland is the perfect destination.

 


 Author Bio: Feather & Flint is a lifestyle blog by Boston-based writer & photographer Robin Young Burinskiy. From break-ups to weddings, recipes to photographs, introversion to perfectionism, traveling the world to hosting a dinner party, the blog will share her story as it unfolds.


 

 

One Day in Ho Chi Minh City: From War Museums to Water Puppets

Ho Chi Minh City is a big place, right? So how much can you accomplish in just one day?

 

With more than 8 million people, Ho Chi Minh City has plenty to discover. Formerly known as Saigon, this bustling city is a lot to take in, especially if you only have one day. But it’s not impossible to see many of the must-see sights. If you play your cards right, you can really get around. And the people of Ho Chi Minh City are more than happy to help make that happen.

Follow this packed itinerary to spend a perfect day exploring many of the most popular sites in Ho Chi Minh City.

Ho chi minh ciy

Arrival

We arrived in Ho Chi Minh City after spending a week on a river cruise. I booked us into the Alagon Saigon Hotel and Spa, an above-average hotel in a fairly central area, but I hadn’t made any other plans for what to do once we arrived. After a two-hour ride in a motor coach from the boat dock in middle-of-nowhere Vietnam, we finally arrived in Ho Chi Minh City around noon, tired from the drive but knowing there was no time to rest.

I sent a quick email to the concierge at our accommodations the day before and learned they could help us arrange a private tour upon arrival. At check in, we found out the concierge had gone above and beyond to have a driver on standby for us. We did our part and invited a few other cruise guests to join us on our adventure. We agreed to meet at our hotel at 2 p.m. to begin our tour.

HO CHI MINH CIty

Since everyone was meeting at our hotel, we had a bit of extra time to relax. We decided to take advantage and hit up the spa on the top floor of the building. We entered the dark, plush space and were instantly greeted by a smiling face. One of my favorite things about Vietnam is how friendly the people are. My second favorite thing? Cheap massages…so, so cheap. Seriously, at the hotel, I got a full-body, 90-minute Thai massage for under $30. And you can get them for even less if you’re okay with taking your chances on a street vendor. If you just want a foot massage, you can find them for under $10. It’s truly a treat to pamper yourself.

Afternoon Tour

After our massages, we were thoroughly relaxed and ready for a whirlwind tour of Ho Chi Minh City. Along with our four new friends from the cruise, we hopped inside a cargo-style van and began making our way through the city streets. It’s important to note that traffic here is unnerving, to say the least. Scooters weave in and out of lanes, narrowly scraping by vehicles with little regard for safety.

ho chi minh city

Pro tip: People on scooters will approach you, asking if you would like a ride. While it may seem adventurous at the time, official US travel sites warn against doing so. Many North Americans are injured or killed each year and do not have proper insurance to cover their medical costs. Fun or not, it’s simply not worth the risk.

Our first stop was the War Remnants Museum. In the courtyard outside the building, we had a chance to get up close and personal with a handful of massive machines and weapons of destruction that were used during the Vietnam War effort. Tanks, aircraft, and even a French guillotine are available for visitors to check out. Inside the museum, there are several floors of exhibits. Perhaps the most poignant exhibits featured the aftermath of Agent Orange on Vietnamese communities. It was both humbling and disturbing at the same time.

We were given about two hours to explore the museum, which was about an hour too long for my tastes. When you only have a few hours to experience an entire city, there’s no time to linger. But there was a lovely gift shop on the main floor of the museum that had some cute souvenirs I never found anyplace else.

Following our visit to the museum, we made our way to the Reunification Palace. Built by the French in the 1960s, the building once served as the headquarters for the South Vietnamese government. It was also the personal home of the president until he fled in 1975. We spent the next hour touring the deserted halls of this impressive building.

We got a good look at meetings rooms, offices, and living quarters that seemed as though they had been preserved as part of a mid-1900s movie set. But perhaps the most intriguing part of the palace tour took place in the basement. We meandered through a maze of tunnels that led to a war room and telecommunications center used during the Vietnam War.

Upon leaving the palace we promptly made our way downtown, where we had the chance to take a few snaps of the Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral. Located in a quiet corner of the city, the towering church was built in the mid-1860s by a French architect. Today, it is one of the most recognizable symbols of Ho Chi Minch City.

ho chi minh city

Just across the street from the cathedral is the Central Post Office. Built around the same time as the church, it is one of the oldest buildings in the city. Inside, its a bustling hub of activity as people actively send and receive parcels or use the foreign exchange services.

ho chi minh city

About 15 minutes later, we were back in the hands of our trusty guide, making our way to our next stop. Entering through the back door, we found ourselves amid the artisans at a local ceramic tile shop. We watched in awe as the skilled artists painted miniscule designs on tiny tiles. After snapping a few shots and interacting with the talented team of artists, we took a stroll through the adjacent shop. Though ceramic artwork isn’t typically my style, I did pick up a hand-painted tile as a memento of my day in Ho Chi Minh City. After about 45 minutes—which was about 30 minutes too much—our adventure continued.

ho chi minh city

On our way to our final destination, we made one more quick pit stop to take photos of the infamous Saigon Opera House. Also built in the French style in the late 1800s, the building is home to many top theatrical performances. Other members of our group planned to take in one of the shows later that night, but this was our only chance to take a look at the building. We had other plans in mind for the evening. While the opera house is fairly simple in its design, it has a sophisticated aura that is hard to deny.

ho chi minh city

Finally, we reached the last leg of our comprehensive tour—the Jade Emperor Pagoda. Built in the late 1800s to early 1900s, the Taoist temple is one of the most beautiful pagodas in all of Ho Chi Minh City. On your way through the courtyard, it’s impossible to miss the turtle pond near the banyan tree. In Vietnam, turtles are a sign of luck and good fortune. But there’s more to it than meets the eye. Local pagodas act as a sanctuary for unwanted animals, and each one is assigned a specific species, such as gold fish. People can drop off the animals with no questions asked and know they’ll be cared for. The Jade Emperor Pagoda serves as a safe haven for abandoned turtles.

ho chi minh city

There are several buildings that make up this particular pagoda, and each one is ornately adorned. From walls and doors carved with Buddhist legends to massive shrines, every inch of the pagoda is a feast for the eyes. I could have spent hours taking it all in, but each temple was packed full of people. It was only fair to make way for others to catch a glimpse and say their prayers. Besides, we had no time to waste if we were going to get home in time for our evening plans.

ho chi minh city

Evening

After bidding farewell to our new friends, we had only a few minutes to freshen up before heading back out. When I emailed the hotel asking to ask the concierge to arrange our private tour, I also had them book an evening show. While our friends were going to see equivalent of the Vietnamese Cirque du Soleil at the opera house, we were planning to take in something a little more fun—traditional Vietnamese water puppets. That’s right…puppets…in the water.

The infamous Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theater was only a 10-minute walk from our hotel, but we still managed to get a bit lost on the way. And though a man on a scooter offered us a ride, we politely declined. Still, he was kind enough to point us in the right direction, and we arrived with plenty of time to spare.

ho chi minh city

Entering the dark, dank theater, I was a bit wary. There were stadium-style seats for a few hundred people with a large tank of murky water at one end of the room. The velour seats were dingy, and there was a faint odor lingering in the air. I held my breath—literally—and hoped for the best. I wasn’t disappointed.

As the show started, men and women lined either side of the stage, singing and playing instruments. We didn’t understand a single word, but it didn’t matter. The lively puppets danced and delighted, making up for anything that was lost in translation. We had a blast, and it only cost $10 per ticket.

We left the show invigorated. After a quick bite at one of the many street cafes, we made our way to our final stop of the night, the Ben Than Night Market. Located just a few blocks from our hotel, it was the perfect way to end our long—but thoroughly amazing—day.

ho chi minh city

Dozens of stalls lined the streets lit only by dim streetlights. We walked from one stall to the next, taking in the array of items on offer. As with other South Asian markets, there were plenty of clothes, handbags, and trinkets to choose from. We bought some coffee beans and called it a night.

By now, rain was pouring down on us, and we knew there was time for a quick visit to the market in the morning before leaving for the airport. We dashed back to our hotel, hunkering down beneath the awnings of local shops to keep from being soaked through.

ho chi minh city

While it was a lot to pack into one day, it was well worth every minute. We saw so much of Ho Chi Minh City in just a few hours, and we can’t wait to go back to see even more. What are your favorite memories of Ho Chi Minh City? Share them with the Wanderlust Wayfarer Facebook group.

 

Suitcases and Sandcastles

One Day in Siem Reap: Adventures Beyond the Temples

You’re in Siem Reap, so there’s no doubt you’ve already planned on touring the nearby ancient temples. But what else is there to do in this inspiring city? The short answer is plenty.

 

After booking a river cruise through the Mekong Delta, I decided to plan a few extra days in our departure port, Siem Reap. Short on vacation time, I allotted only two full days here. Aside from the obvious—a one-day visit to the majestic Angkor Wat—I didn’t know how we would spend the rest of our time.

I began surfing the net and planning the perfect jam-packed itinerary for our extra day. And packed it was. Here’s how to spend a day so crammed with fun you won’t want it to end.

siem reap

Before You Go

One of the best things about traveling to Southeast Asia is that your money stretches a lot further than it does in North America or Europe. You can get five-star accommodations for under $100 a night. And they often come with a few added-value extras, like free dinners, cultural shows, and massages. The biggest challenge will be choosing one—so many sound amazing.

My recommendation for luxury accommodations is the Golden Temple Residence. I took a chance and booked this brand-new hotel while it was still in construction. And boy did I luck out. Within its first year of operations, it was one of TripAdvisor’s top two hotels in Siem Reap. Not only is it beautiful, it’s located only a few steps from main the attractions, such as the night markets and Pub Street. And the staff are eager to help make your visit the best you’ve had at any hotel.

Siem reap

In fact, a few months before our vacation, I emailed the hotel with some questions about area activities. Before I knew it, they requested a list of the things I wanted to do while I was in Siem Reap so they could put together an appropriate itinerary for me. Aside from researching the activities, I didn’t have to lift a finger. Upon arrival, they handed us a schedule of events. It was that simple.

Morning

Our day started bright and early at around 7:30 a.m. We had a wonderful breakfast right at our hotel, which was included at no extra charge. While there was a buffet-style selection of pastries, meats, and every fruit you could imagine—and many others that were new to me—you could also choose from a made-to-order menu.

siem reap

After breakfast, we met with the sous chef, who took us on a private tour of the local market. We’d signed up for a Cambodian cooking class later in the day, and this was part of the deal. The idea being that you shop for all of the fresh ingredients needed to make your meal.

By 8:30 a.m. we’d boarded a tuk tuk for the quick ride to the Phsar Chas, or the Old Market. Whipping through the side streets, we arrived about five minutes later. And just when we thought our morning couldn’t get more chaotic than the ride over, we entered the hustle and bustle of the active marketplace.

Though there are many stalls geared toward tourists, much of the market caters to locals. They come here to buy fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, and breads for their meals. It’s not quite like anything you’ll find in North America—not by a long shot. Women sit barefoot on the floor, gutting fish or preparing meals. Poultry and beef are exposed to the elements, no refrigeration to be found. Love it or hate it, the sights, sounds, and aromas are spectacular scene.

siem reap

Be prepared. It’s dark, crowded, and stinking hot inside the market. But it’s something everyone should experience, especially at this early hour. As we made our way through the narrow aisles, our chef guide pointed out local delicacies and gave us samples of exotic foods to taste.

Pro tip: It’s extremely easy to get turned around once you’ve walked down a few of the market aisles. Pay careful attention to the route you take and where you enter the market so you can find your way back.

After about an hour, we returned to the hotel, where the reception staff greeted us with cool cloths and a glass of water. You’ll sweat buckets in Siem Reap. It’s important to hydrate often, and since it’s not reasonable to shower every time you return to the hotel, the cloths are a nice way to freshen up.

Mid-Morning

Since there’s no rest for the weary, we turned right back around and started walking toward the market area. We decided to skip the tuk tuk to get a closer look at the local life. Our hotel was only about a 15-minute stroll to the central area, and while it was hotter than Hades, it was worth the trip.

Siem Reap

In the area surrounding the Old Market, you’ll find plenty to do. There are shops of every kind. Whether you’re looking for standard souvenirs, like shot glasses, magnets, and key chains, or high-end fashions, including hand-woven silk scarves, you’ll find lots of ways to spend your money. We picked up a few cheap trinkets for friends, and I bartered for a pair of harem pants and two tanks. The grand total was $7.

Pro tip: Pack light if you’re traveling to Siem Reap. Everything is so cheap you can buy just about anything you’ll need upon arrival. And if you don’t want it at the end of your trip, you can donate it to the locals.

Siem Reap

There are so many side streets and back lanes that it’s hard to keep them all straight, especially since they expand randomly in various directions. One you don’t want to miss is Alley West. It’s at the end of Sivutha Boulevard, and whether you’re looking for it or not, you’ll likely stumble upon it if you wander around enough. You’ll know it immediately by its upscale boutiques that have a less touristy feel. There are also cute street cafés, jewelry shops, art galleries, and more. Some favorite boutiques to check out include Wanderlust, Wild Poppy, and Poetry.

One of my favorite shops in Siem Reap was Old Forest. It’s filled with hand-sewn treasures and whimsical costume jewelry. I picked up a beautiful blouse made from a hand-stamped fabric. Unlike other parts of Siem Reap, it will cost you a pretty penny to shop at the higher-end boutiques. I paid about $70 for my one-of-a-kind find.

siem reap

After an hour or two of walking around the Old Market area, we ventured a little farther off the beaten path toward the water. If you cross one of the bridges over the Siem Reap River, you can check out the market on the other side. It won’t have anything different to offer than Phsar Chas, but it’s worth checking out anyway.

I picked up some wooden mala beads for $7 from one of the vendors, and since fewer people hit up this area, I think it made the woman’s day to have a sale. I think I way overpaid by local standards, but the prices are so low to start with, I felt like a thief going any lower. I would have paid at least five times as much back home.

Mid-Day

By now, you’ll be a hot, sweaty mess. You’ll likely also be a little bit hungry and a whole lot thirsty. Since we had scheduled a cooking class later that afternoon, we decided to head back to the hotel for a dip in the pool, but you could also head toward the main market area for a bite to eat. You may want to try Khmer Kitchen. It’s got a great selection of local delicacies, is easy to find, and is highly recommended by both tourists and locals alike.

Afternoon

By the time 2 p.m. rolled around, I was so hungry I could eat a horse (which is saying a lot since I haven’t eaten red meat in more than 20 years). That’s when our cooking class commenced. I wasn’t really sure what to expect since the hotel was so new that it didn’t have any detailed information on the website. In fact, in retrospect, I think we may have been the first people to take the class.

The class took place in dining room at the Golden Temple Residence, and we were the only two people in it. We arrived to find a table set with knives, bowls, aprons, and all of the ingredients we’d purchased at the market earlier that day. And the entire restaurant staff was there to greet us. They gave us hats to wear and took our pictures as the chef showed us exactly what to do. The hotel had given us the choice of two appetizers, three entrés, and two desserts to choose from a few weeks before we arrived, so we knew exactly what we would be making.

Siem Reap

Pro tip: If you have special dietary needs, they are more than willing to accommodate. Since all of the meal choices included red meat, they were happy to offer a poultry selection when I let them know my situation. As well, I’m allergic to coconut, so they modified the dessert menu especially for me.

After about two hours of chopping, rolling, dicing, and frying, our meal was complete. I’m the worst cook in the world, but even I managed to prepare a gourmet meal that was to die for. While everything was wonderful, the class itself was a little long. If I thought I was hungry when we started, I was about ready to pass out by the time we got to eat. Still, I would do it again in a heartbeat. The meal was the most delicious I’ve ever had, and we were stuffed full for the rest of the evening.

Siem reap

After eating a huge meal, anyone would be ready for a nap, but when you only have one day to experience Siem Reap, there’s no time for rest. We wolfed down our meals and ran upstairs to change for our next activity. A tuk tuk was arriving at 4:30 p.m. to take us to a sunset ATV tour.

Early Evening

My husband loves off roading, but I’m not super adventurous. Still, I decided to surprise him with an ATV trek through the rice paddies. Our hotel made all of the arrangements with a company called Quad Adventure Cambodia. I’d read all about them online and knew they were both safe and reliable. They also catered to beginner drivers, like me.

Siem Reap

Since it was just the two of us on the tour with a local guide, we could go as fast or slow as we wanted. But once I got the hang of things, I knew the faster I went, the more we’d get to see. The terrain was easy to manage since Siem Reap is pretty flat. We sped through rice fields and past small villages. We got to see a side of the area we wouldn’t have been able to see any other way.

After a half hour or so, we stopped at a Buddhist temple. It’s peaceful serenity was one of my favorite experiences. We watched young monks play and wandered around the site for a few minutes. The pace of the entire tour was at our leisure, and while we didn’t want to dally and miss out on other stops, we also wanted to enjoy the moment. We spent about 15 minutes here before carrying on with our adventure.

Siem Reap

For the next hour and a half, we trekked through the countryside along gravel roads and grassy fields. We saw locals fishing, herding cattle, and tending to their homes. The tour culminated in a roadside stop to watch the sunset. It was a highlight of our entire Southeast Asia adventure. But our day was still far from over.

Bellies still bursting from our self-made meal, we decided to skip dinner and instead take the time to rest for an hour before our scheduled massages. The hotel provided one free massage per person with our stay, and we thought a great time to take them would be after we’d beat up our bodies on the ATV tour. We’d opted for the couples Thai massage, and we were thoroughly relaxed afterward. I felt like I was walking on clouds.

When we arrived back at the room, we found the hotel staff had been busy putting together a special surprise. I was celebrating a milestone birthday during our time in Cambodia, and they had decorated the room in honor of my special day. They even made me a cake.

Siem Reap

We enjoyed a slice of cake and decided our night still wasn’t over. We opted to go for one last stroll along Pub Street. The night markets are a must-see when you’re in Siem Reap, and seeing as though they were right outside our door, we simply couldn’t resist.

By this time, we’d been on the go for more than 14 hours, so we weren’t out long. We grabbed a quick snack from Blue Pumpkin and looked at a few different vendors. It was all of the same kitschy stuff we’d seen earlier in the day, but now we were seeing it in a new light—literally, it was quite dark outside. The streets come alive when the lights go down. Music pumps through the speakers of local pubs, and tuk tuk drivers stand on every corner waiting to whisk you off to the next party.

siem reap

But there woud be no partying for us. After an hour or so, the night was wearing on us. We finally decided to call it a day. We needed to be up before sunrise the next morning to explore the temples of Angkor Wat, so we headed back to the hotel and crawled into bed. It had been the ultimate day in Siem Reap.

How would you spend the perfect day in Siem Reap? Join the discussion at the Wanderlust Wayfarer Facebook group.

 

Time Travel Blonde