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.


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.


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 are 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.

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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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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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.

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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 $40.

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.


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 are lots of other great hotels in the area too.

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.


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 your 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.


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 in the comments.

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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. When possible, I like to prebook my tours in advance. There are a lot of online companies that offer a wide selection of tours with local companies.

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.


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.


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 your 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.


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 in the comments below.

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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.



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.


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. If a loved one ever passes away at a vacation trip like this, then it is important to call a wrongful death attorney for legal assistance.

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


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

Ho chi minh ciy

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.

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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.


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.


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.


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.


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 would 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 in the comments.

One Day in Calgary: From Cowboys to Cute Boutiques

So you’re in town for the Calgary Stampede, but you want to see more than just the rodeo. Great news! There are tons of things to do in Calgary.


Each July, more than a million people flock to Calgary, Alberta, Canada, for one of the largest rodeos and outdoor festivals in the world. The Calgary Stampede is touted as “The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth.” It’s a massive, 10-day party that includes bull riding, a midway, concerts, and more. Cowboy or not, the entire city gets into the spirit. Everyone breaks out their boots, squeezes into a pair of Wranglers, and sports a Stetson. Even local businesses get in on the fun, adorning their windows and doors with western décor.

But Calgary is so much more than “Cowtown,” as it’s also called. It’s the hub of the Canadian oil industry, making it one of the biggest, wealthiest cities in the nation. Next to Toronto, it’s home to more of Canada’s largest companies than any other city in the country.

Whether you’re in town to take part in the Stampede festivities or you simply want to see what one of “the world’s most livable cities” looks like, this jam-packed one-day itinerary will make sure you take in plenty of Calgary’s must-see attractions.

Early Morning


If you’re in Calgary for the Stampede, you’ll need to book your hotel well in advance. All accommodations sell out fast, and they jack up their rates as well. If you want to be in one of the hottest spots for the action, consider booking 8 to 10 months before you arrive. The Westin Calgary, Calgary Marriott Downtown, Sheraton Hotel Eau Claire, and Delta Calgary Downtown are luxury chain hotels within close proximity to the Stampede the grounds. Two local boutique hotels, Hotel Arts and Hotel Le Germain, are also nearby. For the ultimate in luxury, check out the Fairmont Palliser.

As with all my one-day itineraries, the earlier you start your day, the more you can take in. But if you’re stampeding, be prepared for this day not to end until the wee hours of the next morning. It’s important to pace yourself accordingly.

During Stampede, it’s common for businesses to host free pancake breakfasts. In fact, there are usually several happening each day in different parts of the city. For the true budget traveler, there’s nothing better than free…except maybe one of the local restaurants known for its breakfast fare. If you’re willing to cough up a few bucks, I suggest starting your day on Edmonton Trail at Diner Deluxe. I highly recommend the maple fried oatmeal. Alternately, venture a few doors down to OEB Breakfast Co. and try the soul in a bowl.


calgaryAfter breakfast, it’s time to take in some local culture. Head south on Edmonton Trail toward the downtown core. Your first stop of the morning is the Calgary Tower, which opens at 9 a.m. It may not be the tallest building in the prominent Calgary skyline, but it is easily the most recognizable. The tower, which stands more than 4,000 feet tall, was built for the sole purpose of giving people an unprecedented look at Calgary. You can ride to the top to see the impressive view from the world’s highest 360° observation deck.

Next, make your way to the Glenbow Museum, one of the city’s top attractions. It’s also located on 9th Avenue and opens at 9 a.m. You can spend a couple of hours exploring the exhibits before moving on to your next destination. And if you happen to be there on a Wednesday, you can take a free city tour.


Once you’ve wrapped things up at the museum, exit through the Stephen Avenue doors and start walking west. There are plenty of cute shops and restaurants along this pedestrian street. You may even see a few buskers and street vendors. Venture toward the Core, a massive shopping complex complete with designer brands, such as BCBG, and cheaper chain stores, like H&M. There are plenty of places to eat along Stephen Avenue, from Milestones to the mall food court. If you’re willing to walk a few blocks north, Boxwood Cafe in Central Memorial Park is a lovely option.

Next, grab yourself a Car2Go or hop in a taxi, and drive east along 9 Avenue into the Inglewood area. In this quirky community, you can find everything from vintage clothing to luxury home décor. My favorite shops include Adorn Boutique, Bamboo Ballroom, The Livery Shop, and The Uncommons. If skipped lunch downtown, grab a pizza from Without Papers or have the special at Kane’s Harley-Davidson Diner. Either way, you won’t be disappointed.

After Inglewood, hop back in your car and head west toward the Kensington area. In this chic neighborhood, you’ll find one-of-kind clothing boutiques, such as Purr Clothing, Kismet Clothing, Splash of Fashion, and Silla Designs. You’ll also find several upscale restaurants, pubs, cafés, and bistros. I recommend trying a simple Canadian delicacy, poutine, from My Big Cheese. Traditionally made from French fries, gravy, and cheese curds, My Big Cheese serves up a variety of less conventional poutine options. For dessert, Crave is a must. The flagship venue of this cupcakery is located on Kensington Road, just around the corner from My Big Cheese. It’s known for its fun flavors and super sweet frosting.

If you give yourself only an hour in each of the three areas, plus an hour in any one of them for lunch, you could squeeze them all in. It’s a stretch, but not entirely unreasonable.



It’s already been a long day, but it’s far from over, especially if you’re in town for the Calgary Stampede. You should still be in the vicinity of your hotel, so now is the time to return for a quick change. Take a short break. Maybe even a dip in the pool. You’ll want to get back on the road by 7 p.m. at the absolute latest if you’re headed to the Stampede grounds, an hour earlier if you want to dine at one of Calgary’s premiere establishments. If you enjoy a good meal, I recommend MARKET Restaurant or Metropolitan Grill. And since Alberta is known for its beef, there are also several steakhouses in the downtown area, such as CHARCUT Roast House and Ruth’s Chris.

While the Calgary Stampede is notorious for its rodeo events, it’s also known for its superb midway. Games, rides, and food are a big part of the fun. If you want to skip dinner, you can fill up right on the Stampede grounds instead. There are always off-the-wall delicacies, such as mac-and-cheese stuffed burgers and toffee bug balls. And of course, you can find traditional carnival fare, including corn dogs, cotton candy, and everyone’s favorite, mini donuts.

While you’re at t Stampede grounds, be sure to check out the Coca-Cola Stage and Nashville North. Both offer free concerts from top entertainers and up-and-coming musicians.

Enjoy the rides and entertainment for a while before heading over to the rodeo grounds for the chuck wagon races. These are a fan favorite and sell out fast, so be sure to purchase your tickets in advance. Pay the extra few bucks so you can stick around for the grandstand show afterward. It’s filled with music, fireworks, and other entertainment.

Late Evening

By now, it’s late into the evening. If you’ve got your second wind, you can take in a few more activities. Cowboys is the place to be for dancing, drinking, and classic Stampede carousing. You may even catch a concert by one of the many top artists who jump at the chance to take part in the Calgary Stampede festivities, including Thomas Rhett, Flo Rida, and Ice Cube. Tickets for these shows, which take place in the infamous Cowboys tent, go for top dollar, so be prepared to pay through the nose.

If Cowboys doesn’t tickle your fancy—and believe me when I say you may actually be tickled or otherwise by a complete stranger—I recommend getting off the grounds. Take a westbound taxi along 17th Avenue, and make your way to one of the dozens of pubs and bars that line this incredibly active street. National, 1410, and The Ship & Anchor are three popular options, but there are no shortage of places to choose from.

If you’ve made it after midnight, congratulations! You’ve survived an entire day and night in Calgary during one of the most outrageous festivals in the world. Have a Calgary Stampede story to share? Head over to our Facebook group and tell us about it.

One Day in Banff: Fun around Town

Right in the heart of Canada’s oldest national park, you’ll find a quaint little resort town called Banff. While the community mostly caters to outdoor enthusiasts, there’s also plenty to do downtown.

Set amidst the majestic mountains and lush forests of Banff National Park, the town of Banff is bustling year round. In winter, people flock to this cozy community to take advantage of the world-class skiing. In the summer months, skiers trade their skis for hiking boots and scale the mountain trails. But if you’re like me, you prefer to keep your feet on flat ground. Fret not. There’s plenty for you to do in beautiful Banff.

On my most recent visit to this far-from-sleepy town, I parked my RV in the nearby Tunnel Mountain Campground, which also has cabins and lodges close by. But there are plenty of places in the heart of downtown where you can lay your head for the night. The historic Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel is the epitome of luxury and has the price tag to prove it. There’s also the option of staying in one of the hotels on the fringes of the downtown area, like Brewster’s Mountain Lodge or Banff Caribou Lodge. You can even stay right in the heart of the action on Banff Avenue in the Mount Royal or King Edward Hotels, for example. Of course, there’s always the option of a hostel or bed and breakfast, too. Banff caters to every level of luxury and taste.


We started our morning with a homemade breakfast of eggs, toast, and turkey bacon. If you’re looking to have someone else do the cooking for you, check out Eveline’s Coffee Bar or Wild Flour Bakery for a lovely selection of baked goods and breakfast foods. Take your time and relax. Banff is best enjoyed at a leisurely pace. There’s plenty of free parking on the side streets or in specially designated locations around town. Just look for the big, green, circular signs with a large black “P.”

After breakfast, try a quick stroll along the Tunnel Mountain Trail. If you’re staying in the campground, you can reach it right from your site. For people with accommodations in town, it’s just a short drive away. Simply follow the signs. At the start of the trail, there are some red chairs where you can sit to take in the beautiful surroundings. And if you feel like you’re up for a bit more, you can take the groomed pathway for an easy walk. You can even climb the entire mountain in only an hour or two.

Taking it to the Streets

After a short hike, I like to hit the downtown area to take in the shops along Banff Avenue and the surrounding streets. The stores are small and can become quite congested later in the day when the crowds of tourists arrive. Banff is a major Canadian attraction, so you can guarantee that no matter the season, tour groups will be making a stop here.

But downtown Banff is a must-see stop. Here, you’ll find countless souvenir shops carrying traditional Canadian fare, such as smoked salmon, maple syrup and candies, moccasins, and plaid shirts. I usually pop into a few of these shops to check out the goods, but you’ll find a similar selection in most, so there’s no need to go into every one of them if you don’t have a lot of time. I always go into the one with the mechanical “fortune teller” in the doorway. He’s been in Banff since the dawn of time, and you simply must feed him a quarter to see what he has to say about your future.

Aside from souvenir shops, you’ll find some cute boutiques. Branches Marketplace is one of my personal favorites. It’s got a mix of handcrafted accessories and gifts with a rustic, cabin-style feel. Speaking of cabins, Cabin 108 is an adorable boutique that carries a variety of designer brands, both local and international. Cupcakes and Cashmere, Chaser, Toms, and Jackson Rowe are just a few of the names lining the racks in this shop. I find it nearly impossible to leave here empty handed.


History Lesson

Banff Avenue is also home to classic Canadian stores, such as Roots and the Hudson’s Bay Company. Roots is infamous for its logo sweatpants and shirts, as well as simple, classic-yet-contemporary t-shirts, handbags, and shoes. On the other hand, The Bay, as it’s known locally, is, quite literally, at the foundation of Canada’s development as a nation.

Early European settlers established trading posts where they would exchange goods for furs caught by indigenous trappers. Over time, more and more Europeans began coming to Canada in search of furs. Communities formed around the posts, and eventually, a nation grew out of the settlements.

Enough of the history lesson. Today, the Hudson’s Bay Company is a massive department store chain, anchoring many major Canadian malls. Selling everything from silverware to kitchen utensils and footwear, many Canadians head to The Bay for the basics. Banff is home to a modestly sized store that carries some fashions, beauty products, and jewelry. But perhaps the most outstanding items are branded with The Bay’s infamous ivory, yellow, green, red, and blue striped pattern. You can find mugs, blankets, dresses, and more. I bought a dog coat to go with my crewneck sweater. Don’t judge.

Alberta is known for its western heritage. It’s not uncommon to see cowboys donning wranglers and Stetsons walking down city streets. And Banff is no exception. If you’re looking to get into the spirit of the west, stop by Lammles Western Wear to pick up a pair of boots or a snap-front shirt. In addition to local boutiques and brands, you’ll find major chain stores, such as Lolë, Lululemon, The GAP, The North Face, and Fjallraven, to name a few.


Trying on clothes always builds my appetite. For your perfect day in Banff, be sure to break for lunch at one of the many ultra delicious eateries along Banff Avenue or in the vicinity. Some favorites include Squish Sandwich Cellar, The Bison, and Nourish. Squish offers a selection of gourmet sandwiches from savory Montreal smoked meat to tangy tuna. For vegetarians, Nourish has a garden variety of options, while The Bison caters to carnivores. We chose to stop in at JK Bakery for some made-to-order sandwiches and soup.

Sweet Tooth

For dessert, Banff has no shortage of options. At Skoki’s, you can make your own decadent dessert. Start with a Belgian waffle for the base. Then pile it high with as many toppings as you’d like, including flavored frozen yogurt, sprinkles, fruit, and candy.

Beavertails offers a special Canadian twist on the classic funnel cake. Starting with a cake the shape of a beaver tail, you can choose from several toppings to add extra flavor. I got two flavors on one cake: cheesecake Skor on one half and triple trip (Nutella and Reese’s Pieces) on the other half. I have no words to express the goodness of this experience.

Late Afternoon

After a day of shopping and eating downtown, it’s a great time to head back to your accommodations for a  rest. A quick nap or dip in the pool is a great way to unwind for an hour or two before dinner. When you’re ready to eat…again…Banff’s bountiful establishments will not disappoint. Whether you’re looking for a casual place like Boston Pizza where you can to grab a slice of pepperoni at a reasonable price or a formal option for a steak dinner, like Salt Lik, there’s something for everyone.

After dinner, head over to the Banff Upper Hot Springs. Before taking a dip in the springs, consider a ride up Sulphur Mountain in the Banff Gondola. located right next door to the springs. The eight-minute ride affords you unparalleled views of the majestic mountain landscape. After your feet are back on solid ground, relax in the healing minerals waters that come straight from the Rocky Mountains. Naturally heated to about 40 degrees Fahrenheit, they’re said to bring relief to achy muscles and bones. Admission is less than $10 per person. And don’t worry if you don’t have a swimsuit or towel, you can rent them there for a couple of bucks. I know what you’re thinking. You don’t want to be “that person.” But don’t worry, lots of people do it. I spent about 40 minutes wading in the water, and when I left, I felt like I was walking on clouds.


On your way back from hot springs, why not make a quick stop on Banff Avenue for a tasty treat? Mary’s Popcorn Shop is a personal favorite. You can choose from four sweet or savory flavors. Pro Tip: when they ask if you want the bag open or closed, always leave it open. You get way more popcorn.

I’m a sucker for fudge. I have a hard time passing it up anyplace I travel, but especially in Banff. The Fudgery has at least a dozen flavors to choose from, along with a variety of other chocolate treats. And the best part? Each one is made fresh on site.

Can’t find anything at either of these places to appease your taste buds? There’s always Mountain Chocolates, Cows Ice Cream, or Banff Sweet Shoppe. They’re sure to have something to sate your sweet tooth.


Late Evening

By now, you’ve already had a long day. I like to cap off an evening of camping with a nice little bonfire. I thoroughly enjoy the act of toasting marshmallows…almost as much as I enjoy eating s’mores. But if you’ve still got the energy, I recommend taking in some of the nightlife around town. There are numerous local pubs that stay open late, such as Rose & Crown.

Banff has so much to offer, from outdoor adventures to shopping, food, museums, and more. This is just one way to spend a relaxing day off the slopes. Have more ideas for fun ways to spend a day in Banff? Head over to Facebook or Twitter to share them.

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One Day in Paris: From the Champs E’Lysées to Notre Dame

Believe it or not, there’s a lot you can see with just one day in Paris.

Sometimes the best you can do is make a quick layover in a fabulous city on your way to another fabulous city. I know because I’ve done just that—a lot. Follow this itinerary, and I promise you won’t be disappointed even if you only have one day in Paris.


Paris caters to tourists, so most of the things you really want to see will be open fairly late. That said, I recommend waking up at a reasonable hour so you can make the most of your day without feeling rushed. Paris is the kind of place that’s best enjoyed at a leisurely pace.

To get better value for your dollar, stay someplace central but a bit off the beaten path. I like boutique hotels best—they have a certain je ne c’est quoi (See what I did there)! Two that I highly recommend are the Hotel Eiffel Seine and Hotel Eiffel Saint Charles. They are just a hop, skip, and a jump from the Eiffel Tower. Okay, it’s a long jump. But that’s what keeps the prices affordable for service and style that’s otherwise out of my price range. Still, it’s only a 10 to 15-minute walk to the Eiffel Tower. You can enjoy the local sights and sounds on your stroll. And both hotels are located very near public transport (metro and train).

Hotel Eiffel SeineOne Day in Paris

Hotel Eiffel Saint CharlesOne Day in Paris

It’s possible your hotel will offer a free breakfast, many do. Skip it in favor of a street-side café. I know, it’s hard to pass up free, and your budget is tight, but you don’t get to do this every day. Treat yourself—and by that, I mean head to a nearby patisserie. There will be half a dozen in a three block radius, and you can purchase a vanilla cream croissant for about $2. Sit down, relax, and watch the world go by. But only for a half hour or so. There’s a lot left to do, and this won’t be the only café you visit today.


The first stop of the day is the Arc de Triomphe. For 8 Euro you can climb to the top to see the Champs E’Lysées in all its glory. I usually save my money for a ride up the Eiffel Tower later in the day. Instead, I take my pictures of the Arc from the iconic shopping street itself. Then, I meander from shop to shop for the next two hours or so. You do only have one day in Paris after all, and you don’t want to waste all your time shopping at chain stores you can find in any city back home.

Pro tip: only go into the shops that are unique to Paris, have something you’re actually interested in looking at, and are within your budget. This will save you some much-needed time. And it will help mitigate the potential risk of blowing your entire budget on that one pair of shoes…you know the ones, I know you do. It’s sort of like shopping for a wedding dress. Never try on one outside your budget. It only ever ends in heartbreak. Splurge on a few French treasures, like a nice perfume.

Before you know it, the mid-day sun will be shining overhead and your tummy will be growling for lunch. There are a ton of great options, from inexpensive street food to lavish restaurants. Again, I like to save my money for later in the day, so I keep it light. A nice option if you want to feel truly posh is Ladurée. It’s ornate décor and luxe offerings will leave your mouth watering. But there is often a line to get inside. If you know in advance this is something you want to do and don’t want to waste time, book a table in advance.

If you forget to reserve a table, fear not. The line moves fairly fast. Or to keep costs down and get in a bit quicker, you can go to Le Bar. It’s part of the larger establishment, but it’s got just a few seats around a counter. Here, you can order a drink and a pastry. I can attest to the decadence of the religieuse. So good.

Ladurée’s lofty prices and long lines aren’t for everyone. For a budget-friendly alternative, head to Brioche Dorée across the street. This French bakery chain offers sandwiches, pastries, and other gastronomic delights at a fraction of the cost. And they’re simply delish. With a more fast food type of atmosphere, you can get in and out in a jiffy, leaving you more time for exploring. If you’re a foodie and don’t mind spending a little extra time eating, another great option is to take a bakery tour.

I know you just ate, but before you get too far, do yourself a favor and pick up a few macarons for your afternoon trek. It doesn’t matter if you shell out the big bucks at Ladurée or buy the low-budget version at the McCafé, just treat yourself. They all taste a little bit like heaven no matter where you buy them in Paris. And you’ve got a lot to do before you can stop again for food, so you’ll be glad to have a stash of something to nibble on.


Now that your stomach is sated, it’s off to the Louvre. For all intents and purposes, if you were to walk straight down the Champs E’Lysées from one end to the other without stopping, you could reach the Louvre in about 45 minutes. But I recommend reserving at least two or three hours to make this trek. If you hit the shops right at opening—say 10 a.m.—you’ll be at the Louvre around 1 p.m.


There’s not a lot of time to stop and stare at all of the beautiful artwork on display when you only have one day in Paris. In fact, you really only have time to see the Mona Lisa and a few other pieces along the way. Once inside, you’ll need to go through a quick security check before heading to the ticket counter. (If you’re on your game, you can buy your tickets online in advance, saving you a few precious minutes.) The total cost of entry is 15 Euro, which may seem like a lot for a quick look at a portrait, but do you really want to be the person who spends one day in Paris and doesn’t see the Mona Lisa? I didn’t think so.

To make your life easier, the Louvre has lovely “visitor trails” that take you to what you most want to see: Venus de Milo, the Victory of Samothrace, and Mona Lisa. These guides are foolproof and can be downloaded online if you want to map your route in advance. Or you can just pick up a copy when you arrive. Depending on how long you want to stare at each masterpiece, you can be in and out in an hour or two tops.

Next, it’s time for a stroll along the Seine toward the majestic Notre Dame Cathedral. While it’s no longer possible to take a look inside following the fire in spring 2019, it’s still worth a glimpse from the outside. Take the Pont des Art bridge, where, at one time, I would have told you to take along an engraved lock to add to the thousands of locks lovers affixed to it over the years. But in 2015 the locks were cut off. The bridge was literally collapsing under their weight.

Once you’ve crossed the bridge, walk along the Quai des Grands Augustin, where you’ll find countless kiosks of everything from used books to postcards and street art. It’s a delightful little journey. Before you know it, you’ll come to the Quai Saint-Michel, which will lead you, more or less, to the steps of the famed Notre Dame. It’s only a 20-minute walk, but it will likely take you an hour or more.

Notre Dame Cathedral

I have a penchant for all things gothic…I did write a best-seller series of vampire novels, after all. And the Notre Dame is no exception. I could spend the entire day taking pictures of its buttresses and gargoyles in various lighting, and many are still intact for you to enjoy. But alas, when you have only one day in Paris, there’s no time for such luxuries. Take a few snaps of the remaining framework, see the stained-glass windows, and continue on your way.

The area around Notre Dame is bustling. There are all sorts of restaurants and shops. I recommend taking some time to grab a bite to eat—have the mussels and fries, trust me. Be sure to stop in a few stores, and rest your feet. You’ve already covered a lot of ground, and the day is not even close to done.


Just because you’ve lost daylight doesn’t mean the fun has to end. After dinner, take an evening tour by boat or double-decker bus. Either way, you’ll get to see the sights in a new light—literally. You may even catch a glimpse of a few places you didn’t have time to walk to on your whirlwind tour throughout the day. At only $20 to $50 bucks, it’s a great way to cap off your day.

eiffel tower

Now, for the pièce de résistance and the very last stop of your one day in Paris itinerary, make your way toward the infamous Eiffel Tower. You thought I was going to forget about it, didn’t you? I believe in saving the best for last—not to mention I personally think it’s most beautiful at night. It’s open until midnight in the summer months, and I really believe there’s nothing quite like seeing the tower’s columns glittering in the moonlight.

Spring for the tickets to the top floor, even if you’re afraid of heights like me. At 17 Euro it’s a steal and an experience you won’t soon forget. When you reach the ground, grab a crepe from one of the street vendors for the twilight walk back to your hotel. It’s the perfect way to cap off your jam-packed day in Paris.

If you’ve only got one day in Paris, don’t fret. Following this easy itinerary, you can catch a glimpse at a lot of the main sights. How would you spend one day in Paris? Share your ideas in the comments!

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One Day in New York: Chelsea Market to Broadway

You’ve got just one day in New York, and you don’t want to squander it.

But how can you possibly see all the Big Apple has to offer? This itinerary has a little bit of everything, from Tiffany to Times Square.


One Day in New York Morning

Start your day in New York with a bit of a lie-in. Relax—it’s the city that never sleeps after all, so you’ve got plenty of time to see the sights. (This from the girl who never sleeps past 6 a.m.) As long as you’re up and at ‘em by 10 a.m., you can really pack in a lot of activity. But be prepared to spend the entire day and night on the go. Unless you’re staying someplace super central like the reasonably priced Row NYC, you may not make it back to your hotel to prep for your evening plans. Make sure your outfit can go from day to night just in case.

To make the most of your morning, head toward Chelsea Market in the Meatpacking District. Here, you’ll find plenty of ultra-cool eateries serving up delicious and hearty breakfast fare. Whether you have an appetite for a big bowl of porridge, eggs over easy, or a stack of pancakes, you’ll find something that will more than satisfy your every craving.

After you eat, spend some time walking through the market’s indie boutiques and upscale chain stores like my fave, Anthropologie. You can kill two or three hours checking out all of the unique offerings at Chelsea Market alone, but there is still plenty of the city left to see. And you do only have one day in New York.


One Day in New York Afternoon

The next stop on the itinerary is Avenue of the Americas or thereabouts. I recommend walking if you can. Simply head northeast on 9th Avenue and make a right onto the nearest street. Just a few blocks up, and you’ll reach your destination.

Here, you’ll find everything from major chain stores to two-bit pop-ups and upscale boutiques. Be sure to turn down the side streets, too. I once found a little shop selling $20 shoes that looked like $200 Fluevogs. No, seriously—a woman at the airport insisted I take them off and show her my insole to prove they weren’t.

In this general area, you’ll find the flagship Tiffany and Co., Macy’s, Bryant Park, SoHo, Greenwich Village, Rockefeller Center, and so much more. Depending on how fast you can walk, you can take in a goodly amount of sights. You may have to double back to take them all in, but you’ll be having so much fun, you won’t even notice.

Despite your big breakfast, by now your stomach is probably growling. To save time, grab a bite from a street vendor. They’re a dime a dozen, and you can eat on the go. Not to mention it helps keep down your daily food costs. I like fresh roasted peanuts or a salted pretzel, which you can usually find on every street corner and will cost you just a few dollars. You can use your savings for a nice dinner later on.

While you’re meandering through the city streets, you’ll catch glimpses of some of the most infamous sites. The Chrysler, Empire State, and Flatiron Buildings are just a few examples. Take your time to look around. Don’t forget to turn your eyes to the sky to see some of the world’s tallest towers.


One day in New York Evening

When night falls, it’s time to head toward Times Square. Depending on which direction you walked on Avenue of the Americas, you may find yourself amid the flashing lights of this famous street or a fair jaunt away. Hop in a taxi if your feet could use a break.

For solo travelers, Times Square is just about the safest place you can be since you’re constantly surrounded by people. The shops here stay open late—so late, in fact, that I’ve never seen them close. Grab a bite to eat from one of the countless restaurants lining the main and side streets. A budget-friendly option with great atmosphere is John’s of Times Square. The made-to-order pizzas are cooked to perfection inside a wood-fired stove. After you’ve grabbed some grub, head over to the TKTS booth to pick up discounted tickets for a Broadway show. What good is having one day in New York if you don’t take in some of the world-class entertainment?

Late Night

Have a hankering for something sweet after the show? It’s a bit of a jaunt, but a trip to Serendipity 3 for a glass of its infamous frrrozen hot chocolate is well worth the cab fare. And because you’re still in the heart of Manhattan, the streets will be busy with people even at this late hour. This is great news since you’ll likely need to stand outside while waiting for a seat at this hot spot. From the outside, this cozy diner doesn’t look like much more than another New York boutique. Step inside, and you’re transported into an eclectic mix of kitsch and quirk. The full-service restaurant has been featured in a number of well-known movies and is notorious for its distinct decor, including Tiffany lampshades and white bistro tables. Trust me when I tell you, order one frrrozen hot chocolate for every two people in your group. You’ll still have plenty more than you can consume. And if you’re up for it, add a dash of peanut butter—after all, calories don’t count when you’re on vacation.

If you’re staying nearby, a walk back to your hotel may be in order to cap off your night. But at this late hour, there’s no shame in hailing a big yellow taxi cab to whisk you away.

I could create 10 different itineraries for one day in New York—and I probably will—but I started here because of all the days I’ve spent in this fine city, this was my favorite. What is your favorite way to spend one day in New York?

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