It’s been over six months since we set off on our house sitting UK adventure. We’ve explored terrific destinations in the UK through house sitting, including London, Northampton, the Cotswolds, Bedfordshire and soon Devon and the Sussex coast.
We’ve loved house sitting in the UK, and we’ve also been to Malta, France and Ireland.
House sitting UK: 6 lessons learnt
Leave the toilet seat down!
You hear stories about dogs drinking out of the toilet, right? One night we were sound asleep but awoken at 1am.
“Can you hear a noise, is that an intruder?” I asked panicked (but still tucked into bed)
“I’m not sure… do you think I should check?” asks Cooper, as we hear again… what is that?
“Slurp, slurp, slurp…”
Our beautiful shepherd, Luna, couldn’t be bothered going downstairs to her bowl. Our lesson? Close the toilet lid! It’s true – dogs DO drink from the toilet.
Never forget poo bags
We find poo bags in all or pockets now. It’s pretty funny. The bags always come in handy, of course. But what about the one occasion you forget to take them?
In Northampton we had simply popped out to the corner store. When I was inside gathering supplies, Cooper was walking Luna (pictured above) around the block and having a little play with her. You guessed it – she chose this very time to do her business.
And it was no small matter!
Cooper scrounged around to find cardboard and resources to clean up after Luna, but it wasn’t pretty, oh no.
Hence, poo bags in every pocket since that time.
Watch what your dog eats
I’m sorry, this seems to have turned into a post about toilets and dogs’ business. You see, we took care of another gorgeous pup, Teal. A Springer Spaniel – about the best behaved and most affectionate creature you’d ever meet. But Teal has a secret.
Teal eats poo. In the depths of fields around the Cotswolds, this innocent pooch will grab a ‘snack’ the second you turn away. At first I thought Cooper was exaggerating because he spotted this, er, behaviour first. I didn’t believe him. Not our lovely Teal.
However, when I turned around after being engaged in conversation with a fellow dog walker, I saw it. Oh Teal. Perhaps he needed some nutrients that are in there?
Whatever the case, we were reminded that dogs are like kids. Keep an eye on them at all times
We took care of a precious little old man called Monty. He was such a beautiful old soul. A 15 year old Jack Russell, for the most part he was super easy to look after. Except he suffered major senior separation anxiety.
When we arrived he seemed ok, but once his parents left he wouldn’t leave his bed or hid under theirs. It broke our hearts. We kept an eye on him over the 12 hours to come, and we even called TrustedHousesitters pet line for guidance to make sure we were doing all the right things, which we were.
For anxiety, we’ve discovered we need to give dogs in this scenario their space. It’s beneficial for them to be in their own home. If they are not sleeping or eating, then you should contact a vet. One thing we had going for us was that Monty liked his food. We used this to try and coax him to love us We even got him downstairs by laying out a cheese trail – his favourite treat.
After a while though, we realised we were using treats in the wrong way – we were reinforcing his behaviour to stay in his bed or hide from us. We’d give him treats for it! Instead, we switched it around – gave him treats for coming to us and we got him outside on walks which cheered him right up. Our lesson: consider what kind of behaviour you’re rewarding with treats, or are you giving them to make you feel better?
House sitting in the UK brought many lessons our way. When we took care of Blue, a senior Lurcher doggie in London, we’d been told where in the house he could go. It was pretty much everywhere except the bedrooms. What we didn’t realise is that’s exactly where he’d try to go. Some of the door handles weren’t shut properly and we discovered this after he went missing twice. Blue managed to break into the rooms, have a nap on his siblings’ beds but then got locked in, bless him!
Our Luna in Northampton was known to break into the fridge and eat all the meat, so we had to lock the door to the kitchen if we went out. Luna’s also actually unlocked the front door to go in search of her family So, we needed to deadbolt it for her own safety from the busy street outside.
A special mention must go to Harley in Dublin who knew how to follow you into the toilet, jump up on the sink and drink water while you wash your hands. His mum said that is entirely his father’s fault for teaching him
Learn to share your personal space
Polly and Darcy our first little Westies we pet sat for haven’t been the only babies to want in on our private space. Pretty much all dogs and cats, once they get to know you, will want to be with you – or on top of you, in bed with you…
But you know what – that’s the bit we love the most. If you don’t, then this gig probably isn’t for you.
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And of course – questions/comments are appreciated below
Ibiza has struck something in us: there’s a magic here, and the Ibiza sunset certainly proves it night after night.
There’s an energy on this island, and it’s got nothing to do with the clubs or the music. Although I won’t lie, those are cool too. However, this is a place where people have gathered for a very very long time, to pursue a spiritual calling.
Around the island you’ll find mementos of times gone by: the Romans were here; we took part in a sunrise Yoga class by an ancient Phoenician tower… It’s rumoured the lost city of Atlantis is under Es Vedra which is just across the water. Ancient stories, tradition, culture – they all reference the sun as a source of energy. Here, there really is something very beautiful about the light, and everyone must see the sunset.
As the sun hits the horizon, everyone cheers. It’s fabulous. We’ve seen proposals happen at that moment, and a roar of happy energy as thousands of people from all corners of the earth relish in one special moment.
Where to experience this for yourself?
3 areas where you can see the Ibiza sunset: our favourite spots
Restaurant el Carmen or beach areas opposite Es Vedra
Many people go to this area to meditate as the sun sets. That’s pretty special
Head for the beach areas opposite Es Vedra. Here you’ll witness the sun set over the mystical island. It’s one of the three most magnetic places on earth (alongside the North Pole and Bermuda Triangle).
Sirens, UFOs, and more mysteries surround it. This blog writes beautifully about sunset here – worth a quick read.
Sunset Ashram or Kumharas beach bars
Two excellent places listed in our round-up of best beach clubs Ibiza: Sunset Ashram and Kumharas are on the same side of the island. They’re not too far from each other, and you need to get over to this side of the island to explore all its lovely secret beaches, but you’re best to have a car to get to them.
Kumharas is set right on the beach. Sunset Ashram is stunning, surrounded by aqua and deep blue coloured waters! Enjoy non-stop music, great energy and a spectacle you won’t forget.
While there are plenty of great venues along Ibiza’s sunset strip, all the way from Wi Ki Woo, Cafe Del Mar, and Savannah to bars like Ibiza Rocks and Tulip around the other side of Sant Antonio Bay (Sant Antoni de Portmany), our very favourite is Cafe Mambo.
Here, a tradition has unfolded, where hundreds gather on the shoreline to watch the sun hit the horizon. There’s cheering, and the music kicks in. Live DJs (some very big names, I might add) do their stuff right there for all to enjoy.
It’s a brilliant experience if you want to be around people and are partial to a bit of dance music at its best (me!).
Have a tip or questions? Let us know in the comments.
I’ve always been enthralled by the ease and beauty of Italian train journeys. So when Cooper and I planned our trip to Italy, the Milan to Varenna train was a no-brainer for a day trip to Lake Como and Bellagio.
Let me guide you through how to make the most of this picturesque journey in 2024.
Why Take the Milan to Varenna Train Route to Lake Como?
Italy has always been a tapestry of cultural and scenic marvels. Our experience with the Milan to Varenna train route only adds to this rich fabric. Lake Como, a gem near Milan – Italy’s fashion and business hub – is an unmissable destination. Initially considering a pricey guided tour to Lake Como, we instead chose the more adventurous and budget-friendly train journey.
Choosing the train from Milan to Varenna was a decision driven by:
Ease of Travel: The trip from Milan Central Station to Varenna is a comfortable journey lasting just over an hour, making it the perfect choice for a day trip.
Flexibility and Accessibility: With trains departing as early as 6:20 AM and the last one at 9:20 PM, you have the freedom to plan your day as you like.
Charming Destination: Varenna, a quaint village nestled on the shores of Lake Como, is a sight to behold and a delight to explore.
How to Book and Board the Milan to Varenna Train
Booking our tickets was a breeze. We used Trenord’s efficient online service, which also offers an app to store your digital tickets. Departing from Milano Centrale, you’ll head to Varenna-Esino station. The modern rolling stock operated by Trenord ensures a smooth ride.
A little tip: Always book for specific times but don’t worry if you miss your train. The staff are accommodating and will usually let you board the next one. However, do give yourself extra time to navigate the stations as they can be a bit confusing with not-so-clear signage.
Varenna on Lake Como: A Serene Escape
Upon arriving at Varenna, you’re greeted with the tranquil beauty of Lake Como. This village is a perfect blend of picturesque landscapes and Italian charm. It’s just a five-minute walk from the Varenna train station to the heart of the village, making it an easily accessible spot for travellers.
Varenna, with its delightful alleyways and waterfront dining options, offers a peaceful escape from the hustle of Milan. Despite encountering a rainy day on our trip, the allure of Varenna, with its sweet winding paths and views of the lake, was undeniably charming.
Getting to Bellagio from Varenna
Often referred to as the ‘pearl of the lake’, Bellagio is a key highlight of any Lake Como itinerary. It is easily accessible from Varenna too. Our initial plan was to visit Bellagio, but the rain had other plans. So, we immersed ourselves in the beauty of Varenna instead. If you’re luckier with the weather, here’s how to get there:
Ferry Travel: The ferry from Varenna to Bellagio is not just a mode of transport, but a journey through the heart of Lake Como. For about €5 each way, the ferry offers frequent services, less so in winter, but still with enough options to fit your schedule. The ferry terminal, a mere five-minute walk from the Varenna train station, can’t be missed.
Bellagio’s Charm: Bellagio, with its cobbled lanes and elegant architecture, is a treat for the senses. It’s a place where you can experience the luxurious tranquillity of Lake Como in full.
Why Lake Como?
Lake Como, the third-largest lake in Italy’s lake district, is a 46 km long expanse of natural beauty. It’s a region where snow-capped mountains meet the mystique of a deep blue lake. Ferries glide between hills that rise like islands from the water, and colourful buildings huddle at the mountains’ base, interspersed with ancient church steeples.
The landscape here is like a living painting, with roads and rail tunnels carved into sheer rock cliffs. The waterfront is adorned with sculpted gardens, Roman statues, and water fountains, creating a serene and almost surreal atmosphere. The air is fresh, and the sense of peace is palpable. It’s a place that must be experienced to be truly understood and appreciated.
Visit Lake Como in a Day Trip from Milan
For those looking to explore beyond Varenna, Lake Como has much to offer in 2024. Here are some of the year’s unmissable experiences:
Hiking the Sentiero del Viandante: For nature lovers, this well-marked trail offers stunning landscapes and a unique adventure along the Lecco coast of the lake.
Tempio Voltiano: A must-visit in Como, this museum celebrates the work of Alessandro Volta and is a journey through scientific history and picturesque settings.
Exploring Varenna on a Day Trip from Milan to Lake Como
Varenna, nestled in the Lombardy region, is a jewel on the lake. With its picture-postcard beauty, this village is more than just a stop; it’s an experience. A five-minute walk from the train station leads you into its heart.
Remember to wear comfortable shoes, as the stairways in Varenna are long and steep. That said, every step is worth the stunning views you’ll encounter.
Despite our rainy day visit, the allure of Varenna remained undimmed. Its charming alleyways and waterfront dining provide a serene escape. Even under cloudy skies, the beauty of this place shines through making it a worthwhile destination in any weather.
Luxurious Moments in Bellagio and Beyond
While we embraced the quaint charm of Varenna, Bellagio is just a short ferry ride away and offers its own unique splendour. Known for its elegant atmosphere and luxurious vibe, Bellagio is a haven of cobbled lanes and sophisticated buildings. Bellagio remains a key destination on Lake Como, offering visitors a blend of natural beauty, history, and culture.
Villa Melzi Gardens: Explore the breath-taking botanical gardens of Villa Melzi for a small entrance fee, a testament to Bellagio’s lush beauty.
Basilica of St. Giacomo: Visit this 12th-century basilica, a historical and architectural marvel, embodying the rich cultural heritage of the region.
Italian Treats Abound
A trip to Italy is incomplete without savouring its culinary offerings. In Lake Como, this means indulging in the region’s specialty dishes and treats. Here are some must-try experiences:
Polenta: A staple of Lombardian cuisine, yellow polenta is a delicious dish you must try for an authentic taste of Como.
Michelin-Starred Dining: For a luxurious dining experience, visit Ristorante Sottovoce in Como, the only restaurant with a lakefront terrace on the roof, offering an exceptional culinary journey.
Embracing Luxury and Nature in Lake Como
Lake Como in 2024 is not just about serene landscapes and quaint villages. It is also a destination for luxury and nature. Here are some top experiences you shouldn’t miss:
Luxury Boat Rides: Experience the opulence of Lake Como with a luxury boat ride, a perfect choice for honeymooners or those seeking an exclusive experience.
Outdoor Activities: For a more active experience, take a stroll in the town of Menaggio, or enjoy sunbathing on the public beaches near Como.
A Glimpse into the Future: Sustainable Travel
As we continue our journeys, Cooper and I are increasingly aware of the importance of sustainable travel. Lake Como and its surrounding regions are treasures that we must preserve for future generations. We encourage our fellow travellers to be mindful of your environmental impact, opt for eco-friendly accommodations, and support local businesses that practice sustainability.
Wrapping Up: The Timeless Beauty of Lake Como
Lake Como, with its blend of natural splendour, historical richness, and modern luxury, remains a timeless destination. Our journey on the Milan to Varenna train was just the beginning of a memorable adventure. We hope this guide inspires you to explore this magnificent region and create your own beautiful memories.
And remember, travel is not just about the destinations; it’s about the experiences, the people you meet, and the stories you create along the way.
Questions or comments…
I hope this updated guide helps clarify any queries or concerns you may have about undertaking a self-guided day trip on the train from Milan to Lake Como. Whether it’s the charm of Varenna or the elegance of Bellagio, Lake Como offers a tranquil glimpse into the beauty of Italy.
Despite our minor hiccups with rain and train timings, our day trip was close to perfect, filled with scenic views, delightful cuisine, and the serene ambiance of the lake.
On this week-long trip across Italy, we not only discovered the quaint charm of Varenna but also experienced so much more. We continued our exploration to Verona and Venice, embracing the diversity and beauty of Italy’s landscapes and culture. Stay tuned to our blog for more insights and stories from these attractive destinations.
We want to help you get your Venice facts in order. Is it magnificent and marvellous or hot and crowded? There’s facts you need to know about Venice before you go, which may make or break your visit. I was totally converted on my second trip. It’s why I want to highlight important travel Venice facts that will help you make the most of your experience.
Venice was our last stop on a self-guided train trip across Italy for one week, beginning in Milan. Our highlights included a day trip to Lake Como; rail to Verona and then to Venice. Click the links to read more about those destinations, and read on for more facts about Venice.
Travel Venice facts
5 facts for starters, about the city…
Venice is built on over 1 million wooden stakes.
There are 118 islands that make up Venice, linked by over 400 bridges (about 70 being private) over more than 170 canals.
In 1608, the Council of Ten approved wearing masks only during the Carnevale in February. Breaking this law meant enduring punishments that ranged from two years in prison to public beating and binding to the ‘pillar of shame’.
Sadly, Venice is sinking at the rate of 1 to 2mm per year.
The population of Venice has decreased from 120,000 to 60,000 in the last 50 years. Apparently Venice could be a ghost town by 2030 with only tourists visiting by day. A sad thought for Venetians, who perceive this level of tourism to be totally unsustainable. So, for us as the travellers, be grateful for the time in the city – seems a lot of sacrifice has taken place for us to enjoy it all.
The weather can be wet or hot, timing is important
If you can be flexible in your travel planning, the top travel Venice fact to work with is that the best times to go are April, May, June, September, and October.
Summer in Venice can be scorching. The first time we visited back in August 2011, we were tired from being on a non-stop tour and drained by the heat. April was near close to perfect though. Venice can also be very wet and flood. The flooding gets to the point where visitors need to buy Wellies (rubber boots). Even waiters in fancy restaurants need to, to get by serving customers seated outdoors.
It doesn’t really matter what time of year you go, Venice is a magnet for people. Main attractions like the Rialto Bridge, St. Mark’s Square and along the Grand Canal are swarming with people – travellers, tour groups, cruise ship stop-over passengers – throughout the day.
During the famous Carnevale in February, the streets get so crowded that distances which would usually take ten minutes to walk might take up to an hour to reach. Our Airbnb experience walking tour guide, Roberto, told us that the city actually constructs lanes, so it’s one way walking to a certain destination, and one way back.
Find a good deal on Airbnb and stay centrally. We were just a couple of minutes walk from the Rialto Bridge. This meant we could get up and go exploring first thing in the morning. Not only was the light lovely, but we weren’t battling crowds to get from A to B.
Additionally, if you want to visit the museums, go early in the morning or late in the afternoon to beat the queues.
Fab Venice fact – some great experiences are FREE
One of the best travel Venice facts that our Airbnb hosts shared with us was to do with the unmissable free view available from the top of Fondaco dei Tedeschi.
This historical building is situated on the Grand Canal, very close to the Rialto Bridge. It’s seen many uses including being used as a trading post for German merchants, a post office during Mussolini’s time, and a customs house under Napoleon.
Today it’s a luxury shopping mall, but at the top you can experience breathtaking rooftop views. It’s absolutely worthwhile, and it’s free, but you need to book your spot.
Venice facts: Gondola rides need-to-know
A gondola ride ranks highly on most travel bucket-lists, but it can turn out to be very expensive. Know before you go:
– A gondola ride costs around $90
– Typically lasts about 40 minutes
– Your Gondolier knows what they’re doing; they all have to pass extensive training to represent the industry in Venice
– Gondolas hold six people so you can share the ride and split the cost
– Sunset or night rides are spectacular, but you’ll pay more for that experience
– Avoid booking through an agency or hotel, you’re likely to pay extra fees
– Talk to the Gondolier about any requests you have for places to see, and consider skipping the crowded Grand Canal
– Wear sunscreen and a hat during the day.
Local water bus options offer cost-effective travel adventures
If a gondola ride is not within budget, try taking the #1 vaporetto down the Grand Canal instead. It’s like the local ferry and for just over €7!
To and from Santa Lucia train station, or the airport:
If you’re coming into Venice from Santa Lucia train station or the Marco Polo airport, be careful of people coming up to you offering to take you to the water taxi that goes into town. These are quite often private services that cost much more than the public ferries.
Look for route number 2 that does the journey between Santa Lucia railway station and St Mark’s Square, making only five stops including Rialto Bridge, where we got off to meet our Airbnb host.
The Alilaguna ferry will take you to and from Marco Polo airport. We got on near the Rialto Bridge and it cost about €15 one way, and the ride was just over an hour.
You will get lost
The streets of Venice are a maze, and you will get lost. But that’s absolutely fine. Don’t worry, just give yourself time to get places if you happen to have an appointment or need to meet a walking tour.
Google Maps led us into quite a few walls, so don’t rely on it. It’s helpful for finding general direction though, and recommendations on where to find a beer or food.
If the prospect of wandering the streets like a pro (and out of tourists’ way) is appealing, we’d highly recommend you engage a guide for a couple of hours. Roberto from Airbnb Experiences was excellent! His Walk, Eat and Drink in Venice tour took us through charming back streets we’d never have found, and showed us there’s much life away from St Mark’s Square. Contact him directly for details or to arrange a bespoke trip if you like.
Authentic dining options may be hard to spot
When in Venice you want to find yourself a local Bacari. This is a bar that serves wine and typical Venetian snacks. These snacks are referred to as cichetti, which generally means savoury snacks or small side dishes. We learnt more about this on our walking tour, referenced above.
A trip to Italy means eating gelato, especially if the weather is warm. But there’s plenty of inauthentic expensive tourist options you should avoid. It’s always good to support the genuine producers.
Basic rules of authentic gelato are:
Look for the gelato being stored in metal tubs, preferably with lids; plastic tubs are a no-no.
Quality gelato will not have vibrant colours because the aim is to make it with a high proportion of natural ingredients and very little (if any) added colouring.
If the ‘gelato’ is piled up high for display and doesn’t melt it means it’s high in vegetable fats and emulsifiers – it’s not the real deal.
Seasonal fruit flavours are a good sign, anything wild resembling Baskin & Robbins is probably not gelato, but something else, like ice-cream.
Not always, but for the most part, the real gelato is sold away from tourist hot-spots. We found a lovely authentic one in Verona that fits all the criteria here, and it was cheap, unlike rip-off options we’ve seen in Florence and Venice.
There’s much more to see
We’ve not had the chance to day-trip from Venice yet, but we plan to, which is why I’m linking ideas in here.
Let me know in the comments what else you’d recommend.
– The islands, including Murano and Burano, are apparently incredible. Have a read here for a summary on each, and why you should visit.
Travel in Venice: safety, packing and payment advice
Our final tips
Cash or card?
There’s a lot of markets and smaller vendors who require cash payments so do have some on you. Most places take cards though.
We felt safe, but always use common sense in crowded places. Thieves operate in these areas in all big cities. Pay attention to your surroundings, don’t carry things in your pockets, and don’t lose focus because you’re distracted by your phone! We’d suggest ignoring people who try to sell you things on the street too.
Pack light. The streets are old, you’ll walk a lot and the ferries are crowded. The last thing you’ll want is to be hauling a huge suitcase along! Shed your stuff, you won’t need half of it anyway.
Got questions or tips? Please do let us know in the comments below…
Belgium is the perfect little escape from London, especially on the Eurostar. We’ve got your 1 day in Brussels itinerary sorted that includes history, fun, chocolate and beer!
Brussels is an easy two hour trip from London’s St Pancras. We booked fares when they were on sale, and would have a solid 24 hours to explore. We did some research on the best things to do in Brussels in a day to make the most of the experience.
Sign up to the Eurostar mailing list to find out about sales. It’s how I scored £29 fares which I bought last November for a February trip.
1 day in Brussels – city facts and fun
A few things to know about the city before you set up your itinerary for best things to do in Brussels in a day:
– Brussels is the ‘capital’ of Europe. It’s home to the European Commission, the European Council, Council of the European Union, European Parliament, and NATO to name a few critically important world organisations.
– Actress Audrey Hepburn was born here in 1929 and you can scope out some of the places where she lived and worked.
– Famous philosopher Karl Marx, poet Victor Hugo and writers the Brontë sisters have also called Brussels home.
– There is much Portuguese influence in the city, with 20,000 from Portugal living in Brussels. Interesting for us to see, following our recent trip to Lisbon.
– Brussels is known for grand architecture, wonderful art, museums and one of Europe’s oldest shopping arcades, Galeries St Hubert (1847).
– Brussels is also known for being a little quirky, with peeing statues and comic book art all over building walls.
– Brussels is a foodie city! Muscles, waffles, fries, and Europe’s third biggest market (Midi market, open on Sundays near the train station where the Eurostar arrives/departs).
Upon serious consideration (yes, really), we realised that with just 1 day in Brussels we wanted to get to know it quickly and in a special way.
What better way to appreciate Brussels than through the lens of two of Belgium’s most famous exports: chocolate and beer!
We stumbled across this excellent experience online and made contact with the team to see how we could work together.
The Brussels Journey offers a beer and chocolate tour that takes in the best things to do in Brussels in a day. This includes seeing the key sites, learning about the city’s history and sampling beer and chocolate. Honestly, the tour exceeded our expectations!
A huge benefit was that we landed in the city at 10am not knowing a soul, but by 10pm had a handful of fab new friends from all over the globe.
1 day in Brussels – the best chocolate in Brussels
The Belgian chocolate industry is almost 400 years old, which means there are plenty of stories to tell here in Brussels when it comes to our favourite sweet treat.
There are countless chocolate shops here, so how do you know where to find the best chocolate in Brussels?
Our Brussels Journey tour started in front of popular Chocopolis, and took our group on a lengthy excursion through the streets in search of the best chocolate in Brussels.
We sampled some of the best chocolate I’ve ever tasted; unique flavours and blends.
I found it fascinating to learn that chocolate-making has so much to it. I’m not sure why I hadn’t thought of it before (too busy guzzling), but chocolate is like wine, tea or coffee.
The flavours and quality depend on the origin of ingredients, amount of cocoa used, what other flavours are infused, how its stored and produced.
Belgium is a top player in chocolate production and export, and local chocolatiers told us the secret is that they still use 100% cocoa butter.
Praline chocolates were what made Belgium famous, although they more quietly share that this was the invention of a Swiss migrant in 1912 (Switzerland and Belgium are of course the world leaders and fierce rivals when it comes to chocolate production supremacy).
Lively and helpful Brussels Journey guides, Julie and Baptiste, pointed out where to find the best chocolate in Brussels, and shared cool history and anecdotes along the way about all of Brussels favourite landmarks.
If you’ve only got a short time in the city, this walking tour is the way to go. You’ll maximise enjoyment and learning while making new friends and not have to wonder if you’re heading somewhere great.
I couldn’t tell you if any of the chocolate in Brussels is bad. All chocolate seems pretty great to me. For spending only 1 day in Brussels I certainly gorged on plenty of chocolate and enjoyed every bit.
Best chocolate in Brussels?
If you’re after ideas on where to get the best chocolate in Brussels, take The Brussels Journey tour, or keep an eye out for some of the best-known ones like:
Belvas | Chocopolis | Elisabeth | Frederic Blondeel | Godiva | La Belgique Gourmande | Lawrence | Mary | Pierre Marcolini | Passion Chocolat
We were amazed to discover that a fellow Queenslander from Toowoomba, Ryan Stevenson, actually took out the chocolatier of the year accolade back in 2012, right here in Brussels!
Belgium is also very famous for its beers. It’s said you could spend four years here, drink a beer every day and not drink the same beer twice. That’s a LOT of choice.
Again, another reason to take a guided tour. We had so much fun sampling the best beer in Brussels with their team and our new friends on the beer and chocolate tour
Beer has been brewed here since the 12 Century. As for the story of chocolate, I was fascinated to find out that there’s so much more to beer than I imagined.
On The Brussels Journey tour we learnt about Trappist beers, which are a special kind of beer that must be brewed by monks, next to or within the walls of a Trappist monastery.
The beer brewing is the responsibility of the monks and some of their output is so unique that it’s nearly impossible to purchase! Extra limited edition, if you will. There are only 12 Trappist breweries in the world, six are in Belgium. No profit can be made from the sale of the beer, it must go back to the abbey or to a designated organisation.
– The Palace of Justice in Brussels’ stunning Grand Place (main square) is the largest law court in the world!
– Brussels puts on BIG shows, like the Tomorrowland and Rock Werchter festivals in summer.
– It’s the home of comics, which is evident within street art around the city. For a different type of tour you can follow the Brussels comic strip route.
Within the city there’s an area known as the Restaurant Quarter. There’s plenty to choose from, but some is worth a splurge while others are not. The council addressed this by awarding plaques to places you should try. Keep an eye out for anywhere that boasts the ‘Maison Recommandée’ signs, as the image above depicts.
1 day in Brussels – our itinerary and top spots to visit
Highlights in our map include chocolate shops, beer stops and view points – take yourself on a wander around beautiful Brussels!
Enjoy – and do let us know your thoughts or questions in the comments.
Huge thanks to The Brussels Journey who let us collaborate with them to find out more about Brussels and discover what they offer in the city!
Tips, tricks, comments, or just love beer and chocolate? Let us know in the comments!
It’s one of the oldest cities in Europe, offering wonderful glimpses into Portugal’s layers of time and influence. As you can imagine, we were excited to get going on our 3 days in Lisbon adventure!
It was the Age of Discovery when Portugal ruled the world. Stretching its hand across the globe, from Brazil to China, Africa and beyond.
Lisbon is set upon seven rolling hills. Imagine old-world trams bustling along narrow, cobbled streets; picture grand architecture, quirky stores scaling hilltops, and colourful rooftops.
We flew in for a Christmas city break and squeezed quite a bit into our 3 days in Lisbon itinerary.
I’ve shared our discoveries below. Hopefully you’ll be inspired to book a trip soon too.
3 days in Lisbon itinerary
Welcome to Lisbon – a roller-coaster city of seven hills, crowned by a Moorish castle and washed in an artist’s pure light. Lisbon is cinematically beautiful and historically compelling. This is a capital city of big skies and bigger vistas. Rumbling trams and Willy Wonka-like elevators. Flush with charisma and postcard good looks, Lisbon has it all.
Understanding the layout
In your research on travel to Lisbon, you’ll find there’s a few main areas within the city’s old ‘centre’ and along the waterfront.
These areas of interest include:
‘Old town’ Alfama, Castelo and Graça: cobbled streets and amazing views from Castelo de São Jorge, Largo das Portas do Sol and Miradouro da Senhora do Monte. Usually reached by tram from streets around Rossio and Baixa.
Rossio and Baixa, Lisbon’s riverfront gateway sitting below Alfama, with bustling trams, Elevador de Santa Justa and the charming Praça do Comércio to name just a few highlights.
Bairro Alto and Chiado, particularly good for dining and nightlife. These areas are along the waterfront and within easy walking distance of Rossio and Praça do Comércio – all of this is close together and easy to explore on foot.
Belém, a little further along the waterfront and overlooking the Ponte 25 de Abril (bridge); with its pastries, and historical charms like Jerónimos Monastery, Belém Tower on the banks of Tagus River, and Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument of the Discoveries) celebrating travellers from the Portuguese Age of Discovery.
Here’s how we divided our time, focused on the areas outlined above:
3 days in Lisbon, day one
We stayed not far from Rossio Square (pictured below), overlooking São Jorge Castle.
This was a perfect spot for exploring a large portion of the older part of town around Rossio and Baixa on foot. Or you can easily catch a tram around here, including the famous no. 28.
Day one on your 3 days in Lisbon itinerary is best spent getting your bearings in this area.
Start early at Santa Justa lift to avoid the queues. Head up high and take a look around this beautiful city.
From here, you can also get an early start on the trams including the no. 28 which is famous for the pretty and historical route it takes. Also the tourist options like the Yellow buses or trams (very good value for a 48 or 72 hour pass). Or wander around and go shopping.
On your adventure, head for Praça do Comércio (pictured below), gateway to the lovely waterfront here.
There’s a romantic promenade along the front of the city, where you can enjoy excellent views. It’s lovely looking back up onto the hills and Lisbon’s colourful canvas. The sea always looks inviting. So many have taken to the waters for an adventure before you.
Fascinating history and architecture
I suggest you spend a little time in these parts along and around the waterfront. It gives you a good sense of the rich history all around you.
In its heyday, these parts of town were wealthy – some of the wealthiest in the world, in fact. This was thanks to trading happening in the 16th Century in gold, spices, silks and jewels among other things. Not to mention Portugal, alongside rival Spain, ruling half the world!
Fast forward to 9.40am on 1 November 1755 though – three major earthquakes hit as Lisbon’s residents celebrated Mass for All Saints Day.
These earthquakes triggered a devastating fire and tsunami, destroying much of the city. About a third of Lisbon’s 270,000 inhabitants died.
From this tragedy emerged a hero, Sebastiao de Melo, who set about reconstructing the city from the ashes. Together with architects and engineers, he made sure the city’s new design was earthquake-proof, and developed one of the world’s first grid systems that we see implemented in so many major cities to this day.
“We must bury the dead and heal the living.”
There’s a lot I didn’t know about Portugal. Across our 3 days in Lisbon I continued to be more and more fascinated!
For instance, the country was run by a dictator, António de Oliveira Salazar, who was prime minister between 1937 and 1968.
A contemporary of Hitler, Franco and Mussolini, Salazar is remembered by some as the greatest figure in the Portugal’s history. Others loom upon him as keeping the country repressed and backwards.
Salazar was overthrown in 1974. Lisbon’s huge suspension bridge (resembles the Golden Gate in San Francisco and was built by the same company) was renamed Ponte 25 de Abril, or ‘April 25 Bridge to mark the event.
Across the city, there’s a fascinating legacy hailing from Lisbon’s Arabic roots – tiles, known as Azulejos.
These date as far back as the 13th Century, when the Moors invaded Portugal and Spain. The Moors secured their foothold in Portuguese culture between the 16th and 17th Centuries. They used Azulejos to decorate plain walls of buildings. These beautiful little polished stones adorn old walls still. Thankfully not all was lost in 1755.
I was also happy to learn that St Anthony was born here (coincidentally buried in Verona, Italy, where we are visiting in April). All through childhood, my mum used to tell us to ask St Anthony for help if we lost something.
Somehow, this always did the trick. The link to St Anthony here was more sentimental for me than anything else. The Lisbon Sardine Festival (sardines and other canned fish are a BIG industry here) celebrates St Anthony’s life and brings everyone out into the streets for a party every June.
Eating and drinking – quirky ideas for you
A couple of places that I wanted to find but that were closed over Christmas, and perhaps worth adding to your list, are the storybook-themed Fabulas and Pharmacia cafes/restaurants (in the Bairro Alto / Chiado area). Lisbon is known for offering quirky experiences to locals and visitors alike.
The TimeOut Market (Mercado da Ribeira, pictured above) is also within walking distance in Chiado. It’s about ten minutes walk from Praça do Comércio.
It’s cool for an evening outing, with a large variety of food and drinks on offer to try. A word of warning, it’s definitely not the cheapest spot in town, but definitely worth a visit.
3 days in Lisbon, day two
Whether you’re enjoying a self-guided tour on local transport or have taken advantage of one of the tour operators (the Yellow tour brand appears to have the upper hand in Lisbon in terms of tour options and best value), add Belém to your list for the day.
In Belém you can’t miss the romantic Coach Museum, stunning Jerónimos Monastery (pictured below). My favourite is the Padrão dos Descobrimentos the inspired explorers’ monument that’s along the waterfront (in front of Jerónimos Monastery).
Wander a bit further past the monument and you’ll come across the medieval Belém Tower (pictured below). It’s fascinating for its architecture alone, not to mention its prime spot by the river.
There’s a lot to do in this little area that’s about twenty minutes from the centre of town. Give yourself time to deal with any queues at the monastery and tower.
You can’t go to Lisbon and not try a Pastel de Nata (Portuguese custard tart).
They’re everywhere, sweet and delicious! Try at least one from Pastéis de Belém, where they’ve been making these according to a top-secret recipe since 1837.
The city is best experienced from up high, so to wrap up your day, find a rooftop bar for a cocktail as the sun sets. Many hotels have their own roof bar, but the Mundial Hotel in the middle of the city near Rossio Square is well known. As is the luxe Topo (although this appears to be a summer destination).
If you’re up for it, there’s one more stop to make – pop into a Ginjinha shop like Ginginha Sem Rival around Rossio Square and enjoy a shot (or two) of this delicious and inexpensive local delight. It’s a sour cherry liqueur (tastes like Port) that has been served in the city since 1890, and it’ll knock your socks off if you have too many in a row.
Tip: Before your visit, have a look at the Discover Walks website. They offer a range of free and inexpensive walking tours of Lisbon, including around Belém. So you can gather all the knowledge and inside secrets from a local!
3 days in Lisbon, day three
Today you might want to start early and catch a ride on the famous no. 28 tram.
Ride a lap and eventually get off in historical Alfama – it’s about a ten to fifteen-minute tram ride from the city centre (e.g. Rossio Square or Praça do Comércio) up into the hills.
Alfama is colourful, interesting and easy to get lost in, so give yourself time to find the best views. Trip happily along the cobbled streets, and visit the historical sites like São Jorge Castle or the Moorish Gateway, Largo das Portas do Sol that also offers postcard-perfect views.
Tip: See if you can find the quirky and cool circus school Chapito, where you can eat or have a drink. The view is excellent and you might even witness a bit of a show.
Your last night
Back in town, head towards Praça do Comércio, the old place of international trade in the Age of Discovery and home for the Royal Family. It’s often lit up to showcase a magical spectacle.
Wander along the waterfront and then back up the hill towards Bairro Alto where there’s a few fun rows of streets that boast a selection of bars, restaurants and clubs.
Be careful though – we headed out for an innocent dinner but after being lured into a bar playing cool dance music, two free shots later (courtesy a generous barman), we ended up on a bigger night than anticipated. Oh who am I kidding? It was awesome!
Where to stay
I did a lot of research trying to figure out the best area to stay in that was convenient to everything.
I settled on the stylish Lisboa Pessoa Hotel near Rossio Square, that’s nestled on a hilltop overlooking São Jorge Castle. I’d recommend the area and the hotel.
Visiting in December around Christmas time in Lisbon
It gets very busy in the summer season (May to August), and while it’s cooler in the autumn/winter months, everything is still open, and you’ll avoid the crowds.
Late December was cooler than we had anticipated. Take warm clothes.
There is sun so that’s a bonus, but in the wind is chilly.
Pretty much everything was open over Christmas. Some places shut down for many days across the period. While you could spend so much more than 3 days in Lisbon. It’s a taster to get you ready for the next trip. That’s our thinking anyway!
As a city break at Christmas, it’s ideal. Busier even than Mallorca and definitely Ibiza – they have different things to offer at Christmastime though.
If you’ve been to Lisbon and have tips, please do share with us in the comments below. And any questions, you know where to find us.
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