It’s one of the oldest cities in Europe and offers wonderful glimpses into Portugal’s layers of time and influence – needless to say we were very excited to get going on our 3 days in Lisbon adventure!
It was the Age of Discovery when Portugal ruled the world, stretching a hand (as well as culture and language) across the globe, from Brazil to China, Africa and beyond.
Set upon seven hills, imagine old-world trams bustling along narrow, cobbled streets; grand architecture, quirky stores scaling hilltops, and colourful rooftops as far as the eye can see.
We flew in for a Christmas city break and managed to cram quite a bit into our 3 days in Lisbon itinerary.
I’ve shared our discoveries below, and 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; of rumbling trans and Willy Wonka-like elevators; of melancholic fado song and live-to-part nightlife. Edge, charisma and postcard good looks, Lisbon has the lot!” –Kerry Christiani, Lonely Planet Lisbon Pocket Guide
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, if you ask us), or wander around and go shopping.
On your adventure, head for (or you’ll inevitably stumble upon) 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 looking back up onto the hills and Lisbon’s colourful canvas, plus out to sea where so many have taken to the waters for an adventure before you.
Fascinating history and architecture
The reason I suggest you spend a little time in these parts along and around the waterfront, is so you can get 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, and 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, but by others 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’ (my birth date!) 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 (per a contemporary map. The Moors secured their foothold in Portuguese culture between the 16th and 17th Centuries and 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 (and I did by mum a memento to thank her for all the times her advice helped me recover missing things). 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 – only about ten minutes walk from Praça do Comércio in fact.
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, although is 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) and 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) which is 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 though so that’s a bonus, but in the wind it is chilly.
Pretty much everything was open over Christmas though which was great (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.
Germany is famed the world over for putting on the best festive markets, and we’re excited to share with you our Christmas markets Cologne guide.
They’re some of the world’s best that attract millions to the city each year between 25 November and 23 December.
Christmas markets Cologne
Cologne is known as one of the best European Christmas destinations. There are seven significant German Christmas markets in Cologne and highlights of each, as well as best time of day to visit, are listed below.
This charming German city is of course, famous for its Christmas markets (as other neighbouring German cities are). It’s perfect for a winter Christmas city break!
Before we get into the detail of why we’ve come in December, a quick snapshot about this town…
One of the reasons we chose to visit Cologne for a spot of Christmas market shopping is that its positioned on the Rhine river.
We’ve only been to this area once, when travelling around Europe on our awesome Expat Explore tour – and I remember it is spectacular!
Cologne is known as a cultural hub of north west Germany, popular for its food, art and traditional Kölsch beer. The city is filled with quirky bars, cool shopping and plenty of culture.
Much of the city was actually destroyed during the first world war, and the locals have had to rebuild it, together with a multicultural mix of neighbours from around Europe.
Cologne famously accepted many migrants during recent years’ refugee crisis’, and its people are known to be exceptionally friendly, open and welcoming.
Also famous and on at this time of year, is the Cologne Carnival, known as Fastelovend. I love that this annual celebration of street parties and costumes officially launches each year at 11am on November 11, and it runs until Christian Lent.
Apparently it’s normal during this period for people in costume to run up and give you a peck on the cheek. If you get kissed, don’t panic, consider it lucky and enjoy the moment.
Need to know: the 7 Christmas markets of Cologne
Cathedral Market: the big one
– This is the biggest German Christmas market in the city, known for its spectacular location in the square in front of Dom Cathedral. It’s probably the first one you’ll come across if you arrive by train, as the main station is on the doorstep to the Cathedral.
– Come back for a visit at night, for the sprinkling of pretty festive lights throughout the gift-filled wooden pavilions.
– There’s a lot of delicious food here, including local foods like German Bratwurst and Flammlachs (grilled salmon).
– The Cathedral Market is the spot for entertainment which you’ll often catch on the stage by the tall Christmas tree.
– In case of rain, there’s a canopy under the Roman-German Museum where you can find shelter, people-watch and enjoy a mug of traditional gluhwein/gluehwein (hot spiced wine) – I liked mine with a splash of Amaretto!
– Cologne’s tourism information centre is very close to here too, well-signed, opposite the Dom, if you want some tips or help with getting around town.
Old Market or Alter Markt: the traditional one
– Literally next door to the Cathedral market is this gorgeous set-up. For a traditional Christmas market experience that’s particularly great for a daytime visit, make time for the large Old Market.
– This Cologne Christmas market is located in front of the Old Town Hall, and there are indoor areas if it’s raining.
– The open market area is on Heumarkt and features a large ice rink at the centre of it that has ice shows too!
– The Old Market boasts cool themed alleys e.g sweets alley, toy alley.
– There’s a fabulous vantage point here on the balcony at the themed house that overlooks the ice rink, but it’s busy so be prepared to nudge your way through to get some nice photos.
– Want to try local fare? Special drinks to look for include Calvados liqueur with cream; and Feuerzangenbowle which is Gluhwein and rum set on fire and served in a mug called a Feuerzangentasse which has forks attached to it with a sugar cone that can be soaked in rum and the whole thing is set on fire.
Harbour market (Chocolate Museum): the modern one
– A short walk along the river from the Cathedral and Alter Markt, this spot is a must-visit. How could anyone resist a German Christmas market on the banks of the river Rhine in front of a Chocolate Museum? (which is perfect for shelter if it’s wet).
– While this is one of the smallest in the city, it’s possibly set in the most picturesque spot. Go in the daytime, and head here early, it is one of the first to open each day during the German Christmas market season.
– Perfect for lovely arts and crafts, and there’s a cool hat vendor too.
Angel’s Market (Neumarkt): the glamorous one
– This pretty German Christmas market is the oldest in the city, and sits on Neumarkt Square, amongst some of Cologne’s great shopping streets. It is by far my favourite!
– It’s another lovely Cologne Christmas market to visit at night because of its lights, trees and romantic atmosphere. The Angel Market is about 15 minutes walk from the Cathedral (Dom).
– In case of rain, seek the chic bar at the west end of the market, but you’ll want to be early because it gets full.
– Cologne’s Angel market is good for Christmas decorations, unique chocolates, artisan stalls, lights, arts and crafts.
Village of St Nicholas (Rudolfplatz): the magical one
– A village-style Christmas market that is set by the medieval Hahnentorburg on Rudolfplatz.
– This is the area where people go out at night; you’ll find a cool crowd, and atmosphere.
– For more festive spirit, look around the corner as this is next to Christmas Avenue Market.
Stadtgarten: the local one
– A bit further out from the centre of the Cologne Christmas market action, but worthwhile; in the middle of the Belgian Quarter of Cologne – a gorgeous part of the city.
–This German Christmas market in Cologne is known for its lovely village feel, and more locals than tourists surrounding you.
– Perfect for unique and cute gifts; also a great food selection especially desserts and savoury delights.
Gay and Lesbian market: the cool one
– Cologne is one of the most LGTB friendly cities in Europe and its got a Christmas market to match!
– Don’t miss this one for a fun, bright, younger crowd, a diverse range of food and drinks and the quirkiest gifts.
Cologne Christmas markets top tips
1. Each market offers its own unique and collectable Gluhwein mugs. You pay a deposit on your first drink which means you can keep this mug. If you don’t want to keep it, simply return to the bar at the same market for your deposit back.
2. You can walk between most of the markets, or catch the bus or special Christmas Market Express train. Visit Koeln also offers a Koeln card to get around the city. Visit the tourism centre for more details on this when you’re in the city.
3. An extremely comprehensive resource on the Cologne markets can be found at fromrealpeople.com– locals in Cologne who share helpful information about the markets, the food and treats to be found and importantly, transport. We got a lot out of this blog post (thanks team!).
Cologne has proven to be one of the best places to visit in winter, in our opinion. We love Amsterdam and Paris too, even Mallorca for some wintersun, but for a Christmas city break you can’t really go past this!
My brother and I recently popped up to Scotland for a couple of days away from London and discovered some excellent things to do in Inverness, capital of the Scottish Highlands.
While I am absolutely a seeker of Nessie (the Loch Ness Monster) and all good things that are the Highlands, like exquisite landscapes and interesting history, it hadn’t even occurred to me we could get to Inverness so easily.
Yet, just one hour’s flight from London (we made our way from Luton on EasyJet) you can find yourself amongst the fresh air and friendly people of Inverness.
Things to do in Inverness
The city of Inverness is quite small and easy to get around on foot.
There’s plenty of things to do and see in Inverness, and we started with a walk through town to get our bearings. Inverness is well signed, so you can easily find your way around from its older areas and Victorian market, down to the shopping pedestrian high street area and the helpful visitor information centre.
From Inverness’ shopping strip, you can wander up to Inverness Castle, and then down the hill toward the Ness River; explore beautiful churches, Inverness castle and take photos from the pretty bridges that link both sides of the city.
Exploring the area
Inverness is a tour hub, of sorts, with numerous tours on offer that you can pre-book or sort when you’re there – head as far out as Skye or back down to Edinburgh or Glasgow.
While in the city we stayed on foot which was fine.
Our two day itinerary was carefully considered so that we could take in a taste of Inverness without exerting ourselves.
Urquhart Castle ruins and Loch Ness
A visit to a castle is a must, and the ruins of Urquhart Castle area easily accessible by car or coach.
For about £10 you can take a coach from Inverness’ bus station (the transport centre is near/behind the train station, but is signed), half an hour along the shores of Loch Ness, to Urquhart Castle.
This medieval castle’s ruins date from the 13th to the 16th centuries, and set on the shores of the loch, it’s a fabulous experience.
You can also reach and view the castle by taking a cruise on Loch Ness, which again, you can arrange when you’re in Inverness.
En-route to Urquhart you pass the Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition which will fulfil all your Nessie needs – find out more about the story behind the folklore and buy souvenirs here.
You can also wander underneath the store and the road to the banks of the loch for more beautiful photo opportunities.
We did this trip in an afternoon and I’d highly recommend the experience as part of your ‘things to do in Inverness’ list. Just be organised with when the coach is due to return because they only run every hour or so.
Culloden and Clava Cairns
For a true slice of Scottish history as well as some unbeatable landscape view, get out of the town about half an hour to the Culloden Battlefield and visitor centre.
Culloden Battlefield is the site of the 1746 Jacobite Rising that came to a brutal head in one of the most harrowing battles in the history of this region.
There is an immersive cinema experience as well as café and rest spot, and of course you can respectfully visit the site yourself.
When we were heading out this way we got to chatting to a local on the bus, and she told us about an incredible ancient site called Clava Cairns.
As a fan of the series Outlander, I was actually aware of the site and to discover it was so accessible (with a little adventure along the way), we decided to go and explore.
Bus no. 5 gets you to Culloden Battlefield’s visitor centre, from where you can walk to Clava Cairns. The return trip was about £5.
Be mindful not to get other buses that say they are going to Culloden, as they are going to the residential area, not the destination intended if you’re seeking the experience outlined above.
This experience is well worth it. The weather can change though so be prepared. It’s the best part of a day trip from Inverness, but still close to town which is very handy.
Eat and drink in Inverness
I’d recommend trying a Scottish whiskey at a pub around town – there’s plenty to choose from.
Our favourite pub is The Castle Tavern, which is positioned just above Inverness Castle, and has a delicious menu, nice drinks including local options, and a cool view across the city.
We found transport in Inverness easy and reliable. While you do need to be prepared ahead of time and know when your bus to the airport is due, for example, we found it all ran efficiently to time.
Buses to and from the airport run every half an hour or an hour at quieter times, at just over £4 each way (2018).
There’s plenty of other ferry and bus or coach options that will help you discover things to do in Inverness and on the town’s outskirts. You can find out more by dropping into the train station, bus station or the visitor information centre in the middle of the mall in town.
You’ll also find many tours that will take you around the region and up to Skye, ranging from periods of one day to three or four – these can be booked in advance online, or ask for more information in the tourist information centre.
And if you’re an Outlander fan like me, there are indeed a number of tours that will show you around famous filming sites.
They’re two of the world’s greatest cities with so much – too much, even – to see and do; but what if you’re tired and need to chill out in Vienna and Barcelona?
Work never seems to slow down, which means travel or a city break can feel like just another job. When that is the case, you need to set yourself up with an itinerary that builds-in time to relax. I totally related to a colleague this week who told me he’s been so snowed-under with obligations that he considered cashing-in a summer Euro city adventure and first-time trip to Vienna and Barcelona, for a chill out and do-nothing beach holiday instead.
I completely feel this. For those of us with an average job, we have limited annual leave allowance to work with. And, while anyone based centrally for travel appreciates it’s simple to get to new destinations, it can mean for example, that we jump on a plane from London late Friday night after a busy week at work, and wake up tired, day after day, despite being excited about being in a gorgeous new city. First-world problems, sure, but burn-out is a very real thing, and it’s a shame if a ‘break’ turns into a ‘break down’ by the time you get back to work.
I don’t think I could ever get enough of exploring Vienna or Barcelona, but racing around cities in an attempt to tick-off all the main attractions is actually really exhausting. My advice after perpetually learning the hard way, is to take it easy and chill out if you need to!
The conversation with my colleague inspired me to think about how I’d chill out or relax in Vienna and Barcelona if (when) I get the chance.
Make it easy on yourself and stay centrally. We scored a great deal by booking early at the lovely Arthotel ANA Amadeus, and I’d highly recommend that area to stay in for convenience and your ability to walk everywhere. It gets pretty hot in the summer, and I have to say I was quite jealous of those I saw chilling out in the parks reading or doing nothing at all. Next time, I’ll make time!
Our hotel was air-conditioned and we did indeed take a break there during the hottest part of the day instead of forcing ourselves to walk around when we were very tired. Our intention was to rest and get out around dusk.
Take yourself on an evening wander – as the sun sets you’ll get your very best pictures of the Vienna city centre, St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Hofburg, Heldenplatz and Schönbrunn Palace.
Summer evenings in Vienna must consist of some time in front of Vienna City Hall, at Rathaus where there’s a super-stylish pop-up food, music and cocktails experience that you can’t miss. We LOVED this!
Chill out in Vienna? I’d suggest soaking up the energy by giving yourself time in one of the beautiful green spaces like Volksgarten. Take a book, people-watch, nap – either way, this is how to truly indulge in the delights of Vienna. There’s generally sweet notes of classical music floating through the air from musicians playing live around the city. Divine.
You can be as busy or as chilled-out as you like in Vienna. Of course there’s plenty to see and you can be forgiven for feeling a little like you’re missing out if you’re not on the go the whole time. Vienna to me though, feels like it’s screaming out to be enjoyed mindfully, so don’t fall into the ‘busy’ trap. Find your perfect shady spot, and soak up this extraordinary place without depleting your energy reservoir.
Barcelona is huge, and on a short city break of three or four days you want to try and see as much as you can without using up all of your energy. There’s so much to see, do and eat here. If you want an easy way out, jump on a hop-on-hop-off bus (like City Sightseeing) to get an overview of the city, prioritise and make your own choices on where you want to get off and have a look around. Yes, it’s a bit touristy, but without lots of time, and under the heat of the Spanish sun, sometimes it is the wisest option.
Need a break? Make your way towards the beachfront, and if it’s really hot out, shout yourself a cold cocktail and enjoy the shade at a super-stylish beachfront bar like the Carpe Diem Lounge Club (pictured above) where we found ourselves taking it easy with fellow travellers during a tour a few years ago (which reminded me of this original vlog we did way back then … bit crass, but fun all the same).
Lay back on comfy day beds, watch the waves and beach revellers, eavesdrop and incidentally learn a little Spanish (‘me gustaría una copa de cava’), and chill out in the best way possible in this fabulous city.
Moral of this story? Don’t fall into the trap where you feel like you have to ‘see everything’. Life, and travel, is about experiences; quality over quantity.
Sometimes exhaustion is going to happen, but if you’re on a city break, balance the sightseeing with chill-out time. Take time to just be. You’re not missing out, you’ll gain more out of your time in the end.
What are your suggestions? Let us know in the comments
Feature image: Gothic Quarter art in Barcelona by Javier Bosch
A welcome cool breeze skimmed across the Vltava, as dozens of paddle-boat revellers and a few small ferries floated past me on excursions along the Prague waterfront. I’d arrived ahead of Cooper for our weekend in Prague for travel bloggers – or, with a creative content twist; you see, we’re on our way to another annual TBEX conference, and I couldn’t be more excited to be in the Czech Republic.
It was Friday afternoon about 6.30pm and after a scorching hot day fighting through crowds for a glimpse at the city’s famously pretty highlights, I’d stumbled into a stunning yet quite secluded spot by the water. The place was otherwise anonymous, crudely labelled ‘Riverside Bar’ on a blackboard out the back of the place.
The shabby-chic joint served cold drinks and was streaming chilled House tunes – right up my alley. Similar name as a luxe and expensive Brisbane counterpart (that admittedly I love), yet cheap, romantic, less sweaty and overlooking the city’s medieval structures including the Charles Bridge. With a flavoursome gin and tonic sparkling in my eyes and the sun beginning its descent across the Czech Republic, it occurred to me, this is the life. I could be an a$$ and hashtag it ‘blessed’, but…
For the first time in months, I’d say, I sat without thought, just observing in peace.
It’s been so so busy this year and I need this weekend in Prague. I don’t like to overuse the word ‘busy’ – we tout a saying in my team at work about how ‘busy’ has become an excuse, often meaning that actually, you believe your ‘stuff’ to be more important than someone else’s, when often we have no idea what others are up against, nor do we remember to be respectful of it.
That said, while I’ve tried hard to balance things, it’s been tough, and writing or blogging for myself and for this lifestyle and travel space is the last thing I have energy for. Yet, it’s in my heart. And away from the hustle and bustle of Prague’s overcrowded tourist centre (not to mention my ‘other’ routine life), yet with its best bits in my line of sight, I felt inspired again.
While I moan about the crowds (apparently Prague is the fifth most visited city in Europe), I must admit to having a moment on Friday afternoon. I was wandering the UNESCO World Cultural and Natural Heritage listed Old Town Square, and as I gazed around me at the colourful, historical architecture and felt energy of so many who had come before, my breath caught and tears came to my eyes. It was rather overwhelming and took me by surprise. Probably nothing to do with being deliriously tired following a work social the night before and a 6am flight.
In all seriousness, it’s as beautiful as I remember it, and more than that, how lucky are we to have the chance to be in such places, so far from home?
Beyond the selfie sticks and those taking more photos of themselves than their surroundings, the depths of crowds attempting to enter popular areas, and hundreds of tourist groups dripping in deep-fried ice-cream-stuffed doughnut cones (yep it’s a thing, although not even Czech, as I understand it), there is palpable magic in this city of red rooftops and a thousand spires, wooded hills, romantic views and influence from generations gone by.
Founded in the latter part of the 9th Century, Prague became the seat of the kings of Bohemia. The city flourished during the 14th Century and for hundreds of years was a multi-ethnic city with an influential Czech, German and Jewish population.
From 1939 the country was occupied by the Nazis and while Prague’s structures remained relatively undamaged during the war, most Jews either fled the city or were killed in the Holocaust. The German population was then expelled in the aftermath of WWII.
Most of us remember the Prague that was under Communist rule for over 40 years, rarely visited by tourists until after the Velvet Revolution on 17 November 1989. Freedom meant a huge economic boom and an influx of delighted visitors from then on, which only increased after the Czech Republic joined the European Union in 2004.
As mentioned, we’re destined for TBEX Europe 2018, in a place I’d never thought to have visited, Ostrava. That said, as travel bloggers and explorers we are very excited to see somewhere new! Preparing and in Prague for the weekend, Cooper and I wanted our schedule to be part (re)discovery, part relaxing, part planning for networking and the conference (which I blogged about for the TBEX Events site recently).
We stayed about twenty minutes walk from the city centre, at Hotel Kinsky Gardens in a quiet Prague neighbourhood, yet with the convenience of supermarkets, shopping mall, pubs, a delicious tapas restaurant called Miro, and tram stop not five minutes’ walk away.
The river precinct I came to love (including the ‘Riverside Bar’, gorgeous new waterfront restaurant opening this week Kalina Kampa and Belle Vida Cafe) was just ten minutes walk from our accommodation, and is perfect for anyone who has done the central Prague tourist bit and is happy to indulge in the views away from the chaos.
On Saturday night I hosted my very first TBEX meet-up (this is my sixth TBEX conference so I’m excited to have taken this step).
We met up with four locals to Prague and five visitors from as far as America, Costa Rica and another conference attendee coming from England like us. We ran the plans through the conference Facebook group and Katie (an American expat living in Prague) chose a cool pub on a hill with a view for our group’s meet-up, and Prague local Veronika assisted with finding an impromptu dining option so we could all hang out and try local cuisine.
It was immensely fun to meet other travel bloggers and content creators in Prague this weekend and part of the reason we’re so pleased we continue to develop our little corner of the web here, for love and a hobby.
Prague is easy to do as a city break – you can walk around the old town, to the castle, up to view points, catch trams to gardens, boat-ride around the Vltava, enjoy a little jazz, join a free walking tour and get cultural in museums.
A weekend in Prague: practical tips
Be careful of taxis, they can be unregulated and rip you off. Go with a pre-booked service or use the trams and trains as they are very well run and cheap, but DO buy a ticket as if you get caught without one or if you have not validated it the fines are hefty.
Try the beer (it’s the home of Pilsner, after all), and as always, get out of the tourist areas of a cheaper experience when it comes to food and dining.
Take your money out of an ATM that’s associated with a bank and be careful of the exchange outlets that say ‘zero commission’ (usually they are hiking up hidden charges).
Importantly, be curious. In our case, this weekend in Prague was for us as travel bloggers: an unexpected low-key treat and reminder of how much I’ve gained from travel – the people met, surprising and inspired moments, lands wandered at early (or late) hours, and the fulfilment that pursuing creativity provides. We are lucky, but I too am grateful.
Onwards to Ostrava…
Got a question on where to stay, how to get around or things to do in Prague? Drop us a line in the comments – we love to chat and share
Welcome to Travel Live learn, where we are passionate about living a life full of great adventures. We are Sarah + Cooper: we know life's short, and we're here to encourage you to make the most of it! We have worked in media, communication and creative roles for many years, and have spent over 10 years living and working abroad. Our hottest content topics here are pet friendly travel, house + pet sitting, and designing a life as expats or digital nomads wherever in the world you want to be. Join our community of over 11,000 like-minded adventurers - find out more by signing up for the mailing list and our Facebook Group. Find us on YouTube too. NEW podcast now live: search 'Freedom and Four Paws' on Apple podcasts, Spotify, Google podcasts or your fave podcast service provider.