If you only have a short time to visit Germany which city do you visit? Here’s my opinion and experience of 6 German cities to help you decide.
Only have a short time to visit Germany and need some help deciding which of the many popular cities to visit?
Here’s my thoughts on 6 German cities I recently visited.
The capital of Germany combines rich history and architecture with an edgy, alternative subculture. It took me a day or so to really start to like the city as it’s not typically “pretty” and many of it’s best aspects are hidden away, waiting to be discovered.
One of my favorite things in Berlin was scouring the second hand and vintage stores for unique pieces- I loved these stores most. Somewhat surprisingly, Berlin is also home to my favorite Christmas Market. If you visit during December be sure to head along for some mulled wine, delicious food and gorgeous handcrafts in a beautiful setting.
Overall, I’d recommend visiting Berlin if you like other culture packed cities like Melbourne. Here’s 5 unmissable sites that you can walk to from the cbd.
I chose to spend Christmas here with some friends from Australia, as we’d heard it was a magical place to spend the holidays. Particularly I’d hear the Christmas markets set against a backdrop of the old town and castle were unmissable. In reality visiting the markets at Christmas Eve was not the experience I’d hoped for. It was extremely busy, rainy and after the stunning markets in Berlin, a bit of a let down.
The exterior of the castle also wasn’t very picturesque and during the three days I visited, the interior was closed. My opinion of Nuremberg may well have been clouded by the weather- the whole time it was grey and the city appeared very brown and a bit lackluster.
If you do visit, I’d recommend going in mid-December before the Christmas crowds become unbearable.
Arriving in Munich straight from Nuremberg, I was struck by how attractive the city was. Especially the towering buildings of Marienplatz with their beautiful, intricate details shining in the sun- my photos definitely do not do the city justice!
Munich is also famous for it’s large bustling beer halls and as it’s in the south of Germany, it’s also a perfect jumping off spot for trips to the alps and the famous Neuschwanstein Castle. If castles interest you then have a look at this post where I discuss all the specifics on how to get to Neuschwanstein from Munich.
Arriving at the train station in the modern part of town, I was surprised at the size of Heidelberg. I’d imagined it to be a small, quaint historic University town, which is not really the case until you arrive in the old town itself.
I found the castle enchanting and much larger than I expected. Crossing the old bridge and walking up the hill on the opposite bank of the river provides a stunning vista of the castle and old town. The most famous of these walks is the Philosopher’s way, an ancient cobbled, stone wall lined path that meanders up the hill and was the pondering ground for many a philosopher of the past.
I’d recommend Heidelberg if you like castles and old towns, but again it was extremely busy in December.
We visited Cologne for New Years Eve and it definitely had a bigger party vibe than other places I visited in Germany. Fireworks are freely available to anyone to release at will over New Years and during our cruise of the Rhine we were treated to a continuous sparkling show on both sides of the river purely put on by the locals.
Cologne is also home to the second tallest church in Europe. Located right next to the train station, the Cologne Cathedral is hard to miss and possibly explains why it’s the most visited site in Germany, with 20,000 visitors a day.
I visited this quintessential Bavarian town whilst I was exploring Neuschwanstein Castle. I fell in love with the old town lanes and the stunning green-blue colour of the river. I only regret that I didn’t spend more time in the town. As it’s often overlooked while people rush to the nearby castle, Füssen was also refreshingly quiet compared to every other place I visited in Germany.
Füssen ended up being my favorite place in all of Germany and I highly recommend adding it to your itinerary. Here’s some more photos if you’re not convinced.
What’s your favorite city in Germany and why do you love it?
If there’s one thing I’d change about visiting Germany it would be to spend a few nights in gorgeous Fussen. Here’s some photos from the 2,000 yr old town!
If there’s one thing I’d change about my recent trip to Germany it would be to spend a few nights in this perfectly adorable town. Fussen is over 2000 years old and I absolutely loved the old town vibes and how picturesque it was.
Some of the noteworthy sites include the Hohes Schloss (High Castle) which houses part of the Bavarian State Collection of Paintings, with most of the artwork from the late Gothic and Renaissance period. St Mang’s Basilica is home to Germany’s oldest fresco which dates back to 980AD. On St Mang’s Feast Day (September 6th) a holy mass is held in the Basilica, followed by a torch-lit procession through the old town. During the week of the feast, special ‘Magnus Wine’ is sold, with only 500 bottles produced.
I also loved the traditional huge ‘snowball’ sweets pictured below. These are fried biscuits shaped into a ball and rolled in chocolate, sugar or nuts and often stuffed with ganache!
The capital of West Flanders, Bruges is the smaller, more charming neighbour of Ghent. There’s plenty to see in a small area, so Bruges is best explored by meandering on foot. Of the many museums and galleries to visit, our pick was one showcasing Da Vinci’s inventions. There’s a seemingly never-ending supply of churches and cathedrals to gaze at, and when you’re tired of wandering, there are several bars overlooking the water on the canal banks- perfect for watching the world go by.
Hearing nothing but good things about Antwerp, I was excited to spend the afternoon there on my way from the Netherlands to Ghent. The beauty of the city was immediately obvious as I jumped off the train and headed up the escalators into the elegant gold and stone central train station.
From the station I wandered towards the old town, passing endless alfresco dining spots amid street performer’s violin tunes. The style of buildings in Antwerp was noticeably different to that of the Netherlands- the stone was whiter, the buildings more grand and ornate. It reminded me a lot of French cities with a fair bit of Spanish thrown in.
The main tourist area is the centre of the old town, where the world heritage listed Cathedral of Our Lady dominates the skyline. Building of the Gothic style catholic cathedral commenced in 1352, yet was never quite finished- resulting in asymmetrical towers. It’s one of the most splendid cathedral I’ve visited, thanks to a combination of it’s enormity (its 120m long and 75m wide), the height of it’s towers (123m) and the intricate detailing on the facade- making the cathedral incredibly picturesque.
On one side of the cathedral is a huge square, boarded by a multitude of cafes and home to a beautiful ornate green fountain. The conjoined buildings encircling the square are reminiscent of a grander time and create the perfect atmosphere to wander and soak up the relaxed beauty of the city. You could easily spend much longer than an afternoon enjoying Antwerp!
A swift 30min train ride south of Amsterdam will take you to one of my favourite places in the Netherlands- the city of Utrecht.
A swift 30min train ride south of Amsterdam will take you to one of my favourite places in the Netherlands- the city of Utrecht. Once the capital of the country, Utrecht has remained a religious center with a regal feel and boasts pretty canal lined streets and grand architecture. The streets of the old town are far less crowded than the capital and often car free, providing a welcome escape from the hectic, touristy centre of Amsterdam.
Arriving at the central train station I wandered straight into the attached shopping centre- Hoog Catharijne, which then took me close to 15 minutes to find my way out of. But once out, the heart of the medieval old town is only a few minutes walk away, centered around one main curving canal, Oudegracht– old canal.
The many cafes and shops that line Oudegrachtnot only reside on ground level but also below street level, beside the canal itself. These can be reached by stairs down the brick canal walls or under the road through shops that begin at street level and continue under ground to emerge in al fresco dining alongside the canal.
Aside from wandering the picturesque streets and exploring the intriguing little shops, one of the unmissable things to do is climb Dom Tower, Domtorenin Dutch. The 14th century bell tower is the tallest church in the Netherlands at 112.5 m and stands where the city was founded nearly 2,000 years ago. The view from above is spectacular and on a clear day you can see Amsterdam.
There’s no shortage of hidden little garden nooks and quite courtyards for a picnic lunch or quiet place to read.
And of course, plenty of perfectly quintessential Dutch streets to wander through.
And if you want to venture a little further afield, De Haar Castle is less than 45 minutes away by train and well worth the trip. For more info on the castle see this post.
With a beautiful old town, meandering canals lined with cafes and bars, and a medieval castle, Ghent is enchanting. The main tourist area is located within a cluster of huge cathedrals, where two large canals intersect. It’s the perfect place to wander aimlessly, with endless cafes to rest at when you’ve worked up an appetite or thirst.
For more structured sight seeing you can’t go past Gravensteen, a medieval castle dating back to 1180. For 10€ you can do a self-guided tour through 13 points of interest within, outside and ontop of the castle. The views from the tower alone are worth the entrance fee.
If you’re looking for somewhere to eat then tryGust, a trendy cafe with large front windows that open onto the street, allowing you to sit half in and half out of the cafe. Their breakfast set comes with delicious coffee, freshly squeezed juice, home-made granola, eggs, bacon and a bunch of different freshly baked breads with cured meat, cheese and home-made sweet spreads. Damn delicious!
With ridiculously tempting azure waters, rich Roman history and delicious Mediterranean food, it was not a difficult decision for me to book a somewhat last minute summer holiday to Italy’s southern coast last month. As August is peak season, I spent more time than usual planning an itinerary in order to avoid the worst of the crowds and deal withe the heat. The end result was an amazing island hopping adventure, from Naples, down the Amalfi coast to Sicily. Predominantly traveling by sea, we were able to avoid hot, crowded buses, trains and crazy Italian drivers whilst soaking up the Mediterranean sun with a refreshing sea breeze.
If you’re thinking about traveling to Italy in summer, then I hope this post gives you some inspiration about places to visit and ideas on how to plan your trip to be as hassle-free as possible.
1 week Island Hopping Itinerary
Start your trip with a few days in Naples to get acclimatized. Here you can visit the famous archaeological site of Pompeii and eat some of Naples’ most popular invention- pizza. Antigua pizzeria Michele is an institution and touted as the best pizza in Naples. Serving the delicious food since 1870, the pizzeria is famous for it’s traditional style of pizza, using only the best quality ingredients and keeping things simple in the way Italians do best. There are only two pizzas on the menu. Unfortunately we decided to visit late on a Saturday night- the busiest time all week, and there were crowds out on the street waiting for the famous pizza. Try to go at a less busy time.
From Naples head out to the island of Procida
By boat: Naples –> Procida €20pp for a 30min ferry
While this island is relatively small compared to neighbouring Ischia, it was packed with history and beautiful places to explore. I loved climbing high above the town to old churches with stunning views and of course, enjoying Aperol Spritzers with a sea breeze and killer scenery. Its size also makes Procida much more accessible and peaceful that Ischia and I would definitely recommend staying several days and then day-tripping to Ischia and Capri.
Day trip to Ischia
Boat: Procida –> Ischia €12pp for a 15min ferry
By far my favourite thing to do in Ischia was exploring the medieval Aragonese Castle and swimming in the amazingly clear water beneath it. This impossibly picturesque castle is perched on a small rocky volcanic islet just off the coast of Ischia and is accessible by a stone causeway. The original castle dates back to 474 BC, yet it’s peak era was at the start of the 18th century, when the islet housed 2,000 families and included vineyards, farming areas, houses, churches amongst other buildings. While much of the castle was later destroyed by British shelling in the 19th century, it is still an immensely impressive structure with much to explore.
There are two ways to get up to the main castle, firstly a meandering Game-of-Thrones-esque tunnel climbs up the inside of the castle, and as a second option, there’s a lift to the top, making the castle also accessible to less mobile visitors. Within the castle there are two cafes, both boasting stunning views and cold drinks to refresh you after wandering around the ruins. On the far side of the island you’ll find olive groves and a small chapel with views out to nearby Procida.
Entry to the castle is 10€, with opening hours from 9am to sunset in summer, which was 8.30pm when we visited at the peak of summer. After exploring the castle, there’s no better way to end a perfect day than a swim in the crystal clear water at the base of the castle. Follow this up by an Aperol Spritzer and seafood dinner at one of the nearby restaurants and you’ll never want to leave.
A day trip to Capri
Boat: Ischia –> Capri €26pp for a 1 hour ferry
This island has long captivated my imagination, with an idyllic combination of history, culture and elegance emerging from impossibly blue water. Capri also has a reputation for being a little pretentious- it’s touted as the playground for the rich and famous, and comes with a price-tag worthy of this clientele. As such, rather than stay a few night, we opted to spend a day exploring the best parts of Capri.
As it was peak season I booked a boat tour in advance through AirBnB for 40€ pp for 3 hours- you can find it here. This tour was bloody fantastic and provided the perfect combination of swimming and snorkeling through several of the famous grottoes (sea caves) and relaxing on board the boat with cold drinks. Compared to some of the other packed tourist boats I saw jetting around, ours was super relaxing with only 7 of us on board.
After boating around the island I’d recommend visiting the famous Giardini Di Augusto on the southern side of the island. It’s a brisk 15min walk from the port up a footpath that cuts through the hill to Piazza Umberto. Here you can catch stunning views of the bay amid some ever so trendy cafes and shops. From the piazza it’s less than 10 minutes to walk (slowly so you can take it all in) to the Giardini Di Augusto where the views are unparalleled. The tiny 1€ entrance fee gives you access to the beautiful, vibrant gardens with benches to relax on and terraces to take in the views below.
On the way back to the port be sure to stop at the best ice cream place on island- Buonocore Gelateria. My cousin had recommended this place and it definitely did not disappoint! They make the cones on the spot and are famous for their brioche (also freshly made) icecream sandwiches. One of the few places in the world where I liked a flavour more than plain chocolate- definitely try the Fantasia di Capri!
But you do have to queue a little for it 🙂
Ice cream- brioche sandwich- so worth it!
Continue on to the Amalfi Coast
The Amalfi coast is famed for towns such as Positano, Ravello and the eponymous Amalfi town. We decided to skip the overly touristy Positano and Amalfi due to the summer crowds and price tags. It was a great decision because Ravello was my favourite part of the trip and much less hectic than neighbouring towns.
Boat/bus: Capri –> Amalfi €26pp for a 1 hour ferry followed by a rather expensive half hour €50 taxi
See my post on Ravello to find out what to do and see here and why it was my favourite town in Italy.
If time permits travel on to Sicily
We then continued our seaside adventure on the large southern island of Sicily, where my favourite aspect was a visit to the Aeolian Islands. We took a large ferry from Salerno to Messina in Sicily. Check out my next post for details of getting around Sicily and where to visit.
Getting There and Around: I flew from Helsinki to Naples for around €150 one way. There are many international airports in Italy, so depending where you’re coming from and what you want to see there are numerous options. Once in Italy, we traveled predominantly by boat and I booked all our ferries with direct ferries, with the total for the entire trip around €85 pp. Avoid buses if you can. They are overcrowded, hot and operate on an unpredictable schedule. On the other hand taxis are very expensive, so weigh up what most import for you – saving money or comfort. But ideally walking and boating are the way to go.
Best time to go: While we still had a great time in August, I would recommend going in shoulder season (June, early July, September) when it’s still warm and happening but not as hectic, expensive or hot as peak season (August). If you do go in August then book well ahead- accommodation, transport, day tours. Things book out.
Length of stay: We spent a week hopping around the coast but you could easily spend two or three times this amount and not get bored!
Language Barrier: Italians are less willing to speak English than many other European countries (Especially Scandinavia where nearly everyone speaks perfect English), and in areas with more local tourism and less foreigners English is not overly fluent. Luckily Italian is a very easy language to learn some basic phrases and your efforts to speak the local tongue (especially with some overt hand-gestures) will be highly appreciated.
Take Cash! Many places (especially taxis) only accept cash (euro) and many ATMs were not working, so be prepared.
Food and Drink: is super cheap and delicious, especially if you can find more local, less touristy restaurants. Naples was the cheapest (Ravello the most expensive) where a (huge) glass of house red was 2€ and an amazing pizza 4€. Caprese Salad is amazing, eat this whenever you can. Same goes for drinking Aperol Spritzers. Limoncello ones are even better.
Plastic is prolific: This broke my heart. So much un-necessary waste. and not many recycle bin options (again, I’ve been spoilt in Finland). Take your own drink bottle to avoid single-use plastic bottle waste and have coffee in real cups- after all on holidays you have time to sit and drink 🙂 Oh and when asking for no straw point and the straws on the counter and make obvious ‘no thanks’ gestures- simply asking for no straw rarely worked for me.
I’d love to hear about your experiences traveling in Italy!
In the Turku Archipelago, a group of over 20,000 islands scattered off the south-west corner of Finland, you’ll find Vänö, a tiny island where life slows down and nature is paramount. Reached by a one hour ferry from the harbour town of Kasnäs, the island is the perfect escape to the simple pleasures of life.
The island’s regular population of 12 swells to several hundred visitors during the summer months when day visitors drop into the island for swimming and hiking and owners of summer cottages come to stay for weeks.
Like many Finnish cottage experiences, the traditional cottage we stayed in was all about getting back to basics and appreciating nature. With no running water, only an outdoor long drop loo and a shower by the sea (with sauna of course), the best way to wash each day was by a swim in the Baltic sea. Sunning yourself on one of the many flats rocks afterwards is the preferred way of drying off.
The island is small enough to explore on foot but bikes are a welcome way of getting to the only sandy beach in summer. There’s a nature reserve with a clearly marked path and signs along the way to point out areas of interest. There’s also a peaceful chapel, built by a Rotary volunteer project in the 1970s near 17th century ruins, although the original chapel may have been built on the island as early as the 12th century.
During summer there’s also a small shop by the harbour, with essential food supplies, a little cafe and even one beer tap. There’s also a tiny thrift shop, complete with a rack of second hand clothes, and of course there’s a place for recycling, in true Finnish environmentally friendly style.
Getting There:A bus from Helsinki or Turku to Kasnas takes around 2 or 3.5 hours, respectively and in peak summer the fare was €25 and €35 pp. From there, it’s a free 1 hour ferry trip to the island.
Getting Around: Walking or bike
Cost: For our basic AirBnB cottage with no running water, outdoor toilet and communal shower we paid €200 for 3 nights. While I think this is quite expensive for what was provided, the experience of staying on such a small island in a traditional setting was well worth the fee. Food on the island is relatively expensive but saves the hassle of bringing much of your own from Turku or Helsinki as the shop in Kasnas is also sparse. Sauna rental is €16 an hour and one free session is included in the AirBnB.
Best time to go: Summer is definitely the best time to visit as the shop is open and the sea is inviting
Length of stay:We stayed for 3 nights and this was the perfect amount of time. However if you stay longer, the free ferries will take you to other islands for day trips.
I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing about the little island of Vänö- I’d love to hear about your experiences traveling in Finland.
Founded in the 13th century, Turku is the oldest city in Finland and in 1640 was home to Finland’s first university, The Royal Academy of Turku (now the University of Helsinki). While the large student population lends a youthful vibe to the city, most students are on summer holidays in the warmer months when the city really comes alive. The best place to take in Turku’s relaxed atmosphere is along the banks of the Aura river, where trendy cafes and restaurants abound. If you do happen to get to Turku, here are some things I’d recommend doing over a weekend.
Friday Night: Dinner by the Aura river
With the Turku Cathedral in the background and a refreshing evening breeze, dinner by the Aura river is the perfect way to spend your first night in Turku. Some popular options include Pinella– the oldest restaurant in Turku, Smor, and the extremely popular Kaskis (be sure to book a table). For more of a budget dinner, there are market stalls all along the main river area during summer weekends with a range of savoury and sweet options.
Saturday: explore the old buildings of Turku
Spend the morning wandering the streets of the old town and river area. Highlights include the central market with local produce and flowers, the temporary weekend food and handicraft market along the river and classy shops and outdoor clothes market in the Old Great Square. During the last weekend of June there is also a traditional medieval market in the Great Square.
Some of the more beautiful old buildings to explore include the Turku City Library by the river, the Turku Art Museum perched on a hill overlooking the city and of course the 700 year old Turku Cathedral, Turun Tuomiokirkko.
The Art Museum
From the Cathedral it’s a 10 minute stroll to the 200 year old handicraft cottage museum of Luostarinmaki, which miraculously escaped the fire of 1827 that ravaged Turku. Here you can explore a collection of old small wooden houses, including 30 artisans workshops, such as a silversmith, painting and weaving studio, a printing press and post office. The houses are set amidst tiny lanes and grassy courtyards, full of flowers and garden beds. Entrance is €7 for adults and the museum is open daily from 10am to 6pm.
Sunday: wander along the Aura & visit Turku’s castle
Turku’s most famous attraction is the castle, Turun Linna, which was founded in 1280 at the mouth of the Aura river. It’s a 45min walk each direction along the river from the Turku Cathedral, so if this is a little much in the summer sun, there are public bikes for rent for €5/day that make for a much faster trip. The fee is paid by credit card directly on the bike and there are numerous spots to pick up and drop off the bikes.
Entrance to the castle is €10 for adults, €5 for kids and is well worth the fee, as you are able to explore much of the castle and learn fascinating details of the history of the building and surrounding area from the museum and displays. The castle is open 10am- 6pm daily through the summer months of July and August and everyday excluding Monday from September to May.
After working up an appetite exploring the castle, it’s the perfect time to indulge in the Finnish weekend tradition of brunssi– brunch! We loved Tiirikkala, a contemporary Nordic-style cafe, located on the river bank near the library. There’s plenty of outdoor seating at the front of the cafe, beautiful decor inside and a wonderful rooftop-terrace. The cafe has various meat, fish and vegetarian brunch menus, all including tea/coffee and desert for €19 pp.
If you still have energy in the afternoon then wander along the river in the opposite direction of the castle to Padolla– a perfectly picturesque cafe with hammocks, chair swings and stand up paddle boards for hire. The cafe is 3km from the Cathedral and along the way you’ll pass the ruins of the bishop’s palace and Koroinen Cross which marks the site where the pope decreed the bishopric of Finland should move to in 1229.
Getting There: Turku is easily accessible by bus or train from Helsinki. The journey takes around 2 hours and will cost roughly €10 for a bus ticket with Onni Bus. The bus station in Turku is a 15 minute walk from the main tourist area by the river.
Getting Around: Once you arrive in Turku it’s easy to get around by walking or renting one of the public bikes, which cost €5 a day (discounted for longer stays).
Cost: Our AirBnB was located near the bus station and a 25min walk from the river. At €130 for 3 nights, the place was cosy and clean. Food and drink is expensive in Finland but there are many cheaper options like the river’side markets.
Best time to go: Summer!
Length of stay: There’s plenty to keep you busy over a weekend and many sites further afield if you have more time to spend around the greater area.
I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing about Finland’s oldest city, I’d love to hear about your experiences traveling in Finland.
One of the things I miss most when I’m away from Australia is the abundance of pristine beaches! Especially in my home island of Tasmania- where there are so many absolutely breathtaking coastal regions that are truly unlike anything you will find elsewhere in the world.
Here are 6 of my favourites
1. Wineglass Bay
This stunning stretch of pristine sand is my absolute favourite beach in the world! The water is crystal clear, the brilliant white sand is so fine that it squeaks loudly and most importantly, the bay can only be reached by walking over mountains. Or by sea.
The view from Mt. Amos above the bay is also spectacular and involves a fun scramble over boulders.
2. Binalong Bay
Two hours north of Wineglass Bay you’ll find another famous Tasmanian beach- Binalong Bay. It’s famed for the stunning turquoise water, white sand and large orange lichen covered boulders. The popular beach is part of the Bay of Fires Conservation Area- one of the best places to camp on Tasmania’s East Coast.
3. Adventure Bay
Located on the beautiful foodie heaven that is Bruny Island, Adventure Bay holds a special place in my heart. I spent countless childhood summers swimming and exploring the shores and many rock-pools, and love going back whenever I can. Again, expect white, white sand and clear turquoise water.
4. Baronia Beach
This lesser known beach is a perfect hidden gem just out of Hobart.
Reached only by sea or walking track, a big appeal is the slightly hidden and less accessible nature of the beach. There’s a patch of sand as well as rocky areas- perfect for snorkeling or jumping into the clear green water. The easiest way to reach the beach is by following the path that starts just above the sailing club at Kingston Beach.
5. Hinsby Beach
Another great beach that’s closer to Hobart’s city center is Hinsby Beach. The perfect escape for a post-work swim or lunchtime walk, this beach is just along from Taroona Beach. There are traditional beach huts, a shower to wash off post-swim and a charming cafe on the main road above the beach.
There’s also a great running track that winds along the coast towards Sandy Bay.
6. Marion Bay
For me, this wild ocean beach is now synonymous with New Years Eve. For the past 15 years, The Falls Festival has been held at this stunning location, and in my opinion, there’s no better way to bring in the new year than by listening to excellent music in a pristine setting.