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Hampden, Hon: Your Guide to Baltimore’s Quirkiest Neighborhood

January 26, 2020

What do you think of when someone mentions Baltimore? Inner Harbor? (sure.) The crab cakes? (duh!) The Wire? (probably.) I’m going to tell you about a little pocket of the city you shouldn’t miss during your visit to Charm City: Hampden, Hon. I’ve made a guide to Hampden, Baltimore’s quirkiest neighborhood, which also happens to be my home.

Guide to Hampden: Some History

Before I get into my guide to Hampden, Baltimore I wanted to start you with a little history. Hampden is an enclave north of downtown that was originally built around the mills along the Jones Falls and millworkers that settled there. You can see evidence of this today in the old mills that have been restored into local businesses.

In the 90s it began to undergo a transformation when artists started moving in, making the neighborhood their own. Eventually, 36th Street, known to locals as “The Avenue” or simply “The Ave” filled with restaurants, hip boutiques, and thrift shops.

Today Hampden is known as Baltimore’s hipster haven and center of kitsch, where there’s always something fun going on and something delicious to eat.

What is this “Hon” Thing?

“Hon” is short for “Honey” and is an affectionate term made Balti-famous by the working-class women of the 1960s. A stereotypical Hon has the beehive hairdo, cats eye glasses and bright attention-grabbing clothing (think: Hairspray).

Hampden embraces this kitschy image and even pays homage in an annual HonFest every June, where women dress up in full “Hon” regalia and celebrate all that makes the neighborhood unique.

Honorable mention goes to the plastic Pink Flamingo: Hampden’s unofficial mascot.

Hampden Eats

First on the agenda in my guide to Hampden? Eating of course. This is a tough one because there are just so many good options! It’s really hard to go wrong, but I’ve listed some of my favorites below, categorized by meal.

Brunch/Lunch

Gertrudes | 10 Art Museum Dr, Baltimore, MD 21218 (Inside the Baltimore Museum of Art)

Open for also for dinner but brunch at Gertrude’s is a real delight! Beautifully set within the museum, the menu focuses on farm to table ingredients and local Chesapeake flavors. If you go during the spring or summer definitely try to sit outside where you’ll have a nice view of the BMA sculpture garden.

Chuck’s Trading Post | 1506 W. 36th Street, Baltimore, MD 21211

Chuck’s is a unique and casual spot – part grocery/general store and part restaurant/bar. Brunch delights like creative skillets and colossal pancakes are served in cast iron pans. A real local gem.

Golden West Cafe | 1105 W. 36th Street, Baltimore, MD 21211

A kitschy neighborhood staple where your wait for a table on the weekend will most definitely be a long one. Once seated though you’ll have a multitude of tasty options to chose from. The restaurant prides itself on “Southwestern comfort food” and it also has a large amount of vegan/vegetarian options. Come hungry!

Artifact | 1500 Union Ave, Baltimore, MD 21211

This aesthetically pleasing coffee shop/cafe is close to the Woodberry light rail and worth the extra walking. Featuring local baked goods, sandwiches, salads and a full coffee bar, it’s a great spot to have a cozy lunch.

Dinner

Grano Pasta Bar | 1031 W 36th St Baltimore MD 21211

Once featured on Guy Fieri’s Diners Drive-ins & Dives, Grano is my favorite restaurant in the neighborhood which is why it tops my list on the guide to Hampden. Super simple menu (pick your pasta, pick your sauce…voila), quaint interior and friendly staff, you can’t go wrong. Oh, did I mention it’s BYOB? Yep! So grab a bottle of your favorite vino and your date or friend and enjoy it. Just be prepared, for interior dining most tables are only for 2 people, there is one table for 4 and it’s first come/first serve. They’ve added more outdoor seating for warmer months for bigger parties.

Dylan’s Oyster Cellar | 3601 Chestnut Avenue Baltimore, MD 21211

“Oysters & Booze” is what this restaurant is all about with it’s sustainably sourced seafood and creative craft cocktails. The menu is small but mighty, obviously heavy on the seafood but they do feature a burger. I go for the small bites (the anchovy on baguette bite is my favorite!) and oysters of course.

Birrotecca | 1520 Clipper Rd, Baltimore, MD 21211

Rustic Italian with local ingredients, Birrotecca is housed in an old stone mill and has a cozy festive vibe. The food is phenomenal from it’s interesting pizzas to unique plates of pasta and everything in between. They also have quite a variety of craft cocktails and a HUGE wine and beer list.

Clavel* | 225 W 23rd St, Baltimore, MD 21211

Okay so this restaurant is not technically in Hampden, it’s in the sister neighborhood of Remington. I know, I know, this is a guide to HAMPDEN.

But since it’s so close and SO good, here it is. Clavel is a “family-owned Taqueria & Mezcaleria serving food deeply rooted in Sinaloan ritual.” It’s interior is sophisticated industrial chic and its margaritas are the best I’ve ever had (and I’ve had a few). It’s INSANELY popular with a no reservation policy so always expect a wait. My trick is to go for happy hour during the week (5-7) and enjoy $4 off margs and queso fundido.

Sweets

The Charmery | 801 W 36th Street, Baltimore, MD 21211

If you do one thing in Hampden, make sure you stop at The Charmery. Their ice cream is handcrafted from “super-premium” ingredients and is quite frankly delicious. They have their staple flavors (Old Bay Caramel anyone?) and then they switch it up with weekly and seasonal flavors. Some are somewhat standard and some are SUPER out there like Ritz Cracker. Either way, you’ll be able to find something that you love, and they let you sample as many as you want before making your final decision. During summer expect a line that wraps around the block.

Quality Snowballs (Seasonal) | 1014 W 36th St, Baltimore, MD 21211

Quality Snowballs was new last year and features TONS of variations on the Baltimore classic dessert: the snowball (shaved ice with toppings.) You can do a regular snowball with syrup or a more involved snowball with a variety of toppings. Some examples include Cinnamon Bun & Salted Caramel Shortbread. Only open in Spring and Summer.

Hampden Drinks

There’s also no shortage of watering holes in Hampden, and many of the places I’ve mentioned already have excellent cocktails and wine lists. There are a few places I’d recommend especially for the drinks though, and I’ll share them below:

Bluebird Cocktail Room | 3600 Hickory Ave, Baltimore, MD 21211

I’m obsessed with the interior of Bluebird – like a gorgeous library where you can talk, drink and eat. Their cocktail menu changes seasonally and always has a literary theme to its drinks. Expect to pay between $12-18 for a cocktail but it’s all part of the decadent experience. They also serve food and lite bites if you feel like nibbling.

De Kleine Duivel | 3602 Hickory Ave, Baltimore, MD 21211

Below the Bluebird, this unassuming Beer Hall with a nice atmosphere serves only Belgian beer from an extensive list. They also have a nice selection of wine and often have events such as live music or discussions.

WC Harlan* | 400 W 23rd St, Baltimore, Maryland 21211

Another Remington Gem from the same owner of Clavel, WC Harlan is a unique speakeasy in a rowhouse with a door simply marked “Enter” in chalk. The Victorian decor is right out of Edgar Allen Poe’s era, giving it a cozy and spooky vibe. A great spot to grab a craft cocktail while you’re waiting for your table at Clavel.

Hampden Shopping

Clothing & Gifts

Next on my guide to Hampden, Baltimore? Shopping! Don’t come to Hampden with an empty wallet, that’s for sure. From home decor to clothing, to vintage finds, this neighborhood is a great spot to shop for yourself or for gifts.

Trohv | 921 W 36th St, Baltimore, MD 21211

Your first stop if you need to buy an amazing gift – Trohv is a curated selection of home decor, stationery, housewares, books, art, bath, and beauty…the list goes on. There are two floors filled with unique merchandise, a lot of it locally made. But be prepared to drop some serious cash.

Brightside Boutique | 915 W 36th St, Baltimore, MD 21211

A store with attitude – in the best possible way! Women-owned and one of several locations in the area, Brightside has a great selection of on-trend fashion (for men and women), accessories, cards, jewelry, and gifts. The store just makes you happier when you walk inside and I consider reason enough to check it out.

Double Dutch | 1021 W. 36th Street, Baltimore, MD 21211

Another unique boutique with brightly colored pieces & accessories, they also sell locally made beauty products, apparel, and stationary. There is a small vintage section as well alongside the new items.

In Watermelon Sugar | 3555 Chestnut Ave # 1, Baltimore, MD 21211

Another favorite spot for gifts, this store has a beautiful inventory of high-end bath and beauty products, books, candles, stationery and kids items. During the holidays they stock up on gorgeous decor and ornaments which they display in the most beautiful way.

Milk & Ice Vintage | 833 W 36th St, Baltimore, MD 21211

One of several vintage shops on the Ave but this one I think has a particularly curated and special stock of clothes that they merchandise really well. They also have a small amount of other (non-clothing) vintage items for sale.

Food & Beverage

The Wine Source | 3601 Elm Ave, Baltimore, MD 21211

I’d be remiss if I left out the glorious Wine Source from my guide to Hampden. Not just a wine store, it’s stocked with a wonderful selection of beer, liquor, cheese, gourmet foods, locally baked bread and of course wine from all over the world. There’s also a tasting bar where you can sit and have a beverage and the staff is super helpful. A great spot to pick up a bottle to bring with you to BYOB Grano (see above).

Annual Events in Hampden

HonFest

As mentioned above, HonFest occurs every June and pays homage to the neighborhood and city’s “Hon” culture. The Avenue is blocked off with food and craft vendors and 3 stages of live music as well as a “Hon Pageant”. Expect to see lots of beehive hairdos and feather boas.

HampdenFest

A smaller version of HonFest, this one takes place in September. The Avenue is still filled with vendors and live music but the main show here it the “Toilet Bowl Race” (I told you Hampden was quirky!) where locals craft “racecars” out of toilets and compete in a dash down Chestnut Avenue. If you don’t believe me, check it out!

Miracle on 34th Street

Starting the weekend after Thanksgiving, the houses on Hampden’s 34th Street between Chestnut and Keswick are fully decked out in lights and holiday displays. It’s a magical spot (although I admit as a resident the extra cars during this time make parking pretty difficult). It’s certainly something to see during the holiday season. On New Year’s Eve, the whole neighborhood + visitors gather for a mini ball drop which signifies the end of the lights.

Visiting Hampden

Hampden is located north of downtown Baltimore. You can get there from downtown by hopping on Interstate 83 and taking exit 8: Falls Road. This will bring you right to The Avenue (36th Street). If you’re traveling by light rail, exit at the Woodberry Station which will leave you a 10-15 minute walk from the Avenue. If you’re taking the train down from New York or up from DC, Penn Station is also only a 5 minute Uber Ride from The Avenue.

Whether you’re a local who’s never been or a first time Baltimore visitor, I really hope you’ll consider heading to Hampden to experience its unique culture and amazing eats, drinks, and shops. I hope this guide to Hampden helps you plan your visit.

If you’re planning on exploring more of Baltimore, check out my Baltimore Street Art Map and my guide to my 5 Favorite Photo Spots in Baltimore.

Don’t forget to PIN THIS to help you plan your trip!

Baltimore Travel USA

5 Charming Photo Spots in Baltimore, Maryland

January 25, 2020

Looking for the most Charming photo spots in Baltimore? Look no further!

Baltimore is the largest city in the US State of Maryland, and is also the place I call home. Despite it’s gritty reputation, Baltimore is a lovely “small city” with character and lots of charm. I love the diversity, quirkiness, art scene and waterfront local…not to mention the famous crab cakes!

I’m going to share some of my favorite photo spots with you, along with a map so you can find your way.

Fells Point

I love the Fells Point neighborhood for several reasons – one being it’s amazing waterfront location. You get great views of the Baltimore Harbor as you make your way down it’s quaint cobblestone streets.

One of Baltimore’s oldest neighborhoods and was once inhabited primarily by pirates! It’s also home to some of Baltimore’s best pubs & taverns and adorable boutiques (as a reward after you finish your photo session.)

Some of my personal favorites for photos:

  • Urban Garden near the corner of Thames and S. Ann Street
  • Row of pastel houses on South Ann Street between Alicanna and Lancaster
  • Thames Street storefronts
  • Sagamore Pendry Hotel (Courtyard & Pool Area)

Hampden & Woodberry Murals

Okay so I may be a bit partial because I live in Hampden, but I think we have some pretty amazing photo spots! Hampden is a quirky hipster ‘hood north of downtown.

Come to take photos and stay for the food because we also boast some of the best restaurants in the city (Woodberry Kitchen, Dylan’s Oyster Cellar, The Food Market, The Blue Bird, just to name a few). The thrift and vintage shopping is also on fire here, so don’t forget your wallet.

Hampden & it’s sister neighborhood have plenty of murals to keep you busy. Also check out the huge flamingo facade on Cafe Hon, it can’t be missed.

Favorite Hampden/Woodberry Photo Spots:

  • Baltimore & Charmery Wall Murals
  • 38th Street Pastel Houses
  • Creative Labs & Surrounding Walls

Graffiti Alley

It’s no secret this is one of my favorite photo spots in Baltimore, as it’s appeared several times on my social media feed. Graffiti Alley is in the Station North neighborhood, nestled slightly north of downtown (close to the train station and Maryland Academy and Institute of Art.)

The name says it all: it’s literally a tiny alley where graffiti has been made legal, making it a super colorful background for photos. Afterwards you can stop at the Showroom Bar for a drink or head to Joe Squared for amazing pizza.

Seton Hill Historic District

Seton Hill is one of my newer discoveries, although it’s been around for quite awhile!  

It’s located between Mount Vernon and Heritage Crossing, Seton Hill was also once known as the “French Quarter” of Baltimore, founded by priests fleeing the French Revolution. You can still see the influence in the Parisian style lampposts that dot some of the streets!
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There is an adorable row of pastel houses on Jasper Street, between Druid Hill Ave and George Street. You can also find some pretty colors on Druid Hill Ave between North Paca Street & Jasper Street.

Highlandtown Arts & Entertainment District

Another graffiti mecca, Highlandtown Arts & Entertainment district is a bustling part of the city plenty of colorful spots to photograph. It’s a large area that actually encompasses parts of several neighborhoods including Greektown, Patterson Park, Highlandtown and Canton.

It’s also home to the performing art space venue The Creative Alliance, which is definitely worth checking out.

Ready to go exploring? Check out this handy map for easy reference:

Want to find even MORE charming photo spots in Baltimore? Check out my Baltimore Street Art Map which I try to keep current with murals and colorful spots I find.

And don’t forget to PIN this for future reference:

Marseille Provence Travel

5 Unique Day Trip Ideas from Marseille, France

January 4, 2020

Bonjour! If you’re no stranger to my blog and Instagram account, you know Marseille has become my home away from home. My husband’s family is from there and we go at least once a year. Marseille is a diamond in the rough, and I certainly advocate spending at least 3 days exploring the city itself. (See: my Guide to Marseille and my Instagram Guide to Marseille). If you find yourself wanting to wander off the beaten path though, I have 5 unique day trip ideas from Marseille that will make you fall in love with the surrounding area.

Cassis & Bandol

You may have heard of Cassis, the candy hued, charming (& somewhat touristy) seaside town. Maybe I’m biased because it’s where I got engaged, but I think it lives up to it’s hype. About a half an hour from Marseille by car, the view when approaching Cassis is one of my favorites in the world. The stunning red cliff of the Cap Canaille, the endless aqua of the Mediterranean, gorgeous houses dotting the mountain side…wow. It is simply breathtaking.

What to Do in Cassis

I would suggest leaving late morning from Marseille to start your day. You only need an hour or so in the village itself. There are a few dozen cute boutiques & souvenir shops and plenty of choices for food. I love picking one of the places on the waterfront for lunch (I’m not loyal to any one in particular) and dining on Moule Frites. If you still have room, head to Amorino Gelato for a tasty (and Insta-worthy) rose shaped cone. There is often a little market in the central Place Baragnon. The typical French Market is on Wednesdays and Fridays but they have traveling and art markets as well.

If you are interested in seeing the Calanques (beautiful inlets that dot the coast around Marseille), you can take a cruise from the harbor. The price and duration vary depending on how many Calanques you want to see and what time of year it is. If the weather is nice, it’s definitely a good option! (Plan to leave earlier if you plan to see the village, do the cruise, AND still want to see Bandol).

Onward to Bandol

As you enter and leave Cassis, you will see plenty of vineyards where you can stop and taste wine. Unlike most of Provence which specializes in rosé, Cassis is known for it’s full-bodied and herbaceous white wines. While Mike and I usually try our luck stopping at random places along the way, here is a more detailed guide to region if you would like specific vineyard recs.

As you head towards Bandol (30 mins further east down the coast), you will pass many more vineyards. Even though the wine region is named for the seaside town, you won’t find any vineyards in the city center. In contrast to Cassis, Bandol is known for it’s earthy reds but also makes great whites and rosés. Taking the A50 towards La Ciotat/Toulon towards Bandol will take you past the villages of La Cadière d’Azur, Le Castellet, in the heart of the region. This guide will point you in the direction of specific wineries if you’re looking to plan in more detail.

This should go without saying that you should always have a designated driver if you plan on tasting wine – those sips can add up quick and France’s love of wine doesn’t cancel out their enforcement of drunk driving laws.

If you have time, continuing on to the village of Bandol would be a nice way to end the day. It is a fun and festive seaside town with quaint streets plenty of options for food to soak up all that wine.

Once you are satiated and tired, you only have a 42 minute drive back to Marseille.

Harbor in Bandol

Six-Fours-les-Plages

Another gem along the coast that I wanted to make sure to include in my guide to 5 unique day trip ideas from Marseille is Six-Fours-les-Plages. Take the A50 from Marseille towards Toulon and you’ll be there in about an hour. We didn’t spend much time in the center of Six-Fours and instead continued towards the sea to the smaller commune of Le Brusc, which I would recommend. It’s quaint with a distinctly local feel. You can pass through the little town by car and park in the paid lot further down towards the water.

Coastline at Le Brusc

Here the shore is rocky with pretty formations and tide pools and you can jump right in for a pleasant dip. We were there for golden & blue hour which were particularly beautiful. Adjacent to the coastline is a small island called Île du Petit Gaou which is reachable by foot bridge. There are walking paths to enjoy the beautiful nature, majestic cliffs and breathtaking views.

Scenes from Le Brusc & Île du Petit Gaou

There are a few nice restaurants close to island which offer amazing views. We chose to do a casual dinner of pizza back in the little village of Le Brusc which we ate on benches overlooking the harbor accompanied with rosé in plastic cups.

I would suggest allowing yourself a full afternoon here and ending up with sunset drinks and dinner. Six-Four/Le Brusc could also be paired with a morning trip to Cassis or Bandol.

Côte Bleue

So you’ve heard of the Côte d’Azur but have you heard of the Côte Bleue? I hadn’t until I started visiting Marseille regularly. The Côte Bleue is a charming piece of coastline between Marseille and Martigues, with the Mediterranean on one side and the Etang de Berre on the other. You’ll find quaint and lesser known fishing villages and beaches to keep to occupied on your day trip.

Coastline near Carry-le-Rouet

L’Estaque

Driving East from Marseille you can start in L’Estaque which is a suburb of Marseille and worth checking out either on your way out or on your way back. This little village has been an inspiration to many artists over the years including Cézanne, Renoir and Georges Braque.

Carry-le-Rouet

Further west you will find the village of Carry-le-Rouet, another seaside resort town which is favored as a summer retreat by the locals. Besides the cute downtown and harbor there is a coastal footpath where you can walk along the sea and four different beaches:

  • Le Rouet: the first beach in town and the most popular,
  • Cap Rousset: a natural limestone cove
  • Fernandel: in the center of town
  • Les Beaumettes: edge of town, stone and shallow water

Fun fact: Carry-le-Rouet is known as the “sea urchin capital” and even has a designated urchin month (February) with events and tastings!

Martigues

After you can head to Martigues, a colorful village known as the “Venice of Provence”. It’s bright buildings and bridges were definitely reminiscent of the famed Italian city, however even in the middle of summer there were no crowds. The Moiroir aux Oiseaux, a little port along Quai Brescon, was particularly picturesque and also a famed spot among painters.

Road to Valensole

I’m sure you’ve heard of Valensole (hello, Lavender fields?). Not so unique, you might say. BUT- I want to recommend a few places surrounding the famed plateau that you may not have on your radar, qualifying it as one of my unique day trip ideas from Marseille. The places below are a bit on the further side for a day trip so I would suggest leaving early if you want to get the most out of your day!

When you go to Valensole during off season 🙂

Gréoux-les-Bains

A cute little town with shops, colorful buildings and cafes with outdoor seatings for prime people watching! It also home to a thermal bath healthy center at which you can prebook health treatments for an extended period of time. If you’re just there for the day though and want to enjoy some pampering, there are facilities to book day treatments.

Moustiers-Sainte-Marie

We loved visiting this quaint perched village! Also simply known as “Moustiers”, this pedestrian town has waterfalls woven through it’s streets and a glorious view of the valley below. It’s also well known for it’s beautiful and uniquely hand-painted ceramics called faïence. You will see many shops with plenty of opportunities to stock up on unique souvenirs (although they are not cheap!) Also make sure to be respectful in the shops as a lot of them have signs that say “no photos.”

As you drive up the hill to approach the building there are parking lots where you can leave your vehicle and continue on foot into the town.

Sainte-Croix-du-Verdon

Sainte-Croix-du-Verdon is a small town overlooking the beautiful Lac Sainte Croix (which I also recommend visiting if you have time!) In fact, you can take a quick visit to the lakeshore below the village and then drive up the hill for the view. The view, in fact is the main attraction and we’ve come back several times to have dinner at Le Comptoir. I still think about the lavender honey & goat cheese bruschetta and dessert plate I ate there, and the scenery is truly unbeatable.

Camargue

To conclude my 5 unique day trip ideas from Marseille I present you with The Camargue. It’s a natural park area in Provence, known for it’s marshy land, birdwatching & wildlife, salt flats & quaint villages, just west of Marseille and the Côte Bleue. I would definitely recommend checking it out if you’re interested in distinct landscape and natural beauty.

Aigues-Mortes

Aigue-Mortes is an old medieval walled city with towers, lots of shops & restaurants. It is at the edge of a large pink body of water known as an Etang, or Lagoon that gets it’s color from the high concentration of salt in it. You can take a guided tour of the salt flats on a little train – cost is around 10 Euros. It was a neat and unique experience! You can also find WILD PINK FLAMINGOS as well as over 400 species of birds. Wild horses and cattle roam the rolling landscape, which looks a bit like a Monet painting.

Arles

While in the area, you can also visit the village of Arles, made famous in part by Vincent Van Gogh’s painting “Cafe at Night” (here is where the cafe can be found). You can even take a Van Gogh Walking Tour organized by the tourism office! Other things to visit are the Roman Amphitheater, Ancient Theater, several museums and of course, shops & cafes.

Conclusion

So, here you have it: 5 unique day trips from Marseille! If you can’t get enough of this region like me, check out my guides for Visiting Provence in Autumn and My Favorite Spots in Provence. If you scroll back up I’ve also provided a handy dandy MAP of all the places I’ve talked about here and color coded it by trip for your convenience. I hope this guide was helpful to you and that you enjoy your time in Provence, wherever it takes you!

Don’t forget to PIN this post for your trip:

Florence Italy Travel

Where to Eat in Florence, Italy

November 17, 2019

So you’re wondering where to eat in Florence, Italy during your trip? I’ll just say it: it’s pretty hard to eat a bad meal in Florence. You’ve got all the best ingredients, a history and culture that revolves around food & wine, and…gelato.

While it IS easy to find good food in Florence, the number of choices can also be overwhelming. When I studied abroad there in 2007, I didn’t do much dining out because I was a poor student and often cooked at home with my roommates. Fast forward 10+ years, returning as a “real adult” with a little more disposable income, I was ready to eat my way through the city!

I’m going to tell you about my favorite places to eat in Florence, including some OG favorites from my study abroad days that are still just as good.

Where to Eat at Breakfast Time

Bambi Caffe, San Lorenzo Market | Mercato Centrale di San Lorenzo, ingresso da via dell’Ariento, 50123

A fun (and delicious) way to start your day is at the San Lorenzo Market: an iconic spot in Florence. The outdoor area has stalls selling leather goods, scarves, stationary Murano glass, etc. Head inside though to satisfy any Italian food craving you might have (and stock up on souvenirs of the culinary variety). Stop at Bambi Caffe for a pastry and espresso, the simple and typical Italian breakfast. If you want a real treat, order a Caffe Pistachio, with layers of espresso, pistachio cream, whipped cream and crushed Pistachio nuts. Yum!

Where to Have Nice Eats/Drinks

La Menagere | Via De’ Ginori 8r, 50123, Florence, Italy

One of my 2 favorites of the trip, La Menagere is an industrial chic vision with sophisticated fare to match it’s dreamy decor. Part cafe/bar, part fancy restaurant, part boutique, part florist, everything is a visual delight. We opted for the cafe part and I had the avocado toast with smoked salmon and pistachio – it was amazing! Prices range from mid range to high end, depending on if you dine in the cafe part or restaurant. Go during the week for lunch if you want less chance of a wait.

Simbiosi | via De’ Ginori 56R Ristorante: via De’ Ginori 58R / 60R

We stumbled upon the Simbiosi trio while walking from the Duomo to our accommodation and it became our other favorite dining and drinking spot. I call it a “trio” because even though it all has the same name and owner, there are 3 separate restaurants (and all are organic!): Pizza, Pasta & Bar/Cafe. Throughout our stay we enjoyed bar snacks, spritzes and delicious rose Lambrusco at the bar/cafe Simbiosi. We also got the chance to dine at the pasta restaurant 

Osteria Vecchio Viccolo | Via Lambertesca 16r, 50122, Florence, Italy

Where should you eat in Florence near the Ufizzi and Ponte Vecchio? The cute bike in front attracted me to this delightful restaurant. Excellent pizza and pasta with wonderful service. Grab a table near the front to observe all the foot traffic.

Tosca Nino La Terrazza | Piazza Della Repubblica, Rinascente 4 Et 5 Piano, 50123, Florence, Italy

This is where to go for THE VIEW! Also simply known as “La Terazza”, it’s the cafes sits atop La Rinascente department store off the Palazzo Della Repubblica. It offers various light bites and meal options as well as an extensive cocktail menu (11-14 Euros per cocktail). It is super busy so I would suggest Tuesday or Wednesday for golden hour. Expect the prices to match the opulence of the view but it’s a worthwhile splurge.



Booking.com

Where to Eat Quick Bites

Pizzicheria Guadagni | Via Isola delle Stinche 4/r, 50122, Florence, Italy

When I studied abroad, this was the spot I grabbed lunch every day! A family run centrally located deli, Stefano and/or his wife Stefania will make you an excellent sandwich. I was so happy to go back and find them still there. You can eat in the little courtyard outside of the shop or take your goods with you as you make your way from the Duomo to the museums.

Proccaci | Via Dei Tornabuoni 64/R, 50123, Florence, Italy

Speaking of truffles – I read about this place in a Conde Nast article about NON touristy places to eat in Florence. Procacci specializes in mini truffle sandwiches (uh-mazing) and homemade tomato juice, served up like a Bloody Mary (minus the alcohol) with all the fixin’s. It’s located among the high end shopping district so it feels extra fancy, but the sandwiches are only 2.50 Euros each.

Where to Eat Something Sweet

Badiani Gelato | Viale dei Mille, 20/R, Florence, Italy

Okay, okay. Gelato is literally EVERYWHERE in Florence. Not all of it is good, and a lot of it is overpriced, unfortunately. But I have on great authority that this is the best gelato shop in the city! It’s located a few blocks away from my former study abroad apartment (dangerous) and I remembered it being amazing.

What a delight to go back and experience it again! So many good and interesting flavors and a big cafe where you can sit and enjoy. It’s a bit off the beaten path near the soccer stadium, but honestly worth it in my opinion.

Just please don’t make the mistake of buying 10 euro mediocre gelato from a shop near the Duomo or the Ponte Vecchio!

Buon Appetito!

In conclusion, you’ll see there is no shortage of amazing spots to eat in Florence. This is just a snippet of what this city has to offer, but I think it’s better to go with a plan because each meal you get to experience here is valuable. I hope this guide is helpful and that you enjoy Firenze (I know you will!)

Make sure to pin this for your trip to Florence!

Italy Travel Tuscany

Tuscany in the Fall : 5 Reasons to Visit

November 3, 2019
Looking out on the winding tuscan road

Tuscany in the Fall: has a nice ring to it right? While the most popular time to visit this region is in the summer, it can be hot, crowded and expensive. The fall, though? Bellisima! We just got back from 3 days in Tuscany in late October and wow was it spectacular. I’m going to tell you the 5 reasons why a trip to Tuscany in the fall will make your year. 

1. The Weather

Now I’ll be honest, I wasn’t quite sure how the weather situation would shake out for us. I’ve heard that it can go either way for late October. I was checking obsessively every day, seeing rain in the forecast but hoping it would change. Luckily for our 3 days in Tuscany we had ABSOLUTELY perfect weather*. An average of 75 degrees daily, almost no clouds. 

*Just as an FYI: the locals told us the weather in late October is usually chillier and more overcast. Of course, no one can 100% predict the weather but planning your trip for late September/Early October might be safer for expecting those perfect temps. 

(From top left: Views near our AirBnB, Sunny days in Siena, Approaching Golden Hour near Asciano.)

2. The Prices

I had to rub my eyes in disbelief when checking AirBnB pricing for Tuscany for our trip. Everything looked amazing and most options were under $150 a night (for 4 people!) I’m talking stone villas with pools and unreal views. We ended up booking this option which had an infinity pool, hot tub, fireplace and 2BR 2BATH, all for $108/night. 

Chianti for Four (AirBnB)

Scenes from our AirBnB

“There are almost no words to describe how perfect our stay was at this property. We had the place virtually to ourselves as it was off season and it felt like our own little Tuscan Paradise. The view and the accommodations are even better than the photos and we thoroughly enjoyed the use of the hot tub & fireplace. It was a bit chilly to use the infinity pool but it was still open, enhancing the view. With 2 couples staying there it was perfect -you have your own private area of the house with your own bathroom and can use the common areas together.

Fernando, the local host provides plenty of tips about the area, restaurant recommendations, and you can look forward to a gifted a bottle of olive oil that he harvested as well as a bottle of local wine. It’s a bit off the beaten path, so quiet, but within a 30 minute drive of Siena and the Val d’Orcia. I would 100% stay here again and recommend to anyone looking to have a tranquil and relaxing vacation in Tuscany.”

My review for our AirBnB

3. The Scenery

Driving around the countryside I had Sting’s “Fields of Gold” playing in my head constantly, as it is an accurate description of what was surrounding me. Tuscany in Autumn is literally rolling golden hills dotted with vines and cyprus trees (with the occasional villa). It’s breathtaking and dreamy and can’t be missed.

I would recommend doing a day of driving around the Val D’Orcia (a Unesco World Heritage Sight), which is known as the prettiest drive in Tuscany.

Great stops along the way:

  • Buonconvento: Charming walled village, great spot for lunch
  • Capella Madonna di Vitaleta: Tiny chapel in the middle of a field
  • Winding Road near Asciano: Gorgeous view (see top photo in post), go for golden hour
  • Pienza: Another walled city, very charming.

(From top left: Aperol Spritz in Buonconvento, Rolling Hills in Val D’Orcia, Twirling near the Tuscan Winding Road, Tiny Bouquet at the Capellla, the Streets of Pienza.)

Here is a Google Map of the spots we visited in the Val D’Orcia for easy reference, also with the approximate location of the AirBnB:

4. The Seasonal Food/Drink

The region of tuscany is filled with farms so there is no shortage of fresh and local eats. Truffles are in season in autumn and therefor easier to obtain and afford. Speaking of mushrooms, Porcini are also in season and perfect with pasta. The farmers are harvesting the olives for new oil, the grapes for wine. If you are a meat eater, wild boar is hunted in the fall so the charcuterie game is strong. 

If you want an amazing farm-to-table culinary experience with a killer view (and animal friends), head to Podere Il Casale for an incredible meal. I recommend sampling the cheese plate (Pienza is known for it’s cheese) and homemade pasta. Walk to grounds to say hi to the resident fluffy dog, a heard of friendly goats, a loud burro and colorful peacocks.

A Few Other Places we Ate/Drank along the way:

La Locanda Dei Grulli | Via Vittorio Veneto 6 | Ambra Pietraviva, 52021, Bucine, Italy

A nice local restaurant with a mini Italian grocery on site. Delicious food and good service!

Fabbrica Pienza

A very modern organic vineyard with a sleek tasting room. 10 Euroes for 3 (hefty) tastes. Enjoy the sculpture on the grounds by Ugo Rondinone, the same artist who did the 7 Magic Mountains in Vegas. Tasting room open April-Late October.

Scenes from Podere Il Casale near Pienza

5. The Crowds

Or should I say, the lack of crowds? Not only was it easy to find a place to book only a week in advance, we were also able to see a lot of the “popular” sights in the region without throngs of people. The famous winding road and the Capella Madonna di Vitaleta were both surprisingly uncrowded (the former we even visited during golden hour and still got amazing “people free” photos.)

In conclusion, the fall is a perfect time to visit Tuscany. Have I convinced you yet? Your eyes, stomach and wallet will certainly thank you.

For other Fall Travel ideas, visit my guide to visiting Provence in Autumn!

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France Provence Travel

Visiting Provence in Autumn

October 4, 2019

Visiting Provence in Autumn is probably the best idea you’ll have all year. “The South of France” is a hugely popular summer destination among travelers worldwide. Dreamy flower fields, aqua coastline and festivals – what’s not to like? Huge crowds and expensive prices for one.

I really enjoy traveling in this region during the shoulder season of late September, October and November. The crowds are smaller, hotels are lower priced. Also, it’s easier to book last minute and the weather is still pretty beautiful! In fact, my water-loving husband has been known to take a dip in Marseille’s gorgeous Calanques as late as October!

My first trip to Provence was in November of 2011. Since then I’ve spent several more years exploring the region and enjoying it’s autumnal charm…

wall at vineyard in provence with colorful ivy

Getting There

The most centrally located airport to the Provence Region is the Marseille/Provence Airport (code: MRS). The recently renovated airport is a low key base to fly in and out of.

Flights from the US tend to route through another major European city like London, Paris, Frankfurt, Madrid, etc. The airport is also serviced by several European budget airlines such as RyanAir, Vueling and EasyJet.

Transportation

I think it’s essential to rent a car for exploring the small towns in Provence. I suggest you rent it online beforehand via a site like KAYAK to get a better rate. Also FYI for my American friends, we have found also that for some reason when we rent it from a United States IP address we get a lower price!

Weather & What to Pack

Just for reference, here is a breakdown of the average temps for Marseille in the fall months:

Month Average High/Low (Fahrenheit)  Average High/Low (Celcius)  Days of Rain
September 78° / 61° 25.5° / 16.1° 3
October 70° / 55° 21.1° / 12.7° 6
November 60° / 47° 15.5° / 8.3° 5

As you can see, it’s pretty mild weather. So, a daily uniform of jeans, comfortable walking shoes or boots, tops that can layer, scarves and a light leather or jean jacket. You can pack a heavier coat but honestly I’ve never needed one, even in winter.

I made the mistake of choosing fashion over comfort during my first trip to Provence and tried to walk around cobble stoned villages in heels! Please save yourself the pain and opt for a flat or chunky heeled boot or walking shoe. Also make sure to pack sneakers or hiking boots if you plan on taking advantage of the beautiful trails. If you are visiting in September or October you can even optimistically throw a bathing suit in your suitcase.

Looking out over the Mediterranean at the Cap Canaille

Taste All The Wine

In my opinion you can’t miss the vineyards in the South of France in the autumn months. Even if you’re not a big drinker or wine connoisseur, the landscape and scenery alone is worth a day of touring around. Trust me, driving through the beautiful Plantane tree tunnels with their changing golden leaves is a magical experience you will not forget. Of course, it does help if you like wine (and have a reliable DD)!

There are basically two wine regions that are easy to visit from here:
Provence and the Rhone Valley.

Here is a comprehensive guide to the wine regions included in Provence. Personally, I enjoy the Bandol, Cassis, & Aix en Provence area (this includes my absolute FAVORITE vineyard Chateau LaCoste), particularly for rosé and white wines.

If you travel a bit north towards Avignon into the Rhône Valley you will find the prestigious region of Chateauneuf du Pape which is well known for it’s reds. You can visit the little town there and as you drive along the countryside roads you will pass vineyard after vineyard.

The Luberon region (within the Rhône) is also filled with vineyards – we had a great experience staying at Chateau Perreal, a vineyard with vacation rentals onsite (this is pretty common).

(From Top Left: Rosé at Chateau LaCoste, Foliage in Chateaneuf de Pape, Outside Chateau Perreal in the Luberon, Pool at Chateau Perreal at sunset.)

Visit Fairytale Towns

It’s no coincidence that painters like Van Gogh and Monet used the South of France as a consistent subject. The towns and landscapes here are right out of a painting! Speaking of Van Gogh, the town of Arles is home to the cafe that was the subject of his famous “Cafe Terrace at Night” and is worth seeing.

Other favorite towns in the region that are gorgeous during fall are Gordes, a postcard perfect perched village, Isle Sur La Sorgue, a tiny town filled with canals and antiques, Fontaine-de-Vaucluse, a small hamlet with a “magical” natural fountain at the top of a hill. Honorable mentions include: Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, Les-Baux-des-Provence, and Lourmarin.

The great thing about these towns is that a lot of them are close together so you can knock out several in a day, making the most of your vacation! I’ve put them on a google map you can reference below:

Also the larger cities of Aix en Provence and Avignon are worth spending at least a day visiting. Aix is great for shopping and Avignon is great for history (the immense Papal Palace there was the seat of the Catholic Church from 1309 to 1376).

Featured Post: My Favorite Spots in Provence

(From Top Left: Arles, Isle Sur La Sorgue, Aix en Provence, Walking in the Fontaine-de-Vaucluse, The Pool at Fontaine-de-Vaucluse, View of Gordes from outside the town)

Really Get to Know Marseille

I think Marseille is a completely underrated French city and you could spend days or weeks exploring it. If you are limited on time though, you can definitely get to see a lot of the main sites (Vieux Port, Notre Dame de la Garde, etc) in a few days.

I’ve written a large guide to visiting the city which includes all my favorite spots and you can find here, and an Instagram Guide to Marseille’s best photo ops here.

Featured Post: Why You Shouldn’t Skip Marseille

(From Top Left: Marseille’s Vieux Port, The funky Cours Julien Neighborhood, a street in the Panier Neighborhood).

Enjoy the Amazing Nature

This region is RICH in beautiful nature and scenery. For example, one of my favorite things to do here is visit the Calanques, a series of inlets that run along the Mediterranean coast from Marseille to Cassis. Most of them are only accessible by foot or boat. From Cassis (approx half hour drive from Marseille), you can take a Calanque Cruise, which will show you all the different Calanques from the boat. That option won’t allow you to swim in the Calanques, however it is a good option if you want to see them all in a shorter amount of time.

There are also plenty of options for hiking, one being the Mont Saint Victoire at the outskirts of Aix en Provence. This resource provides guides to other options in the area with detailed info on length, time and difficulty.

(From Top: Port Miou Calanque near Cassis, View of Marseille from the Mountains, Mont Sainte Victoire.)

Time to go!

In short, there are honestly so many activities to do in the South of France in the fall! Basically it’s hard to go wrong when planning your trip. I hope you consider visiting during this beautiful time and that this guide is a helpful starting guide to creating your perfect itinerary.

Bon voyage!

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France Marseille Travel

Best Instagram Spots in Marseille, France

August 7, 2019

Looking for the best Instagram spots in Marseille, France? Look no further! Marseille: love it or hate it, there is no doubt the city certainly has a lot of character. It also has some beautiful and quirky photo ops.

While I have visited Marseille many times (my father-in-law is from here), there are spots that I continue to go back to for amazing views and photos. Here are some of my favorites:

LE PANIER

Le Panier is Instagram gold. Tiny streets with colorful facades and shutters, endless street art…it’s a visual wonderland for photographers. Getting here from the Vieux Port is an short walk. You can then easily spend a morning or afternoon exploring it’s charm.

In front of a colorful mural in the Panier

COURS JULIEN

This is my other favorite neighborhood due to it’s fun shops, bars and restaurants. It’s also a mecca for street art easily making it part of the best instagram spots in Marseille. If you come during a weekday you’ll have the tiny alleyways practically to yourself to photograph.

VIEUX PORT

A classic, but a good one. This is the iconic spot in Marseille to get shots of the harbor. You can see with the Notre Dame church perched on the hill. Stop by the Mucem where you’ll find an amazing wall that will make the perfect backdrop for your photo.

VALLON DES AUFFES

This adorable little port with colorful boats is a great place to come for photos. I love seeing the sunset from here! If you come in the evening you can try the famous Marseille Bouillabaisse at Chez Fon Fon. Alternatively, if you’re looking for a more budget friendly option, you can have pizza and rosé at Chez Jeannote.

ÎLE DE FRIOUL

Just a quick and inexpensive ferry ride from the Vieux Port. We found this amazing clear water (below) on the Frioul Island on Esteve Beach. Once the boat docks, turn right and follow the map path for a 20 minute walk to this beautiful beach (there are maps and signs). On the way you will also catch scenic vistas of the Marseille skyline. Other spots by the water include Callelongue, Les Goudes & the Calanque Sorimiou. (See my other post on Marseille for more information about the wonderful Calanques!)

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Belfast Travel United Kingdom

2 Nights in Belfast

July 7, 2019

Looking for a great itinerary for 2 nights in Belfast, Northern Ireland? Look no further! I have you covered with information on where to stay, where to eat and drink, what to do, and practicalities/safety. See why Belfast was the most interesting part of my trip to Ireland this spring!

“Belfast is a city which, while not forgetting its past, is living comfortably with its present and looking forward to its future.” 

James Nesbitt

A Bit of Background

It was only within the past 20 years when this place was even considered as a safe travel destination. I am drawn to places slightly out of the norm and had been curious about Belfast for quite some time.

I experienced a city that’s vibrant and modern yet carries the heavy weight of a tumultuous and tragic past. There are reminders of this past everywhere. There are politically themed murals, memorial gardens, to the fences and gates that still separate the Protestant and Catholic areas. To really understand Belfast I think it’s important to read the history of the conflict. I would recommend doing this via Black Cab Tour (see below).

Where to Stay for 2 Nights in Belfast

Jurys Inn Belfast | Great Victoria Street, Belfast, BT1 6DY, United Kingdom 

Usually I opt for AirBnBs or Boutique hotels. For my 2 nights in Belfast, though, I wanted to be extremely centrally located. Not yet or having a feel for the neighborhoods and safety, we wanted a place was 100% in “neutral territory”. Our room was great and the hotel staff was attentive and friendly. We particularly enjoyed that the hotel had a restaurant and bar and was in walking distance to the Courthouse, the Cathedral Quarter and Crowne Bar. They also arranged our Black Cab Tour (see below) for us for immediate pickup onsite. 



Booking.com

Where to Eat

44 Hill Street | 44 Hill Street, Belfast BT1 2LB, Northern Ireland

Mediterranean cuisine served tapas style – a lovely option in the cute & vibrant Cathedral Quarter. Also close to all the bars and nightlife in the area so a great place to start your evening. The cheese plate was delicious!

Cafe Metz | 55 High Street, BT1 2AB Belfast

Found this place when walking from the Cathedral Quarter back to our hotel and liked the cafe atmosphere. I was also happy that they offered a Vegetarian version of the famous “Ulster Fry” – it was delicious and filling!

The Pocket | 69 University Rd, Belfast

We stopped in here after walking around the Queen’s Quarter and the Botanic Gardens and I loved the atmosphere and food at this adorable place! The interior is cozy and the food and drinks were healthy and delicious. I loved how in Ireland and Northern Ireland so many places offered Haloumi cheese (which is more rare in the States) and adding it to the Buddha Bowl was delicious!

Where to Drink

White’s Tavern | 2-4 Winecellar Entry, Belfast, BT11QN

Very cool old pub, in fact one of the oldest in Belfast. Nice place to grab a pint, the food was also good (even though we had to take it to go to not miss our tour bus)!

Crown Liquor Saloon | 46 Great Victoria Street, Belfast BT2 7BA, Northern Ireland

Out of our 2 nights in Belfast, I only went out one of the nights. I would say this pub is a “must visit” in Belfast. We lucked out because it was right by our hotel. It is the most well-known and famous pubs in the city, a beautifully restored relic from the Victorian era complete with intricate wooden interior booths and stained glass.

Black Cab Tour

Cab Tours Belfast | (Arranged through the front desk at Jurys Inn)

First off, I would 100% recommend doing a Black Cab tour when in Belfast. Belfast has so much history and I believe it adds so much to the experience of seeing the city when you try to understand the culture and background. I found the murals and memorials and was fascinated by all the history we learned.

Run by a Catholic and a Protestant, this company gives you an unbiased tour of the city. Our guide Jimmy drove us through both the Protestant and Catholic areas. He gave us a real understanding of the history and tensions between the two groups. We were also able to get out and take pictures at the murals and memorials while he told us the information and history behind them. He went above and beyond to provide us an unbiased history of The Troubles along with stories of his personal experiences.

I would say that a cab tour is essential when visiting Belfast and I would definitely recommend this company as I’ve heard they don’t all equally show you both sides. I was so glad I decided to spend 2 nights in Belfast because I wouldn’t have wanted to miss this!

Other Activities

Botanic Gardens | College Park, Botanic Avenue, BT7 1LP

Adjacent to the Queen’s University Campus (aka real life Hogwarts), the Palm House was a lovely spot to warm up on a brisk damp day and enjoy the beautiful tropical plants. If you are a fan of the BBC/Netflix crime drama The Fall, you will recognize it from the first season when serial killer Paul Spektor went to stalk his next victim.

Street Art | Cathedral Quarter, City Center, everywhere

In addition to the political and historical murals you will see on your Black Cab Tour, Belfast has a TON of other street art everywhere. There are a lot of cool facades and murals in the Cathedral Quarter, including a little alleyway with umbrellas that was sadly under construction when I went. You can find the umbrellas and some other great gems on Commercial Court, the Alleyway between Hill Street and Donegall Street.  See some of my favorite finds from the city below:

Be Aware of Politics & History

As an American tourist in Belfast City Center, with no local political or religious affiliation I felt perfectly safe.

I would never advocate visiting a destination that is truly dangerous. However, I am all for exploring places that were once considered dangerous but have become safer in the recent past. Keep in mind that if you are touring Ireland and mention to southerners that you are visiting Belfast, you might get a mixed reaction. The younger generation seems to have a more positive reaction and openness towards the Northern city. Alternatively, there is still definitely tension among those who lived through the Troubles. 

Safe/Not Safe Areas?

That said: there are definitely still tensions between the Protestants and the Catholics in Belfast and a clear separation outside the city center. It was described to us as “Sure, everyone gets along and works together in the city, then the Catholics go home to their neighborhoods and the Protestants go back to theirs.”

There are still gates that separate the sections of town that are closed and locked at a certain time every day. Falls Road is where the Catholic neighborhoods are centered around, while Shankill Road is where the predominately Protestant/Loyalist community is centered. People will ask each other, “Where do you hail from?” to get insight into what their affiliation is, a kind of asking without asking sort of thing. Again, I highly recommend doing the tour we did above because they take you to the different areas and explain what you are seeing and why.

We stayed predominately in the City Center, Queens Quarter (during the day around the University and Botanical Garden), Cathedral Quarter (in the evening) & did a run from our hotel to the Titanic Quarter. I did not feel awkward or unsafe in any of those places.

Being Respectful

The guide books will tell you to not discuss politics with locals, to not wear any colors seen as Irish (green, yellow, orange) when walking or running through the city. It would also make sense not to walk into some random pub in a neighborhood you are not familiar with and start discussing Irish or UK politics. You will likely NOT run into this problem in the city center.

The young staff at a local bar we grabbed drinks at were actually quite open to discussing the situation in Northern Ireland, Brexit, healthcare, etc. My observation: the younger the person is you are talking to, the more open they will be about discussing it. Again, this is especially if you are in a touristy area. I was happy we were able to have these discussions with the locals, as I find history and politics fascinating. I wouldn’t recommend bringing it up unless they do first though. Like American politics as of late, it could be very polarizing.

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Traveling around the South of Ireland? Don’t miss my guide to Kinsale!

Ireland Kinsale Travel

A Getaway in Colorful Kinsale, Ireland

July 5, 2019

Even though I’ve been to Ireland 3 separate times, each trip has held special meaning for me. My first trip was during St. Patrick’s Day weekend when I was studying abroad in Italy, visiting my friend who was studying in Cork. I had dreamed of visiting Ireland since I was a little girl (for some reason I always felt a pull to the idea of it’s rolling green hills) and so my first brief trip there was a realization of that dream. My second trip there was also special because it was with my love (at the time my soon-to-be fiance who is now my husband) and it was to celebrate my 30th birthday.

This most recent trip was also special, as I traveled with my best friend Molly. Molly and I met our freshman year of college in the dorms and had always talked about doing a trip to Ireland together. The trip was over 10 years in the making but we actually did it and had an amazing time touring around together! After spending our first night night in Cork City, our next stop was the colorful and quaint Kinsale, a seaside village on the south coast of County Cork. Molly had a particularly important reason to visit Kinsale: not only did her great grandfather grow up here but she also has relatives still living in the town!

Imagine walking into a local shop in Ireland and telling the person working there that you are actually their cousin visiting from America!

That was the scene when Molly and I walked into Mylie Murphy’s Bike & Bait Shop and were greeted by Gillian, Molly’s cousin with whom we soon became fast friends. Between loaning us bikes to explore with, chatting over photography and Instagram strategies (Gillian owns a LOVELY plant and gift shop in Kinsale, see below) and enjoying a (few) bottles of white wine over lunch, Kinsale became a destination that will hold a special place in my heart. 

Candy colored shops, locals enjoying an ice cream cone from the local Centra, sailboats on the horizon and fields of colorful yellow flowers – Kinsale is postcard perfect! We stayed there for 4 nights and it was a great amount of time to explore and relax. I would certainly recommend stopping by for at least a day if you are visiting Cork City, and staying for a few nights if you have the time. We were there in late April and it was still a bit chilly but very popular – I can only imagine how lively it gets during the summer months. 

WHERE TO STAY

Kinsale Cozy Studio/Tiny House

We had a wonderful 4 night stay at Rosemarie’s adorable cottage! Rosemarie went above and beyond to make our stay comfortable, starting with picking us up at the bus so we wouldn’t have to walk with our bags which we really appreciated. She and her dog Curly were so friendly and gave us plenty of tips on where to go and what to do in Kinsale. The cottage was beautifully decorated and well equipped with breakfast and snack staples and toiletries. The location was close to the main village (about a 5 minute walk) and the front yard had a gorgeous view of the water. I would definitely stay here again and would recommend to anyone planning to stay in Kinsale.

FAVORITE EATS

Bulman | Summercove, Kinsale, Co. Cork, Ireland

A colorful (and popular!) spot on the outskirts of town as you head towards Charles Fort. The inside has a cozy and jovial atmosphere while the outside affords you a great view of the water. Come a little after lunch hour in order to try to avoid the crowds.

Fishy Fishy | Crowleys Quay, Kinsale Co, Co. IE, Ireland

If you love seafood and want to treat yourself to a nice lunch or dinner, this is your place! We had an amazing meal here with Molly’s family. Delicious mussels, seafood pie and a rhubarb cobbler that was the perfect ending to the meal, washed down by a bottle (or 2?) of the house white wine. Elegant atmosphere and great service.

UNIQUE SHOPPING

Greenhouse & Other Stories | 8 Pearse Street, Kinsale, Ireland Co. Cork

Molly’s cousin Gillian owns this adorable shop filled with beautiful plants and curated gifts including stationary, pots, jewelry children’s clothing. I would definitely recommend stopping by if you’re looking for something unique to bring home for someone, or a little gift for yourself.

Aesthetically pleasing display at Greenhouse & Other Stories

Rain Bath & Beauty | 42 Main Street, Kinsale, Co. Cork, Ireland

Assortment of gorgeous responsible and ethical beauty products – a great shop to buy something to pamper yourself with.

Gourmet Pantry | 4 Market St, Sleveen, Cork, Ireland

We did a lot of self-catering in Kinsale for our evening meals (buying prepared foods, cheeses, wines etc and bringing them to our AirBnB.) While there are a few groceries downtown, this shop has higher quality and locally made items – perfect for a picnic, aperitif or souvenirs to bring home (jams, crackers, etc).

LIVE MUSIC & NIGHTLIFE

Dalton’s Bar | 3A Market St, Sleveen, Kinsale, Co. Cork, P17 E068, Ireland

Molly is a huge fan of traditional Irish music, so we went out to listen to a session pretty much every night. That said, we had our best live music experience in Kinsale at Dalton’s Bar during our first night out in Kinsale. We went in on a Monday night, which is when they have an open mic situation of sorts called a “sing-a-long” with a local band to back up the hauntingly beautiful melodies. Cozy interior with a fireplace, friendly bartenders, and unlike more touristy places that play the same 5 Irish songs to a raucous audience, during these sessions everyone shushes the patrons before the person starts singing so everyone can listen and enjoy. It was a genuinely moving experience and I would definitely recommend this place especially if you are here on a night they are doing a sing-a-long.

The Harbour Bar | Scilly, Kinsale, Ireland

Off the beaten path, this bar was truly unique. It’s inside a house where the owner has turned his first floor into a pub. You grab a drink from the fridge (bottled beer, wine and mixed drinks only), pay, and make yourself at home while his little jack russell terrier might jump into your lap. There is old fashioned decor, a TV with the game on, a local crowd and a stunning view of the Harbour (hence, the name).

View from the Harbour Bar

ACTIVITIES

Drive out to The Old Head

About a 10 – 15 minute drive from downtown, the Old Head is a must see. Like a mini Cliffs of Moher, it’s adjacent to a well known golf course and is the closest piece of land to where the RMS Lusitania sank. We went during golden hour to check it out and it was absolutely stunning, especially with all the seabirds flying around below us. It would be a gorgeous spot for an evening picnic or to take photos.

Scilly Walk/Charles Fort

There is a nice walking path from downtown Kinsale to Charles Fort. (We actually took bikes even though I don’t think you are technically supposed to bike on the walking trail.) You can take Lower Road and follow it from the downtown up to the Spaniard Bar, then past the Bulman Pub and out to the fort. You pass great views and lovely homes along the way, there and back is a little over 5km.

Explore Downtown Kinsale

Kinsale’s downtown is incredibly charming. I am a sucker for colorful waterfront towns and Kinsale certainly hits the mark. There are plenty of cute shops to explore, cafes to duck into and the locals we met were all very friendly. If you get the chance to immerse yourself in this place for a few days, definitely do so.

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Amsterdam Netherlands Travel

A Solo Girly Guide to Amsterdam

May 20, 2019

So, you are planning a solo female travel trip to Amsterdam? Are you wondering what to do or even worried about safety and security?

Don’t worry! I’m providing my experience of solo female travel in Amsterdam with all the practical information you’ll need to plan your most perfect girly trip.

For a lot of Americans at least, people associate the city with legalized marijuana (actually this isn’t even true) and the red-light district. In fact, according to Lonely Planet, recent polls have shown that only 7% of the Dutch people actually use pot and only 5% of customers frequenting the red-light district are Dutch. So, when I decided to take my first solo trip to this city, I wasn’t really sure what my experience with solo female travel in Amsterdam would be.

The short of it: 1. I was pleasantly surprised, and 2. I wanted more time.

Solo Female Travel in Amsterdam : Where to Stay

My first task as a solo female traveler was finding a safe, clean, well-located yet affordable place to stay. And let me tell you, that last part wasn’t easy. Hotels in Amsterdam are generally expensive and during this time of year even more so. Even so, I was able to book a room at Hotel Adolesce for 100 euros/night. There was a bit of a mishap with my dates and ended up booking the wrong night (LOL), but the owner was so kind in letting me switch and giving me an even larger room with a canal view.

The hotel is a bit out of the crazy tourist zone and it’s nice to return to a quiet and calm location after sightseeing, But, it was still within a 20 minute walk to all the major sights. I would 100% stay here again and would recommend it as an affordable option in Amsterdam for solo, couple or friends traveling.

Museums

When visiting a new city, I like to spend some time just walking around and getting a feel for the energy and culture. Actually, I walked an average of 10 miles per day on the two days I was there! Here are some of the highlights:

Van Gogh Museum

This was my #1 priority for my Amsterdam visit and it did not disappoint. Make sure to pre-book your tickets here as soon as you know you are going to Amsterdam because it will sell out. I booked my tickets about a month in advance. This is also true for the Anne Frank House (see below), which unfortunately I didn’t realize and the tickets for the dates for my visit were sold out. If you love Van Gogh’s art and are interested in his life, I would definitely recommend making this a priority. I also recommend getting the audio guide for 5 Euros more as it gives you so much more background into Van Gogh’s works and life.

Moco Museum – Banksy Exhibit

I hadn’t planned on visiting this museum, because I didn’t know about it before my trip, but I’m so glad I decided to stop by. You really only need an hour or less and if you’re interested in Banksy’s art and street art in general, it’s a nice way to spend a little time. Also it stays open late: 7pm during the week and 8pm on Friday and Saturday. The Banksy Exhibit runs through September 2019 and you can pre-order your tickets online for a discount here.

PSA: If you know you are going to Amsterdam and you want to visit the Anne Frank house, reserve your tickets ahead of time here. You can only buy tickets online. I unfortunately didn’t realize this and when I went to reserve 2 weeks ahead of time they were sold out. Every day at 9am they release 20% of the tickets for the day so you can log on and try to purchase, but that is a risk (I was unsucessful). When I go back to Amsterdam I will definitely make this a priority and reserve well ahead. 

Other Activities

Canal Tour

This is kind of a no-brainer. If you want to see a good portion of the city while learning about the history and architecture, a Canal Tour is really the best way to do it. There are several companies that offer them, and I chose to use Lovers Canal Cruise for no reason other than I found them first. Most tours originate near Centraal Station, and you can buy tickets there or at one of several tourist offices. Pre-booking didn’t seem to be necessary, I bought a ticket the day of for a boat leaving 1/2 hour from my time of purchase. 

Jordaan

I loved this neighborhood! Beautiful Canals, cute shops and quaint streets – this area was my favorite part of Amsterdam. I’ve linked shop and food/bar info below. 

Floating Flower Market

Touristy? Yes. But it’s fun to walk through and a nice spot to buy souvenirs, from tulip bulbs, to off brand Delftware and everything in between. Make it the last stop of your daily exploring and stock up on goodies for yourself and your people back home – just make sure you get there before it closes at 5:30pm. Find more info here.

Typical Booth in the Flower Market. They all pretty much look like this!

Nightlife

Red Light District

Yes – I was curious. So I decided to walk around the RLD and check it out. I was a little worried to go at night, but honestly I had no need to be worried. Going at 9pm it was super crowded – men, women, families, groups of tourist. I felt perfectly safe. And it was indeed something to see, but I only needed 15 minutes or so. If I were to go again I would have visited the Museum of Prostitution for background and context.

As a solo female traveler, I wouldn’t have wanted to stay too late because I imagine it only gets rowdier.

If I would have had more time I would have visited more museums, particularly the Rijksmuseum and Anne Frank House. Additionally, it would be nice to take a chill day and hang out in the Vondelpark, Amsterdam’s largest green space. Next time!

Eat & Drink

It’s funny, as a solo traveler, eating in a restaurant wasn’t a priority for me. My days consisted of walking around till I got hungry and then grabbing something on the go, because for some reason a high-end or atmospheric dining situation is much more enjoyable with another person. My “Amsterdam Diet” was walking 10 miles, stroopwafels for breakfast and vlaamse frites for dinner. That said, I did eat well, including a nice sit down lunch on a canal that I treated myself to (solo travel tip: when dining alone it’s fun to set yourself up at a place where you can people watch). 

Broodje Bert | Singel 321HS, 1012 WK Amsterdam, Netherlands

Great place to grab a healthy lunch adjecent to the Jordaan. If you can and the weather permits, grab one of their canal side tables and enjoy the people watching. The burger is famous here but they also have other choices, including vegetarian options. Also very affordable!

Polaberry | Prinsengracht 232 H, 1016 HE Amsterdam, Netherlands

After following this place on Instagram, it was at the top of my lists of spots to see. Adorable little shop owned by blogger Polina Burashnikova. You’ll find handmade chocolate covered berries as well as cake pops and other goodies. There are also an assortment of girly Amsterdam themed souvenirs and stationary. Perfect idea for unique gifts for yourself or others.

Bar Parry | Eerste Looiersdwarsstraat 15, 1107 SN Amsterdam, Netherlands

This cute little wine bar in Jordaan was recommended to me by a friend. After getting caught in a downpour, it was the great spot to hide out and enjoy a glass or 2 of wine. Very quaint and solo traveler friendly!

Van Wonderens Stroopwafels | Kalverstraat 190, 1012 XH Amsterdam, Netherlands

Another instagram find! If you’re going to try fresh stroopwafels, why not make sure it’s the prettiest stroopwafel in the city? And it was also tasty – the perfect way to start a day of sightseeing.

Vlaamse Fries | Literally Anywhere, Amsterdam

Hot Fries, served in a cone and slathered in sauce were my dinner of choice after walking 10 miles a day in Amsterdam. You can find these fry shops all over the city, but here’s a guide put out by iAmsterdam if you need some recommendations. It’s a must try food if you’re visiting the city. 

Unique Shopping

Kunstboer | Prinsengracht 270, 1016 HH AMSTERDAM

Unique accessories for children and adults – glittery unicorns and cute animal theme is king here. You can also customize your own apparel and accessories with their unique patches. Such a cute shop!

Locals | Spuistraat 272, 1012 VW Amsterdam, Netherlands

Loved the selection of stationary, apparel & accessories by (you guessed it) local Dutch artists.

It’s a Present! | Gasthuismolensteeg 4, 1016 AN Amsterdam, Netherlands

Another fun assortment of gifts for all ages, many with a Dutch theme. I bought the cutest little notebook here by the company Orange Panda. 

Final Thoughts

Solo female travel to Amsterdam is a great idea. Amsterdam is architecture & art, canals and bicycles. It’s historic yet modern. The city is clean, safe, friendly and green. It’s compact and easy to explore on foot. Being there during tulip season and the week leading up King’s Day, it was crowded but tolerable and I was still able to wander down some quiet streets. 

Amsterdam quickly became one of my favorite European cities. I would come back as a solo traveler, with my husband, with friends or with kids (some day!). Hopefully I’ll be back soon!