I’ve been writing this travel blog for about a year and a half now, and have loved writing about all the incredible places I’ve visited. Sharing my experiences and thoughts on my different trips has been great, and I’m so grateful for all the lovely comments I have received since I started this website. I still have lots of content to come on the travel front that I haven’t got round to writing up yet, but in light of the pandemic I feel this is a good opportunity to branch out and write about some different things, too.
This is why I’m adding a lifestyle section to the blog, where I will post about a whole range of things from well-being and health to cooking and hobbies, and from sports and fitness to podcasts and book reviews. I would love to hear of any other suggestions for topics to cover, book, film, series and podcast recommendations, recipe suggestions and so on – get in touch with me here.
I’m already working on some great (I hope!) content that I can’t wait to start sharing with you all, so stay tuned!
It’s been a little while since I last posted on this blog, in some part due to the demands of starting a new job and home working, but also down to a general lack of motivation to write creatively towards the end of last year. Now, the promise and optimism of entering a new year has reignited my desire to write about the places I have travelled to prior to the pandemic, as well as the ambition to diversify my writing by adding a new lifestyle section to this blog (more to follow on this in due course!).
For this post, I will recount my time in the Polish city of Krakow, which I was lucky enough to get away to back in September last year during a brief hiatus in restrictions surrounding the pandemic. Krakow is a place I had been very keen on visiting for a while due to its vast and varied history – of particular interest to me were the events which took place in the city during the Second World War. While this was a large part of the reason I longed to visit the city, I was also intrigued in experiencing the feel and culture of modern Krakow; the food, the people, the beautiful architecture… as well as the beer, of course.
Here’s what I got up to during my four-day trip there, and the thoughts, feelings, and lasting impression my time in Krakow left on me.
Krakow main square (Rynek Główny)
Stepping out of Krakow main station, we were met by brilliant sunshine and almost tropical temperatures – a far cry from the colder, greyer surroundings I had envisaged would be waiting for us. In fact, I had hedged my bets that Krakow would be a fair bit colder than the UK, so much so that I had only packed jeans and jumpers in my carry-on luggage – a big mistake, as temperatures remained in the high 20s throughout the duration of our time there. A good lesson in always double checking the weather before you travel!
A short walk along the leafy pedestrian path and cycleway surrounding the walls of the Old Town and we arrived at our accommodation, located down a side street just off the Old Town’s main square, known by the locals as Rynek Główny. Dating back to the 13th century, the Main Square is the largest medieval town square in Europe. After dropping off our bags, we took a stroll into the centre and were met immediately by a hive of lunchtime activity.
Rows of restaurants, bars and eateries lined the edges of the square, kitted out with yellow umbrellas and Al fresco dining areas ready to welcome tourists and locals alike for a bite to eat. Dominating the centre of the square is the Cloth Hall (Sukiennice) which was rebuilt in 1555 in a Renaissance style topped by a parapet decorated with carved masks. The hall is home to both traditional and tourist-geared market stalls and is definitely worth a walk through.
The Main Square is also home to St Mary’s Basilica, a 14th century church and stunning example of Polish Gothic architecture which looms 80 metres above the ground. The basilica became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978, and a trumpet call known as Hejnał mariacki or “Saint Mary’s dawn” plays from the tower every hour on the hour, with the noon call broadcast to the whole of Poland via radio. Other sights of note within the Main Square are the Town Hall Tower (Wieża ratuszowa), the 11th century Church of St. Adalbert, and the Adam Mickiewicz Monument, one of the best known bronze monuments in Poland.
Branching off each corner of the Main Square are side streets filled with more bars, restaurants, and shops, while the Old Town walls are lined with pop-up art galleries and various market stalls. The only street that leads off from the centre of the square is Grodzka Street, which connects the square to Wawel Castle – a 14th century castle residency which became the first UNESCO World Heritage sight in the world.
Spanning some 7,000 square metres, Wawel Castle is one of the largest in Poland and boasts nearly all European architectural styles of the Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque periods. You can gaze for miles from different levels of the castle, which overlooks the Vistula River, and take in some beautiful views in addition to admiring the variety of architecture as you walk around the castle grounds.
With its many restaurants and cafes, the Main Square is a great place to grab a quick bite to eat, tuck into a delicious evening meal, and sample the local beer. We ate here once or twice, but found it a little busy and, for want of a better word, ‘touristy’, so we tended to venture outside of the main square for meals. As you would expect, eating in the square also comes with a premium, and although a decent evening meal will still cost you far less than it would in the UK, the closer to the centre you eat, the more you will pay.
The Jewish Quarter (Kazimierz)
Kazimierz is one of Krakow’s major tourist attractions and acts as an important cultural centre of the city. The northeastern part of the district is historically Jewish, however in 1941 its inhabitants were forced across the river into the Krakow ghetto in Podgórze by occupying German forces, as part of the Nazis’ persecution of the Jews during World War Two. Many of them were later killed during the liquidation of the ghetto, or in various death camps across Europe. As a result, Kazimierz was neglected by the communist authorities after the war finished, however the area has made a resurgence in recent years.
Since 1988, a popular Jewish cultural festival takes place every year at the end of June to reintroduce the Polish people to Jewish culture, and is now the largest Jewish festival of culture and music in Europe. Kazimierz was also the filming site for much of Steven Spielberg’s well-known film, Schindler’s List, which drew international attention to the area.
As we walked around Kazimierz, we could feel its history all around. From the Old Synagogue, which now houses a Jewish history museum, through the market square, to the Old Jewish Cemetery, we spent most of the time walking in silence, wrapped up in our own thoughts as we contemplated the lives and fates of those who had walked the same cobbled pavements years earlier.
Despite its history, though, Kazimierz was not a sombre place to be, and in fact we ended up visiting the Jewish Quarter several times to frequent its authentic restaurants and try the delicious food on offer. I would definitely recommend trying the Jewish dumpling – magnificent!
Wieliczka Salt Mine
Although its not strictly in Krakow, the Wieliczka Salt Mine is a must-see while you’re in the area. Only a 40 minute train journey from Krakow’s main station, the salt mine was included on the first UNESCO World Heritage site list in 1978 (along with several other sites mentioned in this article) and dates back more than 700 hundred years.
Located in the town of Wieliczka, the salt mine saw more than nine million metres cubed of post-excavation voids drilled, with its deepest point reaching 327 metres below ground. Back when the mine was fully in use, it was the largest source of salt in Poland, and was crucial to the country’s economy. Today, the main purpose of the mine is to preserve it for future generations to learn about its importance and the tens of generations who worked in the mine, as well as being a place of worship.
For the equivalent of about £20, you can go down into the mine with a guided tour that snakes through the labyrinth of tunnels and chambers. The mine itself is so vast that visitors can only walk through two percent of it, and even that takes a couple of hours. I was gobsmacked by the size of the underground chambers built by the miners, not just for salt harvesting purposes, but for underground chapels and places of worship, too. The miners built all of these themselves, and the craftsmanship and scale of what they created is truly breathtaking – you really have to see it with your own eyes to appreciate it.
If you can fit it in to your schedule, I would definitely recommend making the trip to visit the Wieliczka mine – you won’t be disappointed, and the town of Wieliczka is a nice place in itself to spend an hour or so exploring, or relaxing in the main square with a coffee and watching the locals go about their daily lives.
As someone who has always had an avid interest in history, this is one place I couldn’t come to Krakow without visiting. I won’t dwell for too long on explaining the importance and pertinence of this place, as I’m sure that most people are aware of the horrors that took place at Auschwitz, the largest of the German Nazi concentration camps and extermination centers. Over 1.1 million men, women and children lost their lives here, many of them Jews, and today the sites of Auschwitz One and Birkenau serve as both a reminder of the past, and a memorial to those who were murdered.
There are multiple tours available to visit the camps, which I would recommend you book in advance of your trip as the sites can get incredibly busy during peak tourist season. As we went during the pandemic, the site was far quieter than usual, although our tour guide told us the site could see hundreds of thousands of people visit each day during normal times. I won’t go in to much detail about our time here, as it is something I believe you can only understand if you have visited the site and experienced it for yourself. What I will say, is that it is an incredibly powerful and important place to visit, and I spent a great deal of time reflecting upon what I had seen and learnt. This is a place I believe everyone should visit at one time or another in their life, both to learn, understand, and reflect on the events of the past, but also to keep alive the memory of all those who were victims of the atrocities committed by the Nazis.
Cuisine and leisure
In addition to the many cultural sights that Krakow has to offer, there are also a great deal of culinary delights to be had in the many restaurants and cafes that line the streets of the Old Town. Make sure to try the bigos, a traditional Polish dish of chopped meat stewed with sauerkraut and cabbage, of which there are many delicious variations. The Polish dumplings are also a must-try and come in many different forms. Many restaurants also have platters of traditional Polish meats and delicacies that are great for sampling an authentic taste of Krakow.
While most of the city’s sights are within easy walking distance, if you wish to go farther afield or to get around the city at a faster pace, Krakow is home to an extensive electric scooter hire network. Scooter operators such as Bird and Lime have multiple pick up points located around the city from which you can pick up a scooter with the touch of a button on their app. We used them a couple of times while we were in Krakow to whiz around the city when we needed to get to places quickly, and it was a really convenient (and fun!) way of getting around. An inexpensive and nippy mode of transport, in addition to Krakow’s extensive active travel infrastructure network, makes e-scooters a great option to see the sights, particularly if you’re short on time.
We managed to see and experience a great deal of what Krakow had to offer in the few days we were there, and I feel very fortunate that we were able to go at all in the grand scheme of the pandemic. While wearing face masks during all of the tours, the temperature checks, and constant hand sanitising made this trip markedly different to other city breaks we have been on, it made us even more grateful to be exploring a new place once again.
As a city, I couldn’t quite work Krakow out. The huge amount of poignant, and at times heart wrenching, history the city possesses seemed to be at odds with the lively, tourist-geared main square with its many restaurants and bars. While much of Krakow’s history, particularly concerning the Second World War, is on display and in many ways honoured, there are other elements of its history, such as its time under the so-called ‘Iron Curtain’ that were almost visually non-existent. The main square in particular appeared to be a hub for partygoers and hen and stag dos, although venturing farther out from the tourist-clad centre did reveal glimpses of much grittier urban surroundings.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Krakow, but it seemed to me that the city couldn’t quite decide what it wanted to present itself as, and I myself couldn’t put my finger on it. I would absolutely recommend anyone to visit this city, as you will be bowled over by the incredible history it possesses, while also finding culinary and cultural delights each way you turn. And perhaps, you will be able to make more sense of it than I…
In a little over two weeks I will be embarking upon my first trip abroad since the pandemic struck, and while I’m super excited to be exploring somewhere new again, the last few months have given me a chance to reflect on some of my travel habits and whether the pandemic will change them in any way.
The impact Covid-19 has had on the global travel industry has been severe, to say the least. International travel all but ground to a halt during the height of the pandemic, with most airlines struggling to continue operating during those first few months. Row upon row of cruise ships have been anchored in ports and off coastlines across the continent, with no onward destination or passengers to take there.
Things are now starting to pick up again very slowly with the event of so-called ‘travel corridors’ across borders, although the sporadic implementation of quarantine periods between various countries is still causing significant problems for travel companies. In fact, some aviation firms are predicting air travel will not return to pre-Covid levels for at least another two years, with Gatwick airport in the UK announcing on Friday it doesn’t expect levels to fully recover until 2025. But in reality, could the effects of the pandemic on the travel industry become far more deep-rooted than just lower numbers of travellers?
To say that many people will be feeling somewhat apprehensive about stepping on a plane or boarding a cruise ship any time soon is probably a fair assessment, and in the event of a global pandemic it’s not all that surprising that people may feel this way.
Personally, I don’t have many qualms about visiting new places again and travelling to different countries. However, there is one thing that I am ever so slightly anxious about, and that is the plane journey to get there and back. There’s been a lot of information in the news, and from the Government, about the dangers of re-circulating air, being in an enclosed, indoor space, and mixing with lots of different people – all of which is nigh on impossible to avoid on a plane, as much as you may try. On the positive side, my flight is a short one (about two and a half hours) and I will of course be wearing a mask and vigorously applying antibac as well as following all other recommended protocols, so the risk will be as low as is possible in that particular situation.
For others, though, and understandably so, this is still too risky a situation to put themselves in and will be enough to prevent them from travelling abroad at least in the near future. The same goes for trains, coaches and boats – by travelling on each of these you are inevitably increasing your risk somewhat of contracting Covid, and so many may decide against it until the global situation improves.
This could have untold consequences on the already struggling travel and tourism sectors, with many firms in this industry facing huge economic losses and having to implement job cuts. Despite this rather doom and gloom outlook, there are many people itching to go abroad after missing out on their summer holidays earlier in the year and who are looking to get away after spending the majority of their time indoors over the last few months. As more and more countries grapple with getting the spread of coronavirus under control, and succeed, I believe that we will see more and more people deciding to travel abroad once more as we move into next year.
It seems a little insensitive to refer to positives in regard to a pandemic which has cost so many lives, but one aspect that has benefited significantly over the past few months is our reduced impact on the environment. As the countries around the world entered lockdown, planes stopped flying, substantially less cars and buses clogged up the roads, and the eco-footprint of office buildings and workplaces nose-dived as people were sent home. The world as we know it slowed right down, and the natural world took a deep breath. We might not want to admit it, but nature has thrived since we’ve been inside.
And this won’t have gone unnoticed by many, especially by those who are conscious of their own impact on the environment. Perhaps seeing how much we pollute the earth through the millions of plane journeys taken each day, the amount of air pollution from motor vehicles, and the ocean pollution of large cruise ships and ferries as they cart us around the world, will make some think twice about how frequently, and by what means, they travel.
I have always wanted to travel in a more eco-friendly way, and while I do try to pick so-called ‘eco-friendly’ flights with lower C02 output and replace car journeys where possible with cycling and walking, there is definitely a lot more that I can personally do to lower my carbon footprint. And I hope that this will be something other people will think about more too – it would be a real shame to regress back into our old ways and forget how the natural world flourished in the wake of our absence.
An inevitable fallout of travel firms missing out on the summer season and majority of their earnings this year, is likely to be the spike in prices as people start going on holiday again. While a nuisance for me and you, it makes sense for these companies to want, and need, to recoup their losses by putting up their prices as we move into next year and beyond, banking on the fact that people will pay the higher prices after missing out on going abroad this year.
For the past couple of years, my partner and I have been planning a extended trip to South America, hoping to spend in excess of six months travelling the continent next year. That plan is, unsurprisingly, somewhat up in the air right now as we wait to see how the fallout out of the pandemic plays out. And a big part of this hesitation is that the trip is likely to cost us significantly more than it would have done pre-Covid.
It wouldn’t surprise me if others felt the same way about trips they had planned, and decided to put them off a little longer in the hope that the price hike will eventually even out. Saying this, upping the price of plane tickets, accommodations and tourist activities in itself is probably not enough to put passionate travellers off, and if you really want to go somewhere, you’ll pay the extra to do so.
Finally, don’t underestimate the pull of the staycation. This year, people have had little choice but to enjoy what’s on their doorstep, and from both what I have heard from my friends and family, and my own experiences, rediscovering how pleasant holidaying at home can be has been an eye-opener for many.
I was lucky enough to be able to get away for a week to the picturesque Jurassic coast of Dorset, enjoying fish and chips on the beach, a jaunt around the shops of various pretty seaside towns, and even a dip in the sea (as I’m sure you’ve been told before, it’s not so bad once you’re in!). It was a timely reminder that we don’t always have to travel halfway around the world to enjoy ourselves and visit somewhere new, and there are plenty of places to explore without having to travel thousands of miles to do so.
I’m sure that many others have experienced this too over the past few months as restrictions have lifted and people have been given more freedom to get out and about. While I don’t necessarily expect people to choose Dorset over Dubai for their summer holiday, for example, I think there’s something to be said for holidaying closer to home more often.
To be clear…
I love travelling. It’s one of my all-time favourite things to do, and I have missed not being able to explore new places so much. This post isn’t intentioned to cast negativity over the act of travelling, nor throw any shade in the direction of the travel industry. It is simply my speculation as to how recent events may shape the global travel landscape as we move out of the pandemic, and how I, and perhaps others, may alter the way they explore the world in the future.
Fellow travel bloggers, I’d love to hear your views on this and whether coronavirus has made you think twice about your travel habits and expectations. If you’re planning a trip in the near future, let me know how you’re going to go about it!
My first visit to Taiwan came about rather spontaneously through a work trip in March 2019. Before this opportunity arose, I knew very little about this tiny island located just off the east coast of mainland China.
Since then, I’ve already returned for a second trip, and did have another planned later this year before the Coronavirus pandemic struck.
Read on to find out why this relatively niche travel destination has left such a lasting impact on me, and why I can’t help returning again and again…
Taipei is Taiwan’s capital city; a sprawling concrete metropolis rearing up between rolling, forest-clad mountains. I had never been anywhere like this before, where urban sprawl and natural beauty co-existed side-by-side in a pleasant, albeit somewhat strange, harmony.
From the minute I stepped foot outside the plane, I felt welcome in Taiwan, and that is almost completely down to the people there. Everyone I met was incredibly friendly; happy to point me the right way when I asked for directions, and all with a smile on their face. The people of Taiwan whom I met on my trip were so full of respect for, and showed so much kindness to, visitors such as myself, so much so that I immediately felt comfortable and at ease (despite this being my first solo international trip to the other side of the world).
Another thing I noticed right away when I arrived was how clean Taipei was, in terms of both rubbish on the streets and air pollution. A major hub in East Asia, the city prides itself on its eco credentials, serving as the country’s political, cultural, educational and economic centre.
As such, there are a plethora of things to do in Taipei. For breathtaking 360 degree views of the city, take the 37-second elevator (travelling at a dizzying 60km per hour) to the 89th floor of Taipei 101, formerly known as the Taiwan World Financial Centre. Taipei 101, which held the title of the world’s tallest building from 2004-2010, is the best place to get a birds-eye view of the city and its surroundings. In my opinion, the best time to go up to the viewing platform is about half an hour before sunset, so you can see the city’s transformation from day to night. Although beware – Taipei is subject to a lot of haze, particularly in the summer months, which may inhibit your view out across the city. So, make sure to check how good the visibility is before you head up there.
If you fancy getting out of the city and exploring Taipei’s natural beauty spots, check out Elephant Mountain (Xiangshan) – a 183m high mountain and hiking trail, with viewing stations which provide panoramic views of the city below. A word of warning – there are a lot of stairs. But, the views are definitely worth it once you get to the top.
And if nature is your thing, then take a trip to nearby Yangmingshan National Park, famous for its cherry blossoms, sulfur deposits, hiking trails and hot springs. Yangmingshan is also home to Taiwan’s tallest dormant volcano, the Seven Star Mountain.
Other places of interest to explore in Taipei include its many memorial halls and museums, as well as the city’s National Theatre and National Concert Hall. There is a thriving shopping area around Taipei Main Station, including the Taipei Underground Market and the original Shin Kong Mitsukoshi department store. Other popular shopping destinations include the Zhongshan Metro Mall and the Guang Hua Digital Plaza.
Taipei is also home to many temples housing Buddhist, Taoist and Chinese folk religion deities. Xinsheng South Road is known as the ‘Road to Heaven’ due to its high concentration of temples, shrines, churches, and mosques.
My second trip to Taiwan saw me travel down to the south of the island to Kaohsiung, where I spent just under a week exploring the city (while I wasn’t working, of course). I loved my time in Kaohsiung, and saw a lot more of the nightlife here than I did during my trip to Taipei.
One of my favourite experiences was visiting one of the city’s many open-air night markets. All types of foods, drinks and local delicacies – most of which I had never seen before and, quite frankly, some of which I’m not all that keen on seeing again – were available to try and buy as you walked through the stalls bustling with families, groups of friends and locals out for a quick bite.
While it probably isn’t the place to spend a great deal of time if you’re particularly squeamish (cue, roasted duck heads), I would absolutely encourage you to try some of what’s on offer to get a truly authentic taste of Taiwan. Besides, you never know until you try, right?
Kaohsiung’s main landmarks include the 85 Sky Tower, standing at 378 metres tall, the ferris wheel of the Kaohsiung Dream Mall, and the city harbour, which is the largest in Taiwan. The city is well-known for its malls and shopping streets, and its newly-developed leisure parks: the Pier-2 Art Center, E-DA Theme Park, Metropolitan Park, Museum of Fine Arts and Tarako Park.
If you’re after something a little more agricultural, check out the views from Monkey Mountain (Shoushan) which is completely made up from coral reefs, walk next to the Love River (also known as the spine of Koahsiung), visit the Dapingding Tropical Botanical Garden in the Siaogang District, or venture out to nearby Yushan National Park.
Whether you venture to the North or South of the island, Taiwan certainly has something for everyone – and I have only scratched the surface of what this incredible place has to offer. When it’s possible, I can’t wait to reschedule my trip out here and explore some more!
These unprecedented times have created far from ideal circumstances for those of us who love to do nothing more than explore different corners of the world; we now find ourselves confined to our homes for the foreseeable future in a bid to slow the spread of Covid-19 around the globe. Of course, everyone must heed the Stay At Home plea and do their bit to keep our family, friends and the vulnerable in society safe from contracting the virus, which means jetting off to exotic destinations and backpacking across continents is firmly off the cards, for now.
However, that doesn’t mean you have to stop exploring new places and learning about different countries, landmarks and communities across the globe completely. While it’s not, and never could be, the same as visiting somewhere in the flesh, I’ve put together a list of resources, places and institutions which have opened their virtual doors to people around the world – and you can access it all from the comfort of your sofa!
Visit 12 museums from around the world
Travel and Leisure has pulled together a list of museums ‘from London to Seoul’ offering free virtual tours and experiences for people to enjoy while at home, included in Google’s Arts & Culture collection:
Other cultural institutions are also taking it upon themselves to provide online, virtual experiences for people to enjoy. The Louvre is offering an online tour of its exhibits, while some of the Museum of Modern Art’s display can be accessed via its YouTube channel, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art has provided access to its online series, The Artist Project.
The Metropolitan Opera is also live-streaming a free series of encore Live in HD presentations during its Coronavirus closure, with each stream available for 23 hours. The Berliner Philharmoniker is also providing free live-streams of performances and on-demand access to broadcasts, and so is the Chamber Music Society of the Lincoln Centre.
And it’s not just museums and cultural institutions which are providing online experiences during the lockdown period. Should you wish, you can visit Lapland’s Icehotel and experience the Northern lights through 360-degree videos, explore the city of Jerusalem through this virtual reality (VR) tour, watch the sunset over the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland with 360-degree views and fully immersive VR headset capability, and take an interactive tour of English Heritage site Stonehenge.
You’ve booked your flights, mapped your route, and picked out your must-see sights. Now, you need to decide what to pack – and it’s trickier than you might first think. Whether you’re a grab and go packer or spend hours agonising over how many pairs of socks are too many, it always handy to have a rough idea of what you might need, particularly if you’re heading somewhere completely new.
There are lots of factors to consider which will influence what you decide to take with you – how long you’re planning on being away, how active you’re going to be, and whether you’re going to visit any religious or culturally sensitive places, for example.
The first item you need to think about taking with you is a decent travel backpack; I can assure you that trying to maneuver a suitcase around Delhi’s crowded streets will not go well for you. Check out this handy guide from The Broke Backpacker which reviews some of the best backpacks currently on the market, to see what kind of bag would suit your travel needs and style.
If you’re packing for more than a couple of weeks, you will want a pack with at least a 40 litre capacity to make sure you have room for everything you might need. You will also need a decent daypack for when you’re out and about exploring, as you won’t want to be carrying around your big pack all day, especially if you’re travelling during the peak season.
A micro-fibre towel – these super lightweight towels take up minimal room and dry far quicker then a normal towel, an absolute must when backpacking.
Padlock – It’s always handy to carry a padlock on you to lock your bag while on a long-haul bus or train journey, and for securing hostel rooms and lockers.
Security money belt – This is a great secure way to stash your money out of sight of petty thieves or chance criminals, especially when travelling through busy or more dodgy areas.
‘Stuff Sacks’ – These waterproof sacks are great for keeping your clothes and other valuables dry and compact so they don’t take up unnecessary room in your backpack.
Imodium – Everyone’s heard of the dreaded ‘Delhi Belly’, so it’s worth packing some of this to make sure you don’t get caught out unexpectedly.
Bug spray – yeah, you’ll need this.
The most important thing when deciding what, and how much, to bring with you is to pack light. You almost definitely won’t need everything you’re currently thinking of taking with you, and as a general rule clothes tend to be pretty cheap to pick up on the road as you move form place to place. Packing darker clothes is also a good idea as they don’t show the dirt as much. Here is a list of the types of clothes I took with me on my backpacking adventure around India…
Underwear – goes without saying, really…I would recommend at least a week’s worth, but be prepared to wash them by hand.
T-shirts – 3-4 T-shirts/vest tops that you can mix and match.
Long-sleeve top – Always handy to have one of these to cover sunburn/repel mosquito bites.
Hiking trousers – one pair will do.
Shorts – a couple of pairs.
Jumper – Depending on which part of India you will be travelling to, and in which season, it’s always a good idea to pack at least one lightweight jumper with you.
Raincoat – Especially if you’re travelling in monsoon season, but if you’re travelling in peak summer season you can probably leave this out.
Swimming costume – India has some of the most incredible beaches and warm oceans, so make the most of these if you get the chance
Scarf – one of the most useful things I took with me; you can use it to cover your shoulders while visiting religiously-sensitive sites, to avoid sunburn on the beach, or as a travel pillow while on a bus, train or plane.
Walking shoes/trainers – If you’re planning on doing any hiking or lots of walking then you should definitely invest in some decent footwear.
Sliders/sandals – for the beach/casual wear.
Going-out clothes – Packing light doesn’t mean you can’t take a couple of nice things with you for the evenings, such as a couple of light dresses or skirts.
Obviously, this is just a basic guide based on the kinds of things I took with me to India, and you can customise this list however you see fit, depending on the length of your trip and the kinds of activities (if any) you have planned.
No backpacking checklist is exhaustive, but one piece of advice I would give is to pack as light as possible – you can always pick things up on the road, and sometimes doing it that way is more fun, too.
Lying 50 miles south of Italy in the middle of the Mediterranean sea, the island of Malta is a popular holiday destination for couples, families and, well, pretty much anyone. Spanning an area of just 122 square miles, Malta is the world’s tenth smallest sovereign country. But don’t let its size fool you, this tiny island has something to offer everyone and is the perfect place for some much needed rest and relaxation.
Beautiful beaches, glorious sunshine and pretty ports, Malta isn’t short of picturesque scenery that leaves you feeling relaxed and fulfilled. Head to Marsaxlokk fishing village on the southern tip of the island on market day to sample fresh seafood caught that morning, and once you’ve had your fill wander through the stalls filled with trinkets and goods sold by the locals.
Make sure you visit Malta’s Blue Grotto, where you can take a short boat trip out to the caves to glimpse the piercing blue hues in the water around the island’s southeast coast. This is a really popular diving and snorkeling spot attracting around 100,000 visitors every year. Don’t let the crowds put you off though, as it really is worth the trip.
And if boat trips are your thing, then why not make a day out of it and catch the ferry over to one of Malta’s sister islands, Gozo. The ferry ride to Gozo takes around 25 minutes, and if you book an organised tour you’ll be met at the dock by an open top bus which will take you to the island’s capital, Victoria (Ir-Rabat). Here, you can weave through the cobbled streets, ducking inside the many shops and stop at one of pretty the open air cafes for a bite to eat. Take a trip up to the Citadel, where its towering fortifications provide superb views across the whole island. St George’s Basilica stands in a square in the heart of the Old Town, and the tiny winding streets around St George’s are some of the oldest in town.
Many of the boat trips to Gozo will also stop off at the striking Blue Lagoon on the island of Comino on their return leg. Here, you can swim for hours in the island’s crystal clear waters, and if snorkelling is your thing then you’ll be spoilt for choice with an abundant variety of sea life on display. A word of warning: it does get very busy at peak times in the main lagoon, and with more and more tour operators mooring up in the bay it can spoil the tranquility. However, if you’re prepared to take a short walk around the bay’s headland to a quiet stretch of coast it really is stunning, and provides a really relaxing, wholesome place to whittle away a couple of hours.
While it would be easy, and completely understandable, to spend all your time in Malta on the island’s idyllic coast, there is plenty more to see inland. One of the biggest pulls to Malta is its capital city, Valletta, which was named the European Capital of Culture in 2018. It’s definitely worth a day trip to the city to glimpse the mid-16th century baroque to modernism architecture of the Old Town, and have a look around its unique collection of churches, palaces and museums.
One of the buildings of significant historical importance is St John’s Co-Cathedral, which visitors can enter inside for a small fee, and which holds the only signed work and largest painting by Michelangelo Merisi de Caravaggio. Take a stroll through the picturesque Lower Barrakka Gardens and gaze out over the port city’s 100m high fortifications, built by the Maltese Knights as a magnificent series of bastions, cavaliers and curtains.
It comes with the territory of holidaying on a Mediterranean island, but the seafood on offer in Malta is really something. Caught fresh and prepared with local flair, there’s little better than a delicious seafood platter to top off a day of sunbathing or exploring one of Malta’s many cultural hotspots. Due to Malta’s history of British colonisation, it’s really easy to find something familiar on the menu. But if you feel like pushing the boat out (so to speak…) then tucking into some fresh, local seafood is definitely something you should try while on the island.
Malta also has its fare share of decent nightlife for those who like to make an evening of it, with popular hotspots such as St Paul’s Bay and nearby Bugibba offering an array of restaurants, bars and clubs to suit all manner of tastes. The bottom line is, Malta has something to tickle the fancy of anyone – from a tranquil, relaxing beach break, to a cultural exploration of its many historical and cultural delights, to catering for those who prefer to party through the night and sleep throughout the day.
Prague has become one of the major tourist destinations in Europe, receiving more than 20 million visitors yearly. And it’s clear to see why, as it really does have something for everyone; history, architecture, great food and, of course, more varieties of beer than you could count on your fingers and toes.
I visited Prague in November for a weekend getaway with my boyfriend, staying for three days and two nights. With the city being fairly small in comparison to the likes of London or New York, and very easy to get around, it was an ideal amount of time to spend in the city centre and we fit a lot into a few days.
You’re spoilt for choice with places to stay in and around the city centre, ranging from hostels to hotels to Airbnbs. We stayed here, a lovely little reasonably-priced hotel just off of Charles Bridge in the Malá Strana district which served as a great base for us to explore from.
Because we were right in the heart of the city, pretty much everything on our list of things to see was in walking distance. We must have covered in excess of 20km per day exploring the cobbled side streets of the Old Town, or hiking up to Prague Castle.
Food, glorious food
We took some time to mosey through Prague’s Old Town, armed with a hot cup of mulled wine from one of the many vendors dotted around the square. The Old Town Square is full of enticing food stalls and restaurants serving local delicacies such as Halušky (potato, sauerkraut and bacon) and ghoulash, which I would absolutely recommend giving a try.
A word of warning, though – Old Town Square is notoriously expensive for food due to the amount of tourists that flock to it, and it’s easy to pay more than you should for a meal. A hunk of pork and Halušky to share ended up costing us the equivalent of £40 because we asked for ‘two servings’ instead of weight in kilograms – a rookie error, sure, but a useful lesson in avoiding some of the more obvious eating spots where you’ll likely be overcharged (even so, the pork was delicious).
Continuing on the topic of food, make sure you try a traditional hot dog with sauerkraut from one of the many stalls within the city centre, and have you really been to Prague if you haven’t tried a Trdelník? These ‘chimney cakes’ are made from rolled dough which is wrapped around a stick and grilled over charcoal, then dusted in sugar and walnut mix (I had far too many of these but, while in Prague, it would be rude not too, right?).
If you’re looking for something with a little more luxury attached, and don’t mind paying a little extra, then look no further than Restaurant Mlýnec, a Michelin-recommended restaurant which overlooks Charles Bridge. We had our anniversary dinner here, and the food was exquisite – make sure you try the degustation menu, which gives you a taste of five or six authentic Czech dishes and a wine-pairing option. Lahodné!
Castles, clocks & culture
We did many of the classic touristy activities during our time in Prague, including watching the chiming of the famous anatomical clock (I found the figurines a little creepy, if I’m honest) and meandering through the local market.
We also hiked up to Prague Castle; according to the Guinness Book of World Records the UNESCO monument is the largest ancient castle in the world, built in the 9th century. The view from the Great South Tower is definitely worth the 280 steps to the top and is the best place to snap that classic photo of Prague’s red roof skyline. Stop by the vineyard in the castle grounds where you can enjoy more great views (and more mulled wine).
There are plenty of other things to see and do in the city centre; visit the Lennon Wall – a graffiti-style wall art piece dedicated to Beatles star John Lennon; take a walk down the ‘world’s narrowest street’; or wander across Charles Bridge and look out onto the picturesque River Vltava which bisects Malá Strana and Prague Old Town. Try out the many varieties of Czech-brewed beer by taking part in a beer tour, or by dropping into a pub or two as you explore Prague’s many cobbled streets (we did the latter).
We also took a trip to Wenceslas Square in the newer business centre of Prague. By coincidence, we had booked our trip on the same day that the Czech Republic was celebrating the 30th anniversary of the beginning of the Velvet Revolution, which culminated in the overthrowing of communism and the crowning of democracy in the country. In the centre of Wenceslas Square a huge stage had been erected for musicians in front of a growing memorial shrine of candles and flowers, on the spot where Czech students and friends Jan Palach and Jan Zajic set fire to themselves in 1969, in protest to the crushing of the Prague Spring.
It was a very moving day to be part of, witnessing the celebration of independence and democracy, but coming to the square also served as a poignant reminder to me of the struggles so many go through to secure what I, ashamedly, all too often take for granted.
As I said at the start of this post, I visited Prague in the middle of November so it was pretty cold (hence the scarves and coats) so we stuck to mainly wintery activities.
However, I’ve heard that Prague’s beer gardens are incredible in the summer time, so I’ll definitely be returning in the warmer months to try them out! All in all, if you’re looking for somewhere that offers culture, architecture and some great food and drink all for a reasonable price, then Prague should be at the top of your weekend getaway list.
The Big Apple, The City of Dreams, The City So Nice They Named It Twice…we’re all familiar with the idealist accolades of romance and magic surrounding New York City. In excess of 65 million visitors a year flock to see one of the world’s most famous cities in the flesh (or concrete…). So, you could be forgiven for thinking NYC could perhaps be too good to be true, and may be little more than an expensive and overrated tourist trap.
Before I first visited New York, people told me I would either fall in love with it completely, or hate it. Fortunately, it was one of the most awesome cities I’ve ever set foot in. Of course, growing up I had caught many glimpses of New York City in various films and TV shows, and had always longed to go there and see if it was really how it seemed ‘in the movies’. In some ways it was like stepping straight onto a filmset seeing the hanging street signs and fire escape-clad apartment buildings, while in others the modern, metropolitan side of NYC shone through the classic New York exterior.
While I was in New York, I made it my mission to see as much as I possibly could in the four days I was there – managing to get round the majority of must-see sights, some of which were worth queuing for a lot more than others. There are a thousand and one ways to explore a city like NYC, but here I’ll talk through how I went about getting the best out of my short trip, and hopefully give some tips on the best things to see and do if you only have a few days here.
Fail to prepare, prepare to fail
New York is a crazy, busy and incredibly fast-paced city to visit, and it can be somewhat overwhelming when you first arrive. To save wasting precious time on your trip spending too long figuring out what to do, where to go, and how to get there, plan your trip in advance to remove the stress and allow yourself to relax and get on with your travels.
If sightseeing is your thing, and boy is there a lot to see in this city, then I would suggest investing in a sightseeing pass before you go. Depending on which one you choose, it will give you access to a whole host of landmarks, sights, day trips, bus tours and even deals to certain restaurants, among other things. I chose this one, and it saved me over £100 on entry fees as well as removing the faff of queuing up to buy entry tickets. It also has an app where you can create your own custom itinerary, a really helpful tool that allows you to plan each day exactly how you like it.
You can waste a lot of time in New York going backwards and forwards between places, especially if you’re a Brit like me and haven’t quite mastered the grid system (although it is pretty foolproof). New York is also made up of five boroughs; Manhattan, Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens and Staten Island. I tried to group together the things I wanted to see and do geographically, to save sitting on one of the open bus tours going round the same loop again and again just to get to the other side of town. Even Manhattan itself can feel like a concrete jungle.
Perhaps start by splitting it into Downtown, Midtown and so on. Alternatively, if planning isn’t your thing and you prefer to wing it then be my guest – you will probably stumble across many of NYC’s hidden treasures while wandering along your own path. So, without further ado let’s jump straight in.
The Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island
Ground Zero & 9/11 Tribute Museum
One World Observatory
Staten Island Ferry
South Street Seaport
Downtown bus & walking tours
There’s an abundance of things to see and do in downtown New York City. Historic and iconic landmarks such as the Statue of Liberty and Brooklyn Bridge rub shoulders with more recent additions Ground Zero and the One World Observatory, making it the perfect place to start your exploration of NYC.
And as well as seeing the sights, take time to walk through the hustle and bustle of the Manhattan Farmers Market, stroll along the harbour or take respite in one of the many coffee joints in the area.
Empire State Building
Top of the Rock at the Rockefeller Centre
Grand Central Station
Radio City Music Hall tour
New York Public Library
Madison Square Garden
Flat Iron Building
We were lucky enough to stay in Midtown Manhattan, just off of Times Square (Luma Hotel) which provided a great base from which to get around the city, but also offered a multitude of things to do.
TIP: If you have limited time and want the best view of NYC, then make sure you go up the Top of the Rock – from here you can actually see the Empire State in the skyline, and you get a better view of the city from the top.
In addition to visiting all the sights on the list above, we had a brilliant time exploring the nightlife here – ending up in Swing 46, a super cool Jazz club with an awesome live band playing. Dallas BBQ is the place to go for a huge and hearty, and reasonably priced, American feast (we’re talking wings, steaks, burgers, corn bread, you name it – they’ll have it!), while Juniors is the best place to go for cheesecake.
If you eat anywhere in Midtown Manhattan, though, make sure it’s Ellen’s Stardust Diner. Here, hopeful Broadway stars serenade you over your pancakes with musical favourites and pop classics – it really is a fantastic show, and the food’s great too.
Central Park (Strawberry Fields, Bethesda Fountain)
Central Park Zoo
American Museum of Natural History
My favourite part about Uptown Manhattan was by far Central Park. We hired some bikes and cycled round the whole park, stopping off at John Lennon’s Strawberry Fields and Bethesda Fountain, as well as the odd ice cream on the way round. It was like being transported to a calm, peaceful oasis – I truly didn’t feel as if I were in one of the busiest cities in the world.
We also traveled past Uptown Manhattan into the Bronx to watch a baseball game at the Yankees Stadium, which was pretty cool. I would definitely recommend doing this if a game is on when you go – tickets were cheap and there’s a great atmosphere in the stadium!
New York city captured my heart and imagination like few others, and although it’s been less than a year since I last visited I’m already aching to go back and explore some more. I’m of the opinion that you could visit New York a hundred times and still find something new or surprising each time. This is a definite bucket-list destination, and one that will leave a slightly different imprint on each person who walks its streets.
The North of India is by far one of the most beautifully diverse places I have had the pleasure of visiting. India’s so-called Golden Triangle is perhaps the first, and most obvious, sightseeing tour many people think of when contemplating a trip to India, and in my opinion, it is one that should absolutely not be missed.
The Golden Triangle refers to three areas situated in the North of India which (funnily enough) resemble a triangle shape if you were to join the dots between them. Delhi, India’s bustling, vibrant capital, forms the northern-most tip of the triangle, with Agra, home to the ivory-white Taj Mahal, situated to the southeast. The capital of India’s Rajasthan state, Jaipur, also known as the Pink City, makes up the southwest point and rounds off the tour known by travellers far and wide as: The Golden Triangle.
This tour made up the first leg of my India journey, and was a fantastic introduction to the breathless pace and beauty of this crazy, intriguing country. My best friend and I spent just under a week navigating through Delhi, Agra and Jaipur, and while we could have happily spent far longer exploring these places we felt that this was still enough time to see the best of the sights on offer, and sample some pretty special cuisine, too.
India’s capital, Dehli is a bustling metropolis which seamlessly blends the ancient and the modern; an absolute must-visit if you’re planning a trip to India. There’s so much to see and do in this city, and you could spend hours simply people-watching as the locals go about their daily lives.
If you’re here to sight-see, then don’t miss a trip to the Qutab Minar, the tallest brick marinet in the world towering at 72.5 metres. Commissioned by the first Muslim ruler of Delhi, the detail and design in the brickwork is incredible. If architecture is your gig then Delhi won’t disappoint, as there are hundreds of buildings across the city serving as hallmarks left behind by Delhi’s multiple rulers of the last millennia.
You should also check out Humayan’s Tomb commissioned in 1562, the first garden tomb built in the Indian sub-continent which used red sandstone on a large scale. Although visitors can’t stop there for long, make sure you drive by the iconic India Gate and President’s House. The Red Fort, which served as residence for the Mughal Royal Family, is also worth a look, as is Rajghat, the memorial to Mahatma Ghandi.
If you want to get in and amongst the hustle and bustle of Delhi, then there is no better place to go than Chandni Chowk; home to the busiest market in Old Delhi. Tour around the noisy, busy streets in a cycle rickshaw – super cheap, this is the best way to get around and experience the inner twists and turns without getting lost or haggled at every turn.
After wandering through the stalls full of spices, dried fruits and jewelry, stop in along Paranthe Wali Gali, a street famous for its incredible Parathas, an Indian flatbread served with multiple toppings and Dals (soups and dips made from dried, split pulses and flavoured with a multitude of spices). Street food is incredibly cheap here, with parathas and a cup of Lassi setting you back less than 80 rupees (£1). Soak up the buzz and craziness of the market from here, and you’ll start to get a real feel for everyday life in Delhi.
Accommodation can be pretty cheap across the city, with a dorm bed in one of the many backpacking hostels in New Delhi available for between 400 and 900 rupees (£5-10) per night. Hostelworld or Booking.com are good places to start your search. If you would like a little more luxury on your trip, then a decent hotel will set you back around 5,000-7,000 rupees (£50-£70) per night.
The next stop on the Golden Triangle Tour is Agra, known mostly for being the setting of the world-famous and UNESCO world heritage site, the Taj Mahal. One of the most famous landmarks not just in India, but the across the world, you can understand why some might worry the Taj will be underwhelming when you see it in the flesh (or marble…). But from my experience, it was truly one of the most breathtaking sights I’ve ever seen.
To catch the Taj in it’s best light, go just before dawn on a clear day. As the sun starts to rise, its rays dance across the white marble making it shimmer and sparkle in the early morning sunlight. It really is ethereal.
The story behind the Taj is one of love and loss; Emperor Shah Jahan had the mausoleum built as a symbol of his devotion to his beloved queen Mumtaz Mahal, after she died giving birth to their 14th child. The Taj took 21 years to complete, and is now the resting place of both the Emperor and his queen.
Travellers flock from all corners of the globe to visit the Taj Mahal, the place symbolic what many deem the ultimate love story. But if tales of love and romance don’t float you boat, the beautiful architecture and sheer scale of the Taj warrants a visit in itself.
The Taj is open from 6am-7pm every day except Fridays, when it is closed for prayer. It is also open for night viewing every full moon from 8pm-12:30am, plus the two nights before and after.
If you would like to hear all about the history and story of the Taj, I would definitely recommend hiring a guide – they can also take that picture-perfect photo of you and your fellow travellers! But if you would rather take in the beauty of the Taj while wandering round on your own, then you won’t find a more powerful, reflective place to be alone with your thoughts (save from the crowds).
The entry fee for foreigners is 1,100 rupees (around £12) which can be purchased at the gate but be prepared to queue. If you’re planning to go before dawn, get there at least half an hour before the opening times, or you will miss the magical sunrise moment while queuing for your tickets!
Agra isn’t just home to the Taj Mahal, though. The Red Fort, commissioned in 1565, is a handsome example of Mughal architecture and definitely worth a trip to. Also not to miss is Fatehpur Sikri, another UNESCO world heritage site, home to many historical buildings and also to the Tomb of Sheikh Salim Chishti which enshrines the burial place of the Sufi saint who used to live there.
Also known as the ‘Pink City’ Jaipur’s picture perfect architecture can be found featured across many celebrities’ Instagram accounts, famous for its colourful culture, forts, palaces and lakes.
Set in the traditional state of Rajasthan, Jaipur is the must-see third stop on the Golden Triangle Tour.
Take a trip to the Old City of Jaipur, painted completely pink, to walk through the endless winding markets to practice your bargaining skills and sample some of the delicious street food on offer.
If you want to find out more about the history of Jaipur (and discover who chose to paint an entire city pink), you can hire a guide to show you around the nooks and crannies, alternatively just wander through the narrow streets to take in the pretty decor of the facades and the general hustle of everyday life here.
Jaipur’s Amber Fort is also worth a visit. Built in the 16th century and a named UNESCO world heritage site, the fort is constructed from a mixture of red sandstone and marble and lies on the top of a hill just outside of Jaipur. The main way of getting to the top is on elephant back, however the hill is easily scalable so you can walk to the top instead, if you’d prefer to avoid riding the elephants.
Side note: When I went, our guide had booked us on to the elephant rides without us knowing – although they looked as if they were fairly well looked after, you never quite know how the animals are actually treated. If animal welfare is something that concerns you, the walk to the top is steep but not very far, and you get to see some truly beautiful scenery on the way up!
Other sights not to miss while you’re in Jaipur include the beautiful Hawa Mahal, also known as ‘Palace of the Winds’, and a trip around the City Palace where you can take a look in the armoury, browse traditional dress worn by ruling families of Jaipur dating back hundreds of years, and other cool parts of the palace. If you have time, stop in at the Jantar Mantar Observatory, home to huge traditional geometric devices used to measure time.
Booking a Golden Triangle tour is a great way of seeing some of India’s most famous sites in a short space of time, and is perfect for travellers who don’t have a lot of time, or are embarking on a trip for the first time. There are lots of tour companies out there which will offer you different variations of the tour, as well as different add-ons such as flights, guides and extra excursions, so make sure you do your research before booking. We booked with a local travel agent who put together a private all-inclusive tour to suit exactly what we wanted, at a good price – we were travelling other areas of India after this under our own steam, so booking a tour to get the ball rolling made perfect sense to us. Also, it meant this was one less thing for us to organise.
Alternatively, you can go it alone and follow the route as you see fit – the distance between each destination is relatively little and there are a number of different transport options available to get you from A to B. This can be an exciting, freeing way to travel as you’re not restricted by timings, and can choose to do however much sightseeing, relaxing or partying you like. If you’re an experienced traveller or are looking to get off the beaten tourist trail, then this a great way of experiencing the best that Delhi, Agra and Jaipur have to offer.