Where to Find the Best Views of New York City

New York City’s skyline is one of the most beautiful and impressive in the world.

The Manhattan skyline is home to the tallest building in the United States and the most photographed building in the world, the Empire State Building.

With so many superlatives, it’s no wonder that there are no shortage of cool observation decks in Manhattan with epic views.

But there are also many under-the-radar places for a great view of the New York skyline!

Because Manhattan is an island, there are incredible views of the Manhattan skyline just about everywhere: in Brooklyn, Queens, and even in neighboring New Jersey!

Here are some of our favorites.

The Best Views of New York City in Manhattan

On a Helicopter Tour

Contributed by Mark and Kristen of Where Are Those Morgans?

New York City is home to arguably the most iconic urban landscape on the planet. You can soak up epic NYC skyline views from several famous vantage points, such as Brooklyn Bridge, Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty.

But imagine if you could see every single one of the best skyline views NYC has to offer in just 20 minutes?

That’s where a luxury NYC helicopter tour comes in to swoop and glide over Manhattan, the Hudson River and all of its most revered landmarks.

The catch? Taking a helicopter tour over Manhattan is going to absorb a huge chunk of your NYC travel budget. But it is worth eating the expense, particularly if you only have 1 or 2 days in the city.

You can choose flight time, flight route and even whether to fly with doors on or off based on various price points. 

Flights begin at around US$ 140 per person but that’s just a basic tour. Factor in more like US$ 250 – 400 each if you want the full experience.

Tours take off and land in both New Jersey (Kearny, Linden) and Lower Manhattan (Pier 6) throughout the day but advanced reservations are recommended due to high volume ‘walk in’ demand creating long lines.

You can fly over the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, One World Observatory and Downtown Manhattan, Empire State Building, Times Square, Edge at Hudson Yards, Central Park and even as far north as Yankees Stadium.

Photography can be challenging from a bumpy helicopter so be sure to crank up your shutter speed to at least 1/4000s for best image quality.

If you’re looking for one of the very best things to do in New York City, take a bucket list helicopter tour right over the top of the entire city!

Metropolitan Museum of Art Rooftop

Contributed by James Ian from Travel Collecting

One of my all-time favorite views in New York City is from the rooftop terrace of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the Met).  

The terrace occupies the southwest corner of the museum and has incredible views over the treetops of Central Park, and of the historic apartment buildings along Fifth Avenue and the towers of Midtown.  You can see the Plaza hotel and the new super narrow skyscrapers along and near Central Park South perfectly framing the park.

The rooftop is one of the Met’s best-kept secrets.  Access to the rooftop terrace is included in the museum’s admission fee, which is $25 for adults unless you are a local resident.  The terrace is only open in the summer months.  During this time, there is an art installation that changes each year.  

There is also the Cantor Roof Garden Bar on the terrace, and you can get a glass of sangria and a snack while you enjoy the views. (This is temporarily closed in 2021 due to Covid). There are some benches, but seating is quite limited, so I recommend getting there early to secure a spot. 

To get to the terrace, there is one elevator in the American Decorative Arts section on the first floor.  It goes express to the fourth floor, and from there you walk up to the fifth floor.  The museum is currently open Thursday to Monday, 10 am–5 pm.

Whitney Museum

Contributed by Isabella of Boundless Roads

New York City is one of the most photogenic cities in the world and you can find amazing views of NYC from literally every corner, and even in museums! 

If you are into art you may want to explore the Whitney Museum where you can enjoy not only the most unique contemporary art expositions but also catch some incredible views from its terraces.

On every floor of the museum you have the chance to get out on the terrace and see New York from a different angle, but the best one is obviously on the top floor with an almost 360° of the city including the Hudson River and the brand new Little Island with its manicured gardens and pathways, which is one of the most instagrammable places in NYC.

You can also have a glimpse of the start of the popular Highline, another great viewpoint, the majestic skyscrapers that populate the city, and the gorgeous rooftop terraces.

The Whitney Museum is located at the north end of Greenwich Village, one of the most historical areas of NYC that you cannot miss even if you are visiting NYC for a short time, so that it can definitely fit in your New York itinerary.

The entrance of the Museum is $25 but if you manage to go on a Thursday, you can make your own offer which can be as little as $1. In any case, it’s completely worth the price both for the incredible views and the unique artworks. Make sure you pick a sunny day though!

New Museum of Contemporary Art  

Contributed by Kenny of Knycx Journeying  

The New Museum of Contemporary Art is located on the Lower East Side of Manhattan within the vibrant Soho area, was established 40 years ago and dedicated to showcasing works of the up-and-coming international contemporary artists, hence the name “new”.  

The museum originally operated on Hudson Street; The current museum building opened in 2007, and it is a sleek and modern white architecture, standing amongst the iconic red brick buildings and flea markets in the neighborhood. Now, the museum has an important and influential legacy and mission to keep breaking new ground.  

The Sky Room is on the 7th floor of the museum with floor-to-ceiling windows and a terrace, offering an obstructed view of Soho, and a panoramic view of the dramatic skyline from Midtown to lower Manhattan. It is one of the few locations in the area that offers such a wide-angle from both indoor and outdoor.   

The room is opened to the public unless it was booked for a private event. The general admission to the museum and Sky Room is US$18 for an adult with a discount for senior visitors, students, and disabilities. New York Pass holders enjoy free access.   

The Best Views of New York City from Brooklyn

Time Out Market Rooftop

Contributed by Megan of Your Brooklyn Guide

If you’re looking for the best skyline views in New York City one of the best places to go to is the neighborhood of DUMBO in Brooklyn. 

DUMBO is home to prime waterfront real estate along the East River which provides some of the best views of Lower Manhattan and the skyline, the Manhattan Bridge, and the Brooklyn Bridge which can be enjoyed along the Brooklyn Bridge Park waterfront here, but the best view is actually from the top floor of Empire Stores at Time Out Market New York.

Situated inside a former industrious warehouse is one of the most exciting food market halls in the city including a lower floor full of food options and the 5th floor which offers a few more eateries, a bar, and an outdoor terrace where you can sit and eat or just come for the sweeping views!

From this prime location you can get photos and views of both the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges, the NYC city skyline, and Brooklyn Bridge Park below including the whimsical Jane’s Carousel with the East River.

This is an especially great spot during sunset and if you happen to be here early morning or late at night you can access the outdoor terrace using the outdoor staircase even when Time Out Market isn’t open.

The nearest subway stations are York Street (F line) and High Street ( A/C lines). You can also take the NY Ferry to the DUMBO stop or even walk across either the Brooklyn Bridge or Manhattan Bridge.

Manhattan Bridge

Contributed by Rachel of Rachel’s Ruminations

The Brooklyn Bridge is a popular tourist destination in New York City; tourists throng the walkway of this elegant bridge. That’s part of why the Manhattan Bridge is actually a better choice, both for views and for comfort.

Both bridges connect Manhattan to Brooklyn, not very far apart from each other. The Manhattan Bridge isn’t as pretty, but it’s also not nearly as crowded.

From the Manhattan Bridge, as you listen to the subway cars roar by right next to you, you’ll get the best view of the older and prettier Brooklyn Bridge, with its Gothic Revival arches made of stone.

And the city skyline beyond it isn’t blocked by parts of the bridge, as it is from the Brooklyn Bridge.

A metal suspension bridge, the Manhattan Bridge was completed in 1909. A second level was added to it in 1922, and two separate paths – one for pedestrians and one for cyclists – were added in the early 2000s.

That means that, unlike the Brooklyn Bridge, you won’t be risking your life sharing a path with New York cyclists in a hurry or wobbly tourists admiring the views.

Walking both bridges is also possible, of course. It is probably wisest to do the Brooklyn Bridge early in the morning before the crowds gather, then take the Manhattan Bridge for the return trip. Both are free to cross. Bring water and sun lotion if it’s a warm day.

The nearest subway stations in Manhattan are Grand Street (B and D trains), East Broadway (F) and Canal Street (4, 6, J, Z, N, Q, R, W). In Brooklyn, the nearest station is York Street (F train).

To learn more about both bridges, read about walking across the Manhattan Bridge & the Brooklyn Bridge.

Westlight

Contributed by Martha at May Cause Wanderlust

Westlight is a rooftop cocktail bar in Brooklyn, from which you can enjoy a stunning panoramic view of Manhattan.  

It is on the 22nd floor of the luxury William Vale hotel in Williamsburg and the bar is run by Chef Andrew Carmellini’s NoHo Hospitality Group.

It offers a delicious selection of small plates and appetizers inspired by street food all around the world and the cocktail menu is inventive and full of personality. The design of the bar is an elegant mix of modern and classic. 

However, the star attraction is the sweeping view from the terrace. From here, you can see most of midtown Manhattan, easily picking out the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building.  At night, especially, it is a mesmerising, sparkling spectacle.

You’ll find Westlight at 111 N 12th St, Brooklyn, which is a ten minute walk from both Bedford Avenue (L train) and Nassau Avenue (G train).  There are also buses which stop nearby (B32, B62, M14-A-SBS and M9). 

Like many popular bars, it gets busy, so you it is a good idea to reserve a table in advance.  You can book indoors or on the terrace. If you can only get a table inside – and even if it is freezing cold – make sure you spend some time out on the terrace to marvel at the view!

The Skyline Drive-In

Contributed by Shannon of Traveling Teacher Girl

The Skyline Drive-In is located in Greenpoint, Brooklyn and offers amazing views of the East River and east side of Manhattan.

Skyline Drive-In is the only drive-in cinema that offers a view of the Manhattan skyline (hence where it got its name- Skyline Drive-In).

You can either drive in and watch a movie from your car, or you can walk in and use their available seating. They show movies 7 days a week year-round. 

Tickets cost approximately $55 per vehicle if you drive-in or $22 per seat if you walk in. They have typical movie theater snacks for sale such as popcorn, candy, and soda. You can also bring in food from one of the many great restaurants nearby such as Paulie Gee’s Slice Shop or Jungle Cafe. 

Be sure to arrive early in order to secure a spot closest to the screen. If you are driving in with your car be sure to allow time for typical NYC/Brooklyn traffic driving in New York City. If you are walking in, you can get to the neighborhood of Greenpoint by subway via the G train or by NYC ferry. 

There are several great spots to take photos here. The first is to take a photo from your car or seat with a view of the movie screen and the Manhattan Skyline behind it. You can also walk closer to the shore of the East River and grab a photo with an uninterrupted view of the Manhattan Skyline.

The Edge Park

Contributed by Isabella of Boundless Roads

Designed by W Architecture, The Edge Park was built in 2011, to recuperate an ugly industrial area and turn it into a beautiful waterfront park for the citizens of New York and visitors alike. 

Located in the heart of Brooklyn, in the trendy Williamsburg, The Edge Park is a spectacular space where people enjoy hanging out, jogging, sunbathing, or taking their dogs for runs, in the dedicated area.

The idea was to turn an inaccessible area into an enjoyable space, ensuring that the tower buildings were not obstructing the spectacular views of the East River and Manhattan but on the contrary, becoming connecting elements with the iconic skyline.

The mission was definitely accomplished and the area has become a lively trendy space, very much appreciated by the locals, especially in the spring and summer when people love to hang out, gathering with friends, or enjoying a nice book while sunbathing on the manicured grass or on the benches.

If you get to the end of the pier you can admire a spectacular image of the Manhattan skyline with the Empire State Building towering over the city.

To get to Edge Park from Manhattan you can get Subway Line L and get off at Bedford Avenue station, and then walk 5 minutes, or if you are coming from Queens, bus B62 is the best way to get some sightseeing before reaching your destination.

If you are traveling in the summer make sure you add a swimsuit to your NYC packing list, in case you want to join the local vibe for some sunbathing!

The Best Views of New York City from Queens

Hunter’s Point South Park

Contributed by Polly Witker of Polly Goes

Hunter’s Point South Park is a true hidden gem for anyone wanting to take in fabulous views of Midtown East in a relaxed setting!

Situated directly across the East River from 34th street at the westernmost edge of Queens, Hunter’s Point Park is a prime spot to see landmarks like the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building.

The park has plenty of seating areas, a grassy area for reading or relaxing, and a recreational space for sports like soccer or volleyball.

The iconic and Instagrammable Pepsi-Cola sign is also nearby at Gantry Plaza! LIC Landing is a casual, to-go cafe onsite with coffee and snacks.

One of the best parts about taking in the views of the NYC skyline from Hunter’s Point South Park is that it’s completely free!

Getting there is easy: by subway you can take the 7 train just one stop from Grand Central to Vernon Blvd – Jackson Avenue. Or take the NYC Ferry which stops right at Hunter’s Point.

The Best Views of NYC from New York Harbor

Governors Island

Contributed by Megan of Your Brooklyn Guide

One of the most under-the-radar spots for best views in New York City is located in the New York Harbor between Lower Manhattan and South Brooklyn at Governors Island.

Governors Island is a former military base that was active from the Revolutionary War until 1996. Since then, the space has been converted to a public playground open only from the months of May through the end of October.

You can rent bikes here or bring your own, picnic, eat, sway in hammocks, and wander around the art exhibits and former military housing on the island.

The best part though has to be climbing ‘The Hills’ where you get one of the best unobstructed views of the Statue of Liberty in one direction and breathtaking views of the Lower Manhattan skyline and World Trade Center in the other direction.

There are several vantage points around Governors Island that make it one of the best spots to catch a great view in the city not to mention plenty of things to do that you can spend as little as an hour or two to spending the night at their luxury glamping resort.

Getting to Governors Island is also cheap, you just have to pay your round trip ferry ticket which is a whopping $3 for adults, or if you want to save some cash you can come on the weekends before noon for FREE!

The ferries operate from the Battery Maritime Building in Manhattan 7 days a week or Pier 6 at Brooklyn Bridge Park and Atlantic Basin in Red Hook on Saturdays and Sundays only.

Staten Island Ferry

Contributed by James Ian from Parks Collecting

One of the best views of New York City is the view of Lower Manhattan from the Staten Island ferry. 

The bright orange ferries are an integral part of the New York City experience.  The first ferry started all the way back in 1817.  In more recent years, they have featured in countless movies and TV shows, including the iconic opening scene in the classic 80’s movie Working Girl.  

The Staten Island ferry leaves from its own terminal, Whitehall Terminal, at the southern tip of Manhattan near Battery Park. Getting there is easy by subway. The South Ferry Station (1 train) and Whitehall Street-South Ferry station (R and W trains) are just outside the ferry terminal.

The 25-minute trip to the St George terminal on Staten Island goes right past Governor’s Island and the Statue of Liberty.  It provides breathtaking views of the skyscrapers of lower Manhattan, including the World Trade Center.  Stand at the back for the best views. You slowly see the island of Manhattan receding as you inch further away. 

One of the best things about this is that the ferry is completely free! There are no tickets – so beware of scammers trying to sell you tickets. 

When you arrive in Staten Island, you can spend the day exploring some of the sites of Staten Island (there is a historic village and some great beaches), or pop back on the next boat to Manhattan.  If you decide to head straight back, you will need to get off and then get back on the next boat leaving – you can’t stay onboard the same ferry. 

Stand near the front to get the same view in reverse, this time with lower Manhattan slowly getting bigger and closer.  You will also get great shots of the Statue of Liberty on the left as you pass right by.

Statue of Liberty Pedestal

Contributed by Darcy Vierow of planreadygo.com 

The Statue of Liberty National Monument is a top visitor site in New York City. And while many come to see the statue itself, you don’t want to miss the opportunity to take in the amazing view of Lower Manhattan from the top of the statue pedestal. 

From the pedestal you can see iconic Manhattan buildings such as One World Trade Center/Freedom Tower, the Empire State Building and 432 Park Avenue (one of the tallest residential buildings in the world). 

The only way to get to the Statue of Liberty on Liberty Island is to purchase tickets through Statue Cruises, the official vendor for statue pedestal reservations and ferry transportation to the island. Make sure you select the ticket with pedestal access, which costs approximately $20. A pedestal reserve ticket also includes access to the Statue of Liberty grounds and museum as well as Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration. 

You can choose to take the Statue Cruises ferry from either Battery Park in Lower Manhattan or from Liberty State Park in New Jersey. Visitors are strongly encouraged to book their pedestal reservations well in advance as reservations are required for entry. 

Because the stone pedestal is approximately half of the height of the whole monument (and roughly the same height as a 10-story building), there are quite a few steps to climb to reach the top. Wheelchair access is available by using an elevator from the lobby, but the outdoor area at the top of the pedestal is not wheelchair accessible. 

The Best Views of NYC from New Jersey

Exchange Place

Contributed by Sean of LivingOutLau

If you want the best views of New York City, your first instinct might be to go straight to Manhattan, get on the tallest skyscraper, and just look out at the view!

But ironically, that doesn’t give the best view of NYC because you are standing on what you want to look at. If you want the NYC best views, you don’t stay in NYC, you want to stay across from NYC so you can take in the extensive views.

Consequently, the best place to view NYC is from the Exchange Place waterfront in Downtown Jersey City, New Jersey!

Located directly across the Huson River from Tribeca, the waterfront at Exchange Place offers visitors spectacular views of some of the skyscrapers in Tribeca, Wall St, and Battery Park.

The One World Trade Center is unquestionably the one that will immediately catch your attention, as it is the tallest building in the United States. 

If you are staying in NYC, there are two ways to get to Exchange Place. The easiest method is to take the PATH, which is a train system that connects New Jersey with Manhattan.

Alternatively, you can take the ferry from Battery Park, Brookfield Place Terminal (adjacent to the One World Trade Center), or Midtown to Paulus Hook, which is the ferry terminal at Exchange Place.

Though it might be a strange thing to do in NYC to visit New Jersey (especially if you have a short trip), you will not regret visiting Exchange Place for its views. If you have the opportunity, pick nighttime to visit as the skyscrapers illuminate the Manhattan skyline at night!

15 Things I Wish I Knew Before My Sahara Desert Tour

Taking a Sahara Desert tour and riding camels into the orange-hued sand dunes was a big bucket list item of mine. 

Perhaps it’s because I watched Aladdin far too many times as a kid (sorry Mom). Or maybe because after riding horses and going dog-sledding, this seemed like the logical next step?

Or perhaps it was the solitude of the desert and the immensity of the dunes that compelled me. Either way: I was sold.

Whatever the reason, when I was in Morocco I spent nearly two days of my life in a van from Marrakech to the Sahara Desert. Was it worth it? Well… it’s complicated.

Photo of shadows in the sand dunes in the Sahara Desert in Morocco. A line of camels is walking in the desert on a sand ridge.

Like with much of my Moroccan experience, there were some serious highs and lows, and I wish I had been better aware of what the Sahara tour would actually entail — which is why I’ve written this post for you.

I found that managing my expectations was key to enjoying my time in Morocco, and I think it will be the same for you.

So, is a Sahara tour worth it? I’ll let you decide.

If you’re wondering if a Sahara Desert tour is worth the money, I’m here to break it down for you – the good, the bad, and the truly WTF experiences I had along the way.

Without further ado, here are the top 15 things I wish somebody told me before my Morocco desert tour.

Ripples of sand and sand dunes in a beautiful orange color in the Sahara Desert in Morocco
Is a Sahara tour worth it? I’ll let you decide.

Morocco Desert Tour FAQs

How do you get to the Sahara Desert in Morocco?

The best way to get to the Sahara Desert is typically by guided tour from one of Morocco’s main tourist hubs. 

You can also take a bus to Merzouga and then book some desert activities separately. 

Alternately, if you really want to avoid the drive, you can fly to Errachadia Airport. However, it’s still 2 hours away by car from Merzouga, and you won’t be saving that much time.

How do I get to the desert from Marrakech?

Visiting the Sahara Desert from Marrakech is the most common way to access it. But it’s not close! It’s typically about 12 hours to the desert (one way), spread across two days of transit on the way there and then one full day on the way back.

Typically guided tour is best but other options include booking a bus to Merzouga, renting a car and driving to the Sahara, and flying to Errachadia and then booking a taxi to get you to Merzouga.

What are the best desert tours in Morocco?

I’ve done a ton of research on what the best tour companies are after my subpar experience (which you can read about more below). 

If you’re coming from Marrakech, I suggest this tour. If you’re coming from Fes, I suggest this tour.

If you are coming from Essaouira, Rabat, or Casablanca, it’s a lot further to the desert and I suggest making a waypoint at Marrakech.

The rooftops of Marrakech with the tall minaret of the mosque and Atlas Mountains in the distance on a sunny day

What sand dunes will I see in the Merzouga Desert?

Since most desert tours from Marrakech go as fast as possible, you will likely see the Erg Chebbi dunes, which are the closest to Merzouga.

On a 3-day tour to the Sahara, you will not see Erg Chigaga, the largest dune in the Sahara. This would require different planning than your standard Sahara desert tour.

What are the best things to do in the Sahara Desert?

There are all sorts of activities you can do in the Moroccan desert — from camel trekking to desert glamping to sandboarding to ATV riding and more. 

A 3-day tour actually gives you fairly limited time in the Sahara Desert. You will do a sunset camel trek, have a desert camp meal, sleep in a tent, stargaze, and be able to watch the sunrise before leaving again — that’s about it.

If you want more time in the Sahara Desert, I suggest taking the bus to Merzouga and planning an independent trip there rather than taking one of the Marrakech tours.

How do I visit the Sahara Desert independently?

Eco tents in a glampsite in Morocco with views of the dunes and some desert shrubbery on a hazy day.

If you don’t want to do a tour, you can visit the Sahara Desert (fairly) independently by getting yourself to Merzouga, either by bus or rental car, and then renting accommodations in the desert.

There are all levels of desert camp available. There are some great luxury glamping options such as the Sahara Desert Luxury Camp and the Desert Bivouac Merzouga which offer improved amenities such as private bathrooms and beautifully designed rooms.

There are also more bare-bones accommodation options like Desert Berber Fire Camp and Dune Merzouga Camp.

Tip: When pricing out your trip and making decisions, don’t just look at the base price, but also look for what’s included in each property and make an assessment based on that. You may have to pay for transit, meals, etc. which could eat into your “savings!”

What to Pack for a Sahara Desert Tour

Person tossing sand while wearing a scarf around their head sitting in the orange sand of the Sahara Desert

Motion sickness pills: Don’t underestimate how winding the roads will be leading out to the desert! You will cross all sorts of high mountain passes between Marrakech and the Sahara Desert. Motion sickness pills will be your friend. I had motion sickness bands and they helped (but not quite enough). I wish I had Dramamine!

Snacks: I didn’t enjoy the food at the lunches we stopped at along the way and I wish I had packed enough snacks to skip a lunch or two. Snacks can also be a nice pick-me-up when you need a little sugar rush after countless hours of driving. I like packing Larabars for a pick-me-up.

A filter water bottle: I used a lot of plastic during my Sahara desert tour and I regret it. I since have become more conscious of my plastic waste and now use a Grayl water bottle which filters out all manner of icky, undrinkable water and makes it 100% safe to consume.

Long sleeve shirt and pants: Even if it’s hot, you’ll want to have your arms and legs covered for multiple reasons during your desert tour. For one, it’ll protect you from the hot Moroccan sun… but for another, it’ll shield you (a tiny bit) from prying eyes.

A scarf: It can occasionally get windy in the Sahara Desert. Your guides will insist that you have a scarf they can wrap around you like a turban to protect your face from the sand, and they will make a stop in Erfoud or somewhere nearby the desert to buy overpriced scarves. Just bring your own scarf because the scarves you can buy there are not good quality and are basically single-use.

Layers (in winter): If you’re visiting the Sahara in the winter, you’ll want to bring warm layers as the desert can drop down to freezing in the nighttime (not kidding!). Bring a thermal top/leggings (I like these from 32 Degrees) as well as a thin down jacket to keep you warm.

A camera and tripod (for night photography): You’ll want a camera with a zoom lens and the ability to use manual settings to capture the best of the desert in all its beauty. A smartphone won’t quite do it!

This is the camera I used in the Sahara desert. I also suggest a tripod if you want to photograph the Milky Way and do some astrophotography — you’ll likely never find darker skies!

Tents for camping in the Sahara Desert at night, lit up by a fire or lantern, with the Milky Way overhead

Things to Know Before Your Morocco Sahara Desert Tour

You cannot do a Sahara desert trip on a day trip from Marrakech.

Merzouga, the gateway to the Sahara, is 350 miles or around 560 kilometers of winding mountain passes and dizzying curves away from Marrakech. 

As a result, you shouldn’t expect to be able to reach the Sahara in a day from Marrakech! At a bare minimum, you need 3 days, all of which will entail serious amounts of driving. 

It’s about 12 hours of driving in a van each way between Marrakech and Merzouga, not including stops, so expect to spend a good portion of your 3 day Sahara desert tour on the road.

If you only have time to do a day trip from Marrakech, you will simply not be able to see true sand dunes like you can see in Merzouga and Erg Chebbi, full stop. Adjust your expectations so you won’t be disappointed! 

Cushions set up around tables to enjoy tea in the rock desert outside of Marrakech
A desert camp in Agafay Desert outside of Marrakech

If you only have one day, you can do a camel ride through the rocky desert and palm grove outside of Marrakech. Prices are quite reasonable – you can check prices for one-day tours here.

With two days, you’re a little better off – you can get to the Zagora Desert and do a sunset camel ride, a desert overnight, and a sunrise camel ride the next day. 

Tours to Zagora are a little pricier than the day trip, obviously, but still a good value at under $50 per day – learn more about two-day tours here.

While Zagora isn’t quite as impressive as Merzouga (by a good margin), it’s still a worthwhile option to compare. I wrote quite a bit more on how to decide between the two in this post on choosing between Merzouga vs. Zagora for your Morocco desert trip.

A desert camp in Zagora, Morocco

If you can spare the time and the money, then I highly recommend picking the Sahara desert.

 In my opinion, the rock desert and palm oasis outside of Marrakech is nowhere close to how spectacular the Sahara Desert is. As a result, it should only be booked if you have extremely limited time or funds and have a camel ride on your Morocco bucket list. 

The Zagora Desert is closer to what you want from a Sahara Desert tour, but it’s still a ton of driving plus an overnight, so I’d urge you to just go for the full three day tour instead. 

It’s not much more money (about $30 more than the Zagora tour), and absolutely nothing in my life compares to the beauty of seeing the sun rise and set in the Sahara Desert for myself with my own eyes.

Book your 3 day Sahara desert tour here!

The Sahara Desert is even more magical than you expect.

People in the Sahara Desert on a camel trek through the sand dunes led by Berber guides

In my 60+ countries of travel, I’ve still never seen anything quite as beautiful as the Sahara Desert, even to this day and even despite some negative experiences I had there (more on that in just a bit).

There is something otherworldly about the contrast between the orange sand and the blue sky, and the way the sand rippled in perfect formations that look drawn by an artist’s hand

As sunset fell, I almost wanted to pinch myself to confirm that it was real. But if it was a dream, I didn’t want to wake up.

The softness of the orange sand, the seeming infiniteness of the rolling dunes, the way that footsteps looked as they left magical trails in the sand, and the inky blackness of the sky punctured by a million tiny stars at night — there’s simply no comparison to the Sahara Desert.

Getting to the Sahara Desert from Marrakech is a royal pain, and yet it is completely and utterly worth it.

Book your Sahara tour in advance so you can read reviews.

berber guides leading a small group of four people through the sand dunes of the Sahara Desert

The worst piece of advice that I got about taking a tour to the Sahara desert is that you shouldn’t book it in advance and rather wait for a tout in the souks to offer you a better price.

Here’s the thing: you will likely get a cheaper price, but you will not get a better deal, as you will make up for that price difference somewhere, either with poor quality service or through scams and upsells along the trip. 

I went on one of the cheapest tours I could find, and I don’t recall the company name as I booked it from a random tout in the souk (as I was told to do). But I can tell you — I didn’t save any money in the end, and I had a worse trip for it. 

One of the worst parts was getting told that the A/C in the van is “broken” on a 115 degree Fahrenheit day so they can save on gas. 

They put on the fan and insisted the A/C wouldn’t work, and they only put it on after I insisted many, many times… upon which, the A/C magically worked perfectly.

I was constantly up-charged on everything, from lunch to the made-in-China scarves that they insist you need for the desert. I was stubborn and just tied a shirt around my head at this point, just to prove a point.

Oh, and I also got scammed by a rug vendor in a Berber village, but more on that later.

Instead, I highly recommend booking your Sahara desert tour in advance with a company with a good reputation and a strong online presence. 

Quite frankly, it’s not because of any merits of the company itself or the uniqueness of the tour. All tours follow a similar route (High Atlas Mountains, Aït Benhaddou Kasbah [which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site], the Dades Valley & Dades Gorge, Todra Gorge, Ouarzazate, etc.)

It’s just because a company that has put in work to establish a solid online presence has a ton more to lose than the hundred or so indistinguishable tour companies who make their profit off of selling to tourists on the street, for whom reputation and word of mouth means little. 

They will be more scrupulous and careful as to protect their reputation and their livelihood, and that’s a good thing for the consumer.

After carefully researching several Sahara Desert tour offerings and comparing them to my own experience, the company that I’m comfortable recommending to my readers is Ando Travel

With an average of 4.4 stars out of nearly 2,000 verified reviews, including several positive reviews from women, this company is tried and tested in a way that I’m comfortable with recommending, despite not having tried this exact tour for myself. 

You can check tour specifics, itinerary details, and prices here on Get Your Guide

A sunset happening in the Sahara desert with an orange-toned sky.

In the sake of fairness, it’s important to note there are some bad reviews, mostly from people who said that there’s too much driving — unfortunately, this is true no matter what company you go with. 

Be aware no matter what you choose that the Sahara desert is huge, as it’s the largest desert in Africa (and the largest hot desert, period, after the Antarctic and Arctic deserts). 

Morocco’s section of the Sahara Desert is basically on the border of Algeria, and you have to cross through the High Atlas Mountains, so there is simply no avoiding the drive. 

Any shorter tour will not take you to the Sahara, but instead to far less impressive rocky deserts closer to Marrakech.

If you want to go onward to Fes after your trip instead of returning to Marrakech (a common choice to avoid backtracking, and one that I made), they also run a tour from Marrakech to the Sahara ending in Fes, which you can find here.

Be cautious and do your research if you are a solo female traveler.

The sun setting over the Sahara Desert with brilliant pink and dark clouds

I’m telling you this because I, in my eternally stupid penny-pinching ways, did exactly the opposite and paid the price. 

I don’t remember what the exact name of the tour company I went with: something incredibly generic, literally like Sahara Tour Morocco (I should note that I did this tour before becoming a more diligent note-taker as a blogger)

I followed the (bad) advice of others and just went wandering through Marrakech and booked it in-person from one of the men selling tours, as I was told it was the best (read: cheapest) way to book a Sahara desert tour by other backpackers. 

While sure, it was cheaper (I paid about the equivalent of $75 USD for a 3-day trip in July, after some haggling), I ended up having a pretty horrible experience. 

They lied about many things: the inclusions, the air conditioning, how I’d get to Fes after my tour finished. But worst of all – I was sexually harassed by my guides, and I was nearly groped in my sleep on my tour. 

It all started innocently enough, sitting after dinner chatting with a guide trying to learn more about Berber culture. 

Without victim-blaming myself, I must say that I need to remind myself that North American (and specifically Californian) friendliness is not always the smartest move with people from more conservative cultures, as some men take talkativeness as an invitation.

After a while, this guide got progressively creepier and creepier as the night got darker, angling closer to me as we talked. 

Then he asked me if I wanted to go somewhere alone with him to see the stars better (um, they’re plainly overhead, but k), despite my repeated insistence that I just wanted to sit and enjoy by myself.

Eventually, I had to tell him quite directly that he was bothering me and needed to leave me alone, and he went away. It may sound simple enough, but for a nonconfrontational girl like me who hates conflict, it was difficult. 

Luckily, he left without much protest, and I enjoyed the next few hours a lot, chatting with my fellow travelers and admiring the vastness of the sky and the hints of the Milky Way overhead.

Later that night, choosing to sleep outside where there was a breeze instead of the stuffy, impossible to breathe in tents (as all the other travelers were doing), a different guide set up his sleeping site about five feet from me. 

He placed a large pillow as a buffer between us, which I took comfort in, and I fell asleep. I honestly remember feeling glad that I had a benevolent guardian to keep me away from the creep who was hitting on me earlier.

I woke up maybe an hour later to him staring at me, saying “shhhhh,” just a few inches away from my face, the pillow he had placed between us nowhere to be seen. It was, in a word, terrifying. 

He tried to tell me to go back to sleep, but you better believe my a** was up and in my hot stuffy tent as quickly as I could manage in my sleep-drunk state. I didn’t sleep much the rest of the night, obviously.

Since I didn’t book online, had no plans to return to Marrakech (I ended my tour in Fes), or have any papers confirming who I went with, I didn’t really have a way to review the tour. I also didn’t feel comfortable going to the police for a variety of reasons (language barrier, gender norms, etc). 

If I had booked it online, I could have read reviews from other female travelers. In the event that something happened, it would have been much easier to report the bad behavior I experienced on this tour and to ensure it wouldn’t happen to other female travelers down the line. 

I still feel sort of sick to my stomach when I think about not being able to report this and the fact that this behavior will likely continue to other women. This is why I recommend booking in advance with a reputable company.

Ripples in the sand in the Sahara Desert beautiful orange sand

For solo female travelers, I recommend booking online. I suggest this tour if you want to go onward to Fes, or this tour if you want to go back to Marrakech at the end of your trip.

Sadly, this kind of behavior is not that uncommon for Morocco. Other women have had similar experiences with their guides in the desert (read Lauren of Never Ending Footsteps’ experience here and my friend Kiona’s experience with Morocco here

I’ve also, of course, heard positive stories as well, though these usually come from men or people who traveled as a couple. 

As a solo female traveler, I can tell you though that it’s better to spend the extra money and book a tour in advance so you can read all the reviews. That won’t completely shield you from an assault or harassment, but it’s one small (but important) layer of protection.

A lot of fuss is made about dressing properly in Morocco. I will say that I was covered up almost all the time and not particularly provocative in any way, shape, or form, and I was harassed frequently.

Allison wearing a dress that comes down to her knees and a white light linen jacket
A typical outfit I wore on my Sahara Desert Tour, outside of Dades Gorge (my skirt didn’t show my knees, it just blew up a little in the wind as I took the photo)

When writing this post, since I didn’t have a personal tour recommendation, I vetted the companies and pored through the reviews pretty thoroughly. 

The tour I recommend above looks to be the best, safest option for solo female travelers; however, I’d check reviews again before you book as things may have changed since when I wrote this.

Read what is included carefully.

Camel shadow on the sand dune in Sahara Desert, Merzouga, Morocco

My Sahara desert tour included round-trip transportation to and from Marrakech and the Sahara Desert. This included pick up and drop off at your riad.

When booking my tour with one of the tour operators in the medina, I told them I wanted to go onwards to Fes, a common thing tourists do to avoid backtracking. 

The tour operators said that all the transportation (including to Fes) was included in the price they gave me, but I never got that in writing, and surprise surprise – when it came time to get a shared taxi towards Fes, we ended up having to fork out about $30 USD or so per person to get there. 

But at this point, after nearly being groped by one of the guides, I was ready to get out of there — no matter what the cost.

Tip: If you want to go onward to Fes like I did and avoid backtracking, be sure it is included on your tour! I suggest this Marrakech to Merzourga to Fes desert tour.

The shuttle bus was comfortable enough, but they kept insisting that the A/C was broken after the first day, which was annoying, as I was overheating with only the fan on. 

After enough of the minibus complained, they turned it on again and voila: it was magically working. Strange.

The tour included two nights accommodation, one in a hotel on the way to the desert and one in the desert camp itself. The accommodations at both were of decent quality, actually, they were better than I expected for the price, to be fair. The tour cost included the camel ride as well.

a dish of meatballs served with bread in a tagine
A (much better) meal in Marrakech

Here are a few things most tours do not include: no lunch on any of the days, so you’ll have to either BYO food or add on another $10 USD or so for each meal. 

No matter what tour you go on, you can be guaranteed that you’ll be forced to eat at expensive, mediocre restaurants — likely wherever your tour guides get the best kickback, unfortunately! 

Most tours don’t include any beverages, water, personal expenses, etc. If you choose to not return to Marrakech and instead go onwards to Fez from Merzouga, that transportation is not included, either.

Keep your expectations in line with reality.

rugs surrounding a campfire and some makeshift tents in the Sahara

The price range of Sahara Desert tours varies wildly based on the level of luxury. 

One blog post I read said their (comped) tour cost $700 USD per person for a 3-day tour, which is expensive for many — and definitely an outlier for Morocco.

However, it would absolutely be worth it for a special occasion like a honeymoon when you won’t want to be crammed in a van with 15-odd other travelers. 

Meanwhile, on the low end, you can spend as little as $75 USD for a 3 day – but with significant sacrifices in comfort, luxury, and flexibility. 

You won’t be staying at the luxury desert camps you’ve seen the Instagram girls enjoying, but rather bare-bones tents with an outhouse and very few creature comforts. 

But who needs showers when you can bathe in the gorgeous light of a million tiny stars in the clearest night sky you’ll ever get a chance to see?

Most tours cost somewhere in the ballpark of $100-200 USD for a 3 day, 2 night Sahara tour, and that’s a fair price.

The tour that I recommend above is a little more expensive than I paid, costing around $130 USD, or about $43 per day (currently running a promotion for about $100!) – which I think is fair given all the inclusions and its good reviews. 

Check out the ratings & reviews of this Sahara Desert Tour!

There is also this private tour option by the same company which routes Marrakech – Merzouga – Fes.

This is a great option if you are continuing onwards north to places like Fes, Meknes, Chefchaouen, and Tangier.

Riding a camel is not at all like riding a horse.

A group of camels near the dusk hour sitting on the sand

If you’ve romanticized a camel ride in the desert, let me demystify that for you. This is no pleasant horse ride through a field. 

Riding a camel is among the least comfortable things I’ve done, and I’m amazed that people actually even trained camels to be ridden after feeling how freaking uncomfortable it can be!

While camel trekking, my thighs were sore by the end of the first hour. I could barely feel my butt when I got off the camel. 

The camel slid in the sand quite a bit, leaving me lurching and clutching on for dear life (camels are even taller than they look).

Anyway, the next day, I was given the option to ride on the roof of their ATV or go back the same way doing a camel trek – you better believe I chose the roof (though TBH, that was mostly to avoid the creepy guide).

Despite my complaining about the discomfort, however, I’d do it again – the views are simply that magical, and the camel ride — as uncomfortable as it is — is a huge part of the desert experience.

Going in the summer isn’t the worst idea ever.

view of Erg Chebbi Dunes in the Sahara Desert - at sunrise, in Morocco

I did my Sahara Desert tour in July… aka the stupidest time in the world to go to Morocco. 

It was 115° F (46° C) in the desert the day we arrived… so that may have had something to do with why the prices were so low.  

The car was hot and stuffy, but that was because my driver purposely shut off the A/C, something that won’t happen on a reputable tour.

Still, I’ll say that 115° F in Morocco isn’t nearly as bad as 90° F and humid in NYC (I’m a Californian who grew up in a particularly hot part of the state, and I will fight to the death that dry heat is 100x better than wet heat). 

To me, the desert heat wasn’t a deal-breaker, especially since we arrived at the desert at sunset when the night breeze was already coming in nice and cool.

And at night, it cooled down to a nice 75° F (24° C) or so, and it was downright pleasant and beautiful with a light wind.

The tents were still like an oven that would have been impossible to sleep in, but outside underneath the stars downright pleasant (minus the would-be gropey guide…)

On the other hand, it will be freezing in the winter.

Man wearing winter clothes standing in the Sahara dunes

Many people approach the desert with the misconception that it’s hot year-round, but this is patently false. 

The desert is home to wild temperature swings – even in the summer, a 115° F day dropped to a 75° F night, a 40° F temperature variation. This is standard. 

This is true even in the winter. In the peak winter months such as January, the desert will be around 65° F / 18° C in the day and hovering around 32° F / 0° C at night.

And yes, it even snows sometimes in the Sahara!

If you visit the Sahara Desert in winter, you’ll want to bring some thermal tops (I like these from 32 Degrees) as well as a thin down jacket to keep you warm.

Be prepared for long days of driving and some dull stops.

Atlas mountains in Morocco with a road below it at a mountain pass on a sunny day
The beautiful Atlas Mountains on the way to the desert.

It’s about two long days in a van from Marrakech just to get to the Sahara desert (not including the 12 hour drive on the way back). 

If you have 2 or 3 weeks in Morocco, that’s fine – but if you have a really limited amount of time for your trip, it’s a lot of time in a car.

The views are simply beautiful, particularly the Atlas Mountains and the Dades Gorge, so keep your camera at the ready to snap some shots. You’ll pull over a few times at scenic overlooks throughout the trip, which helps to break up the drive.

However, besides stopping at the UNESCO site of Ait Ben Haddou (where some scenes of Game of Thrones were filmed) and a pretty gorge, most of the stops are pretty uninteresting. 

Many stops were aimed at getting as much money out of you as possible as opposed to being interesting for sightseeing. This is common with group tours, even small group tours, but it was annoying nonetheless.

I will say that they did give us a lot of bathroom stops, which as someone with a clinically small bladder, I really appreciated!

Bring some anti-nausea pills.

Allison, the author of the article, standing with a dress with matching seasickness bands and shoes
When your motion sickness bracelets match your shoes, that’s fashion.

There are so many twists and turns on the road to the Sahara Desert because you have to pass through the Atlas Mountains, the Dades Gorge, and the Tizi n’Tichka mountain pass — all of which involve countless hairpin turns!

I get motion sickness quite easily, so I lulled myself into a state of near-constant semi-slumber for the two days with the help of my Sea Bands

They worked okay at keeping me from barfing, but I would have preferred actual Dramamine (personally, I’d choose the normal version over the non-drowsy, to better help me sleep of all those hours in the van).

I’d also bring some stomach medicine like Pepto Bismol tablets just in case, as Morocco has some issues with food safety and undrinkable tap water that can end up messing with some travelers’ stomachs. 

I was fine during my two weeks in Morocco, but I know several people who got food poisoning while they were there, so better safe than sorry. 

Bring plenty of cash (about $100 USD worth).

A wallet on a table with 20 50 100 and 200 dirham notes

There are plenty of little add-ons throughout the Sahara Desert tour that end up driving up the price quite a bit. 

Figure about $1 per bottle of water (unless you come equipped with your own Steripen or LifeStraw water purifier, which I recommend to help reduce plastic waste), $2 per soda, money for tips for various people you encounter along the way, and extra for souvenirs and strongly “recommended” purchases along the way.

Your guides will also take you to expensive and uninspiring restaurants for lunch, though since I wasn’t a big fan of Moroccan food to begin with, that wasn’t a huge loss in terms of flavor. 

The cost of lunch while on your Sahara desert tour is usually about $10 USD per meal, which is about 3 times the price of a meal elsewhere in Morocco.

This is pretty standard for every tour and is part of the reason why the price of your Sahara Desert tour is so low – virtually all tour guides are getting a kickback for bringing people to the restaurant.

Be aware that most stops are designed for the guides to make more money

Pretty much every stop we made along the way to the desert was rushed and not that interesting. 

All of these stops seemed designed for us to spend extra money, rather than to enjoy a particularly beautiful location.

For example, the stop at the rug store, the gift shops at Ait Ben Haddou, and the completely unnecessary stops to encourage us to buy specific scarves to wrap around our heads for the desert tour.

I understand this is how they make up for their slim margins, but I just wish the tour cost a bit more and we didn’t spend so much time making a million souvenir stops and instead spent more time at the few stops that were interesting, like Ait Ben Haddou and Ouarzazate and the Draa Valley and the Gorge. 

But anyway, that’s how guided tours in Morocco go, I guess!

Buy a rug with caution.

A man pouring mint tea at a rug shop

In a moment of weakness, I splurged on a gorgeous hand-woven Berber rug at the village near Tinghir, paying about $35 USD for a very small lambswool rug. 

Mind you, when I took this Sahara desert tour, I didn’t even have a home — so why I needed a rug was beyond me.

Anyway, when I unwrapped it a few days later, I discovered they had swapped it out for another one entirely!

Despite not having touched the rug, I opened it to find it completely and totally falling apart at the edges.

I ended up trashing it rather than lugging around a fraying rug for the rest of my trip. Nice one, friendly-seeming rug guy. Nice one indeed.

Anyway, when I unwrapped it, I discovered they had swapped it out for another one entirely – it was completely and totally falling apart at the edges, and I ended up trashing it rather than lugging around a fraying rug for the rest of my trip. Nice one, friendly-seeming rug guy. Nice one indeed.

Consider the pros and cons carefully.

A hazy sunrise in the Sahara desert

While I had a mixed bag of experiences, in my opinion, it was still absolutely worth taking a Sahara Desert tour, as it was a huge bucket list item. 

However, if I could do it again, I would have researched what tour I took, and not have just gone with the cheapest desert tour option that a tout offered me on the streets of Marrakesh. My safety is worth more than a few dollars, and so is yours.

I don’t want to scare you from taking a Sahara desert tour: thousands of solo female travelers take them, and take them safely.

But in the spirit of full transparency, I want to share my experience with you so you can be prepared should any shadiness occur in the Sahara. (And judging by the fact that my story is not unique, that is a possibility).

I will readily admit that traveling Morocco can be frustrating as a woman. Adjust yourself accordingly: be courteous, but distant; not rude, but not friendly, and you’ll likely have a more positive experience than I did.

I’m of the belief that you shouldn’t let fear dictate what you do or take away from your dreams. 

Even though I had a bad experience on my Sahara desert tour, there are a few things I could have done differently. 

I could made friends with and stuck with other female travelers rather than chatting with the guides. 

I could have vetted the tours more carefully and picked one with better reviews rather than the lowest price.

To be clear, this is not to victim blame myself, nor to victim blame anyone who has had something similar happen to them – it is solely upon the predator to not be a predator, and not on the victim to prevent harassment or an attack.

However, just like there are measures to can take to avoid theft, there are a few things you can do to make yourself slightly safer against harassment from men. 

I hate that I have to write this here, but my experience is so not out of the ordinary that I feel compelled to share these tips. Sadly, these are just facts of life for traveling alone in a country as unfriendly to solo women as Morocco is.

If you don’t like the idea of a Sahara desert tour, you could take the badass alternative and rent a car and driving out to the Sahara Desert, like fellow travelers Along Dusty Roads did. 

But again, if you’re solo, this may not be the best course of action – road trips are always best enjoyed with a travel buddy.

Ultimately, you’ll have to make the call, but in my gut and despite what happened to me, I say go for it – the Sahara desert is something that must be seen to be believed. 

Even with all the crap I dealt with on my 3 day Sahara tour — I wouldn’t take it back. I’d just go with another company, obviously.

More Morocco Travel Resources

I’ve written quite a bit to help you plan the perfect trip to Morocco! 

First, start with my Morocco travel planning checklist – it walks you through every step of the planning process.

Next, check out my Morocco packing list with specific advice for what women might want to wear in Morocco. 

If you are starting your trip in Marrakech, like most people do, I have a guide to the best riads in Marrakech on any budget, as well as a guide to spending 3 days in Marrakech with recommended tours and outings.

How to Visit the Valley of Fire From Las Vegas: Day Trip Guide

Just 45 minutes outside of Vegas is one of the most spectacularly under-the-radar spots in the entire American Southwest: Nevada’s Valley of Fire.

The American Southwest road trip is so popular that it’s become a tad predictable. You’ll hit Zion and Bryce and Arches, for sure. The Grand Canyon, because duh. 

You’ll pop through Page, Arizona for Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon, if only to keep the ‘gram happy. 

If you’re intrepid, you’ll visit a few of the lesser-known national parks and monuments scattered along the way — perhaps Canyonlands or Capitol Reef to finish up Utah’s Mighty 5, or check out Monument Valley or Grand Staircase.

But my favorite stop of any Southwest road trip is even less well-known than many of these. It’s not even a National Park. It’s just a humble little state park, an easy day trip from Vegas. 

Where is the Valley of Fire?

Allison standing in the Valley of Fire on a tour

Valley of Fire State Park is located in Overton, NV, about 45 miles and 45 minutes from Las Vegas.

There are two ways to get there: via the East Entrance and via the West Entrance.

This tour assumes you are visiting the Valley of Fire from Las Vegas on a full-day excursion, and thus will use the West Entrance. 

This closest to Fire Cave, Windstone Arch, and the Beehives (the first stops on this Valley of Fire tour as written).

The way to get here is via the Las Vegas Freeway (I-15), followed by exiting at the Moapa Paiute Travel Plaza. You can stop here for some shopping or a bathroom break before continuing on the Valley of Fire Highway.

At the West Entrance, you’ll need to pay a $10 entrance fee for a Nevada vehicle ($15 entrance fee for an out-of-state car).

If you enter via the East Entrance for some reason, such as if you are coming from Zion National Park, you’ll want to follow this itinerary in reverse.

To get here, before reaching Las Vegas, you’ll exit off I-15 (Las Vegas Freeway) onto Highway 169, through Moapa Valley and Overton.

Map for This Valley of Fire Itinerary

One Day in Valley of Fire Itinerary

This Valley of Fire itinerary assumes you are visiting Valley of Fire from Las Vegas on a self-guided day trip with a car, either your own or a rental car.

Not sure where to get the best deal on your rental? I’ve rented cars dozens of times through various search engines and have settled on Discover Cars as the best car rental search engine – it searches over 500 trusted rental companies to find the cheapest price for your rental! Compare prices for car rental from Las Vegas here.

Get an early start because this is a jam-packed day in Valley of Fire State Park!

Allison walking in the valley of fire on the road throughout the park

Start at the Fire Cave and Windstone Arch.

As you enter the park, your first stop is just a quick side-trip off of Valley of Fire Highway, turning left down a dirt road.

There will be a small parking area for Fire Cave / Windstone Rock, a series of wind caves and arches that are absolutely stunning, with lots of little notches in the rocks carved by wind erosion over the course of millennia.

This is a more off-the-beaten-path area of the park and not too many people will be here, so enjoy the solitude while it lasts!

The arch and several unique holes made in the red sandstone rock over the course of many years from wind erosion

Check out the Beehives.

Head back to the main road and park in the Beehives parking lot. You’ll be surrounded by beautiful red rock formations everywhere you look, including the eponymous “beehives” made of sandstone rock. 

These “beehives” have a fascinating geological story behind them. They are marked with hundreds of grooved lines that indicate layers of sediment that were deposited over time. 

The grooves of these “beehives” alternate in different directions according to the wind or water movement that deposited the sandstone silt there, where it then built up on top of each other to form these unique sandstone formations!

The "beehive" formations at Valley of Fire State Park

See the petroglyphs at Atlatl Rock.

At this next stop, you’ll get to see amazing Native American petroglyphs that are well over 4,000 years old. 

These rock carvings were made about 50-feet up on a boulder, and while there is now a staircase to reach them, you have to wonder how the original artists got up here!

Start at the Atlatl Rock Picnic Area and follow the trail up to the staircase. From there, it’s just under 90 steps up to the viewing area where you can see the incredible petroglyphs etched into the rock.

Not much is known definitively about these petroglyphs due to their age, but the reigning theory is that they were carved by Ancestral Puebloans, perhaps by a shaman due to the height of the carvings.

Unfortunately, there is some contemporary graffiti next to the ancient petroglyphs. Please do not add any marks of your own, so that people can continue to enjoy this beautiful piece of art history.

Petroglyphs of a hunting scene with a person figure and some bighorn sheep

Marvel at Arch Rock.

A short distance from Atlatl Rock is your next stop on this one-day Valley of Fire itinerary, Arch Rock! 

You’ll have to park your car in the parking lot and then make your way down just a 0.1-mile path until you reach the viewpoint for Arch Rock. 

Do not climb on it! This is a very fragile piece of the park. Please obey the signage and don’t do anything to mess up the natural beauty of this special place.

The sandstone arch of arch rock in Valley of Fire near Las Vegas

Check out the Seven Sisters en route to Elephant Rock.

The next place on this Valley of Fire itinerary is a quick stop: you may want to pull over and snap a photo or you may just want to pass through, depending on how much time you want to spend in the park.

The Seven Sisters are a smattering of rock formations straddling the road as you make your way towards Elephant Rock. They are cool to notice, but perhaps not worth a long stop.

Seven Sisters rock formations in the Valley of Fire State Park in Southern Nevada near Las Vegas.

Snap some photos of the unique Elephant Rock.

Next up is one of my favorite places in all of Valley of Fire: Elephant Rock!

Make your way to the parking lot and find the trailhead for Elephant Rock. Follow the short trail up about a quarter-mile until you are at the backside of the “elephant” in the rock, looking over the valley and the road below.

This is the best and most “lifelike” shot!

You can either head back out the way you came, or you could continue on the loop — the full hike is only 1.2 miles and it’s really beautiful, and the crowds thin out after the Elephant Rock viewpoint. 

However, if it’s so hot out that even a short hike sounds unappealing, you can snap a photo of Elephant Rock from the front side (not quite as beautiful, but also cool!) or just go to the viewpoint and back, less than half a mile in distance.

Double back to the Visitor Center.

After spending some time snapping photos of the different rock formations in the park, it’s time to drop by the Visitor Center to learn a bit about the history of the park. 

The Visitor Center is really informative (and it’s also air-conditioned, which is a nice break from the park’s relentless heat!) and tells you all about how the park was formed, geologically speaking.

The Valley of Fire is over 150 million years old, and its undulations and rock formations were created by millions of years of erosion and fault line activity. 

The park is known for its “Aztec Sandstone”, its red sandstone formations rich in iron oxide which gives it that special characteristic hue.

Around the Visitor Center, there are some other cool rock formations that are fun to pose on!

Allison standing on a rock near the Visitor Center of Valley of Fire

Take some photos of Balanced Rock.

As you leave the Valley of Fire Visitor Center and start heading down Mouse’s Tank Road towards the rest that the park has to offer, you’ll spot Balanced Rock almost immediately after leaving the parking lot!

This gorgeous and seemingly precariously-balanced rock formation is one of the park’s most unique landmarks. It’s worth a stop for a photo, at least, before you continue on the scenic Mouse’s Tank Road!

Photo of Balanced Rock, a rock balancing on another rock in the valley of fire red rock landscape

Hike to Mouse’s Tank or extend to Fire Canyon Wash.

The hike to Petroglyph Canyon via Mouse’s Tank Trail is only 0.4 miles one-way (0.8 miles return) and it’s worth the short detour!

The canyon is filled with historic Native American petroglyphs, as the name would suggest, and it’s really beautiful and scenic. 

The hike is short and easy, with a mostly sandy trail and limited elevation gain (no more than 60 feet).

If you want to continue onto Fire Canyon Wash, this is a longer hiking trail than others that I’ve recommended in this one-day Valley of Fire itinerary. 

I suggest it only in the non-summer months, otherwise it is too hot for a hike of this length. You can read more about it here.

Hike the Rainbow Vista Trail.

Since the Valley of Fire can be really hot most of the year, I’m trying to be mindful of only recommending short trails that are absolutely worth the effort.

Well, Rainbow Vista Trail is exactly that! In less than a mile roundtrip, with a negligible amount of elevation change, you can reach the beautiful viewpoint with a gorgeous 360-degree view of the surrounding rainbow rocks for which the area is named.

It’s a short, sweet, and stunning hike: the best of all worlds!

Trail marker on the Rainbow Vista trail in the Valley of Fire State Park, southern Nevada.

Snap a photo on Mouse’s Tank Road.

As you continue on towards Fire Wave and other points in the park, you’ll likely want to pull over several times!

This is the best place to snap some amazing “Southwest road” shots as the elevation gain creates beautiful undulations in the road against the red rock formations.

Keep an eye out as you drive — you may spot some bighorn sheep, the state animal of Nevada, grazing on the park lands!

Hike the Pink Canyon.

One of the lesser-known hikes in Valley of Fire is Pink Canyon, also called Pastel Canyon.

Typically, people speed right past on it on their way to the Fire Wave, but I’m here to beg you to stop and visit!

The trailhead can be a bit hard to find. You can put “Pastel (Pink) Canyon Trail” into Google Maps or go to these coordinates: 36°28’46.4″N 114°31’35.7″W

This is an amazing short hike that will take you around 30 minutes to complete. You’ll go through a sandstone slot canyon with pinkish-toned rock, hence the name of the trail.

It’s absolutely stunning and it’s far less crowded than other areas of the park, despite being (in my opinion) one of the best parts!

Pink Canyon Sandstone Bands at Valley of Fire State Park Landscape Views

Check out Fire Wave.

Next up is one of the most famous places to visit in Valley of Fire State Park: the Fire Wave!

This is a great short and easy hike, which can be done in about 30 minutes (including time for photos!).

Note that the beginning is a bit sandy, then there are some loose rocks near the beginning of the trail, but then it’s easy from there!

I suggest going later in the day, when the heat has worn off and when the red rocks pick up more color from the golden hour.

Take the White Domes Trail.

This scenic hike through a white slot canyon is the perfect way to end your day in Valley of Fire.

It’s a 1.1-mile hike that can get quite busy, so this is the perfect way to cap off the early evening, when many day trippers have already returned to Las Vegas.

On this hiking trail, you may find a small ruin left over from the filming of the movie The Professionals

It is so small you may not notice it unless you are looking for it, but it’s a cool piece of trivia to know. All that remains is a little rock wall that formed part of a hacienda, with some wooden posts sticking out. 

My Experience Visiting Valley of Fire State Park

Although I had rented a car in preparation for a road trip around the Southwest, my friend and I decided to take a guided tour through Valley of Fire State Park with Pink Jeep Tours

We wanted to rest up for the thousands of miles we’d be driving and have someone lead the way to all the best sights in the park, and it ended up being a great decision.

We had a great time and saw so much of the park without the stress!

We arrived at the Valley of Fire early, before the sun reached its midday intensity. 

Immediately, we were stunned by the landscape. A rusty red color was everywhere the eye could see. 

The landscape so reminiscent of Mars that it’s actually taken its place in such artistic masterpieces (please hear the sarcasm here, I know it’s the internet) as Total Recall.

Our first stop was The Beehives — aptly named for their oddly round hive-shaped forms. 

After that, we made our way to perhaps the most famous resident of the Valley of Fire: Elephant Rock

Our awesome guide, Dennis — who jokingly went by “Dennis the Menace” — pointed out other, less popular “wildlife” in the parks, encouraging us to imagine shapes in the rocks. It brought me back to laying on my back as a kid, watching clouds float past in the sky. 

We all got into the spirit, seeing everything from baby elephants to Sphinxes to turtles and beyond, each “wildlife spotting” getting more fantastical as the day went on.

But more than any one specific sight on the tour, I enjoyed the grandness and scale of it as a whole. Despite how little known it is outside of the Vegas area, it’s actually huge: I’m talking over 45,000 acres huge. 

It’s grand in another way, too: it’s amazingly old. 

The rocks are essentially the calcified results of ancient sand dunes, more than twice as old as the last living dinosaurs. 

150 million years ago, these dunes formed: dinosaurs last walked the Earth about 65 million years ago. So yeah, they’re pretty freaking old!

And even before the sand dunes formed, all this land was once ocean floor, forced up by roiling plate tectonics and active volcanoes and weathered by time.

Allison walking in the valley of fire

If you’d like to experience the Valley of Fire on a day trip from Vegas, I highly recommend going with Pink Jeep Tours! 

A tour starts at 9 AM and will get you back by 3 PM including roundtrip transfers to your hotel. A tour costs $169, including transfers, all the bottled water you can drink (trust me, you’ll need a lot!), and a packed lunch.

Book your Pink Jeep tour online here!

Another Way to Visit the Valley of Fire

Allison with a bottle of champagne at the Valley of Fire at sunset

While I visited Valley of Fire on a pink Jeep tour, I also visited another way: by helicopter! 

While it was an expensive experience, it absolutely is the most bucket-list-worthy way to visit the Valley of Fire!

Starting in Las Vegas, we were picked up at our hotel for a transfer to the helicopter launch pads outside of Las Vegas. After being given a quick safety briefing, we rose up in the sky on our way to the West Rim of the Grand Canyon!

Allison in a helicopter over the Valley of FIre

On our way, we passed over the gorgeous Lake Mead and the world-famous feat of engineering, the Hoover Dam, until we arrived at the Grand Canyon.

We didn’t land at the Grand Canyon but rather flew over it for about 20-30 minutes, enjoying all the incredible views that this magical national park has to offer.

Then we landed at the Valley of Fire for sunset!

We were totally alone when we landed: no other tours do this, as it is exclusive to this one helicopter tour.

We enjoyed a delicious champagne toast as the sun sunk into the horizon, and the setting sun set the stage for one of the most spectacular colorful shows possible.

The rocks were ablaze with color!

As we returned, the sky darkened and the Las Vegas Strip came alive. We flew over it, sparkling in its full glory, and landed back at where we started.

All in all, the tour took about 3 hours including a 30-minute stop in the Valley of Fire. I would strongly suggest this as a way to complement further exploration of Valley of Fire State Park! 

Seeing it both at ground level and from above really makes you realize the scale and splendor of this unique place.

Book your helicopter sunset Grand Canyon & Valley of Fire tour online here!

Sunset toast over the Valley of Fire with a bottle of champagne!

Want More Time in the Valley of Fire?

If you have a little more time and are interested in some camping, I’d highly recommend a longer stay at the Valley of Fire! 

Camping is first come, first serve and costs $20-30 per night depending on if you need utility hookups. 

Then you’ll get a chance to do some of the longer hikes and see the lovely colors as the sunrises and sunsets set the rocks ablaze.

Where to Go After the Valley of Fire

The Valley of Fire is a great addition to any Las Vegas itinerary. But it also makes a phenomenal stop on a larger Southwest road trip! 

I often suggest people start their road trips of the Southwest in Las Vegas because the car rentals here are quite cheap, and Vegas is not far from many worthwhile stops in Utah and Arizona. 

To explore more of the Las Vegas area, I recommend adding a trip to Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. You can also visit Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam.

You could also explore Southern California, such as the Mojave Desert and Death Valley National Park.

Where to Stay in Las Vegas

BOUTIQUE | The W is the funkiest boutique hotel in all of Vegas — perfect for the ‘gram! The rooms are over the top and ridiculously outlandish and the staff is amazing with their personalized recommendations and greetings.

I loved the calm of the pool there compared to at the SLS (which you can also visit if you stay at the W!). It was an awesome oasis in the middle of crazy Vegas. Can’t rate highly enough! 
>> Check prices, ratings, and availability at The W here.

Relaxing at the W hotel in Las Vegas

BUDGET | For a cool place to stay in Las Vegas on a budget, the Golden Nugget is the classic choice! Highly-rated yet affordable, the Golden Nugget is located off the Strip in the heart of the funky Fremont Street area of Las Vegas, one of my favorite parts of the city.

The Golden Nugget is nostalgic and charming, with a retro facade with updated interiors. It has all the amenities of splashier Vegas hotels — outdoor pool, poolside bar, sauna, and even aquarium-side dining. Baller on a budget!
>> Check prices, ratings, and availability at the Golden Nugget here.

LUXURY | The beautiful The Wynn Las Vegas is a great luxury place to stay in Vegas that is still funky, unique, and decidedly Vegas.

With a luxe full-service spa, five oasis-style pools with cabana areas, designer boutiques on the property, upscale rooms, and a dedicated concierge service to facilitate all you need in the Vegas area, you’ll feel like you just struck it rich!
>> Check prices, ratings, and availability at the Wynn Las Vegas here.

The Best Observation Decks in New York City, Ranked: An Honest 2021 Guide

One of the top activities on every New York City itinerary is to see NYC from above from one of the city’s many observation decks. 

Skyline views of Manhattan are an indispensable part of sightseeing in New York. But which of these observation towers offers the best views of Manhattan’s skyscrapers and surroundings?

I just got back from a trip to NYC in June 2021 where I visited three of these four observation decks in NYC (the fourth, I visited on a prior trip in 2017), so my knowledge is fresh, firsthand, and fully honest. 

As someone who lived in NYC for nearly a decade from 2007-2016, I adore this city and I am constantly striving to steer people away from the biggest mistakes tourists make in NYC (and I mean actual mistakes like posing with a terrifying Elmo in Times Square, and not silly things like calling it ‘the Big Apple’ — who even cares?) 

I paid out of pocket for these experiences and am sharing my 100% truthful opinions with you.

I consider myself an ex-New Yorker, and New Yorkers are known for their honesty above all else. I’ve channeled that honesty throughout this piece, letting you know what to prioritize and what to skip.

I hope this guide will help you find which observation deck is best in NYC, for your personal travel style and desires!

The Best Observation Decks in NYC: Quick Comparison

View from the Top of the Rock – my favorite observation deck in NYC!
Buildings (Ranked by Preference)Highest Observation DeckCostBest View Of
#1: Top of the Rock70th floor$41Central Park; Empire State Building
#2: One World Observatory102nd floor$41 ($52 skip all lines)Statue of Liberty; Brooklyn Bridge
#3: The Edge100th floor$41East River; New Jersey
#4: The Empire State Building86th floor; 102nd floor (extra cost)$46 ($85 skip all lines); more for 102nd floorChrysler Building; Flatiron Building

The 4 Observation Decks in New York City: Pros & Cons of Each

Top of the Rock (Upper Midtown)

View of the Empire State building dead center amongst other Manhattan skyscrapers from Top of the Rock

Address: 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10112

Hours: 10 AM to 10 PM daily

Height of Observation Deck: 70th floor

Tickets: Buy online here from $41

Available with Passes? Yes, CityPass and New York Pass.

With the lowest height of any of the decks on this list, you’d think that Top of the Rock with its 70th floor deck would rank the lowest on my list of observation decks in NYC… but the opposite is true!

Top of the Rock is actually my favorite viewpoint in New York City, and while it may not be the tallest (hello, One World) or the edgiest (hello, Edge), it offers the best all-around views of the city.

Allison Green smiling as she looks through a viewfinder at buildings in NYC

Central Park? Check! 

Top of the Rock’s position on 50th Street means that Central Park starts just 9 blocks away, and the views from the northern side of Top of the Rock over all of Central Park are simply breathtaking. 

The vastness and lushness of Central Park is unparalleled elsewhere in the city, and from Top of the Rock, you can see it all in a way that none of the other observation decks can even approximate. 

Vintage viewfinder with Central Park in the distance and a compass mosaic on the ground

While you can see a sliver of Central Park from both the Edge and the Empire State Building, it’s such a small fraction of it that it’s not really worth noting, whereas this is a major feature of Top of the Rock.

Another advantage Top of the Rock has is that it offers the best view of the Empire State Building than all the other observation decks. 

The view of the Empire State Building is basically head-on from 15 blocks away, and being on the 70th floor is plenty high to really get the perspective you need on it. It doesn’t get much better than this! 

Compare that to the partially obstructed view of the Empire State Building from the Edge, the far-away (though admittedly higher!) view from One World Observatory, and the lack of a view from inside of the Empire State because, well, you’re inside it, and Top of the Rock is the clear winner in this category.

Allison sitting in the window at the. Top of the Rock looking at the Empire State Building

Where the Top of the Rock Observation Deck falls short are in two main areas: its height, as the shortest tower on this list, but also in its user experience. 

I originally visited Top of the Rock in 2017 with a CityPass, and the experience was a nightmare. 

Perhaps it has improved since then, and while I visited the other 3 observation towers in NYC on this list in 2021, I did not revisit the Top of the Rock on this last trip, so I have to base it off of my 2017 experience and my experience using a CityPass.

If you use a CityPass, you have to go in person to the Top of the Rock and wait in a long line to exchange it for an actual timed-entry voucher. 

This can sometimes be incongruous with other things you want to do on your trip, especially since you may not be able to exchange it for entry at that moment, but rather for a later time in the day or perhaps even the following day!

This may not be a big deal if your hotel is located near Rockefeller Center, but if it’s not, it can be a real pain and is not worth the savings that a CityPass grants.

However, I admit that a large part of why I found the process of going to the Top of the Rock painful was because of using a CityPass.

Allison Green spinning in a polka dot dress in front of the Empire State Building at the Top of the Rock

You can actually just book your tickets directly with the Top of the Rock Observation Deck through an authorized ticket seller like GetYourGuide and the experience would, presumably, be a lot nicer! 

This is the tactic I took with my other observation decks I visited this year (2021) and entry was fast, easy, and painless in all instances, as all I had to do was show my mobile voucher and show up at the time I booked — no need to wait in a long line to buy my ticket, exchange a voucher for a timed-entry ticket, etc.

Buy your Top of the Rock tickets online here!

Pros

– Best view of the Empire State Building

– Best view of Central Park

– Least crowded

– Reasonably priced

Close up zoomed in view of Central Park against skyscrapers of new york city

Cons

– Lowest observation deck in NYC

– Worst customer-facing service (confusing organization and ticketing, rude staff)

– Not as iconic of a building as One World Trade Center or the Empire State Building

– Not as many views of Lower Manhattan landmarks

The One World Observatory (Downtown)

View of Uptown Manhattan as seen from One World Observatory on a partly cloudy day

Address: One World Trade Center (285 Fulton St, New York, NY 10007)

Hours: 9 AM to 10 PM daily

Height of Observation Deck: 102nd floor

Tickets: Buy online here from $41 to $52 for skip-the-line tickets

Available with Passes? Yes, New York Pass only (no CityPass).

If you want to visit a building for its history, One World Observatory is it. 

Built atop the ashes of the Twin Towers, One World Trade Center is a phoenix that symbolizes New Yorkers’ indomitable spirit. Even in the face of the worst tragedy imaginable, New Yorkers rebuild.

That was true on September 11 of 2001, and it’s true after March and April of 2020, when New York City was one of the hardest-hit places in the world at the early stages of the pandemic. 

I visited the One World Observatory this year in 2021, and the experience was quite powerful, especially put into the context of New York City in 2021 as it rebuilds in a different way after the pandemic changed the social and economic fabric of the city immensely.

Up there on the 102nd floor, admiring the 360-degree views of the city skyline, I knew that New York will always rebuild, no matter how hard it gets knocked down. 

And One World Trade Center is proof of that.

View from the window of One World Trade with people looking out at the city views

The tallest building in the United States, the spire at One World Trade Center makes the building 1,776 feet tall — purposely designed to match the year of America’s Declaration of Independence.

It was especially remarkable for me to experience One World Observatory for myself. I went to grad school just a few blocks away at Pace University, obtaining my Masters of Science in Teaching. 

From 2011-2013, every time I went to class, I checked on the progress of the construction of One World Trade Center, little by little. It was finally finished in 2014. 

While I didn’t go to the top of One World Observatory until after I moved out of New York City (nor any of the observation decks, in fact — locals always avoid the touristy things!), coming this year in 2021 felt like a cool homecoming in a way I never expected! 

Allison Green smiling at One World Observatory wearing an orange dress and jean jacket and sandals

Of all the observation tower experiences, I think One World Observatory does the full-on immersive experience the best. 

The elevator ride video is incredible, showing 500 years of New York City history condensed into a one-minute elevator ride as you soar up 100+ floors, immersive and surrounding you in 360 degrees.

Once you reach the top, there’s another video, which admittedly felt a little cheesy… but once the video finished, and the screen lifted to show the city landscape behind it, even I — a jaded former New Yorker — was floored. The reveal was incredible!

View of the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges from One World

One major downside I will say about One World, though, is that the entire experience is indoors. 

While that means it’s nice in inclement weather, it also means that it can be hard to take photographs through the glass. 

I found that to not be a huge problem during the day, although I did get some glare, which you can see in some of the corners of the photos.

At night, I would imagine photos would not quite turn out nearly as well due to the glares of light on the glass!

Buy your One World Observatory tickets online here!

Pros

– Coolest elevator ride experience with epic visual storytelling

– The immense history of the building itself and the show of strength and resilience it signals

– Best views of Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island; only view of Governors Island

– Best views of the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridge

– Good views of Hudson River, East River, and New Jersey (though the Edge’s are better)

View of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island from One World Observatory

Cons

– One of the most popular observation decks with long wait times, especially without skip-the-line tickets

– No open-air section; all indoors with windows which can make photography difficult, especially at night

– Not as great of a view of the Empire State Building (far away)

– No view of Central Park

The Edge (Hudson Yards / Midtown East)

View of The Edge Observation Deck jutting out from the building as a sky deck on a sunny day in New york city

Address: 30 Hudson Yards, New York, NY 10112

Hours: 8 AM to midnight daily

Height of Observation Deck: 100th floor

Tickets: Buy online here from $41

Available with Passes? Yes, New York Pass only (no CityPass).

The Edge is the newest observation deck in New York City, and it’s got all the buzz (and amazing views to back up the talk).  

From the 100th floor observatory, you can see incredible views in both the interior area and the open-air sky deck — the tallest outdoor observation deck in the entire Western Hemisphere, which is pretty freaking cool!

The outdoor sky deck is also quite amazing. It has a partial glass floor which has cut-away views 100 stories below you!

Allison Green looking below on the glass floor of the sky deck at The Edge observation deck in NYC, wearing a black shirt and red floral skirt

Sitting on the glass floor for an epic photo is not for the faint of heart! I have pretty much no fear of heights, and even I was feeling a twinge of vertigo on the glass floor.

As the tallest building by a long shot in the Hudson Yards area, which is on the far west side of Manhattan, you’ll get a different perspective of the Manhattan skyscrapers than you would from being in the middle of the concrete jungle. 

This means both good and bad things!

For one, you get a great view of the Hudson River and New Jersey and Midtown Manhattan. You can see One World Trade Center pretty prominently, and the Statue of Liberty is faintly visible.

View of One World Trade Center and the Hudson River from the Edge

But you also miss the East Side of the city, such as the Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan Bridge, which are visible on other observation towers.

Some other important buildings in the New York skyline are also partly obscured.

Allison Green smiling with a view of the Empire State Building behind her while visiting The Edge observation deck in Manhattan

For example, the Empire State Building — easily one of the most iconic buildings that you want a photo of — is hard to get a straight-on photo of, as most views are partially obstructed by other buildings. 

You can get a better view from the interior area, near the gift shop, but it’s not quite as exciting as getting to see it from the sky deck, plus the window does add a bit of glare or cast on the photo.

There’s also some construction going on, which does interrupt some of the shots, but I imagine that will change as time goes on.

Better view of the Empire State Building from inside the inner The Edge building

Buy your tickets to The Edge online here!

Pros

– The newest observation deck in NYC

– The highest outdoor sky deck in the Western Hemisphere 

– Most unique design blending open-air and interior spaces

– Fun elevator ride experience with great visuals

– Best photo spots and most “Instagrammable” of the four observation decks on this list.

Allison posing at the Edge in a typical Instagram-style fashion

Cons

– Disorganized set-up and difficult to find the entrance (located on 4th story of a mall)

– One of the most crowded due to its newness and ‘edge’ factor!

– Timed tickets must be bought way in advance at peak hours like sunset

– Several iconic landmarks like the Empire State Building are partially obstructed or not visible 

The Empire State Building (Lower Midtown)

Views from the Empire State Building of Lower Manhattan

Address: 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10112

Hours: 10 AM to 10 PM daily

Height of Observation Deck: 80th floor, 86th floor, and 102nd floor (for an additional, extortionate price!)

Tickets: Buy online here from $46 to $85 for skip-all-lines (strongly recommended)

Available with Passes? Yes, both CityPass and New York Pass, though no skip-the-line capabilities are available.

The beautiful Art Deco Empire State Building is one of my favorite buildings in all of New York. I may be clichéd, but it’s true. 

That said…. it’s not my favorite observation deck, and I rank it 4th out of the four on this list. Hear me out!

Allison Green at the Empire State Building

I lived in New York City for nine years and far and away, I’m obsessed with the Empire State Building and I view it as the emblem of the city.

But herein lies the problem with visiting the Empire State Observatory Deck… you just can’t see the Empire State itself from it! 

While that seems very self-explanatory and not at all something you should be surprised by, I must admit, there is something disappointing about seeing panoramic views of the Manhattan skyline without its most iconic building of all!

A view from the Empire State Building at sunset, in the distance you can see the observation tower of The Edge in Hudson Yards!
See that tiny ledge on the tallest building in the photo? That’s The Edge!

Plus, it’s squarely in the middle range of the observation decks in terms of height… unless you pay a premium of the Top of the Empire State Building ticket, which brings you to the (teeny-tiny) 102nd floor. 

That’s a barely appreciable difference from The Edge and no different from One World Observatory, and on both of those, you have far more room to move around and explore different angles.

Buy your Empire State Building tickets (and skip-the-line tickets) here!

Pros

– The oldest observation deck in New York City and the most classic

– Skip-the-line tickets allow you to zip through which makes it a far more pleasant experience

– Best view of the Chrysler Building

– Interior is gorgeous and the Art Deco beauty is unmatched

– Skip all lines capability is fantastic; no waiting at all if you choose this option!

The Art Deco interior of the Empire State Building

Cons

– Most underwhelming elevator ride experience (slow, broken into two parts, no interesting graphics like One World Observatory or The Edge)

– No view of the Empire State Building itself!

– Most expensive, especially for the skip all lines pass

– Often very crowded if you don’t have the skip-the-line privilege

Should I Get a CityPass or New York Pass?

Honestly? It is a mixed bag, and I lean towards no unless you plan to see more than two observation decks in NYC plus a good amount of other attractions. 

While an attraction pass used wisely can definitely save you money, it can sometimes come at the expense of time and convenience. 

However, used wisely, it can also be a great money saver, especially for families buying multiple tickets where the costs quickly add up.

There are two main passes: CityPass and New York Pass. I’ll quickly go into them both.

For CityPass, Top of the Rock and the Empire State Building are both on their included attractions. The Edge and One World Observatory are not.

Personally, I’ve used a CityPass to see the Top of the Rock, and I’ve never used a New York Pass. 

However, I can say that my CityPass experience was not fantastic, and so even though I chose to see three observation decks during my week in New York in June 2021, I opted to pay individually for skip-the-line tickets rather than buy a pass.

Skipping the line at the Empire State Building was 100% necessary!
Following the Skip the Line ‘red carpet’ to avoid lines at the Empire State — worth every penny!

Why? When I used CityPass, I found that the process of exchanging my CityPass voucher for a Top of the Rock timed-entry ticket was really stressful and confusing, with lots of lines, zero organization, and really unfriendly employees directing people around. 

I actually almost missed my opportunity to use it and go to the Top of the Rock, since I didn’t know that it was possible I wouldn’t get in on the same day. 

Luckily, I stopped by earlier in my trip and was able to reschedule other activities around it, since once I exchanged my ticket, it was for the following day.

After having that experience, I soured a bit on CityPass and the idea of attraction passes in New York in general.

However, a lot of people — especially families working with a tight budget — may still value the discount that CityPass offers, which can be quite high!

If you visit all 6 attractions, the discount in total off all the attractions is 40%; however, if you’re not visiting all of the included attractions, that discount will reduce.

Here’s what’s included on the CityPass. There are 3 attractions that are standard for every CityPass: the Empire State Building, Museum of Natural History, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

For the other 3, you have a choice between two attractions for each remaining choice. You can not mix or match between this; you must pick between the two.

You can also choose between the Guggenheim OR Top of the Rock; the Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island OR a harbor cruise; and either the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum OR the 9/11 Museum.

On the other hand, the New York Pass includes all four observation decks on this list, which is definitely a pro of it over the CityPass if you’ve got observation deck fever!

The New York Pass includes a whopping 100+ attractions as opposed to CityPass’s 6. This is another huge advantage of the New York Pass.

However, CityPass can be used over 9 days, whereas you pay per day for the New York Pass, which can be more expensive.

If you marathon your sightseeing, the New York Pass may be a good deal cheaper, since there is no limit on the number of attractions on the list you can visit in a day.

However, like the CityPass, certain attractions require an advance reservation, such as the Empire State Building. 

Others require you to show up in person to receive the next available time slot (such as One World Observatory). This can often not be for hours and hours, or perhaps the next day.

Sign telling next admission times at One World
When I arrived at noon, the next admission for those who were buying tickets in person or trading in vouchers wasn’t until 4:30 PM — and it wasn’t even crowded this day!

This means that you may not be able to get in when you first arrive, and so you’ll need to factor in flexibility and alternative plans.

It depends on what matters more for you: saving money or saving time.

With places like the Empire State Building, where waits exceed 2+ hours at times, I strongly suggest skip-the-line tickets. 

Many attractions also offer the option for timed-entry tickets, where you can easily book a time slot. 

It’s hard for me to say definitively what is better for you, but feel free to check out the offerings, make some decisions about your New York itinerary, and pick the pass that’s right for you — or book a la carte.

Book your New York Pass or your CityPass

Other Buildings in NYC with Great Views

View of greenery of Central Park from the Met rooftop with skyscrapers behind it

This post enumerated all the different true observation decks in New York City. But there are a number of other places in NYC where you can get an epic view – some even for free!

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a great rooftop open seasonally between April and October. Admission to the rooftop is included in the $25 admission fee to the museum. 

The roof is not that tall — around 6 stories or so — but the view over Central Park means that you get an impressive view of the Manhattan skyline. It’s also an Uptown view, which none of these observation decks can boast.

Another great place to see the Manhattan skyline is from the Statue of Liberty! The ferries to and from the Statue of Liberty offer incredible Lower Manhattan views. 

This is also just an essential part of any NYC sightseeing experience, so it’s a great two-for-one activity.

Another favorite is from the TimeOut Market in DUMBO in Brooklyn, which offers incredible Lower Manhattan and East River views, plus great views of the Brooklyn Bridge, Manhattan Bridge, and Williamsburg Bridge.

Future Observation Decks Planned

View of the Art Deco architecture of the Chrysler Building in NYC

Slated for opening in the fall of 2021, Summit One Vanderbilt is being built above Grand Central Station. 

It will offer views from 93 stories up with cool features like glass elevators and outdoor spaces with lots of greenery. Here’s a little preview of what’s to come!

Its tentative opening date is October 21, 2021, as per an article released this May. Hopefully, it’ll meet its targets!

There are also plans for a rehaul of the Chrysler Building, the Art Deco masterpiece, but it’s without a set opening date thus far. 

There will be a public observation tower on the 61st floor, so lower than Top of the Rock, but in a more impressive and historic building.

21 Epic Day Trips from Sedona, Arizona

Red rock landscapes of Oak Creek Canyon near Sedona

There’s a lot to do in Sedona — so much so that you need at least 2 days in Sedona to even start to see some of its best sights!

From the beautiful buttes of Bell Rock to the hiking trails among Cathedral Rock, from the Tlaquepaque market to the Chapel of the Holy Cross, Sedona is a beautiful oasis in the middle of the Arizona high desert. 

You’ll find all sorts of typical Southwest landscapes in Sedona, but the landscape in Arizona quickly changes.

Drive 10 minutes north and you’ll find rugged canyon landscapes in Oak Creek Canyon. 30 more minutes and you’ll be spat out in Flagstaff, a funky little mountain city right on Route 66, surrounded by Ponderosa pines. 

Driving further afield from Sedona will bring you out of Red Rock Country and into a volcanic crater and lava tubes, the ruins of Native American villages, ghost towns that were once booming mining towns, to the Grand Canyon and so much more. 

Let’s go see what Arizona has to offer!

Best Day Tours & Day Trips from Sedona

Oak Creek Canyon

A trail through the Oak Creek Canyon in Arizona with cliffs and water and greenery

Drive Time: 10 minutes

Just a few miles north of Sedona, the landscape quickly changes, and in just the blink of an eye, you can quickly be in Oak Creek Canyon, considered “a smaller cousin of the Grand Canyon.”

You can visit independently easily. Head north on AZ-89A until you reach the turn off for Oak Creek Canyon. Cross the creek and park your car, and then walk a short distance to Oak Creek Canyon, where you can marvel at the beauty that this miniature Grand Canyon has to offer.

If you go by Jeep tour, it takes about 1.5 hours for the guided tour from start to finish. You’ll start at the center of the canyon, looking up at 1,500-foot tall cliffs above you that were formed by being at the heart of a fault line.

Then you’ll head up on paved roads over 2,00 feet until you reach the South Rim of the Colorado Plateau, where you’ll enjoy an amazing view before being swept back to Sedona.

Book your Jeep tour online!

Slide Rock State Park

The natural "water slide" of Slide Rock State Park with mountains around it and cool water running through Oak Creek

Drive Time: 15 minutes

Slide Rock State Park is just a few more miles up the road on AZ-89A, so if you are doing a self-drive day trip to Oak Creek Canyon, it’s very easy to combine this as well. 

There are several easy trails you can take in Slide Rock State Park for a little hike out in nature. For an easy paved trail, check out the Pendley Homestead trail, which is just a quarter-mile and super-level. 

You’ll see the historic Pendley Homestead House and the original apple orchards and a barn where the apples were packed.

For another easy hike, take the Slide Rock Route. It’s only 0.3 miles and will lead to a natural “water slide” of sorts on Oak Creek, which is a popular place for people to relax on hot Sedona summer days.

Red Rock State Park

red rock formations of sedona with green trees in the foreground and two towering formations in the distance

Drive Time: 15 minutes

Red Rock State Park is located to the south of Sedona by about 15 minutes by car. It’s full of awe-inspiring landscapes and is home to 5 miles of hiking trails.

One of the best hikes is Eagle’s Nest, a 1.5-mile return hike that leads up a hill with an incredible view of the larger Sedona area. 

There’s a slight incline as you gain about 300 feet, so it is a moderate hike, but the spectacular views are quite worth it!

For a different kind of hike, check out the Kisva Trail. It’s shorter, about 0.7 miles, and you’ll pass high desert flats and then enter the riparian zone of Oak Creek. 

You’ll cross the creek a few times and be covered in shade throughout most of the hike, so it’s a good choice for a hot day or for someone looking for a family-friendly hike.

Cottonwood

A Syrah vineyard sign during winter near Cottonwood in Arizona, USA

Drive Time: 25 minutes

Who knew that just a 25-minute drive from the red rocks of Sedona’s high desert, you’d be in wine country?

Old Town Cottonwood has tons of tasting rooms, or you can visit some vineyards in the Cottonwood area for wine tasting. 

There are also more wineries in the Jerome and Clarkdale area, part of the Verde Valley wine trail.

For some nature, the Dead Horse Ranch State Park is right there in Cottonwood and it’s a lot more beautiful and a lot less foreboding than its name would suggest! 

It’s located right on the Verde River and it’s a stunning place for a walk after exploring the historic downtown area and enjoying some of the tasting rooms and art galleries in Old Town Cottonwood.

If you plan to do several wineries, I suggest going on a wine tour so that no one in your party has to abstain or run the risk of driving under the influence. This is a highly-rated wine tour that leaves from Sedona!

You can also do a combination wine + Jeep tour departing from Sedona. It only includes one winery, Alcantara, but you can taste 5 different wines there and then be back in Sedona in only a quick 2-hour excursion.

It’s great if you have limited time, but still want to see a little more than just downtown Sedona.

Book your wine tasting + Jeep tour online here!

Jerome

Abandoned mountain town of Jerome, a mining boom town in Arizona

Drive Time: 35 minutes

Once called the “Wickedest Town in the West” for its corruption and debauchery, Jerome was a mining boomtown due to its immense copper mine, which produced over 3 million pounds of copper each month.

Jerome was a large city, at one point the fourth-largest in all of Arizona, up until after World War II. When wartime demand dried up, so did demand for copper. 

The mine closed in 1953, its population of 15,000+ people dwindled down to just 50 or 100. 14 years later, it was designated as a National Historic District and promoted as a historic ghost town. 

Today, things are a little more lively — the population numbers around 450, and there’s a large community of artists and companies which cater to tourists. Jerome is now considered one of the largest ghost towns in America!

You can drive to Jerome easily with about 35 minutes of drive time. Also located in Jerome is the Tuzigoot National Monument, a pueblo ruin atop a ridge above the Verde River.

This pueblo was built by the Sinagua people, who began settling the Verde Valley around 1,400 years ago. 

This particular pueblo was built around the 11th century, but construction on it continued up until the 14th century, suggesting continual habitation up to that point.

Historians believe the Sinagua people abandoned these settlements while making a journey towards Northern Arizona, where they dispersed into different Native tribes, including Hopi, Yavapai, and Zuni. 

If you don’t want to drive (or prefer some historical context along with your sightseeing), there are tours available that cover both Jerome and Tuzigoot National Monument departing from Sedona. It’s a full day trip that takes about 6 hours.

Book your Jerome + Tuzigoot tour here!

Montezuma Castle National Monument

The scenic Montezuma Castle carved out of a cliff, a pueblo cliff dwelling of the ancient Indigenous peoples of Arizona

Drive Time: 35 minutes

Another historical legacy of the Sinagua people, this is perhaps the most impressive Native American ruin in Arizona. 

The construction of this “castle” looks similar to the Puebloan cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado, though smaller in scale.

Not so much a “castle” as a sort of “prehistoric high-rise apartment complex“, this dwelling has about 5 stories and 20 rooms, which were built up between 1100 and 1425, before being abandoned in the same migration north that Tuzigoot experienced.

While visiting Montezuma Castle, be sure to also visit Montezuma Well, about 15 minutes away. This limestone sinkhole (similar to the cenotes of Mexico) is really beautiful, although you are not allowed to swim here!

Ther are caves surrounding the Montezuma Well which show that this was another place where the native Sinagua people were living before their migration.

This is one of the best day trips from Sedona for those interested in Native American history, and it’s easily paired with Tuzigoot National Monument if you are self-driving, as the sites are about 40 minutes apart by car.

Flagstaff

historic center town of flagstaff arizona on a partly cloudy day

Drive Time: 45 minutes

Flagstaff is one of the most obvious Sedona day trips for a number of reasons. Less than an hour drive away from downtown Sedona through a beautiful pine forest, Flagstaff has so much to offer travelers.

In terms of nature, Flagstaff has a ton to offer. You can forest bathe in the world’s largest contiguous Ponderosa pine forest, ascend to the San Francisco peaks via the Arizona Snowbowl chairlift, or take a section hike on the AZT, the 800-mile trail that runs through Arizona from Utah to Mexico.

The Coconino National Forest is home to great opportunities for mountain biking, hiking, and other outdoor activities. Another great outdoor activity in Flagstaff is ziplining with Flagstaff Extreme! It’s a ton of fun and an experience I recommend wholeheartedly.

Other great things to do in Flagstaff include enjoying all the great breweries in town, ambling along Flagstaff’s stretch of Route 66 by foot or by car, and enjoying the historic downtown area.

But there’s no need to stay down to earth: Flagstaff is also home to the Lowell Observatory, a famed planetarium where Pluto was first discovered! 

Of course, the observatory is best visited at night, so this may not be the best day trip option, but planning an overnight excursion to Flagstaff that includes some time touring the observatory would be a fantastic option for space enthusiasts.

Walnut Canyon National Monument

Drive Time: 55 minutes

Walnut Canyon is another cool site that combines geology and archaeology, where you can visit a Native American pueblo and also admire the canyon in which it was built.

Take a stroll down the 1-mile Island Trail, which allows you to pass 25 individual cliff dwellings that were last inhabited some 700 years ago.

Note that while the trail is short, it is a bit difficult and it’s not accessible. The elevation is well above 7,000 feet, and the trail descends and then ascends 185 vertical feet via stairs on steep terrain. 

Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument

Colorful volcanic hill near sunset crater in Flagstaff Arizona with lots of trees

Drive Time: 1 hour, 5 minutes

Located outside of Flagstaff, Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument is a really beautiful and unique place where the Ponderosa pines give way to a volcanic landscape.

There are several beautiful hiking trails in the National Monument site, where you can explore the volcanic landscapes. 

An easy trail is the A’a Trail, a quarter-mile trail showing the basalt lava rock formations of the Bonito Lava Flow which occurred almost a millennium ago. 

If you need a paved, accessible trail, the Bonito Vista Trail is a great option too, only 0.3 miles round trip and paved over the cinders.

For a more difficult hike, take the Lava’s Edge trail, a 3.5-mile moderate hike over loose volcanic cinder and rocky basalt. You’ll see all sorts of incredible sites on this path!

There is a lava tube in the national monument area that used to be able to be walked through, but unfortunately, since it is now beginning to collapse, it is no longer able to be visited.

Wupatki National Monument

Historic Wupatki Ruin at Wupatki National Monument in Arizona, made of red rocks that look like bricks

Drive Time: 1 hour, 10 minutes

Often visited in conjunction with Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, the fee for Sunset Crater also includes admission to Wupatki National Monument, so you should pair both when doing a Sedona day trip.

This is another Native American archaeological site with ancient pueblos. There are some 800+ ruins in the park, though only 5 sites are open to visitors and accessible via the main road. 

These pueblos were built by the Anasazi and Sinagua Natives during the same time period as the previously mentioned pueblos and were abandoned many centuries ago during the same migration.

Williams

Road sign US road 66 in Williams, Arizona.

Drive Time: 1 hour, 10 minutes

Williams is considered the “Gateway to the Grand Canyon”, and it’s also the start of the scenic Grand Canyon Railway. 

It’s also right along Route 66, so it’s a fun destination if you’re looking to drive a stretch of Route 66 from Flagstaff to Williams while visiting Sedona!

A great day trip itinerary would include Flagstaff, Williams, and Grand Canyon National Park in a full-day trip full of scenic drives and natural beauty. 

If you continue on to Grand Canyon Village from Williams, this is the departure point for a lot of epic Grand Canyon helicopter and Pink Jeep tours!

Book your Grand Canyon helicopter or your scenic Grand Canyon Pink Jeep tour here!

Prescott

Yavapai County courthouse in Prescott Arizona

Drive Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Prescott is a charming city near Sedona that makes a great day trip option!

Wander along the historic Whiskey Row full of bars and live music spots, check out the pioneer history at the Sharlot Hall Museum, or learn about the culture of the Southwest’s original inhabitants at the Museum of Indigenous People. 

Nature lovers will love birding at Watson Lake, which also abounds in hiking opportunities. The Prescott National Forest is also right there on the edge of town and offers up 450 miles of trail to choose from!

Prescott is easily paired with other destinations like Cottonwood, Jerome, and Tuzigoot National Monument for an epic one-day road trip from Sedona that covers several historic destinations in one go.

Winslow

Public "standin on the corner" park in Winslow Arizona on Route 66

Drive Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Winslow is another historic Route 66 town in Arizona that is worth a stop if you are driving a stretch of Route 66, such as if you are heading to Petrified Forest National Park.

Winslow is a town made famous by the Eagles in their song “Take it Easy”, where they sing about standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona — and there’s now a Standin’ on the Corner Park to commemorate the song, complete with a statue and a trompe l’oeil mural!

Winslow would be best paired with other destinations on Route 66 like Flagstaff and Holbrook. You can also visit the Meteor Crater Natural Landmark on the way — it’s just a short sojourn off the Mother Road.

Grand Canyon National Park

Orange and red rocks of the Grand canyon from a vista point with a view of the Colorado River winding below

Drive Time: 2 hours

While the North Rim of the Grand Canyon is out of reach for a day trip from Sedona, the South Rim of the Grand Canyon is easily accessible within about 2 hours by car. (Read about the difference between the two here)

Considered one of the 7 natural wonders of the world, the Grand Canyon is the world’s deepest canyon, carved out by millennia of erosion of the mighty Colorado River. 

It’s truly a wonder to behold, and if you’re staying in Sedona with no plans to make a larger Arizona road trip, a day trip to the Grand Canyon is the day trip to choose. 

There are a few ways to do a Grand Canyon day trip from Sedona: self-drive, guided tour, and guided tour via train.

Self-driving is relatively self-explanatory. The perk of this is that it’s the cheapest: just hop in your car, drive up through Flagstaff and then head to Williams along Route 66 before turning towards Grand Canyon National Park. 

The other perk is getting to stop however long you want in these side-trip destinations, so you can spend a few hours in Flagstaff and an hour or so in Williams before checking out the Grand Canyon.

If you don’t have a rental car, or don’t want to deal with the drive, there are tons of great day tours to choose from! 

Taking a guided tour takes the spontaneity out of things, but it does also take the stress out, and it puts the onus of driving 4+ hours in a day on someone else! 

There are a variety of guided tours offered from Sedona. This guided tour is the best-rated standard Grand Canyon tour, which includes pick-up, plenty of sightseeing time at the Canyon, and drop-off back at your Sedona hotel.

Book it here!

For a slightly different option, you can do this sunset tour of the Grand Canyon that also includes dinner. It gets a later start, starting around 11:30 AM, and lasts for 10 hours. 

Expect this to be a long day and to arrive back late at night in Sedona, but as someone who has seen the sunset at the Grand Canyon, I can promise you: it’s absolutely worth it!

Book it here.

Another option is the guided tour that includes the historic scenic train from Williams to Grand Canyon Village. 

This tour includes transit from Sedona to Williams, a one-way ticket (standard or first-class) with entertainment between Williams and the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, a 4-hour tour of the Grand Canyon (including the East Rim, the Desert View Watchtower, and the Cameron Trading Post on Navajo land), and then return transit via vehicle to Sedona.

Lunch is not included, but there is free time given for lunch, so pack a lunch or be prepared to spend some money on lunch.

Book it here!

Phoenix

Capitol City of Phoenix skyline with some shrubs and desert fauna

Drive Time: 2 hours

The capital of Arizona, Phoenix, makes for an interesting day trip, though it is rather far away from Sedona. 

If you’re visiting Sedona from out of state, most likely you’ll fly in and out of Phoenix International Airport, so perhaps setting aside a half-day to explore Phoenix either coming or going would be the best use of time!

When in Phoenix, don’t miss the stunning Desert Botanical Garden, spread across 140 acres of beautiful land in Papago Park.

Other things to do in Phoenix include checking out the culture. Phoenix is home to a number of great museums including the Arizona Capitol Museum, the Phoenix Art Museum, and the Heard Museum of American Indian Art.

Museums are a great way to spend a summer day in Phoenix because summer temperatures here are scorching!

Scottsdale

The city of Scottsdale Arizona at sunset with a small mountain peak in the distance

Drive Time: 2 hours

Scottsdale is part of the Greater Phoenix Area, a large city that sort of acts as a suburb of Phoenix. 

It’s best-known for its resorts and spas, but Scottsdale also has great culture! 

It’s known for its architecture, including the Old Town with its Western architecture and the beautiful Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright’s former winter home, which you can see on a guided tour.

Other things to do in Scottsdale include exploring all the great boutiques, checking out the museums, and enjoying the fantastic eating and drinking scene!

Tempe

Lake in Tempe with bridge and skyline

Drive Time: 2 hours

Another city in the Greater Phoenix Area, Tempe is also worthy of a day trip on your way coming or going to Sedona. 

Enjoy time out on the water at Tempe Town Lake, take a hike in the Sonoran Desert (best avoided in summer unless you can get an early start!), or enjoy the beautiful murals around the city.

Holbrook

Tipi style hotel rooms as part of the Wigwam motel on route 66, a nostalgic place to stay

Drive Time: 2 hours

Holbrook is a worthy stop along Route 66 that makes a good breakpoint on your way to Petrified Forest National Park (another 20 minutes away) or Canyon de Chelley (another hour and 45 minutes).

It in and of itself isn’t quite worthy of a day trip but it is a great waypoint to further explorations from Sedona!

Holbrook is perhaps best-known for its ultra-quirky, slightly culturally-insensitive Wigwam Village, a popular motor lodge along the Mother Road. The design of the rooms are not actually wigwams, but rather tipis, but apparently that didn’t have a cool enough ring to it?

Holbrook is a strange little city full of odd things: an award-winning sake brewery the size of a small garage, a street called Bucket of Blood Street, and lots of kitschy Route 66 stops and shops.

Hopi Nation

Red rock canyon near Hopi Lands

Drive Time: 2 hours

So far, we’ve mentioned a lot of Sedona day trips that involve ancient Native American culture and archaeological sites.

But Native Americans are very much alive and present in Arizona, and the state represents more than 10% of the United States’ entire Native population. In terms of Native populations, California and Oklahoma are the only two states with more Native peoples.

There are several important Native American tribes in Arizona, including the Navajo (Diné), Hopi, Havasupai (Havasuw `Baaja), Quechan (Yuma), and many others.

The best way to experience Native American culture is via a guided tour that benefits the community that you are a guest in, patronizing Native businesses and artists.

This tour of the Hopi Nation is led by a Hopi guide, who will share their culture with you through food, art, and history. 

The tour includes a Hopi meal enjoyed at the Hopi Cultural Center, a tour through the Hopi Museum and Art Gallery, and visits to local artisans who keep tradition alive through basket-weaving, pottery-making, and carving the famous Kachina dolls.


Book it here!

Petrified Forest National Park

Drive Time: 2 hours, 20 minutes

This National Park is often overlooked in favor of Arizona’s other two, more famous national parks (it’s hard for anything to compete with the Grand Canyon!), but it’s an absolute beauty worth visiting despite the long drive time from Sedona.

The national park is so named for its colorful array of petrified wood throughout the park, surrounded by the Rainbow Forest to the south and the Painted Desert further out in Navajo Nation. 

You can drive through the park in less than an hour via Blue Mesa Road, but I’d allocate at least 3-4 hours to stop at overlooks, do a few easy hikes, check out the petroglyphs and the Rainbow Forest Museum, and head to the Painted Desert Inn with its Hopi murals on the North edge of the park.

Page (Horseshoe Bend & Antelope Canyon) 

Allison in Antelope Canyon looking up at the slot canyon

Drive Time: 2 hours, 45 minutes

Both Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon are easily accessed from Page, Arizona, a small town on the border of Utah and Navajo Nation. 

I strongly recommend visiting Page on a guided tour. The drive time is nearly 3 hours each way, leading to a nearly 6 hour return trip, which is rough for just a day. 

A day tour means you can relax and rest in the car on the way to and from Sedona without having to stress about having to drive and get back to Sedona. 

There are several excellent day tours that visit Page. Depending on what you want to see, you can pick the right tour for you. The most popular option is to visit Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon together. 

This tour of Antelope Canyon X is the best option because you get all the beauty of Antelope Canyon without the crowds at Upper Antelope or Lower Antelope. 

I visited Lower Antelope Canyon during my last trip to Page and while it was beautiful, the crowds were frankly rather overwhelming!

This full-day guided tour includes a roundtrip transfer; visits to Horseshoe Bend, Glen Canyon Dam, Antelope Canyon X, Cameron Trading Post; and lunch on the tour.

Book it here!

Alternately, you can visit Cathedral Slot Canyon, an even less crowded hidden gem near Page. This tour includes Horseshoe Bend and Glen Canyon Dam as well, with a picnic lunch at Glen Canyon. 

It doesn’t include Antelope Canyon, but it is a gorgeous slot canyon nonetheless and is definitely worth the trip.

Book your Cathedral Canyon & Horseshoe Bend Tour here!

Glen Canyon

Glen Canyon rafting destination on the Colorado River

Drive Time: 2 hours, 50 minutes

Want a more active day trip from Sedona? How does a 4.5-hour float trip along the Colorado River sound to you?

This peaceful float trip doesn’t include rapids, so you can relax as you float through Glen Canyon on a relaxing stretch of the river. Your river guide will tell stories of the geology, wildlife, and Native American history of the region.

At a point during the rafting trip, you’ll be able to stop for an easy hike to spot the Native American petroglyphs, and you can also eat a picnic aside the river after the hike. 

You’ll end the tour at Marble Canyon and Lees Ferry, where you can spot pioneer-era cabins, before heading back to Sedona by air-conditioned vehicle.

Book it here!

Lake Powell

Allison standing in the Lake Powell landscape at Wahweap Overlook

Drive Time: 2 hours, 50 minutes

Also located near Page, if you want an active day out without a guided tour, you can head to Lake Powell. It is a long drive, so I suggest having another person you can swap driving duty with, since it’ll be about 6 hours of driving over the course of the day!

On Lake Powell, you can do all sorts of water sports: jet skiing, kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, you name it!

You can also combine Lake Powell with a visit to Horseshoe Bend rather easily, because it’s just a short 1.4-mile hike out and back from the parking lot. 

It’d be difficult to try to squeeze in a tour at Antelope Canyon too if visiting independently, so I suggest picking between Lake Powell and an Antelope Canyon tour.

Canyon de Chelley

Canyon de Chelley red rock landscape with a river snaking below it

Drive Time: 3 hours, 20 minutes

Located in Navajo Nation, Canyon de Chelley National Monument is an absolute stunner. It’s like a far less crowded Grand Canyon!

From scenic overlooks, check out the massive spires and sandstone cliffs around the canyon. Take the 25-mile Canyon de Chelley Scenic Drive, or take a short hike out to the Spider Rock viewpoint.

There is tons of evidence of its importance to Indigenous peoples throughout time: you’ll find prehistoric petroglyphs and rock art, as well as ruins of Pueblo villages from centuries past.

Monument Valley

purple and reddish mesas at hunts mesa in monument valley

Drive Time: 3 hours, 20 minutes

One of the most photographed stretches of road in the entire American Southwest is located in Monument Valley. 

While technically along the Arizona/Utah border, it’s doable as a day trip from Sedona as long day out, as you don’t mind driving and have someone to switch up driving duties with (or can handle driving 7 hours in a day).

Better yet, you can book a tour of Monument Valley and shift the responsibility for driving on someone else! This tour includes Oak Creek Canyon, Cameron Trading Post, the Painted Desert, and Monument Valley Tribal Park.

In Monument Valley, you’ll see all sorts of buttes and mesas and rock formations, including Rain-God Mesa, the East and West Mittens, the North Window, and more.

Book it here!

27 Enchanting Weekend Getaways on the East Coast

If you live on the East Coast, you’re spoiled for choice!

There’s no shortage of beautiful spots when it comes to great vacation destinations on the East Coast.

When you have only a weekend for a getaway, you have to think strategically and locally, so that you don’t waste more time in transit than on vacation!

The East Coast is a huge area, so we’ve broken this guide to East Coast weekend getaways into three sections: the Northeast (New York & New England), the Mid-Atlantic, and the Southeast.

So hop in your car or book your flights, because these weekend getaways on the East Coast are calling your name!

East Coast Weekend Getaways: The Northeast & New England

Montauk, NY

Person standing at the cliff edge in Montauk NY

Contributed by Megan of Bobo & Chichi

One of the best East Coast getaways just outside of New York City on the tip of Long Island is Montauk, also known as the End of the World.

This Hamptons retreat is especially popular among the summer visitors coming from the city looking for a nice beach getaway, but Montauk really is a great escape any season and really quiet and beautiful during the off season.

There are plenty of things to do in Montauk that are worth exploring, one unmissable attraction is Montauk Point Lighthouse located on a cliff at the very tip of the island overlooking the dramatic coastline from the bluffs.

You can tour the lighthouse and the property, spend a little extra time walking around the beach and the Camp Hero State Park bluffs for more vantage points of this beautiful lighthouse.

A foggy day looking at a lighthouse in Montauk

If you’re looking for something to eat, don’t miss Harvest on Fort Pond if you’re wanting to feast family-style or if you’re visiting in the summer, grab a lobster roll from the roadside seafood stands at Lunch aka Lobster Roll or the Clam Bar.

Stay at the Surf Lodge if you’re hoping to catch a star-studded live music performance on the weekends or if you’re looking for a complete weekend getaway full of relaxation head to Gurney’s Resort and enjoy their renowned day spa and facilities overlooking the ocean.

Getting to Montauk couldn’t be easier, if you are coming from NYC you have the option to take the Hampton Jitney, a luxe bus that services Long Island and NYC, the train, or for complete freedom you can drive your own car.

Martha’s Vineyard, MA

Martha's Vineyard, Cape Cod photo of cliffs and lighthouse (Gay Head) on a beautiful clear summer day

Contributed by Vicky of Buddy The Traveling Monkey

A great place to spend a weekend getaway on the East Coast is Martha’s Vineyard, off the coast of Massachusetts’ Cape Cod.

The island isn’t huge, but there are a few towns that offer unique attractions and restaurants. The most popular towns are Vineyard Haven, Oak Bluffs, and Aquinnah.

Vineyard Haven has a cute Main Street with many shops, cafes, and restaurants. We recommend getting breakfast at the Waterside Market. They offer fresh and organic ingredients and were even featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.

After breakfast, walk over to the MV Museum. This museum has exhibits, photos, manuscripts, and rare books that tell the history of the island.

Oak Bluffs has the oldest operating platform carousel in the country, the Flying Horses Carousel. Oak Bluffs’ most popular attraction, however, is their Gingerbread Cottages.

a gingerbread-house looking cottage that says ' no problem' on it

There are over 300 cottages with about 30 of them being lived in year-round; the rest are seasonal. Each cottage is unique with different colors and themes.

Aquinnah is on the other side of the island is home to the Gay Head Lighthouse. It was the first lighthouse constructed on Martha’s Vineyard, built in 1799. It’s also the best place to watch the sunset.

The best way to get to Martha’s Vineyard is by ferry from the town of Woods Hole on Cape Cod. Once you’re on the island, it is easy to get around because Martha’s Vineyard has a great public transportation system.

To stay, we recommend Isabelle’s Beach House in Oak Bluffs. It’s an oceanfront bed and breakfast that offers free Wi-Fi and full daily breakfast.

Catskills, NY

photo of red canoe boats in a lake on a sunny partly cloudy day in the catskills in new york, a popular us east coast weekend getaway destination

Contributed by Shannon of Traveling Teacher Girl

The Catskills is a great place to visit for a weekend getaway on the East Coast!

There are a variety of activities to choose from in the Catskills, depending on the season.

In the winter, it is a great destination for skiing, snowboarding, sledding, ice skating, snow tubing, and cross country skiing.

In the summer you can enjoy kayaking, canoeing, and ziplining.

In the fall you can go apple picking, pumpkin picking, and attend fall festivals.

There are also plenty of year-round activities such as hiking, wine tasting, and brewery hopping.  

One of the most popular towns to visit in The Catskills is the town of New Paltz.

Mohonk Mountain House is a popular accommodation option in New Paltz with 85 miles of hiking trails on-site as well as horseback riding, kayaking, paddle boarding, ice skating, and snowshoeing. 

New Paltz is located at the northern end of the Shawangunk Wine Trail which has 13 wineries, including Robibero Vineyards and Benmarl Wineries.

photos of wine glasses lined up for wine tasting in the catskills

Some highly-rated restaurants in the town of New Paltz are Main Street Bistro, Bacchus Restaurants, and Pho Tibet.

Also be sure to check out Water Street Market which is a European-style shopping village with cute shops, restaurants, free loaner bikes, chess sets, live music and movie nights.

New Paltz is located 1.5-3 hours from NYC and is accessible by car, train, or bus.

Other Catskills towns such as Hunter and Windham are located an additional 45-60 minutes north of New Paltz and are not easily accessible via public transit, so a car is recommended for a weekend getaway in those destinations. 

Bar Harbor, ME

boats in the water of maine's bar harbor with an island in the distance

Contributed by Melissa of Navigation Junkie

Bar Harbor is a small coastal town on Maine’s Mount Desert Island that holds the perfect combination for a weekend getaway involving delicious eats, small town charm, and natural beauty.

It stands as the gateway to Acadia National Park, but the town itself has so much to offer and should not be skipped!

A culinary walking tour is a must when spending the weekend in Bar Harbor. The tour, lasting about 3 hours, will take you through some of Bar Harbor’s best and most historic restaurants, giving you some tastes of local Maine dishes. For some wine tasting and delicious, locally made chocolates stop at Bar Harbor Cellars.

After the culinary walking tour, be sure to spend some time strolling Main Street exploring the local shops where you can find unique souvenirs and hand-crafted goods.

For some relaxation, spend an afternoon at Agamont Park overlooking the harbor. To get even closer to the water, take a walk along Shore Path, a one-and-a-half-mile walk along the coast, found near Bar Harbor’s Main St.

Get out on the waters of Bar Harbor with the Bar Harbor Whale Watch Company. You can choose from several tours, but regardless of your choice you will be treated to scenic views of Maine’s coast and wildlife viewings.

If viewing lighthouses is your thing, you will find plenty scattered along the Gulf of Maine on a cruise.

lighthouse on rocks in the water of maine coastline

For overnight accommodations in Bar Harbor, Balance Rock Inn is one of the best options. Balance Rock Inn is a waterfront boutique hotel that features an outdoor pool, onsite restaurant, and is just steps away from downtown Bar Harbor.

 To reach Bar Harbor, you will need to drive from a nearby airport. The closest airport is located in Bangor, about 50 miles away. From there you will drive US-1A almost directly to Bar Harbor.  

Providence, RI

skyline of providence rhode island at night at sunset

Contributed by Jade of The Migrant Yogi

Providence, Rhode Island is the perfect East Coast weekend getaway.  Providence is small enough to explore in just a few days, yet large enough to pack a punch and leave an impression.   

There are plenty of things to do in Rhode Island’s capital city to fill up a weekend getaway.  You can explore its charming neighborhoods, becoming acquainted with each unique personality.

Check out local museums, Thayer Street, Prospect Park, or even head down to South County for a trip to Rhode Island’s incredible beaches.

Waterfire is an absolute must if you are visiting Providence during the summer.  This is a quintessential Providence event that usually takes place on Saturday nights in the summer months where small fires are lit down the center of the river and vendors line the riverwalk with food and performances.

If your weekend getaway is during the colder months or it’s raining, there are plenty of indoor activities as well. Book lovers can peruse the special collections and hidden treasures of Brown University’s John Hay Library. 

If fine art is more up your alley, the RISD Museum has work from renowned artists alongside work from the students of Rhode Island School of Design. 

public art piece in providence rhode island

Theatre is also a celebrated pastime in Providence – Trinity Rep and PPAC are both top choices to catch a local performance.

Although it’s the capital of the smallest state, Providence makes up for its small size with exciting nightlife and a thriving culinary scene. Exploring the best restaurants in Providence is undoubtedly one of the best ways to spend time in the city.

For a chic and central hotel, the Dean Hotel Providence has an optimal downtown location and a superb on-site restaurant.

Lake Placid, NY

lake placid with orange trees in the fall

Contributed by Mark of Where Are Those Morgans?

Charming, quaint and picturesque mountain resort town Lake Placid is the perfect Northeastern US weekend getaway for hikers, skiers and lovers of nature alike.

Lake Placid is famous for hosting the 1980 ‘Miracle on Ice’ Winter Olympics and it remains a hub for Winter sports today. The original Olympic Village and enormous ski jump complex are both easy to visit from town.

However, Lake Placid at the heart of New York’s spectacular Adirondack Mountain region is a 4 season resort.

Hiking to the summit of Mount Marcy is among the very best things to do in Lake Placid. It is the highest of the High Peaks and tallest point in New York State. Mt Marcy’s trail is long and slow, expect it to take anywhere between 7-11 hours. Hope for good weather but plan for bad weather!

Nearby Whiteface Mountain can also be hiked but with just a weekend, a much quicker drive to its 360 degree panoramic view summit is recommended.

view from whiteface mountain over the mountains and waters of the lake placid

Views from both peaks stretch as far as the Montreal skyline in Canada and the Green Mountains in Vermont on a clear day, particularly beautiful in peak Fall season.

Don’t miss a short but striking detour through High Falls Gorge near Whiteface Mountain. Four waterfalls funnel through a very narrow gorge, creating a beautiful scene.

With so much going on around Lake Placid, it’s easy to forget about the town itself. Take a relaxing walk around Mirror Lake and shop in alpine style chocolate stores, before eating a fantastic barbecue dinner on the lakefront patio at Smoke Signals.

Stay at luxurious Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort right on Mirror Lake for the ultimate Lake Placid experience.

Lake Placid looks a little isolated out in northern New York but it is only 2 hours drive from Montreal, under 5 hours from Boston and just under 5 hours from New York City via I-87.

Stowe, VT

view from stowe pinnacle in the fall

Contributed by Kat of World Wide Honeymoon

One of the best east coast USA weekend getaways has to be Stowe, Vermont, especially in the fall and winter!

Vermont in the fall is an absolute dream, and the town is small enough to fully enjoy it in just on a weekend trip.

One of the best things to do in Stowe has to be hiking. With so many stunning mountains, the views are insanely gorgeous.

The hike to Sterling Pond, Vermont’s highest elevation stocked pond, is truly lovely, and you can even continue on the Long Trail around the pond for more scenic views and to escape the crowds. 

Mt. Mansfield is nearby as well with many hiking routes to get to the top. However, the best hike has to be Stowe Pinnacle.

If you’re lucky and go early in the morning on a nice day, you may just catch the fog clearing from the valley below and see some amazing views! 

two people kissing atop stowe pinnacle covered in fall colors

Of course, if you’re here to ski in the winter, Stowe is an idyllic place! There are ski resorts everywhere like the ski-in/ski-out Lodge at Spruce Peak.

Aside from hiking and skiing, a visit to the Trapp Family Lodge is a must. If you’re a fan of the Sound of Music, then the Trapp family may sound familiar! Did you know they settled in Stowe and then opened their lodge? Now you can visit or stay at this Austrian-chalet-inspired lodge and partake in many activities like snowshoeing, skiing, hiking, mountain biking, and more! Plus, they have a lovely restaurant and patio that is perfect for watching an incredible sunset over the mountains. 

Other incredible things to do in Stowe include finding some romantic covered bridges, exploring the charming city itself, driving through the enchanting Smugglers Notch, and drinking some of the world’s best beer at The Alchemist. 

For some great food, definitely try the pizza at Piecasso, the poutine at Idletyme Brewing Company, and the halibut at Cork. 

The best way to get to Stowe is by driving. However, if you live further away, you can fly into Burlington and drive 45 minutes to Stowe. And, those who live in big cities on the east coast like DC or New York can even take the Amtrak to Waterbury and a quick taxi ride or drive up to Stowe.

Stowe, Vermont is a charming place to visit, and no matter the time of year, you’ll fall in love with the incredible mountain scenery, the most adorable town, and so many cool outdoorsy things to do here!

Burlington, VT

Contributed by Karen of Outdoor Adventure Sampler

Burlington, Vermont has plenty to do for an awesome weekend getaway on the East Coast!

This vibrant small city is tucked along the coast of Lake Champlain with views across to the Adirondack Mountains.

Waterfront Park is a great place to catch a panorama of the lake and the best sunsets in the Northeast.

Rent a bike on the Burlington Bike Path and pedal along the lake to one of several sand beaches for swimming and sunning. There are also many hikes within the city limits including climbing the tower at Ethan Allen Park for city and lake views.

Families will enjoy the Echo Center, the premier science and nature center on Lake Champlain. Enjoy hours of scientific discovery in the exhibits of the Echo Center.

Take a cruise on the Spirit of Ethan Allen to learn about the region’s rich history. A lunch or dinner cruise is a popular way to get out on the water.

Foodies will enjoy the many restaurants using locally sourced ingredients.

And with more breweries per capita than any other state, sampling craft beer in Burlington is a must!  Foam Brewery on the waterfront is a local favorite.

the lit up buildings of church street in burlington vermont

Don’t miss the pedestrian mall of Church Street with its one-of-a-kind shops, fabulous restaurants, and street performers. Grab a table at Honey Road for delicious Mediterranean-inspired small plates.

Accommodations near the waterfront let you see the sunset from your room. Check out the Hilton Garden Inn for your weekend stay.

Burlington is off US 89 and is 5.5 hours from New York, 3 hours from Boston, and 2 hours from Montreal.

Mystic, CT

restaurant that reads thomas oyster co on the water

Contributed by Eileen Gunn at FamiliesGo!

Mystic is an easy weekend destination from New York City, Boston, and Providence, RI!

Exploring the living history Seaport Museum can take the better part of a day to explore. It recreates a 19th-century fishing village with ships, houses, shops, demonstrations and hands-on activities.

The mostly-outside Mystic Aquarium has several kinds of sharks, some species of seals and sea lions you don’t often see in aquariums, beluga whales, and African Penguins. It’s one of the best aquariums in the region.

Outdoorsy weekenders will find outfitters for SUPing or kayaking on the Mystic River. Within an hour’s drive, there are a handful of state parks with hiking trails that lead to waterfalls and nice vistas. 

Gillette State Park is also home to the offbeat medieval castle that Shakespearean actor William Gillette built here around 1919.  

Within a half hour’s drive you’ll hit Misquamicut State Beach and East Beach, two nice long stretches of sand just over the Rhode Island border. ­

For lunch, you can’t go wrong with any of the clam shacks in the area (I’ve tried them all). Abbotts in Noank is the most popular and right on the water.

abbots restaurant a  seafood shack in mystic ct

For dinner, try the Water Street Café in nearby Stonington. Clams, oysters and steamers are local and the preparations are fresh and inventive.

I recommend staying at the Inn at Mystic. The rooms are nicely decorated and comfortable. Some have fireplaces, patios or jacuzzi tubs. The onsite restaurant has Sunday brunch and the outdoor pool is less likely to be overrun with kids than at the many chain hotels nearby.

In addition to driving, you can get to Mystic by MetroNorth railroad from New York, and by Amtrak from New York, Providences and Boston.

Boston, MA

Quincy Market and other famous buildings in Boston's downtown area

Contributed by Tegan and Alex of Why Not Walk Travel Guides

Boston is one of the country’s most historic cities and a beautiful place to spend a weekend year-round!

Be sure to allocate at least a half-day to walk the Freedom Trail, a 16-stop outdoor walking path dedicated to Boston’s role in the American Revolution.

Some highlights include the Boston Common, the country’s oldest park; Paul Revere’s house and the Old North Church, where the infamous bells that heralded the arrival of the British were hung; and the site of the Boston Massacre.

Other must-sees in Boston include sightseeing in Copley Square and the Boston Public Library; shopping on glitzy Newbury Street; and admiring the architecture in the Back Bay and Beacon Hill.

Sports enthusiasts can see the Red Sox at iconic Fenway Stadium or the Celtics and Bruins at TD Garden.

Sign that reads "go red sox" in Boston

A great place to stay is the Godfrey Hotel, a cute boutique hotel located right downtown.

While you’re here, don’t miss grabbing a bite to eat in the North End, Boston’s oldest neighborhood and historic home of a thriving Italian population.

Mouthwatering homemade pasta, cannoli, and pizza can be enjoyed at its many establishments.

Some particular favorites are Regina’s for pizza (be sure to try the “Original North End”); Bova’s for cannoli; and Monica’s or Giacomo’s for pasta. 

Boston is accessible by train, bus, car, and airplane.

You can take the Amtrak, regional trains, or buses like MegaBus or Peter Pan to Boston’s two regional train stations, North and South Station, and the New England region’s largest airport, Logan International, is located in Boston.

It’s easy to get from the airport to the city center via the MBTA transit system. If you drive, beware that parking in the city is very challenging, and Boston has some of the worst traffic in the country– it’s best to stick to the MBTA while you’re here on an East Coast weekend getaway!

East Coast Weekend Getaways: The Mid-Atlantic

Philadelphia, PA

Skyline of Philadelphia with buildings on the water

Contributed by Neha from Travelmelodies 

Philadelphia, one of the older U.S. cities rich in history and culture, makes for a perfect weekend destination on the East Coast.

The proximity of the city to major cities like New York, Washington DC, and Pittsburgh makes it a popular destination among tourists.

Philly is known as the birthplace of America. This is the place where the Constitution was written.

Visiting the iconic Liberty Bell and National Constitution Center lets you know more about the events that lead up to American Independence. 

Besides history, it is a perfect city for museum lovers. For art lovers, there is the Philadelphia Museum of Art that also has beautiful architecture. Get an Instagrammable pic on the steps leading to the museum!

Located close to the Museum of Art is The Franklin Institute, a celebrated museum on Science & Technology, another great place to visit for museum lovers.

The US Mint is a unique museum to visit, to get insight into the process of making coins! The National Constitution Center and National Liberty Museum are some other museums to visit. 

Not into museums? Stroll by the museum along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway through Logan Square to the Love Park where the iconic red LOVE sculpture stands. 

red sculpture that reads LO VE with skyscrapers around it

But of course, coming to Philly would be incomplete without indulging in the food. Reading Terminal Market, the oldest public market has many local choices!

Philly is famous for its cheesesteak, hoagies, and soft pretzels. Philly Pretzel Factory is a great place to try the pretzels. Pat’s has great cheesesteaks!

Philadelphia can be easily reached by air, road, and train. The Amtrak train connects to Philly by many major stations. Philadelphia International Airport has flights from all the major cities of US.

Once in Philly, there’s no need for a car, as the city can be easily explored on foot. 

Loews Hotel Philadelphia and Hilton Philadelphia at Penn’s Landing are two of the best hotels in Philadelphia for families to enjoy the city’s old vibe and rich culture. 

Smith Island, MD

beautiful sunset on the water at smith island maryland

Contributed by Jordan of Global Debauchery

Never in a million years would you think that an island right outside the United States capital of Washington, DC would be… isolated!

I mean, the DC metro traffic was ranked as the worst in the country prior to the pandemic. Even beating out Los Angeles’ long-held title. 

But it’s true. It’s right there. And it’s got less than 200 residents.

It’s Smith Island, Maryland, nestled in the Chesapeake Bay. It’s oft-overlooked in favor of the more-bustling Tangier Island of Virginia right next door.

It’s not just that this island is small, either. It’s particularly unique, too. In a region where world leaders converge to change the world on a daily basis, Smith Island, Maryland retains an Elizabethan relic accent dating back to the 1600s.

That’s right — Smith Island was settled in the 17th century, more than a half-century prior to the United States’ declaration of independence.  

And that’s not all! There’s no driving to Smith Island. There’s a “ferry,” which is really a small mail boat, that travels to and from the island from mainland Maryland twice a day.

Once you get there, you make your way around by golf carts, bikes, or boats. There are no ATMs, there’s barely a cell signal, and the highly religious island is actually a “dry island.”

So, what is it that makes this island worth visiting then?

For one, there’s the all-original Smith Island Cake, the official dessert of the state of Maryland—8–15 layers of fudge goodness in a multitude of delicious flavors.

view of a crab shack on rhodes point in maryland's smith island, a popular us weekend getaway from dc

There are extraordinary marshlands to kayak and diverse birdlife to photograph. Go crabbing or oystering with the locals and have a traditional Maryland crab boil as you watch the sunset over the water.

Relax on a private beach, bike to Rhodes Point, or take a boat to Tylerton and tour their super interesting architecture. 

If there was ever a place to socially distance, Smith Island, Maryland is where it’s at. Opt for something a little different for a change, and be whisked away to olden times for a few days.

Atlantic City, NJ

Boardwalk in Atlantic City NJ at sunset on the beach

Contributed by Susan of GenXTraveler

Atlantic City may be known as the “Las Vegas of the East Coast,” but there is more to do in this coastal town than just gamble!

Whether you gamble or not this town is worthy of a weekend getaway on the East Coast.

Atlantic City features the world’s longest and the US’s oldest boardwalk. Rent bikes and pedal from end to end.

When you’ve finished you will have 10-miles in and you will be ready for a fantastic breakfast at the Gilchrist in historic Gardner’s Basin. This breakfast joint is known for its thin, airy pancakes!

In the afternoon, climb to the top of Absecon Lighthouse, NJ’s tallest lighthouse and the third tallest in the United States. From the top, take in breathtaking views of the Atlantic City skyline and beyond.

Atlantic City offers an awesome thriving food scene. Throughout the city and beyond you can find a number of restaurants featured on Guy Fieri’s Diners Drive-ins and Dives.

If you are looking for a more intimate experience, try Setaara. This French and Afghan restaurant offers dining spaces and food that will transport you.  

In the evening, head to the Orange Loop located around Tennessee Avenue. This up-and-coming section of town offers bars with outdoor spaces, live entertainment, and more.

And with Atlantic City’s new open container law you can take your drink with you as stroll the boardwalk!

Spend some time checking out the colorful and thought-provoking murals that have been going up around the city over the past five years.

Mural in Atlantic City inspired by the board game Monopoly

Last year, these imaginative works began to leap from building to Adirondack chairs throughout the city.

And by the way, Atlantic City is home to nine casinos. No trip to this city is really complete without at least a brief visit to one of the casinos.

A casino stay makes a great base even if you don’t gamble. You will surely feel like you’ve hit the jackpot at Ocean Casino Hotel Resort or Borgata.   

East Coast Weekend Getaways: The South & Southeast

Cocoa Beach, FL

Red white and blue lifeguard stand on the beach in cocoa beach florida

Contributed by Karee of Our Woven Journey

Cocoa Beach is located along the east coast of Florida and is only about an hour’s drive from Orlando.

This makes it an easy weekend getaway for those driving from the city or flying in to spend a little time on the beach. The beautiful sunrises, wide-open beaches, and the warm waters of the Atlantic Ocean make it a popular vacation spot along the coast.

Cocoa Beach is a great getaway destination for those wanting to spend a few days laying on the beach, swimming, and surfing.

It’s also only six miles south of Cape Canaveral which makes it a great place to watch a launch or spend a few days on the beach before getting on a cruise at Port Canaveral. 

Main Street Festival happens in Downtown Cocoa Beach one Friday a month and has plenty of great food, vendors and live music for families to enjoy.

Visitors may also want to spend a weekend at the Thunder on Cocoa Beach Superboat races that happen each summer. 

Cocoa Beach is famous for its iconic Pier, an 800-foot long boardwalk that has plenty to do to entertain visitors. You’ll also find several popular restaurants like Sea Dogs and Keith’s Oyster Bar on the Pier.

pier in cocoa beach florida with three people walking on the beach sand

If you packed light, the Pier is where you’ll also find beach rentals available for things like umbrellas, boogie boards, and beach chairs for your weekend stay.

If you’re flying into Orlando and don’t want to rent a car, there are shuttle services that can take you directly to Cocoa Beach. 

Tampa, FL

The downtown of Tampa Florida: palm trees, skyscrapers and a partly cloudy sky

Contributed by Dymphe of Dymabroad

One of the best East Coast USA weekend getaways is one to the city of Tampa in Florida!

Staying a weekend in Tampa is a very fun experience because there are many things to do and see.

When you are only spending a weekend in Tampa, you can see all the highlights.

One of the best things to do in the city is visiting Busch Gardens Tampa Bay. This is a theme park where you can find many roller coasters and thrill rides.

Another great thing to do in the city is taking photos at the most Instagrammable places in Tampa! There are many lovely spots that are very photogenic in the city!

Besides that, the Tampa Museum of Art is very interesting to visit. You can find here both contemporary and classical art, which is great if you want to see a varied collection.

Also, the Tampa Riverwalk is a great place to go during your trip to Tampa. This is a walkway next to the river with beautiful views.

long sidewalk curved along the bay of tampa with skyscrapers in the distance

One of the best places to stay in Tampa is The Barrymore Hotel Tampa Riverwalk. Furthermore, for delicious food for dinner go to On Swann.

Getting to Tampa is very easy as there are various ways to get there. You can get there by car, train, or bus from several cities in Florida. Also, there is an international airport.

Savannah, GA

colorful stoops on a road in savannah ga a popular east coast getaway destination

Contributed by Kate of Our Escape Clause

Beautiful, walkable, and packed with excellent food around every corner, Savannah, Georgia is widely considered one of the best East Coast weekend getaways in the USA for very good reason.

A weekend getaway in Savannah is long enough to explore many of its top attractions, sample a wide variety of food, and walk at least half of the town’s 22 historic squares (more, if you put your mind to it!).

While you’re there, be sure to take at least one house tour.

The Owens-Thomas House and Slave Quarters is a great starting point for history buffs, and the Sorrel-Weed House a fun stop for those with an inclination toward ghost stories.

Be sure to also pay a visit to Forsyth Park, browse the boutiques along Broughton Street, and sample plenty of pralines.

american flags, beautiful brick houses, and oak trees and one woman walking down the street in savannah ga

For a gut-busting lunch that you won’t forget anytime soon, head to Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room on Jones Street.

As Jones Street is often considered (especially by locals) to be one of the most beautiful streets in America, it’s the perfect place to go for a post-lunch stroll!

Staying in a historic bed and breakfast is also a highlight of spending your East Coast getaway in Savannah: we can recommend the Foley House Inn for its beauty, charm, perfect location on Chippewa Square, and its ghost stories.

Savannah shares a small regional airport with Hilton Head, so it is possible to fly in for the weekend if you don’t live within driving distance.

Raleigh, NC

Contributed by Brianna of The Casual Travelist

Raleigh is known as North Carolina’s capital, a college town and a growing tech hub but with a compact walkable downtown Raleigh is great for a weekend getaway. 

A tradition of southern hospitality has inspired a new crop of chefs making Raleigh one of the most exciting culinary cities in the country, and with multiple James Beard nominations people are taking notice. That same creative spirit has also influenced artists re-imagining   Raleigh!

Check out Raleigh’s art scene with a visit to the North Carolina Art Museum.  With the largest collection of Rodin in the south and over a dozen galleries the North Carolina Museum of Art has something to suite any artistic taste.

You can also head outside to the Anne and Jim Goodnight Museum Park, which has 164 acres of walking trails, sculptures and an outdoor amphitheater. Modern Art more your style? Head to CAM Raliegh wants to show you a look into art’s untraditional side.

Two women in an art museum in Raleigh

Nothing says Southern food quite like a good fried chicken but Beasley’s Chicken and Honey takes comfort food to the next level.

Take a fluffy biscuit, top it with crispy fried chicken a pickled green tomato and a spicy-sweet hot honey dijon and you’ve got just one reason chef Ashley Christensen won a James Beard award!  

Raleigh is a great beer town and some of the best can be found at Brewery Bhavana. Named as one of the prettiest breweries in the United States by Conde Nast Traveler, the taps at Brewery Bhavana serve up Belgian-inspired brews that pair perfectly with Bhavana’s Laotian cuisine. 

Chocolate lovers will want to live out their Willy Wonka fantasies at Videri Chocolate Factory. Sourcing from small sustainable cacao farms, you can take a self-guided tour of the chocolate-making process at Videri before treating yourself to a frozen hot chocolate or one of their decadent truffles.

Raleigh is easy to reach with a well-connected airport (RDU) and is within driving distance of major cities like Charlotte, Washington DC and Atlanta.

When in Raleigh stay at either the Residence Inn Raleigh Downtown or the boutique Guest House Raleigh.

Asheville, NC

skyline of asheville nc buildings poking up between hills and trees

Contributed by Anna of Stuck On The Go

Asheville is one of the top East Coast weekend getaways in the US, especially for outdoor adventure lovers!

There are plenty of great hikes nearby as it’s right in the middle of Pisgah National Forest and the Blue Ridge Parkway passes right by it.

Some of the best hikes in the area are Crabtree Falls, Craggy Gardens, Graveyard Fields, and Catawba Falls.

view over a hiking trails, lots of green trees and a highway cutting through the mountain

You can also visit DuPont State Forest where you’ll see three waterfalls on one loop trail and another trail takes you to a fourth.

Spend one day hiking and then one day exploring downtown, especially the breweries! You’ll find many art galleries, museums, and a great foodie scene here.

Spend the morning browsing local shops like Malaprop’s Bookstore, and then hit the breweries in the afternoon.

Hi-Wire, Wicked Weed, and Asheville Brewing are all popular options downtown. If you want to take an Uber then you can also hit New Belgium Brewing (well worth the short drive).

Early Girl Eatery and Sunny Point Cafe are popular breakfast spots and Blackbird Restaurant and Chestnut are good dinner options that won’t break the bank.

If you decide to do the Catawba Falls hike then don’t miss the restaurants in Black Mountain as you’ll drive right past this quaint little town.

With only a weekend in town you’ll want to stay downtown near all the action. The Aloft Hotel is a popular option that has great amenities at a reasonable price.

Getting to Asheville is incredibly easy as Highways 40 and 26 run right through it. If you are too far away to drive, then you can always fly into the Asheville Regional Airport.

Greenville, SC

a river going through the town

Contributed by Natalie of Tourist2Local

One weekend getaway on the East Coast that may not be on your radar yet is the charming city of Greenville, South Carolina

It’s an up-and-coming city in the Southeast that is known for its beautiful downtown, restaurant scene, and proximity to the Blue Ridge Mountains.   

To begin your weekend getaway in Greenville, check into the Westin Poinsett, a historic hotel that George Clooney stayed at while filming the movie Leatherheads

Once you are properly situated, join in on Greenville’s Saturday Market fun! Enjoy the liveliness in the streets, listen to the bands playing, and buy some local goodies at the stands.  

Of course, after all that walking, it’s time for lunch!  Go to the Lazy Goat for an authentic Mediterranean menu and ask to sit outside for a nice view of the Reedy River and downtown Greenville. 

Afterwards, it’s time for dessert and a little more exploration.  Head to Spill the Beans, a local favorite, to customize your perfect ice cream, and take it with you as you stroll through Greenville’s lovely Falls Park. 

While there, you can walk across Greenville’s iconic Liberty Bridge and take some beautiful pictures. 

Then, hop in the car for a short trip to the brewery Birds Fly South where you’ll be able to sample some local craft beer, chill outside, and even practice your axe throwing skills.

Once you arrive back to Greenville for the evening, head over to Soby’s, a southern style restaurant that is a favorite with the locals. Chow down on some shrimp and grits, and then get prepared for a night on the town. 

restaurant at night with lights and people dining

For the party-goers, bar hopping is the way to go. Locals love places like Reys, Carolina Ale House, and the Blu Martini. However, If you are not big on nightlife, then catch a show at the Peace Center or relax at one of Greenville’s rooftop bars.  

Wake up bright and early on Sunday to bike Greenville’s most popular trail, The Swamp Rabbit. 

Start your journey at the Swamp Rabbit Cafe, and bike to the quaint town of Travelers Rest, where you can refuel with a delicious crepe at Tandem Creperie. 

After that, it’s time to head back to Greenville and wrap up your amazing weekend in this beautiful city.

You can either get to Greenville by car or by flying into the Greenville-Spartanburg Airport. 

Emerald Isle, NC

boardwalk leading to a beautiful beach

Contributed by Ashton of It’s AAAll Good

Emerald Isle, NC is a coastal town situated on North Carolina’s Crystal Coast and a great spot to truly escape.

When you visit you’ll find over 12 miles of beautiful beaches and gorgeous coastline. The beach is perfect for long walks, shelling, or hanging out with family and friends.

The region also has access to the intercoastal waterway and barrier islands, many of which include national parks and seashores, meaning they are perfectly untouched.

You can spend an afternoon catching the ferry to the Cape Lookout Lighthouse or walking along Shackleford Banks for a view of the wild horses. The beaches in this area are truly incredible!

While you’re visiting, be sure to check out the surrounding historic towns like Beaufort and Swansboro that are full of pirate history. There are so many hidden gems to explore along the Crystal Coast

black and white lighthouse and house on a sandy beach in north carolina

Thanks to the proximity to the gulf stream, the fishing in the area is amazing, and the water is far warmer than in the Northern outer banks. If catching your own dinner sounds fun, you can fish surf fish, fish the Emerald Isle Pier, or charter a local fisherman to take you out.

Thanks to all of the incredible seafood, there are lots of delicious restaurants in the area. End your day overlooking an astonishing sunset, before enjoying a delicious dinner at Floyd’s 1921, a favorite for southern seafood cuisine, or Fish Hut, a delicious low-key island grill.

While the island is beautiful year-round, peak season is memorial through labor day. There are plenty of rental homes, as well as hotels, like the Islander, which is right on the beach.

The town is located about a three-hour drive from Raleigh, NC, or fly to one of the regional airports that are less than an hour away. Emerald Isle, NC is truly a family-friendly vacation you’ll be wanting to come back to visit year after year.

St. Augustine, FL

A drone photo of of a fort shown in the shape of a star, with the view of water and a bridge and sailboats in St Augustine FL

Contributed by Candice of CS Ginger

St Augustine is a beautiful historic town that is full of Spanish charm!

Cobblestone streets, Spanish architecture, and historical buildings along with the beach are what make St. Augustine such a charming city to visit.

There are so many fun things to do in St Augustine making it well worth an East Coast weekend getaway.

Finding accommodations in the heart of historic St Augustine will give you quick access to the best part of town.

The historic district is home to St George Street, an iconic street in the downtown, as well as Castillo De San Marcos National Monument.

The Colonial Quarters is another fun historical stop. Your first day in St Augustine should be dedicated to these sites in the historic district of St Augustine!

On your second day, head out to St Augustine Beach!

people standing out in the water on st augustine beach in florida

In the morning, you can either head to the Alligator Farm Zoological Park to see over a hundred different types of alligators and crocodiles or you can visit the St Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum.

You can climb the 219 steps to the top of the lighthouse and visit the different exhibits at the museum.

In the afternoon it is time to head to the beach. The St. Johns County Ocean and Fishing Pier is a good place to find parking. It is a beautiful area of the beach with lots of nice restaurants nearby.

After you are done at the beach, stop in at Salt Life Food Shack for a yummy dinner!

Wilmington, NC

colorful houses in downtown wilmington in blue and yellow with pink flowers

Contributed by Julie from More than Main Street

Wilmington, North Carolina is the perfect East Coast weekend getaway!

Start your weekend off with a day at one of the three area beaches playing in the surf, soaking in the sun, or collecting seashells. Plan to spend your evening eating and exploring the downtown Riverwalk.

An emerging foodie NC destination, there are a ton of great places to eat in Wilmington. We highly recommend trying Savorez, Fork N Cork, or Manna while you are downtown.

There are a ton of fun options on how to spend your second day in Wilmington. If you haven’t gotten your fill of outdoor activities, then try a kayaking or paddle boarding tour, trip to Masonboro Island, or fishing excursion.

boardwalk area with a bridge in the distance

If you want to stay on land, explore the gorgeous Airlie Gardens, the Battleship North Carolina, or NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher. While Wilmington is most popular during the summer months, it is actually a great year-round vacation. 

When deciding where to stay in Wilmington, you’ll have to choose if you prefer to be at the beach or downtown. Downtown hosts many cute boutique hotels and Airbnbs, while we recommend the Blockade Runner or Courtyard Carolina Beach if you’re looking to stay oceanfront.

Wilmington is an easy two-hour drive from Raleigh or you can fly into Wilmington International Airport (ILM). Uber and Lyft are readily available, however, you will most likely want a car to get around.

Miami, FL

Contributed by Stéphanie of Bey Of Travel

Miami is the perfect weekend getaway, whether you need a relaxing weekend at the beach or looking for something more adventurous. The city has it all.

Miami is connected to the rest of the world by Miami International Airport (MIA). The most convenient way to discover the city is by foot, although you will need a car (or Uber) to get to the top things to do in the city listed below.

Wynwood art district is without a doubt the coolest neighborhood in the city, walls are covered with the most beautiful graffiti, you will find art shops on every corner of the street, and you can enjoy some vibrant nightlife in one of the many bars.

Make sure to take a walk on Ocean Drive to admire the many art deco buildings and immerse yourself in countless movie scenes.

Visit Miami Beach, although it is way too crowded, you simply need to spend some time and enjoy the Atlantic Ocean, the colorfully decorated lifeguards’ cabins, and beach boys/girls in tiny bikinis.

Head to Crandon Beach to enjoy a quieter day at the beach!

Those who are tired of all the people on the crowdy famous beaches can discover beautiful walks in Miami or the natural beauty of the Everglades. 

Faena Hotel Miami Beach is a beautiful hotel located close to the beach and perfect for your USA East Coast weekend getaway.

Do you have something to celebrate? Make sure to book a reservation at Alter Miami for a delicious dinner.

Charleston, SC

A row of colorful houses -- pink, pale purple and mint green -- on a historic street in Charleston

Contributed by Theresa of Fueled By Wanderlust

Charleston, South Carolina, or “The Holy City” is the perfect choice for a weekend getaway.  This city is full of tall church spires, colorful old houses, and hidden alleyways. 

There is plenty to do during a short time in Charleston, whether it’s exploring historical sites or diving into the excellent food scene.

Charleston offers some jaw-dropping scenery!

Simply taking a sightseeing walk past places like the Pineapple Fountain at Ravenel Waterfront Park, the Rainbow Row, or The Battery will leave a lasting impression. 

Explore every hidden alleyway you pass, like the romantic Philadelphia Alley between Queen and Cumberland Streets.

History lovers should join a Charleston walking tour to learn the stories behind otherwise unassuming streets and buildings. 

Historic center of Charleston SC with a tower

It’s also worthwhile to join the two-hour and fifteen-minute tour out to Fort Sumter, which is where the Civil War began. 

In addition, there are a number of house museums and plantations within and around the city. 

The Aiken-Rhett House in downtown Charleston and the Middleton Place Plantation down the Ashley River both give insightful tours that help you form a deeper understanding of Charleston’s dark past and the horrors of slavery.

When you are not exploring or learning more about Charleston, you should definitely check out the mouthwatering Southern fare served at Charleston’s restaurants. 

FIG and Husk both have a sophisticated ambiance for memorable evenings and special occasions. 

Fleet Landing, in its former U.S. Naval building, offers tasty seafood dishes right on the Cooper River. 

For something quick and inexpensive, pop into Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit for a biscuit sandwich with pimento cheese.

If traveling by plane, fly into Charleston International Airport, and grab a twenty-minute Uber to downtown. 

A car is not required to enjoy Charleston, but if you do drive, be aware that most downtown hotels charge a nightly parking fee. 

A great hotel option is the Indigo Inn, which has an adjacent paved parking lot, nightly free wine, and a beautiful courtyard.

Myrtle Beach, SC

beach with lifeguard tower in south carolina at myrtle beach

Contributed by Victoria of Guide Your Travel

Myrtle Beach is a beautiful little beach town located in South Carolina!

It’s a popular summer getaway and perfect for all sorts of travelers including families or couples — Myrtle Beach has something for everyone!

There are great opportunities for nightlife, lots of shops and of course great restaurants to choose from. With a gorgeous beach, this is a great spot to come for swimming, relaxing or water sports.

Staying at a beachfront location is an absolute must in Myrtle Beach. Rent a room or a suite at the Bar Harbor hotel for beautiful views of the water and a great location close to the Myrtle Beach Boardwalk.

ferris wheel at the beach in myrtle beach south carolina

This is a great area for restaurants and eating out as well as activities such as the nearby amusement park.

Wicked Tuna and Gigi’s Bar and Grill are both great choices for a lunch by the water or dinner with views of the beach.

Of course, going out for cocktails in the evening is also highly recommended and Myrtle Beach is known for its live entertainment, theatre performances, and comedy shows.

How to Plan a Winter Tromso Itinerary for 1 to 5 Days

If you’re planning your Arctic Norway itinerary, congratulations: you’re in for a bucket list worthy experience of a lifetime!

A trip to Tromso, nicknamed “The Paris of the North” for its important role in Northern Europe’s culture, is a must on any visit to Northern Norway. 

This beautiful city serves as the gateway to all sorts of arctic adventures, whether you base yourself in Tromso the entire time or you fly in there and explore more of Northern Norway in a rental car or by bus.

Getting to Tromso

People arriving at the airport in Tromso

There are several ways to get to Tromso, and a number of airlines that serve this Northern city, including SAS (which I flew) and Norwegian Airlines, amongst others.

 No matter where you are coming from, I recommend flying into Tromso, as it’s incredibly far from the rest of Norway, particularly Southern cities like Oslo, as it’s one of the northernmost cities in Norway.

From Tromso, you can easily catch a bus into the city center to where you have your accommodation booked. The Flybussen costs 110 NOK one way (160 NOK return), around $13 USD one way ($19 USD return).

It’s also possible to schedule a transfer for a group if you want to have a guaranteed easy trip to your hotel. It’s a little more expensive but it will give you peace of mind. It may be worth it if you have a long journey before you arrive in Tromso!

Book your Tromso airport transfer here!

Weather in Tromso in Winter

Allison posing with a friendly husky after a dog sledding tour in Tromso

The weather in Tromso is characterized by extremes, with several weeks each of polar night and midnight sun in winter and summer respectively.

In the winter, the weather in Tromso is obviously on the cold side of the spectrum, but perhaps less cold than you might think!

December temperatures often have a high of 32° F (0° C) and a low of 25° F (-4° C). Temperatures in January and February are similar, just a few degrees cooler. 

That’s not too shabby for the Arctic, and it’s definitely warmer than many North American and European destinations at a far lower latitude!

The reason for this is that the jetstream across the Atlantic Ocean pushes warmer air towards Tromso, so Norwegian Lapland isn’t quite as cold as other Arctic destinations, like Swedish and Finnish Lapland. 

As a result, you do need to pack warm clothes for Tromso, but not necessarily clothes for extreme cold. 

The weather in Northern Norway does get colder the further out from Tromso you get, but all the activities you partake in will also rent thermal suits so you don’t have to worry about dressing for that beyond your average warm layers.

Below, I’ll explain (briefly) what to pack for Tromso in winter, but if you want a more detailed guide, I have my full winter in Norway packing list here.

Quick Tromso Packing List

My snowboots came in handy everywhere on my trip!

Crampons

One of the most important things to pack for Norway in winter is a sturdy pair of crampons. Crampons are basically small spikes or grips that you attach to your winter boot with a stretchy silicone attachment

I used these simple Yaktrax which were really easy to take on and off — this is essential, as indoor places everywhere in Tromso ask you to take off your crampons before entering, so you don’t want difficult ones to put on and take off.

They were also perfectly grippy for icy city streets and I didn’t have any slips while wearing them, walking around in the snow and ice for miles (trust me– the day I went out without them on accident, I definitely noticed the difference!).

Moisturizer and lip balm

Winter in Tromso will really dry out your skin, so you’ll definitely want to pack a pretty heavy-duty moisturizer as well as lip protector.

I remembered the former but forgot the latter and by day 2 I had sore, chapped lips and running to the nearest pharmacy to drop way too much money on a simple stick of chapstick… so be smarter than I am and bring it from home where you’ll spend less on something better.

I love this moisturizer from La Roche-Posay and highly recommend Aquaphor Lip Repair for keeping your lips moisturized!

Camera & travel tripod

sweden in winter
Captured with my Sony A6000!

It’s highly likely that one of the reasons why you are going to Norway in the winter is to see the magical Northern lights.

In that case, you’ll want to ensure you have a camera that is capable of manual settings – a smartphone won’t do if you want proper photos. Most importantly, you need to be able to set the aperture, ISO, and shutter speed. I use a Sony A6000 and it works great.

But a camera isn’t all you need. To properly photograph the Northern lights, a travel tripod is absolutely essential.

You need the camera to be still for at least 3-5 seconds to get a decent photograph, and there’s no way you can eliminate camera shake for that long without a tripod. In the past, I’ve used a simple, cheap 50″ Amazon tripod and it worked just fine.

Be sure to also bring spare batteries as the cold will knock out your batteries so much quicker than you expect!

Base layers

You can get away with wearing most of your normal winter clothing in Norway as long as you have proper base layers that help insulate you and keep you warm.

You need clothing that’s moisture-wicking and antimicrobial, which will keep things from getting stinky or uncomfortable when you sweat (which you will if you’re walking around or being active, yes, even in the cold!).

For thermal leggings, I recommend these for women and these for men, both by Columbia, a trusted outdoors brand. For a top thermal layer, I recommend this top for women and this top for men.

Many people swear by wool, but in general I can’t wear wool or I get insanely, tear-off-all-my-skin itchy (though wool socks are fine for me as the skin on my feet is thicker). If you can tolerate wool then something like these merino wool leggings, paired with a cashmere sweater layer, will serve you very well.

A warm winter jacket or parka

A trusty hooded, waterproof parka: the most essential thing to pack for Norway in winter!

For walking around in Norway in winter, you’ll want a nice and warm winter jacket (preferably a parka which goes to about mid-thigh) that is water-resistant and hooded, to keep you warm against the snow.

While winter in many parts of coastal Norway like Tromso actually isn’t that cold, with average temperatures around -4° C to 0° C (24° F to 32° F), there is a lot of wind and precipitation, making it feel colder. You want a waterproofed jacket that will protect against snow and even worse, freezing rain.

For my most trip to Norway, I wore a jacket that I bought from Decathlon which I can’t find online but is virtually identical to this one but in a navy blue. I loved having a faux fur lined hood to keep snow and rain out of my face and the weatherproof material was much-needed. Down feathers add a nice layer of warmth that really helps insulate you (though if you want a vegan option, this jacket is similar).

On my past trip to the Arctic, in neighboring Sweden where it’s actually a fair bit colder, I did really well with my North Face parka which I’ve owned for 10 years and absolutely love, I just didn’t have it with me as I’ve recently moved country and haven’t got all my clothes with me!

Snow boots & wool socks

I wore a pair of snow boots by Quechua which I bought from Decathlon, which I can’t find online, but here is a similar boot by Sorel, a trusted winter brand that’s beloved in Norway and beyond (here’s a women’s version and a men’s version). I recommend sizing about half a size up to account for thick winter socks.

But no matter how insulated your shoe is, it won’t do much good if you are wearing thin, crappy cotton socks. I invested in these Smartwool socks after some hemming and hawing about the price and I’m so glad I did.

How This Tromso Itinerary Works

Sami woman handling a reindeer in the arctic

I structured this itinerary for Tromso to be additive.

What does that mean? 

Basically, the first day contains the “core” activities in Tromso city center and the following days contain the best activities and day trips from Tromso in (in my personal opinion) descending order in terms of importance and uniqueness.

Feel free to swap around the days a bit to fit your preference or so that you don’t have two similar activities back-to-back. 

However, this itinerary for Tromso is planned so that you can just pluck as many days as you want from this itinerary to fill out the time you have — whether it’s one day or five days in Tromso.

If you have more than five days in Tromso, you can just spread out the activities a bit and spend more time enjoying the city center, checking out the many Tromso museums and restaurants, and just enjoying Northern Nordic culture in this unique place!

Rather than give you a set X day itinerary, you can mix and match to suit your travel style, budget, and time allocated for your visit to Norway.

Tromso Itinerary FAQ

Colorful houses in Tromso Norway with snow all over the place
  • How many days do you need in Tromso?

This is an incredibly hard question to answer! The true and honest answer is that it depends. Tromso is a small and compact but culturally rich city. Its highlights can be seen in a day, and you can get a good feel for the city in that time. 

However, most people visit Tromso not for the city itself but for all the incredible activities you can do in Tromso. Chasing the Northern lights, going dog-sledding, meeting Sami reindeer herders, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing: the list of activities in Tromso goes on and on.

The good news is that many activities run both during the day and at night, so you can typically do two half-day activities per day in Tromso. 

Dedicate one full day to simply engaging in sightseeing in Tromso, and then for every two activities you want to do, account for at least one day if you like to travel at a quick pace. Add one extra day for downtime if you prefer to travel slower.

For example, if you’re visiting Tromso and you want to do whale watching, dog sledding, a Sami reindeer camp, and a Northern lights chase, you should spend at least 3 days in Tromso, but 4 would be even more relaxed.

  • How much spending money do I need for Tromso?

Travel costs in Tromso are on the high side, mostly because of accommodations, food, and activities.

Expect to spend roughly $200-300 USD per night on a hotel, $20-30 USD per meal (one course, no alcohol), and $150-250 per activity.

There are ways you can reduce costs — staying in an Airbnb instead of a hotel, cooking meals instead of eating every meal at a restaurant, doing fewer activities — but overall, a trip to Tromso will be an expensive one. And with good reason: it’s a bucket list trip if there ever was one!

For a typical day that involves two activities, one meal (assuming the other is provided during an activity, as is often the case), and one night in a hotel, plan around $300-400 USD per person per day, assuming two people or a family are sharing a hotel room. 

Note that this does not include travel costs, which will range wildly depending on where you are flying into Tromso from!

northern lights over a lake
  • Is Tromso a good place to see the Northern lights?

Surprisingly, for its popularity, Tromso is not the best place in the Nordics to see the Northern lights. 

If you truly want to see the Northern lights, Abisko in Sweden is widely considered to be the best place to see the Northern lights. Finland also has better odds for Northern lights in destinations like Rovaniemi. 

Why is that? Simply, Tromso is coastal, and with coastal weather comes lots of cloud cover and snow, blocking the Northern lights.

I spent one week in Tromso and I saw the Northern lights three times… and one time, we had to drive all the way across the Finnish border two hours away!

  • Will I need a car in Tromso?

Definitely not! I typically love renting a car when I travel, but Tromso has a great, easy-to-navigate bus system and is very walkable if you are staying in the center. 

Parking is expensive in Tromso and most activities include pickup and drop off, so there’s no real reason to rent a car while in Tromso, especially if you’re not a confident winter driver.

Where to Stay in Tromso in Winter

An intersection in the town of Tromso with stop lights and colorful houses and a church spire

First things first: when it comes time to pick where to stay in Tromso in winter, book early. The best deals go fast, as accommodation is limited and Tromso is soaring in popularity as arctic travel gets really big.

Accommodation will be one of the pricier parts of your trip to Tromso, so be sure to budget accordingly. Expect to spend, even on the budget end of things, approximately $100 USD per night per person at a minimum, and around $300 per night for upper-tier accommodations.

Budget: The best budget option in Tromso is hands-down Smarthotel Tromso. It’s right in the heart of central Tromso, so it’s easy to get to all your activities, it has all the things you need in a hotel — 24 hour reception, comfortable beds, a work desk, some food available in the lobby. Note that breakfast is not included in the price but can be added for a fee.
>> Check reviews from verified guests, see photos, and book your room here.

Mid-Range: If you want to stay in a chic boutique hotel that’s not overly fancy, Thon Hotel Polar is a fabulous choice. The decor is irreverent yet modern with a polar theme. Breakfast is included and there is also a restaurant on-site should you want to dine in. The location couldn’t be better, so it’s a fantastic choice for mid-range travelers to Tromso in winter.
>> Check reviews from verified guests, look at photos, and book your room here

Luxury: There are three Clarion Collection hotels in Tromso, but the nicest of the three seems to be Clarion Collection Hotel Aurora. Why? It’s harborfront and has an incredible rooftop jacuzzi where you can try to spot the Northern lights! Rooms are luxurious and modern with updated bathrooms, and the facilities include a gym, free afternoon coffee with waffles, and a light evening meal as part of your stay.
>> Check reviews from verified guests, look at photos, and book your room today!

Arctic Glamping: For a stay that’s truly memorable, look no further than the epic Camp North Tour for a glamping experience, Arctic-style! Stay in heated yurt-style glamping tents, complete with cozy carpeting, comfortable beds heated with reindeer pelts, and panels that open up into the aurora above you so you can watch the Northern lights dance overhead from your bed! It’s not located in Tromso proper, but transfers or free parking are provided. Buffet breakfast & traditional dinner are both included.
>> Check reviews from verified guests, look at photos, and book your room here!

Your Tromso Itinerary, Day by Day

Day 1: Getting to Know Tromso

Wander around the City Center.

Brownish-tan wooden cathedral in a square in Tromso Norway in winter with snow on the ground and buildings lit up in evening

The Tromso city center is remarkably cute and compact, making it easy to hit up all the must-sees on a quick self-guided walking tour when you visit Tromso.

The main square in the city is located around the Tromsø Cathedral, the world’s northernmost Lutheran church! Its construction dates back to 1861, and it is unusual in that it is a cathedral made nearly entirely of wood, when most cathedrals are typically made of stone.

After checking out the cathedral, take a stroll down Storgata, the main pedestrian street in Tromso. This is a great place for window-shopping and people-watching, and you may spot some souvenirs you want to buy later in your trip.

The Tromso Library (Tromsø bibliotek og byarkiv) is another interesting spot to see in the city center due to its unique architecture.

Check out the Cathedral of Our Lady in Tromso, another historic wooden church that dates back to 1861. Its architecture is really beautiful and it has a quieter and more peaceful atmosphere.

Finally, wander down to the Tromso Harbor, for all sorts of colorful building facades right on the fjord’s edge. It’s really scenic — it’s gorgeous to see all the colors against the striking white snow and glassy water of the fjord!

Visit the Polar Museum.

Red polar museum building with snow falling in front of it

Not far from the Tromso Harbor is the Polar Museum (Polarmuseet) which is a really interesting place to visit in Tromso.

It’s a fascinating place that excels at storytelling the tales of Arctic adventurers — both men and women — who explored the Polar region and went out to sea in order to hunt and trap in the Arctic.

Tromso served as the gateway for many of these polar expeditions and you can learn a ton about all the adventurers who departed from Tromso in search of places that were never yet explored by man before.

A good portion of the Polar Museum is dedicated to the explorations of Roald Amundsen, who was the first verified person to travel to the North Pole (though that is contested) as well as the South Pole (which is uncontested), as well as Fridtjof Nansen who skied across Greenland and later lobbied for refugee rights after WWI (and received the Nobel Peace Prize for it!).

The museum also takes a look at other Arctic adventurers who are often overlooked. I appreciated that the museum took a good deal of time to also look at female explorers who made amazing accomplishments to lesser fanfare, such as Monica Kristensen Solås (a famed Arctic and Antarctic explorer) and Liv Arnesen (the first woman to reach the South Pole independently). 

The stories are told compellingly with lots of English-language signage so it’s a great way to learn a bit more of the history of Arctic and Antarctic expeditions and Norway’s outsized role in exploring these previously little-known polar regions.

Check out the Arctic Cathedral.

Large white church with a big cross and snow and views of mountains in distance on a sunny winter day. Arctic Cathedral is a must on a Tromso itinerary

After checking out the Polar Museum, take a stroll across the beautiful Tromsø Bridge to the other side of the fjord, Tromsdalen.

The bridge is actually quite wide — over a kilometer long! — so allow around 15-20 minutes to reach the other side of the bridge. It’s a beautiful stroll though, and the views can’t be beat!

Once you reach the other side of the bridge, you will find the stunning Arctic Cathedral. This is an absolute wonder of architecture and it’s one of the most iconic landmarks of Tromso.

Entrance to the Arctic Cathedral costs 55 NOK ($7 USD) and it’s well worth it to see this beauty, dedicated to and inspired by the arctic landscapes that surround it, from inside.

Take the Fjellheisen Cable Car.

Views from over the cable car up to Fjellheisen looking over the fjord of Tromso and the city just after sunset

Want the best view in Tromso? It’s from the top of Storsteinen (420 meters / 1,377 feet) above sea level.

After checking out the Arctic Cathedral, make your way over the Fjellheisen cable car station, about a 15-minute walk from the Arctic Cathedral. Bring your crampons because this way can be really icy!

Easily accessible via a 4-minute cable car, taking the Fjellheisen cable car is a must when in Tromso. Where else can you can look over the entire city of Tromso as well as the fjord?

Taking the Fjellheisen cable car is reasonably priced. A roundtrip ticket cost 230 NOK ($27 USD) which is not bad for Norway. And trust me – these views are worth the price!

From the viewing platform, you’ll have a beautiful view of Tromso and the fjords and islands that make up this beautiful city and its environs. It’s one of the top things to do in Tromso in winter and you shouldn’t miss it.

You can also walk around (again, you’ll want your crampons for this — it can get really icy) to explore other areas of Storsteinen and the views they offer.

But really, the viewing platform offers the best panorama — great during the day as well as at night for spotting the Northern lights! 

Have a nice meal & hope to spot the Northern lights.

Northern lights over the city of Tromso as seen from the viewing platform at Fjellheisen cable car

While at the mountain station, be sure to visit Fjellstua Café, which has a nice selection of Scandinavian food at a reasonable price (for Norway, that is).

Depending on the time of year you visit, it’s well worth it to time your trip up the Fjellheisen cable car for golden hour, watch the sun set over the beautiful landscape and spend some time with a cup of coffee or late lunch / early dinner.

Note that because sunrise and sunset times vary so much depending on the month, this is hard for me to explain when you should go. 

When I went in early February, the sun set at 3 PM, so I timed my trip up the cable car around 2 PM, walked around for an hour and watched the sunset, then spent some time with a coffee and waited for it to get dark.

I didn’t have the patience to stay all night hoping for a glimpse of the aurora, and I knew I had lots of opportunities to chase the Northern lights throughout the rest of my trip, so I headed back down without a glimpse of the lights.

However, you could also time your visit to the cable car for later in the evening for a better chance of the lights… or you may visit Tromso during the polar night when it’s basically almost always evening anyway! 

Having seen the views from both day and night, I can tell you both are beautiful. However, I think it’s best to see the view from daylight if possible and think of nighttime as a bonus if you have the patience!

If this is your only day in Tromso, I’d suggest heading back down the cable car, returning to your hotel to freshen up, and then going on an aurora chasing tour for the night.

If you’re spending another day in Tromso or more, I’ve scheduled the aurora chasing tour for the following night, so you can spend the evening at your leisure.

Day 2: Dog Sledding & Aurora Chasing in Northern Norway

Start the day with a dog sledding experience.

View from the dog sled over the beautiful landscapes of norway in winter

Wake up bright and early and be sure to eat a hearty hotel breakfast — you’re in for a workout today! 

Find the pick up point for your dog sled adventure and get carted away to the beautiful island of Kvaloya, where your dog sledding tour will take place.

I highly suggest doing a self-drive dog sled tour.

Not sure what self-drive means? I overview the differences between the two kinds of tours in my post on dog-sledding in Tromso.

This is the exact tour that I did and I loved the experience. And what’s not to love, controlling your own dog sled as you zip through the snow with views of fjords and the Lyngen Alps surrounding you everywhere you look? 

While you self-drive the dog sled, taking turns with a partner, you are traveling as part of a small group with several mushers and local guides available to help you keep your dogs safe and not get lost while you embark on a winter adventure!

However, if you are traveling with young kids or you want a less active experience for whatever reason, a guided dog tour sled is also a great option.

A guided dog sled tour means that a musher conducts the sled and you sit and enjoy it. It is definitely less hands-on, but it’s also a great experience.

Personally, I have done two self-drive husky safaris and one musher-led tour. I much preferred the self-drive experience, but I can absolutely see the benefits of a musher-led dog sled tour, especially for families with kids or for those with mobility limitations.

Book your self-drive husky adventure or your musher-led tour!

Visit one of Tromso’s museums or aquariums.

The perspective museum a beautiful photography museum in tromso

After your dog sled adventure, you’ll have some free time between your morning and evening activities. Use this time to see a few of the other sights in Tromso that you didn’t get to see earlier.

This is a great time to check out some of Tromso’s excellent museums! 

I visited a number of museums during my week in Tromso and I can definitely identify a few highlights. 

One favorite museum was Perspective Museum (Perspektivet Museum) which focuses on, well, different perspectives in Norway through the lens of photography. 

The diversity of Tromso is the primary focus of the museum, and when I was there, there was a special exhibit on the different religions of Tromso and how those were practiced by its residents.

Best of all? The museum is free! Allow yourself about 30-60 minutes for the museum.

Another great museum is the Nordnorsk Kunstmuseum (Northern Norwegian Art Museum) which focuses on the fine art of Northern Norway.

I appreciated that they were dedicated to showing a diverse array of art including art from female artists and Sami artists. 

Admission is 80 NOK (about $10 USD) and you could easily spend about an hour here.

One other museum option is Polaria, which is the world’s northernmost aquarium! It is rather small, but it focuses on Arctic sea life, especially seals, who have training and feeding sessions there daily. 

It also focuses on the issues addressing the Arctic, such as global warming and rising sea levels, while still being entertaining for children and families.

Have an early dinner.

A tasty reindeer open face sandwich at a restaurant

You’re in for a late night tonight when you chase the Northern lights, so be sure to eat a light early dinner to hold you over. 

Most Northern lights tours — at least the one I did! — include a dinner around the fire, but this often won’t be until 10 PM or later, once you set up your aurora camp, so it’s better to be well-fed walking into your aurora tour!

I suggest eating at Bardus Bistro — the reindeer and lingonberry open-face sandwich was one of my favorite meals in Norway!

Go on a minibus tour to see the Northern lights.

Allison posing with the Northern lights on a tour in Norway

If there’s one essential tour during your first time in Tromso, it’s a Northern lights minibus tour

This is the best way to see the Northern lights because it is an activity specifically dedicated to chasing the lights wherever that may take you — even into neighboring Finland!

Meanwhile, other “Northern lights tours” or tours “with a chance of Northern lights” are stationary and so your chances are far lower of seeing the lights. 

When you take a minibus tour specifically dedicated to seeing the lights, it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll see the beautiful aurora borealis!

I wrote a guide to all the different ways you can experience the Northern lights, but this is the #1 way I would choose if I could only pick one.

Book your minibus Northern lights tour here!

If I could pick more than one, I would make sure it was a minibus tour and also one other tour focused on another activity with the aurora as a bonus rather than the main agenda. 

Seeing the aurora is incredible but personally, unless you’re a photographer specifically hoping to photograph the aurora borealis as much as possible, I think one night chasing it in earnest is enough!

Day 3: Hit the Fjords & Meet Reindeer

Pick a whale-watching cruise or a fjord wildlife cruise

Orcas coming out of the water for a breath of air in Norway in Skjervoy a popular whale watching destination near Tromso

The fjords of Northern Norway are an incredible delight and cruising through the fjords on a boat is one of the top things to do in Tromso in winter! 

If you visit in time for whale watching season, from November through late January, then you really out to make time for a whale watching cruise. 

It is pretty much a full day endeavor and you will be quite tired afterward, but it’s well worth it. Where else can you predictably see orcas and humpback whales in such large numbers? There’s nowhere else I can think of, and I grew up in California, home to some pretty amazing whale watching!

Note that the whales used to visit the fjord of Tromso itself, but due to changing migration habits and food locations due to climate, the whales now are mostly found off the island of Skjervøy. 

This is a good deal removed from Tromso by boat, so it will take quite a while to get out there. Make sure to bring some seasickness tablets or bands to combat the rough waters if you are prone to seasickness!

Book your whale watching tour here!

Unfortunately, on my winter trip to Tromso, I was unable to see the whales as my tour was canceled, since the whales left Tromso earlier than expected. 

In place of that, I booked a fjord cruise with a focus on wildlife in the fjord of Tromso itself, and it was amazing. 

Allison smiling in a selfie on a wildlife cruise of Tromso

It’s a great substitution for a whale watching cruise, though of course, you won’t be able to see whales in the fjord of Tromso anymore. 

However, we got to see sea eagles, pods of dolphins, and all sorts of other incredible arctic wildlife. It was really beautiful and memorable and I was so happy to do it that it (almost!) took away the pain of not being able to go whale watching).

While I’m prone to seasickness in general, every time I went out on the water near Tromso (twice), I found the water to be pretty calm and easy on my stomach. 

However, I’ve heard the water is rougher by Skjervøy, so that’s something else to keep in mind when choosing between the two activities.

Book your wildlife fjord cruise here!

Have lunch or spend time relaxing at the hotel.

The lunch special of fish gratin at Mathallen served with potato and carrot salad

Depending on what kind of tour you did, and whether food was included or not, it might be just about lunchtime! 

In which case I suggest grabbing the lunch special at Mathallen, which is a delicious place to eat that has relatively affordable prices.

Not feeling Norwegian food? Grab the lunch special at Burgr for a delicious burger and fries.

Do a Sami reindeer camp and Northern lights tour.

Watching a Sami guide tell stories in a lavvu

When in the Arctic, it’s a must to visit a Sami reindeer farm for a variety of reasons.

For one, reindeer are adorable. But more importantly, the Sami people contribute greatly to the culture and history of Northern Norway: these are their ancestral lands, after all.

I go into more detail on who the Sami people are and why reindeer are important to them in my article on reindeer sledding in Tromso.

For the sake of brevity in this already mega-detailed Tromso itinerary, I’ll just say that learning about Sami culture and history is an integral part of being a responsible tourist in Norway.

Supporting the preservation of the rich Sami culture through tourism is an easy and enlightening way to ensure that Norway’s tourism riches extend to their Indigenous population.

You could do this activity during the day, as I did, but I had one full week in Tromso so it was pretty easy for me to spread out my activities.

If you have a limited amount of time to dedicate to a Tromso itinerary, this is a great activity to do at night because the scenery is pretty limited and you can interact with reindeer just as well by night as you can by day! 

Book your Sami camp + Northern lights excursion here!

If you go reindeer sledding, the sledding portion of the itinerary lasts no more than 20 minutes, so the lack of light isn’t a big deal.

Additionally, the majority of the tour experience takes place in the lavvu, the traditional Sami tent, where you eat a meal (bidos or traditional Sami reindeer stew) and then listen to Sami storytelling and joiking (the traditional Sami song). 

Since so much of the activity is inside, it’s a great option for nighttime on day 3 of this Tromso travel guide. And you’ll be far out from the light pollution of Tromso which gives you a good shot of seeing the Northern lights if they are out and about that night!

Day 4: Do a Day Trip to the Ice Domes

Wake up bright and early for breakfast.

Drinking a cup of coffee in Norway

Time for another early day in Tromso! 

Eat some breakfast at your hotelbecause your tour starts soon, and you’ll be off to the races most of the day.

Head to the Tromso Ice Domes.

Sitting in the fancy chair at Tromso ice domes

This was one of my favorite day tours in Tromso because the ice hotel is simply magical. There’s nothing quite like it anywhere I’ve been before!

Every year the Tromso Ice Domes are rebuilt from scratch during the dark months that lead up to the polar night, the period of six weeks where the sun does not rise above the horizon in the winter in the Arctic Circle. 

The people constructing the Ice Domes work around the clock to get the ice hotel up and running before the tourist season begins, taking huge chunks of frozen ice from rivers nearby and crafting an ice hotel that will melt away with the coming of summer!

A day tour is extremely easy to manage: it includes a shuttle transfer (1.5 hours each way from Tromso to the Ice Domes) and guided tour of the property. I have a full guide to visiting the Ice Domes on a day trip here.

The tour will explain how the Ice Domes are built from scratch, and they will show you the ice bar and restaurant, as well as the rooms where guests can stay the night.

The tour also includes some free time to take photos, feed the reindeer on-site, or grab a cup of soup at the restaurant (which is delicious, by the way!)

Book your Tromso Ice Domes day tour here!

This itinerary will assume that you are heading back to Tromso after your tour, but do know that if you have the budget for it, you can spend the night at the Tromso Ice Domes! It’s expensive, but it’s an incredible bucket list item that you’ll never forget.

If you do an overnight tour with an ice hotel stay, you’ll also get to do a snowshoeing tour, an aurora camp to spot the Northern lights, dinner and breakfast the following morning, and a husky-sledding tour the next day, before being transferred back to Tromso.

If doing the overnight tour, skip to tomorow’s section of the Tromso itinerary. If just doing a day trip, continue reading!

Check out the Tromso Ice Domes overnight stay package here!

Enjoy a nice lunch in Tromso.

Eating a meal at Burgr to have a burger and fries

While you could eat a meal at the Ice Domes, I don’t really recommend doing it unless you’re super hungry because it really takes up some of your limited time touring the Ice Hotel. 

I did because I was starving, but I ended up feeling a bit rushed on my tour, so I wish I waited until back in Tromso to have lunch!

On this day, you could eat at one of the other remaining great restaurants in Tromso. If you haven’t been to Burgr, Mathallen, or Bardus Bistro yet, I would pick one of those three. 

If you’ve exhausted those three, my next choice would be Nyt, which has a tasty reindeer burger, or Emma’s Dream Kitchen, where I had a surprisingly tasty dish of fried cod tongues (there are much more ‘normal’ items on the menu, but this was super tasty!)

Spend the late afternoon your way.

The red walls of a room in the Northern Norwegian art museum

Here you have some free time to explore whatever you’ve missed in Tromso.

Whether you want to do some shopping along Storgata, spend some time checking out a coffee shop, or visit one of the other museums you haven’t gotten a chance to see yet, there’s plenty to do in Tromso to fill up a few hours.

Have a drink at Ølhallen.

Having a drink at the old ale hall in Tromso

Ølhallen is the oldest pub in the city of Tromso, run by the Mack brewery, which used to be the northernmost brewery in the world (the honor now belongs to Svalbard Bryggeri, even further north in Svalbard).

It’s a cute and typical Norwegian pub, and it’s a fun experience to end your night here. Beer is expensive in Norway, but it’s definitely worth getting a pint or two here as it’s a true Tromso institution.

You could also grab food here for dinner if you’re hungry, but it’s nothing to write home about. I’d suggest having a meal at one of the other Tromso restaurants I’ve mentioned.

See a show at the Arctic Cathedral.

lit up cathedral in norway

The Northern Lights concert in the Arctic Cathedral is a can’t-miss addition to your Northern Norway trip.

The concert lasts about an hour and 15 minutes and includes a variety of Norwegian folk songs as well as classical music, set in the Arctic Cathedral which has amazing acoustics and a cozy ambiance enlivened by candlelight.

Note that as of now, due to the pandemic, it is not yet certain if the 2022 season will have Northern Lights concerts.

Typically, these concerts are held are every Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from the end of January through to the end of March. Check the website here for more details and times.

Day 5: An Active Adventure to End Your Trip

Do a snowmobile and aurora camping tour.

snowmobile in norway

For the last day of this epic Tromso itinerary, spend it actively: on a snowmobile, exploring the Lyngen Alps by day, and then under a glass roof lavvu at night with (hopefully) glimpses of the aurora overhead!

This overnight aurora, camping, & snowmobile tour includes a transfer to the Lyngen Alps by minivan, followed by a 2-hour snowmobile safari in the Lyngen fjord and Alps. 

Afterwards, you’ll get to enjoy a delicious lunch with your small group. Then, the choice is yours!

After your lunch, you can grab a pair of snowshoes or some cross-country skis and go exploring on your own terms, or you can spend time in your crystal lavvu (a glass-roof ‘camping tent’ that is warm and cozy!). 

In the evening, you’ll get a quick photography workshop and dinner, then you can go outside of the aurora camp to try to spot the Northern lights and snap some photos of them.

View from a window of an aurora camp in Tromso

Continue as you like, or head back to your lavvu to warm up and try to spot them through the glass ceiling!

The day ends with a group breakfast before your transfer, which gets you back to Tromso by 11 AM — just in time to make an afternoon flight!

Book your overnight aurora camp and snowmobile experience here!

Continuing on from Tromso

red fishing buildings on rocky islands in norway

If you want to extend your Arctic adventure past Tromso, there’s so much more Northern Norway to explore! 

Some common places that people add to their Northern Norway itinerary include the Lofoten Islands and its cute fishing villages like Svolvaer, the Vesterålen islands, Senja, and Alta. You can visit by road trip or via the Norwegian cruise line, the Hurtigruten.

You could also explore some of southern Norway and fjord Norway, like Bergen, Oslo, and Trondheim. 

Other people continue onwards to other points in Scandinavia and Lapland (Sápmi) and the Arctic Circle, such as Finland (Rovaniemi, Levi, Helsinki, etc.) and Sweden (Abisko, Kiruna, etc.). Iceland, Svalbard, and other Nordic destinations are also possible.

13 Epic Day Trips from Geneva (+ How to Get Everywhere)

Geneva is the start of many people’s trips to Switzerland, due to its busy airport which often has a lot of great flight deals. 

Not only that, Geneva’s perfect location on the border of France and Switzerland means that you can do an abundance of great day trips from Geneva that bring you totally different cultural experiences. 

The ease of access to France thanks to the Schengen area agreement means that a day trip to pop into one of the beautiful villages of Alsace is by no means difficult! 

You won’t even experience a proper border crossing, as there is no passport control between the Swiss and French borders due to the Schengen agreement.

You could certainly spend plenty of time exploring all the things to do in Geneva, such as touring the U.N. and world-class museums, checking out the Jet d’Eau, and taking a steamboat ride on Lac Leman.

With good reason, Geneva is one of the top places to visit in Switzerland for both its beauty and its culture, and it’s full of great things to do. 

However, you can also use it as a base for several beautiful day trips in Switzerland and France. 

Here are 13 of my favorite Geneva day trip ideas to inspire your Switzerland itinerary and beyond!

Best Day Trips from Geneva

Montreux

the beautiful chillon castle (chateau de chillon) on the banks of lac leman (lake geneva), a popular day trip from geneva

WHAT IS IT: One of my favorite towns in Switzerland, this lakeside gem that is home to the Montreux Jazz Fest each year is worth a visit no matter the time of year. 

Whether you visit at the height of summer activity or in the peacefulness of winter, Montreux’s lakeside setting surrounded by a ring of snow-capped mountains (no matter the time of year) is unbeatable. 

WHAT TO DO: The town itself is gorgeous and home to several points of interest, the most obvious of which is Chateau de Chillon (Chillon Castle) a beautiful medieval castle that sits as a little island right on the bank of Lac Leman. 

It’s one of those places that I’m sure you’ve seen a million times on the internet. It’s one of the most famous Swiss castles, and in a country known for its beautiful castles, that’s truly saying something. 

Besides the Chateau, which is well worth the day trip from Geneva just to see, you can also walk along the Montreux lakeside promenade.

Another great thing to do is check out the museum dedicated to Queen, which is in the studio where Freddie Mercury and the rest of his bandmates recorded several albums), or visit the nearby Chaplin’s World museum dedicated to Charlie Chaplin (another famous Montreux ex-resident) in Corsier-sur-Vevey. 

HOW TO GET THERE: The train will take you from Geneva to Montreux quite easily in about an hour and fifteen minutes. 

There are also guided tours which include Montreux and other nearby sights as well, so you can tick a few things off your Swiss bucket list simultaneously.

Book your Montreux + Lavaux vineyards tour here, or your Montreux + glacier tour here!

Lausanne

fancy building in lausanne on an overcast day with a statue in front of it and a green lawn

WHAT IS IT: One of the larger cities flanking Lac Leman (excepting Geneva, obviously), Lausanne is a must-visit city tour for fans of impressive architecture and well-curated museums. 

It’s also one of the easiest cities to visit on a day trip from Geneva due to frequent steamboat connections on the lake.

WHAT TO DO: Built on three steep hills, walking around Lausanne requires a decent bit of fitness (it offers stiff competition to San Francisco and Lisbon), but it’s well worth it!

This city is beautiful everywhere you look. One of its most famous buildings is the Chateau d’Ouchy, a gorgeous multi-turreted, red-roofed castle in the heart of town. 

For fans of museums, Lausanne won’t let you down. Perhaps the strangest museum in all of Switzerland, you shouldn’t miss the Collection de L’art Brut, which features art created by societal outcasts – prisoners, psychiatric patients, and the like – as the collector, Jean Dubuffet, became fascinated with the connection with madness and genius. 

Somewhat patronizingly, he called this work “art brut” (naïve art). The collection numbers more than 50,000 pieces spread across four floors, and it’s undoubtedly a fascinating place to while away a few hours. If you’re a fan of weird travel: this is for you. 

For people looking for a more typical museum, you won’t want to miss the world-famous Olympic Museum which has not only modern artifacts from recent Olympics but even pieces dating back to the original ancient games. 

It’s also really interactive, making it a great place to bring children (the Collection de L’art Brut, maybe not so much!).

You’ll also want to do a wander to the other side of town, on the other side of the train tracks, to see the beautiful Place de la Palud, the heart of Lausanne’s Old Town. 

Here, you’ll see buildings like the city hall, the Instagrammable wooden Escaliers du Marché, the lovely Palais de Rumine (which hosts 5 museums in one building), and other historic towns.

HOW TO GET THERE: It’s just 45 minutes by train from Geneva! 

While it seems like the ferry would be a good option, it takes almost 4 hours each way – so it’s  hardly day trip material.

If you do want to take a boat ride one way from Lausanne, I suggest doing a combined bus and ferry tour like this one, which drops you off in Lausanne by bus, gives you some time to explore the city, and then ferries you back to Geneva on a scenic 4-hour boat cruise.

Book your bus + cruise day trip to Lausanne here!

Lavaux Vineyards

vineyards and a town in the distance overlooking the beautiful still blue waters of lake geneva in the town and unesco site of lavaux, a great geneva day trip

WHAT IS IT: If there’s one thing I learned from my weeks in Switzerland, it’s that Swiss wine is freaking delicious and it’s really a shame that more of it doesn’t get exported. Only some 5% of the wine ever makes it out of the country! 

So while you’re in Switzerland, you may as well take advantage of the ease with which you can find these delicious wines. 

After all, who knows the next time you’ll see Swiss wine at your local wine shop or on a restaurant’s wine list? 

Many of the best Swiss wines come from the area around Lake Geneva, particularly in the area of Lavaux – a region so famous and beloved for its wine that it’s quite literally a UNESCO World Heritage Site! 

The vines present date all the way back to the 11th century and were tended by monasteries (both Benedictine and Cistercian) which historically controlled the land around this area. 

The Lavaux area covers 30 kilometers of land around Lake Geneva and produces some fabulous wines, so it’s time to get tasting!

WHAT TO DO: Go wine-tasting, obviously! I don’t recommend driving yourself from vineyard to vineyard for obvious reasons, so I’d suggest going on an organized wine tour of the region such as this one

The tour lasts 4 hours and involves a wine tasting, but you’d have to get yourself to Montreux (1 hour by train) in order to do this excursion.

HOW TO GET THERE: Since I don’t recommend going by car unless you have a designated driver (and even then – call the wineries you want ahead of time as most don’t have tasting rooms open all the time), I’d suggest a wine tour like this one offered on Viator

Alternately, you can pair it with a visit to Montreux and Vevey as part of a multi-stop tour like on this one (itinerary and details here).

Book your panoramic wine tasting tour in Lavaux or your tour of Montreux, Vevey, + Lavaux here.

Rochers de Naye

the brilliant blue of lake geneva as seen from high above on a mountain, views of small towns around the lakeshore

WHAT IS IT: Switzerland is famed for its scenic railways and one of the best railways in the Geneva area is up to the viewpoint at Rochers de Naye! 

At an elevation of just over 2,000 meters, you’ll get sweeping lake views and incredible hiking trails.

WHAT TO DO: The area around Rochers de Naye is mostly known for its aerial views and its hiking trails. 

You may see lots of different kinds of flowers, depending on the season obviously, and you’re likely to see some of the adorable marmot colonies who call this mountaintop home. 

There is also a panoramic restaurant, Plein Roc, where you can eat with an incredible view!

HOW TO GET THERE: There is a cogwheel railway which runs from Montreux through to Glion and then to Caux to reach the summit. 

The whole ride takes just about one hour from Montreux downtown, and you can buy tickets at the Montreux railway station.

Vevey

the lakefront promenade of the town of vevey in the swiss riviera along lac leman, a beautiful day trip option from geneva

WHAT IS IT: An underrated town on the Swiss Riviera, a visit to Vevey is a great idea if you want to skip the crowds of Montreux or Lausanne, both of which are a little more popular with tourists. 

While it doesn’t have the same major attractions as either of the aforementioned cities, it is well worth a visit for its quaint charm and lakeside beauty.

WHAT TO DO:  The most obvious answer is Chaplin’s World, the Charlie Chaplin museum in his former home. It’s the most famous attraction that Vevey claims, but it’s a tiny bit out of town (though still easily walkable). 

Other than that, there’s a well-regarded photography museum, an odd food-themed museum called Alimentarium (in front, you’ll see a puzzling fork statue stuck into the waters of Lac Leman). 

There is also supposedly a Musée de l’Absurde, which I’m sure is exactly what it sounds like! 

You can also walk a bit to Villa “Le Lac” Le Corbusier which is a minimalist-style house built by the famous Swiss architect in sync with the gorgeous lake surroundings.

HOW TO GET THERE: Located between Lausanne and Montreux, Vevey is an easy train ride away from Geneva, taking just about one hour. 

If you want to see several of the places on this Geneva day trips guide in one go – Vevey, Montreux, and the vineyards of Lavaux, there are full-day tours of the Swiss Riviera that cover all three beautiful destinations in an easy, relaxed day trip. 

Check out 3-in-1 guided tours of the Swiss Riviera here.

Annecy

the famous canals of annecy with a beautiful castle-looking building with a turret in the middle of the canals in this medieval french village

WHAT IS IT: If you’re going to leave Switzerland for any day trip to France, I highly recommend it be Annecy and its canals and houses straight out of a fairy tale! Nicknamed “Venice of the Alps”, its charming canals are a photographer’s dream.

There’s enough to do in the lakeside town of Annecy to give it a few days, but if you just have time to visit it on a day trip from Geneva, some planning (or guidance) can make your time well worth it.

WHAT TO DO: A few of the obvious things are to stroll around the Old Town (Vieille Ville) and admire the houses, getting those gorgeous photos of Annecy that everyone wants to leave with – especially the Palais de l’Isle, the quintessential Annecy snap. 

There’s also the Chateau d’Annecy which was a castle back in the 12th century and is part of the medieval town center, but it is now a museum welcoming tourists. 

Finally, the English gardens of Jardins de l’Europe on the banks of the lake also merit a stroll or even a picnic.

HOW TO GET THERE: To DIY it, you can get there by Flixbus from Geneva’s Gare Routière Station. 

Alternately, there are plenty of inexpensive day tours from Geneva which offer a little more structure if you prefer to have some context and guidance on your day trip. 

This affordable option is only a half-day tour so you can explore Annecy and still get back to Geneva in time to rest up and have a lovely dinner and walk on the lake at night. 

Check out prices and availability here.

Chamonix & Mont Blanc

red cable car going up a steep snowy mountain to chamonix mt blanc

WHAT IS IT: Want to say you’ve seen Europe’s highest mountain — well, west of Russia’s Mount Elbrus? It’s Mont Blanc in the French Alps.

It’s the 11th highest in the world and while Switzerland’s Matterhorn may have more instant recognizability, Mont Blanc is nearly a thousand feet taller (though it would take nearly a century more for the Matterhorn to be ascended, due to its technical difficulty).

While of course, climbing Mont Blanc itself is out of the question as a day trip from Geneva, you can visit the quaint ski resort town of Chamonix and admire Mont Blanc from there.

WHAT TO DO: Assuming you’re just visiting on a day trip, a few suggestions would be to see the beautiful glacier Mer de Glace, the third-largest glacier in the Alps.

It is accessible via the Chemin de Fer du Montenvers railway just a 20-minute ride from Chamonix’s center. Alternately, the cable car ride to Aiguille du Midi has incredible views over all of Chamonix.

You can also stroll the pedestrian pathway, Rue du Docteur Paccard, and sit in a café with gorgeous mountain views gorging on coffee and pastries. 

Hikers can make the trip to the photo-perfect Lac Blanc at 2,352 meters above sea level, which can be reached after a strenuous 90-minute walk from the cable car at Flegere.

HOW TO GET THERE: It’s quite easy to get to Chamonix via a Flixbus from Geneva’s Gare Routière if you want to tour Chamonix independently. It takes about one hour to get between the two cities. 

Alternately, you could go on a guided day trip which covers the cable car, the Montenvers railway, the glacier, and more with transfer included. 

Check out this Chamonix + Mont Blanc + glacier tour or do this combined Annecy + Chamonix day trip!

Gruyères

a giant swiss castle on a cloudy day with beautiful stonework and turrets and mountains in the distance

WHAT IS IT: If you’re a big fan of cheese, making a pilgrimage to Gruyères – the namesake of one of the world’s most delicious cheeses – is in order.

I mean, is there anything more prominent on any cheese-lovers bucket list?

WHAT TO DO: Besides overdose on lactose? Sights include the 13th-century Gruyères Castle, the medieval village architecture, the gorgeous Catholic Église Saint-Théodule, and the HR Giger Museum which is an art museum inside the castle.

If you go as part of a guided chocolate and cheese-themed tour to Gruyères, you can take the lovely Golden Train to make your commute part of the journey. 

You’ll get to visit a proper chocolate factory, learn to prepare Swiss fondue with the sound of real Swiss cowbells jangling behind you, and explore the sights of Gruyères village. 

HOW TO GET THERE: The most indulgent way is definitely on the Gold Tour with chocolate and cheese tastings! 

You can do the tour accompanied by a travel guide, either with the Gold train included (prices and availability here) or you can save a bit of money by swapping the luxe train for a bus ride (prices here). There are also private group tours.

Alternately, you can DIY a trip to Gruyères by going by public transportation, which takes 2 hours and involves taking two trains and then a bus. 

However, if you do that, you won’t have the option to do the chocolate factory visit or cheese tasting experience. You can visit Maison Cailler independently (learn more on their website here) but it’d be a bit tougher to time and manage.

For that reason, if budget is a concern, I’d recommend against DIYing it and picking a different Geneva day trip instead – there are plenty to choose from!

Évian-les-Bains

the beautiful french village of evian, home of the mineral water, on a sunny day with light clouds, on the waters of lac leman

WHAT IS IT: Yes – this is the town of the famous Évian water! 

it’s famous for its mineral water springs (hence the “bains” in its name, which is French for “baths”) and gorgeous lake setting on the other side of Lac Leman from Switzerland, a 35-minute ferry from Lausanne.

THINGS TO DO: Besides sampling the water from the local springs, there’s a surprising amount of beauty to find around Évian! 

Check out the art nouveau gorgeousness of the Cachat Pump Room, take the fin-de-siecle-era funicular up to the luxe Hotel Royal Evian, visit the Palais Lumiere, or check out the beautiful town hall.

HOW TO GET THERE: While you’d think you could easily go by train, the French and Swiss train connections really aren’t so good. This is why Flixbus dominates the connections between Geneva and Annecy as well as Geneva and Chamonix and Mont Blanc.

Therefore, it’s best to go Lausanne by train first (1 hour) and then get a ferry over, which takes about 35 minutes, about 2 hours total. 

There’s also a private group tour that also includes scenic Yvoire, which is a good deal for a group of 4 people or more, but it would be quite expensive for solo travelers or couples. 

Check prices & availability of the group tour here!

Glacier 3000

a small child in a green jacket and pink pants on a glacier walk in the swiss glaciers and mountains

WHAT IS IT: The nearest glacier to Geneva. 

If you only are visiting Geneva on your trip to Switzerland don’t have time to make it to more impressive glaciers like Titlis and Gorner, make it this one! It’s especially great for kids as it has a lot of activities to enjoy.

WHAT TO DO: A trip to the impressive Glacier 3000 is one of the most popular day trips from Geneva and is best done as part of a tour. 

The trip starts with a transfer from Geneva, then takes you to the cute mountain village of Les Diablerets. From there, you can take a cable car up to a glacier. 

At the glacier, there is a cool suspension bridge that connects two mountains, giving you impressive views of 20+ peaks over 4,000 meters — including the Matterhorn on a clear day! 

Kids will love adding on various activities like a snow bus ride, Alpine coaster, and Peak Walk. As a bonus, you can tack on a visit to Montreux at the end of the trip.

HOW TO GET HERE: There are two tour options at different price points. For a budget-friendly way with fewer inclusions, check out this bus tour to the glacier. 

For a more exciting, all-inclusive trip, check out the Gold Tour which has more inclusions such as the snow bus ride, the cable car, etc.

Book the glacier tour by bus or the Gold Tour with all the extras!

Bern

the beautiful aare river which is turquoise and calm flowing through the heart of the old town of bern, the swiss capital city

WHAT IS IT: The capital of Switzerland is also a downright beautiful place to visit, with the scenic Aare River running right through it in brilliant shades of turquoise.

Check out Bern to see the heart of Switzerland and how this country like no other merges the beauty of nature in with its cityscapes in a way that is hard to replicate elsewhere.

WHAT TO DO: Bern is a vibrant city with plenty to do! The most famous landmark in Bern is the Zytglogge, a medieval clock dating back to the 13th century which shows the centuries-old Swiss fascination with keeping time.

There also fantastic museums in Bern, such as the Einstein Museum and the Kunstmuseum (Museum of Fine Arts), and a scenic Old Town to explore.

HOW TO GET HERE: This is an easy day trip to DIY, with frequent trains connecting Geneva with the Swiss capital. The train takes about 2 hours and involves no connections.

Zürich

aerial view from one of the churches of zurich looking over the water and the old town of zurich and its bridges on a sunny day with a few clouds

WHAT IS IT: The largest city in Switzerland, Zürich is also Switzerland’s most multicultural city. 

While Bern is the technical capital of Switzerland, Zürich is the county’s cultural capital, and it feels the most contemporary and vibrant.

WHAT TO DO: There’s so much to do in Zürich that it’s worthy of a few days in and of itself, so if you were to visit on a day trip from Geneva, you’d have to make some serious decisions about what to prioritize and what to cut!

Whether it’s window-shopping on the Banhofstrasse, checking out the medieval churches of the 11th and 12th centuries like Grossmünster and Fraumünster, or visiting the Swiss National Museum, you’ll get lots of culture on a day trip to Zürich.

HOW TO GET HERE: Geneva and Zürich handle most of the flight traffic into Switzerland, and as a result, there are several direct trains between the two cities. The train takes about 2 hours and 40 minutes and is very scenic. 

Due to the long train ride, it’s not the first day trip I’d suggest, but it is quite doable!

More Switzerland Travel Resources

Need help planning your perfect Switzerland trip? I’ve written up this Switzerland itinerary for 10 days in the country.

Prefer to DIY your own itinerary? Start with this inspiration for the best places to visit in Switzerland.

I have a day trip guide to Interlaken as well if that’s another city you’ll visit on your trip to Switzerland.

Finally, be sure to check out this Switzerland packing list for all seasons and genders! It’s your one-stop shop for everything you need to bring to Switzerland.

3 Days in Sao Miguel: Azores Itinerary for a Quick Trip

I’d wanted to do an Azores road trip for years. I have a thing for rugged and wild islands, the kind that you feel you could have been shipwrecked on centuries ago.

And smack dab in the middle of the Atlantic 1,400 kilometers from the nearest continent, the Azores certainly fit that description.

Though, to be fair, these islands are so beautiful you certainly wouldn’t mind being shipwrecked there.

Created by volcanoes a mere 15,000 years ago – a blink in the geological timeline – traveling the Azores is unlike anywhere else I can think of.

It’s most often compared to the Hawaii of Europe.

But lacking Hawaii’s massive resorts, body slam of tourism, and huge price inflation (seriously, the Azores are about as affordable as Lisbon, which is to say they’re not expensive at all), I find this comparison doesn’t do the Azores justice.

bright sunlight on a portion of the park which illuminates plant life

My friend and I had a limited amount of time to travel the Azores, so we focused only on Sao Miguel.

Luckily, even though it’s the largest island in the archipelago, it’s still rather small. Driving from Ponta Delgada on one side to the other of Sao Miguel (past Nordeste) took one hour.

We had 3 days in Sao Miguel and found it to be a great introduction to the islands but wished we had a little more time for our Azores itinerary.

However, one of my methods when traveling is to often leave a stone unturned – just to ensure I return to that destination. 

And having missed one of the Azores’ best tourist attractions due to weather (more on that below), I’m doubly certain the Azores will get a return visit from me, as it’s truly one of the best Portugal road trips out there.

A Few Notes on Planning Your Azores Itinerary

Don’t discount the weather. 

The Azores are an island chain in the middle of the Atlantic, so storms, intense fog, and unpredictable rainstorms are not uncommon. There are plenty of sunny days, but they are not the norm.

In fact, we had to shuffle around our Azores itinerary quite a bit and double back to a few destinations simply because the weather wouldn’t cooperate.

Plan your most desired destinations first, so you can return if the weather doesn’t cooperate.

Here is where we slipped up. 

We planned my most anticipated places – Lagoa de Fogo and Caldeira Velha – for our final day. We made it halfway up the mountain where the Miradouro do Pico da Barrosa offers the most incredible view over the Azores’ most famous lake. 

Then we hit what felt like a white brick wall of fog, promptly both got insanely nervous driving in zero visibility, and turned straight around and retreated to sunny lower grounds.

a dilapidated house with lots of fog around it

Lagoa do Fogo is notoriously fussy.

While Fogo literally means fire in Portuguese and refers to its volcanic origins, the ‘fog’ in its name would be just as accurate of a descriptor. 

The specific microclimate of this region often means that a dense fog cloud sits on top of Pico da Barrosa like a tight-fitting hat, which means that it’s not only terrifying to drive but also often just plain pointless, as you won’t be able to see anything from the miradouro. 

While I did Lagoa do Fogo on my third and final day, I recommend doing it the first (and this Azores itinerary will reflect that) so that if the weather doesn’t cooperate, you can try to return on a later date.

This Sao Miguel itinerary assumes that you have your own rental car. 

However, I know that not everyone can drive or feels comfortable driving abroad, so I will always list a guided tour option when available so that this itinerary is more accessible to everyone.

Not sure where to get the best deal on your rental? I’ve rented cars dozens of times through various search engines and have settled on Discover Cars as the best car rental search engine – it searches over 500 trusted rental companies to find the cheapest price for your rental! Compare prices for car rental in the Azores here.

No car? Combine this East Sao Miguel day trip as well as this West tour to cover nearly all the sights on this itinerary.

This Azores itinerary also assumes you’ll be staying in Ponta Delgada. 

However, the island is quite small, so it isn’t too much of a change if you are staying somewhere else.

Just note that the driving times to the first and last destination may be different if you are staying elsewhere.

street art of two men's portraits on a garage door. yellow and red.

Be willing to adjust your Sao Miguel itinerary based on the weather. 

Most of the spots here are outdoors or involve viewpoints, neither of which are that enjoyable in the rain. 

If it’s raining out for one of the days of your trip, I recommend shuffling around your itinerary to spend time in Ponta Delgada.

There, you can spend time exploring the pineapple plantations as they’re mostly in greenhouses.

You can follow that up by checking out some of the natural hot springs in Furnas, as it’s quite a nice feeling to relax in warm water while being soaked by the rain! 

Luckily Sao Miguel is not so big, so you can re-adjust your itinerary pretty easily (we did several times over the course of our trip to accompany the whims of the weather.

That’s just what traveling in the Atlantic islands is like, and something I learned when crafting my Faroe Islands itinerary!)

FAQ About Visiting the Azores: Travel Guide

What is the cheapest way to get to Sao Miguel island in the Azores?

view of lisbon city skyline and rooftops with a palm tree on a sunny day with view of river
Stop in Lisbon first before heading to the Azores!

It depends on where you are coming from. If you are coming from Europe, it’s often easier to fly to Mainland Portugal first.

Then you can book a connecting flight from Lisbon or Porto to Ponta Delgada (capital of Sao Miguel), airport code PDL. 

Ryanair offers cheap flights from Lisbon and Porto — this is how I got there, and it cost about $30 each way. They also offer cheap flights from Frankfurt and London.

If you are coming from the United States, there are direct flights to the Azores (Ponta Delgada, specifically) from Boston via Azores Airline, which is a 5-hour flight. They often are fairly inexpensive compared to other transatlantic flights.

TAP Air Portugal is another option if you are flying from the U.S. or Canada – take advantage of their free stopover program to enjoy some time in Lisbon at no extra cost!

What is the best way to get around in the Azores?

a white car with a red roof in the azores
My cute little rental in the Azores!

By far, renting a car in the Azores is the best way to get around. These islands are made for road-tripping! 

I had a little trepidation about driving in the Azores, assuming it’d be difficult like driving in the Westfjords of Iceland (far different than the Ring Road!) or the windswept Faroe Islands.

However, it was actually pretty smooth sailing, and I’d definitely suggest renting a car to anyone who is comfortable driving in other European cities. 

Granted, street parking in Ponta Delgada is harrowing, but that goes for all European city centers. However, the alternative is booking several day tours, which can get really expensive!

Not sure whether you want to rent a car? I wrote a whole guide to renting a car in the Azores that explains my experience doing so!

How many days do you need in the Azores?

view of the rugged coastline of sao miguel from one of the many miradouros on the island, a must on any sao miguel itinerary

As many as possible! If you are just visiting Sao Miguel, as this Azores itinerary lays out, then sure, 3 days is perfectly fine. 

But if you are visiting other islands, like Faial, Flores, Terceira, Santa Maria, Pico, Sao Jorge, etc., you will want at least 2 days per additional island to account for travel time. 

Not sure where you want to go in additional to Sao Miguel? Check this travel guide to the other Azores islands.

Although it is the largest of the Azores islands, Sao Miguel can be seen pretty extensively in 3 days, though 5 days would give you more time and let you see it at a more leisurely pace. The other islands are quite small and can be seen in a day and a half.

Is the Azores worth visiting?

a trail leading to a waterfall with lots of tropical-looking plant life

Absolutely! This unique landscape is hard to find elsewhere in Europe. 

Where else can you find pineapple plantations, tea farms, geothermal springs that mix with ocean water to create pleasantly hot water like a bathtub, waterfalls, and stunning views around every other corner?

I grew up going to Hawaii often as a kid and while I found the Azores to be fairly similar in terms of landscape to Hawaii, I found the Azores to be less touristic, more untouched, and more magical-feeling.

It’s one of the most special places I’ve ever been! 

What is the best month to visit the Azores?

fields with a lighthouse on it overlooking a cliff and the atlantic ocean in the azores

We went in late March and honestly, the weather was pretty great!

On the whole, I think March is a great month to visit Portugal (and Lisbon in particular), and I’d imagine that year-round, the Azores is worth the trip.

In late March it was a little bit chilly, but we had no rain and just a small amount of fog. It was cold in the mornings and perfect by mid-afternoon! 

April or May would be even better. June through August experience the summer glut of tourists, so avoid the summer months if your schedule allows.

September or October would also be lovely and usually have good weather, better than spring!

Your 3 Day Itinerary for the Azores: Day 1

a church covered in azulejo tiles in sao miguel azores

Keep in mind my advice about the fog: Lagoa de Fogo is notoriously finicky and there will likely be fog obscuring your view. 

Therefore, I’ve recommended an alternate day 1 itinerary (what I ended up doing after we got too afraid to drive in the heavy fog) as well, in case you end up unlucky with the weather as we did.

If you have good weather, I recommend visiting Lagoa do Fogo and its two best viewpoints – Miradouro do Pico da Barrosa and Miradouro da Lagoa do Fogo – first, before heading to Caldeira Velha for a soak in the hot springs. 

Then head back to Ponta Delgada, making a stop at the pineapple plantation on the way back, to enjoy the city’s unique architecture and funky street art. 

Alternately, if Lagoa do Fogo is too fussy, I’ve also included what we did instead (it helps to have a backup plan in a place with weather so dramatic!) in the below section so that you can adjust on the fly.

Whale Watching

whales diving into the water

One of the best things to do in Azores is check out the incredible whales who live around these Atlantic waters and call them home!

There are many great whale watching cruises which depart from Ponta Delgada. Tours last about 3 hours; this tour begins at 8:30 so it still allows you to have a full day of sightseeing afterward.

On a whale watching cruise  in the Azores, you’ll be led by expert guides who try to point out as many of the 28 cetacean species (whales and dolphins) that can be found in the waters around Ponta Delgada.

This tour in particular is great because if you fail to see any whales or dolphins on your tour, they allow you to reschedule it for free! Besides whales and dolphins, you’ll also get to see sea birds, turtles, and other marine life on these tours. 

Book your whale watching excursion here!

Lagoa de Fogo

the colorful waters of lagoa de fogo when there is no fog covering it

One of the most picturesque places in Sao Miguel, the Lagoa do Fogo is the typical postcard photo you probably have in mind when thinking of the Azores.

Unfortunately, that postcard-perfect view is rare to find, as fog and clouds typically obscure the top and make the winding roads to the viewpoints of Miradouro do Pico da Barrosa and Miradouro da Lagoa do Fogo quite onerous! 

So I advise you to throw this on the first day of your Azores itinerary so that you can shuffle things around if necessary and return for the perfect view.

While I didn’t make it here myself, I’ve read that you can hike down to the lake level in about 45 minutes each way, though to actually hike the perimeter of the lake would take the better part of a full day.

»»»
Prefer a guided hike? This guided Lagoa do Fogo tour will take you there.
«««

Caldeira Velha

a woman in a bathing suit stairing at the waterfall in front of her in a thermal pool on a sao miguel vacation

On my initial itinerary for the Azores, I had planned for us to head onwards from Lagoa de Fogo to Caldeira Velha (Ancient Boiler in Portuguese)

However, the fog kept us from getting to experience this place and that’s truly one of my biggest regrets about our trip to the Azores. 

When I researched it, this place seemed amazing – geothermic waters in a Jurassic Park-esque setting (minus the whole stressful impending dinosaur attack thing).

Alas, we didn’t get a chance to visit (though we visited plenty of other hot springs during our time in the Azores that made up for it), but I’m still putting it on this Azores itinerary as I’ve heard nothing but great things about it and was gutted to miss it.

A quick note: the water will stain your bathing suit rust-orange, just like the waters at Terra Nostra, so be sure to bring a dark-colored bathing suit or a suit you plan on throwing out after your trip.

Ananases A Arruda

a teeny tiny azorean pineapple

Another image you’ve likely seen from the Azores is the insufferably cute tiny pineapples that are grown there! 

The only place where pineapples grow in Europe is the Azores, and Ananases A Arruda is a can’t-miss, just a short drive from Ponta Delgada.

You can walk through a few greenhouses spotting Azorean pineapples in different sizes and phases of growth (they take two years to fully mature — even though they’re tiny).

Pineapples are not native to the Azores, but rather were imported from Africa in the 19th century due to the shared history of Portuguese colonization. However, they do grow surprisingly well in the subtropical environment of the Azores!

The Azorean pineapple farmers bred their pineapples a bit differently than the standard, creating a smaller fruit with a tinier crown and a more robust, sweet pineapple flavor.

Ananases A Arruda is free to visit, but just try to leave without bringing home some pineapple jam or pineapple liqueur that they sell there!

There is also another pineapple farm, Plantação de Ananás dos Açores, which you can visit if you’re just crazy about these pineapples or want o

Ponta Delgada

This first day of your Azores itinerary is a little light on things to do compared to the other two days, because I think it’s important to dedicate sufficient time to explore beautiful Ponta Delgada. 

Depending on where you’re traveling from as well or what time you’re getting in, you may be tired as well from traveling, so this day is purposefully lighter than the others as a result.

Of course, if you are not staying in Ponta Delgada but rather somewhere else on the island, I’d explore Ponta Delgada first (since you will be flying into the airport and driving past it) so that afterward you can head to your hotel elsewhere.

a brilliant church on a hill on a cloudy day

I’ll have a full post on what to visit when you go to Ponta Delgada soon. 

For now, I recommend checking out the iconic Pontas de Cidade arch gate, Forte de Sao Bras, and my personal favorite, Jardim António Borges which is full of rare plants and transports you to a Jungle-Book-like world without ever leaving the city center.

Alternate 1st Day in Sao Miguel Itinerary

black sand beach next to a restaurant on the ocean

Our plan for the day we visited Lagoa de got foiled because of the terrible weather so we made a few adjustments.

Instead of going to Lagoa de Fogo, we instead headed to Caloura for a seaside lunch at Bar Caloura, which was fantastic.

There is a natural swimming pool in the middle of the ocean here which seems to be free to use. However, considering that mid-March is a pretty god-awful time to soak in the middle of the Atlantic, we didn’t test it out.

On the drive down to Bar Caloura, about 200 meters before the restaurant, you can’t miss the beautiful Caloura Convent with its traditional azulejo (blue and white Portuguese tiles) facade.

It’s a stunning work of symmetry and tilework and definitely worth a quick photo stop (in fact, I recommend parking here instead of Bar Caloura).

Afterward, we headed towards Praia Pequena de Água d’Alto, stopping at Miradouro do Pisão for a lovely viewpoint over Caloura on the way.

At this point, you could go back to Ponta Delgada to spend the afternoon exploring the town, but since you are pretty close to Lagoa de Congro you could do that instead. 

Be sure to stop at Our Lady of Peace Chapel in Vila Franca on the way if you do! (More on this in Day 3 of this Azores itinerary.)

Your Azores Itinerary, Day 2

people enjoying the thermal waters in a natural pool in the azores sao miguel itinerary

This day is all about lakes, hot springs, waterfalls, and miradouros – pretty much all the things the Azores does best.

A few things to keep in mind… again, fog will potentially be your enemy when it comes to the first two miradouros on this itinerary. 

You may need to double back or visit another day if there is fog or bad weather when you visit (we had to).

However, the fog in this area is definitely less bad than in Lagoa do Fogo. Here, you’ll probably only encounter fog if there is an actual storm as there was when we visited. 

Meanwhile, at Lagoa do Fogo, the fog sat stubbornly all day – when we drove back past it several hours after we re-routed and changed up our day’s itinerary, the same lid of impenetrable fog was still perched exactly where we saw it.

Finally, one last note about day two: you’ll need to check the tide forecast (click here to see it) and use that to plan when to visit Ferraria, as it’s best visited just before or just after low tide.

 The reason for this is that it’s a geothermically heated pool that mixes with ocean water, and you have to get the balance of thermal water and ocean water just right to get that perfect, surreal, floating in a bathtub while feeling the ocean current vibe. 

We visited about 30 minutes after low tide and stayed for one hour and it was perfect, but the tide was already starting to come in stronger and if we had come much later it wouldn’t have been nearly as enjoyable.

Miradouro da Boca do Inferno

a volcanic crater filled with lake water and a lake down below at a popular miradouro viewpoint in sao miguel

While the nearby Miradouro da Vista do Rei is more popular for some reason, this was actually one of my favorite miradouros on all of Sao Miguel (which, trust me, is a hard distinction to make – there are so many beautiful ones).

We parked in the nearby parking lot on the right rather than driving all the way to the
miradouro, but we definitely could have driven it as the road was not as bumpy as I was worried about. 

Still, it’s less than a 1-kilometer walk and it lets you make a quick stop at one of my other favorite places, Lagoa do Canario, on the way to or from the miradouro.

The walk up to the best point of the miradouro from the end of the drivable road takes about 10 minutes (~20 minutes if walking from the main parking lot). 

There is some information in both Portuguese and English there detailing how the landscape was formed – which is super interesting if you’re a geology nerd like I am, telling you about the volcanic crater formation and history.

Lagoa do Canario

peaceful water forming a still mirror image in the lake surrounded by trees

Just a quick 5-minute detour on the path to or from Miradouro da Boca do Inferno, this lake should be more crowded but thankfully isn’t! 

It remains one of the most peaceful places on the island despite being so close to some of the most popular tourist spots.

When I visited the lake was perfectly still, sheltered by all the beautiful trees around it, making a gorgeous mirror image. I don’t know why more tourists don’t stop here, but I’m sure glad I knew about it!

Miradouro da Vista do Rei

This was one of the most crowded places I visited on my Azores itinerary so don’t expect peace and quiet here! 

Personally, I much preferred the Miradouro da Boca do Inferno, but since this one is so close, I still recommend visiting both.

This is also where you’ll find the so-called ‘abandoned hotel’, Hotel Monte Palace. Though to be honest, it’s barely abandoned at all… considering that it’s at the doorstep of one of the most visited tourist attractions in the Azores and people are constantly there! 

Some people go inside despite the signs telling you not to enter. I personally don’t advise entering, especially since there are plans to reopen it in 2021, and I would imagine the new developers don’t take kindly to trespassers.

Sete Cidades

scenic white church surrounded by tall moss covered trees in sete cidades

Heading down from the mountain views, the town of Sete Cidades is definitely well worth a stop (and perhaps a quick lunch break – we ate at Restaurante Lagoa Azul)

It’s worth it to make a stop after you’ve crossed the bridge dividing the lake in two to stop and take photos from eye level, which has a much different visual than from above. 

I also loved visiting the church in Sete Cidades, with its ghoulishly beautiful row of trees framing it like something out of a movie.

»»»
If you prefer someone else to drive, this 4WD Sete Cidades trip is an adrenaline-pumping experience!
«««

Ferraria

many people in the water with ropes enjoying the cool and hot waters of the ponta da ferraria

Visiting Ponta da Ferraria was truly my favorite thing I did in the Azores and absolutely a can’t-miss, in my opinion. Here is where geothermically heated waters from the ground mix with the cold, brisk waters of the Atlantic, combining to lukewarm perfection in a natural pool formed by rocks.

While in many other places in the world, they’d alter the hell out of the landscape, the approach in the Azores is thankfully rather minimalist – I mean, why mess with perfection? 

All they’ve added is a ladder and some ropes for safety. The rest is all as the earth intended it to be (there are some bathrooms and changing rooms nearby, though).

Sitting in the waters, feeling the geothermal hot springs sweep past me on one ebb of the tide and the cold Atlantic waters rush past me on another, was truly my favorite experience of my entire Azores trip. 

I must have sat there for at least an hour murmuring “this is magical” over and over again. Something about the combination of the hot and cold waters and the peaceful yet powerful feeling of the ocean water repeatedly flowing in and out was truly spectacular.

Note that it is rather popular and there is a limited time period in the day where you can experience Ponta da Ferraria at its best. 

Come exactly at low tide and the water will be too hot in some places, come too close to high tide and the water won’t be warm at all because it’ll be too diluted by ocean water (plus it seems like it would be dangerous at high tide, judging by where the water line was). 

I visited about 30 minutes after low tide passed (check out the tide forecast here) and it was perfect. I stayed for about an hour and noticed the water level rising and the general water level getting cooler by the time I was ready to leave.

I visited around 10:30 AM and it was quite crowded with people who also had the same idea but still very, very enjoyable! 

However, keep in mind that the tides vary from day to day so be sure to plan your itinerary around this and shuffle things around if needed to come at the optimal time.

There’s also a lighthouse in town that you can visit, but we just checked it out from the nearby miradouro, halfway between the town and the thermal pools.

Miradouro da Ponta do Escalvado

miradouro on the edge of the azores with cliffs and a town in the distance and sea stacks in the water

This rarely-visited miradouro on the way to Mosteiros is absolutely worth a quick stop because it’s absolutely breathtaking.

You won’t need much time here, maybe 10 minutes or so, but I couldn’t leave it off this Azores itinerary! 

Mosteiro

This small Portuguese town is known for its black sand beach and beautiful sea stacks. There are also some small natural pools that form due to the rock formations and the tide. 

However, when we visited the weather was extremely windy and the tide was churning strongly, so it didn’t look safe to enter the water.

However, I’ve seen photos of it at other times and people are swimming and enjoying the water, so it’ll depend on the weather as well as the tide. 

It was too cold in March to even think about getting in, so consider your time as well, because this is just straight-up ocean water and not geothermally-warmed waters mixing with ocean water in like Ferraria.

The black sand beach with its view of the sea stacks and the natural pools are located in different parts of town so you’ll likely prefer to drive between the two as they are a little far apart.

Ribeira Grande

the peaceful town of ribeira grande with its river, church, park, and bridges
the

About halfway between Mosteiros and Gorreana Tea Factory (Cha Gorreana), your next stop, is the beautiful town of Ribeira Grande (big river). 

We had but a quick stop here, but here are a few of the things worth checking out.

There’s the Miradouro do Castelo (not sure why it’s called this as there is no castle to speak of!), the Jardim Municipal de Ribeira Grande with its many bridges and beautiful trees, and the traditional Azorean church Igreja Matriz de Nossa Senhora da Estrela.

Gorreana Tea Factory

tea plantations next to a road and trees

The only tea plantation in Europe, Gorreana Tea Factory is a wonderful stop on any Azores itinerary, located on the north coast of Sao Miguel.

Normally, the European climate is too harsh for tea to truly prosper, but the unique Azorean climate is different. The first plantation was created by the Azorean Jacinto Leite in the 1820s, who imported tea seeds from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil while he was stationed there.

The crops grew in importance when the trade of oranges declined (around the same time as pineapples began to be cultivated in the Azores as well), as agriculture has always been a crucial part of the Azorean economy. 

The plantation you can visit today is Gorreana Tea Factory. It was founded in 1883, after hiring some Chinese tea experts to consult on how to improve their tea plantation.

The Gorreana Tea Factory has 32 acres you can visit and you can visit some of the machines they use to dry, process, and produce the tea leaves. 

You can do a hike in the area, and if that doesn’t suit you, you can just simply walk around the tea fields for a bit, depending on the weather. Or you can simply enjoy a free (yes, free!) cup of tea inside the factory!

While to be fair, I know very little about tea, I started every morning in the Azores with a cup of Gorreana green tea and found it truly exquisite – never would I imagine that this was tea grown on a misty, moody island in the middle of the Atlantic!

Parque Natural das Ribeira dos Caldeirões

One of the biggest surprises of my trips to the Azores was this small natural park filled with beautiful views, flowers, and flowing waterfalls.

Loosely translated, Ribeira dos Caldeirões means river of boilers, named so for the many thermal waters.

It’s smaller than I expected but it was packed with so much beauty that I hardly minded – especially because my visit coincided perfectly with golden hour.

There is one waterfall inside the ‘park’ proper, but don’t miss the larger waterfall just a little ways up the road which is even more impressive and beautiful.

»»»
If you want to go here without a car, join this Nordeste day trip as neither the West or East Sao Miguel tours cover this or the Miradouro da Ponta do Sossego below.
«««

Faro do Arnel

lighthouse at the edge of the azores

A quick stop at the scenic lighthouse of Faro do Arnel is a must on the way to Ponta do Sossego.

The road is steep (cars are allowed, but I didn’t want to risk driving), so you have to walk a bit to reach the actual lighthouse proper, but it’s worth it! 

I cannot emphasize enough how steep it is, so only go if you are confident you can walk up and down that hill safely!

Miradouro da Ponta do Sossego

pink hydrangeas at the ponta de sossego lookout

Sossego means ‘calmness’ in Portuguese and that’s exactly what you’ll find here in this picturesque miradouro just past Nordeste, pretty much as far as you can drive from Ponta Delgada without plunging into the Atlantic Ocean!

Miradouro da Ponta do Sossego was one of the most spectacular places on my Azores itinerary.

It is quite far from Ponta Delgada and does make for a long drive back at the end of the day, I can promise you that it will be worth it. The views of the cliffs are incredible, and there are stunning hydrangeas everywhere you look.

Just a little way further is the Miradouro da Ponta da Madrugada, which also offers incredible views and is worth driving a little further to if your time permits. We weren’t able to go as the sun had already set. 

Madrugada means ‘early morning’ in Portuguese, so I’m thinking this is likely a phenomenal sunrise spot! 

Personally, I loved Ponta do Sossego and found it to be the most beautiful place I visited on all of Sao Miguel.

Your Azores Itinerary, Day 3

This day is all about tying up loose ends on your Azores itinerary and ticking off a few of the greatest places on the island of Sao Miguel!

Get ready for some amazing snorkeling, beautiful churches, natural beauty, and so many hot springs!

Snorkel with dolphins

pod of dolphins swimming underwater in the azores islands

Start your day in the most memorable way possible with an incredible snorkeling tour that gives you the opportunity to swim with pods of curious wild dolphins.

Note that these are wild animals in their natural habitat, so you are not guaranteed to see the dolphins…. but it is quite likely!

Several types of dolphins call the waters near Ponta Delgada home, including the common dolphins, bottlenose dolphins, Atlantic spotted dolphins, and Risso’s dolphins (aka gray dolphins).

This half-day tour starts at 8:30 AM and will keep you busy until noon, which allows you plenty of time to enjoy the rest of your final day in Sao Miguel.

Bring a fresh change of clothes and a towel so you can dry yourself off and enjoy the rest of your day!

Book your snorkeling with dolphins tour online here!

Our Lady of Peace Chapel

One of the most Instagrammed places in the Azores, my foolish self didn’t realize that this place was actually in Sao Miguel (for some reason I thought it was in Terceira!) and failed to actually go here… Whoops. 

As I like to say, being a travel blogger is basically just being a professional mistake-maker so that our readers can have a more seamless experience than we do!

It’s called Ermida de Nossa Senhora da Paz, which translates to the Hermitage (or Chapel) of Our Lady of Peace. And it’s stunning.

When creating the maps for this Azores itinerary I realized that I was literally in the town where this famous chapel is… and left without seeing its most famous attraction. 

I had been at the black sand beach in nearby Alto do Agua, where we could see the beautiful islet of Vila Franca do Campo.

We stopped to get gas in Vila Franca do Campo (and tried and failed to see a ‘secret waterfall’ that proved too secret for us to indeed find)… and left before seeing this spot which had been on my Azores bucket list.

So while I can’t offer any firsthand advice, I can tell you it’s on the way to Lagoa do Congro and would make a great stop on the final day of your 3 day Azores itinerary.

Lagoa do Congro

allison standing on a log looking at the green lake lagoa de congro

A note to all my fellow nervous drivers out there: the road to Lagoa do Congro is a tricky one! It’s quite narrow and really uneven, with places that made it seem like we could easily get our tire stuck in a rut. 

We ended up parking well before the parking spot at a place where there was enough room for cars to pass us and walking the rest of the way.

If you have a taller car (I highly doubt that is the actual technical term, but let’s roll with it), you may feel fine, but I was doubtful.

Anyway, stressful road aside, this is a peaceful, 20-minute or so hike down to a brilliantly green lake totally surrounded by trees. It’s not particularly strenuous so it’s an easy hike to add if you’re out of shape like I am. 

It’s also not super on the tourist trail like Lagoa do Fogo, Furnas Lake, and the Miradouro do Visto do Rei all are, so it’s rather peaceful. 

We actually enjoyed a picnic here as our hotel thoughtfully gave us breakfast in a picnic basket every morning (will share more details on where we stayed at the end of this Azores itinerary!)

Capela da Nossa Senhora das Vitorias

One of the coolest places I visited in the Azores was the abandoned Capela da Nossa Senhora das Vitorias on the perimeter of Furnas Lake. 

You can’t go inside, but it is hauntingly beautiful to visit and imagine it in its prime. Seeing it so empty and overgrown has that wonderful kenopsia effect that I enjoy when visiting abandoned or neglected places.

I highly recommend continuing to take a walk around Furnas Lake (it took us about 2 hours going slowly and taking lots of photos) so you can get photos of it from all angles.

Furnas Lake & Fumaroles

We took the time to walk around Furnas Lake and it was absolutely magical! 

I know with just 3 days in Sao Miguel it can be tempting to hop in the car from photo spot to photo spot, but I was so glad we took the extra time to wander around the entire perimeter of the lake – about 2 hours with stops. 

The colors of the lake changed dramatically depending on the angle, hour, and distance from the lake, making it a magical experience.

It’s also an extremely easy hike – in fact, I don’t even think you could class it as a hike, as it’s pretty much entirely flat. It is basically a long walk along a path for most of the hike and then alongside the road for the final bit (but there is a pedestrian area sheltered from the roadway).

Along the way we stopped at the Furnas Fumaroles which is where we saw a lot of tour buses stopping for lunch of hot steaming cozidos, stews cooked in the geothermic heat of the earth.

If you don’t want to walk around the entire lake, you could simply park near the abandoned chapel and visit that separately then come here. There’s a parking lot by the chapel, at quite a reasonable price of 40 cents per hour.

Then, you can get back in your car and drive about 5 minutes to the Caldeiras da Lagoa das Furnas. There is parking and an entrance fee of 2 euro per person for doing so, which you can avoid if you do the ‘hike.’

Terra Nostra Park

If you’ve started researching your Azores trip you’ve undoubtedly come across photos of Terra Nostra and its strange orange-gold waters! 

The color comes from the iron-rich volcanic springs beneath it, which pump out hot bathwater-like mineral rich water to enjoy a soak in (especially rewarding after hiking around Lagoa das Furnas!).

The Terra Nostra Gardens date back to 1780, when it was created by a wealthy American living abroad in the Azores. It was made larger in 1935, and the 35-acre botanical gardens were extended dramatically. 

While I loved soaking in the giant gold pool, I loved walking through the gardens nearly as much! They are truly spectacular and definitely worth spending some time exploring.

You can also eat at the restaurant in Terra Nostra, although we didn’t due to running low on time.

I’ve read that if you eat at the restaurant you can get free entry to the grounds but I would recommend calling to confirm. 

Cozidos, traditional stews cooked in the earth, are available here. You can also order other traditional Portuguese and Azorean dishes.

Don’t miss soaking in the smaller springs near the changing rooms as well, which have warmer, clearer water and are surrounded by lots of plant life! 

Just remember that like at Caldeira Velha, the iron-rich water will stain your bathing suit, so be sure to bring a black swimsuit or an old one that you don’t care much about!

Casa Invertida

This quirky little stop is in the center of town in Furnas close to the bus station. 

It’s actually a power station of some kind, but it blends into all the other normal houses on the block. It’s a quirky and interesting stop while already in Furnas.

It’s interesting and easy to visit, especially since you’re already in Furnas, but it’s not an essential stop!

Poça da Dona Beija (Optional)

a small spring fed by mineral water on the azores islands

If you want to get in one last dip in the hot springs, add in Poça da Dona Beija! 

Honestly, after visiting Terra Nostra and soaking in the springs for a few hours, I wasn’t really feeling up to go to another hot spring, but I thought I’d mention it here regardless as it has quite positive reviews!

The entrance fee is 6 euros and you can rent a locker, towels, and hot water showers for 1-2 euro more per add-on. 

It’s also open quite late, until 11 PM, so you could also add it to the end of another day’s itinerary or explore further up the coast a bit to Povoação.

Here, you can hike to the beautiful Salto do Prego waterfall via the Trilha Salto do Prego

I didn’t have time for this on my own Sao Miguel itinerary, as it’s a bit out of the way and we had shorter days with less light hours, since we were visiting in March.

You can spend some time there before doubling back and checking out Poça da Dona Beija on your way back to Ponta Delgada. 

Alternately, you could visit here after catching a sunset somewhere on the coast, grab a great dinner, and then finish the night with a star-filled soak!

Where to Stay in Sao Miguel

I’ll have a post with more recommendations shortly, but I really loved staying in Ponta Delgada.

 It had a wide variety of restaurants to choose from and no place on the island is that far from it as it is quite central. The most I ever drove from Ponta Delgada to anywhere was 1 hour and that was the total opposite side of the island.

I stayed at Casa Ateneu and loved it, but I’ll also give a few more recommendations at the bottom of the post.

Casa Ateneu

We were traveling on a low to mid-range budget and I was so happy to find Casa Ateneu at a reasonable price (check here for current rates and availability). There are other options for those on a budget like Airbnb or VRBO but frankly I thought this was the best value and best choice.

We paid 35 euros per night for a double room with an ensuite bathroom and thought it was an amazing value. However, keep in mind we traveled a bit off-season near the end of March, so I would imagine the rooms would cost about twice as much in the summer.

The room was not huge but it felt really spacious with insanely high ceilings (seriously… like two stories tall high!), and lovely comfortable bedding, and plenty of outlets and places to store things. 

The whole interior of the house had a really lovely, homey vibe to it, and there was a kitchen that was free to use if you wanted to cook for yourself as well. We didn’t use it but it looked quite well-stocked!

One thing to note: the reception is not actually located at Casa Ateneu but just down the street from it. That said, check-in was super easy since we could just walk one block away to meet them to get our keys and get a tour of the property. 

The staff was always available to help us, even walking over with our printed boarding passes one evening, when the computer at Casa Ateneu was having trouble printing.

But my favorite part of staying at Casa Ateneu was the picnic baskets full of delicious breakfast goodies they gave us every day in lieu of a standard breakfast buffet.

This was perfect as we’d simply make a cup of coffee or Gorreana tea (free in the kitchen) first thing in the morning, head to our first miradouro or viewpoint, and have a picnic breakfast in gorgeous surroundings. 

They even included coffee and tea in the breakfast baskets, though you’d need a Thermos to hold some super hot water if you were going to make the coffee or tea.

Eating breakfast each morning out of a picnic basket overlooking a lake, surrounded by trees and the hum of birds, was one of the highlights of my Azores trip and I wonder why more hotels don’t do this!

»»»
Ready to book? Check out Casa Ateneu or other Sao Miguel hotels here.
«««