17 Sun-Soaked Things to Do in San Pedro, Belize

For my 26th birthday, I took myself to Belize for a short 4-day trip after finding a $300 return ticket on a whim. 

Since I didn’t have much time in Belize, I decided to stay in one place and make the most of it. After some Googling, the most idyllic place to spend a weekend quickly emerged: San Pedro on Ambergris Caye.

Although Belize is an expensive destination, there are ways to travel Belize on a budget – and the Cayes are some of the best places to do so! 

I decided to spend my time in the small town of San Pedro, located on Ambergris Caye — the largest island in Belize, a short distance from mainland Mexico.

Nestled along the Caribbean sea, San Pedro boasts brilliant blue waters, incredible marine life (particularly along the Belize Barrier Reef, the second-largest reef system in the world), and plenty of cool things to do in San Pedro both in and out of the water.

Since my first visit to San Pedro, I’ve been back twice and also visited more of Belize, like Caye Caulker and San Ignacio. I just can’t seem to stay away from this part of the world! 

This list of the best things to do in San Pedro is the work of hours of research planning for three trips to Belize — so I hope you enjoy!

a red house built out on the dock with the beach and a boat
PLANNING SAN PEDRO AT A GLANCE:

Best Time to Visit: Dry season runs from November through April, which also coincides with colder temperatures up in North America -- bringing Americans and Canadians to Belize in huge numbers. Prices are higher and availability is lower, particularly over the winter holidays, but the weather is pretty much perfect.

Best Places to Stay: I've stayed at three different places in Belize over three different trips -- all representative of very different budgets. For luxury, I'd pick Victoria House (boutique hotel with casitas and suites), for families I'd pick White Sands Cove Resort (mid-range bungalows), and for solo travelers or travelers on a budget, Sandbar (hostel with great amenities).

Best Activities: Snorkeling in Shark Ray Alley and Hol Chan on a sailboat snorkeling tour, spending the day at Secret Beach, and taking a day tour to the mainland to go caving in the ATM Cave.

Don't Forget to Pack: Bug spray and after-bite care for the inevitable insect bites. Reef-safe sunscreen (I like Sun Bum SPF 30 with Vitamin E) for snorkeling and swimming, to protect Belize's beautiful marine life. A large travel towel that doubles as a beach blanket without taking up space. 

Travel Insurance: I use and love World Nomads for travel in Central America! If you're diving, be sure to pick the Explorer Plan which includes coverage for dive-related incidents.

Where to Stay in San Pedro, Belize

casitas at victoria house
The small casitas at Victoria House with the larger pool suite villas behind them

LUXURY | I had the wonderful privilege of staying at Victoria House on my second trip to Belize on a hosted stay. It was absolutely marvelous and I can’t express enough how magical it was. 

From the pool that looks out over the Caribbean Sea to the well-manicured grounds shaded with palm trees, Victoria House is an oasis of peace and quiet in San Pedro. 

The Victoria House offers a private beach of sorts, with hammocks and loungers spread between the palm trees overlooking the ocean. While the water and marine life are stunning, the islands of Belize are not known for their sandy beaches. That said, Victoria House has created something out of nothing, with a sandy ‘beach’ giving way to a seawall.

We stayed in the Infinity Suite, a two-story apartment-style suite with a full kitchen, en-suite bath, outdoor shower, patio, upstairs balcony, and a massive master suite. It was the definition of luxury and I miss it terribly.

But there are also more reasonably priced statehouses and casitas, so there is something for all along the budget spectrum.

>> Check availability and prices on Booking.com | Hotels.com | Expedia

a fancy suite with a four poster bed, high ceilings and flat screen tv
The master suite!
a bright sunny day at victoria house looking over the palm trees, grass, and pols
The view from our gorgeous pool villa

MID-RANGE | On my third trip to San Pedro, I was traveling with family and we wanted a mid-range place to stay, and we ended up at White Sands Cove. It was an extremely beautiful location and the amenities were fantastic for the price. 

We stayed in a bungalow-style two-story house with a patio and small kitchen, and it was a really beautiful place. It’s not quite as luxe and fancy as Victoria House, but you do get a lot of space for the price.

The staff was really kind and wonderful and we loved the pool and restaurant (seriously, their food — especially their breakfast — was so good we found it hard to leave!).

The only downside is that it is a little bit far away from town, so it is a golf cart ride, taxi, or a long bike ride to town, which can add up over time!

>> Check availability and price on Booking.com | Hotels.com | Expedia

BUDGET | I stayed at the absolutely wonderful Sandbar Hostel on my first solo trip to Belize, and it was a great place to stay. I don’t think I’ve ever been more pleasantly surprised by a hostel experience. 

It had all the little details which make a good hostel great. I’m talking privacy screens, outlets and small shelves next to each bed, and personal luggage lockers beneath each bunk bed. The cleaning staff seemed to come in almost hourly to sweep up any sand on the ground, always with a friendly smile. The bathrooms and showers were clean, and — a real bonus in this part of the world — had excellent water pressure.

The hostel had its own bar and restaurant, which was a great way to socialize and meet other travelers. Luckily, it never got too rowdy to make it hard to sleep.

>> Check availability and prices on Booking.com | Hotels.com | Expedia

a colorful bar area with a mosaic tile counter and people sitting at the bar with the beach in the distance
The bar at Sandbar hostel

How to Get To San Pedro

I’ve traveled to and from San Pedro three times, so I’ve done it all! I’ve traveled overland to San Pedro from Mexico (and vice versa) and I’ve also come straight to Belize City from the United Sates.

On my first trip, I flew into Belize City International Airport and took a taxi into the city followed by the boat, which all together ended up being about $50 USD since I was traveling solo. 

On the way back,  I was a bit crunched for time so I decided to take the plane back to Belize City for about $75, and I was so glad that I did – the views are absolutely stunning! 

So if you’re planning on heading straight to San Pedro from the Belize City airport, you need to factor in some extra costs for either airfare to San Pedro or for a taxi to the ferry plus the water taxi rate.

Honestly, unless you really need to budget down to the last dollar, I’d just take the plane – it saves you hours and gives you amazing views to boot! 

Return tickets on Maya Island Air are about $90-120 per person if you book in advance, vs. around $60 using the water taxi (not counting the taxi from the airport).

green mangrove islands seen from above the water in a plane heading to san pedro belize

17 Best Things to Do in San Pedro Belize

Rent a golf cart and zip around town.

One of the most fun things to do in San Pedro is rent a golf cart like the locals do! Golf carts are a big part of the San Pedro culture, and it’s how locals get around the island.

You’ll want to rent a golf cart if you are visiting places like Secret Beach, the Truck Stop, and checking out the beaches in the southern part of the island!

Tip: It’s cheaper to pre-book a golf cart rental online than to book once you arrive — I suggest these golf carts which you can book via Viator.

A golf cart on the sand on a beach in Belize on San Pedro

Take a food tour.

On my last trip to Belize, I did a food tour where we got to sample our way around some of the island’s most famous eats!

It includes seven stops and 11 tastings — I was stuffed by the end of it, and I had a much better understanding of the delicious mix of cultures that created Belizean food by the end of the tour!

Spend the day on Secret Beach.

The lively, not-so-secret Secret Beach is a great place to spend a day in Belize. 

Beach bars, delicious Belizean food restaurants, picnic tables in the clear water: what else could you need to pass the time on a beachy vacation?

Secret Beach is a little out of the way of the main San Pedro town, but it’s about a 30-minute drive by golf cart on an unpaved road. It is totally worth it, though!

While it’s popular and touristy, it’s also one of the best places to visit in San Pedro, so don’t let the hype scare you off. 

Photo Credit: Stephanie Craig & her great guide to Secret Beach!

Sample chocolates at the Belize Chocolate Company.

Who doesn’t love chocolate? No one I know, at least.

The Belize Chocolate Company creates delicious artisan chocolate, “from bean to bar” in their words! They take delicious cacao grown in Belize and see it through every step of the transformation into delicious organic chocolate.

You can grab some chocolates there or even take a chocolate-making class!

Snorkel with​​​​ sharks and rays in Shark Ray Alley

There’s plenty of adventurous things to do in Belize — but snorkeling in Shark Ray Alley probably takes the cake!

You do have to take a day tour, because in Belize, you can’t just swim out to a reef. The water in San Pedro is very shallow for a long, long way out. You do have to go out in a boat a fair amount to get to the snorkeling destinations. 

Shark Ray Alley is basically a place where all the snorkeling companies in Ambergris Caye have decided to feed sharks and rays off the side of the boat so tourists can snorkel alongside them. 

The practice of chumming waters to attract marine life is not one with an easy answer. Mar Alliance believes it can be key to building bridges where humans understand that animals like sharks and rays are not to be feared, and that it builds more compassion and conservation.

Others believe chumming can be dangerous if it makes sharks dependent on humans for food. The sharks in Shark Ray Alley are nurse sharks, which are very docile creatures — very few nurse shark bites have ever been recorded, and never fatally.

It was exhilarating and only slightly scary to be 10 feet in the water, completely uncaged, from huge sharks about 10 feet in length! 

I kept myself calm by telling myself I was much more difficult prey than the fishes being fed to them off the side of the boat. Huge sting rays undulated alongside the sharks, trying to get their fill too. 

Sharks in the water at Shark Ray Alley

Go diving or snorkeling in Hol Chan Marine Reserve

Booking all the different diving and snorkeling tours in Belize can get expensive, but oh, is it ever worth it! 

Hol Chan Marine Reserve is probably one of the best places to snorkel in all of the Americas, and it’s certainly the best place in Central America. 

The reef is teeming with brilliant color, and its coral reef restoration projects have been wildly successful. 

I found an eagle ray while snorkeling

I’m terrible with identifying fish (which is something I actually really want to work on, because I’m a nerd like that) but they really ran the gamut: I saw everything from electric blue tiny fish to sea turtles to spotted eagle rays and clownfish.

Honestly, I’ve been to the Great Barrier Reef back in 2012 and I found Hol Chan to be just as exciting and colorful in terms of marine diversity!

This full day sailing tour covers both Shark Ray Alley and Hol Chan Marine Reserve, so it makes it easy to hit two of San Pedro’s top attractions in a single day trip.

Book your sailing and snorkeling trip online here!

On a snorkeling tour in Belize

Go scuba diving.

If you’re PADI Open Water Certified, go even deeper under the water with a dive led by a divemaster!

There are one-tanktwo-tank, and three-tank dives you can book that will take you to different scuba sites all over the Belize Barrier Reef for a half or whole-day adventure!

Have a beer on the water.

If snorkeling or diving isn’t your jam, and you’d rather just take in a beer and enjoy the scenery, Palapa Bar & Grill is a great place to enjoy a beer over the water and relax. You can imagine you’re in your own private overwater bungalow for a fraction of the cost!

They also have a bunch of floating inner tubes at the back of the bar, where you can float with a beer and enjoy the sunshine.

Belikin beers – the local beer of Belize – are about $2 USD and go down a little too easily! Perhaps that’s why they’re often sold in a bucket?

Part of that is because they’re the thickest bottles I’ve ever drank out of. Seriously, they’re practically weaponized. Each presumptive “bottle” is probably actually half glass, half beer. Still, when in Belize, you gotta at least try a Belikin!

fullsizerender-67

Take a spin on a bike.

If the weather’s nice and you fancy a spin on a bike, you can rent a bike from Joe’s for the day for $15, which is a fun way to see more of San Pedro! 

The town of San Pedro is small and pretty walkable, and you really get to see just how small it is on a bike! 

I enjoyed biking towards the northern area of San Pedro, and seeing a more wild and less developed side of the island as well.

Relax on the beach.

Of course, the best thing you can do in San Pedro on a budget is relax in the sand and take in the views! 

San Pedro’s beaches aren’t your typical ocean beach. There aren’t really any waves to speak of, and the water is very shallow. There are some sandy beaches, but they are scattered around the island. 

Mar de Tumbo is probably the prettiest beach near San Pedro town, with lots of sandy shore line to stroll on and beautiful palm trees. 

Another pretty beach is Boca del Rio, which is right at the mouth of where the river passes between San Pedro town and Northern Ambergris Caye. The water here is electric blue and super beautiful!

Enjoying our private beach at Victoria House

Take a helicopter tour over the Great Blue Hole.

One of Belize’s most impressive sites is the Great Blue Hole, a natural sinkhole that spreads over 1,000 feet in diameter. 

It’s a brilliant, well… deep blue hole in the middle of a bright turquoise sea, ringed by a coral reef in the shape of a question mark.

You can dive in it, but you should be at an advanced level to do so. However, people I know who did dive the Blue Hole said it wasn’t as impressive as they hoped it would be, and that approaching it by boat, it was impossible to see the deep blue phenomenon.

Better yet is to take a helicopter if you really want to experience the beauty of the Great Blue Hole! This helicopter tour will take you right over it on a scenic 80-minute helicopter flight.

The blue hole in belize, as seen from above, a sinkhole surrounded by a reef

Catch a beautiful sunset.

Most of the developed side of San Pedro is on the east side of the island, not the west, so sunsets aren’t as big of a thing in San Pedro (they’re better on Caye Caulker, to be honest, if you want to take the boat ride over!).

Find a place on the lagoon (west) side of the island if you want to see a spectacular sunset, with mangroves and calm water. 

The Truck Stop is a good place, with a boardwalk around the back where you can walk out and watch the sunset.

Another good spot to see the sunset is the area by the docks, near where the water ferry to Chetumal departs from. Type in Chetumal Express Water Taxi into Google Maps and head over to that general area for a sunset view!

You could also go for a sunset sail on a 40-foot sailboat for a more romantic and unique way to catch the sunset!

A sunset on Caye Caulker
Pro Tip: Caye Caulker has better sunsets than San Pedro, so try to visit it for at least one sunset!

… but better yet, wake up for sunrise.

Listen, I love a good morning sleep-in just as much as the next person, if not more. 

But due to the geographic positioning of San Pedro, with most of its hotels and attractions on the east side of the island (since this is the side that faces the reef), sunrise is actually way better on San Pedro than sunset!

Every time I’ve been to San Pedro (three times now!), I make sure I wake up for sunrise at least one morning of the trip. It’s always been worth it.

Person sitting in front of the sunrise in Belize
Sunrise in San Pedro is always worth it!

Take a day trip to the ATM Cave.

The ATM Cave is located on mainland Belize, but it’s absolutely possible to visit the ATM Cave as part of a day trip from San Pedro.

If you are visiting other places in Belize, such as Belize City or San Ignacio, as part of a longer Belize itinerary, then there is no reason to make this day trip as it is a bit out of the way and you will be much closer at another point in your trip.

However, if you’re only visiting San Pedro on your Belize trip, definitely save a day to visit the ATM Cave. It’s absolutely worth the journey — it was the most magical thing I did in Belize!

Stalactites and stalagmites form an incredible cave system, and there are all sorts of Mayan artifacts such as pottery in there…. as well as the skeletal remains of several human sacrifices which were left in the cave hundreds and hundreds of years ago!

If I haven’t scared you off with that tidbit, it’s absolutely worth the trip. There’s nowhere else like it.

Book your day trip to ATM Cave here!

Photo credit belongs to Maya Walk, as after an idiot tourist dropped his camera on an ancient skull, cameras are no longer allowed in the cave!

Eat some tasty food at the Truck Stop.

One of the coolest places to hang out in San Pedro is at The Truck Stop, which is located north of the bridge in Northern Ambergris Caye.

There are a few different places to eat here, ‘food truck style’ (though actually run out of shipping containers, painted in bright colors!).

Options include pizza, tacos, Asian food, and cocktails! I personally love the food at Rasa and Sol Fresca best.

They also host a movie night every Wednesday!

Try some tasty salbutes. 

Belize and Mexico are neighbors, and a lot of the tastiest food of the Yucatán peninsula can also be found in Belize!

I had these delicioussalbutes, which are a famous Mexican antojito that’s also popular in Belize, at Sandbar, but you can find them in other places in San Pedro Town as well.

I would compare it to shredded chicken tostadas (if the tostada was a little thicker), topped with tomatoes, guacamole, sour cream, and lettuce. 

Go to the “Chicken Drop”.

One of the more… unique things to do in San Pedro, the Chicken Drop is a bizarre weekly gambling game that takes place at Wahoo’s Lounge and involves betting on where a chicken will sh*t on a board full of numbers.

That’s literally the game.

The Chicken Drop takes place at 7 PM every Thursday and involves a lot of drinking and raucous cheering and yelling to try to coax the chicken to crap on the number you bet on.

It’s a very strange, very uniquely San Pedro thing to do at night!

Have dinner at Elvi’s Kitchen.

I’ve eaten at more restaurants in San Pedro than I can count, but my favorite has to be Elvi’s Kitchen… I’ve been twice and would go back in a heartbeat!

My favorite dishes are the esquites (street-style roast corn) and the fish steamed in Mayan adobe in a banana leaf. I could eat that over and over again and never get bored!

Eat some delicious pupusas.

In the main town, I took advantage of Belize’s proximity to El Salvador by indulging in one of my favorite Latin American foods of all time: the humble pupusa. 

Made of masa and stuffed with delicious bits like pork, beans, chicken, cheese, squash, you name it, pupusas can be vegetarian or meaty depending on your tastes.

Once stuffed and griddle-cooked, pupusas are then topped with cabbage slaw, a mild tomato sauce, and as much Marie Sharp’s habanero hot sauce as you can stand! 

Salteados <3
Pupusas <3

7 Things You Must Pack for Belize

I’ve written an entire Belize packing list but if you just want the essentials, here’s what I think you must pack!

  • Mosquito repellent & after-care: Belize has a tropical climate with mosquitos year-round, particularly in the rainy season. Zika, dengue fever, malaria, and chikungunya have all been reported there. While there’s no reason to cancel your trip on account of it, protect yourself with mosquito repellent (as a back-up, I carry around a few mosquito repellent wipes with me in my purse in case I forget to apply spray before leaving or that I can apply after swimming). It’s also inevitable that you won’t leave without a few bites, so bring some after-bite relief too (this is hard to find in Belize).
  • Full-size travel towel: This travel towel is full-size so it’s big enough to use as a beach towel, thin enough to pack up super small for your luggage, and it dries super quickly in Belize’s humid climate.
  • A guidebook: I use travel blogs a lot when I’m on the road but I also love having a guidebook to give me more specific, thoroughly researched information. Lonely Planet is my go-to guidebook and Lonely Planet Belize is no exception. I usually buy the Kindle version, but paper versions are also great fun to peruse.
  • Reef-safe sunscreen: If you are planning to do any water activities, such as diving or snorkeling or even swimming, please use a reef-safe sunscreen like this one. The active ingredients in sunscreen are killing off coral in huge numbers. The Belize Barrier Reef is the second largest in the world and is under threat. So please don’t use normal, chemical-laden sunscreen in Belize’s fragile ocean ecosystem!
  • Filter water bottle or Steripen: Belize’s tap water is not drinkable anywhere in the country. I recommend traveling with a water bottle with a built-in filter that filters out nasty bacteria and viruses like this awesome LifeStraw bottle so you can reduce your plastic waste. Alternately, you can use a Steripen which sterilizes water using UV light. A great investment if you travel frequently and want to reduce your plastic bottle consumption!
  • GoPro: If you go snorkeling or cave tubing or ziplining, you’re going to want a way to capture all of that action! A GoPro Hero 6 is currently the highest-quality option, but if you’re on a budget, the GoPro Session is also an excellent choice. Be aware that you need to buy protective casing if you want to take either of these cameras diving. They are only waterproof to 10 meters, and you’ll exceed that if you dive (most dives are at least 15 meters or so).
  • Finally, don’t forget travel insurance! Whether you’re scuba diving, caving, ziplining through the jungle or just relaxing on the beach, don’t forget to purchase travel insurance!  It’ll protect you in case of accident, injury, lost luggage, theft, or any other disaster that could befall your trip. I have been a paying customer of World Nomads for two years and recommend them highly!

21 Best Things to Do in Boulder in Winter

sunset colors seen from hiking the flatirons in winter

There’s no better place in Colorado during the winter months to visit than Boulder!

A small town (though some may refer to it as a city) located right at the start of the Rocky Mountains, Boulder is one place you won’t want to miss.

Boulder is a common day trip from Denver, but it is genuinely amazing to stay for an entire vacation.

It’s filled with breathtaking hikes, amazing restaurants, and of course, delicious breweries that will leave you wanting to extend your stay!

Without further ado, here are all of the best things to do in Boulder in winter, in no particular order.

a snowy landscape in front of the flatirons section of the rocky mountains of colorado in boulder in winter

Best Things to do in Boulder in Winter

Cross country ski at North Boulder Park.

One of the underrated places to visit in Boulder is a place called North Boulder Park.

This park is often visited by locals in the summer, especially those with families, because there’s a fantastic playground in the park that’s perfect for kids.

However, come winter, North Boulder Park becomes the perfect place for cross country skiing! This is a pretty popular activity for locals.

It’s a lot different than regular skiing, as it’s across flat surfaces of the ground, and you essentially are running with skis on (sort of — it’s hard to explain, but if you’ve tried, you know!).

Keep in mind that cross country skiing is said to be even more difficult than regular skiing, but if it’s something you’re interested in, there are places to rent or even learn in and around Boulder. Just make sure you do your research before paying for anything!

woman in a blue shirt and snow pants with cross country skis exploring in the snow

Walk the Boulder Creek Path.

For a great walk in the winter while visiting Boulder, take a walk along the Boulder Creek Path.

It’s perfect whether you are visiting during a snowy time of winter or a dryer time; just make sure you dress appropriately. The weather in Colorado can be pretty unpredictable sometimes!

The path is relatively long, about 9 miles or so from start to finish. You don’t have to walk the entire path if you don’t want to because even just walking a part of it is a great way to get some fresh air while visiting Boulder in the winter.

This is one of the easiest paths to walk in Boulder, making it perfect for visiting with families or even dogs, as it’s both dog-friendly and stroller-friendly. It’s partially paved and will lead you along a river near the mountains and even into the town of Boulder.

the landscapes around boulder creek in winter: a great place for a winter walk

Shop on Pearl Street.

If you’ve been to Denver before, then you’ve most likely gone shopping on the 16th Street Mall! This is one of the main shopping areas in the city. Pearl Street is the same thing, but with more local shops!

Along Pearl Street, you can find top-rated restaurants, breweries, stores, cafes, and more. Almost anything you can think of, you can probably find a shop that sells it on Pearl Street. A decent portion of it is also pedestrian-only, making it great for walking.

During the winter, you can generally find lots of fun random events happening at the different shops or even just on the street. It’s a great place to walk around and pop into stores to warm up while exploring Boulder.

Photo Credit: Paul Sableman via Flickr

Sled at Tantra Park.

Sledding is an absolute must in the winter, and thanks to Boulder’s proximity to the mountains, you can go sledding while visiting. Plus, if you need a sled, you can buy one at the local shops or the grocery store, King Sooper’s.

Tantra Park may just look like a regular old park during the rest of the year, but it becomes a true winter wonderland in winter. It also has a fun playground so kids can have fun in other ways, too, if it’s not snowing during your trip to Boulder.

There is a great little hill at Tantra Park where most of the sledding happens. If you’re feeling up to it, you can even use the snow to build a fun jump to go over when you’re sledding down the hill.

Photo Credit: Eric Anderson via Flickr

Ski at Eldora Mountain Resort.

No trip to Colorado is complete without skiing. The best ski resort right near Boulder is called Eldora Mountain Resort. Because Boulder doesn’t technically have its own ski resort, this is where all of the locals go.

This ski resort has mostly intermediate runs and a decent amount of beginner, advanced, and expert trails for skiers and snowboarders. No matter what level you are at, you’ll be able to have fun at Eldora Mountain Resort.

There are day passes so that you can easily go to the park for a day, but you can also buy a multi-day pass if you’ll be spending a few days in the area and really want to get the most out of your visit.

If you’ve never been skiing or snowboarding before but want to learn, you can also learn here because they offer lessons. The resort also offers rentals, so you don’t have to travel with your equipment.

a man with a snowboard taking the chairlift up to eldora mountain resort, near boulder colorado in winter

Attend Snow Much Fun.

Another fantastic event to attend in Boulder in winter is one called Snow Much Fun! This event is perfect for all ages and is the best way to see a whole bunch of holiday lights, similar to the ones that you would see in Denver.

Snow Much Fun in 2020 was a bit different than usual, but the event typically includes certain parts of the town being decorated and wholly decorated with lights. It’s mainly in the downtown area as well as the Civic Area.

Boulder’s tourism board will usually have a list of the must-visit places to see the lights, too, so you’ll know exactly where to look. For example, some of the best spots for Snow Much Fun lights last year was Creekside Play Area, Public Art Sculpture, and a whole bunch of spots along Pearl Street Mall.

Watch The Nutcracker with the Boulder Philharmonic.

A fun winter tradition is to see The Nutcracker, and the same is true when visiting Boulder. You can attend the show with the Boulder Philarmonic, put on by the Boulder Ballet.

It usually only occurs on set dates during the winter, so you’ll want to plan for this event and book your tickets in advance.

Sometimes the dates are in November, and sometimes they are in December. It truly varies on the year! Often, they are only for just a few short days, too, usually five performances or less total.

This can be a great performance to attend with families or even if you’re looking for something to do as a couple during your trip to Boulder. It’s an outstanding performance to get yourself and others into the holiday spirit.

Photo Credit: Roger Meike via Flickr

Attend Colorado Chautauqua WinterFest.

Going to festivals around the holidays (especially ones that are all about the holidays) serves as the perfect way to get into the holiday spirit. So, why not go to Colorado Chautauqua WinterFest?

When you think of the word WinterFest, you probably initially think that it’s a bunch of winter-related activities, and you’d be right. WinterFest is an event that usually lasts for a month or so in Boulder and includes tons of different events.

Common events of the past for WinterFest have included Art in the Park, a Cyber Scavenger Hunt, and even free coffee and cookies for guests to warm up. The events tend to change depending on the year, but a visit to Boulder to attend WinterFest is always a good visit.

Drive up (or hike) the Flatirons.

The Flatirons are the mountain range that makes Boulder so popular. They’re part of the Rocky Mountains and are genuinely one of the most iconic parts of the mountain range, too, which is why so many people like to visit Boulder.

While you may think that the mountains must only be accessible in the summer or warmer months, they’re open to visitors year-round.

If it’s super cold, you can drive on the Flatirons Vista Scenic Drive, which will bring you right up the mountain. This way, you don’t even have to get out of the car, but you can still enjoy truly breathtaking views.

Another option is to straight-up hike on the Flatirons in the winter. My first time hiking the Flatirons was actually on New Year’s Day, so this is doable. Plus, this is the time that you’ll also usually run into lots of locals! Just choose your trail wisely because some of them are difficult.

sunset colors seen from hiking the flatirons in winter

Enjoy a hearty breakfast from Snooze, an A.M. Eatery.

Arguably the best spot for breakfast (besides Foolish Craig’s Cafe) is Snooze, an A.M. Eatery. This is a small chain restaurant known for its breakfast, and they have quite a few locations across Colorado.

At Snooze, you can get almost any breakfast that you can imagine. From waffles to eggs benedict to huge breakfast burritos, Snooze has it all.

Keep in mind that Snooze is one of Boulder’s most popular breakfast restaurants, mainly because it’s on Pearl Street. You’ll want to book a reservation ahead of time, which most people will just do on the Yelp app. However, you can only book reservations on the same day!

If it’s super cold during your trip to Boulder, don’t worry. Snooze has lots of indoor seating, but even their outdoor seating gets surrounded by outdoor heaters during the winter, so you can sit outside without freezing.

Photo Credit: Victor Chapa via Flickr

Snowshoe on one of Boulder’s many trails.

Many people overlook snowshoeing as a fun thing to do in the winter because it’s just walking with funky waffle shoes on your feet while you tread snow easily. But it’s super fun and is a great thing to do in Boulder in the winter!

Also, if you’re traveling to Boulder without snowshoes (because why would you be traveling with snowshoes?), then don’t worry; you can rent them at different places throughout the town. The best places to check out for rentals include those that also offer ski and snowboard rentals.

Some of the best spots for snowshoeing in Boulder include Eldora Mountain Resort, Hessie Trailhead, Heil Valley Ranch, and Betasso Preserve. Note that some of these are in Boulder County and not necessarily the town of Boulder.

You could also go snowshoeing in Rocky Mountain National Park in winter!

person snowshoeing in rocky mountain national park

Warm up with a pint from a brewery.

Boulder is known for its amazing breweries, so the best way to warm up while visiting in winter is to head to one and grab a pint. Because there are so many that you can choose from, you have your pick. However, you should check out some of the more popular ones.

Arguably the best place to grab a bint in Boulder is at Avery Brewing Company. This brewery has its own restaurant, so you can eat here while also trying one of their many different drinks on tap. Consider ordering a flight to have a few different flavors.

Another great one that many people don’t even really know about is the Twisted Pine Brewing Co. This place has its drinks but also has tons of events (especially in winter), like trivia and live music. Plus, they have a fantastic pizza menu.

tasting flight of different beers

Go to Switch on the Holidays.

For a great holiday event, go to Switch on the Holidays! It happens right downtown on Pearl Street. If you happen to be staying at Hotel Boulderado, which is the most popular place to stay in Boulder, then you will be right near where this event happens.

This is an annual event that happens only once a year, so if you want to attend, make sure you plan your trip wisely. During the event, there’s a fun sing-along put on by the Boulder Children’s Chorale!

At the end of the event and when they are done singing, Pearl Street gets completely lit up at the Boulder County Courthouse! It’s one of the most magical experiences.

You’ll also be able to see Santa at the end, which is perfect if you’re traveling with children. It’s free to take a photo with him!

Eat a sweet from Spruce Confections.

There’s just something about sweet treats and cold winter weather and the holidays that just all go together, right? So check out Spruce Confections, one of the best spots for an amazing sweet treat in Boulder. They have a right location downtown on Pearl Street, but they have another location uptown too.

The menu has tons of sweet treats, including brownies, cookies, croissants, muffins, and other fun goodies that they make. Plus, they have a long list of hot and cold drinks to go along with your treat.

If you’re not a huge fan of sweets or you want something a bit more savory to eat before having your sweet, then don’t worry; they also have salads, sandwiches, and burritos on the menu. Honestly, you could get almost anything here, but the sweets are the most popular thing to get there.

Ice skate at Winterskate.

Ice skating is an absolute must-do activity when visiting anywhere in the winter, no matter where you are. However, Boulder has one ice skating rink, and it’s at the University of Colorado Boulder. Unfortunately, it’s mainly only open to students and friends of students!

That’s why the best spot to go ice skating near Boulder is Winterskate. It’s technically located a short drive out of Boulder in Louisville, but this is where all the locals go to ice skate near Boulder because it’s the closest place.

During Winterskate, there are also horse-drawn carriage rides, delicious hot cocoa and coffee, heaters, food stands, and fun holiday music to help get you in the holiday mood. The ice skating rink is also relatively large, at around 6500 square feet! There are rental spots right at Winterskate park so that you can rent some skates to have fun.

Red gloved hands tying an ice skate, white jacket and white skates

Take a photo with Santa at Saint Nick on the Bricks.

St. Nick on the Bricks is a fun event in Boulder annually for families and kids in the area. It’s completely free and is the perfect way to get into the holiday spirit in winter. The event takes place at the Boulder Visitor Center in the downtown part of the town.

The main attraction at this event is, of course, Santa! Sometimes Mrs. Clause is also there, so you can get a photo with both of them. If you have the kids bring their Christmas list, you can even have them read it and take it to the North Pole.

This event usually takes place for a full day right before Christmas, so if this is something you know that you want to visit during your trip, be sure to plan wisely. Historically, it occurs the weekend before Christmas!

Have tea at Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse.

One place that can’t be missed is the Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse. It’s one of the best things to do in Boulder in general, but it is even more enjoyable in winter because one of the best ways to warm up is to have a tasty hot tea!

This is one of the most unique places in Boulder. The entire building was actually built initially fully in Tajikistan. Then, it was taken apart and shipped all the way to Boulder, Colorado, of all places! Therefore, the teahouse has a unique and authentic feeling to it, unlike many other places in the United States.

There are many spots to sit down and relax here, so you can truly enjoy your drink. Be sure to look closely at the ceiling and the walls because the architecture is truly breathtaking. There are so many little details!

detail at the tajik style tea house at boulder dushanbe tea house

Go to Freezie Fest.

Yes, there is an actual event called Freezie Fest in Boulder! It takes place annually on a single day in December, usually on a Saturday. The event is mainly focused just on snowmen, which is super fun!

During the event, there are train rides, fun outdoor games, Christmas carolers, and even an opportunity to take photos with Santa. This is truly an excellent event for families or anyone who loves the holidays.

So, back to the point: snowmen. Around 25 different stuffed animals of Freezie, the snowman are hidden around the town inside different shops. The goal is to try to find one, and you can end up getting a gift card or another prize after finding one. It’s a fun way to get involved in a town-wide event while also exploring!

Buy a new book at Boulder Book Store.

One of the best things to do in Boulder in the winter is to support local shops like the Boulder Book Store. This historic shop was actually recently ranked number one out of all the independent bookstores in the United States, so it’s already made its mark on the map!

The shop is located right on Pearl Street and is a beautiful place to explore because it’s inside an old building. It covers three floors, and there’s said to be more than 100,000 books inside. There are so many little spots to explore inside the bookshop.

Boulder Book Store also hosts many events throughout the year, so be sure to check out their website to see if there are any events happening during the time you’re visiting. Sometimes they host readings or even author signings for the public.

Photo Credit: Kent Kanouse via Flickr

Grab a bite to eat at the Buff Restaurant.

Last but not least is another great restaurant that’s even better in the winter, the Buff Restaurant. They mainly serve brunch and are best known for their delicious bacon pancakes and fun drinks that they serve in mason jars.

At the Buff Restaurant, they also serve tons of food using local vendors. This includes places like Ozo Coffee, Sherpa Chai, Boulder Granola, and Polidori Sausage. If you want to try some local dishes, this is the perfect place to go and try it out.

The owners also take recycling and being sustainable very seriously, so it’s one of the restaurant’s values. Rest assured, you’re eating at a restaurant that does what it can to pay it forward! They take around 95% of their waste and compost it or make it recyclable.

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!

13 Adventurous Day Trips from Denver, Colorado

beautiful light falling on garden of the gods

Denver is a great location to access so many different places from, making it a great base for day trips in Colorado.

There are just so many great things to do and see within a few hours from Denver! 

In this article, I hope to give you some great ideas on how to spend some of your days trips from Denver — in both the summer and the winter, because Denver is truly an all-season destination!

No matter what you like to do, you can find somewhere to do it on one of these incredible Denver day trips.

13 Best Day Trips from Denver, CO

Lookout Mountain Park

Views over the town of Golden Colorado as seen from Lookout Mountain Park, a popular day trip from Denver

Drive Time: 30 minutes

This is a great place to visit for awesome views of Golden, CO, and to immerse yourself in the wilderness just 30 minutes outside of Denver.

This foothill of the Rockies is a road bikers heaven! The northern part of Lookout Mountain Road is curvy and often has a lot of road bikers climbing to the summit at 7,377 ft.

If you’re not feeling cycling to the top, you can drive your car to Lookout Mountain Park by taking I-70 to exit 256 to Lookout Mountain Road, one of the most scenic drives in Colorado.

If you want to take the more scenic, longer route get on to W Sixth Ave and make a left on 19th street until it turns into Lookout Mountain Road. You can follow that road all the way to the park. 

There is some hiking in this area, but I recommend packing a picnic and just hanging out and enjoying the views.

Bring a good book and a hammock and find a nice spot to take in the peaceful atmosphere so close to Denver!

The summit of Lookout Mountain is home to the gravesite of Buffalo Bill. There is a museum and shop you can visit here as well.

The Coors Brewing Factory

The interior of the Coors factory, a brewery in Golden CO that is a popular day trip from Denver
Photo Credit: daveynin via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Drive Time: 30 minutes

The Coors Brewing Factory, located in Golden, offers a 30-minute self-guided tour of their facility showcasing the malting, brewing, and packaging process while offering you a look into history.

The Coors Brewing Factory has been in operation since 1873 and is a staple in Colorado. The tour is $10 for out-of-state residents and $5 for Colorado residents.

At the end of your tour, three 8-ounce samples of your choosing are included, as well as a commemorative glass. 

This is a great afternoon activity to do with a group of any size!

Boulder

The Flatirons in Boulder Colorado a popular hiking destination

Drive Time: 40 minutes

If you’re looking to check out a historic street with a myriad of shops and restaurants, check out Pearl Street in Boulder. There are over 1,000 places to shop and dine on this pedestrian-only street!

There is artwork all around, beautiful architecture, and festive lights to catch your gaze. Be on the lookout for musicians and performers as well!

Boulder is known for its high-quality restaurants and has ample breweries for you to visit. You can also go to see the historic Boulder Theater which has been around since 1906 and has hosted many world-class shows.

If you love tea, don’t forget to check out the tour of Celestial Seasonings. The tour is free and you get a tour of the production floor to see how teas are blended and packaged. Then you get to taste any of their 90 varieties of tea.

Another great destination for tea lovers is the Silk Road-style Dushanbe Boulder Teahouse, a gift from Boulder’s sister city which is the capital of Tajikistan. It was hand-made there, shipped to Boulder in pieces, and assembled on-site!

After having some tea, you can check out the Museum of Boulder. This museum is full of interactive exhibits which will show you how Boulder became the outdoor enthusiast, health-crazed, tech-savvy mecca it is today.  

While at the museum make sure to check out the rooftop views of the Flatirons. If you want to explore more, consider checking out the Boulder Creek Path, which is a paved recreational path that runs along the river with plenty of shade.

If you want more activity, consider hiking around the meadows of the Flatirons, starting at the Chautauqua Trailhead.

Boulder has no shortage of activities to do. It might take you more than one day to do all the things you want, so make sure to leave yourself enough time!

Red Rocks Park

The colorful red rocks amphitheater as seen at sunrise with a colorful sky

Drive Time: 40 minutes

Red Rocks Park is home to The Red Rocks Amphitheater, a must on any Denver itinerary.

I highly recommend planning your trip to the amphitheater to see a live concert. This venue is known for its amazing acoustic sounds. Pick your favorite artist and get ready for an emotional ride at this venue!

If you look out over the stage, you can see the hustle and bustle of the city while you enjoy the great sounds. It is the most epic venue I have ever been to.

Even if you can’t make it to The Amphitheater for a show, I would recommend taking a day trip from Denver to the park to go see it. It is a magical place!

The Trading Post Trail, a short 1.4-mile loop will take you around all the must-see rock features in the park. 

Indian Hot Springs

Photo Credit: Bradley Gordon via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Drive Time: 40 minutes

When visiting Colorado, going to a hot spring is a must! 

Indian Hot Springs is just 40 minutes from Denver. There is a mineral water pool, geothermal caves, outdoor jacuzzis, and indoor private baths.

Be sure to check out their website for pricing and combo deals to use multiple amenities!

If you want to spend the night, they do offer lodging as well as a spa, so you can have a relaxing getaway.

Central City / Black Hawk

View from above Central City in Colorado, a fun town where gambling is allowed!

Drive Time: 45 minutes

Love to gamble?  Then you should make the trip to Central City and Black Hawk.

The two towns have been designated the Central City/ Black Hawk National Historic District. This is one of the three places in Colorado gambling is allowed!

There are over 18 casinos in operation in this area. Ameristar’s Blackhawk Casino is the largest in Colorado.

With these casinos only being 45 minutes outside of Denver, it’s easy to go for just the day, but if you want to spend more time, there is plenty of lodging in the area.

The drive to this area is very beautiful and offers great views so I would recommend making it in the daytime! Have fun gambling and come home a winner!

Fort Collins

Drive Time: 1 hour, 10 minutes

North of Denver, Fort Collins is a historic town with an old-fashioned trolley, buildings from the 1800s, and a plethora of shops and restaurants.

Fort Collins is also the home of Colorado State University, so it can be very crowded during the school year.

Make sure to visit the Horsetooth Reservoir, just minutes outside of Fort Collins. This reservoir offers you all the summer activities you can think of including swimming, scuba diving, and paddleboard rentals.

Take the family here for the day to escape some of the heat and maybe think about renting a boat or getting a tour!

There is plenty of places to hike and bike in this area, and you can even go for a ride high in the sky on a hot-air balloon.

If you want to escape the elements, check out the many museums and art galleries located throughout Fort Collins. There is also plenty of live music and shows going on in town.

No matter how you choose to explore this wonderful place, there is something for everyone to enjoy.

Garden of the Gods

Drive Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Garden of the Gods is located in Colorado Springs. It is a 1,300-acre public park full of sandstone formations. There are plenty of activities to do in the park and there is no fee to enter!

The park’s best attraction is its Visitor and Nature Center and museum. There are interactive exhibits where you can take the whole family to learn about the rock formations and enjoy a 20-minute movie about the park.

There is also a restaurant in which you can dine inside with amazing views of the park and Pikes Peak. When you are ready to get away from the Visitor and Nature Center there are plenty of adventures for you to participate in.

The park offers front-range climbing trips, jeep and segway tours, bike and e-bike tours and rentals as well as other adventure programs.

If you’re not feeling like participating in any of the tours, you can also grab a map and do some hiking on your own within the park.

Rocky Mountain National Park

clear water on the landscape at rocky mountain national park

Drive Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Rocky Mountain National Park is the most popular of the four National Parks in the state, and it’s an easy day trip from Denver.

This park showcases what Colorado is all about! There is plenty of wildlife, wildflowers, and beautiful mountain views to look at.

There is a $25 entrance fee per vehicle unless you have an annual National Park Pass which you can purchase for $80 at the park or ahead of time.

I would recommend the annual park pass if you are planning to visit more than one National Park in a year — it quickly pays for itself!

I recommend driving Trail Ridge Road in the park. It is the park’s most heavily trafficked road because of the epic journey it takes you on.

11 miles of the 48-mile road take you above the treeline at over 11,500 feet! This road winds through alpine meadows with a myriad of wildflowers, near rivers, through aspens and lush forest, and offers wildlife viewings.

Be on the lookout for bighorn sheep, pikas, and ptarmigans, and other Colorado wildlife.

On this journey, you will cross over the continental divide at Milner Pass. The Trail Ridge Road is one of America’s Byways.

Leave yourself at least half a day to do this drive so you can take in all that the park has to offer right from your car. There are plenty of pull-offs to take in the views if you need to stretch your legs.

If you’re looking to get away from some of the crowds and off of a paved road, consider checking out the Old Fall River Road.

This 11-mile road is primarily a gravel road, with no guard rails that take you up to Fall River Pass which is 11,796 feet above sea level. The road is narrow and has many switchbacks.

Be on the lookout for elk feeding in the meadow after passing Willow Park. Eventually, this road joins with Trail Ridge Road near the Alpine Visitor Center.

Rocky Mountain National Park is a must-visit if you are in Colorado because it gives you a look into many of the landscapes in Colorado all in one place.

High alpine tundras, lush meadows, aspen forests, winding rivers, a variety of wildlife, and amazing wildflowers.  Don’t miss out on these views!

Summit County

Summit County is a great getaway with so much to offer that you might need more than one day to explore it.

The county is home to Keystone, Silverthorne, Dillon, Frisco, and Breckenridge. Below, I am going to talk about some of those towns because they all offer something so unique!

Dillon

Drive Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Dillon, Colorado is a small town nestled off of Exit 205 on I-70 that has some of the best views in Summit County!

Dillon has a spot right on the Dillon Reservoir, which is Denver’s largest water supplier. The reservoir has 26.78 miles of shoreline and is bordered by Dillon, Silverthorne, and Frisco. 

The reservoir is a great place to recreate. You can head to the Dillon Marina and rent a vessel of your choosing: anything from paddleboards and kayaks to pontoon boats and sailboats.

If you’re feeling like being chauffeured around what the locals call Lake Dillon, you can hire a captain for the day. After you’re done exploring the lake, you can have lunch and drinks lakeside at the Tiki Bar, or you can head into town for other options.

There is a lakeside park for the kids to play in as well as an amphitheater right on the Lake to catch a show! Bicycle and e-bike rentals are another option for your group. There is a rec path that runs around the whole lake.

You can pack yourself lunch, and cycle somewhere around the lake to find a sweet secluded spot for a picnic. You can even ride your bike over the Dam!

If you love to shop, head one town over into the Silverthorne to check out the outlet mall, just off of exit 205 for some great deals!

Heading up to Sapphire Point Overlook for the sunset is something you don’t want to miss. The Sapphire Point Overlook Trail is a 0.6 mile, easy loop that offers you 180-degree views of the Lake and surrounding towns.

In the winter, Dillon is home to the Dillon Ice Castles, one of the most magical places in Colorado in winter, making in an absolute must on a winter day trip from Denver.

Keystone

people ice skating at the keystone ski resort in colorado, a popular day trip from denver in winter

Drive Time: 1 hour, 20 minutes

Keystone, CO is home to Keystone Ski Resort, one of the best family ski resorts around!

Keystone Resort offers three peaks to ski with 4 hike-to bowls, steep tree skiing, and exceptional groomed runs that feel endless. Keystone also is known for its 3.5-mile green trail, Schoolmarm.

Every Saturday, Keystone hosts a parade where kids can walk and dance along with staff members, and Keystone’s mascot, Ripperoo the dog. They even give out cookies at the end!

In the summertime, Keystone offers a downhill Mountain Bike Park. The green trails take you on a 7-mile journey, winding throughout the mountain.

If you are not interested in mountain biking, you can take a scenic gondola ride to the summit, do a little hiking and have some lunch. The Keystone Village offers a variety of restaurants and lodging.

If you are in the mood to walk, walking along The Snake River on the rec path is a great way to spend the afternoon.

If you want to experience mountain golf, Keystone has two world-class golf courses. The River Course is an 18 hole true mountain golf course. The front nine winds along the Snake River, while the back nine offers elevated tee boxes and greens and amazing views of Lake Dillon, Buffalo Mountain, and the Gore Range.

The Ranch plays like a links-style course tucked away in a beautiful valley. There were many homesteads on this property in the 1900s and many are still standing on the course today.

If you want a fine dining experience, consider checking out the Ranch Restaurant for a multi-course meal inside one of the homesteads.

Keystone is a quiet, serene place to go and relax for the day or the weekend. If you are looking for some more activity, be sure to check online for their schedule of festivals.

Breckenridge

the city of breckenridge in the summer, surrounded by mountains and houses

Drive Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Breckenridge used to be a mining town in and 1880s and 90s; now, it’s an outdoor paradise all year round!

Breck, as the locals call it, sits at the base of the 10 Mile Range. It is a must-visit for its 2,908-acre ski resort, its vibrant main street, and a myriad of trails to recreate on!

There are plenty of lodging and dining options in the area as well as breweries and distilleries to visit.

In the winter, Breckenridge is home to Breckenridge Ski Resort which offers skiing off of 5 different peaks with multiple bowls to ski in as well as hike-to terrain.

There are plenty of ski-in ski-out lodging opportunities in the area!

In the summer, Breckenridge is a lively community with plenty of places to shop and eat locally on its victorian style Main Street.

If you want to get away from the pedestrian crowds, Airport Road is an alternative to Main Street. You can visit Broken Compass Brewing Company or the Breckenridge Distillery to check out local products.

If you are a road biker, Breckenridge, and Summit County as a whole is the place for you. The red path allows you to take a journey on your bicycle around the whole county.

If you start in Breckenridge, you can ride to Frisco, get some coffee and check out the shops. If you want to ride more you can either ride to Copper or Silverthorne. If you ride to Silverthorne, you will ride right next to Lake Dillon and Cross over the Dam into Dillon.

You can even continue on the path all the way into Keystone! It is quite the journey, and there is no other rec path like this.

There are plenty of bike and e-bike rentals in the county. If you are not a road biker, rent an e-bike and take the epic journey around the county.

Mt. Evans Summit

the road going up to the summit of mt evans in colorado

Drive Time: 3 hours, 10 minutes

This may seem like a far drive for a Denver day trip, but this is an amazing journey!

Just outside of Idaho Springs, Mt. Evans towers 14,265 feet above sea level and you can drive your car right up to the top in the summer!

This is the highest paved road in North America winding through vast meadows, with great views of the surrounding area. You pass right next to Summit Lake which sits at 12,860 ft.

After passing Summit Lake, the road begins to change to switchbacks as you begin the final ascent to the summit. Look out for mountain goats on the switchbacks — if you’re lucky you might even see some babies!

If you’re feeling really adventurous you can ride your bicycle to the summit, which many people do. If you do choose to ride your bike, you can park at Echo Lake, starting your journey above 10,000 feet.

It’s a 30-mile round trip ride with 3,800 ft of elevation gain. The road has many cracks and bumps in it because of the high alpine environment it is in, so be mindful of that as you descend.

I also recommend packing extra layers for the summit, because the wind may be howling and it can be a chilly ride down.

If you are not feeling like driving up to the summit of Mt. Evans, Echo Lake Park, just 55 minutes from Denver, is near the base of Mt. Evans and is a great place to go fishing, hiking, or have a picnic.  

21 Delightful Things to Do in Denver in Winter

If you’re traveling to Denver during the winter months, you’re in luck!

This destination is often seen as an adventure lover’s paradise during the warmer seasons for its hiking, but it’s still just that during the winter, if not even more so!

No matter how long you spend in Denver during the winter, you’ll surely have a blast!

Since it’s at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, there’s true beauty everywhere you look, and there’s no better view than the mountains covered in snow.

This article covers all of the top things to do in Denver in winter, whether you enjoy being outside or inside.

This Denver winter guide is perfect for travelers of all ages and interests, so I’m sure you’ll find the right activities for your trip.

So, what are you waiting for? Read on to find out some of Denver’s best winter attractions!

The Best Things to Do in Denver in Winter

See the Dillon Ice Castles.

Blue-tinted ice castle in Dillon Colorado an hour from denver in winter

While it’s not technically in Denver, you have to take the hour drive to Dillon, Colorado, to check out the Dillon Ice Castles.

This is arguably one of the best winter attractions in all of Colorado, so it’s not one that you’re going to want to miss!

This event takes place exclusively in winter for a few months and is filled with tons of mind-boggling sculptures.

You’ll find tunnels, castles, towers, and more. Plus, everything is lit up with lots of fun colors, bringing the place even more alive!

Unfortunately, there is no way to get to the castles using public transportation. If you’re traveling from out of state and don’t have a car with you, it’s worth renting a car to witness these! It’s also an excellent attraction for children.

Adventure through Rocky Mountain National Park.

Rocky Mountain National Park is filled with adventures all year round. In winter, the park comes to life in a whole different way. You’ll be right up next to the Rocky Mountains when they’re covered in snow, which is seriously magical!

Throughout the park, there are lots of great winter activities. You can check out the frozen lakes and waterfalls, catch the sunrise or sunset, take a cold but beautiful hike, or even go snowshoeing.

Another popular winter activity here is looking for wildlife. While many animals hibernate during this time of the year, you can usually still find some extraordinary wildlife from a distance. Just make sure you let the animals do their thing; don’t get too close.

Go ice skating.

Red gloved hands tying an ice skate, white jacket and white skates

No winter is complete without ice skating, and luckily there are quite a few places to go ice skating in Denver!

Don’t worry if you didn’t travel with your ice skates; you can rent them at every place listed below.

The most popular place to go ice skating here is at Skyline Park. The ice skating is outdoors, and the entire rink is usually covered in bright lights, so even when the sun goes down, the ice skating can continue. This is a great family-friendly ice skating attraction.

Another place that there is sometimes ice skating is at the Denver Airport! They’ve done this a few times at the airport, and it was completely free to go ice skating there. This means if you’re traveling through the airport in winter, you may get to enjoy this!

Tour Denver’s Capitol Building.

Denver’s Capitol Building is one of the top spots to see in the city no matter the time of year, so why not visit it in winter?

This 19th-century building truly commands your attention no matter where you are in the city because it has a huge golden dome — but the lights in winter make it even prettier!

The building stands at 272 feet tall, and visitors can tour the building for free. This is a great way to witness the architecture in Denver and also to get one of the best views in the city!

During the tour, guests are brought to the top of the dome, which offers impressive views. You can even see all the way out to the Rocky Mountains.

This view is even better during the winter months because of the snow! Keep in mind tours are only held on weekdays.

Attend the Christkindl Market.

Image Credit: Amy Aletheia Cahill via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

One of the best things to do in Denver in winter is attending Denver Christkindlmarket. People come from all over to come to this German Christmas market because it’s so fun and the festivities are so lively.

The most popular thing to do at the market is eat at all of the excellent food vendor stands. There are usually vendors selling spaetzle, chocolate, mulled wine, schnitzel, and more. The food is so good that you almost forget you’re not in Germany!

If this is an event that you want to attend, try to visit right when they open. This is one of the most popular Denver winter activities, so you want to get there as early as possible to avoid all of the lines that come later in the day.

Take a day trip to Golden.

A short drive away from Denver is a beautiful town called Golden!

This historic town is one of the most popular day trips from Denver that you genuinely won’t want to miss. Plus, it’s a small town, so it has a very different vibe from Denver.

Golden is a mountain town, so it’s right next to the Rockies. It’s an incredible place to visit when it’s snowing because it feels like a storybook town! There are also tons of great things to do in Golden, from going on a hike to just shopping in downtown.

For an indoor adventure, head to Coors Brewery, which is right in Golden. There’s a free shuttle from downtown Golden that you can get that will bring you there for the tour. Throughout the tour, you’ll learn all about Coor’s brewing process!

Discover the Dairy Block.

Image Credit: Steve Jurvetson via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The Dairy Block in Denver is one of the city’s newer additions. It’s located in Lower Downtown (LoDo) and comes alive in winter!

The Dairy Block features an alleyway with tons of outdoor seating and heaters for winter and gets completely decked out in fun lights.

You might be thinking, what the heck is The Dairy Block? It’s essentially a whole bunch of things! There are food vendors, sit-down restaurants, a hotel, a bar, and a coworking space. Most people come here to grab some food because the food is delicious, especially the pizza.

Keep an eye on their winter schedule because they usually host tons of fun events once the season rolls around. In the past, they’ve had live music, markets featuring other local vendors and shops, and more.

Visit Union Station.

front of union station in Denver at christmas, colorful rainbow lights and christmas tree

Union Station is Denver’s central transportation hub. Every winter in Denver, it gets all dressed up in tons of fun festive lights that will truly take your breath away!

While you can visit while it’s light out, it’s best to wait until the sun goes down so that you can see it all done up.

At night, Union Station can be spotted from a mile away because it’s so bright. The lights are truly breathtaking, so make sure you bring your camera. Even young kids will love visiting Union Station once the sun goes down.

During the day, Union Station serves as a meeting point for the Amtrak, airport train, and Denver regional trains. The inside of the Union Station building is a hotel but is also filled with lots of restaurants, sitting areas, and shops.

Indulge at The Brown Palace Hotel.

afternoon tea with a tiered tea cake stand and tea cups

One of the top-rated hotels in Denver is The Brown Palace Hotel. It’s a 4-star hotel with relatively comparable rates considering how nice of a hotel it is. It’s also rather historic, having been built in the 1890s.

While you could easily stay here in the winter or any time of year, you’ll want to visit The Brown Palace Hotel to attend their Afternoon Tea. It’s such a fun event to attend, and it’s even more fun in the winter because it’ll warm you up.

This classic tea service happens in the afternoon between 12 and 4 pm, so make sure you plan your trip to The Brown Palace Hotel wisely.

If you don’t have time to sit down and enjoy tea with fun treats, then consider ordering from their to-go station!

Walk around the Denver Botanic Garden at night.

Colorful lights in trees and bushes in the Denver Botanical Garden, with snow on the ground, celebrating Christmas in Denver

Every winter, the Denver Botanic Garden hosts its own fun event! All of the plants get entirely covered in fun lights, which you can only witness at night once the sun goes down.

Tickets usually have to be purchased for this event ahead of time because the garden is one of the city’s top attractions no matter the time of year. It gets even more popular in the winter months because of this event!

As an insider’s tip, don’t try to visit the garden during the day in the winter. It’s not that fun because you can see all of the lights wrapped around the plants, but they’re turned off, so it kind of ruins the experience.

Go skiing or snowboarding.

ski trails in loveland pass colorado

So many people come to Colorado for outdoor sports, and the same is true in the winter. If you’re traveling with a car or have access to one, then you’ll be able to enjoy this famous Colorado pastime.

There are quite a few ski and snowboard resorts within the Denver area. You could consider going to Echo Mountain Resort near Idaho Springs, Arapahoe Basin Ski Area, or Loveland Ski Area.

Some of these are smaller ski resorts, but there are still quite a few slopes that you can hit up.

If you don’t have any equipment with you, don’t worry. You can rent them here. If you’re staying in Denver for a longer period of time, consider hitting up Breckenridge or Aspen for a really fun time.

Have dinner in an igloo.

christmas lights in larimer square denver

Denver is known for its fantastic dining scene. The weather is always near perfect in the city, so there are tons of spots for outdoor seating. This still holds true in the winter, but instead of eating directly outside, you can be seated in a fun warm igloo!

There are quite a few places around the city that you can indulge and dine this way. The most popular spot is Larimer Square, which is one of the most historic parts of the city. A lot of this street is pedestrian-only, and the restaurants are top-notch.

Another great spot in the city to try out igloo dining is at Union Station. A few of the restaurants here have igloo spots, including the bar. I do recommend that you make a reservation ahead of time to make sure one of them will be open, so you don’t get seated inside instead.

Learn at one of Denver’s many museums.

The famous sculpture The Yearling outside of the Denver Library

The city of Denver is filled with so many museums. Seriously, no matter what your hobbies or personal interests, there’s probably a museum related to it somewhere throughout the city. So, instead of being freezing outside, consider going to one of Denver’s museums.

The most famous museum in Denver is the Denver Art Museum, which is right next to the Denver Capitol Building.

Other great museums here include the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, the Children’s Museum of Denver, and the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver.

Before you plan your trip to Denver, make sure to check online to see when free days are at the museums. The museums in Denver work hard to be accessible to everyone, so they host multiple free days each month.

Go to Winter Brew Fest.

Image Credit: Jason Cipriani via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Honestly, no Denver trip — winter or summer — is complete without taking part in the local drinking culture.

The city is filled with great local breweries, selling and making everything from ciders to seltzers to great beers.

While most people come to Denver to attend Summer Brew Fest, there’s also one in the winter: Winter Brew Fest. It’s been happening in Denver for about 15 years now!

It’s the perfect way to learn more about Denver’s drinking culture and also to try out some delicious beverages.

The event usually only takes place on one day in Denver in January, so if you know that this is an event you must attend, then be sure to find out when the date is.

Historically, there have been more than 100 different drinks to try at this event!

Shop at 16th Street Mall.

The 16th street mall lit up in colorful lights at dusk

Essentially, 16th Street Mall is a huge pedestrian-only street that’s a little over a mile long. It’s lined with tons of great shops and restaurants.

Some of them are local sellers like Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, but others are more commercial.

The mall gets all lit up in the winter and is completely lined with tons of excellent lights. Sometimes, the mall also hosts its own events. You might find that you’re lucky and attend one during your trip!

Be sure to walk along the mall and see what’s going on. It’s right next to Skyline Park, where the ice skating takes place and is also a short walk from the Christkindl Market, so there’s seriously so much to do in this area.

Snap a photo at Denver’s Mile High Tree.

colorful rainbow mile high tree lit up at night, with snow on the ground

While most cities across the United States get huge real trees that they decorate and light up in one of the city’s most popular areas, Denver at Christmas does something completely different. It gets its own Mile High Tree, which is entirely electronic!

The tree is so unique and fun. When you look at it, it’s almost like you’re watching a light show but without the music. It’s set up right along the 16th Street Mall in the open green space about halfway down the street.

Usually, you can even stand in line to go right inside of the Mile High Tree and snap some photos. This is such a fun experience! You can stand inside of it and look up to be surrounded by flashing lights.

Hike in Boulder.

Winter in the Flatirons of Boulder, Colorado, a popular winter active day trip from Denver

Believe it or not, but hiking is still a fun thing to do in winter in Colorado. The best place to go hiking near Denver is Boulder.

It’s less than an hour away by car and is accessible by public transportation if you book tickets for the Flatiron Flyer.

Boulder has tons of great hikes, but arguably the most popular is hiking near the Flatirons. Because some of the more difficult hikes can get icy and snowy in the winter, try to pick one of the trails that are a bit flatter.

The weather in Denver during the winter is genuinely not that bad. Sure, it snows, but temperature-wise it’s usually not that cold compared to other parts of the United States.

So, hiking is doable in winter! Of course, be sure to still check the weather and dress appropriately for your hike.

Attend the Parade of Lights.

Colorful Christmas lit up floats at a parade
Image Credit: Brian Papantonio via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The Parade of Lights is an annual event in Denver in winter held by the local 9News station.

It’s a huge parade filled with all of the Christmas and holiday festivities. It’s the perfect event if you’re traveling to Denver at Christmas with children too!

The parade takes place at night because its main focus is the lights, so that’s something to keep in mind. Young children may need to take a nap to attend!

Throughout the parade, you’ll see tons of giant floats all lit up. People get all dressed up in red and green, and the event truly gets you in the holiday spirit, no matter your age.

Be sure to get there early to save yourself a good spot with a view!

See a Denver Nuggets game.

Basketball players at the arena playing a game
Image Credit: David Herrera via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

If you’re a sports fan, you’ll absolutely love this!

Basketball is a winter sport, so what better time of year to support the local Denver teams like the Denver Nuggets?

The Nuggets play at Ball Arena, which is right next to the Children’s Museum and Elitch Gardens. In other words… it’s right near downtown!

Tickets range in price, usually depending on who the Nuggets are playing. So, make sure you do your research and find out if the game you want to attend will be expensive or not. Sometimes, if you can hold off purchasing until an hour or two before the game, the tickets can be crazy cheap, like $20.

Because of the way the arena is set up, there really isn’t a bad seat in the house. Plus, there are huge jumbotrons in the middle of the court, so it’s impossible to miss any power plays throughout the game.

The arena also has tons of great places to eat, so you can easily buy yourself something right there if you get hungry during the game. However, it might be a little pricy!

Catch the fireworks.

Fireworks over the city of Denver at New Years

Every year, Denver has its own fireworks to help bring in the New Year. You can usually see them all around the city, so you can try to catch them no matter where you are if you’re in the city’s vicinity.

However, here’s an insider tip: head to either Confluence Park or 16th Street Mall to get an unparalleled view of the fireworks. Sure, these spots can get kind of busy with locals watching them, but the view is so unmatched that it’s worth it.

There’s no better way to bring in the New Year in the Denver area than by catching these fireworks!

Visit the Denver Zoo.

Photo Credit: Greg Goebel via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Head to the Denver Zoo to catch the Denver Holiday Lights! This is one of the most fun things to do in Denver in winter, especially if you’re traveling with children.

The entire zoo gets completely lit up with tons of lights throughout the park. Plus, the animals are still out, so you can visit with the animals and see the lights at the same time.

This is another one of the events during the holidays that you’ll want to purchase tickets for ahead of time if you can because it’s such a popular event.

Be sure to also dress really warmly for this event. The zoo is reasonably sizeable, so you’ll be doing lots of walking, and you never know when it will suddenly start snowing in this city!

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.

45 Awesome Things to Do in Hilo, Hawaii (+ Day Trips & Tours!)

beach park in hilo with water and trees

Hilo is one of the “major cities” of the Big Island of Hawaii. However, it is no metropolis by any means!

The Big Island’s cities are pretty small when compared to, say, Honolulu on Oahu. 

That said, Hilo is a beautiful small city with lots to do in and around the surrounding area regardless of its size.

The Big Island consists of six moku (districts). Hilo is its own moku surrounded by the moku of Puna, Hamakua, and Kaʻū, with the closest access to Puna and Hāmākua.

When you come to Hilo, you will see that a tight-knit community lives here. There are many small businesses to support, the wonderful Hilo farmers market to enjoy, and endless things to do in Hilo Bay. 

Plus, you will find many exciting day trips from Hilo.

We’re about to get into all the best things to do in Hilo, but first, a few notes before visiting Hawaiʻi.

A Note About Visiting Hilo, Hawaii

Plant life in front of one of the beaches of Hilo Hawaii

It is essential to state that when you visit Hawaiʻi, you understand that this is the home of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi, a monarchy with centuries of history and culturethat was overthrown by the U.S. government and is still presently occupied.

Like most land in the nation now known as the United States, this land is stolen land. 

As magnificent as Hawaiʻi is, remember where you are when you come to Hilo. Honor the traditions of the Hawaiian people and move with the aloha spirit throughout this sacred land.

Aloha is more than just a greeting that means both hello and goodbye, as has been popularized through culture; aloha is a way of life. 

Aloha is a word that describes the life-force energy of love and connection that runs through us all and the land. It comes from two Hawaiian words, “alo” which means ‘share’ and “ha” which means “essence/breath of life”.

Live with aloha. Honor the Hawaiian ancestors and present-day kānaka maoli (Native Hawaiians). Be respectful and leave nothing behind when you visit the Big Island.

Getting Around Hilo

Road on Banyan Drive, Hilo, big island of Hawaii

Your best bet is to rent a car when you come to the Big Island. The public bus system does not always follow its schedule, and it is just not reliable, especially if you want to see all you can.

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 Hilo Airport here.

If you stay in downtown Hilo, you can certainly walk to some of the major downtown attractions. However, many of the places on this list of things to do in Hilo require a car to visit properly.

You may also want to rent a bike to explore Hilo proper. Mid Pacific Wheels, LLC can help you out with a bike rental.

Where to Stay in Hilo

One option, especially if you are on a budget, is the Wild Ginger Inn, an outdoor hostel and inn. There are dorms as well as private rooms. The rooms are basic and sit among palm trees and tropical vegetation.
>> Check reviews, photos, and availability here!

Orchid Tree Bed and Breakfast is another fabulous option. You’ll enjoy fresh fruit in the mornings along with their pool and hot tub. They also have a lovely lanai (covered porch) and easy access to the beach and downtown Hilo.
>> Check reviews, photos, and availability here!

For a more bougie stay, Castle Hilo Hawaiian Hotel is your choice. Most rooms have a private lanai which will offer spacious views of Hilo Bay and Mauna Kea. Plus, I mean, it has the word castle in the name…
>> Check reviews, photos, and availability here!

The Inn at Kulaniapia Falls is also an incredible place to stay. Enjoy views of the falls and farm-to-table eating. They also offer cooking classes. They have rooms, suites, and off-grid cabins in which to stay. They are stewards of the land here, with sustainability at the heart of their business practices.
>> Check reviews, photos, and availability here!

Best Things to Do in Hilo Town, Hawaii

Marvel at the incredible Rainbow Falls.

One of the most enticing things about traveling to the island of Hawaiʻi is the opportunity to see waterfalls: the island is jam-packed with them. 

In fact, there is a great one right in Hilo town, Rainbow Falls. This is part of the Wailuku River State Park.

Rainbow Falls (Wainuenue) has easy access from downtown Hilo and does not require much of a hike — just 0.1 miles in fact. There is a parking lot and restrooms here. 

Because of its easy access and incredible beauty, it is one of the most photographed waterfalls in all of Hawai’i.

the waterfall of rainbow falls in hawaii surrounded by lush green foliage

Check out the majestic 1,000-year-old banyan tree.

If you walk towards the top of the falls at Wainuenue, you’ll find a banyan tree over 1000 years old! 

It has been there since before Hawaiʻi was a territory and then state of the US, and it stands as a testament to the long, ancient history of Hawaiʻi.

I love to imagine the centuries of children of Native Hawaiians who enjoyed this tree, basking underneath and climbing within this tree. It will be hard for you to resist the urge to do the same!

Hike to Wai’ale Falls and its Boiling Pots.

Nearby Rainbow Falls (Wainuenue) is another set of falls, Wai’ale Falls, also part of Wailuku River State Park in Hilo, Hawaii.

When you visit Wai’ale Falls, you will also have the opportunity to view the Boiling Pots Lookout (Pe’epe’e Falls).

This area is vibrating with movement from the water. It is a worthwhile stop when checking out the best Big Island waterfalls!

the river where you can find the 'boiling pots' near hilo hawaii

Visit the Hilo Nursery Arboretum.

Head to the Hilo Nursery Arboretum located at 19 East Kawili St in Hilo town. 

Visitors are allowed to fill up one grocery bag of fruit per day. Just make sure you check-in at the visitors center for permission first!

There are breadfruit trees, cacao trees, citrus trees, and more!

Shop at the Hilo Farmers Market.

You can also hit the Hilo Farmers Market. The market has vendors 7 days per week from 6 AM to 3 PM. 

The big market days are on Wednesdays and Saturdays where there are more vendors, so prioritize those days if you can.

Whichever day you go to the farmers market, you will find an abundance of fruit, veggies, fresh-cut tropical flowers, and artisan goods! 

You can find soursop or sweet bread, turmeric pastes, or longon fruits, among dozens of other delicious delights! 

Whatever your pleasure, there will be something for you to enjoy and take back to your lodgings.

Flowers, bananas, and other produce and goods at the Hilo Farmers Market

Explore downtown Hilo.

In downtown Hilo, there are many shops and restaurants to explore. You can enjoy boutiques and galleries in the wooden waterfront buildings (hundreds of years old!). 

Check out one of the bookstores to find books on Hawaiian culture and spirituality. You can also get ice cream or Hawaiian shave ice, a popular local treat!

We suggest checking out Two Ladies Kitchen for Japanese-style desserts. For one of the best burgers on the island, hit up Hilo Burger Joint.

Want to do some learning? Head to The Mokupapapa Discovery Center for a Hawaiian cultural experience featuring an aquarium.

Visit Kaipalaoa Landing.

This historic place in Hilo is considered a “wahi pana” or a “legendary place” in Hawaiian culture.

It is believed that King Kamehameha loved to surf here and it is here where he gave the town of Hilo its name.

You’ll find a white lighthouse here with several numbers printed on it. These numbers represent four years that tsunamis hit Hilo (1946, 1952, 1957 and 1960). Each year is marked with a line, which represents the height of the tsunami waves that hit the town.

white lighthouse on a cloudy day at a famous place in hilo

Check out the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center.

You don’t need to leave Hilo to be one with the stars!

The marvelous ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center features interactive exhibits, a domed planetarium, and beautiful gardens of native Hawaiian plants. It is run by the University of Hawaii.

One thing that’s particularly cool about the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center is how it showcases the particularly Hawaiian relationship to astronomy, and how the first Hawaiians navigated to these islands from Polynesia using the stars.

The gift shop here is also particularly excellent.

Learn history at the Pacific Tsunami Museum.

As an island state, it’s unsurprising that Hawaii is particularly susceptible to tsunamis. 

Over the years, several tsunamis have devastated the island of Hawaiʻi and in particular, the east coast side of the island and Hilo.

This museum explains how tsunamis are formed and goes over the history of the 1946 Pacific Tsunami and the 1960 Chilean Tsunami and how they impacted Hilo, Kona, and other parts of the the Big Island.

Enjoy a tasty loco moco.

A visit to Hawaiʻi is not complete without enjoying a loco moco plate lunch. 

Loco moco is a popular dish featuring rice, gravy, and some kind of meat, usually a beef patty or spam. 

For this, you want to go to Hawaiian Style Cafe, whichis also a super popular spot for brunch. They have some of the best Hawaiian food in town!

a traditional dish of moco loco a famous hawaiian dish

Watch the surfers at Honoli’i Beach Park.

Located just two miles from downtown Hilo, this gorgeous black sand beach is a great place to while away a few hours!

Head there early in the morning or at sunset to see surfers navigating these epic waves!

Check out the Lyman Museum.

The Lyman Museum (also called the Lyman Mission House) is the oldest wooden house on the island of Hawaiʻi.

It was built in the late 1830s after a married missionary couple, David and Sarah Lyman, arrived in Hawaiʻi from New England after a six-month sea voyage.

While the history of missionaries has always been problematic, particularly their drive to import their culture into another, the house itself is an interesting historical place.

It once hosted many important guests, including members of the Hawaiian royal family and famed author Mark Twain.

Sample some incredible poke.

You will also want to try out some poke, which is a Hawaiian raw marinated fish dish served with rice and veggies.

In Hilo, Poke Market is the spot for this. Not only can you get poke dishes, but this is also a fish market. 

Come here for fresh-caught fish and poke created by a world-class chef. Plus, locals run this restaurant and market, and they are wonderful and worth supporting!

Close up of a bowl of tuna poke with avocado, cucumber, scallions and chili

Visit the Liliuokalani Park and Gardens

The gardens are right on Hilo Bay, so you will enjoy views of the water and Mauna Kea while you stroll. 

They are named after Princess Lili’uokalani, the last sovereign of Hawai’i before the United States illegally seized the Hawaiian islands.

At the gardens, you will find a Japanese Garden with peaceful streams running throughout through these gorgeous gardens, as well as traditional pagodas and other Japanese garden fixtures. 

This garden was created in tribute to all the immigrants from Japan who have shaped modern-day Hawaiian culture and identity.

Red japanese pagoda in the middle of the hilo gardens

Check out the scenic Banyan Drive.

Liliuokalani Botanical Garden is also within proximity to Banyan Drive

Banyan Drive is also called the “Hilo Hollywood Walk of Fame.” Celebrities planted the banyan trees here. 

It is yet another opportunity to enjoy these massive trees with their vinous trunks and climbing branches!

Take the bridge to Coconut Island.

Another great thing about visiting Liliuokalani Park and Gardens is that the gardens have easy access to Coconut Island via a land bridge.

 Coconut Island was initially called Moku Ola, “healing island,” as Native Hawaiians believe the island to have healing properties.

Healing powers or not, Coconut Island has two great sandy beaches that are protected from the waves by the pier in Hilo, so it’s a great place for a calm swim or wade, and the beaches are beautiful to stroll along even if you don’t want to go for a swim!

Bridge leading towards the Coconut Island in Hilo, from the gardens

Head to Hilo Bay for a snorkeling adventure.

You can enter the water in a myriad of places in Hilo to enjoy the coral and diverse ocean wildlife of Hawaiʻi! 

You may see Hawaiian spinner dolphins or the humuhumunukunukuapua’a, the state fish of Hawaiʻi. You may also see spearfishermen hunting beneath the surface!

Take out your snorkel mask at Richardson Ocean Park.

There are many great places to snorkel near Hilo. Richardson Ocean Park is one of the best spots in the area! 

If you don’t have your own gear, or if you’re a little hesitant to head out on your own, many tour outfitters can take you on a tour if you are new to snorkeling.

If you are more experienced, you can simply hop in the water with your snorkel gear, and you will find yourself immersed in the wonder of the beautiful sea creatures of Hilo Bay!

Take note: It is best to snorkel in calm waters with no cloud cover for the best underwater visibility.

Even if you don’t feel like snorkeling, it’s a great place to walk around, with lots of beautiful tropical flora right alongside the beach.

trees by the ocean in hilo hawaii floating next to a lagoon

Grab some beers or draft kombucha in Hilo town.

Head on over to Hilo Brewing Company, where you can sample some beers and great eats! 

We like the Hilo Golden Ale and the Mauna Kea Pale Ale. Foodwise, they serve hot dogs, wings, charcuterie, hummus, nachos, and sandwiches.

You may perhaps instead want to sample draft kombucha. You can find Big Island Booch at The Booch Bar. 

Draft kombucha is significantly better than bottled booch. It is so much more refreshing from the tap! 

Also, the Booch Bar is known for its “living” food. Their food menu consists of many fermented foods, salads, and vegan options, great for you if you are health-conscious. 

Fermented food provides precious probiotics to aid in your gut health. It also is just delicious. We love The Booch Bar!

Relax in the lagoons of Carlsmith Beach Park.

While many of the beaches near Hilo have some rough surf, Carlsmith Beach Park is a nice and relaxing place with calm waters.

This is a great place to bring out your snorkel and try to spot some sea turtles and tropical fish. There are also tidepools to explore and picnic tables if you want to bring your own lunch.

the turquoise waters of Carlsmith beach park is one of best places to swim and snorkel close to Hilo.

Best Things to Do Near Hilo: Day Trips & Excursions

Take an incredible helicopter tour over volcanoes and waterfalls.

The best way to see the views around Hilo? By helicopter, of course!

This Circle of Fire and Waterfalls Helicopter tour will show you all the best of the Big Island from a convenient departure point in Hilo.

You’ll fly over Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, seeing both the Kilauea and Mauna Loa volcanoes from a sky-high perspective. 

You’ll also get to see the Halemaumau Crater and other important sites that make up the national park, and as you return, you’ll pass by the Hamakua Coast and its many gorgeous waterfalls.

Book your Helicopter Tour here!

Helicopter zooming in to show the volcano flows on Hawaii

See the breathtaking ʻAkaka Falls State Park.

For another waterfall adventure, head out of town to visit ʻAkaka Falls State Park in the North Hilo District! 

These falls offer more of an opportunity for jungle hiking than the waterfalls mentioned above. It is only a 0.4-mile loop trail, but it will definitely get the heart pumping! 

There are a lot of stairs and pavement as you descend and ascend among bamboo and palms. These tall falls are absolutely gorgeous. 

They are just a 10-minute drive from Hilo Town, and they’re one of the best things to do near Hilo!

the impressive single drop waterfall of akaka falls in hawaii surrounded by lush greenery

Spend the night camping at Kole Kole State Beach.

Kole Kole is a lovely little coastal state park with plenty of grassy areas to set up your tent. 

The grassy camping area in is adjacent to a beautiful set of cascading falls, which flow right into the ocean. 

They are great for climbing and swimming in as you enjoy the view of the wild Pacific Ocean. The beach is full of pebbles and rocks to explore as well — bring water shoes!

There are no designated campsites, just a field to set up your tent in. You will have ocean views as you sit in a valley flanked with vertical, green hills. 

There are restrooms here and a pavilion with electricity to charge your phone or set up speakers for music. 

Just respect your neighbors if you choose to use the electricity at this park — do not have bright lights or loud music, and turn everything off at a reasonable hour so people can rest.


Snorkel with sea turtles and dolphins.

We already suggested a few places in Hilo where you can snorkel and possibly see sea turtles, but there are also guided excursions from Hilo that offer small-group snorkel tours (no more than six people per group).

This is a good way to go if you’ve never snorkeled before and you want a bit of a primer before you hit the waters! Snorkeling is easy but it can be intimidating if it’s your first time, so going with a group can be a good idea.

Book your sea turtle snorkeling excursion here!

Two sea turtles under the water close to the camera

Enjoy a relaxing kava experience in Puna moku.

Kava, also known as ʻawa, has been used in Hawaiʻi for over two thousand years. 

It is one of the original “canoe plants,” which means it was brought over from Polynesia when the original Hawaiians left those islands.

Kava is a mildly psychoactive plant that has a very calming effect. You will drink a cold tea made with the roots. 

When you partake in a kava experience, it’s a practice to honor the earth, the ancestors, and your third eye. Ask your “bartender” to show you the ropes as to how to drink kava properly.

The kava bar you will be going to is Uncle Robert’s Awa Bar. It is located in Pāhoa, a 30-minute drive from Hilo, in the same spot where there is a weekly night market.

Dance to the music at Uncle Robert’s Night Market.

You can find the night market near Uncle Robert’s Awa Bar. It has been hosted for many years by a local Hawaiian family.

This night market will bring you local vendors selling all kinds of artisan crafts and delicious food. You can get yourself some delicious macadamia ice cream (a Hawaiʻi must!) or a T-shirt with original art from a local Hawaiian artist.

There is also always live music at the night market. It is a beautiful opportunity to see Hawaiian and popular music! 

The ukuleles will be strumming, guitars humming, and voices will be harmonizing. Get out on the dance floor and enjoy the night at this market with neighbors in the lava fields of Pāhoa.

Note: Uncle Robert’s Night Market happens every Wednesday night from 5 to 10 PM.

Scoop of Kona coffe and macadamia nut ice cream in a yellow cup

Take a day trip to Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park.

Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park is one of the most unique national parks you may ever have the privilege to visit! 

All in one place, you can hike in the jungle or along a desolate crater. You’ll also find lava fields, steam vents, and petroglyphs.

There are several ways to visit Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, either by guided tour or self-driving.

Guided tour is the easiest way to go, and it can also combine several other of these Hilo day trips into a single one-day tour.

This tour of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park also includes stops at the Waipio Valley waterfalls and Punalu’u Black Sand Beach.

It’s a small group tour (maximum 15 people) and you’ll enjoy a picnic lunch in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and be given ample time to hike a few miles around the stunning volcanic landscapes if you choose.

You’ll also get to check out a private lava tube at Kauhi Cavern (access is exclusive to the tour!) and spend time checking out active steam vents and lava craters, including Halema’uma’u and Kilauea Iki craters.

Book your Hawaii Volcanoes NP tour here!

If you are self-driving, drive along Chain of Craters Road to see the many craters and spacious views of the Pacific. 

This beautiful scenic drive has easy access to some petroglyphs. Plus, it ends at Hōlei Sea Arch! 

As lava poured into the ocean 550 years ago, it made the arch. The arch will eventually crumble into the sea, so it is lucky to view a fleeting structure such as this.

Sea arch made from cooled lava from a lava flow in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

One of the other main highlights of Hawai’i Volcanoes is the Halemaumau (Pelehonuamea) Crater on the Kilauea Volcano. 

It is an active volcano with a crater that glows red from the lava flowing below! You can see the glow as you approach the national park from the west at dusk and night. 

There is a museum and several overlooks to view the steaming, glowing crater.

When it comes to Hawaiian spirituality, Halemaʻumaʻu is the home of the volcano goddess Pele. Tutu Pele is the goddess of destruction and rebirth, she who shapes and forms the land. 

In Hawaiian culture, she is highly revered. She may wrap you up in her mothering arms or chew you up and spit you out. If you respect Hawaiʻi when you visit, she will most likely wrap you up in her arms. 

However, sometimes we just need some destruction to be reborn into new life — a story the island of Hawaiʻi knows well, as both the youngest and largest of the Hawaiian islands!

Exploring Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Take a ride on a wa’a (a traditional Hawaiian canoe).

The wa’a (pronounced “vah-ah”) is the same type of vessel that the original Hawaiians used to make their way thousands of miles across the Pacific over two thousand years ago. 

These canoes look like a traditional canoe with a deep body and an outrigger. Riding in one is a unique excursion to experience when in Hilo!

There are multiple tour companies available to give you an experience rowing these vessels on Hilo Bay. 

It is a great workout and an even better way to glimpse into history. It is just awe-inspiring to think about how the ancient Polynesians crossed the Pacific navigating with the stars to reach these islands thousands of miles away across the open ocean.

Check out Kaumana Caves State Park.

This state park near Hilo is an interesting place to go to see the geological history of the island firsthand! 

It’s only a 10-minute drive from Hilo, but it feels like another world.

These caves are actually lava tubes formed by the eruptions of Mauna Loa, another one of the active volcanoes on the Big Island.

You can hike in the lava tube. Bring sturdy, closed-toe shoes (the lava rocks are slippery) and plenty of light sources, like a flashlight or headlamp. Just a cellphone flashlight won’t cut it!

Sip wine in the town of Volcano.

Make your way southwest, 45 minutes from Hilo, to the town of Volcano. 

Note: This excursion would pair nicely with your visit to Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park!

Volcano Winery and Tea Farm is a lovely winery and farm. Their award-winning Infusion Tea Wine is one of the most delicious things I have ever tasted! 

You will like it, especially if you love tea. They also have wines featuring classic Hawaiian flavors of macadamia nut or guava and traditional wines like pinot noir. 

You can get a flight and try them all!

They do not serve food here, but perhaps you can take some of your farmers’ market finds with you. 

They allow picnicking on the premises. So, I guess you can call it a BYOF (bring your own food)!

Feast your eyes on rainbow eucalyptus.

Head back up north to Kalōpā State Recreation Area in Honoka’a. On your way into the park, you can view rainbow eucalyptus along the road! 

These magnificent trees have brightly colored bark with hues of pinks, greens, and purple.

They’re quite magical and you won’t be able to resist taking some photos!

the multicolored bark of the rainbow eucalyptus tree (blue, purple, red, yellow, and more)

Check out the native ‘ohi’a forest in Kalōpā.

Additionally, there are great hiking opportunities in Kalōpā, along with camping and cabins.

They also have a native ‘ohi’a forest to check out. These trees are sacred to Hawaiians. They are the first vegetation to grow in the lava fields, a desolate environment where little vegetation can survive naturally. 

They are responsible for creating the first soil to build on the lava where other plants can eventually grow. So, they are responsible for the lush forest that you will experience at Kalōpā and all around the island.

There is a legend connected to the ‘ohi’a tree and its flower, the lehua flower. 

the brilliant red flower o the lehua flower growing on the o'hia plant

‘Ohi’a was a love interest of Pele. However, he was already in love with Lehua. Pele, in her fury, turned ‘Ohi’a into a tree. The gods were dissatisfied with this. 

In turn, they made Lehua a flower of the tree so she and ‘Ohi’a would never be separated.

According to legend, if you pluck a Lehua flower, it will rain that day, as they are the tears of the lovers who never want to be separated.

Check out Puna moku and the Kalapana Lava Fields.

In Puna, make your way to the Kalapana Lava Fields or experience the ocean along the Red Road. You can also visit steam vents in the area!

Kalapana is where you can view the lava flowing into the ocean when the volcano is erupting. This is not something that will constantly be occurring. 

The last lava flow ended in May 2021, but you may still be able to see this depending on when you visit. If you are lucky enough, it will blow your mind!

Bring aloha spirit to the town of Pāhoa.

In the Puna moku, you will find Pāhoa. It rains a lot here, so there are beautiful lush forests.

Pāhoa itself is a charming little town. When visiting, bring aloha spirit with you. 

Large areas of Pāhoa were wiped out in 2018 when lava consumed Leilani Estates and numerous beloved natural areas. 

I used to live in Leilani Estates (in 2016). It broke my heart to know that the lovely house in the rainforest where I lived was swallowed by lava.

However, the people of Pāhoa are resilient and eccentric. Come here to support this vibrant community. 

There are many opportunities to dance to live music or drive along beautiful winding roads surrounded by the rainforest of Pāhoa and the Puna district. Plus, Pāhoa town has many cool shops and great spots to grab a bite. 

We especially recommend Pho’ 19. Be sure also to check out the beautiful Painted Church!

Additionally, there are many communes and opportunities to volunteer for discounted rates at one of the many eco-retreats in Puna moku. 

We recommend Hedonesia Eco-Community, where you can participate in art and garden projects as you stay in one of their structures in the rainforest. Some may stay in a converted bus or a lovely little hut.

You may also want to check out Cinderland Eco-Community who offer WWOOF’ing (Worldwide Workers On Organic Farms) opportunities.

Hit the road to explore the Pepe’eoko Scenic Drive.

Head north of Hilo on Highway 19 to traverse 40 miles up to the Hamakua Coast, ending at Waipio Valley (more on Waipiʻo below). 

You will get to tour one of the most beautiful parts of the island with this drive. The views are endless and the waterfalls are plentiful! 

Visit ʻAkaka Falls (as mentioned above) and feast your eyes on Kahuna Falls at the World Botanicals Gardens, another worthy stop on your journey.

Check out the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden.

As you drive on Highway 19, there are many little shops and vendors selling fruit and coconuts along the way. 

One place not to skip is the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden at Onomea Bay (less than 9 miles from Hilo), which is self-described as “a beautiful garden in a valley on the ocean”. 

These gardens are truly spectacular. It is a place to learn about plant botany, marvel at the beautiful tropical flowers, take a stroll, and enjoy the majesty of nature!

Tourist admiring lush tropical vegetation of the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden of Big Island of Hawaii

Take a detour to Honoka’a for some shopping and eating.

Additionally, you’ll want to take a detour into Honoka’a, a quaint little town at the “doorway to Waipiʻo Valley.” 

There are many shops and boutiques in the charming town of Honoka’a. You can find Hawaiian-made goods and stunning batik sarongs. 

Plus, you should stop at Tex Drive-in for malasadas (Portuguese stuffed donuts). You will then be able to make your way to Waipiʻo Valley, the next place on this list of things to do in Hilo.

Engage in a spiritual journey down into Waipiʻo Valley.

Waipiʻo is one of the most iconic locations on the Big Island! The view from the lookout is stunning enough to fill your soul.

However, if you choose to hike down into the valley, you will indeed be moved by the energy here, as it is a sacred place to the Hawaiians.

Waipiʻo was home to King Kamehameha. He is a highly revered figure in Hawaiian culture. You will see his name everywhere.

According to lore, King Kamehameha stood at 7 feet tall and is remembered for rolling the Naha Stone. 

An ancient Hawaiian prophecy once stated that whoever could move the stone would unite the islands, which he did. He rolled the two-ton stone and subsequently joined the islands, ending 100 years of war. You can see the Naha Stone in Hilo today, in front of the Hilo Public Library.

It is not an easy hike down into the valley as it is very steep. You will hike 4.7 miles round trip when exploring Waipiʻo. 

Along the hike, there are black sand beaches and a view of Wailoa River. 

Take note: after rain, the stream can be flowing pretty intensely, so use caution should you desire to cross the creek for additional exploration.

If you can’t drive or don’t plan on renting a car while in Hilo, you can take a guided tour of the Waipio Valley.

Book your Waipio tour online here!

an aerial photo of the beautiful and lushly green waipio valley

See the stars on Mauna Kea.

When it comes to viewing the night sky, there is no better place than Hawai‘i. Seriously. You will be totally in awe. 

Head through Saddle Road and then up to Mauna Kea. You can ride up to the Visitor Center and observatory to view the stars through a telescope.

However, it is still amazing to just head up Mauna Kea (Maunakea in Hawaiian) and view the stars on a hillside!

When I was there, I was lucky enough to see the Perseid Meteor Shower. The show was insane. 

I could see long golden trails as hundreds of shooting stars flew across the sky. I simply brought a blanket, laid down with friends, and watched in awe. You can do this too, meteor shower or not!

Purple night sky studded with millions of stars on Mauna Kea

Another way to see the stars on Mauna Kea is through a guided stargazing tour.

This includes a transfer to Mauna Kea from Hilo, and once you arrive, you will get to borrow their large-aperture telescopes to see all the incredible galaxies and nebulas and planetary bodies from some of the darkest skies on Earth.

The guided tour is led by astronomers who are experts in their fields, having written numerous scientific articles and worked at world-class observatories, and they’re here to share their guidance with you!

If you want to go stargazing on Mauna Kea, under one of the darkest skies you’ll find on all of planet Earth, this tour is a must-do.

Book your stargazing tour of Mauna Kea here!

the stars of the milky way galaxy visible over the telescopes on mauna kea

An important thing to note is that Maunakea is a sacred mountain to Native Hawaiians. There is much controversy over the fact that large, obtrusive telescopes were built on her. 

Please be respectful when you come up here and acknowledge that Maunakea is a place where the desires of U.S. settlers and Native Hawaiians collide. 

That does not mean you cannot or should not come for stargazing, but come with awareness of how Native Hawaiians feel about the larger telescope projects. Do your best to treat Maunakea with the same awe that they do.

There is currently controversy around another planned telescope, the Thirty Meter Telescope, which has set off protests and revived calls for more Native Hawaiian sovereignty over their sacred lands. 

You can read a bit more about the protests and the young activists leading the way here.

Fun Fact: Mauna Kea is the tallest sea mountain in the world. And, if you count what’s below sea level, it is taller than Everest.

giant silver and white telescopes located on mauna kea in hawaii

Drive your way to Kaʻū moku.

Many of Kaʻū’s sights are about an hour and a half drive from Hilo. 

The drive will be worth it as it offers captivating views of dramatic pali (Hawaiian for cliffs), the Kaʻū Desert, and of course, the Pacific Ocean!

Check out the southernmost point in the U.S.

When you head to Kaʻū, you will be able to see some of the highlights of the Big Island. 

One such spot is South Point (Ka Lae). South Point is the southernmost point in the United States.

You will see many people jumping off of South Point into the ocean below. It is dangerous to do, so only participate if you are an experienced cliff-jumper and a strong swimmer.

Hike to Green Sands Beach (Papakōlea).

From the parking lot at South Point, you can hike south along the dirt road to Green Sands Beach (Papakōlea). It is accessible by four-wheel-drive vehicles with high clearance as well.

After you make the 2.5-mile journey to this stunning beach, a beach coated in olivine crystals and smatterings of black sand among the white sand with greet you. 

You can relax on the beach or swim in the water. Be aware that the water can be pretty rough, so proceed with caution!

the waters of the green sand beach of hawaii with turquoise water

Check out the town of Nāʻālehu.

From Green Sands, head back towards Hilo and stop in the town of Nāʻālehu (Naalehu). You can get some great eats here! 

For incredible burgers and loco moco, Hanahou Restaurant is your stop. I just love this small family-owned restaurant. Sometimes there is even live music and hula.

You can also hit up Punalu’u Bake Shop, “the southernmost bake shop in the United States.” They are known for their malasadas and tasty Hawaiian sweet bread. 

If you need a pick-me-up, they serve coffee and other beverages. They have outdoor seating in their garden, too!

traditional portuguese donuts covered in sugar

Marvel at the black sands of Punalu’u Beach.

Another highlight of Ka’u is Punalu’u Beach (Black Sands Beach). It is a great beach! 

You will most likely see honu (sea turtles) resting on the beach. You can also hop in the water and enjoy snorkeling here.

palm trees against black sand on a beach in hawaii big island near hilo

Bask in the glory of a trip well spent.

These suggestions are but a few of the many experiences you can have on the Big Island while you are based in Hilo Town. 

Seriously, the list goes on and on! However, I hope that you will find these ideas fulfilling and fun and you have lots of ideas for what to do in Hilo and around it.

The Big Island is a magical place for you to visit. You will be awe-struck by the views, the waterfalls, and the stars. 

Romp around the rainforest, take a drive along the coast, and take in the sights of Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.

No matter what, the people are friendly and welcoming. The memories you will make will be etched in your soul.

I encourage you to open yourself up to the aloha spirit as you traverse this island. Respect the Āina (land). Treat every human, creature, and piece of land with aloha. You will be glowing with mana (spirit energy) when you head back home.

With that, I leave you with: Aloha Āina (love the land). Malama pono (take good care).

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!

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.