Weekend in Las Vegas: 2 Day Itinerary for First-Timers

More than 41 million visitors flock to Las Vegas each year, and for very good reasons!

Las Vegas offers visitors an average of 310 sunny days year-round, and to put it briefly, an escape from reality. 

When in Vegas, there is no going home in the saying, “go big or go home!”

Grand, world-class casino hotels, big-name entertainment and attractions, and an always booming food scene fill 4.2-miles worth of the city’s major street: South Las Vegas Boulevard, which is famously known as the Las Vegas Strip or the Strip. 

But wait! There’s more. Head north of the Strip to downtown Las Vegas and you’ll enter the original Las Vegas Strip otherwise known as Fremont Street. 

This area is also called Old Vegas where historic casino hotels and an eclectic entertainment and arts district saturate the scene. 

Head west into a reclusive part of Vegas and you’ll be surrounded by a natural wonderland full of towering red rock formations and unique desert plants and wildlife. 

Las Vegas is where curiosity and exploration is encouraged, and there is no shying away from letting loose and getting a little crazy here, especially if it’s your first time in Vegas

This 2-day Las Vegas itinerary will ensure every hour of your time is spent absorbing all the spectacular sights and sounds that make Las Vegas such a fabulous city!

Travel Tips for this Las Vegas Itinerary

the las vegas strip lit up at night in colors of gold purple and more
  • Vegas is essentially an adult playground. Although there are kid-friendly activities, this specific weekend in Vegas itinerary is for everyone ages 21 and over!
  • If you’re staying at a hotel on the Strip, download the hotel’s app onto your smartphone for easier, faster, and contactless check-in.
  • Make dining reservations in advance (at least a week or two in advance). Same goes with booking tickets to attractions and events. Don’t mess up your Vegas trip by waiting too long!
  • If you want to gamble on the Strip, sign up for the casino players club (for free) to reap the benefits of the rewards that the programs offer like discounts and comps on hotel rooms, dining, and entertainment, and more.
  • You can’t hail a taxi anywhere on the Strip (see the “How to get around” section below)
  • It is legal to walk around outside on the Strip or in downtown with an open alcoholic drink in your hand (as long as the drink is not in a glass container), so cheers to that!

Best Time to Visit Las Vegas

Allison exploring the area outside of Las Vegas
The Seven Magic Mountains installation, a temporary art exhibit 20 minutes outside of Vegas

Las Vegas is an improbable oasis in the midst of a desert. 

The average high temperature between June and August is 102 degrees Fahrenheit — so unless you have a good tolerance for heat, it’s best to stay away from Vegas during these times. 

For the most bearable weather, visit between March and May or September and November. The weather won’t be either too hot or too cold.

Keep in mind that the famous Vegas ‘pool parties’ typically open March through October. For an events calendar, check here.

Visiting Las Vegas on a Budget

balloon and eiffel tower in las vegas lit up at night

If you are trying to save money, look for travel dates from Sunday to Thursday for lower hotel and airline prices. Booking on a weekend (Friday to Sunday) will usually always cost more. 

The cheapest months for flights and hotels are typically mid-June, mid-to-late July, and August (keep in mind it’s very hot in Vegas during this time). 

Other popular times to visit Vegas on the cheap are in late November; December (before Christmas and New Years); and January (after New Years).

Avoid visiting during federal holidays and during annual events that happen in the city (e.g., EDC festival, World Series of Poker, NASCAR, etc.). Check here for a list of all yearly events. 

What to Pack for a Weekend in Vegas

allison relaxing at the pool in las vegas
Definitely bring some clothes for poolside time when packing for Vegas!
  • Comfortable walking shoes: You will be doing a lot of walking!
  • Light jacket: While it is hot in Vegas for most of the year, all indoor spaces will have the AC on blast and you will likely find yourself feeling cold after a while! And if you visit outside the summer months, temperatures can drop quite drastically by night and it can feel chilly.
  • Sunscreen, hat, and sunglasses: The sun is bright and strong in Vegas!
  • Swimwear and sandals: If attending a Vegas pool party!
  • Summer clothes (e.g., tank tops, t-shirts, dresses, shorts).
  • Water and snacks: If you’re driving into Las Vegas, purchase this beforehand to bring with you as these items are pretty overpriced on the Strip.
  • Lotion/moisturizer: Because between the dry climate and the likelihood of drinking alcohol (which will further dehydrate you), your skin will be very dry.
  • A couple of nice club outfits (for women: a nice dress or skirt and top, and heels; for men: nice fitting pants or jeans, a button-up shirt, and dress shoes): Yes, there is a dress code requirement for the nightclubs on the Strip! The places in downtown Vegas do not have a strict dress code.

Where to Stay for a Weekend in Las Vegas

Relaxing at the W hotel in Las Vegas
Staying in style in Las Vegas!

Getting Around Vegas

public transit in las vegas - the las vegas monorail train serves the strip

Walking: For the first day of this Las Vegas itinerary, you’ll be walking the Strip, so a good pair of walking shoes is highly recommended.

Car rental: For the second day, you may want to rent a car (but you can get away without it and use rideshares or public transportation). I use RentalCars to find the best price on my car rental.

Uber/Lyft/Taxi: Depending on where you choose to stay on the Strip relative to the locations of the activities listed on the first day (or if you just get tired from walking), Uber, Lyft, or taxi is a convenient option for getting around. 

If you don’t rent a car for this itinerary, you can get around on day 2 of this trip by using rideshares or public transportation 

Note: When on the Strip, you must go to a designated pick-up spot at a hotel if you want to take a taxi or use Uber or Lyft.  

Bus: For the first day, the cheapest option besides walking is by bus. The local double-decker Deuce bus has a route that goes directly along The Strip. The Deuce offers frequent services approximately every 15 minutes. A 2-hour pass is $6 and a 24-hour pass is $8. To buy a pass and plan out your route, download the rideRTC app on your smartphone.

Monorail: For the first day, another option for getting around is by riding the Las Vegas Monorail. After you’ve finished touring the Strip, you can ride the Monorail straight back to your hotel from one end of the Strip to the other end. 

A single ride costs $5 while a 24-hour pass costs $13. You will have to walk a fair distance to get to the monorail stations, but considering the Monorail can get you to your destination in less than 15 minutes, this is a true timesaver! 

Plus, trains arrive every 4-8 minutes at each station. The Monorail map can be found here and tickets can be purchased online here.

RTC Bike Share: For the second day, riding an e-bike is a great alternative when you’re in downtown if you don’t want to deal with driving around everywhere (if you decide to rent a car). 

You can buy a dasher pass for $5, which gives you 24 hours of access and unlimited 30-minute rides. Check out the map of all the bike share stations downtown here

Day 1 of Your Las Vegas Itinerary: On the Strip

The first day is about being at the heart of where all the hustle and bustle is in Las Vegas—the Strip!

See the iconic “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign. 

Retro-fabulous sign that reads "welcome to fabulous las vegas nevada" on a sunny day

Kick off your trip with a warm welcome from the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign! Fill up your camera reel with some fun photos in front of the sign. 

There may be a line to take a close-up photo with the sign, but you can always step to the side of the sign to snap a photo if you don’t want to wait. 

There will also be workers by the sign offering to take your picture for tips, but feel free to decline this. There is a designated parking lot for this attraction if you have a car rental with you.

Address: 5200 Las Vegas Blvd S, Las Vegas, NV 89119

Grab breakfast on the Strip.

a breakfast spread on a white tablecloth with pastries and coffee and pancakes

The one unfortunate part of the Strip is the overpriced food and drinks. So if you’re on a budget (or you’re just trying to save when you can), grab a bite at The Egg Shop

You can buy breakfast for roughly $10 to $12 and choose from a menu that includes delicious classics like pancakes, French toast, and scrambled eggs and toast! 

Now if you’re here to splurge, head to the Four Seasons Hotel and dine at Veranda

The restaurant offers a variety of egg dishes like steak and eggs, eggs benedict, and omelets. If you prefer a sweet breakfast, they have several pastries to choose from and of course, pancakes and waffles. 

The service is top-notch, everything is perfectly cooked, and the portions are filling. Don’t shy from adding a mimosa or bloody mary with your meal too, it’s never too early when you’re in Vegas! Breakfast averages at $23 per dish.

The Egg Shop ($)Address3961 S Las Vegas Blvd, Las Vegas, NV 89119 

Veranda ($$$) Address3960 S Las Vegas Blvd, Las Vegas, NV 89119 (inside the Four Seasons Hotel) 

Soak in all the splendid sights and sounds of the Strip. 

the las vegas strip as seen from above on a sunny day

After enjoying a hearty breakfast, spend the afternoon enjoying the Vegas playground! 

It’s extravagant, lively, and full of spirit—and the best way to experience all its splendor is by immersing yourself in all the action located directly on the Strip. 

The Strip is about 4.2 miles long and takes roughly an hour and a half to walk it at a steady, moderate pace. 

But since you’re here to explore and absorb your surroundings, you should take your time (at least 3 to 5 hours, about a half-day). The afternoon is yours to roam, sightsee, shop, eat, and drink!

And while the Strip can be expensive (when it comes to buying certain food and shopping), there are many free and affordable things you can do! Here are some free and low-cost things to check out during the afternoon: 

Watch the Bellagio fountain show. Enjoy the choreographed music and lights in front of the fountains of Bellagio Hotel!

fountain in front of the bellagio during the day time making a small rainbow prism in the water with the eiffel tower visible in the background

Check out the architecture (exterior and interior) of each hotel. You’ll see each hotel has its own theme (e.g., Caesars Palace looks like an Italian palace, Paris Las Vegas has its own Eiffel Tower, the Luxor and its pyramid, etc.) and the construction and design of each hotel is something to admire.

Tour the Bellagio Conservatory and Botanical GardensThe remarkable part of this conservatory and garden is that it changes seasonally (e.g., during winter, the displays transform into a breathtaking holiday theme). You’ll definitely be taking a lot of photos here!  

Window-shop your way through Vegas. You may not have the cash to burn, but you can spend some time enjoying drooling over the luxury items at the designer shops in Aria, The Forum Shops at Caesars, Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian, and the Wynn Plaza at the Wynn—there is a lot to gawk at that will keep you intrigued!

Walking the Shark Reef Tunnel at the Mandalay Bay. While not free, this activity is on the cheaper end of Vegas attractions. Admire more than 2,000 different animals — ranging from sharks to piranhas to giant rays and sea turtles, and even Komodo dragons!

Book online in advance here to skip the ticket purchase line!

realistic venetian-style architecture with gondolas, a pool, a bridge and a replica tower

See the gondola rides at The Venetian. Even if you’re not paying to ride a gondola, it’s a sight worth seeing as the Venetian itself is a stunning, intricately built hotel full of marble columns, arch bridges, painted ceilings. 

Walking around here will feel like you’ve arrived in Venice, Italy. You may catch the gondoliers themselves belting out a song too, it’s quite the performance!

Wanna gondola? Book this combined ticket for a gondola ride and entrance to Madame Tussaud’s to save some money!

Book your combination gondola ride + Madame Tussaud’s ticket here!

Visit the Flamingo Wildlife habitat at the Flamingo Hotel. Here, you can see a variety of wildlife like Chilean Flamingos, pelicans, hummingbirds, turtles and an impressive array of fish.

The roller coaster in front of the new york new york hotel in las vegas with the statue of liberty in front

Take the Big Apple Coaster at the New York-New York Hotel. Another lower-ticket item, a ride on the famous roller coaster in front of the New York-New York Hotel is a fantastically fun way to spend a bit of one day of your Vegas trip! 

Book online in advance here to skip the ticket purchase line!

Have dinner on the Strip.

buffet with options like sushi and other asian fare offered at a las vegas buffet

After a full afternoon of exploring the Strip, it’s time to eat! 

Here are a couple of highly-rated places to eat on the Strip, with one budget-friendly option and a pricier option for those who want to splurge:

Budget: They’re not the cheapest tacos you’ll find in the world, but for a meal on the Strip, Tacos El Gordo is a very affordable option. 

They serve Tijuana-style tacos like suadero (beef brisket) and abobada (spiced pork) with handmade corn tortillas, and they also make their own fresh guacamole and salsas. Be prepared to wait in line here, this place is popular for a reason! Each taco is approximately $3-$5.

Splurge: An absolute must when in Vegas is dining at a buffet! The buffets in Vegas are next level in terms of food quality, interior design, service, and ambiance. 

There are dozens of buffets on the Strip that offer some exquisite, mouth-watering food, and among the most popular is the buffet at the Wynn

Dinner is $64.99 per person Monday through Thursday and $69.99 per person on Friday and Saturdays. It’s a worthwhile dining experience as there is nearly every type of cuisine here (vegan and vegetarian options included). Add an open bar tab for $27.99 per person!

If you’re a fan of seafood, be sure to pile your plate high with their Alaskan Opilio crab legs! The dessert section is huge, so make sure to leave room for this too. 

There is also a server at your table who attends to you for drinks. Make a prepaid reservation online here.

Tacos El Gordo ($) Address: 3041 S Las Vegas Blvd, Las Vegas, NV 89109

Buffet at The Wynn ($$) Address: 3131 S Las Vegas Blvd, Las Vegas, NV 89109

Watch the Las Vegas skyline light up the night at 1,149 feet high.

las vegas at night as seen from above

Hopefully, you’re not afraid of heights, because you’re about to be standing in the tallest freestanding observation tower in the U.S.! 

Head to the SkyPod at the STRAT Hotel (previously The Stratosphere) for breathtaking, 360-degree views of the Las Vegas Strip and Valley. 

Las Vegas is considered the brightest spot on Earth, and since you can’t fly to space to see this spectacular view (though of course, you could take a helicopter tour!), this is the next best thing!

Buy tickets and book your dates in advance online here. Tickets are $24 and include access to both the indoor and outdoor observation deck. 

And if you’re an adrenaline junkie, purchase the package for skyjump, which allows you to bungee jump from 829 feet above the Strip!

Book your bungee jump online here!

photo of the linq ferris wheel from below

Alternately, take a spin on the High Roller at the LINQ, which is a less intense option. 

 If all that height is a bit much for you, there’s also the High Roller observation wheel which is a great alternative, where you slowly ascend 550 feet in your own air-conditioned pod.

Book a ride on the High Roller here!

The LINQ also has its own zipline experience, where you can zoom over 1,000 feet down a zipline towards the base of the High Roller, over 100 feet in the air! 

This is a good introductory activity if you want something in between bungee jumping and a Ferris wheel.

Book your ziplining experience here!

Experience an unforgettable Las Vegas party.

african american man and caucasian woman in heels going out for a night of dancing in las vegas

Alright, time for bed! Just kidding. 

Another “when in Vegas” experience is about to unfold—time for a night out of partying at the club! 

The exciting part about the party scene in Vegas is that many clubs feature big-name DJs as the headliners and sometimes celebrities as their special guests for the event. 

To get into any club event, you will need to put your name on the guestlist. To do this, add your name to one of the free guest lists here for the club you want to go to (you can also check the calendar on this website to see who is the DJ at each club). 

Not all clubs offer a free guestlist, so alternatively, you can purchase tickets directly on the club website. Unfortunately, ticket prices are not the same for males and females (it costs more for males). Ticket prices vary per club.

Note: All clubs have a strict dress code, so make sure to check the club’s website to make sure you are wearing the appropriate attire or else there is a chance you might be declined entry!

Tip: Some of the best parties are held at XS Nightclub, EBC (at night), Drais, Omnia, Marquee, and Hakkasan.

Not into partying? There are a plethora of Vegas shows worth seeing to see Sin City, minus the sin part! Cirque du Soleil is a Vegas classic, but there are all sorts of shows for every kind of taste.

Day 2 of your Las Vegas Itinerary: Exploring Off the Strip

For the next day of our weekend getaway in Las Vegas, it’s time to go on an adventure away from the Strip. 

Your second day in Las Vegas will take you to other parts of the city that often do not get the attention it deserves—Vegas has a lot more than just sightseeing along the Strip!

Have breakfast at Café Lola.

Enter this pretty-in-pink cafe and it’s as if you’ve sat down for a traditional afternoon tea, but with a modern twist. 

At Café Lola, every food and beverage item is adorable, aesthetic, or to put it simply—Instagrammable. 

Beyond the presentation, their items are freshly made and a delicious treat to start your morning! 

Try the breakfast croissant (their house-made croissant served as a sandwich with an organic egg, roasted turkey, and havarti cheese). 

For something sweet, go for the strawberry shortcake waffle served with fresh strawberries, white chocolate, cookie crumbles, housemade whipped cream and strawberry syrup—is your mouth watering yet?

Address: 4280 S Hualapai Way #109, Las Vegas, NV 89147

Take a scenic drive through Red Rock Canyon.

visiting the red rocks of red rock canyon in las vegas with shrubbery and desert flora

Take the 13-mile scenic drive through Red Rock Canyon in Nevada’s Mojave Desert and it’ll appear as though you’ve been transported to another planet! 

This rugged and brilliant red landscape contains 600 species of plants like Joshua trees, and wildlife like desert bighorn sheep (usually seen at higher altitudes if you can spot them from afar). 

The drive offers spots where you can pull over to take photos, and you can take your time driving through the entire route—there is no time limit.

You will need to book a time to enter the canyon. Make a timed-entry reservation online here. It’s $15 per car, and $15 + $5 per person for commercial tour vehicles (e.g., taxi, rideshares, etc.).

Address: 1000 Scenic Loop Dr, Las Vegas, NV 89161

Wander and wonder inside AREA15.

At AREA15, you’ll be invited to engage in many mind-bending and mesmerizing experiences. 

This venue is full of various immersive entertainment and games, psychedelic art displays, and unique food and beverage options that provide you a full-sensory experience. 

One of the highly raved about exhibits is their interactive and immersive art experience, Omega Mart—you have to buy tickets here, you don’t want to miss out on this while you’re here!

Address: 3215 S Rancho Dr, Las Vegas, NV 89102

Check out downtown Las Vegas. 

the busy downtown of las vegas, fremont street off the strip

In 1906, the first hotel, Golden Gate Hotel & Casino, was built in downtown Las Vegas on Fremont Street.

This marked the beginning of what the city is known for today—glamour, endless entertainment, gambling, brilliant lights, sleepless nights, and ultimately, a place to stay and play. 

Thereafter, Fremont Street flourished and became a hotspot for visitors! 

Covering five blocks of downtown, the Fremont Street Experience is where you can see free concerts, watch the Viva Vision Light Show for free (the world’s largest digital ceiling display), and ride the SlotZilla Zipline, which is 11 stories high and takes you on a thrilling ride over Fremont Street.

the downtown area of fremont street all lit up with neon signage

After you’ve explored Fremont Street, check out The Neon Museum and tour its exhibit full of dazzling neon signs—some date back to the 1930s! Buy tickets online here.

Another interesting museum is the Mob Museum, which focuses on the history of organized crime in the United States and housed in a historic courthouse. Buy tickets online here.

Another cool area to visit when you’re in downtown is the Arts District.This district is brimming with both contemporary and antique art galleries and shops. 

Bars, pubs, and a variety of restaurants and cafes also fill the scene. Keep an eye out for all the beautiful murals throughout the district too!

Fremont Street Address: E Fremont St, Las Vegas, NV 89101

The Neon Museum Address: 770 Las Vegas Blvd N, Las Vegas, NV 89101

The Mob Museum Address300 Stewart Ave, Las Vegas, NV 89101

Arts District Address: 1001 S 1st St, Las Vegas, NV 89101

Dive into the downtown food scene.

There is no shortage of culinary choices in downtown Las Vegas, so if you’ve decided to explore the Arts District, dine at Esther’s Kitchen for some superb Italian cuisine made from farm-to-table ingredients. 

Their housemade sourdough bread (with your choice of spread) may be the best sourdough you’ll ever have. 

Paired with any one of their pasta dishes (also made from scratch), you’ll be blown away at how perfect it tastes!

If you’ve stayed around the Fremont Street area, eat at Carson Kitchen where you can indulge in elevated, re-imagined New American cuisine. 

A must-order is their “Devil’s” Eggs, Black Rice & Oxtail Risotto, Cocoa-Espresso NY Strip, and of course, dessert —the Glazed Donut Bread Pudding.

Esther’s Kitchen Address ($$): 1130 S Casino Center Blvd #110, Las Vegas, NV 89104

Carson Kitchen Address ($$): 124 S 6th St Suite 100, Las Vegas, NV 89101

Finish off the night with round 2 of dancing.

Man's hand serving an orange drink with crushed ice and mint

In Vegas, the nightlife is always buzzing. End your trip with a bang with another night out on the town. Bar or club, there are endless spots to choose from! 

Still in the Arts District? Check out Millennium Fandom Bar where you can play board games and trivia or sing karaoke. 

Looking for a good cocktail? Head back up to Fremont Street to the Downtown Cocktail Room.

Or if you want, go back to the Strip, and dance the night away at one of the clubs. The night is yours, so make it count!

Millennium Fandom Bar Address: 900 S Las Vegas Blvd #140, Las Vegas, NV 89101

Downtown Cocktail Room Address: 111 S Las Vegas Blvd, Las Vegas, NV 89101

Extending Your Weekend in Las Vegas

people out on the skywalk platform at the west rim of the grand canyon

If you have three days in Vegas, allocate one for a day trip to see some of the nature that surrounds Las Vegas!

Grand Canyon and Hoover Dam: See two of the USA’s biggest bucket list items on one easy day trip from Vegas! This tour takes you to the West Rim of the Grand Canyon (where you can do the legendary skywalk) with a stop at the Hoover Dam along the way. Check tour itinerary and more details here!

Note that the west rim is the closest part of the Grand Canyon, and while it is the Grand Canyon, it is not the national park’s land; this land is part of the Hualapai Reservation and is sovereign native land.

Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend: See two classics of the American Southwest all in Page, Arizona! Antelope Canyon is a beautiful slot canyon that twists and turns through narrow rock, and Horseshoe Bend is a scenic bend in the Colorado River that has to be seen to be believed. 

This tour includes pick-up, transit, and drop-off, as well as a guide, all the fees, and lunch included. Check tour itinerary and more details here!

How to Spend a Weekend in Colorado Springs: Itinerary & Tips

Colorado Springs is known for being one of Colorado’s top getaways!

Not only is it about an hour from the main city of Denver, but it’s also home to tons of unique outdoor destinations, from Garden of the Gods to Pikes Peak.

This beautiful city is most popularly visited in the summer but is breathtaking year-round, especially in the winter when snow sits atop the mountains. There’s no bad time to visit!

A weekend in Colorado Springs is the perfect amount of time to dip your toes into all that this charming Colorado city has to offer!

Here is the perfect two-day Colorado Springs itinerary for your next trip!

Day 1 of your Weekend in Colorado Springs Itinerary

For your first day in Colorado Springs, plan on spending a lot of the time directly in the city visiting some of the top attractions!

This is the perfect day to get to know the Springs more before you venture out to some of the area’s natural attractions tomorrow!

Eat a delicious breakfast at Urban Egg.

Start the first day of your two-day Colorado Springs itinerary by stopping for a great breakfast at none other than Urban Egg, a daytime eatery.

Before you ask, yes, it is a chain, but it’s a Colorado-only chain that’s known for having some of the best breakfasts in the state!

At Urban Egg, you can expect some of the best ingredients because they’re all locally sourced, which the restaurant chain prides itself in. This way, you can be sure that you’re supporting a local business, something Coloradans love to do!

Their menu has pretty much everything that you’d expect (and more) from a breakfast restaurant. There are tons of pancakes, eggs benedict, french toasts, and more.

If you’re more of a “eat lunch at breakfast” type person, there are also great sandwiches and soups or salads to choose from.

Some of their more unique dishes include Fred’s Hawaiian, a pancake with pineapple, coconut, cinnamon butter, and vanilla cream, or the chicken and waffle eggs benedict, which is served with free-range chicken, waffles, bacon jam, maple butter, and hollandaise.

All of the prices at Urban Egg are mid-range, so you won’t have to worry about paying a ton for your excellent breakfast.

Do a morning hike at Garden of the Gods.

After breakfast, head to Garden of the Gods, one of the most popular destinations in Colorado Springs that you won’t want to miss!

As an insider tip, it’s always best to visit right in the morning if you can. This way, you can miss out on many tour groups and other tourists that tend to file through later in the day.

There are a few ways that you can explore the Garden of the Gods. You could literally just drive your car through it if you wanted, go on a hike (I highly recommend this!), or you could even go on a tour with a park ranger.

Arguably, the best way to explore Garden of the Gods is to go on one of their many hikes, and there are so many to choose from!

Garden of the Gods trail in Colorado Springs with red rocks and dead brush

What’s so great about the hikes at Garden of the Gods is that none of them are difficult. The hardest one is only rated moderate, so even if you’re not an expert hiker, you’ll easily be able to have your choice of trails when visiting here.

Spend the morning doing one of the trails at Garden of the Gods and consider stopping along the way so that you can take in the fantastic views!

The most popular trail is the Perkins Central Garden Trail, but the Ridge Loop Trail are also great, and Chambers/Bretag/Palmer Trail goes throughout the park.

Exploring Garden of the Gods will most likely take your whole morning. Be sure to stop by the visitor center to learn more about the rocks and also grab a map so you can stay on your trail.

Road leading to Garden of the Gods park in Colorado Springs with green trees and red rocks

Grab lunch at Black Bear Diner.

After spending a few hours of your morning at the beautiful Garden of the Gods, you’re probably ready for some lunch already!

The best spot to eat lunch near Garden of the Gods is only a short drive away at Black Bear Diner.

From the outside, Black Bear Diner kind of just looks like an average restaurant, but don’t be fooled. Once you go inside, you’ll be treated to traditional American diner food, and you can order pretty much anything you could think of.

There’s breakfast served all day in addition to a ton of other dishes, like burritos, cheeseburgers, sandwiches, salads, and more. They’re open all day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner too, so if you love it so much that you want to come back for another meal, you totally can.

Visit the spectacular Glen Eyrie Castle.

Now that you’re all set with a full stomach, it’s time to go back out and explore again!

A short drive from Black Bear Diner is none other than Glen Eyrie Castle. I know what you’re thinking: what, a castle near the Rocky Mountains in Colorado? But yes, it is literally a castle!

The historic castle of Glen Eyrie with tan brick and lots of windows and trees in Colorado Springs CO

This historic castle was built in the 19th century by a man named General William Jackson Palmer.

He’s the one who founded Colorado Springs back in the day, so it only made sense that he had a mansion there! The mansion is huge and is made up of around thirty different rooms.

The best way to explore Glen Eyrie Castle is to go on a tour. These happen daily and usually occur about one to two times a day in the afternoon, but times vary depending on which day you visit.

There are tours on the weekend too! Tickets only cost $12 a person and can be reserved online.

If you want a super fun place to stay the night, you can also rent a room!

Take a tour of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Training Center.

Many people don’t know that there are Olympic and Paralympic training centers right in Colorado Springs, but there are!

They’re located on Olympic Plaza, and there are also other ones out in New York in Lake Placid.

When visiting Colorado Springs, you should absolutely try to go and take a tour of them if you can!

They have a variety of tours available, with names that make a lot of sense given the theme: bronze, silver, or gold. Pricing depends on which one you book but can range up to $75 per person.

For a truly unforgettable experience, consider booking one of the athlete-guided tours!

Prices aren’t listed on the website for this experience because pricing changes depending on which athlete gives your tour.

While you will likely not get Simone Biles as your guide, it’s still a super fun way to actually meet an Olympic or Paralympic athlete and learn all about the training center from someone who uses it!

Photo Credit: David via Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Go inside and learn at the Ghost Town Museum.

Colorado has its own fair share of ghost towns. I mean, the Wild West was very alive and well in this area of the United States quite a while ago, and there are remnants of them still available to see today!

To learn all about the Wild West, head to the Ghost Town Museum. It’s located near downtown Colorado Springs and is a famous museum to visit especially if you’re traveling with children.

Inside, you can check out an entire town to see how it would’ve been a few hundred years ago.

One of the more fun things to do at the Ghost Town Museum is to learn all about gold panning! Plan on spending at least an hour or so here to truly get all that you can out of your visit to the Ghost Town Museum.

Explore downtown Colorado Springs.

Spend the rest of the afternoon relaxing and just exploring the downtown area of Colorado Springs.

Truthfully, exploring downtown areas is one of the best ways to get more acquainted with a town or city. It’s best to even discover these areas on your own without much of a plan because you never know what you’ll come across during your trip!

If you are the type of person who likes exploring with more of a plan, there are a few places that you won’t want to miss.

Stop by Cacao Chemistry for delicious Colorado Springs chocolate, head to Colorado Co-op for handmade local clothing, and go into Poor Richard’s Books and Gifts for some great souvenirs and toys.

There are also many different great restaurants in downtown Colorado Springs. This area is known for its international eateries and restaurants, so feel free to pop into a few for a quick bite.

Just make sure you don’t eat too much because there’s a great restaurant on the itinerary for dinner!

The downtown area of Colorado Springs CO with a giant clocktower and stone building facade

Grab a tasty dinner at Jack Quinn’s Irish Pub and Restaurant.

Once you are done exploring downtown Colorado Springs and you’re ready to start settling down for the night, it’s time to grab a delicious dinner.

Look no further than Jack Quinn’s Irish Pub and Restaurant! There are quite a few different Irish pubs in Colorado Springs, but this is the most loved.

Jack Quinn’s Irish Pub and Restaurant has a very traditional Irish feel — which you’ll appreciate if you’ve ever been lucky enough to go to Ireland!

It opened back in the 1870s and has been a staple restaurant ever since. Plus, a lot of the building itself is from Ireland, which only adds to the ambiance and atmosphere.

Their menu is absolutely scrumptious. They have great starters like Irish nachos, frickles and frings, poutine, pretzels, and cheese.

Their entrees are just as tasty, with Guinness beef boxty, bangers and mash, pub mac, and of course, alehouse fish and chips. Don’t forget to have a Guinness to top it all off!

the green facade of the irish pub called jack quinn in colorado springs co -- a great spot to visit on a weekend in colorado springs itinerary
Photo Credit: Jim & Robin Kunze via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Day 2 of Your Weekend in Colorado Springs Itinerary

For the second day on this two-day Colorado Springs itinerary, it’s time to venture slightly outside of downtown and check out more of the epic natural scenery.

Sure, you saw Garden of the Gods yesterday, but it won’t even compare to the attractions you see today!

Have breakfast at Rudy’s Little Hideaway Restaurant.

Before starting your day two of adventures, be sure to fill up on breakfast. The most fantastic spot near your first attraction of the day for breakfast is a place called Rudy’s Little Hideaway Restaurant.

It’s a Mexican restaurant that serves up some of the tastiest breakfast you could ever imagine!

Their breakfast menu consists of everything from pancakes and french toast to egg dishes with tasty meats like country fried steak, sausage, and bacon.

For a real treat, have one of their fantastic breakfast burritos. Trust me; you won’t regret it! Anything with green chili is usually an A+ too: it’s a favorite among Coloradans.

All of the food at Rudy’s Little Hideaway is very affordable, with most meals costing under $10!

Marvel at the breathtaking Broadmoor Seven Falls.

After breakfast, head to the Broadmoor Seven Falls. As the name suggests, there are seven waterfalls here, and they’re breathtaking. They’ve been owned by The Broadmoor since they were opened to the public in the 180s.

To get tickets to the Seven Falls, stop by The Broadmoor first. After getting your ticket, there’s a short one-mile trail that leads up to the Seven Falls. It’s paved and only has a tiny incline, so it’s not super difficult to get to it.

If you’re really feeling up for a challenge, consider doing one of the many activities at Seven Falls. You can hike on one of the longer trails or even go on a zipline adventure, which is not for the faint of heart!

a very tall cascade that breaks into seven small waterfalls with a giant staircase that will take you to the top
Photo Credit: Tim Caynes via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Take a trip up to the top of Pikes Peak.

Colorado is home to quite a few 14ers (mountains with higher than 14,000 feet of elevation), but Pikes Peak truly takes the cake!

It’s the tallest one and is located a short drive from Colorado Springs. Take a trip to the top for some of the best views!

One way to get to the top is to drive Pike’s Peak Highway. If you’re not a fan of heights, you’ll most likely not enjoy this scenic drive, but the views are well worth it. Be sure to check the mountain conditions before your trip. It’s not always the safest in the winter.

rock sign at the pike peak summit at over 14000 feet in colorado

Another great (and more popular) way to see the views from Pikes Peak is to book a ride on The Broadmoor Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway. This is one of the most popular train rides in the entire country, so you won’t want to miss it!

The entire trip is about 3.5 hours, so if you opt to take the train instead of driving, you may have to rearrange this itinerary slightly.

Note that tickets for the cog railway tend to book out at least a week in advance, so book as soon as you can!

famous red railway car with a silver roof ascending pikes peak with view of mountains with light dusting of snow in the distant background

Eat lunch at the unique Airplane Restaurant.

After a morning of outdoor exploring, you’ve probably worked up a great appetite!

You’re in luck because today, you’ll be eating at one of the most unique restaurants in Colorado Springs: the Airplane Restaurant. It is a bit of a drive from the Pikes Peak station, but it’s well worth it.

The Airplane Restaurant is exactly what it sounds like: a restaurant located inside an airplane. It serves traditional American food, but the atmosphere and location alone are reason enough to visit this place.

Children will especially love it, because how often can you say you’ve eaten inside of a historic plane?

The airplane itself is a Boeing KC-97 tanker! It was built back in the 1950s and is still in pretty excellent condition considering it’s been turned into a restaurant.

The restaurant menu includes everything from soups and salads to great sandwiches.

Don’t forget to check out their “jet fuel” drinks section to quench your thirst!

Visit and walk around Manitou Springs.

Now that it’s the afternoon, it’s time to go out and explore one of the most popular spots to visit in the Colorado Springs area: Manitou Springs.

It’s a beautiful Colorado mountain town with a population of around 5000 people. As the name suggests, it gained popularity because of its natural mineral springs.

This town offers some of the best views of Pikes Peak, which was on the itinerary earlier today!

There are quite a few things to do when you visit Manitou Springs. You could stop by Cave of the Winds Mountain Park for amazing zip-lining and spelunking, head to the fascinating Miramount Castle Museum, or hike or bike in Red Rock Canyon Open Space.

If you’re the type of traveler who likes visiting a place without much of a plan when visiting new towns, you can totally do that here too. Spend some time downtown and just explore to really get a feeling for small-town Colorado life.

The locals here are always so kind and welcoming to visitors! You never know either; you might just run into someone who knows of an epic spot that only locals know about, which you can add to your Colorado Springs itinerary.

the reddish rock landscape of manitou springs in colorado dusted with a light layer of snow in the early winter time or late spring

Stop by the Manitou Cliff Dwellings.

Before leaving Manitou Springs, stop by the Manitou Cliff Dwellings.

This tourist attraction is a replica of old cliff dwellings that have now been turned into exhibits for visitors to see and learn more about this area’s history. They’re privately owned but are open to the public for visiting.

During your trip, don’t forget to stop by The Pueblo, where you can learn about more history. Other museums here include the Pueblo Museum and the Cave Museum. Then, consider going on a tour to check out the cliff dwellings!

Hours change a lot throughout the year depending on the season, so be sure to check online and make sure they’ll be open during your trip. Sometimes they can also get pretty busy in the afternoon, but if you visit shortly before they close, it’s not too bad!

historic replica of the orange-stone brick cliff dwellings made by native americans living in this part of colorado many centuries ago

Have dinner at Colorado Mountain Brewery, a local favorite.

For the last dinner of your trip to Colorado Springs, stop by Colorado Mountain Brewery. This is a traditional brewery that you won’t want to miss out on. They even claim that they are the “true taste of Colorado!”

Everything you’d expect to see on a brewery menu is available as an entree here. Enjoy one of their interesting starters to begin, including everything from bison poppers and sweet chili glazed Brussels sprouts to loaded kettle chips and bison queso!

Their entrees are just as delicious. You can order meals like beer can chicken, chipotle maple glazed salmon, bison meatloaf wellington, or one of their well-known 14er burgers. With your meal, don’t forget to have one of their local beers!

They have different ones throughout the year, so be sure to ask a bartender what one they most recommend. They never steer guests wrong!

Spend some time here reminiscing on all of your great memories from this trip before heading to one last stop to satisfy your sweet tooth.

tasting flight of different beers

Satisfy your sweet tooth at Amy’s Donuts.

End your weekend by stopping by none other than Amy’s Donuts. It may look unassuming from the outside, but trust me, this is one of those donut places that have donuts that go viral online because of the crazy flavors!

Amy’s Donuts is a local favorite, and it’s open 24/7, so no matter how long you spend at Colorado Mountain Brewery, you’ll still be able to stop here before heading off after your trip is done.

All donuts at Amy’s Donuts are made from scratch, so you can only expect the best of the best here. Plus, they have tons of crazy flavors, like almond banana caramel, Andes mint, Amy’s Almond Joy, strawberry pearl, and more.

Of course, they do still have traditional flavors, too, if that’s more your thing, like cinnamon glazed twist, glazed donuts, apple fritters, and plain sugar.

If you happen to be visiting Colorado Springs around a major holiday, you won’t even have to worry because Amy’s Donuts has regular hours no matter the time of year. Before heading off tomorrow, consider picking a dozen for your ride home!

The Ultimate 10 Day Coastal Maine Road Trip Itinerary

a beautiful sunset at five islands in maine

If you’re looking for the best way to experience summer on the East Coast, it’s got to be driving the beautiful coast of Maine.

With over 4,000 islands and the most coastline of any state in the United States, road tripping the coast of Maine is a bucket list item if there ever was one!

Taking a Maine coast road trip encompasses everything that is quintessentially New England in summer, from its seafood shacks to its charming coastal towns to its sandy beaches on the pristine Atlantic coast.

This road trip itinerary includes plenty of scenic Maine coastal drives, small towns worthy of day trips, and yes — plenty of beach time!

How This Maine Itinerary Works

This road trip begins in Southern Maine and ends in Northern Maine. It assumes you are within driving distance of Maine and are bringing your own car.

When I did this Maine road trip, I flew to Boston, Massachusetts from San Francisco. My friend came down to meet me in Boston, where we spent two days, and then we drove up to Maine from Boston.

If you do this Maine road trip from Boston, I suggest renting a car in advance from Boston Logan International Airport. They have the best rates and their location is convenient for the city. Compare prices on car rentals here.

From Boston to the first stop on this coastal Maine is only an hour and a half drive, so it’s easy enough to start your trip there. 

From the end of this itinerary, you could return your rental car in Bangor (the nearest airport to the final stop, Acadia National Park) or you could drive back to Boston if that’s better on your budget. 

One-way rentals are often really pricy, so while this definitely adds time and mileage to your trip, it may be worth it for the cost savings. 

The drive directly from Acadia National Park to Boston is about 5 hours with normal traffic, though it may be worse on weekends or holidays.

Where to Stay in Maine

This itinerary is crafted to be customizable to your personal travel style. Depending on how you prefer to road trip, you can adjust it.

I personally hate moving hotels every night, so I crafted this Maine itinerary with this in might, so that wouldn’t be strictly necessary.

However, if you do the itinerary this way, you may have to do a little more driving in between each stop and that may also involve a small amount of backtracking. 

Alternately, you could move hotels each night to keep moving without backtracking quite so much.

(No matter what, to some extent some backtracking is unavoidable due to the unconnected peninsulas and islands you’ll visit, particularly in Midcoast Maine.)

Here are two ways you could do it:

NightOption 1 (Fewer Stops)Option 2 (More Stops)
1Ogunquit or KennebunkportOgunquit
2Ogunquit or KennebunkportKennebunkport
3PortlandPortland
4PortlandPortland
5Brunswick or BathBailey Island
6Brunswick or BathDamariscotta
7CamdenRockland
8CamdenCamden
9Bar HarborBar Harbor
10Bar HarborBar Harbor

Your 10 Day Coastal Maine Road Trip Itinerary

Day 1: Ogunquit

Many boats in the marina of Ogunquit on a sunny day in Maine along the coast

Southern Maine is home to some of the few sand beaches along the Maine coast, which tends to trend rockier as it goes further north.

York, Ogunquit, and Kennebunkport are the three most popular beach getaways in Southern Maine – and in this itinerary, we’ll cover the latter two.

These three beach destinations tend to be quite busy with day and weekend trippers from New York, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts, since it’s a relatively short distance from other points in New England.

A general rule of thumb: the further south you are in Maine, the busier it’ll be – with the exception of Acadia National Park, of course.

I didn’t get a chance to visit York on this trip, but I did get to see both Ogunquit and Kennebunkport.

I have to say that I preferred Kennebunkport, but my time in Ogunquit wasn’t ideal as the remnants of a tropical storm were blowing through (which is why I’m using primarily stock & other people’s photography in this section — my photos are really dark and gloomy!)

Drive to Ogunquit.

Coastline of Ogunquit with reeds and other plant life

The first destination on our whistle-stop tour of the Maine coastline is the charming seaside hamlet of Ogunquit.

Frankly, my experience with Ogunquit was subpar, simply for the fact that the remnants of Tropical Storm Fred made there be a total downpour during my stay in the town. It rained to the point of flooding: hardly what you want on a beach getaway!

However, I did get to eat a meal in Ogunquit and browse some of the shops and restaurants, so here is what I recommend you do when in Ogunquit.

Walk the Marginal Way.

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

First things first: parking in Ogunquit can be a bit of a nightmare. The parking gets worth the further out towards Perkins Cove you drive.

As you drive towards the pier area, there is a very small municipal lot where you can park for $4 per hour… and that’s assuming you can find a spot! We had no such luck, and it wasn’t even a weekend.

More likely, you’ll have to pay $25 for a day pass for private parking. Alternately, you can park in a municipal lot up the road, also at $4 per hour, but then there is a lot of walking. We parked here at Obed’s Lot.

The Marginal Way stretches from the area near Obed’s Lot to Perkins Cove. I suggest parking at Obed’s Lot because it has a lot more space and the walk along Marginal Way along the coast is spectacular!

Admire all the beautiful buildings of Ogunquit on this peaceful coastal walk that passes Little Beach and Israels Head on a one-mile coastal walkway. It takes about 20 minutes to reach Perkins Cove.

Explore the Perkins Cove and Harbor area.

Grassy area looking over to perkins cove with boats in the marina

Once you arrive in Perkins Cove — either via Marginal Way or driving directly to Perkins Cove and parking — it’s time to explore the charms of Ogunquit, particularly the harbor area around Perkins Cove. Here are a few shops worth stopping in.

  • Whistling Oyster for whimsical and beautiful jewelry inspired by the sea
  • Perkins Cove Pottery Shop has gorgeous ceramic pieces for the home — it’s hard not to leave without something
  • Blue Whale Trading Company for beautifully curated pieces from local New England artists

Have the first of many seafood meals.

Wood house with white trim and planter basks and american flag and sign that reads "lobster shack" and "open"
Photo Credit: Jasperdo via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

When it comes time for lunch, hit up The Lobster Shack – it has the best reviews of any restaurant in Ogunquit and good prices to boot given what’s on offer.

I didn’t heed my own advice as the Lobster Shack was totally full when we visited and we had to make alternate plans!

It was pouring rain and we couldn’t find parking downtown, so we hopped back in the car and headed to Rose Cove Restaurant. I ordered the fried haddock tacos and they were just OK. Honestly, I wouldn’t go back.

Walk along the Footbridge.

Photo Credit: JR P via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

This manually operated drawbridge is one of the biggest draws to Perkins Cove — just look how cute it is!

Take a stroll over the bridge to complete your walk of Perkins Cove and see it from the other side for perspective (and photo opps!).

Spend the day on Ogunquit Beach.

Sandy beach of Ogunquit Maine on a sunny summer day with rippled sand and water

Time for your first of a handful of sandy beaches in Maine! The main (ha) reason why people come to Ogunquit is for its enormous stretch of sandy shoreline… an anomaly in the mostly rocky coastline of Maine.

The powdery sand and gentle waves mean that Ogunquit Beach is a great place for families who are looking for some calm water to wade in and soft sand to luxuriate on.

End the day with another meal.

Photo Credit: JR P via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

If you want more seafood, head back to Perkins Cove for one of the other delicious restaurants. Other recommended places in the area include Footbridge Lobster and The Trap.

If you want something different, the Front Porch has a wide variety of sandwiches and entrées for a break from seafood.

Day 2: Kennebunkport

Spend the day on Gooch’s Beach.

Allison Green, the author of the article, in a green bathing suit and reddish-brown hat sitting in the sand

I hope you didn’t have too much beach time yesterday… because it’s time for what is, in my opinion, one of the best beaches in Maine!

Gooch’s Beach in Kennebunkport is simply stunning. Lots of sandy coastline means that you can walk nearly a mile on the sand, the cool Atlantic water lapping at your ankles.

Note that the beach is on the narrow side and that during high tide, there can be very little room on the sand for towels! There is more room on the north side of the beach, as this is where the beach is wider.

Waves crashing on Kennebunkport beach on a sunny day in Maine in summer

Another caveat: parking here is rather pricy, at $25 for a day pass for street parking using one of the meters or the Passport app. We found it worth it, but if you are staying in a hotel in the area, you may be able to walk instead.

Parking here at Gooch’s will also allow you free parking access to Middle Beach and Mother’s Beach, as it is all one zone. So you can beach hop to all three Kennebunkport beaches… but frankly, Gooch’s is the best by a decent margin!

Have lunch at the Clam Shack.

Once you’ve soaked up a lot of salt air and need a break from roasting yourself in the sun, head back into downtown Kennebunkport for a delicious seafood meal at The Clam Shack.

Skip their lobster rolls: they’re trifling (who the hell puts a lobster roll on a hamburger bun?! Team hot dog bun for life).

The offending lobster roll.

But their fried clams are what they’re known for, and that’s absolutely what you should order.

Their fries and coleslaw aren’t half-bad, either!

Walk around the wharf and harbor.

The harbor area of Kennebunkport with a large sailboat and waterfront restaurant

Once you’ve had a filling meal, digest a little with a walk around the cute downtown area of Kennebunkport.

Since you’re already at the Clam Shack, start with a little wander around the wharf and marina area, where the Kennebunk River heads out to sea.

There are lots of beautiful buildings along this harbor area and the sailboats in the marina are beautiful when they bob in the waves.

Shop around the cute downtown of Kennebunkport.

a coffee shop in downtown kennebunkport maine

There are also a lot of shops and galleries you could explore. A few places we enjoyed were:

  • Dock Square Coffee House for an iced coffee pick-me-up after lots of time in the sun
  • The Candyman for homemade fudge, salt water taffy, truffles, and all sorts of other sweet goodness!
  • Fine Print Booksellers for a small but thoughtful selection of books that are perfect for beach reading

Drive to Point Walker.

the famous bush compound where the bush family summers in maine on the water at walkers point on a sunny day

Kennebunkport is famous for its Bush Compound summer home – you’ll see all sorts of Bush family regalia all over the town. They take it pretty seriously – even the Clam Shack is shilling Barbara Bush’s book!

If you’re curious to cast an eye on where the Bushes spend their summers, drive to Point Walker, about 10 minutes from downtown Kennebunkport. It’s absolutely stunning and you’ll be able to spot the Bush compound from here.

Have dinner at one of Kennebunkport’s finest.

The famous Alissons restaurant in Kennebunkport Maine which is known for its delicious and creative lobster dishes

Once you’ve had your fill of sightseeing, sand, and sun, it’s time to start thinking dinner. Luckily, Kennebunkport is a really thriving and bustling seaside town, and there are a lot of options.

So far, I’ve had you overdosing on seafood, so I’ll be sure to include a non-seafood option for dinner.

(And don’t worry – the next two days bring us to Portland, for a respite on seafood, before diving back into the seafood mania as we head up the coast!).

  • Alisson’s Restaurant: while I may be biased to the name, this gets the best consistent reviews in town and it’s located conveniently right in Dock Square. They’re famous for their lobster poutine, which is just as decadent as it sounds! They also have lobster pizza and lobster mac ‘n cheese. It’s as Maine as it gets!
  • Chez Rosa for casual, French-inspired seafood like moules frites as well as non-seafood options like beef bourgignon and French onion soup.
  • Old Vines Wine Bar for expertly curated wines and small plates so you can sample your way through a delicious dinner.

Day 3: Portland

Have breakfast at Becky’s Diner.

Photo Credit: Jimmy Emerson, DVM via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

One of Portland’s main institutions is Becky’s Diner, and you can’t go wrong following the crowds to eat one of th best, heartiest breakfasts in Portland!

Lines can be long, so arrive early and expect to wait. Don’t miss their wild blueberry pancakes!

Wander around the Old Port.

Becky’s Diner is a short walk from the Old Port neighborhood, so it’s time for a short walking tour of this charming part of town!

There are a lot of cool sights in this area; let me list a few favorites.

First, walk to the fisherman’s wharf area with lots of lobster traps and quintessential New England fisherman vibes.

If you walk from J’s Oysters via the back alleyway to Harbor Fish Market (also a great stop!), you’ll see this view that seems right out of a painting!

Another favorite area in the Old Port is the one stretch of street that remains cobblestoned with beautiful buildings surrounding it (pictured above at the start of this section).

You can find the cobblestoned street pictured above at the intersection of Fore Street and Silver Street but there are some other cobblestone streets around on the side streets in the area.

Getting hungry for a mid-morning snack? Grab Maine-style potato donuts (odd — and frankly not a favorite — but unique to Maine) at The Holy Donut.

Take a harbor cruise.

Cruising out on the water in Portland Maine in Casco Bay on a sunny summer day

There are a few short cruises you can take that depart from the Old Port that explore beautiful Casco Bay.

While there are many islands you can access from Portland, on this coastal Maine itinerary we unfortunately don’t have time for that – even with 10 days in Maine!

Instead, hop on a boat for a quick harbor cruise!

I suggest the Diamond Pass run by Casco Bay Lines which leaves at 11 AM and takes 2 hours, returning at 1 PM.

Grab a quick bite before your brewery tour.

Photo Credit: saramarielin via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Next up on this itinerary is a brewery tour at 3 PM – but you don’t want to sample Portland’s best brews on an empty stomach!

Let’s grab a bite to eat in the Old Port area first so that you can remain conscious for the rest of this Maine itinerary!

There are a number of great restaurants in the Old Port area. Here are our top recommendations for you to choose from:

  • Duckfat for delicious French fries fried in — you guessed it! — duck fat. Double up on the indulgence by having it as poutine, Canadian-style with cheese curds and gravy.
  • Eventide Oyster Co. for tasty fresh oysters from all up and down New England as well as delicious lobster rolls
  • The Thirsty Pig for tasty homemade sausages paired with excellent local beers

Go on a brewery tour.

A beer tasting flight of four different color beers

Maine is burgeoning as a craft beer destination, and Portland is at the very heart of it! There are a number of breweries in Portland proper, as well as many breweries elsewhere in Maine that have pubs and offerings in Portland.

You could do a self-guided tour of a few of Portland’s breweries, but frankly, it’s a lot more fun to do a brewery crawl!

This brewery tour starts at 3 PM and will take you to several of the best breweries in Portland on a guided walking tour. You’ll get to sample several beers at each stop and see a great representative sampling of the Portland, Maine brewing scene.

Book your brewery tour online here!

Walk up and over Munjoy Hill.

the charming munjoy hill neighborhood of portland with a red obseravatory tower on the highest point

After all those beers, it’s time to sober up with a walk through one of Portland’s most scenic and beautiful communities: Munjoy Hill.

Yes, it is a hill, and it is a bit steep, but it’s really worth the walk as this is one of the coolest neighborhoods in Portland.

Once you reach the crest of Munjoy Hill, there is a cool observatory tower called the Portland Observatory. It’s a historic maritime signal tower that was built in 1807, and it’s the only remaining tower of this type made of wood known in the United States!

Bonus: there’s also a museum inside, and you can ascend the observatory tower for fantastic views over all of Portland! It costs $10 and includes a tour.

Note: If you do the brewery tour, you will arrive here too late to do the tour as the tower closes at 4:30 PM, but you can see the exterior and maybe head back here on another day if you want to ascend the top and do the museum tour

Head down to the water’s edge.

a pillar memorial in front of the water and islands at the edge of portland

Once you arrive down at the water, you’ll find the Cleeve-Tucker Memorial marking the end of Portland’s East End neighborhood.

Along the water’s edge, you’ll find a lot of cool food trucks here!

There’s also East End Beach (rather a small beach, but it is possible to go for a dip here) and Fort Allen Park, which offer incredible views over Casco Bay.

Have a delicious dinner in Portland.

As you can see, Portland is all about eating your way through the city!

I’ve already recommended a lot of places above, so you can choose from one of the other sections.

If you want other suggestions, I’d pick: Sichuan Kitchen for delightfully authentic “ma la” spicy Chinese food from the Sichuan province, Boda for Thai street-style eats, or Central Provisions for trendy cocktails and small plates.

Day 4: Portland

Spend the morning on Washington Ave.

mural at portland pottery on washington avenue in portland

Like its West Coast sister city of the same name, Portland, ME is becoming a hipster-topia.

Nowhere else is that more obvious than on Washington Avenue in South Portland!

Start the day with a delicious breakfast at Portland Pottery Café, a hybrid pottery shop and café.

Their biscuits and gravy is obscenely large and obscenely delicious!

They also have a selection of great sandwiches if you’re not feeling particularly breakfast-y. The Figgy Piggy is also delicious: fig jam, prosciutto, what could go wrong?

Alternately, you could get a bagel at Forage, which looked really vibrant and popular with locals.

a mead brewery with benches outside

After breakfast, wander down Washington Avenue and explore some of the cool small businesses that have popped up here. Here are a few favorites.

  • Maine & Loire: a wine shop with a great selection of wines, though at a high price (I wish there were more mid-budget options)
  • The Cheese Shop of Portland: exactly what it sounds like — a delicious local cheese shop with a great selection
  • Maine Mead Works for mead (a fermented drink made of honey water!) and Oxbow for beers, particularly their sours

Drive to Portland Head Light House.

allison standing in front of portland head light house on a sunny day in summer

Located in Fort Williams Park, the Portland Head Lighthouse is an absolute can’t-miss on any Maine itinerary. Of all the lighthouses in Maine I saw, this one was my favorite!

The lighthouse is exquisite and there is a coastal trail where you can see a few different viewpoints of the lighthouse with different compositions, which is great for photographers.

There is also a cliff trail that goes on the other side of it, and there is an area where you can walk down to the beach if you want to swim in the water with lighthouse views behind you!

rocky beach in front of portland head light house where you can swim if you want

There are also a handful of food trucks in the area: I saw one gelato shop and two lobster shack style restaurants selling seafood sandwiches and fried seafood.

However, I have you getting lunch at the next destination, so only grab something to eat if you’re super hungry or planning to skip the next destination on this list.

Parking is $2 per hour with a minimum of 2 hours (so effectively $4 – honestly, you won’t really want to spend more than two hours here, and even that is pushing it).

Have lunch at Two Lights in Cape Elizabeth.

a small beach cove in front of one of the twin lighthouses at two lights

Two Lights is the name of both a lighthouse and a state park in the Cape Elizabeth area south of Portland.

Two Lights is so named because there are two lighthouses that look almost like twins about 300 meters from each other. You can see them at the same time, but they are not as close together as I expected.

picnic tables overlooking the ocean with some green lawn

If you want something to eat, I recommend heading towards The Lobster Shack at Two Lights.

Near the seafood shack, there is a small coastal path where you can walk out to get a better view of the lighthouses as well as a small cove where you could swim if you’ve brought your bathing suit.

Visit the Arts District and Portland Art Museum.

After exploring the Southern Portland area, it’s time to head back to downtown Portland: particularly the Arts District which is centered around the Portland Museum of Art.

This is one of my favorite areas in all of Portland. It’s artsy and funky, it’s full of great local small businesses, and there’s a lot of old-fashioned architecture given new life by the upstart businesses occupying there.

Here are a few of my favorite places in the Arts District area:

  • Speckled Ax for wood-roasted coffee — it’s quite unique, I haven’t had anything like it!
  • Yes Books for a wonderful selection of secondhand books
  • Flea For All for a great flea market on Fridays and Saturdays

After strolling around the Arts District area, you may or may not want to go to the Portland Museum of Art, depending on time, budget, and your interest in art.

The next activity on this list is also a museum, so you may want to opt for one over the other.

Portland Art Museum costs $18 and contains art ranging from 18th century works through to contemporary art.

Do a tour of Victoria Mansion.

a 200-year-old historic building in portland maine

The next place is a short walk away from the Portland Museum of Art but it feels a world away!

While the Portland Museum of Art is rather contemporary, the Victoria Mansion is elegant and old-fashioned, almost untouched over the last 200 years.

You can take a tour of the mansion – the final tour finishes at 3:50 PM (summer hours), or you can just check it out from outside if you are on a budget or are not interested in seeing the interior museum.

Tours are required and tickets cost $16. Booking in advance is recommended, particularly on weekends and rainy days.

Explore the neighborhood.

Rainbow houses in Portland Maine near Victoria Mansion

The area around Victoria Mansion is perhaps even more beautiful than the mansion itself! This is where I found virtually all of my favorite buildings in Portland.

Don’t miss the rainbow-colored row of townhouses (formerly carriage houses, I believe) which are just kitty-corner from Victoria Mansion. It looks almost like Rue Cremieux in Paris, minus the crowds!

Eat in downtown or head back to Washington Ave for drinks and dinner.

facade of a vietnamese restaurant with the words pho ga, bun cha, cong tu bot on it.

After a full day exploring downtown Portland, you have two areas where you could get a delicious dinner.

If you don’t want to leave the downtown area you’re currently in, here are the places I suggest: Bao Bao Dumpling House (a few blocks away from Victoria Mansion) or Sichuan Kitchen.

Alternately, you can head back to Washington Avenue for some more exploration of this charming part of town! There are a lot of great restaurants that are open for dinner here, many of which are Portland favorites.

  • Duckfat for poutine if you didn’t already have it at the other branch in Old Port.
  • Cong Tu Bot for delicious Vietnamese food like bun cha (pork patties served with herbs and dipping sauce)
  • Terlingua for Mexican food

Day 5: Mid-Coast Maine (Freeport, Brunswick, Harpswell & Islands)

Stop at the outlets in Freeport.

Allison wearing a black dress in front of a fake ll bean boot car

If you want to do a little morning shopping, head to the town of Freeport which is known for its outlets and massive L.L. Bean.

Take a photo with the giant Bean Boot — it’s cheesy, yes, but it’s a Maine must!

There are a number of good outlets, and I snagged a 40% off blazer at J. Crew, some of my favorite Smartwool socks from L.L. Bean… and tore myself away from the Loft outlet, because my credit card was weeping.

Take a stroll in Brunswick.

red building that used to be a fort called fort andross in brunswick maine

Brunswick is a delightful small city in Maine with a vibrant Maine Street (hopefully you enjoy the pun as much as I do) and great shopping and activities.

It’s home to Bowdoin College and as a result, there are a lot of businesses that cater to its large student population, and the town has a younger feel than other places in Maine.

There is a surprising amount to do in Brunswick! 

Take a walk by the Sea Dog Brewing Company on the Frank J Wood bridge (stop and admire the falls on the other side) to the Topsham side of town, and then take the pedestrian swinging bridge over the river back to Brunswick.

On your way back, walk past Fort Andross (and pop into the flea market there), or go shopping on Maine Street.

Grab something to eat in Brunswick before you go: I suggest Sweet Angel for Thai! It’s not on Maine Street, but it’s worth the detour. Currently, they are doing take-out only.

Take a hike on Orr’s Island.

rocks on the ocean on orrs island

After you’ve grabbed something to eat in Brunswick, it’s time to burn off that lunch with a hike!

Devil’s Back in Orr’s Island sounds intense, but it’s a relatively easy hike that is incredibly beautiful. It’s just 2.5-miles round trip with 200 feet of elevation gain, so rest easy that it’s not too strenuous!

Kayak around Bailey Island and stop at Cook’s for lunch.

kayaking in an orange kayak pointing torwards orrs island houses after leaving bailey island

If you haven’t exhausted yourself with all that hiking and eating, it’s time for one of my favorite things to do in Maine in summer: sea kayaking!

Luckily, you can rent kayaks easily at the rental company stand outside of Salt Cod Café, technically on Orr’s Island but located right next to the cool bridge to Bailey Island.

You could grab a bite to eat at Salt Cod Café, but I recommend saving your appetite for a delicious lobster feast at Cook’s after you kayaking!

Check out the Giant Steps and Land’s End for a great view.

the so-called giants steps in bailey island which are a series of steps going up to the water

Once you’ve returned your kayak and had a delicious lunch, it’s time to explore a bit more of Bailey Island. Luckily the island is very small, so it’s pretty easy to see the best of Bailey Island in a quick visit.

First, head to the Giant Steps. This is a short trail where you can see some cool rock formations: a set of volcanic rocks that look like a staircase that perhaps could have been used by a giant!

After, drive to the end of Bailey Island at Land’s End. Here, there is a small gift store, a memorial to drowned and lost fisherman, and stunning views of other islands further out in Casco Bay.

Finally, on your way back, be sure to stop at Mackerel Cove. This is one of the main harbors in Bailey Island and has an incredible view!

Grab ice cream at Pammy’s.

hand holding an ice cream sundae in front of a pink ice cream shop

I know this coastal Maine itinerary is full of food… but that’s the kind of traveler I am (and I hope you are too!)

It may seem crazy to say ‘dessert first’ but I think the vibe of Pammy’s is even more fun during the day.

When we went there was some live music and it was really pleasant to sit in the pink-painted Adirondack chairs and admire Pammy’s vision for her ice cream shop.

I got the coffee heath bar sundae and it was DELICIOUS.

Have dinner at Dolphin Marina & Restaurant.

Allison standing in front of the sunset at Dolphin marina making a silhouette

Finally, it’s time for dinner at one of my favorite restaurants in Maine: Dolphin Marina & Restaurant.

This is a spectacular place for sunset views because it’s out on one of Maine’s “fingers” and therefore is one of those rare East Coast spots that has a spectacular sunset view.

The food is also excellent. I had a jerk salmon sandwich with chili slaw and jammy roasted tomatoes – it was divine. We also split the crab cakes, which I could have eaten a half dozen of…. easily.

salmon slaw burger with jammy tomatoes

I suggest getting to Dolphin Marina & Restaurant about 1.5-2 hours before sunset. It’s really busy and it takes a while to get your table.

Luckily, there is a great bar area and you can grab a drink while you wait and there are plenty of places to walk and sit with a drink while you wait.

Aim to finish up your meal just before sunset so you can take a walk on the grounds and admire views like those above!

Day 6: Mid-Coast Maine (Bath, Wiscasset, Damariscotta, Georgetown)

Head to the charming town of Bath.

sign for bath brewing company in a brick building in downtown bath maine

Of all the towns in Maine to choose from, Bath is up there as one of the most charming.

Take a walk down Main Street, stop in some bookstores or shops, and peruse to your heart’s content.

If you’re thinking breakfast, I suggest just getting a small pastry from Cafe Creme or Mae’s Cafe & Bakery, because Maine’s largest lobster roll is waiting for you at our next stop!

Wander through Wiscasset.

Route 1 runs through it, and you could blink and miss it — but the charming town of Wiscasset is definitely worth the stop!

Wiscasset is one of those towns that is like a living museum. There are a lot of information placards throughout the city that showcase all the different architectural styles and buildings and their historical importance.

Another cool place to visit in Wiscasset is the Butter Mold Company. It’s a very unique place where they still make butter molds from scratch.

Bonus: everything there smells like cinnamon and apple pie. The owner is also extremely nice and great to chat with.

Grab one of Maine’s most famous lobster rolls.

people waiting in line at reds for a lobster roll

Wiscasset is best-known for its famous lobster shack, Red’s Eats. Frankly, there is always a huge line, and the price is not cheap.

The market price for a lobster roll was $35 when I went, compared to other places where it was $20-30!) – but their lobster rolls are massive, about double the size of other ones.

I made a mistake and didn’t wait in line at Red’s (I’m a bit contrarian about lines) and went to Sprague’s instead and got a crab roll. It was disappointing. Do as I say, not as I do, unless you also like disappointment.

Shop in Damariscotta.

street in damariscotta maine

There are a bunch of great boutiques and art galleries in Damariscotta. 

In fact, of all the places I shopped at in Maine (which was a devastatingly highly number), my favorite stores were in tiny little Damariscotta, and I even wrote a whole post on this charming small town!

There’s a great brand-new store called Wildings that I highly recommend. It’s hard not to leave with half the store! If you’re a millennial who loves plants, pots, jewelry, and quirky accessories, you’ll be hard-pressed not to leave without a maxed-out card.

Other things to do in Damariscotta include checking out the excellent bookstore and grabbing a cup of coffee at the adjoining café, walking around the pretty wharf, or visiting the oyster midden.

Wait, oyster midden? An oyster midden is a small ‘mountain’ of oyster shells left behind by the Native Americans who lived in this region for centuries. You can find one unperturbed midden at this park!

Have dinner at Five Islands.

a whole steamed lobster, steamed corn on the cob and a blueberry soda

From Wiscasset to  Five Islands Lobster Co. in the peaceful town of Georgetown, Maine is quite a trek… but it is worth it. It’s one of the most beautiful restaurants in Maine, hands down!

They serve delicious fried fish sandwiches and lobster rolls (get yours with cilantro mayo!), perfect onion rings, and exquisite steamed lobster dinners. 

sunset at five islands lobster shack with a beautiful sunset

The setting, though, almost edges out the food as the main draw. It’s one of the most beautiful harbors in all of Maine, with boats bobbing amidst a close cluster of, well, five islands.

One caveat: mosquitos LOVE this place, more than anywhere else I went in Maine. And according to the people I went with, it’s always that way. Bring lots of mosquito repellent and suck it up!

Day 7: Rockland

Visit the Olson House in Cushing.

black and white horse in front. ofa farmhouse

If you’re a fan of Andrew Wyeth, I strongly recommend making a detour to Cushing to visit the Olson House.

When we visited, a majestic black and white horse was just grazing in front of the house, and he came right up to us for pets and scratches!

This is where he painted his most seminal work, Christina’s World, as well as innumerable other paintings over his nearly 20 years living on the grounds.

The grounds and the house are currently closed for renovations, but you can still see the house from the field from afar, and you can visit his gravestone.

graveyard with old grave stones where andrew wyeth and his wife are buried

Cushing is a brief 15-minute detour off of Highway 1 on the way ro Rockland, so it’s not a huge sacrifice for a big art history lover.

However, if you don’t have much interest in Wyeth or pastoral landscapes, you can safely skip this part of the itinerary.

Have breakfast at a Rockland Cafe.

cafe in downtown rockland

Upon arriving in Rockland, it’s time to grab a bite to eat at one of the many cafés in this charming town.

There are a number of places serving breakfast pastries; I suggest Atlantic Baking Co.

Visit the Farnsworth Art Museum.

the interior of the excellent farnsworth art museum in rockland me

Rockland is considered the Art Capital of Maine and with good reason: the Farnsworth Museum is one of the best art museums in the country! 

The Farnsworth Museum has a rich collection of Andrew Wyeth works as well as gifts from the Wyeth family, recently bequeathed by Andrew Wyeth’s late widow and muse Betsy Wyeth, who passed away in 2020.

There is also a large collection of contemporary art by Mainers and other New England artists.

Stroll and shop down Main Street.

main street of rockland maine

Rockland is an arty little town and that extends beyond just the Farnsworth!

There are a number of excellent galleries and boutiques that are worth window shopping — or entering, if your wallet dares!

Grab a beer at Rock Harbor Pub & Brewery.

Once you’ve had your fill of Rockland, grab a drink and maybe a bite to eat at the Rock Harbor Pub & Brewery.

Don’t have too late a night — we’re going to wake up bright and early for a morning hike tomorrow!

Day 8: Camden

Take a hike in Camden Hills State Park.

allison at the top of mt battie

Camden is best known for its beautiful state park, Camden Hills State Park, just a few miles north of the city of Camden but feeling like a world away!

Camden Hills State Park has a lot of wonderful hiking trails available. You could hike up the trail to Mt. Battie (it’s about 3.1 miles with 800 feet of elevation gain).

You can also drive up to the summit if you’re unable to hike… no shame or judgment here: these beautiful views are for everyone!

At the top of Mount Battie, you’ll be treated to incredible views over Camden Harbor and the islands off the coast of the mainland dotting Penobscot Bay. It’s spectacular and you’ll absolutely want to spend some time up here, relaxing, meditating, taking pictures, perhaps eating a picnic lunch if you hiked.

From Mount Battie, you can even spot Cadillac Mountain on Mount Desert Island off in the distance on a clear day!

For a much more intense hike, Mount Megunticook is an option. It’s a moderate hike, 3.8 miles roundtrip with about 1,000 feet of elevation gain (and then of course, just as much elevation in descent). Bring lots of water and a snack, and be prepared for Read trail reports here.

Unfortunately, during my visit to Maine I was having a chronic pain flare-up and wasn’t able to hike, but my friend has hiked Megunticook several times and insists it’s one of the most beautiful hikes in Maine.

Grab a bite to eat.

After your Camden Hills exploration, you’ll probably be hungry.

We wanted to eat at Merriner’s, which is excellent and came highly recommended by my friend, but we arrived too late (lunch ends at 2 PM!).

Instead, we had a Cuban sandwich next door at Camden Café and it was delicious – and the views of the harbor are impossible to beat.

Stroll and shop in downtown Camden.

shopping in a boutique in camden

Camden is one of the most charming small towns in coastal Maine and there is so much to do and see in Camden that I’ve written in a blog post here!

You should definitely spend some time walking around the Harbor area and the Harbor Park, shopping at some of the shops on Main Street and Bay View Avenue, and admiring Megunticook Falls in the harbor.

Take an afternoon swim at Laite Memorial Beach.

the beach at laite memorial beach with boats off in the distance, grass and a tree

If you’re feeling hot and sticky after all that hiking and walking and eating, it’s time to refresh yourself in the small but lovely beach just beside the harbor at Laite Memorial Beach.

It’s not the largest beach nor the most beautiful, but I loved going for a cool refreshing dip on the sandy/pebbly beach and bobbing in the water with sailboats off in the distance. It was magical.

Go sailing on the bay.

sailing past curtis lighthouse in the water near camden maine

Finish your magical day in Camden in the most magical way: on the sea on a boat cruise to explore the Bay and even get to see the beautiful Curtis Lighthouse on an island off the shore.

You may also get to see wildlife like seals, cormorants, porpoises, and more – and perhaps even some lobstermen pulling in their traps!

Day 9: Bar Harbor & Acadia National Park

Drive to Mount Desert Island and visit Sand Beach.

Let’s leave Camden bright and early to make our way to our final stop on this coastal Maine itinerary: Mount Desert Island, home to Acadia National Park.

Once you arrive at Mount Desert Island and check into your Bar Harbor hotel, it’s time to hit the ground running… or relaxing!

Since this itinerary has been pretty fast-paced, I think a little relaxation by the ocean is in order.

Although most of Mount Desert Island’s coastline is composed of rocky cliff faces (like much of Maine), there is one sandy ocean beach hidden inside Acadia National Park for all to enjoy!

Sand Beach is about a 20-minute drive from the Bar Harbor town center and is one of the first attractions along the Park Loop Road. The parking area tends to fill up quickly, so be prepared to scout for a parking spot.

The beach is staffed with park lifeguards to make swimming in the chilly water safe for all the brave souls that choose to do so. Though lately, Maine’s water has been warmer than ever before… a bittersweet side effect of the sad reality of global warming.

Sand Beach is the perfect spot to set up for a sunny afternoon with a picnic, beach chairs, and plenty of sunblock — that New England summer sun is no joke! 

Hit one of the hiking trails.

the iron rungs of the dificult beehive trek

If you’re not interested in swimming, there’s still plenty to do in this area, such as searching through tide pools and walking the shoreline to search for shells.

There are a couple of fun trails that take off from this area too. One of the nearby trailheads is for the Great Head Loop Trail, which starts on the east side of Sand Beach.

The shorter loop option is 1.6 miles around and offers spectacular panoramic views of the area, including a scenic overlook of Sand Beach.

If you want to add a more challenging hike to your Acadia itinerary on the first day, the trailhead for the Beehive Trail, a tough but rewarding 1.6-mile loop, is located right near Sand Beach.

It uses iron rungs to climb up the more difficult part of the trail. Be extremely careful here as some hikers have died. Do not descend the same way you ascended.

If you begin the hike, be prepared to finish it so that you do not endanger people who are coming up the iron rungs. This is not one for those with a fear of heights!

Stroll around Bar Harbor.

After soaking up the sun and relaxing the afternoon away, it’s time to head into town and enjoy all the cool things to do in Bar Harbor!

Bar Harbor is a charming New England coastal community with quirky boutique shops and amazing seafood restaurants.

Before dinner, take a walk along the Shore Path, which begins at the Town Pier. This short path offers beautiful views of the boats anchored in the harbor for the evening.

Have dinner at The Terrace Grille

Dine right on the water at this gorgeous restaurant!

The outdoor seating is decorated with beautiful yellow umbrellas and offers five-star views of Frenchman Bay and the Porcupine Islands. Not only are the views great, but the food is too!

Keep it classic with a boiled Maine lobster or indulge and order the Maine Lobster Bake.

The portion size is no joke, and definitely not for one: it comes with all the goods including New England clam chowder, steamed mussels and clams, over one pound of Maine Lobster, seasonal sides, and homemade blueberry pie!

Grab a cone at Mount Desert Island Ice Cream

Hope you saved room for dessert. Is any evening by the ocean complete without an ice cream cone? You already know the answer to that question!

The ice cream from Mount Desert Island Ice Cream is unlike any you’ve had before. Maybe it’s the premium flavors mixed with the ocean air, or maybe it’s the care that goes into every homemade batch. Yum!

Day 10: Acadia National Park

Drive the Park Loop Road

green trees along the road in acadia national park

Roll the windows down and let in that warm sea breeze as you head out to tour Acadia’s Park Loop Road.

The 27-mile road loops around Acadia National Park, and it is one of the best scenic drives in Maine, taking you from the ocean to the mountains and everywhere in between.

Set aside at least half a day to make the drive. There are lots of places to stop along the way, but here are some of the best sights.

Stop at Sieur des Monts.

leaves on the ground in a path in acadia national park

Sieur de Monts is the heart of Acadia National Park and one of the first attractions you’ll see when driving the scenic Park Loop Road.

This area is home to many sights, including the Sieur de Monts Spring, Acadia Nature Center, Wild Gardens of Acadia, Abbe Museum, and historic memorial paths.

See Thunder Hole with your own eyes (and ears!)

wild crash of water in. asmall rocky cove inlet

Thunder Hole is named after the booming sound like thunder that the ocean waves make as they slam against the rocky shore.

The force of the wave pushes air and settled water to the surface, creating a loud “thunderclap” made of water.

The small rocky inlet at Thunder Hole may not be as wild at low tide, so don’t be disappointed if you see it and it doesn’t live up to its name.

Check a tide chart and wait for some choppy water to come in with the high tide, and you’re sure to hear what all the hype is about.

Marvel at the views at Otter Point.

red rocky cove and sandy beach and trees.

Less than a mile past Thunder Hole, there will be a parking area for Otter Point.

This rocky shoreline is named after Acadia National Park’s spunky river otters. The most impressive feature at this stop is Otter Cliff, which stands an impressive 110 ft high!

This is a great spot to hang out in the sun and watch the ocean waves crash over the rocks.

 Lunch at Jordan Pond House Restaurant

After a morning of sightseeing, it’s time for a well-earned lunch break.

Famous for their mouth-watering popovers, the Jordan Pond House Restaurant is every foodie’s dream come true.

Take a hike around Jordan Pond Loop Trail.

After all that eating I’ve had you doing on this trip, It’s time to get a little hike in. Wouldn’t you agree?

The beautiful 3.5-mile loop trail around Jordan Pond is the perfect place. This scenic hike will take you along the shore of the pond, on a flat but rocky trail. Sturdy shoes are recommended for this trail.

Head home to end your time in Vacationland.

Whether you make the long drive back home or to Boston, or the shorter drive to Bangor to drop off your rental car and catch a flight, it’s time to say “see you soon” to Maine.

Make your plans to come back to Maine in other seasons. You’ve seen the glory of the summery coast. Plan to see the riotous fall colors or experience the desolate but sublime winter beauty.

Know that it’s not goodbye, but rather see you later: your first trip to Maine is just the beginning of a lifelong love!

How to Spend 1 to 5 Days in Moab: Itinerary Ideas for an Epic Trip!

Allison standing at the edge in Canyonlands national park

I’ve spent a lot of time in Utah over the years, road tripping through its national parks and exploring as much of the Southwest as I could.

Of all the places in Utah I’ve visited — which include five national parks and at least twice as many state parks — truly nothing beats the beauty of Moab.  

While I love road tripping Utah, if I had to pick one place to base myself to explore the best that Utah has to offer on a short trip, it would be Moab.

Moab is otherworldly, surrounded by beautiful red rock formations everywhere you look. But it’s also in the perfect location, close to both Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park, as well as the Colorado River and Dead Horse Point State Park.

But Moab is more than just pretty views and a convenient location for ticking off a couple of national parks. It’s also an active mecca for everything from mountain biking to whitewater rafting to rock climbing to hiking. Every outdoorsy person should put Moab on their bucket list!

Honestly, it’s hard for any other place in the USA to come close for how much beauty Moab packs into such a small region.

How to Get to Moab, Utah

Sign for Moab town at the entrance to town

Typically, if you are heading to Moab, you will fly into Salt Lake City. There are many airports all over the U.S. that fly direct to SLC, making it a convenient choice.

From there, you can either drive to Moab (about 4 hour drive by car) or make a connecting flight to Canyonlands Airport (CNY). 

However, Canyonlands Airport is a small regional airport with limited flights. As a result, it can get rather expensive to fly into CNY. Another thing I’ll note is that renting a car at CNY typically is more expensive than renting at SLC.

If you don’t mind doing extra driving, you might want to fly into and rent a car from SLC. If time is really short and you don’t mind spending a little extra in order to maximize your Moab itinerary, then fly into CNY.

Insider Tip: If you are driving to Moab from SLC, Google Maps will have you go via Green River to I-70 and then turn off on Route 191. This is the fastest route! 

But there is an even more scenic drive if you continue east on I-70 and then turn off on Route 128. This is one of the prettiest roads in all of Utah! It will add about 1 hour of travel time, but it is so beautiful, as you track the Colorado River nearly the whole time. 

If you happen to be driving in around sunset, it’s even more majestic. Words don’t do it justice.

How This Moab Itinerary Works

Allison standing in Arches National Park in moab, Utah with the mountains behind her

This Moab itinerary is additive, meaning that the first day of the itinerary covers everything you’d want to see if you have only one day in Moab: the highlights, so to speak.

It is structured in a logical way that reduces backtracking and prioritizes the most important things, mindful of your limited time. 

It also makes sure you get out and do some light hiking, so that you’re not just doing a car-hopping, whistle-stop tour of overlooks without appreciating the nature. This is one of my pet peeves when traveling so I try to ensure that doesn’t happen in any of my itineraries.

If you have more time in Moab, you’ll find that the second day of this Moab itinerary contains the second most important things, and the third, fourth, and fifth days offer still more exciting things to do in Moab.

I would say that days 1 and 2 are the absolute core of a trip to Moab, covering Arches National Park, Dead Horse Point State Park, and a portion of Canyonlands National Park.

After that, I listed ideas for day 3, day 4, and day 5 based on my idea of importance and excitement. 

However, you could easily swap day 4 for 3, 5 for 4, etc. Stick to days 1 and 2 as the core of this Moab itinerary and feel flexible with the rest of it.

Where to Stay in Moab: Hotels & Glamping

Glamping at Moab Under Canvas with dark sky

There are lots of great places to stay in Moab for every type of traveler and budget!

GLAMPING | Moab Under Canvas

I finally got to stay at Moab Under Canvas on my last trip to Moab and it did not disappoint! The tents were laid out so thoughtfully and I loved the amenities like the in-tent bathrooms (including hot showers!).

There was also a wood stove in the tent which would have made it great for chilly nights, too. I stayed there in July and it was a little hot, though, so I would suggest it for the shoulder season.

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

MID-RANGE | Red Cliffs Lodge

Located right on the Colorado River, this gem is a bit outside of Downtown Moab and Main Street but it’s worth the small sacrifice of convenience for a location this spectacular.

There’s an on-site pool, hot tub, fitness area, and restaurant, and there are also activities available such as wine tasting and horseback riding that the property can organize.

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

BUDGET | Lazy Lizard Hostel

This was a godsend during my first trip to Moab, where we didn’t book anything in advance and then arrived in Moab, only to find the only remaining rooms were $300+ a night!

The setting was friendly, the amenities were basic but well-priced, and our private room was no-frills but comfortable. 

>> Check availability and pricing on Booking.com

Where to Stay in Moab: Vacation Rentals

Cabin Overlooking Moab

Image provided by the property

Cabin Overlooking Moab is a stylish cabin that can house 8 guests in 3 bedrooms. Best of all, it has one of the most impressive views in the entire Moab area. 

This cabin features 1,700 sq. feet of modern convenience, with all the things you’d need for an extended stay, but it’s still very much a cabin.

Best of all, it offers breathtaking views of the La Sal Mountains from one deck, the Moab rim from another, and Arches National Park from yet a third!

Book this VRBO cabin online here!

Wisteria Cottage at Cali Cochitta

A romantic, whimsical cottage surrounded by a tree and flowers, with a pastel green porch swing and a small dining table in front of the cottage in Moab.
Image provided by the property

The Wisteria Cottage at Cali Cochitta is a beautiful choice for couples and lovers of rustic cottage designs and colorful gardens.

The cottage is conveniently located 2 blocks from Main Street, and the inside comes equipped with a well-stocked kitchen, bathroom, and a beautifully designed bedroom with a king-size bed. Guests are also provided with a cruiser bike with which to explore the town, as well as secured bike storage.

The two main draws of this charming VRBO in Moab, however, are the garden area and hot tub. The garden is shared with other Cali Cochitta guests, so it makes for a beautiful place to chat with others outside.

On top of that, the hammocks are a great place to just sit back and unwind to the sounds of the stone water feature, another detail that adds to the dream-like ambient of the location.

Book this home in Moab!

Moab Travel Tips

Sitting on the edge of Dead Horse Point State Park at sunset in a black dress looking out onto the river

WHEN TO VISIT | Moab is indescribably hot in the summer! I visited Moab the last time in July and it was frankly pretty miserable. It was 110F the day we arrived! 

My previous trip to Moab was in May and the weather was gorgeous — warm but not overbearing. The best months are April-May and September-October. Note that it may snow in Arches in winter!

WHERE TO EAT | Downtown Moab has so many amazing places to eat, and if you’ve been on a larger Southwest road trip without much variety in your food, you can find a lot of variety in Moab! 

I had amazing Thai food at Thai Bella Moab (though some dishes were a bit too spicy, and I’m generally a person who can handle spice!) and Antica Forma has really nice Italian food. There are also a lot more options on Main Street.

Note that Moab can be very busy and crowded, so I always suggest making reservations or ordering take-out if picking last minute. On my last trip to Moab, waits for tables were like 1-2 hours!

If you’re on a budget, check out the take-out offerings at the Moab Food Truck Park — there are all sorts of delicious options.

GET AN EARLY START | While Arches currently does not run on a reservation system the way some national parks are, it is first-come, first-serve for space within the park. 

Once all 1,000 parking spots in the park are taken, it will shut down for a period of time — sometimes up to three hours. Avoid this by arriving early! My itinerary has you getting to Arches in time for sunrise on day 1, so you shouldn’t have this problem.

HIKING SAFETY | Always bring plenty of water when hiking in Moab. Stick to the trails and have an offline map downloaded on your phone in case you get disoriented. Bring filling snacks that aren’t too sugary to keep you fueled while hiking if it’s hot.

Your Customizable Multi-Day Moab Itinerary

Day One: Arches National Park + Colorado River Cruise

Windows section at Arches National Park with two arches next to each other

You can follow this guide or you can also download an audio guide to Arches National Park for less than $10. 

This one-day Arches mini-itinerary will walk you through the best spots quickly, but it may be more pleasant to have an audio guide if you’re an auditory learner!

Start with a sunrise hike to Delicate Arch.

Delicate Arch at sunrise with a sunburst and a small human figure at the base of the arch to give a sense of scale

For the first day of this Moab itinerary, I’m assuming you arrived the day before in Moab and are able to wake up bright and early for a sunrise hike.

I know I know. Waking up for sunrise is a pain. But at Arches National Park, which gets really crowded, it’s absolutely worth it — especially for the pay-off of seeing Delicate Arch at sunrise with minimal crowds. It’s the best hike in Arches for a reason.

Delicate Arch Trail is 1.5 miles each way (3 miles round trip), and note that the way there is uphill — 480 feet of uphill, to be precise — so you will get an early morning workout! Allow about 45 minutes to get there. 

To decide when to leave, I suggest looking at the sunrise time, then subtracting 45-60 minutes for the hike and however much time it’ll take you to drive to the trailhead. That should get you there around the right time!

Tip: You should bring a headlamp as it might still be dark when you begin your hike.

Explore the Devil’s Garden area.

Strange, towering red rock formations of the Devils Garden section of Arches National Park on a sunny day

Once you return to the Delicate Arch Trailhead and get back in your car, head to Devil’s Garden, about 15 minutes by car. 

You can do the entirety of the Devil’s Garden Trail if you are a serious hiker, or you can do just a small subsection of it. 

Here are a few trails to choose from in Devil’s Garden: pick whatever suits your current fitness level and desire!

The wide, narrow Landscape Arch in Arches National Park, with red rocks and green desert flora

EASY | Landscape Arch Trail: 1.9-mile out-and-back trail with little elevation gain. A good short hike for beginners.

MODERATE | Double O Arch Trail: 4.1-mile out-and-back trail with 670 feet of elevation gain and some scrambling and heights.

HARD | Devil’s Garden Trail: 8-mile loop with 1,085 feet of elevation gain. Some scrambling, primitive trails, and heights.

Snap photos at the Windows Section and Balanced Rock.

standing in the middle of an arch in utah

After you’ve done a fair bit of hiking, it’s time to take it easy, especially as the sun picks up in intensity. Luckily, the rest of this day in Arches is all easily accessible by car, with short walks rather than hikes.

Turn on The Windows Road about 15 minutes after leaving Devil’s Garden, and you’ll find a large parking lot. It may be difficult to find a spot here initially, so keep looking.

People tend to sightsee fairly quickly in this part of the park, since there are no long trails, so cars tend to cycle in and out at a decent clip. 

Once you find a parking spot, there are several gorgeous arches you can see in this section of the park. 

Those include Double Arch, North and South Window Arches, and Turret Arch, all of which are absolutely beautiful and worth seeing!

As you leave the Windows area, be sure to turn your head and spot Balanced Rock!

Make one final stop at the Park Avenue Viewpoint.

The red rock formations of the beautiful buttes and mesas and arches of Park Avenue in Arches

Finally, as you leave the park, make a stop at the Park Avenue Viewpoint, one of the best views in Arches National Park.

The viewpoint is beautiful, but you could also take the Park Avenue Trail for a short hike if you have enough time. It’s one mile to the Courthouse Towers Viewpoint one-way, two miles round trip, and the views from there are spectacular.

Relax and change at your hotel or glamp site.

Once you’ve tackled a full day at Arches, it’s time to head back to your hotel and get off your feet for a bit. 

Don’t get too comfortable, though — you’ve got to be out the door at 5 PM to get to your sunset cruise on time!

Take a sunset boat cruise on the Colorado River.

Sunset colors on the Colorado River near Moab

Time to finish your first day in Moab with a bang! A sunset boat cruise down the Colorado River is the stuff bucket lists are made of.

The cruise lasts 90 minutes, and then if you want, you can opt for a BBQ dinner add-on afterward so that you don’t have to figure out a dinner option after your cruise.

This tour starts at 5:30 PM, so be on time!

Book your sunset boat cruise here!

Day Two: Canyonlands National Park + Dead Horse Point State Park 

Allison standing at the edge in Canyonlands national park

Day two of this Moab itinerary is all about Canyonlands and its surrounding area. We will tackle one section of the park today, Island in the Sky. There are other districts of the park, but we won’t be visiting them today.

You can follow this guide for Canyonlands or you can also download the Canyonlands audioguide tour for under $10 if you want something to listen to while you drive!

A quick note on Canyonlands: The national park is divided into four districts: Island in the Sky, Needles, the Rivers and the Maze. I include Island in the Sky on Day 2 and Needles on Day 4. I don’t include the Maze (as it’s entirely backcountry and only suitable for experienced backpackers) or Rivers since it requires more planning.

Optional: Start the day with a scenic flight

Aerial view of the red rocks of canyonlands national park from a small plane above the park

For an incredible wake-up call, take the 9 AM scenic flight over both Arches and Canyonlands to get a birds-eye view of what you saw yesterday and what’s to come! 

It’s not cheap, but it is an otherworldly way to see the grandeur of the Moab region on an 80-minute flight — it’s certainly worthy of a spot on a Utah bucket list!

This is the only flight company allowed to fly over the national parks, so it’s a one-of-a-kind experience!

Book your scenic flight over Arches and Canyonlands here!

Check out Mesa Arch.

Allison sitting underneath Mesa Arch in Canyonlands national park on a sunny day

Whether or not you started the day with a flight, the first stop in Canyonlands is scenic Mesa Arch. 

If you didn’t opt for the flight, you could do another pre-dawn wake-up call to see the sunrise at Mesa Arch

At sunrise, there will be tons of photographers there, as the sun when it is rising lines up perfectly with the arch. With the right camera skills, you are able to get that classic framed “sunburst” you’ve probably seen on Instagram!

I didn’t visit Mesa Arch at sunrise (one sunrise is enough for me) but I still found it beautiful and worth the visit, with epic views and a gorgeous arch that rivals anything in Arches.

The Mesa Arch Trail is very short, just a 0.7-mile loop from the parking lot, making it an easy walk if you’re not in the mood for hiking.

Spend more time in the Island in the Sky District.

Sitting on the edge looking over Canyonlands national park

As you continue through Canyonlands, make your way to a few different stops along the Island in the Sky section of the park. 

Your final destination is Grand View Point, but there are a few spots along the way to stop at. I suggest stopping at Candlestick Tower Overlook, Buck Canyon Overlook, and Orange Cliffs Overlook before stopping at the Grand View Point.

There is an overlook there and you can also extend your sightseeing with a 1.8-mile return hike via the Grand View Point Trail.

If you want to hike in the Island in the Sky district, here are a few suggestions:

EASY | White Rim Overlook Trail1.8 miles out-and-back with 160 feet of elevation gain. Rocky terrain, so watch your footing, but the final viewpoint is otherworldly and worth every step.

MODERATE | Aztec Butte Trail: 1.7 miles out-and-back with 259 feet of elevation gain. However, it is moderate since there is slick rock and some scrambling necessary. 

HARD | Syncline Loop: 8.6 mile loop with 1,630 feet of elevation gain. Lots of scrambling and wayfinding, only for experienced hikers. Hiking the loop clockwise is recommended.

Watch the sunset at Dead Horse Point State Park.

Sitting at the edge of Dead Horse Canyon State Park looking out onto the Colorado RIver and red rocks and sunset colors

After a fun-filled day of hiking in Canyonlands, it’s time to rest your legs and watch the sun set over the beautiful Colorado River at Dead Horse Point State Park.

I consider Dead Horse Point State Park like a Grand Canyon in miniature. Personally, I find it more impressive than Horseshoe Bend in Arizona. It’s absolutely spectacular and sunset is when it’s the best.

If you arrive early at Dead Horse Point State Park you can opt for a hike. There is the Short Loop Trail (1 mile, easy), the Rim Loop Trail (5 miles, moderate), and the Big Horn Overlook Trail (3 miles, easy).

Note: There is a separate entry fee to Dead Horse Point that is a little pricy, about $20 per car, but it’s worth it in my opinion.

Grab a drink at Moab Brewery.

A beer tasting flight of four different color beers

After your long day hiking, you deserve a cold one!

This fun, lively microbrewery is a great spot to celebrate your hikes, scan through your snaps from the day, and enjoy a tasty beer.

They focus on ales and IPAs — the FMU Double IPA is especially delicious. 

The food, however, isn’t fantastic (though they do have good fries). I’d opt to eat at one of the restaurants I recommended above after you are finished with your beer!

Day Three: Rafting on the Colorado River

Start the morning with a half day rafting trip.

Three blue rafts sitting in the Colorado River in Moab near red rocks

Next up on this Moab itinerary, we’ve seen the Colorado River from a cruise and from afar, but now we’re going to see it up close and personal!

If you’re new to whitewater rafting, take it easy with a half-day Class I and II rapids tour. The tour lasts 4 hours as you traverse seven miles of river, and includes pick-up, drop off, a buffet-style lunch, and an expert guide.

Book your beginner rafting tour!

You could also pick a slightly more adventurous rafting tour, such as this Class I, II, and III rapids tour that includes Fisher Towers. 

Book your intermediate rafting tour here!

Hike Corona Arch.

The colors of the near night sky at Corona Arch

After you’ve rafted and had a tasty lunch, let’s go visit one of the coolest arches in Moab that isn’t part of a national park: Corona Arch!

The Corona and Bowtie Arch Trail is 2.4 miles long, out-and-back, with 482 feet of elevation gain. 

The trail starts on Potash Road near the Gold Bar camping sites. You start by crossing some train tracks and then make your way through the trail, which is well-marked. The scenery is nothing wildly special but when you arrive at Corona Arch: wow.

It’s rated as a moderate trail but I found it on the easy side, though there is some scrambling near the end of the trail as you approach Corona Arch, as well as a section with some cables and a ladder that helps you ascend the boulder.

Have a tasty dinner in town.

Once you’ve worked up an appetite again, it’s time to find somewhere to eat in Moab!

Grab a great dinner and then either head back to your hotel or onto our next activity.

Go stargazing.

Stargazing in Moab, Utah with the milky way visible as well as balanced rock silhouetted against the night sky in arches national park

I love stargazing and Moab is a fantastic place to do so! 

If you want to find one of the best places to see the stars, head back to Dead Horse Point State Park, which is an International Dark Sky Park!

Your pass should still be valid (they are good for two days), so you don’t have to pay the entry fee again. Just hold onto it from the day before. 

Dead Horse Point State Park holds occasional night sky programming, so check it out and see if anything is going on during your trip to Moab!

Canyonlands National Park is also a Dark Sky Park, and they even have night sky ranger programs!

While Arches isn’t technically a Dark Sky Park, the park is actively working on reducing light pollution and there are several great viewpoints in the park to do so. Panorama Point and The Windows are two great areas for stargazing!

Day Four: More Canyonlands National Park

Spend the day in the Needles District.

Red and white rock formations called 'the needles' in Canyonlands National Park

Tip: There is nowhere to eat in the Needles District, so have a hearty breakfast and pack a picnic lunch to enjoy later on one of your hikes!

Next up, we’re going to visit the Needles District, another part of Canyonlands National Park.

Here are some hikes you can choose from in Needles:

EASY | Slickrock Foot Trail: 2.4 miles with 137 feet of elevation gain. It’s on the moderate side of easy due to the uneven, rocky terrain, but it’s not a heart-pounder.

MODERATE | Lost Canyon Trail: 8.6 mile loop, 748 feet elevation gain, and some of the best views of all of the Needles District. Lots of up and down, so it’s a workout!

HARD | Druid Arch Trail: 10.8 miles and 1,614 feet of elevation gain. Added difficulty due to some sandy parts to hike through and some rock scrambling.

If you don’t feel like hiking, there’s still plenty to do in the Needles District! 

Check out the Roadside Ruin, which is an ancient granary from the Puebloan era. It’s just a short walk here. 

There are also some overlooks you can easily drive to, including Wooden Shoe Arch Overlook, and some very easy “hikes” that are really more like walks.

These mini-hikes clock in at around half a mile round trip. Pothole Point Trail and Cave Spring Trail are two of these short walks.

Take a sunset ATV ride on the Hell’s Revenge Trail.

The rocky formations of Hells Revenge in Moab, a perfect place for an ATV ride

After you’ve seen a good deal of the Needles District, it’s time for a sunset offroading adventure!

Be sure to time your day so that you can get back to Moab in time for your sunset ATV — around 6 to 6:30 PM in summer. Check the exact time on the GetYourGuide website as times may change throughout the year to reflect sunset time.

The famous Hell’s Revenge route takes you to a beautiful Colorado River overlook (a thousand feet above the river!) and includes a brief sojourn into Arches Natonal Park on a thrilling self-drive ATV ride. You’ll roar up petrified sand dunes and admire beautiful red rocks changing color as the sun sets on this 2.5-hour ATV adventure.

While this sounds every bit the adrenaline-pumping activity, it’s family-friendly — kids as young as 3 can be passengers in the ATV, and drivers need to be 18 or older with a valid license.

Book your sunset ATV ride here!

Day Five: Outdoor Adventure Your Way

Two women enjoying canyoneering in Moab

For your final day in Moab, let’s do some more outdoor activities — whatever you feel like trying, preferably something that you’ve never tried before!

Canyoneering is another popular activity in Moab, exploring beautiful slot canyons, rappelling down waterfalls (if the water level allows) or cliff edges, and getting to access all sorts of places you’d never be able to without this tour!

Book your canyoneering tour online here

And of course, another thing that Moab is famous is rock climbing. This is all set up with guides, so you can try rock climbing even if you’ve never learned the ropes (pardon the terrible pun).

I’ve just started getting into bouldering and rock climbing and I love it, but I’ve never tried it in Moab. It’s on my list for my next visit!

Book your rock climbing trip online here!

Moab Without a Car

Allison looking out of a car window in Moab

This itinerary assumes you have a rental car or your own car available to you. However, in case you don’t for whatever reason, note that there are no shuttles available in the Moab area national parks, and public transit is limited.

I don’t really recommend visiting Moab without a car, but if you had to, you could get around with tours. Here’s how I would do it.

Day One: Arches (4×4 tour of Arches) + Sunset Cruise

Day Two: Scenic Flight + Canyonlands (Island in the Sky 4×4 Tour)

Day Three: Rafting Tour 

Day Four: Canyonlands (Needles 4×4 Tour)

Day Five: Canyoneering or Rock Climbing

Where to Go Before or After Moab

Allison looking over the hoodoo fairy chimneys of Bryce Canyon National Park, another national park in Utah

You can continue your Utah road trip in any way you choose! 

Visit more of the Mighty 5, or head east to Colorado (Denver, Boulder, etc.), south to Arizona (Monument Valley, Page, Grand Canyon, etc.), or west to Zion National Park and Las Vegas.

The Perfect South Dakota Road Trip Itinerary: 7 Days of Wonder

Little-known fact: South Dakota is seriously awesome! So if you are considering a South Dakota road trip, I highly recommend it.

The first time I drove through the state, I was on a bit of an open schedule and spent five days there because I loved it so much. 

I was surprised by how much there was to do and see in South Dakota: it is an unassuming gem of the United States!

While road tripping South Dakota, you will have the opportunity to explore mountain pinnacles, ancient seabeds, and prairie land. 

Beautiful wilderness in custer state park - trees and sun setting over the mountains

Along the way, you’ll also have opportunities to learn about Native American culture and their history of stewardship over these beautiful lands. 

And of course, you will see one of the most famous landmarks in the US — and perhaps what South Dakota is best known for — Mount Rushmore.

In this South Dakota itinerary, we will primarily be exploring the southwestern side of the state: it’s where all the bucket list-worthy action is!

The main attractions on this road trip flow off Interstate 90, a significant route you may already be taking if you are on an extended road trip across the US. It is a straightforward route with insane views and beautiful experiences!

PLANNING FOR SOUTH DAKOTA AT A GLANCE: 

When to Go: Since some attractions close during winter, the best time to visit South Dakota is in summer, spring and fall. But if you're into winter sports, then consider visiting during winter.

Where to Stay: For this itinerary, you'll have sleepovers in Keystone, Wind Cave National Park, Custer State Park, Badlands National Park, and Deadwood. 

In Keystone, I recommend staying at Quality Inn Keystone near Mount Rushmore for budget travelers, or Holiday Inn Express & Suites Keystone, an IHG Hotel (boutique hotel). 

Near Wind Cave National Park, I suggest staying at El Dorado Ranch which is just a 20 minutes drive to the park.

While you're in Cluster State Park, I suggest staying at Sylvan Lake Lodge at Custer State Park Resort or Bavarian Inn if you prefer staying outside the park.

For an overnight stay near Badlands National Park, I recommend staying at Best Western Plains Motel (mid-range, best-rated) or the Peaceful Country Living Home (vacation rental by owner). 

And for Deadwood, Bullock Hotel is a great thrilling option.

How to Get Around: A car is a must-have for a road trip in South Dakota — there is just no way around it except if you want to spend a lot of money on private tours. If you don't know where to rent a car from, you can compare car rentals and prices from here. Alternately, you can rent an RV or campervan via RVShare and save on accommodations.

Best Activities: Don't want to drive or plan? Booking a few different activities can help you eliminate the need for driving around. You can book a Mount Rushmore and Black Hills Full-Day Tour, or this Private Devils Tower Tour and Hike.

3 Things Not to Forget to Pack:  A sturdy pair of hiking boots will serve you well -- I love my Ahnu boots. You'll want binoculars to spot all the beautiful wildlife -- I suggest these Nikon binoculars. If you're hiking deep in the backcountry (especially in Badlands National park since it's an Open Hike Park!), you'll want something enabled with GPS and satellite SOS, like the Garmin InReach Mini.

Road trip pro tip: Purchase an annual pass (AKA the America the Beautiful Pass) to save money on the entrance fees for the multiple locations in this itinerary run by the NPS!

How This South Dakota Road Trip Itinerary Works

This South Dakota road trip route both starts and stops from Rapid City, SD. This is because the most beautiful and interesting parts of the state are all clustered in the Western part of the state.

While you could fly into Sioux Falls, most of the sights you want to see are clustered around Rapid City, so you should just make your way there after you fly in.

You will definitely need to rent a car if you are flying into South Dakota.

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 RentalCars as the best site to rent with in the USA – it searches dozens of rental companies to find the cheapest price for your rental! Compare car rentals for your trip here!

South Dakota Road Trip Itinerary, Day By Day

Day 1: Rapid City

Start your journey in Rapid City.

Arriving in Rapid City, with a roadside attraction with the word 'rapid city' on it

Rapid City is at the threshold of western South Dakota, about an hour from the border with Wyoming. 

Rapid City is the best airport to fly into if you are visiting South Dakota from a state that is out of driving range. 

While it’s a small airport, it’s the most central to all the most worthwhile things on this South Dakota itinerary.

Of course, you could fly into a different South Dakota airport, like Sioux City, but you’ll have to drive to Rapid City anyway to start this road trip.

So, if possible, start in Rapid City, in the western part of the state. This is where you will find the most enticing attractions of South Dakota!

It is a great place to fuel up and acquire groceries/snacks for your South Dakota road trip… after all, a road trip is not complete without snacks!

Plus, you can explore museums and parks in the downtown of Rapid City, too, which is a fun city worthy of an afternoon of exploration.

Explore the downtown.

A view of downtown Rapid City buildings and trees

Once you’re in Downtown Rapid City, there are a few cool places you should make sure you check out during your quick whistle-stop tour of the city.

One such spot in downtown Rapid City is the Perfect Hanging Gallery. You will find prints and unique gifts to enjoy — they make great souvenirs, for yourself or others!

Additionally, Armadillos Ice Cream Shoppe is not to be missed. They have unique flavors not found in most other ice cream shops, so be sure to try out the “flavor of the day.” 

If they have their black cherry “flavor of the day”, get it! It is one of their most celebrated.

I also recommend that you explore the Berlin Wall Memorial where you can see a piece of the infamous wall…. yes, in Rapid City, South Dakota. The world is wild.

The Museum of Geology is also pretty cool, and free! You can see, dinosaur bones, gems, and minerals. Plus, they have a really interesting exhibit on the geology of the Badlands.

Check into your hotel for the night.

the lights of Rapid City after dark in downtown

In and around Rapid City, you will find some of the central South Dakota attractions. There are day hikes and historical points of interest around every corner.

Plus, it’s easy to venture out from here, deep into the Black Hills and east to Badlands National Park.

Rapid City is your doorway to the incredible things in store for your SD adventure.

After exploring the city, check into your hotel for the night so you can rest up for future adventures!

You could also make your way to Keystone, SD which would set you up in a prime position to start your day in Mount Rushmore bright and early!

Where to Stay in Keystone

BOUTIQUE | If you want a cozy and comfortable place to stay while still taking advantage of the mid-range budget, then I recommend staying at Holiday Inn Express & Suites Keystone. With comfortable beds, large rooms, a swimming pool, and a hot tub, you can’t find anything better at this price. | Reserve on Booking.com | Reserve on Hotels.com

BUDGET | If you prefer spending money on activities to accommodation, then Quality Inn Keystone near Mount Rushmore is a perfect choice. It’s located in a prime location with stunning mountain views, and it also has an indoor swimming pool and a jacuzzi perfect for unwinding after a busy day of exploring. | Reserve on Booking.com | Reserve on Hotels.com

CABIN | Encompassed by the Black Hills forest, this highly-rated woody cozy cabin is the ultimate private escape in Keystone while still being near all the major attractions. The cabin gives the ultimate forest living — from waking up to deers, enjoying the fire pit at night to chilling on the deck, it can’t get any better than this. | Book on Vrbo

Day 2: Mount Rushmore to Wind Cave

Make your way to Mount Rushmore.

the faces of four presidents of the USA carved into a large mountain

Head west on Route 16 and enjoy the short 30-minute drive to view the most significant landmark of South Dakota, Mount Rushmore! You will have to veer off onto Route 244 to reach the park.

Mount Rushmore National Monument is a not-to-be-missed spot as you traverse in the footsteps of many thrill-seekers of the great American road trip. You will walk lovely boardwalks as you look up at the massive sculptures which have been carved into the side of the mountain.

You will see the faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln.

There is a restaurant on-site, Carvers Cafe, but the real gem is Memorial Team Ice Cream, where you can sample Thomas Jefferson’s ice cream recipe.

A Note on Mount Rushmore

A further away view of the four faces of Mt Rushmore so that you can see the scale of the sculpture against mountain and trees

However interested you are in Mount Rushmore, it is important to note that this landmark is not without controversy. This article is a fascinating primer on the issues raised by the existence of Mount Rushmore.

To simplify an incredibly complex problem, there are two main issues at stake. Number one is the issue of the United States’ violation of their treaty with the Lakota (one of three Sioux nations). 

The story is a familiar one in US history. The USA agreed to the Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1868, which gave the Lakota tribe exclusive use of the Black Hills. Less than a decade later, after gold was discovered, the US broke their treaty and overtook the land. 

The Black Hills are an important site to the Lakota, and particularly, the mountain on which Mount Rushmore was carved holds particular significance to Native Americans.

The mountain now named “Mt Rushmore” was once called Tunkasila Sakpe Paha, or Six Grandfathers Mountain by the Lakota. It is indescribably vital for you to remember that this was once a mountain sacred to the Lakota.

The other issue at stake with Mount Rushmore is the story it tells. It was designed by Gutzon Borglum, a man with ties to the KKK, the same man who dreamed up the Confederate version of Mount Rushmore, Stone Mountain. 

So there’s that, plus the fact that Mount Rushmore celebrates four important but flawed presidents — two of whom owned slaves, and virtually all of whom displaced and disregarded Native Americans (including Lincoln) during their tenure– all while violating Native land rights.

This is not to condemn Mount Rushmore nor to say that it should not be visited, but that it should be visited with an open mind and critical eye, aware of the hypocrisies and nuances of the story, but also aware of its importance in our country’s history.

Check out the Crazy Horse Memorial.

The Crazy Horse Memorial under construction

I suggest that you balance out your time visiting a place like Mount Rushmore with sites that represent Native American culture, such as the Crazy Horse Memorial. 

You can reach the memorial by continuing west from Mount Rushmore on 244 and then heading south on 385.

Crazy Horse Memorial is the world’s largest rock carving. Their mission states, “… to protect and preserve the culture, tradition, and living heritage of the North American Indians.”

It was conceptualized as a response to Mount Rushmore, a way of reminding people of the Native history of the land, a counterpoint to the four presidents on stolen land.

But it, too, has been met with controversy, and opinions about this memorial among the Lakota are split (this fascinating article explains some of the issues at stake.)

If you’re hungry, stop at Laughing Water Restaurant. Your visit to this restaurant benefits the Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation.

Head towards Wind Cave National Park.

inside one of the caves at wind cave national park. sedimentary rock layers in the cave.

As you head south on 385, you’ll make your way to Wind Cave National Park, which is the final stop on day 2 of your South Dakota road trip.

They offer cave tours in this unique cave formed by the wind. The tour will take you to an opening in the cave where you can feel the breeze that rips through this cave, which is pretty amazing!

The rock formations in the cave will also blow your mind, as well!

Find a place to stay the night.

Trees on the plains of Wind Cave National Park in the afternoon light with shadow

This park is a perfect place to camp for the night, too. There are spots open often. You could also stay in Buffalo Gap or Hot Springs.

If you’re not camping, there are a lot of accommodation options in nearby Custer, SD. 

I suggest El Dorado Ranch which is highly rated and just outside of Custer, close to Wind Cave National Park, about a 20-minute drive away.

Where to stay in Custer

RANCH | Get a chance to sleep on a ranch by staying at El Dorado Ranch. Seated on a 5-acre, this holiday home is large enough to host big families or groups of people who want to experience farm life while still having all the amenities they need in a home. Reserve on Booking.com | Reserve on Hotels.com

CABIN | If you love rustic finished-off with modern amenities, then you’ll love this lovely log cabin. There are lots of cabins in Custer but this one is my personal favorite for its large deck that offers amazing views on Crazy Horse Monument not forgetting how cozy each room feels — I am talking exposed wooden beams, various pieces of art, cute lighting features, I could go on and on raving about this cabin. | Book on Vrbo

MOTEL | If you wondered why I was raving about the previous cabin and you just want to stick to the familiar options, then Bavarian Inn, Black Hills is what I recommend. With 2 swimming pools (one indoor, one outdoor), and a chic interior vibe, this motel has a French charm of overflowing flower pots that can’t be found in any of the previous options. | Reserve on Booking.com | Reserve on Hotels.com

Day 3: Incredibly Scenic Drives

Continue your incredible South Dakota road trip with some of the most scenic drives of your life.

The Needles highway in South Dakota open road around rocks

The following roads are going to blow your mind. Now we’re really getting into the good stuff of this South Dakota itinerary!

One thing I’d like to note, it is virtually impossible to drive the entirety of these roads without doing a little backtracking, but I promise, it is worth every mile.

Optional: Make a stop at Jewel Cave National Monument.

It’s a little out of the way, but if you’re interested in caves and geology and the Wind Caves wasn’t enough cave action for you, Jewel Cave National Monument is located about 20 miles west of Custer.

It’s a beautiful cave system that you can take a tour of by lantern light, but it isn’t the best for those with a fear of the dark or for claustrophobia!

Drive the Needles Highway.

A road going through the Needles highway

From Wind Cave, head north on 385 and pick up Route 87- the Needles Highway. This is by far one of the most scenic drives I have ever been on, aside from the scenic byway in Custer State Park (your next stop).

You will pass Sylvan Lake and the highway’s namesake, the Needle’s Eye, a unique rock formation. You will also pass the Cathedral Spires.

Keep an eye out for Black Elk Peak on this road, which is the highest point in South Dakota!

The spires are a significant rock climbing destination in the US. Plus, you can hit the trail in this spot to get up and personal with these remarkable formations.

Take the Iron Mountain Road to Custer State Park.

Three pronghorn aka american antelope in a field

From the Needles Highway, you will hop onto Iron Mountain Road (Route 16-A) initially. 

You will head west on 16-A, then back on 385 North, where you will then go right onto Needles Highway again (87 South). 

Then pick up 16-A East again, where you will enter Custer State Park and can spend the night.

This route is kind of a roundabout way to get to Custer State Park. However, it will allow you to see all that these scenic routes have to offer.

Iron Mountain Road will wind you through glorious tunnels carved right through the mountains. I’ve never been on roads quite like these.

They like to describe Iron Mountain Road as 17 miles, 314 curves, 14 switchbacks, three pigtails, three tunnels, two splits, and four presidents.

Tip: You can enjoy a portion of Iron Mountain Road as you enter the park and then use it to exit the next day to see the entire road.

After exploring a portion of the road, enjoy the scenic route that winds through Custer State Park, too, for more tunnels and endless wildlife. The Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway is 70 miles of engaging wonder.

You will 100% see bison and may even get stuck in a “bison jam” — the South Dakota version of a traffic jam — as the park is packed with them! 

Note: Do not get closer than 25 yards of bison (and 50 is safer). Take photos with a zoom lens.

There will also be a plethora of adorable prairie dogs. For even more animal-spotting, such as pronghorns and wild burros, tack on the 18-mile Wildlife Loop State Scenic Byway.

I’m pretty sure this will be one of your favorite days road tripping South Dakota!

Choose one of the many camping or cabin spots around the park to enjoy. Hit the hiking trails, swimming, fishing, or enjoy some time just straight chilling. It’s a great way to end the day.

Plus, when you wake in the morning, you will have the chance to head back out on the scenic roads as you make your way to another absolutely stunning South Dakota destination.

Day 4: Badlands National Park

Make your way towards the Badlands through the Black Hills.

Driving through the Badlands along Sage Creek Road, seeing hills of beautiful colors

Badlands National Park is your destination for your fourth day on the road in South Dakota! 

But first, you will finish adventuring on the scenic roads of the Black Hills National Forest before you head east.

Hop back on 16-A, Iron Mountain Road, and take it all the way up to Route 16. Then take the 16 Bypass to pick up Route 44 east.

Take a left from 44 to hit Sage Creek Road. This is another beautiful drive with spacious prairie views! There are more prairie dogs and bison that call this area home. You may also get to see Badlands bighorn sheep, too!

Note: Sage Creek Road is a dirt road, so take it cautiously, especially if you have a low-clearance vehicle!

Arrive at Badlands and take a scenic drive through the park.

Driving the badlands loop road, winding street on a sunny day in South Dakota road tripping

You will enter the park at the Pinnacles Entrance Station. From there, hop on the 30-mile Badlands Loop Road to enjoy many overlooks and incredible short hikes. 

Go check out our article on the Badlands for an extensive list of recommendations of what to do in the park!

One of the coolest things about the Badlands is that it is an Open Hike park. That means you can hike virtually anywhere unless otherwise stated. 

It also gives open reign for camping!

You can camp wherever you like in the park as long as it is half a mile from any trailhead or road. You should never camp within 100 feet of any water source.

There are also two campgrounds in the park, plus a lodge. Cedar Pass Lodge also has a restaurant that is open seasonally.

If you want, you can find free dispersed camping in the Buffalo Gap National Grassland. The camping is located just north of the Pinnacles Entrance Station. Once you exit the park boundary, make a right onto the first dirt road. You will find a plethora of free campsites here.

One crucial thing to note: The Badlands are named so because of the rapidly changing weather. It can bring rain and high winds at the drop of a dime. If you are going to camp, make sure you have a very sturdy tent.

Day 5: Wall Drug Store and Other South Dakota historical sites.

See a spectacular Badlands sunrise, then make your way to Wall.

Sun rising over the Pinnacles of Badlands National park

Because of the colorful majesty of the Badlands Pinnacles, you can bet it will be one of the most beautiful sunrises of your life!

The Big Badlands Overlook is an excellent spot for sunrise. Also, the Castle Trail or the Door Trail will bring excellent sunrise views.

The Castle Trail is about 10 miles out and back, but you don’t have to hike the whole thing to get the views you want. The Door Trail is 0.8 miles, giving way to a nice and short sunrise hike.

Trail sign leading to different viewpoints in badlands NP

From your glorious morning views, stop by the Ben Reifel Visitor Center to learn a bit of history of the Badlands. 

Then, head north from the Northeast Entrance Station on Route 240. There, you can make a stop at the Minute Man Missle National Historic Site.

This historic site once was a major player in the Cold War Era. There are still over 1000 nuclear weapons under the ground of the vast prairie. When you come here, you will be able to learn about the history of the Cold War and check out the Delta-09 missile.

Stop in the town of Wall, home to Wall Drug Store, a historic roadside attraction famous for its free ice water and delicious donuts!

Then, begin heading west on I-90 to Sturgis where you can pick up US Alt-14, Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway.

Hop on US Alt-14 at Sturgis and begin heading northwest.

Sturgis is best known for the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, which was started by Native American bikers in 1938. It usually happens in August. 

For obvious reasons during the pandemic, we don’t suggest you attend (and you might want to stay clear of Sturgis for now), but keep it in mind for future travels.

You might want to check out the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum and Hall of Fame if you’re into motorcycles!

Personally, my favorite stop in Sturgis is Uncle Louie’s Diner! It offers by far the best pancakes in the state. Feel like a challenge? In this case, you should tackle on Uncle Louie’s Challenge.

“Eat a 6-pound burger and fries meal within 30 minutes, get it for free, and a t-shirt.” No one has ever completed this challenge. Classic.

You could also continue another 20 minutes on from Sturgis to the beautiful Bear Butte State Park.

Enjoy Gold Rush history with a stop in Deadwood.

The historic downtown of Deadwood South Dakota with bars and restuarants

Deadwood was established in 1876 when gold was discovered there. It is one of the most quintessential Gold Rush Era towns of the United States.

Deadwood was once home to some of the most infamous of the Wild West outlaws. You can find the graves of Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickok, among others. You can even visit some of their graves at Mount Moriah Cemetary.

You can also enjoy the many luxuries that Deadwood provides, such as breweries, wineries, and spas.

Be sure to visit Buffalo Bodega Complex, the oldest saloon in South Dakota. You will find an Old West experience as you gamble and gobble down some juicy steak. You can undoubtedly spend a night here as they have a super active nightlife.

Deadwood is a great place to spend the night. There are numerous hotels and campgrounds to choose from.

For those brave enough, a stay at Bullock Hotel will surely excite your senses, and your nerves, as this hotel is said to be haunted! Supposedly, it is haunted by the ghost of the former sheriff of Deadwood, Seth Bullock, who built the hotel in 1895.

It has been said one can smell the smoke of his cigar from time to time. It is also said that there was a hanging in room 211. Sometimes the faint figure of the person who passed can be seen.

Day 6: Black Hills

Go north to Spearfish and enjoy scenic Route US Alt-14.

Waterfall in green oasis in Spearfish, South Dakota

Before you head northwest, grab a hangover cure in Deadwood at Nugget Saloon for “the world’s best Bloody Mary.”

In the morning, you may also want to hop on the George S. Mickelson Trail before hopping back on the road. It is always nice to get a nice stretch of the legs before spending a lot of time in a car.

You can make your way along the remainder of the Spearfish Canyon Byway scenic drive.

Spearfish Canyon Byway (US Alt-14) will be a great way to fill your scenic road trip desires. Take in the beauty of the Black Hills and all the great things South Dakota has to offer.

It will take you through a beautiful canyon with the option to view lakes and Bridal Veil Falls, Roughlock Falls (located 2 miles off the highway up a dirt road), and Spearfish Falls. Plus, you can see areas where they filmed Dances with Wolves.

There are numerous campgrounds, including the Spearfish Campground which lends itself to lovely creekside camping.

Day 7: Devil’s Tower & Back to Rapid City

Take an excursion to Devil’s Tower in Wyoming.

The mysterious rock formation of Devils Tower in Wyoming near South Dakota

While the Devil’s Tower is not in South Dakota, it is a worthwhile detour on your journey.

This structure was clearly once a volcano. Adventurers from around the world come here to challenge themselves on the rock climbing routes!

The Devil’s Tower was once known by natives as Bear Lodge. It was a major meeting place for many of the tribes in the area, including the Cheyenne and Arapahoe. 

Each tribe has a unique story about Bear Lodge. It was often a place to gather to honor the Great Spirit.

While it is not in South Dakota, it is only an hour from Spearfish and is just too cool to pass up!

To get there, you will take I-90 West to Route 14 West. On the way, you will want to stop at Vore Buffalo Jump Foundation, which is easily accessible right off I-90. It is a famous landmark, a sinkhole to be precise.

Known for an old Native American hunting tradition of chasing buffalo to their demise into the hole, you will find this stop quite interesting. 

The area was once home to the Shoshone, Hidatsa, Crow, Kiowa, Apache, and Cheyenne tribes, all of whom have contributed greatly to the area of the region.

You will also pass through the town of Sundance, WY. It is a great frontier town to make a stop in. You can even do some hiking in Bearlodge Mountain Recreation Area if you so choose.

After making your way to the Devil’s Tower, you can head back right where you started in Rapid City if you are finishing your trip up.

Whether you will continue on west from Wyoming to Yellowstone and Grand Teton or fly back home from Rapid City. Either way, you will have successfully seen the best of what South Dakota has to offer.

***

the pinnacles of the badlands of south dakota

South Dakota is an enchanting land of mountain peaks, prairie land, and pinnacles. You will see uncountable amounts of native flora and fauna. You will enjoy lakes, creeks, and waterfalls. Yes, South Dakota has it all!

As you travel through South Dakota, you’ll see the interplay of Amerian history writ large: the long, deep-rooted Native American connections to the land meeting with the “Wild West” history of pioneers. 

Monuments such as Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse speak to the uncomfortable truths of Westward Expansion, and it’s important to be mindful of what was lost — lives, land, languages, lore — as a result of European-American settlement on the Americas.

As always, I urge you to be conscientious of the land and its history. It is truly your honor and privilege to be able to travel, so approach it with an open heart and open mind.

Your Road Trip Checklist

road tripping through the green forest of south dakota

Before embarking, get your oil changed if needed, and check your tires and fluid levels. Here are a few things you should have in your car for a road trip:

  • One gallon of emergency water per person
  • Jumper cables, or better yet, a portable car jump starter. I highly recommend you get one with an air compressor and USB charging capabilities
  • Snacks, snacks, and more snacks!
  • Cooler for perishables
  • Metallic sunscreens to keep your car cool when parked
  • Knife
  • Tire plugs
  • First-aid kit
  • Road atlas — National Geographic makes a great one which shows the public land and camping spots.
  • Books and games
  • Emergency supplies for stranding: such as chains and tracks to help you get out if you are stuck.
  • Road flares
  • Extra clothes and blankets

If you get stranded:

  • Make sure your car can be seen by anyone coming to help. This is where road flares will come in handy. You can also keep the internal dome light on to help yourself be seen if it is nighttime. It doesn’t use a whole lot of battery power.
  • If your tires are stuck in the snow or mud, attempt to shovel them out. You can also place road salt under your tires to help melt snow. Tracks will also help will mud/snow.
  • Stay with your car. Heading out to seek help in cold/hot conditions can lead to hypothermia, frostbite, or heat-related injuries.
  • Be conservative with fuel, and fill up often, especially on long stretches of road. You don’t want to run out of gas.

Don’t forget travel insurance!
Travel insurance coverage helps you recoup your losses in case of emergency, accident, illness, or theft. I’ve relied on World Nomads for my travel insurance coverage for four years with no complaints, and I’m a happy paying customer. I recommend them highly to fellow travelers!

Get your free quote here.

Your 10-Day Colorado National Parks Road Trip Itinerary

4 of the 61 national parks in the United States are located in Colorado — some 5%! — and they just happen to be some of the parks with the most incredible views!

Colorado is home to Rocky Mountain National Park too, which is one of the most-visited national parks in the United States!

From epic outdoor hikes that lead to unparalleled views to fun activities like sandboarding on sand dunes (yes, we do have those in the United States!), Colorado’s national parks genuinely have it all — and you can see it on on a Colorado national parks road trip!

Throughout this post, you’ll learn the best route to take to visit all of the national parks in Colorado in just ten days! Be sure to save it for later because this is one post you’re not going to want to misplace!

PLANNING FOR COLORADO AT A GLANCE: 

When to Go: From beautiful sunny days, stunning fall foliage, to impressive snowy winters, Colorado is beautiful all year round. But if I had to choose one season, then I'd say summer is the best time to visit Colorado.

However, winter is also a great time to visit if you're into winter sports since Colorado is a haven for that.

Where to Stay: For this itinerary, you'll have sleepovers in Rocky Mountain National Park, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Mesa Verde National Park, and Great Sand Dunes National Park.

For Rocky Mountain National park, I suggest staying at Woodlands on Fall River hotel (luxury), Blue Door Inn (motel), Coyote Mountain Lodge (budget), or this cabin for a homey feel. 

While in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, I suggest enjoying the magic of sleeping under the stars at either South Rim Campground, East Portal Campground, or North Rim Campground.

In Mesa Verde National Park, you can stay inside the park by opting for Morefield Campground if you're into camping but if not, then it has to be Far View Lodge as it's the only lodge in the park. 

Great Sand Dunes National Park can be visited without staying overnight but if choose to, then you can stay inside the park and camp on the dunes or at Pinon Flats Campground. If camping is not your thing, then you can choose to stay at Great Sand Dunes Lodge which is located right next to the park, or go a bit further to Alamosa town and sleep at either Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites Alamosa, an IHG Hotel (boutique) or Best Western Alamosa Inn (budget).

How to Get Around: A car is essential to fully enjoy the National Parks of Colorado otherwise you'd have to rely on expensive tours. If you're renting a car, compare car rentals and prices from here. Alternately, you can rent an RV or campervan via RVShare and save on accommodations. 

Best Activities: Want to fully enjoy your Colorado road trip without the hustles of planning? Booking some activities will help you with that. You can book a full day tour of Rocky Mountain National Park from Denver so that you can just sit back and enjoy.

3 Things Not to Forget to Pack:  Colorado is all about hiking so a sturdy pair of hiking boots will serve you well -- I love my Ahnu boots. A dual-purpose phone mount and charger will come in very handy and you'll be happy to have a roadside emergency kit should your car break down while road tripping.

Know Before You Go: If you plan to visit multiple national parks in a year, the America the Beautiful Pass will save you a bundle! It costs $80 for an annual pass (for an entire vehicle traveling together) to all US national parks and federally managed sites.  

Colorado Itinerary, Day 1 – 3: Rocky Mountain National Park

Drive time: 1 hour 30 minutes from Denver to Rocky Mountain National Park

Because you’ll most likely come to Colorado from Denver International Airport, the logical first stop is Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s best to spend around three days in Rocky Mountain National Park due to all that there is to explore!

Pick up your rental car in Denver (I suggest booking a rental car via a search aggregator like Rental Cars, which offers the best deals on your rental) and it’s time to hit the road — we’re heading towards the Rockies!

Below are some of the best things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park over the course of three days. Pick and choose the ones that sound most interesting to you!

Sign at the entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park. Established in 1915

Take a leisurely drive on Trail Ridge Road.

Trail Ridge Road is one of the most unique drives available in the United States. It has the nickname of “highway to the sky” because of its high elevation and impeccable views of the Rocky Mountains from all angles.

Take a drive on this road to take in all of the views. There are occasional spots to stop off, too, so you can soak up the view and also take a photo if you’d like. It truly is unlike any other road in Colorado because it goes high above the trees, and the elevation is just shy of 12,000 feet.

The beautiful snow-covered landscape of Trail Ridge Road in Colorado's Rocky Mountain National Park

Go on a hike.

Rocky Mountain National Park is filled with tons of hikes for all levels. Here are a few of the most popular hikes, as well as some basic information about them.

  • Dream Lake Trail: This easy hike is approximately 2 miles and is out and back. It’s great for hiking between April and October and offers impeccable views. The elevation gain is slightly over 400 feet, so it’s not too terrible.
  • Emerald Lake Trail: For a moderate hike in the Rocky Mountains, this is the one to do. It’s about 3 miles with an elevation gain of just under 700 feet, located by Estes Park.
  • Sky Pond: If you’re up for a challenge, go on this challenging hike that’s also near Estes Park. It’s about 9 miles long with an elevation gain of about 1700 feet on this out and back trail.
Hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park at the beautiful Dream Lake with still, glassy water reflecting trees and snow-dotted mountain peaks

Visit Alberta Falls.

One of the most beautiful areas in Rocky Mountain National Park is Alberta Falls. To get there, you have go on a super easy 1.7-mile hike! Because it’s easy, even children can do this hike to enjoy Alberta Falls at the end of it.

This is one of the most popular hikes to do in Rocky Mountain National Park because of the epic views. It’s known for its incredible aspen groves, so be on the lookout for those during the hike, especially if you’re road tripping Colorado in the fall!

The rushing cascading water of Alberta Falls, surrounded by trees and rocks

Search for wildlife in Moraine Park.

Moraine Park is an area of Rocky Mountain National Park that has tons of wildlife. It’s located near Estes Park and is filled with elk, birds, and other animals. Obviously, you shouldn’t get super close to the animals while visiting the park, but it’s a great way to see wildlife from a distance in the wilderness.

This is also one of the most popular spots to go camping. On the north side of Moraine Park is a campground right among the mountains. This can be a great place to call home base while you’re visiting Rocky Mountain National Park on this part of the trip.

Yellow flowers in a field in Moraine Park Colorado on a sunny summer day

Snap a photo of the view from Forest Canyon Overlook.

For the best views in all of Rocky Mountain National Park, head to Forest Canyon Overlook. This park observation deck offers extended views of the mountains and wilderness, and it’s truly unparalleled compared to other viewpoints in the park.

There’s a short paved walk to get to the observation deck. It’s not the biggest, so if you want to be there when there aren’t any crowds or other tourists, try to get there earlier in the morning. You might even catch the sunrise!

Scenery in Forest Canyon Overlook in Rocky Mountain National Park, view over the trees and mountains

Learn at Beaver Meadows Visitor Center.

No trip to an area is complete without learning, and there’s no better place to do that than at the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center. This is entirely free to visit and is technically the park’s headquarters.

Inside, you can learn all about Rocky Mountain National Park and even chat with some rangers. This can be a great way to find out what’s going on in the park, and if there are hidden gems you might be able to check out, they would know.

Trees and mountains at Beaver Meadows in RMNP

Explore downtown Estes Park.

Estes Park is a town in Colorado that is known as the gateway to the Rocky Mountains. If you’re looking for a great place to stay while exploring Rocky Mountain National Park, this small town is it.

The town is filled with wildlife, has great views of the mountains, and is even home to the Trail Ridge Road. Be sure to take a ride on the Estes Park Aerial Tramway to visit Prospect Mountain! This is one of the best things to do in Estes Park.

A view of accommodations like cabins and lodges in Estes Park near the base of Rocky Mountain National Park

Where to stay in Rocky Mountain National Park

Unlike other national parks, Rocky Mountain National Park doesn’t have any in-park lodges besides camping. If you prefer having an actual bed, there are great accommodation options in both Estes Park and Grand Lake to consider. But since Estes Park is closer to the majority of the park’s most popular attractions and hikes, I recommend basing yourself here.

CABIN | Located just a few miles away from Rocky Mountain National Park, this beautiful cabin gives the most stunning views in the area. With a large deck that features a hot tub, you can be assured of having a relaxed time while thanking mother nature for the stunning mountainous views. On the inside, the cabin is equally beautiful! The visible wooden beams add a cozy and rustic touch while the large glass doors bring the views right in the living room. The kitchen is modern, the light features are beautiful — there is nothing not to love about this cabin in the mountains.

>> Check photos and reviews on Vrbo

LUXURY | If you’re looking for a luxurious stay, then I recommend staying at Woodlands on Fall River hotel. With ensuite rooms that feature a large kitchen and a living room, this hotel will give you a home away from home kind of vibe. And let’s not forget the cabin-in-the-mountain kind of look that will make your experience in Rocky Mountain National Park even better. On top of all that, this hotel is right on Front River and just a few minutes from RMNP.

>> Check photos and reviews on Booking.com | Book it on Hotels.com

MOTEL | If you want something with a mid-range budget without compromising on quality and comfort, then I suggest staying at Blue Door Inn. The motel features a woody charming interior, clean rooms, a swimming pool to cool off the summer heat, and also offers beautiful mountain views from the deck.

>> Check photos and reviews on Booking.com | Book it on Hotels.com

BUDGET | If money is a concern but you want a place that’s comfortable, clean, and convenient, then I recommend Coyote Mountain Lodge. The rooms are nice, clean bathroom, and comfortable beds — nothing special to brag about but you can’t get any better for that price. The best part is that it’s perfectly located near RMNP so you won’t waste time on the road.

>> Check photos and reviews on Booking.com | Book it on Hotels.com

Colorado Itinerary, Day 4 – 6: Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Drive time: 4 hours 50 minutes

For days four through six, hop on the road and get to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. This can be quite a drive, but you’ll be going through some beautiful small towns along the way.

If you want to make any pit stops, consider stopping in Breckenridge or Buena Vista. Breckenridge is one of the top-rated places to visit in Colorado, and Buena Vista is a little past the halfway point of the drive.

Here are some of the best activities to fill your few days in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.

Rock formations in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park with a river below and lots of trees

Watch the stars (and even camp under them!)

Believe it or not, but camping under the stars in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is one of the best things to do while visiting! There are quite a few campgrounds to choose from, so you can pick the one that suits your needs best.

Some of the more popular campgrounds include South Rim Campground, East Portal Campground, and North Rim Campground. North Rim, in particular, is first-come-first-serve because it’s such a nice campsite!

Camping tent in Colorado lit up from within with stars above in the sky

Hike the S.O.B. Draw

The S.O.B. Draw is the hike to do while visiting Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park! It’s only 2 miles long, but it’s one of the most challenging yet most rewarding hikes to do in the entire park and shouldn’t be missed if you’re up for the challenge.

It’s an out and back trail with just shy of 2,000 feet of elevation, which is why it’s such a strenuous hike. It’s almost straight uphill the entire time, and it’s incredibly rocky. Many people who have hiked it even refer to it as a total vertical climb.

Looking straight down into the gorge of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Snowshoe trek through the park

Are you traveling to all of Colorado’s national parks during the winter? Don’t worry – there are still great activities and fun to be had! One of those is snowshoeing through the park on the Oak Flat Loop.

You can either bring your own snowshoes or rent them nearby if needed. It doesn’t take super long to snowshoe the trail, but it’s still great fun, and honestly, the park in the winter is beautiful. Plus, there are considerably fewer visitors during this time.

Snowshoes for hiking in Black Canyon of the Gunnison in winter

Explore the North Rim

The North Rim is the lesser-visited part of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, but that’s why it’s so worth visiting.

There aren’t as many ranger services here, and it’s not as well kept as the rest of the park, and that’s why it’s often overlooked.

However, because there aren’t as many visitors, you can usually get a good chunk of the North Rim just to yourself so you can explore without crowds of people. What’s not to love about that?

River winding through Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Go on a ranger-led boat tour

Yes, there are actually ranger-led boat tours in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park! This is fun for both locals and tourists because it truly gives you a unique experience while visiting, and you’ll get to learn from a ranger along the way.

These boat tours are called the Morrow Point Boat Tours and are only about 90 minutes long. It goes right along the Morrow Point Reservoir, and you do have to make a reservation to go on the boat and pay a small fee.

Water going through Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Take the scenic route: drive through the East Portal

The best way to drive through the park is by driving through the East Portal. Take the scenic route by driving East Portal Road. Though it’s closed in winter, it’s pretty heavily trafficked in the warmer months because it is near some of the best camping and picnic spots.

Keep in mind that the road is very steep, but the views are rewarding. Other great drives in the area include the South Rim Road and North Rim Road. North Rim Road isn’t as high up as the other two, but the views are still incredible!

The east rim of the black canyon on an overcast day

Colorado Itinerary, Day 7 – 8: Mesa Verde National Park

Drive time: 3 hours

Now to Colorado national park number three! Next up is Mesa Verde National Park, which is about 3 hours from Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Similar to the last long drive, there are a few points of interest along the way.

If you do want to make a pit stop, I highly suggest stopping in Telluride. Similar to Breckenridge, this is one of the best spots to visit in Colorado, known for its outdoor adventures. Right near Mesa Verde National Park is also Durango, a small town known for its scenic train rides!

Below are some of the best things to do during two days in Mesa Verde National Park.

sign that reads entrance mesa verde national park

Get up close to history on a cliff dwelling tour.

Park rangers run tours of the cliff dwellings so that you can get up close and learn more about them during your visit. This is easily the best way to get educated about the park while also having someone you can turn to if you have any questions about it!

Because these tickets tend to sell out quickly, you can only buy them two weeks in advance. If you know a tour is something you want to do during your trip to the cliff dwellings, be sure to call the ranger’s office and buy them the second they go on sale.

the cliff dwellings of mesa verde national park

Discover at the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum.

Located right in Mesa Verde National Park is a small museum called the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum. If you want to know even more about the history or weren’t able to grab tickets to the ranger tour, this is the place to go.

This is one of the most historic national park museums and was built in the early 1900s, and it’s made from the same types of materials used to create the actual cliff dwellings. Inside, you can learn all about pueblo life.

the archaelogical museum in mesa verde where you can learn about the cliff dwellings

Drive the Mesa Top Loop Road.

Obviously, by now, you can tell going on a short drive through the national parks in Colorado is one of the best ways to explore them. In Mesa Verde National Park, that road is the Mesa Top Loop Road!

It’s only about 6 miles long but is incredibly scenic. Along the drive, you’ll also be able to pass by remains of old archaeological sites dating back to 550 CE! There are many spots along the road that you can pull off and walk up to them too.

views over mesa verde with trees and cliffs and wood

Wander the Far View Sites.

The Far View Sites are one of the most popular places to visit in Mesa Verde National Park, and for good reason.

This was one of the more populated parts of the cliff dwellings, and 40+ different villages have been found in this area!

These sites are even older than the actual cliff dwellings, which is why so many people like to see them. It’s a great look into the history and the way of life hundreds of years ago.

Some of the top places in the Far View Sites to check out include Pipe Shrine House, Far View House, and Coyote Village.

archeaelogical findings at far view in mesa verde

Eat dinner at the Metate Room Restaurant.

For dinner with a view, look no further than the Metate Room Restaurant. They have sustainable cuisines, and they offer some of the best views of the park from above. This restaurant has even won an Award of Culinary Excellence, so you know it’s good!

The restaurant is only open for dinner with limited hours, usually only 3 to 4 hours a day depending on the time of year. To guarantee a spot, make a reservation 24 hours in advance. Walk-ins are welcome, but the restaurant can’t guarantee you’ll be able to eat there.

Where to stay in Mesa Verde National Park

You can stay overnight in the park but there are only 2 options. Morefield Campground for camping or Far View Lodge but you’ll need to book in advance to get a spot.

>> Book Far View Lodge Booking.com | Book it on Hotels.com

Colorado Itinerary, Day 9: Great Sand Dunes National Park

Drive time: 3 hours 50 minutes

After Mesa Verde National Park, spend a day or two at the Great Sand Dunes National Park. Truly, a day is all you need, but if you want to spend a night in the park, then you’ll have to plan for two days, making this an 11-day road trip instead!

The drive to Great Sand Dunes National Park from Mesa Verde National Park is just shy of four hours, but you can stop at either Durango or Pagosa Springs along the way for a break. Durango is easily one of the best places to visit in Colorado if you’re a fan of locomotives.

Here are some of the best activities in Great Sand Dunes National Park.

The undulating sand dunes of Great Sand Dunes NP in Colorado

Hike to the top of the High Dune.

High Dune Trail is the most popular trail in all of Great Sand Dunes National Park.

It’s only three miles with an elevation gain of just over 600 feet, but it’s rated as difficult. This is because trekking in the sand is a lot harder than you may think it is.

Despite being the most popular trail, most of the year, you’ll find that you may be one of the only people you can see along the route. This is what makes it such a lovely trail to hike. Plus, the views are incredible the whole way.

layers of beautiful sand dunes stacking against each other in the early morning light in colorado

Have a blast sandboarding.

The best activity, without a doubt, in Great Sand Dunes National Park is sandboarding!

Don’t worry; you can rent sandboards right near the park in the San Luis Valley because it’s such a popular activity. Keep in mind that you should rent them before arriving at the park.

If sandboarding isn’t your style, you can also go sand sledding. This is perfect if you’re traveling with children! These can also be rented, or you can bring your own sleds from home if you’d prefer.

people sandboarding and walking up a sand dune

Spot the Milky Way.

To get a great view of the Milky Way, stay until nightfall at the park. There’s something truly magical about seeing the Milky Way while surrounded by sand dunes.

It’s one of those experiences that you can honestly only have while at the Great Sand Dunes National Park! (Okay, except maybe the Sahara Desert)

Don’t forget to bring your camera too, because this is one view you won’t want to miss!

Camp in the sand dunes.

Believe it or not, but you can spend the night directly in the sand dunes if you want.

To do this, you can backpack and camp anywhere within the sand dunes by setting up your own tent, even just sleeping in a sleeping bag in the sand.

Keep in mind that there is wildlife at this park, so be careful with what you bring. You also can’t have more than six people in your group at a time, and only twenty groups can sleep within the park on any given night. Read more restrictions here.

Camping in sand dunes in Colroado with stars overhead

Visit Zapata Falls.

Zapata Falls is one of the best-hidden gems in Colorado, and it’s located right next to the Great Sand Dunes National Park. It’s a beautiful waterfall with a 30-foot drop that is a lovely example of Colorado’s nature.

The Zapata Falls Trail to get to the waterfall is less than a mile, with an elevation of around 200 feet. It’s an out, and back trail ranked as easy, so it’s not super challenging to get to the waterfall.

Visiting in the winter? You may find a frozen waterfall!

man hiking to a frozen waterfall in a canyon

Where to stay in Great Sand Dunes National Park

Great Sand Dunes National Park has no in-park lodges but if you want to experience the magic of the dunes, I recommend camping right on the dunes if you have the permit that allows you to do so or camp at Pinon Flats Campground.

But if camping is not your thing, there are a few accommodation types just outside the park to consider.

LODGE | If you want to stay just right next to the park, I recommend Great Sand Dunes Lodge. There is nothing fancy to write back home about but the rooms are comfortable enough, it has an indoor swimming pool, and you get some nice mountainous views.

>> Check photos and reviews on Booking.com | Book it on Hotels.com

If you don’t find a spot in the above lodge, then you can make Alamosa town your base for visiting the Great Sand Dunes National Park. It’s approximately 45 minutes to the dunes but it has a lot more accommodation options.

BOUTIQUE | If you want something familiar that you know will never disappoint, then stay at Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites Alamosa, an IHG Hotel. Just like most IHG hotels, the rooms here are comfortable with a chic interior that will make you feel welcome.

>> Check photos and reviews on Booking.com | Book it on Hotels.com

BUDGET | If you want to stay on the lower end of the budget with a touch of luxury, then I suggest staying at Best Western Alamosa Inn. Not a low budget per se but definitely a steal for this location and the amenities offered. All the rooms at this hotel feature a refrigerator, a microwave, and a coffee maker should you want to fix yourself a quick drink. And for active travelers, you’ll be happy to know that there is a fitness room to stay in shape and an indoor swimming pool plus a jacuzzi to unwind from.

>> Check photos and reviews on Booking.com | Book it on Hotels.com

Colorado Itinerary, Day 10: Back to Denver

Drive time: 3 hours 50 minutes

On the last day, head back to Denver (or wherever you started your trip from). The drive is just shy of four hours, and the halfway point is none other than the fantastic Colorado Springs. This is one of the top places to visit in Colorado and is also one of the best day trips from Denver.

I can’t recommend enough that you stop in Colorado Springs on your way back, just because it’s a great town.

While you’re there, be sure to visit Garden of the Gods, an epic outdoor attraction so beautiful it’ll have you wondering why it’s not another one of Colorado’s national parks!

beautiful light falling on garden of the gods

At Garden of the Gods, there are a few different walking trails ranging in experience level, but each one will take you through the fantastic rock formations so you can check out the park. This is a super popular photography location, too, so don’t forget your camera.

Other fun stops in/near Colorado Springs include Pikes Peak (an epic spot for hiking or rock climbing), The Broadmoor Seven Falls, and Pikes Peak Highway, which will take you up the mountain without hiking. However, it’s often closed in winter due to weather, so keep that in mind!

What to Pack for Your Colorado National Parks Road Trip

I have a complete USA road trip packing list here you may want to go through before your road trip.

Travel guides

While I’ve given you so much useful information in this Colorado road trip itinerary, sometimes it’s hard to include all the little details due to time and resources constraints. However, travel guides do a good job at filling in all the spaces and that’s why I recommend taking this Fodor’s Colorado guidebook on top of my first-hand experience.

Phone Mount & Car Charger

It’s never safe to use your phone while driving or bother your front-seat passenger with navigation help and that’s why you need a phone mount. Also, you’ll need to take a car charger for obvious reasons but instead of taking 2 different devices, I recommend taking this dual-purpose phone mount and charger! I’ve used it on every single road trip I’ve gone to and I can’t imagine going to one without it.

Snacks

Road trips just go better with snacks and let’s not forget how quickly hanger can kick in especially if you don’t want to keep stopping just to get something to eat. Pack a few snacks — and not just the sweet ones but a mix of sweets and salty ones too.

Comfortable Footwear: Colorado national parks have a lot of hiking trails, so you’ll need to take sneakers or comfortable hiking boots (I love my Ahnu Sugarpine boots for women, and for men, I suggest the KEEN Durand boot.) You can go with sneakers but just make sure they have good traction and are comfortable to walk in for an extended period of time.

Bug spray and after-bite care

Nothing ruins an epic adventure in the wild like bugs — those little monsters just know how to change someone’s mood quickly but the good news is that you can protect yourself with this DEET-free lemon eucalyptus-based mosquito repellent — it’s great on even the most stubborn mosquitos.

Unfortunately, sometimes bugs are just too sneaky and they become hard to avoid. When that happens, use After Bite itch eraser to manage itches. It will instantly soothe your skin and you’ll be able to go back to enjoying the beautiful National Parks of Colorado.

Rehydration packets

If you’re like me who gets nasty headaches when dehydrated, you might want to pack rehydration packets. With the scorching sun, uncoordinated meal times, Impromptu hikes, salty snacks, there is no way you can avoid dehydration except if you take these Rehydration packets. I’ve been packing them for years for every road trip and they’re now a big part of my road trip tradition.

Sunscreen

Some people think that just because they’ll spend a good amount of time in the car driving that they don’t need sunscreen but they’re wrong!

While windshields protect against UVB rays (which cause sunburn), most do not block UVA rays, which cause aging and skin cancer. So for that reason, you need to pack and wear sunscreen even when you’re driving. And not just when driving but even when you hit the trails or spend the day on a beach. I love this sunscreen as it prevents my face from breaking out –( my skin is sensitive to chemical sunscreens) but since it’s a bit pricey, I use a cheaper one for the rest of my body.

And remember that it doesn’t matter which skin color or race you are — white, pale like me, Black, Latina, or Asian, you need sunscreen! Skin cancer doesn’t discriminate based on skin color.

If you’re hiking, don’t forget about your scalp either — I often end up with a burned scalp and it’s no fun, often leading to headaches. Buy a special sunscreen for hair and scalp to avoid this!


Don’t forget travel insurance!
Travel insurance coverage helps you recoup your losses in case of emergency, accident, illness, or theft. I’ve relied on World Nomads for my travel insurance coverage for four years with no complaints, and I’m a happy paying customer. I recommend them highly to fellow travelers!

Get your free quote here.

7 Days in Puerto Rico: Itinerary for a Magical Trip

Ah, Puerto Rico. It is appropriately called “La Isla del Encanto” — in English, the Island of Enchantment.

This small Caribbean island is vibrant and truly enchanting with its stunning beaches and wonderful people. Puerto Ricans are welcoming, lively, and resilient.

Puerto Rico is not always an easy place to live — scars from hurricanes, colonization, and poverty will tell that story — but it is a beautiful one.

Above all, Puerto Rico is alive. You will find incredible street art and the rumble of music on the streets of San Juan. You will be amazed as you snorkel above magnificent coral reefs with colorful fish darting below. The food is delicious, especially for fans of mariscos (seafood), plantains, and tropical fruits.

While Puerto Rico is a beautiful place, there is quite a complex history. While we can’t cover the subject with any hope of comprehensiveness in a short blog post like this one, we’ll quickly try to introduce it.

PLANNING FOR PUERTO RICO AT A GLANCE:  

When to Go: Puerto Rico has a beautiful tropical weather almost throughout the entire year but it's between December and April that it shines the most. 

It's perfect for relaxing on the beach and participating in other major activities, this is Puerto Rico's high season so you can expect prices to be high. 

If you want to beat the crowds and pay a bit less, then you can consider visiting between mid-April to June. Avoid late summer as this is hurricane season.

Where to Stay: Puerto Rico is beautiful on every turn but for this itinerary, I recommend staying in these areas —  San Juan, Fajardo, and Vieques. 

In San Juan I recommend staying at Dorado Beach Ritz-Carlton for a luxurious experience, O: Live Boutique Hotel if you love Mediterranean-inspired details and Nomada Urban Beach Hostel for budget travelers. 

When in Fajardo, I suggest staying at a private villa at the Rio Mar Beach Resort if you love staying in villas, St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort for a luxurious stay in a resort-style hotel, or Surfing Turtle Inn if you're looking for a budget-friendly hostel.  

In Vieques, opt for Finca Victoria for a boutique eco farm stay, Tranquility by the Sea for a seaside cottage, and Lazy Hostel for a budget-friendly hostel.

How to Get Around: While driving in Puerto Rico can be a bit tricky (especially for nervous drivers) since drivers can be a bit aggressive here, I think it's worth it. I like the freedom that comes with deciding where and when to make a stop without feeling rushed or delayed. 

Alternatively, you can choose to take tours but that can get expensive pretty fast. If you do choose to rent a car, compare car rentals and prices from hereBest Activities: Don't want to drive or plan? Booking a few different activities can help you eliminate the need for driving around. You can book a food tour, a craft rum cocktail tour, or Old San Juan Sunset Cruise.

3 Things Not to Forget to Pack: Since you'll spend plenty of time on the beach, I recommend taking this Dock & Bay travel towel which is 100% made from recycled materials. You'll need a swimsuit to fully enjoy the beaches -- this is my favorite swimwear  -- and of course sunscreen -- I love SunBum SPF 50 with Vitamin E — it’s moisturizing and soothing for you and also harmless for marine life! 

A Quick History of Puerto Rico

Beautiful trees creating a shaded canopy over the boardwalk Paseo de la Princesa

The island that is now known as Puerto Rico was originally inhabited by the Taíno people. Their name for the island was Borikén, which meant “land of the brave lord”, in their native tongue, Arawak.

Today, many Puerto Ricans identify themselves as “boriqua”, the adjective deriving from the land’s original name. When you consider the fact that Puerto Rico translates to “rich port” in Spanish, you can see how the Spanish saw the land: a place to be conquered and looted, rather than respected.

Unfortunately for the Taíno people, Christopher Columbus made his way to Puerto Rico in 1493. Like many other Caribbean nations, the Taíno way of life was changed drastically by this unwelcome arrival. Columbus placed the island under an encomienda system, similar to the feudal systems of Europe, which essentially enslaved the Taíno people on their own land, forcing them to work in gold mines and on plantations.

The Taíno population quickly started declining due to the introduction of European diseases that never existed on the island previously, such as smallpox, measles, and typhus, as well as through the harsh conditions of slavery.

Who remained of the Taíno people were subject to cultural genocide practices, such as the Complementary Declaration of July 28th, 1513, which “freed” only the Taíno who were “clothed, Christian, and capable”, further chipping away at Taíno identity.

By 1530, the effect of 40 years of European colonization had taken an enormous toll. The original population of an estimated 50,000 Taíno dwindled down to just 1,148 survivors in the 1530 census. The remaining Taíno were still oppressed, and many Taíno women intermarried with the Spanish conquistadors and assimilated.

There’s no denying that the Taíno people as a distinct Indigenous group are a shadow of what they used to be. However, Taíno blood runs in the veins of many Puerto Ricans, and Taíno identity is being shaped and defined by the descendants of these Indigenous people living today.

There are ancient sites all over the island to visit and honor these unforgotten people. There are a few towns in Puerto Rico that still retain their Taíno names: for example, Yauco and Utuado.

After over 300 years of Spanish colonization, the United States claimed Puerto Rico in the Spanish-American War in 1898. Today, the questions of statehood and Puerto Rican independence are thorny ones, and the path forward for Puerto Rico is not entirely clear.

Today, many Puerto Ricans call the island Borinquen, to honor their Taíno roots and acknowledge the Taíno, Caribbean, African, and Spanish influences on the island’s ethnicity and culture in a way that is more inclusive than the Spanish-given name of Puerto Rico.

How this Puerto Rico Itinerary Works

a mural of the puerto rican flag surrounded by colorful walls and cobblestones

Now that you have a bit of knowledge of the history of the island, let’s get into the nitty-gritty of this Puerto Rico itinerary.

The following suggestions only cover a small portion of the east side of the island, since this itinerary only covers 7 days in Puerto Rico.

We’ve highlighted all the most popular touristic hotspots in Puerto Rico and given some off-the-beaten-path suggestions where it makes sense to best maximize the time on your trip to Puerto Rico.

However, if you have more than a week in Puerto Rico, we strongly suggest you make your way around the entire island; you will be amazed at the variety of climates. Explore desolate salt flats, lush rainforest, coral reefs, mountain waterfalls, lakes, and countless beaches that would make a postcard weep.

What to Pack for Puerto Rico

Allison wearing a swimsuit in Puerto Rico
Enjoying Puerto Rico in a cute high-waisted swimsuit!

I’m in the process of creating a full Puerto Rico packing list, but here are 5 things not to forget before your trip.

An awesome travel towel. A proper travel towel is a game-changer. I’m not talking about a sad little microfiber square that might as well be a washcloth. I’m talking a true microfiber beach towel that serves you just as well on a beach day as it does after a long shower. I’m obsessed with this classic red and white striped travel towel from Dock & Bay, which easily knocks off sand in a single shake-out and is made of 100% recycled materials. Order it on Amazon here.

Bathing suits you love. On an island trip, you’ve got to have swimwear you can stand behind! I love wearing a two-piece, but I hate feeling bloated while I travel and feeling awkward in my swimwear after too much mofongo. Solution? High-waisted swimsuits! I love this one, and this one is a great plus-size option with a high waist and a classic shape. I would bring 3 swimsuits for one week in Puerto Rico so I never have to suffer the indignity of putting on a wet bathing suit. Ick.

Reef-safe sunscreen. This is so essential! The future of marine life in Puerto Rico depends on the actions visitors and locals take now, so do your part to keep Puerto Rico’s reefs pristine for generations to come. I love SunBum SPF 50 with Vitamin E — it’s moisturizing and soothing for you, and harmless for the animals who call Puerto Rico’s waters their home!

Comfortable travel sandals. I will be buried with my Birkenstocks, or you can try to pry them from my cold, dead hands. Dramatic? Maybe. But they’re a must for travel! I love the Birkenstock Gizeh leather thong style personally, but the classic two-buckle Arizona slides are really cute as well. These are the exact shoes I have and love!

One tip, though: Break them in for 2-3 days before you travel, as they form to the exact shape of your foot! They’ll be slightly uncomfortable at first, but nothing major (I just bought a second pair and they fit like a glove after a day of use), but they’re not shoes I’d want to walk around a cobblestoned city in on their first day!

Chemical-free insect repellent: Like reef-safe sunscreen, it’s important that the bug spray you use won’t harm the sensitive ecosystems of Puerto Rico, particularly when you get in the water! A simple lemon eucalyptus spray like this will keep most mosquitos away without the harsh chemicals which can mess up delicate ecosystems.

Where to Stay in Puerto Rico

This Puerto Rico itinerary has you staying overnight in three separate destinations: San Juan, Fajardo, and Vieques. We’ll give you some suggestions for each!

San Juan

the colorful buildings of old san juan in a rainbow of colors

BOUTIQUE | I love the Small Luxury Hotels of the World brand and I’ve stayed at many a property of theirs over the years! They have a gorgeous offering called O:Live Boutique Hotel located in vibey Condado that I’m looking forward to staying at on my next trip to the island! Gorgeously designed rooms with Mediterranean-inspired details, rain showers with hydromassage jets, a roof terrace with an infinity pool with views of the Condado Lagoon? Swoon. Sold.
>> Check availability and rates on Booking.com

LUXURY | Nothing says luxury quite like the Ritz-Carlton brand! At Dorado Beach Ritz-Carlton, we’re talking on-site golf course, multiple swimming pools, 4 on-site restaurants, and spa and fitness centers. Plus, some rooms even have their own private plunge pools for the ultimate luxury vacation! It’s not cheap, that’s for sure, but it’s by far the best choice if you’re looking for a blowout accommodation choice for a special occasion (or just a really baller vacation).
>> Check availability and rates on Booking.com

BUDGET | Looking for a hostel option? Nomada Urban Beach Hostel is a fantastic choice for travelers on a budget, located near Isla Verde Beach. Options include dorm-style rooms and private rooms. The dorms are modern with amenities like curtains and hangers allotted for each bunk bed: little touches that frequent hostel-goers are sure to heave a sigh of relief over. There’s also a roof terrace for travelers to relax on and chitchat.
>> Check availability and rates on Booking.com

Fajardo

The beautiful blue waters and fine sands of the beaches in Fajardo Puerto Rico

VILLA | If you want to stay in a villa, there are some great choices in this area! This charming private villa at the Rio Mar Beach Resort in nearby Rio Grande is a great choice for people who want to spread out and enjoy a larger space without paying a huge price. It can sleep up to six guests in its one bedroom, two sofa bed configuration. The villa also has two bathrooms, a full-size kitchen and dining area. It’s not fancy, but it’s spacious and charming.
>> Check availability and rates on Booking.com

LUXURY | If you want resort-style luxury, the St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort is a phenomenal option about 12 miles north of Fajardo. Amenities include a golf course, ocean-view pool, spa center, yoga and pilates classes, and best of all? Every room includes butler service for that special ultra-luxury touch, plus either gorgeous garden or ocean views.
>> Check availability and rates on Booking.com

BUDGET | For a cute hostel experience, go outside of Fajardo 5 miles to Luquillo, a charming beachy area with lots of great food. The Surfing Turtle Inn offers dorms and private rooms at affordable prices for the area. Dorms and rooms are fairly basic, but offer all the standard budget amenities at a reasonable price, with a clean reputation.
>> Check availability and rates on Booking.com

Vieques

the sun rising in vieques puerto rico

BOUTIQUE | Eco-friendly and chic, Finca Victoria is the place to go for a stunning, Instagrammable retreat-style hotel at an affordable cost. It has beautiful treehouse-inspired rooms with soaringly high ceilings and exposed beams, loads of natural light, and vintage farmhouse details in the furnishings. Daily free yoga classes are included, as well as a delicious Caribbean breakfast made with Ayurvedic principles in mind. There are loads of thoughtful touches like hammocks on the balcony, outdoor showers, and small kitchenettes.
>> Check availability and rates on Booking.com

COTTAGE | The lovely Tranquility by the Sea offers a 3-bedroom oceanside cottage perfect for families and groups at a good value. It’s not fancy, but it is well-appointed and spacious with plenty of room to enjoy a vacation home style rental. A full kitchen, washer & dryer, and a wraparound veranda are some of the best perks of this rental. Best of all? You can often see wild horses grazing right from your window.
>> Check availability and rates on Booking.com

BUDGET | While the decor is definitely nothing to write home about, if you want a cheap and clean place to lay your head at night, Lazy Hostel is a good choice. It has a social vibe and it offers a variety of room types including dorms and private rooms. It’s good for solo travelers and anyone on a budget in Puerto Rico.
>> Check availability and rates on Booking.com

A Few Final Tips About Visiting Puerto Rico

the ocean at el morro in old san juan

A few quick tips before you arrive on the island!

Cell service can be spotty. So make sure you download maps of the areas you are in to be sure you can find your way. That means you should also keep your phone charged.

Google Maps are not always accurate either. I try to cross-reference with Maps.me and always check my accommodations or destinations to see if they have alternate directions.

Anti-theft bags are great for San Juan. While Puerto Rico is overall safe, San Juan is a large city like any other, and you should use caution. When traveling in cities, I bring my PacSafe CitySafe backpack — it’s chic, sleek, and almost theft-proof, with things like double-locking zippers and mesh slash-proof construction.

The driving in Puerto Rico can be wild. If you’re not used to it… watch out! The right lane is the fast lane, the left lane is the slow lane, and merging onto highways via the right lane is practically a form of cardio. While renting a car in Puerto Rico will give you freedom, it can also be stressful. I suggest a handful of guided tours on this Puerto Rico itinerary so that you can reduce your driving and focus on relaxing, while also having your adventure improved by local guide knowledge.

Watch for mosquitos. Puerto Rico has a tropical climate and therefore a handful of tropical diseases you don’t have to worry about in most of the U.S. mainland. Dengue fever, Zika, chikungunya, and other diseases are transmissible through mosquito bites. Wear mosquito repellent during day and night, and be especially careful around sunrise and sunset, when mosquito activity is at its peak. Reapply and wear long-sleeved, loose-fitting clothing at this time for the most coverage.

To Rent or Not to Rent?

a red car at sunset on a beach in puerto rico

We’ve done a lot of the hard work for you in putting together this itinerary for Puerto Rico, but there’s one big decision you need to make: to rent a car or not to rent a car?

As I mentioned above, driving in Puerto Rico can be difficult. Drivers are a bit on the aggressive side, and the fact that the right lane is the fast lane and the left lane is the slow lane can be a real mind#(*@ for anxious drivers like myself.

I’ve been to Puerto Rico twice, once without a rental car and once with. I was able to adjust to the driving, but there were definitely some heart-pounding moments! Ultimately, I liked the freedom it gave me, though I didn’t enjoy driving on the tiny streets of Old San Juan.

There are tours and taxis you can take which make having a car unnecessary; plus, you ought to leave your rental behind when you go to Vieques, as the car spots on the ferry are limited and are needed by locals. Plus, many rental companies do not allow it.

However, tour and taxi costs can add up, so you’ll want to do some cost benefit analysis there. Renting a car likely skews cheaper, but it will mean some headache. Tours and taixs will likely skew a bit more expensive, but be more relaxing.

If you do choose to rent a car, there are ways to get a good 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 San Juan Airport here.

Puerto Rico Itinerary: 7 Days on the Island of Enchantment

Day 1: Explore Old San Juan

runners in Old San Juan against three colorful houses

Old San Juan is one of the most lively areas of the islands!

The colorful and stunning architecture reflects the early days of San Juan shortly after the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors, and some of the earliest buildings dating back to 1508. 

The historic forts and old city walls are especially impressive. Beyond the architecture, San Juan has some of the best eating in Puerto Rico, so bring your appetite!

Start your day off with a cup of coffee.

You’re in Puerto Rico, so it’d be a shame to start the day without a proper café con leche. Puerto Rico is full of coffee farms so be prepared for fresh, delicious coffee that’s local and delicious.

To indulge your coffee craving, head to Cuatro Sombras. This is the coffee house of choice if you are looking to try locally-grown coffee. Enjoy shade-grown coffee from the mountains of Yauco in El Yunque National Park.

Their food menu includes pastries, breakfast plates, sandwiches, and paninis. It is the perfect place to start the day and fuel up with some locally grown coffee.

But resist the urge to overindulge here — next up on this Puerto Rico itinerary is enjoying a delicious walking food tour to get a sense of Puerto Rican flavors.

a cup of coffee with some latte art

Taste the flavors of Old San Juan.

On my first day in a destination, I love to do a food tour for a variety of reasons. For one, it’s a great way to learn what you like and what you don’t — as well as what you haven’t sampled yet! — so you can order tastier and more adventurous dishes on your travels.

It’s also a great way to ask a local for their point of view on the best restaurants in San Juan, so you can plan future meals and make sure you don’t miss out on any can’t-miss foodie experiences.

This highly-rated food & walking tour will provide you with the opportunity to enjoy Puerto Rican cuisine and do some more coffee tasting. Plus they provide a cocktail, if you don’t mind imbibing on the early side (you are on vacation, after all!).

This tour will take you through the streets of San Juan while you admire the architecture and learn about the history of this colonial city and how San Juan came to be. It is a well-rounded (and delicious) Puerto Rican cultural experience and a great way to start off a weeklong Puerto Rico itinerary.

Book your food tour online here!

a sampler plate of delicious puerto rican food including fried snacks and pulled pork and rice

Relax on the beach in Condado or Isla Verde.

From there, you may want to rest your legs for a bit and relax on the beach and digest all that delicious Puerto Rican food!

Head to Condado Beach to experience the beach, enjoy the view, and relax…. plus there is a lot of shopping in Condado for those wanting to explore more and find some Puerto Rican souvenirs to take home.

However, Condado Beach is in one of the most built-up areas of San Juan. If you would like a more laidback Puerto Rican beach experience, head to Isla Verde Beach, otherwise known as Playa Isla Verde in Carolina.

There are multiple bars and restaurants along the beach here which is how it is done at many popular beaches in PR!

the turquoise waters of condado beach with soft sand, lots of blue umbrellas on the beach, people, and buildings surrounding the urban beach

Enjoy San Juan at night one of three ways.

No matter what you choose, you’ll want to eat a big dinner before you explore more of San Juan. This choice is up to you. Both Condado and Isla Verde provide plenty of opportunities to eat well, or perhaps your food tour guide gave you a can’t-miss recommendation for where to eat. If they did… heed it!

There are a few different things you can do to cap off your first night in Puerto Rico. One suggestion is to take a craft rum cocktail tour, to learn why Puerto Rico is the rum capital of the world!

You will taste many delicious rum-centric beverages while exploring the colorful nightlife of Old San Juan. You will get to experience a variety of bars in the city and learn about the drinking culture of Puerto Rico. Get to know the city and its history while getting your buzz on!

Book your rum cocktail tour here!

lit up fort of el morro at night with a dark blue sky

It also must be said that viewing the forts at night is especially impressive! Walk from Castillo San Cristobal to Castillo Felipe del Morro. Enjoy the sound of the ocean while taking in the impressive view.

There are multiple historic citadels, old city walls, and forts in this area, representing the previous Spanish military presence in the former Spanish colony. Some of these looming structures date back to the 16th century and are in remarkably good shape for their age.

Add Paseo Del Morro to your night exploration to continue along on a boardwalk flanked with the city walls on one side and the bay on the other. It runs into Paseo de la Princesa which will allow for you to be able to do almost a full loop around the old city walls.

Day 2: Do it all in San Juan

Hopefully, you will wake up well-rested for another stellar day in San Juan! This is the last full day in San Juan on this PR itinerary, so let’s make the most of it.

I highly suggest you start the day with an early morning dive if you’re certified, or do some snorkeling. Then we’ll explore a bit more of San Juan to close out the day.

Start the day with a fantastic breakfast.

This means fueling up with something light like fruit or a pastry with some more local coffee before you hit the water.

Check out Cafe Cola’o. This is a woman-owned coffee shop that features coffee from Utuado, Adjuntas, and Ponce. Cafe Regina is another spectacular spot representing Puerto Rican agriculture. Sample starfruit jam, locally made ice cream, and excellent coffee.

Head to Escambrón Beach.

One of the best ways to get around the city and get the heart pumping is to rent an electric scooter. Skootel is a new app-based scooter rental service in PR. You can find it on the Bird app. The options are varied as to how you will want to take advantage of your scooter rental. 

Head to Escambrón Beach any way you like. We suggest a scooter, of course! You may want to head out and go the long way to view the forts again, this time by day.

Old San Juan is so small that any way you choose to get to the beach will be relatively fast and easy to navigate. It is, of course, very fast if you drive, if you were brave enough to rent a car.

Playa El Escambrón is a great spot to enjoy the beach for anyone not wanting to snorkel or dive. However, the shining star of Escambrón is the snorkeling and diving adventures that await you under the sea!

Be prepared for sea turtles, coral reefs, and calm waters. When you explore Escambrón Marine Park, you will find incredible sunken structures throughout.

Picture the columns of Atlantis, statues, and a sunken “fish protection wall”. This is a great spot to try scuba diving for the first time with its easy beach access and shallow waters.

Please remember to use reef-safe sunscreen any time you get in the water. The future health of the marine ecosystems of Puerto Rico is dependent upon it! I use and love SunBum SPF 50 with Vitamin E — it’s great for your skin and for the marine environment.

snorkeling at escambron beach

Have a delicious brunch.

After you have had your fill of the water, it’s time for one of the best brunches of your life!

You will be very pleased to refuel at Waffle-Era Tea Room. This place is the ultimate breakfast spot. They feature an extensive list of savory and sweet waffles, plus salads and bowls.

Of course, you can also enjoy an extensive tea menu! Think fragrant earl grey, peony, or lemongrass chai. There are all kinds of varieties of tea, plus there are mimosas, bloody marys, and cocktails…. it’s even encouraged to spike your coffee (hey, vacation, right?). It’s a grand reward after you have spent time in the water and sun!

Check out the beautiful shops of Old San Juan.

The afternoon will be your chance to check out some of the unique shopping experiences Old San Juan has to offer and support the local businesses.

One such location is at the enchanted library, called Quimera, Café Literario. You will mostly find books about spiritual development, fairy tales, and magic, though, this magical bookstore-meets-café is much more than that!

The Poet’s Passage is just down the way from Quimera. It is self-described to be a “living museum of poetry and local art”. This is certainly true. They also host spoken-word and music events, and because it’s Puerto Rico, land of delicious coffee, there is a café here too. 

Looking for a souvenir? Check out Seafoam for locally made rare jewelry. El Gapon hat shop is a great spot to check out, too.

Take a sunset sail.

As the day begins nearing a close, head on out for your sunset sailing tour!

The meeting place is between Pier 3 and 4 at San Juan Bay at 5:30 PM (though double-check as varying sunset times throughout the year may impact this).

Silhouette of a sailing boat at sunset in the Caribbean in San Juan, Puerto Rico

Climb aboard the Amazing Grace, a sailing vessel dating back to the American Revolutionary War. Enjoy beverages, cocktails, and appetizers as you cruise San Juan Bay viewing historic buildings like La Fortaleza, the Governor’s mansion… plus you can enjoy local music aboard the vessel. The views are stunning on this small-group tour!

Be sure to wear comfortable shoes and bring your ID!

Book your tour here: Old San Juan Sunset Cruise

Have a delicious dinner.

After your happy hour aboard the Amazing Grace, it is time for dinner in San Juan. There are some world-class restaurants in San Juan ranging from upscale to casual fare of all kinds.

If you are looking for a casual experience, you should check out Lote23 in Santurce. This gastro park will provide you top-notch fare from some of the best chefs in Puerto Rico!

Each stand has something unique and bound to be mouth-watering. Enjoy mofongo (mashed green plantains) at El Cuchifrito or Puerto Rican pork shoulder sandwiches at Pernilería Los Proceres. Plus you will find poke bowls, fried chicken, cocktails, and more.

a plate of mofongo (mashed plantains) with a side of a dipping sauce

Head home early or continue the night out.

If you are looking for more to do after dinner you may want to experience the Condado nightlife.

Condado has the best nightlife scene on the island. There are many cool bars, lounges, and clubs. We love Oceano for its rooftop views and excellent outdoor seating, La Terraza for cheap margaritas and reggaeton, and Red Coral Lounge for the artwork and ambiance, especially the giant coral sculpture.

This is the spot if you want to go out dancing and stay out late… but be sure to get some rest. You have another jam-packed day ahead of you!

Day 3: Journey to the rainforest

Today is all about El Yunque National Forest, the only tropical rainforest in the United States! It’s an absolute must-visit on any Puerto Rico itinerary.

Getting to El Yunque by car is absolutely doable! It’s about a 45-minute or 1-hour drive, depending on traffic. However, Puerto Rico driving is not for everyone, so we’ve also vetted and suggested a tour that will show you around El Yunque stress-free.

a waterfall plunging into a pool in the rainforest of puerto rico called el yunque, a must on your 7 day puerto rico itinerary

Grab a tasty breakfast with a side of history.

Start the day off with a healthy breakfast steeped in history at St Germain, which is a great spot for vegetarians especially!

You will dine in a historic building that was once home to Don Pedro Albizu Campos, widely considered a hero in Puerto Rico.

He was the leader of the Puerto Rico Nationalist Party from 1933 to 1965, leading uprisings to overthrow the United States government. He was imprisoned for many years of his life. Dine at this restaurant and pay homage to the struggle that Puerto Rico has lived through due to colonization.

Head out to the rainforest.

Once you are satiated, it is time for your rainforest and waterslide tour in El Yunque National Forest! Yes, this tour takes you on natural waterslides — nothing manmade about them! We suggest going by tour, but we’ll also include how to get there on your own below as well.

It is an insanely awesome, one-of-a-kind adventure. It is not every day you get to experience this! Plus you can cliff jump, rope swing, and bask beneath waterfalls. There is also a stop at a restaurant on this tour where you can Puerto Rican cuisine.

Book your El Yunque Rainforest & Waterslide Tour!

the natural waterslides going through the rocks near luquillo puerto rico

If you have rented a vehicle, you can make this trip without a tour. You will want to head to Las Pailas in Luquillo. There is a $5 parking fee. The lot is in a local’s yard at these GPS coordinates: 18.337856, -65.731060.

Follow the path from the parking area down to Río Pitahaya where you will venture to find the two waterslides.

Once you have exerted yourself head over to La Muralla, located nearby, right in El Yunque. Get simple, delicious Puerto Rican food and fresh coconut water to recharge before you head back towards San Juan for dinner.

the trees in the rainforest of el yunque national forest

Walk around San Juan a bit before dinner.

Before dinner, you may have some time for resting, or you can tour more of San Juan.

One fun way to see the city is to do a DIY mural tour, as there are plenty of thought-provoking, electric murals in this city. You will get a modern idea of what is happening in PR by observing the artwork of real Puerto Ricans.

Dine at one of San Juan’s best restaurants.

The dinner options in San Juan are endless! If you want to dine near the water, La Casita de Rones is the place. They have great food and craft rum cocktails. The restaurant is close to where the cruise ships dock, though, so it can get very busy: be warned!

El Jibarito is a great place to go if you want to try one of Puerto Rico’s national dishes, mofongo. Mofongo is a dish consisting of mashed green plantain and broth.

The plantain is mashed to the inside of the bowl where they pour in various types of broth. It can be made with beef, chicken, seafood, or creamy broth, and then it’s typically served with meat or seafood inside.

Whatever you choose, as they say in Puerto Rico, “buen provecho!”.

a place of mofongo, rice, and meat, with a salad as well

Cap it off with a night paddle or get an early night’s sleep.

If you want one more exciting activity to cap off your evening, go night kayaking! You can paddle through Condado Lagoon on a clear-bottom kayak with LED lights gently guiding the way.

It will be a unique experience as you observe the lights of San Juan and perhaps a sea creature or two. This will be one of two excellent kayaking adventures you can experience in PR. Find more information online here.

Sleep well and wake rejuvenated for a relaxing day into a magical night — bursting with bioluminescence!

Day 4: Head to Fajardo and the Bioluminescent Bay

Spend the morning in San Juan your way before heading to Fajardo.

Did you want to try a new cafe? Did you see a museum you want to check out while in San Juan? Do you just need some time to relax at your hotel? This would be a great time for any of that!

kayaks at sunset awaiting guests to go on a bio bay tour of the lagoon in fajardo puerto rico

If you’re heading to Fajardo, there are a few options, all of which involve driving. It’s about an hour’s drive away if you’ve rented a car. Not driving? You can hire a public taxi, Uber, or use a private car service (speak to your hotel to see what they can arrange). Be prepared to spend about $80-100.

There is no public transit from San Juan to Fajardo. If you’re comfortable driving, we recommend renting a car for the entire week in Puerto Rico, or at least from Days 4-7 of this itinerary. This will save you money and hassle in the long run.

Grab lunch at La Casita Blanca.

On your way to Fajardo, stop for lunch. For a quiet and wonderfully authentic dining experience head to Santurce for La Casita Blanca, aka “the little white house”.

The restaurant is full of tropical plants, eclectic artwork, and tchotchkes. But really, you’re here for the food: it is incredible! The skirt steak and accompanying rice are mouth-wateringly flavorful. You have to try the tres leches cake, too! You will be served plantain soup upon arrival and given chichaito, a digestif, at the end of your meal, a really nice touch. It’s a bona fide Puerto Rican experience!

They are open daily for lunch and serve dinner on Fridays and Saturdays only. They also have valet parking, which is convenient for parking in this small residential neighborhood.

Arrive in Fajardo and relax on the beach.

Whenever you are ready to get adventuring, head over to Fajardo to check into your new hotel. From there, you can go out and appreciate some of what this area has to offer!

Fajardo offers a great mix of historical sites and some beautiful beaches. Get your snorkel on or call in your inner beach bum for some relaxing time.

one of the beautiful beaches in the fajardo puerto rico area

Playa Escondida is a great beach to hit if you want to avoid the crowds. It takes about 30 minutes to walk to Playa Escondida from the trailhead, which is near the Governor’s Beach House. However, this beach is one of the most dangerous swimming spots in Puerto Rico, so it is strictly for exploring or relaxing while taking in the view.

If you are looking to swim, Seven Seas Beach is a great place to snorkel, plus, it does not require a long trek to get to the beach. The waters are calm and the sea life is thriving. Palm trees abound and there are plenty of shady spots to enjoy.

There is a restaurant here that may or may not be open. There are also showers and restrooms. Sometimes you can rent kayaks, SUP paddleboards, and snorkeling gear on the beach here.

To guarantee your gear, head 5 minutes south of Seven Seas Beach by car. You will hit Pirate Snorkeling Shack. There are snorkels, kayaks, and SUP for rent on the beach here.

Either of these beaches will be a nice place to spend the golden hour before you prep for your adventure on the Bioluminescent Bay!

scenic blue waters of seven seas beach, a calm oasis in puerto rico

Have a BBQ dinner, island style.

Firstly, you’ll want to get dinner. A trip to PR is not complete without a visit to a BBQ. A lot of the beef consumed in Puerto Rico comes right from the island, so there are many BBQ spots around.

La Estación is the place to go for locally sourced, buttery, delicious steaks in Fajardo. They take American barbecue classics and merge them with Caribbean flavors. Enjoy locally sourced fish, meats, and produce. Their brisket is award-winning, the ceviche is made daily, and vegetarian options are available.

Have an enchanting kayak ride through the bioluminescent waters.

Once you have had your fill, grab your gear for kayaking. You will want to bring a towel and possibly a change of clothes for when you exit the water.

The tour provides bottled water, snacks, life vests, and bug spray. Use only eco-friendly bug spray if you bring your own. This is a protected area, and some of the chemicals in traditional bug spray are extremely harmful to this rare ecosystem, particularly DEET.

Once you’ve geared up, an enchanted evening is upon you as you embark on a bioluminescent bay kayaking tour.

streaks of electric blue in the dark water at night with lots of stars out

Puerto Rico is one of only 3 places in the world where you can experience the magic of a bioluminescent bay! There are 3 bio bays in PR. You can find them in Vieques, La Parguera, and at Laguna Grande in Fajardo; the latter of which is the most famous and where we’ll be tonight!

You will paddle through mangroves into the bay for 2 hours. You will see the bioluminescence light up the shapes of the fish, and possibly sharks, swimming beneath you. The water sparkles as you splash your paddle. It is otherworldly and awe-inspiring, an experience you will never forget.

Book your kayaking tour online here!

Make sure you get a lot of rest for day 5. You will have to have an early morning the following day in order to make your catamaran ride, which meets at 8:15 AM.

Day 5: Set sail in Fajardo

Grab a quick breakfast at a panaderia.

Puerto Rican bakeries or panaderias are flourishing on the island! This would be a great way to start an early day. One of the best spots in Fajardo is Panaderia Monte Brisas.

Like most Puerto Rican bakeries, you can get sandwiches here, too. There is something for all tastes, savory or sweet. All orders are to-go, so grab your sandwiches or pastries and make your way south to Puerto del Rey Marina.

Have a gorgeous catamaran ride or go scuba diving.

As you have seen on your journey so far, Fajardo is an ocean-centered town. It brings opportunities for water sports of all kinds, plus beach lounging and seaside dining. It is not surprising that a catamaran ride is one of the most popular activities to do in Fajardo!

Your final day in Fajardo will be as dreamy as it gets. Head to Puerto del Rey Marina to hop on a catamaran tour!

a blonde tan woman in a black dress standing on the net area of a catamaran looking at islands in the distance with blue water around

You will sail for 45 minutes to a deserted island called Icacos. You will have a couple of hours to explore the beach and swim before lunch is served. Enjoy sandwiches, fresh juices, rum punch, and more!

You will then cruise the Caribbean Sea a little more to anchor over the reef. This is a great time to utilize the slide that is aboard the catamaran!

Swim, snorkel, or chill out before your leisurely sail back to the marina. You should arrive back by 3:30 PM.

Book your catamaran ride in Fajardo here!

After your day of fun in the sun, you may want to head back to your hotel to take a rest and freshen up. A seafood dinner will follow.

If you’re PADI certified, you may prefer to go diving here! You can book a two-tank reef drive departing Fajardo — note the early start time!

Book your two-tank dive here!

Dine on fresh seafood.

Head to the coastline for delicious, Puerto Rican-style seafood! Pescaderia Don Candi will show you how the Puerto Ricans do seafood. In short? They do it well!

You should order the fried red snapper. You will be presented with a whole fish, fins and all. The fins are crunchy and yummy so don’t leave them out! They will come with a PR staple, fried plantain, otherwise known as tostones.

fried fish served on a bed of tostones and salad

They also serve oysters and delicious coconut shrimp dumplings. Don’t forget your rum cocktail or another PR staple, Medalla beer.

As a side note… you may notice on your travels that there are many folks selling rotisserie chicken and pinchos on the side of the road. Pinchos are essentially BBQ meat on a stick. They are cheap, delicious, and a great snack. Both pinchos and rotisserie barbeques are often wonderfully flavorful and make a great choice if you’re trying to save a bit of money!

Perhaps when you complete your dinner, you will want to check out the Cape San Juan Lighthouse of Fajardo for golden hour. Since we are on the east side of the island, watching the sunset over the ocean is not possible; however, the hues of this extraordinary time of day will still impress and delight you!

Head to Reserva Natural Cabezas de San Juan. This nature park will be a great place to walk around while you breathe in the salt air and connect with some history.

The lighthouse was first lit in 1882 and had a large influence in the Spanish-American War. It now sits on a nature reserve that includes Laguna Grande, the bio bay you explored last night! Plus you can explore mangroves, coral reefs, beaches, and lagoons. There is no better way to end the day.

the white and green lighthouse in fajardo

Day 6: Hop the ferry to Vieques

Before you head to Vieques for the night, take the morning to pack up, get breakfast, and tie up any loose ends on your “to-see” list in Fajardo. Then head to Ceiba to catch the ferry to Vieques.

The ferry has specific hours, but it is not always on time. Check the timetables and plan accordingly. Keep your timeline fluid. Vieques in general will force you to slow down and go with the flow!

Cars are allowed on the ferry, but please do not attempt to take your rental to Vieques. The vessel is carrying supplies and vehicles for residents of Vieques. If everyone were to bring vehicles to the island, it would make it very hard for the residents to go about their business.

Please note: it may be very difficult to get on the ferry to Vieques during holidays and weekends due to crowds. It is easier going back, so flying in and out may be your best bet.

leaving colorful port on the fajardo vieques ferry

If you fly, head to the Ceiba airport and hop on a flight with Vieques Airlink or Air Flamenco. The round trip flight should cost less than $100. I consider these both sightseeing and transportation because the views as so beautiful! So if the budget allows, flying is a great choice.

Once you arrive on Vieques, be prepared to rent a Jeep, motorbike, or a golf cart to get around. There are also taxi services. Make all of these arrangements ahead of time, as you may not get a taxi or vehicle if you arrive without a reservation.

UTV Rental offers golf carts for rent which can be a fun way to explore, or Vieques Car Rental offers Jeeps and SUVs as well as golf carts.

One great way to get acquainted with Vieques is to take a drive around the island! If you rent that Jeep, you are in great shape, as you can drive on dirt roads through the jungle that wind into ocean views. If you are not renting a vehicle, renting bikes is another great option.

The island is mostly reserve land that you have the privilege to explore. They have quite a few roads running through the reserve, and there are hikes to jump on along the way. Be careful if driving as there are wild horses in many parts of the island!

several wild horses and baby horses roaming the street in vieques puerto rico

Head towards Sun Bay.

Take your vehicle down towards Esperanza to check out the beach at Sun Bay. You may see wild horses here!

As a side note… the proximity of Playa Sun Bay to the bioluminescent bay makes this a cool beach to peep at night. You may see the dinoflagellates (the creatures that glow) in the surf or on the beach. Can you say sparkle beach, anyone?!

Walk west down the beach at Sun Bay towards Esperanza to enjoy painkillers and a meal at Lazy Jack’s Restaurant and Hostel. Painkillers are a yummy cream of coconut and rum cocktail topped with fresh nutmeg.

Enjoy the lively atmosphere of this Vieques favorite. It is also a great place to stay for the night!

brilliant turquoise and cerulean waters of the beach at sun bay vieques

Day 7: Explore Vieques some more and head back to San Juan

The island has two main areas where there are hotels and restaurants: down south at Esperanza or north at Isabel Segunda, near the ferry terminal.

Up north, the best breakfast place is Rising Roost delicioso! Cafe Del Mar down south is great, too. Enjoy a great breakfast with their house-made bread.

Explore the black sand beach.

After you hit a breakfast spot of your choice, you should head over to Black Sands Beach (Playa Negra). You can walk on the beach from Esperanza if you like. Walk west to reach Playa Negra.

It is inspiring to see the volcanic black sand for yourself! Amp up the magic of your experience and opt for a horseback riding tour on the black sand – contact Esperanza Riding Company for details.

Have a final meal in Vieques.

For a final restaurant recommendation, we have the best for last!

Head to Finca Conciencia for a healthy, ethical, locally sourced meal. Their grouper stuffed with lobster and grilled over mesquite in banana leaves will change your life!

The menu is subject to change but that is the beauty of eating locally. There is variety and change just as the seasons change. When you visit, you will see their sustainable farming practices in action.

It is a sweet place that honors the sacredness of Mother Earth. They are true stewards of the land here. Plus, you may get to sample local honey from their apiaries. Call or email to reserve a spot. See their website for precise directions to their land, as it will not come up on Google.

Take a hike.

Up north, Playa Grande Sugar Mill Ruins is another great spot for a hike.

Hike amongst the ruins and along the coastline. End with a fabulous view of Punta Mulas Lighthouse. This is also a lovely spot for sunset if you end up with time before heading back to San Juan.

beautiful ripples in the water in vieques with sunset colors and palm silhouettes in the distance

Enjoy your final moments in Vieques.

Spend the afternoon relaxing or preparing to head back to San Juan. Your timeline will depend on if you choose to take the ferry back or fly.

If you have time, check out some more beaches, restaurants, or shops. This is a small island with a population of about 10,000. Jobs are limited, so your shopping in Vieques will significantly impact the people that live there in a positive way, especially if you buy hand-crafted products from local artisans. Either way, enjoy the rest of the day your way. It is your last day in Puerto Rico, after all!

You will end your journey back in San Juan. If you drove a rental car to Fajardo, you’ll want to return to Fajardo by bus or by plane and then drive back to San Juan Airport. If you took a taxi to Fajardo, you can save time by flying from Vieques to San Juan.

So ends your week in Puerto Rico. Perhaps you will be going home, perhaps it is on to another adventure!

Hopefully, you feel revitalized from your time on this magnificent island. You will certainly have eaten extremely well if you followed our tips!

Beautiful Gozalandia Waterfall in San Sebastian Puerto Rico at daylight

From natural waterslides and sailing on the Caribbean sea to kayaking amongst bioluminescence, the adventures you will experience on this Puerto Rico itinerary will surely live in your memory forever.

Puerto Rico is a place that deserves a lot of love, and the people will welcome you so well, you may never want to leave!

It is also a place that has seen a lot of hardships, especially since Hurricane Maria and the subsequent federal failure to address the damages the hurricane caused. As a result, infrastructure is lacking in many parts of Puerto Rico.

The poverty and inequality that pre-dated Hurricane Maria was exacerbated by the impacts of the storm, as well as tourism dollars shrinking during the Covid-19 pandemic. Once the pandemic is over, your visit here will impact the economy of Puerto Rico positively (as if you needed more reasons to come to this awesome place!).

Come to Puerto Rico. Show them some love, and see why they say Puerto Rico se levanta. Puerto Rico will rise again.


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The Perfect 5 Day Big Island Itinerary

beaches near hilo hawaii

If you are considering a trip to the Big Island (aka the island of Hawaiʻi), your head is in the right place! 

Picture yourself basking beneath waterfalls or hiking over lava fields. Perhaps you will relax on a beautiful black sand beach or enjoy the warmth of a geothermal pool.

As you can see in just a few words, there is no place quite like the Big Island of Hawaiʻi. it is one of the most spectacular places to visit in the world! 

Plus, it is of the quieter and more rural Hawaiian islands. By now, islands like Maui and Kauai have largely been taken over by tourism, and Oahu is the most developed and industrial of the Hawaiian archipelago.

On this 5 day itinerary for the Big Island, we’ll start on the Kona side of the island, and then we’ll road trip over to the Hilo side. 

PLANNING FOR BIG ISLAND AT A GLANCE:  

When to Go: Big Island is a pleasant destination with beautiful tropical weather all year round.

But even with that, some months are better than others and in that case, May through October is the best time to visit the Big Island when the sun is fully out and the chances of rain are low. Spring and fall is also a good time to visit if you want to escape the influx of tourists and enjoy lower rates on accommodation.

Though hurricanes are rare on the Big Island, be sure to check the weather before you travel during the hurricane season which is June through November - or entirely avoid this time if you're not sure.

Where to Stay: For this itinerary, I recommend basing yourself in Kona, and Hilo to get the most out of your Big Island trip.

In Kona, I recommend staying at Kona Coast Resort (boutique hotel), Royal Kona Resort for a resort stay, or Four Seasons Resort Hualalai for a luxurious stay. And if you want a homey feel, you'll love this beautiful beachfront condo.

When in Hilo, I suggest staying at Hilo Vacation Rental for a charming and budget-friendly stay, SCP Hilo Hotel for a bit of luxurious yet affordable stay, Arnott's Lodge & Hiking Adventures for backpackers, or Grand Naniloa Hotel (boutique hotel). If you want a homey feel, I suggest staying at this Oceanfront luxurious house.

How to Get Around: Having a car is essential if you want to fully enjoy the Big Island and visit places public buses cannot go. You could use taxis, Uber, Lyft, private tours to get around but that can get expensive pretty fast and that's why I think renting a car is much better.

If you do choose to rent a car, compare car rentals and prices from here.  

Best Activities: Don't want to drive or plan? Booking a few different activities can help you eliminate the need for driving around. You can book a stargazing tour on Mauna Kea, a snorkeling tour in Kealakekua Bay, or a manta ray snorkeling experience.

3 Things Not to Forget to Pack: Since you'll spend plenty of time on the beach, I recommend taking this Dock & Bay travel towel which is 100% made from recycled materials. You'll need a swimsuit to fully enjoy the beaches -- this is my favorite swimwear  -- and of course sunscreen -- I love SunBum SPF 50 with Vitamin E — it’s moisturizing and soothing for you and also harmless for marine life! 

A Note on Visiting Hawaiʻi

One important thing to mention about the island of Hawaiʻi is that it is the home to the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi, which is under U.S. occupation.

When you visit this island, be curious and respectful of the Native Hawaiian way of life. The state we now know as Hawaii was forcibly annexed, without treaty or legal right, from the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi. 

This island is their ancestral land, and many of the locations mentioned here are sacred to them. Do not take anything from the island, including lava rock. It is said it will bring you bad luck if you do! 

If you are respectful, you will have a wonderful time on this island. It is full of magical, intense energy. With the right mindset, visiting the Big Island, the land of aloha, can be transformative.

Move with Aloha

A note on the concept of aloha: Despite what popular culture portrays, aloha is more than just hello and goodbye! 

In the Hawaiian language, “Alo” means “presence.” “Ha” means “the essence of life.” It is an expression of love and understanding that we are all connected to spirit. 

When you live with aloha, you live with passion and considerations for the natural world, its creatures, and your fellow humans. Isn’t that a great way to be? 

So try it out while you move through this Big Island itinerary. I promise you won’t regret it, and you may walk away with a new point of view!

Enjoy and move with aloha in your heart during your five days on the Big Island.

Where to Stay on the Big Island

It might be called the Big Island but it’s actually pretty small which makes getting around easy. This means that you can choose 2 towns (Kona and Hilo in this case) to make your base and visit everything else from here since most of the popular attractions are within driving distances from these towns.

Kona Accommodations

BOUTIQUE | Traveling to Hawaii means staying close to the beach as much as possible and Kona Coast Resort offers just that. This beautiful resort features 2 outdoor swimming pools, a tennis court, 3 hot tubs, and a sauna. Not yet sold? This resort also offers large air-conditioned villas with a fully furnished kitchen, a living, and a dining room to accommodate even big families. If you ask me, your Big Island stay can’t get any better than this!
>> Check availability and rates on Booking.com | Book on Hotels.com

RESORT | If you want a resort stay, I recommend staying at Royal Kona Resort. It has its own private beach so you don’t have to worry about the summer influx that crowds most “public” beaches. The resort also has a saltwater lagoon, an outdoor swimming pool, an on-site restaurant, and the best part? It has no resort fees! And don’t worry if all the activities on the island tire you out, you can just head to the on-site spa and wellness centre for a relaxing massage.
>> Check availability and rates on Booking.com Book on Hotels.com

LUXURY | Kona might have a number of resorts but nothing speaks luxury like Four Seasons Resort Hualalai. From the beautiful sunsets on the beach, the stunning views, the Golf Course, the top-notch service, to the large rooms with Hawaiian-inspired décor, everything is perfectly designed to make you feel at home while enjoying all the luxuries it provides. It’s safe to say that Four Seasons Resort Hualalai is your best bet at experiencing maximum luxury while in Kona.
>> Check availability and rates on Booking.com | Book on Hotels.com

VRBO | I understand that not everyone wants to stay in hotels! If you’re that person who prefers a homey feel while traveling, I recommend staying at this beautiful beachfront condo. Designed with a beachy and a tropical eclectic style with a mix of Hawaiian decor, this place will make you feel like you’re in Hawaii whether you’re inside or outside. The condo features a modern kitchen with all appliances should you need to make your meals, a sizeable bathroom, and not forgetting the stunning beach views from the balcony. It’s also in a few minute’s walk to almost everything you’ll need.
>> Check availability and rates on Vrbo

Hilo Accommodations

BOUTIQUE | Located just a few miles from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Grand Naniloa Hotel, a Doubletree by Hilton is the best hotel to stay for the stunning ocean or harbor views of Hilo Bay at an affordable cost. The hotel features an outdoor swimming pool, sundeck, and an on-site restaurant that serves local seafood dishes — perfect for indulging in the local Hawaiian cuisine!
>> Check availability and rates on Booking.com | Book on Hotels.com

MID-RANGE | If you thought you couldn’t have a piece of luxury at an affordable price, SCP Hilo Hotel will make you think twice. Eco-friendly and cozy, this hotel has modern, clean, and comfortable rooms with an inviting lobby designed to make you feel welcome. And if you’re a traveler who wants to stay fit while on the road, you’ll love their fitness room.
>> Check availability and rates on Booking.com | Book on Hotels.com

BUDGET | If you want something affordable yet still comfortable, I recommend staying at Hilo Vacation Rental. While there is nothing extraordinary to boast about, this guest house offers a kitchen, clean rooms, a TV installed in each room, a clean and large bathroom, and an outdoor gas bbq to socialize with other travelers. It might seem basic but it provides the best bang for your buck. 
>> Check availability and rates on Booking.com | Book on Hotels.com

What to Pack for the Big Island

Travel Guides: I have included everything that I think will help you enjoy your stay on the Big Island but I found this Hawaii The Big Island Revealed Guide book to offer more in-depth information as guidebooks usually dedicate more resources and time into research. So combine my personal experience with this highly rated guide book and you can be assured of an amazing time on the Island.

An Awesome travel towel: With all the beaches on the Island, you’ll definitely need to take a towel and I am not talking about the small microfiber towel that almost does nothing! I am talking about the true microfiber towel that not only works well on a beach day but also after a long shower. I am in love with this amazing towel from Dock & Bay. It’s eco-friendly (100% from recycled materials), and it retains no sand with just one single shake. Order it on Amazon here.

Bathing suits you love: A big Island trip is incomplete without bathing suits! Take a swimsuit that will make you feel comfortable. I love wearing a two-piece but I usually get that awkward discomfort especially after enjoying all the local dishes but after a number of trials, I found the answer. High-waisted swimsuits girls! I love this one, and this one is a great plus-size option with a high waist and a classic shape. You can choose to take 2-3 swimsuits to the Big Island to avoid wearing a wet swimsuit.

Reef-safe sunscreen: Sunscreen is essential when visiting the Big Island! But don’t just take any random sunscreen. Take and use one that is not only great for your skin but also for marine life too. I love SunBum SPF 50 with Vitamin E — it’s moisturizing and soothing for you, and harmless for the animals who call Big Island’s waters their home!

Comfortable travel sandals: It’s going to take a lifetime for anyone to convince me that there are better travel sandals than my Birkenstocks — I could be buried in them if it were possible! Sounds too much but that’s how essential they are when I travel. I personally love the Birkenstock Gizeh leather thong style but the classic two-buckle Arizona slides are also cute and comfortable. These are the exact shoes I have and love!

One tip, though: Wear them for 2-3 days before your trip so they can form the shape of your foot. They’ll be a bit uncomfortable at first but nothing major (I just bought a second pair recently and I can vouch for them for the second time). However, they’re not shoes I’d want to walk around a cobblestoned city in on their first day!

Chemical-free insect repellent: Just like the sunscreen, the bug spray you take should be chemical-free to not harm the sensitive ecosystem of Hawaii especially when you go in the water. A simple lemon eucalyptus spray like this will keep most mosquitos away without the harsh chemicals which can mess up delicate ecosystems.

5 Day Big Island Itinerary

The area around Kailua Kona with palm trees and a beach

Day 1 of your Big Island Itinerary: Kailua-Kona

You will most likely fly into the Kona airport when you visit the island of Hawai’i. It is one of the most populated areas of the island and the most lively! 

There are beautiful places to eat Hawaiian food and plenty of beaches to explore, so let’s dive into this Hawaii itinerary headfirst!

Eat a tasty and hearty breakfast.

To start your day off right, head over to 808 Grindz Cafe for breakfast! I promise you it will be “ono,” which is Hawaiian for delicious! 

You can enjoy waffles or eggs benedict. Plus, they have an extensive moco menu! 

Loco moco is a classic Hawaiian dish. They also have vegetarian options, so there’s something for everyone.

Photo Credit: Jeremy Thompson via Flickr

Hop in your rental car and drive north.

I always find that taking a drive in a new place is a great way to get to know it! To start this Big Island itinerary, I suggest heading north to Pololū and the town of Hawi

Pololu Valley is a magical place on the island. It was once home to the ancient Hawaiians, where they enjoyed a plethora of plant life like the Hawaiian staple, taro. 

The view from the lookout at Pololu is stunning, so be sure to bring your camera.

Hike down into Polulū Valley.

You will be even more enchanted when you hike down into Polulū Valley

It is a very steep but short hike of just over a half-mile. Keep in mind that it can be pretty slippery and muddy after rainfall… which is fairly often; after all, Hawai’i is a tropical island!

Down in the valley, you will find rocky shores, black sand beaches, and a couple of swings for your Instagrammable moments! 

You can also follow the path to the other side of the valley and hike some more for great views of the neighboring valley.

the landscapes around polulu valley with green cliffs, beach, and ocean

Visit the charming town of Hawi.

Once you have enjoyed your time relaxing or hiking in Pololū Valley, head back towards Hawi. This town is extraordinary!

There are some great coffee shops in town. There is excellent coffee in Hawai’i, in general — Kona coffee is famous for a reason!

We suggest going to Kohala Coffee Mill, which is our favorite in Hawi. They have an extensive sandwich menu, pastries, ice cream, and Hawaiian shave ice.

In Hawi, you will also find the vegan comfort food restaurant, Sweet Potato Kitchen. I highly highly recommend this place, even if you are not vegan! 

The food is incredibly healthy and even more delicious. You will sense how much love is put into the food here.

After lunch, you can spend an hour or two walking the main road of this small and captivating town. There is an incredible apothecary, as well as art galleries and clothing and souvenir shops.

a pale green painted restaurant in the town of hawi hawaii
Photo Credit: D Smith via Flickr

Drive back to Kona via the coast.

Once you have had your fill of Hawi, begin heading back to Kona along the Kona coast. 

Enjoy the view and the salt air in your hair as you drive down the coastline, windows down of course!

You may want to stop at another beach on your way down into Kona. We will leave the choice up to you, but we suggest Manini’owali Beach!

You may instead want to just head into Kona for dinner before your night tour… yes, we’ve got something special up our sleeve for your first night in Kona!

the brilliant blue waters of maniniowali beach in hawaii near kona

Grab an early dinner.

You cannot visit Hawai’i without enjoying an oceanside meal! 

In Kona, Foster’s Kitchen is the place for dinner with a view. Enjoy dishes featuring ahi tuna, flatbread pizzas, or their fantastic goat cheese bruschetta! They also serve steak, fish, pasta, and more. You will find this place to be ono, trust us!

Prepare for an incredible manta ray snorkel experience.

After dinner, you will want to head back to your hotel to prepare for your night tour! 

The tour we picked for you will be a highlight of your trip! Tonight, you will get to swim with manta rays. The tour starts at 6:30 PM, so plan your Big Island itinerary accordingly.

Book your night manta ray snorkeling experience here!

The tour features a sunset cruise on a 34-foot catamaran with the opportunity to then float among manta rays! 

These gentle giants are angelic, graceful, and beautiful…. don’t be afraid of the ‘ray’ in their name, these animals are beautiful and gentle.

This is one of the coolest things to do in Kona, so don’t miss it!

night diving with manta rays

The tour will have you on their float, lit with LED lights (so yes, you will be able to see them, even though it’s dark out!). 

These lights attract the manta rays, so it is almost a 100% chance that you will see them. Plus, you will get to float and snorkel with other sea creatures.

That is just an awesome way to end your first day in Hawai’i! 

You will probably be keen on heading back to your hotel after a busy day. Get some rest and prepare for another spectacular day on the Big Island. It will be an early start tomorrow!

Day 2 of your Big Island Itinerary: Kailua-Kona

Start the day with a snorkel trip.

To begin your day, you will be snorkeling in Kealakekua Bay along the Kona coast! 

The bay is famous for the presence of Hawaiian spinner dolphins, which frequent this area regularly, so you have a great chance of seeing them and possibly even snorkeling with them.

spinner dolphins in hawaii in the water underneath the water

This 4-hour tour begins at 8:00 AM so, try to arrive early. We suggest having a very light breakfast beforehand, such as a piece of toast and some fruit. You don’t want to overeat, but you don’t want an empty stomach either!

There will be a safety briefing, and they will provide snorkel equipment, snacks, and beverages. You can also rent an underwater camera to document your time snorkeling in Kealakekua Bay!

Not only will you likely see dolphins, but you will explore underwater caves, plus many species of coral and fish. What a stellar way to start your day!

Book your snorkeling morning tour here!

snorkeling under the water

Have a tasty lunch back in Kona.

After your tour, make your way back towards Kona for lunch. 

Where to? The Coffee Shack is our favorite spot, and it is right near Kealakekua Bay! 

Don’t let the name fool you; they have an excellent menu and sit-down dining with a view of the Pacific Ocean. 

The papaya special is one of the best items on the menu. You can also enjoy sandwiches, salads, and pizza. 

They also have lilikoi (passionfruit) cheesecake and coconut cream pie, among other fabulous Hawaiian desserts.

Check out a local coffee farm.

Kona is famous for its eponymous coffee, and no trip to Kona would be complete without visiting a coffee farm!

After lunch, head to Hala Tree Coffee Farm. This organic coffee farm offers tours and will have you swooning over their coffee by the end. Plus, it is a beautiful property!

a coffee farm in kona with views of the pacific ocean

Relax your muscles at the Mamalahoa Hot Tubs.

After your coffee farm visit, head back towards Kona and stop at Mamalahoa Hot Tubs and Massage to give your muscles some love after your snorkel tour! 

Each hot tub is made of teak wood and sits under its own private “hale,” Hawaiian for “hut.”

After your moment of rest and relaxation, why not have a beer? You earned it.

Grab a beer at the Kona Brewing Company.

A stop at Kona Brewing Company is a must for any Big Island bucket list. 

They are steadily working on becoming one of the most sustainable, eco-conscious breweries in the world, and they deserve our applause and support! 

When you visit, you will enjoy a vast food menu, perfect for dinnertime. You can sample their great beers right from the source, too. 

Their menu even includes beer pairing to give your tastebuds the ultimate experience!

different beers sampling at kona brewing company
Photo Credit: Sean Hagen via Flickr

Catch an incredible sunset.

For sunset, stop at Pāhoehoe Beach Park for a gorgeous view. You can even walk there from Kona Brewing Company! 

Magic Sands Beach Park is also an excellent option and is a shorter walk, as well as just about anywhere on Ali’i Drive!

Hawaii is one of the best places in the world to see a sunset. You may even be lucky enough to see the “green flash.” 

The green flash is a natural phenomenon in which the sun lights up green just as it goes past the horizon. Hawai’i is one of the few places in the world to witness this! 

[editor’s note: I’ve seen it once or twice in California — it’s pretty incredible, but also pretty rare!]

the beautiful area of alii drive in kona

Check out the Kona nightlife.

If you are not too tired out, you may want to continue your evening exploring Kona’s nightlife along Alii Drive. 

Laverne’s Sports Bar is a local favorite. Humpy’s Big Island Ale House is also a great spot, along with Gertrude’s Jazz Bar. Enjoy the night on your tropical vacation. 

Make sure you get some solid sleep, too: we’ve got another jam-packed day on this Big Island itinerary… you’ve only got 5 days in Hawaii, after all!

Day 3 of your Big Island Itinerary: Kailua-Kona

fruit stand in kona

Okay, so here we go, day 3. Your final day in Kailua-Kona. 

We are going to make this one an epic beach day!

Fuel up for the day.

Stop at HiCo Hawaiian Coffee to charge up for the day with a quick breakfast. 

They serve locally grown coffee and a Hawaiian staple, musubi. Musubi is similar to sushi as it contains meat and veggies wrapped in rice and seaweed. The most famous is spam musubi!

Their menu also features chia pudding, paninis, and more.

a piece of spam musubi in a plate

Pack up a picnic lunch.

From there, head to the local grocery store, Island Naturals, to get supplies for lunch. 

It is good to bring a backpack to store your lunch choices as you will be taking a bit of a hike to get to our beach recommendation! 

Island Naturals sell insulated shopping bags to help you keep your food at a proper temperature. Be sure to pack plenty of water…. and a hammock wouldn’t hurt either!

Take a hike to Makalawena Beach.

Next, you will head north out of Kona towards the trailhead for Makalawena Beach

You can find the trailhead on the road towards Mahai’ula Bay between the 90 and 91-mile markers on Highway 19. 

It is about a 1-mile hike to reach the beach, and it’s not too intense, though it can be hot, hence the water we told you to bring!

You will be thrilled by the calmer waters and white sandy beaches flanked with palm trees. Rest, relax, or swim until you’re ready for your beach picnic lunch.

photo of makalawena beach in hawaii near kona

Head back to Kona for a whale watching tour.

After that, you will need to head back to Kona for your afternoon whale-watching tour. 

You will be hoping to see the beautiful and majestic humpback whales that migrate past Hawaii — they are quite a sight to see. 

Take note, the best time to see humpbacks on the Big Island is from December to April, but you will likely be able to see whales year-round. 

The Big Island of Hawaii is the only spot in the US where humpbacks mate, nurse, and calve their young!

Book your whale-watching cruise online here!

person pointing at a breaching humpback whale in hawaii

This tour consists of 2.5 hours on the Pacific Ocean, taking in the island’s sights while trying to spot whales and their calves! 

They will provide snacks and beverages along the tour, so don’t worry about needing to grab lunch beforehand. 

Best of all, you can use their hydrophone, which will allow you to listen to whalesong! It’s a remarkable feature of this tour. If your timing is right, this tour will leave you inspired!

Check out Honaunau Bay.

After your cruise, head over to Two Step on the Honaunau Bay, one of the most popular snorkeling spots on the island of Hawai’i. 

It is located south of Kailua Kona in Captain Cook. Spinner dolphins frequent this spot to rest and play!

You very well may get to swim with dolphins a second time here! 

You will also see countless coral and maybe even the Hawai’i state fish, the humuhumunukunukuapua’a, a species of triggerfish. 

Try to say that Hawaiian word ten times fast! 

the famous state fish of hawaii with bright stripes and beautiful colors

Check out the Pu’uhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park.

Right next to Two Steps is Pu’uhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park

You should come here to learn about ancient Hawaiian culture and pay tribute to the rightful owners of Hawai’i.

The history of Pu’uhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park is that it was once a place of refuge, protected by the god Lono, the god of life. 

Anyone who broke the law or needed to escape any kind of persecution could come to this place, and no harm would come to them. This place of peace is a worthwhile stop on any Big Island itinerary!

wood carvings at hawaiian state park

Spend the night at a luau.

Continue your journey of connecting with Hawaiian culture and aloha spirit with a luau! 

There are many options for luau experiences on the island. We like Voyagers of the Pacific, Royal Kona Resort’s luau, because of the hands-on experiences they provide.

You can make a lei, learn hula, and see demonstrations of Polynesian arts. 

Book your luau online here!

A luau is not complete without pig roasted in an “imu,” an underground oven — which is exactly how they do it with Voyagers of the Pacific. 

Your reservation at this luau includes all activities, a dinner buffet, and drinks from the bar.

There doesn’t seem to be a better way to spend your last night on Kona side!

Day 4 of your Big Island Itinerary: Hilo

beaches near hilo hawaii

Hilo is your next destination on the Big Island! 

Before you head out, make sure you fuel up for your drive, pack some snacks, and bring plenty of water. 

We also suggest you get an early start to get the most out of your day, as this Hawaii itinerary is jam-packed.

I suggest making this day into a road trip type of day! 

Google will tell you to take the Saddle Road from Kailua-Kona to Hilo, an hour and a half drive. However, you will miss out on some Big Island highlights going that way.

Head to Ka Lae, aka South Point.

Instead of heading west to east, head south and follow Highway 11. Your first destination will be Ka Lae, also known as South Point. 

It is the southernmost point in the United States! It will take you about an hour and a half to reach South Point from Kailua-Kona.

Take note; there are no facilities here, so make sure you pack food and water. Despite that, the view is incredible! 

You may even see people bravely jumping off the cliff into the ocean below. Do not jump if you are not a strong swimmer. There is a ladder to help you get back up onto land.

the ka lae south point coastline, the southernmost part of the united states. blue sky and bluer water.

Marvel at the Green Sand Beach.

Papakōlea, also known as Green Sand Beach, is easy to reach from the parking area at South Point. You will need to walk south on the road which runs along the coast. 

It is 2.5 miles one way, so keep that in mind! It is possible to drive there but you need a vehicle suitable for off-roading. 

Sometimes, you can get a ride from a local, especially if you offer them some cash to give you a ride to Green Sands Beach. 

Once you reach the beach, you may also want to go for a swim here if the water is not too rough. It can get pretty wild, so swim with caution.

Fun fact: Green Sands Beach is green from a natural phenomenon: olivine crystals that were formed in lava rock!

the beautiful green sands at green sand beach with blue water

Head to Hana Hou for lunch.

Once you have completed your adventure at Ka Lae and Papakōlea, you will surely be ready for lunch! 

Continue south on Highway 11 to Hana Hou Restaurant (the southernmost restaurant in the US!), less than 30 minutes away. Hana Hou means “bravo!” in Hawaiian – and the food is so good, it will have you saying just that!

This small family-run restaurant has some of the best burgers in the world! Plus, they serve traditional Hawaiian dishes and diner food. Sometimes there is live music by locals. 

You may see patrons get up and dance the hula, too! You also may find yourself in a Hawaiian sing-a-long. 

Even without all the fanfare, this is a wonderful place to connect with a small authentic Hawaiian restaurant.

Photo Credit: Kirk K via Flickr

Eat malasadas at the tasty Punalu’u Bakery.

Just across the street is the world-famous Punalu’u Bakery, another must-stop on your road trip day!

Enjoy their sweet bread or a malasada. Malasada is a donut-like pastry stuffed with sweet fillings like lilikoi or pineapple.

malasadas for sale - little donuts with sugar

Make your way through Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.

From Punalu’u Bakery, continue on Highway 11, making your way towards Hilo. You will enter Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park in about 45 minutes!

You can continue your road trip vibes with a journey down Chain of Craters Road. 

There is a spot along this road to view petroglyphs and it ends at the Holei Sea Arch. Lava flowing into the ocean formed the sea arch — it’s super cool.

At Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, you can also see Kilauea Caldera at the crater rim and check out the beautiful steam vents. The caldera is incredible as it glows from the lava bubbling beneath. 

Honestly, viewing the caldera is best at night, so if you wanted to, you could head back to the park later in the night or on your last day.

view of the lava flows at hawaii volcanoes np

Try some tea wine.

Additionally, Volcano Winery is just a 5-minute drive from Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. The wines are yummy, especially their tea wine! 

It is one of the best alcoholic beverages I have ever had. Just be careful since you are driving to not overdo it. 

The property is lovely and park-like, allowing for a nice relaxing time tasting wines. They do not serve food, but you are welcome to bring your own.

Continue your drive to Hilo.

From there it is just 45 minutes to Hilo. You want to time your trip so you arrive for your next tour by 3:30 PM! 

If you didn’t get an early start, you may need to tweak these road trip suggestions, perhaps skipping the Green Sand Beach which is the longest side-trip of this road trip, or grabbing a to-go lunch instead of having a sit-down meal.

arriving at hilo road

Take a stargazing tour on Mauna Kea.

This tour not only brings you up to Mauna Kea for nighttime stargazing, but it also will have you exploring Rainbow Falls, Boiling Pots, and the Kaumana Caves, three other essential things to do in Hilo

You will then head along Saddle Road as you make your way past Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea, two of the largest volcanoes in the world. 

You will then get to view stars and other celestial bodies through a telescope. Hawai’i has some of the darkest skies in the world, so it is by far one of the best places to view the night sky!

Book your stargazing tour online here!

view of stars over mauna kea on a dark night

Mauna Kea (called Maunakea by Native Hawaiians, one word) has a complex history, and it is essential to mention this when speaking of this landmark, which is sacred to Native Hawaiians.

Maunakea is considered the “Mountain of Wākea”; Wākea is the first father of Hawai’i according to Native beliefs.

That’s where the name comes from, shortened from “Ka Mauna a Wākea'” (Hawaiian for the Mountain of Wākea)

Not only is this his sacred mountain, but it was traditionally a burial ground. 

While it is awe-inspiring to view the stars from a telescope on the mountain, the telescopes shouldn’t be there in the first place. 

Many Native Hawaiians protested the desecration of their sacred mountain, and they are still protesting about the new telescopes. 

Still, the telescopes were built. 

milky way over mauna kea

Note that on this tour, you won’t be visiting the giant telescopes (those are scientific facilities rather than touristic ones) that the Hawaiians are protesting against. 

Rather, you will be using smaller, portable telescopes, interfering less with the land than the giant telescopes.

I’m not here to say what the right or wrong answer is here about the telescopes, but be mindful that there is an ongoing debate about this and listen to Hawaiian volces.

Or finish the night off with a kava experience.

If you want a different kind of activity to cap off your night, head over to Bayfront Kava Bar for a pleasant, relaxing kava experience. 

Kava has an ancient history on the islands of Hawai’i. The original Hawaiians brought kava with them when they left Polynesia over 2,000 years ago. 

Who knows – you may actually be sampling kava that was grown from the same plant!

brewing kava tea in bowls

Drinking kava was traditionally steeped in the spiritual rituals of the ancient Hawaiians. 

Before you drink your kava, you will want to honor this tradition. Ask your bartender to show you how to drink kava!

As kava is a calming, slightly psychoactive substance, you will probably be ready for bed after your trip to the kava bar. 

Don’t worry; you will not get high on kava; it is just very relaxing… though you may have more active dreams than normal!

Day 5 of your Big Island Itinerary: Hilo

Your last day on the Big Island will be another great day!

Here’s how to tackle your last day in Hawaii.

beach park in hilo with water and trees

Grab a delicious breakfast.

Start the day with a visit to Hawaiian Style Cafe for breakfast. They open at 8 AM on weekdays and 7 AM on Fridays and weekends. 

This place gets very crowded, so you might want to make a reservation. Also, keep in mind that we suggest an awesome tour at 9:30 AM, so you will want to arrive right around the time they open! 

You will enjoy their Hawaiian-style breakfasts of steak and eggs, Hawaiian sweet bread, French toast, or their kalua hash.

After breakfast, it is time for your final snorkeling tour!

Visit the Sea Turtle Lagoon of Hilo Bay.

swimming with sea turtles in hawaii

This 3-hour tour will show you what Hilo Bay is all about! 

You will swim with sea turtles, dolphins, and octopuses amongst colorful coral reefs. Plus, you will check out black sand beaches! 

They include local snacks and beverages along with this guided tour. It will be magic.

Book your snorkeling tour!

Grab lunch at the Booch Bar.

After your tour, it will be lunchtime. We suggest you hit up a local favorite, The Booch Bar. This restaurant features vegan and vegetarian food along with fresh-caught fish. 

There are many great options featuring fare that is “alive,” meaning that it is fermented and full of probiotics.

They also sell kombucha on draft from local kombucha makers, Big Island Booch. You can even get a growler of booch if you want. They also have wine, prosecco, and draft beer.

Check out Liliʻuokalani Park and Gardens.

gardens in hilo with a japanese style pagoda in the distance

After lunch, make your way to Liliʻuokalani Park and Gardens for a lovely stroll by the bay off of Banyan Drive. The park is gorgeous and features a Japanese-style botanical garden.

It is also adjacent to Coconut Island, which is very small and easy to walk to via a footbridge. Plus, the tiny island has a cool history.

Coconut Island was initially called Moku Ola by the ancient Hawaiians. It translates to “healing island.” According to lore, one could heal themselves by swimming around the island three times!

Plus, you can check out the banyan trees on Banyan Drive. These trees are massive and known for their beauty. 

The trees on Banyan Drive are named for the celebrities that planted them. It is also called the “Hilo Walk of Fame.”

Check out the beautiful ‘Akaka Falls State Park.

the beautiful akaka falls streaming from above

One of the most beautiful waterfalls on the Big Island is ‘Akaka Falls, which is located about a 10-minute drive from Hilo.

The viewpoint for ‘Akaka Falls is located about a 10-minute walk from the parking lot. It’s an easy 0.5-mile loop that leads you past a view of this stunning 442-foot single-drop waterfall.

Walk around downtown Hilo.

Once you have enjoyed the parks and Banyan Drive, head to downtown Hilo for a stroll and get to know this small town! 

There are bookstores, souvenir shops, restaurants, and even a thrift store to check out.

Additionally, there are galleries featuring art from local artists. You can also hit up the mall if you want to do some heavy-duty souvenir shopping at Prince Kuhio Plaza.

There may also be a farmer’s market depending on the day of the week!

farmers market in hilo

Have a final delicious dinner.

Once you’ve strolled around Hilo, you will probably be ready to eat dinner!

For one last dinner with a view, head to The Seaside Restaurant and Aqua Farm. This restaurant will provide you with some of the freshest sushi you have ever had. 

The fish is sourced from their aqua farm. You really can’t get any fresher than that!

In addition to fish, you can enjoy chicken, steak, and pasta dishes at this ono restaurant. It will have you saying, Mahalo Nui loa, which translates to thank you very much!

Enjoy your last night in paradise.

After this final meal, you will want to head back to your hotel to get ready to leave the island and do some chilling out.

We know you will have had an awe-inspiring experience on the Big Island! 

You will have danced with dolphins, swam with sea turtles, and hiked to beautiful places. We sincerely hope that you will carry the aloha spirit with you on your travels! 

***

You can learn an awful lot from the traditions of Hawai’i. Be open to this, and Hawai’i will transform you.

Respect the natural areas you visit, the history, and the locals. According to legends, Tutu Pele (the volcano goddess of Kilauea Caldera) may unleash her wrath upon you if you fail to do so! 

She will definitely bring you bad luck if you take any artifacts, stones, or plants from the island. If you can manage to move with aloha, you will have a fantastic time on the Big Island!

Mahalo and aloha to you.

Your Ultimate Malta Itinerary for 3 to 7 Days!

Malta is one of Europe’s smallest countries, but it packs a lot in its small size, ensuring that even if you only have 3 days in Malta, you’ll still end up seeing quite a lot! 

Beautiful blue waters rivaling those of Greece, ancient ruins older than Stonehenge, is it any wonder that Malta recently was named one of Lonely Planet’s top 10 places to visit?

Long a favorite of British travelers desperately seeking a spot of sun, the secret seems to be getting out, and more and more people are discovering this gem of the Mediterranean for the first time.

Malta is enjoying its spotlight, even despite the loss of one of its most famous tourist attractions, the Azure Window, which crumbled into the sea amidst strong storms a few years back (it’s now called the Blue Hole, which has less of a romantic ring to it)

A red door and a red window against sandstone bricks on a historic building in Birgu

Even without its most “Instagrammable” spot, the gorgeous island nation of Malta is left with boundless beauty. From the stunning architecture of its ancient streets (with its Maltese balconies) to its cliffs and grottos, this is one gorgeous and unique island.

If the views don’t get you, the food in Malta will. I’m still dreaming of fresh octopus, flaky pea-filled pastries, and the most delicious white wine I’ve tried in recent memory.

Three days in Malta isn’t nearly enough, but it’s time enough to taste the best of what the island has to offer, and with a focused itinerary, you can end up seeing quite a lot.

If you have an extra day, I highly recommend making the trip out to Gozo to do some scuba diving in one of the best places in Malta.

Best Time to Visit Malta

Allison standing in front of arches at the Upper Barrakka Gardens in Malta on a sunny day in October.
A sunny day in October – a light shirt over a romper with my trusty Birkenstocks was the perfect outfit for the warm weather!

Malta is a popular destination for most of the year.Being one of the southernmost parts of the Mediterranean, its climate is more similar to North Africa’s than it is to much of Europe’s.

Summer is far-and-away the most popular time to visit Malta’s beautiful beaches and have a sunbathing-focused trip. July and August are the busiest times in Malta so expect higher prices and less options in terms of accommodations. Book your tours in advance during this time!

The shoulder season of May/June and September/October are also great times to visit Malta. I personally visited Malta in early October and it was perfect. The water was still warm enough to swim in (I even dove during my trip) but it wasn’t too hot nor too crowded and I was able to enjoy the crystal clear waters and normally jam-packed places like the City of Mdina lived up to their “silent city” name!

Malta is very quiet during the winter, but that’s for a reason: boat trips, lagoon dips, and sunbathing just aren’t the same in the winter. As a result, prices are lower but you won’t have as much to do as a lot of Malta is outdoor-focused.

However, if you’re a history lover and are just visiting Malta for culture and history with no plans of beach time, winter would be a perfectly lovely time for a Malta getaway.

What to Pack for Malta

Vittoriosa is a spot to spend one of 3 days in Malta

Travel adaptor: Malta is a former British colony, and there are signs of that all over the islands. You’ll also see a number of quintessentially British phone boxes, which is a reminder that you need to bring a UK-compatible adaptor!

Water shoes: Water shoes are great for the Blue Lagoon, where the sea bottom can get rocky in places, especially near Cominotto, the small islet near the Blue Lagoon. These shoes are great for both men and women.

A bathing suit or two: Malta is a great destination for swimming, diving, sunbathing, catamaran rides, etc. — don’t forget your swimsuit (and bring a spare if you plan to swim on two days back to back). I love cute high-waisted bikinis like these ones.

Travel towel: A full-size travel towel is really compact, dries ultra-quickly, and is so convenient to have on days when you are visiting beaches, lagoons, and islands! I love this one which is as colorful as it is convenient.

Reef-safe sunscreen: Malta is home to some really beautiful undersea life, making it a mecca for divers and snorkelers. And yes, even though it’s not tropical, it’s home to coral reefs, including the deepest-growing red coral in the world. Keep Malta as beautiful underwater as it is above and wear chemical-free sunscreen when on the islands. I like this SunBum SPF 50 with Vitamin E.

Comfortable shoes: Day 1 & 3 of this Malta itinerary include a ton of walking around — make sure you bring your most comfortable shoes! I use and swear by Birkenstocks (I’ve had two pairs of Gizeh sandals over the last 5 years and wear them almost every day that it’s appropriate to). Just break them in for a day or two before you arrive as they’re more comfortable that way — the cork breaks down under the heat of your foot and molds to fit your arches, so the shoes are totally custom to your feet!

Scarf for covering up: There are a lot of churches in Malta and you’ll likely want to go into them during your trip! Be sure to bring a scarf for your shoulders if you are wearing a shirt with exposed shoulders.

Loose pants or maxi skirt: Similarly, you’ll want to wear loose pants or a skirt that goes past your knees if you are doing a lot of sightseeing in churches. Loose linen-blend pants are great in the heat, such as these white linen pants. More into skirts? A printed maxi skirt will also liven up photos but still be appropriate for churches.

Travel guide: While I’ve endeavored to make this blog post as up-to-date and jam-packed with helpful tips as I can, I do always suggest supplementing your online reading with a physical guide. It’s great for getting additional ideas, finding some off the beaten path gems, and having an easy-to-access reference point (most have a quick language guide, etc. in the back!). I suggest this Lonely Planet Malta & Gozo book.

Where to Stay in Malta

If you only have 3 days in Malta, you’ll want to use them wisely and minimize your time in transport. I recommend picking a central location for that reason!

I stayed at Seashells Resort in Qawra and while the hotel and pool were both lovely and breakfast was delicious, I found that I was spending quite a bit of time stuck in traffic.

The WiFi was also not up to par for my needs – I literally sat in my closet by the hallway door to get work done.

It’d be fine if you’re planning a poolside all-inclusive holiday (and would likely be great for kids and families), but if you’re looking to explore as much of Malta as possible I’d recommend somewhere a bit more central.

Next time I’m in Malta, I’d opt for Valletta, Sliema, or St. Julian’s for their central location for access to other points in Malta – here are my recommendations broken down by city.

St. Julian’s: Beaches, nightlife and luxury

Panorama of Balluta Bay and Neo-Gothic Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Balluta parish church, during evening blue hour in Saint Julien, Malta

Budget: Malta doesn’t have much in the way of hostels and the true budget end of the spectrum, but St. Julian’s is a lovely exception.

Trendy design, excellent location, and amenities such as an outdoor pool (great for the hot summer in Malta), Inhawi Boutique Hostel has excellent reviews and its dorm beds are moderately priced.

However, since there’s not a lot of competition in Malta for hostels, a dorm bed is still expensive here compared to many European cities despite the overall affordable costs of travel in Malta.

>> Check reviews, availability, and prices of dorms in Inhawi Boutique Hostel here.

Mid-range: Affordable in cost yet modern in design, The District Hotel is your best mid-range hotel you can find in happening St. Julian’s.

This trendy boutique hotel has a sleek bar, modern design with elegant midnight blue accented details, and spacious rooms, plus it’s just a 3-minute walk from the beach. Sold!

>> Check reviews, availability, and prices here.

Luxury: There are several five-star hotels in Malta but Le Méridien has the most consistently high reviews of the lot.

With both rooftop and indoor pools, tastefully decorated rooms, a huge fitness center, and balconies with sweeping sea views, it’s a favorite in St. Julian’s for a reason.

>> Check reviews, availability, and prices here.

Sliema: Proximity to Valletta and St. Julian’s, harbor views, shopping

Small harbor and baroque church in Sliema, on the island of Malta

Budget: Sliema also has one of the very few hostels in Malta, which makes it a perfect choice for budget travelers who want a more low-key vibe than St. Julian’s, which is a little more upscale.

If you’re looking for a good budget option, Two Pillows Boutique Hostel comes highly recommended by solo travelers. The dorms are well-furnished and have free AC – a godsend in Malta’s hot summers.

Again, same as before, dorms in Malta are more expensive than in much of Europe but that’s because there are basically two hostels on an island that gets over a million tourists a year.

>> Check prices, reviews, and availability of dorms at Two Pillows here.

Mid-range: Again, Malta seems to do best in this price range. The Victoria Hotel has the best balance of high ratings, quiet luxury, and affordability in Sliema.

I love the quirky décor that this boutique hotel offers, plus it has both an indoor and outdoor pool, an excellent fitness room, and a much-loved restaurant.

>> Check prices, reviews, and availability of The Victoria here.

Luxury: Hello, gorgeous infinity pool – I’m never leaving! 

The Palace in Sliema is one of the top-reviewed 5-star hotels in the city, with enormous rooms with giant balconies, in-house amenities like your own personal Nespresso, quirky themed rooms, a massive fitness room, indoor/outdoor pools…. you get the gist.

It’s kind of got it all, and the price isn’t that crazy, surprisingly, given what it offers.

>> Check prices, reviews, and availability here.

Valletta: Capital of culture, good food, quiet nights

Budget: There is one hostel in Valletta — Valletta Boutique Living — but as it only has a 7.0 rating on Booking.com, it’s not something I’d recommend without seriously checking the reviews and seeing if it’s worth it to stay there (I’d pick a hostel in Sliema or St. Julian’s instead).

>> If you do want to check it out, you can see reviews and prices here.

Mid-range: This is where Valletta shines – there’s a ton of accommodation in this price range with beautiful views and comfortable digs.

I’d recommend Palazzo Paolina Boutique Hotel for the best combination of price and high reviews. It’s a mere 5-minute walk from St. John’s Co-Cathedral, the décor is over-the-top beautiful in a super Maltese way, and the rooms are spacious and comfortable for Valletta.

>> Check prices, reviews, and availability here.

Luxury: Valletta has a lot of really cool upscale boutique accommodations and The Saint John is one of the coolest luxury accommodations out there.

Huge spacious rooms, an in-house gastro pub, balconies overlooking Valletta city, this hotel is one of the newest in Valletta and is well-worth checking out.

>> Check prices, reviews, and availability here.

Malta Itinerary FAQs

View over Malta and the bay on a sunny day over beautiful architecture

How many days do you need in Malta?

To do Malta justice, 3 days in Malta is the minimum that I would suggest. This will allow you two days in Malta proper as well as a day trip enjoying Comino, the Blue Lagoon, and Gozo. 

However, the more days you have in Malta, the better! There’s so much to do and see here. You could spend up to a week in Malta and still not run out of things to do, even on these tiny islands!

Is Malta expensive to visit?

the Valletta harbor in Malta approaching from a boat

In general, I think Malta is a very reasonably priced destination in Europe. 

It is comparable to less expensive parts of Italy such as Puglia and Sicily, and cheaper than more touristic parts of Italy such as Tuscany and the Cinque Terre.

On average, you should budget around $100-200 per day per person in Malta depending on the kind of travel you like to do and what activities you enjoy. However, it could be done for less if budget is a big concern.

Is Malta safe?

Overall, I think Malta is very safe! I traveled to Malta solo and I had no issues as a solo female traveler in Malta. I’d happily go back again solo.

Coincidentally, I just happened to visit Malta during the most high-profile crime that has happened in Malta in decades — the assassination of the journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

However, I recognize that is an outlier event that is symptomatic of larger issues facing Maltese people with respect to freedom of the press and organized crime — and not something that would impact tourists in the slightest.

How to Use This Malta Itinerary

Colorful boats in a harbor in Malta with architecture behind

This Malta itinerary goes into detail for 1-3 days in Malta, with activity by activity ideas that it walks you through in depth.

3 days in Malta is really the minimum you should spend, so that’s where I focused the most energy.

If you have additional days in Malta, I suggest a few activities for each day to add to your itinerary, but I kept it shorter and broader rather than play-by-play so that you can mix and match an itinerary that suits your needs.

I suggest adding a few guided activities if you have more days in Malta as it’ll be less stressful than planning a sightseeing tour all on your own.

Here are a few of my favorite Malta activities I’ve curated, selected from my preferred tour aggregator, Get Your Guide (I love them for their ample selection of tours and generous cancellation policy!)

What to Do in Malta in 3 Days (+ Ideas For If you Have More Time)

Street and Marina in Senglea, one of the Three Cities in the Grand Harbour area of Malta.

If you want to make the most of a short visit to Malta, I recommend renting a car. It’ll make your trip a whole lot easier to plan, as the public transport and bus stops in Malta can be limiting.

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 Malta here.

Be aware that, as part of its legacy under British rule, all cars drive on the left side of the road, and the steering wheel is located on the right-hand side of the car.

Traffic in Malta can actually be quite bad during rush hour. Malta is one of the most densely populated nations in the world, with around 400,000 people living on an island of less than 100 square miles.

Still, since the only other option to get around Malta is by bus or taxi, you’ll be stuck in traffic anyway. So, you might as well have the freedom to pull over and take photos, which I guarantee you’ll want to do!

If you don’t want to drive or can’t, I’d recommend a hop-on, hop-off bus. Hop-on hop-off buses are actually something I rarely advise, especially in cities like NYC, Paris, etc. that have proper metro systems. 

It works well for Malta as the attractions are quite spread out on the island, and you’ll save a lot of headache of trying to figure out the local bus system this way. You can pre-book tickets here.

Malta Itinerary: Day 1

Visit the old town of Birgu.

Doors and a colorful bright greenish-blue box balcony in Malta's city of Birgu

Start your travels in Malta in Birgu. Birgu is one of the oldest inhabited areas in Malta, with tons of history to back it up. 

It is the most famous of what is referred to as “The Three Cities,” which also includes Senglea and Cospicua.

All three villages are built very close to each other around the Grand Harbor and are marked with traditional Maltese architecture, such as the famously brightly-painted wooden balconies.

Birgu was given the title Citta Vittoriosa after withstanding the Great Siege of 1565, when the Knights of the Order of St. John defeated the Ottoman attack.

A sandstone-brick street in Malta's Birgu with colorful balconies and doorways

Birgu’s other claim to fame is as the former capital city of Malta until 1571, when the building of Valletta was completed. Nowadays, Birgu’s population is almost 3,000, making it a sleepy though lovely part of Malta to visit.

While visiting Birgu, be sure not to miss the wine bars, shops, and hole-in-the-wall restaurants that line the streets and alleyways of the city!

I ate lunch at Don Berto, which has a stunning view of the mega-yachts in the harbor. I ordered a glass of Maltese white wine and the stewed octopus and couldn’t have been happier!

A dish of octopus with a salad in Malta

A few other points of interest in Birgu include the excellent Maritime Museum (which I’m a total nerd for) and the Inquisitor’s Palace.

Both museums are definitely worth spending an hour or so in.

The Three Cities are one of the most historic places to see when you visit Malta, so it definitely helped to have a guide with me. 

I recommend booking a tour (this one in a vintage bus looks adorable and fun!) or hiring a guide to make the most of your experience.

A model ship in the maritime museum in birgu

Visit the marvelous Fort St. Angelo.

Before leaving Birgu, be sure to visit the imposing and impressive Fort St. Angelo, a must on any Malta itinerary. 

This fortification on the edge of the city of Birgu was built by the Knights, strategically building over the ruins of a Roman castle that dated back hundreds of years. 

This fort was what granted safety to the harbor and its occupants due to its strategic position during the Great Siege of 1565.

One of the best places to visit in Malta in 3 days

These days the fort is of great pride to the Maltese people and while it has been restored over the years, it still maintains the old military look from when it was last used.

But let’s cut to the real reason why you’re probably interested: Fort St. Angelo was where some of the scenes from season 1 of Game of Thrones were shot. 

Diehard fans of the show can even take a private tour of all the locations in Malta where it was filmed!

Even if you don’t care much for the history – the views from Fort St. Angelo overlooking Valletta and the Grand Harbor can’t be beaten.

Take a Grand Harbor boat tour.

Arriving at the doors of Malta's grand harbor in Valletta

Although you’ve already got an aerial view of it: there is no better way to experience the Grand Harbor than by experiencing it by boat.

Sit back and relax (or, if you’re like me, frantically take photos like your life depends on it) while the tour takes you around some of Malta’s majestic natural harbor.

Be sure to look back and take a photo of the fort you were just on!

What to do in Malta? A scenic boat ride, naturally

You can take a lovely gondola ride in one of the colorful traditional Maltese fishing boats called the dgħajsa.

(Don’t worry, I have no idea how it’s pronounced either.)

This will take you over to Valletta, the capital of Malta, to continue your sightseeing.

Man steering a traditional colorful boat in Malta

Explore the UNESCO site of Valletta, Malta’s capital city.

Valletta is one of Malta’s three UNESCO World Heritage Sites – and with good reason. Valletta is one of the most well-preserved cities in Malta, despite the odds.

While the city has survived many historical events, including the Siege of Malta which took place during World War II for two years, it has undergone no significant modifications since 1798, simply rebuilding and repairing damage that was done.

Architectural details on a building in valletta, focusing on the carvings and shutters of the building

The fortified city of Valletta is one of the most stunning sites in the Mediterranean. The moment you pass through its giant city walls, you’ll understand why Valletta is so crucial to Malta’s history and identity.

Be sure to walk down Republic Street, the main walking street of Malta which stretches from the City Gate to the Fort of St. Elmo.

The main site that you shouldn’t miss in Valletta is the St. John’s Co-Cathedral, where an exiled Caraveggio’s masterpiece “The Beheading of Saint John” is displayed. This is a site with a lot of history for the Knights of St. John.

Unique places to visit in Malta include this beautiful church

The church is also unique for its tombstone-covered floor, where the epitaphs of over 400 knights and officers of the Order of Saint John were buried after having fallen during the Great Siege protecting Malta.

Maybe I’m just a bit morbid, but I found the epitaphs of the tombs to be incredibly beautiful.

Either way, you’ll never again see a church quite like it: it’s one of the most magnificent I’ve ever seen.

A few other spots of interest in Valletta include the Grand Master’s Palace, Casa Rocca Piccola (an ornate house dating back to the late 16th century), and the Valletta Waterfront. 

You also shouldn’t miss the Fort of St. Elmo which is also located in Valletta, on the other edge of Republic Street.

And of course, don’t forget to stop and take as many photos of Valletta’s beautiful doors and balconies as possible!

Photograph the doors of Valletta - what to do in Malta!

While Valletta is small and easy to navigate on foot, I really recommend going with a guided walking tour of Valletta.

It’ll help you understand all the reasons why this city is the European capital of culture and why it’s so important to Malta’s history.

Shop walking tours of Valletta here.

Valletta: 2-Hour Walking Tour
Valletta City Tour: St. John’s Cathedral, Malta Experience

Visit the Valletta harbor in your time in Malta

As for where to eat in Valletta, I highly recommend eating at Rampila, a delicious restaurant serving traditional Maltese dishes.

The restaurant has great views of the fortification walls and is a great choice for day or night.

Rabbit covered in a grape stew sauce

One of the dishes Malta is best known for is its rabbit stew. Here, it was served with an amazing stewed grape sauce.

It was absolutely delicious, especially with a glass of Maltese white wine featuring the local indigenous grape Girgentina. 

Be sure to have as much as you can while you’re there, as Malta only exports something like 3% of its wine to the world at large — making trying Maltese wines a priority when you’re there.

Maltese wine, a must for any itinerary of Malta!

Yup, that’s permission to drink like a fish!

Don’t forget dessert! I had imqaret, a traditional Maltese dessert.

These diamond-shaped sweet pastry parcels are filled with dates, lightly fried, dusted with powdered sugar, and served with a side of ice cream — perfect for someone like me who doesn’t like their desserts too sweet.

A dessert of fried pastry and ice cream in Malta

Visit the beautiful Upper Barrakka Gardens.

The Upper Barakka Gardens overlook the Grand Harbor and offer a stunning view.

It is located just opposite from Fort St. Angelo, where you started the day.

The arches of the Upper Barrakka Garden area

From here, you can take in one of the most beautiful panoramic views in all of Valletta.

Be sure to stop for a coffee at the Upper Barrakka Garden Cafe and enjoy the spectacular views from above.

Try to time your visit with the Saluting Battery, a theatrical ceremonial cannon firing. It occurs at noon and 4 PM daily.

A row of cannons lined on the old batttery

Walk to the Lower Barrakka Gardens.

Just 15 minutes’ walking distance away from Upper Barrakka Gardens down St. Ursula’s Street, you’ll find the equally scenic Lower Barrakka Gardens atop the old Valletta bastions. 

From the Lower Barrakka Gardens, you can enjoy stunning views of the Grand Harbour, Bighi Palace, Fort St. Angelo, and Fort Ricasoli.

A view of a building with four pillars in Lower Barrakka Gardens surrounded by palm trees and plant life.

Visit the Marsaxlokk fishing village

Marsaxlokk Bay is Malta’s second-largest natural harbor and where tens or even hundreds of colorful Maltese fishing boats dock, and its iconic status means you can’t miss putting it on your Malta itinerary.

The fishing village of Marsaxlokk is also home to a famous fish market which gives tourists a fascinating insight into the local life and traditions. Walk along the shoreline of the port in Malta to admire all the adorable boats. 

colorful boats on the edge of the harbor in marsaxlokk on a sunny day

Take a late afternoon dip at St. Peter’s Pool

To cap off the first day of this Malta itinerary, take a boat ride from Marsaxlokk to St. Peter’s Pool for a quick dip in one of Malta’s best swimming areas!

It costs 10 euro round-trip and each way takes about an hour by boat. It’s a great view of Malta by sea and arriving at St. Peter’s Pool is otherworldly!

After your dip, return by boat to Marsaxlokk after and dine at one of the seafood restaurants along the harbor or opt to head back to your hotel area and dine there.

Be sure to get a good night’s rest: we have an early wake-up call and a full day tomorrow!

Malta Itinerary: Day 2

Spend a day trip on a catamaran exploring St. Paul’s Bay, the Blue Lagoon, and Comino.

After a day with so much walking, it’s time to have a relaxing, mostly hands-off day in between our more sightseeing-heavy days!

On the second day of this Malta itinerary, we’ll leave the main island of Malta to explore the islands of Comino and Gozo on a half-day tour.

We’ll start by exploring the Blue Lagoon by boat tour. This tour leaves bright and early from Bugibba at 9:30, but you should arrive at least 30 minutes before departure, so start your day early so you can be sure you won’t miss the boat (literally!).

Pure crystal water of Blue Lagoon on Malta

I suggest this 6-hour catamaran tour of the Blue Lagoon of Comino as well as several of the nearby bays of Malta. 

It includes snorkeling equipment (with a 10 euro deposit), a barbecue lunch (if selected), and plenty of sunbeds and catamaran nets to lounge on! There are also cocktails you can buy on board to truly let loose and relax.

You’ll stop at the Blue Lagoon, of course, but you’ll also stop at a few hidden gems of Malta, such as the sandy beaches of Golden Bay or Gnejna Bay, or perhaps Mellieha Bay or Ramla Bay — all depends on the winds and weather!

Book your catamaran tour online here!

Optional: Visit Popeye Village

Aerial view of tourist attraction Popeye village, also known as Sweethaven village

Depending on what you want to do with the rest of your day, you could head to Gozo or you could visit Popeye Village on the island of Malta.

Popeye Village is a purpose-built set that was originally designed for the 1980 production of Popeye (the musical). 

It has since been converted into a small amusement park and it’s a major draw for Instagrammers because it’s just so darn cute.

I didn’t have time to visit Popeye Village during my visit to Malta but it’s definitely a draw for many.

Optional: Head to the island of Gozo by ferry.

People jumping into the Blue Hole in Gozo

After you’ve returned from your catamaran, around 3:30 PM, you’ll still have plenty of time to continue on with your Malta sightseeing should you choose.

I recommend making your way over to Gozo and getting on the ferry at the Ċirkewwa Ferry Terminal, about a 20-minute drive from Bugibba. The ferry runs 24/7 and there are ferries every 45 minutes (you can find a schedule here).

It takes 25 minutes to cross the Gozo Channel and it costs about 16 euro (plus an additional 5 euro per additional passenger besides the driver).

Once you arrive in Gozo, there is a lot you could opt to do and see, but with limited time, I’ll make a few recommendations. 

I suggest checking out the stunning views at Ramla Beach, which is one of the most beautiful places in all of Gozo! You can also get a good view of Ramla Beach and Ramla Bay from Tal Mixta Cave. 

Another good idea is driving to see the salt pans of Gozo outside the town of Marsalforn on Xwejni Bay. They’re really beautiful and it’s a great photo spot.

Another point of interest is World Record Rock, where a world record was set by Nicky Faruggia when he clocked the fastest swim between Sicily and Malta, which took 30 hours. He landed at this point!

Of course, you should check out the Blue Hole (formerly the site of the Azure Window) which is located next to Dwejra Bay. The views from here are simply breathtaking.

Finally, be sure to check out the city of Victoria, the capital of Gozo Island. The city is also known as ir-Rabat in Maltese. It’s home to the Citadel of ir-Rabat, aka Citadella, one of the most famous places in all of Gozo. 

Another place worth a visit in Victoria are the St. Paul’s Catacombs, the remnants of an ancient Roman burial site.

There is also St. Michael’s Bastion (Il-Bastjun ta San Mikiel), St. George’s Basilica with its beautiful marble carvings, and lots of great restaurant options to have dinner in before returning to your hotel on the island of Malta.

Malta Itinerary: Day 3

Start the day with Maltese pastizzi and tea

Close up detail of flaky breakfast pastry.

Il-Serkin (also called Crystal Palace) is one of the best places to try Malta’s traditional snacks called pastizzi (also called cheese cake)

Maltese pastizzi is typically filled with creamy ricotta or mushy peas and amidst several flaky layers of dough.

Served with coffee or tea in a glass, you can’t ask for a better breakfast in Malta.

Visit “the Silent City” — the Old Town of Mdina.

A man on a carriage with a black horse in Mdina

Mdina’s history is long and storied, originally settled by the Phoenicians and cycling through many hands as Malta’s history progressed.

These days, Mdina is one of Malta’s most famous sites, partly due to its mixture of architectural styles, ranging from medieval to Baroque. 

Pass through the City Gate at the entrance to the town and you’ll feel like you’re stepping back in time.

It’s also known as “the Silent City”, because of its small population (only 300) and lack of car traffic. However, visit during a busy day and you won’t find it so silent! 

At night, however, it really earns its namesake, and it’s quite magical to ride through the city on a karozzin (traditional horse and carriage). It might be worth it to double back for an evening carriage ride!

Something about Mdina in Malta makes you feel like you went back in time, from the rocky and narrow streets to the churches and quiet alleyways. Perhaps that’s why it was a filming location for Game of Thrones during the first season!

Don’t miss the St. Paul’s Cathedral (also known as the Mdina Cathedral) — it’s an absolutely beautiful example of classic Maltese Baroque Architecture, which is unique to this part of the world.

Eat a delicious Italian lunch

eating calamari fried squid

Italian food in Malta? Hey, why not — Italy’s only 50 miles away, after all.

Just outside of Mdina in the town of Rabat is Da Luigi, a deliciously authentic Italian restaurant.

You’ve got to eat as much seafood as humanly possible while in Malta, so I went for the seafood risotto with prawns, clams, and mussels and fried calamari. Both were absolutely delicious.

a dish of shrimp and mussel risotto

Wine tasting at Meridiana in Ta Qali

Remember how I said that Malta only exports a tiny fraction of its wines? So, what better place to drink Malta’s finest than at the source?

Meridiana is one of Malta’s most famous wineries and with good reason — the wines are delicious (spoken from someone who guzzled four quite generous pours before noon)

a series of four wines one white one rose two red

My favorite was the Melqart, a blend of Cabernet and Merlot that was delightfully velvety and soft in a way that I usually don’t think of Cabs being able to achieve. But the rosé (a Syrah and Cab blend) was also another stunner.

The grounds are also really beautiful, making a stop at Meridiana a great choice, especially on a warm autumn morning.

The grounds at Meridiana

The grounds of Meridiana

Take a boat ride through the Blue Grotto

The Blue Grotto is yet another incredible natural wonder of Malta!

This picturesque grotto (a fancy word for a series of caves) is located near Wied Iz-Zurrieq, south of the town of Qrendi.

the blue waters of the caves at blue grotto

A boat ride will take you through six caves, though I’ll admit the pace is quite rushed and the shouting of the boat driver to look and take photos diminished my enjoyment a bit. It’s still well worth a visit, though, for waters and natural formations that beautiful.

It’s possible to swim at the Blue Grotto, but you’d be dodging tons of boat traffic and I don’t think the atmosphere would be ideal. 

couple taking a selfie at the blue grotto

Instead, I’d recommend bringing a swimming suit and swimming nearby at Ghar Lapsi (Ascension Cave).

While nearby, you could also stop at Ħaġar Qim, one of the megalithic temples of Malta, a UNESCO World Heritage Site dating from 3200 B.C. 

I’m not a huge temple person so I skipped this, but if you’re into history (or pre-history, rather!) you really can’t miss it.

Visit the Dingli Cliffs for sunset.

Photo of a sunset in Malta at Dingli cliffs with orange and purple tones

The Maltese islands are known for their beautiful sheer cliffs which are made of layer upon layer of sedimentary rock. 

The Dingli Cliffs on the west coast of Malta are an especially impressive sight and one of the hidden gems of Malta.

They are the island’s natural fortress, and because of this, the Knights did not have to worry about protecting themselves from invaders the same way they did in the natural harbor of Valletta. 

The Dingli Cliffs stretch a massive 250 meters above sea level, protecting this coast of Malta from all sorts of enemies over the years.

While the view is surely beautiful during the day, I recommend aiming for a sunset here.

I mean, do I really need to say any more?

Have a final dinner in Dingli Village.

ravioli like dumplings covered in cheese and pepper

Diar il-Bniet is a delicious agrotourism restaurant near the cliffs of Dingli with tons of vegetarian (and meaty) options.

Their Maltese ravioli is a can’t-miss and their house white wine is delicious — and if you’re brave, go for the escargot braised in beer! 

You can also shop for various foodie gifts inside if you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind souvenir to bring home (or gorge on for yourself, no judgments here).

escargot in a pot in malta

If You Have 4 Days in Malta…

I highly recommend adding more time in Gozo to your itinerary! Gozo is Malta’s more laidback, rural cousin. It also has stunning beaches and amazing diving, and it deserves a full day if you have the time for it.

I also did an quad bike tour in Gozo and loved the experience, especially the views of Ramla Bay we got from Tal Mixta cave.

Book your day tour of Gozo by quad bike here!

Photo of the waters of ramla bay and ramla beach as seen from a cave above the water

If you’re PADI-certified, you should absolutely add diving in Malta to your itinerary!

I dove with St. Andrew’s Diver’s Cove and highly recommend the company! The divemaster was excellent and really helpful. 

We dove through an amazing (and just slightly scary) sea tunnel, marveled at super cool underwater rock formations, and watched tons of sea life including an octopus! 

If You Have 5 Days in Malta…

The prehistoric megalithic complex Ta'Hagrat and Skorba on Malta island are older than famous Stonehenge

Explore more of Malta’s historic side! 

Drive to the town of Mgarr where you can find many temples worth visiting. There are the Ta’ Skorba Temples, Ta’ Ħaġrat Temples, and the Castello Żammitello all nearby Mgarr.

Nearby, there are also the Victoria Lines (a massive fortification built by the British in the 19th century) which makes a nice walking path. 

If You Have 6 Days in Malta…

Dedicate an extra day to exploring and relaxing on Malta’s beaches, either on the island of Gozo or on Malta.

On Gozo, Ramla Beach, Hondoq ir-Rummien, and Mġarr ix-Xini are all nice options.

On Malta, I suggest Għajn Tuffieħa Bay, Golden Bay, and Ġnejna Bay on the eastern side of the island.

If You Have 7 Days in Malta…

Spend your final day in Malta catching up on whatever you want more of — whether that’s time in Valletta exploring the city’s culture, beach time, or adventure time exploring Gozo.

You might even want to go back to the Blue Lagoon — it’s that beautiful!

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance!

While Malta is a safe destination, travel insurance is still important to have. 

It protects you in case of accident, illness, or injury, and it also covers your belongings in the event that your luggage is lost or something is stolen while you are traveling.

Since a trip to Malta combines a lot of outdoor activities with sightseeing in urban areas, travel insurance is great to have for peace of mind. 

I’ve been a paying customer of World Nomads for five years and use them to insure every trip I have. Their prices are reasonable, their coverage is excellent, and it’s super easy to book a policy. 

Get your free quote online here!

Note: A huge thanks to the Malta Tourism Authority for hosting me during my stay in Malta. All opinions and experiences are 100% my own.