3 Days in Sao Miguel: Azores Itinerary for a Quick Trip

I’d wanted to do an Azores road trip for years. I have a thing for rugged and wild islands, the kind that you feel you could have been shipwrecked on centuries ago.

And smack dab in the middle of the Atlantic 1,400 kilometers from the nearest continent, the Azores certainly fit that description.

Though, to be fair, these islands are so beautiful you certainly wouldn’t mind being shipwrecked there.

Created by volcanoes a mere 15,000 years ago – a blink in the geological timeline – traveling the Azores is unlike anywhere else I can think of.

It’s most often compared to the Hawaii of Europe.

But lacking Hawaii’s massive resorts, body slam of tourism, and huge price inflation (seriously, the Azores are about as affordable as Lisbon, which is to say they’re not expensive at all), I find this comparison doesn’t do the Azores justice.

bright sunlight on a portion of the park which illuminates plant life

My friend and I had a limited amount of time to travel the Azores, so we focused only on Sao Miguel.

Luckily, even though it’s the largest island in the archipelago, it’s still rather small. Driving from Ponta Delgada on one side to the other of Sao Miguel (past Nordeste) took one hour.

We had 3 days in Sao Miguel and found it to be a great introduction to the islands but wished we had a little more time for our Azores itinerary.

However, one of my methods when traveling is to often leave a stone unturned – just to ensure I return to that destination. 

And having missed one of the Azores’ best tourist attractions due to weather (more on that below), I’m doubly certain the Azores will get a return visit from me, as it’s truly one of the best Portugal road trips out there.

2022 Entry Requirements for Portugal

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, there are certain entry requirements in place for entering the country of Portugal.

I’ve updated this post as of February 9, 2022, and all information was correct at the time of writing. 

However, confirm with Portugal’s official website, as you’ve prbably figured out after the last few years of pandemic times… things can change quickly!

Check the list of countries allowed to enter Mainland Portugal on their website. The USA and UK are currently included (note: Canada is not included at the time of writing, but this may change).

You must present one of the following if you are over the age of 12. 

  1. A negative PCR test taken with 72 hours
  2. A rapid antigen test taken within 24 hours of boarding
  3. An EU Digital Covid Certificate OR similar certificate from one of the 33 permitted countries. *NOTE: The US is not included.

You must also submit a Passenger Locator Card before departing.

Until recently, the EU digital certificate (Green Pass) was required for staying in hotels and eating at restaurants. 

This meant that non-EU citizens who weren’t one of the 33 listed countries could effectively enter the country but not dine at restaurants or stay in hotels… making travel very difficult for them!

However, a friend who is residing in Portugal recently informed me that as of the first week of February, this requirement has been dropped within the country and this is no longer required.

A Few Notes on Planning Your Azores Itinerary

view of the azores

Don’t discount the weather. 

The Azores are an island chain in the middle of the Atlantic, so storms, intense fog, and unpredictable rainstorms are not uncommon. There are plenty of sunny days, but they are not the norm.

In fact, we had to shuffle around our Azores itinerary quite a bit and double back to a few destinations simply because the weather wouldn’t cooperate.

Plan your most desired destinations first, so you can return if the weather doesn’t cooperate.

Here is where we slipped up. 

We planned my most anticipated places – Lagoa de Fogo and Caldeira Velha – for our final day. We made it halfway up the mountain where the Miradouro do Pico da Barrosa offers the most incredible view over the Azores’ most famous lake. 

Then we hit what felt like a white brick wall of fog, promptly both got insanely nervous driving in zero visibility, and turned straight around and retreated to sunny lower grounds.

a dilapidated house with lots of fog around it

Lagoa do Fogo is notoriously fussy.

While Fogo literally means fire in Portuguese and refers to its volcanic origins, the ‘fog’ in its name would be just as accurate of a descriptor. 

The specific microclimate of this region often means that a dense fog cloud sits on top of Pico da Barrosa like a tight-fitting hat, which means that it’s not only terrifying to drive but also often just plain pointless, as you won’t be able to see anything from the miradouro. 

While I did Lagoa do Fogo on my third and final day, I recommend doing it the first (and this Azores itinerary will reflect that) so that if the weather doesn’t cooperate, you can try to return on a later date.

This Sao Miguel itinerary assumes that you have your own rental car. 

However, I know that not everyone can drive or feels comfortable driving abroad, so I will always list a guided tour option when available so that this itinerary is more accessible to everyone.

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

No car? Combine this East Sao Miguel day trip as well as this West tour to cover nearly all the sights on this itinerary.

This Azores itinerary also assumes you’ll be staying in Ponta Delgada. 

However, the island is quite small, so it isn’t too much of a change if you are staying somewhere else.

Just note that the driving times to the first and last destination may be different if you are staying elsewhere.

street art of two men's portraits on a garage door. yellow and red.

Be willing to adjust your Sao Miguel itinerary based on the weather. 

Most of the spots here are outdoors or involve viewpoints, neither of which are that enjoyable in the rain. 

If it’s raining out for one of the days of your trip, I recommend shuffling around your itinerary to spend time in Ponta Delgada.

There, you can spend time exploring the pineapple plantations as they’re mostly in greenhouses.

You can follow that up by checking out some of the natural hot springs in Furnas, as it’s quite a nice feeling to relax in warm water while being soaked by the rain! 

Luckily Sao Miguel is not so big, so you can re-adjust your itinerary pretty easily (we did several times over the course of our trip to accompany the whims of the weather.

That’s just what traveling in the Atlantic islands is like, and something I learned when crafting my Faroe Islands itinerary!)

FAQ About Visiting the Azores: Travel Guide

What is the cheapest way to get to Sao Miguel island in the Azores?

view of lisbon city skyline and rooftops with a palm tree on a sunny day with view of river
Stop in Lisbon first before heading to the Azores!

It depends on where you are coming from. If you are coming from Europe, it’s often easier to fly to Mainland Portugal first.

Then you can book a connecting flight from Lisbon or Porto to Ponta Delgada (capital of Sao Miguel), airport code PDL. 

Ryanair offers cheap flights from Lisbon and Porto — this is how I got there, and it cost about $30 each way. They also offer cheap flights from Frankfurt and London.

If you are coming from the United States, there are direct flights to the Azores (Ponta Delgada, specifically) from Boston via Azores Airline, which is a 5-hour flight. They often are fairly inexpensive compared to other transatlantic flights.

TAP Air Portugal is another option if you are flying from the U.S. or Canada – take advantage of their free stopover program to enjoy some time in Lisbon at no extra cost!

What is the best way to get around in the Azores?

a white car with a red roof in the azores
My cute little rental in the Azores!

By far, renting a car in the Azores is the best way to get around. These islands are made for road-tripping! 

I had a little trepidation about driving in the Azores, assuming it’d be difficult like driving in the Westfjords of Iceland (far different than the Ring Road!) or the windswept Faroe Islands.

However, it was actually pretty smooth sailing, and I’d definitely suggest renting a car to anyone who is comfortable driving in other European cities. 

Granted, street parking in Ponta Delgada is harrowing, but that goes for all European city centers. However, the alternative is booking several day tours, which can get really expensive!

Not sure whether you want to rent a car? I wrote a whole guide to renting a car in the Azores that explains my experience doing so!

How many days do you need in the Azores?

view of the rugged coastline of sao miguel from one of the many miradouros on the island, a must on any sao miguel itinerary

As many as possible! If you are just visiting Sao Miguel, as this Azores itinerary lays out, then sure, 3 days is perfectly fine. 

But if you are visiting other islands, like Faial, Flores, Terceira, Santa Maria, Pico, Sao Jorge, etc., you will want at least 2 days per additional island to account for travel time. 

Not sure where you want to go in additional to Sao Miguel? Check this travel guide to the other Azores islands.

Although it is the largest of the Azores islands, Sao Miguel can be seen pretty extensively in 3 days, though 5 days would give you more time and let you see it at a more leisurely pace. The other islands are quite small and can be seen in a day and a half.

Is the Azores worth visiting?

a trail leading to a waterfall with lots of tropical-looking plant life

Absolutely! This unique landscape is hard to find elsewhere in Europe. 

Where else can you find pineapple plantations, tea farms, geothermal springs that mix with ocean water to create pleasantly hot water like a bathtub, waterfalls, and stunning views around every other corner?

I grew up going to Hawaii often as a kid and while I found the Azores to be fairly similar in terms of landscape to Hawaii, I found the Azores to be less touristic, more untouched, and more magical-feeling.

It’s one of the most special places I’ve ever been! 

What is the best month to visit the Azores?

fields with a lighthouse on it overlooking a cliff and the atlantic ocean in the azores

We went in late March and honestly, the weather was pretty great!

On the whole, I think March is a great month to visit Portugal (and Lisbon in particular), and I’d imagine that year-round, the Azores is worth the trip.

In late March it was a little bit chilly, but we had no rain and just a small amount of fog. It was cold in the mornings and perfect by mid-afternoon! 

April or May would be even better. June through August experience the summer glut of tourists, so avoid the summer months if your schedule allows.

September or October would also be lovely and usually have good weather, better than spring!

Your 3 Day Itinerary for the Azores: Day 1

a church covered in azulejo tiles in sao miguel azores

Keep in mind my advice about the fog: Lagoa de Fogo is notoriously finicky and there will likely be fog obscuring your view. 

Therefore, I’ve recommended an alternate day 1 itinerary (what I ended up doing after we got too afraid to drive in the heavy fog) as well, in case you end up unlucky with the weather as we did.

If you have good weather, I recommend visiting Lagoa do Fogo and its two best viewpoints – Miradouro do Pico da Barrosa and Miradouro da Lagoa do Fogo – first, before heading to Caldeira Velha for a soak in the hot springs. 

Then head back to Ponta Delgada, making a stop at the pineapple plantation on the way back, to enjoy the city’s unique architecture and funky street art. 

Alternately, if Lagoa do Fogo is too fussy, I’ve also included what we did instead (it helps to have a backup plan in a place with weather so dramatic!) in the below section so that you can adjust on the fly.

Whale Watching

whales diving into the water

One of the best things to do in Azores is check out the incredible whales who live around these Atlantic waters and call them home!

I have a full guide to whale watching in the Azores here, but here’s the short and sweet run-down to whale watching from Ponta Delgada.

There are many great whale watching cruises which depart from Ponta Delgada. Tours last about 3 hours; this tour begins early so it still allows you to have a full day of sightseeing afterward.

On a whale watching cruise  in the Azores, you’ll be led by expert guides who try to point out as many of the 28 cetacean species (whales and dolphins) that can be found in the waters around Ponta Delgada.

Besides whales and dolphins, you’ll also get to see sea birds, turtles, and other marine life on these tours. 

Book your whale watching excursion here!

Lagoa de Fogo

the colorful waters of lagoa de fogo when there is no fog covering it

One of the most picturesque places in Sao Miguel, the Lagoa do Fogo is the typical postcard photo you probably have in mind when thinking of the Azores.

Unfortunately, that postcard-perfect view is rare to find, as fog and clouds typically obscure the top and make the winding roads to the viewpoints of Miradouro do Pico da Barrosa and Miradouro da Lagoa do Fogo quite onerous! 

So I advise you to throw this on the first day of your Azores itinerary so that you can shuffle things around if necessary and return for the perfect view.

While I didn’t make it here myself, I’ve read that you can hike down to the lake level in about 45 minutes each way, though to actually hike the perimeter of the lake would take the better part of a full day.

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Prefer a guided hike? This guided Lagoa do Fogo tour will take you there.
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Caldeira Velha

a woman in a bathing suit stairing at the waterfall in front of her in a thermal pool on a sao miguel vacation

On my initial itinerary for the Azores, I had planned for us to head onwards from Lagoa de Fogo to Caldeira Velha (Ancient Boiler in Portuguese)

However, the fog kept us from getting to experience this place and that’s truly one of my biggest regrets about our trip to the Azores. 

When I researched it, this place seemed amazing – geothermic waters in a Jurassic Park-esque setting (minus the whole stressful impending dinosaur attack thing).

Alas, we didn’t get a chance to visit (though we visited plenty of other hot springs during our time in the Azores that made up for it), but I’m still putting it on this Azores itinerary as I’ve heard nothing but great things about it and was gutted to miss it.

A quick note: the water will stain your bathing suit rust-orange, just like the waters at Terra Nostra, so be sure to bring a dark-colored bathing suit or a suit you plan on throwing out after your trip.

Ananases A Arruda

a teeny tiny azorean pineapple

Another image you’ve likely seen from the Azores is the insufferably cute tiny pineapples that are grown there! 

The only place where pineapples grow in Europe is the Azores, and Ananases A Arruda is a can’t-miss, just a short drive from Ponta Delgada.

You can walk through a few greenhouses spotting Azorean pineapples in different sizes and phases of growth (they take two years to fully mature — even though they’re tiny).

Pineapples are not native to the Azores, but rather were imported from Africa in the 19th century due to the shared history of Portuguese colonization. However, they do grow surprisingly well in the subtropical environment of the Azores!

The Azorean pineapple farmers bred their pineapples a bit differently than the standard, creating a smaller fruit with a tinier crown and a more robust, sweet pineapple flavor.

Ananases A Arruda is free to visit, but just try to leave without bringing home some pineapple jam or pineapple liqueur that they sell there!

There is also another pineapple farm, Plantação de Ananás dos Açores, which you can visit if you’re just crazy about these pineapples or want o

Ponta Delgada

This first day of your Azores itinerary is a little light on things to do compared to the other two days, because I think it’s important to dedicate sufficient time to explore beautiful Ponta Delgada. 

Depending on where you’re traveling from as well or what time you’re getting in, you may be tired as well from traveling, so this day is purposefully lighter than the others as a result.

Of course, if you are not staying in Ponta Delgada but rather somewhere else on the island, I’d explore Ponta Delgada first (since you will be flying into the airport and driving past it) so that afterward you can head to your hotel elsewhere.

a brilliant church on a hill on a cloudy day

I’ll have a full post on what to visit when you go to Ponta Delgada soon. 

For now, I recommend checking out the iconic Pontas de Cidade arch gate, Forte de Sao Bras, and my personal favorite, Jardim António Borges which is full of rare plants and transports you to a Jungle-Book-like world without ever leaving the city center.

Alternate 1st Day in Sao Miguel Itinerary

black sand beach next to a restaurant on the ocean

Our plan for the day we visited Lagoa de got foiled because of the terrible weather so we made a few adjustments.

Instead of going to Lagoa de Fogo, we instead headed to Caloura for a seaside lunch at Bar Caloura, which was fantastic.

There is a natural swimming pool in the middle of the ocean here which seems to be free to use. However, considering that mid-March is a pretty god-awful time to soak in the middle of the Atlantic, we didn’t test it out.

On the drive down to Bar Caloura, about 200 meters before the restaurant, you can’t miss the beautiful Caloura Convent with its traditional azulejo (blue and white Portuguese tiles) facade.

It’s a stunning work of symmetry and tilework and definitely worth a quick photo stop (in fact, I recommend parking here instead of Bar Caloura).

Afterward, we headed towards Praia Pequena de Água d’Alto, stopping at Miradouro do Pisão for a lovely viewpoint over Caloura on the way.

At this point, you could go back to Ponta Delgada to spend the afternoon exploring the town, but since you are pretty close to Lagoa de Congro you could do that instead. 

Be sure to stop at Our Lady of Peace Chapel in Vila Franca on the way if you do! (More on this in Day 3 of this Azores itinerary.)

Your Azores Itinerary, Day 2

people enjoying the thermal waters in a natural pool in the azores sao miguel itinerary

This day is all about lakes, hot springs, waterfalls, and miradouros – pretty much all the things the Azores does best.

A few things to keep in mind… again, fog will potentially be your enemy when it comes to the first two miradouros on this itinerary. 

You may need to double back or visit another day if there is fog or bad weather when you visit (we had to).

However, the fog in this area is definitely less bad than in Lagoa do Fogo. Here, you’ll probably only encounter fog if there is an actual storm as there was when we visited. 

Meanwhile, at Lagoa do Fogo, the fog sat stubbornly all day – when we drove back past it several hours after we re-routed and changed up our day’s itinerary, the same lid of impenetrable fog was still perched exactly where we saw it.

Finally, one last note about day two: you’ll need to check the tide forecast (click here to see it) and use that to plan when to visit Ferraria, as it’s best visited just before or just after low tide.

 The reason for this is that it’s a geothermically heated pool that mixes with ocean water, and you have to get the balance of thermal water and ocean water just right to get that perfect, surreal, floating in a bathtub while feeling the ocean current vibe. 

We visited about 30 minutes after low tide and stayed for one hour and it was perfect, but the tide was already starting to come in stronger and if we had come much later it wouldn’t have been nearly as enjoyable.

Miradouro da Boca do Inferno

a volcanic crater filled with lake water and a lake down below at a popular miradouro viewpoint in sao miguel

While the nearby Miradouro da Vista do Rei is more popular for some reason, this was actually one of my favorite miradouros on all of Sao Miguel (which, trust me, is a hard distinction to make – there are so many beautiful ones).

We parked in the nearby parking lot on the right rather than driving all the way to the
miradouro, but we definitely could have driven it as the road was not as bumpy as I was worried about. 

Still, it’s less than a 1-kilometer walk and it lets you make a quick stop at one of my other favorite places, Lagoa do Canario, on the way to or from the miradouro.

The walk up to the best point of the miradouro from the end of the drivable road takes about 10 minutes (~20 minutes if walking from the main parking lot). 

There is some information in both Portuguese and English there detailing how the landscape was formed – which is super interesting if you’re a geology nerd like I am, telling you about the volcanic crater formation and history.

Lagoa do Canario

peaceful water forming a still mirror image in the lake surrounded by trees

Just a quick 5-minute detour on the path to or from Miradouro da Boca do Inferno, this lake should be more crowded but thankfully isn’t! 

It remains one of the most peaceful places on the island despite being so close to some of the most popular tourist spots.

When I visited the lake was perfectly still, sheltered by all the beautiful trees around it, making a gorgeous mirror image. I don’t know why more tourists don’t stop here, but I’m sure glad I knew about it!

Miradouro da Vista do Rei

This was one of the most crowded places I visited on my Azores itinerary so don’t expect peace and quiet here! 

Personally, I much preferred the Miradouro da Boca do Inferno, but since this one is so close, I still recommend visiting both.

This is also where you’ll find the so-called ‘abandoned hotel’, Hotel Monte Palace. Though to be honest, it’s barely abandoned at all… considering that it’s at the doorstep of one of the most visited tourist attractions in the Azores and people are constantly there! 

Some people go inside despite the signs telling you not to enter. I personally don’t advise entering, especially since there are plans to reopen it in 2021, and I would imagine the new developers don’t take kindly to trespassers.

Sete Cidades

scenic white church surrounded by tall moss covered trees in sete cidades

Heading down from the mountain views, the town of Sete Cidades is definitely well worth a stop (and perhaps a quick lunch break – we ate at Restaurante Lagoa Azul)

It’s worth it to make a stop after you’ve crossed the bridge dividing the lake in two to stop and take photos from eye level, which has a much different visual than from above. 

I also loved visiting the church in Sete Cidades, with its ghoulishly beautiful row of trees framing it like something out of a movie.

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If you prefer someone else to drive, this 4WD Sete Cidades trip is an adrenaline-pumping experience!
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Ferraria

many people in the water with ropes enjoying the cool and hot waters of the ponta da ferraria

Visiting Ponta da Ferraria was truly my favorite thing I did in the Azores and absolutely a can’t-miss, in my opinion. Here is where geothermically heated waters from the ground mix with the cold, brisk waters of the Atlantic, combining to lukewarm perfection in a natural pool formed by rocks.

While in many other places in the world, they’d alter the hell out of the landscape, the approach in the Azores is thankfully rather minimalist – I mean, why mess with perfection? 

All they’ve added is a ladder and some ropes for safety. The rest is all as the earth intended it to be (there are some bathrooms and changing rooms nearby, though).

Sitting in the waters, feeling the geothermal hot springs sweep past me on one ebb of the tide and the cold Atlantic waters rush past me on another, was truly my favorite experience of my entire Azores trip. 

I must have sat there for at least an hour murmuring “this is magical” over and over again. Something about the combination of the hot and cold waters and the peaceful yet powerful feeling of the ocean water repeatedly flowing in and out was truly spectacular.

Note that it is rather popular and there is a limited time period in the day where you can experience Ponta da Ferraria at its best. 

Come exactly at low tide and the water will be too hot in some places, come too close to high tide and the water won’t be warm at all because it’ll be too diluted by ocean water (plus it seems like it would be dangerous at high tide, judging by where the water line was). 

I visited about 30 minutes after low tide passed (check out the tide forecast here) and it was perfect. I stayed for about an hour and noticed the water level rising and the general water level getting cooler by the time I was ready to leave.

I visited around 10:30 AM and it was quite crowded with people who also had the same idea but still very, very enjoyable! 

However, keep in mind that the tides vary from day to day so be sure to plan your itinerary around this and shuffle things around if needed to come at the optimal time.

There’s also a lighthouse in town that you can visit, but we just checked it out from the nearby miradouro, halfway between the town and the thermal pools.

Miradouro da Ponta do Escalvado

miradouro on the edge of the azores with cliffs and a town in the distance and sea stacks in the water

This rarely-visited miradouro on the way to Mosteiros is absolutely worth a quick stop because it’s absolutely breathtaking.

You won’t need much time here, maybe 10 minutes or so, but I couldn’t leave it off this Azores itinerary! 

Mosteiros

This small Portuguese town is known for its black sand beach and beautiful sea stacks. There are also some small natural pools that form due to the rock formations and the tide. 

However, when we visited the weather was extremely windy and the tide was churning strongly, so it didn’t look safe to enter the water.

However, I’ve seen photos of it at other times and people are swimming and enjoying the water, so it’ll depend on the weather as well as the tide. 

It was too cold in March to even think about getting in, so consider your time as well, because this is just straight-up ocean water and not geothermally-warmed waters mixing with ocean water in like Ferraria.

The black sand beach with its view of the sea stacks and the natural pools are located in different parts of town so you’ll likely prefer to drive between the two as they are a little far apart.

Ribeira Grande

the peaceful town of ribeira grande with its river, church, park, and bridges
the

About halfway between Mosteiros and Gorreana Tea Factory (Cha Gorreana), your next stop, is the beautiful town of Ribeira Grande (big river). 

We had but a quick stop here, but here are a few of the things worth checking out.

There’s the Miradouro do Castelo (not sure why it’s called this as there is no castle to speak of!), the Jardim Municipal de Ribeira Grande with its many bridges and beautiful trees, and the traditional Azorean church Igreja Matriz de Nossa Senhora da Estrela.

Gorreana Tea Factory

tea plantations next to a road and trees

The only tea plantation in Europe, Gorreana Tea Factory is a wonderful stop on any Azores itinerary, located on the north coast of Sao Miguel.

Normally, the European climate is too harsh for tea to truly prosper, but the unique Azorean climate is different. The first plantation was created by the Azorean Jacinto Leite in the 1820s, who imported tea seeds from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil while he was stationed there.

The crops grew in importance when the trade of oranges declined (around the same time as pineapples began to be cultivated in the Azores as well), as agriculture has always been a crucial part of the Azorean economy. 

The plantation you can visit today is Gorreana Tea Factory. It was founded in 1883, after hiring some Chinese tea experts to consult on how to improve their tea plantation.

The Gorreana Tea Factory has 32 acres you can visit and you can visit some of the machines they use to dry, process, and produce the tea leaves. 

You can do a hike in the area, and if that doesn’t suit you, you can just simply walk around the tea fields for a bit, depending on the weather. Or you can simply enjoy a free (yes, free!) cup of tea inside the factory!

While to be fair, I know very little about tea, I started every morning in the Azores with a cup of Gorreana green tea and found it truly exquisite – never would I imagine that this was tea grown on a misty, moody island in the middle of the Atlantic!

Parque Natural das Ribeira dos Caldeirões

One of the biggest surprises of my trips to the Azores was this small natural park filled with beautiful views, flowers, and flowing waterfalls.

Loosely translated, Ribeira dos Caldeirões means river of boilers, named so for the many thermal waters.

It’s smaller than I expected but it was packed with so much beauty that I hardly minded – especially because my visit coincided perfectly with golden hour.

There is one waterfall inside the ‘park’ proper, but don’t miss the larger waterfall just a little ways up the road which is even more impressive and beautiful.

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If you want to go here without a car, join this Nordeste day trip as neither the West or East Sao Miguel tours cover this or the Miradouro da Ponta do Sossego below.
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Faro do Arnel

lighthouse at the edge of the azores

A quick stop at the scenic lighthouse of Faro do Arnel is a must on the way to Ponta do Sossego.

The road is steep (cars are allowed, but I didn’t want to risk driving), so you have to walk a bit to reach the actual lighthouse proper, but it’s worth it! 

I cannot emphasize enough how steep it is, so only go if you are confident you can walk up and down that hill safely!

Miradouro da Ponta do Sossego

pink hydrangeas at the ponta de sossego lookout

Sossego means ‘calmness’ in Portuguese and that’s exactly what you’ll find here in this picturesque miradouro just past Nordeste, pretty much as far as you can drive from Ponta Delgada without plunging into the Atlantic Ocean!

Miradouro da Ponta do Sossego was one of the most spectacular places on my Azores itinerary.

It is quite far from Ponta Delgada and does make for a long drive back at the end of the day, I can promise you that it will be worth it. The views of the cliffs are incredible, and there are stunning hydrangeas everywhere you look.

Just a little way further is the Miradouro da Ponta da Madrugada, which also offers incredible views and is worth driving a little further to if your time permits. We weren’t able to go as the sun had already set. 

Madrugada means ‘early morning’ in Portuguese, so I’m thinking this is likely a phenomenal sunrise spot! 

Personally, I loved Ponta do Sossego and found it to be the most beautiful place I visited on all of Sao Miguel.

Your Azores Itinerary, Day 3

This day is all about tying up loose ends on your Azores itinerary and ticking off a few of the greatest places on the island of Sao Miguel!

Get ready for some amazing snorkeling, beautiful churches, natural beauty, and so many hot springs!

Snorkel with dolphins

pod of dolphins swimming underwater in the azores islands

Start your day in the most memorable way possible with an incredible snorkeling tour that gives you the opportunity to swim with pods of curious wild dolphins.

Note that these are wild animals in their natural habitat, so you are not guaranteed to see the dolphins…. but it is quite likely!

Several types of dolphins call the waters near Ponta Delgada home, including the common dolphins, bottlenose dolphins, Atlantic spotted dolphins, and Risso’s dolphins (aka gray dolphins).

This half-day tour starts at 8:30 AM and will keep you busy until noon, which allows you plenty of time to enjoy the rest of your final day in Sao Miguel.

Bring a fresh change of clothes and a towel so you can dry yourself off and enjoy the rest of your day!

Book your snorkeling with dolphins tour online here!

Our Lady of Peace Chapel

One of the most Instagrammed places in the Azores, my foolish self didn’t realize that this place was actually in Sao Miguel (for some reason I thought it was in Terceira!) and failed to actually go here… Whoops. 

As I like to say, being a travel blogger is basically just being a professional mistake-maker so that our readers can have a more seamless experience than we do!

It’s called Ermida de Nossa Senhora da Paz, which translates to the Hermitage (or Chapel) of Our Lady of Peace. And it’s stunning.

When creating the maps for this Azores itinerary I realized that I was literally in the town where this famous chapel is… and left without seeing its most famous attraction. 

I had been at the black sand beach in nearby Alto do Agua, where we could see the beautiful islet of Vila Franca do Campo.

We stopped to get gas in Vila Franca do Campo (and tried and failed to see a ‘secret waterfall’ that proved too secret for us to indeed find)… and left before seeing this spot which had been on my Azores bucket list.

So while I can’t offer any firsthand advice, I can tell you it’s on the way to Lagoa do Congro and would make a great stop on the final day of your 3 day Azores itinerary.

Lagoa do Congro

allison standing on a log looking at the green lake lagoa de congro

A note to all my fellow nervous drivers out there: the road to Lagoa do Congro is a tricky one! It’s quite narrow and really uneven, with places that made it seem like we could easily get our tire stuck in a rut. 

We ended up parking well before the parking spot at a place where there was enough room for cars to pass us and walking the rest of the way.

If you have a taller car (I highly doubt that is the actual technical term, but let’s roll with it), you may feel fine, but I was doubtful.

Anyway, stressful road aside, this is a peaceful, 20-minute or so hike down to a brilliantly green lake totally surrounded by trees. It’s not particularly strenuous so it’s an easy hike to add if you’re out of shape like I am. 

It’s also not super on the tourist trail like Lagoa do Fogo, Furnas Lake, and the Miradouro do Visto do Rei all are, so it’s rather peaceful. 

We actually enjoyed a picnic here as our hotel thoughtfully gave us breakfast in a picnic basket every morning (will share more details on where we stayed at the end of this Azores itinerary!)

Capela da Nossa Senhora das Vitorias

One of the coolest places I visited in the Azores was the abandoned Capela da Nossa Senhora das Vitorias on the perimeter of Furnas Lake. 

You can’t go inside, but it is hauntingly beautiful to visit and imagine it in its prime. Seeing it so empty and overgrown has that wonderful kenopsia effect that I enjoy when visiting abandoned or neglected places.

I highly recommend continuing to take a walk around Furnas Lake (it took us about 2 hours going slowly and taking lots of photos) so you can get photos of it from all angles.

Furnas Lake & Fumaroles

We took the time to walk around Furnas Lake and it was absolutely magical! 

I know with just 3 days in Sao Miguel it can be tempting to hop in the car from photo spot to photo spot, but I was so glad we took the extra time to wander around the entire perimeter of the lake – about 2 hours with stops. 

The colors of the lake changed dramatically depending on the angle, hour, and distance from the lake, making it a magical experience.

It’s also an extremely easy hike – in fact, I don’t even think you could class it as a hike, as it’s pretty much entirely flat. It is basically a long walk along a path for most of the hike and then alongside the road for the final bit (but there is a pedestrian area sheltered from the roadway).

Along the way we stopped at the Furnas Fumaroles which is where we saw a lot of tour buses stopping for lunch of hot steaming cozidos, stews cooked in the geothermic heat of the earth.

If you don’t want to walk around the entire lake, you could simply park near the abandoned chapel and visit that separately then come here. There’s a parking lot by the chapel, at quite a reasonable price of 40 cents per hour.

Then, you can get back in your car and drive about 5 minutes to the Caldeiras da Lagoa das Furnas. There is parking and an entrance fee of 2 euro per person for doing so, which you can avoid if you do the ‘hike.’

Terra Nostra Park

If you’ve started researching your Azores trip you’ve undoubtedly come across photos of Terra Nostra and its strange orange-gold waters! 

The color comes from the iron-rich volcanic springs beneath it, which pump out hot bathwater-like mineral rich water to enjoy a soak in (especially rewarding after hiking around Lagoa das Furnas!).

The Terra Nostra Gardens date back to 1780, when it was created by a wealthy American living abroad in the Azores. It was made larger in 1935, and the 35-acre botanical gardens were extended dramatically. 

While I loved soaking in the giant gold pool, I loved walking through the gardens nearly as much! They are truly spectacular and definitely worth spending some time exploring.

You can also eat at the restaurant in Terra Nostra, although we didn’t due to running low on time.

I’ve read that if you eat at the restaurant you can get free entry to the grounds but I would recommend calling to confirm. 

Cozidos, traditional stews cooked in the earth, are available here. You can also order other traditional Portuguese and Azorean dishes.

Don’t miss soaking in the smaller springs near the changing rooms as well, which have warmer, clearer water and are surrounded by lots of plant life! 

Just remember that like at Caldeira Velha, the iron-rich water will stain your bathing suit, so be sure to bring a black swimsuit or an old one that you don’t care much about!

Casa Invertida

This quirky little stop is in the center of town in Furnas close to the bus station. 

It’s actually a power station of some kind, but it blends into all the other normal houses on the block. It’s a quirky and interesting stop while already in Furnas.

It’s interesting and easy to visit, especially since you’re already in Furnas, but it’s not an essential stop!

Poça da Dona Beija (Optional)

a small spring fed by mineral water on the azores islands

If you want to get in one last dip in the hot springs, add in Poça da Dona Beija! 

Honestly, after visiting Terra Nostra and soaking in the springs for a few hours, I wasn’t really feeling up to go to another hot spring, but I thought I’d mention it here regardless as it has quite positive reviews!

The entrance fee is 6 euros and you can rent a locker, towels, and hot water showers for 1-2 euro more per add-on. 

It’s also open quite late, until 11 PM, so you could also add it to the end of another day’s itinerary or explore further up the coast a bit to Povoação.

Here, you can hike to the beautiful Salto do Prego waterfall via the Trilha Salto do Prego

I didn’t have time for this on my own Sao Miguel itinerary, as it’s a bit out of the way and we had shorter days with less light hours, since we were visiting in March.

You can spend some time there before doubling back and checking out Poça da Dona Beija on your way back to Ponta Delgada. 

Alternately, you could visit here after catching a sunset somewhere on the coast, grab a great dinner, and then finish the night with a star-filled soak!

Where to Stay in Sao Miguel

I’ll have a post with more recommendations shortly, but I really loved staying in Ponta Delgada.

 It had a wide variety of restaurants to choose from and no place on the island is that far from it as it is quite central. The most I ever drove from Ponta Delgada to anywhere was 1 hour and that was the total opposite side of the island.

I stayed at Casa Ateneu and loved it, but I’ll also give a few more recommendations at the bottom of the post.

Casa Ateneu

We were traveling on a low to mid-range budget and I was so happy to find Casa Ateneu at a reasonable price (check here for current rates and availability). There are other options for those on a budget like Airbnb or VRBO but frankly I thought this was the best value and best choice.

We paid 35 euros per night for a double room with an ensuite bathroom and thought it was an amazing value. However, keep in mind we traveled a bit off-season near the end of March, so I would imagine the rooms would cost about twice as much in the summer.

The room was not huge but it felt really spacious with insanely high ceilings (seriously… like two stories tall high!), and lovely comfortable bedding, and plenty of outlets and places to store things. 

The whole interior of the house had a really lovely, homey vibe to it, and there was a kitchen that was free to use if you wanted to cook for yourself as well. We didn’t use it but it looked quite well-stocked!

One thing to note: the reception is not actually located at Casa Ateneu but just down the street from it. That said, check-in was super easy since we could just walk one block away to meet them to get our keys and get a tour of the property. 

The staff was always available to help us, even walking over with our printed boarding passes one evening, when the computer at Casa Ateneu was having trouble printing.

But my favorite part of staying at Casa Ateneu was the picnic baskets full of delicious breakfast goodies they gave us every day in lieu of a standard breakfast buffet.

This was perfect as we’d simply make a cup of coffee or Gorreana tea (free in the kitchen) first thing in the morning, head to our first miradouro or viewpoint, and have a picnic breakfast in gorgeous surroundings. 

They even included coffee and tea in the breakfast baskets, though you’d need a Thermos to hold some super hot water if you were going to make the coffee or tea.

Eating breakfast each morning out of a picnic basket overlooking a lake, surrounded by trees and the hum of birds, was one of the highlights of my Azores trip and I wonder why more hotels don’t do this!

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Ready to book? Check out Casa Ateneu or other Sao Miguel hotels here.
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2 Day Honolulu Itinerary: How to Maximize Your Waikiki Itinerary

aloha tower in honolulu

While every one of the Hawaiian islands offers something special, Oahu is the one that really feels like it has it all.

A thriving metropolis, delicious food culture, incredible history, and of course — amazing beaches, hikes, and landscapes everywhere you look when you visit Oahu.

This post outlines a Honolulu itinerary for a short trip to Oahu that only stays in the general Honolulu area.

This post has you based in the Honolulu neighborhood of Waikiki; itinerary wise, Waikiki makes a fantastic base as it’s very central to a lot of Honolulu activities you’ll want to do, and many tours offer pickup from Waikiki hotels.

How This Honolulu Itinerary Works

Allison enjoying the beach in Oahu's North Shore

This Honolulu itinerary assumes you have 2 days in Honolulu and are flying in and picking up a rental car.

I have a one week in Oahu itinerary that covers more of the island as a road trip, including places like the North Shore and Windward Coast.

However, this post will focus on the immediate area around Honolulu, and in particular, Waikiki.

That means snorkeling excursions, Waikiki Beach, sunset cruises, a bit of the Windward Coast, and more.

At the end of this Honolulu itinerary, I’ll include recommendations for if you have 3 days in Honolulu (or more!) on how you should extend this itinerary for Honolulu.

Where to Stay in Honolulu

Two beds against a vintage wallpaper headboard in a redesigned hotel called the White Sands located in Waikiki honolulu

For the purpose of this Honolulu itinerary, I suggest staying in Waikiki. It has the most food and accommodation options, and the neighborhood is safe and vibrant at all hours of the night.

Some areas of Honolulu are not quite as nice for tourists, but Waikiki is definitely a safe bet.

BUDGET | White Sands Hotel: During my Waikiki itinerary I stayed at White Stands Hotel and I can certainly recommend it for the price.

It is one of the more affordable Waikiki accommodation options, but I didn’t feel like it was missing much (except perhaps breakfast, which would have been nice to have included!)

The White Sands Hotel is the only walk-up hotel remaining in Waikiki (aka no elevators), and it has a vintage feel that remains charming through its retro yet updated detail and design.

I loved the central pool area, which was very modern and photogenic, and a great place to relax in between activities on our packed Honolulu itinerary.

Book your stay at White Sands Hotel here!

BOUTIQUE LUXURY| Moana Surfrider: This stunning beachfront hotel is one of the best options for where to stay on your Waikiki itinerary because it is central and has amazing views everywhere you look.

The architecture is ornate and exquisite — it is definitely one of the most impressive hotel exteriors in all of Oahu, and the inside is just as beautiful!

I especially loved the outdoor areas, centered around a huge banyan tree, with a beachfront veranda restaurant and outdoor pool, all opening up to Waikiki Beach. It doesn’t get much better than this!

Check rates and availability at Moana Surfrider here!

the exterior of the moana surfrider hotel a fancy hotel in waikiki

RESORT LUXURY | Halekulani: For a totally upscale, honeymoon-worthy Honolulu resort stay, it doesn’t get much better than Halekulani. It has stunning views of Diamond Head yet it is also located on Waikiki Beach: the best of both worlds!

The resort is like a mini world unto its own: several restaurants, a jazz lounge, a spa center with Polynesian wellness offerings like lomi lomi massage, and so much more for guests to enjoy.

The rooms are luxurious with welcome treats, private lanais in every room, marble bathrooms, soaking tubs, rain showers, and of course — incredible views!

Book your stay at Halekulani here!

What to Pack for Honolulu

Allison enjoying Honolulu
  • Reef-safe sunscreen: Not only is reef-safe sunscreen the right thing to do for the environment, it’s also the law in Hawaii! I use SunBum SPF 50 sunscreen which is both octinoxate and oxybenzone free. I recommend using the non-aerosol version which is better for the environment, and you!
  • Sunhat and scalp sunscreen: RIP my scalp on this trip, because I forgot both. Learn from my mistakes… literally, that’s why bloggers exist, to mess up our trips and admit it and you can learn from all the ways we f***ed up. A foldable sunhat like this one is still cute, but less high-maintenance than other sunhats that can’t be packed or folded. Also bring some scalp sunscreen like this one (which is also reef-safe!)
  • Travel beach towel / sand-repelling mat: I hate traveling with a traditional beach towel. They get sopping wet and collect sand like a mofo and basically just drive me insane. They’re only a small fraction better than not having one at all. Enter your travel beach mat! Microfiber beach towels double as a sand mat and travel towel, and they’re sand-repelling and dry in a flash, even in the Oahu humidity. Plus they come in adorable prints!
  • Camera or smartphone: Obviously you’ll want to bring an awesome camera for photographing Oahu as best you can! I use a combination of my smartphone (an iPhone 12) and my Sony A 7II when I travel. Bring a versatile zoom lens if you’re bringing a proper camera as that’s the one you’ll end up using most!
  • Protective case for your smartphone: Take it from me, an idiot who nearly fried my phone while sea kayaking in Maine — salt water will destroy even a “waterproof” phone. You’ll want a basic waterproof case like this one at the very least, if not something more sturdy like a LifeProof Free case which allows you to submerge it up to 6 feet of water, including salt water.
  • Snorkel set (mask, snorkel and fins): It’s a lot more fun to have your own snorkel set than to have to seek out a rental service every time — plus, if you happen upon a secluded beach with great snorkeling, you won’t be left out! This set is good if you’re low on space and just want a mask and snorkel — otherwise, grab this full set with fins.
  • Bathing suits: You’ll want at least two bathing suits for your time in Honolulu, so that you never have to put a grody, still-wet one on (is there any worse feeling?). Personally, I love high-waisted bikinis that will hide all the Kalua pork and ube ice cream I’m eating. I love this adorable orange set and this vintage-styled tropical set if you’re looking for inspiration.
  • Hiking boots or sturdy sneakers and hiking socks: I didn’t have any heavy-duty hikes planned on my Oahu itinerary, so I went with my trusty Nike Flyknit sneakers. If I had more intense hikes planned, I’d go with my typical Teva hiking bootswith their comfy Vibram soles.

Renting a Car in Honolulu

Allison smiling in a convertible in a rental car place

During my last trip to Honolulu, we rented a car for a portion of the time and relied on rideshare the other days.

Frankly, we should have just rented a car for the whole itinerary — we ended up spending more money this way, as Uber is quite expensive in a city as large as Honolulu!

Driving in Oahu is quite easy; however, parking in Waikiki is limited so you will definitely have to factor in parking costs to wherever you are staying.

When we stayed at the White Sands Hotel, it was an additional $35 per night to park the car there. It is still worth it considering that a one-way Uber from Waikiki to the airport or Waikiki to Pearl Harbor is about $35-45 per way!

Honolulu is a larger city than you may expect given how remote Hawaii is. Traffic can get a bit intense around rush hour, so I planned this itinerary to avoid driving around peak times.

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, most extensive car rental search engine.It searches over 500 trusted rental companies to find the cheapest price for your rental! Compare prices for car rental in Honolulu here.

Day 1 of Your Honolulu Itinerary

Option 1: Start the day with a snorkeling tour of Turtle Canyon.

sea turtles swimming in the waters of oahu

Why visit Honolulu and not spend time underwater?

Hawaii is one of the best places for snorkeling in the United States, especially if you want the chance to swim with one of the island’s most famous residents… the Hawaiian green sea turtle (called honu in the Hawaiian language)

Taking a snorkeling tour in Hawaii ensures that you will get to see the best snorkeling spots on the island, where you have the highest chance of seeing beautiful marine life.

One of these spots is called Turtle Canyons, where you are practically guaranteed the chance to swim with Hawaiian turtles, as well as a rainbow kaleidoscope of other tropical fish!

Along the way to your snorkeling spot, you may be lucky enough to see Hawaiian spinner dolphins swimming alongside the boat, or perhaps even migrating humpback whales if you are traveling in the winter months!

This tour includes rental of any and all snorkeling equipment as well as life jackets (so no need to stress if you are not a strong swimmer!).

The tour also covers complimentary non-alcoholic refreshments and a small selection of snacks.

You’ll have to bring your own towels, though — I love this cute microfiber travel towel that packs up teeny-tiny and is easily carried in my day bag.

Book your snorkeling tour to Turtle Canyon here!

Option 2: Do a self-guided snorkeling experience in Hanauma Bay.

the protected nature reserve of hanauma bay in oahu

An alternate option is spending time snorkeling in Hanauma Bay, which is one of the most beautiful parts of Oahu.

However, you will have to time the planning of this perfectly, as access to Hanauma Bay is by permit only and there are limited spots available.

Hanauma Bay was starting to become too crowded, so it has now become a designated nature preserve. That means there is limited entrance capacity, so you will have to plan a trip there accordingly.

The way it works is that you need to book tickets online here here for a designated entry period. The tickets are quite limited in number.

Tickets are sold by 10 minute entry intervals, and during each interval, only 30 people are allowed to enter during that time.

That may sound easy enough to plan, but you can only make bookings two days in advance…. at 7 in the morning, Hawaii time!

The slots do book up almost immediately. Therefore, you will want to set an alarm for a few minutes before 7 AM Hawaii Standard Time (luckily, if you’re booking from the West Coast or East Coast, this won’t require a very early wake-up time!).

If you are lucky enough to snag one of the few spots, enjoy: Hanauma Bay is truly one of the most beautiful beaches in Hawaii.

While the permit process is a little bit of a pain in the butt, the limited entrance that caps capacity means that its beauty, wildness, and tranquility can remain preserved for years to come.

You will have to drive yourself to Hanauma Bay (about 30 minutes from Waikiki) and if you don’t have your own snorkeling gear, you will also need to rent it there.

Spend some time relaxing on Waikiki Beach or walking along the oceanfront.

people on the beach and a lifeguard tower on waikiki beach

After your snorkeling tour or time at Hanauma Bay, it’s time to relax and enjoy the beautiful Waikiki Beach.

This long sandy beach is one of the best beaches in Honolulu. Be sure to check out the Duke Paoa Kahanamoku Statue at the heart of Waikiki Beach — he’s a legendary Hawaiian surfer.

There are other beach areas in Waikiki that are lovely and perhaps a little less crowded, such as Ala Moana Beach Park (also a great sunset spot!) and Queens Beach.

Depending on your travel style and mood, you can lay out on the beach for sunbathing, wade in the water, let the kids play with some sand toys, or take a walk from one end of the beachfront to the other along all of Waikiki.

Grab a delicious lunch in Waikiki.

sams kitchen garlic shrimp and fries

Once you’ve worked up an appetite from snorkeling and some beach time, it’s time for a delicious meal in Waikiki! Luckily there are so many good food options here that it’s almost impossible to choose.

For your first day lunch, my suggestion is Sam’s Kitchen.

This counter-service restaurant specializes in garlic shrimp and tasty teriyaki plates. It’s quite affordable and the quick-serve style is perfect for getting back to the rest of your Honolulu itinerary.

The garlic shrimp is their best option (Truthfully, I found the shrimp better here than at the more famous shrimp food trucks up on the North Shore)

  • Address: 353 Royal Hawaiian Ave, Honolulu, HI 96815 | Hours: 10 AM to 1 AM daily

Stroll and shop around downtown Waikiki.

There are many great places to walk around Waikiki depending on what you are looking for!

If you want a scenic walk, I recommend walking alongside the Ala Wai Canal and then stopping at any cafés or boutiques that catch your interest.

If you want to shop, there are countless stores along Kalaukaua Avenue, which is the main shopping thoroughfare in Honolulu.

For more luxurious shopping (or window shopping, as your budget – like mine – may only allow for), check out the International Market Place which is home to all of the fanciest brands!

Finally, if you want to sample a few different snacks, Duke’s Lane Market is a great place to go on a self-guided food crawl of different snacks and bites.

If you need an afternoon pick-me-up, don’t miss a coffee at Kona Coffee Purveyors right by Duke’s — it has the best coffee in Honolulu (and incredible pastries too!)

Take a sunset cocktail cruise around Honolulu Harbor.

view over honolulu at sunset from a cruise

What better way to end your first night in Honolulu than on a sunset cruise around Honolulu Harbor with a view of the Waikiki skyline twinkling in front of you?

With a cocktail in hand, of course — which you can do easily on this cocktail cruise leaving from Honolulu Harbor.

This tour lasts an hour and a half and includes one welcome drink, and you can purchase more (and snacks) on board.

Book your sunset cruise from Waikiki here!

Have a delicious dinner in Waikiki.

food at zigu - cold soba noodle bowl with pork and egg

Hope you’re hungry, because there are a ton of great dinner options in Waikiki for a fantastic meal!

One of my favorite sit-down restaurants is the contemporary restaurant ZIGU, a restaurant and sake bar that focuses on Japanese recipes with a Hawaiian local twist.

Some of their best dishes include the miso-marinated and macadamia-crusted salmon (decadence embodied!), the ahi tuna cutlet, and the spicy chilled soba noodle bowl with crumbled pork and bonito flakes.

  • Address: 413 Seaside Ave #1F, Honolulu, HI 96815 | Hours: 4 PM to 10 PM daily

Day 2 of Your Honolulu Itinerary

Take a tour of Pearl Harbor and Downtown Honolulu.

standing at pearl harbor with an american flag in the background

You can’t come to Honolulu for the first time without learning a little bit of the history of Oahu: both as its role as an important site in the Hawaiian Kingdom before it was overthrown by American settlers, and for its role in World War II.

This tour will bring you to Pearl Harbor to see its most famous sight: the USS Arizona Memorial, accessible via a navy boat.

This memorial is located above a battleship that sunk on the day that Pearl Harbor was attacked, leading to the loss of life of 2,403 American lives.

You can also visit the wall of remembrance which honors the lives lost on that day.

After you visit Pearl Harbor, your guide will take you on a tour of downtown Honolulu and explain the historic sites in the downtown, such as ʻIolani Palace, the Aliʻiōlani Hale Building and King Kamehameha Statue, and the Aloha Tower.

Book your guided tour of Pearl Harbor & Downtown Honolulu here!

Grab a quick poke lunch in Waikiki.

menu at sato seafood one of the best poke restaurants in honolulu

Since this Waikiki itinerary is so fast-paced, we’ll want to maximize our time by grabbing delicious take-out lunches so we can see more of the island with our limited time.

I recommend getting poke at Sato Seafood. This unassuming poke bar is often hidden by the lines at neighboring Marugame Udon, but don’t miss out.

This is easily the best poke in Waikiki! I recommend either the spicy ahi and spicy salmon (if you can handle spice — it’s actually rather spicy!). Pro tip: add macadamia nuts for even more decadence and deliciousness!

  • Address: 2310 Kūhiō Ave. #215, Honolulu, HI 96815 | Hours: 10:30 AM to 8:30 PM daily

Check out Kailua Bay and the Windward Coast.

allison at a lookout spot near honolulu overlooking the windward coast

After your tour of Pearl Harbor and grabbing a quick takeaway lunch, it’s time for a little mini road trip to the Windward Coast.

Head over the Pali Highway towards Kailua through the tunnels that bore through the Koʻolau Mountains.

I recommend making a stop at the Nu‘uanu Pali Lookout, which has stunning views over the island of Oahu but also was the site of an important historic battle that ended up uniting the warring islands of Hawaii under one monarch.

After the lookout, do a quick drive to Kaneohe for a drive through Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden for some time at one of the prettiest botanical gardens in Hawaii. There is no entry fee, and the drive here is spectacular!

Then, after that, head towards Kailua Beach and Lanikai Beach for some beautiful beach time, or perhaps tackle the Lanikai Pillbox hike if you are up for a heart-pumping challenge!

Another alternative option would be heading up to Kualoa Ranch if you want to check out where they shot film and TV classics such as Jurassic Park, Lost, and Godzilla — all on a tour via a vintage school bus.

Have a tasty izakaya dinner.

dinner at a japanese izakaya in honolulu

Honolulu is a mecca for Japanese food due to the large population of Japanese-Americans on the island.

You can get some of the most authentic Japanese food in America here — when I ate at Izakaya Pau Hana Base, I literally felt like I was transported back to my time in Japan!

So, what is an izakaya? It is a typical Japanese restaurant that focuses on casual small plate types, serving up snacks and meals meant to be enjoyed with drinks.

Their portions are very generous and delicious — I recommend their fried calamari, the okonomiyaki, and the yakitori!

  • Address: 407 Seaside Avenue #107, Honolulu, HI 96815 | Hours: 5 PM to 11 PM daily, except SundayDay 3 of Your Honolulu Itinerary

If You Have More Time for a Multi-Day Oahu Itinerary…

Take a whale watching tour (seasonal December-April).

Allison in front of Waikiki skyline and Diamond head on a whale watching tour
Enjoying my morning whale watching tour in Oahu!

Depending on the time of year, humpback whales migrate through the waters of Oahu, which is a magical sight you need to add to your bucket list.

During whale watching season, there are morning and afternoon whale watching cruises that typically last 1.5-2 hours.

Want more information? I wrote a full guide to whale watching in Oahu, including suggested tours and what to pack.

Humpback whales are one of the most majestic whale species and you are guaranteed a sighting of them during whale watching season or they’ll allow you to come back out again for free.

I did this tour in February and had the amazing privilege of seeing a mother humpback whale and her baby who had just calved. Our guides estimated the baby whale was just 6-12 hours old!

Despite being so young, he was so active, jumping around and playing in the water, learning how to breech and play. It was an incredible sight to see!

Kayak to the islands in Kailua Bay.

kayaking in kailua bay heading towards two islands with other kayakers on the sea

If you’re a confident sea kayaker, you can take a self-guided tour to visit the Mokulua islands.

If you’re not experienced with sea kayaking, I recommend going with a guide as there is definitely a learning curve kayaking in the open sea versus a calm body of water like a lake… I learned this the hard way in the rough Atlantic waters of the Maine coast!

This kayaking trip involves paddling out to the two beautiful Mokulua Islands, where you can enjoy amazing views of the Windward Coast from out on the ocean. This is the inverse view as from the Nuʻuanu Pali Lookout!

On Moku Nui (one of the two Mokulua islands), you can take a dip in the beautiful “Queen’s Bath”, a small natural pool that was used as a bathing spot by Hawaiian royalty.

Hike Diamond Head Crater for epic views.

view from diamond head crater

Note: As of May 12, 2022 advanced reservations will be required for visiting Diamond Head Crater National Monument if you are an out-of-state visitor. You can make reservations here two weeks in advance.

This stunning hike up Diamond Head offers some incredible views over Honolulu and Waikiki. It’s not too tough of a hike, either: the Diamond Head Summit Trail clocks in at 1.8 miles roundtrip and 450 feet of elevation gain.

Diamond Head is actually a dormant volcano over 500,000 years old — and yes, it’s very dormant; it hasn’t erupted for more than 150,000 years. The hike starts in the middle of the crater and brings you up to the crater rim.

The hike starts on a paved path, then quickly changes to a few steep switchbacks and then some stairs. You’ll also climb through a tunnel, then more stairs before you reach the WW2 era bunkers (more pillboxes!) at the rim’s edge.

If you can’t get tickets to Diamond Head Crater, I recommend hiking to Manoa Falls instead! Koko Head is also another option, but the hike is a lot more intense.

Explore the North Shore.

north shore of oahu with surfers in the distance

The North Shore of Oahu is one of my favorite parts of the island!

I didn’t include it on this Honolulu itinerary because it’s about 1-1.5 hours away by car, but it definitely is a place you should go if you have extra full day to dedicate to the north coast of Oahu.

The main town of Oahu’s North Shore is Haleiwa, a charming small town famous for its shave ice and shrimp trucks.

Don’t miss Laniakea Beach, where you can often find sea turtles chilling on the beach, and Sunset Beach Park where you can watch surfers ride the wild waves of the North Shore, which often exceed 10 feet, especially in the winter months!

Shark’s Cove is a great place for snorkeling on the North Shore, as it is a sheltered little cove area in a place that usually has too many rough waves to have decent snorkeling or swimming areas.

Another great place to visit on the North Shore is Waimea Valley, a beautiful walk through a botanical garden in a valley that ends in a stunning waterfall.

What This Honolulu Itinerary Skips (and Why)

whales in front of the waikiki skyline
Why see animals in captivity when you can see them in nature?

When I wrote this Honolulu itinerary (as well as my one-week Oahu itinerary), I was trying to be mindful of the more harmful aspects of tourism. There are three major places I am specifically not recommending.

Number one is the Polynesian Cultural Center and their popular “Breath of Ha” show. While the name seems educational, I actually find it quite pessimistic.

From what I can see, it is not run by Polynesian-descended people at all, but rather, it is run by the Mormon Church, who have a huge temple and presence in the town of Laie.

Daytime events at the “Polynesian” Cultural Center include a bus tour of Brigham Young University Hawaii and a visit to the Laie Hawaii Temple which is located next to the cultural center…. which doesn’t sound very Polynesian to me.

Number two is the luau that takes place at the Sea Life Park Hawaii (I also don’t recommend visiting the park itself — see the wildlife in nature in Hawaii, not captive in a park being tortured for visitor amusement).

As someone who cares about responsible wildlife tourism, I don’t support giving money to organizations that promote hands-on animal tourism such as getting to touch and swim with captive dolphins or forcing animals to perform in shows for tourists.

Number three is the Dole Plantation. Yeah, you might want your Dole Whip, but honestly, the Dole family history is really quite dark and this family is one of the reasons why the Hawaiian islands are currently an occupied nation.

Put your money elsewhere when visiting Hawaii to ensure your visit does more good than harm.

One Day in New York City: How to Maximize One Day in NYC

Allison in front of the statue of liberty

If you’ve only got one day in New York City, you’ve really got to give it your all and follow a smart itinerary.

Luckily, I lived in New York City for nearly a decade, and I’ve shown countless visitors around the city in a short timeframe.

While you’ll only be able to see a fraction of NYC in one day, I’m here to guide you to make it the best possible use of your time — with minimal backtracking and time waiting in lines and maximal sightseeing.

If you’re ready to take a bite of out the Big Apple and see as much as you can — read on!

How This One Day in NYC Itinerary Works

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

I created this guide to spending one day in New York to be rather ambitious and aimed at first-time visitors to the city, ticking off all the bucket list sights in limited time.

It assumes you have a full day in New York for sightseeing — and a long summer day to take advantage of, at that.

If you are visiting when the days are shorter, on a day trip from somewhere else, or you don’t have a full day to dedicate to visiting New York City, you may want to adjust this one-day itinerary to be more realistic.

I’ve had to make quite a few sacrifices to fit the best of New York in 24 hours (less, actually).

Several important sites did not make the cut — in particular, I opted to cut a lot of museums from the list, because those tend to take quite a while to tour properly.

For example, if you’re a huge art fan, you may want to adjust this itinerary a bit to ensure you have time to visit either the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the MOMA.

If you’re traveling with kids, you may want to spend time in more kid-friendly spots, like the American Museum of Natural History.

This itinerary skips quite a few famous neighborhoods: Chinatown and Little Italy, SoHo, the Upper West Side, the Upper East Side, and Harlem, among others.

Instead, this itinerary focuses on tackling a bit of Brooklyn, Downtown Manhattan and New York Harbor, Chelsea and the Highline, Midtown Manhattan, Broadway, and Times Square.

Most of the itinerary is designed be to connected together through a series of short walks, but there are times where I’ll indicate that it’s easier to get on the subway or take an Uber between two points.

Getting Around New York City in a Day

orange seats and black and white speckled floor of the new york city subway on an older car

I’ve designed this one-day New York City itinerary to primarily be a self-guided walking tour through the city. That said, there are times when either taking the NYC subway or a rideshare or taxi will be more convenient.

If you only have one day in New York, there’s no need to buy a physical Metrocard anymore. There is no one-day pass, only a seven-day pass.

Conveniently, if you have a smartphone that has payment like Apple Pay or similar enabled, you can just tap your phone in order to charge your Metro fare to the attached card!

This saves a lot of time, and also the dreaded art of mastering the Metrocard swipe (something even I as a 9-year New Yorker struggled with).

If you don’t feel like tackling the subway if you only have a day, don’t worry — Lyfts and Ubers are prolific around the city, plus the ubiquitous yellow cabs are indeed everywhere!

If you’re traveling in a group of three or more, Lyfts and Ubers can often be the same price as everyone taking the subway… and when it isn’t, the difference is usually small compared to the convenience saved!

Optional: Early Morning Brooklyn Bridge Walk

Start the day walking over the Brooklyn Bridge.

man walking across the brooklyn bridge in the morning light

With little time to spare on this one day in New York itinerary, you may or may not have time to do the iconic Brooklyn Bridge Walk. This is why I’ve included it in a separate, optional section.

You could opt to walk from the Manhattan side of the bridge, but I suggest starting in Brooklyn so you can enjoy the Manhattan skyline views the entire walk.

Plus, this way once you reach the Manhattan side, you can just continue walking downtown to the Financial District to the next spot on our New York itinerary.

So if you’re willing to brave an early morning wake up call, I strongly recommend hopping in a taxi or an Uber the first thing in the morning and heading to DUMBO.

DUMBO stands for “Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass” but it refers to the entire neighborhood around the Brooklyn Bridge.

I recommend asking your taxi to drop you off at Front Street and Washington Street, where the iconic photo spot of the Manhattan Bridge can be found. Snap some photos here before you start making your way to the Brooklyn Bridge!

the manhattan bridge seen between two red buildings, an iconic sight in dumbo

The entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge is not very intuitive to find, so I’ve included some step-by-step directions get here.

To reach the Brooklyn Bridge Pedestrian Walk, walk south on Washington Street towards Prospect Street, passing underneath the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.

Just a little due south of Prospect Street, you’ll see the Brooklyn Bridge overhead — there are stairs here where you can reach the Brooklyn Bridge Pedestrian Walkway.

This will help you skip one of the less scenic areas of the Brooklyn Bridge walk and shave off about 10 minutes form your walk than if you were to start at the traditional starting place on Boerum Place and Tillary Street.

The Brooklyn Bridge itself is an entire mile long, but it will be a little longer using the pedestrian walkways — a little less than a mile and a half if you enter at Prospect & Washington.

Walking it without stopping to take photos would take about 30 minutes, but give yourself about an hour to walk it at a leisurely pace.

Make your final destination the Charging Bull Statue located on Broadway and Bowling Green.

After you exit the bridge, walk down Park Row, admiring City Hall, then continue down Broadway. You’ll pass by a few iconic sights like St. Paul’s Chapel and Trinity Church along the walk

Morning: Lower Manhattan + Statue of Liberty

See the iconic Charging Bull statue.

famous charging bull statue which is a symbol of wall street and new york city's financial district

Whether you arrive in Manhattan on foot after crossing the Brooklyn Bridge, or you start your day in New York City here, the Charging Bull should be your first stop in the Financial District.

There is perhaps no better emblem of the Financial District than this famous bronze bull statue located on Broadway at the north end of Bowling Green, which is the oldest park in New York City, dating all the way back to 1733.

Note: The Fearless Girl statue which used to face the bull has been moved (disregard Google Maps, which is still incorrect!). It’s at our next stop, so you won’t miss it!

Check out the New York Stock Exchange.

statue of the 'fearless girl' looking up at the new york stock exchange with colonnades, pillars, and two american flags

Just a few blocks away from the Charging Bull Statue, you’ll find the iconic New York Stock Exchange building, on Broad Street between Wall Street and Exchange Place.

The Fearless Girl statue is located in front of the stock exchange, hands still defiantly on her hips, looking up at the Stock Exchange.

Explore the Battery.

views of the battery including a sign that says pier a on a dock

The Battery (formerly called Battery Park) is one of the most historic parts of Manhattan. You can walk around the Battery and check out the many memorials, gardens, and statues that are around the park.

At the northwest corner of the park, you’ll see Castle Clinton, which used to be a defensive fortification. It was built from 1808 to 1811, during the tensions that led up to the War of 1812.

It was never used in battle, and it was largely left unused until 1855, when it became the first immigration station into the United States. It would be the main immigration thoroughfare on the East Coast until it was moved to Ellis Island in 1892.

It served a stint as the home to the New York Aquarium (which was later moved to Coney Island) — the SeaGlass Carousel elsewhere in the Battery pays homage to this history.

Today, Castle Clinton is the departure point where ferries to Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island depart from — your next stop!

Check out the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.

Next up on this itinerary are two of New York City’s most famous landmarks: the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, two symbols of New York’s melting pot identity.

While the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island are both technically free to the visit, you’ll have to pay for the ferry to get there. It is all one ferry, which makes a loop from the Battery —> Liberty Island —> Ellis Island —> the Battery.

I recommend booking your ferry tickets ahead of time, which allows you to skip the ticket purchasing line and adds an audio guide for just a few dollars more than buying the ticket in person.

woman taking a photo of the statue of liberty while on the ferry in new york harbor on a sunny day with few clouds in the sky

I also recommend using the self-guided option as opposed to taking a guided tour here, so you can tour the sites at your own pace — important when you only have one day in New York!

With such a short amount of time, I suggest skipping the pedestal (which costs extra) and just exploring the grounds of Liberty Island. Walk around the perimeter of the island, admiring Lady Liberty from multiple angles.

The museum is also worth a quick pass-through, as it’s really interesting to learn the history of this famous icon of New York.

After checking out the Statue of Liberty, head back to where you exited the ferry to get back on for your ferry to Ellis Island.

view of pink flowers in front of the ellis island national monument building and museum

I recommend just doing a quick pass-through of Ellis Island since you have such limited time.

Head up to the top floor for the classic view, and check out a few rooms of the museum before getting back on the ferry.

Book your ferry tickets and audio guide here!

If you don’t want to actually tour the Statue of Liberty, you can also take the Staten Island Ferry for free, which will pass by the Statue on its way to Staten Island.

Simply get back on the ferry once you get off and head back to the Battery for one of the best free views of New York City and its stunning skyscrapers!

Visit the 9/11 Memorial and Museum.

names engraved in the wall around the memorial for the victims of 9/11 with an american flag on a gray gloomy day

Once you get back from touring the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, it’s time to make another important in Downtown Manhattan.

No trip to New York City would be complete without paying your respects at Ground Zero, where the Twin Towers used to stand before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 which claimed the lives of nearly 3,000 people.

I strongly recommend visiting the 9/11 Museum as well as the Memorial.

It’s an incredibly moving and powerful experience that will leave you with a far greater understanding of the horror of this day and how it forever changed New Yorkers.

at ground zero at the 9/11 museum looking at the foundations and the photos of the world trade center as it was being created

If you don’t feel like you have time, you can skip the museum and simply pay your respects at the Memorial. The 9/11 Memorial is free to visit, and the design of it is incredibly touching.

Book your tickets to the 9/11 Memorial & Museum here!

Check out One World Trade Center and the Oculus.

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

Next to the 9/11 Memorial, you’ll see One World Trade Center looming above it. At a symbolic 1,776 feet, the One World Trade Center building is the tallest building in the USA — a fun NYC fact to impress your friends with!

Its ambitious scale, dedicated to rebuilding back bigger and better without forgetting what was lost, is symbolic of New Yorkers’ spirit and resilience.

You could go up to the top of One World Observatory and check out the observation deck there, with its views over New York Harbor, Brooklyn, and New Jersey.

However, there are several other observation decks in NYC that I think offer superior views, so I’ll suggest skipping this one since you don’t really have enough time.

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

If you really want to go up to the top, I suggest you book either skip-all-lines ticket, option either the timed entry or the flexible entry option.

Don’t book the skip-the-box-office only ticket — otherwise, you’ll be looking at about an hour’s queue, which is hardly how you want to spend your limited time in NYC.

Book your skip-all-lines ticket to One World Observatory here!

Afterwards, head to the Oculus, Downtown Manhattan’s largest transportation hub and one of the most unique pieces of architecture in the city.

It was designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, whose intent was to create a building that resembled a child releasing a dove (symbolizing peace) that is flying away from its hands.

Whether or not that gets translated into your perception of the building is up to you!

The interior, though, feels rather different, so it’s quite interesting to experience the contrast of the exterior and the interior of the building.

Afternoon: Chelsea + Observation Deck + Midtown

Views from the Empire State Building of Lower Manhattan

Note: I struggled a lot in writing this section because there are several observation decks that are quite amazing that you could choose from in this area, all of which you’ll pass by.

I suggest reading my guide to picking the best observation deck in NYC and just choosing one if you have only one day in New York City.

I’ll link to each option, but I recommend only picking one or maximum two. You simply can’t visit them all!

Grab lunch at the Chelsea Market.

the famous chelsea market in nyc with its central clock and lights inside

Now that we’ve pretty thoroughly explored Downtown Manhattan, it’s time to make your way up to Chelsea on Manhattan’s west side.

You can take a taxi or you can take the subway (the best is the A/C/E from Chambers Street to 14th Street) to get to our next stop, the Chelsea Market.

The Chelsea Market primarily has food vendors and tasty eateries, and you’ll be able to find some of the best food in the city all under one roof!

Since you only have one day in New York, I recommend opting for something quick. Better yet, take it to-go and eat al fresco on the Highline!

My top suggestions are tacos at Los Tacos No. 1, Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches at Num Pang Kitchen, or Chinese hand-pulled noodles at Very Fresh Noodles. For a very quick fix, you can grab some pre-made sushi from The Lobster Place.

If you want something sweet, grab a brownie at Fat Witch or mini-donuts from the Doughnuttery.

Walk the Highline.

greenery along the highline park which runs from chelsea to hudson yards along the west side of manhattan

Once you’ve explored the Chelsea Market and grabbed a bite to eat, it’s time for a stroll along the Highline.

This park used to be an elevated train line, but now it’s been converted into one of the top attractions in New York City.

This beautiful green space is about 1.5 miles long and takes 30 minutes to walk from end-to-end if you’re strolling, but give yourself an hour or so if you’re stopping to take photos and eat your lunch.

The Highline runs from 14th Street all the way up to Hudson Yards.

Check out the Hudson Yards and the Vessel.

brassy reflective surface of the vessel in nyc

Since the Highline stops at Hudson Yards, stop by this area for a quick look at one of New York’s newest redeveloped areas.

The Hudson Yards is home to several interesting destinations, including an observation deck called The Edge and the Vessel.

The Vessel is a controversial piece of public art that has received a lot of scrutiny — both in the form of its lax safety features and for its aesthetics, which many art critics dislike.

It is currently not allowed to climb the Vessel, but you can take a picture on the first floor, or admire it from afar.

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

You could go up the Edge — it is one of the most striking observation decks in the city — or you can just look up and see the wedge of the skydeck from down below, admiring the fact that there are hundreds of people above you!

If you choose to go up the Edge, be sure to buy tickets ahead of time so that you don’t have to wait in a massive line! Book online here.

Admire the Empire State Building.

The Art Deco interior of the Empire State Building

The Empire State Building is the most iconic symbol of New York. As a result, many people think they should go up the top of it.

However, my thought is that you can’t get a good view of it (or a good photo of it, for that matter) while you’re on top of it!

As a result, I tend to direct people to instead book tickets at Top of the Rock or the Edge, both of which have better views of the Empire State Building.

However, the Empire State Building also has some really interesting museums inside which detail how the building was constructed.

If you’re curious to learn the history of the building, while being inside a true piece of Art Deco history, then ascending the Empire State Building is a must-do!

leading up to the observation deck at the empire state building stairs and windows

While you won’t get to see the Empire State Building in the skyline since you’re, well, on it, you’ll get to see other beautiful buildings like the Chrysler Building as well as the Brooklyn Bridge and the East River.

As with previous suggestions I recommend a skip-all-lines ticket to save time and headache. This is the most popular observation deck in NYC so the lines here can be insane… like, multiple hours insane.

This is also the oldest observation deck in the city, so the elevators take longer, which adds to the long lines. Newer observation decks like One World, SUMMIT ONE, and The Edge have state-of-the-art elevators that whisk you up unfathomable distances in mere seconds, reducing lines.

Book your skip-all-lines timed entry ticket here!

Whether you admire the Empire State Building from afar or from inside of it, you’ll be seeing an iconic piece of New York City history.

Wander past the New York Public Library.

lion statue in front of the facade of the new york public library in manhattan

Next up on this itinerary is the New York Public Library, another one of the icons of New York, on the east side of Bryant Park.

Snap a photo with the famous lion statues in front of it as well as the beautiful exterior!

You can go in, but note that right now, you are unable to visit the Main Rose Reading Room unless you are on a guided tour.

Look up at the ceiling at Grand Central Terminal.

the ceiling of grand central terminal, a famous stop you should make even with one day in new york city

Another famous place you have to visit while in New York City is Grand Central Station with its iconic architecture and ceiling.

Famous for its constellation-painted ceiling as well as its general hustle and bustle, this is New York in a nutshell: beauty and busy-ness swirling together in a chaotic but wonderful experience.

If you want to rest your feet and feel super classy, grab oysters at the Grand Central Oyster Bar — one of my favorite places in NYC when I want to feel fancy!

The newest observation deck is located right next to Grand Central Terminal, so if you’ve opted to check out SUMMIT ONE Vanderbilt, this is the time!

SUMMIT ONE is billed as an ‘immersive and multisensory art experience’ with art from Kenzo Digital, who created lots of interesting places where you can take photos!

These immersive installations include AIR which has two stories of floor-to-ceiling mirrors that create a strange sensation of floating while you admire the skyscrapers of Manhattan around you, a glass box called SUMMIT LEVITATION where you can ‘float’ on a glass ledge over a thousand feet above the street, and AFFINITY where you can play with fun silver balloons with a view!

As you can see, it’s a unique combination of observation deck, art installation, and Instagram playground, so if that’s the experience you want, this is the observation deck to choose!

Book tickets to SUMMIT ONE Vanderbilt here!

Walk to Rockefeller Center & the St. Patricks Cathedral.

the ornate interior of st patricks cathedral in new york city

After spending some time at Grand Central Station, make your way over to Rockefeller Center, perhaps stopping by the famous St. Patrick’s Cathedral on 5th Avenue along the way.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral is the largest church in Manhattan and entrance is free, so it’s a great place to take a quick peek before moving onto other sights.

Rockefeller Center is home to several iconic landmarks including Radio City Music Hall and The Channel Gardens, as well as SAKS Fifth Avenue across the street.

You can also go up to the Top of the Rock for one of the best views in the city, offering views of Central Park from above on one side and a picture-perfect view of the Empire State Building from the other!

Allison at the top of the rock

If you do choose to go up to the Top of the Rock, it’s strongly suggested that you book tickets beforehand to skip the ticket-buying line.

Note, though, that this attraction does not sell skip-all-line tickets so you may have to wait in a line for the elevators; however, it is not the newest and shiniest observation tower in NYC anymore, so the lines are usually shorter compared to other places.

Book your Top of the Rock tickets here!

Take a quick walk through Central Park.

the bow bridge at central park with famous buildings in the background

As you near the end of your afternoon in New York, be sure to save enough time for a quick walk through Central Park.

You won’t have time for an extensive tour of Central Park, but you could do a short loop that includes the Loeb Boathouse, the Bow Bridge, and Strawberry Fields before either hopping on the subway or taking a taxi back down to the Times Square area.

Note: Now is a good time to grab a quick snack — perhaps an iconic New York hot dog from a street cart (though, tbh, always go for the hot sausage — it tastes way better!) or some halal chicken and rice.

This one-day itinerary has you having dinner after your show in order to maximize your time, so make sure you eat enough to keep you satisfied throughout the show without spoiling your after-dinner appetite.

Evening: Broadway + Times Square

Watch a Broadway show.

taxis in front of broadway theaters in nyc

There are so many fantastic Broadway shows that it can be hard to choose! I’ve been lucky enough to see about 10 shows over my time in NYC.

I suggest something classic, whether it’s a new instant-classic like Hamilton or Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, or old-school classic like Phantom of the Opera or Moulin Rouge.

You’ll definitely need to book your tickets in advance online — don’t wait until the day of the show or you will surely miss out!

Purchase your Broadway tickets online here: Hamilton, Phantom of the Opera, Harry Potter & the Cursed Child, & more.

Grab dinner after your show.

After you finish your Broadway show, it’s time to grab a late dinner! Luckily, the Theater District and Hells Kitchen are brimming with late-night options. New York is the city that doesn’t sleep, after all!

The Infatuation has a great list of places to eat before or after a Broadway show — I would recommend their list!

Admire the lights of Times Square.

crowds of people and bright neon lights in new york city's time square

For your last stop on your day in New York, there’s no better place to stop and take it all in than Times Square.

Soaking in the neon lights and letting the rushing crowds pass you by is the quintessential way to end a day in New York.

Where to Stay in NYC

If you only have one day in New York City, you likely won’t be spending much time in your hotel room, but you still want somewhere comfortable and convenient to stay in. Here are a few suggestions.

Budget: I’ve never stayed at a hostel with dorm-style rooms in NYC, but HI New York seems to have the best blend of low budget and high ratings.

Mid-range: For the best savings, check out modern hotels that do away with things like receptionists and concierges in favor of self-check in and other automated systems. YOTEL and citizenM are two such hotels, conveniently located in Times Square, one of the most central locations for public transportation in all of New York. 

Luxury: There is basically no end to the amount of luxury options in New York. From classics like The Plaza to newer, more niche offerings like The Library Hotel, you’re spoiled for choice on this end of the spectrum.

A Perfect 2 Days in Granada Itinerary: How to Spend a Weekend in Granada

If you’re looking for a wonderful yet budget-friendly place to add to your Spain trip, allocate at least 2 days in Granada to your Spain itinerary!

This beautiful city is one of my favorite places I visited in my 5 weeks of travel across Spain, and I’ll stand by the fact that it’s one of the best places to visit in Southern Spain.

Gorgeous Granada is most famous for being home to the Alhambra Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Seven Wonders of the New World finalist.

In fact, the Alhambra is Spain’s single most-visited attraction… and yet, despite the popularity of the Alhambra, Granada remains an affordable and not-so-crowded place to visit.

Luckily for the budget traveler, the prices in the city don’t seem to match the popularity of its number one attraction.

Granada boasts a lively free tapas tradition (one of the last remaining places in Spain to do so!), affordable hotels, and well-priced things to do.

How Many Days Should You Spend in Granada?

view of the historic white houses of granada from above with the traditional roofs

I needed a break after traveling at a fast pace through Europe for several months, so I took a longer than typical time in Granada, spending about a week in the city and exploring it deeply.

With one whole week in Granada, I broke up my time in the city by also doing day trips to nearby places such as the whitewashed villages of La Alpujarra, and falling in love with Bubion and Capileira.

I didn’t get a chance to visit Córdoba, but I wish I had added on a day trip there as well while I was using Granada as a base to explore Southern Spain.

Other people with less travel time than me would probably find 2 days to tour Granada to be suitable, so I’ve created this 2 day Granada itinerary with fast-paced travelers in mind.

This Granada itinerary is perfect for travelers who are planning to visit Granada quickly before heading to other places in Southern Spain, like Málaga and Seville, or spend time in other Spanish destinations like Madrid or Barcelona.

While you can certainly stay in Granada for longer, this itinerary for 2 days in Granada will cover its highlights — such as the Alhambra, the Alcazar, the Albaicín, and Sacromonte — with a few off the beaten path spots I discovered in my week in the city.

Where to Stay in Granada

whitewashed houses of granada and stairs leading up a hill

Budget: Oripanda Hostel

For a hostel stay in Granada, Oripanda Hostel in the Albaicin district is one of the best options you’ll find. The location doesn’t get any better, and it has rave reviews from past guests.

The atmosphere is very social due to its many beautiful common areas that take inspiration from the Albaicin that surrounds it, like a courtyard with lovely tilework and even a small plunge pool. The dorm rooms themselves are rather bare bones, but guests still enjoyed their stay.

Check prices and availability at Oripanda Hostel here!

Mid-Range: Casa de Reyes

The medieval-themed boutique hotel Casa de Reyes is centrally located in Granada, a short walk from the Granada Cathedral as well as Elvira Street (beloved for its many tapas bars)

While medieval-themed may sound kind of hokey, it’s actually done beautifully and has a lovely B&B aesthetic. It’s designed in a way that makes you feel a bit like a king or a queen yourself when you stay in one of the sumptuously decorated rooms!

Check prices and availability at Casa de Reyes here!

Luxury: Villa Oniria

The charming sustainable hotel Villa Oniria is a beautiful converted 19th-century manor house that has been renovated to reflect the traditional architecture and design of Andalucia.

There are just 31 rooms in this small villa, so you’ll get personalized attention to detail from the staff, and you’ll love the garden complete with inner patio and fountains, your own private slice of paradise in Granada.

Check availability and prices here!

Day 1 of Your Granada Itinerary

Start your day at the Alhambra.

The courtyard in the Alhambra with archways, detailing and shallow pool

Most people come to Granada for one main reason – seeing The Alhambra Palace, one of the most famous castles in Spain – so we might as well get started there!

I strongly suggest booking a tour of the Alhambra to both secure your ticket but also ensure you’ll get all the rich historical context that a place as beautiful and historic as the Alhambra deserves.

I didn’t go on a tour when I visited because I could only use the Granada Card loophole, and it was one of my biggest regrets about my time in Granada, especially since I enjoyed my other tours of the city so much.

This roughly 3-hour tour includes a local guide throughout the whole tour, as well your entrance ticket to the Alhambra and priority skip-the-line access.

The tour includes the Nasrid Palaces and its stunning Patio de Los Leones courtyard, as well as the the Generalife Gardens, the Medina, and the Alcazaba: basically, everywhere you want to see in the Alhambra complex.

There are a wide variety of tour offerings and it can be somewhat overwhelming to make your choice. I like this specific tour because you can choose your group size depending on your budget and comfort level being around larger groups of people.

Very few tours are this customizable or transparent about how large the group will be, so I appreciate that about this tour.

Book your tour of the Alhambra online here!

Marvel at the Granada Cathedral.

Famous face of the cathedral in Granada with historic buildings around it in the square

The Granada Cathedral (Catedral de Granada) is one of the most important pieces of architecture in Granada’s center, and it shows where the Catholic and Muslim stories of Granada intertwine.

Construction started in 1518, after the Muslim Nasrid Kingdom fell into Spanish hands, and it would take nearly two hundred years to come to completion.

It was built in the old Muslim medina — mostly in order to make a statement that Granada was now under Catholic rule.

Because the building took nearly two centuries and was taken over by several architects, the cathedral shows a unique blend of architectural styles, ranging from Gothic to Spanish Renaissance to Baroque.

Note that admission to the Granada Cathedral costs 5 euros.

Stroll around the Alcaicería.

Leather puffs to sit on and textiles for sale in an alleyway in the Alcaiceria in Granada, Spain

Right near the Granada Cathedral off of Bib Rambla Square, you’ll find the charming marketplace called the Alcaicería, which sells all sorts of Arabic-inspired wares.

If you’ve been dreaming of a trip to Morocco to shop in its souks, this is as close as it gets in Spain!

It’s a little touristic, of course, but the little shops here sell some great interior design and clothing items for rather inexpensive prices.

Walk over to the Capilla Real.

The ornate interior of the Royal Chapel (Capilla Real) where Isabella and Ferdinand are buried

The Capilla Real is the final resting place of two of Spain’s most famous Catholic monarchs, Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand – the ones who financed Columbus’s (violent) voyage into the so-called ‘New World’.

Their monumental tombs are shown on the ground floor of the Capilla Real (which means Royal Chapel in Spanish); however, note that their actual tombs are located in the basement level.

Their legacy is a bit complex to dig into in a mere blog post, as their reign was controversial for many reasons.

Isabella and Ferdinand ruled over Granada in the ‘Reconquista’ period, when Spain regained control over from the Moors over the Moorish-ruled parts of the country.

During the ‘Reconquista’, authorities either forced conversion or exiled the Muslim and Jewish populations who had until then been living in Granada and surrounding parts of Andalusia.

At the same time, Isabella and Fernando brought Spain out of debt and began a period of exploration that would eventually bring Spain to rule over a massive part of the globe and was a time of huge economic growth for the Spanish people.

Of course, this had disastrous consequences for the Indigenous people of the Americas, and the ramifications of Spanish colonialism echo up to this day.

It’s an interesting place to visit and it is an undeniably important piece of Spanish history, and in my opinion, it is an unmissable place on any Granada itinerary.

Note that admission to the Royal Chapel (Capilla Real) is 5 euros.

Visit the stunning Madraza.

Historic facade of the Granada madraza with blueish-gray brickwork and detailed balconies

Located directly across from the Capilla Real and therefore an obvious next stop on this Granada itinerary is the Granada Madraza.

‘Madrasa’ means Islamic school, and this historic building used to be the first Islamic university in Granada!

Now, it’s home to a small museum which you can visit for a small entry fee of 2 euros.

It’s just two rooms, but the prayer room from the 14th century is so beautifully preserved that it alone is worth the stop!

Stop for a leisurely lunch.

Now’s about the time to stop for a long lunch and rest those feet!

Be sure to have lunch before siesta sets in, an institution that Granada takes quite seriously. No one takes naps as seriously as the Spanish do.

Trust me — nearly every restaurant will be closed for several hours after lunch and won’t reopen until (at least) 8 PM!

For a nice place to eat near the Cathedral and Capilla Real, I recommend one of the following restaurants: El Mercader for Spanish fine dining (reservations recommended), Restaurante Arrayanes for Moroccan food, or Papas Elvira for budget food with vegetarian-friendly options.

Explore Albaicín and Sacromonte on a walking tour.

cobblestone street of the albaicin on a walking tour

The Albaicín (also written Albayzin) is one of the coolest districts of Granada, and in my eyes, a walk through this historic quarter is an absolute must-do in Granada.

Most walking tours combine both the Albaicín and Sacromonte, as they are located next to each other and provide an interesting contrast.

The Albaicín is the historic Muslim district with stunning Moorish architecture, whereas Sacromonte is the cave district, where historically Granada’s gitano (Romani) community lived.

The Albaicin is full of winding cobblestone streets that are leftover from when Granada was part of the Nasrid Kingdom of Granada, a Muslim-ruled state.

As a result, you’ll see the influence of Moorish architecture here which dates back to the medieval period.

The narrow streets weave and wind around, and the white houses are nearly indistinguishable from one another, so it’s ideal to go with a guide who can give you the historical context of this neighborhood.

One of the cool cave houses you can see on a free walking tour!
One of the cool cave houses you can see on a walking tour! 

Meanwhile, Sacromonte is a very hilly part of Granada (bring good walking shoes!) where the Roma community, who settled there in the 16th century after the Muslims were expelled during the Christian conquest of the city.

They settled mostly in cave houses on the outskirts of Granada, outside of administrative control (as you may remember, a pesky little thing called the Spanish Inquisition was going on at the time…).

The history of this region is too long to go into in great detail here, and it’s best to get it from a local who can explain it to you while seeing the area with your own eyes.

I strongly recommend going with a guided tour of both the Albaicin and Sacromonte districts; this is the tour I recommend.

Most tours start around 5 PM and last 2-3 hours, which is a great time of day to avoid the heat and also finish in time to find a great sunset spot in Granada!

Book your tour now!

A quick note on semantics: I’m purposely not using the word g*psy in English, as it is considered offensive by the Roma community.

The word gitano/gitana is used in Spain to refer to people of Roma descent and is not usually considered offensive, though of course context matters.

This is a complex issue that as someone who spent many many years living in a country with a large Roma minority (Bulgaria), I try to be sensitive of.

Language matters, so be careful with how you refer to people in the Roma community.

This is a thorny issue, and while individual opinions vary, most Roma prefer the word ‘Roma’ or ‘Romani’ to refer to their ethnicity in English.

However, also be aware that people who speak English as a second language may not be aware that g*psy is considered a slur in English.

Watch the sunset at Mirador de San Nicolás.

sunset over the alhambra as seen from the mirador de san nicolas

Depending on what time of year you visit Granada, sunset may be as late as 9:30 PM, so you’ll likely have time after your tour (and before dinner — remember, the Spanish dine late!) to catch the sunset.

The most popular viewpoint in town in the Mirador de San Nicolás, which is often quite crowded with photographers and travelers hoping to get a shot of the spectacular views of the Alhambra at sunset.

Design your own tapas crawl.

IMG_5406
A giant plate of fried anchovies along with a beer – just two euros.

Remember what I said about not needing to order food in Granada (so long as you like to drink)? Let’s put that to the test!

Start out the night at Bar Los Diamantes on Plaza Nueva, one of my favorite tapas bars in Granada. This place specializes in seafood, so pace yourself by ordering smaller beers (cañas) and seeing what comes out of the kitchen as a surprise for you!

With my first drink there, I got served a massive helping of tiny fried anchovies, which were delicious, and for my next drink I got served a larger plate of plump, perfectly fried chunks of white fish.

Just a 2-minute walk away is Bodegas Castañeda, another one of my favorite tapas restaurants, serving up delicious tapas like a small serving of paella or croquetas with each dish.

If you’re still standing and not too stuffed, you can head over to Taberna La Tana, which was featured on Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown. They’re famous for their morcilla (blood sausage — don’t knock it ‘til you try it!) and cured meat plates!

Day Two of Your Granada Itinerary

Check out the historic El Bañuelo.

the interior of el banuelo a historic bathhouse in granada

Dating back to the 11th century, these historic Arab baths are more ruins than baths at this point. The site is rather small, but it’s still quite impressive to see, and worth a stop at only two euros to enter.

While much of the splendor of these baths has been lost to time, you can admire the in-tact porticos and the star-shaped holes in the ceiling, typical of Moorish bathhouses.

Located along the Darro River in the Albaicín, El Bañuelo are the remains of one of the largest hammams in Granada from its period of Moorish rule.

The hammam (public bath) culture was an extremely important part of Arab life, a place where people could not only bathe and clean themselves but also socialize.

Note: Admission to El Bañuelo is 2 euros, but for 5 euros, you can buy a ‘Monumentos Andalusíes’ ticket which also includes entry to Palacio de Dar al-Horra, Corral del Carbón, and Casa Morisca.

Tip: Grab a tea at La Tetería del Bañuelo before moving on — this teahouse doesn’t get any more charming!

Wander the Carrera del Darro.

the historic street of carrera del darro with shops and bridge

Head out from El Bañuelo towards the Hammam Al Ándalus along this famous walkway, the Carrera del Darro.

This famous street hugs the River Darro and is a beautiful scenic walk through Granada.

Enjoy a modern-day hammam experience at Hammam Al Ándalus.

small bath in a brick room with arches and pottery in a traditional arabic style hammam in granada

Once you’ve seen El Bañuelo, you might be curious to see what the hammam experience is really like.

If you’ve never traveled to a place like Morocco or Turkey where you can experience a hammam, this is a great chance to do so! It truly looks like what you’ve always seen in Morocco on Instagram.

The hammam is designed in the traditional way with ornate tilework and dramatic arches. Candles and lanterns are lit along the walkways, create a peaceful and dimly-lit ambiance.

The hammam is full of steam rooms, hot and cold pools, and relaxation areas where you can sip on mint tea while unwinding.

Entrance to the hammam includes use of the facilities for 90 minutes, and you can also add on a 15, 30, or 45-minute massage with body scrub for even more relaxation.

Book your visit to Hammam Al Ándalus here!

Have a relaxing lunch in the city center.

sign with various spanish dishes including fish paella and seafood rice

After your hammam, pick one of the many cafés in the area for another long and leisurely lunch, Andalucia-style.

I suggest Bar Minotauro Café y Tapas which is one of the better-rated places along Carrera del Darro, and it’s open until 4:30 PM for lunch!

Remember — dinner is late in Spain, so be sure to eat enough to hold you over until dinnertime.

Take a walk along the Paseo de Los Tristes.

view of the paseo de los tristes and looking up at the alhambra from a plaza area with trees and motorcycles

The Carrera del Darro has multiple names in different stretches, including Paseo de Padre Manjón and the Paseo de Los Tristes, which is the most scenic part underneath the shadow of the Alhambra.

The name means ‘Promenade of the Sad Ones’ in Spanish, but I promise you’ll feel anything but as you walk along it!

So why this macabre name? Historically, it was given that name because funeral processions often used this road as it approached the cemetery.

Winding underneath the Alhambra, the palace looms above beautifully and you’ll feel transported to another world as you walk along this charming street with a rich history.

End the evening with dinner and a flamenco show

woman performing in a flamenco show with a fan in front of her face

One of the absolute can’t-miss activities in Granada is seeing a flamenco show! Flamenco is a traditional art form from Andalucia combining dance and music.

However, that’s a bit of a simplification: the art of flamenco also uses also vivid facial expressions, significant hand gestures and percussion using castanets, and a specific style of guitar tapping called ‘golpe’ which contributes to the stirring rhythm of flamenco.

You will be bombarded with people passing out flyers and trying to invite you to their flamenco show while visiting the city.

Frankly, a lot of these shows are too short and not the best. I recommend researching a show before you to go to avoid disappointment, or following my recommendation here.

My personal suggestion (and where I went when I was in Granada) is a flamenco show at Cuevas Los Tarantos, which is in a traditional cave dwelling in Sacromonte.

The flamenco performance itself lasts about 45 minutes, but allow some time for seating, ordering food, and waiting for the show to begin, so expect 1.5 hours total in the venue).

The show is affordably priced and highly reviewed, and it includes one free welcome drink. You have the option to add on dinner and drinks for a fairly reasonable price given the venue.

Plus, it’s a family-friendly affair, making it a must-do when visiting Andalucia with kids!

I appreciated that it didn’t feel like a tourist trap and that dinner wasn’t too expensive here!

Book your flamenco show here!

If You Have More Than 2 Days in Granada…

Take a day trip to La Alpujarra.


While you certainly could indulge in a lot more sightseeing around Granada, La Alpujarra is one of my favorite parts in all of Spain and I truly think it would be a shame to end your time in Granada without seeing them — especially since they’re so close and such an easy day trip.

La Alpujarra is a collection of white-washed villages done in the Mozarabic architectural style such as Capileira and Bubion, which are absolutely stunning and look like something taken out of a fairytale.

I actually spent 3 days in Capileira and every day was like waking up in a dream: it’s that magical of a village.

But Capileira and the other white-washed villages of Alpujarra are so small and quaint that you can easily get acquainted with their magic on a day trip from Granada.

You’ll also get to visit the highest village in Spain, Trevélez, which is known for its tasty Iberian ham, some of the best in the country.

Be sure to book the lunch option which allows you to try a tasty regional lunch in the Alpujarreño style — it’s very unique to this part of Spain, and it’s not something you’d get elsewhere.

Book a day trip to La Alpujarra!

Or go on a day trip to Córdoba.

I didn’t get a chance to visit Córdoba, but I wish I had added on a day trip there as well while I was using Granada as a base to explore Southern Spain.

Córdoba is a great choice if you want to continue diving into the Moorish history of Spain, as it’s home to La Mezquita, one of the most beautiful examples of Islamic architecture in Europe… even though it is now technically a cathedral.

La Mezquita — also known as the Grand Mosque of Córdoba — was built in the 8th century in the traditional Islamic style, with gorgeous archways and mosaic work that is exemplary of the Moorish style.

During the ‘Reconquista’ period, it was converted into a Catholic church, the designation it holds to this day.

In the 16th century, some changes were made to remove some of the Islamic elements and make it more of a cathedral, such as adding a nave and converting the minaret into a belltower.

Many of the traditional Islamic elements have been maintained, and while it’s still functionally a cathedral, it’s still a shining sample of Islamic architecture in Spain.

Check out day trips to Córdoba and La Mezquita here!

Tips for Making the Most of Visiting Granada

The tapas are usually free.

A large beer and a portion of french fries with chicken stew at a tapas bar in Granada
All this is two euros. Americans, please pick up your jaws from the floor.

Yes, free tapas! This tradition has mostly died out in larger cities like Madrid and Barcelona, but in Granada, tapas are always free with a drink.

In Granada, a drink typically costs anywhere from 2 euros to 5 euros depending on what you get, and it always — always! — comes with a tapa.

A tapa can be anything from some fries and a bit of stew to a plate of fried anchovies to a small helping of Valencian paella to fried eggplant with honey and beyond.

Generally speaking, you don’t get to choose your tapa at most places, though some do. Also, if you stick to one establishment and order multiple rounds, the tapas are supposed to get bigger and better with each round, though I never really quite noticed a correlation!

I could get full (and buzzed!) for anywhere from 4 to 8 euros if I was really making a night of it, and I have a pretty nice-sized appetite.

Granada is the one of the few places in the world that rewards drunken antics (which is probably why I’m convinced it’s my destiny to live there one day).

You will save quite a bit of cash if you tapa wisely rather than paying for raciones (plates). At certain locales, 4 euros will get you two drinks and a small dinner (6 euros if you’re hungry, and 8 if you’re making a night of it).

The two most popular and most affordable drinks are the caña (small) or tubo (large)of beer or tinto de verano, a delicious drink of red wine, soda water, and lemon.

You may have your doubts of mixing wine and soda water, but trust me, it’s what you want on a balmy Andalusian summer night. I mean… it literally translates to “summer red wine” in Spanish!

These cheaper drinks will set you back about 2 euros to 2.20 euros a pop – of course, if you go for a cocktail, some sangria, or a glass of wine, you will still get your tapa but your drink bill will add up quicker!

Follow the business cards.

bar table in granada

Granada has an odd system of advertising places to drink, where people working for bars will walk by – or even into! – your restaurant where you’re eating to pass out business cards to advertise their establishments.

This would never fly pretty much anywhere else in the world, but the restaurants in Granada all seem to embrace this and don’t see it as people poaching their clients.

Typically, the people advertising their bars will leave a business card with hand-written details of drink prices, and they’re usually quite cheap – I’m talking 1 euro for a beer or 2 euros for a mojito!

Note that these usually don’t come with tapas as these are bars, not bar/restaurants. However, if you’re full on food but want to keep the night going, this is the way to do it!

Walk everywhere.

narrow winding cobblestone road in the albaicin district of granada

Granada is so tiny that everything is walkable within about 30 minutes!

With a short amount of time in a city, I’ll sometimes recommend hop-on, hop-off bus passes, but that sort of thing is not necessary at all in a place like Granada, which is really small and compact, with many roads impassible to cars.

There is a Granada City ‘Train’ that you can buy passes for. However, unless you have mobility issues to the extent that walking around is not really pleasant or possible, I don’t really recommend it for this Granada itinerary.

Fill up in the local fountains.

fountain for public use in a main area in granada

Granada has some of the freshest, most delicious tap water coming right from the public water fountains around the city.

Surrounded by the Sierra Nevada mountains, Granada’s tap water typically comes from mountain springs and melted snowpack, meaning it’s just about as pure as it gets!

Bring a reusable water bottle and fill up, especially because it gets super hot in Granada in the summer!

Note: A select few fountains in the city are non-potable, but they are very clearly marked if you’re not supposed to use them for drinking.

Buy your Alhambra ticket in advance.

mosaic and architecture in the nasrid palace section of the alhambra in granada

One of the most common mistakes people make when visiting Granada is not booking their ticket to the Alhambra with enough advance notice.

If you know when you’ll be in Granada, buy your tickets online at least one week in advance… more if you can help it!

You can book tickets without a guide on the official website here, but note that they sell out really quickly as only a limited number is available, and many tickets are reserved by guided tours and other ticket resellers.

If you don’t luck out on the official website, fast-track entrance tickets are also available on Get Your Guide for a small additional booking fee, or you can book a guided tour. Audio guides can be downloaded on the app for free or rented for 5 euros on-site.

When I was in Granada, tickets were sold out weeks in advance (including guided tours) and I almost missed out on getting to see the Alhambra!

Luckily, I discovered the loophole that I could buy a Granada Card for 48 hours to get entrance into the Alhambra (the 24 hour one only allows night entrance, and I think it’s better to visit by day).

Note that this is more expensive than booking a tour or fast-track ticket, and like many city cards, the Granada Card doesn’t offer a fantastic value, so I only recommend this as a last resort.

Pick your Alhambra ticket time carefully.

A view of the star-shaped vaulted ceiling in the Nasrid Palaces of Granada
The ceiling in the Nasrid Palaces

When picking your time, note that you are selecting your entry window into the Nasrid Palace, the most impressive part of the Alhambra complex — and also the most popular.

If you’re not on time, you won’t be able to enter the Nasrid Palaces, so be sure to arrive early to avoid any disappointment! The rest can be visited at your own leisure.

Note that if you visit with a guided tour like this one, they will handle the timing of everything for you, so you don’t have to worry about the time constraints of visiting Nasrid Palace.

I didn’t book a tour when I went to Granada, and I regret it, as I missed out on a lot of the historical context.

I would have liked to know more about Granada’s Arab and Moorish history and how it can be seen in the architecture of the Alhambra — and that’s exactly the kind of guidance you’ll get on a guided tour.

Your Weekend in Chicago Itinerary: 2 Days of Food & Fun!

Stunning architecture, world-class food, vibrant cultural neighborhoods, and beloved sports teams, all set on the beautiful shore of a stunning lake.

Sounds enticing? Well then, you need to start planning a weekend in Chicago as your next getaway!

Chicago is America’s third-largest city, and the Time Out Index has ranked Chicago as #12 of their Top 15 Best Cities — all the more reason to plan a trip to the Windy City.

If you’re not sure what to put on your Chicago itinerary, don’t fret — we’ve tapped a Chicago local, Riley Wharton, to give her input on the perfect 2 day Chicago itinerary.

Here are her tips for the perfect weekend in Chicago!

Where to Stay for a Weekend in Chicago: River North

In order to be in the heart of the city and have easy access to everything the city can offer, you should stay downtown in River North.

River North gets its name for a simple and easy-to-remember reason: because it is on the north side of the Chicago River. 

River North has some of the city’s best restaurants, nightlife, and shopping. You will truly get to see what it is like to be a Chicagoan if you stay in this neighborhood!

There are hotels on nearly every block of the neighborhood; the neighborhood hotels can accommodate all budgets!

If you would like to be close to the river and the riverwalk, you should consider staying at the Westin Chicago River North, the Kinzie Hotel, or Residence Inn/Springhill Suites by Marriott

Day 1 of Your Chicago Itinerary

Stop for a quick and casual breakfast.

You just arrived in Chicago, and you dropped off your belongings at your accommodation. To get you on your merry way, you should grab a quick breakfast today. 

Foxtrot has become a Chicago staple. Foxtrot is an elevated convenience store concept that embraces the idea of bougie on a budget!

You can order coffee, tea, hand-crafted smoothies, avocado toast, breakfast tacos, or breakfast sandwiches for either in-person dining or carry out.

If you are staying in River North close to the river, Fox Trot – Hubbard at Wells & Hubbard is the best location for you! 

If you are looking for something sweeter, Chicago has become a doughnut lover’s paradise! 

Firecakes and Doughnut Vault are two of the most popular doughnut shops in the city. Since they are both small batch shops, when they are out, they are out for the day! 

The downtown Firecakes location is in River North at Clark & Hubbard. It’s a small batch doughnut shop with great variety. You can even get vegan or gluten-free doughnuts! 

Doughnut Vault is also a small batch shop. They have two special flavors per day that rotate, and they always have buttermilk old fashioneds and glazed. 

Watch the views sweep by on a boat tour.

a boat passing by a bridge on the chicago river surrounded by beautiful architecture
A Chicago River boat tour is a must while spending a weekend in Chicago! Photo Credit: christopherarndt via Getty Images

After your quick and casual breakfast, it’s time to truly experience downtown. The best ways to see the city are from the sky and from the water!

First, let’s go by water the classic Chicago way: on a Chicago architecture boat tour!

On this quick boat tour, you will see some of the city’s tallest and most beautiful and iconic buildings, including the Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower), from the Chicago River Architecture Boat Tour.

This particular tour is only 45 minutes long, so you have plenty of time to explore the city more on your own!

Book your Chicago River boat tour here!

Check out the views from above on the Sky Deck at 360 Chicago.

Views from 360 Chicago. Photo Credit: sponki25 via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

After your Wendella Boat Tour, you will make your way north of the river to head towards 360 Chicago.

Located on the 94th floor of the John Hancock Building, now called 360 Chicago, this is one of the best places to get a great view in Chicago!

The easiest way to get to 360 Chicago is to take the L. From the boat tour dock, you will walk south across the river to get to the L station at State & Lake.

You can buy a one-day CTA/Ventra card at the station for $5, then hop on the Pink Line towards Washington/Wells. You will ride to the second to last stop, Quincy, then walk one block west.

Both of these attractions are extremely popular. You must order your ticket in advance! Ticket options are included in the links above and below!

Don’t miss out! Book your tickets to 360 Chicago in advance!

Enjoy some classic Chicago eats for lunch. 

After your visit to 360 Chicago, we have some options for lunch! We’ll head back down south of the river near the Willis Tower (take the L to Quincy), where there are lots of great lunch options.

Chicago is known for its deep dish pizza, so if you want to give it a try, there’s no better time than this weekend in Chicago to do so!

If you’re in the mood for pizza, you can’t miss Giordano’s Downtown/Central Loop at Jackson & Franklin. They are known for their stuffed deep dish pizzas!

They have $10 lunch combo specials, or you can order a whole pizza to split among your group. 

If you are not exactly sure what you want to eat for lunch, Revival Food Hall is a large food court with 15 Chicago-based food vendors.

It is a half-mile east (8-minute walk) from the Willis Tower area, and it is located at Clark & Adams.

Aloha Poke Co. poke bowls, Fat Shallot sandwiches, and Smoque BBQ meats are just a few of the many Chicago-based options you can choose from!

Explore Millenium Park.

The famous sculpture better known as ‘the Bean’ in Chicago. Photo Credit: Vanessa Vancour via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Your next stop is Millenium Park!

From lunch, you can either walk or take the L. If you take the L, you should get off at Washington/State or Washington/Wabash

Millennium Park and Maggie Daley Park are connected. Both parks have gardens and greenery, and they are iconic to Chicago’s Loop neighborhood!

Millennium Park is known for “The Bean”, or Cloudgate as it is more formally called — one of the defining images of any trip to Chicago!

It is also known for the Jay Pritzker Pavilion and Lawn, which hosts events during the summer.

If you are here during the summer, you should see if Music or Movies in the Park is taking place. You can bring your own food and drinks and relax on the lawn with fellow Chicagoans

Check out the adjoining Maggie Daley Park.

The unique Maggie Daley Park, a downtown Chicago staple. Photo Credit: Mack Male via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Maggie Daley Park has attractions for the action seeker. During the summer, you can rollerblade on the skate ribbon, climb a rock wall, and play mini-golf.

You must pay to participate in all of these activities, and rental equipment and lockers are also available.

If you have any children under the age of 12 in your group, they will absolutely love the Play Garden playground at Maggie Daley!

Explore the Navy Pier and Centennial Wheel.

After your time at the parks, it is time to go to Navy Pier — another favorite tourist attraction in Chicago!

It is about a 20-minute walk, so if your feet are tired, I would recommend hailing a cab or ordering an Uber so it is only a 5-minute drive

The main attraction at Navy Pier is the Centennial Wheel. At over 200 feet tall, it is one of the largest Ferris wheels in the world.

While you are on the Ferris wheel, you will have impeccable views of Lake Michigan, the entire pier, and the skyline. Order your ticket in advance since lines here can get crazy and tickets can even sell out for hours at a time!

Skip the lines and book your tickets to the Centennial Wheel online here!

If you want an afternoon snack, stop at Garrett’s Popcorn for the Chicago-style mix.

Who would’ve thought that cheddar and caramel could go together? But they do — surprisingly well! It’s unlike any other popcorn you have ever had. 

To get back to your accommodation, you can hop on the CTA 29 bus from Navy Pier to 95th/Dan Ryan (Red). You can use your Ventra card that you bought earlier. This bus line will go directly into River North, and you should get off at State & Marina City. 

Enjoy dinner and a show.

The classic theater at Cadillac Palace in Chicago. Photo Credit: Marco Verch via Flickr (CC BY 2.0) (Source)

Chicago has a lively, vibrant theater scene. In order to secure a seat, it is best to buy tickets in advance.

If you love Broadway musicals, check out the Broadway In Chicago website to see if there are any shows in town during your visit.

All of the musicals are at classic venues, like the Cadillac Palace Theater and Nederlander Theater, and they allow you to take a step back in time to the Gilded Age.

The Chicago Theatre is one of the city’s most popular concert and event venues. Comedians, musicians, and podcast hosts have all performed at the Chicago Theatre, and there are shows nearly every night of the week. 

The famous Chicago Theater. Photo Credit: gezelle rivera via Flickr, (CC BY 2.0)

Outside of Broadway, Chicago has one of the best comedy scenes in the nation.

The most prestigious comedy venue is The Second City. Famous alumni include Steve Carell, Tina Fey, and Stephen Colbert. You might witness a future star of SNL perform! 

If you are seeing a Broadway show or a show at the Chicago Theatre, you should consider making a dinner reservation along the river.

These restaurants are all within walking distance of your hotel and the theater. Seafood fans will enjoy RPM Seafood, and Chicago Cut is a premier steak house.

Coal-roasted king crab at RPM Seafood. Photo Credit: Lou Stejskal via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Closer to the Theater District, The Dearborn is known for upscale casual cuisine, including a tasty version of fish and chips.

If you are going to see a show at The Second City, you should have dinner in Old Town somewhere along Wells Street.

To get to Old Town, you can take an Uber, Lyft, taxi, or the CTA 156 bus. The 156 line towards Belmont/Halsted has stops at nearly every block of LaSalle Street in River North.

You will get off at LaSalle & Shiller, then make your way one block west to Wells Street. To get home later at night after the show, I would recommend an Uber, Lyft, or taxi.

A mural outside Small Cheval along Wells Street. Photo Credit: David Wilson via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Small Cheval is inspired by its big brother in the West Loop that has the best burger in the city, Au Cheval.

Small Cheval is a casual burger joint – they only serve burgers and fries! It is carry-out or patio dining only; note that they do not take reservations. 

Topo Gigio is a Tuscan-inspired Italian restaurant that has been a staple to Old Town for over 20 years, and I highly recommend making a reservation. 

Day 2 of Your Chicago Itinerary

Start the day with a classic Chicago breakfast.

Crepes at Yolk, a Chicago breakfast standby. Photo Credit: Marit & Toomas Hinnosaar via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Beatrix at Clark & Grand and Yolk in River North/Marina City at State & Kinzie are two delicious sit-down breakfast options.

Beatrix is part of the Lettuce Entertain You chain of restaurants. The food is incredible, and it is a great mix of casual dining in a more upscale setting.

I personally enjoy the Bacon & Cheddar Egg Sandwich and the Egg White Omelet. They have a gluten-free menu, and if you are not interested in sitting down for a sit-down meal, you can take advantage of the dessert and pastry counter or coffee bar. 

Yolk is a more casual dining experience, but that doesn’t make it any less delicious! It has been voted Best Breakfast in Chicago, and eggs are the star of the show.

I love to create my own omelet, skillets, or scrambler. If eggs are not your favorite, Yolk also has pancakes, French toast, and sandwiches. 

Shop along the Magnificent Mile.

The lively Magnificent Mile. Photo Credit: Profimaximus via Getty Images

Today is your shopping day!

After breakfast, you will make your way east to Michigan Avenue to see The Magnificent Mile, Chicago’s best-known shopping district..

Any kind of shopper on any budget is bound to find something they like. There are over 450 retailers in this shopping district!

Here are some of the big names: Macy’s, Nordstrom, Bloomingdales, Burberry, Cartier, Nike, and Under Armour.  

If you want a snack or a coffee break, the Starbucks Reserve Chicago Roastery is part of the Magnificent Mile.

Located at Michigan & Erie, this Starbucks Chicago Roastery is one of six international locations. You are not able to find their drinks and food at other Starbucks locations worldwide!

After your shopping spree, it is time to go back to your accommodation, drop off your bags, and change. You are going to Wrigleyville!

See a Cubs game.

The famous Wrigley Field sign. Photo Credit: Chris Putnam via Canva Pro

You can’t come to Chicago and not go to a Cubs game! World Series Champs! 

The easiest and most efficient way to get to the Cubs game is to take the L. You will take the Red Line towards Howard, and you will depart from the station at Grand & State.

It won’t be hard to know when to get off the train – you will see the Wrigley Field sign!

There are plenty of restaurants/bars in Wrigleyville. You can walk into any establishment on Clark Street, and they will have food and drinks galore.

Some of my personal favorites are Old Crow and The Cubby Bear

If you don’t want to go to the game, there are always plenty of people dressed up in Cubs gear watching the game at the bars.

After the game ends, go back to the Addison station and hop on the Red Line towards 95th/Dan Ryan. You will get off at Grand, then go back to your accommodation to freshen up for dinner and a night on the town. 

Have one final awesome dinner in Chicago.

The West Loop and Fulton Market are where Chicagoans dine to see and be seen. It is by far the trendiest food area in the city!

Chicago social media influencers, professional athletes, and other A-list celebrities are seen in this neighborhood regularly. 

The three newest restaurants in the neighborhood are Lyra, Alla Vita, and Rose Mary. In order to get into any of these restaurants, you must make a reservation. 

Lyra is a Greek restaurant in Fulton Market with an open-kitchen concept. Because of its great popularity and high demand, Lyra is only accepting reservations 30 days in advance. 

Rose Mary is Top Chef winner’s Joe Flamm’s restaurant. It is down the street from Lyra, and it serves Croatian cuisine. The menu consists of vegetables, fish, meat, pasta, and risotto.

Alla Vita is in the West Loop, and it is known for family-style Italian cuisine. The homemade pastas and insanely beautiful decor are drawing people in and making it one of the hottest spots in the city.

Go bar hopping on Hubbard Street.

After dinner, you will head back towards your accommodation in River North to go bar hopping on Hubbard Street.   

Hubbard Street is lined with bars and clubs. Some of my favorite bars are Point & Feather, Joy District, and Bub City.

Point & Feather is a modern darts bar, Joy District is a multi-level concept with an outdoor patio, and Bub City is a country bar with live music.

If you and your friends want more of a bottle service or club experience, you should go to Celeste. The most unique element of this club is the outdoor rooftop garden. 

At the end of the night, you should be walking distance from your accommodation. If you do not want to walk, Ubers, Lyfts, and taxis are abundant.

5 Days in New York Itinerary: Written By an Ex-New Yorker

It took me forever to start writing about New York City, but once I started, I had so much to say.

After all, New York was my home for 9 years, and as a result I know the city better than any other in the world.

I guess New York City is such an overwhelming topic, so to try to consolidate my 9 years of wisdom into a quick New York City itinerary felt nearly impossible (and when I wrote my recent one-day in New York itinerary, I nearly had a breakdown trying to condense it into 24 hours).

I wanted to create a New York itinerary that represents a wide span of the city – not just the iconic museums and buildings that make up New York City’s landmarks.

I also wanted to showcase the independent bookstores, the cozy cafés, the beautiful brownstones, and the authentic restaurants that really make New York the way it is, the way I loved it.

a row of brownstones in brooklyn new york with gorgeous architectural detailing

This 5 day New York itinerary is made with first-time visitors in mind, but honestly, I think even New York veterans can find something new and exciting on this — especially on days 4 and 5, where I zero in on Queens and Brooklyn.

I worked in Queens for five years and lived in Brooklyn for six, so I know these boroughs like the back of my hand — perhaps even better than I know Manhattan.

5 days in New York City is kind of the bare minimum to get a good idea of Manhattan but still get to see a few of the other boroughs.

Of course, there’s so much more you could do – I spent 9 years living in the city and I’m still discovering new sides to New York every time I return as a tourist.

Note: NYC is one of the safest big cities in the U.S., but I still highly recommend having travel insurance – especially if you are from outside the U.S. I use and personally recommend World Nomads as my travel insurance to cover me all around the world.

5 Days in New York: Day One

Downtown Manhattan, the Staten Island Ferry & Downtown Brooklyn

Walk from Union Square down Broadway.

sign that reads 14th street

Your first day in New York should be about getting a feel for what makes this massive city so quintessentially New York.

Union Square is as good a place as any to start – stepping off the subway here, for me, will always feel like peak New York.

Whirl your head around and up and marvel at the buildings around you: you’re in freaking New York City!

Walk down Broadway, where you’ll pass a few sites worth noticing. The Strand on the corner of 12th and Broadway is my favorite bookstore in the world, boasting 18 miles of books.

Stop in and browse the impressively curated selection of new and classic books on the ground floor, or go on a treasure hunt through the used dollar book carts out in front.

There are also tons of rare first editions and leather-bound books for my fellow mega-book nerds.

Just a few more blocks down on 10th, Grace Church is worth a quick stop into. It’s absolutely stunning!

I’ll always have a soft spot for this church since my first home in New York was right across the street (making hungover Sundays a painful situation – but I digress).

Explore arty SoHo by foot.

soho facades and fire escapes in new york city

Keep walking and you’ll reach Houston Street, which is where SoHo begins — one of the trendiest neighborhoods in New York.

New Yorker tip: SoHo stands for South of Houston, and Houston is pronounced How-ston, not like the Texan city!

Walk around some of the cute side streets – I especially like Crosby, Mulberry, and Mott, which are parallel to Broadway but to the East.

There are countless cute boutiques to stop in if you want, but I just love the experience of walking down these streets… especially since these boutiques are all on the über expensive side.

If you’re about due for a coffee, La Colombe on Lafayette between Prince & Houston makes some of the best espresso drinks on this planet.

Book nerds like me will adore the Housing Works Bookstore & Café on Crosby between Prince & Houston as well.

Street art lovers, take note: the SoHo/Nolita area is probably the best place for street art in Manhattan.

There’s too much to list here, so here’s a super-comprehensive guide to the area’s best street art!

If you’re into quirky contemporary art, now is a good time to pop over to the New Museum on Bowery between Stanton & Rivington.

Otherwise, I recommend the Tenement Museum for a thoughtful look into what life was like for low-income New Yorkers and immigrants in the early 20th century.

It’s also crazy to think about how this area used to be reserved for the down-and-out of the city, but now is a celebrity’s shopping playground.

Such is the nature of the ever-changing New York City!

Feast in one of the U.S.’s best Chinatowns.

bicycle in front of restaurants in chinatown new york

Once you’ve had sufficient time to wander Soho, you’ve probably worked up an appetite.

To be honest, you can safely skip Little Italy — it’s rather gimmicky and has been pretty much overrun by Chinatown.

If you really want pizza, may I direct you instead to the oldest pizzeria in the United States, Lombardi’s on Spring Street!

If you keep walking south, you’ll hit Canal Street which is pretty much the heart of Manhattan’s Chinatown.

When you walk down Canal, try not to get lured into purchasing fake bags or sunglasses, and just gawk at the bustling atmosphere instead.

Chinatown is fantastic and I could write an entire blog post all about it… but I’ll just give you a few quick recommendations here.

For delicious hand-pulled noodles, try Spicy Village.

Their big tray chicken is unmissable and will feed 2-3 hungry people for under $15 (and it’s BYOB as well, so just pick up some beers from the bodega next door if you want to feel peak New York).

Note: Are you gluten-free? Check out this gluten-free guide to New York.

soup dumplings steamed in a bamboo steamer
flaky golden egg custard pastries in a bakery window

For dumplings, Joe’s Shanghai has the best soup dumplings I’ve been able to find in New York.

If you’re into dim sum, Golden Unicorn is my absolute favorite but Nom Wah Tea Parlor is also a close contender.

Finally, I’m obsessed with Xi’an Famous Foods’ cumin lamb noodles, but there are locations all over the city so it may be best to save it for a different day of exploring.

For dessert, I love the egg custard tarts at Tai Pan Bakery on Canal Street.

Marvel at the architecture of the Financial District.

signs at the intersection of broadway and wall street in the financial district of new york

After you’ve filled up and rested your feet a bit, continue downtown.

One of my favorite buildings is a residential building by Frank Gehry, the architect behind Prague’s famous Dancing House.

It’s located on 8 Spruce Street right by City Hall.

Continue on Wall Street and the Financial District, where you’ll find the Wall Street Charging Bull statue.

Wondering where the Fearless Girl statue moved?

No longer facing off with the Charging Bull, she’s now directly across the street from the New York Stock Exchange.

Say hello to Lady Liberty.

up close view of the statue of liberty holding a torch on a partly cloudy day

Keep walking a bit further south towards Battery Park.

Here is where I recommend you do your first tour of your New York City itinerary, taking the ferry to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island!

In my near-decade I never actually visited either the Statue of Liberty or Ellis Island… but on my 2021 visit to the city, I finally rectified that.

I was skeptical, but seeing the Statue of Liberty up-close and in-person is absolutely worth it!

faraway view of statue of liberty from on the ferry with lots of people crowding around in the distance

I strongly recommend booking your ticket in advance but using a self-guided option rather than going on a guided tour.

I like to move around at my own pace as I travel around a city, and booking these tickets allowed us to skip-the-line but also explore around at our own leisure.

Tickets to the Statue of Liberty run on a loop that also includes Ellis Island before returning back to New York, so these two items are included together for the same price.

view of the museum at ellis island another island in new york

It’s a great deal, especially because the Ellis Island Museum and the Statue of Liberty Museum are both free, except for the ferry cost to get there!

Book your Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island tickets online here!

Really don’t want to spend much money, but you want to spot the Statue of Liberty up close… ish?

There’s also a free option!

the bright orange staten island ferry in new york harbor

Enter… the Staten Island Ferry, aka the best cheap-o hack for budget travelers and in-the-know New Yorkers who don’t want to spend like $40 every time someone comes to town.

If you want to hack a free trip to pass by the Statue of Liberty, just hop on the Staten Island Ferry, ride it over, hop off and hop right back on (as there’s not much to see in Staten Island).

Roundtrip, it will take you about one hour and will be a nice break from being on your feet so much!

Still, I do recommend the actual ferry option where you get to visit both the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island — it’s worth it, and it’s not that expensive.

aerial view of the statue of liberty as seen from the helicopter

Celebrating a special occasion on your New York itinerary?

An alternate idea (and truly on the other side of the price spectrum) is to take a helicopter tour over Manhattan, which includes flying right by the Statue of Liberty!

It is a true bucket list item, and it is a great way to see the city (and Lady Liberty!) in a new light.

Click to check prices and availability for helicopter tours!

Pay your respects at Ground Zero.

people reading names on the memorial at ground zero

After you’ve seen the Statue of Liberty, head a bit north to see the 9/11 Memorial, a must for anyone’s New York itinerary.

It will make you feel quite somber to be in the presence of such tragedy, but it’s absolutely worth the visit and helps you understand what New Yorkers have been through and why they are so resilient.

Visiting the 9/11 Museum is another essential activity, but the lines can be quite long here, especially if you visit in the peak season (which is really any time that’s not January, February, or March).

I highly recommend booking a skip-the-line ticket online in advance if you plan on visiting and you have a busy New York City itinerary scheduled.

This will let you skip waiting in line, doesn’t need to be printed out, and includes a timed-entry admission to the museum and memorial and an audioguide.

Book your 9/11 Museum tickets here!

Soar to heights of the Western Hemisphere’s highest building.

view looking up towards the one world observatory building on a cloudy day

One thing that I think is so beautiful about New York’s spirit is that it’s unbreakable.

When terrorists knocked down New York’s most important building and ended the lives of nearly 3,000 (and leaving many thousands of first responders with chronic health conditions), the city could have decided the pain was too great to rebuild.

Instead, New York decided to build an even taller building in its place, to create a new symbol of strength and beauty: One World Tower.

It took nearly the entire time I spent living in New York for the building to be built, but when it was finally done, it was beautiful.

Now the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere and the sixth largest in the world, visiting this beautiful observatory is a testament to New York’s ongoing strength, bravery, and grit.

Predictably, the lines to get in are insane, so I highly recommend booking a skip-the-line ticket which lets you skip the ticket queue (though note, you’ll still have to wait for security and the elevator).

I went in June 2021 in my blitz of all the observation decks in New York City, and it more than met my expectations.

The views are stunning and it offers a totally different view of the city than the midtown observation decks like Top of the Rock and the Empire State, so I do highly recommend adding it to your New York City itinerary — even if other observation decks are also on your list!

Skip the line! Book your one World Observatory tickets online here

Stroll the beautiful Brooklyn Bridge.

view of the beautiful symmetry of the suspension bridge of the brooklyn bridge with an american flag on top and the new york skyline in the background

After you’ve seen the memorial, take a walk across the iconic Brooklyn Bridge.

Please, watch out for cyclists as many people do use this bridge to commute daily (or actively go out of their way to avoid it because the tourist traffic is so insufferable, as I did).

Once you’ve crossed, take a seat somewhere in Brooklyn Bridge Park and watch the sun go down for an epic sunset and stunning views of Downtown Manhattan.

Alternately, enjoy the views from the top of the Time Out Market rooftop in DUMBO — it’s free and has a stunning skyline view!

Find an epic dinner in Brooklyn.

For dinner, the world is your oyster – this is New York, after all, one of the best places to eat in the world.

If you didn’t have pizza earlier, I recommend Juliana’s – the pizza is even better than next-door Grimaldi’s (in fact, it was voted the best pizzeria in the entire U.S. in 2015 on TripAdvisor) but it’s not often in the guidebooks so there’s usually no line.

If you do this, be sure to save room for dessert at the delicious Ample Hills Creamery just down the street!

If you’d rather have something different, here are a few of my favorite Brooklyn restaurants.

None of these are within walking distance of the end of the Brooklyn Bridge so at this point you’ll want to call a cab/Uber or hit the subway.

For something different, try Ethiopian at Ghenet in Park Slope. For a modern take on ramen, try Chuko in Prospect Heights.

The new Thai restaurant Ugly Baby gets rave reviews, despite the silly name. For tapas, I’m obsessed with La Vara.

For those on a budget, you can’t go wrong with Shake Shack — New York’s closest attempt at imitating the perfection that is In-N-Out Burger (what, I’m a California girl at heart!).

Pretty much all of these places are within a stone’s throw of tons of fun yet relaxed bars, if you have any energy left after that ridiculous amount of walking I had you do. If not, head home and rest up for the next day.

5 Days in New York Itinerary: Day 2

West Village, Chelsea, and Midtown

Stroll around Greenwich Village.

street performer playing a piano in washington square park.

Start your day at Washington Square, which is the heartbeat of New York University and home to the famous Washington Square Arch.

It’s fun to people-watch here by the giant fountain in the middle if it’s a sunny day; there are always lots of street performers if that’s your thing!

Remember to tip your performers if you enjoy their work!

If you’re a dog creeper like me, head to the dog parks in the southwest corner to gawk at all the adorable New York canines.

Wander west to the West Village.

the famous 'friends corner' from the popular tv show

Keep walking west on 4th Street/Washington Square South and explore the West Village.

It’s easy to get lost here, as the streets snarl and confuse in the most delightful, Alice-in-Wonderlandian of ways…

For example, West 4th intersects with West 10th, and Waverly Place intersects with itself. Logical.

Walk until you’ve worked up an appetite, then find a place for brunch – that most New York of meals

A few favorites are Tartine for decadent French food or Jack’s Wife Freda for delicious Middle Eastern food. Those on a budget can grab a delicious falafel at Taïm – I love their sweet potato falafel.

But perhaps the coolest place to have lunch is at The Little Owl – which is the delicious restaurant beneath the apartment from Friends!

If you’re a fan of the classic sitcom, you’ve got to make a quick lunch stop here, if not to pay homage to the show then at least to eat some delicious food (I love the gravy meatball sliders, yum!)

For an alternate idea, explore the Village through your stomach!

This Greenwich Village food tour covers the history of the Village from the perspective of a local, taking 3 hours and including 6 tastings.

Tastings include New York classics like the hot dog, a true New York deli sandwich, pizza, and other secret treats that will be revealed on the day of the tour!

Book your Village food + walking tour here!

doorway in new york's west village

There aren’t too many landmarks in the West Village.

Mostly you’ll be gawking at the beautiful brownstones and philosophizing about the moral lows you’d sink to in order to be able to afford an apartment here (let’s just say that Friends wasn’t exactly realistic…).

There are a few notable historic pubs in the West Village, and that’s about it for sights.

Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street has been the heart of the LGBTQ+ rights movement, since the riots that took place there in 1969.

It’s important to keep in mind how the Stonewall Uprising came to be. The Stonewall Riots were a result of police brutality that occured at the Stonewall Inn, violence that primarily targeted trans folks of color.

Several important LGBTQ+ rights activists, including Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, were involved in the Stonewall Riots and the organization for LGBTQ+ rights that occurred after the Stonewall Uprising.

As you walk north towards Chelsea, stop at or pass by the White Horse Tavern, the former watering hole for musical and literary legends like Bob Dylan, Hunter S. Thompson, and Jack Kerouac.

I recommend ordering a whiskey neat, no matter the time of day, and feeling like a BAMF.

Hit up the incredible (and incredibly busy) Chelsea Market.

paper lanterns going down a hall of chelsea market

Keep walking north and you’ll hit the Chelsea Market on 9th Avenue and 15th street.

Continue inside to some of the gourmet shops within the Chelsea Market.

A few favorites are Fat Witch for insanely good brownies and the Chelsea Wine Vault for super-knowledgeable wine sellers (and sometimes free tastings!).

I also love the Doughnuttery for adorable mini-donuts, Heatonist for artisan hot sauces, Los Tacos No. 1 for surprisingly authentic and delicious tacos (certified by a Californian), and Num Pang sandwich shop for delicious banh mi.

If you just need coffee, 9th Street Espresso has some amazing iced coffee and great espresso drinks. You can also go on a Chelsea Market food tour!

Stroll the High Line, New York’s elevated park.

view from walking the highline on a new york city itinerary, of a bridge over the walkway

I recommend getting at least some sort of thing to snack on to-go, as you’ll be walking The High Line next.

Depending on the time of year and time of day, this can alternate between lovely and so ridiculously crowded that it’s not anywhere close to enjoyable.

If you need to retreat from the crowds, there are some places along the High Line you can go for a drink!

If the crowds aren’t so bad, enjoy the view of fancy buildings and some street art, and walk up to about 20th or 23rd Street.

Snag a great view of NYC with a quick midday cocktail.

hand serving a cocktail

Exiting the Highline on 23rd street, walk east until you reach the Flatiron Building on 5th Avenue.

This is a great spot for photos and it’s one of my favorite buildings in New York!

If you want a view from above, check out 230 FIFTH which has a cool rooftop bar.

Drinks are expensive, yes, but it’s worth it for an epic view over the city, with an especially great view of the Empire State Building — New York’s most iconic!

Be surrounded by books.

view at the library in new york city one of the famous reading rooms

Keep heading north towards 42 Street. You can stop at the Morgan Library & Museum on Madison Avenue along the way, though note that tickets cost $20.

But for true book nerds, admission to Pierpont Morgan’s 1906 Library alone should be worth the cost of admission!

From there, walk towards the New York Public Library with its famous twin lion statues.

The architecture of the building is stunning: marble floors, ceiling murals, chandeliers — this ain’t your average public library, that’s for sure.

The Rose Room is the most famous part of the library, so be sure not to miss it!

Marvel at the ceiling of Grand Central.

constellation-themed ceiling of the grand central station with its famous clock and teal painted ceiling

Finally, stop off at Grand Central Station, a New York landmark for its beautiful vaulted ceilings.

This place is amazing for photography and just for watching the chaotic symphony of New Yorkers going about their nightly commutes!

If you feel really classy, stop for dinner at the Grand Central Oyster Bar.

If you’re poor like the rest of us, check out this guide to some of New York’s best cheap eats (psst- this is a great time to visit a branch of Xi’An Famous Foods — there’s one on 45th Street!)

End the night with a cruise to see the city lights!

the sun setting between buildings creating a sunburst in new york city

Cap off your night with a 2 hour night lights harbor cruise (great for kids!) to see the lights change over the city as night falls.

Alternately, opt for a romantic champagne sailing cruise (better for couples) to see some gorgeous skyline views of New York with your sweetie!

5 Days in New York Itinerary: Day 3

Uptown, Museums, Central Park, & More

Start the day with a great view of the city.

This post is assuming you’ll pick one of the main observation decks in midtown NYC, either Top of the Rock of the Empire State.

Personally, I prefer the Top of the Rock because you can see the Empire State Building, my favorite building in the entire city!

However, many people prefer to go up the Empire State Building itself (or go to both).

Besides the view, the lobby is incredible: murals of 24K gold and aluminum leaf form a beautiful art deco tapestry, and the Dare to Dream exhibition detailing the construction of the building is quite fascinating.

Alison Green at the Empire State Building

If you visit the Empire State, I strongly recommend getting a skip-the-line ticket like this one. This is the one I booked on my 2021 visit and I can honestly say I didn’t wait for more than a single minute!

The general ticket will result in a lot of queueing and isn’t really worth it, especially given how little time you have on your New York itinerary.

For extra speediness, opt for the Express ticket which lets you skip all the lines and has a flex date feature so you can visit any day within one month of your chosen date, so in case the weather doesn’t cooperate, you can easily visit a different day.

Book your express skip-the-line ticket here!

Allison at the top of the rock

However, many people pick the Top of the Rock because you can get great views of the Empire State Building.

And in my opinion, the Empire State is the best part, so if you’re going to spring for one or the other on your New York itinerary, make it the Top of the Rock.

I never did it when I lived in New York, but I went on my first post-living-in-NYC visit in 2017 and was so happy I did it. It’s amazing and well worth the price!

Take in a view of the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building and be sure to snap plenty of photos for Instagram so you really get your money’s worth.

I strongly recommend that you buy your tickets in advance online.

If you just show up to buy your ticket in person, you likely won’t be able to get in right away and will have to come back at a later time – or even a later day – therefore waiting in line not once, but twice!

If this is something you want to do, do not save it until the last day as there is a decent chance you won’t be able to get in.

Book your tickets to Top of the Rock online here!

Visit some of Midtown’s landmarks.

the altarpiece at st patricks cathedral

Afterwards, stop by the iconic St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

This is probably the most impressive religious structure in all of New York, and a definite must-visit regardless of your religion (or irreligion, as the case may be).

Entry is, blissfully, free!

Next, visit the MOMA (Museum of Modern Art).

This museum is absolutely massive but you’d be a fool to miss it, as it has probably the best collection of modern art in the entire world.

If Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night isn’t being loaned out elsewhere, this is the place to see it!

They also have fantastic temporary exhibits in addition to great impressionist art. Note that if you’re on a budget, you can visit for free on Friday nights, so keep that in mind and maybe prioritize a visit then.

Skip-the-line tickets are also available if you’re not planning to visit on a free Friday, which I definitely recommend investing in as the lines here can get cray.

Pre-book your tickets to the MoMA here

Pop over to Columbus Circle, the gateway to Central Park.

view of central park from columbus circle with lots of trees and building sin the distance.

Next up, walk towards Columbus Circle.

You can pop into the iconic Tiffany’s on Fifth Ave if you’re an Audrey Hepburn fan (don’t forget your Danish and to-go coffee – you can skip the evening gloves though).

The famous Plaza Hotel is another well-known film spot, home to works of art such as Home Alone 2.

Still, the lobby is absolutely stunning, and definitely worth popping into.

Foodie note: this part of New York is where culinary dreams go to die, unless you’re insanely rich and can afford to eat at places like Jean Georges where you’ll easily spend upwards of $100 per person.

There’s very little in the way of good restaurants to eat around here. Most will be just above decent, but priced atrociously expensively.

The Infatuation is my favorite guide to New York restaurants, and here are their recommendations for the culinary hellhole that is the area around Columbus Circle. I’ve never eaten at any of these so I can’t vouch for anything personally!

Instead, I recommend just grabbing something simple — now might be a good time for some street meat, aka halal. 

You can’t go wrong with chicken over rice (if you’re extra hungry and screaming for carbs I recommend asking for a pita on top too.)

Careful with the hot sauce – it’s super hot, and the guys will go crazy with it if you say you like it spicy. I don’t have any particular place to recommend, just look for somewhere relatively busy and well-trafficked.

Get lost in Central Park.

central park with autumn colors and autumn foliage and skyline in the background at the pond.

Now that you’re fed, you’re at the gateway to Central Park. Central Park is almost like a city unto itself.

What you do in Central Park depends on what you’re interested in! If it’s just people-watching and strolling, walk away — you’ve got literal miles of walkways to choose from.

For a more scenic side, check out the Lake near the Central Park Boathouse Restaurant.

If you’re a Beatles fan, check out Strawberry Fields, dedicated to John Lennon (this is where you’ll find the famous “Imagine” memorial where people often leave flowers).

The best people-watching and chilling spot is Sheep Meadow – it’s full of students and the occasional topless hippie, enjoying NYC’s lax public nudity laws.

There’s also Belvedere Castle, the Friedsam Memorial Carouselthe Conservatory Garden, and the famous Alice in Wonderland statue.

Go on a treasure hunt for these if you feel like it! If you really want to cover Central Park in depth, some companies offer affordable guided walking tours!

Visit New York’s (or even the world’s) best art museum.

a large atrium like area in new york city's

After relaxing in the park for a bit, it’s time to get your culture on.

The Met (short for the Metropolitan Museum of Art) is an absolute must-see, if not for the art, at least for the amazing architecture and iconic steps.

Admission used to be pay what you wish — as of 2018, it’s now a steep $25 for out of towners.

It’s unfortunate, but I think it’s well worth the cost of admission, as there’s really something for everyone here.

Since you have to pay the mandatory fee now, you might as well book online and skip the line for no added charge.

There are countless things to see here, so just pick a few rooms and focus on those. There’s simply no way to see it all!

My favorites are the Impressionists, the Egyptian section, the Native American art, and the insanely luxurious European applied arts on the first floor.

If you’re not an art fan or if you have young kids in tow, the American Museum of Natural History is also fantastic (book tickets in advance here to avoid lines).

I’ve come here at least 10 times (hello, teacher days!) and it’s incredible each and every time.

The dinosaur skeleton replicas cannot be missed!

Also, don’t forget to take in a show at the Hayden Planetarium, where Neil de Grasse Tyson’s smooth-like-butter voice will soothe you as he takes you through a ridiculously psychedelic cosmic journey.

Dine somewhere nearby.

delicious plate of authentic thai pad thai

By around now, it’ll probably be close to dinner time.

Despite my many years living in the city, I still don’t know this part of town well for restaurants, so I’ll direct you to the Infatuation yet again for recommendations on where to eat near The Met.

If you ended up at the Natural History Museum, check this Eater guide for where to eat near the Natural History Museum.

Both the Upper East & West Side are rather on the expensive side, so if you’re trying to save some cash, head down to Hell’s Kitchen east of Times Square for some delicious Thai food!

I love Wondee Siam for traditional Thai and Larb Ubol for the spicier Thai food from the Isan region.

Visit Times Square all lit up at night.

A must for New york newbies - Times square!

And of course, end the night taking in the bright lights of Times Square!

Yeah, Times Square is a bit of a sh*tshow, but it’s a quintessential New York City itinerary stop for a reason.

By day, it’s easy to get angsty at the aggressive Elmos and ladies in body paint hounding you for photos.

But honestly, even at night even I find Times Square dumbfounding, and – at risk of having my New Yorker license revoked – a bit magical.

5 Days in New York Itinerary: Day 4

Off the Beaten Path: Food & Culture in Queens

Quick note: Queens is probably my favorite borough in New York. It lacks the freneticness of Manhattan and the relentless hipper-than-thou feel of North Brooklyn.

It’s underrated as hell, and you should definitely save one of your 5 days in New York City for it. I’m going to lead you through all my favorite parts of it on a one-day epic Queens tour.

Start your day at the Roosevelt Island tram.

What to do in New York in 5 days - ride the Roosevelt Island cable car

Start your day with a scenic gondola ride in New York — all for the price of a MetroCard swipe (that’ll be $2.75, unless the MTA has further price-gouged since I was in NYC last June, which is… unfortunately probable).

You’ll be taking the Roosevelt Island Tram, which has an entrance in the Upper East Side of Manhattan on 60th street and 2nd Avenue.

The closest subway stop is Lexington Ave-59th St., which has both NQR and 456 trains.

The tram is why you’re here: this offers excellent views of both Uptown and Long Island City. Roosevelt City isn’t that exciting, as it’s residential primarily.

If you want, you can take something called the Red Bus, which will take you around the island for 25 cents.

However, I suggest you just hop on the F train and make your way over to Queens for a full-on day of sightseeing in one of New York’s most underrated boroughs!

Stroll around Long Island City.

Start in Long Island City, the neighborhood right across from Manhattan.

You can check out some interesting contemporary art at P.S.1 (a branch of MoMA – your ticket to the MoMA should get you free admission here).

There used to be some amazing graffiti right nearby here at 5 Pointz, but they got destroyed in order to make room for condos – sadly, not that unusual in NYC these days.

Afterwards, take the quick walk over to Gantry Plaza State Park for some of the best views of Upper Manhattan and the 59th Street Bridge.

Hop back on the subway (or walk if you’re feeling ambitious) to the next museum worth seeing in Queens – the Museum of the Moving Image.

This museum explores the history of cinema through interactive exhibits as well as frequent showings. Fun fact: This is where Dan Turner from the Netflix hit Archive 81 worked!

You’re probably getting hungry – but don’t get tempted to eat just yet!

Next stop is Jackson Heights, one of the most diverse and delicious ZIP codes in the entire United States.

Eat your way through NYC’s most delicious neighborhood.

Get off the subway there and walk in a variety of different directions depending on what your heart desires for food. Himalayan food reigns supreme here!

My favorite is Lhasa Fast Food which is quite literally hidden in the back of a phone shop.

Patola Cart‘s street stall is a close second for delicious momos (Tibetan dumplings) if you don’t feel like sitting down.

There’s also plenty of other options: Rajbhog or Dosa Delight for Indian dosas and chaat is another favorite.

Feeling like Mexican? The various Mexican street carts lining Roosevelt Avenue between 75th and 85th street which make insanely good sandwiches (tortas and cemitas) are stellar.

The list goes on and on… 

Thai food is also well-represented with a walk 10 minutes away to to nearby Elmhurst, where Khao Kang is a standout amongst other great Thai choices.

Head to Flushing Meadows.

Next up is the Queens Museum at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.

I know, I know, another museum — but stay with me here because this one is special!

This hosts an entirely miniature version of New York City that contains almost 900,000 structures, literally every building in the city that existed before 1992. 

You can continue checking out Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, which is Queens’ answer to Central Park.

The coolest thing to see are the leftover structures from two former World’s Fairs that were hosted here: in addition to the mini-NYC you saw at the Queens Museum, you can also find a 12-story globe (the Unisphere) and a UFO-shaped pavilion.

The New York Hall of Science is also here, and great for little kids if you happen to be schlepping them around with you – or if you’re a kid at heart.

You could also check out the Queens Botanical Garden here if you are so inclined!

Explore NYC’s biggest and best Chinatown.

Finally, you’ll stop in my favorite part of Queens: Flushing Main Street.

Exiting the train at Main Street-Flushing is pretty much the closest thing to going to China short of, well, actually going to China.

It’s pandemonium for the senses in all the best possible ways!

I have way too many recommendations on where to eat here, but here goes: Dumpling Galaxy for dumplings (or the original Tianjin Dumpling House located in the Golden Shopping Mall), White Bear for spicy wontons, or Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao for Shanghai soup dumplings.

Want a sitdown meal? I suggest Spicy & Tasty for Sichuan food, or opt for Korean with some Korean BBQ at Mapo (recommended if you’re traveling with a group as KBBQ for one is a bit depressing, not that I speak from experience….).

If your feet are tired, you can get pampered with a foot massage at nearby Coco Spa, just around the corner from the Golden Shopping Mall, or one of the many Korean spas in Flushing.

Just beware that they will hound you for tips and that $20 massage can easily become $30 if you’re a pushover like me!

5 Days in New York Itinerary: Day 5

A Perfect Saturday in Hipster Brooklyn

*NOTE: If one of your days in New York happens to be a Saturday, shuffle around this itinerary to make this day your Brooklyn day so you can check out Smorgasburg and the Brooklyn Flea.*

Have breakfast like a true New Yorker

There are so many cool things to do in Brooklyn, so get an early start today.

If you haven’t had the classic bacon egg & cheese from an NYC bodega (deli) yet, this is when I advise you to do so!

Literally any bodega will do, even though there are better ones than others… but if you’ve only got 5 days in New York you’ve got to prioritize time sometimes

Head to Brooklyn Botanic Garden
japanese garden section of brooklyn botanical garden

Then, start the morning at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

Depending on the time of year, you may see tulips, cherry blossoms, or beautiful fall foliage. Either way, don’t miss the Japanese-inspired section: super beautiful.

After a morning stroll through the Botanic Garden, pop into the Brooklyn Museum (admission is suggested, so pay as you wish) for a quick perusal.

They usually have some cool exhibits, so pick one or two floors to scan.

Visit Brooklyn’s main library and Prospect Park.

Walk to the Brooklyn Public Library and marvel at the beautiful architecture and pop your head inside if you wish.

You can stroll through the farmer’s market at Grand Army Plaza just across the street before dipping into Prospect Park for a quick walk.

Hit up Brooklyn’s hippest neighborhood.

Next, and head to Williamsburg for the Saturday Brooklyn Flea.

I recommend taking an Uber or cab, as subway connections between north and south Brooklyn suck since you have to transfer in Manhattan or take the G train.

Plus, the G train almost never shows up except for when you’re entering the subway station and then you’re too late because it’s inexplicably half the length a regular subway car….

Next, it’s time to check out Smorgasburg for lunch. Be sure to get there well before it closes at 4 PM.

Smorgasburg is pretty much the birthplace of many Insta-famous food trends, like the notorious Ramen Burger, so be prepared to wait in line and pay a bit more than you’d like.

It’s still a worthwhile experience for New York first-timers!

Check out Brooklyn’s thriving street art scene.

Now it’s time to walk off all the insane concoctions you’ve put in your stomach. Luckily, some amazing street art isn’t far away! 

Kent Avenue in Williamsburg has some great murals, and same with nearby Wythe Avenue.

For more specific information on where to find Williamsburg street art, check here.

If you’re crazy for street art, you might want to head to Bushwick and see some more of it at the famous Bushwick Collective and more – it’s just a few stops over on the L train.

There’s plenty of art you can see just wandering around, but if you prefer more structure, there are also affordable guided walking tours of Bushwick’s street art.

If you’re staying in Williamsburg, you can indulge in a spot of vintage shopping, hipster spotting, and café hopping.

Beacon’s Closet is one of NYC’s best thrift stores and it’s fun to peruse some of the tacky wares there.

Bedford Avenue, trendy as it is, is also home to countless quality coffee shops (and the delicious Van Leeuwen ice cream truck!) if you need to take a break and rest your feet.

Have a fun night out in Brooklyn.

To end the night, you have countless bars are your disposal in Williamsburg and Bushwick — this is pretty much the going out capital of young New York.

Night of Joy in Williamsburg has one of my favorite happy hours in all of New York — daily from 5 to 8 PM with $6 delicious cocktails.

A few other favorites include Bar Matchless for a dive bar (also great on Two-for-Tuesday), Berry Park for Manhattan skyline views, and Spritzenhaus for a German beer hall feel.

In Bushwick, I love Heavy Woods and Cobra Club.

Where to Stay in New York

New York is expensive to visit and the fact that it has virtually no off-season doesn’t help.

Generally, the season between January-March is a bit slower because the weather is crap but all the Christmas tourists have left.

You may be able to find a good deal on a nice hotel during those months, but the rest of the time, New York is expensive. 

Virtually everywhere in Manhattan is pretty well connected, and even neighborhoods like Times Square can sometimes be a surprisingly affordable option at times.

If you look outside of Manhattan, there are some deals to be found, but you may spend more of your time in transit than you like unless you’re in waterfront neighborhoods like Astoria, Long Island City, Williamsburg, and DUMBO.

However these areas are all quite trendy now, so you might not even save money by staying outside of Manhattan!

Airbnb is an option, but keep in mind that NYC has been hit super hard with an apartment shortage leading to astronomical rent inflation.

If you choose to use Airbnb, it’s more sustainable for locals if you rent out a room in their apartment rather than a full apartment, as whole apartments tend to be used full-time as unregulated hotels.

Plus you get an insight into the fascinating creatures that are New Yorkers 😉

Budget (around $50 a night): America is notoriously bad when it comes to hostels, and New York is really no exception.

I’ve never stayed at a hostel in NYC, but HI New York seems to have the best blend of low budget and high ratings.

Chelsea Pods has the best options for single rooms if you prefer a bit of privacy at a low price, but the reviews appear mixed, so do your research first.

Mid-range: For the best savings, check out modern hotels that do away with things like receptionists and concierges in favor of self-check in and other automated systems.

YOTEL and citizenM come to mind and both are conveniently located in Times Square which, for all its hecticness, is one of the most central locations for public transportation in all of New York.

I haven’t tried a YOTEL property before but I am a big fan of citizenM having stayed at their location in Shoreditch, London, so that would be my personal recommendation if you can afford it.

Luxury: There is basically no end to the amount of luxury options in New York. From classics like The Plaza to newer, more niche offerings like The Library Hotel, you’re spoiled for choice on this end of the spectrum.

What to Budget for New York

Yes, New York is expensive, but it’s not the most expensive place I’ve ever been (here’s looking at you, Switzerland).

Here are a few average costs so you can get an idea of what you’ll spend your money on.

A weekly subway pass: $32
A cappuccino at a café: $4-5
Street food and super-cheat eats: $5-7 per meal
Average sit-down restaurant: $20-25 per meal, including tax & tip but no alcohol
A night out: $7-8 for a beer, $8-12 for a mixed drink or wine, and $10-15 for a cocktail
Average museum entry: $15-25

For an average day, I’d budget $30-50 for food (though you certainly can do with less if you research, as New York has a great cheap eats scene, where you can get a full meal for less than $10), $20 if you want to add drinks, $6 for transit, and $30 for activities. That’s $66 to 106 per day — and not even counting the roof over your head!

Depending on where you sleep (and if you’re traveling solo vs. with a partner or friends), you’ll want to add another $50-150 to that total – and that’s on the budget end of the spectrum.

I’d say at a minimum, you want to budget $150 per day, but $250 would give you more wiggle room, especially if you want to eat at some unique NYC restaurants!

To extrapolate out to budget for 5 days in NYC, you can expect to spend around $750 but you will be more comfortable with $1250. If you have friends to stay with, though, that will slash a lot of money off your budget.

Reminder: As expensive as New York is, please make sure you also budget for travel insurance on your trip to NYC. I use World Nomads Explorer Plan to cover me on all my trips. It’s inexpensive and can save your butt in an emergency.

In Summary…

So there you have it — my ultimate, 7000+ word plus 5 days in New York itinerary! I’ll stop now before my fingers fall off (or your eyeballs fall out — whatever happens first, I guess).

If you have a 6th day, I recommend checking out the Bronx — see a game at Yankee Stadium, visit the New York Botanic Garden, or stroll along the real Little Italy along Arthur Avenue.

I have a whole lot more ideas covered in my 37 ways to get off the beaten path in NYC post!

I hope you enjoyed this exhaustive, exhausting NYC itinerary and feel equipped to see as much of New York in 5 days as is humanly possible.

The Perfect Weekend in Salt Lake City Itinerary: 2 Days in SLC

Salt Lake City may just be one of the most picturesque cities in America: a gorgeously constructed town in the Salt Lake Valley, set amongst the towering Wasatch Mountain Range and bordered by the blue waters of the Great Salt Lake. 

The city itself is a beautiful mixture of turn-of-the-century architecture and a modern landscape that offers indoor and outdoor activities year-round.

I’ve put together a 2 day Salt Lake City itinerary that highlights the best of what the city has to offer when you’re visiting SLC for just a weekend. 

SLC is a young and vibrant feeling city, with lots of student culture due to the presence of the University of Utah and Brigham Young University (BYU).

Whether you’re flying into SLC for a quick city getaway, are combining it with the ski resorts of Park City, or are making SLC just one stop on a long road trip including Utah’s 5 national parks, this itinerary is a great place to start.

Whether you’re seeking solitude in nature or looking to dive into the latest up-and-coming cocktail bar, this SLC itinerary covers it all — so let’s get started.

Where To Stay in Salt Lake City

Historic Luxury: The Grand America

interior of the grand america hotel with pink carpeting, an unmade bed, and spacious suite area
Photo Credit: Thomas Hawk via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Located on 10 acres of immaculately kept gardens, The Grand America is a sight to see and experience! 

The building itself soars over downtown in grand opulence with its 24-story Old World-style architecture. This is no average run-of-the-mill hotel!

The lobby is decorated with hints of grandiosity, as ornate marble floors give way to classical French-style furnishings and beautiful works of art. 

The attention to detail bleeds into the guest suites, as floor-to-ceiling windows offer unrivaled views of Salt Lake City’s natural outdoor beauty! 

Complete with a spa, dining room, and luxury shops, The Grand America is an entire entertainment venue in itself! 

Check availability, reviews, and photos here!

Mid-Range Design Hotel: Kimpton Hotel Monaco

facade of a historic hotel building hotel monaco in downtown slc
Photo Credit: Jeremy Franklin via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

I love Kimpton hotels — their aesthetic is gorgeous, their locations are convenient (this one is just a few minutes from Temple Square!), and their amenities are extensive.

The Kimpton Hotel Monaco in Salt Lake City is no exception!

The hotel offers chic and spacious rooms (just look at those beds — swoon!). Plus, it has amenities like in-room massages and room service so you can really feel like you’re getting the royal treatment.

It also has wonderful shared spaces like a luxe cocktail bar and tasty on-site restaurant serving beautifully-plated delicious meals.

Check availability, reviews, and photos here!

What to Pack for Your Weekend in Salt Lake City

duffel bag sitting on a chair

Comfortable walking shoes: This SLC itinerary has you walking all about the city, so you’ll want a comfortable pair of shoes that can handle hitting the pavement for several hours!

I love my Birkenstocks and can wear them for days on end; another option might be a cute, lightweight white sneaker like this one.

Hiking shoes: If your walking shoes aren’t quite up to hiking par, you’ll want a pair of sneakers or hiking shoes that can handle the short hike up Ensign Peak on day two of this itinerary.

For a short hike like this one, I’d suggest some Nike running shoes which are lightweight and versatile enough to mix into your wardrobe.

Comfortable clothing (including clothes for a night out): Salt Lake City is located at 4,226 feet of altitude and has pretty drastically different seasons, so you’ll want to plan for what to pack depending on the time of year (more on that below).

You’ll want clothing comfortable for lots of sightseeing in the daytime temperatures, as well as clothing that’s appropriate for a hiking.

You’ll also want some nicer clothes for dining out at night or going out and exploring the SLC nightlife scene, and an outer layer for when it inevitably cools off at night!

Best Time to Visit Salt Lake City

snowy mountains behind skyline of salt lake city including the notable mormon temple building

Salt Lake City is located over 4,000 feet above sea level, so it’s prone to more shifts in temperature throughout the seasons!

The winter tends to be cold and snowy, with average temperatures between lows in the 20s and highs in the low 40s.

Spring and fall are more temperate, with average temperatures ranging from lows in the 40s and highs in the 70s.

Summer can get hot, especially in July and August, when average highs are around the 90s — but due to SLC’s elevation, you’ll still have lows around the 60s during the summer months.

It really depends on what you want to do during your weekend in Salt Lake City. If you’re visiting SLC as a hub before you go skiing in Park City, then winter of course would be ideal.

However, for general hiking and exploring, the months of May, June, September, and October probably offer the best combination of pleasant daytime weather and less rainfall (spring can be quite wet in SLC!)

Day 1 of Your SLC Itinerary

Salt Lake City - Temple Square at night with lights on and focus on church

Check into your hotel.

Start your two-day Salt Lake City adventure by checking into one of the most well-known hotels in the heart of downtown SLC, The Grand America

The hotel is in the perfect location for exploring the downtown area and its surrounding landscape, so let’s drop off your bags and get to exploring downtown SLC!

If The Grand is all booked up, Hotel Monaco is another great option which we discussed above.

The skyline of Salt Lake City in the afternoon light with autumn trees and green trees

Grab breakfast at Penny Ann’s.

Downtown Salt Lake is extremely easy to navigate, and most places are very easy to get to by foot or bicycle. The city also offers a bike-share program that simplifies transportation! 

Once you’ve dropped off your bags at the hotel, hop on one of the city bikes and set off biking to Penny Ann’s Cafe for breakfast! 

This classic American diner serves hearty plates of some of the best breakfast foods in Salt Lake. Deemed home of the “heavenly hot cakes,” everyone comes for a massive stack of their famous pancakes! 

My absolute favorite thing on the menu is their hot cake sandwich. Bacon and eggs are sandwiched between three of their famous hotcakes and drizzled with syrup. 

It’s a decadent breakfast meal that can only be experienced at Penny Ann’s. Top that off with their bottomless house coffee and you’re ready to explore the city!

A stack of many pancakes with blueberries, strawberries and bananas.

Wander around Temple Square.

Salt Lake City has a gorgeous downtown that is every sightseer’s dream! 

On my first day in a new city, I like to spend the afternoon getting to know the vibe of the city and seeing some of the most famous architecture that surrounds the city. 

Temple Square is number one on my list of where to start your Salt Lake City sightseeing because of its rich art, culture, and history. 

Temple Square is a beautiful complex of more than 10 acres of meticulously-groomed grounds that will take your breath away, including the main Mormon temple, Salt Lake Temple.

It’s owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (aka the Mormon Church, who play a huge role in SLC history), but now, the name has changed to include other churches adjacent to the area of the Mormon Temple.

It’s easy to spend a solid hour walking the grounds or discovering the beauty inside. If you time it right, you can catch a free performance from the Tabernacle Choir or just spend time delving into the elaborate architecture of its interior. 

There’s also the Family History Library on one side of Temple Square, which is run by volunteers from the Mormon Church who will help you research your family history and genealogy.

If you happen to be visiting at Christmas time, you can catch the array of festive lights and nativity scenes displayed from around the world!

The giant Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City with flowers in the foreground

Wander the shops at City Creek Center.

After you’ve had your fill of architectural beauty, make the short walk over to City Creek Center for an amazing upscale shopping opportunity. 

City Creek Center is lined with over 100 stores and restaurants and caters to provide entertainment in its open-air atmosphere complete with a retractable roof for the days of inclement weather. 

Even if you’re not into shopping, it’s easy to enjoy City Creek Center for its foliage-lined walkways and babbling creek that runs the entire two blocks of the mall. 

It’s reminiscent of The Grand Canal Shoppes in Vegas with water shows and various art exhibits lining the pathways. There is always some sort of entertainment to compliment your spending spree!

Several jet fountains in the middle of a pedestrian walkway on a SLC itinerary

Grab a drink at Quench It.

All the walking and shopping calls for a unique Utah treat! Lying just a mile down N West Temple Street is Quench It soft drinks. 

You’re probably thinking soda? Really? But hang in here with me! Quench It isn’t just your regular soda drink. 

They serve what the locals call dirty soda and it’s a must-try! Dirty sodas have garnered a cult like following in Salt Lake and their shops offer a fun, colorful atmosphere for enjoying the bizarre drink. 

Dirty sodas are a combination of your favorite classic soft drink and spiked with a shot of flavorful Torani Syrup with a splash of coconut cream.

It’s a wildly delicious combination that’ll supply you with a good shot of sugar to amp up your afternoon!

Check out the local street art.

With sugar running through your veins, continue through downtown to snap some pictures in front of Salt Lake’s famous street art! 

Street murals have begun to take the city by storm and there are some incredible works of art hiding around street corners. 

My favorite way to spend the late afternoon is seeking out some of these works of art. Here’s a list of my favorites and their locations to help you navigate around the city!

The Magic School Bus: Where aremy fellow 90’s babies? So you remember watching The Magic School bus in science class? Well, this mural is über reminiscent of those days! 

Located at 800 S 15th E, this mural will bring back all the wonderful memories of Mrs. Frizzle and her magic adventures complete with a DJ dragon and floating candy!

The Book Wall Mural: Located at 222 South Main Street, this massive book mural has some of the world’s most famous books painted in gigantic form! 

You’ll find the spines of Harry Potter, Gone With the Wind, and The Scarlet Letter painted in meticulous detail. It’s a super fun place for a colorful photoshoot!

Rock Legends: I love rock music so the Rock Legends Mural is my favorite mural in downtown Salt Lake! Located at 162 400 W on the side of the famous Gateway shopping center, this colorful iconic mural is worth the visit. 

The faces of eight rock legends are painted in bright, colorful fashion. I can’t help but bust out an air guitar while I walk past the faces of Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix!

Grab a fancy dinner.

Head back to the hotel and clean up for a five-star dinner at Current Fish and Oyster

Current serves up the best seafood in downtown Salt Lake City! 

If you’re wondering about seafood in a landlocked state like Utah, don’t! Their menu is full of the freshest seafood flown in daily from around the world. 

Start off with their smoked clam dip as an appetizer and move on to their caramelized salmon for the main course. Not only are the dishes plated to appeal to the eyes, but the food itself will blow you away! 

Set in a vintage brick building, Current has kept the simplicity of its original construction with brick walls, concrete floors, and hundreds of Edison lights that warm up the space. 

Massive black booths and a sprawling bar add a trendy, welcoming feel that really sets the tone for enjoyment. 

I tend to hold out on cocktails here as their neighboring restaurant, Undercurrent steals the cocktail show! 

Plate of oysters in SLC

Grab drinks at Undercurrent or go see a show.

After dinner, spend the rest of the night one of two ways to see nightlife done SLC-Style

If you want to have a low-key night with a few drinks, walk across the street to their sister cocktail bar, Undercurrent.

Here you’ll find carefully crafted cocktails in a contemporary but comfortable setting. The entire interior has a nautical theme vibe that carries over into their drink selection. I love their Hanzo Steel cocktail or their Sea Legs cocktail! 

If you find yourself stumped on what to order, tell the bartender you want to Walk The Plank and they’ll decide the fate of your drink.

If you feel like listening to some rock and roll music, Salt Lake is home to a few music venues that are well-known in the industry! 

If you want to catch an intimate show, check out Kilby Court. Kilby Court is tucked away on a side street that was once a garage and offers an extremely private setting showcasing small acts. 

Although big names such as The Head and the Heart and The Shins have played at the venue, it caters to the more up-and-coming artists now. 

It’s a fantastic way to discover new music or to hang out in a friendly environment that offers entertainment in an intimate but inviting setting.

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

Day 2 of Your SLC Itinerary

Your second day in Salt Lake City is all about the great outdoors! 

Salt Lake offers unrivaled views of Wasatch Mountains, the Great Salt Lake, and miles and miles of the beautiful Utah landscapes! 

Hike up Ensign Peak.

Wake up early and start your day with a short hike up Ensign Peak! 

Ensign Peak lies in the foothills of Salt Lake and offers an entirely different view of the city. The trailhead starts off in a residential area just behind the Utah State Capitol building. 

The trail is an easy and enjoyable half-mile ascent that reveals the city from the perspective of 5,400 feet! 

If you time it right, it’s the perfect way to catch a Utah sunrise or to just enjoy watching the city wake up from above the horizon.

The view from the top of Ensign Peak in SLC looking over the State capitol building

Stop by the Utah State Capitol building.

Descend Ensign Peak and consider stopping at the State Capitol Building since you’ll be so close!

The grounds surrounding the building are beautiful and the Capitol itself is something to marvel at, so it’s absolutely worth some time on your weekend in Utah to dedicate to exploring the area.

Sitting on top of a hill, the ornate beauty and storied history of The Capitol building are captivating. 

You can hop inside for a free tour or guide yourself through the magnificent hallways and overlooks at your own pace!

state capitol building on a sunny day in slc with the words "STATE OF UTAH" written in front of the building

Grab a cup of coffee (and some breakfast) to fuel your day.

After an early morning, head straight to Salt Lake Roasting Co. for a fresh cup of coffee and homemade pastries! 

Salt Lake Roasting Co instantly became one of my favorite coffee shops in Utah because of their warm, inviting atmosphere. 

You’ll feel instantly welcomed into the quaint coffee shop beginning with the inviting blue and yellow bricked building that’s impossible to miss! 

The interior is a gigantic two-story roastery with a steampunk flair. All their coffee is fresh roasted daily and the pastries are made in-house by their pastry chef. 

If you’re in the mood for a more substantial breakfast, you’ll want to try out The Park Cafe.

 Located in the Liberty Wells area of Salt Lake next to Liberty Park (which you should totally check out!) it’s the perfect place to enjoy a comfort-food-style breakfast. 

Their breakfast omelets are to die for and their French toast tastes just like grandma’s! 

The Park Cafe has been a family-owned staple in Downtown Salt Lake since the 1980s which gives it that welcoming feel.

cup of coffee on a table at a cafe

Check out the Great Salt Lake and Antelope Island.

You can’t come to Salt Lake City and not experience the Great Salt Lake! 

I’ve found the best and most beautiful way to do this is to spend the afternoon exploring Antelope Island State Park. What makes this park so unique is its location and the hundreds of free-roaming buffalo! 

Antelope Island is a small peninsula jutting out in the middle of Great Salt Lake. My favorite way to explore is to take the hiking trails around the park. 

My favorite two trails are the Buffalo Point Trail and Frary Peak

Buffalo Point Trail is an easy 1-mile hike that has incredible views of Great Salt Lake and tons of wildlife. 

Frary Peak is a little more intense at 6 miles but because of its elevation gains, the views are incomparable! 

Another way to enjoy the afternoon is to take a dip in the Great Salt Lake at Bridger Bay Beach

This large sandy beach is located on the banks of Great Salt Lake and offers easy access into the water. 

The experience of swimming in the Great Salt Lake is unlike any other because you can effortlessly float due to the high salt content. It’s definitely a must-do Utah bucket list activity!

a buffalo on antelope island in great salt lake

Grab a local beer.

Head back into the city and grab an afternoon beer at Proper Brewing

I know Proper Brewing is the top brewery in Salt Lake because the locals could not stop talking about this place! It turns out, their suggestion was right! 

Proper Brewing takes pride in their microbrews and innovative beer combinations such as the beertini (just try it, as weird as it sounds!). 

The atmosphere is your quintessential brewpub with arcade games and pool tables for entertainment. 

Large bay windows look out to the city of Salt Lake and every soul in the joint seems to be having a lovely time! 

When I visit a brewery for the first time, I always pick up a flight so I can sample most of their menu. 

While I loved all the samples, their Belgium Dubbel really stood out to me. It’s a wonderful mix of low-key malty herbs and spice. 

To make an afternoon here, grab a burger from their onsite kitchen and enjoy the relaxing atmosphere with a beer in hand. 

tasting flight of different beers

Check out Gilgal Garden.

On your way back to the hotel, stop at Gilgal Garden. Gilgal Garden is a hidden gem in the middle of Salt Lake City and is most enjoyed after a beer…seriously! 

It’s a weird place and to enjoy it, you’ll need an open mind. Located at 749 East 500 South, Gilgal Garden sits in an unassuming lot in a residential neighborhood. It’s easily missed if you don’t know what you’re looking for. 

Gilgal is a sculpture garden created by Thomas Childs that consists of 12 sculptures and dozens of stone engravings depicting poems, scriptures, and texts. There’s some funky stuff there, like a Sphinx with the head of Joseph Smith, the famous founder of the Mormon church.

It’s a fun and free way to experience some of the culture that lies in the heart of Salt Lake City.

A statue of scattered parts of a body an interpretation from a biblical story

Stop by Red Butte Garden.

This is a great place to stop on your way to your next SLC hike, the Living Room. The trailhead is right nearby so it’s a quick and convenient stop.

In the Red Butte Garden, you’ll find the Natural History Museum of Utah (a great place to stop if you are traveling with kids) as well as several trails lined with beautiful flowers. 

This is where the Red Butte Garden Amphitheatre is as well, named for the park, where you can often find larger acts when they pass through SLC on tour. 

Another interesting place to visit while here is the Water Conservation Garden which creates a beautiful, rich-feeling environment that is truly sustainable and shows that drought-resistant plant life can be absolutely beautiful. 

red butte garden utah

Hike to the Living Room for sunset.

Hikers love the Living Room for its epic views over SLC which are particularly beautiful at sunset!

This 2.2-mile out-and-back hike leads to incredible views of Downtown and the surrounding landscape.

Sit above the horizon on “chairs” made from surrounding rock and enjoy the afternoon high above the city.

Landscape of salt lake city living room trail

Have a delicious dinner out.

 After your full day of enjoying the outdoors, head back to the hotel and clean up for dinner. I love exploring cities and trying different cuisines that are unique to the area. 

On my last trip to SLC, I found the most delicious Mediterranean food in Downtown called Spitz in the Sugar House neighborhood. As soon as you step foot into Spitz you’re having a good time! 

The ‘order in line’ restaurants creates a fun atmosphere with splashes of color through the entire interior and decks of cards stacked up on every table. 

I usually order one of their famous doners wraps. If you’ve never had a doner wrap before, you’re in for a pleasant surprise!

These massive wraps are stuffed with every type of Mediterranean meat and veggies curled up in a delicious tortilla-like wrap. I always order the Berliner Doner, a combination of feta, carrot slaw, cucumber, and tzatziki! 

Not only is each entree tasty, but it’s also served in a way that is every bit worthy of the ‘gram. They also have house specials such as their Street Cart fries and doquitos (fried lavash bread stuffed with feta and aioli, like a Mediterranean taquito).

You’ll never leave this place hungry and you’ll be dreaming about it long after you leave Salt Lake City!

Sate your sweet tooth.

You can’t leave Salt Lake without experiencing the decadence of their dessert scene! Like my main meal, I love exploring the latest and greatest dessert hangout throughout the city.

 I’m so glad I stumbled upon The Dodo, also in Sugar House. Without question, The Dodo serves up THE best pie in the world among other desserts! 

When I walked into The Dodo I could smell the sugary delights right away. They have 12 staple pies that can be ordered all year round, including peanut butter cream cheese, chocolate almond moose, and key lime. 

I ordered the Caramel Coconut Coffee Cake and to this day, I still think about it! 

They also serve up ales, cocktails, and wines to go along with dessert. The Dodo is a wonderful place to hang out and enjoy the beautiful Utah night on their warmly lit, comfortable patio.

a slice of key lime pie covered in lime zest

Finish the night under the stars.

Wrap up dinner and dessert and get ready for a night under the stars at South Physics Observatory

South Physics Observatory offers star parties that are open to the public on clear nights! Armed with professional astrologers, you can gaze up at the universe in their beautiful planetarium and learn all about the planets and galaxies!

They also open up for special celestial events such as meteor showers and comets. If you’re lucky enough to be visiting Salt Lake during a time like this you’re in for a once-in-a-lifetime experience! 

All their events take place outside, so come prepared, as Utah’s night can get a little chilly.

Utah night sky with lots of stars

More Time in SLC? Utah Day Trips Worth Taking

If you go a little further afield, there’s so much to see in the rest of Utah. (You can check out my 7-day Utah itinerary for some inspiration).

Just want to do a quick day trip? Just about 20 minutes from SLC, you can head to Big Cottonwood Canyon and Little Cottonwood Canyon in the Wasatch Range. This is a great place to visit in fall when the beautiful quaking aspens change colors! 

The Bonneville Salt Flats are another must-see just an hour and a half outside of SLC — there’s no place quite like it in the US!

Of course, in winter, there’s no place like Park City Mountain ski resort, home of the Sundance Film Festival and lots of great winter ski trails and activities!

For typical red rock landscapes, head to Moab for both Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park, or head towards Las Vegas where you can see the beautiful Zion National Park.

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!

Where to Stay for a Weekend in Colorado Springs

colorful night scene in colorado springs colorado with lots of lights and illumination

There are many chain hotels available in Colorado Springs, but frankly, I’m not the biggest fan of large chains.

I prefer to stay in more unique and boutique accommodations — here are my picks for where to stay for this Colorado Springs itinerary.

Pet-Friendly Boutique Hotel: SCP Hotel Colorado Springs

This affordable boutique hotel focuses on sustainability and design — and it’s also very welcoming of your pets, too!

The interior is beautiful — think murals, lots of greenery, and airy public spaces with a slightly industrial vibe.

The rooms, on the other hand, have a rustic simplicity to them that make it the perfect place to lay your head after a long day out hiking and exploring Colorado Springs.

Book your stay at SCP Hotel!

Stunning Mountain Escape: Cheyenne Mountain Resort

mountain lodge resort with pools and a mountain in the distance near colorado springs co

With sweeping views of Cheyenne Mountain and amenities that encourage you to be outdoors, like five swimming pools and tennis courts, Cheyenne Mountain Resort is a home away from home for adventurers.

Oh, and it’s on a 25-acre lake where you can go sailing. What?

It’s the kind of place you never have to leave, with an on-site restaurant and in-house spa, Alluvia, where you can enjoy all sorts of treatments and massages.

Best of all, it’s less than four miles from downtown Colorado Springs, so you can enjoy city and mountain in a single trip.

Book your stay at Cheyenne Mountain Resort here!

Day 1 of your Weekend in Colorado Springs Itinerary

downtown colorado springs as seen from above

For your first day of this Colorado Springs itinerary, 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 OR a jeep tour at Garden of the Gods.

After breakfast, head to Garden of the Gods, one of the most popular destinations for hiking 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!), go on a Jeep tour, 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

If you prefer a more adrenaline-pumping way to tour the Garden of the Gods, or you’re just not a big hiker, the Jeep Tour is an incredible choice!

You’ll careen through the gorgeous red rock formations found in Garden of the Gods before heading up North Cheyenne Canyon, where you’ll find the gorgeous Helen Hunt Falls.

Afterwards, you’ll follow the Shortline Railroad, which takes you down to Old Colorado City and Manitou Springs, before heading back to Colorado Springs where you’ll have a sweeping view of the city below.

Book your Garden of the Gods Jeep tour online here!

the cascading waterfall of helen hunt fall with a footbridge above it in colorado springs co

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.

You can also just book a ticket independently for a lower price if you just want to tour the facilities independently.

Book your ticket online here!

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!

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

view over the las vegas sky with all the lights on

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 Discover Cars 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!