An Epic Week in Iceland’s West: An Itinerary for 7 Days in Iceland

Iceland tops many people’s bucket lists, and with good reason. This country has natural beauty nearly everywhere you look, and the variety of landscapes you’ll see on a trip to Iceland simply boggle the mind.

In a small package, you can see everything from glaciers to volcanoes to continental rifts to fjords to lava formations and black sand beaches – and I could go on and on. Iceland is a bit like the world in miniature – very miniature, in fact, as it’s roughly the same size as the state of Ohio.

Still, despite the small size of Iceland, you do need to dedicate a good bit of time to truly see the country’s magnificence. I think 7 days in Iceland is a good start: one week in Iceland will give you enough time to get away from the crowds surrounding Reykjavik who don’t stray far from the capital on their short trip to Iceland.

While many Iceland itineraries will have you heading south, I wasn’t interested in rehashing everyone’s Iceland bucket list, but instead checking off my own. In partnership with Iceland Travel, I rented a car with their companion app to help me travel around the country smoothly.

The benefit of booking a rental car with Iceland Travel (who partner with Hertz) is that they help with the itinerary planning and hotel booking part of your trip, so that all you have to do is use their companion app to help you decide what stops you want to make that day. It’s got the convenience of a guided tour in terms of planning but with all the benefits of traveling independently with your own rental car.

You can make your own booking here, or you can replicate my 7-day Iceland itinerary below to get off Iceland’s beaten path and explore beautiful Western Iceland.

I should note that I traveled solo during my trip to Iceland, and Iceland is a great country for first-time solo female travelers. This itinerary for Iceland was created with solo travelers in mind, focusing on nature and incredible scenery, but it’d be great for groups or families as well.

Day 1: Arrive and pick up your car (Overnight in Reykjavik)

It’s inevitable that you’ll start and end your week in Iceland in Reykjavik. Most flights get into Keflavik International Airport (KEF), which is located about 45 minutes away from Reykjavik proper.

I actually was the rare exception to this rule, arriving at the teeny tiny Reykjavik International Airport in the city center because I was flying in from the Faroe Islands on Atlantic Air, one of the few airlines that serve REK. Most airlines, however, will fly into Keflavik, so you’ll want to double check that your rental car is reserved at the proper airport.

Some people skip Reykjavik entirely, but I think that’s a mistake. Nearly one-third of Iceland’s population lives here, so understanding Reykjavik is crucial to understanding Iceland as a country.

Luckily, Reykjavik is more like a big small town, so it’s pretty easy to see the highlights of Reykjavik in just a day’s sightseeing. However, keep in mind Reykjavik is the most expensive part of Iceland, so limit your time here if you’re visiting Iceland on a budget.

I recommend starting at the beautiful cathedral in the center of Reykjavik, Hallgrímskirkja. Whereas many capital cities have incredibly old and historic churches, Reykjavik does it a bit differently with an ultra-modern expressionist church which was completed in 1945. I recommend splurging on buying entrance to the top of the tower, where you can get the best view of Reykjavik for 900 ISK (about $9 USD).

Be sure to walk around the church a bit, as it looks super different from different angles. It’s a lot of fun to photograph – each side gives you a totally different idea of its shape and size.

After checking out the church, walk through the center of town, admiring all the cute shops along the way. Head over to the Harpa concert hall on the waterfront, which is Reykjavik’s other most iconic piece of architecture.

I love how the structure seems to blend into the harbor behind it during the day time (then puts on a light show at night!). Be sure to go inside (entrance is free, unless there is a private event happening) – the interior is even more interesting than the exterior, in my opinion. It’s a great place to get some unique Instagram shots!

After checking out the concert hall, you’ll want to walk along the waterfront a little bit. Keep in mind that it can be insanely windy along the waterfront, especially if you’re in the middle of a wind storm (not uncommon, even in the summer!).

When I was in Reykjavik, the wind was gusting up to what felt like 50 mph. No matter what time of year you visit, you’ll want to wear a strong, wind-proof jacket (I brought my Marmot PreCip as my outer layer in the summer).

When you’re walking the waterfront, be sure not to miss the Sun Voyager sculpture just a few minutes’ walk from Harpa. While the sculpture looks like a Viking ship and is widely interpreted that way by tourists, in actuality, the sculpture is supposed to represent a “dream boat”, oriented towards the sun.

(I still see Vikings, though).

For dinner, there are a ton of options – it really depends on your budget. Unfortunately, everything you’ve heard about Reykjavik is true – it is insanely expensive, probably the most expensive city I’ve ever been to outside of Switzerland. Restaurants will eat up your Iceland budget quickly. If you’re curious about Icelandic cuisine, you could do a food walk through Reykjavik to get a lot of tastes of different things all at once.

I ate at Block Burger, which served up super tasty hamburgers for a relatively reasonable price. A small burger is about 1200 ISK ($12) and around 1900 ISK ($19) for a complete meal with fries and a soda. While this isn’t a good ‘deal’ in the global sense, it is one of the cheaper options in Reykjavik.

Other people will recommend you eat at the place that serves up “Iceland’s best hot dogs” if you’re on a budget, but I honestly don’t recommend you do that – trust me, by the end of your week in Iceland, you’ll have eaten so many hot dogs on the go that you’ll never want to even see another hot dog again!

There are plenty of other nice restaurants to eat at in Reykjavik but be prepared to spend at least $30-50 USD per person for a simple meal without alcohol.

Hotel to Stay At: I stayed at Centerhotel Arnarhvoll just across the street from Harpa Concert Hall and highly recommend it! The location in the center of Reykjavik is fantastic: the Harpa concert hall (and its nightly light displays) are literally right outside your window, and you are just a few minutes’ walk from some of Reykjavik’s best attractions and restaurants. The room is spacious and modern, and I loved the bathroom which had a great tub to soak in and relax before starting my week in Iceland. The breakfast in the morning was fantastic as well!

Day 2: The Snæfellsnes Peninsula (Overnight in Hellnar)

Nicknamed “Iceland in Miniature,” you’d be foolish to skip the stunning Snæfellsnes peninsula on your Iceland itinerary. In this small 90-kilometer-long finger of Iceland, you’ll find black sand beaches, stunning sea cliffs, ancient glaciers, gushing waterfalls, and natural hot springs all in one beautiful package that can easily be seen in a single day.

Get an early start when departing from Reykjavik and start driving towards the Snæfellsnes peninsula, which should take about two hours if you don’t keep pulling over every 5 minutes to photograph random waterfalls like I was. (Note: Only pull off on roads and designated stopping points and never in the middle of the road. You’d think that’d be a given, but it needs to be said.)

This is a whistle-stop tour of the highlights of this peninsula, but Iceland Travel also has a road trip itinerary for a more in-depth 4-night tour of the Snæfellsnes peninsula, which you can check out here.

Kirkjufellsfoss

To maximize your Iceland itinerary, I recommend starting at Kirkjufellsfoss and then working counter-clockwise through the peninsula to avoid doubling back and to get better light at Kirkjufellsfoss. However, if you chose to stay somewhere closer to Kirkjufellsfoss, such as Grundarfjörður, Olafsvik, or Rif, then you could do this day’s itinerary in reverse.

Kirkjufellsfoss is truly spectacular and it’s one of those waterfalls that likely influenced you to buy a ticket to Iceland in the future. It’s rather popular and unless you show up at sunrise you’re likely to share your view of Kirkjufellsfoss with quite a few of your closest tourist friends — it is one of Iceland’s most recognizable Game of Thrones filming locations, after all.

Kirkjufellsfoss can be a bit difficult to photograph. If you go there in the evening, there will be a big shadow cast on Kirkjufell (the mountain in the photo) by the mountain behind you, leading to unevenly lit photos.

To get the best possible photo, you’ll want to use a wide angle lens, a tripod, and some ND filters which will block light from streaming into your camera so you can get a nice long exposure to smooth out the water. On the day that I was visiting the Snaefellsness, there was a massive windstorm (continuing from the previous day in Reykjavik) and the wind was too strong to set up my flimsy tripod. You may want to consider investing in a sturdier tripod for photographing in Iceland as the wind gusts can be really strong.

If you want, you could make a small detour while you’re here to Grundarfjörður to do a puffin tour, where you go out on a boat to see one of their favorite nesting spots, Melrakkey Island. However, this tour only runs if you are visiting during puffin season, between early June and early August. Check out and pre-book a tour here.

Ólafsvík and Hellissandur

After admiring Kirkjufellsfoss, start driving towards the coastline, passing through Ólafsvík. This is a “big town” by Icelandic standards; in fact, it is the westernmost town of more than 1,000 people in Europe!

If you’re a fan of modern architecture, check out the beautiful, eclectic Ólafsvíkurkirkja (and be sure to turn around and gawk at the beautiful waterfall behind you, which I believe is called Bæjarfoss). If you have a nice zoom lens, you’ll be able to photograph this from the church parking lot! Yup, waterfalls and churches all in one panorama – that’s Iceland in a nutshell for you.

Betweens Olafsvik and Hellissandur you can make a brief stop at Svöðufoss, another one of Iceland’s beautiful waterfalls — y’know, just in case you haven’t gotten your waterfall fix yet today.

In Hellissandur, many people enjoy visiting the Maritime Museum there, which is housed in traditional turf roof houses. If you’re a history geek curious to learn about the region’s former significance as a fishing hub, it’s a can’t-miss.

Djúpalónssandur

Next up, you’ll pass by a beautiful black sand beach at Djúpalónssandur, which is nicknamed a “black lava pearl beach” for its sand made of tiny, rounded pebbles of ancient lava rock. This is due to the uniquely strong tide, which churns the chunks of lava into perfectly polished stones, like rocks in a tumbler.

That said – please do not take any rocks from the beach, as lovely as they are, as you can disturb the habitats and ecosystems of the tiny creatures who call Djúpalónssandur home.

There are signs everywhere warning you not to go in the water, which you should heed. Again, the tide is extraordinarily strong here, so now is not the time for a ‘polar plunge’ – there are plenty of other beaches in Iceland that are safer for swimming. Just look at the scraps of metal left from shipwrecked boats and you’ll understand why this isn’t a place to dip your toes in.

As a result of this extreme tide and the unique rock formations that result, several legends have arisen about this area. Some Icelandic people claim that the rock formations of the beach are actually the work of trolls and elves. I’d put my money on time and erosion – but who’s to say?

Vatnshellir Lava Tubes

A little further down the peninsula in Snæfellsjökull National Park, you’ll find Vatnshellir Cave, which is made of a series of lava tubes that erupted 8,000 years ago. You can only visit on a tour for safety purposes: the lava tubes are pitch black and you’ll need a strong flashlight and guide to know what to look for. I recommend pre-booking your lava tube tour here.

My friend Stephanie always teases me for being a cave nerd but I truly find geology fascinating. It was amazing to learn how this cave formed nearly instantly as a result of a lava flow. Whereas in a typical cave, stalagmites and stalactites may have taken centuries upon centuries to form, the rock formations in this lava tube took mere days to shape and cool.

You can go quite deep into the cave — so deep that there is absolutely no external light — and experience true pitch blackness when your entire group turns off their flash lights. It made me realize that true, impenetrable darkness is actually quite rare: the feeling of pure darkness is disorienting, almost like floating. It was quite the experience.

Be sure to keep an eye on the ground when walking in the cave, as the rock is not level and is quite craggy. You’ll definitely want a pair of closed-toe shoes for it. (These are the hiking boots I brought to Iceland).

Lóndrangar Cliffs

I had wanted to visit the Lóndrangar cliffs for ages, since I watched one of my favorite landscape photographers do a photography tutorial featuring the cliffs. It’s quite a close drive from the Vatnshellir lava tubes, so it’s definitely worth visiting.

This pair of marvelous basalt sea stacks (the taller one is 75 meters; the other, 61) were once part of a crater. But time and the elements have eroded them to this marvelous cliffside vista that is a popular hike today. Along the hike, if the time of year is right, you may even spot a few puffins!

There’s a big parking lot just off the highway, and from there you can get this excellent viewpoint, or you can hike through an old lava field to the Lóndrangar sea stacks, which takes about 45 minutes to an hour roundtrip.

Arnarstapi

At the base of the beautiful, imposing Mt. Stapafell is the quaint fishing town of Arnarstapi, which is famous for its beautiful sea cliffs.

This was one of my favorite stops in the Snæfellsnes peninsula – I loved the seeing the basalt columns against the sea, which was an especially lovely vibrant shade of turquoise.

The Arnarstapi visitor center is also the meeting place for the Snæfellsjökull glacier excursion, which takes place daily in the summer months – weather permitting. Unfortunately, there was a wind storm when I was in the Snæfellsnes peninsula, so my glacier tour was cancelled.

However, it’s hard to miss the beautiful Snæfellsjökull looming nearly everywhere on the peninsula.

Búðir

In a country famous for its churches, perhaps one of the most famous is Búðakirkja. Located in the tiny village Búðir, which is home only to a hotel, a desolate lava field, and a lone black church, Búðakirkja is one of those places that attracts people from all over the world.

If you have time, there are some hiking trails in the Búðahraun lava field around this church, which is a truly otherwordly landscape.

It’s also worth making a brief stop for a coffee in the marvelous lobby of the Hotel Búðir, which looks out onto an amazing bay which is also a nature reserve. The restaurant is supposed to be world-class as well, so definitely make a reservation for dinner here if you are looking for a memorable meal.

Hellnar

Finally, head back towards Arnarstapi and continue a few kilometers onwards to the cute little seaside town of Hellnar, the ideal resting point for the night.

Don’t miss photographing the picture-perfect church near Fosshotel Hellnar, which looks amazing at the pre-sunset golden hour, especially how the red roof juts against the backdrop of the beautiful Atlantic.

Where to Stay: Fosshotel Hellnar is a fantastic base in the Snæfellsnes peninsula due to its central location – within 20 minutes, you can be at the black church, the Vatnshellir caves, Arnarstapi, or the Lóndrangar cliffs. The restaurant is supposed to be excellent and offers beautiful views over the coast – and if you’re lucky, you may spot a whale from the restaurant as you’re dining.

I stayed at a number of Fosshotel properties during my time in Iceland and always found them to be great options: clean, modern rooms with plenty of space to spread out, delicious (and included) breakfasts, speedy WiFi, plentiful parking, and central locations. Check out ratings, reviews, photos, and availability here.

Day 3: Flatey Island and the beginning of the Westfjords (overnight in Patreksfjörður)

Ready to start heading towards the Westfjords? There are two ways to get to the Westfjords: several hours of driving along Highway 60 or taking the beautiful Baldur ferry to cut off 200 kilometers of driving distance between you and the Westfjords.

Considering how much driving is still yet to come on your 7 days in Iceland, I highly recommend taking the ferry, not least because it offers you the unique opportunity to stop off on the picture-perfect Flatey Island in the middle of Breiðafjörður Bay.

Stykkishólmur

Start your day with a drive to Stykkishólmur, which is about one hour away from Hellnar. This peaceful harbor town is where you can catch the ferry over to Brjánslækur, cutting your driving distance by several hundred kilometers.

While the 9 AM ferry requires an early morning, try giving yourself at least an extra 30 minutes and try to get there early in the morning so you have time to photograph the beautiful harbor town before boarding the ferry.

Of course, the ferry isn’t the cheapest option at 4,460 ISK (about ~$40) per adult, plus an additional 4,460 ISK for the car. However, considering the high price of fuel, that will offset the price a bit. A stopover in Flatey comes with no additional charge.

Flatey Island

I highly recommend taking advantage of the stop in Flatey option on your way to Brjánslækur. Flatey Island is a cute, off the beaten path island about halfway in between Stykkishólmur and Brjánslækur, in the middle of the beautiful Breiðafjörður Bay. Flatey Island is the only inhabited island of the 3,000 or so islands and islets that dot Breiðafjörður Bay. This bay separates the Snæfellsnes Peninsula from the beginning of the Westfjords region and cuts down the drive time between the two regions of Iceland significantly while offering stunning views to boot.

Should you choose to stop in Flatey Island, they will give you a small envelope where you write your name and license plate number and place your keys in. Go down to the bottom level of the ferry, where the restaurant is, and drop off your keys with the restaurant. This is because no cars are allowed on Flatey Island. They will drive your car off the boat for you and leave it at the ferry dock in Brjánslækur. When you get back on the ferry when you leave Flatey Island, you can pick your keys back up at the restaurant, and when you disembark you’ll see your car waiting for your in Brjánslækur – it’s super easy.

Should you choose to make the stop in Flatey, you will have about 7 hours to explore the island, which is more than enough (it’s a small island!). I recommend starting your day in Flatey by walking into town and photographing the colorful houses, traditional of a 19th-century Icelandic village. Flatey used to be a major commercial fishing hub around the turn of the 20th century, but like many fishing villages of Iceland, its fortunes have waned considerably. It’s now more of a spot for tourism in the summer – albeit a quiet one.

After strolling around the ‘town center’, visit the church and the world’s smallest library, where you can see a copy of the Book of Flatey, an ancient manuscript with one of the famous Icelandic sagas.

The library is super cute and it’s pretty amazing that this island with only 2 (!!!) year-round inhabitants has a library all of its own. Of course, being so small, there is no need for a librarian to check out your books. It’s all based on the honor system. There’s also a small, peaceful graveyard where you can walk amongst the graves of those who once called Flatey home.

Stop back in town for lunch at the only option in town before you go on your walk around the perimeter of Flatey. I had delicious fresh fish tacos that were surprisingly spicy for Iceland (in a good way!).

Afterwards, I made my way around the perimeter of Flatey Island, stopping to photograph errant sheep snacking on seaweed on rugged beaches. The path isn’t super clear, but just walk along the edge of the beach – there’s pretty much no way to get lost on an island like Flatey.

I was having a lovely and peaceful walk along the beach when I was startled to stumble across a strange statue.

A statue that seemed strangely excited to see me.

Unbeknownst to me, I had stumbled across “the Penis Man,” a Flatey Island legend. I thought it was a crude, creepy joke by locals – turns out I was dead wrong, and this was a planned statue by the famous sculptor Jón Gunnar Árnason — yup, that same guy whose Sun Voyager statue is emblematic of the Reykjavik waterfront’s “skyline.”

I’ll admit that when I wasn’t suspecting it, it gave me a creepy, Castaway-ish vibe — not at all helped by the fish skeleton being swarmed by flies at its base.

I headed back into town from there to wait for my ferry.

Hellulaug

Once you arrive in Brjánslækur, you’re not far from the town of Flókalundur, outside of which you’ll find the Hellulaug hot springs. After my day on Flatey I was feeling exhausted and just wanted to head to my hotel in Patreksfjörður so I gave it a pass.

But looking at this photo, I think I may have been wrong:

Photo credit: Visit Westfjords Media Gallery

If you have the energy, this looks like one of the better natural geothermal pools in Iceland. A lot of the geothermal pools I’d see later would be more akin to actual hot tubs, just fed with geothermal water. I like that Helluaug is actually a natural formation, which gives it a more rugged, otherwordly feel in my opinion.

Patreksfjörður

Even with a population of 660, Patreksfjörður is actually the largest city in the southern Westfjords – that’s how off the beaten path this part of your Iceland itinerary is.

I didn’t spend too much time in Patreksfjörður, mostly using it as a convenient crash pad for the next day’s activities. Patreksfjörður is a great place to stop and rest your head, as it’s in between several highlights of the Westfjords, namely the Látrabjarg bird cliffs, the Rauðasandur red sand beach, and the world-famous Dynjandi waterfall.

But that’s tomorrow’s adventure!

Where to Stay: I stayed at another Fosshotel, Fosshotel Westfjords in Patreksfjörður. As with my previous Fosshotel experience, it was excellent: spacious and clean rooms with gorgeous views over Patreksfjörður, which is beautiful even by the insanely high Westfjords standards. There’s a hotel restaurant (always super convenient after a long day of driving!), rooms with gorgeous fjord views, friendly staff, and ultra-generous included breakfasts. Check out photos, rates, availability, and reviews here.

Day 4: Highlights of the Westfjords (overnight in Þingeyri)

On your first full day in the Westfjords, get ready for beautiful places — and terrifying drives. I’m not going to sugarcoat it – nearly every single place on this list had roads that had me nearly in tears. If you’re not a pansy American like I am who is used to driving on monstrous 8-lane highways, you’ll probably be fine. But I had spent 4 days in the Faroe Islands prior to my Iceland trip, and I found these roads even more terrifying than anything I encountered in the Faroes.

Still, the rough roads will be worth it – these are some of the most beautiful places in the entire Westfjords. Just drive slowly and take it easy – you’re in no rush. There isn’t much driving distance in pure kilometers between these places, but it will take you some time just due to the poor quality of the roads. Still, the outstanding views everywhere you look will egg you on, so be brave and put your car to use!

Note: I had a 4 wheel drive during my time in Iceland, but I don’t think it’s entirely necessary – none of these roads are 4×4 mandatory, and renting a 4×4 can incur a lot of extra rental fees. However, when you rent a car, you will want a car that is not super low to the ground. I was in a Toyota RAV4, and it was perfect. There are lots of potholes in the gravel roads, and no matter how careful you are, you’ll inevitably hit one or two a little faster than you were intending. Having a car with high suspension will help immensely.

Látrabjarg Cliffs

I had been looking forward to the Látrabjarg Cliffs since I began planning my Iceland trip. I knew I’d be in Iceland at the beginning of August, which is technically still puffin season. However — I missed the puffins by a few weeks. I was pretty devastated to be honest, especially because the drive to Látrabjarg is neither easy, on the way, nor quick.

To be sure you see the puffins, visit in June or July, when they are far more likely to be nesting. Otherwise, in early August they may have already left for their seasonal migration, like they did in my case. Climate change affects several things – bird migration patterns being one of them – so give yourself an extra buffer and go right in the middle of puffin season if you are dead-set on seeing puffins while you are in Iceland.

That said, even though I didn’t spot even one puffin at Látrabjarg, I don’t regret going. The landscape is remarkable. The Látrabjarg cliffs are the westernmost point in Iceland, and with the exception of the Azores islands, they are the westernmost point in all of Europe. The road out there feels every bit the end of the world. And the water there was stunningly blue, despite the clouds overhead.

Be sure to stop in Breiðavík on your way to Látrabjarg. The views of the bay are absolutely stunning, plus the setting of the small town church against the backdrop of the bird cliffs is one of the most beautiful views in all of Iceland.

Rauðasandur

Iceland was forged in fire, the result of volcanic activity over the span of many millennia. As a result, most of Iceland’s beaches are made of black sand – which is beautiful. But that means that a red sand beach like you’ll find at Rauðasandur is especially rare. I’ll be frank, though – while it’s called ‘red sand,’ I think in reality, it’s more of a Sahara-ish orange, and even that depends on the light. If you are there on a moody dark day, the sand won’t have its distinctive orange hue that separates it from other beaches in Iceland.

With that in mind, and the fact that this beach is located 10 kilometers (each way) from the main road, down a crappy gravel road with some of the scariest hairpin turns I’ve ever seen, I’d only really recommend going to this beach on a day with excellent weather, or all the effort may be for nothing. The day I went was pretty gray, so the sand wasn’t that amazingly vibrant, but in photos I’ve seen of it in the sunshine it is extremely beautiful!

If you’re lucky on a sunny day, there are some hundred-odd seals who like to sunbathe on the beach – but bring a zoom lens, as they aren’t known for being friendly! You can do a seal-watching tour of Rauðasandur which also includes transportation from Patreksfjörður, so if you’re terrified of the drive this is a great option!

Dynjandi

If there is one photograph that emblematizes the Westfjords, it’s Dynjandi. Literally meaning “thunderous” in Icelandic, never has a name been more apt. This is one powerful waterfall.

Dynjandi is actually a composite of seven waterfalls,  but the main waterfall is the real show-stealer. With a total height of 100 meters, it spans out like a bridal veil, starting at a width of 30 meters and spanning outwards to 60 meters at the bottom of the ‘veil’.

There are several angles where you can get amazing photos, and despite being the most photogenic place in the Westfjords, when I went there actually weren’t very many tourists – maybe some 20 or 30 or so, who are easy to avoid given the massive size of this waterfall.

Þingeyri

After the wonderful Dynjandi, you’ll end up in the peaceful village of Þingeyri, a driving distance of about 30 more minutes past Dynjandi.

If you’re hungry – and I’d be surprised if you weren’t after so much driving – stop by Simbahöllin café for their incredible authentic Belgian waffles (one of the owners is from Belgium!). They also serve soups and a delicious-looking lamb tagine for dinner.

Rest up because tomorrow you’ll start the day early with a horse ride in the lovely valley of Þingeyri.

Where to Stay: I stayed in Hótel Sandafell in the small town of Þingeyri – which, in a town as tiny as Þingeyri, is literally your only option. The in-house restaurant is excellent and served up delicious pizza at surprisingly affordable prices for Iceland. My room was small but comfortable, with everything I needed for a short stay. The staff was lovely and the breakfast, as usual in Iceland, was super generous and got me fueled up for a big day of adventure ahead. Check out reviews, photos, rates, and availability here.

Day 5: Horses, Old Towns & “The Big City”  (overnight in Isafjordur)

After many days with tons of driving, you’re in for a treat – the next two days are low on the driving and high on the relaxing and enjoying. Today’s Iceland itinerary brings you to the tiny towns of Flateyri and Bolungarvík before settling down in the “capital” of the Westfjords, Ísafjörður. Ísafjörður has only 2,000 or so residents, but it feels properly huge after all the tiny towns that you will have seen elsewhere in the Westfjords!

Horse ride in Þingeyri

Simbahöllin is not just a café but also a horse stable – and they have some of the sweetest horses in Iceland, against some of the most beautiful backdrops in the country.

While I have a lot of experience riding horses, my last horse experience was, quite frankly, terrifying — I ended up riding a nearly feral horse around the island of Gili Air while it spooked and bucked at everything, all without proper protective gear.

I shared my reservations with my guide at Simbahöllin and she kindly made sure I got a horse who wouldn’t give me too much trouble – a beginner-friendly horse without a lot of attitude, whose only character flaw is stopping too much to eat grass (same, dude, same).  I wish I could pronounce his name without butchering it to give him the credit he deserves — but I will always remember that little dude.

Icelandic horses are amazing and unique in the world, the result of 1,000 years of isolated breeding. They’re a bit squat and short, a little chunky but super muscular – all the better for surviving those harsh Icelandic winters. And they have super cool mohawks and a hell of a lot of swag.

With my guide, we went on a ride for about an hour and a half through the beautiful valley in Þingeyri, from the stables, across a few rivers, and nearly to the beach before heading back. We even tried tölting, a special gait that only Icelandic horses have (they have 5 gaits; most horses have only 4). Tölting is somewhere between a trot and a run, way smoother than a trot, but also way sillier looking — like an insanely fast walk. It’s super smooth and super fun, and something you can only experience with an Icelandic horse.

I was sad to leave my horse friends (not to mention the lovely dogs who kept them company) but soon it was time for the next stop on my Iceland itinerary!

Flateyri

After tearing yourself away from your beautiful horse friends and promising to never forget them, make your way over to the cute town of Flateyri.

It’s about 30 minutes of driving along some of the most scenic parts of the Westfjords, Önundarfjörður.

I  mean, this is literally what the drive to Flateyri looks like. It’s insane.

Flateyri is an interesting place.  Established as a trading post in 1792, the town thrived during the 1800s as it was the base for several fisheries, particularly shark-hunting and whaling. The town once numbered some 500 or so people, but the population has been trickling away from Flateyri slowly. A massive avalanche in 1995 killed 20 people and destroyed much of the town, causing many people to move away; the subsequent financial crisis in the 2000s ended up encouraging even more people to leave Flateyri as employment opportunities diminished. Tourism is one of the few remaining industries left in Flateyri.

The town of Flateyri is tiny and quiet, but the town packs a lot for tourists to see in its diminutive size of just a few blocks. Be sure to check out the bookstore in Flateyri, its most important attraction. It’s the oldest original store in the entire country, and much of it has been preserved in perfect condition since its old days, like an ant trapped in amber.

There are a number of other quirky museums in this small town of about 200, including a Nonsense Museum, which has a collection of random bits and bobs such as teaspoons, Pez dispensers, matchbooks, and other random odds and ends.

I was in Þingeyri around 11 AM and the museum is only open from 1 PM onwards (and only open in mid-May to mid-September, like much of the Westfjords — the area is almost entirely closed down in the winter due to the harsh weather). There’s also an International Doll Museum with collections of dolls from around the globe, so if you’re a fan of niche museums — Flateyri will be a paradise.

Besides the Old Bookstore, I found the town church to be well worth a visit (although it was locked when I was there so I wasn’t able to see inside) with its gorgeous fjord backdrop. I also just enjoyed strolling up and down the main street, Hafnarstræti, and checking out the harbor and other cute sights in town. Flateyri is just adorable – I mean, look at it.

   

Bolungarvík

After checking out Flateyri, head on over to the town of Bolungarvík, which with its population of some 900-odd people seems positively bustling after quiet little Flateyri and Þingeyri.

It’s worth checking out the Ósvör, which replicates an old fishing post, which were common in the region around Bolungarvík for much of the 18th and 19th centuries but have since fallen out of fashion with industrialization.

There’s also a beautiful beach in the town which is worth a quick visit, though of course this being Iceland you probably won’t want to go for a dip.

Ísafjörður

Finally, you’ll want to finish your day in the honorary capital of the Westfjords, Ísafjörður. After seeing all these tiny Westfjords villages, Ísafjörður has a real “city” feel – even though it has a population of just 2,600 or so people.

While by my standards that’s a small city – more of a town, really – it’s Iceland’s 13th largest, and the largest city in the Westfjords by a long shot.

There are quite a few excellent restaurants in Ísafjörður, including the beloved Tjöruhúsið, which supposedly has some of the best seafood in Iceland. But after several days of seafood, I was craving something a little different, and when I discovered there was a small, authentic Thai restaurant in Ísafjörður — I was sold instantly.

What is authentic Thai food doing in Iceland, you may be wondering? The fishing industry has been falling out of favor with native Icelanders for the last few decades, due to tough working conditions, depopulating seaside villages, and better economic opportunity in Reykjavik. As a result, Eastern European and Southeast Asian immigrants have been filling the gaps in the labor market – and some have brought their cuisines with them.

The food I had at Thai Koon was delicious, flavorful and authentic without being overly spicy, but that was easily remedied with a few dashes of the Sriracha on every table. The food was so good – I was able to choose 3 different curries plus a rice for 1500 kronor, about $15 USD – and I had so much leftover that I ended up taking a good half of it home.

Where to Stay: I stayed at Hotel Edda Ísafjörður and thought it was a great base. My room was cozy and clean and just a short 10-minute walk from central Ísafjörður. The room and bathroom were both quite spacious and I had a nice view of the city. The building lacked a little charm but it was a fine place to rest my head for the evening. Check rates, reviews, availability, and photos here.

Day 6: Sudavik, Heydalur (overnight in Heydalur)

Start your day in Ísafjörður with a leisurely morning walk through the town.

I did a guided walking tour where I learned about the 19th-century history of the town, when it was one of the biggest fishing posts in the prosperous Westfjords. It was helpful to understanding the changing role of cities and towns in the Westfjords throughout the past few hundred years.

There’s quite a bit to see in Ísafjörður, including the Gamla Bakaríið – the old bakery – and the Culture House, which used to be the local hospital and is often referred to just that way – Gamla Sjúkrahúsið.

I recommend doing a walking tour so that the history of Ísafjörður isn’t lost on you, but in lieu of that, you can do a self-guided walk down some of the main streets ofÍsafjörður. Aðalstræti is one of the most scenic and bustling streets in town, where you’ll find bakeries, museums, cafés, clothing stores, and cute historic houses.

I spent a morning doing some work in the cozy Café Edinborg, which had delicious coffees and a great view over the fjord and harbor.

Besides checking out the main street, there are plenty of outdoorsy things to do in Ísafjörður during the summer, such as hiking to Naustahvilft, a depression in the earth in the middle of one of the fjords overlooking the city. Naustahvilft means “The Troll Seat,” as the legend goes that a troll passing by got tired and sat on the mountain, forever leaving behind a huge ‘seat’ in the earth. This hike gives you one of the best views over Ísafjörður.

You could also take a boat to Vigur from Ísafjörður, where it’s possible to see tons of native birdlife, including – if you’re lucky – puffins.

If you don’t have so much time for a hike, simply strolling around the hills around the town itself is really beautiful. Going up in the hills behind the main ‘highway’, where you can get a scenic view of the city of Ísafjörður sandwiched in between two beautiful fjords. Walking in the hills, you’ll notice the avalanche-prevention mechanisms that have been installed in Ísafjörður and several other villages in the Westfjords such as Flateyri.

Alternately, you could go calm water kayaking in the fjord, although I went kayaking in Heydalur later on and highly recommend that as well.

Walking in these hills, looking down on these fjords, it was amazing for me to remember that for two whole months in the winter, the town of Ísafjörður gets zero sun, as even when the sun rises it rises too close to the horizon to ever make it above the fjord-line. It isn’t until the end of January that this true, dark winter starts to end for Ísafjörður, and residents celebrate with pancakes and coffee to celebrate the return of the sun.

Being in a land of such extremes, amongst people who have made these extremes, is humbling.

Súðavík

After leaving Ísafjörður, the town of Súðavík feels incredibly small. But it’s not even the smallest town on today’s itinerary!

Súðavík is best known for the Arctic Fox Center, which tells the history and present-day reality of Iceland’s only – yes, only – native land mammal. You see, even Iceland’s horses and sheep were imported, and the only native land mammal is the arctic fox, who scientists believe became trapped on Iceland after the last Ice Age, when the frozen-over ocean began to thaw.

As a result, the arctic fox has thrived for over 10,000 years,  surviving winters where temperatures drop lower than -70 C with relative ease. In fact, the arctic fox doesn’t so much as shiver until the weather drops below -50 C. With no natural predators in Iceland, hunting arctic foxes is permitted and has been an important part of the economy for centuries. Controlling the population of arctic foxes is crucial to ensuring Iceland’s bird life and domestic animals have a chance at survival.

There are two arctic foxes who live at the Arctic Fox Center. Their mother was killed by a hunter, who didn’t know she had just had two babies. They rescued the babies, but because they were raised by humans, the foxes were never fit to return to the wild, so now they live in Súðavík at the fox center. They’re pretty ridiculously cute, even if they seemed a bit tired in their warm coats in the freakishly warm summer sun that day.

Heydalur

Heydalur was one of the highlights of the Westfjords for me. This small ‘town’ isn’t even really a town, but more of a farm turned guesthouse out in the rural countryside, about 12 kilometers off the main road.

They offer several activities at Heydalur so it’s perfect for a longer stay if you have time. You can take a horse ride through the scenic landscape or go sea kayaking (which I did the following morning and highly recommend, but more on that later!). You can also hike in the hills, go birdwatching, or simply relax in the geothermal hot springs on the property.

Where to Stay: Heydalur Guesthouse is pretty much the only option in the area, but it is a wonderful one! You can camp here or stay in one of their cozy guesthouses. Staying at the guesthouse or camping grounds gives you access to their heated swimming pool and hot pots and they are also able to organize any activities in the area for you. Waking up in quiet Heydalur is definitely the among the highlights of my time in the Westfjords, so I definitely recommend an overnight here. Check reviews, prices, photos, and availability here.

There is also a restaurant on the property that served one of the best meals I had in Iceland at a reasonable price for the country. If you have been saving money by cooking for yourself, I’d suggest treating yourself to a meal at the restaurant at Heydalur tonight – it was delicious! They have a greenhouse on the property where they grow a lot of their own vegetables so the food is really local and fresh.

Day 7: Seals, whales, & waterfalls on the way back to Keflavík

It felt like all my Icelandic luck came at once on my final day! The thing about any Iceland itinerary is that so much depends on luck. Whether that’s luck with the weather or luck with spotting certain animals or luck with the Northern lights, you simply can’t plan for everything on your Iceland trip.

As my week in Iceland drew to a close, I finally go to tick off several bucket list items all in one go: I saw puffins, arctic seals, humpback whales, and epic waterfalls all in one day.

I went sea kayaking in the fjords by Heydalur in the morning and it was probably my favorite thing I did in my entire 7 days in Iceland. The feeling of kayaking through glassy calm waters just meters from sunbathing seals, as a few errant puffins bobbed on the water or flew past — it was pretty amazing.

I don’t know what I was more excited to see, the puffins or the seals, but I was giddy as a child by the end of it.

Hólmavík

After seeing the arctic seals and puffins in the waters by Heydalur, I thought I had had all the luck I could have for the day. Little did I know how my day would pick up even more after. I went with Láki Tours, who have been offering whale watching tours in the Snæfellsnes peninsula of Iceland for years but just recently opened a new outpost of their tours in the Westfjords, in Hólmavík. Check out their tour availability here.

Their expertise in whale watching was clear – we were able to track humpback whales nearly our entire two-hour boat ride. Láki Tours does an excellent job of tracking whales without chasing them or getting too close, following ethical whale watching protocol. We were lucky to see several humpbacks during our ride, but most special was that we got to see two whales swimming together. While normally, humpback whales are solitary animals, occasionally two will swim side by side for a few hours. It’s rare to see, so it was pretty special to see these two hanging out!

After you’ve finished your whale-watching tour, you could stop back in town for the Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft, which is unique in the region. An interesting fact about Iceland is that Hólmavík’s region, Strandir, has historically been one of the most shrouded in mystery in all of Iceland, and where the first execution for sorcery took place in 1652. A witch hunt then swept the region for the rest of the 17th century, taking the lives of 16 men and 1 woman.

But easily the most famous (and grossest) part of this museum is the replica of the “Necropants,” made of a dead man’s skin and guaranteed to give the wearer an unending flow of money so long as he wears them!

There is also a modern church overlooking the harbor and near the Museum there is a highly-rated seafood restaurant called Galdur if you want to have lunch before the long drive back to Reykjavik!

Glanni Waterfall

On your way back to Reykavik, you can make several stops for waterfalls and views. I recommend definitely making a stop at Glanni Waterfall, as it’s just off the main road you’ll be using to go back, but it is quite under the radar and not a lot of people know about it so it is quiet compared to a lot of the other waterfalls.

It’s nothing particularly spectacular compared to Iceland’s other waterfalls but it is rather scenic and under the radar, so it’s worth the 10 minute stop!

Barnafoss & Hraunfossar

To see Barnafoss and Hraunfossar involves adding on an extra hour of driving (30 minutes there and another 30 on the way back) on your way to Keflavík, but I think it’s well worth it, even on a long driving day like this.

It is quite popular because it’s only 100 kilometers from Reykjavik, but it’s well worth braving the crowds for. Hraunfossar is a series of gorgeous turquoise waterfalls that began flowing out of a massive lava plain called Hallmundarhraun. The combination of the lava field plus the waterfalls of Hraunfossar is truly spectacular.

Barnafoss is just a few minutes’ walk past Hraunfossar so you can’t miss it. Barnafoss is an insanely powerful torrent of water that has an incredibly milky blue color, and it’s insanely photogenic.

Blue Lagoon

Finally, why not end your offbeat Iceland itinerary with one of Iceland’s most beloved attractions? The Blue Lagoon in Iceland is beloved for its geothermally heated, water, enriched with minerals like silica and sulfur that make amazing skin treatments.

Contrary to popular belief, the Blue Lagoon is not natural, but rather supplied by water used in the nearby Svartsengi geothermal power station. That doesn’t mean it’s dirty – anything but! It’s pure, mineral-rich water that is renewed every two days.

It is pricey, and it is popular, but for many people it’s an Iceland must, so consult your budget and decide.

Where to Stay: If you are leaving from Keflavik the next day, I recommend staying in a hotel near the airport and not in Reykjavik. Hotels are cheaper out by the airport plus it is really convenient to just be able to do a short 5 or 10-minute drive to the airport rather than going all the way from Reykjavik, which takes nearly an hour.

I stayed at Hotel Berg and thought it was an excellent place to end my Iceland stay. The hotel has a heated roof pool overlooking the harbor which is a great way to end your time in Iceland. The rooms are cozy and spacious, with really lovely design details that made everything feel extra special. I was delighted that breakfast was available from 3 AM on, so if you had an early morning flight (as many WOW air and Icelandair flights depart early) you wouldn’t miss out on getting breakfast before heading to the airport. Check reviews, prices, and availability here.

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Well, that wraps up an epic 7 days in Iceland’s beautiful West! Is there any place I missed? Have you visited this beautiful part of the country? Let me know in the comments.

Note: Thank you to Iceland Travel for sponsoring my stay in the country and providing me with a car, tours, and accommodations during my stay. All opinions remain my own!

A 1 Week Mexico Itinerary You Can Steal: 7 Perfect Days in Mexico

Ahh, Mexico. I’ve spent months of my life in this beautiful country, exploring several different states, and yet I still never feel like I’ve seen enough.

I can never keep myself from Mexico for long – its culture and natural beauty (and let’s not lie – its tacos) keep me coming back time and again.

There are an impossible number of ways to spend one week in Mexico, and of course, this is just one idea. Other ways to spend a week in Mexico include traveling to Puerto Vallarta and its small neighboring surf town of Sayulita, spending a week traveling up and down Baja California, or exploring the famous Riviera Maya.

This Mexico itinerary covers a little bit of everything in three different states in Mexico, giving you city vibes, cultural appreciation, foodie heaven, and of course — some beach time!

Thank you to Kristen Youngs of the blog One Bag Nomad for authoring this piece. Check out her stellar 1 week in Mexico itinerary below!

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Mexico is all too frequently checked off travelers’ “must visit” lists after spending a sun-filled weekend in Cancun for bachelorette parties, family vacations, and even romantic getaway. The entire country is often considered “seen and done” after hitting up its world-famous beaches (or stopping by on a cruise).

Of course, any savvy traveler knows a country is much more than just its tourist highlights, and that couldn’t be more true for Mexico — a country with more culture, diversity, and breathtaking scenery than most of its visitors will ever lay eyes on.

Mexico is perfectly well-rounded; it has an experience, city, or sight you’ll fall in love with, no matter what kind of traveler you are. Because of its sheer size, you could truthfully spend weeks or even months traveling around the country without feeling like you’ve truly “seen” it (if you’re lucky enough to work from your laptop, don’t be surprised if you find yourself considering staying in Mexico long-term).

Fortunately, with its solid network of buses and flights, you can still experience the beauty of Mexico, even if you don’t have a month’s worth of vacation days saved up.

This 1 week Mexico itinerary will take you from the city to the mountains to some of the most gorgeous beaches you’ll ever lay eyes on. Each day will give you a different taste of what Mexican culture is like, from one unique spot to the next. By the end, you’ll be raving about this country’s quaint mountain towns just as much as its white sandy beaches.

The Ultimate 1 Week Mexico Itinerary

Day 1: Arriving in Mexico City

Mexico City is a bustling hub for international tourists. With one of the biggest airports in the world, it sees countless people come through each year. While there are dozens of other airports you could arrive into, Mexico City will serve as both an easy entry point, as well as your first stop in this itinerary.

From the airport, you have several options for getting downtown. The metro is well connected and cheap, so if you’re watching your budget on this trip, it’s a great (albeit crowded) option. That being said, if you have a lot of luggage with you, it’s going to be a tight fit. Also, be aware that theft happens in all crowded cities around the world; Mexico City is no different, so keep an eye on your bags.

Alternatively, you can hire a taxi from any stand within the arrivals hall of the airport. You shouldn’t be quoted more than about $15 USD for the one-way journey. Considering the convenience of a door-to-door taxi, that $15 could be well worth it.

Either way, Mexico City’s international airport is only about 8 miles outside of the main part of town, so the trip shouldn’t take too long, depending on traffic.

Head to La Condesa, one of Mexico City’s most colorful and vibrant neighborhoods. Before you do anything, stop into a local churro shop and pair this sweet, deep fried snack with a traditional Mexican hot chocolate. El Moro is a popular spot for this mouthwatering combo — you’ll find both locals and tourists lining up. As long as you can find churros being made fresh and on the spot, though, you really can’t go wrong.

Arriving in Mexico City can be overwhelming because there’s just so much to see, do, and eat. Avoid the urge to jam pack your first day, though, and just spend a couple hours strolling through nearby Chapultepec Park, which feels like stepping into a green sanctuary after being surrounded by so much city.

Make sure to check out Chapultepec Castle while you’re there, which feels more like something you might find in Versailles, France, than in this vibrant Latin American country. The castle has a small entrance fee and is home to the National Museum of History, where you can get a great insight into Mexico’s past.

If you’re still feeling up for more adventure, spend the next couple hours wandering around Condesa, popping into the street markets, stalls, and vendors you see along the way. Or, if you’re a museum buff, stop into the National Anthropology Museum or the Frida Kahlo Museum in Coyoacán — both world famous and easy places to spend an afternoon.

Whatever you decide to do, make sure to finish off your evening with some authentic Mexican tacos. You’ll have no trouble finding them in and around Condesa, but a solid option if you’re nearby is El Pescadito, which serves up a mean fish taco.

Day 2: Exploring the City

After getting your bearings, spend your second day in Mexico exploring the sights downtown. Before you hit the pavement, though, start your day with another Mexico City staple — chilaquiles — which are comparable nachos, but softer, and eaten with a fork for breakfast. You won’t need to search hard for these. In fact, I suggest simply stopping at the busiest food cart you find in the morning; they’re almost certain to serve good chilaquiles.

Afterwards, jump on the Metro and get off at the Zócalo stop. From there, spend some time wandering around the giant Plaza de la Constitución. Also check out the Museo de Templo Mayor, just a few minutes walk from there, where you’ll find ruins from an ancient Aztec temple — uncovered less than 50 years ago during planned construction work.

If you’re up for more museum time, you’ll have tons of options to choose from around the Zócalo; Mexico City is simply bursting with them. Alternatively, head a few minutes walk farther to the Palacio de Bellas Artes, where local shows and performing arts are held. Whether you see a performance or not, the building itself is stunning.

To wind down the day, grab another meal of authentic tacos from any of the well-reviewed restaurants around the Zócalo. You’ll pay a bit more here, but if you’re at all a foodie, you won’t be disappointed; this city thrives on its culinary scene.

Day 3: Head to Guanajuato

If this massive city of 20 million feels at all overwhelming, your next couple of days in this 1 week Mexico itinerary will certainly slow things down.

Guanajuato is a small, picturesque town sitting at the base of surrounding mountains. Shaped like a bowl, this city’s brightly colored buildings and houses climb up the surrounding hills, making nearly every view a memorable one.

You can get to nearby Del Bajio International Airport in Léon, Mexico via direct flight from Mexico City in about an hour. One way flights go for as low as $40 if you’re looking at the right time (here’s a great guide on finding cheap plane tickets if you aren’t able to uncover any good deals), making the trip cheap and quick.

Alternatively, you can take the 5-6 hour bus ride via coach from Mexico City directly to Guanajuato. Primera Plus is a clean coach line that operates like you would expect a national train line in Europe to function. It’s quick and efficient, and tickets are around $25 one-way. If you have the extra money to spare, however, the plane ride is easier and faster.

If you decide to fly into Guanajuato, you’ll need to take a taxi from the airport into town (about a 45-minute ride). You can pay for an official taxi up-front (in pesos or USD), before you even exit the airport arrivals area. Or, if you’re arriving via bus, you’ll be dropped off outside the city, but you can easily hail a cab from the terminal. The cost to your hotel should be no more than $2 USD.

Once you’re inside the town and settled in (don’t worry, hotel recommendations are coming later in this guide), you’ll want to grab some lunch and coffee from Santo Café, where you can sit on an outdoor archway overlooking a cobblestone pedestrian street. Order the fajitas and relax while the street performers serenade you from below.

Afterwards, spend the rest of your day wandering around this fairytale town. You’ll find lots of walking-only streets with cafes spilling out onto lush squares and sidewalks. The city literally twinkles at nightfall, and a cold beer and outdoor seating are the perfect way to wind down.

Day 4: Mummies or Mountains

You probably weren’t expecting to see mummies in this out-of-the-way Mexican town, but it’s something Guanajuato is well known for. Over 100 real mummies were discovered in a faux-cemetery nearby and have since become an international point of interest. In fact, some of Guanajuato’s mummies travel to exhibits all over the world.

The Museo de las Momias is located a bit outside the city, up a hill. The easiest ways to get there are by public bus or taxi, neither of which should cost more than $2-$3 USD. You can take either option from the center of town.

If you’re not into mummies, the mountains are right there for the taking. I suggest booking a tour for either a hike, mountain bike ride, or horseback ride, which you can easily do from the city. Beware, the sun is intense in Guanajuato, so if you’re opting for an outdoor adventure, lather on that sunscreen.

Day 5: Head to the Yucatan Peninsula

After you’ve explored Mexico’s biggest city, and then spent some time around the mountains, it’s time to head to the beach.

The Yucatan Peninsula is home to places like Cancún and Cozumel — hot spots for resort-goers. And while they each boast beautiful beaches, there are many, far more secluded shores to visit.

Your next destination on this 1 week Mexico itinerary is Isla Holbox, a small island with no cars, located about a 2-hour drive from Cancun. You’ll want to take a flight from Guanajuato’s airport (BJX) to Cancún, which will take about 2.5 hours nonstop and set you back as little as $30 for a one-way ticket.

Once you arrive in Cancún, it’s best to head straight to Holbox to make the most of your time there. The journey will take several hours, but I promise, it’s well worth it.

You have a few options for getting to Holbox if you don’t have your own car:

  • Take a taxi from the Cancún airport to Chiquila, where you can get the ferry to Holbox. This option will cost you the most, as taxis are notoriously expensive there.
  • Take a shared shuttle from Cancún airport to Chiquila. This option is a little cheaper; the company, Holbox Shuttle, offers the ride at $40 per person, with about a 2-3 hour travel time.
  • Take the ADO bus from Cancún center to Chiquila. This option is the cheapest (prices are around $15 one way), but it’ll take the longest. The bus journey itself is about 3.5 hours, but you first need to get from the airport to the ADO bus terminal.

If it’s within your budget, the second option is the best combination of affordability and speed. Once you’re dropped off at the Chiquila ferry, you can buy a ticket with either one of the two ferry companies there. Boats leave every half hour, take about 20-30 minutes to make the journey to Holbox Island, and cost around $8 one-way.

In total, from your arrival in Cancun to your arrival in Holbox, you’ll likely spend anywhere from 3 to 6 hours. With an early or midday flight from Guanajuato, that’ll give you the perfect amount of time to settle into your hotel, throw on some flip flops, and find a beach-side spot for some Mexican seafood and beer. Coquitos Beach Club and Restaurant, with palapas and loungers right in the sand, is where I suggest heading to catch the sunset.

Day 6: Beaches, Bikes, and Buggies

Holbox is small, so getting around isn’t tough. Your main modes of transportation will be: walking, biking, golf cart, or ‘taxi’ — a.k.a someone else driving a golf cart.

You know all the photos you see of people lounging in hammocks actually in the ocean? That happens at Hotel Villas Flamingos, and it’s just as glorious as it looks. Depending on how far away you are from Villas Flamingos, start your day by either taking an early stroll or golf cart ride over there.

The hammocks at Villas Flamingos fill up quickly, so it’s best to get there in the morning if you want to claim one for yourself.

Afterwards, take a short walk toward the main part of town (the island is so small, it’s easy to find).

On the way there, you’ll pass by bicycle rentals from shops and hostels. You can find rentals for as low as $1 per hour, and because there are no cars on the island, using a bike to get around is simple. Consider renting one for 2-3 hours and cycling to the nearby beaches. When you find an empty one, stop off and plant yourself in the sand for a while.

If it’s too hot to bike around, you can also rent your own golf cart; if you love the idea of having your own “buggy” all to yourself, you can rent one for a full 24 hours. Otherwise, just pick one up hourly from a shop in town. You’ll likely pay around $8 per hour (or less if renting for a half or full day).

While the beaches are spectacular, Holbox town itself is worth exploring, too. Walk, pedal, or cart yourself through the streets and check out all the famous artwork on the buildings. You’ll find vibrant, colorful street art all around the island — it’s well worth spending an hour or two discovering.

Day 7: Snorkel or Paddle Around Holbox

If you have the full day to spend on Holbox, there are lots of tours you can take from the island. One of the most popular is to go snorkeling with whale sharks, which are docile and harmless (albeit gigantic) fish.

Whale sharks are only spotted off Isla Holbox from May through September, and you can only find responsible whale shark tours in few parts of the world, so if you’re there at the right time, take the opportunity. Prices for these tours aren’t cheap (the tour operator, Holbox Whale Shark Tours, offers trips at $130 per person), but the experience is truly unbelievable.

If you’re sticking to a strict budget, a great alternative is renting kayaks for the day and exploring the island on your own. Or, if you’d like a little bit of structure, join a kayaking tour to Holbox’s mangroves, where you can see flamingos, crocodiles, and other wildlife. VIP Holbox offers the tour for $45 per person, whereas a solo kayak rental will run you about $7 per hour.

Where to Stay in Mexico

Every spot included in this Mexico itinerary has a wealth of accommodation options for absolutely any budget, especially if you’re coming from neighboring countries to the north or south. In terms of cost of living, Mexico generally falls below that of Central America, South America, and definitely the rest of North America.

For convenience’s sake, these hostel and hotel recommendations will be broken up into budget, mid-range, and luxury categories:

  • Budget = $10-$20 per person, per night
  • Mid-range = $50-$100 per room, per night
  • Luxury = $150+ per room, per night

Mexico City

Budget: La Condesa and Roma Norte are the perfect neighborhoods to base yourself during your Mexico City portion of this itinerary. Not only are the neighborhoods artsy and full of local cafes, they’re also easily accessible to most of Mexico City’s highlights. Hostel Home, located smack dab in the middle of Roma and Condesa, is clean, comfortable, and affordable. While many hostels in Mexico City are known as “party spots,” Hostel Home truly does feel like a home. The relaxed furniture, common areas, and staff all give the place more of a family feel than that of a hotel. Whether you’re looking for a budget option or not, this is a great one.

Mid-range: Nearby Hotel MX Roma has a vibe that’s a little hard to explain; think rustic, chic, and modular living. The rooms are colorful and clean, with each section of the living space being separated in its own little cube. Sleeping in the bed almost feels like you’re in one of Tokyo’s capsule hotels (although a much larger version). Outside of the rooms, the entire hotel has its own unique flair with portions of exposed brick and lots of woodwork. It’s certainly unique, and will absolutely make for a memorable Mexico City stay.

Luxury: If you have a significant amount of wiggle room in your budget and really want to go all out, La Valise in the Roma Norte neighborhood will be worthy of your cash. Even the lowest accommodation level here is astounding, but if you’re lucky enough to book one of their “Terraza” rooms, you’re in for a treat. Not only are these rooms more like loft apartments, you can literally open the walls to the terrace and slide the bed outside onto the balcony (it runs on tracks). You honestly might have a hard time pulling yourself away from this hotel to go out and explore, but for a luxurious stay, this is the spot.

Guanajuato

Budget: Guanajuato is easily covered on foot (except for its many, steep stairs); the main part of town itself is pretty small. That means you won’t be too restricted when choosing the location of your hotel — they’ll all be fairly central. For a great budget option, book a couple nights at Casa Lupita Homestay. While their private rooms fall into the “mid-range” category, they do offer dorm beds at a lower cost. This is one of the nicest hostels you’ll find, where the accommodations are clean and modern, but still have a colorful touch reminiscent of Mexico. Casa Lupita is located just steps away from all the major attractions in Guanajuato, making it an easy home-base for your trip.

Mid-range: A great in-between option is Hotel de la Paz, situated down a small alley, right off the main square. The rooms are basic, but comfortable, are kept spotlessly clean, and even include breakfast (although you’ll have to walk a few blocks down to their neighboring hotel for it). The best part about this hotel is its rooftop area, where you can get a bird’s eye view of the town, with its brightly colored buildings crawling up the sides of all the surrounding mountains.

Luxury: Average costs in Guanajuato are much lower than Mexico City; your hotel options will generally give you more bang for your buck. Whereas a 4 or 5 star Mexico City hotel might cost $300 or more, the same quality hotel in Guanajuato will likely be half that. Hotel Boutique 1850 is a great example — you’ll feel like you’re getting complete luxury at a much lower cost than expected. Each of the 20 rooms in this hotel are all tastefully designed in different color schemes and styles. Some are bright and airy, while others have darker, wood tones for an extra classy feel. To top it off, there’s a bar on the roof where you can take in Guanajuato’s dazzling sunsets.

Isla Holbox

Budget: Holbox is like a budget traveler’s haven. It’s hard to imagine you could find such affordable accommodation on this little slice of paradise, but you’ll definitely have options. Hostel la Isla Holbox is the first place I’d suggest looking. Private rooms are more expensive, but their dorm beds are a good budget option (although a bit rustic). The good news is, the rooms are just a couple minutes walk to the beach, so if you’re not into the “rustic” vibe, that might overshadow it. If you’re looking to save even more money and really want to live the “island life” for a couple days, Hostel & Cabanas Ida y Vuelta offers hammocks with mosquito nets under palm shelters outside for about $7 per night. It’s certainly not for everyone, but if you want to be one with nature, you’ll have the perfect chance there.

Mid-range: If you prefer a little more space and a little less nature, consider booking your stay at Hotel Villas El Jardin, which offers apartment-like accommodation for middle-of-the-road budgets. Each room is exceptionally clean and modern, with ensuite bathrooms, kitchenettes, comfortable living areas, and balconies. With the beach only a 2 minute walk away, you can’t really go wrong here. It’s comfortable, affordable, and convenient to the rest of the island.

Luxury: Just like there are more than enough budget options on Holbox, you’ll find just as many hotels catering to the luxury traveler. Ventanaiso Beachfront Hotel is a prime example. While this hotel isn’t flashy or overly luxurious in appearance, what really puts it over the top is it’s location — smack dab in the middle of a gorgeous, sandy beach. Ventanaiso offers high ceiling rooms with spacious balconies overlooking the ocean right outside. You can literally step from your room, straight onto the sand. Like in Guanajuato, the cost of luxury on Holbox gets you more than it would than in places like Mexico City. If you’re in the mood to go out with bang at the end of your 1 week trip around Mexico, this hotel wouldn’t be a bad place to do it.

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Got only 7 days in Mexico? This one week Mexico itinerary will bring you to the throbbing capital of Mexico City, to the quaint mountains of Guanajuato, and the lovely beaches of Isla Holbox. Experience the best of Mexico in just 1 week - read for suggestions on how to best plan your Mexico trip with this awesome itinerary.

About the Author:

Kristen Youngs co-operates two online businesses while traveling the world full-time. Visit her website, One Bag Nomad, to learn how to travel as long as you want and build a successful online business, completely location-free. You can also find her on Pinterest.

One Day in Copenhagen: An Alternative Copenhagen Itinerary

Canals lined with colorful houses, cafés oozing with hygge, and the beating heart of the happiest nation on Earth: Copenhagen just breathes with life.

Travelers from around the world flock to admire Copenhagen’s colorful architecture around the city center – and not just Nyhavn, its most famous row of candy-colored houses. We found beautiful houses nearly everywhere we turned – whether it was a random street in our friend’s neighborhood of Amagerbro, a used clothing store, or a random side street off the main drag. There’s no need to try to get the same Insta-famous shots as everyone else, so feel free to wander around Copenhagen and follow your eyes and see where it leads you.

If you have to make the most of Copenhagen in one day, you have two choices: tick off all the touristy “musts” and spend half your day in line… or follow this alternative Copenhagen itinerary. This one-day Copenhagen guide will show you the city through a slightly off the beaten path lens, while being sure to take you to a few can’t-miss popular Copenhagen musts. This is my favorite way to travel: a blend of a few of the tourist top 10, with a heavy dash of the offbeat to see how the locals live in their city.

Here’s what you won’t find on this Copenhagen itinerary: The Little Mermaid sculpture (it’s tiny and completely overrated), Tivoli Gardens (if you have one day in Copenhagen, you probably shouldn’t spend it in a theme park), and the Copenhagen Zoo (zoos are nearly always unethical and the same basically everywhere).

Instead, this alternative Copenhagen itinerary will bring you to some cool street art, delicious food halls, bottle shops of renegade Danish brewers, authentic ethnic restaurants, colorful houses in scenic harbors, cool canals to hang out by in the summer, and fun pubs where you can rub elbows with local Danes — who are really quite chatty once they’ve got a drink in them.

So, buckle up if you’ve got one day in Copenhagen: you’re in for a busy, boozy 24 hours.

Your One Day Copenhagen Itinerary

Explore the anarchist Freetown Christiania

Founded in 1971, by people squatting in former military barracks in the borough of Christianshavn, Freetown Christiania is no stranger to controversy. 

Some 1,000 residents – some temporary, some permanent – have formed a community in the heart of Copenhagen with its own self-governing set of rules, separate from Danish law. Freetown Christiania views itself as a separate entity from Copenhagen, Denmark, or even the EU, for that matter.

This quirky neighborhood reminded me of Vilnius’ utopian Užupis, but with a bit more edginess to it.

There is quite a bit of clutter, dilapidated houses, DIY skate parks, and street art lining the walls of this former military area.

Christiania has a reputation for drug use – which is a bit overstated, in my opinion. While there is some sale of soft drugs such as marijuana, there is a hard prohibition against the use or sale of any hard drugs. I spent about an hour walking around taking photos and exploring, and I didn’t get harassed or asked to buy anything.

The reality is that Christiania is the fourth-most visited site in Copenhagen, and it’s hardly ‘off the beaten path’. Still, it’s well worth a visit, despite being firmly on the tourist trail. Be respectful of the people who live there, and enjoy your exploration of a social experiment that has thrived and survived for some nearly five decades.

If you prefer some context and guidance, you can take a 90-minute guided walking tour of Christiania. Click to read reviews and see prices.

Enjoy the colorful houses in Nyhavn, then go for a canal tour

Touristy, yes – but Copenhagen is famous for its beautiful canals with their colorful houses lining the harbor, and there are some things you just shouldn’t miss, even if you’re aiming for a more alternative Copenhagen itinerary. Nyhavn is just one of those places.

After taking some photos of gorgeous Nyhavn, embrace your inner tourist (you do have only one day in Copenhagen, after all) by taking a quick canal boat ride through its neighborhoods. Canal boat tours take about one hour and leave frequently from Nyhavn. Purchase a ticket online to skip the line and save time.

If you’re a victim of the frequently finicky Danish weather, a canal boat tour is also a great way to pass time if the weather is not on your side. Most of the canal boats have a glass roof, which keeps rain, cold, and other unpleasantness away while still allowing you a good view and to snap some photos.

Stop for a coffee

The Nordic countries love their coffee and Denmark is no exception. In fact, Denmark is the 4th largest consumer of coffee in the world, trailing Finland, Norway, and Iceland. Hey – you’d drink a lot of coffee too if your winter days were that short and cold!

Like everything in Denmark, you’ll find coffee to be a bit more expensive than you’re used to, whether you’re stopping at a touristy café, a trendy coffee shop that specializes in single-origin beans, or at a boring chain like Espresso House. Since you’ll be paying a premium on your coffee anyway, you might as well enjoy one of Denmark’s finest cups of coffee.

Some of Copenhagen’s best coffee – and best Danish design – can be had at Copenhagen Coffee Lab in Amagerbro, but there are plenty of places you can find a good cup of coffee around the city if that’s out of the way.

Enjoy a smørrebrød for lunch

The Danish open-faced sandwich is a classic must-eat when in Copenhagen. As you’d expect with the Nordics, the sandwiches are as aesthetically pleasing as they are delicious. Danes don’t mess around when it comes to design.

Hilariously, you’ll find signs advertising smørrebrød to go – I can’t think of a less pedestrian-friendly lunch than an open-faced sandwich piled high with gravity-defying toppings. But hey, what do I know?

A smørrebrød is typically a piece of dense rye bread with your choice of toppings. Usual toppings include some variation of fish or seafood- herring, mackerel, smoked salmon, and tiny shrimp being the most common choices. For those who don’t like fish, pâté, roast beef, and roast pork are also popular options, and Denmark is getting better at also including vegetarian options as well.

Alternately, you could opt for a 2.5-hour food walking tour that covers five tastes of Danish cuisine plus a beer tasting. These tours run every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at 2:30 PM, and prices are reasonable for Copenhagen! Check reviews and availability here.

Wander past the city center

This is where you’ll find tourists swarming to see the most popular sights, such as the Round Tower (Rundetaarn) and Helligaandskirken church. Wander through it at leisure, but don’t get distracted by all the souvenir shops and long queues for the popular central attractions.

There’s some deliciousness on the other side of the tourist-packed madness for you, so keep your eyes on the prize and make your way over to Torvehallerne!

Drool over Copenhagen’s best food hall

Food halls are quite popular in Scandinavia – probably because the weather is not kind enough to permit open-air markets, but the people still love their fresh foods. Copenhagen’s Torvehallerne food hall is a great place to stop, whether you need to shop for “obscure” ingredients at the Asian food stall (we were ecstatic to pick up some much-needed packs of kimchi ramen) or just grab something to eat on the go for an affordable (but still Danish) price.

While a typical meal in Denmark is quite expensive, you’ll find that food halls are a great deal. For example, a Vietnamese banh mi at the food hall will run you about 80 DKK, about $12 – a far cry from what you’d pay at a sit-down restaurant.

Stop to shop beer (or just gawk at the labels) at Mikkeller

If you’re a fan of craft beer, you probably already have heard of Mikkeller. If not – here’s a little crash course. Mikkeller is one of the foremost microbreweries in the world, a so-called “phantom brewery” as the company has no official brewery and instead works collaboratively with other brewers or does experimental beers. Founded by two Danish home brewers, Mikkel Borg Bjergsø and Kristian Klarup Keller, the name ‘Mikkeller’ is a blend of the two men’s first and last names, respectively.

Mikkeller specializes in creative beers inspired by homebrewing traditions and you can find a Mikkeller bottle shop in Torvehallerne. Even if you are not a big fan of beer, it’s worth checking out this little bottle shop while you’re in the market – I always love Mikkeller’s bottle designs, which are just as creative as the brews inside them. Pick up some beers to enjoy on the canal later, or take it outside to enjoy now.

Wander around Nørrebro

Just across the canal from Torvehallerne, you’ll find the hip and trendy neighborhood of Nørrebro, one of Copenhagen’s most densely diverse and interesting places.

Photo Credit: Martin Heiberg, used with permission from Copenhagen Media Center

Be sure to check out Superkilen, a self-described ‘diversity park’ featuring fixtures from around the world, whether it be Japanese sculptures or Moroccan fountains. It’s a common place for locals to hang out during the summer as well as a popular photo spot. The Assistens cemetery is also a calm green oasis and it’s not uncommon to see bicyclists passing through the cemetery: a peaceful place of life as well as death.

While I loved exploring Norrebro independently, if you want to dive deeper into the neighborhood with a local guide, you can do so! Urban Adventures, one of my favorite walking tour companies in Europe, runs tours at 12:30 PM Tuesday through Saturday (which means you may want to shuffle around the activities on this itinerary if you do the tour). Check reviews and availability here.

Grab international food in Nørrebro

Copenhagen has become an increasingly diverse city over the years and it reflects in the cuisine. While I love a smørrebrød or two, there’s only so much pickled herring a girl can take. So, thank god for immigration.

Nørrebro is one of the most diverse neighborhoods in all of Copenhagen and it’s where you can find delicious international cuisine from all over the globe. But with only one day in Copenhagen planned on this trip before heading off to the Faroe Islands, I could only fit so much in my stomach.

My friend Megan and I are total ramen fiends, and so we opted for Ramen to Bíiru, the best-rated ramen restaurant in town where you can actually get Mikkeller beer specially crafted to be paired with your ramen. And the extra fun part: you get to order your ramen with a vending machine just like you do in Japan!

Our ramens were both excellent. Megan went for the spicy miso ramen and I went for the classic shoyu ramen as my stomach is no longer to take spicy food the way it used to! Prices are reasonable for Copenhagen, around 120 DKK ($18) for a huge bowl of ramen.

If you’re not a fan of ramen or you want to try something a little more unusual, you could go for Ethiopian at Ma’ed, Eritrean at Asmara, or Michelin-starred Thai at Kiin Kiin.

Watch the sunset (or take a dip) at Islands Brygge

How many cities have water clean enough that you can swim right in the city center? Coming from New York, I wouldn’t take a dip in the East River if you paid me (well, maybe if you paid me the equivalent of six months’ rent).

The Islands Brygge are close to the Langebro bridge, which connects central Copenhagen to its eastern neighborhood, Amagerbro.

Copenhagen rarely gets truly “hot,” but if you happen to be there on a rare warm day in the summer as we did, you may want to cool off in the canal like the locals do!

If the weather is too cold for you to get in, or you’re just a baby like me who hates cold water no matter how hot it is outside, it’s also common to sit with a beer, cider, or wine and enjoy the sunset over the canal.

End the night at one of Copenhagen’s craft beer bars

Denmark is on the cutting edge of craft beer and WarPigs is one of the best-loved bars for beer lovers in town, as certified by my Copenhagen travel buddy and craft beer expert Megan Starr (check out her awesome beer guides here).

Yes, going out for a few beers in Copenhagen will be pricy – expect to pay around 60-90 DKK for a beer, with the most common price being around 80 DKK ($12) for a beer. But you’ll be getting to sample of Denmark’s most creative brewers and support local entrepreneurs. Megan particularly enjoyed the New England IPA by WarPigs called ‘Opposite Optimist’ – it was delicious.

If none of the 22 taps at WarPigs suit your fancy, you’ll be in the heart of Copenhagen’s Meatpacking District (Kødbyen) so there’s plenty of other bars to hop around afterward! Alternately, you could take an organized pub crawl if you prefer to find some new drinking buddies.

Where to Stay in Copenhagen

Copenhagen hotels are pricy, that’s for sure. I’ve been lucky enough to get to stay with friends the last two times I’ve visited Copenhagen – the perks of having friends all over the world!

While I don’t have any firsthand recommendations, here’s what I’ve culled from my research.

Budget: Hostels in Copenhagen are not cheap by any means and a simple bed in a dorm will likely set you back $30 USD a night at a minimum. The cheapest, best hostels book up quickly so you want to book in advance if you are traveling on a budget. The best-reviewed value hostel in Copenhagen is Steel House, which is located in central Copenhagen near the trendy Kødbyen neighborhood. With a perfect location, excellent Danish design, and nearly 6,000 positive reviews, it’s an easy choice. Check reviews, prices, and availability here.

Mid-range: If you prefer a little more privacy than a hostel offers, but don’t have much of a budget to spend on accommodations, I recommend SleepCPH.  It’s a bit outside the center but still walking distance (40 minutes, or faster with the metro) from Nyhavn, the heart of central Copenhagen. It’s located close to the airport so it’s extra convenient if you have an early or late flight. While it’s not the most exciting neighborhood, the price is great and it is very convenient! Check reviews, prices, and availability here.

Luxury: Big money to spend in Copenhagen? You’ve got plenty of choices. For a quirky but quietly upscale choice, Babette Guldsmeden has gorgeous design, is super eco-friendly, and has a rooftop terrace and sauna to enjoy. The price is quite reasonable for expensive Copenhagen as well, especially if you are traveling outside of peak season. Check reviews, prices, and availability here.

Getting to Copenhagen

Copenhagen is well-connected by a variety of airlines. However, when I was trying to get to Copenhagen, I was coming from Kiev, Ukraine, where there are not a lot of flights between the two cities. I partnered with airBaltic, one of my preferred European airlines, in order to get to Copenhagen, as they offered the best prices and schedules between Kiev and Copenhagen during peak summer season.

airBaltic has several flights between Kiev and Copenhagen daily, each with a connection in Riga. I’ve flown with airBaltic a few times and I’m always pleasantly surprised by how easy and quick the connection in Riga is, even for non-Schengen flights. Still, I was initially a little worried about my short layover time – a little over an hour – because I have massive flight anxiety and am always convinced something will go wrong. I’m the kind of person who usually arrives at the airport more than two hours before my flight and book myself longer layovers rather than rush between flights. I know, I’m lots of fun.

However, airBaltic is rated the #1 most punctual airline in the world, so I chanced the short layover. Sure enough, my flight from Kiev to Riga arrived on time (early, in fact). I whizzed through Schengen passport control (as I was coming from outside the EU) and passed through a small security checkpoint in just 20 minutes, giving myself enough time to get a sandwich and a coffee before my Riga to Copenhagen flight. It was a super seamless flying experience, so I’d recommend connecting via Riga with airBaltic if you’re on the way to Copenhagen and airBaltic is an option!

* Note: Thank you to airBaltic for sponsoring my flight between Kiev and Copenhagen in exchange for an honest review. All other expenses in Copenhagen were my own. All opinions are my own.

Ultimate Taipei Itinerary: 5 Days in Taiwan’s Lovable Capital

I spent two weeks in Taiwan in January and it was – and still is – one of my favorite new travel destinations of 2018. From the absolutely incredible street food to the mountain of wonderful day trips it’s possible to do easily from Taipei thanks to their excellent metro system, I was never bored in Taipei – and I stayed there for about 12 days.

Of course, most people have to maximize their vacation time, and so I’ve created this Taipei itinerary for 5 days traveling at a leisurely pace. However, if you only had 3 or 4 days in Taipei, you could certainly use this Taipei itinerary as a framework for planning the rest of your trip by picking and choosing what is most essential to you. Or, if you want to see even more, you can combine some of these days into one and then add a few of these excellent day trips from Taipei.

I’ve previously written about some of the best things to do in and around Taipei so feel free to substitute items out from this 5 day Taipei itinerary with other ideas from my list. Also, you can combine this with my 2 day Taichung itinerary in order to plan a perfect full week in Taiwan.

Taipei Itinerary, Day 1: Arriving & Eating

I’ve purposely kept day 1 of your Taipei itinerary quite light on activities as I’m assuming you’ll be tired from your flight or arriving in the afternoon or evening.

Get into the city

First, decide if you want to pick up a SIM card or pocket WiFi in the airport before you leave, to make life a little easier. I bought a SIM card because my phone is unlocked, but many people who don’t have SIM cards – or are traveling in a group and don’t want to buy multiple SIMs – find pocket WiFi devices far more convenient.

You can book it online and simply present your mobile voucher to pick it up 24 hours a day at Taipei Taoyuan International Airport, upon arrival, making it ultra-convenient!

Here is the pocket WiFi rental service I recommend!

Now, time to get into the city.

Normally I’m all about the MRT, Taipei’s lightning efficient and ultra cheap subway system, which is probably the best metro system I’ve ever used in the world. But if you are arriving at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport, which most flights arrive into, the bus is actually the better option.

You will want to look for bus 1819, which runs 24/7 every 15-20 minutes or so (and every hour between 2 AM and 6 AM). The bus will take you all the way to Taipei Main Station, where you can easily catch the MRT to take you to wherever you are staying.

The airport bus cost 125 Taiwanese dollars, which works out to be about $4 USD, and it took about an hour to go from the airport to the center.

Need more info? I’ve written a full guide to getting from Taoyuan Airport to the city center here.

Alternately, if public transit stresses you out – especially where you don’t speak or read the language – you may want to opt for an airport arrival transfer. These transfers are highly rated and inexpensive for the quality of service. Book yours today here.

Check into your hotel or hostel

If you are staying in Taipei for 5 days, you’ll want to pick a location that is central. Here are my recommendations, broken down by budget.

I personally stayed in Shilin near the night market for my first 5 days in Taipei and then spent my remaining days in an Airbnb in Xinpu, which had a more local vibe. Honestly, the neighborhood you stay in doesn’t matter that much in Taipei because of how excellent the MRT is. So as long as you are close to an MRT station, it is pretty much impossible to go wrong!

I’ve broken down where to stay in Taipei into three budget ranges, which can roughly be defined as follows:

  • Budget: Under $25 per night for a dorm bed
  • Mid-range: $50-100 per night for a hotel room
  • Luxury: $150+ for a hotel room

Budget: For a super-affordable stay with excellent aesthetics and a good location, I recommend LuckyOne Hostel in Datong. The hostel is very well-designed in a way that I wish more hostels were — simple things like the top bunk being high enough that the person on the bottom bunk can sit comfortably, reading lights and outlets next to each bed, etc. have all been considered in the design. Check rates, availability, and reviews here.

Another great option is Ximen Duckstay Hostel (the name is hilarious, I know) which has an amazing central location in Ximen, one of the  most bustling areas of Taipei in the evening. The rooms are small but well-designed, with designated places to keep your luggage to keep the floor clear, privacy curtains, reading lights, etc. There’s also a hostel bar so it’s good for solo travelers who want to socialize, as Taipei doesn’t have the best bar scene. Check rates, availability, and reviews here.

Mid-range: Taipei is home of one of my favorite affordable hotel chains, citizenM ! I love booking rooms with citizenM because I know that I’m going to get a well-designed room at an affordable price, without having to pay for a bunch of luxuries I won’t use. The deisgn is fun and quirky, with a real sense of personality that is missing from many hotel chains. You always know when you are stepping into a citizenM and I love that. The location is also great. Check rates, availability, and reviews here.

Luxury: If you’re looking for luxury meets a dash of quirkiness, I highly recommend Eslite during your stay. Located in Songshan Creative & Cultural Park, this 5-star hotel is beautifully appointed with tons of amazing details like unending shelves of books in the lobby (swoon!). With perks like private balconies, enormous beds, sunken bathtubs, in-room sound systems, you can stay in style at Eslite without paying an insane amount. Check rates, availability, and reviews here.

Head to a local night market

What better way to introduce yourself to Taiwan’s foodie capital than by heading straight to a night market on your first night? While night markets can be a little overwhelming to the uninitiated, they are simply a must-do in Taipei, even if you are a picky eater.

The reason why street food is so much better than other types of food is that vendors truly specialize in one single dish, preparing it to perfection night after night until it is the best version of itself it can possibly be.

In my opinion, Shilin Night Market is a must on any Taipei itinerary – whether you’ve got one day or five. I actually strategically picked my hostel to be in Shilin during my first 4 nights in Taipei (I’d later stay near the Xinpu metro). This was perfect because I would take the MRT to central Taipei during the day, but when I’d go back to my hostel in the late afternoon to rest my legs before dinner, I wouldn’t have to get back on the MRT to get dinner – I could just stroll all the street stalls.

If you prefer a little guidance, you can take an affordable night market tour that covers 12 different tastings at a local, little-touristed market- this tour only runs on Sundays, however, so plan accordingly!

This Ningxia night market tour is offered three times a week, Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and may be a good alternative.

While Taipei locals and expats will tell you Shilin is the most ‘touristy’ night market, I think that term is a bit overblown. I visited in January, which is pretty off-season, and the crowd seemed to be almost entirely locals.

There are definitely more ‘under the radar’ night markets such as Raohe (check out a complete guide to night markets by a Taipei expat here) which may be more convenient for where you are staying.

For your first night market, I’d say pick somewhere close by your hotel – if you have 5 days in Taipei, you’ll have time to sample more than one night market.

So, what do I recommend you eat at the night markets? While I’m far from an expert, here are a few of the dishes I enjoyed the most: suckling pork wraps, steamed leek buns, flame-grilled beef sprinkled with cumin, pepper pork buns, takoyaki (octopus ‘dumplings’ covered in Japanese toppings), and enormously long French fries dipped in wasabi mayo.

Oh, and if you think you smell a sewer leaking, don’t fret — that’s just someone cooking up some stinky tofu, Taipei’s most notorious – and nefarious – street food. I wasn’t brave enough to try it! Supposedly, it tastes better than it smells – which I would hope – but I never tried it.

One thing to note about the night markets is that there is not always a ton of English spoken, but there’s usually some English signage. If you’re worried about a language barrier — or just want some guidance on what the tastiest things to eat are! — a night market food tour would be a fantastic choice.

This is the night market & bike tour I recommend!

If you want a more in-depth and private food tour experience, I recommend booking a private food tour, which you can set for any day or time during your trip as it’s customized to your schedule!

This food tour includes eight tastings and two drinks and you can schedule it at any point during your trip.

Check tour itinerary, prices, and reviews here.

Taipei Itinerary, Day 2: The Top Sights

If you have 5 days in Taipei, luckily, you don’t have to rush to see all the tourist musts in a quick manner. Rather, you can explore the city leisurely at your own pace.

I’ve included just a few of the main places to see in Taipei on today’s itinerary, so spread it out leisurely and feel free to walk between sights to get to know the city better (or hop on the MRT if your feet are getting tired!)

Not keen on walking? Alternately, you can opt for a private guided tour of Taipei by car or a hop-on, hop-off bus to make getting around even easier.

Otherwise, this day of your Taipei itinerary is mostly walkable (I’ll make note of where you may want to hop on the MRT), so put your most comfortable shoes on and let’s get to it!

Start in Taipei’s most famous square

Start the day at the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall MRT station, which is a great place to start the second day of your Taipei itinerary with some of the most important sights in the city. Take exit 5 to The massive Liberty Square is the nexus of several buildings, all of which are beautiful and crucial to understanding the history of Taiwan.

Standing tall above the square, you can’t miss the beautiful, imposing Chiang-Kai Shek Memorial Hall.

The square’s most famous building – the eponymous Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall – is a stunning marble-white building standing 76 meters tall, towering above Liberty Square. This building’s construction incorporates Chinese symbols, hence the reason for its unique shape. For one, the white building is shaped like an octagon, as the number 8 has symbolism within Chinese culture as being associated with good fortune and wealth. There are two sets of stairs, each with 89 steps – Chaing Kai-Shek’s age upon death – leading to a large statue memorializing Chiang.

Below the Memorial Hall, there is a small museum that shows the development of Chiang Kai-Shek’s life and political career, as well as information on Taiwan’s history and Chiang Kai-Shek’s role on the development of the Republic of China (ROC).

There are some other buildings that are also important to take note of (and are also quite photogenic) in Liberty Square. You won’t be able to miss the ornately adorned National Concert Hall and National Theater, standing across from each other as if mirrors.

Lastly, you’ll want to stop by to photograph the scenic DaXiao and Dazhong Gates, located on the side entrances to Liberty Square. Each is composed of 5 arches – the middle arch which frames the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall perfectly – these gates are popular amongst photographers and Instagrammers. You’ll want to dedicate at least 1 hour to exploring and photographing this area, more likely 1.5 hours.

Have pork braised rice for lunch

One of the most traditional and beloved dishes in the Taiwanese kitchen, you can’t miss trying braised pork rice during your time in Taipei. One of the most well-known places in central Taipei to try pork braised rice is Jin Feng near Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall. Usually packed with a combination of locals and tourists, a bowl of pork braised rice costs around 30 Taiwanese dollars, about $1 USD.

You may have to wait, or you may get lucky and arrive at a time when there are no lines. If you don’t want to wait in line or you don’t eat pork, there are several other restaurants in the area.

Get some peace and quiet at the Taipei Botanical Gardens

I’m a huge fan of botanical gardens in cities. Back when I lived in NYC, I used to spend at least one weekend a month enjoying the peace and quiet of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. The great thing about Taipei’s Botanical Gardens is that it’s completely free to enter, and since it’s a mere 20-minute walk from Liberty Square and Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall, it’s a nice detour.

I visited in January, so understandably, nothing that exciting was blooming in the middle of Taiwan’s winter (even though it being Taiwan, its winters are relatively mild). That said, even with the lack of blooming flowers, I still felt like it’s totally worthwhile to visit the botanic gardens. My favorite part was the pond in the middle of the park – Lotus Pond – which has a great view of the water and the National Museum of History (which you can definitely add to your Taipei itinerary if you want – I didn’t personally check it out as I’m not a huge museum fan).

Marvel at the 18th-century Longshan Temple

There are several traditional Chinese folk temples in Taipei, but Longshan Temple is one of the oldest and most famous. It was built in 1738 by Fujian settlers, who arrived in Taiwan during the Qing dynasty. However, it has been reconstructed several times: fires, earthquakes, and most recently WWII-era bombings have all done considerable damage to the original structure of Longshan over the centuries.

To this day, Longshan Temple is extremely active with locals who make prayers according to the local customs.

One unique custom I noticed is that Taiwanese people were throwing small painted pieces of wood to the ground repeatedly. As it turns out, they were using something called jiaobei or “moon blocks”, which are small, painted pieces of wood that look almost like sections of an orange. They are thrown in pairs and the way they fall to the ground as a unit is used to divine the future.


In addition to the jiaobei blocks, I saw people lighting candles in prayer and making offerings. It was a really unique experience for me as someone who has never experienced Chinese folk religion firsthand before. Entrance for visitors is free, but please dress respectfully as you would with any place of worship.

Hang out in Ximending

Take the MRT to walk to the Ximen metro stop to get to the heart of Ximending. Bustling, bright, and just a tad chaotic, Ximending is one of my favorite neighborhoods in Taipei. Nicknamed “the Harajuku of Taipei,” this is where Taiwanese come to walk, shop, and eat. In reality, it really reminded me of Osaka’s Dotonbori district, but that’s beyond the point!


If you’re hungry, follow the queues for a hint. You’ll likely see a line at Hot Star Fried Chicken or T.K.K. Fried Chicken, which are two of the most-loved foodie spots in Ximending.

This is also the neighborhood where you’ll find some of Taipei’s… quirkier eating options, like Modern Toilet. I ate there purely for the novelty of eating out of a fake toilet bowl – and I was surprised that, for a gimmicky restaurant, my meal was actually not bad. The ice cream, however, was another story – and seriously, how can you mess up ice cream?

If you’re not hungry, this is still a great place to stroll around and people watch, especially in the pedestrian area that is car-free.

Enjoy tea and scenic views on Maokong Mountain

For this next place, you’ll need to hop on the MRT and make your way to the Taipei Zoo station.

To get there independently, just take the MRT to Taipei Zoo (last stop on the brown line) and then catch the Maokong Gondola to the top, which will cost 120 Taiwanese dollars (about $4 USD) each way.

Pro Tip: I actually recommend buying your ticket online here – it’s cheaper, allows you to skip the line, and includes a free night sightseeing bus if you would like.

At the top of the mountain, you can have your choice of famous Taiwanese teas (no, not bubble tea!) as well as try dishes that have been seasoned with tea – certainly something unique you won’t find in the rest of Taipei. Meanwhile, you’ll have amazing views as Taipei’s lights – including the beloved Taipei 101 – come to life after dark.

Taipei Itinerary, Day 3: Explore Taipei’s offbeat side

This day is all about immersing yourself in what Taipei has to offer by making the most of the city’s sprawling MRT system. While it looks like you’ll be bouncing all over the map today, in reality, the MRT makes everything super fast and easily accessible.

Today is all about hot springs, boardwalks, street food, and creative parks!

Start the day at Songshan Creative and Cultural Park

Creative parks are a uniquely Taiwanese phenomenon. Somewhere between pop-up market, nature park, and selfie wonderland, you simply must put one of Taipei’s creative parks on your Taiwan itinerary.

Songshan Creative and Cultural Park is located on the grounds of a former tobacco factory, and in its place a sprawling arts complex has arisen. In the heart of the complex is Eslite, which hosts a trendy luxury hotel, a large bookstore, vinyl shops, and creative workshops.

There is also a huge garden at the heart of Songshan which is great for strolling around and enjoying Taipei’s usually-mild weather. We had a spate of a lot of sunny, warm days despite traveling in January so it was a really lovely space to walk around.

One thing we noticed all over the place in Taipei is that dog owners love to carry their dogs in what look like baby carriers – apparently, this is because dogs are not allowed on the floor of many shops, but all that is moot when you carry the dog in a stroller!

See the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall

A brief walk from Songshan Creative Park, you shouldn’t miss the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, one of the most important buildings in Taipei. Similar in style to the National Theater and Concert Hall, this building commemorates the “National Father” of the Republic of China (the formal name of Taiwan). 

Stroll around trendy Zhongxiao

Zhongxiao is one of the trendiest neighborhoods in Taipei and it’s a great place to stop if you need to shop a bit while you’re in Taipei. The area around Zhongxiao Dunhua is great for people with an eye for designer fashion, and there are also several delicious restaurants in this area. I opted for delicious Korean fried chicken at Cheogajip but of course this being Taipei good food is never hard to find!

Make your way slowly through Zhongxiao, stopping to shop, sip of coffee, or snack on your way over to Huashan 1914 Creative Park (or hop on the MRT if your feet get tired).

Oh, and if you’re obsessed with Hello Kitty, right by Huashan 1914 is where you’ll find the Hello Kitty themed café. But remember that like many themed cafés, there is a minimum – the minimum here was 300 Taiwanese dollars, about $10 USD, so I gave it a pass as I’m not really a Hello Kitty person. In fact, it’s pretty much antithetical to my personality, but I’m a good sport.

Check out Huashan 1914 Creative Park

Overall, Huashan was really cool, but I was a bit sad to see that their upside-down houses display that was so beloved by Instagrammers had been dismantled! So if that is one of the reasons why you want to go, be prepared that it is no longer there, as the parks rotate out their displays frequently.

However, we did stumble across a Canada-themed (I know, I’m confused too) pop-up craft beer bar with a lovely, super friendly bartender who kept us full of samples of different craft beers!

The creative parks are always changing their pop-up shops and featured galleries, so don’t go expecting any one particular thing or you may be disappointed. They’re a uniquely Taiwanese experience though, so be sure to visit at least one.

Hop on the metro to Beitou Thermal Valley

Taipei is unique in that it is a capital city with actual volcanoes right in the city limits, including the largest volcano in Taiwan (Mt. Qixing). Alongside those volcanoes are volcanic hot springs, which are beloved by locals and fun for tourists to experience.

To check out some hot springs without ever having to leave the comfort of the MRT, head out to Beitou on the red line. There, you’ll find plenty of geothermal activity to take part in. For a local experience, head to Beitou Park and soak your feet in the free hot springs with all the locals (be sure to wash your feet first or you will rightfully earn their ire!)

From there, it’s a short walk to the aptly-named ‘Hell Valley’ where you will most definitely not want to rest your feet in – you’ll see what I mean when you see it! The water is so hot it is on the verge of boiling, about 90 C, so it’s more of a geological curiosity than an actual hot spring to enjoy. The smell is also quite hellish, so be prepared!

From there, you can visit the cheap (about $1 for entry) public Beitou Hot Springs or check the local hotels in the area to see if they have any day passes available to their spas and springs.

The best hotel in town is Grand View Resort Beitou and they have a fantastic day pass deal (book online here) which includes full use of outdoor their mineral water pools, traditional sauna, steam rooms, and stone spa – plus a shuttle service from the MRT metro. It’s a great way to squeeze in some relaxation into your 5 days in Taipei!

End the night at Tamsui Old Street

From Xinbeitou metro, take the MRT back to Beitou, then take the red MRT train to the end of the line at Tamsui. From there, it’s an easy walk along the waterfront to enjoy the historic neighborhood of Tamsui on the edges of Taipei City.

All along the boardwalk, you’ll find classic Taiwanese street food on offer, from bubble tea to all the fried goodnness. The boardwalk area is also extremely beautiful at sunset, overlooking the beautiful bridges and mountains in the area. My favorite bridge is the Tamsui Lover’s Bridge, which looks beautiful silhouetted against the sky as it gets dark.

bridge at sunset - Tamsui lover's bridge is one of the best things to do in Taipei

Taipei Itinerary, Day 4: Take a day trip to Shifen and Jiufen

If you have a whole 5 days in Taipei on your itinerary, it’s not a bad idea to use at least one of them to do a day trip outside of the city to see some of Taiwan’s beautiful nature right at your doorstep. 

I’ve written a complete guide to visiting Shifen Waterfall and Shifen Old Street here, and I’ve also written a guide on how to get between Shifen and Jiufen using public transit.

Shifen Old Street - the train goes through the center

While I found it all pretty easy to DIY, I know sometimes taking public transportation can be overwhelming in a foreign country, especially when there is a language (and reading!) barrier.

For people who prefer to take a guided tour, this private tour covering Shifen, Yehliu, and Jiufen will take you to all the top sights without the hassle and make sure you don’t miss anything along the way.

Save stress and time! Check out this private Jiufen, Shifen, and Pingxi tour here.

Alternately, this guided bus tour is similar, allows time for Shifen Old Street, Jiufen, and Yehliu Geopark, and is quite affordable to boot – check it out here.

However, do note that neither of these tours includes Shifen Waterfall, and instead swap out Yehliu Geopark, which I didn’t have a chance to visit on my trip.

Since I’ve covered these sites in more depth on the pages linked above, I’ll just give a quick overview of today’s sights if you wanted to DIY it.

Take the adorable Pingxi Railway

The Pingxi line is famous for its railway that goes right through the center of several towns. Pingxi is also the location of the famous lantern festival that takes place each fall. There are several stops along the Pingxi line, which connects Ruifang with Shifen.

While I didn’t stop in Houtong, this village is easily accessed by the Pingxi line and is home to hundreds of cats that the town people take care of! This small village has become somewhat of a tourist attraction so if you’re a cat fanatic I’d recommend a quick stop there. Since you buy a day pass for the entire Pingxi line, it won’t cost you any extra to stop, and trains come about every 30 minutes.

Eat on Shifen Old Street

There are plenty of delicious places to stop for a snack on Shifen Old Street, which is full of vendors. There were lots of fried bits and bobs that I couldn’t recognize, as there usually are, plus other standards like grilled squid and sausages.

But of course, as usual, my eye was drawn to the bamboo steamers and the delicately-skinned xiao long bao that I am completely addicted to.

Let off a lantern for luck

One of the most touristy things to do in Shifen (but secretly also the most fun), I think you can’t miss a visit to Shifen Old Street without letting off a lantern for good luck. To get a lantern, pick your colors (each represents a different meaning) and then paint your wishes on the sides of the lantern. Or, if you’re a narcissist like me, you can paint your blog name in a desperate bid for new Instagram followers.

Admire the marvelous Shifen Waterfall

Aptly called the “Little Niagara,” Shifen Waterfall is not nearly as large as the U.S.’s most famous waterfall – but it is insanely impressive nonetheless. It earned the nickname for its distinctive, beautiful horseshoe shape that mirrors Niagara in miniature. At 20 meters high and 40 meters high, it is quite a powerful and awe-inspiring sight to behold!

The waterfall is certainly the main draw, but the walk to the waterfall is also beautiful – you pass two beautiful suspension bridges, a super-blue river against a backdrop of beautiful green mountains, and endless photo opps.

It’s common to rent a little electric scooter for $200 TWD (about $6 USD) for the hour, but it’s actually not that far and you definitely could walk from Shifen Old Street if you didn’t feel comfortable riding a scooter or you prefer to save money and walk.

The gorgeous Shifen waterfall

Head to Jiufen

I’ve explained how to get to Jiufen from Shifen in depth in a dedicated post, so head over there to plan it out using public transportation if you’re not going on a guided tour.

Jiufen is supposedly famous for being the inspiration for Miyazaki’s famous anime movie Spirited Away, although I recently learned that that was just a rumor! Still, visit Jiufen and you’ll see why the comparisons abound.

Jiufen is a haven for foodies and strolling along Jiufen Old Street you’ll likely be completely overwhelmed by all the delicious street food on offer here. A few of the most famous offeirngs are the peanut ice cream rolls and the fish ball soups, but you can check a complete guide to the foodie must-eats of Jiufen here.

Other than snacking on all the food, Jiufen has beautiful temples to photograph and a gorgeous coastline where you can see a beautiful sunset from one of many of the teahouses up on the hill.

Be warned though that Jiufen can be very crowded at night. Even when we visited in January – not close to peak season at all – we got stuck in a very slow-moving line of people descending the narrow streets, which was not fun for this claustrophobe.

Day 5: Finish off your Taipei musts

Eat xiao long bao at Din Tai Fung

One of the most famous dishes in Taipei is xiao long bao, aka soup dumplings. These delightfully fun-to-eat dumplings can be found everywhere in Taipei, but nowhere are they more famous than at Din Tai Fung, a Michelin-starred restaurant in central Taipei.

While there is a Din Tai Fung in the Taipei 101 tower, the original branch is supposedly the best – you can find it on Xinyi Road near the Dongmen MRT.

Some inferior soup dumplings, because I suck at waiting and following my own advice and didn’t actually wait for Din Tai Fung!

The wait at Din Tai Fung is always really long – usually at least an hour, unless you start your day there when it opens at 10 AM.

Pro Tip: If you don’t want to go right when it opens, I recommend purchasing a fast-track restaurant voucher, which can reduce your wait time from about 2 hours to closer to 30 minutes!

Alternately, you could do this in the evening with a Din Tai Fung dumpling & night tour alternative!

Explore Yongkang Street

The intersecting street, Yongkang Street, is also really cute and well-worth strolling around after you’ve stuffed yourself silly with dumplings… and there are also plenty of places to eat here if you’ve saved room after your dumplings or if you have a superhumaly-large stomach capacity.

There are several cute cafés serving quality coffee, street food vendors serving up fresh-to-order snacks, and plenty of cute accessory shops, including a perplexing number of umbrella-only shops (how that is a viable business model I have no idea…).

Walk over to Da’an Park

Da’an Park is the largest park in Taipei and it’s worth visiting here to rest your feet for a bit and allow your stomach time to digest all the lovely dumplings you just force fed it. Taking up 64 acres in the heart of Central Taipei, it’s a welcome respite from the at times relentless activity of the city.

Da’an Park (also called Daan Forest Park) was created with the intention of serving a similar function to NYC’s Central Park or London’s Hyde Park. It’s supposed to be the “lungs of Taipei,” offering locals a break from the hustle and bustle of downtown.

If the weather is nice, you can sit by the Ecological Pool and forget that you’re even in the heart of a metropolis of some 7+ million people!

Near the park, you can find the Grand Mosque of Taipei, the largest mosque in Taiwan. It was completed in 1960 by Chinese Muslims who came over to Taiwan from mainland China and lacked a place of prayer. In a country with tons of traditional Chinese temples, it’s quite unique to see!

Head up to the top of Taipei 101

I like to spread out some of the more touristy things over a couple of days, and to do some of the can’t-miss stuff last: which is why I’ve waited until the final day of this Taipei itinerary to tell you to go up to the top of Taipei 101.

It’s also close to your next stop, Elephant Mountain, where you’ll hike for an incredible view over the city (and of Taipei 101 itself).

The Taipei 101 was the world’s tallest building for six years – until the Burj al Khalifa in Dubai, currently the world’s tallest building, came along. While I generally find massive skyscrapers to be not that awe-inspiring, I was insanely impressed by the Taipei 101. It is unique and beautiful, inspired by Chinese pagodas yet uniquely Taiwanese. Some people say it looks like a stack of Chinese takeout boxes, others, like a stick of bamboo – I saw a massive layer cake.

One of the most interesting things about the building is how green it is: it has a platinum certification in environmental-friendly design. Even more interestingly, it was built to withstands the typhoons and earthquakes that often rattle Taipei.

To give the insanely tall building structure, a massive 728-ton pendulum damper is inside, which allows the building to rock and sway in the event of strong winds and earthquakes.

Entrance to the Taipei 101 costs $600 NTD (about $20) so it is definitely one of the pricier activities in Taipei!

I suggest booking the ticket online via GetYourGuide. You can purchase the standard admission ticket for the same price as buying it in person, which allows you to conveniently collect your ticket at the self-service ticket machine and skip the ticket-purchasing queue.

Book your standard entrance ticket here and skip the ticket desk

However, you will still have to wait for the elevators, which can be up to an hour or so of waiting — some past guests have even said 2.5 hours!

For that reason, I’d strongly, strongly recommend a skip-the-line ticket, which allows you to skip all queues for about an extra $20 USD. I don’t know about you, but I’d happily pay 20 bucks to not wait two hours on my vacation!

Save time on your trip! Book your fast-track ticket easily & hassle-free here!

Whichever ticket you book, your entrance ticket allows you to go up to the impressive viewing platform on the 89th floor, using the world’s fastest elevator! At 37.7 mph, this elevator takes an incomprehensible 30 seconds to go all the way up to the 89th floor – truly insane (and a bit stomach-dropping to be honest!).

If you’re a Starbucks fan, the world’s tallest Starbucks is here, but you have to apparently make a reservation.

Visit Elephant Mountain for a sunset hike and amazing view

If you’ve seen iconic night shots of Taipei all lit up from above, there’s a 90% chance those photos were taken from Elephant Mountain, Taipei’s very own mini-mountain hike right off a metro line.

Simply take the MRT all the way to the beginning of the red line (Xiangshan). Try to time your arrival so that you get to the MRT station about 1 hour before sunset, as the walk to the hiking trail takes 10 minutes plus about 20 minutes to get to the viewing area at the top of Elephant Mountain (so about 30 minutes total).

This hike is extremely popular with tourists and Instagram lovers. It’s become quite popular to get a shot standing on one of the boulders overlooking Taipei, so if you want that Insta photo you’ll have to queue up (we waited about 20 minutes for our turn for a photo).

Hit one final night market

Of course, on your last night in Taipei, you can’t miss visiting a night market!

There are so many to choose from, but Shilin was my favorite, so I’d either head back here or check out a new one from your list. I found that even though I went back to Shilin several times, I never got bored, as I was always trying new things each time!

Quick Taichung Itinerary: What To Do With 2 Days

I had first heard of Taichung from a girl I met while I was traveling in Greece, who had taught English there for two years. The way she described the city made me fall in love with it before I had even visited. Close to hikes and lakes, full of cafés and streets jammed with street food each night: it basically sounded like a perfect synthesis of all my favorite things.

When I arrived in Taichung, though, I found that all the sights in the city were very spread out, and it was actually a bit hard to plan my Taichung itinerary. We wasted a lot of time backtracking and, having not really planned much, found Taichung was a bit difficult to be spontaneous in, especially compared to Taipei. Whereas Taipei has the super-simple MRT, I found Taichung’s public transportation network of buses a little more inscrutable as a quick visitor to the city with only 2 days in Taichung planned.

I’ve organized this post so that you can learn from the slight troubles we had in organizing our time in Taichung, so that you can maximize however many days you have on your itinerary for Taichung. I’ve optimized this for two days; however, you could squeeze it all into one day if you must – but you’d need to get an early start.

Taichung Itinerary: Day 1

Start with a wander through Taichung Cultural and Creative Industries Park

Taiwan is the only place in the world I’ve been where they have “creative parks.” There’s nothing I can really compare it to: these parks are probably best described as a combination of your standard urban park and an open-air network of pop-up boutiques and “selfie areas” where you can pose with your favorite cartoon figures (this is Taiwan, after all). I had gone to two creative parks in Taipei and found them super interesting, so I made sure to pop into Taichung’s creative park.

Due to the pop-up nature of these creative parks, what you’ll find will change. When we went, there was an “umbrella alley” perfect for Instagram, some cool walls to pose with, a sake brewery, and a DIY customizable umbrella shop.

Thanks to Janet Newenham, who kindly shared her photos with me after I left my memory card 6,000 miles away

Have a bubble tea at its birthplace, Chun Shui Tang

From the creative park, walk 10 minutes to the original bubble tea shop, Chun Shui Tang, who hold the claim to being the first people to invent bubble tea. If you haven’t had bubble tea, you simply need to try it when you’re in Taiwan.

It’s a bit of an acquired taste for some: the tapioca pearls, aka the “bubbles”, are pretty tasteless but incredibly chewy. I personally love the chewy, stretchy texture, which is common in Taiwanese food. However, my friend Janet was not a big fan of bubble tea!

You can get a variety of flavors and teas, whether you want black or green tea or you prefer a juice or smoothie instead of a tea. I prefer my bubble tea iced, milky, and slightly sweet, but you can specify how you’d like it and they’ll make it to order.

Stop for lunch at Taichung Second Market

After you’ve had dessert first, why not eat at Taichung’s Second Market? Just another 10 minutes’ walk, the Taichung Second Market is the daytime version of the popular outdoor Fengjia Night Market.

The Second Market is less touristy than the night market, and you’ll find lots of traditional Taiwanese favorites like pork rice, xiao long bao, and of course, the hit-you-in-the-face-with-its-stench stinky tofu.

Overwhelmed on what to eat? Check out this YouTube clip:

Stroll along the Liuchan Riverside Walk

The Liuchan River is not that big, but it does make for a really nice walk through central Taichung. I always love being around water when I’m in a city, and Taichung is no exception. While I wouldn’t necessarily make a point of visiting it unless I was already in the neighborhood, since you’ll be located near here if you’re following my Taichung itinerary, it’s definitely worth walking along this street.

Dip into Painted Animation Lane

Just a 1-minute detour on your Riverside Walk, you’ll find Painted Animation Lane. It’s a cutesy collection of murals featuring characters like Mario. I thought it was interesting for a brief, 5-minute stop. It’s definitely nothing special, but if you’re passing it anyway and you want a funny quirky selfie, go for it.

Rest your legs

You’ve been walking quite a bit with this itinerary, so take a little break at either one of the city’s many parks or back at your hotel. I’d recommend the Calligraphy Greenway if you are looking for a place to sit and relax outside.

Fengjia Night Market

Let’s be honest, this night market is probably the whole reason you are going to Taichung! The biggest night market in Taiwan, Fengjia is where new street food ideas are given a trial run before making it to the rest of Taiwan, and even the world. Apparently, if it’s good enough to make people queue for it in Taichung, it’s good enough to sell in the rest of the island!

A few of my favorite things I ate at Fengjia: chopped fried giant squid with sweet chili sauce, octopus takoyaki balls, pork xiao long bao, and enormous extra-long french fries with wasabi mayo.

Taichung Itinerary: Day 2

Go to Rainbow Village early in the morning

This is one of the most popular spots in Taichung so I highly recommend setting an alarm and getting an early start before everyone else does! This painted village in Taichung is vibrant. In today’s day and age, it would be an Instagram gimmick, but the story behind it is much deeper and much sweeter.

The “village” (which is really about two or three blocks painted in a small area) was painted entirely by one man, a man in his 90s named Huang Yung-Fu, nicknamed Rainbow Grandpa. He used to be a soldier in the military and lived in this “veteran village” which was used to house former Kuomintang soldiers upon returning from battle in mainland China. However, forces of gentrification are at work everywhere, and Taiwan is no exception. These “veteran villages” are disappearing from Taiwan’s landscape, as developers are using the land to build new apartment buildings.

The story goes that Rainbow Grandpa was getting bored of living alone in his village; everyone else had already moved away, bought out by developers. Rainbow Grandpa didn’t want to leave his home, and he started to paint to kill time and be less bored.

He painted a bird, then a cat, and then just kept going until eventually all the walls and floors were covered in vibrant paintings. A group of students heard about what he was doing and petitioned the government to turn it into a cultural village, and the government obliged. Rainbow Village is now protected as a designated cultural village and will be preserved for generations to come.

Admission to Rainbow Village is free, but you should support its upkeep by making a small donation by purchasing a print or souvenir in the shop.

It’s possible to get here by bus but I found that it was easier just to use Uber to and from Rainbow Village as it was pretty inexpensive.

Marvel at the Miyahara building

Housed in a former eye hospital, the Miyahara building is an incredibly fancy place to buy sweets, including the traditional pineapple tart that it’s famous for. But the Miyahara building is also a great place to go for photography and Instagram photos. It actually kind of reminds me of a Hogwarts-esque library!

I didn’t end up eating here as there is a minimum spend of about $13 USD per person and it always annoys me to have to spend a minimum — even if I know I would hit it, it’s just the principle. I know, I’m weird. But if you want to get good photos on the stairway and to capture the building, you will have to pay up. What can they say… Taiwan knows how to profit off Instagrammers!

There’s also a famous ice cream shop on the ground floor, with lines stretching down the block. I’m not one to wait nearly an hour for an ice cream but if you’re more dedicated than I am, give yourself some time here.

Taichung Park

This pretty little urban park is about a 10-minute walk from Miyahara and is well worth a quick visit. It’s the oldest park in Taichung and was created when the island was under Japanese rule. Today, the park is known for its lake – you can rent a boat and paddle around on a hot day. It’s also just a nice place to sit and rest your legs after walking around for a bit.

Taichung Confucius Temple & Martyr’s Shrine

I love visiting different religious sites when I travel, and Taiwan is no exception. I didn’t have time during my trip to make it out to the Taichung Confucius Temple but I wish I had as it’s quite beautiful. It uses traditional Chinese design elements and balances simplicity and elegance in a really nice way. I visited Longshan when I was in Taipei and loved it, so this temple is on my list to visit in Taichung when I return.

CMP Block Museum of Arts

At this point I recommend you take another Uber as you’ve gotten a bit outside the city center and you’ll want to head back to the middle of the city. The next place I recommend including on your Taichung itinerary is the fascinating open-air CMP Block Museum of Arts, which has rotating, frequently changing exhibits that you can interact with (and, more importantly for Taiwan – photograph yourself with).

When I was there, there was an installation that included planets whose lights changed colors and beds you could sit on and pose with (this would never fly in NYC – the beds would be riddled with bedbugs by the end of day 1)

If you’re in the mood for a snack and a selfie, the beloved ice cream shop I’m Talato is not far away, so pop in and join the queue of Instagrammers.

Return to the night market

Fengjia Night Market is so big that I think it’d be a mistake to only go once! Wander around a different area and try all the foods that you didn’t have room for on your first go-round. If you’re really brave, you could always go for the stinky tofu….

Day trips to add to your Taichung itinerary

If you have more than 2 days in Taichung, here are a few recommendations of where you could go next.

  • Sun Moon Lake: One of the most popular additions to Taichung itineraries, this gorgeous alpine lake in the mountains is beloved by many. I intended to go but we had rainy weather on the day I wanted to go.
  • Lavender Cottage: If you’re a fan of lavender, this pretty retreat in the mountain has lavender and flower fields and is a great city escape
  • Zhongshe Flower Market: Another popular destination for Instagrammers, this flower market not only sells flowers but has lots of landscaped flower beds and quirky things like a white piano in the middle of a lavender field to appeal to photographers.

Where to Stay in Taichung

Janet and I opted to stay in an Airbnb close to the Fengjia Night Market. While that was great for dinner, it did mean we were a good distance away from all the main sights. If I go back to Taichung, I will probably stay in a more central location to have easier access to other places, especially as I had trouble figuring out how to use the bus system and relied heavily on Uber during my stay.

Budget: If you’re on a budget or traveling solo in Taichung, there are a few hostels in Taichung. Stray Birds has excellent reviews for a hostel (9.2 on Booking.com with over 100 reviews) and has a prime central location. The design is gorgeous and cozy, a true boutique hostel option. If I was solo traveling, this would be my top hostel choice. Check rates, reviews, and availability here.

Mid-range: Taiwan is not cheap, nor is it crazy expensive, and you really get the best bang for your buck when you opt for mid-range accommodations in Taichung, which I define as under $100 per night for a double room. I’d recommend either choosing an Airbnb like we did or picking one of Taichung’s boutique hotel options. My absolute favorite find is Lavie Inn, which combines gorgeous design elements with comfortable amenities without luxury pretense. Check rates, reviews, and availability here.

Luxury: Taichung definitely has a few luxury options though of course nowhere nearly as much variety as Taipei. The Splendor Hotel in Taichung is the best combination of luxury and value. The lobby is glamorous, the rooms are spacious, the views over Taichung are insane, and hello – some of the rooms have an in-room jacuzzi. If you can afford the good life, Taichung is a great value. Check rates, reviews, and availability of The Splendor here.

3 Days in Rome: Itinerary for a Perfect Trip

I am the kind of traveler who often finds big cities overrated. After living in New York, I didn’t quite “get” the charm of London. Paris never quite captured my heart, even after 5 visits. But Rome: I fell in love with Rome instantly, even in the midst of a bout of depression.

While normally cities’ nicknames don’t make sense to me — The Big Apple? The City of Lights? Sure. —  I instantly got why they call Rome the Eternal City. Walking around Rome, you get the sense that Rome has never and will never stop being a city.

It’s a self-assured city, a city that doesn’t have to question its city-ness. It’s chaotic but organized. Vespas zip by Roman ruins casually, people step into bars for a quick standing espresso before stepping back onto ancient streets —  everyone carries out the daily beat of their routine, as people have for centuries before them and will for centuries to come. It makes you feel the best kind of insignificant.

I’ve written this post to help you plan the ideal Rome itinerary. 3 days is not quite enough to truly get the Eternal City – I was happy with a week here – but I understand time is not a luxury everyone has. As a result, I’ve focused on clustering this Rome itinerary around the tourist sights for the first two days, and then getting you out into the interesting, modern neighborhoods of present-day Rome on the final day, neighborhoods where locals live and few tourists wander.

Day 1: Classic Rome

There are some cities in which I’d urge you to get off the tourist trail; Rome is not one of those cities. It’s one of those rare places where just about every single major tourist place is well worth your time. For your first of 3 days in Rome, I’d advise you to get a head start on ticking off most of the bucket list items on your Rome itinerary.

And what better place to begin than…

Start at the Colosseum

Is there any place more iconic than the Colosseum? You’ve undoubtedly seen countless photographs of this oval amphitheater standing proudly in the middle of Rome. Luckily, the Colosseum couldn’t be easier to find, as it has its own Metro stop. Before heading in, though, be sure to get your Instagram photos across the street, where there’s a small ledge perfect for posing with the Colosseum as your background. It’s a bit of a Rome rite of passage.

Once you’ve gotten your photos, make your way over to enter the Colosseum. Since you only have 3 days in Rome, I’d highly recommend purchasing a skip-the-line pass, especially if you are traveling in peak season (anytime between April and September). On my most recent trip to Rome, I visited in mid-October and there were massively long lines. I recommend starting your Rome itinerary off on the right foot by buying a skip-the-line ticket.

With lines like this, you can see why I’m suggesting a skip-the-line ticket…

You can book strictly skip-the-line tickets, which just allow you to bypass the lines and then see the site at your own pace, or you can buy a guided tour that also allows you to skip the line. Which you choose will depend on your budget and how much historical context you prefer to get.

Book self-guided skip-the-line tickets to the Colosseum and Roman Forum here

Book skip-the-line tickets + a guided tour to the Colosseum, Roman Forum, & Palatine Hill here

Stroll over to the Roman Forum

But personally, the Colosseum isn’t even the most impressive ruin in Rome.

My favorite historical site in Rome is the actually gorgeous Roman Forum, an enormous rectangular plaza full of beautifully preserved ancient buildings at the center of Rome.  The Forum itself is surrounded by four temples, which in centuries past were used to offer sacrifices to bring good fortune to those visiting the Forum.

Seeing these ruins, still standing proud after empires crumbled and earthquakes trembled, will make you understand why Rome is truly the Eternal City.

For centuries, this Roman Forum (Foro Romano) was the beating heart of daily life in Rome: where politicians gave speeches, criminals stood trial, and gladiators fought to the death. It’s where you’d buy your eggs, catch up on the latest gossip, see and be seen. The decline of the Roman empire naturally meant the Forum fell into disuse, and during the Middle Ages, the site of the Roman Forum was plundered constantly for stone and marble.

It wasn’t until excavations in the 18th and 19th centuries that the ruins of the Roman Forum would begin to resemble their present-day state and become one of the most-visited tourist attractions in the world. Now, it attracts more than 4.5 million tourists annually. You won’t forget the feeling of being surrounded by enduring stone that’s seen empires fall, be born, and rebuild: it’s truly one of the most special places in Rome and fully deserves a spot on your Rome itinerary.

As lines can stretch quite long in peak season, I suggest the skip-the-line tickets that combine the Roman Forum with the Colosseum that I recommended above or a guided tour for context.

Marvel at the classical Altare della Patria

I stumbled across this building after exploring the Roman Forum and was instantly captivated by how grand it was – but I had no idea what it was for. Climb to the top of the stairs and enjoy the  view of Rome laid below you, going about its business uninterrupted, in that magical way it always has.

The Altare della Patria is a monument that was built in honor of the first King of Italy, Victor Emmanuel. It features two statues of Victoria, the goddess of victory, as well as ornate fountains, majestic stairways, and a sculpture of King Victor Emmanuel.

Afterwards, you can rest your feet in nearby Piazza Venezia. Rome is beloved for its many piazzas and I always take a moment to rest my legs, sit, and indulge in a little people-watching whenever I pass a nice place to sit. Piazza Venezia is one of my favorites in Rome. While it lacks the charm of some of the other more classical piazzas, it’s at the nexus of several of the cities most iconic sights, where four major roads meet, so you can take it all in in one frenzied panorama.

Go for lunch in the Jewish Quarter

Five centuries ago, the Roman Ghetto was established by Pope Paul IV. Despite the Jews having a presence in Rome since before the days of Christianity, the Pope passed a decree forcing all the city’s Jews into a walled quarter, with the gates locked at night. The Pope demanded that the Jews pay for construction of the wall (what they say about history repeating itself rings quite true, here). Naturally, the Jews were sequestered in one of the least desirable neighborhoods of Rome, a constantly flooded section on the banks of the Tiber River.

Life in the Roman Ghetto was exceedingly difficult: severe poverty due to the job restrictions, social ostracization, humiliation and abuse during Christian ‘feasts’ — all while paying a tax for the honor of living in overcrowded squalor.

Still, despite all the hardships, the Roman Jews persevered – as Jewish communities have done around the world, despite overwhelming odds. As a result of their historic isolation, Roman Jews ended up with their own dialect, Giudeo-romanesco, which to this day only has about 250 speakers in the world left and will likely soon be extinct.

But what shows no sign of disappearing as easily is Roman Jewish cuisine, Italian food influenced by North African influences and following kosher law. Eating lunch at one of the restaurants in the Jewish Quarter specializing in this unique cuisine is a can’t-miss activity in Rome. If it’s in season, be sure to order the carciofi alla giudìa, Jewish-style fried artichokes. For recommendations on what to eat in Rome, check out this post.

Puzzle at the Pantheon

Rome’s Pantheon was built 2000 years ago, but to date, it is still in remarkable condition — and still a World Record Holder.

This iconic Rome building has had many iterations throughout its two millennia of existence and continued use, adapting itself to the whims of whatever empire was ruling over it, never falling into disrepair. It started off as a Pagan temple — hence the name Pantheon, which means ‘all the gods’ in Greek — before being converted to a church in the 7th century.

The Pantheon is an interesting building, a classical facade combined with a dark, barely-lit rotunda. The rotunda has an enormous dome with a 30-foot-wide hole at the top and is the largest unsupported concrete dome in the entire world – a record it’s kept since its construction. The oculus in the middle is the only source of natural light, making the Pantheon a bit spooky, even. It’s free to enter, which means that you’ll be one of 6 million yearly visitors.

Have an aperitivo in Piazza Navona

Around this time, you’re probably a bit tired from all the sightseeing you’ve been doing on your first day in Rome. Why not refuel Italian-style with an aperitivo in one of Rome’s many piazzas? Piazza Navona is one of Rome’s most famous and most-loved piazzas due to the iconic fountains, vibrant street life, adorable balconies, and classical architecture.

Piazza Navona has a history longer than you’d think: a square was first built here in the 1st century AD. In the late 15th century it was converted into a more formal piazza and it got its iconic three fountains in the mid-1600s, which still stand in pristine condition today.

Piazza Navona is surrounded by flower-filled terraces, classic Roman architecture, and outdoor restaurants which give it a lively ambiance during the day. Often, you’ll find musicians, artists, and magicians who offer visitors and tourists all sorts of entertainment. You’ll also find some scam artists and pickpockets as well, so keep yourself wise to your belongings. I recommend carrying an anti-theft bag like a PacSafe – this is the small daypack I use on all my European city travels.

While Piazza Navona is undoubtedly touristy, it’s still well worth sitting down at a table in the middle of this historic, beautiful square and enjoying a slightly-overpriced cocktail with your fellow tourists: it’s that special of a place. My favorite aperitivo is an Aperol spritz – light, sparkling, and slightly boozy, it’s the perfect mid-afternoon drink to power yourself up for a touch more sightseeing before calling it a night.

Stroll around aimlessly for a bit

Some of the magic of Rome exists in getting lost in its streets, in following your eyes and exploring each small stret with curiosity. While of course you’ll want to plan some aspects of your Rome itinerary, 3 days is enough to get a bit off the beaten path and explore with a bit of whimsy.

Don’t stray too far, as you’ll want to stay around this area for dinner. But do give yourself at least 45 minutes or an hour or so to walk around and explore the side streets, take photographs, and discover your own version of Rome, without the guidebook. It’s one of the most delightful things to do in Rome.

Eat dinner in the Campo di Fiori

Color me surprised, but this touristic square actually has some incredibly delicious food!

Campo de Fiori, which translates in Italian to “Field of Flowers,”  is one of the main squares of Rome, built around the statue of martyr Giordano Bruno, which forms the focal point in the square. Still to this day, it is a center for commerce and socializing. During the day, there’s a flurry of people shopping for groceries at the daily produce market, but by night, the vibe quiets down a bit as people sit down for some classic Roman cuisine. I recommend Antica Hostaria Romanesca or La Carbonara.

When in Rome, eat like the Romans do. Rome is known for four classic pasta styles: amatriciana (tomato, onion, and guanciale – similar-ish to prosciutto), carbonara (egg, cheese, and guanciale), gricia (similar, but without egg, so it’s less rich), and my favorite, cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper). Any restaurant worth a damn should be able to prepare an excellent version of any of these.

Once you’ve eaten your fill, roll yourself back to your hotel as I’ve planned an early start for the next day on your Rome itinerary.

Day Two: Classic Rome, Continued + the Vatican

Country counters, rejoice: you’re about to get to add another notch to your belt! Vatican City is widely considered to be a country by many counts (including mine) and the great thing is that you can see it pretty much in full in a half day.
This is another jam-packed day, so do try to get an early start so that you can make time for a leisurely lunch or some time to sit back and rest your feet in one of Rome’s piazzas. While you should do as much as possible considering you only have 3 days in Rome, don’t forget to take time to take a beat and people-watch: it’s one of the greatest Italian joys.

Get an early start at the Trevi Fountain

The Trevi Fountain is hands down the most beautiful fountain in the city of Rome, a city full of fountains, and it’s definitely one of the most popular fountains in the world.

Nothing can prepare you for how massive and masterful the sculpture on this fountain is. I admit, I was fully prepared to think: so what? It’s just a freaking fountain. But it’s truly worth seeing.

The fountain’s sculptures measure a whopping 20 meters high and 49 meters wide, massive on a scale you won’t be able to understand until you see it.

Of course, the only thing more massive than the Trevi fountain itself is its popularity, so one of my biggest Rome travel tips is that I recommend getting as early of a start as you can in order to enjoy the fountain without the crowds.

The legend goes that if you toss a coin into Trevi Fountain, you’ll return to Rome one day. I consider a one or two Euro coin a pretty small investment in making sure that happens 😉 Jokes aside though, 3,000 euros are thrown into the Trevi Fountain every day, a whopping 1,500,000 euros per year, which goes to disaster and poverty relief.

Walk over to the Spanish Steps

The Spanish Steps in Rome were built in 1723 to create a link between the Piazza Trinita dei Monti up top, with its two-towered church, and the lively Piazza di Spagna down below.

The beautiful design of the steps has made it a popular site for tourists from all over the world – one of the most frequented selfie spots in Rome. At the foot of the Spanish Steps, you’ll find a beautiful fountain in the form of a sinking ship, which is worth a peek while you’re in the area.

Since you hopefully were able to get an early start, take some time to sit on the steps and enjoy it before the insane crowds set in later in the day.

Walk over to the Piazza del Popolo

I know, a third piazza and you’re not even halfway through the day yet? (Is this an appropriate place for a “when in Rome” joke?)

I recommend the Piazza del Popolo for two reasons. For one, it’s kind of on the way to the Vatican, and there are some cool things to see if you walk over to the Vatican by foot. But for another, it’s home to the tallest obelisk in Rome as well as the city’s beautiful Northern gate.

However, if you weren’t able to get an early start and it’s getting close to mid-day, I recommend skipping the Piazza del Popolo and making your way straight to the next attraction, so you have time for the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel at the end of the day.

Visit Castel Sant’Angelo

Not far from the Vatican is the impressive, layer-cake-shaped Castel Sant’Angelo. Unique among castles because of its cylindrical structure with an angel statue crowning it, Castel Sant’Angelo is one of Italy’s most interesting – and ancient – castles. It was originally built by the famous Roman emperor Hadrian for himself and his family in the 2nd century AD.

What few people know is that this castle is also home to Hadrian’s mausoleum, which was the original reason for its construction. Same with most buildings that have survived multiple millennia in Rome, it’s lived several lives in the Eternal City, taking time to be alternately a tomb, a prison, a hideaway for popes, and a fortress against invaders. There are ornately painted frescoes, Papal apartments, and fantastic statues all worth seeing.

On your way to the Vatican afterwards, grab a quick bite on the go if you see something, as you don’t want to waste too much time on a long sit-down lunch on one of your busier days in Rome! Alternately, there’s a café in the Vatican Museum if you need to grab food later.

Hint: If you have time, be sure to return near the bridge sometime during your 3 days in Rome for epic sunset shots – it’s one of the best photo spots in Rome!

The Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel

This is one area where trust me, you need to do some advance planning. You can book with the Vatican Museums website, but that needs to be done several days in advance or even weeks during peak summer in order to get the time slot you want. A more popular, but slightly more expensive option, is to purchase a “skip the line” ticket or tour from a third party.

If you don’t do either of the two and just try to “wing it”, be warned: the line for the Vatican Museums is like, new iPhone-level insane. Unless you are a masochist, it is most certainly not how you want to spend your limited time when you only have 3 days in Rome.

So be prepared and book in advance or face the wrath of millions of tourists who also want to see some of the world’s most famous works of art. Keep in mind that the final admission time is 4 PM, but I recommend entering no later than 3 PM. This is because the Sistine Chapel closes at 4 PM and it’d be a shame to not see it, even though it is insanely crowded. Also, it’s worth it to give yourself a good 3 hours to explore the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel at your leisure (the Museums close at 6 PM).

Alternately, you could also switch up this day’s itinerary and do the Vatican first, then the Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps, but they’ll both be really crowded. Whereas no matter when you visit the Vatican, it’s bound to be crowded – even (if not especially) in the morning!

Book your skip-the-line ticket to the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel here

Book a guided tour plus fast-pass entry for the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel

The Vatican Museums are a series of art museums located within boundaries of the Vatican City, originally founded by Pope Julius II. These amazing museums contain some of the world’s most priceless art pieces, sculptures and many other items collected by the popes throughout the centuries.

But let’s be honest about the real reason you likely want to visit the Vatican: the magnificent Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo’s masterpiece.

The Sistine Chapel was built in 1473 and is the official residence of the Pope in the Vatican City. The ceiling is the real reason for its worldwide fame: decorated with some of the world’s most beautiful frescoes depicting scenes from the Bible. Note that you are not allowed to take photos inside (this photo is a free-use stock image), and you’ll be with several thousand of your closest new friends, but it’s still majestic and 100% worth the crowding and chaos.

Important note: The Vatican Museums are closed on weekends so be sure to consider that when planning your trip to Rome and feel free to move around the days of this 3 day Rome itinerary to make that convenient. It’s more important that you get to see the Vatican than that you follow this Rome itinerary to the letter. 

Have dinner in Trastevere

I recommend decompressing for a bit at your hotel after the crowded chaos of the Vatican. Trust me – you’ll need a break from people.

Once you’ve gotten some rest, head to one of my favorite neighborhoods in Rome, Trastevere.

Trastevere is the 13th district of Rome, located on the south side of the city on the west bank of the Tiber river. This quaint Roman district is set apart by its narrow streets lined by ancient buildings and houses. It is rich with cute residences, amazing street scenes, quiet bars, and hole-in-the-wall trattorias. The Piazza di Santa Maria is also one of the cutest piazzas in the city (I know I say that a lot, but I think this time I really mean it)

During the night, tourists and locals flock to the restaurants and clubs to enjoy some of the best food in all of Rome. My favorite restaurant in Trastevere is the much-beloved restaurant Da Lucia, known for its amazing spaghetti alla gricia. Be sure to either call ahead and make reservations or show up right when it opens for the evening at 7:30 PM. For more suggestions on where to eat in Trastavere, click here!

Afterwards, find a gelato and stroll around some of Rome’s cutest streets, or enjoy some of the best things to do in Rome at night, before getting a good night’s rest for your third day in Rome.

3rd Day in Rome: Delicious & Offbeat Rome

On your final day in Rome, break a bit away from the typical tourist track and explore Rome’s green spaces, quirky street art districts, and delicious eateries. You won’t be able to understand modern-day Rome if you don’t leave the tourist trail at some point.

This day starts in one of Rome’s biggest parks, takes you to its hipster/industrial neighborhoods, and ends on a delicious note — a foodie feast, because what better way to end a Roman holiday than by stuffing your face?

Alternately, if you’re traveling Rome with kids, you can pick some Rome activities from this list that are sure to excite them after two days of jam-packed sightseeing on this Rome itinerary

Start the day exploring Rome’s green heart, Villa Borghese

In a city as packed and chaotic and decidedly urban as Rome is, you’ll likely start to crave a little green space at some point. Enter Villa Borghese

Villa Borghese is a historic park located in the city center on an 80-hectare piece of land, one of the biggest in central Rome. Inside the park, there are several buildings, including the excellent Borghese Galleries. The park has an artificial lake in the center which has a ruin of the arch of Septimus Severus (a Harry Potter-esque name if I ever heard one), as well as landscaped English-style gardens, piazzas, and plenty of open areas to rest and take in some green.

If you’re a fan of Renaissance artists like Caraveggio and Raphael, you won’t want to miss the Borghese Galleries, located within the park.

However, due to restrictions, only 360 people are allowed in at a time. If the Galleries are a can’t-miss for you, I recommend booking a special entrance ticket with guaranteed admission, so that you won’t miss out on one of Italy’s most beloved art collections.

Head over to Testaccio Market for an early lunch

The neighborhood of Testaccio is a bit far away, but easily accessible by bus from Villa Borghese. And it’s worth the detour, as Testaccio is one of the cooler neighborhoods of Rome and is home to the excellent Testaccio Market.

Testaccio Market is a community market that has about a hundred stalls, mostly set up for locals doing their everyday shopping and dining rather than for tourists. The market has everything: bakeries, vegetable stands, butcheries, fishmongers, and more. But since today is your final day in Rome, you’ll probably want to forgo the food shopping and instead stop at one of the delicious stalls preparing fresh Italian food at budget prices.

Piadinas are a staple of Italian ‘street food’ – and you can get one at the simply-named Piadina, where a delicious sandwich will set you back about 4 euros. Le Mani in Pasta serves up delicious versions of Rome’s staple pastas for a cheap, to-go price. And finally, Mordi e Vai comes highly recommended but I was too stuffed to try their sandwiches the last time I visited Testaccio Market. I recommend doing a lap around the market before committing your precious stomach real estate!

Wander around Testaccio and check out the street art

Testaccio has some excellent examples of street art, so if you’re a fan of urban art you’ve got to save a little time to walk around this neighborhood and try to find its many murals.

The most famous is the “Jumping Wolf”, created by Belgian artist ROA, which is more than 30 meters high stretching all the way up the side of an apartment complex on Via Galvani. As wolves are the symbol of Rome, it’s a fitting piece for the city.

However, most of the pieces of street art I found in Testaccio were purely by accident, walking around – which is my personal favorite way of discovering street art, rather than trying to track down each individual piece with a map.

Find a 2,000-year-old pyramid in Central Rome

One other cool thing to spot in Testaccio is a giant Egyptian-style pyramid. Yes, Rome has a 2,000-year-old pyramid of its own!

Photo credit: Joris van Rooden, Wikimedia Commons, (CC BY-SA 3.0)

According to Atlas Obscura, its origin supposedly dates back to a period of ‘Egyptomania’ following the Roman conquest of Egypt. This is when the Piazza del Popolo got its famous obelisk as well!

The Pyramid of Caius Cestius in the middle of a busy street with traffic whirling around it, because #Rome. You can go inside two days a month, but it’s pretty cool to just check it out from the outside as well. Who said you needed to travel to Egypt to see the pyramids?

Choose your own adventure

There are several things you could do to continue your time in Rome.

If you’re into history but want to get a bit off the beaten path, check out the quiet Baths of Caracalla, the vast ruins of a Roman public bathhouse that was used for 300 years. It’s not a far walk from the Pyramid. Afterwards, you could check out the Appia Antica, which has 16 kilometers of the old ancient road to Rome preserved in Rome’s biggest park.

If you want to get a bit hipster, you could check out the trendy neighborhoods of Ostiense and San Lorenzo to see more street art, quirky bars and cafés, and cool boutiques.

Or alternately, you could head back into Central Rome and check out anything you missed, climb one of Rome’s 7 hills for panoramic viewpoints, or just while away time in one of the piazzas watching one of the world’s coolest cities pass you by.

End your Rome trip with a food tour

Food tours are one of my favorite things to do, and in no country would a food tour be more appropriate than Italy! I did several food tours when I was in Bologna, and now I’m a huge fan. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the chance to do one myself when in Rome, but in researching the city’s best food tours, I found this excellent one that includes 20 tastings spread over 4 hours. With 4.9/5 average review rate with over 200 reviews, it’s safe to say it’s been tried and tested.

Read reviews and description of the food tour here. Prepare for your mouth to water.

This tour will take you through several different neighborhoods of Rome, trying traditional products like buffalo mozzarella, prosciutto, salami, truffles, 25-year-aged balsamic, and more. If that wasn’t enough, you’ll have a sit-down pasta meal complete with wine, followed by tiramisu and of course, a gelato nightcap.

So bring your appetite and end your trip to Rome so stuffed you can’t even imagine another day of sightseeing.

I can’t think of a more Roman way to end your trip.

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Only 3 days in Rome? This Rome itinerary will make the most of a weekend trip to Rome, from highlights like the Vatican to offbeat gems like hidden street art & local markets, this guide is full of Rome travel tips to help you skip the lines, avoid the crowds, & tick everything off your Rome bucket list for the perfect Roman holiday. Click to get started!

The Ultimate Belize Itinerary: 1 Fun-Filled Week in Belize

Belize is one of my favorite countries in Central America. It’s small enough that you can easily see the best of Belize in one week, whereas in other countries like Guatemala, you’ll need at least two at a bare minimum and still just barely scratch the surface.

Belize is also a bit of a microcosm of all the different things you can get from Central America. You can get Caribbean sunsets and beachside coconuts and dive one of the world’s biggest reefs one day and then be in the middle of the jungle just a few hours later.

This Belize itinerary has you visiting two different islands: Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker, though certainly you could pick one or the other if you prefer to move around less (here’s my guide to choosing between the two, if you have to).

Afterward, it brings you to Belize’s interior, where you can see Mayan ruins, go caving, and stay in an eco-lodge in the jungle. You’ll get a good sampling of a bit of everything, while still having an appetite to revisit this beautiful country.

7 Things You Must Pack for Belize

I’ve written an entire Belize packing list but if you just want the essentials, here’s what I think you shouldn’t miss.

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

One Week Belize Itinerary: Day by Day Guide

Day 1: Arriving in Belize and heading to San Pedro / Ambergris Caye

You’ll likely start your trip at Belize City International Airport, and it’s pretty easy to get to San Pedro from there.

There are two choices, by air or by land and sea. If you are traveling alone, the difference between the plane and the ferry option is not that great, due to the fact that you’ll need to take a taxi from the airport to the ferry terminal.

If you are traveling in a group, the ferry option is cheaper per person for sure.

However, flying to San Pedro is pretty freaking amazing, so I recommend flying one way if you can make room for it in your budget — and at around $65 USD for a “Maya Bargain Hopper” fare, it’s not that insane of a splurge…

Especially considering that a taxi costs $25 USD and a one-way ticket to San Pedro is another $18 USD. Consider it sightseeing as well as transport!

The flight is in a tiny, super informal-feeling plane, going over water in the most beautiful shades of green and blue that you can imagine.

It came close to my amazing Maldives seaplane ride — but the price of a flight in Belize is a small fraction of what a seaplane will cost you there.

Alternately, if you’re coming from Mexico overland, there are water taxis from Chetumal or you can go to Belize City by bus first and then take the ferry (much cheaper).

Depending on when you arrive in San Pedro, you might not have a lot of time to get oriented and take advantage of all there is to do there on your first day in Belize. Check into your hotel (see above for recommendations on where to stay in each part of your Belize itinerary)

For your first day, I recommend getting acquainted with the town of San Pedro, which has a lot to offer. Stop off for local chocolate turned into delicious milkshakes at the Belize Chocolate Company, or if you’re hungrier, I highly recommend the local papuseria for delicious Salvadorean treats.

You could rent a bike from Joe’s and bike around the island, stopping to take photos of the colorful houses and gorgeous water as you go.

Or, if you just want to float in an inner tube while drinking a bunch of beer…. check out Palapa Bar, just a short walk from the pier.

Day 2: Spend the day enjoying the Caribbean – on land or sea

Now that you’ve settled into San Pedro, take the next day to explore the beautiful Caribbean sea laying just a stone’s throw from your accommodations.

If you are PADI-certified, you will likely want to spend the day diving in the amazing Hol Chan Marine Reserve, or if you are an advanced diver you may want to check out the Blue Hole.

There are several dive shops, and Belize Pro Dive Center has the best reputation of them all.

When I visited Ambergris Caye the first time, I didn’t have my PADI certification; on my second trip, I was traveling with a non-diver, so unfortunately, I haven’t tried it for myself just yet.

Finally, if you’re not interested in snorkeling, then I recommend spending the day at Secret Beach. You’ll need to rent a golf cart for the day or take an expensive cab there.

Not really a secret in much but name only, Secret Beach has a taco truck, a restaurant, bars, kayak and paddleboard rentals, people offering massages, lounge chairs, etc.

Day 3: Take the boat over to Caye Caulker

Just a short distance away from San Pedro is its smaller sister island, Caye Caulker. Caye Caulker is more budget-friendly than Ambergris Caye and has a quieter, more low-key vibe.

Whereas San Pedro is a proper city (albeit a small one), Caye Caulker is a true sandy, no-shoes-no-news island.

On your first day in Caye Caulker, I recommend walking around and getting your bearings with the island, perhaps renting a kayak to paddle your way around the island if you’re up to it.

Or, if you’re up for a more relaxing day, head on over to The Split, where you can alternate between lounging in perfectly blue water and drinking mojitos and margaritas at the nearby Lazy Lizard.

I’m also partial to Sip N’ Dip Beach Bar, where I admittedly spent about 70% of my waking hours on Caye Caulker, hanging out on the swings, inner tubes, and water hammocks while alternating between buckets of Belikin and layers of sunscreen.

Animal lovers will want to stop by the Caye Caulker Animal Sanctuary, where a local man takes care of the island’s stray population and works tirelessly to find them homes, keep them fed, and get them medical treatment when needed. It’s entirely self-run and funded, so donate some time or some money if you can.

Be sure to catch the sunset on the west side of the island – Caye Caulker is way better than San Pedro for sunsets due to the geography of the islands.

Day 4: Swim with manatees and rays off Caye Caulker

One of the best things to do in Caye Caulker is meet the resident manatees who live just off the island!

Manatees are around all year long, although they can be a little shy and fickle and don’t always appear.

However, with some luck this tour will let you meet them up close and personal — from a respectful distance, of course, and never touching the manatees!

Just look at those guys!

This tour also includes a stop snorkeling in the famous Shark Ray Alley, where you can swim with friendly nurse sharks and sting rays.

Don’t let flashes of Steve Irwin or Jaws scare you away from this – both rays and sharks are incredibly docile and only attack when provoked.

The sharks and rays in this area are quite used to seeing tourists in their calm waters. If you follow your guide’s instructions, you will be completely safe.

Book your 7-stop snorkeling tour online here!

If you don’t want to snorkel, you can take a walk around the island, kayak or paddleboard through the crystal clear waters, laze around at one of the many beach bars, sample delicious jerk chicken and coconut curries at one of the local eateries… there’s plenty of things to do on Caye Caulker (but doing nothing is also acceptable).

Day 5: Head over to San Ignacio for a taste of the Belizean jungle

After you’ve had a solid four days to enjoy the beach and work on your tan, I highly recommend heading to Belize’s beautiful interior.

This will be a bit of a long travel day, but ending up at an eco lodge in the middle of the Belizean jungle is a pretty good reward at the end of the day.

To get to San Ignacio, take the water taxi back to Belize City, where you’ll disembark at the ferry terminal. I recommend taking a taxi from the ferry terminal to the bus terminal as Belize City is a bit rough around the edges.

However, if you are alert and keep ahold of your belongings, it is also possible to walk between the ferry and the bus.

Once at the bus station, you’ll want to board a chicken bus bound towards Benque, which should cost around 8 BZD ($4 USD). It’ll take about 3 hours to get there as the bus will stop every few minutes to let people off.

It is possible to arrange private transport but it is insanely expensive so I definitely recommend taking the chicken bus instead – it’s fun, it’s safe, it’s local– and it’s one hell of an experience!

When you arrive in San Ignacio, if you’re hungry I highly recommend eating at Ko-Ox Han Nah, which is the best restaurant in town! It has delicious Belizean food (as well as some really good Western food if you’re craving a burger like I was… I’m a horrible traveler, I know!)

Following that, check into your accommodations for the next 3 nights in Belize. I’ve written a complete guide to the best eco lodges in San Ignacio for every budget to help you pick the best eco resort in this part of Belize.

Day 6: Wake up in the Belizean jungle and go adventuring

There’s something so incredible about waking up to the sound of tropical birds and howler monkeys stirring before the sun has finished rising.

Enjoy an early breakfast and then get ready for one of the most exciting parts of your week-long Belize itinerary: a trip to ATM Cave.

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

The ATM Cave (which is short for Actun Tunichil Muknal… do you see why it’s abbreviated, now?) has been named the #1 most sacred cave in the world by National Geographic — a publication that knows a thing or two about travel superlatives.

So, what is the ATM Cave and why is it so special?

The ATM Cave is a combination between natural wonder and archaeological site: a cave that stretches at least a kilometer into the earth, winding through a series of narrow slips in the rock until you reach a massive, glittering atrium of crystallized stalagmites and stalactites.

But that’s not the most interesting part: ATM Cave is the resting place of the remains of several human sacrifices — 14 to be precise, including the “Crystal Maiden” – a crystal-covered skeleton in near perfect condition in the heart of the cave.

In addition to the human remains, there is also countless pieces of pottery which was ceremonially broken into pieces as part of the sacrificing ritual.

Photo Credit: Maya Walk

The ATM Cave is highly protected due to its historical significance and fragility. Entering without a tour is strictly prohibited, and tour spots are limited to 125 places per day, meaning that it’s strongly recommended to reserve your spot in advance – once those 125 slots are filled, there’s nothing you can do. Book in advance here!

If you don’t want to or can’t do the ATM Cave due to claustrophobia or mobility issues, then I recommend finding another outdoor activity that takes advantage of your prime position in Belize’s jungle. Go birding, horseback riding, hiking, etc.

Day 7: Enjoy your last day in San Ignacio

Save something epic for the last day of your Belize itinerary by reserving today to visit some of the least crowded Mayan ruins in the Americas.

I highly recommend visiting Caracol, the largest ancient Mayan city in Belize, complete with pyramids that you can climb and have sweeping views of the jungle canopies around you. On a clear day, you can ever see well into neighboring Guatemala!

Unfortunately, Caracol is not well-served by public transportation, so if you don’t have your own car rented the only way to see it is by going with a guided tour.

The good news is that these guided tours will also include a stop at the lovely Rio-On Pools, a series of mini-waterfalls and natural pools that you can enjoy while baking in the Belizean sun.

If you want to visit Caracol, you can book a guided tour here.

If Caracol is a bit far afield for you, you could also visit the ruins of Xunantunich which are just a short cab ride from town.

Alternately, there are also the even closer Cahal Pech ruins which are within walking distance from San Ignacio town. This is definitely the cheaper option if you are on a budget, too!

Where to Stay in Belize

Belize is one of the more expensive countries in Central America – closer to Costa Rica and Panama in terms of prices than neighboring Mexico and Guatemala. However, that said, you can still find quite good deals on accommodations (tours, on the other hand, are typically the most expensive part of visiting Belize).

I recognize that everyone’s budget is different, so I have broken my recommendations into three tiers for each destination on this Belize itinerary.

As a rough guide, budget accommodations are typically hostels and a dorm should cost you less than $15 per night. Mid-range hotels are typically around $50-100 per night. Luxury here is defined as $150+.

However, these prices are just a rough estimate, and it will depend on a variety of factors — time of year being a big one — so use these as estimates and check prices for your actual dates.

San Pedro

Budget: The excellent and affordable Sandbar Hostel is my personal favorite and where I stayed the first time I was in Belize. It’s walking distance from the pier and has an excellent in-house restaurant that you can enjoy whether or not you’re a guest.

The hostel is literally steps from the beach and my favorite bar on San Pedro, Palapa Bar, as well as a nearby snorkeling and dive center. The dorm is ultra-clean, as the staff comes in seemingly every hour to sweep up sand, and it has nice amenities like privacy curtains and outlets next to each bed.

>> Check prices, ratings, and availability here.

The view from Sandbar

Mid-range: San Pedro has plenty of good mid-range options for travelers on a budget who want a little more privacy and comfort than a hostel will give. Ocean Tide Beach Resort is one of the highest-rated middle-of-the-road hotel options on the island.

Ocean Tide is located right on the beachfront with gorgeous Caribbean views – but is only a 5-minute walk from central San Pedro with its shops, bars, and restaurants. Rooms are comfortable and clean and include air conditioning, and some come with balconies for an incredible sea view.

>> Check prices, ratings, and availability here.

Luxury: I had the opportunity to stay at the magnificent Victoria House when I was in San Pedro and it’s hard to think of a more luxurious place worthy of a special occasion if that’s what you’re celebrating while planning your Belize itinerary.

We enjoyed a two-story villa with four outdoor areas, an outdoor shower, a massive kitchen, a luxe master bedroom with Caribbean Sea views, and we overlooked what felt like our very own infinity pool!

Victoria House also gives free bike rentals which is perfect for exploring Ambergris Caye at your own pace.

>> Check prices, ratings, and availability here.

The view from our gorgeous pool villa at Victoria House

Caye Caulker

Budget: Caye Caulker is one of the most budget-friendly places in Belize! People on a tight budget will want to pick one of the island’s hostels.

I recommend the excellently-rated Go Slow Guesthouse, which is a colorful, friendly hostel located in the heart of Caye Caulker not far from the main road. There are fan rooms for a cheap price or AC rooms for a slightly higher cost. Solo travelers enjoy the friendly vibe.

>> Check prices, ratings, and availability here. 

Another choice for people who want a little more privacy is Sea N Sun Guest House, where I stayed in Caye Caulker and can’t rave about it enough. The WiFi was excellent, the shared bathroom was clean, and the rooms were well-ventilated and spacious.

We appreciated the free bike and kayak rental (even if we were usually too sloshed from our time at Sip N Dip to actually take the kayak out for a spin… whoops). I’d definitely stay here again.

>> Check prices, ratings, and availability here.

Paradise views are everywhere in Caye Caulker

Mid-range: If you want the privacy of your own cabana without paying an insane price, Colinda Cabanas is an excellent mid-range choice. Stay in a joyful yellow and turquoise cabana just a minute walk from the sea!

Free bike and kayak rental, free coffee in the mornings, and other perks will help you feel welcomed and at ease here in Caye Caulker.

>> Check prices, ratings, and availability here!

Luxury: While San Pedro definitely has more luxury options than Caye Caulker, you can still enjoy a bit of luxury on this more budget-conscious island. The nicest hotel in town is Weezie’s Oceanfront Hotel.

With spacious studios and one-bedroom cottages, a lovely pool, friendly staff, and balconies with amazing sweeping Caribbean views, you’ll never want to check out of paradise. And with relatively affordable prices, it’d be easy to overstay!

>> Check prices, ratings, and availability here.

San Ignacio

I’ve written a comprehensive guide to the best eco-lodges in Belize here, so I refer you to read that if you are interested in staying in a jungle lodge during your time in Belize (which I highly recommend). 

For budget travelers, I stayed at Bellas Backpackers for a portion of my time in San Ignacio, and while it wasn’t anything special, it offered good value for money.

Nearby Caracol

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Planning a trip to Belize? This Belize itinerary helps you plan the perfect week in Belize, from the Caribbean islands of San Pedro & Caye Caulker to the Belizean jungle, where you can stay in eco-lodges, see Mayan ruins, and go caving! Your 7 day Belize adventure road map awaits.

Did you enjoy this Belize itinerary? Do you have any recommendations for someone visiting Belize for the first time?

The Epic London Bucket List: The Best of London in 4 Days

It took me 3 visits to London for the city to finally sink under my skin. I found it expensive, crowded, and honestly, a bit overrated.

But finally, I get it: you need to give London its due. You can’t visit for a day or two and cross London off your list. I’d say you need a minimum of 4 days in London to even start to understand it: 5 days in London or more is even better if you can swing it.

I think that the problem I had when I first visited London is that I spent too much time seeing all the traditional tourist sites and not enough time exploring the neighborhoods that make it so diverse. As someone who used to live in New York for 9 years, I should have known better that there is more to a city than its most iconic attractions (though of course, those are worth seeing too).

What makes a city on the scale of London truly special is in the details: its colorful neighborhoods, its authentic eateries, its quirky local bars where you can rub elbows with locals, as well as its famous touristic sites.

A historic market in London

London has a charming diversity of neighborhoods, from the beautiful pastel rainbow houses of Portobello Road to the funky street art and rough edges of Shoreditch.

You can eat amazing Vietnamese food on Kingsland Road, have delicious curries on Brick Lane, or get a little tipsy at one of these London bottomless brunches, or go for a traditional afternoon tea at one of London’s finest hotels.

Explore the variety of what London offers and appreciate it for its people as well as its landmarks, and you’ll have a better understanding of why people are so charmed by the English capital — myself included.

My 4 days in London itinerary will bring you to all of the most iconic landmarks (and give you tips on how to reduce wait times and save money along the way), but it’ll also show you a slightly hidden side of London that I’ve found in my repeated visits to the city.

I hope this post will help you love London as much as I now do!

Day 1 of your London Itinerary

I’ve included maps for each day of your 4 day London itinerary so you can best visualize how to spend each day. Riding the tube in London is expensive so I’ve tried to cluster activities as much as possible to minimize your time (and money) spent on transport – one of my biggest London travel tips is to reduce your transport costs by walking as much as possible. Luckily it’s pretty easy to see most of Central London’s main sights, so you won’t need to spend a ton of time on the Tube.

That said, if you want to get out and explore some of London’s neighborhoods, you will need to hop on the Tube at some points. The London Underground is an iconic experience and I highly recommend using the Tube to get around the city when walking just won’t do.

The city’s black cabs are notorious for being insanely expensive. Luckily, Uber did just get permission to operate in London again, which makes Uber a viable (though still not very budget-conscious) option.

Walk through history at Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey is one of the most historically significant buildings in London, if not the entire U.K. This coronation church boasts over 1,000 years of history and still provides daily services for worshippers.

It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site for its continued importance and relevance in British history as well as for its religious art masterpieces which date back to the 12th century.

Westminster Abbey has hosted royal weddings (most recently between Prince William and Kate Middleton — Harry and Megan got married at Windsor Castle), so it’s a must on a royal-themed tour of London.

It’s also the final resting place of 17 monarchs. Be sure to check out the beautiful architecture inside the church between the choir and the high altar, which is the setting of royal coronations.

Westminster Abbey is one of London’s most popular tourist sites, and as a result, I recommend making it a priority to visit early your first morning in London. Do note that unlike many churches, there is quite a steep entry fee associated with visiting Westminster Abbey: 23 GBP, about $30 USD.

It’s easy enough to visit on your own, but if you can swing spending a little extra, I strongly suggest upgrading to a guided tour with a skip-the-line ticket to both save time and gain historical context about this immensely fascinating building. Just seeing it with your own eyes is impressive, but knowing the fascinating 700-year history behind it is priceless.

I recommend this one because it includes a skip-the-line pass, entrance fees, a guided tour, plus a viewing of the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace, the next activity on this itinerary, so it fits perfectly in your London itinerary.

>> Book your tour with skip the line entry here <<

Watch the changing of the guards at the iconic Buckingham Palace

Anglophile or otherwise, you can’t miss Buckingham Palace, the current home of Queen Elizabeth and home of UK sovereigns since 1837. Today, Buckingham Palace acts as the administrative headquarters of the monarchy as well as a day-to-day residence for some of the royals.

Buckingham Palace is most known for its Changing of the Guard ceremony which occurs daily at 10:45 AM. The ceremony is free to watch and probably one of the most popular things that can be done in London. Be sure to show up at least 15 minutes early (a half hour is even better) to see the pomp and celebration.

Inside, the palace is next-level extra with a whopping 775 rooms. The drawing room and grand staircase are especially jaw-dropping. However, you can see only the inside by purchasing a ticket to the State Rooms.

If you want to go inside, you’ll have to plan your trip around it, as it’s only open two months a year – in 2020, it’ll be from July 25 to September 27. If you happen to be planning your London trip during that time, you definitely should check a tour of the inside of Buckingham Palace (book way in advance here, as spots are limited given the short opening period).

Even if you can’t go inside the Buckingham Palace during your time in London, make sure you save time to see the changing of the guard: it’s a true must-see, whether you’re in London for 4 days or 1.

Stroll through Saint James’ Park

London has tons of green spaces, and in the city’s rare moments of sunshine, you can see Londoners flock to the parks to get a sweet, sweet hit of that elusive Vitamin D.

Saint James’ Park is one of the most beautiful and well-trafficked parks in London due to its location, but you can still find plenty of pockets of quiet in the park.

Check out the area by the pond for a peaceful scenic walk to refresh your eyes from all the beautiful buildings (and get you ready to see more!). It’s especially lovely in the spring, when daffodils and tulips are everywhere the eye can see.

Circle back to spy on Big Ben under the scaffolding

Is there any building in London that’s as visibly synonymous with the city as Big Ben?

While the name of the clock tower is actually the Elizabeth Tower, Big Ben is the popular nickname for the tower at the north end of the Westminster. To get really pedantic on you, Big Ben is the name of the bell, which was the largest bell in England for 23 years (but has since been unseated, because I guess England likes big bells).

The tower housing the clock is 96 meters tall, making it an easily recognized symbol of the United Kingdom, and it is so iconic that it’s become a cultural monument recognized throughout the world.

However, if you visit Big Ben over the next four years, you’ll be a bit disappointed as it’s currently undergoing some renovations and won’t be looking its handsome proper self until 2021 or so.

Cross Westminster Bridge

If you want one of the best views of Westminster Palace, you should cross the Westminster Bridge for picture-perfect photos over the Thames. Unfortunately, as I wrote above, Big Ben is undergoing a serious facelift so you won’t quite be able to get this exact iconic shot, but it’s worth the lovely walk over the bridge all the same.

Sometimes you’ll see performers and the like on the bridge so crossing the bridge in itself can be quite the cultural experience. Do watch your bags here, especially while taking photos, as it can be crowded and thus an easy target for pickpockets.

Get a great view of (or on!) the London Eye

The London Eye is a bit polarizing: some say it’s not worth it, others say its an essential London itinerary item, especially for first-timers. Personally, I generally balk at spending a lot of money for a view – after all, it took me 9 years to go to the Top of the Rock in New York.

However, for many people, a trip to London wouldn’t be complete without a ride on the London Eye. I’m not here to argue for either side as I see the merits of both points of view (pardon the pun).

However, what I will say is that if you do want to ride the London Eye, you should definitely take a few pointers in mind to save some money, but more importantly, time. No matter what you do, be sure to book a ticket in advance as the wait can be extremely, painfully long and nothing ruins a vacation faster than waiting in a long line – especially with kids in tow.

I strongly recommend booking tickets online in advance (you can do so here) to skip the line. Pick the option that says ‘fast track’ if you want to skip the line, as the standard ones will still involve quite a bit of waiting. The fast track tickets are a little more money, but considering how precious your time is in London, given you only have 4 days, I think it’s worth it to get to zoom past all the people waiting in line!

>> Book your fast track London Eye tickets here! <<

If you’re traveling with kids (or the young at heart!) they will love the 4D experience that comes included on your London Eye ride if you book online.

Meanwhile, adult travelers – couples or group of friends alike – can opt to add a glass of Pommery-Brut champagne for about $8 USD extra, which is not a bad deal to enjoy one of the best views of London with some bubbles to celebrate! Book London Eye fast track + champagne tickets online in advance, as you can’t get this same deal in person.

Go for afternoon tea

afternoon-tea-wallace
Tea for one at the Wallace

Having an afternoon tea experience is one of the most quintessential bucket list items on any London itinerary. There are lots of unique ways to go for tea in London – there are themed afternoon teas, like Winnie the Pooh, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, or an Alice in Wonderland themed afternoon tea.

Alternately, you can pair your afternoon tea with some sightseeing by doing an afternoon tea river cruise along the Thames, taking in some of the most beautiful sights in London along the way. It’s one of the most beloved London activities (and it’s relatively inexpensive to boot), with nearly 700 positive reviews averaging 4.6 out of 5 stars. Check reviews & book yours today here.

If you’re on a tight budget but want to do tea, I recommend going for afternoon tea at the Wallace, which costs 19.50 GBP, a relative bargain given the lovely environment and generous portions: I was stuffed after my tea!

It’s pretty likely that you’ll be really full after your afternoon tea, so after getting some rest at your hotel, plan on a light dinner.

I’d recommend going to a traditional English pub – it’s a must-do experience in London. Pubs traditionally will have some food that you can order alongside your pints if you’re still hungry after your tea. Then, get an early rest as your next day is pretty packed as well!

Following a vegan diet? There are so many great vegan restaurants in London worth checking out!

Day 2 of your London Itinerary

Since you saw a lot of the most famous British sights on your first day, day 2 of your 4 day London itinerary is all about arts and culture.

This day’s itinerary will take you through some more famous landmarks in the city before ending in one of London’s coolest neighborhoods, Shoreditch, where you can check out street art and eat delicious curries to your heart’s content.

We’ll start with the Tower of London: a great place to start the second day of a walking tour of London.

Learn the history of the Tower of London

Built in 1066, the Tower of London is one of the oldest and most recognizable landmarks in the city, functioning as a royal residence for centuries. With defensive walls and a quadrangular castle interior, it’s incredibly photogenic and in remarkably good condition for being almost a millennium old.

While the Tower of London is beautiful today, its pretty façade hides a very dark past. The Tower of London was once used a prison for those accused of treason, and the gate through which these prisoners entered became widely known as the “Traitor’s Gate.” Heads of executed prisoners were often displayed along the gate as a warning to new arrivals, Game of Thrones style.

Now, the Tower of London has a far more sunny role: welcoming travelers eagers to see Britain’s famous crown jewels as well as learn the history of this iconic building. Tours cover the crown jewels, of course, but also go over the royal armories, the Bloody Tower, and more.

As this is another must-see on everyone’s London itineraries, naturally, waits are long. Outsmart the crowds by purchasing a skip-the-line ticket in advance, so you don’t have to queue to buy a ticket. It’s actually cheaper than buying it at the door. You can book yours here today and enter hassle-free, sweeping past the lines with a mobile voucher.

>> Save 10% and skip the line by booking your Tower of London ticket online <<

Cross the memorable Tower Bridge

London Bridge is a misnomer: the famous bridge in London is actually called Tower Bridge. Walking across it is one of the most iconic things to do on any London itinerary, and the best part is that it’s free – a rarity in an expensive city like London.

True transportation geeks can take a tour of the Towder Bridge for an additional cost. You can enter inside the actual bridge and see the Victorian-era engine room that operates the drawbridge, as well as see exhibitions of the history of this famous bridge. The engine room is particularly interesting, with coal burners, steam engines, and hydraulic technology.

However, those afraid of heights may not be happy to hear that the bridge has a see-through glass floor walkway over the bridge itself (giving a whole different meaning to the refrain “London Bridge is falling down”!).

Check out the Shard

If you didn’t do the London Eye — or you just love epic views and don’t mind spending extra on both — you may want to take in the view at The Shard instead. It has an outstanding view of the Tower of London (whereas the London Eye has a better view of Westminster Palace).

Of course, it is rather expensive – we’re talking £21.50 when you book well in advance and £30 on the day of.

However, it is a slightly less touristy option compared to the London Eye, which is often ultra-crowded, so if you want sky-high views without as many people around, I’d opt for The Shard.

Even if you don’t go up the Shard, it’s pretty cool to look at from the exterior: 95 stories of modern architecture looming over the South Bank.

It was designed by an Italian architect and is one of the most distinctive pieces of modern architecture in the city (the other being the ultra-weird Gherkin near Shoreditch).

Don’t waste time waiting in line! Tickets cost more on the same day, so book in advance and receive discounted admission – plus a glass of complimentary champagne!

Drool your way through Borough Market

Borough Market is one of the oldest and largest food markets in London – a city that is full to bursting with food markets.

There are tons of high-quality food vendors selling some of London’s more affordable eats – you can find delicious sandwiches, paellas, and more. Read a complete guide to Borough Market here.

The market also sells produce and specialty foods, particularly imported European food items like Italian pasta and sauces. There’s also butchers selling fresh meat, high-quality fruits and vegetables, and deliciously tasty pastries.

Get a blast from the past at the Globe Theatre

London has had a lot of famous residents over the years but perhaps none so iconic as Shakespeare. The Globe Theatre on London’s South Bank is a copy of the original Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. The original theatre dates back to 1599, but lived only a few short years: it was destroyed by a fire 14 years later, rebuilt a year later, then demolished 30 years later.

It stayed exactly this way until 1997, when architects endeavored to reconstruct the original building, poring over the available evidence in order to create a faithful approximation of the original.

Today, The Globe Theatre is home to several plays throughout the year; alternately, it can be seen on a guided tour for true Shakespeare nerds like myself. Pre-book 30-minute guided tours of Shakespeare’s Globe here if you want to learn more about its history.

Get cultured at the Tate Modern

Give your wallet a rest with Tate Modern, where admission is blissfully, beautifully free! One of my favorite things about London is that most museums offer free admission, because they are state-funded (with the exception of special exhibitions, for which there is an extra charge). Of course, any donations for the museum are well-received.

Tate Modern features provocative modern art with a heavy focus on the past century. It’s a great place to spend an hour or two and since it’s right next to The Globe Theatre, it’s a natural stop on your London itinerary.

Pro tip: if you thought the Shard was too expensive, there’s a free viewing platform at the Tate Modern! It is only 10 floors vs. to the Shard’s 70-odd stories, but the free price tag is hard to argue with.

Take the Tube to Shoreditch

Take a 15-minute walk to either the London Bridge or Borough metro stop, where you’ll take the Northern line to Old Street. From there, you’ll be in the heart of Shoreditch, one of my favorite neighborhoods in all of London.

What you’ll want to do in Shoreditch depends on how much time you have. I highly recommend taking a walk down Brick Lane and checking out the street art in that area and around Redchurch Street, which is the other center point of street art in Shoreditch.

Besides checking out the street art, I recommend walking to Old Spitalfields Market, which is a historic marketplace with lots of delicious street food and fun shops to explore. Princelet Street and Wilkes Street are two really cool streets with historic buildings with gorgeously painted doors and shutters.

I’ve actually written an entire post on things to do in Shoreditch so you can check that out, but note that many of the attractions on that post are focused on what you should do if you’re in Shoreditch on a Sunday when all the markets are thriving.

Eat Indian food on Brick Lane or at Dishoom

British food gets an unfairly bad rap, in my opinion. The joy of a multicultural place like London is that you can get delicious food virtually everywhere! One of my favorite cuisines in the world is Indian, and there’s no better place than Shoreditch to enjoy it.

Brick Lane is home to countless Indian eateries each vying for your patronage. Ignore Aladin, as it’s overrated. Try to get a good deal from one of the other guys instead – they’ll often throw in a free bottle of wine or free appetizers in order to win your business.

If you’re prepared to wait (or you’re eating at an absurdly early hour) you can check out Dishoom, which has some of the best Indian food in the entire city.

However, waits can border on the truly ludicrous — often upwards of one hour — so if you only have 4 days in London I’d understand if you don’t want to spend a few hours of a day just waiting in line.

Day 3 of your London Itinerary

The culture-fest continues with some of London’s best museums, all of which are wonderfully free! I also recommend trying to obtain tickets at a discount to one of London’s plays or musicals.

If you have something specific you want to see, then you may want to shuffle the order of this itinerary so you can be at the TKTS booth when it opens. But if you just want to see any show, this is the most convenient way to structure your day to minimize walking time.

Start at the British Museum

The British Museum is one of the most interesting museums in London, although it must be acknowledged that the means by which the British Museum acquired the majority of their pieces is ethically pretty crappy (#colonialism).

Still, for better or worse, countless artifacts from around the world exist in the British Museum, and entry to enjoy them is free with the exception of any special exhibitions you may want to see.

Established in 1753, the British Museum has gone through several incarnations, including its most recent renovation which is infinitely photographable. Like virtually all museums in the U.K., it is a public institution, meaning that admission is free and donations are accepted but not solicited.

The scope of the British Museum is wild, focusing broadly on the culture, art and the history of human beings, spanning several millennia of human history. Many of the most famous historical objects in the world are housed in the British Museum, including the remains of Egyptian mummies and the legendary Rosetta Stone.

My personal favorite wings are the Egyptian, Japanese, and Korean wings. There’s simply no way to see it all, so grab a pamphlet and choose 3-4 sections to focus on during your time at the British Museum. It would take 4 days in London to even cohesively cover the British Museum, so don’t even try! Just focus on your own personal highlights and your experience will be all the better for it — trust me.

Explore the area around Covent Garden

Between Charing Road and Drury Lane is the small but lovely district of Covent Garden. Full of street performers and musicians, Covent Garden is a beloved destination for those who enjoy culture, food, shopping, and Britain’s national sport – day drinking.

There’s plenty to see around Covent Garden, which boasts famous attraction sites such as Freemason’s Hall, the Covent Garden Market, the London Transport Museum, the Somerset House, and the Royal Opera House.

You can pick and choose what you want to see, but I personally just enjoy walking around the main area near the subway station and seeing the different performers and indulging in a bit of window shopping.

Go for a Harry Potter-themed walking tour

As a certified Harry Potter geek, I highly recommend doing a Magical London walking tour. This tour covers Kings Cross Station, including the famous Platform 9 ¾ trolley, and Diagon Alley with hits like the Leaky Cauldron, sights that inspired J.K. Rowling’s writing, and much, much more over the course of 2.5 hours.

You’ll see over 20 magical sights on your walking tour through London with your enthusiastic, Harry Potter-loving guide, who will be full of fun facts, trivia, and quizzes along the way!

Tours come in several languages – English, French, Spanish, Italian, and German. Tours start at noon in English and 10 AM and 2 PM in other languages. This tour is exclusive to Get Your Guide, so book in advance today!

Check out the National Gallery

Yet another free museum! To me, the best thing about London museums being free is that you don’t have to feel guilty when you don’t see everything (which is a miserable way to see a museum, anyway).

Even if you just stop in and stroll around for 20 or 30 minutes, it’s enough to see some of the art and take in the gorgeous architecture of this 19th-century building. The National Gallery specializes in art from the mid-13th century onwards, stopping at 1900 (where the Tate Modern steps in).

See the iconic Trafalgar Square

Trafalgar Square in central London has beautiful fountains, monuments, and statues and has been a significant landmark since the 13th century. It’s also been an important flashpoint for political rallies, such as the Million Women March in 2017.

It is one of London’s top tourist attraction sites, and tourists flock here every year. Sure, you’ll have to battle a bunch of selfie-stick wielding tourists, but it’s a London icon for a reason, so it’s worth a quick pass, especially if you’re already in the area for the National Gallery.

Photograph colorful Notting Hill

From here, you’ll want to hop on the subway to the district of Notting Hill. Trust me.

If Instagram has any impact on your travel planning, you’ll likely already have Notting Hill on your London itinerary. North of the posh district of Kensington, Notting Hill is one of the districts in west London and it’s known for its colorful pastel buildings.

Besides its gorgeous houses, it’s also home to high-end shopping, trendy Instagrammable restaurants, and beautiful terraces.

This district captivates tourists with its charm and pastel-colored houses. In the spring, Instagram girls descend on the neighborhood in a fit of wisteria hysteria.

In August, every year, people celebrate Notting Hill Carnival, one of Europe’s biggest street carnival parades, complete with marching bands, costumes, street food, and calypso music.

Hunt for treasures at the Portobello Road Market

If you’re a geek for antiques, you can’t miss the Portobello Road market — it’s the world’s largest and best known antique and second-hand clothes market. It is located in the Notting Hill district and has over a thousand dealers. Yup – more than a thousand. Extra much?

It is one of London’s most loved landmarks and has the widest range of antiques in all of Britain. In addition to selling antiques, the market is also a haven for lovers of food, music, books, and fashion. There is a lot of treasure to discover in the Portobello Road market, so be sure to allocate a couple of hours to explore it thoroughly.

Return to Central London for dinner and a show

Assuming you booked a theater ticket for the night, you’ll want to head back to London’s West End area by the evening for an early dinner and a show.

Be sure to give yourself adequate time to return to Central London from Notting Hill! I very nearly missed my showing of People, Places, & Things and had to sprint across London in a mad dash (0/10, highly recommend avoiding – especially when you’re a Yankee like me who’s not used to looking the ‘wrong way’ down a street!).

I recommend eating at Rosa’s Thai in the 7 Dials neighborhood near Leicester Square for some of the best Thai food in London at affordable prices. I’d prefer to eat before my show, personally, but it is open until 10:30 so there is a chance you could make it after your show, depending on how long it goes. If not, there are still plenty of great places to eat around 7 Dials, so you can just wander and find something that is open.

The play I saw, while excellent, is no longer being shown, so here are some current plays that look phenomenal and have excellent reviews. The Phantom of the Opera is a classic for a reason (check prices here); Wicked, another favorite that’s been imported from New York Broadway (check prices & availability here); and TINA – The Tina Turner Musical for something a little offbeat, modern, and different (check prices & availability here)

Day 4 of your London Itinerary

By now, you should have seen most of the London top sights, so focus instead of a half-day trip somewhere outside of London followed by a walk in one of London’s more unique neighborhoods.

Start the day with a half-day trip

Depending on your level of nerdiness, there are two day trips I recommend: A Warner Brother’s Harry Potter Studio tour or a half-day excursion to Stonehenge.

Wizard nerds like myself will be in heaven at the Warner Brothers’ Harry Potter studio tour, which you’re likely to share with upwards of 6,000 of your fellow geeks on any given day (it is literally the highest-rated attraction in the world). 

This enormous studio in Leavesden, England (about 90 minutes away from London) was used for much of the filming of the Harry Potter movies. It’s now a permanent exhibition that offers an authentic, behind-the-scenes glimpse of the Harry Potter films.

Studio tours include transport and entry and allow you 3.5 hours to explore Diagon Alley, see Platform 9 and 3/4, pretend you’re in Dumbledore’s Office, and get crunk off some Butterbeer.

It can be a pain to get here independently with public transit, so a shuttle is way preferable. Book your Harry Potter Studio tour here!

People who prefer history will want to opt for a trip to Stonehenge, where you can see some of the oldest and most mysterious man-made structures in the world. Stonehenge is over 5,000 years old, a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, and weighs a combined massive 40 tons. No one knows how the rocks were installed here or their significance, making it one of the longest-enduring historical mysteries.

The views heading into the English countryside are worth the trip alone!

While easy enough to get to Stonehenge independently, a guided tour simplifies transit, streamlines travel time, and provides interesting historical context for the wonders of Stonehenge. If the simplicity of a guided day trip appeals to you, book your Stonehenge day trip here.

Return to London in time to explore one or more of its neighborhoods

On the last of your 4 days in London, don’t try to jam in any more sights or museums. Instead, just spend the final evening exploring one of London’s many exciting neighborhoods, photographing the pretty buildings and taking in the neighborhood vibes.

If you want a posh neighborhood to stroll around, you can’t miss the fancy streets of Belgravia. This neighborhood is where you’ll find upscale townhouses, embassies, and the nicest hotels in London, not to mention plenty of window shopping opportunities. Hyde Park is also great for a stroll.

Another great neighborhood to explore is Camden in northwest London. You’ll find lots of funky boutiques with unique exteriors, an outdoor market, and an eclectic mix of cuisines, not to mention historic landmarks like the Chapel of St. Etheldreda. Amy Winehouse fans will enjoy seeing a statue dedicated to her, as she used to live in Camden.

Finally, another option is Soho, where you’ll find excellent nightlife options, including cocktail bars, restaurants, and plenty of trendy boutiques that are almost definitely out of your budget.

Where to Stay in London

London is as huge as it is expensive, and picking a place to stay can be difficult. I’ve written out a massive guide to where to stay in London for first-timers here, explaining the different neighborhoods and highlighting the best deals in each.

My advice for staying in London on a budget is a bit controversial, as I recommend staying close to the city center rather than trying to save a few bucks by being way far out. For one, if you only have 4 days in London, you don’t want to spend 2 or so hours of each day on the Tube going back and forth to your hotel each day. Plus, that can be rather expensive!

The best London hotels and hostels are central enough that you can walk to most major attractions, eliminating wasted time and tube fare. You may pay a few dollars more, but trust me, it’s worth it – and there are some excellent value hotels in London these days.

Budget: If you are traveling solo in London on a strict budget and are looking for a central hostel, I recommend SoHostel, which is located in a central London location walking distance from sights like Buckingham Palace and the London Eye. The décor is bright and colorful, a step above a lot of dingy hostels you’ll find. The dorm rooms are a bit Spartan, but that’s a hostel for you! There’s also a nice in-house bar where you can meet fellow travelers if you’re not feeling up to checking out London’s nightlife independently. Check rates, reviews, and availability here.

Mid-Range: My last time in London, I stayed at the citizenM in Shoreditch and recommend the experience highly. Basically, citizenM is a chain of hotels that are cozy but not fussy, fusing quirky décor, affordable prices, and high-tech amenities (we’re taking shower doors that change color, remote-operated blinds that block out all light when you want to sleep in, and a 60-second self-check-in service). They’re always located in central areas and the prices are super affordable for what you get. The rooms are small, but cozy, with outlets and drawers thoughtfully placed to maximize space. I stayed at the hipster Shoreditch location (check rates, reviews, and availability here) but I’ve also visited a friend at the more central Tower of London location and it was a dream – those Tower views are second to none (check rates, reviews, and availability here).

Luxury: If you’re after luxury, don’t worry – London has got you covered. There is an insane number of 5-star hotels in the city. For understated yet classy design in a central SoHo neighborhood, I recommend the quaint, boutique Charlotte Street Hotel (check rates, reviews, and availability here). For a more classic stay, The Beaumont is one of London’s tried-and-true 5-star properties With amenities like a sauna, hammam, and spa in the hotel – plus lovely little added bonuses like free daily dessert treats from the stff and luxe heated marble floors in the bathrooms, it’s one of the nicest places to stay in London if you have the money for it. Check rates, reviews, and availability here. 

3 Days in Marrakech: Itinerary for a Perfect Introduction to Morocco

Marrakech is a shock to every sense you have.

The loud warblings of the call to prayer and the persistent beckonings of the men who run shops in the souks constantly strike your ears. The pungent smell of incenses cover up a lingering smell of leather bags and the donkeys who dutifully pull carts through the medina day and night. Artfully stacked olives almost beg you to take one away and destroy the whole pile. The leather looks so soft you can’t help but reach out and touch it. Marrakech is, to put it lightly, a place you experience with every one of your senses.

It’s a city that will confuse you, frustrate you, and delight you. It’s a city of highs and lows, and I think 3 days in Marrakech is perfect to get a sense of its energy, see what you need to see, and get out before the chaos consumes you.

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Going to visit Marrakech, Morocco? This simple Marrakech itinerary includes all the best things to do in Marrakech, from beautiful photography & Instagram spots to tips on restaurants and food, hammams, palaces, mosques, markets & souks, medina, and more. Including Marrakech travel tips like what to wear in Marrakech, where to stay in Marrakech (hint: a riad!), Marrakech shopping tips, and more. This is all you need for a weekend in Marrakech, a Marrakech city break, or 3 days in Marrakech!
Going to visit Marrakech, Morocco? This simple Marrakech itinerary includes all the best things to do in Marrakech, from beautiful photography & Instagram spots to tips on restaurants and food, hammams, palaces, mosques, markets & souks, medina, and more. Including Marrakech travel tips like what to wear in Marrakech, where to stay in Marrakech (hint: a riad!), Marrakech shopping tips, and more. This is all you need for a weekend in Marrakech, a Marrakech city break, or 3 days in Marrakech!

Don’t let Instagram lie to you – Morocco is intense. While Marrakech is quite safe, traveling there requires being “on” all the time, your attention being pulled in several directions at once. I found Marrakech tiring but ultimately worth all the memories; however, it’s certainly not all floaty dresses and ornate walls like the Instagram girls would have you believe.

If you just have 3 days in Morocco, I’d advise spending them all in Marrakech with one or two half-day outings to tick off a bucket list item — whether that’s a hot air balloon or a camel ride through the desert at sunset.

If you have a longer time allocated for Morocco, I’d recommend doing a 3-day Sahara Tour (read this post for details on planning one!) and then continuing onto Fes and Chefchaouen, or wherever else is on your Morocco itinerary.

Sahara desert in Morocco

3 Days in Marrakech: Day One

Get started in Marrakech by checking into your riad and exploring the city’s most central sights, stopping for lunch and mint tea along the way when your feet get tired or the midday heat gets to be too much if you’re traveling in the warmer months. Try to get lunch somewhere with a rooftop view over the medina! Finish your evening with a sunset camel ride for an amazing first day in Marrakech.

Note: Morocco is notorious for scams and nowhere are scams more ubiquitous than at the airport. One of my top Marrakech tips is that I highly recommend pre-booking a private transfer from the airport for about $15 USD. It is inexpensive and they will help you find your riad, which is easier said than done given that Google Maps is virtually useless in the medinas of Marrakech (following my blue dot led me into a brick wall so many times that I even wrote a post all about walking in Morocco). Click to prebook your transfer.

Check into your riad

One of the best things about visiting Marrakech is that the price to quality ratio is in your favor. A nice but not fancy riad will cost a mere $20 or $25 a night, great for travelers on a budget (as I was at the time of my visit).

However, if you’re visiting Marrakech with a bit more money to spend, you’ll be spoiled for choice after beautiful choice. A few of the most Instagram-famous riads are extremely pricy, such as Riad Yasmine and La Mamounia. However, you really don’t need to pay that much to have a beautiful stay.

Here are my riad recommendations broken down by budget. For reference, I view budget as under $50 per night for a private room, mid-range as $50-100 per night, and luxury as $200+ per night. Prices generally follow these lines but may go up or down due on time of year, availability, etc.

Budget: Nondescript on the outside, Riad Dar Maria is gorgeous and cozy on the inside. Updated design makes the indoor courtyard a lovely place to relax, and comfortable private rooms with AC offer excellent value for the price. The riad is family-run and treats you like one of their own. Highly recommended by fellow travelers with a 9.5 average rating on Booking.com. Click here to see lowest prices and current availability.

Mid-range: The lovely Riad Enchanté lives up to its name – it will truly delight and enchant you. With stunning tilework, a rooftop terrace (with jacuzzi!), large rooms with AC, and amazing attention to detail (check out those lovely wooden doors), you’ll probably never want to leave this homey, delightful riad. Click here to see lowest prices and current availability.

Luxury: For five-star comfort at not insanely outrageous prices you can’t do much better than Villa Lavande, a traditional riad with a comfortable in-house hammam, a gorgeous pool, air conditioning (a must if you travel in summer), and helpful staff. Cooking lessons are available on-site in case you fancy learning how to make your own tajine… or you can simply eat at the in-house restaurant beloved by guests. It’s located in the medina but away from the hustle and bustle, the best of both worlds. Click here to see lowest prices and current availability.

Not enough? I have 21 more suggestions for riads in Marrakech for all budgets here.

Meander over to Koutoubia Mosque

Unfortunately, unlike in other Muslim-majority countries I’ve been to like Turkey, Bosnia, Azerbaijan, Albania, and Kosovo, non-Muslims are not permitted to enter mosques in Morocco.

And honestly, given the way that Instagram has kind of ruined Morocco, I don’t really blame them for excluding non-Muslims from the mosques. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t admire the gorgeous mosque from the outside.

Built at the height of the Islamic Golden Age, the wonderfully ornate Koutoubia Mosque is an architectural achievement, especially considering its age (nearly a millennium old). Originally, there was a different mosque in its place that preceded the current one, but it was leveled because it was found that it wasn’t properly aligned with Mecca.

After Koutoubia Mosque was built, hundreds of booksellers gathered around its base – giving the mosque its name as “koutoubia” means booksellers in Arabic.

The height of the minaret, 69 meters high, is quite an achievement as well, making it the tallest building in Marrakech. Due to an ancient law that nothing can be taller than a palm tree, the Koutoubia mosque continues to stick out as an exception to the rule, an important monument, and a much-needed point of reference in the winding alleyways of the medina.

Gawk in awe (and distaste) at Jemaa el-Fnaa

Jemaa el-Fnaa is where you’ll find the best and worst of Marrakech. It’s a must-visit as it’s been hailed as a Masterpiece of World Heritage by UNESCO since 2001, and the folks at UNESCO are rarely wrong.

You’ll find the freshest, most delicious orange juice at a mere 50 cents (5 dirhams) a cup, the lively sizzle of grilling meat… and you’ll also find snake charmers who have abusively de-fanged their cobras, monkeys who have been snatched from the wild in order to pay tricks, and ladies grabbing your hand to try to give you a henna tattoo at an exorbitant price.

To save yourself a headache, do not take any photos of the snake charmers, henna ladies, etc. and do not allow anyone to hand you their monkey or put any henna on you as you undoubtedly will be hounded to pay. Just ignore or say no to people and move on (welcome to Morocco).

I don’t mean to dissuade you from visiting Jemaa el-Fnaa; I just want you to know what to expect. It’s the center of the medina, so it really is the perfect place to start exploring the wonderful yet utterly chaotic city that is Marrakech.

Its many food stalls and grills constantly operate and offer freshly grilled kebabs – follow my rule of thumb to look for locals queuing up, as I’ve always found that the best food to be had is right where you can see the locals eating.

On the busy streets leading up to Jemaa el-Fnaa, you can find horse-drawn carriages who are happy to take you around for a short ride around Marrakech. Be sure to bargain to get a fair price as they will certainly inflate the rates.

While I don’t suggest shopping in Jemaa el-Fna proper, and saving your shopping for the souks just beyond it, you can’t deny the chaotic main square has an ambiance like no other. While this time, you’ll visit by day, I highly recommend also coming back at night to see the square in an entirely new light.

Shop in the souks

Let’s be real: if you didn’t come to Morocco to shop (or stunt for the ‘gram) why did you even come at all? I had mixed feelings about my 3 days in Marrakech but there is one thing I cannot deny: the shopping is unreal.

Unfortunately I visited Morocco when I was still living nomadically (I’ve since settled down and have a proper home base) so I wasn’t able to buy much. However, if you’re visiting Marrakech and then returning home after… seriously, bring a spare suitcase because the shopping here is amazing.

So, what exactly are the souks? Put simply, souks are North African marketplaces and bazaars that sell a variety of good. In the case of Marrakech, the souks are entire streets built like mazes that stretch in every direction and are filled with shops of all types and sizes, primarily selling leather accessories, clothing, jewelry, and home decor goods.

Due to the nature of the souks, prices vary wildly and you are expected to haggle (you’ll be considered a fool if you don’t). Luckily, no matter where you shop, generally the goods are at least of decent quality and they are often handmade in nearby factories and shops rather than being sent in from China as in much of the world.

Be aware that accepting tea in a shop will likely embolden the vendor to demand you make a purchase (unlike the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul where accepting a cup of tea is much less fraught).

Always remember that you are under no obligation to pay for an item if you do not like the price, and feel free to walk away. In fact, walking away will often get you the best price you can get. Don’t show too much enthusiasm (but don’t be rude) and mention that you are shopping around if you want to get the best price. All vendors speak English as well as a variety of other languages very fluently so language barriers, for better or worse, are not an excuse to not buy!

A few things I recommend buying, if you’re interested: leather bags, leather shoes, leather poofs (they come un-filled so they are easy to transport), plates, bowls, tajines, and lamps.

The clothing is rather gimmicky and doesn’t actually appear to be traditional, so it’s not my style. If you’re a frequent traveler like I am with little space in your bag, I’d settle on just spices and the delicious, delicious olives that can be had for about two dollars per kilo so you can consume them before you leave!

End the day with a sunset camel ride

The ethics of using animals in tourism is something that concerns me a lot. It’s complicated: riding elephants is never okay (mostly due to the horrors they endure to become domesticated enough to tolerate a human on its back) yet riding horses is fine. So where exactly does riding a camel fall into that?

I rode camels through the Sahara Desert in 2016 and loved my experience without really thinking much of it. However, writing this in 2018, the landscape of ethical animal tourism has changed and thankfully we are paying much more attention to animal welfare these days. Before I could recommend whether or not you should do a camel ride, I looked into it and did some research.

Basically, the same rules apply to horses and donkeys as camels. Camels require adequate food, water, shelter, access to medical care when necessary, and freedom from abuse or overwork.

If an operator can provide all that, there is nothing unethical about riding camels (this article has great insight into camel riding in Morocco specifically, and mentions an important note that you should always pay a fair price for your camel ride as not paying enough may lead to camels not being fed or cared for properly).

Look for happy faces like this guy’s

I did some research into reputable companies and while I can’t find any sort of animal welfare certification system in Morocco, this sunset camel tour has excellent ratings with several reviewers remarking that the camels seemed well-looked after, and the price is fair enough to ensure the animal welfare without being outrageous for the consumer. Check availability, ratings, and price here. And if you use them, please comment back with your feedback.

Please be aware that with 3 days in Marrakech, you can’t actually get out to the proper dunes (those are about a two days’ drive west to the Sahara) but rather the Palm Grove, which is an oasis outside of Marrakech.

If you do have enough time for a Sahara desert tour because you’re planning to continue your trip beyond Marrakech, please read my review of my Sahara desert tour as I had a really unpleasant experience with my guides I don’t want anyone to experience (The TL;DR of it is that I woke up with my guide in my face about 10 seconds away from groping me).

3 Days in Marrakech: Day Two

Normally, I would recommend you start with the Ben Youssef Madrassa, which is utterly beautiful and I’m sure you’ve seen it plastered over Instagram for years now.

The tilework is simply out of this world. Since mosques are closed to non-Muslims, madrassas (Islamic schools) and palaces are the only places you can really see Islamic tilework. Unfortunately, the Ben Youssef Madrassa is closed from now (2018) until at least 2020 to be renovated and preserved for future generations of travelers to enjoy.

So, while I loved visiting Ben Youssef when I visited Marrakech in 2016, here’s what I’d recommend instead. Don’t worry – you’ll still find plenty of gorgeous tilework to suit your fancy (and get your beloved Instagram shots). Start with a few of the most ornate relics of Marrakech’s historic legacy, like the Badi Palace and the Bahia Palace, check out the old Jewish cemetery, and pay your respects at the Saadian tombs.

El Badi Palace (Palais Badii)

NOTE: According to commenter Thiago, unfortunately the El Badi Palace is closed for refurbishments from 23rd April 2019 onward. However, I did read some more recent reviews on Trip Advisor that as little as 1 week ago (now May 28) it was open again. So I’m not 100% certain if it is open at the moment.

I didn’t personally visit when I went to Morocco but I was looking for a suitable replacement for Ben Youssef Madrassa and I think this comes close to the mix of history and photographability that Ben Youssef offers.

El Badi Palace literally translates to “the incomparable palace.” Perhaps that was true at the time, but a lot has happened in the nearly five centuries since its construction. It’s a bit worse for wear, but at the same time, you can see spots of the former beauty of this ruined palace. It took 15 years to build, demonstrating the best craftsmanship of the Saadian era. At the height of its grandeur, the palace had 360 rooms, decorated to the nines with handcrafted furniture, as well as a courtyard complex with a pool. Rich with gold, onyx, Italian marble, and exquisite tilework, the Palace was an ostentatious display of the Saadians wealth.

While much of the original palace is in a state of disrepair, there are still several gorgeously preserved parts of the palace with excellent tile mosaics, ornate stained glass windows, and beautiful courtyards – so there is still plenty to photograph and visit, all while you imagine the former beauty of it in its heyday.

Marvel at Bahia Palace

Whereas the El Badi Palace is a bit worse for wear after centuries of disuse, Bahia Palace is in remarkable condition. Built in the second half of the 19th century, Bahia Palace is arguably the most well-preserved historic monument in Marrakech, and its simple color scheme of white, wood and understated tilework is gorgeous.

It’s a glorious palace, one that was built over the course of 14 years, across an area of two acres, sporting around 150 rooms. To say that it’s beautiful would be doing it an injustice: it’s mindblowing. Its many ornaments, lavishly-decorated doors, breathtaking fireplaces, floors and ceilings of the finest wood: every single detail adds up together to achieve something that is truly spectacular. Visiting Bahia Palace is an unforgettable experience for any visitor and a must-do whether you have 24 hours or three days in Marrakech.

Visit the Jewish Cemetery

While today, Morocco is synonymous with its majority Muslim population, it has historically been an important site for Jews for centuries. You can see that history at the Jewish Cemetery nearby Bahia Palace, but its simplicity and bareness will be quite a contrast to the ornateness of Bahia Palace.

The Jewish Cemetery in Marrakech is the largest of its kind in Morocco and has been in continual use since the 16th century. Today, the Jewish population of Marrakech is quite small – a mere 200 or so Jews – as much of Morocco’s Jewish population moved after the founding of Israel. In fact, Moroccan Jews make up the second largest Jewish community, numbering about 500,000 in a country of around 9 million.

The Jewish cemetery in central Marrakech

Despite the mass exodus of Moroccan Jews since the founding of Israel, the area around Marrakech is still important to Jewish history, with several important Jewish pilgrimage sites located in the outskirts. While Morocco’s population is 99% Muslim, the country has done an excellent job of protecting its Jewish citizens and Jewish history.

After the Jews were expelled from Spain, many Sephardic Jews fled to nearby Morocco by crossing the straight of Gibraltar, and subsequently, they became integrated into Moroccan society. During World War II, King Mohammed V protected the Moroccan Jews from being shipped to Europe to be exterminated in the Holocaust, defying Hitler’s orders by saying “in Morocco we don’t have Jews, we only have Moroccan citizens.”

This is emblematic of the religious tolerance that Morocco has exhibited for centuries, proudly 99% Muslim yet allowing Christian, Jewish, and to a lesser extent Baha’i communities to maintain places of worship.

Explore the Saadian Tombs

The Saadian dynasty was an important part of Moroccan history, when Morocco flourished and grew as an important power: hence, their presence in much of the architecture and monuments of modern-day Marrakech. The tombs of the Saadian dynasty, built by Sultan Al Mansour in the 16th century, contain marvelous tombs and mausoleums built to commemorate his family.

His successors have since walled off the Saadian Tombs, but they’re still accessible by a small passage through the Kasbah mosque. The Sultan’s own tomb is quite intricate and ornate, and it’s surrounded by the tombs of his favorite counselors and princes. Still, even the Sultan’s resting grounds is shadowed by his mother’s mausoleum. It’s a resting place made for maximum splendor, truly fit for a queen, with many plaques and carvings offering poetic blessings.

Maroc Marrakech Saadiens Luc Viatour 2
Photo credit: Luc Viatour, CC-BY-SA-3.0 license, via Wikimedia Commons

End the night with a food and souk tour

Walking through Marrakech’s souks can be a bit stressful for first-timers to Morocco and the socially anxious amongst us – at least it was for me. Taking a guided tour of the souks is definitely a way to reduce the stress factor: it’s something I learned by the time I got to Fes and it made my time there so much more rewarding.

Explore the souks with a guide, sampling local snacks at various places in the medina as you explore, and enjoy a Moroccan dinner feast with the guidance of a local with this dinner and souk food tour.

Alternate Ideas:

If hopping from palace to palace is too on the tourist trail for you, there are ways to get a bit more local.

You could start the morning with a tagine cooking class, learning hands-on how to make Morocco’s most famous dish with the assistance of a local.

Afterwards, you could check out the excellent photography museum, Maison de la Photographie, to see some work from Moroccan artists, or relax in the not-so-secret Le Jardin Secret.

Cap off your evening with either an evening food tour or visit the hip, artsy Café Clock for a meal and drinks (no alcohol available) with the locals.

3 Days in Marrakech: Day Three

Make the most of your last day in Marrakech by indulging in a bucket-list must, whether it’s a sunrise hot air balloon ride or a spa day at one of Morocco’s many hammams – or both! Do some last minute sightseeing in the Jardin Majorelle, and then finish up with some souvenir shopping for things you missed — you don’t want to have buyers’ remorse after you leave Morocco, after all.

Wake up early for a hot air balloon ride over the desert

If you have the time and the funds for a hot air balloon ride in Morocco, I think it’s the best way to cap off three days in Marrakech. I wasn’t able to afford it when I visited Morocco two years ago, fresh off of quitting my job to start this blog, but I rode a hot air balloon in Cappadocia in Turkey and just. wow. It’s one of the most magical experiences I can remember.

Worth the alarm at an ungodly hour

As when I went with Voyager Balloons in Cappadocia, it’s always crucial to pick a reputable hot air balloon company with pilots with thousands of hours of flight time under their belt. Ciel d’Africa is the top-rated balloon operator in Morocco, so they’re who I would choose if I went. They offer a combined tour of a sunrise hot air balloon plus camel ride in case you didn’t get a chance to do a camel ride earlier. Check out ratings, reviews, and availability here.

The wake up call is excruciatingly early – before 5 AM – so you’ll want to take it easy the rest of the day if you opt for a balloon ride.

Relax in Jardin Majorelle

After a hot air balloon ride, you’ll probably be a bit beat from the early morning wake-up and excitement. And what better way to relax than in one of Marrakech’s most gorgeous gardens?

Amidst all the hustle and bustle of the busy streets of Marrakech lies the gorgeous Jardin Majorelle. It’s a quiet and calm reprieve that’s surrounded by a chaotic and active lifestyle, so this garden is truly an oasis in the desert. It was originally created by Art Deco painter Jacques Majorelle – who ended being more known for the garden rather than his paintings – around 1920, and it was later bought and renovated by fashion designer Yves St. Laurent.

While the garden itself is lovely, with cacti and gorgeous blossoming flowers, it’s most famous for the hue of its walls, an intensely vibrant cobalt blue that’s now called Majorelle blue. Today, Jardin Majorelle open every day of the year, and it’s remained a visitor favorite for quite a long time. It’s one of those places where you can sit back, relax, and just enjoy the scenery.

Enjoy a traditional hammam

Hammams are common throughout North Africa and the Middle East, a tradition dating back from when private bathrooms with running water weren’t that common. Over the years, hammams became more about relaxation and socializing than getting clean.

You can’t miss trying a traditional scrub in Morocco – you’ll literally feel brand new after, as they’ll slough off roughly half a human’s worth of a dead skin. There are several kinds of hammam experiences you can have, from ultra local to ultra luxurious. I recommend going somewhere in the middle. My friend I was with in Morocco went to the spa at Riad Laârouss and found it to be a great experience, as they gave her tea when she got in and explained the whole procedure to her. I went to some random hole-in-the-wall because I was trying to save money and stumbled (naked, I should add) through the whole experience with my very rudimentary French.

The way a Moroccan scrub works is that first they use a eucalyptus-scented black soap, applying it to your whole body while you are fully nude. Don’t worry, if you’re a woman, you’ll have a female attendant. I’ve been told by male visitors that they were still attended on by women, but they were asked to keep their shorts on (for obvious reasons!).

After they’ll apply argan oil and then scrub – hard – using a rough glove to exfoliate off the dead skin. You can just get a steam and scrub or finish up with a lovely massage afterwards.

I recommend booking with a riad that caters to English-speaking clientele and allows you to pre-book online to avoid communication issues as I had. Book online here and get up to 20% off scrubs, massages, or both.

Further Exploration

Next up, I highly recommend doing a Sahara desert tour – just be sure to read my guide beforehand, as there’s a lot you should know before booking.

If you’re planning a day trip outside of Marrakech, there are a few options. Essaouira is a coastal city that has starred in Game of Thrones, and it’s an excellent day trip from Marrakech if you want to squeeze in some time at the sea on your trip. Check day trip itineraries and availability here.

Want to freshen up in some waterfalls? Spend a day chasing waterfalls in the nearby oasis of Ouzoud Waterfalls in the middle of the stunning Atlas Mountains. Check day trips here.

For a full day small group trek through remote Berber villages, combining nature and culture, check out this 3 village hiking tour.

More Morocco Travel Resources

I’ve written quite a bit to help you plan the perfect trip to Morocco! First, start with my Morocco travel planning checklist – it walks you through every step of the planning process.

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

If you need more advice on where to stay in Morocco, I have a guide to the best riads in Marrakech on any budget.

Did I leave anything out? What else would you recommend to see in Marrakech in 3 days?