2 Days in New Orleans: An Off the Beaten Path Itinerary

New Orleans…. you’re one of my favorite cities in the United States, and it’s not just because you ask me if I want my cocktails to go. You’re vibrant, full of life and music. You’re delicious, your food the very embodiment the word Creole, a mix that celebrates diversity the most delicious way possible. Plus, you’re just plain quirky and don’t take yourself too seriously.

Tennessee Williams once said: “America has only three cities: New York, San Francisco, and New Orleans. Everywhere else is Cleveland.”

I don’t think he’s wrong.

Here’s the thing — you’ve got to experience New Orleans off the beaten path. Get past the Bourbon Street slushies, lukewarm pizza, and drunk middle-aged holidayers trying to relive their 20s, and you’ll find a city that’s easy to love.

Instead, dive into the offbeat music scene, eat the local food, explore the unique boutiques, and you’ll see why New Orleans has a spirit no hurricane could ever crush. Here’s how to spend the perfect 3 days in New Orleans for first-time visitors.

2 Days in New Orleans: Your Offbeat Itinerary for a Perfect Stay

Day 1 in NOLA

Explore the Garden District

The Garden District is probably my favorite part of New Orleans. It’s where I stayed in New Orleans and I think it was a great choice for a first time trip. The historic charm of the houses, the way the leafy canopy of trees protects you from the Louisiana sun, funky offbeat details everywhere…

Magazine Street is the main thoroughfare of the Garden District; you can also take the St. Charles cablecar which runs roughly parallel to it pretty much the whole length of the Garden District.

There are tons of funky boutiques up and down Magazine Street, which was perfect for me as the geniuses at Greyhound somehow managed to lose my suitcase with nearly everything I owned in it. There are tons of bars and restaurants among the shops as well.

A few favorites: The peaceful Lafayette Cemetery, Defend NOLA for clothes and odds & ends, District Donuts for… do I even need to say it?, and Lilly’s Vietnamese for some of the best bún I’ve eaten outside of Hanoi. If you’ve got 2 days in New Orleans, make sure you spend at least part of one exploring the Garden District.

It’s easy enough to visit the Garden District by just wandering down Magazine Street and checking out all the cute side streets, but there are also walking tours available (check prices & availability here) if you’d like more historical context and guidance.

Take a culinary tour of the city

To understand the patterns of migration that have marked New Orleans and made it so unique, it’s best – and most delicious – to do so via a culinary tour. Have a light breakfast and save lunch for the food tour – with only 2 days in New Orleans, it’s the best possible way to taste as much as you possibly can without wasting time or food.

I highly recommend taking a tour with Doctor Gumbo if possible (this is the exact food tour I took) – it’s one of the best food tours I’ve taken, and I’m a huge fan of food tours. Dylan, the guide, is hilarious and manages to weave together food, politics, and history in an engaging way — while making sure delicious eats are never far away to maintain your attention.

Some of the things we ate on the tour: pork cracklings, boudin balls, sweet potato beignets, po’boys, muffuletta sandwiches, hot sauces, pralines, beef brisket (also often called “debris”) and naturally, gumbo!

Have a cocktail (or two, or three…)

Forgo the enormous slushies in to-go cups on Bourbon Street and save what’s left of your liver for some classic cocktails. New Orleans quite literally invented America’s cocktail scene. Among its greatest contributions: the Sazerac, the Vieux Carré, Ramos Gin Fizz (my personal favorite), and the Hurricane.

Go on a self-guided cocktail tour, being sure to sample the above-mentioned cocktails and others. Alternately, opt for a guided cocktail tour to make your New Orleans getaway slightly more educational (while just as boozy).

With just two days in NOLA, I didn’t have time to go on a proper cocktail tour, but since I had such a good food tour with Doctor Gumbo, I’d trust them to deliver on the cocktail & history tour (check time, availability & pricing here). You can also do a combo food + cocktails tour and save a bit of money by combining the two – check it out here.

Enjoy the music

New Orleans is one of the best spots in the entire country for jazz music, so don’t miss visiting Frenchman Street where the music scene is off the hook — definitely a must-visit on any New Orleans itinerary. It’s a bit more off the beaten path compared to the French Quarter, though still well known by music lovers everywhere.

If you’re into the jazz scene, it’s possible to take a music tour through the Tremé neighborhood popularized in David Simon’s beloved TV show with a local guide, as well as Marigny and Frenchman Street.

If you’re not looking to stray far from the French Quarter, the Royal Sonesta Jazz Playhouse is also a great venue and it couldn’t be more conveniently located right on Bourbon Street — this is a true hidden gem right in the heart of downtown, far away from the drunken antics you normally associate the street with.

I saw Nayo Jones perform and she was simply fantastic, with a voice that even Etta James would shed a tear for. And the cocktails are top notch — definitely a must-visit spot.

I also loved the free shows at the Ace Hotel — there was a fantastic cellist, Helen Gillet, who played some beautifully haunting music. I believe she performs most Wednesdays, so check their schedule and see if she’s on — you won’t regret it.

If you’re into late night partying, Saint is supposed to be legendary in the wee hours, and it’s located right in the heart of the Garden District.

The most traditional, however, is definitely Frenchman Street, so if you’re a jazz music lover and you only have a weekend in New Orleans, that’s where I’d recommend you go your first night in the city.

Day 2 in NOLA

Explore history and nature on a plantation and bayou tour

Two things figure heavily on many people’s New Orleans’ itineraries – learning about the macabre history of plantations in near proximity to New Orleans and seeing the beautiful swampland that makes Louisiana’s geography so distinctive in the United States.

Unless you have a car, it’s easiest to do this on an organized day tour. This top-rated tour combines a morning plantation visit to Oak Alley Plantation with a boat ride through the bayou in the late afternoon.

Oak Alley is a place of profound contradictions: a beautiful setting with an over 300-year-old tunnel of oak trees framing a gorgeous plantation house, where some of America’s most shameful history took place.

It’s hard to understand how a place that is so beautiful was also the site of such dehumanization and abject cruelty.

It’s certainly something somber to think about, and I urge you to consider and process the history of the place before posing and posting photos for Instagram. In fact, just don’t. Treat Oak Alley with the same consideration as you would any site of massacre or historic evil.

On another note, the peaceful Louisiana bayou is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon, exploring the backwaters of the swampland outside of New Orleans and spotting some real-live crocodiles, if you’re lucky (or not, depending on how you feel about massive aquatic reptiles).

It’s amazing how just a short drive outside of New Orleans brings you to such wildly different and unique places, the likes of which are hard to find elsewhere in the U.S.

All in all, the combination swamp plus plantation tour takes about 7 hours in total, leaving at 10:30 AM and returning to the NOLA area around 5:30 PM – just in time to have another fantastic meal and explore the unusual, offbeat side of New Orleans by night!

Have one last epic dinner in New Orleans

If you only have two days in New Orleans, you better bring your stretchiest pants so you can make every meal count!

Whether it’s having one of the best phos you can find in the U.S. at Lilly’s Café in the Garden District, indulging in the best fried chicken at Willie Mae’s, or scouring the Eater Hot List of best restaurants in New Orleans for the buzziest restaurant in town – it’s hard to go wrong in a city as known for its food as New Orleans.

Explore the spooky side of New Orleans

There’s likely no more offbeat city in the U.S. than New Orleans. From voodoo to horror stories, there’s something for everyone who has an interest in the offbeat and slightly dark.

While not off the beaten path, New Orleans’ cemeteries are a major tourist attraction. They’re mostly above ground thanks to chronic flooding issues, making the mausoleums an interesting and distinctly New Orleans sight to be seen.

Supposedly, Nic Cage even has a pyramid here (for if he ever dies).

Voodoo is also not just a myth in New Orleans, but rather an important part of its history. It is a syncretic religion that combined elements of West African religions brought over by slaves as well as Catholicism which was dominant in New Orleans.

For that reason, voodoo history is much like the history of New Orleans itself, a Creole mishmash of cultures brought together by humanity’s best and worst impulses. There’s a daily night tour of Voodoo history in New Orleans at 7:30 PM.

However, if you have to pick between a voodoo or ghost tour of the city, I’d recommend doing the 8 PM ghosts and vampires walk through New Orleans, the #1 voted haunted tour in the city.

Learn local history and lore on a two-hour tour, hearing stories from the twisted tale of the serial killer and torturer Madame Lalaurie to the Mad Butcher, the owner of a sausage factory whose wife met a rather unsavory end.

If you get there early, enjoy 2-for-1 hurricanes courtesy of The Voodoo Lounge before your tour!

Where to Stay in New Orleans

There are several options for where to stay in NOLA, including several vacation rental options and lots of great hotels and even a handful of good hostels!

Budget: Hands down, I’d recommend The Quisby, a boutique hostel in the Garden District. It has an in-house bar serving surprisingly upscale cocktails, a delicious free breakfast including all the biscuits, ham, cheese, and coffee you can eat and drink, and a cool lounge area. The Quisby is without a doubt the best hostel I’ve stayed at in the entire U.S.

It’s also priced fairly for an upscale hostel, with a bed in a dorm costing about $27-3o per night. But the best part — the reception staff is outstanding and will give you so many awesome suggestions, even offering you a little booklet cheat sheet of all their favorite places in NOLA. The hostel bar has a great chilled out vibe, so you can socialize or just chat with the bartenders over some drinks. Dorms and privates available. Check out reviews (9.0 on Booking.com) & availability here.

Mid-Range: If you want a little more privacy than a hostel affords while you travel then New Orleans has a decent range of options for people with a slightly higher budget. If you don’t want to splurge too much, I’d recommend staying at a guesthouse-style accommodation rather than a hotel. The Burgundy B&B, restored from the 1890s with adorable Southern charm décor, has rave reviews on Booking.com and is a 20-minute walk from the French Quarter in a quiet neighborhood. Check reviews (9.0 average rating on Booking.com) & availability here.

Luxury: Having spent some time in their lounge area and stayed at other Ace locations, I’d highly recommend the Ace Hotel, which can be actually be quite affordable outside of peak season (though the price on weekends can often soar). It’s one of the trendiest and most stylish hotels in town, and the bar downstairs is always bustling. Check reviews (8.7 average rating on Booking.com) & availability here. If you want a quieter, more classic NOLA experience, The Royal Sonesta is a New Orleans favorite, located right on Bourbon Street, with an excellent jazz playhouse downstairs (with the most delicious grilled oysters — seriously, you’ve got to try them!). Check reviews (8.8 average rating on Booking.com) & availability here.

Note: Thank you to The Quisby for hosting me and to the New Orleans CVB for their assistance in organizing the food tour with Doctor Gumbo. All opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links, meaning I may make a small commission if you use one of my links to make a purchase – at no extra cost to you.

The Perfect Long Weekend in Nashville: 3 Days of Food & Fun

Nashville’s rightfully claimed its place as one of America’s favorite destinations. It’s got all the makings of the perfect 3-day weekend trip: delicious Southern food, funky bars, plenty of sights, and a great fun-loving atmosphere!

With only a long weekend in Nashville before heading to Huntsville, Alabama for TBEX, we made the best of a brief stopover, jamming it full of all our best Nashville vacation ideas.

We managed to cram all our must-dos into a 3 day Nashville itinerary, so feel free to copy this for your own travels! If you only have a two day weekend in Nashville, you can also make it work, but you’ll need to move a little faster but it’s definitely doable as the main sights in Nashville are pretty clustered together

Weekend in Nashville Itinerary: Day 1

Indulge in some BBQ

Be sure to make time for pulled pork tacos on your 3 days in Nashville

You’re in the South, baby, so you’ve got to have some BBQ in Nashville while you’re here.

Martin’s BBQ is touted as some of the best in the city; Janet can attest to that. We also had amazing pulled pork banh mi tacos at Acme Feed & Seed right on Broadway. They have great $3 craft beer specials as well!

Vegan in Nashville? Though the city is more known for its meaty offerings, there’s plenty for you here too — check out this vegan guide to Nashville.

Dance in a honky tonk

dancing in a honky tonk, on your 3 day Nashville itinerary! 

Nashville is well-known for its music scene. Whether you visit the honky tonks on Broadway or the famous Grand Ole Opry, you’re bound to hear some incredible music. No weekend in Nashville is complete without checking out the local honky tonks, which are basically live music joints that play music from mid-day til the late night hours.

Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge is my personal favorite. Entry is free but drinks are pricey as a result in order to offset that. If you’re trying to enjoy your weekend in Nashville on a budget, hit up one of the budget-friendly joints; Layla’s Bluegrass Inn is recommended as one of the cheapest places to drink in Nashville.

Weekend in Nashville Itinerary: Day 2

Pay tribute to musical history

even if you only have 3 days in Nashville, check out the Johnny Cash museum

Wondering what the must-sees are on your weekend in Nashville? You can’t miss the Johnny Cash Museum, which celebrates the legendary artist. Full of outfits and instruments from Johnny Cash and June Carter, this museum is the perfect time capsule for his fans.

The museum is small, just a few rooms, but it manages to perfectly tell Johnny Cash’s story through the items he left behind. I entered not knowing much about Cash except that I adored some of his songs; I left with a full understanding of the depth of genius behind his music.

Even though I’m not really a country music lover, it was interesting going to the Country Music Hall of Fame, if only for the awesome building its housed in.

I enjoyed seeing the incredibly souped-up classic cars that put Cuba to shame — one was bedecked with fake guns, antlers, and silver dollars, I mean come on — as well as the fabulously ridiculous stage outfits on display.

Check out the pedestrian bridge

 The famous John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge in Nashville offers some of the best views of Music City, whether it’s day or night. I recommend making time to see this viewpoint, even if you have only 3 days in Nashville like we did!

The bridge spans the Cumberland River and is famous for being one of the longest pedestrian bridges in the world, nearly one kilometer long. It’s convenient to go to after the Country Music Hall of Fame and Johnny Cash Museums, both of which are right nearby. It’s a great place to get Instagram photos to remember your weekend in Nashville.

Visit the Grand Ole Opry

The Grand Ole Opry is a music legend for a reason: so many famous country music stars have made music history here. Famous musicians like Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash and June Carter, and Patsy Cline are all lifelong members. The Opry’s format is bit different than you’re used to; rather than having one main act, they have a series of artists who each play for about 10-15 minutes, followed by a headliner for the night who maybe gets 20 minutes of stage time.

For me, the best part of seeing the Grand Ole Opry was getting to do a backstage tour at the end of the night. It’s worth it if only to see the epic dressing rooms and stand on the stage!

 Tickets can sell out, especially when popular acts headline, so be sure to book tickets in advance for the Grand Ole Opry here. You have to book a backstage tour separately.

Weekend in Nashville Itinerary: Day 3

Start the day at the “Parthenon”

Who knew Nashville has its own replica of Athens’ beloved Parthenon?

Centennial Park is located close to Vanderbilt University, a bit to the west of downtown Nashville. It’s worth strolling around if not to puzzle why Nashville of all places chose to build this strange and expensive replica.

But Centennial Park itself is lovely, with walking paths, a dog park (the main draw), and plenty of trees to lose yourself in and forget the Music City skyline.

Blast your face off with some hot chicken

Not far from Centennial Park, you’ll find Hattie B’s. Nashville is famous for its “Nashville hot chicken” – popularized by the likes of Anthony Bourdain, Andrew Zimmern, and foodies worldwide. The legend behind hot chicken is a bit hilarious: supposedly, a scorned woman spiced the hell out her womanizing husband’s fried chicken to teach him a lesson. Yet the revenge plot backfired when he ended up loving the chicken, turning the tables, and eventually opening up a restaurant using her recipe.

There are two prime spots for hot chicken that everyone recommends: Prince’s and Hattie B’s. Prince’s is the original, with at least 70 years of chicken history. Hattie B’s is the upstart newcomer, but according to locals, it’s legit and serves the real deal.

I chose Hattie B’s as it’s conveniently located near downtown. Irresponsibly and thinking way too high of myself, I ordered the Shut the Cluck Up, the hottest possible level. It’s hotter than I could have imagined – and it’s the kind of heat that sneaks up on you, kicking you in the mouth once you’ve bitten off more than you can chew. Literally.

I ate about a quarter of the chicken before giving up and downgrading to the “Hot” (two levels down) chicken, which was just the perfect spice level for me – and I’m a certified spicy food lover. I’d suggest ordering at least one level down from what you think you can handle. It felt like there were snakes in my stomach the next day after eating the Shut the Cluck Up, and I didn’t even finish it!

Check out the Gulch

The Gulch is a funky district full of street art, brunch spots, and nightlife options that aren’t the main Broadway drag. The famous “Nashville wings” are here – so get your Instagram gold here and make the most of your weekend in Nashville.

Besides the Nashville wings, where you very well may have to queue in line for, there are also the Nashville Walls, a mural project that covers several enormous warehouses.

In addition to the street art, there’s the much-loved brunch spot Biscuit Love, which usually has a line out the door. Surprisingly, I was a bit disappointed by it, and I’m obsessed with biscuits. It was fine, sure – how bad can fried chicken covered in gravy on top of a biscuit be? But it most certainly was not even close to the best I’ve ever eaten.

I think it’s one of those cases where the hype doesn’t meet reality, so you end up disappointed. Your experience may vary — and it’s definitely a photogenic brunch spot and a nice way to spend one of the mornings of your weekend in Nashville.

Have More Than 3 Days in Nashville?

There are many ways to extend this Nashville itinerary if you have more than just a weekend in Nashville.

Rent a car and explore Bourbon country, go tackle some of the best hikes near Nashville, or do a side trip to Memphis for important Black history sites and delicious barbecue.

Where to Stay in Nashville

I stayed at the SoBro Guest House, which has spacious suites with a bedroom, living room, and fully stocked kitchen (in fact, they will even stock it with groceries for you for a fee, which is something I’ve never seen any other hotel do). It’s basically an Airbnb meets a boutique hotel.

There’s convenient mobile check-in and check-out, so you never have to deal with a front desk — you just get emailed the door entry code on your check-in day! If you arrive early or need to check out late, though, there is someone available who can help you store your bags.

The décor is great — funky wallpaper, modern furniture, and even a working record player suitable for Music City! As I get older I truly start to notice how my mood lifts in aesthetically pleasing and well-designed rooms — and this couldn’t be more true for SoBro Guest House.

With adorable décor, a fully equipped kitchen, and even an on-demand grocery service, it’s definitely a step up from your average hotel room — and more convenient than Airbnb. Even better, it couldn’t be more conveniently located in the heart of downtown.

Check out availability at SoBro Guesthouse here – it tends to sell out as it’s one of the highest-rated properties in Nashville, with a 9.3 average rating on Booking.com and a great location a 10-minute walk from the honky tonks of Broadway.

However, it is a little pricey for Nashville, so if you are trying to do a weekend in Nashville on a budget there are other options.

True budget travelers will struggle in Nashville, as it’s hard to find anything under a hundred dollars a night that’s not by the airport, and then you’ll spend a lot of money on transportation to and from the city.

The best budget option is Nashville Downtown Hostel, which has double and twin rooms as well if you prefer not to stay in a dorm. Check rates and availability here.

Travelers who want a luxury hotel will have plenty of options. The Omni in Nashville is one of the newest, glitziest hotels, with a gorgeous rooftop bar and pool. It’s one of the more glamorous places to stay for a weekend in Nashville and great for a girl’s getaway. Check rates and availability here.

Planning a weekend in Nashville? This 2 or 3 day itinerary for Nashville will help you plan an excellent trip to Music City. Find epic street art, eat delicious food, and dance in one of the honky tonks.

Note: I was a complimentary guest of SoBro Guest House and received a press pass to see some of Nashville’s attractions. All opinions are my own.

The Affordable Luxury Guide to Ho Chi Minh in 2 Days

Vietnam has a reputation for being one of the most affordable countries in the world to travel. It’s become a bit of a Shangri-La for backpackers, but what I found was that if you stretch your budget just a bit, that’s where you’ll find incredible value. Travelers looking for some affordable luxury will be in heaven in Vietnam’s cosmopolitan capital, Ho Chi Minh City (formerly and often still known as Saigon).

If you’re heading to HCMC (as it’s often abbreviated), get ready for a whirlwind of sights, sounds, and scents. This city is an assault on your senses in the best possible way: flickering neon lights from the surrounding skyscrapers rivaling those of Tokyo, wafts of warm, fragrant smoke from street food stalls, and the constant hum of motorbikes in a city that rarely rests.

The city’s energy is infectious, and it’d take a lifetime to truly explore Ho Chi Minh City to its core. If you’ve set yourself the near-impossible task of seeing the best of Ho Chi Minh in 2 days, here’s a quick guide to do it in style.

Ho Chi Minh in 2 Days: Day One

Start the day with a Vietnamese coffee

Start off your two days in Ho Chi Minh with coffee!

As a self-certified coffee snob, I can safely vouch that Vietnamese coffee is some of the best in the world. It’s always strong, and best over condensed milk or ice (or both!).

My personal favorite way to drink coffee in Vietnam is ca phe sua da (iced coffee with sweetened condensed milk). It’s so delicious, thick, and sweet that it’s practically a dessert!

Get acquainted with the city with a vintage Vespa tour

2 days in Ho Chi Minh

If you’re keen on an adrenaline rush, why not swap two feet for two wheels with a ride on a vintage Vespa? You’ll be exploring Ho Chi Minh in the most Vietnamese way possible, as scooters are virtually synonymous with this country.

Riding around the city by scooter is a wonderful way to get a feel for the beautiful chaos that is Ho Chi Minh City. Rather than taking a sedate bus tour, a guided Vespa tour gets your adrenaline flowing as you rapidly discover all the major historical sights and explore the surrounding areas. A few of the sights you’ll likely see include the War Remnants Museum, Reunification Palace, Notre Dame Basilica, Central Post Office, and Jade Emperor Pagoda.

Explore the food scene in Vietnam

Tip for conquering Ho Chi Minh in 2 days -- eat your heart out!

Whether you have the budget for five-star restaurants or street stalls, you’re in for a treat either way. Food is what Vietnam does best – it’s among my favorite cuisines in all the world.

Vietnamese cuisine is all about contrast and vibrant flavor. Fresh herbs feature front and center, whether it’s torn mint leaves in a bowl of bún cha or fresh basil in a piping hot bowl of pho. Sweet and sour nuoc mam (a blend of fish sauce and palm sugar amongst other ingredients) liven up the simplest of rice dishes and fried goodies.

If you’re looking for a fancy meal out, Ho Chi Minh City certainly delivers. Restaurants like Xu offer fantastic value with their tasting menus, where you can try 5 courses for just about $40 USD.

Meanwhile, there’s delicious street food on virtually every street and alley for those who’d rather save their money and eat like a local. The local markets are also well worth a visit for food lovers. The biggest and best of HCMC’s markets is Ben Thanh in District 1, where busy stalls sell delicious Vietnamese fare cooked to order. Just pick stalls that look busy with lots of customers – tourists and locals alike – to ensure food safety. Real foodies may opt to book a cooking class, so you can learn how to use the local ingredients to recreate your favorite dish back home.

Check into a 5* hotel for a 3* price in District 1

Stay in luxury for two days in HCMC

The greatest thing about Vietnam’s affordability is that experiences that would normally be way out of your price range are suddenly rather affordable. For a 5* hotel in Vietnam, you’ll pay about as much as you would for a mid-range room in London or NYC.

If you’re looking for luxury, you’ll find it in District 1, home to the city’s finest hotels, restaurants, and shopping. One of the best hotels in Ho Chi Minh City, the Reverie Saigon, is full of ornate grandeur that will almost transport you to a European palace, with a luxe spa to match.

Vietnam also has a thriving fashion and tailoring scene (Hoi An further north of Ho Chi Minh is especially famous for its affordable, custom-tailored suits and clothing), and District 1 is the center of this scene. Here, you can check out boutiques from up and coming designers who are driving a dynamic fashion scene in HCMC.

Ho Chi Minh in 2 Days: Day Two

Explore villages along the Mekong Delta river

Even if you have just 2 days in Ho Chi Minh, a cruise along the Mekong Delta river is well worth it. You can either go with a tour or charter a private long-tail boat to take you beyond the chaotic capital city into the sleepy riverside villages of south Vietnam.

Depending on what cruise you select, you have the opportunity to stop off on small islands and local villages to experience a more authentic side to daily life in Vietnam, and still be back in time to enjoy the rest of your last afternoon and evening in the city.

Check out some of HCMC’s museums

Ho Chi Minh City has a wealth of amazing museums. The War Remnants Museum is a can’t-miss window into the experience of surviving the Vietnam War. In my opinion, it’s especially important for American travelers to come here and see the war’s history portrayed from the Vietnamese perspective.

Other museums worth visiting at the Southern Women’s Museum and the Fine Art Museum, so choose whatever suits your interest and schedule best.

Catch a traditional Vietnamese performance

If you’re interested in Vietnamese culture, don’t miss the chance to watch a water puppet show at The Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre. I know, seeing a puppet show may seem strange, but I can vouch for these: the performances are artfully done, exquisitely lit, and surprisingly beautiful.

These uniquely traditional puppet shows tell tales from Vietnamese folklore and are performed in a large pool using the water as a stage. You won’t find performances like these anywhere else in the world.

If you’re not into the idea of a puppet show, the Saigon Opera House is another fantastic cultural event space. Home to the HCMC Ballet and Symphony Orchestra, the venue also hosts performances by world-renowned artists – popular shows often sell out, so look in advance and book early if you see something that catches your eye.

Rooftop cocktails at Chill Sky Bar

 

I’m of the belief that the vastness of a city is best appreciated from up high – preferably with a cocktail in hand. There are several rooftop bars in Ho Chi Min City, but I’d recommend Chill Sky Bar for its central location in District 1 and general happy hour.

Cocktails here are definitely more expensive than your 15 cent street bia hoi (fresh beer brewed daily and sold on street corners everywhere), but it’s worth the cost of admission to have such a wonderful view of the city.

Your Ultimate Guide to a 3 Day Montreal Weekend Trip On a Budget

If you’re like me (in which case, God help you) you’ll do anything to leave home for the weekend and see a new place. (As in, take a 2:45 AM flight back from Puerto Rico and roll up to work with sea salt still in your hair kind of anything)

So naturally, when I lived in New York, I was obsessed with ways to get away for a quick weekend trip, and guys? If you have 3 days, Montreal is one of the best possible cities you can visit, especially if you’re on a budget.

Your guide to a Montreal weekend trip

In fact, I loved my first Montreal weekend trip so much that I actually went back for another trip in the spring and saw even more, so now I feel doubly prepared to give you the best possible advice for seeing the highlights on Montreal in 3 days.

I’ll warn you now that I’m not really a “tick-all-the-boxes” traveler — I’m more interested in experiencing the culture of a city through its restaurants, coffee shops, bars, parks, and maybe a few museums rather than working my way down through the top 10 things to do in Montreal. This is a leisurely guide to my favorite sights in one of my favorite cities, with a focus on sticking to a budget.

3 Days in Montreal Itinerary: Making the Most of a Quick Montreal Weekend Trip

Day 1: Vieux-Montreal, Downtown Montreal, and Chinatown

You’ll want to dedicate a good portion of your first day in Montreal to explore Vieux-Montreal, the oldest and most photogenic neighborhood in Montreal and one of the top touristic spots in Canada. This stunning architecture is on steroids: you’ll feel transported out of North America and straight into Europe.

There are a few landmark buildings you can’t miss, so take yourself on a walking tour of Old Montreal (either self-guided or take an affordable guided walking tour). One of the sights you can’t miss is Montreal’s stunning Town Hall, pictured below.

Montreal on a budget, in just 3 days

You’ll also want to walk down the charming street of St. Paul Street, with its cobblestoned streets and charming façades.

While walking down St. Paul Street, you won’t be able to miss the stunning Bonsecours Market, which has been around since 1847 and looks straight out of Vienna or Paris. While the market is a beautiful building, there isn’t too much going on inside — just a few overpriced boutiques aimed at fat-walleted tourists, namely: probably not us, if you’re reading this budget Montreal guide. Don’t fret, though — Montreal is home to plenty of other markets with far more energy and life (and better on the wallet) that I’ll show you later on in this Montreal itinerary.

budget weekend getaway to Montreal

Just north of Bonsecours Market, you can’t miss Notre-Dame-de-Bonsecours Chapel. No, this isn’t the famous Notre-Dame — we’re getting to that — but it is the oldest chapel in all of Montreal, founded back in 1678 but restored in 1771 after a fire nearly burned it to the foundation.

Despite not having the same “pull” as the larger, more famous Notre-Dame, it’s absolutely worth a stop. Plus, entry to the chapel is free (though donations, of course, are appreciated). If you want to check out the Marguerite-Bourgeoys Museum co-located with the chapel, however, you will have to pay an entry fee.

Image credit: Jeangagnon (Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0 license)

Before you leave Vieux-Montreal, there’s one more point I think you can’t miss: the Pointe-à-Callière archaeological site/museum. Vieux-Montreal was officially “founded” by French settlers in 1642. Obviously, though, Montreal’s history goes way, way beyond that, and Canada was inhabited far longer than there’s been a European presence on the continent.

I think it’s important to honor the history of our continent’s first inhabitants, and so while I’m not much of a museum girl, I loved the Pointe-à-Callière. This museum tells and preserves the history of Montreal’s indigenous peoples to its European settlers to the present day. It incorporates centuries-old archaeological ruins with found artifacts that shed light on indigenous/First Nations life before European settlement, to tell a more well-rounded story of Montreal’s “founding.”

Tickets are a bit pricey, but in my opinion, it’s worth it to preserve this important history. At the time of writing, young adult tickets (ages 18-30) cost $13 CAD and adult tickets cost $20 CAD.

Photo credit: Manuel Menal (Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0 license)

Just outside of Vieux-Montreal in Downtown Montreal, you’ll want to visit the Place d’Armes, with the beautiful Montreal bank building on one side, and Montreal’s real claim to fame — the Notre-Dame Basilica — on the other.

Yes, visiting the Notre-Dame is a little touristy, and it comes with a modest entry fee to offset the cost of keeping up the church ($6 CAD, cash only). But once you’re inside, you’ll see it’s worth every dollar, err, loony (and then some).

I mean, just look at that altarpiece.  I’m not even religious, but I was gobsmacked.

After visiting Vieux-Montreal thoroughly, you’re probably quite hungry. You’re in luck — Montreal’s small but robust Chinatown is located right by the Basilica. And if you’re visiting Montreal on a budget, this is where you’ll find some of the best cheap eats in Montreal.

My favorites?

Pho Bac 97: Great pho and bun noodle bowls. Expect to pay about $10 CAD for an entree (which is $7.50 USD). Pho Bang New York is also pretty good; expect similar prices. Montreal native and Vietnamese food expert Jodi of Legal Nomads recommends Ca Phe Con Leche and Pho Tay Ho. You’d be a fool not to take her up on her suggestions. I, unfortunately, discovered them too late.

Qing Hua: If you want to feel like you never need to eat again and spend less than $8 CAD ($6 USD) doing so, make sure you check out Qing Hua. Their pork dumplings with mushrooms are LIFE. If you don’t eat meat, there are also a ton of vegetarian options.

There are also several other worthy places to eat in Montreal, so check out this Montreal restaurant guide if you’re a foodie! Once you’ve finished wandering around Chinatown, check out bustling Rue Ste. Catherine where you can shop ’til you drop and take advantage of the favorable exchange rate if you’re an American, or walk along the Port of Montreal, especially beautiful in the autumn when the trees turn red.

Day 2: Culture, Poutine, and the Latin Quarter

Start your day with a bit of culture at one of Montreal’s excellent museums, depending on your interest.

If you prefer modern art, I can highly recommend the MAC / Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal (Contemporary Art Museum of Montreal), which has an excellent rotation of exhibits and installations that are always highly creative and often interactive. I’m not a huge contemporary art fan in general, but this is one of the best contemporary art museums I’ve ever been to. It costs $19 CAD for adults and $12 CAD for students.

Alternately, you can easily visit the Musée des Beaux-Arts (closed on Mondays). I highly recommend it if you’re a fan of Impressionist paintings, but the cost is a bit expensive if you’re visiting Montreal on a budget, so keep that in mind.

Photo credit: Guilhem Vellut (Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 2.0 license)

You could go to the Biodome, but I personally don’t condone it. I didn’t feel like the penguin enclosure is ethical in any way, shape, or form. The penguins had very little room to play and spread out and realizing that I had paid to contribute to that made me feel a bit sick with myself as someone who doesn’t support most zoos.

After you’ve gotten your culture fix, then duh — it’s time to eat again! If you thought I’d let you leave Montreal without eating poutine, you clearly don’t know what kind of person I am. You simply can’t miss poutine, Canada’s national dish: French fries covered in gravy and cheese curds, which is approximately 10x more delicious than it sounds.

The standard recommendation is La Banquise and with only 3 days in Montreal, I wasn’t going to mess around with subpar poutine. There are a ton of variations on the classic — and while poutine purists may kill me for saying it, a fried egg on top of anything is never a bad idea.

cheap eats in Montreal - great for a budget getaway!

If you don’t want to venture as far as La Banquise, you could just go to Frite Alors! in the Latin Quarter. It also has delicious poutine and it’s a little more centrally located. But La Banquise is a classic for a reason, in my opinion, so I think it’s worth it to go. Plus, after eating at La Banquise you’re basically already in one of Montreal’s lovely green spaces, Parc la Fontaine, where you can rent boats on a small lake or just sit and people watch.

I also really loved cycling around the neighborhood here, with its cute alleyways and houses. I used the network of Bixi bikes during my stay in Montreal, which is extremely convenient and affordable, and definitely my favorite way of getting around the city (weather permitting)

Next, head over to the Marché de Jean-Talon, which is just by Little Italy (also worth walking around if you have the time!). This place makes basic produce look amazing and is so fun and delightfully French-feeling to walk through.

The best reason to visit? The impeccable array of cheeses. Much to the delight of my fellow bus riders, I brought some Quebecoise bleu cheese home with me to enjoy for lunch at work the next day. Suck it, customs, I will not declare my deliciously unpasteurized cheese. Can I live?

In the evening, either pick up some food from the market to enjoy at home or check out the bars and restaurants of the Latin Quarter if you prefer to eat out. Check this guide if you prefer to eat vegan in Montreal. This is the heart of student life, so there’s plenty of budget friendly food options (the banh mi at Vua is quite good!) and places for a nice drink in the evening. There’s also often live music in the squares, so keep an eye out for that!

Day 3: Explore the area around Park Mont-Royal and Le Plateau

Start your day at the beautiful St. Joseph’s Oratory near the south end of the Park du Mont-Royal, located a short walk from the Côte-des-Neiges metro.

If you want, you’re close to Montreal’s largest cemetery. I’m a weirdo and enjoy visiting cemeteries when I travel (I find them quite peaceful and a lovely place to walk).

The Cimetière Notre-Dame-des-Neiges is actually the largest in all of Canada and the third largest in all of North America. Obviously, it goes without saying that if you visit, do so respectfully (don’t photograph people, no loud conversations, and generally respect the somber tone — over 1 million people are buried here).

What to do in 3 days in Montreal? So much!
Photo credit: Lusilier (Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0 license)

After you’ve seen the Oratory and/or the cemetery, it’s time to explore the largest park in Montreal – Parc du Mont-Royal – and hike off yesterday’s dumplings! Mont-Royal is the highest point in Montreal and is the city’s namesake.

Don’t worry just yet. At only 764 feet, this “mount” isn’t much of a feat — it takes about 30-45 minutes to climb up the stairs to the top viewpoint. The best vista is called the Kondiaronk Belvedere, located by the chalet. That’s where you’ll get these iconic views:

I’ve been up Mont-Royal twice: both in the fall and the spring.

Both are lovely, but the area around the chalet is especially charming in the spring, when the tulips are in full bloom. But the views are spectacular any time of year!

free and cheap in Montreal

After exploring the Park du Mont-Royal, you can walk, bike, or take the metro to Plateau Mont-Royal, which is home to some amazing street art as well as some of the best bars and eateries in Montreal.  One of the number one things you can’t miss in Montreal – even if you just have a few days – is eating a smoked meat sandwich at Schwartz’s Deli. Absolutely delicious, and very affordable!

Feel free to leave a napkin — everyone else does — after you stop here for lunch.

More money in my pocket, more sandwiches in my belly.

Just a little further from Plateau, there’s a smaller sub-neighborhood called Mile End, which is the hipster hub of Montreal. This is one of the best spots for finding street art in all of Montreal.

I can’t really recommend specific murals as I last visited Montreal in spring of 2016, and street art is subject to so much change. Instead, I’ll direct you to this recently updated article about the best street art in Montreal. Walk up an appetite — there’s more food on the way — with a walk through Mile End. If you want something more structured, consider doing a bike tour through these hidden gem neighborhoods – there are daily tours at 10 AM and 2 PM, seasonally.

What I do know, though, is that this is where you can find the most famous bagel in Montreal at Saint-Viateur. Sweet and denser than New York bagels, they’re equally delicious — just totally different. Just be sure you get it with cream cheese — this ex-New Yorker insists on it.

Is it possible to be sexually attracted to carbohydrates?... asking for a friend.

Head back to the more central part of Plateau-Mont Royal before dark so you can see the best of the architecture, as this is one of the most photogenic residential neighborhoods in all of Montreal.

I mean, where else besides Montreal can you find gems like this just waiting to be photographed?

A post shared by Tourisme Montréal (@montreal) on

Once the sun has gone down and you’ve worked up an appetite again (yes, I’m aware this guide is basically all about food), here are a few great spots to eat and drink in Plateau Mont-Royal:

  • Byblos for delicious Middle Eastern food
  • Atma for great Indian
  • Pub Le Sainte-Élisabeth has great surroundings and delicious cocktails
  • Rouge Gorge for wine lovers

Where to Stay in Montreal

The biggest chunk of your Montreal budget will likely be spent on accommodations. I’ve stayed in both budget hostels and budget hotels in the city and found that both offered excellent value. Here, I’ll let you know what I think the best options are for each budget. I roughly define the budget categories as follows: budget is under $25 per night, mid-range is $50-150 per night, and luxury is $150+ per night

Budget: I stayed at the Auberge Saint Paul when I first went to Montreal. Pluses include: super clean, great facilities, right in the middle of adorable Vieux-Montreal, and walking distance to cool neighborhoods like the Plateau. It was a bit noisy at night, but many hostels are, unfortunately. Check rates, reviews, and availability here.

But the hostel scene has improved greatly in the years since I’ve visited Montreal, and if I were to go back as a solo traveler, hands down I would pick the M Montreal Hostel, located between the Latin Quarter and Vieux-Montreal. It’s insanely decked out, with great shared amenities like a pool table, a cozy in-house bar with log-cabin-like aesthetics, and a literal ROOF DECK WITH A JACUZZI. The dorms are no less well-appointed, with shelves, privacy curtains, and personal outlets — basically, the dream hostel trifecta. Check rates, reviews, and availability here as it sells out often.

Mid-Range: There are plenty of affordable middle-of-the-road options in Montreal, but they usually aren’t that jazzy or exciting. The Hotel de Paris Montreal is an exception, in the trendy Plateau Mont-Royal neighborhood in a traditional old building. The rooms are very spacious and comfortable, letting in lots of light and white airy details. The rooms are modern and clean (which is not that common in the mid-range price area – the hotel I stayed in before, Hotel Quartier Latin, smelled like smoke and was above a loud strip club). Check rates, reviews, and availability here.

Luxury: Now, if you have money to spend, Montreal will definitely meet you halfway. There are plenty of traditionally luxurious 5-star hotels like the Ritz, Sofitel, etc. but if you want something with a bit more character, try Hotel Le St. James Montreal to feel like true royalty. Check rates, photos, reviews, and availability here.

Tips for Spending 3 Days in Montreal on a Budget

1. If possible, opt for an overnight bus over the plane or train

This is assuming you’re coming from somewhere on the East Coast of the U.S. (or nearby in Canada). Planes are quick but pricy; trains are slow, run during the day, and are also pricy. So what are you to do? Try an overnight bus!

I’ll be the first to admit it – Greyhound is awful. It’s often late, the drivers leave just about everything to be desired, and they once somehow managed to lose my suitcase from underneath the bus (and took over a month to find it). But if you’re obsessed with travel like I am, you’ll make it work. If you’re coming from New York, you can leave Friday evening around midnight to arrive in time for a full Saturday. You can leave late Monday at night, just in time to get home for a quick refreshing shower before heading off to work with envy-inducing stories from your 3 day weekend trip to Montreal.

Sounds terrible? Well, yes, it is – but isn’t breaking the monotony and crossing a new city off your bucket list worth the neck cramp from trying not to snooze on your neighbor’s shoulder? Bonus – it also saves you on two nights’ worth of accommodation costs.

One caveat: because America is seriously lacking when it comes to buses, you don’t just get to sleep the entire time you’re on the bus. Usually, they force you to get off for about 15 or 20 minutes in Albany, at around 3 AM, for a dubious “cleaning stop”. You’ll also have to get off the bus to go through passport control, but that’s pretty standard, and the border is only an hour from Montreal, so this stop is less maddening.

2. Stay in a hostel or budget hotel

There are plenty of cheap places to stay in Montreal. I’ve included my recommendations above in the section on where to stay in Montreal. If you’re truly keeping it to a budget, you’ll want to pick a hostel.

However, keep in mind these will probably be loud and likely full of under-21 Americans celebrating their ability to drink legally for a change. Just bring good earplugs – I love my Hearos – and carry a jumbo bag full of them with me everywhere.

3. Use Bixi bike or the metro to get around

Bixi is one of the original bike share programs, and it’s hard for me to think of a city that’s done it better. For $14 CAD, you can take unlimited rides within a 72-hour period, or for $5 CAD within a 24-hour period.

The metro is also $3 CAD per ride if you buy two tickets at a time. It goes up to $3.25 CAD if you buy tickets individually, about on par with most city subways. But unlike most city subways, Montreal’s subway is like, really classy, and with 95% fewer rodents, garbage, and general fuckery.

Why you so fancy, Montreal?

Why you so fancy, Montreal? You’re making the rest of us look bad.

Keep in mind that Montreal is also super walkable, so you may not even need that Bixi or subway pass if you love walking your way through cities.

I can’t testify to taxi prices as I never took a taxi during my time in Montreal.

4. There are plenty of ways to eat cheaply in Montreal

Holy crap, Montreal knows how to eat. I’ve recommended a lot of budget friendly places above, but in case that isn’t enough, this definitive list of the best cheap eats in Montreal can’t lead you astray.

The markets are also a great place to buy things like fresh bread, charcuterie, and cheese if you want to make a picnic to take to one of Montreal’s many parks.

Beautiful produce at the markets!

And always take advantage of a free breakfast if it’s an option!

My Montreal Budget Breakdown

So, how much will this all set you back?  Here’s a low-end estimate for your typical traveler on a budget. If you eat at pricier places or stay in a fancier hotel, your cost will naturally go up. If you’re a savvy traveler, you could try lowering the cost of your trip by couch-surfing, ride-sharing, hitchhiking, or eating from markets rather than restaurants.

Here is a sample cost of a super-budget itinerary for 3 days in Montreal, as a getaway from NYC, priced in USD:

Hostel at Auberge Saint-Paul: $18/night * 2 nights (since you come in on an overnight bus) = $36

Transport to and from Montreal: $100 and up on a Greyhound bus

Food: $15/day * 3 days = $45 (free breakfast, food from markets and various cheap eats around the city)

Transit Within City: $11 for a 3-day Bixi pass

Admission Costs: up to you, there’s a ton of free things to do in Montreal, but I did personally opt for some museums. I’ve excluded them from my base calculation since I’m not sure what you’d choose, but add roughly $10-15 USD per museum you want to see.

Total: $192 USD and up, including transportation to and from NYC. A small price to pay to get away from Garbage Island (as I pseudo-affectionately call New York City) for a glorious weekend in North America’s version of Paris.

Want more Quebec? Check out the even budget-friendlier Quebec City!

Tell me: have you visited Montreal before? Are you obsessed with it as I am? 

A Dreamy One Day in Girona Itinerary

Catalonia (or Catalunya) is a beautiful varied region with many beautiful sites. I recently spent six days in Catalonia, splitting my time between Girona and Barcelona. And if I’m honest? If I could do it again, I would have spent the entire time in Girona — and then some.

It’s not that I didn’t like Barcelona. It’s just that, fresh off my divorce with New York after almost a decade of common law marriage, it felt too city-like, too Brooklyn, in a way that just didn’t jive with me. Meanwhile, Girona had its own heart and soul – something both so new and so old.

Plus, I’m a rabid Game of Thrones fangirl, and the idea of walking through what is basically a living GoT setpiece was pretty wonderful.

If you’re a language geek like me, you’ll love hearing, reading, and deciphering Catalan. It’s a Romance language, so it has clear French and Spanish influences. With my background in French, Spanish, and Italian, I can read 90% of it, but I can barely speak a word. 

But don’t fret – Spanish is also spoken by everyone, and English by almost everyone as well, so you won’t have any trouble getting around.

Psst – want to save this post for later? Click to pin it!

Want to travel to Girona, Spain? This Game of Thrones filming location is also a wonderful city break in Spain and an easy day trip from Barcelona. With tips for Girona restaurants, museums, photography spots, and the best things to do in Girona in one day, this guide will help you plan the perfect Girona city break.
Want to travel to Girona, Spain? This Game of Thrones filming location is also a wonderful city break in Spain and an easy day trip from Barcelona. With tips for Girona restaurants, museums, photography spots, and the best things to do in Girona in one day, this guide will help you plan the perfect Girona city break.

One Day in Girona: Itinerary

This itinerary is structured assuming you’ve spent the night in Girona and are waking up there.

If you’re planning to Girona mid-day and stay until the next afternoon, you can adjust this Girona itinerary accordingly.

Have breakfast at Palmira Bakery

When we visited Girona, we met some lovely Syrian refugees who opened an outstanding bakery in the Old Town called Palmira. They sold delicious goodies, from baklava to honey-drenched flaky and crunchy desserts I can’t even begin to pronounce.

The owners of the bakery were incredibly friendly, pressing free samples upon us as we drank our morning espressos. We went back every day we were in Girona — I’m jonesing for their delicious pistachio-filled baklava as I write this!!

Discover the city with a walking tour

A walking tour is a fantastic way to discover a city, and if you only have one day in Girona, you’ve got to make it count. Luckily, there are some great walking tours on offer throughout the city, focusing on either the city’s historical and cultural significance or its more recent revival as a pop culture hotspot for Game of Thrones fans.

If you want a well-rounded tour that covers the basic must-sees in Girona, check out this small group walking tour that encompasses Girona’s Cathedral, the Jewish Quarter, its bright houses on the Onyar river, and its famous bridge created by none other than the man who designed the Eiffel Tower!

While it doesn’t focus on Game of Thrones specifically, they do mention filming locations, so it’s a good way to blend both in a well-organized, 3-hour overview of Girona. To book, check out reviews, prices, and availability here.

Alternately, if you’re an avowed GoT fangirl like myself, you can go on a dedicated Game of Thrones walking tour. Many great scenes of this HBO epic series were shot right here in the Old Town of Girona. The Cathedral steps? Where Jaime Lannister’s badass horse charges up to challenge the High Sparrow. The cobblestone stairs and alleyways? Where Arya darts as she’s hunted in Braavos.

For a big Game of Thrones nerd like me – who doesn’t want to deal with the tourist crush of Dubrovnik in the summer (or its prices — seriously guys, Girona is a bargain compared to Dubrovnik!) – this is a huge plus.

While you can certainly walk around with a map and try to spot the famous spots independently, I recommend doing a Game of Thrones walking tour where you can visit the filming locations (and learn about their real-world significance) in an organized, context-driven fashion. This GoT walking tour is highly rated – check out prices, reviews, and availability here – and lasts 2.5 hours. If that’s a little long for your attention span, there’s a 90-minute tour here.

Eat lunch in the most beautiful setting possible at Le Bistrot

Nestled about halfway up the staircase of the lovely Pujada de Sant Domènec, you can’t miss having a meal at one of my favorite restaurants in Girona, Le Bistrot. This chic, romantic restaurant has Catalan food served with a French twist – at about 10 to 15 euros per head. The star of the show was the pagès, the Catalan twist on pizza, which are basically hunks of bread slathered with delicious and inventive toppings.

Alongside our meal, we drank a delicious 10 euro bottle of wine while marveling at the lovely views leading up to the church. The atmosphere was amazing, and when we got the bill, we were all shocked at how cheap the meal was for the quality of food.

Dinner can be quite busy, so I recommend going at lunch when you can see your surroundings better, anyway. It’s open from 1 PM to 4 PM for lunch daily and reopens at 7:30 for dinner.

Learn about Girona’s rich Jewish history

Before I went to Girona, I had no idea that it was called “The Mother City to Israel” and was once a very significant part of the Jewish diaspora. The best way to understand Girona’s Jewish heritage is by visiting the excellent Jewish Museum. It is located right in the Jewish call, the former Jewish neighborhood… before the Inquisition and other unpleasantness pushed the Jews out of Girona and into exile once again.

While the majority of Girona’s Jews have left the city that was once a refuge for them, the city’s Jewish history is quietly remembered throughout its architecture. From preserved mikvehs (ritual baths) to minute architectural details — our Airbnb had Star of David tessellated window panes — keep an eye out and you’ll notice all sorts of interesting details that tell a story of Girona’s history.

Refuel with the world’s best ice cream

Rocambolesc gelato Girona

The Spanish eat quite late in the evening, with most restaurants not even beginning service until 8 PM. This threw me off quite a bit during my five weeks of traveling Spain, as I was fresh off working five years as a teacher and eating dinner every night around 6 PM!

Not too many places are open during siesta… but Rocambolesc is open from 11 AM to 11 PM, making it the perfect “oh please God rescue me I’m about to kill someone out of hanger” treat.

Plus, it is literally the best gelato shop I’ve eaten at in my life. I mean, how many ice cream parlors can say that they are run by the owner of the best restaurant in the world, El Cellar de Can Roca?

If you want to feel like you died and went to Willy Wonka’s ice cream heaven, Rocambolesc is your place. Whatever you do, make sure you try the violet and coconut sorbet if they have it – it’s heavenly!

Indulge in some excellent shopping

Girona knows how to shop. There are so many amazing little stores tucked into the Old Town, where you can buy everything from adorable dresses, breezy tanks, home goods, and my favorite – espadrilles.

You can get gorgeous espadrilles from Tony Pons for a quarter of the price as back home – not even kidding! I’m kicking myself for not buying a pair, as they were absolutely gorgeous, but I really had no space in my backpack. But I just tell myself that’s another reason to return!

Have an incredible pintxos dinner

pinchos Girona Zanpanzar

Everyone who has even a five-minute conversation with me knows that I am obsessed with food. And good god, does Girona deliver.

In our short time there, I ate some of the most amazing pinchos (alternately spelled pintxos if you’re in Basque country) and tapas. One of my favorite places, Zanpanzar, was so good we actually had to go there twice! If you only have one day in Girona, make your dinner meal here.

So, what exactly are pinchos? Basically, they are delicious tapas made of whatever is local and in season, served atop toasted bread.

Some highlights (OK, they were all highlights if I’m honest): truffled goat cheese with candied apricot and walnuts; pate, quail egg and ham; white asparagus, roasted red peppers, and eggplant; goat cheese, ham, and fruit compote; mushroom, ham, and crunchy bits of garlic.

Have it with a strong, dry cider like the Basque do!

Take a nighttime stroll on the city walls for epic views

The iconic Girona Cathedral is located high up in the city, atop steps made famous by Game of Thrones. This makes it a prime spot for sunset views. But if you want to really feel the magic, get even higher on one of the city’s semi-hidden walkways.

Girona is a city meant to be viewed from above. If you start wandering around behind the cathedral area, you’ll find an entry to the city walls, where there are some great vistas to be had. There are lit pathways that lead you up and up, until you have nothing but amazing city views. All this in walking distance from the Old Town!

What to Do with More Days in Girona: Itinerary Inspiration

You can visit Girona on a day trip if you’re traveling to Barcelona, but it can be quicker and more direct to do day trips via Girona (and sometimes cheaper, too!)

We took a quick day trip to Besalú, which was a beautiful way to spend half a day. The old bridge, which was built about a thousand years ago, is just picture perfect. We went around 3 PM when everything was closed, which added some charm to its sleepy medieval vibe. But if you want to make more of a day of it and have lunch or dinner there I recommend going either earlier or later in the day.

besalu girona
Less than an hour bus ride away from Girona, Besalú must be seen to be believed

There are also quick and easy day trips to Figueres, where the Dalí museum is located, and to Cadaqués, a small beach town where Dalí painted many of his works. There are also many tiny beach towns along the Costa Brava, like Tossa del Mar and Lloret del Mar, which are — again — closer to Girona than Barcelona! Check out this guide for ideas!

Where to Stay in Girona

If you only have one night in Girona, make it count! I’ve picked my top three choices for where to stay in this beautiful city.

VALUE WITH A VIEW

In my opinion, the best value-to-price ratio is the surprisingly affordable boutique hotel Gran Ultonia, located in Barri Vell district (the Old Town) just a 5-minute walk to the heart of the city and 500 meters from the Cathedral.

The rooms are clean, spacious, and modern, offering basically everything you’d expect of a four-star hotel… But best of all, it has a stunning rooftop terrace and bar area with gorgeous views overlooking Girona’s cathedral. (And they even have a yoga class there in the morning!)

Check out prices, reviews, and availability here.

AFFORDABLE LUXURY AND A POOL

For a touch more glamor that still won’t break the bank, check out the sleek Hotel Nord 1901 Superior, a stunning boutique hotel just a 5-minute walk from the Girona Cathedral.

With an outdoor pool in the courtyard (amazing during hot Spanish summers, trust me) and sun loungers, a delicious breakfast spread, air conditioning, and massive rooms, it’s definitely where I’d pick to stay in Girona for a special occasion.

Check out prices, reviews, and availability here.

CHEAP AND CHEERFUL

For a budget-conscious traveler, don’t worry, Girona still has some great options for you! Can Cocollona B&B is a hostel with rave reviews. Rooms are simple but clean and modern, and there’s a wonderful outdoor area with hammocks where you can relax. The hostel is social without being too rowdy.

One thing to note: it’s a bit outside of the Old Town, about a 15-minute walk away. But that’s what keeps the prices low!

Check out prices, reviews, and availability here.