Travel stories of a wanderluster and her partner, a personal blog that chronicles their adventures and travels throughout the world. Our blog has travel stories, tips and ideas for others who love to travel as we do!
Australia’s Gold Coast is a surfing destination but even if you don’t surf, there is so much to do here for families, adventure seekers and beach lovers, like me! From a rainforest hinterland to theme parks, nightlife, street markets, wildlife sanctuaries and some truly unique experiences such as hang-gliding and glowworm caves, there’s something for everyone.
What immediately catches your attention in Australia’s Gold Coast is the skyline – tall skyscrapers looming against the golden sand beaches, enormous waves, and a boundless ocean. You’re highly unlikely to encounter an overcast day here and the extensive coastline is dotted with surfing breaks, glorious warm waters and immense opportunities to capture the perfect sunset.
My Australia trip started in Melbourne and lasted for about 3 weeks and this meant, letting go of a lot of things that I would have liked to do if I had more time. I spent 2 days in the Gold Coast but I could have easily spent a couple more. I’m very much a theme park enthusiast, but having been to several across the world (and also, because I was travelling with my senior parents), I decided to focus on other unique and uncommon activities while here. I have, however, in my post mentioned those things which I had to skip but wish I could have included in my trip.
Australia’s Gold Coast wasn’t as exciting as visiting Cairns and Great Barrier Reef, or even the Whitsunday Islands but it was a close third in my list, especially because I fell in love with Byron Bay. I drove here from Brisbane, via Tamborine Mountain but if you’re already in Gold Coast, then I suggest you start your trip with a visit to the Tamborine Mountain early in the morning. To make the most of your trip, renting a car would be a great idea!
Click here to rent a car in Australia’s Gold Coast.
Day 1: Tamborine Mountain & Gold Coast
Although there are other options such as Springbrook National Park & Lamington National Park, I chose Mt Tamborine because of the diversity of experiences available here. Hardly a 40-min drive away from Surfer’s Paradise in Australia’s Gold Coast, Tamborine Mountain is a lush rainforest with rock pools, canopy walks, hiking trails, adventure parks, and even wineries. You can easily spend a day here so the earlier you start, the better it is!
Cedar Creek Falls
Cedar Creek Falls
Cedar Creek Falls: Rock Pools
A fairly narrow road that branches off from the Tamborine Mountain road will bring you to the Cedar Creek Falls. Be prepared for a walk down to these falls from the car parking lot. If you’re not keen on going all the way down to the falls, you can walk to the lookout point (500m) and return. However, on a bright and warm day, you will surely want to carry your swimwear, sunblock and sunglasses to be able to jump into the cool waters of the rock pools formed below the waterfalls. The track ahead of the viewpoint is likely to be slippery so its best to wear comfortable and rugged footwear. A series of cascades and pools which are frequented by the locals can be found once at the bottom of the walking path. A dip in these shallow pools is well worth your while!
Tree-top Challenge at Thunderbird Park
Thunderbird Park, Mt Tambourine
I went here specifically for the Canyon Flyer Tour, considered to be Australia’s highest and fastest zip line attraction. While it sounded like the most exciting experience at the park, there were, of course, other activities for the lesser adventurous people. The Canyon Flyer Tour takes you to 7 highly exciting zip lines, soaring you over the lush rainforest and Cedar Creek gorge below. The groups are usually small and the session timings are fixed, so it’s best to find out the availability and the timings before planning your visit. The tour lasts for about 3 hours and costs $120.
If you’re looking for something slightly less in the adrenaline department but exciting, nonetheless, you can visit the Treetop Adventure park that has Tarzan swings, flying fox swings, easier zip lines and other rope courses, suitable for the younger people too. Whichever you plan to do, keep about 3-4 hours for this experience. If you’re interested in any of the activities, you can simply enjoy some quiet time by the creek or in the cafeteria.
Treetop Challenge and Thunderbird Park, Mt Tambourine
Tamborine Rainforest Skywalk
If you’re not really an adventurous person and would rather skip the Treetop challenge and Thunderbird Park, there is yet another way to enjoy the view of the thick forests from the top. This canopy walk is about 1.5 kilometres on a stable platform, that takes you amidst the flora and fauna of the Australian rainforests, providing ample insights into the trees, insects, birds and animals that can be found in the area. A leisurely 45-minute walk takes you past waterfalls, creeks and gorgeous greenery. The experience costs only $20.
Glowworms are typically found only in Australia and New Zealand, so although these caves in the Tamborine Mountain are artificially created and are no match to the Waitomo Glowworm Caves in NZ, it’s a rare experience nevertheless. Due to the ever-increasing temperatures in Australia over the last few years, these caves were purpose-built to provide a controlled environment for the glow worms to survive. The entrance to these caves is through the Cedar Creek Estate Vineyard & Winery. The tours depart every hour (you can utilize the waiting time in trying out some wine at the cellar or the restaurant on site), and the knowledgeable, as well as passionate guides, explain the significance the mode of the life of these glow worms. The alluring blue glow of the worms is a way of hunting for prey and when thousands of these worms are gathered in one dark cave, it forms a sea of starry lights. One needs to get accustomed to the darkness inside the caves; no photography is allowed. The tour itself lasts for about 30-45 min.
Cedar Creek Estate Vineyard & Winery
Back to Australia’s Gold Coast
In the afternoon, head back to Gold Coast. If you manage to get here before sunset, head to Sky Point Observation Deck, located on the 77th floor of Q1 near Surfer’s Paradise, one of the tallest buildings in Australia. You can enjoy panoramic views of the Gold Coast’s skyline and coastline. If you’re an adventure enthusiast, you can also attempt the Sky Point Climb which starts from the 77th-floor observation deck and is one of Australia’s highest external building walks. Harnessed and ready to climb 298 stairs to the building’s summit, this activity reminded me of the edge walk in Toronto’s CN Tower, except that this one actually requires for you to climb higher than you already are and the only way down is via those stairs. A handrail and harness definitely make the climb easier and safer and the views are absolutely worth it. Needless to say, this experience is NOT meant for the faint-hearted, especially if you’re acrophobic!
Sky Point Climb
Sunset at Surfers Paradise Beach
Perhaps one of the most golden sunsets I’ve seen was at Australia’s Gold Coast. Not only is Surfer’s Paradise Beach the best for surfing enthusiasts but it is also the most lively with an esplanade with walkers, cyclists and skateboards, and offers the best views of the ocean possible. Several restaurants are located across the road from the beach and one of my favourites was a Mexican restaurant called Gringo Loco Cantina.
Sunset at Surfer’s Paradise Beach
Beachfront Night Market
We were fortunate to be in Australia’s Gold Coast on a Wednesday night because these amazing beachfront night markets are held on Surfers Paradise only on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday nights (4 to 9 pm). A very lively atmosphere with entertainment, music and stalls selling local arts, souvenirs, foodstuff, fashion, jewellery and homewares, I was impressed with the designs and collection available here. I am totally a street market person and a sucker for good deals, fashionable clothes, unique and authentic food items and handicrafts.
Slightly more laid-back and pristine than Gold Coast’s Surfers Paradise is Coolangatta, which is located about 30 minutes away by road and on the way to Byron Bay. It is also the border between Queensland and New South Wales and the intriguing part is, that within a span of seconds, you switch from one time zone to another (New South Wales is an hour behind), in the summer month (Oct-Apr). Some popular beaches/ viewing platforms here include Kirra beach, Rainbow Bay, Snapper Rocks and Point Danger.
Another 50-min drive ahead of Coolangatta is one of the most beautiful coastal cities I’ve seen in a while – Byron Bay. Yet another surfing paradise, I loved this place because of the crystal clear blue waters which were a feast for the eyes. On a warm sunny day, the waters are perfect for kayaking or swimming or even better, hang-gliding!
The Pass, Byron Bay
Although Byron Beach and Wategos Beach are the two most popular beaches to visit in the area, if you’re looking to stay away from the crowds, Tallow Beach is completely untouched! However, you’re also highly unlikely to find any restaurants or bars in this area; it is a long, untouched stretch of pure golden sand and blue waters, where it is not hard to spot dolphins and manta rays. For some of the best vantage point views, head to Fisherman’s Lookout, where an elevated platform offers some breathtaking vistas of the ocean. Grab a quick bite at The Pass Cafe while you’re here.
Fisherman’s Lookout, Byron Bay
Tallow Beach Lookout Point, Byron Bay
Another popular point to head to is the Cape Byron Lighthouse which offers sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean. The lighthouse stands at the tip of Cape Byron and an easy 4-km walking track is a great way to enjoy the scenic place. But the one activity I highly recommend, especially for adventure enthusiasts, is hang-gliding!
Cape Byron Lighthouse
Hang-gliding in Byron Bay
Although I found the activity slightly pricey, there’s no feeling like soaring in the skies and enjoying (literally) a bird’s eye view of such a beautiful destination. Of course, the activity is highly dependent on the weather conditions so it’s best to check before planning the trip if it is taking place on that day or not. I flew with Peter Aitken, a chief flying instructor at Lennox Head (you can book your experience here) and the flight lasted for about 30 minutes during which he taught me how to manoeuvre the hang glider, we saw some dolphins in the sea below and talked about how amazing it is they have the freedom to fly so high in the skies, at the mercy of the winds, without any motor or engine.
How to Travel like a Local is a sponsored post from “The Good Stuff by Coupons.com”, an online journal about beauty, health, DIY crafts, entertainment, home, fashion, food, travel and life, backed by a team of experienced journalists and writers.
Travelling is always fun, but sometimes, it can get so easy to get wrapped up in the planning and excitement of everything, that you only see the touristy things. Besides the fact that tourist attractions are typically a lot more expensive than the things locals do, you're not really getting to taste the culture of the place you're visiting if you never step out of the box.
To help you travel like a local, we've compiled a few simple tips:
1. Talk to Your Servers and Bartenders
Nobody knows your city's fun (and un-fun) places better than service-industry professionals. They live and breathe their cities every day; they know the fun spots, the spots to stay away from because only tourists go there, and the places that are hidden from people who aren't locals.
If you don't do anything else, make sure you chop it up with your servers and bartenders. These people are key in helping you uncover some of the local flavours of the town you're visiting.
2. Stay in a Place Where You'll Get to Connect with Others
There are plenty of overnight venues that stray away from the standard hotel or motel scene. Hostels, for example, thrive on the engagement of the community that stays within their walls. You'll likely meet travellers from all over the place, many of whom have probably researched weird ways to explore the city that you haven't even considered.
Beds and breakfasts are another great option. When you pick a place that's quaint and tended to by an innkeeper, you'll have access to firsthand knowledge so you can ask questions and learn the lay of the landscape by someone who gives this type of advice for a living.
3. Chuck Your Itinerary in the Trash for a Day
Sure, you have a ton of things you want to see while you're away, but that doesn't mean you need to adhere to a regimented schedule every second of your days. Instead, strap on your walking shoes and chuck your itinerary in the trash for a day. If you're someone who has to schedule everything, schedule a trash day on your calendar because useless meandering without a real destination can truly serve up a ton of unexpected adventures.
Be prepared to stumble upon fun spots you haven't read about, and be open to talking to random strangers who are willing to give you their pointers from a local's perspective. (Be safe, of course!)
4. Research the Best Establishments, Then Go Five Blocks Left
The easiest way to come across overpriced, cliched food is to stick solely to the recommendations listed in tourist review information. While many of these establishments are awesome in their own right, they're often catering to the tourist crowd, not the locals.
If you want to taste the cuisine the way locals do, figure out where the people who live there eat. You'll likely find an incredible assortment of flavours that simply wouldn't be available on the main strip. Look for local blogs, and ask your hosts for recommendations.
5. Decompress the Way Locals Do
Finding happiness is different for everybody, and that varies just as much by region as it does by the individual. Figure out how people in the area you're visiting unwind. Maybe they ride bikes after work. Great! Grab one and start pedalling. Maybe they go fishing in a quiet stream. Perfect! You might need to sign up for a fishing lesson or get a license, but you've got this! Perhaps everyone gathers around an outdoor concert every Friday. Perfect! Grab your blanket or water bottle and get to it!
Scour the local free magazines and online blogs so you can see what's going on around the part of town you're visiting. Put on your "live like a local" goggles, and you'll find plenty of entertainment options.
6. Donate Some Time
Volunteering may seem like another form of work, but if you connect with the right organizations, you'll learn a lot about the things locals do in that area while giving back to the community you're visiting.
A single day at a non-profit organization can be life-changing for you and the people, groups, or animals you're helping while you're there.
7. Use Local Transportation
It's great to be able to rent a car, but chances are, you probably won't need one. No matter where you're going, many of the locals probably get around via rail, bus, bike, scooter, or foot.
Forgo the expenses of car rental or other luxury items and hit the city the way locals do. Not only will you get to see things from a different (slower) perspective, you'll save money and meet a few people along the way.
Where are you heading this summer? Do you plan to travel like a local? If so, please share some of your ideas with us in the comment box below!
For a lot of people, Ramadan is the time of the year when the internet gets flooded with discounts and lucrative deals for visiting Dubai and one can't help but want to book a flight immediately because let's face it, travelling to Dubai is hardly ever cheap! However, one doesn't really know what they're in for when they're visiting Dubai during Ramadan. There are both pros and cons to travelling to this region during this Holy Month and as long as you're willing to respect certain rules, which might seem conservative to some, your visit to Dubai during Ramadan can be a highly enlightening experience culturally.
What is Ramadan?
Understanding the meaning and reason behind following this Holy Month will make it a lot easier for you to know what to expect when you're visiting Dubai during Ramadan. Every year, for 30 days, which fall during the 9th month of the Lunar-based Islamic calendar, Muslims observe fasting from sunrise until sunset in reverence to the Quran being revealed to Prophet Mohammed centuries ago. During this month, they abstain from eating, drinking, sex and other human 'vices' during daylight hours and also indulge in regular prayers and charitable acts.
Visiting Dubai during Ramadan means you'll have to be prepared to see a drastic shift from a fast-paced, lively and chaotic city to a quieter, serene and religiously-oriented one. Contrary to the popular perception that the UAE is an extremely conservative country, it is actually quite tourist-friendly and is home to many expats (which form more than 80% of the population) which makes it a lot more modern and accepting than its neighbours. Dubai, in particular, slacks many rules which other Middle Eastern countries expect its residents and visitors to follow, and is accepting of other cultures openly. However, during Ramadan, some rules are put in place only to make it easier for the people who're fasting and although these rules are enforced to a great extent, many allowances are made for the non-fasting people too. For example, while most restaurants close their dine-in area, some remain open for home delivery. In recent years, many restaurants have begun to cover small parts of their indoor seating area and allow the non-fasting visitors to dine in.
When does Ramadan happen?
Every year, the dates of Ramadan move about 15 days earlier according to the Gregorian calendar which means while in the last few years, the Holy Month would fall during the summer months where the treacherous heat was a big drawback for tourists, this year as well as the following years, it is likely to move towards the cooler winter months, which are also the peak tourist season in Dubai. In 2019, Ramadan falls in the month of May (likely to start on the 6th) with the exact dates to be revealed based on moon sighting 2-3 nights before the expected start date.
The Holy Month comes to an end with a big bang celebration - Eid Al Fitr, which lasts for about 3 days. While most residents travel during this period, a lot of people from the neighbouring Gulf countries visit Dubai at this time to indulge in the feasts, watch spectacular shows and performances, benefit from massive sales in the malls, watch the brilliant fireworks across the city and be a part of an extremely lively atmosphere.
Malls are likely to be packed, the airport sees a huge surge in the passengers, and taxis are hard to find. So while the vibe is pretty amazing, if you're not a fan of crowded places, you might want to take a day trip from Dubai to the other Emirates, which are likely to be quieter.
This is one rule that needs to be strictly followed, except for children, pregnant women and medically unfit people. However, you're not expected to fast. Many malls have begun to allocate a specific area in their food courts during the day time, covered off and not visible to the outside, for the non-fasting people. You're, however, not allowed to carry any food or drinks outside the allocated area. Most bars and lounges do not serve alcohol during the day (another trend that has slowly begun to change slowly but not widely) and no loud music or entertainment is allowed throughout the month, even after sunset. This means, although you WILL enjoy local cuisine and delicacies in a Bedouin camp following your Desert Safari, you will not be able to experience the belly dancing or Tanoura folk dance. Most hotels continue to serve meals, though it is unlikely to be in open areas such as the pool/ beach. Not eating/ drinking in public includes the metro and even taxis. This extends to smoking and chewing gum as well.
More than as a rule, you must follow this out of respect, especially in family areas such as malls and entertainment venues. You can, however, wear beachwear when on a public/ private beach or swimming pool. People (both men and women) are expected to keep their shoulders & knees covered (no need to cover your head) and wear loose-fitting clothes ideally. You won't get arrested or told off if you do not follow these guidelines but it is always nice to be respectful of the local culture and norms, especially during the Holy Month of Ramadan.
Do NOT play loud music
During this month, most clubs remain closed and bars are not allowed to play loud music or have entertainment of any sort, even after sunset. They do, however, serve alcohol. You will not experience any performances or related activities during this time either. One must ensure not to play loud music in their home/ room/ car either as this can be frowned upon.
Avoid public display of affection
Although they have become a lot more accepting of public display of affection (holding hands, hugging) in recent years, this is unacceptable during the Holy Month. Any gesture that is likely to attract attention in a sexual way is forbidden during this time and you're likely to get told off if you indulge in it.
Be more patient & respectful
Especially towards those who are fasting. It is likely that you might come across people who are snappy or irritable but try and understand what not drinking water or eating food throughout the day must to do them! Try not to get into an unpleasant situation or argument; be the bigger person!
Visiting Dubai during Ramadan
Despite all the rules and 'don'ts', there is a lot that happens in Dubai during Ramadan which does not happen during the rest of the year and it's the best time to enjoy these experiences.
This is the fast-breaking meal that Muslims have right after the sunset prayers and many restaurants and hotels across the country put out a big feast, mostly with Arabic food. Dates are usually eaten to break the fast followed by a hearty meal and going for 'Iftars' is not limited only to Muslims. As a visitor to the UAE, you will be amazed to see the spread in most restaurants and the vibe, with people using this opportunity to chit chat, hang around and finally get out of their homes, full of energy. To accommodate the high number of diners, many restaurants put up large air-conditioned tents and a buffet spread with traditional dishes. Not only is this a great opportunity to soak up in a very unique atmosphere but it's also the perfect time to try out authentic Arabic foods such as Malfoof (cabbage leaves wrapped around a variety of fillings), lamb ouzi, chicken shish taouk, lamb kofta, and fish harra. Do not miss out on some of the best desserts such as the cheese-based pastry Kunafeh, the Turkish Baklava and the Egyptian bread and butter pudding, Umm Ali.
Some popular Iftars to try out are:
The beachside Ramadan tent at Habtoor Grand Resort
Kaftan Turkish Cuisine & Fine Art at La Mer with an Ottoman and Turkish Twist
The Meydan Ramadan tent with live cooking stations
Ninive’s urban majlis at Jumeirah Emirates Towers, with live entertainment from kanun and oud players
Asateer Tent at Atlantis the Palm, an elegant and luxurious setting with a widespread buffet
Qasr Al Sultan, with traditional Arabic architecture and setting
Queen Elizabeth 2, a unique floating iftar on a purpose-built majlis, on a ship's deck
Sikka Café, an inexpensive yet fantastic spread of authentic Arabic dishes in a lively part of the city
A traditional meal served in the courtyard of a historical architecture building at Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding
It might also be a great idea to find an Iftar discount deal on Groupon.
Ramadan Night Market
The perfect way to enjoy a vibrant experience of culture and crowd, the Ramadan Night Market features funky or traditional trinkets, souvenirs, handmade goods, jewelery and fashion wear. Great bargains, a festive atmosphere, delectable foods from around the world, contests to win big prizes and interactive workshops are all reasons to visit this shopping and entertainment extravaganza.
Until 2017, the Ramadan Night Market was held at Za’abeel Hall in the World Trade Centre. However, in 2018 it moved to the Happiness Market located in Zabeel Park. The market usually lasts for about 10 days, closer to the end of the Holy Month. The exact dates and location for 2019 are undecided and will be available here.
Most malls in Dubai during Ramadan also extend their hours and remain open past midnight. You can be assured to experience a very lively atmosphere after sunset, although it remains fairly quiet during the day. Click here to read the extended opening hours of the popular malls in the city.
Suhoor is the last meal before the start of the fast and takes place in the early hours of the morning. While most locals are likely to take this meal at home, several restaurants remain open to offer this opportunity to the tourists and visitors. While Iftar is likely to be a heavy meal and thus offered as a buffet in restaurants, Suhoor is usually offered as a la carte. Suhoor typically starts at 9 pm and lasts until late night and the nights come alive with people flocking outdoors to grab a bite or smoke shisha.
Some recommended places to try Suhoor are:
Layali Ramadan Tent at Dunes Café in Shangri-La Hotel, Sheikh Zayed Road
Habtoor Grand Garden Tent with live oud entertainment
Seven Sands Restaurant in JBR
The courtyard of La Ville Dubai, City Walk
Should you visit during Ramadan?
Absolutely, and now that Ramadan is slowly moving closer to the winter months with every passing year, even the weather isn't all that bad! As long as you're willing to follow certain rules, practice patience and aren't too hung up on having to dress conservatively, restrict your eating to indoor spaces during the day and don't mind the clubs and other loud places being shut, you can actually enjoy Dubai in a manner that you cannot during the rest of the year. Shop in malls until late night, smoke shisha and chill until wee hours of the morning, indulge in an Iftar feast every day of the week, benefit from reduced crowds as well as lower prices at most attractions, keep an eye out for crazy offers and discounts, Ramadan is the perfect time to immerse in the culture, interact with the local community, understand the religious practices and experience a unique lifestyle in Dubai.
Dubai Parks and Resorts (Motiongate Dubai & Legoland Dubai) have special offers and discounts during Ramadan and as they continue to serve food and drinks in designated areas, it is a great idea to visit these places during the day, when the crowds are minimal and queues almost nil. Other special Ramadan events include Iftar with Cartoon Characters & Super Heroes at IMG Worlds of Adventure, mega sales in the malls and major discounts on entrance tickets for many other entertainment venues.
No drinking and eating during the day time in public (with the exception of children, pregnant women and medically unfit persons), although several restaurants and food courts in malls will either allow take away or have a designated dining area for the non-fasters
Clubs and entertainment venues remain closed during this time
Most bars will open in the evening and will serve alcohol, though they will not play loud music
Some bars in hotels also remain open during the day, allowing alcohol to be served in designated areas
Although one is expected to dress conservatively, this need not be followed on the poolside areas and beaches
Malls are likely to remain open until late night (2 am)
Many restaurants remain open until 3 or even 5 am, serving food as well as shisha
This is a religious time and although not everyone is expected to fast, one must respect the culture and norms more during this period than any other time of the year
It is likely that most taxi drivers will also be fasting, it is sensible and expected from one to be more patient and considerate of those who are as it is not easy to go through the day without food and water
Attractions and malls will be a lot less busy during the day so you can benefit from shorter queues. However, after sunset, many people will flock to these places and it can get very crowded then
Although you're unlikely to land up in any major trouble like being arrested, it would be sensible to follow the norms and not get reprimanded for it
It was almost 15 years ago that I realized my love for crystal clear blue-green sea waters and I remember searching the internet for the best beaches on the planet. There wasn't a lot of content overload online back then and as I went through the limited posts available, I came across this gorgeous picture of a white sandy beach called Whitehaven Beach, which I instantly fell in love with. Further research led me to understand that it was an untouched haven located on the Whitsunday Islands in Australia and that's when I knew; if, rather when I make it to the land down under, I will make this stunning destination a part of my Australia itinerary.
What are the Whitsunday Islands
This archipelago located on the northeast coast of Queensland is majorly uninhabited with the region's central hub located in Airlie Beach. It is also the starting point of the Great Barrier Reef, although most of the coral in the area is now dead and the environment is not that friendly to the existence of a wide variety of sea life either. However, this tropical paradise is home to some dense forests, hiking trails and most importantly, secluded, fascinating blue water and white sand beaches.
Airlie Beach makes for a good base to explore the Whitsunday Islands because this is where the budget-friendly accommodation is located and several tours depart on a daily basis to visit Great Barrier Reef as well as some incredible surrounding islands. An expensive and lavish yet idyllic alternative to Airlie Beach (which is usually full of backpackers) is Hamilton Island. Several resorts and luxurious home-stays line the coast of Hamilton Island, making it a popular romantic destination for couples and also those looking to get away from lively, buzzing streets to a quiet and blissful place.
How to get to the Whitsunday Islands
Fly into Proserpine Airport: If you are staying at Airlie Beach, Proserpine Airport is the closest airport to fly in to. You can find direct flights to Airlie Beach from Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney. Unfortunately, there are no direct flights from Cairns.
Three airlines fly into Proserpine Airport (PPP): TigerAir and Jetstar, the low-cost airlines and Virgin, the better option. The airport is about 30 minutes away from the city centre. You can either pre-book your transfer or take a taxi from the airport to the city centre.
Fly into Hamilton Island Airport: If you're staying in Hamilton Island, you can catch a direct flight from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Cairns, operated by Jetstar, Virgin Australia and Qantas. If you're staying at Airlie Beach and are unable to find a direct flight from your origin to Airlie Beach, you have the choice of flying into Hamilton Island Airport and then taking a ferry to Airlie Beach operated by Cruise Whitsundays, 6 times a day, 1-hour duration.
Train from Brisbane / Cairns: Another alternative is to take a train from Brisbane or Cairns, operated by Queensland Rail, called Spirit of Queensland (find the timetable here), once a day from both the cities.
Bus from Brisbane / Cairns: There are 5 buses operated by Greyhound Australia on this route and 1 by Premier. The journey from either of the cities takes about 10 - 11 hours.
Self-drive: Although it is a long drive, to me it seemed like the most convenient option. It is cheaper than flying, less time taking and more flexible than the train as well as bus, and although it may be a long drive, at least you can choose to stop on the way at the numerous cities (Townsville makes for a great half-way scenic stop) and get there comfortably, at your pace. However, rental companies can charge quite a huge one-way fee (I paid AUD 180 one-way fee and AUD 100 as the daily rental charge).
Get an adrenaline rush with Skydiving at Airlie Beach (book here)
Take a day trip to Whitehaven Beach & Hill Inlet Lookout (read in detail below)
3 days in the Whitsunday Islands
Day 1: Explore Airlie Beach
The perfect launch pad for exploring a stunning piece of heaven in the Pacific Ocean, Airlie Beach is a lively backpacker vacation spot. It is the gateway to enjoying water activities for the adventure lovers and island-hopping tours for the beach bums. It is also the access to Great Barrier Reef although most of the reef in the nearby areas is now almost dead and gone, so if you're looking to dive, you might need to head at least 2.5-3 hours out into the sea to get good coral and sea life.
Airlie Beach Lagoon
The town of Airlie Beach is quite small and compact - which means you can easily walk around and explore the area. Several boutique shops, bars with live music and a lagoon are pretty much all there is to see here. If you like beachwear, this is your place to grab some unique, colourful and inexpensive stuff. You could also take a dip in the lawn-fringed Airlie Beach Lagoon to cool off or try some fresh seafood in one of the many restaurants.
If you like, you could board the ferry to Hamilton Island or enjoy a jet ski tour during the day. At night, bars come alive with live music, performances and DJs. If nightlife is your thing, you're going to love Airlie Beach!
Visiting Whitehaven Beach was the main reason why I included the Whitsunday Islands in my Australia itinerary. You will find several options for boat tours that will take you to different parts of the Whitehaven Beach (it is, after all, a 7-km stretch of powder white sand and crystal clear blue waters), but what you need to ensure is that the tour also takes you to the Hill Inlet lookout, a scenic viewpoint which offers unparalleled, awe-inspiring views of one of the best sandbars and ocean you'll ever see.
Although the summer season is also the wet season for this area and you're likely to encounter some rain during your tour, it is highly unlikely to last for hours. I chose Whitehaven Xpressfor my day trip and was not disappointed. The full-day tour lasts from 9 am - 5 pm, includes pick up from your Airlie Beach hotel, takes you to a lesser crowded area of Whitehaven Beach, followed by the Hill Inlet lookout and also snorkelling/ glass bottom boat tour in an area packed with colourful fish and sea life. The boat itself has an indoor seating (which is not air-conditioned) for those who are not fond of being splashed and an outdoor deck for the ones who want to soak up some sun and don't mind being spattered by sea water.
While sailing towards Whitehaven Beach from the Airlie port (a 1.5-hour journey), you will cross Hamilton Island and several other smaller islands dotting the ocean. The colour of the ocean changes from dark blue to light blue-green and I highly recommend grabbing a cup of coffee (or a beer on a hot day) and taking it to the deck to enjoy the gorgeous scenery. They serve complimentary tea/ coffee/ cookies on board (alcohol and other soft drinks are available but payable). You can also rent a stinger suit for a nominal fee, which is usually recommended in the jelly-fish months of summer.
Once you're at Whitehaven beach, the boat docks a little distance away from the shore as none of the boats are allowed to dock on the shore itself. A dinghy will bring you from the boat to this glorious beach, where swathes of white sand formed by quartz welcome you to take a swim, snorkel or simply walk on the shores. Although it was a weekend and we had often heard that the beach gets crowded, we were lucky to land in an area that was not swarmed by too many tourist boats.
After about 1.5 hours, we were served a barbecue lunch on the beach, under a small thatched roof with a dining table set up. There are absolutely no commercial establishments on the island which means no restaurants, shops, hotels or even sunbed rentals. There are no umbrellas either which means the trees are your only options if you're looking for some shade. There are toilets on the island which is a big relief. The barbecue lunch served by Whitehaven Xpress usually consists of meat, seafood and some salads so if you're strictly vegetarian, you must let the crew know in advance.
After spending about 2.5 hours on Whitehaven Beach, the boat moves towards the Hill Inlet Lookout which is about 30 minutes away. The boat takes you to Tongue Bay from where the walking track starts. An easy to moderate walk through local bushland (with a bit of a steep climb in some places) is a 1.3 km journey and takes about 20 min one way. There are no bathroom facilities in the area. There are two lookout points; from one, you can view the gorgeous Betty's Beach below and from the other, the famous blue ocean pools trapped between white silica sands. The view from this point is absolutely mesmerizing, and although I was there on a very cloudy day, I was not disappointed when I walked towards the platform and the wide expanse of the blue waters opened up in front of my eyes.
Hill Inlet Lookout
The third and the last stop on this day trip is for snorkelling in an area that was once filled with colourful and pretty coral but now, as we were told by our boat crew, the reef seems to have died due to environmental changes and the increasing temperatures of the sea waters. Nevertheless, you will get to see quite a variety of fish so if you're not keen on getting into the waters with your snorkelling gear, then you have the luxury of taking a glass bottom boat tour (included in the price of the trip) instead.
Now, you may not be a fan of these wildly intimidating creatures, but Australia's waters are infested with them and a trip through the estuaries and wetlands of the Whitsundays is bound to take you up, close and personal with these toothy reptiles. As you cruise the Proserpine River, which enjoys the highest density of saltwater crocs per kilometre in Queensland, you're highly likely to see several of these majestic yet terrifying creatures basking in the sun. Although they do not guarantee a sighting on the tour as the mangroves are natural habitats rather than a protected farm, the tour operates during low tide which is the best time to catch a sight of the crocodiles.
The day trip usually lasts from 8.30 am - 3.30 pm and includes an Aussie barbecue lunch in a picnic set up, transfers to and from your Airlie Beach Hotel and an open wagon tour through the wetlands and forests before arriving at the boat safari area. Courtesy rain ponchos are also available on board if it rains!
I had been planning on exploring Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef for a really long time and knew that it'd be the highlight of my Australia itinerary, apart from visiting Melbourne to do the Great Ocean Road Drive. However, to my disappointment, my visit to the Great Barrier Reef did not really live up to my expectations. I'm not a certified diver but I did take the 'Introductory Dive' meant for non-certified divers, where they take you up to 12 meters depth with the help of an instructor. In my opinion, my diving experience in El Nido and Coron in The Philippines transcended my experience in Australia in terms of the sea life that I managed to see during the dive, the colourful reef as well as the clarity of the waters.
Several trips to the Outer Reef (which is supposed to be better because the reef seems to be dying closer to the shore) are available both from Cairns and Port Douglas. However, many Australians advised me before I travelled, that Ningaloo Reef actually makes for a better diving experience and in hindsight, I wish I had paid more heed to that advise!
November - February is actually summer in Cairns and also their 'wet season'. This means that you might experience rain on at least one of three days, although you'd have to be really unlucky for the pours to last the entire day. However, this is also the time when the water is warm enough for you to go swimming/ snorkelling or diving. The 'dry season' is during the winter months June - August which is also a great time to see whales.
I spent 3 days in Cairns which I felt was just about the right time to not only experience Great Barrier Reef but also Cairns city and the nearby rainforests. Here are my tips on what to do in 3 days if you're exploring Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef.
Day 1: Explore Cairns city
I quite liked Cairns city because of it's laidback, tropical beach paradise vibe. The moment you enter the city, it begins to feel like you're on a real vacation. Patio bars with soft holiday music during the day (and upbeat tunes at night), people having cocktails no matter what time of day it is, a cool sea breeze against the warm sun rays and night street markets made this city have the perfect vacation vibe.
Start by taking a walk along the Cairns Esplanade Boardwalk, a 3-km walking path along the sea which passes through outdoor fitness areas, picnic and barbecue areas and ample grassy area to just sit and relax under the trees. Across the road from the boardwalk, you can also find many cafes, restaurants and bars, of which Villa Romana is one of my favourites. On a warm day, you can cool off in the Cairns Lagoon, an artificial saltwater pool made to resemble a lagoon, with views of the sea that is free to enter and use, and is patrolled by a lifeguard through the day.
In the afternoon, head to The Pier, an indoor shopping centre with boutiques that feature fashionable, handcrafted clothes and accessories, some of the best I've seen in a while. Colourful prints will catch your attention as you walk through the centre and although they're slightly overpriced, the designs are amazing! The Pier Bar, located right outside the shopping centre, is famous for its live music in the evening and cocktails. Although it sounds like it might be located on a pier, it actually isn't but it does face the sea if that helps!
During the evening, head to Cairns Night Markets that open at 4.30 pm. A great, inexpensive place to buy local handicrafts, souvenirs, handmade jewellery and titbits, the market is (fortunately) covered with a canopy which makes it a great place to visit even when it is raining.
Cairns Night Markets
At night, you can book yourself an indigenous aboriginal cultural experience at Tjapukai Cultural Park. Your hotel is likely to have a tour desk that will help you with the bookings if you're looking to have a pick and drop arrangement to the park (20 min away from the city) or you can buy the tickets online here and get yourself to the park by 7.15 pm. Dance performances featuring the indigenous rainforest people, face painting, the sounds of their instrument called didgeridoo, traditional ceremonies and songs followed by a sumptuous buffet meal is what you can expect in this 2.5-hour experience.
Aboriginal cultural show
Day 2: Full day trip to Great Barrier Reef
There are several options for tour companies available to book your full day trip to the Great Barrier Reef. I found a website www.bookme.com.au, a legit site that features discounts on several tours across Australia. I booked my tour on this website with a 20% discount on the price, operated by a company called Divers Den, on a boat called SeaQuest.
SeaQuest proved to be a fantastic boat, with an air-conditioned lower deck and an open upper deck. The instructors on-board were excellent, with not only amazing knowledge of the reef but also a great sense of humour. The boat provides free snorkelling and diving equipment and takes you to two different locations on the outer reef. Complimentary tea, coffee and water are available throughout the day (except when the boat is sailing), and a tropical buffet lunch is served after the first location and before moving on to the next one. Alcoholic drinks are also available for sale, although if you're planning to dive, you might want to avoid drinking.
They also have an option of an Introductory Dive, for the non-certified scuba diving enthusiasts like me. The boat sails for about 1.5 hours to the first location, where it anchors for about two hours, allowing ample time for the snorkelers and divers to explore the reef, before serving lunch. It then moves further about 20 min to another location, where it docks again for about an hour and a half, allowing the snorkellers and divers to explore the area. The whole trip lasts for about 8 hours (9 am- 5 pm).
You also have the option to rent a GoPro on the boat or pay AUD 50 for pictures that are captured by the boat's crew underwater.
When in Australia, you must visit a tropical rainforest! There are two options near Cairns - Kuranda Rainforest which is about 45 min away from the city centre and Daintree Rainforest, which is further ahead (about 2.5 hrs).
I decided to visit Kuranda Rainforest which was not only closer but also more commercial of the two. The best way to experience the rainforest is to take the Skyrail one way and the Scenic railway back. I took the Skyrail while going from Cairns to Kuranda, which can be boarded from Smithfield Terminal, about 15-min drive away from the city centre.
You can rent a car or take a taxi to the Smithfield terminal. Alternatively, you can book a tour which includes pick up from your Cairns city hotel.
It is best advised to book your experience a day in advance, instead of land up at the last minute to buy the tickets. Click here to book your package.
The total journey from Smithfield Terminal to the Kuranda Terminal lasts for about 1.5 hours. On the way, the cable car stops at two points - Red Peak and Barron Falls. A boardwalk takes you through the trees to several scenic lookouts and signage that talks about the flora and fauna often found in these tropical rainforests. The walk doesn't last more than 20 min, so you can be on your way towards the next stop on the Skytrain.
Kuranda Rainforest Boardwalk
As you continue over the rainforest canopy, crossing over the river and lush greens below, you will approach the next stop which takes you to the scenic lookout of the Barron Falls. The view of the Barron Gorge National Park below is quite stunning!
There are several things to do when you're in Kuranda Rainforest. For one, you can visit the colourful Village Markets or several cafes and restaurants in the area. There is also a bird park, koala park and a river cruise, which allows you to see crocodiles in the wild.
Over the river & rainforest canopy
If you're looking to cuddle a koala or feed wallabies and kangaroos, you can visit the Koala Gardens. However, be prepared that you will not get more than 30 seconds to hold the Koala during which they will take a few pictures for you. The koalas are not allowed to 'work' for more than 30 minutes a day, which means there are fixed time slots of half an hour during the day in which you are allowed to hold them, with several people queuing at a time, giving you hardly even a minute to 'cuddle' them.
Cuddling a Koala at Kuranda Koala Gardens
Feeding the Wallabies and Kangaroos at Kuranda Koala Gardens
The village markets are a great place to buy some handcrafted jewellery and souvenirs, local gems, kangaroo leather goods, homemade ice cream and a wide range of flavours of Macadamia nuts. There are two main market locations - the Original Markets & the Heritage Markets, both offering some authentic art and craft items.
There are also several walking tracks in the area. The river walks, the jungle walk and the esplanade walk are some short, easy walks that you can take to experience the best of the rainforest.
Melbourne was a default inclusion in my Australia itinerary because it is one of those touristy cities you always hear about when anyone mentions the land down under. Having read about the coffee culture, the impressive street art, the vibrant nightlife and the numerous outdoor restaurants, riverside bars and beach-side eateries, I knew I wanted to go to, and 'Melbourne - to go or not to go?' was not a question that crossed my mind.
I placed Melbourne at the very beginning of my (almost) 3 week trip to Australia. Maybe the mistake I made was that I visited in March, which I had believed would be the beginning of their 'autumn' and hopefully, good weather. However, I was greeted by unbearably sultry weather, that made it next to impossible to happily explore the outdoors. And be warned, the Australian sun is relentless, it burns your skin in a way that you literally feel like you're being barbecued. Applying a high SPF sunscreen every few hours is probably the best way to save your skin from getting severely dehydrated and burned, but it's not going to protect you from the torrid heat of Straya.
One thing that shocked me in Melbourne was the amount of drunken/stoned people, lying by the roadside or simply pissing on the streets in broad daylight. This might be common only in certain areas (I was staying on Flinders Street) and probably only on weekends (I was there on one) but nevertheless, it was quite a disturbing sight.
Melbourne - to go or not to go? I'd say, definitely go, but not because the city itself is so amazing. It is because of the wonderful day trips that one can take from there that make Melbourne a great base. The ideal amount of time that I recommend you to spend there are 4 days, and probably in April or May, when the weather has cooled down, making it much easier to explore. Here's how I recommend you to spend your 4 days in Melbourne.
Day 1: Explore the city
To be honest, 1-2 days in the city are more than enough. The city centre (Central Business District) is covered by the Free Tram Zone (you can get the map here) and is a great way to explore some of the popular districts such as Flinders Street and Queen Victoria Market. Alternatively, this area can also be explored easily by walking, something I highly recommend as it'll take you through some hidden laneways and patio cafes and restaurants. If you wish to explore further out, I recommend you to buy a Myki card which is valid on the trains, trams and buses in Melbourne and can be easily topped up.
If you're willing to travel a little outside the city centre, you can get your breakfast fix at Industry Beans in Fitzroy, an award-winning cafe located in the suburbs, which can be reached by tram and is 15 min outside the CBD. Needless to say, their coffee is amazing and is also available for sale. It's a local favourite, making it a great place to mingle. However, if you're not too keen on travelling outside the CBD, several restaurants located within CBD are also great options for a filling breakfast and great coffee.
Head to Queen Victoria Market, a historical marketplace that has been in operation since the 1800s. It started as a wholesale fruit and vegetable market back then and has expanded now into clothes, souvenirs, accessories, toys and speciality foods market now. A great place to pick up some authentic and typical Aussie souvenirs and gifts, its one of the largest markets in Melbourne.
Queen Victoria Market
Take a walk back from Queen Street Market towards Degraves Street, while passing through The Block Arcade, a fine 19th century elegantly built heritage shopping arcade filled with boutique shops and cafes. Stop at Haigh's Chocolates to pick up premium handmade chocolates or taste the gourmet cakes and pastries at Hopetoun Tea Rooms.
When in Australia, you have to try kangaroo meat. A cosy, small restaurant called Metro Burgers, located in the heart of Degraves Street may not look like it but offers some of the best speciality meat burgers in town. Kangaroo meat, emu and crocodile are some of the popular burgers of choice here. Take a short walk to Hosier Lane on Flinders Street, a colourful Instagrammable street full of street art by the local artists. If you're lucky, you might even catch an artist in action! Although it is not uncommon to see street wall art in Melbourne, the work on this particular street is actually quite commendable!
Hosier Lane Street Art
In the afternoon, you can head to St Kilda Beach, a popular beach suburb located 20 min away from CBD. You can catch tram 96 (direction St Kilda Beach) from Southern Cross Station or Bourke Street. Although you're unlikely to see them before sunset, the beach is popular for the penguin colony that can be often seen here. You can enjoy a scenic ferry ride from St Kilda Pier, rent a paddleboard, or simply sunbathe here, and sipping on a cocktail in one of the beach restaurants on a hot day may not be a bad idea. Republica, in particular, has a fantastic collection of hot and cold drinks, a patio seating with great views and spectacular snacking and food options. If you're at St Kilda on a Sunday, do explore the Esplanade Sunday Market, with pop-up stalls of handcrafted goods, jewellery, wood carvings and souvenirs.
St Kilda Beach
Head back to CBD towards Federation Square, a popular hub for literature, arts and crafts enthusiasts. This is also the place where a lot of events take place usually during the weekend. You're likely to find this place very buzzing during the evenings, with the restaurants and bars swarming with people. What I personally enjoyed the most, however, was heading down towards the Yarra River, a great place to take a walk along it or simply sit in one of the riverside bars for a quick drink. Arbory Bar and Eatery was my favourite place; the ambience, the view, the menu and the music were all great.
The main reason why I included Melbourne in my Australia itinerary was for this iconic drive and the famous 12 Apostles. Most people do this as a day trip, starting early in the morning and returning to Melbourne by night. However, my recommendation would be to do this drive at leisure, with ample towns to stop at on the way and scenic spots to be explored. Returning to Melbourne on the same day can make the trip rushed and it doesn't do justice to the beauty of the places en-route. I decided to stay overnight in a cosy and cute town called Warrnambool, which is an hour ahead of the last tourist spot on the Great Ocean Road. And I am glad I did!
Firstly, it's best to rent a car and drive this route by yourself. Start early from Melbourne, and stop along the way in cities and towns that have various experiences or scenic spots to enjoy. The best part of the drive is, several breathtaking viewpoints are clearly marked out on the road, giving you enough heads-up to get ready to stop your car, park and take pictures. The entire drive is not coastal, although it sounds like it would be. Most of the road was carved from the rocky cliff faces and steep coastal mountains and runs either along the coast or amidst urban forests. Nevertheless, the drive is pleasurable and it's best to take it at an easy pace.
Suggested route & stops:
Torquay (1 hr 20 min)
Famous for Bells Beach which is a surfers' paradise, Torquay also makes for a great stop to enjoy a sumptuous breakfast with sea views. A laid back town meant for outdoor enthusiasts who love water sports, biking and hiking, Torquay is the home of Rip Curl and Quicksilver brands. It also comes along at the perfect point during the journey, after an hour and a half of starting from Melbourne. I found a really nice place for breakfast called The Pond Cafe. Torquay is also from where the Great Ocean Road begins.
Torquay, Great Ocean Road
Lorne (50 min)
About 45 km ahead of Torquay is yet another coastal haven called Lorne. Lorne is home to several waterfalls, bush walks, dense forests and white sandy beaches. Lorne Main Beach is a photographer's paradise. With miles of sandy shores dotted with rocks and not too many people to be seen, Lorne Main Beach is quiet and untouched. A short scenic stop here is highly recommended. High above the beach is Teddy's Lookout, a popular viewpoint that offers insanely gorgeous views of the unending deep blue waters of the ocean.
Lorne Main Beach
Lorne Main Beach
Apollo Bay (45 min)
Yet another 45 min ahead of Lorne is Apollo Bay which comes at the right time during the journey. Apollo Bay is a haven for seafood lovers, with restaurants offering fresh catch of the day and local wines to go with them. Chris's Restaurant, although a little high end, offers some of the best fresh seafood available and a wide selection of grapes. If you're lucky, you might also spot koalas in the wild here. A leisurely along the Grey River Road (1 km return, easy walk) promises a view of sleeping koalas in the trees.
Cape Otway Lighthouse (40 min)
I have a thing for lighthouses, they look so majestic perched on cliffs with the blue seas in the backdrop. This one, unlike many others, allows guests to access the balcony of the light station which offers spectacular views of the ocean. While driving towards the lighthouse, you will cross Bimby Park, yet another place known for spotting koalas in the wild. There is also a cafe at the lighthouse, serving light snacks and beverages until evening hours.
Drive to Warrnambool (2 hours)
Recommended centrally located budget place to stay in Warrnambool: Mahogany Motel
Day 3: Return to Melbourne via Bay of Islands & 12 Apostles
Bay of Islands (40 min)
A short drive from Warrnambool towards 12 Apostles requires for a short stop at the viewing platform of Bay of Islands. From here, you can enjoy spectacular views of the limestone rocks that dot the blue ocean, with the waves splashing against their rugged surface. There are two viewing platforms here, hardly a 150-m walk from the car park, so you won't need much time. Just enjoy the stunning views, take a few pictures and move along!
As you near 12 Apostles, there are 3 spots next to each other that deserve your attention. Loch Ard Gorge, a popular stop point just 5 min before 12 Apostles, is an inlet with two large yellow-faced cliffs surrounding it. Not only is this a picturesque storybook place, but the story behind its name is also quite interesting too. A ship called Loch Ard was wrecked in a nearby island long ago and only two survivors from it were washed ashore to the gorge, from where they signalled for help and found their way out. If you wish to explore the area more and view interesting cliff formations, you can choose a walking trail such as the Wreck of the Loch Ard which takes you from the viewpoint to the cemetery.
12 Apostles Viewing Point
The best time to visit 12 Apostles is during the day, as you'll be privy to the bluest of waters, endless ocean views and the famous rock formations standing magnificently amidst the sea. Undoubtedly, this is the highlight of the Great Ocean Drive and you'll need to visit it to know why! No amount of pictures or words can do justice to the breathtaking beauty and splendour of this place. Created by constant erosion of the limestone cliffs since 20 million years ago, the stormy ocean and strong winds gradually eroded the softer limestone, at first forming caves in the cliffs and then arches, finally leaving collapsed rock stacks up to 45 metres high isolated from the shore. If you ever see yourself questioning the power of nature, a visit to places like this one can provide enough proof.
Should you wish to go down to the beach, only 2 min ahead of 12 Apostles viewing area are the Gibson's Steps. You will feel like a dwarf when you take these 86 steps, carved into the rocky surface by a man called Gibson, down to the sandy beach, surrounded by the large limestone cliffs.
Back to Melbourne (2 hrs 45 min)
On your back to Melbourne, you can take the inner highway rather than the Great Ocean Road. Once back in Melbourne, if you still have time, head to The Shrine of Remembrance, a memorial for those who died in various global conflicts throughout the nation's history, including WW I and II. Climb to the rooftop to enjoy unobstructed views of the gardens surrounding the shrine and the skyline of Melbourne in the backdrop.
View from the terrace of Shrine of Remembrance
If you're a fan of skyline views, Eureka Skydeck on the 88th floor is the highest viewing platform in the city and also the southern hemisphere of Australia. The panoramic views of Melbourne from The Edge, a switchable glass cube which slides out from the building, with you inside, are priceless.
If you're a fan of rooftop and terrace bars, The Rooftop Bar on Swanston Street in a great one. I loved their concoctions and the vibe, although you cannot expect much of a view. The music is great and if you're not too fussy about food, some burgers are available to go with your drinks.
At night, you can visit Southbank, an area that stretches along the Yarra River towards its south, across the bridge on Elizabeth St. It is a lively precinct with entertainment, restaurants, live performances, trendy cafes and hotels, and even a casino!
This is a guest post by Steve Conway, a techie by profession and a passionate traveler who loves to soak up the sun, swim in azure waters and explore far-off destinations that hold the promise of great adventure. He is yet to explore Southeast Asia but loves the coastal getaways in Europe, North and South Americas.
If your idea of the perfect summer holiday involves relaxing and soaking up the sun on the beach, then you are spoiled for choice when it comes to destinations. Although there are many terrific places to do this all around the world, it can also be hard to know where the best places to go are as sometimes these place can be overcrowded and not have enough to keep you entertained. With this in mind, here are a few of the best places, in my opinion, for a sunny summer vacation where you can spend your days soaking up the sun and relaxing on the beach.
Due to its geographical location, Spain boasts a beautiful climate throughout the year with temperatures reaching the mid 30’s during summer. It is also home to truly breathtaking beaches which are ideal if you want to relax with a good book or splash in the ocean. The Costa del Sol is always popular with holidaymakers but you could also consider Costa Brava which can be quieter or even the Canary Islands. No matter where you choose, Spain holidays will always be enjoyable, especially if you have your own private villa to enjoy too.
Costa Brava, Spain
Cancun features picturesque beaches with gorgeous white sandy beaches, palm trees and crystal blue waters along with a lovely tropical climate. Although you could happily spend the entire holiday gazing out over the waters, there is also a lot more to do in the region such as exploring the ancient Mayan temples.
There is a very good reason why so many people flock to Florida during the warmer months of the year as it is the ideal spot for a summer vacation. Here you will find a lovely climate, sandy shores, cities with beaches and stunning natural parks. It is popular with families but it can also be a nice spot for a romantic break or a trip with a group of friends.
Adventurous travelers that are seeking out stunning beaches that are not as populated as others will be intrigued by Brazil as a summer holiday destination. It has amazing beaches all around the country and is somewhere that is less-travelled than other destinations, so you could benefit from extra peace and quiet.
When you picture what an idyllic beach looks like there is a very good chance that you are picturing something similar to what you find in the Bahamas - one of the most luxurious beach destinations on the planet. The beaches are incredibly beautiful here, and the relaxed way of life ensures that it is easy to chill out and enjoy yourself here, plus the local cuisine is sublime.
Those that like to spend their summer holiday relaxing on the beach and catching rays can sometimes find it hard to choose a suitable destination. Beach holidays can sometimes be disappointing if they are overcrowded or if the beaches are not as idyllic as you had hoped. The above destinations will certainly not disappoint as they are the best beach holidays destination all around the world with beautiful weather, picture-perfect beaches and enough to keep you happy and entertained during your stay.
Exploring Southeast Asia? Visit the coastal jewel of the region - Philippines. Read more about What to do in El Nido.
When I think of fairytale towns, romantic castles, historical, charming streets and enchanting landscapes, Germany is what comes to my mind. It seems like many storybooks were written by authors inspired by the beauty of this country, and visiting the cute, hidden towns and villages here feels like you've travelled back in time. Maybe a little gnome will pop out of the hole in the ground as you walk the cobbled stone streets or you'll bump into a princess held hostage in the towers of one of those gorgeous castles! So if you're in Bavaria's capital and you're looking for some magic, here are 5 day trips from Munich that you must take.
Day trips from Munich
#1 Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau Castles
For those of you who know me, I love castles! I spent 2 weeks in Ireland visiting some of the best-preserved castles from centuries ago and exploring the ruins which are today UNESCO World Heritage sites. My trip to Transylvania was also about stepping into a fascinating world where the medieval era came to life in some of the most stunning royal residences ever. However, no castle has piqued my attention as Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria.
Apparently, the castle was Disney's inspiration for Cinderella's castle and there's no doubt why it was chosen. The magnificent building is not only a masterpiece in its architecture but also the setting it stands tall in, is a treat for the eyes. With the backdrop of the snow-laden Bavarian Alps, the castle itself stands on an isolated cliff, fulfilling the purpose it was built for - a place for King Ludwig II to get away from people and spend some time by himself. However, it was never really completed from the inside due to the untimely accidental death of the king, after which the castle was opened to the public.
I visited it during the winter, which was great because the snow only added to the beauty of the place. However, getting inside the castle can only be done through a guided tour which is best reserved in advance lest the tickets could be sold out on site. Also, the castle itself is closed on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, which is when I visited the place and was thus, unlucky! The castle grounds are open, however, so one can walk around the area and get some gorgeous pictures.
The best views of Neuschwanstein Castle are from Queen Mary's Bridge (Marienbrücke) across the Pöllat gorge. However, if there's snow in the area, the bridge is likely to be closed due to safety reasons.
Built by the father of King Ludwig II, Hohenschwangau Castle is not too far from Neuschwanstein Castle and overlooks the Hohenschwangau village, which sits in the valley between the two castles. This is where King Ludwig II spent most of his childhood. Although not as impressive as the Neuschwanstein Castle, Hohenschwangau Castle is strikingly beautiful in its own right. The interiors of the castle are known to depict scenes from German folklore and medieval legends. However, if you're here on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, this castle is also closed for visitors.
How to get here:
These two Bavarian castles make for one of the best day trips from Munich. The recommended way to get here is to rent a car from Munich and drive for 1.5 hours to get here, through the stunning countryside. However, if you're using public transportation, take a train from Munich’s main station (Munchen Hauptbahnhof) directly to Fussen (2 hours journey) and then catch a bus from the Fussen train station (bus no. 73 or 78) to Neuschwanstein Castle. The ride lasts about 15 min and drops you off below the cliff from where you'll have to climb up for about 20 min to reach the castle.
Day trips from Munich
#2 Rothenburg ob der Tauber
Rothenburg ob der Tauber
This picturesque village is located on the Romantic Road in Germany and is one of the best-preserved walled medieval cities in the country. As all the restaurants and museums in Munich were shut on Christmas Day, I decided to venture out to this charming little old town to enjoy the holiday vibe. A visit to the village was a journey back in time, with cobbled stone streets, colourful medieval buildings, a laid-back atmosphere, and historical ramparts and towers that remained from the castle walls built back in the 13th century.
The village is about a 3-hour drive from Munich and isn't the only 'Rothernburg' in Germany so be sure that you put the name of the village Rothenburg ob der Tauber on your GPS lest you'll end up in the wrong place! Alternatively, since it is one of the most popular day trips from Munich, there are several trains from Munich's main station to get here and the old town is a short walk from Rothenburg ob der Tauber's the train station.
The best way to explore this fairytale village is on foot. You can enjoy a peaceful walk starting from the famous postcard perfect Plönlein Square, in the laneways surrounded by cute pastel houses, through the Marktplatz where you'll see several cafes, restaurants and even the traditional Advent Market during Christmas, towards the iconic St Jacob's Church, eventually arriving at the city walls and old castle gardens.
If you like museums, you could visit the quirky Christmas Museum, or the morbid Medieval Crime and Justice Museum. Allow yourself to get lost in the city streets, walk into a souvenir shop to buy unique and cheap ornaments, or try a schneeballen (a Rothenburg pastry speciality made of pastry dough balls rolled in sugar, cinnamon or dipped in chocolate).
Day trips from Munich
#3 Lake Starnberg
Although a visit to Lake Starnberg may not classify as one of the day trips from Munich by itself, as it is less than an hour away from the city, you can easily spend a few hours here depending on which location around the lake you decide to visit and during which month. During the summer, many water activities take place here. Lake Starnberg is the 2nd largest lake in Bavaria and the 5th largest in Germany.
In the summer, you will see a lot of people swimming in the lake or simply soaking up the sun with a picnic. You could also head to Hotel Am See's terrace restaurant overlooking the lake to enjoy some beer. There are many walking trails along the lake for those who love to immerse themselves in nature.
You could also visit the spot where King Ludwig II mysteriously drowned and died. Some stories say that he fell into the lake accidentally while others hint that he was murdered by those who wanted to dethrone him. There is a cross that acts as a memorial in the lake to mark his untimely and unexplained death. If you're on the West Bank of the lake, you're not too far from castle Sisi in Possenhofen, which was inhabited by Empress Elisabeth of Austria. You can stroll through the park here, take some lovely pictures of the royal family's summer home and wait to enjoy the gorgeous sunset at the lake.
The sunset at Lake Starnberg is absolutely mesmerising! For the perfect experience, grab a place at the Seerestaurant Lido, get yourself a beer (or hot wine in the winter) and walk to the pier on the lake. You can also get a view of Zugspitze, the highest mountain in Germany, on a clear day.
Day trips from Munich
#4 Eagle's Nest and Salt Mines
At less than 2 hours away by road, Kehlsteinhaus or Eagle's Nest is one of the most popular day trips from Munich. A mountaintop lodge that served as Hitler's summer home, this extravagant chalet was presented to him on his 50th birthday. However, it is rumoured that Hitler suffered from vertigo and did not really spend much time at the chalet that was located at the edge of a mountain almost 6,000 feet above the ground.
There are two ways to get to the Eagle's nest that is today, a restaurant offering 360-degree views of the surrounding gorgeous mountains, the valley below and Lake Königssee. You can either hike down to it (takes about 3 hours) or sit on a special bus that takes you to the elevator shaft set deep in the mountain. In winter, Eagle's Nest might be closed if there has been too much snow so do check before you head there.
If Eagle's Nest is closed for visitation, you can still spend some time exploring the famous Berchtesgaden salt mine in the village below. The tour inside the salt mines is for adventure lovers - get ready to dress in overalls and sit in a miners train that will take you into the very depths of the mountains. You can also pass by Lake Konigsee, one of the most beautiful Alpine lakes in Germany.
Why not get out of Germany and make the most of the day trips from Munich by visiting one of the most charming cities of Austria - Salzburg. Whether you choose to take a train from Munich Main Train station or drive, Salzburg is about 1.5 hours away and is one of the prettiest European cities I've ever been to. With a fortress towering in the backdrop, an emerald green river running through the heart of the city, medieval architecture that is awe-inspiring and a vibe that is unmatched, Salzburg is undoubtedly one of the best day trips from Munich.
If you're here only for a day, I recommend you to visit Hohensalzburg Castle for stunning aerial views of the city, followed by Salzburg Cathedral, a masterpiece of architecture and Residenzplatz located in the centre of the Old Town.
Ever since my trip to Austria during the Holiday Season in 2017, I decided to explore a new country in Europe every Christmas. The magic of the festivities is best felt while walking on the charming cobbled stone streets, lit with fairy lights, huge Christmas trees, embellished with snow and delightful advent markets. In 2018, I chose Budapest to spend my holidays as it seemed to have everything that is perfect for the Christmas season - vibrant markets serving delicious food, hot wine, streets with stunning medieval architecture that are best explored on foot and the chill in the air that only makes it more authentic (yes, I love the cold!).
I spent 4 days here which seemed just the right amount of time, with a little extra to explore cute Hungarian villages not too far from the city. Here's my suggested itinerary for Budapest in winter - a great mix of historical, cultural and festive experiences. Oh, and of course, the nightlife!
How cold is it in December?
Although it wasn't snowing (a few flakes here and there don't really count), it was chilly in Budapest in winter! Thermals, woollen socks, and warm, comfortable shoes are definitely recommended. Layer up, it can be very windy; a warm beanie, gloves and neck warmer will help.
Day 1: Explore Buda
If you don't already know this, Budapest is formed of two former independent cities - Buda and Pest, which were united in the late 19th century and today, the two parts are on the opposite sides of the river Danube and are connected through several bridges, one of which is the famous historical Chain Bridge. While Pest is on flat terrain, Buda is rather hilly.
View from Gellert Hill
Hike up the Gellért Hill
Thanks to the hilly terrain in Buda, you can be rewarded with some extremely gorgeous views of the city and the river from several vantage points. One of these is the Gellert Hill. However, this place is not only a popular viewpoint, but it also has historical significance. Named after Hungary's first missionary who was thrown from the top of the hill by pagans as rebellion, Bishop Gellert's statue is now erected on the hill and can be seen from afar.
Hiking up Gellert Hill
Gellert Hill is a great place to start your tour of Budapest as it provides you with a bird's eye view of the entire city. It helps you place all the important sites laid out right in front of you like a map! The climb up from the Elisabeth Bridge, although a bit steep in places, doesn't take more than 20 min, with a quick stop at the statue of Bishop Gellert (known as the Gellert Monument), all the way up to the citadella where you have the Statue of Liberty.
Statue of Liberty at the Citadella at Gellert Hill
If you wish to, you could explore the museum at Citadella (for a fee), which I chose to skip. Also, if you prefer not to climb, you can take a bus to the top.
Buda Castle Hill
If you walk over towards the Chain Bridge, you'll find yourself right in front of the funicular that'll take you up to the Buda Castle. Alternatively, you can climb the Royal Steps that'll lead you to the New-Renaissance Garden and from here, you can take an escalator up to the castle.
The Royal Palace
Although it was originally built in the 13th century, the current version of Buda Castle is an 18th-century Neo-Baroque style structure that was destroyed from the inside during WWII. However, most of it has been restored now and converted into several museums (Hungarian National Gallery, History Museum and National Library) which can be visited for a fee.
I'm not much of a fan of museums, to be honest, so I planned to skip them and just walk around, exploring the cobbled stone streets lined with 17 - 19th-century houses. I happened to arrive at the Presidential Palace right when the changing of the guards' ceremony was beginning so I stood there to watch that. Although not as dramatic and large scale as the one at Buckingham Palace, it was interesting to watch the routine and how beautifully it was choreographed.
Changing of Guards ceremony at the Presidential Palace, Buda Castle Hill
From here, I continued my walk towards the Trinity Square to visit Matthias Church, a distinctly Baroque building that was established initially in the 11th century in Gothic style but went through several architectural upgrades since. It also served as a mosque during the Turkish rule. The church is named after King Matthias Corvinus who was married here. A building that is as impressive on the inside as it is on the outside, Matthias Church looks brilliant when it is lit up at night so if you're here late evening, I'd suggest you stick around to enjoy some amazing night views of not only the church but also Fisherman's Bastion and Pest, across the river.
Matthias Church, Buda Castle Hill
Right across from the church is the famous Fisherman's Bastion. With a very unique architecture that combines neo-Gothic and neo-Romanesque styles, Fisherman's Bastion's white-walled structure looks straight out of a fairytale. It was built in the early 20th century and was guarded by the Fisherman's guild, hence the name. The viewing platform provides gorgeous views of the river Danube and the architectural masterpieces lining it, including the Parliament Building and the Chain Bridge.
Fisherman's Bastion Buda Castle District
Fisherman's Bastion Buda Castle District
Fisherman's Bastion Buda Castle District
Once again, I recommend staying here until the sunset as the place lights up beautifully at night and the views of the city from the top at night are some of the best you'll ever see. The Parliament Building, one of the most iconic buildings in Budapest, is visible directly in front from here and the night views are dramatic!
Secret tip: A cafe/ restaurant on the top of one of the towers of Fisherman's Bastion has outdoor seating with superb views. Even in the winter, this is a good place to enjoy a cup of hot chocolate or hot wine.
Matthias Church at night
Fisherman's Bastion at night
Terrace Cafe atop Fisherman's Bastion
Dinner cruise on the Danube
I highly recommend you to take a cruise on the river Danube. Although there are several options available (cocktail cruises, dinner cruises, etc), I loved the experience I chose - a dinner cruise with Hungarian folklore performances by Silverline Cruises.
This 3-hour cruise included a 4-course meal with drinks, a band of musicians with Hungarian folk dancers in their local costumes and unparalleled views of the Hungarian Parliament building, Buda Castle, Chain Bridge and Gellert Hill (apart from other iconic riverside sites) at €85. Although it was freezing, a little tour to the upper deck to get some amazing pictures was something I could not resist doing!
Start your day by visiting the historical Dohány Street Synagogue, the largest synagogue in Europe and the second largest in the world. The synagogue's compounds include a Jewish Museum, the Heroes' Temple, the Jewish Cemetery and the Raoul Wallenberg Memorial Park. Although it is rare to have a cemetery next to a synagogue, during WW II, more than 10,000 people died in the vicinity of the synagogue which led to the building of the cemetery in its compound. There is a charge of €15 to visit the synagogue.
Dohány Street Synagogue
The Jewish Quarter (behind the synagogue) is a great place to walk around by yourself. If you're into museums, the Jewish Heritage Museum could be something that would interest you. You'll come across several kosher sweet shops and restaurants as you explore the surrounding area - such as the Kazinczy Street, home to another smaller yet authentic synagogue.
As you walk, you'll soon hit Andrássy Avenue, often referred to as Hungary's Champs-Elysee. A wide lane replete with classy 19th-century homes and palatial facades, boutiques, bars and cafes, do pop into one of the cosy ones for a great breakfast or simply some hot wine to beat the cold.
Walk to St Stephen's Basilica, the largest church in Budapest which also holds the sacred mummified hand of St Stephen, the first Christian king of Hungary. In December, the courtyard of the church is turned into one of the largest Christmas Markets in Budapest.
St Stephen's Basilica, Budapest
As you continue to walk towards the river, you will cross the Budapest Eye, a Ferris Wheel similar to the London Eye (but nowhere close in terms of its magnitude) which could be yet another way of getting some good views of the city from a vantage point. Finally, as you reach the riverside, you will see the grand Hungarian Parliament Building, the third largest parliament building in the world. This iconic building is a key addition to your itinerary for Budapest in winter due to the sheer magnificence of its architecture.
Hungarian Parliament Building
If you would like to visit the Parliament Building, it is only possible to do it through a guided tour. This can be booked online (best to do it in advance during peak seasons), lasts for about 45 min and costs about €17.
As you exit the Hungarian Parliament Building, you will see as you walk towards the Danube one of the most moving memorials in Hungary - the Shoes on the Danube. 60 pairs of rusted period shoes cast out of iron, in all sizes, belonging to men, women and children pay tribute to the Holocaust victims who were gathered on the banks of River Danube in 1944 by the brutal Arrow Cross Militia, forced to strip naked and then shot in the back at close range, for their bodies to fall into the river and be washed away with no signs.
Shoes on the Danube, Budapest
From here, head to Vörösmarty Square, the heart of Budapest downtown. A popular public square that hosts a range of concerts and events throughout the year, this is also where you will find the most important and popular Christmas Market in Budapest. During the summer, this is a great place to shop, try some local foods and just enjoy the great vibe. During the holiday season, the square transforms into an open extravaganza, with food stalls selling the famous 'Chimney Cakes' or Kürtőskalács, hot wine, roasted chestnuts and kolbász (smoked sausages).
Christmas Market at Vörösmarty tér, Budapest
At night, head to Gozdu Udvar, a very unique place that is buzzing in the night. A passageway that once connected the courtyards of several residential buildings, it is now home to several pubs, open markets, and restaurants and a great place to mingle with the locals. Located in the heart of the Jewish Quarter, it is one of the favourite hangouts of the locals as well as tourists and is quite a lively place in the evenings.
If you visit on a Saturday, you can catch the crafts and vintage market here from 2 - 8 pm.
Gozdu Udvar, Budapest
Gozdu Udvar, Budapest
Day 3: Explore Pest
There is a lot more to explore on the Pest side of Budapest in winter.
Start your day by visiting the Heroes Square, located at the entrance of the City Park, at the other end of Andrassy Avenue. BuiltErected in the late 19th century to commemorate the thousandth anniversary of Hungary, the largest square in Budapest is flanked by the Museum of Fine Arts and Hall of Arts on its either side and the Vajdahunyad Castle in the backdrop. The Millennium Monument in the middle of the square with Archangel Gabriel in the centre and the seven chieftains of the Magyar Tribes to its either side is quite impressive.
Heroes Square, Budapest
In winter, the ground in front of Vajdahunyad Castle transforms into a skating rink and its courtyard into a Christmas market. Light music, Christmas foods and hot wine make for a great atmosphere here and the perfect place for a picture, with the intriguing architecture of the..
If you have decided to visit Ireland, prepare for an adventure like no other! You must be a nature lover, looking to get away from big cities and explore the bucolic countryside, laidback lifestyle, acres and acres of green lands, beautiful coasts and fresh, crisp air. Ireland is fascinating, there is magic and romance at every turn and the country is steeped in rich history. The Irish are musical people, they’re warm and welcoming, they’re fun to chat with and they know how to have fun. Your itinerary for Ireland will be packed with sublime, postcard-perfect beauty, dramatically wild countryside, lyrical evenings, excellent whiskeys, gins and beers, well-preserved historical ruins, and of course, the ‘craic’.
A few things to keep in mind, to be well-prepared for your trip:
Renting a car is the best way to explore the country. Any itinerary for Ireland is incomplete without some stunning coastal and rural drives in the world. Besides, it is the best & fastest way to get to the remote areas, untouched wilderness and rugged landscape.
It has been said enough times, but Ireland’s weather is notorious for being unpredictable. It is rare to see bright blue skies and sunny days, even during the summer, for a long duration. It rains often and can be extremely breezy most times. When breezy and rainy, the temperatures can drop drastically.
You’re unlikely to have a downpour, however. A rain spell is most likely to last a couple of hours in one go and it’s not uncommon to have gloomy, dark days.
During such rough weathers, the sea activities such as boat trips, whale watching tours, etc can be cancelled. This means, you’ve to be very flexible with your itinerary for Ireland and it’s best to have a backup plan for the day, in case the weather doesn’t improve.
Needless to say, warm and water-proof clothing & shoes are essential to carry, to be able to make the most of your trip. Layer up, rather than carrying thick clothes (in the summer). On sunny days, the temperatures can go as high as 25 degrees, so T-shirts could be helpful to beat the heat.
Try to look for hotels or BnBs with free onsite parking. Most accommodations outside bigger cities will have ample parking available on-site but it’s always sensible to keep in mind while working on your itinerary for Ireland.
Ireland has some of the best liqueur chocolates in the world! Do not forget to stock up. Also, the Hot Chocolate you’ll get (mostly with marshmallows) is absolutely heavenly!
Teelings Whiskey, Jameson Whiskey and Guinness Beer are home-grown brands and they go really well with the authentic Fish & Chips which you won’t find hard to get almost anywhere you go and are a must-include in any itinerary for Ireland.
Irish people are musical. Don’t forget to visit the local pubs for live music, traditional Irish dance and ‘craic’. That's one more thing that any itinerary for Ireland is incomplete without!
During the summer months, Ireland has long days (with the sunset at 10 pm). However, most tourist sites close between 5 - 6 and markets also shut down by 6 pm in most towns. This leaves you with only one choice - hit the pubs!
Drives can be longer than GPS will tell you. This is not only because some of the roads are narrower and not easy to speed on but also because you’ll want to stop very often to enjoy the beauty. So, keep a relaxed schedule and enjoy the journey!
Day 1 & 2: Dublin
My suggested itinerary for Ireland begins at Dublin because this is where most flights arrive. The Irish capital makes for the perfect introduction to Ireland - it has palpable energy, great music, and some really cool museums. History meets vibrancy and ancient architecture blends with the modern lifestyle in Dublin. The markets and exhibitions here are unparalleled, as is the decadent, trendy and spirited nightlife scene.
St Stephan's Cathedral
I've written a detailed post for a 2-day Dublin itinerary that includes a visit to the key places within Dublin which include historical sites such as Dublin Castle, Trinity College and Book of Kells; streets with a great vibe and amazing nightlife such as Grafton Street & Temple Bar; day trip to the charming little coastal town of Howth and several other options.
An early Christian monastic site located in the middle of Wicklow Mountains, 'Glendalough' translates into 'valley of two lakes'. It was founded by St Kevin in the 6th century and the 3-km spread area around the glacial lakes is strewn with several pieces of historical importance. I suggest parking your car at the National Park Information Centre near the Upper Lake before you proceed with taking up one of the hiking trails in the area.
One of the popular and not-so-tough hikes is the one to Poulanass Waterfall (1.6 km, 40 min) near the Upper Lake. If you're looking for an easier one, a short walk (1 km, 30 min) to St Kevin's Cell and the Reefert Church might interest you.
Tougher hikes such as Spinc and the Wicklow Way (11 km, 4 hours) and Derrybawn Woodland Trail around the Lower Lake (8 km, 2 hours) are also available for the more fit people. No matter what your fitness level, the National Park is a great place to spend some quiet time in the middle of tranquil oak woodlands, waterfalls and lovely lakes.
Glendalough to Kilkenny (1.5 hours drive)
Explore Kilkenny Town
As you're likely to arrive in Kilkenny during the evening hours, you can spend your time exploring the cute town. Kilkenny forms an integral part of our itinerary for Ireland not only because it makes for a timely stop, but because the charming city is home to several medieval cultural wonders, hidden shopping jaunts and vibrant nightlife. Don't be surprised to see a lot of quirky cars, loud and drunk people on the streets and crazy sights because Kilkenny is a popular place for several hen and stag parties over the weekends.
Kilkenny city is not just about the crazy nightlife, it is replete with ancient sites such as castles, churches and abbeys as well beautiful street-scapes, especially around the River Nore. If you have a car, you're lucky because you can also visit the magnificent monastic ruins from the 12th century - Jerpoint Abbey, that lies about 30 minutes outside the city.
I have written a detailed post on a 1-day itinerary for this charming town in Ireland. If you are here only for one evening, then do make it to the Kilkenny Castle at the centre of the town, St Canice's Cathedral (the walk from Kilkenny Castle to the cathedral is through some of the best historical marvels in the town) and the Nore Valley (sip on some hot chocolate at the Riverside Restaurant of Kilkenny River Court Hotel).
Rock of Cashel was undoubtedly my favourite historical site in all of Ireland. As I drove towards it, the looming structure situated on top of a plateau against the green grassland backdrop was a sight that deserved to be captured! Although the earliest surviving archaeological building (the Round Tower) dates back to the 12th century, the site is known to have existed since the 5th century when King Aengus, Ireland’s first Christian ruler, was baptized.
Rock of Cashel
There is a free tour that runs at Rock of Cashel which lasts about 45 min and I would highly recommend you to join that so as to understand the historical significance of the building. If that doesn't interest you, you can take one of the walking trails in the area. I highly recommend the Cashel Heritage Walking Trail, an easy 1.6 km loop trail that'll also take you to another iconic historical site in the area - the Hore Abbey.
Rock of Cashel
Hore Abbey is visible from the grounds on top of the Rock of Cashel but a walk down to explore the ruins is a must! Firstly, the views of Rock of Cashel from the abbey are unparalleled. Secondly, it is not crowded at all, with hardly any people visiting or exploring the ruins. The place is completely non-commercial and it is accessible to anyone, without any entry charges, supervision or gates. It is basically just lying away in one corner and all you need to do is open the gates and enter! You can have the entire archaeological site all to yourself!
Rock of Cashel to Blarney Castle (1-hour drive)
Time required at Blarney Castle: 3 hours
Most people visit this gorgeous medieval royal property to kiss the Blarney stone, which is believed to give one the gift of eloquence. However, even if you don't believe in legends, Blarney Castle and the sprawling gardens are a great place to spend some time amidst nature and greenery, especially on a clear and sunny day. Unless you get to the castle really early, you're likely to encounter a massive queue to enter the stone tower, to go up and kiss the Blarney Stone (1 -2 hours during summer is normal).
Even if you decide not to stand in the queue and enter the castle, and climb the narrow, winding stairs to the top to kiss the famous stone, I recommend you to take a walk in the castle gardens. They're really lush, widespread and impressive, with all sorts of wildflowers, little waterfalls, streams and forest plants & trees.
You may also want to explore the dungeons below the castle but make sure you're ready to bend and crawl through low lying ceilings, stone walls and uneven surfaces. I recommend a walk towards the gorgeously constructed Blarney House, overlooking the lake. The architecture of the house is quite intriguing and perhaps, one of the better-looking buildings in Ireland. It is hardly a 7 min walk from the castle itself.
Lush gardens of Blarney Castle
Blarney Castle to Killarney (1.5 hours)
You'll only arrive in Killarney late evening/ night. I suggest enjoying a nice walk, some drinks and dinner in the colourful town centre before you head to your hotel for a good night's sleep!
This massive National Park comprises of 26,000 acres of gorgeous landscapes - mountains, lakes, waterfalls and hiking paths. If you're a nature or adventure lover, you have to spend a day exploring the wilderness of this park, which has in the past won several accolades for being the favourite day out for a lot of Irish locals as well as tourists.
From kayaking in the lake to exploring historical gems such as Muckross House and Gardens, Ross Castle, to cycling along the lake or hiking the rugged mountains, Killarney National Park makes it to the Top 10 things in the itinerary for Ireland, in my opinion. Some things I recommend to do while in Killarney National Park:
The boat tour from Ross Castle to Inisfallen Island
Horse Carriage Ride around the Muckross Estate and Gardens
A part of the Wild Atlantic Way, Ring of Kerry qualifies as one of the most iconic coastal drives in Ireland. If you're renting a car and taking a road trip, you must spend at least a day exploring this gorgeous highway, with several pit stops which are for history, nature and food lovers. I was not very lucky with the weather (it was pouring on the day I did this loop), however, I was still rewarded with some scenes that I will never forget.
Ring of Kerry
Driving the Ring of Kerry
Some of the key highlights of this drive are:
The cute and cosy town of Kenmare (a great place to stop for breakfast)
Staigue Stone Fort (archaeological ruins of an Irish Ring Fort from 300 AD)
The town of Waterville, famous for being one of Charlie Chaplin's favourite vacation spots
Ballinskelligs Castle, ruins of a 16th-century castle and abbey, situated right on the beach with breathtaking views of the blue ocean
Skelling's Chocolate, a local chocolate factory where you can taste the best hot chocolate in Ireland and buy some really amazing Irish artisanal hand-made chocolates
Kerry Cliffs, the ultimate destination which left me breathless because of the sheer magnificence of the rocks jutting into the ocean
Suggested overnight stay: Portmagee is a nice town, just about 5 minutes away from Kerry Cliffs. Although quite small, you will find several restaurants here for a nice dinner. It also makes a great base for the next day's ferry trip to Skellig Michael.
This island was made famous because of the shooting of Star Wars - The Last Jedi here. Even if you're not a fan, I would suggest that you visit to enjoy some stunning scenery and beautiful hikes. However, the tour is dependent on the weather so you'll have to check before you go if the boat trips are running on that day.
There are two types of trips that you can choose from:
Eco Tour - 2.5 hours
Takes you around two islands (Great Skelligs and Small Skelligs) but only circles around them, bringing you close enough to observe the wildlife and historical sites but does not land at any of the islands. There are multiple departures daily from the marina at Portmagee.
Landing Tour - 5 hours
The landing tour usually takes you to the islands to spend some time exploring the sites on your own. These usually depart early in the morning and return by afternoon. If you have time, I suggest you try this tour as you can visit the 6th-century monastic site located at a 200-meter height, where you can reach by climbing hundreds of stone steps built by the monks centuries ago. You're likely to see a lot of puffins and seagulls on these UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
If you're, however, not into boat trips, you can simply visit a few spots on the mainland itself from where, on a clear day, you can view these islands because of their distinct shape. Some of these spots are: