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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

Neuschwanstein castle

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.

Neuschwanstein castle

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 gorgeHowever, if there's snow in the area, the bridge is likely to be closed due to safety reasons.

Hohenschwangau Castle

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.

Click here to book your stay in Munich.

 Day trips from Munich #5 Salzburg

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.

Read in detail on my blog about What to do in Salzburg.

Why not extend your trip with this perfect 1 week itinerary for Austria?

The post 5 magical day trips from Munich that you must take! appeared first on Hopping Feet.

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Budapest in winter is nothing less than amazing.

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!

Chain Bridge, Budapest

Buda Castle in the backdrop

Parliament Building, Budapest

Folklore Performances on Silverline Dinner Cruise

Recommended hotel to stay in Budapest: Novotel Budapest Danube

Day 2: Explore Pest

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..

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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!

Irish landscapes

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.

Read here about What to do in Dublin in 48 hours.

Day 3: Dublin - Glendalough - Kilkenny

Dublin to Glendalough (1.5 hours drive)

Time required in Glendalough: 3-4 hours

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.

Glendalough

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.

Suggested BnB stay in Kilkenny: Glendine House, Kilkenny

Day 4: Kilkenny

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).

Read here about What to do in Kilkenny in 24 hours.

Day 5: Kilkenny - Rock of Cashel - Killarney

Kilkenny to Rock of Cashel (1-hour drive)

Time required at Rock of Cashel: 1 hour

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!

Hore Abbey

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).

Blarney Castle

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.

Blarney Castle

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.

Blarney House

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!

Suggested BnB stay at Killarney: Ryebrooke House

Day 6: Killarney National Park

Killarney National Park

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
  • Hike the Muckross Lake Loop
  • Sunset kayaking trip on the lake, with Outdoors Ireland
Day 7: Ring of Kerry

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

Kerry Cliffs

Read my detailed post on Driving the Ring of Kerry in Ireland.

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.

Book your stay in Portmagee here

Day 8: Skelling Michael & Dingle

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.

Skellig Islands

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:

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Mangrove kayaking in Abu Dhabi does not list on one's itinerary when travelling to the UAE and it is a pity because it is one of the very few experiences in the country that take you close to the rugged nature. As an outdoor enthusiast who loves adventure, I am quite surprised that I didn't get myself to experience this superb activity before, despite having lived in the UAE for over 7 years. This winter, when the weather began to improve, I decided to get myself out there to explore the amazing Eastern Mangrove Lagoon National Park in Abu Dhabi.

Although Dubai & Abu Dhabi are more popular for the desert safaris and cruises, what a lot of people do not know is that a unique marine ecosystem exists in this hidden part of the capital city, where kayaking in the calm lagoon waters, amidst a coastal forest, can be an extremely exciting, yet slightly challenging experience. Mangrove kayaking in Abu Dhabi is a unique activity meant for nature lovers, outdoor enthusiasts and adventure seekers.

What to expect when Mangrove Kayaking in Abu Dhabi

First of all, kayaking is an activity that requires a fair amount of arm strength, so be prepared for a good upper body workout! Even if you have not experienced kayaking before, I would encourage you to try it out. There is a short briefing session before the tour begins, which is a good introduction to the basics of kayaking - how to manoeuvre the kayak in a certain direction, how to signal your tour guide in case of an emergency, how to start or stop the kayak, or get yourself out of the swamp with ease. It is not rocket science, but it can be slightly challenging when the mangroves become extremely narrow with hardly any space to move your paddles.

Choose between tandem or solo kayaking: You have the option of taking a kayak entirely for yourself or with a partner. If you're not very confident of your strength and rowing capabilities, it is always better to choose a tandem kayaking tour. However, syncronising between the kayaking partners is a skill you'll have to learn to master if you want the kayak to move in the right direction, and with a good speed!

Pay attention to the briefing: The waters of the lagoon are fairly calm and thus easier to kayak in. However, make sure you pay attention to the briefing by the qualified instructors, as there are times that you may not be able to keep up with the entire group and might lose sight of the professionals. Enjoy the amazing views, kayak at a comfortable pace but be safe! Rest assured, the instructors will make sure to keep you within their sight at all times. Do focus on the safety instructions before you begin the tour.

The guided tour lasts for 1.5 hours: Although experienced kayakers can rent a kayak and explore the mangroves on their own if you're not very confident or do not know the area well, I'd recommend you to go for a guided tour. However, be prepared to kayak for 1.5 hours with only one short break (a visit to the island on your way back from the mangrove forests). It can be tiring but totally worth it!

The mangroves can get very narrow: Most of the tour will take you through a wide lagoon with mangroves on both sides but with ample distance to allow you to comfortably paddle the kayak. However, should you choose to explore the very interiors with the help of your tour guide, be prepared to paddle through extremely narrow inlets which aren't the easiest to manoeuvre in but are sure to give you a rush! The excitement is in finding your way amidst the low lying trees, the narrow waters and small marine wildlife. You can, however, choose to kayak only in the open, wider waters and not navigate the forests, if you're not comfortable. I'd recommend to get your adventure on, and go for it!

What to carry for Mangrove Kayaking in Abu Dhabi

You will most likely get splashed so I recommend you to be in swimwear or bring a change of clothes. A hat, some sunscreen, waterproof shoes or sturdy slippers and a wet bag to store your belongings would be a great idea. Drinking water is available on site and you can carry it in a bottle if you like. Also, a towel to wipe yourself later would help. Sunglasses are a great idea, especially if you're doing the afternoon tour. You would want to carry a camera or phone for lovely pictures but it is likely to get wet so its best to carry it in a protective waterproof bag. Lifejackets are provided.

How to book Mangrove Kayaking in Abu Dhabi

My tour was through Al Mahara Diving Centre that provides several options of Mangrove Kayaking in Abu Dhabi to choose from (such as sunset tour, full moon tour, etc). The guides are absolutely amazing and the tour group is usually kept small which provides a personalised, well-conducted experience overall.

I personally recommend their Sunset Tour as you'll get some really incredible views!

The prices: AED 160 per person for adults & AED 110 per person for kids for a guided tour.

For an unguided tour, AED 160 per tandem kayak rental and AED 110 for single kayak rental.

Disclaimer: Although my Mangrove Kayaking in Abu Dhabi was sponsored by Al Mahara Diving Centre, the opinions in this post are my genuine views on the activity. 

The post Why Mangrove Kayaking in Abu Dhabi must be on your list appeared first on Hopping Feet.

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This guide on All you need to know before booking your first New York Helicopter Tour is written by Agrima Tikader, a happy pet-parent of two, who fights separation anxiety to cram in food fueled travel experiences. Armed with a lightning fast typing speed, thirst for knowledge and knack for storytelling, she can transform mundane to magnificent. She aspires to taste and write about street food around the world, before following the Ruskin Bond route of retiring to the hills.

Sightseeing from the skies has become a popular trend in New York. There are many helicopter tour and charter options that you can find when Booking NYC Airport Helicopter Tours. But before booking, you need to be aware of a few things-

Why Take the Tour

With a helicopter tour, you get a unique view of some iconic sightseeing destinations, but you cannot expect it to satisfy your wish to get up close to the structures. When Booking NYC Airport Helicopter Tours, you must have a clear understanding of what to expect from the experience.

Book in Advance

Though there are many helicopter tour services, you need to book your flight in advance. As helicopter tours have become very popular, getting an empty slot on demand has become difficult. Booking NYC Airport Helicopter Tours must be done in advance to get the slot you want.

Choose the Right Tour

Booking NYC Airport Helicopter Tours can be cheap depending on the tour that you choose. From a 15-minute Liberty Tour to a 45-minute City Tour, the price of the tour can vary on the length of the trip. It is best to pay more for the longer tours since you might not be able to extend the tour after booking.

Where to Fly From

When Booking NYC Airport Helicopter Tours, you can ask for a hotel pick up and drop, a car will be sent to your hotel at an additional fee. If you do not want the extra expense, you can book the tour on the day that you land at NYC. Most of the tour providers have helicopters ready for tours at all the major NYC airports and heliports.

What to Carry

You must carry certain documents with you when you plan your flight. You need to have a photo ID proof along with the credit/debit card that you have used to book the flight. Without these items, you will not be allowed to take the flight. Apart from these documents, you can carry sunglasses, a small wallet, phones, iPad and hand-held cameras. You can wear jackets, scarves, and caps but you cannot take them off during the flight.

What You Cannot Take on Board

Anything that is not mentioned above cannot be carried on board. If you are carrying bags or any other items that are not permitted, then you can rent a locker at the airport for a fee.

Time Means Everything

Each of the flights is tightly scheduled so if you are late for your flight you may not make it to the skies. Similarly, if you feel like extending your tour, the liberty is not there. The flights have to stick to stipulated time to remain safe and on schedule.

How Safe Is It

You might be swayed to avoid the helicopter tours after reading about some media highlighted crashed. The tour providers take extreme precautions to ensure the safety of the passengers. From a safety briefing to emergency supplies on board, there are multiple layers of protection provided to the passengers. If you follow the safety instructions, you will have a safe flight.

Keep Your Ears Open and Eyes Peeled

While helicopters can be loud, you will be given noise-cancelling headsets to allow the tour to run smoothly. Never take the headsets off during the flight since you might miss out on a lot if you do so. Your pilot will keep talking to you during the flight to help you understand what you are looking at. Do not forget to take sunglasses since the sunlight can obscure your view.

Booking an NYC helicopter tour in advance can be the best way to get an exclusive view of the city.

The post 10 Things to Be Aware of Before Your First New York Helicopter Tour appeared first on Hopping Feet.

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When IMG Worlds of Adventure opened a couple of years ago, it was one of the first in the line of the amusement park boom in Dubai. Until 2016, the United Arab Emirates could boast only of one amusement park - Ferrari World, which till date remains one of the most popular. Apart from that, a few waterparks were what came the closest to family entertainment destinations.

IMG Worlds of Adventure was at that time the largest indoor theme park in the world (a coveted title that is now disputed by the newly opened Warner Bros Abu Dhabi). Dubai Parks and Resort's Motiongate Themepark and Legoland followed suit but these are not completely indoor and air-conditioned, like IMG Worlds of Adventure, a feature that works in their favour and against them at the same time.

Being a completely indoor, air-conditioned themepark, IMG Worlds of Adventure gets limited when it comes to the thrilling and adventurous rides. However, it makes up for it in virtual 3D experiences and theatrical entertainment. Having said that, there are several rides that can be classified as only for the daring, and definitely not for those afflicted by motion sickness!

Located a little far (but still not as much as Dubai Parks and Resorts) from Dubai's city centre and bustling locales, IMG Worlds of Adventure spread across 1.5 million square feet. 2 years after its opening, it looks like the owners have lost interest in making it look exciting, the logo outside seems to have caught dust and the feeling of entering a ghost building creeps up on you when you look at it from the outside. A spiralling, entwining roller coaster juts out from one end, with loud screams that can be heard, and you can be sure that this is the best and most thrilling ride you'll get to experience in this theme park.

A tired looking exterior is contrasted with a beautifully lit interior, with alleys and lanes making you feel like you're walking through a magical, artificial cartoon world. You'll probably not find the place too crowded (I visited on a weekend and there were almost no queues) and this is a great thing because unlike many other theme parks, you won't need a lot of time to do all the rides here. IMG Worlds of Adventure offers 4 main zones: Marvel Comics, Cartoon Network, Lost Valley Dinosaur Adventure and IMG Boulevard.

If you're here with little kids, Cartoon Network is without a doubt the place to begin, with rides themed around Powerpuff Girls, Ben10 and Gumball. Marvel Zone is where you'll find your favourite superheroes - The Avengers. Lost Valley focuses on dinosaur themed rides and IMG Boulevard has the most overrated and under-performing experience in my opinion - The Haunted Hotel.

Click to read 10 things you must know before you travel to the UAE.

Cartoon Network

In comparison to Cartoon Junction at Warner Bros, the Cartoon Network zone in IMG Worlds of Adventure had newer generation cartoons such as Powerpuff Girls and Ben 10 vs the older generation, all-time favourites such as Tom & Jerry, Daffy Duck and Bug Bunny. For the younger kids these days, this might be more attractive but for the older generation (read: me), it might a little hard to relate to these cartoon characters.

Cartoon Network at IMG Worlds of Adventure

Nevertheless, this zone features on more relaxed and lazy rides such as The Ride of OOO with Finn & Jake, a slow-moving cart that soars high above the Cartoon Network zone and takes you through various kingdoms. If you're looking for a little excitement, Mojo Jojo’s Robot Rampage is an unpredictable ride that looks like it would be a simple carousel until it starts spinning 180 degrees, not for the faint-hearted! 3D animation and virtual experience lovers should head to Ben 10 5D Hero Time while those looking for a competitive ride should try The Amazing Ride of Gumball, where they can shoot (rather, zap) with lasers the 'dangerous' objects.

If you're not with little kids, you might as well skip this zone altogether. Apart from Mojo Jojo’s Robot Rampage, none of the rides is worth spending your time on!

Powerpuff Girls Ride at IMG Worlds of Adventure

Click to read 10 day trips from Dubai worth taking.

Marvel Zone

Two exciting rides are available in this zone, which is also a favourite of superhero lovers. Some 360-degree immersive 3D experiences such as Avengers Battle of Ultron fail to impress (the effects just didn't live up to the state-of-the-art experiences that are available these days) and the story seemed never-ending. To make things worse, the ride stopped functioning due to a technical glitch in the middle and we were strapped in our seats for what seemed like eternity.

However, Spider-Man Doc Ock’s Revenge is an average thrill, in-the-dark roller coaster which lasts for a really short period of time but nevertheless, provides a few tingles as does Thor Thunder Spin, one of the few dizzying rides in the themepark that is bound to give you tickles in the tummy but only if you don't have motion sickness and a strong stomach!

Click to read 7 seriously cool places to hang out in Dubai.

Lost Valley

IMG Worlds of Adventure has two very cool rollercoasters - one that is a long, winding, twisting one and the only ride that is outdoor and the other smaller one, which has a drop that almost seems like a 90-degree angle! Both these roller coasters are in the Lost Valley.

The Velociraptor was undoubtedly my favourite ride in all of IMG Worlds of Adventure - I am a thrill lover and roller coasters make me weak in my knees. This one starts from indoors and then, with a whoosh, takes you outside and the next 2 minutes are bound to be full of screams, twists and turns, and a lot of tickles!

Predator was the second-best ride in IMG Worlds of Adventure. An indoor roller coaster, this one features a heart-stopping vertical drop, and although it lasts barely a minute with the drop being the only moment of exhilaration, it definitely was worth the wait.

The Lost Valley at IMG Worlds of Adventure

For the younger ones, The Adventure Fortress is a good place to spend some time being active - with rope bridges, tunnels, ladders, and slides.

Click to read 15 amazing things you can do for FREE in Dubai.

IMG Boulevard

With mostly restaurants and retail outlets, the only attraction in this area is the controversially popular The Haunted Hotel.

I had heard such great reviews about this ride - especially from people who said that they were so scared, they were literally peeing in their pants - that I was super excited to go there! Unlike most other rides, this one had a long queue but it seemed like it'd be totally worth the wait. A spooky walk-through experience that promises (but fails to deliver) a nerve-racking 15 minutes of terror, although the interiors were done really nicely (wrapped dead carcasses hanging from the ceiling, bloody objects and characters), there was not a single moment of spine-chilling, hair-raising spookiness in the entire walk-through! It couldn't even garner a scream from anyone.

Final Verdict

IMG Worlds of Adventure theme park might be one of the options if you're a Marvel or Cartoon Network, visiting Dubai with little kids or teenagers, during the hot summer months when you would rather be in an air-conditioned space than outdoors in the sweltering heat. Even for theme park enthusiasts, this place doesn't really cut it. They seem to have focussed on their Food & Beverage offerings more than the quality of the rides, maintaining the excitement through character meets & greets or even engaging experiences. The place looks tired and lacks the vibrancy one expects from an entertainment destination or amusement park.

Top picks for an adrenaline rush: Thor Thunder Spin, The Velociraptor, The Predator & Spider-Man Dock Ock's Revenge.

You can book your accommodation in Dubai here.

The post IMG Worlds of Adventure Theme Park Review appeared first on Hopping Feet.

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As many Irish people will tell you, 24 hours are not enough in Kilkenny. An incredibly charming medieval town in Ireland, Kilkenny boasts of a vibrant nightlife which is why it is not uncommon to see a lot of hen and stag parties happening here over the weekend. The street-scape is adorable, with the River Nore running through the middle and several medieval buildings such as castles and cathedrals flocking on either side. The magnificent 12th century Kilkenny castle lies in the centre of it and is bound to draw one's attention. If you're looking for what to do in Kilkenny in 24 hours, here's a quick guide on my favourite things in the city.

What to do in Kilkenny Kilkenny Castle

The entry to the gardens of the castle are free of charge, which includes the large walled parkland on one side and the terraced gardens, the Rose Garden and the fountain on the other. Unlike many other castles in Ireland which are largely ruins, or converted into fancy 5-star hotels, Kilkenny Castle has been fully remodeled and restored with the interiors reflecting the lifestyle of the Butler family that owned it for 600 years, before handing it over to the people of Kilkenny. Although the original castle was built way back in the 13th century, it was transformed, extended and reformed periodically to fulfill the fancies of the Butler Family until 20th century. It was then that the castle was restored to its earlier glory and a visit inside the staterooms cost only a mere €8.

Apart from the architecture of the castle, the setting of it is also quite mesmerizing, with views of the river and the city across from its gardens. Hilltop castles were quite popular in Europe, especially during the medieval ages, as they served as a great defense for the city and today, they make for dramatic backdrops to the beautiful cityscapes.

The mood for visiting the castle is set by the man playing traditional Irish music on the accordion right outside the entrance and the remarkable interiors, especially of the bedrooms decorated in 19th century splendour and the Butler Art Gallery, make for a great visit and insight into Irish history.

Read about What to do in Dublin in 48 hours.

What to do in Kilkenny St Canice's Cathedral

A walk from Kilkenny Castle to St Canice's Cathedral will lead you through narrow alleyways and medieval marvels. The Gothic dark grey building seems almost ominous to some one who watches a lot of horror movies, especially on a cloudy day. The cathedral dates back to the 13th century when the current structure built however, the story goes that there was a church on the site before the current cathedral was built, by St Canice in the 6th century.

Some of the most spectacular features of the cathedral are the rounded stained glass windows inside, black marble flooring, and the grave stones from the 17th century. The cathedral also has a tower which you can climb to the top of, to enjoy magnificent views of Kilkenny city. The tower is known to be the longest standing structure in Kilkenny today.

The Black Abbey

Not too far from St Canice's cathedral, I would recommend you to visit the Black Abbey only if you're into ancient architecture and history. As you walk from the cathedral to the Black Abbey, you will see a portion of the original city walls. The abbey is not as magnificent that many other monuments in Kilkenny but its history is quite intriguing. At the time it was built, Kilkenny was divided into two parts, one was Irish and the other English. The abbey was built outside the city walls to show its allegiance to neither, signifying independence.

The name Black Abbey does not come from the colour of the walls of the building but the fact that the Dominican Friars, the original occupants of the abbey, wore black cloaks. Due to continuous, long duration occupation, the church fell into ruins until the 19th century when it was restored and opened to the public.

Nore Valley Walk

If you're into incredible views and love to take pictures, this is one walk you must experience. Nore is the name of the river that flows through Kilkenny. Although the entire walking trail is of about 11 kms (from Kilkenny City to Bennettsbridge), you may choose to do only a part of it if you're not in great shape to do the entire stretch or lack time.

The riverside walks takes you through meadows, woods, ruined mills and Bennettsbridge village. You will also come across several cafes, restaurants and craft shops on the way. You will cross over several bridges which provide a fantastic photo op! On wet days, the trail can be a little hard so make sure you wear good shoes!

Read about Driving the Ring of Kerry in Ireland

Jerpoint Abbey (25 min drive)

What I loved about Ireland the most was that although some of the historical sites were restored and maintained as museums for tourists, there were several which were still left in ruins and even though it might interest people more to visit restored sites and museums, I personally love exploring ruins! One of the most majestic historical ruins I visited were of Jerpoint Abbey, a 25-min drive outside Kilkenny. Ancient carvings on the walls and the pillars dating back to the 12th and 15th centuries have barely aged and a small fee of  €5.00 gives you access to this tranquil site which still maintains the intricate architectural details, despite it's dilapidation.

In one of the maintained rooms, you can also see preserved exhibits from the archaeological site. You can climb the stairs to the first floor to get a bird's eye view of the monastic site and the surrounding green fields. Keep about 45 min for your visit here.

Kilkenny Town

I was here on a weekend and that gave me the chance to see a lot of wild hen and stag parties take place! An otherwise charming and colourful town, Kilkenny is known to be the hotbed of festivals throughout the year. Although there wasn't any when I visited, just the vibe of the town, with lots of pubs, live music, antique shops, medieval architecture, merry people, souvenir shops, and restaurants made for a great evening!

Of particular interest are a few of these: The Smithwicks Brewery for a unique beer brewing tour and tasting, Folkster vintage shop at Patrick Street, The Medieval Mile, a lane stretching from Kilkenny castle to St. Canice’s Cathedral and also home to Rothe House, a museum of sorts which was a merchant's home, displaying the lifestyle of medieval merchants, Kyteler’s Inn, one of the oldest inns in Kilkenny and a perfect place for some drinks, live music and craic, and Truffle Fairy Café for the best truffles in town!

Click here to book your accommodation in Kilkenny.

The post What to do in Kilkenny in 24 hours appeared first on Hopping Feet.

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Bucharest has often been referred to as the Paris of the East in the past and if you're visiting Romania, you're likely to start your trip at the capital city (Bucureşti in Romanian), which will give you 24 - 48 hours to explore. Although I loved Transylvania a lot more because of all the history, landscapes, charming little villages and old towns, if you're a big city person, you'll love Bucharest too. Read on for information on What to do in Bucharest in 48 hours.

We often choose vacation destinations which are very different from the city where we live. I live in a big city with skyscrapers, lots of glitz and glamour, hardly any greenery or nature, almost no wildlife (barring a few Arabian Oryx, falcons and camels) and a great nightlife. I'm not complaining but when I travel, I prefer going to a place that has mountains, lakes, greenery, small villages and towns and a lot of history. For me, Bucharest was only the starting point of my Romanian journey and so I chose to spend some time exploring the city, before getting out to literally greener pastures, the bucolic scenes and historical treasures.

I was lucky to know a few locals in Bucharest (an old friend who showed me around while I was there and a new friend I made on my flight to Bucharest) who apprised me of the turbulent history of the country and the impact of communism. An insight into the city's historical past helped me better understand their culture, the architecture and people's lifestyle. Bucharest is dotted with several examples of the traditional, simple life of the people vs the crass changes that came about after communism, the account of the locals and their experiences and the aftermath of repressive government, which was finally overthrown in the late 1980s.

Today, Bucharest is a burgeoning city, with remnants of its past which can be seen in majestic buildings, old churches and monasteries. Great nightlife, a vibrant cafe culture, museums, cobbled stone streets and extensively spread green parks in the middle of the city are some things you can expect to see in Bucharest in 48 hours.

What to do in Bucharest #1 Old Town (Centru Vechi)

Perhaps the most buzzing part of the city, Bucharest's Old Town is not really that old. It is, however, as lively as any other Old Town you would've been to in Europe, with several patio cafes, bars, lounges, boutiques and souvenir shops along the way. The pedestrian street is surrounded by impressive buildings with admirable architecture.

Bucharest Old Town

Bucharest Old Town

While here, do visit Caru Cu Bere, a popular restaurant with authentic Romanian cuisine, offering a massive seating space, both indoors & outdoors. The building itself is a gothic revival building with some of the most impressive interiors that will take you back in time. Do not forget to try the local dessert - Papanasi. 

Caru cu Bere

Recommended Budget Stay in Old Town Bucharest: 

Antique Hostel: Located bang in the middle of the Old Town, with easy access to the best bars, restaurants, cafes and the iconic monuments, museums and parks. You can also choose to stay in a private room.

#2 Walk along Calea Victoriei, from Dambovita river to Romanian Atheneum

This 1.5 km walk starts at the City Courthouse (near Piata Unirii), passing through some of the most iconic treasures of the city such as the National Museum of Romanian History, National Museum of Art, CEC Palace, Stavropoleos Monastery Church and Romanian Athenaeum. All these places are worth visiting, especially if you're into history, museums, art and architecture. CEC Palace is a landmark of architecture and history, a neoclassical masterpiece from the 19th century. The building is a bank so there really isn't much to see inside it but the majestic architecture, especially during the evening, stands tall and makes for a fantastic background for your pictures.

CEC Palace

City Courthouse on River Dambovita

Stavropoleos Monastery Church, located in the middle of the Old Town, a little off from Calea Victoriei, is one of the few monuments in the city which survived all calamities and stands in the middle of the reconstructed new old town. Made in the Brancovan architectural style, you will almost stumble upon this little piece while walking in the pedestrian streets, and even if you don't step inside the church or its courtyard, you will love the rich stone carved roof and painted walls of the church's exteriors.

Stavropoleos Monastery

As you walk along Calea Victoriei, you'll cross two of Bucharest's most famous museums - National Museum of Art and National Museum of Romanian History. Due to the shortage of time (and my lack of interest in museums), I skipped them but you may choose to spend a couple of hours learning in detail about Romania's intriguing and tumultuous history or the growth of art in the region.

At the end of the road, you will reach the Romanian Atheneum. Built in the late 19th century, it is now used only for concerts and I couldn't get a chance to peek inside but even a photo of the building from the outside was totally worth it. There was wedding shooting taking place at the same time in the grounds and several other people sunbathing in the vicinity. From what I've heard, the interiors are equally majestic and display art pieces portraying Romania's history.

Romanian Atheneum

#3 Palace of the Parliament

An extremely controversial yet magnificent building in the city is of the Palace of the Parliament (or Casa Poporului). If you wish to see the building from the inside, a guided tour must be pre-booked. The building is so massive in its size that it is still half unused and inaccessible to anyone. An extravagant project that was taken on by the last Communist Leader and Dictator, Nicolae Ceauşescu’s, it received a lot of flack from the locals who felt their funds could have been better utilised. His dream, however, was to create the largest palace in the world and to achieve this, several historical and religious structures were demolished, including churches, monasteries and temples. After Nicolae Ceausescu was forced to flee in 1989, the incomplete palace was taken over to house the Parliament, which is what it is now used for.

Palace of the Parliament

Although I did not take a tour inside the building, it seems the palace has some really classy interiors with chandeliers, marble staircases, wooden balconies and masterpieces that were representative of the crassness of Nicolae's narcissistic dream. The building also houses the Museum of Modern Art, in case that might interest you!

#4 Cotroceni Palace

A bit far off from the buzzing part of the city, Cotroceni Palace is the Presidential Administration's Head office and the President's residence. Unlike most other monuments in the city, this Baroque-style masterpiece can only be viewed if you're taking a pre-booked guided tour. Hidden by high walls that surround the palace, it is nearly impossible to access any part of the building unless you've bought a ticket at least 24 hours in advance and are carrying your passport/identity on you. A beautifully manicured garden and spacious, artistically designed interiors, an art collection of the royal family and a massive courtyard will greet you once you're inside the palace. Only a few rooms are open to the public.

Cotroceni Palace

#5 Arcul De Triumf

A commanding replica of the Arc de Triomphe, this is perhaps one of the biggest similarities between Bucharest and Paris. Although you can only admire it from the outside (you're not allowed to enter it or climb to the top), the resemblance is striking and surely makes for a great picture. It is located a bit further ahead of the Romanian Atheneum, so I wouldn't recommend you to walk unless you're in the mood to enjoy some warm sun and a long walk.

Arcul de Triumf

#6 Herăstrău Park or Cismigiu Park

You will find it hard to believe that such wide spaces with several walking paths, lakes, and flora and fauna are present right in the middle of a bustling city. While Herăstrău Park is right next to Arcul de Triumf, Cismigiu is closer to the Old Town. If you're looking to spend some time in immense tranquillity, or enjoy a romantic evening walk along a lake, both these parks are your best bets.

Herăstrău Park, spread across 187 hectares around Herastrau lake, also houses the unique open-air Dimitrie Gusti National Village Museum. Showcasing the traditional life of the peasants through the kind of houses they lived in, their day-to-day activities, their work-life and social life through artefacts, an artificial village has been created to take one through the rural lifestyle.

Another lush green park with its own lake and even a bridge, paddle boats, meandering paths, benches to relax on, several cafes and a historical restaurant, is the Cismigiu Park.

Herăstrău Park

Bars & Nightlife

One of my Romanian friends (a really nice guy I met on the flight) lives in Bucharest and he told me about the best bars and clubs to visit in the city. I couldn't make it to all (I hardly had 2 nights) but here's a list of places he suggested, which might be of use to you if you have longer:

  • Linea / Closer to the Moon: a rooftop, open-air bar with a good vibe, great music and lovely crowd. The best place to go in summer!

Linea / Closer to the Moon

  • 18 Lounge: A dining place located on the 18th floor of one of the tallest buildings in Bucharest, the lounge offers spectacular views of the city. There aren't too many bars or restaurants in Bucharest which can boast of that!
  • Eden Garden: With the setting of an urban beach bar, this is a great place to relax and chit chat during the day or even the night. You'll see a lot of local crowds here, enjoying a lazy day, cooling down over cocktails or beer, some even with families.
  • Dianei 4: Slightly similar concept the Budapest's 'ruin bar's, the atmosphere is almost like that of an old, mysterious yet cosy house. The open-air terrace is perhaps the most interesting part of this restaurant.
  • Control Club: If you're looking for a club with alternative music, this is your place. It stays open until wee hours of the morning and is LOUD! A favourite amongst the locals and tourists alike, it is located right in the city centre and one of the best ways to experience Bucharest's buzzing nightlife.
  • Expirat Club: A typical nightclub with either live music or DJ playing, the club also has a terrace which has some good street food for foodies like me! Yet another local favourite!

The post What to do in Bucharest in 48 hours appeared first on Hopping Feet.

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I fell in love with Coron through Instagram (that is not uncommon with me) when I saw a picture of Kayangan Lake. The crystal clear blue waters amidst the jagged limestone cliffs and gorgeous summer blue skies are still etched in my memory and I was glad to finally make it to the spot from where such stunning pictures floating on Instagram have been taken.

Coron is remote- it has won accolades for being the most beautiful island in the world yet it is not as touristy as most places with such intensely beautiful landscapes are. The beauty remains untouched while the tourists visit more accessible and easier-to-explore islands in The Philippines such as El Nido, Puerto Princessa, Cebu, Siargao and Boracay (yes, Boracay is set to reopen shortly after its rehabilitation). Most visitors are either nature and diving enthusiasts (the islands are famous for shipwreck diving sites) or the local tourists from other parts of the country.

It is not the most convenient island to get to, with limited flight & ferry connections and neither are most parts of the archipelago developed. You're likely to arrive at Busuanga Island, where the only airport in Coron is located and also where the ferry from El Nido will take you. Be prepared to experience some of the most amazing sights in the next few days. If you're wondering what to do in Coron, here's a detailed guide/itinerary for 3 days.

Read here about Everything you need to know before visiting Coron.

What to do in Coron Day 1: Explore Busuanga Island

Most ferries and flights arrive midday and since the boat tours and day trips depart early morning, you will have to spend this day exploring Busuanga Island itself. You can either choose to stay in one of the many hotels on this island or if you're looking for a completely secluded retreat, Balinsasayaw Resort is a budget property located on an island off Busuanga, that can be reached in 10 min by boat from Coron Town.

However, I preferred to stay on the main island (in the town centre) itself so as to have easy access to several restaurants and boat tours. The most stunning lakes and beaches are, unfortunately, not on the main island itself. However, if you're looking to sunbathe and relax on a white sandy beach, head to Cabo Beach or Banol Beach. There aren't any bars or restaurants on these beaches so make sure to carry a picnic. There is, however, a small store with snacks and coconut water. You could rent a tricycle (be prepared for a bumpy ride) to get to these beaches and it is advisable to ask them to wait for you because you may not get another one to take you back. You do have wooden beach shacks to provide shade in case it gets too sunny. There is a small fee to enter the beach and there are no sunbeds or umbrellas, so carry a hat and sunblock if you wish to swim or sit on the sand.

In the afternoon, you can head to Maquinit Hot Springs to take a dip in the saltwater hot springs heated by a volcano. Beware, the water is blistering hot (at 40 degrees C) so if hot water is not your thing, you might want to skip it altogether or visit later at night (it is open until 8 pm), when it gets cool outside. Although it is one of the top things to do in Busuanga, I was not really impressed and might as well have skipped it altogether. However, I did see a lot of people relaxing and enjoying a dip in the pool.

Maquinit Hot Springs, Coron

In the evening, you might want to consider hiking 721 steps to the top of Mt Tapayas to enjoy some amazing sunset views. It is not really a mountain, considering the height is only 210 meters, however, it looms over Coron Town as it is the only hill in the area, surrounded by a flat terrain, making it very distinct in its presence. The steps, although a lot, are relatively easier to clumb, with several benches along the way for you to relax. If you're not in a great shape, give yourself at least an hour to do this arduous climb but once you get to the viewing platform, whether it is during sunset or any other time of the day, the views of the town, the coast, the far-off islands and the colourful boats crowding the sea are absolutely worth it.

At night, I highly recommend you to go for the Firefly and Plankton Tour, one of the most unique and stunning experiences you will find in Coron. Departing shortly after sunset, a boat will first take you to an overwater restaurant for an early dinner. You sit on a wooden platform in the middle of the ocean, enjoying some really fresh and delicious Filipino food, watching the darkness fall around you. After about an hour, you will embark on a boat to the middle of the mangrove forests.

Firefly and Plankton Tour, Coron

You will see the glittering fireflies in the trees, amidst complete silence as the boatman and guide explain the phenomenon behind their glow. In pitch darkness and tranquillity, these beautiful creatures will light up the trees. What I, however, found more intriguing, were the bioluminescent plankton in the water. Each one on the boat was handed a wooden log to disturb the calm waters and watch the plankton light up into thousands of green and blue twinkling lights. The experience was truly magical!

What to do in Coron Day 2 - Ultimate Island Hopping Tour (to Kayangan Lake)

Unlike El Nido, the island hopping tours offered in Coron can differ from one operator to another in terms of its inclusions. Alternatively, you can do a private tour and choose the islands you wish to visit.

I carefully compared the group tours being offered by various operators and selected one that included a visit to both Kayangan and Barracuda Lakes. To read more about this tour, here's my post on How to choose your Island Hopping Tour in Coron (part 1).

Kayangan Lake has been declared as the lake with the clearest waters in Asia. Not only is the lake an absolute beauty, but the walk to the lake also offers some of the best views you'll ever see. The tour takes you to several white sandy beaches, lakes and snorkelling sites, one of which is a coral garden and another which has a shipwreck. All in all, this tour is a must in Coron.

View from the top of Kayangan Lake's viewing platform

This tour departs at about 8.30 am from Coron Town and returns at about 6 pm.

What to do in Coron Day 3: Coron Island Escapade Tour

I had almost missed going on this tour because I had heard that the trip to the islands takes about 1.5 hours on a boat and I wasn't sure if I was up for that. However, I did board a boat at the last minute and I could not have been more thankful because this tour takes you to islands that will make you gasp in admiration. Virgin beaches with extremely eye-pleasing blue waters, fine white sand and immensely lovely landscapes are what you'll experience on this trip. True, the journey takes really long but the trip is worth it.

On this trip, you will visit three insanely incredible islands - Bulog Dos, Banana Island and Malcapuya. You can read more about this Island Hopping Tour in Coron (part 2).

Alternatively, if you have had enough of swimming, beaches, and water-related activities, you can choose to go for a wildlife safari to Calauit Safari Park. This tour usually departs before sunrise and takes you to a safari park where you can see animals from Africa such as giraffes and zebras and also some exotic, endangered animal species of Palawan.

The post What to do in Coron in 3 days appeared first on Hopping Feet.

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If you’re looking to enjoy a white Christmas, with lots of snow, a Christmas-y atmosphere, and amazing vibe, Austria is one of your best options. Having spent most of my Christmases in warm places like Dubai, Mumbai and Delhi (ok, not so warm but still), for once, I really wanted to experience a true Christmas and I chose to visit Austria, a country I’ve been wanting to explore for a long time. I was not disappointed! Austria’s Best Christmas Markets range from the huge ones with ice rinks in big cities like Vienna to the smaller cozy ones in towns like St Wolfgang. Brightly lit streets, live music and caroling, snow-covered wooden huts selling mouth-watering Schnitzels and Apple Strudels, and lots of Glühwein (hot wine) to keep you warm, make sure you wrap up nicely and make the most of the festive season in one of the liveliest and prettiest countries in Europe.

With most of the markets open from the last week of November until 23rd of December, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day itself are public holidays and most restaurants, shops, monuments and tourist sites are closed. Days are short, with the sun rising at almost 8 am and setting as early as 4 pm. So, if you intend to make the most of your visit, keep the day for exploring the cities, the beautiful castles, churches and historical sites while the evenings can be spent at experiencing the Christmas spirit at the markets, which remain open until 9 or 10 pm.

Here’s my selection of Austria’s Best Christmas Markets to visit:

Vienna:

#1 Rathausplatz: Vienna has the most spectacular markets set in the backdrop of beautiful monuments with ancient architecture. The largest and the most popular one to visit is the one in Rathausplatz, in front of the city hall. It is incredibly huge, has an ice rink, a special dedicated area of children where they can learn to make candles and cookies, beautifully decorated streets, and the gorgeous neo-Gothic style City Hall, beautifully lit up at night, in its backdrop.  Some of the most creative articles can be found in this market – from candles shaped like animals, to candles with small liquor bottles inside, liqueur chocolates and cookies, decorations and gifts.

Rathausplatz

#2: Belvedere Palace: This is personally one of the most picture-friendly Christmas Market, especially at night, because of the lovely little pond with floating stars and the green roof palace in the backdrop. The market itself is not very big and spans only the width of the palace itself, and is in the front of it rather than in the gardens at the back. However, you can club it with a visit to the palace itself and spend a good 1.5 hours exploring this area.

#3: Schönbrunn Palace: The Christmas Market right in front of the palace is another popular one to visit. I love the fountains right after the entrance and the little souvenir shop. The palace deserves a visit as do the large gardens at the back of it. The market itself, although nothing special or unique, offers a large variety of foods and different flavors of Gluhwein and punch.

#4: Maria-Theresien Platz: This market is right in front of the famous Museums Quartier is best located in one of the most popular areas of Vienna. It’s a fairly small one, with no more than 12-15 stalls, selling mostly candles, decoration, limited variety of food and of course, hot wine.

Maria-Theresien-Platz

#5: St Stephen’s Cathedral: This is one of my favorite areas in Vienna because of the lively atmosphere here. The streets are beautifully decorated with large lamps, hanging lights and many Christmas trees. There are also several shops including large souvenirs stores. The small and cozy Christmas market is right in front of the cathedral, set against the lovely backdrop of its awe-inspiring Gothic architecture. The horse-drawn sleighs add a special charm to this place, taking you way back in time.

#6: Judenplatz: Yet another market set in the backdrop of a famous monument, this one a memorial for the victims of the Holocaust, I loved the creative tree decorations being sold here. The lovely fairy lights that flow from a pole in the center of the market to the corners, making for a brilliant scene and a very charming place to try the festive treats such as apple strudel, bread dumplings, Maroni (roasted chestnuts) and potato wedges.

#7: Prater: Prater is not as famous for its Christmas market as it is for the rides and experiences it offers, most of which are closed during the winter. This amusement park is a family-friendly place where you’ll see a lot of children, unlike most other Advent markets. And even though some amazing rides are closed during winter, some are still operational, and you can take a ride on the giant wheel, and enjoy the view of the city from a vantage point. The place brightens up with atmospheric lighting at night and sounds of Christmas carols playing lightly in the background sets a very romantic mood.

#8: Hofburg Imperial Palace: This is not one of the most popular Christmas Markets in Vienna however, it is a cute little white-stalled market, right in front of Hofburg Imperial Palace in Vienna's city center. There are only a handful of stalls selling Austrian candies and ornaments but a quick stroll here before visiting the Palace could be a great idea.

Click here to read about What to do in Vienna in Winter.

Salzburg:

Although I loved the Advent Markets in Vienna, Salzburg is a cute, romantic town, in the middle of the Austrian Alps with cobbled stone streets, narrow lanes and cozy cafes in the backdrop of snow-covered peaks which makes the markets here a lot more magical and romantic. Also, you’re most like to be able to enjoy a snowy white Christmas here, with snow-laden wooden roofs of the stalls selling hot wine and delicious festive foods. In my opinion, Austria's Best Christmas Markets are those of Salzburg!

#1 Salzburg Residenz Platz: This is one of the two main (and biggest) Christmas Market in Salzburg and is located right in the historical city center. It is also one of the oldest Christmas Markets in Austria. Here, you can find more traditional Christmas tree decorations and stalls selling lots of 'Mozart Chocolates' and 'Mozart Liqueurs'. I picked up a bunch from here and they were really good. This along with the market next door at Domplatz form the 'Salzburger Christkindlmarkt'.

#2: Salzburg Cathedral: Right next to the Residenz-Platz market is yet another Advent market which is almost an extension of it. Also known as 'Domplatz', the setting of this one is even more romantic and traditional, with the lovely cathedral in its backdrop on one side and the Hohensalzburg fortress perched on the hill on the other. You can hear musicians spin lovely tunes while sipping on hot wine and taking a bite of gingerbread in one of Austria's best Christmas markets.

#3: Mirabell Palace: Located right in front of Mirabell Palace, this Christmas Market is much smaller than the other two. A narrow lane, crowded with the tourists and locals, who find this market very special, a quick walk through stalls selling traditional Maroni, punch and little trinkets for the Christmas Tree is a must!

#4: Hellbrun Palace: Although Hellbrun Palace is not really in Salzburg, it is only 20 min away from the city center and forms a really romantic setting for one of the most charming Advent Markets in Austria. With the magnificent palace in its backdrop and ambient lighting creates a very fairy-tale like the atmosphere and the wintery trick fountains only add to the magic! The highlight? Watch the windows of the palace turned into a massive calendar!

#5: St WolfgangAnother Christmas Market that is not exactly in Salzburg but only a day-trip away is that of St Wolfgang. An adorable little town located on the banks of Wolfgangsee, St Wolfgang's Advent Market extends all the way from the center of the town to the banks of the lake where every night, the massive Christmas Tree is lit up along with floating lanterns and brightly lit stars on the lake. Swedish fireplaces along the market provide relief from the biting cold, along with Gluhwein and traditional Austrian delicacies. St Wolfgang makes you feel like you've traveled back in time!

Click here to read about What to do in Salzburg in Winter.

Innsbruck:

The best thing about the Advent Markets in Innsbruck is that they're all within walking distance from one another. Located in 3 key areas to visit in this cute Alpine town, Innsbruck's markets are definitely some of Austria's best Christmas Markets. Piping hot Kiachln (donuts), Gluhwein or hot punch and the aroma of Wienerschnitzel add to the experience of walking around in a town that is surrounded by the snow-laden Alps. Not only is Innsbruck breathtakingly beautiful, the blend of modern with traditional is bound to make you fall in love with the town.

#1: Marktplatz: Without a doubt, the Christmas Market here is not only the best in town but also one of Austria's best Christmas Markets. The showstopper is the massive Swarovski tree with thousands of crystals that light up brilliantly at night and can be seen from quite a distance. This Christkindl Market is right next to the river and has a selection of some really nice souvenirs and Christmas gifts.

#2: Old Town: There is a Christmas Market located right in front of the most famous historical icon of Innsbruck - the Golden Roof. This is the oldest and the largest Christmas Market in Innsbruck and a lot more traditional than the one in Marktplatz, yet equally enchanting and intriguing. The historical setting of the place adds to the charm of the market along with stalls selling handicrafts, winter clothes, and Austrian winter foods.

#3: Maria-Theresien-Platz: Located in the more modern part of..

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