Rome is the biggest city in Italy, and a postcard-perfect view is hidden around every cobblestoned street corner. With so much to do the city can feel overwhelming, but we’re here to help you out and tell you everything you need to know about the best area to stay in Rome.
Rome is a city that you’ll never get enough of. Everywhere you look you’ll find marbled figures standing still, breath-taking architecture and pieces of history ranging from B.C. to modern. Backpackers love it because it’s one of the biggest open-air museums in the world – all you need to do is walk around to take in the beauty of the Eternal City. And let’s not forget about the food. I mean, real Italian food, everywhere. Walk around with a gelato in hand before stopping for a slice of pizza (it’s gotta be square!) or a supplì (a fried ball of risotto) as a midday snack. Rome is the perfect destination for every backpacker with hungry eyes… and a hungry stomach!
The rich history of Rome can be seen in its patchwork structure, where every neighbourhood merges seamlessly into the other. Officially, the historic centre is divided into twenty-two districts – an upgrade from the original four Roman regions! Monti is where you’ll find the Coliseum and the Roman ruins whispering the tales of brave men and ancient glory. San Giovanni is a land of parks, aqueducts and chill cafés. Trastevere literally means “across the Tiber” and offers the hip vibe you would expect from a south-of-the-river neighbourhood. Its chic jazz bars, amazing food and ivy-covered yellow houses mean you’ll find the perfect balance between history and fun. For a crazy night out with a youthful feeling, head over to the university neighbourhood of San Lorenzo, where new ideas and revolutions are born between glasses of wine, and prices are student-friendly. Finally, don’t forget that there’s a whole other country inside Rome’s walls: the Vatican. Don’t miss out on the Saint Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel, where you can take a walk with angels and demons.
The best way to get around Rome is by metro. The two lines (A and B) link all the biggest attractions, so you won’t have to wear through the soles of your new Italian leather shoes. A one-way trip is €1.50, or you can save money by getting a daily or monthly ticket. These tickets will allow you to use any form of public transport, though trams tend to be more reliable than buses in Rome. Choosing to go by foot will ensure you don’t miss out on any of the awesome sightseeing. You may end up bumping into some incredible and unexpected monument or a nice café, and it’s a great way to burn off all the pasta you’ll be gobbling down. To get to Rome from the airport, you can simply hop on the train. Stay away from taxis though: they tend to be very expensive! If you’re thinking of relying on Ubers you should know that only Uber Black is available, so that can be on the pricier side too.
Still confused as to what’s the best area to stay in Rome for you? Don’t worry, our Rome neighbourhood guide is complete with everything you need to know – from where to stay, to what to do to and, most importantly, where to eat!
1. Trastevere – the best area in Rome for the hipster wanderers
Trastevere is the area right across the Tiber from the historic centre. It’s one of the most interesting and beautiful places in Rome, where old meets new in the most colourful way. It holds on to its medieval lineage with its narrow streets and bright walls, but it’s also the centre of Roman nightlife and an art hub for young creatives.
Trastevere is a magical place where you’ll find locals drinking espresso or putting clothes on the line, right on top of a newly opened modern art gallery.
If you’ve seen the Oscar-winning film The Great Beauty, you might know that the top of the Gianicolo hill is where the intro scene was shot, and is one of the most impressive lookout points in Rome. Across the park you’ll find Villa Farnesina, a Roman villa filled with frescoes by Raffaello and other incredible artists.
You’ll notice that Roman street art is different from what you’re used to, and that’s because it’s created largely from stickers. Trastevere is the best place to spot this fun, creative phenomenon, and you’ll be able to catch an interesting expression of sticker art around every corner of this ivy-covered neighbourhood. Some artists like to incorporate paint and stencilling too, others glue poems and stories to the walls.
Did you know that there’s an island in the middle of the Tiber? The Tiberian island is shaped like a ship and has a rich history. Nowadays, other than being home to some of the best restaurants in Rome, it also has two hospitals and a beautiful baroque church! Stroll by the Tiber on a warm summer evening to understand the meaning of the words ‘Dolce Vita’.
Are you the thrifty type? Porta Portese is the most famous flea market in Rome and you’ll find it in Trastevere. It goes on every Sunday from 6am to 2pm and it’s the perfect place to snag some interesting finds; from accessories to vintage clothing and antique furniture. Just make sure you know where your wallet is, as this market is known for pickpocketers!
Trastevere is Rome’s trendiest neighbourhood, which you’ll notice just by walking around. It’s filled with extravagant boutiques like Romastore 63, which specialises in high-end perfumes, Harvey Shoes selling hand-painted Chuck Taylors, or Polvere di Tempo, a store all about hourglasses and old maps. At night, this part of Rome lights up, with everything from chic cocktail lounges to hipster bars. Piazza Trilussa is the place to be for a fun night out and you’ll love mingling with the Romans as they sip their drinks, enjoy the weather and break hearts (not yours we hope!)
Places to eat in Trastevere
Trastevere is full of cute cafés and fancy bars to spend your days at. San Callisto square is the perfect spot to start your mornings with a cappuccino and a cornetto (Italian croissant). The San Calisto Bar is more than fifty years old and it’s a real institution in the city. Come back after 8pm for a beer and experience a piece of Italian nightlife history.
Around San Callisto square you’ll find a bunch of tiny restaurants, each with its own concept. They’re not much bigger than a room, so it may be hard to find a spot, but it’s definitely worth it! Eggs specialises in egg-based food, including the pasta alla carbonara, one of Rome’s most famous dishes. Pico’s Taqueria is your best bet if you’re craving Mexican – hit them up on Taco Tuesday for a beer and three tacos for only €8!
If you’re after something a bit more authentic, head over to the Tiberian Island. There you’ll find Rome’s most famous restaurant Sora Lella. This place is as much a part of Rome’s history as the Coliseum, which is why you’ll always find it busy (book in advance!) It can be pretty pricey, but it’s worth it just for its famous cacio e pepe: they say the secret ingredient is fresh Roman mint leaves! For dessert, just walk outside the restaurant and grab some gelato. What’s more Italian than delicious handmade gelato from a little wooden window over the Tiber? Our favourite flavour is basil, but they change seasonally so get ready to improvise!
Finally, end your night at Piazza Trilussa, the social centre of Rome. Hipster in Rome means industrial, handmade and a bit rough. You’ll find all of that at Meccanismo Bistrot, a great place to stop for a nice aperitivo (basically drinks before dinner), or Freni e Frizioni, famous for its film star inspired cocktails. All you classy people out there, don’t skip Alcazar Live, an ex-cinema turned into a jazz bar and concert space with free complimentary popcorn.
Best hostels in Trastevere
After walking around all day between Roman villas and art galleries, filling up your stomach with delicious Italian food and burning it off bar-hopping all night, you’ll need a good place to rest your head so you can be ready to do it all again tomorrow.
Hostel One Trastevere has all the hipster vibes you may expect from a hostel in this part of Rome, with a secret garden and lines of Edison bulbs. It offers free dinners every night, so you can save money for another glass of wine and even meet someone to have it with! As if you needed more convincing, there’s also a pool, and yeah, it’s heated during the winter months.
Hostel One Trastevere
2. Monti – the best area in Rome for sightseeing
Monti is where most of the attractions in Rome are found, yet it’s managed to hold on to its local soul without becoming a tourist trap. Travellers love it for its incredible sightseeing (it’s where the Coliseum is!), locals love it for its hipster bars and vintage stores, and backpackers love it because they want both!
Monti is home to the most iconic Roman monument: The Coliseum! This incredible amphitheatre was built in 72 B.C. and used to host gladiators fighting lions, and was even filled with water to host ship battles in the centre of Rome! You basically haven’t been to Rome until you’ve seen this, so put it at the top of your itinerary.
Right in front of the Coliseum you’ll find another testimony to Rome’s great history: The Imperial Forums. This archaeological site is made of layers of ruins of buildings that used to serve as the political and social centre of the city. You can catch a glimpse of what Rome used to look like between temples, arches, and columns and walk around a piece of history. From the Forum you can reach the Palatinum, one of the seven hills Rome was built on, and one of the biggest open-air museums in Rome. The best part? It’s completely free!
Legend has it that Rome was founded right there by the two twins Romulus and Remus, and that’s just one of the stories that surround this myhtical place. At the base of the hill there was a cave that was home to an order of priests called ‘Luperci’, who used to wear sheepskin and called themselves wolfmen. The Palatinum was the place to be if you were a big name in the Roman Empire, and it’s where you can see the rest of the emperors’ mansions, called domus. If you ever wanted to trace the steps of Cicero, Augustus or Nero, you should head over here
Very close to the Roman Forum is the majestic Piazza Venezia, where the embassy of the Republic of Venice used to be. The grand Vittoriano will leave you breathless, a monument dedicated to Vittorio Emanuele II, Italy’s first king. In this marble triumph you’ll find a bunch of museums and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Despite its beauty, this monument has a dark history as Mussolini used it a lot in his fascist propaganda and it was often used as a stage for the dictator’s speeches.
When winding your way through the many delights of South East Asia, don’t do yourself dirty and give Laos the swerve. This beautiful country is more than worth your time. While it may not be such a backpacker staple as big-hitters like its neighbours Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, really that works in Laos’ favour. Laos is a peaceful country, home to 6.9 million people, with a fascinating history, delicious food, ancient traditions and more riverside paradises than you can shake a travel guide at. Laos may be small and landlocked but it is truly stunning from every angle. Its lush countryside of winding rivers, waterfalls, lagoons, imposing limestone mountains, karsts and caves is something special. This is one of the rare few places in South East Asia where you can actually feel as though you’ve escaped the typical tourist trail. There may be no Full Moon Party, but you won’t miss that chaos when you’re soaking up the tranquillity of the Laotian landscape. Mark our words: your days or weeks spent lounging in a hammock as the Nam Song or Mekong River wind past your door will be some of the most memorable of your time in South East Asia.
Keep reading to discover everything you need to know about backpacking Laos!
Laos weather is at its very best between October and April, when it’s dry, warm and positively lovely day in, day out. Temperatures in Laos at this time do vary depending on the region (whether you’re at sea level or up in the mountains), but generally hover pleasantly between 20-27°C. The hottest months fall between April and May, when temperatures shoot up to an average of 30-34°C. If you’re visiting the Laos highlands (northern, eastern and central regions) the ‘green season’ falls between May and October. During this time you will experience brief, heavy showers, but they won’t affect your enjoyment. In fact, they provide welcome respite from the heat. The green season is so-named because it’s at this time of year that the countryside bursts into life, fuelled by the rains – flowers bloom, waterfalls flow and all the wildlife comes out to play.
Lowland Laos (the south) is at its best between November and January. Daytime temperatures are pleasant and the countryside is lush after the rains but evenings tend to be a touch chilly. Make sure you pack some layers. River travel is also best between November and January, just after the rainy season, as water levels are nice and high and fast-flowing, which means boats reach their destinations faster. If you’re visiting this neck of the woods between February and April, prepare for seriously steamy temperatures.
The monsoon and typhoon seasons both fall between May and November in Laos. During this time, plan for tropical downpours most afternoons. While it’s not impossible to enjoy the country at this time of year, torrential rain can seriously scupper travel plans, especially if you plan to travel between destinations by bus. The road network in Laos has improved vastly over the last decade, but many roads remain unpaved, particularly in rural areas. This is fine when the ground is hot and hard, but torrential rain can make your route akin to Glastonbury on a very bad year. This makes getting from A to B a massive struggle that can take hours longer than usual. Laos is home to almost 40 rivers, many of which are partial to flooding following heavy rain. Mountainous areas are also vulnerable to landslides at this wet time of year. However, it’s not all bad news, everything is cheaper during the rainy season, and the storms can really bring out the sights and smells of the Laos countryside; especially around Luang Prabang, the mountains surrounding Vang Vieng and in the National Protected Areas, of which there are 20! These protected areas make up a wonderful 14% of the country – we urge you to visit as many as possible. Should you go tubing at this time of year, be aware that the rainfall can really speed up the flow of the Nam Song River in Vang Vieng. This means much more care must be taken when tubing down river, especially after the obligatory beers you will likely be drinking en route.
You can obtain a Laos visa on arrival for 1,500 Thai Baht, or around US$35 (£27). Your passport must have at least two blank pages in it, and be valid for a minimum of six months after the date that you arrive. You require two passport photos along with the fee for your visa, so remember to bring them with you or have them taken at home or in a larger town or city in your stop before the border. There are no means of taking passport photographs at the borders. Make sure your passport is stamped upon entry. Without this stamp, you can be fined or arrested by Laos authorities.
If you’d prefer to secure your visa before you arrive in the country, you can get one from the Lao Embassy in London, or from the Lao Embassy in Bangkok or Hanoi. Whatever you do, don’t overstay your visa. It’s a serious offence in Laos, and you’ll either be fined or detained, and no one wants that. Fortunately, extending your visa is easy as pie. You can extend it twice, up to a total of 90 days. To secure an extension, visit the immigration office in the Ministry of Public Security Building in Vientiane. You will have to fill out a form (44p), pay an admin fee (£2.20) and shell out a further £1.80 for every additional day you wish to add to your stay. It’s standard practice to leave your passport at the office, and return the following day to collect it. Do be aware that Laos visa requirements change relatively regularly. To be on the safe side, always double check things before you visit by contacting the Lao Embassy for the most up-to-date information.
Travelling around LaosTravelling into Laos from Thailand…
One of the most popular ways to enter is by travelling from Chiang Mai to Laos. You can fly direct from Chiang Mai in Thailand to Luang Prabang for around £70, but if you’re headed to Vientiane, the cheapest and easiest way is by bus. Most buses leave Chiang Mai at 7pm and arrive to the border (located just half an hour from Vientiane) at 6am. The journey takes between 14-18 hours and costs £24. You can book your bus ticket at your hostel or at the bus station. Generally, booking travel at your hostel can cost a little more than booking directly at the bus station…but, let’s be honest, it is far less hassle!
Another popular and memorable way to enter Laos from Thailand is via slow boat or speed boat. The slow boat is cheaper and takes a leisurely two days. It’s a perfect way to see the countryside and to experience the sights and sounds of the Mekong River. Thailand lies on one side and Laos to the other. It’s a pretty special journey that you’ll never forget. Yes, the boat is basic, but it has a toilet and a social vibe thanks to its backpacking crowd. Remember to pack snacks – onboard you can only buy beer and instant noodles. One of the joys (?) of being aboard the slow boat is the unscheduled stops it takes en route. The crew might be dropping people off, or picking up deliveries of rice, food, or sometimes even the odd farm animal. On my slow boat to Laos, we had two noisy pigs on the roof for much of the way!
The slow boat stops for the night at Pak Beng. Depending on the ticket you’ve bought, your accommodation might be sorted, or you might have to fend for yourself. There are lots of guesthouses to choose from so you won’t have any trouble finding somewhere for the night. You usually arrive in the afternoon, which gives you a little time to explore. Walk up to Wat Kok Kok to stretch your legs and for some aerial views of the town and surrounding countryside. There’s a market to mosey around, which is perfect for stocking up on snacks for the next day. You can also get a really decent Indian curry in Pak Beng at Hashan or Khopchaideu. Hive is the town’s most banging bar, if the idea of being hungover on a boat doesn’t faze you…
The speed boat is a fun (but seriously noisy) option, and it takes just six hours to reach Luang Prabang. Book your journey in Chiang Mai and they will arrange your transport to Chiang Khong in northern Thailand where the boat sails from, your overnight accommodation in Pak Beng, and the boat for around £48.
If you plan on entering Laos from Bangkok, you can catch an overnight train to Nong Khai on the Thai border, then use buses or tuk-tuks to get you from the station to The Friendship Bridge which connects the two countries. Once you’re across the border into Laos, you’re only half an hour or so from Vientiane. If you are headed to southern Laos, the best entry point into the region is Ubon Ratchatani in Thailand, which you can get to easily via bus or train. From there, you can cross the border into Pakse in Laos’ Champasak Province, which places you perfectly for heading to the Si Phan Don Islands (Four Thousand Islands).
Those travelling from Cambodia to Laos will enter into the beautiful Si Phan Don area of southern Laos. Buses from Phnom Penh to Stung Treng take six hours and go daily. From Stung Treng it’s two hours to the Laos border at Dom Kralor. Once across the border you can catch a boat to Don Det, the most popular of the islands with backpackers. If you choose to enter Laos this way, we recommend having your visa in place in advance to avoid being charged or not being able to secure a visa upon arrival at the border. Plan wisely so you arrive between 8am and 5pm to ensure the border is open.
Travelling into Laos from Vietnam…
Those travelling from Vietnam to Laos usually opt to travel from Hanoi in the north to Luang Prabang, or to Vientiane if you plan on catching a plane. A one-way plane ticket will cost in the region of £50. The overland route between Hanoi and Luang Prabang can be tricky and a little slow, particularly in rainy season. Again, make sure you secure your Laos visa in Vietnam before you travel, as there is no guarantee you’ll be able to secure one at the border.
Those travelling overland between Laos and China will cross at the Boten border in the very north of Laos close to Luang Namtha. The border is straightforward. It is not possible to enter Laos via Myanmar (Burma) as the border is closed to foreigners.
Transport in Laos
Transport in Laos can be slow, so ditch that ‘must-rush-everywhere’ attitude and decide to just go with the flow. Bus travel in Laos typically involves double decker night buses, which come with bunks, air-conditioning, blankets and pillows, a toilet and bottles of water. Always pack snacks, an eye mask, earplugs and a plastic bag to pop your shoes in when you board. The huge benefit of catching an overnight bus is that it gets you from A to B and it saves you having to pay for accommodation. A typical overnight journey will cost around £14. During peak season, securing a ticket can get competitive. This is exacerbated by the fact some companies won’t let you book your ticket until the day before you wish to travel. Therefore, it’s wise to factor in a little wiggle room around your travel dates where possible. If you know where you’re heading next, chat to your hostel or guesthouse to establish the best time to get the ticket booked and then follow their instructions.
A faster way of getting around Laos is via mini-van, which is ideal if you’re travelling shorter distances, such as from Vientiane to Vang Vieng or Thakhek to Savannakhet. Mini-vans cost around a fiver and there’s no need to book in advance. Simply rock up at the bus station, locate a mini-van with your destination on it and hop aboard. Be warned, these buses fill up – to the rafters – so expect to get up close and personal with a fair few strangers. Your bags will be tied to the roof and covered with a tarpaulin. Keep your passport, cash and valuables on you, plus the cash for your ticket. You will usually be asked for your fare a little distance out of town, so keep your bus fare somewhere you can access it. Where possible, get the earliest mini-vans of the day (7-7:30am). They leave on time, avoid traffic and are far less full of punters. Plus, you’ll arrive in your destination in good time to enjoy the day. Your parents will be so proud!
The most cheap and cheerful bus option is a Jumbo or Songthaew. Essentially, these are pick-up trucks that have been converted into giant tuk tuks. Fares are cheap (£1-2) but you’ll be packed in and there are no regular departure times. They are an ideal option for getting around towns and cities and to attractions outside of town, as are the typical smaller tuk-tuks which are everywhere in popular towns like Pakse and Vientiane, and which you’ll be familiar with if you’ve visited Thailand, Cambodia or Vietnam. If you’re planning a day trip to a waterfall or cave, ask your driver to wait for you so that you won’t encounter any bother getting back at the end of the day. Typically, a journey around town or to the airport or bus station in a tuk tuk will cost £4. You can also catch local buses, which are much cheaper than the tourist equivalents, but times are less predictable and you should expect to stop multiple times en route, whenever someone wants a cigarette, a toilet stop, or to be let off in the middle of nowhere!
When travelling by bus in Laos be aware that the roads are seriously windy. This not only means that journeys can take longer than they might look on the map, but that they can cause motion sickness, whether it’s you or the person next to you! A plastic bag in your backpack is a sensible idea.
Laos currency is called Kip. It’s used for most everyday transactions, so always carry some in your pocket – small denominations where possible so that you can avoid problems getting the correct change. It is possible to pay for bigger items, accommodation and tours in US dollars or Thai Baht. As a general rule, if something costs more than $100, you will be charged in US dollars.
ATM’s are located all around the country, but if you are headed to an especially rural area, take out cash in the nearest town or city to ensure you aren’t caught short. A word of warning – the maximum amount that Laos ATM’s dispense is $250 (£190), and all of them charge a withdrawal fee. Minimise costs by getting a bank card that doesn’t charge you for withdrawals. Banks in Laos’ larger cities offer cash withdrawals from Mastercard or Visa debit or credit cards for a 3% transaction fee. You might be able to find more competitive rates if you have time to shop around.
Laos is very cheap compared to the western world, but is slightly pricier than its South-East Asian neighbours. If you’re on a shoestring, budget $50 (£38) per day. A bed in a hostel costs $5-10 (£3.80-£7) per night as standard, although cheaper rooms can be found. Local buses cost $2-3 (£1.50-£2.30) per kilometre and food costs in Laos are nice and cheap. Street food and meals in standard restaurants cost between $2-4 (£1.50-£3.10) and you can buy a 500ml bottle of Beerlao for $1 (75p).
Haggling is acceptable in Laos. As a general rule, go for half of the price the Laotian seller is offering. They set it higher because they expect you to haggle. Don’t be petty, if you find yourself haggling over the equivalent of 20p, you need to wind your neck in. You will help your chances of securing a good price by being polite, friendly, and speaking a little bit of the language. Khop chai (lai lai) means ‘thank you (so much)’, tao die means, ‘how much?’ and paeng lai means ‘too expensive’. Took means cheap and please is kaluna.
In the more remote corners of Laos, you are likely to have only a couple of guesthouse options available to you – which certainly makes choosing where to stay a much simpler process. Don’t expect the same flurry of accommodation touts you find at every bus or boat stop in Thailand or Vietnam. Usually you’ll be able to pay in Kip, Thai Baht or US dollars. For a basic double room in the countryside, prices start from around £2.50 per night.
In Laos’ most popular spots, like Vang Vieng, Luang Prabang or Pakse, there will be a wide range of options available to you. In general, hostels in Laos are clean, great value for money and have English-speaking members of staff who are handy sources of information about onward travel, attractions, the best food in town and where to find the party!
In Luang Prabang some great hostel options include Chill Riverside Backpackers Hostel, which has lovely garden river views and is located right by the foot of Mount Phousi – the town’s popular viewing point. Sunrise..
Shrouded by mystery and abundant in history, Jordan can seem an elusive backpacker destination. Encompassed by countries that have been vilified in the media it is easy to see why travellers may be discouraged from venturing here. With Syria to the north, Israel and Palestine to the west, Iraq to the east and Saudi Arabia in the south, this region has a history of instability. Yet, I urge you not to be deterred by what you may have heard. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my time in Jordan, it’s that fortune favours the curious and the determined. You’ll certainly be rewarded for visiting this corner of the globe.
Jordan offers treasures that every backpacker should unearth. The intrepid traveller should explore the awe-inspiring Wadi Rum desert with its otherworldly landscapes. Get transported into a hidden underwater world at the Aqaba reef. Leave feeling truly humbled by the immensity of Petra.
Spring (March to May) is strongly recommended as the best time to travel around Jordan. During these months, visitors will experience warm days and cool nights. April is suggested as the ideal time to visit as it is the start of the summer in Jordan, meaning it shouldn’t be uncomfortably hot like it can be in the peak season (June to August). April provides warm, long summer days with temperatures dropping later in the day for cool evenings across the country. Flights from the UK tend to be consistently reasonably priced around April, if booked in advance. But they do drop even lower in May, if you are looking for a real bargain. Another plus is that you’ll find fewer visitors in Jordan in April compared to June and July, resulting in less crowds to contend with at popular spots. If you decide to visit in May when the Islamic holiday Ramadan takes place you will find visitor numbers at a yearly low and cheaper accommodation.
If you are looking to dive the Red Sea near Aqaba, the ideal months are September to October. However, if you do visit outside of these months, don’t fret, you can enjoy great diving there all year-round.
Weather in Jordan
Jordan is a great destination to visit all year round. As you’ll expect for a country made up of 90% desert, it can get very hot during the day, yet surprisingly, temperatures can plummet at night. (NOTE: The hottest part of the day tends to be between 12 – 2pm.) Due to this climate drop, you can often find Jordanians eating dinner and socialising late at night when it is much more comfortable to be sat outside.
The summer months run from May to November with a peak in July/August where temperatures can reach 40c. The coldest consistent month is January where temperatures are around 8c on average. Although Jordan is relatively small it does tend to be warmer the further south you go. Therefore, if you are planning to travel between November and February, you may wish to spend more time around Aqaba and Petra (towards the more southerly parts of the country.) However, the temperatures in Amman and the north won’t be much colder. Umbrellas are rarely needed in Jordan, with rainfall being minimal, averaging just 12 days of rain a year.
Best time to visit Petra
Petra is a must see for most visitors. Tourism in Petra was at an all-time high in 2010 but has since experienced a slight drop. To make the most of this and avoid huge crowds, it would be beneficial to plan a trip sooner rather than later. The months with the lowest visitor entrances according to official Petra statistics are January, February, June and July. Peak visiting months are April, October and November.
The best time of day to visit this UNESCO protected site is early morning, before it gets too hot and the crowds arrive. Gates open at 6am and close again around 6pm. The early bird catches the worm, as they say, so it’s recommended to arrive before the gates open. You’ll be one of the first through, making a full day of your visit – there’s a lot of ground to cover! Thankfully, a lot of sites within Petra are spaced out, so crowding is rare, and you are unlikely to feel like a herded tourist. In fact, within this ancient city you are free to wander at your leisure and create your own path around the site. As Petra is towards the south of Jordan, it is hot all year round, but June-September will be sweltering! (High 30’s to 40c) I’d therefore recommend April and May as the best months to visit.
Before travelling to Jordan, I highly recommend purchasing a ‘Jordan Pass’ online from the official website. Not only does this waive your entrance visa fee to Jordan but you can also choose between a 1, 2 or 3 days entry option to Petra included in its price. You simply need to show this pass either printed out or on your phone, at immigration upon entry to Jordan, and also at entrances to heritage sites. (The Jordan Pass provides access to many other sites for FREE. Check out the full list on their site). I recommend the three-day option, as it doesn’t cost much more than the one/two-day options. Plus, those extra days may come in handy, as the most overlooked aspect of Petra is its sheer size. It is colossal! Admittedly, I did manage to see everything I wanted in a single day, but I imagine it would be quite a task if you aren’t much of a walker. Most explorers tend to call it a day and head back to the shelter of their hostel around Midday due to the heat, but the truly dedicated will bring a lunch and wait out the beating sun. I took a short nap in one of the many abandoned caves until the temperature dropped again and was pleasantly surprised to find that the site was relativity empty towards the end of the day. So, if you are not an early riser, then another option would be to go in the late afternoon when the crowds have thinned out a little. Just don’t expect to see too much in only a couple of hours. If you are not short on time and you prefer to take things at a slower pace, soaking up all the glories this 2000-year-old site has to offer, then I would recommend allowing yourself at least two days, if not three, to tackle Petra.
Best time to visit Amman
Amman doesn’t get as hot in the summer as some of the cities and towns further south, with average highs of 32c that are welcome in the confines of the city. As with the rest of Jordan, Amman’s cooler months are Dec-Feb and the peak temperatures in Jun-Aug. Expect to visit some Mosques and ruins that will require you to cover up, so going sightseeing early in the morning or late evening is a good idea to avoid becoming too hot in long clothing. You may wish to avoid visiting during the holiday of Ramadan (May) as many restaurants are closed during the day, as most Jordanians will be fasting.
Getting Around Jordan
Jordan has a great infrastructure (ranked 35th in the world in fact) and its main roads are well maintained due to a well-funded grant from the government. The people of Jordan will primarily use cars or the local bus system as the main cities and towns are well connected and extremely affordable.
The most common forms of transport for backpackers to travel would be by public bus, plane or car as there is no reliable train system within Jordan yet. The only railway dates back to the Ottoman period as it’s used primarily as transportation from Damascus in Syria to Mecca. There are plans in place to improve this service and make it more accessible for leisure travel but is currently lacking funding. If you are short on time or not big on roadtrips then you can jump on an affordable short flight from Amman to Aqaba.
Travelling by bus in Jordan
Do as the locals do in Jordan and take the bus. Just be sure to be flexible on your timings, as buses will generally only leave once they are full and never stick to a set timetable. Driving can be a little erratic and the buses are far from luxury, sometimes just figuring out where to actually get on and off a bus from is tricky but friendly locals will always point you in the right direction. I always asked the driver to let me know when it was my stop and I never had a problem getting to where I wanted to go. It takes around 4 hours to travel from Amman to Aqaba directly, which is likely the longest single route you would to take. There are only a few companies that cater specifically to tourists such as the JETT bus (Jordan Express Tourist Transport) but must be booked in advance; any hostel or hotel should be able to assist in this. Getting to more remote parts of the country will prove more difficult on the bus as not all towns are connected to the routes. Check where you want to go is reachable by bus before commencing any journey and figure out which is the closest town on a bus route. You should be able to take a taxi to any more remote locations.
Travelling by car in Jordan
Renting a car is by far my favourite option. The freedom is unrivalled! Everyone seems to know someone in Jordan who can rent you a car and they are usually pretty reliable. My advice would be to avoid the big international brands and go local. Most companies are happy to drop the car off to your hostel and pick it up again at the airport when you leave for no extra cost. You can’t beat that for service!
Fuel in Jordan is cheap, and they have attendants at most pumps who fill up the car for you. Driving in Jordan is an experience and should be done by a confident driver. Avoid driving at night if possible as animals, sandstorms and oncoming traffic with broken headlights can creep up out of nowhere. Police often do checks and there may be a few checkpoints along the way where you simply need to produce your license and open the boot. My top tip would be to obey speed limits as unmarked speed bumps will catch you off guard and you may end up hitting your head on the roof of the car when you fly over them. If police catch you speeding they may hit you with a fine of up to 20JD, so fast drivers beware. I would recommend taking the scenic route along the Dead Sea; it will take a little longer but is well worth it as the views are not too be missed. Perhaps, ask around your hostel to see if anyone is interested in renting a car together to save your carbon footprint and save on costs. Did someone say road trip? If you are planning on taking a car one way only and not dropping it off where you picked it up from, this is also possible for a fee.
Hitchhiking in Jordan
Hitchhiking is fairly common in Jordan, more so in remote areas that are very inaccessible by public transport. Along main highways such as the Kings Highway you may come across the odd Jordanian trying to get home or even a backpacker hitchhiking their way across Jordan. Some locals are accustomed to picking up travellers from time to time but it is an unreliable form of transport and precautions and safety measures should be put into effect wherever possible. If you do choose to pick up a hitchhiker it’s best to do so only if you are travelling with known friends already in the car.
Amman to Petra
Getting from Amman to Petra is pretty much a straight route down the Desert Highway, which is the main highway in Jordan. Head south from Amman and aim for Petra or Wadi Musa, which is the town that you’ll stay in if you visit Petra. Signs are written in English along the way. You can pick up a SIM card from hostels or the airport on arrival and use GPS on your phone for navigation if you are worried about getting lost. If you are driving, allow around 3.5 hours if you decide not to stop off along the way.
The Desert Highway is the busiest highway running from North to South in Jordan so multiple bus routes also operate along this way if you are planning on using public transport. Getting on a bus in Amman shouldn’t take long to fill up and you will be on your way in no time! Just remember it will stop frequently along the way to pick people up and drop them off. If you don’t mind shelling out a little more for your transport and prefer to travel a little more stress free then you may also find a taxi driver willing to take the trip from around 90-110JD, if you are lucky they may even pull over by the Dead Sea for you to take a quick soak!
There are day trips available to book that will allow you to get from Amman to Petra and back again in only a day. They are very long days of travel with an exhausting day of exploration in Petra. I wouldn’t recommend this unless completely necessary as it limits your time in Petra to a minimum and you won’t want to miss your bus back to Amman in the evening. If you don’t have the time to spend the night by Petra, then this trip can be booked from many places in Amman.
Jordan travel costs
The costs of travel in Jordan are very backpacker friendly. You can travel on a shoestring and see all the wonders it has to offer. You won’t find entry prices or excursions very pricy with the slight exception of an entry ticket to Petra (without a Jordan Pass), which at the time of writing is around £53.
What is the currency in Jordan?
Throughout Jordan the Jordanian Dinar is the recognised official currency. It has been in circulation since the 1950’s and is often most recognisable in shops as restaurants as JD or JOD.
At the time of writing 1JD is approximately 1.07 GBP / 1.41 USD. A dinar is composed of 100 Qirsh (or 1000 fils, but these aren’t as common anymore). For example, you may see process written as: 1.75JD, which is £1.85 GBP. Dinars are most often notes, available in denominations of 1,5, 10, 20 and 50.
You will find access to ATMs in most cities and towns across Jordan that will dispense Jordanian Dinar.
Prices of food in Jordan
I believe the best food is wherever the locals are eating. Searching out the best street food is often a lot of fun and can provide the tastiest of meals. Ask your hostel staff or anyone local to get the low down on the best places to eat in town.
In my experience, you should expect to pay around 3-4JD for a large quantity of food. A basic variety dish will include hummus (yum!), salads, falafel, hot chips and a drink. If you are looking at eating in a mid range restaurant prices for a main will start at around 10JD. Food prices are generally stated on menus but at much smaller restaurants some only offer one or two set dishes and may not even have a menu. If in doubt, ask.
Tipping in Jordan
It is not compulsory to tip anywhere in Jordan, although if you feel you have received good or above average service it’s kind to give a gratuity.
Servers: If you would like to give a tip to your server in a low cost, budget restaurant or street food marketplace a small tip of 5-10% is appreciated but not expected. For a high-class restaurant 10% is very common and may even be included in your bill, but you can opt not to include it if you so wish.
Tour Guides: If you have a guide anywhere around Jordan you may wish to tip around 10%.
Bag courier: or bellboy 1JD per bag is sufficient.
Petrol attendants: you can round up your petrol to the nearest Dinar as a tip.
Costs of accommodation in Jordan
Expect prices to start at around 10JD in cities for a hostel dorm, but it can be as low as 5JD. For an authentic Bedouin camping experience look towards spending 20JD. The quality of your accommodation is reflected in the price, when looking for somewhere to stay in Jordan. If comfort and style is your thing, look at the mid to upper price range of hostels available, as lower bracket listings can be fairly basic. Try to keep an eye out for hostels with an included traditional breakfast so you can enjoy a delicious spread of olives, yoghurt, pita bread and Fuul.
There is so much to choose from in Jordan. You could explore boutique hostels in Amman or Bedouin Camping in Wadi Rum. You are spoilt for choice. Wherever you decide to stay, I guarantee you will meet the most interesting people whether it is the staff checking you in or your new roomies. Jordan just seems to attract a different breed of backpacker.
Costs of transport / travelling
Renting a car: Expect to pay around 20JD a day for a half decent car or bit more if you want something newer. Check over your car straight away and ask what insurance it comes with. Bigger car rental companies like Hertz will charge closer to 45Jd a day.
Flying: Royal Jordanian Air have regular routes from around £59 from Amman to Aqaba.
Buses: Locals use these buses often and prices are kept low for tourists and locals alike. Many people will say expect to pay 1JD per hour travelled, which is accurate from my experience. It is hard to determine set route prices and often you will just find out once you are on the bus by asking the driver. Drivers are honest and I never heard of anyone getting scammed on a bus while I was there.
Where to stay in Jordan
Jordan offers a wide array of amazing and unique accommodation styles throughout the country, with a lot to offer a range of budgets. It is easy to find cheap yet comfy places to stay that won’t break the bank. Most hotels and hostels do exclude local taxes which are paid on arrival when checking in so be sure to factor this into your budget when booking online.
Jordan Tower Hostel is a sweet place to stay in the heart of Amman. A stone’s throw from the Roman Amphitheatre and surrounded by some to the cities most popular bars and restaurants, this is a perfect place for solo travellers to meet new friends to travel with.
Petra (Wadi Musa):
I loved staying at Valentine Inn during my visit to Petra. It’s located on a hillside in Wadi Musa and provides a perfect view over the city. Sit and watch the world go by while enjoying dinner. They offer two free shuttles to Petra in the morning, so you can choose which time you would like to visit, also with an option to prepare you a very reasonably priced lunch to take with you. They can also help to arrange any onward travel.
A stay at a traditional Bedouin camp in Wadi Rum is an absolute must in Jordan. There are many different camps located in different parts of the desert, but most offer a similar package. You can park your car at the visitor centre or get a bus there, where you will meet your local guide who will then drive you to your camp via 4×4. Expect basic commodities when in the desert. Most provide simple rooms or tents depending on your chosen camp.
No WIFI or phone signal is common (and refreshing!) but the conversation with fellow guests and stories from your hosts will make you forget about the outside world. On a clear night the sky will offer unobstructed views of the Milky Way, and more stars than I’ve ever seen before! Relax with tea or coffee, shisha and traditional home cooked foods. The activities in all camps are similar, with tours of the desert in 4x4s or camel hikes. Although a little pricy, I do recommend taking one of these tours. For a great camp, check out Arabian Nights.
Stay on the beach in Aqaba at Darna Village Beach Hostel. This hostel has a dive shop attached for those divers looking for direct access to the Red Sea. There’s a fresh water swimming pool to relax in, amazing snorkel sites close by and a wonderful restaurant that serves up fresh fish every night!
Jordan in 7 days
A week is a great amount of time to spend in Jordan and you will be able to cover the highlights of this country in this time without rushing, as it is relatively..
Sipping an iced coffee in a village square shaded by an olive tree. Hailing a donkey to take you to a beach with water as clear as gin and tonic. Playing backgammon over a plate of calamari in a seaside taverna…
Backpacking Greece means slowing down and reconnecting with a Europe many think has disappeared forever. A place where extended families linger over dinners cooked to recipes that have been handed down through generations, where you order a lemonade in a cafe and the owner will go out to their garden to pick the lemons. A place where the hippies who never quite made it home sit smoking ‘herbal cigarettes’ on forgotten coves and people believe they can read the future in coffee grinds.
Of course, there’s plenty of hedonism to be found too. Greece’s wine-growing history can be traced all the way back to 4500 BC and there’s no shortage of places to drink and dance until sunrise. From the glamorous night clubs of Mykonos to the pool parties of Kos and rooftop cocktail bars in Athens, Greece has something to suit every party-lover.
And anyone with even a passing interest in culture is going to be wowed. This is the country that literally gave birth to modern civilization and even the smallest of villages has some sort of visible link to the past, whether that be a crumbling temple or Venetian fort.
So what are you waiting for? Time to set out on your very own Greek odyssey. Get inspired and make the most of your trip with our complete guide to backpacking Greece.
The best time to visit Greece depends on what sort of holiday you’re after.
Looking to watch the sunset from a terrace in Santorini, chilled glass of assyrtiko (zesty local wine) in hand? Opt for the shoulder seasons of May and October, when the high season’s crowds have melted away and the prices in the glamorous mountain resort of Oia are a little more affordable.
If the idea of discovering secret bays on a sailing boat or partying barefoot in the sand until the sun comes up sounds appealing, Greece’s weather dazzles in summer, which typically lasts from June until September.
Weather in Athens
The weather in Athens can be scorching, so March, April, September and October are the most comfortable for sightseeing. During these months, hiking to the peak of the Acropolis to stand in the shadow of The Parthenon or stepping into the ring that hosted the very first Olympic games in 776 is much more manageable, particularly when followed by a fresh pomegranate juice at a pavement cafe.
Weather in Crete
Given that it is the southernmost island in Europe, it isn’t surprising that the weather in Crete is particularly balmy or that the island enjoys 2,790 hours of sunshine a year. Between March and October you may need a coat, but you’ll have its haunting mountain villages and vine-filled valleys all to yourself. Our favourite time of year is between Easter and early June, when the hiking trails wind between meadows of wildflowers.
Greece’s landscape varies from the snow-capped peak of Mount Olympus, where the Ancients believed the Gods ruled the universe, to steaming volcanoes and dense forests populated by brown bears hunting for honey among the pine trees. With thousands of islands scattered across two seas, you begin to build up a picture of why careful planning is key for travelling around Greece. However, don’t let that faze you. There are countless gems waiting to be discovered if you get your act together and plan carefully.
Best way to travel around mainland Greece
The best way to travel around Greece is to hire a car which will allow you to cover plenty of ground at your own pace. Drivers must be 21 or over and have held their license for more than 12 months, although those under the age of 25 may still have to pay a young driver’s surcharge. Reliable companies with lots of offices throughout the country include Hertz, Europcar and Budget. Remember to hire a GPS if you’re planning on heading into the countryside. One historic village and olive grove can look confusingly similar to another…
The best thing about exploring mainland Greece by car is that the tourist crowds tend to flock to the islands, leaving gems such as the beautiful beaches of northern Evia to no one but you and the locals. Sure, summer can get toasty, but in a country as hilly as Greece you really can explore the untouched beaches around Koroni in the morning and cool off in a shady mountain stream in the afternoon.
Greek island hopping
The Greek islands are like members of the same fabulous family. They all have their own personality, but there are certain characteristics most have in common: whitewashed villages built around historic squares, grass singed gold by hours of sunshine and enticing seas that are just crying out for you to take the plunge.
Follow in the footsteps of the Greek hero, Odysseus, who spent a decade exploring the islands on his way home from the Trojan war, by planning your own Greek island-hopping adventure. There are 6,000 to discover, of which 227 are permanently inhabited.
Feeling flush? Chartering a boat is a fantastic way to avoid crowds and discover gems such as Gavdos, an emerald tuft with long, lonely stretches of sand and only 50 residents. Plenty of companies offer intimate tours for no more than eight guests and they’re often more affordable than you think.
Travelling by ferry allows you to put together your own itinerary and is arguably a more authentic experience. As any seasoned island hopper will tell you, ferries tend to leave on time from the first port but are often delayed after that, so prepare to tuck into endless spinach pastries at portside cafes while watching fishermen mend their nets, and leave plenty of time for connections. If you need to be somewhere to catch a specific flight, it’s best to leave a day’s leeway. You’re on island time now baby…
There are three grades of boat. The most common and reliable are passenger ferries operated by companies such as Blue Star, which have outdoor seating and space for cars, while faster but choppier high speed catamarans are generally used for shorter journeys.
Most people fly into Athens International Airport and take the ferry from Piraeus, the main port. There is a ferry to pretty much every island from Athens 365 days of the year, although they may occasionally be cancelled due to bad weather. However, many routes between the islands only operate during the high season so it’s always a good idea to check on websites such as Ferry Hopper before you travel. For example, ferries between Mykonos and Santorini only run between March and October. If you’re visiting outside these dates, you’ll need to catch a ferry or fly to Athens before the next leg of your trip.
Arguably Greece’s most iconic island, you’ll probably recognise images of Santorini’s soaring cliffs and inky calderas from the postcards. Like Helen of Troy, images of Santorini have launched literally thousands of ships and put almost as many wedding proposals into motion too. The sight of the sun bathing the whitewashed fishing villages in rose-gold before sinking below the horizon has inspired countless would-be Orpheus’ to pop the question, and you’ll often hear spontaneous applause from onlookers as yet another Eurydice says ‘yes’.
There are always taxis waiting to meet each plane or ferry and Fira’s taxi rank can be found on Dekigala, just around the corner from the bus station. Nothing is more than a 40-minute drive so fares shouldn’t be higher than around €25 maximum.
Santorini is well served by buses, particularly during high season, and you can find information about times and routes on the KTEL Santorini website.
Adrenaline junkies can hire quad and motorbikes with a valid motorcycle license. Just remember to drive on the right-hand side of the road and use the free car parks in the villages. The roads in Fira are winding and narrow, while many of Oia’s cobbled lanes are for pedestrians only.
Travel costs in Greece
In the 60s and 70s, Greece was a major stop on the hippie trail from Europe to India and you’ll still find pockets of the original flower children in areas such as Livaldi beach on Icaria. Back when they arrived, it was possible to live on a few drachma a day, if you didn’t mind surviving off mostly bread and olive oil and possibly sharing your digs with the family’s donkey. However, when the euro became Greece’s official currency in 2002, travel costs in Greece became similar to many other European countries, although it still offers better value than destinations such as Italy or France.
Greece’s debt crisis in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crash has been well publicised and there’s no doubt that locals have felt the pinch. In fact, Greece has suffered the longest recession of any capitalist economy to date and unemployment is still at nearly 40% for people aged 25 and under. When you’re tucking into a cold Mythos beer at a taverna, get chatting to your waiter. Many are highly qualified in careers such as medicine, engineering or law but unable to find a job in their field.
In this climate, tourism is the backbone of the economy and locals need your support more than ever. So, exactly how much money do you need to take to Greece?
Greece’s currency is the euro and it’s denoted as EUR. Coin denominations are 1c, 2c, 5c, 10c, 50c, €1 and €2, while banknote values include 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500. At the time of writing, €10 is equal to around £8.55 or $11.29, but always check the latest exchange rates.
It’s always worth carrying plenty of cash with you in Greece, particularly when visiting remote villages on the smaller islands. While every island will have at least one ATM, they are often out of order. Stock up in the bigger towns when you can.
If you’re planning on visiting Greece during peak season, you’ll need to budget around €60 per day. This will cover sleeping in a hostel dorm, two meals out at local tavernas and getting around by public transport. Entrance to most sites tends to cost less than €15.
Ferry prices vary from €15 to €80 depending on the type of ferry and the distance you’re travelling. Deck tickets are the cheapest and remember that you’ll save money on accommodation if you’re doing an overnight trip. Just remember to pack your pillow and a blanket – it can get chilly under the air conditioning on a long journey. It’s also a good idea to bring your own food. Most ferries have sandwich bars selling cheese pies, snacks and spinach pastries, but it will be better value and there will be more choice at a local market.
Now, down to the slippery business of seafood. The most common complaint from visitors to Greece is that they didn’t realise how much their supper was going to set them back until after they’d scraped the plate clean because prices for fish aren’t generally marked on the menu. This is because they change depending on what the fishermen have caught that day.
When you order, you’ll be taken over to a glass counter filled with the likes of octopus, lakerda and red mullet to choose your perfect meal. This is the time to ask for the price per kilogram. If you’re looking to get your seafood fix without breaking the bank, opt for something at the lower end of the fishy food chain. Sardines, anchovy, mackerel and smelt all flourish in the clean, warm waters of the Aegean and Ionian seas.
From bedding down in a cave on Santorini like an extremely chic caveman to checking into an olive farm, there are no shortage of quirky hostels to choose from in Greece. Opt for a dorm room to ensure more of your holiday budget is going towards the important things in life like oussou, or splash out on a private room for two if you’re feeling romantic. Here’s our guide for where to stay in Greece.
Where to stay in Athens
Housed in a neoclassical building right next to the Roman Agora, Athens Quinta feels more like a boutique hotel than a traditional hostel. Rooms are decorated with antique touches such a globes and vintage chandeliers, while an outdoor dining area and sun terrace is the perfect place to relax with a coffee and traditional Greek spoon sweet, which are on offer free of charge.
This cool design hostel can’t be bettered on location or facilities. Situated in the heart of Psirri, Athens’ most hip and happening area, it is fully air-conditioned, has an enormous roof terrace with views of the Acropolis and also boasts Zampanò, which takes traditional Greek cuisine to a whole new level. Tick, tick tick.
If you’re after a stylish home away from home, opt for this brand new hideaway in Exarhia, a bustling barrio filled with students, artists and old-school Athenians. Painted in soothing colours, it has a terrace with plenty of seating,..
London has something for every kind of backpacker, in fact, London has EVERYTHING! Whether you’re into nature, yoga, parties, pubs, museums, book shops, street art or live music: London has it all. If you’re looking for the best areas to stay in London, we’re here to help.
Probably, the most well-known quote about London is, “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life” (Samuel Johnson). Even if complaining about being tired is a crucial part of being a real Londoner, we also know that London is a city that has it all, and you will never quite be done exploring.
When you ask a Londoner where to stay when visiting the city, they will all guarantee you that their neighbourhood is the coolest and that it’s the perfect place for you to have a true taste of London life. Well, we kind of agree with all of them. Either you decide to go for the hipster cafes and art galleries in East, the fancy boutiques and vintage shops in West, the amazing museums in Central, the quirky shops in North or the music venues in South – you will find plenty of amazing things to explore!
In London you will be able to experience many countries in one, as it is one of the most multicultural cities in the world. You can explore markets with incredible food from all over the world, visit neighbourhoods that will make you feel like you’re in another country, and hear many languages when you are walking around. It’s a great city to remember how beautiful and diverse the world can be.
We know London can be pricey, but fear not, we are here to help you to have the most authentic (and on budget) experience for your great British adventure. With fabulous hostels, lush green spaces, world famous museums and quirky places for you to discover, we are sure you will have an amazing time. Here is our ultimate guide on where to stay in London.
Central London – the best area for museums, shops and unashamed traditional tourism
If you want to visit London’s most famous attractions, you are going to spend a lot of time in Central London, of course! The busiest part of the city is full of things to do and you should save 2-3 days to explore everything it has to offer.
Whether you are looking for trendy shops, incredible museums, or galleries and parks to do some squirrel spotting, you can find almost everything in Central London.
We are going to share with you our favourite attractions in this part of the city. Some you might know well, and others are hidden gems that you should include on your visit, if you want to have a more authentic experience.
Somerset House is a cultural space in the heart of London. It’s nestled in a stunning Georgian building and there is always something interesting going on. While the entrance is free, you normally have to pay to see the exhibitions. During winter, you can also enjoy ice skating around a giant Christmas Tree.
If you like music, dance, film (and anything art related), you must visit the Barbican Centre. It’s a massive space, in fact Europe’s largest arts centre, that hosts concerts, theatre performances, film screenings and art exhibitions.
The Photographer’s Gallery is a great place to have a break from the busy streets of Central London and enjoy very cool exhibitions. The entrance is either free or super affordable (£5 or £3.50 for concessions).
Soho is the liveliest place in Central London and is full of restaurants, bars, interesting people and a pulsing nightlife. This neighbourhood is the hub for the LGBTQ+ scene in London and for the Pride Parade every year. You will find many clubs and bars that are a perfect mix of Londoners and tourists, such as: She Soho, G-A-Y, The Yard Bar, Friendly Society and Molly Moggs. Soho is also a great place to explore Jazz Bars. Our favourites are Ain’t Notin’ But, Ronnie’s Scott and Pizza Express Jazz Club.
In Soho, you will also be super close to the West End, well-known for the shop-filled streets of Oxford Circus, the world-famous plays and musicals and the charming Covent Garden. When exploring the area, make sure to have a look in Neal’s Yard – a colourful small alley in Covent Garden with nice cafes and restaurants. The perfect Instagrammable opportunity!
Central London is also home to great (AND FREE) museums, that you should save 1-2 days to visit. The National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery are two great ones, just next to each other. Here you have the chance to see masterpieces, the most extensive collection of portraits in the world and join workshops and events.
The British Museum houses a vast collection of world art and artefacts and is also free! Our tip for this museum is that you can join free lectures, offered weekly during lunchtime, about really interesting subjects. You can find the schedule here.
The London Museum is a great place to get to know more about London’s history and how the city evolved to be what it is today. They have a Victorian area, where you can see how shops and pubs used to look back then! The entrance is free, and you should save at least half a day to visit.
Joan Soane Museum is a hidden gem in London and is definitely worth a visit. This house museum was formerly the home of architect John Soane and nowadays holds many drawings, statues and antiquities he collected during his life. The museum is quite small, so you won’t need more than 2 hours to see everything.
If you want to have a break from the busy streets, visit Hyde Park, a massive green space where you can have a walk, see some squirrels running around freely and if you time it right – enjoy events such as music festivals and Winter Wonderland. You can also walk to the Buckingham Palace and watch the Changing of The Guards ceremony. It takes place from 10:45am and lasts around 45 minutes.
Central London is also home to many of the city’s main attractions, such as: The London Eye, Big Ben, The Palace of Westminster and Westminster Abbey. They are all a short walking distance from each other and it’s better to go early to avoid the crowds!
Lastly, St Pauls Cathedral is another attraction you should include on your itinerary when visiting London. For £17 you can visit the Cathedral floor, crypt and three galleries in the dome. If you want to save money, just walk around the Cathedral and relax in the garden.
Places to eat in Central London
The good news for your budget is that Central London has plenty of food chains, where you can get a meal for less than £7. Supermarket meal deals are also a good option if you don’t want to spend much. You can normally get a sandwich, a drink and a snack for less than £5. If the weather is nice, you can take this opportunity to enjoy a picnic in the park.
If you are close to Chancery Lane Station, visit Leather Lane Market, an amazing food market with options from all over the world. You can get authentic food for 5-7 pounds and mingle with the locals during lunch time. Around the same area, Dibs serves pizzas, salads and pasta for a friendly price. When you finish your lunch, act like a real Londoner and have a beetroot latte at Press Cafe.
Govinda’s Restaurant, in Soho, is a part of the SKCON-London Radha-Krishna Temple, and it serves an INCREDIBLE traditional Indian menu. Prices start from £6.95 and you can choose between meal deals and mix and match. Sometimes you can get meals for free if you take a part in one of their lectures.
In China Town, you will find many options for a friendly price. Many restaurants offer all-you-can-eat buffets and you can also buy a box to take away (which is normally cheaper). If you are feeling like treating yourself, Eat Tokyo is a popular option for Japanese food in Soho.
Whole Foods is a supermarket where you can get pizza, sushi, sandwiches and many other options. They have a branch on Oxford Circus where you can grab something to eat and relax, away from the busy streets.
Of course, we would talk about pizza again. The Home Slice in Neal’s Yard is perfect for a pizza slice while enjoying the colours of this charming alley. Pizza Pilgrims is also one of our favourites. Their aubergine parmigiana pizza is just too good to be true.
Located in the crypt of St Martin’s in The Fields Church, the hidden cafe offers great options for pastries, sandwiches and home-made meals. Ah, they also host jazz nights every Wednesday. How cool is that?
If you want to get some great deals while visiting London, download apps like Nez and Karma. Nez offers different discounts every day and Karma offers discounted food after breakfast and lunch.
Where to stay in Central London
At SoHostel you will be in the heart of the action, just minutes from Oxford Street, Soho Square and Piccadilly. This super modern hostel has loads of very colourful couches for you to relax after a day exploring the city. They also have a bar where you can get to know other guests, enjoy their happy hour with half price drinks and events like live music, karaoke nights and more! You will be happy to know that by staying at SoHostel you are also helping homeless people in London as all this hostel’s profits go towards the cause.
The Walrus hostel is located just a few minutes’ walk from Waterloo Station, so you will have great transport connections to all the main attractions in London. They offer free breakfast, a guest kitchen and free bag storage. After spending the day on your British adventure, come back to the hostel pub to meet the locals and the other guests.
Astor Victoria is located only 10 minutes’ walk from Victoria train and bus station, which is close to many pubs, shops and restaurants. They offer daily activities for the guests and a common area where you can meet other like-minded backpackers. The breakfast only costs £1 and all the proceeds go to charity!
Astor Museum Inn is in a great location – just in front of the British Museum and within walking distance from many attractions in Central London such as Soho, China Town and Oxford Circus. They organise daily events for guests, so we are sure you will leave London with many new travel buddies.
North London: the best area for warehouses parties, quirky shops and wild swimming
Food markets, stunning parks, museums, warehouse parties, indie pubs and great restaurants… We could be here all-day listing everything North London has to offer but we think the best way to know it is exploring by yourself!
Disconnect from the world in Hampstead Heath Swimming Ponds, spend the day exploring world famous museums, have a peak into London’s Punk History in Camden Town, or spend the day walking in the charming streets of Highbury and Islington. North London has a world of options to offer to any kind of backpacker.
Camden Town is probably the most famous neighbourhood in North London due to its rich punk music history, the colourful Camden Market and many incredible pubs, shops and restaurants.
The Roadhouse, a legendary music venue in Camden Town, was the place where, in 1976, punk landed in the UK. After providing space for many punk bands and being a crucial part of London Punk History, the place closed in 1983 and reopened in the 2000s. So, the good news is that you can still go and hang-out in the same place as the Ramones and The Talking Heads played in the 70s!
The main road that leads to Camden Market is full of interesting shops, food stalls and has a buzzing atmosphere, that you can only feel there. Head to the market to try food from all over the world, for a friendly price, and do some shopping in one of the 1,000 stalls.
To finish a perfect day in Camden Town, head to Primrose Hill, a park with great London views and an ideal place for a picnic.
Angel has a very chilled vibe and it’s full of nice pubs, cafes by the canal and international cuisine restaurants. If you are looking for a good night out, The Lexington is a great indie venue with gigs, parties and other events going on.
Camden passage is a cute little street, full of vintage shops, boutiques, cafes and restaurants that are worth a visit. Our favourite cafe is The CoffeeWorks Project. On the same street, you are going to find Angel Comedy Club, and as the name suggests, it’s a great place with daily comedy performances.
Hampstead Heath is the ultimate proof that London has everything you might ever want. This beautiful (and massive!) park has ponds where you can swim in the summer and spend the day enjoying nature. You can also visit Kenwood House, a beautifully decorated house from the 17th century with a stunning art collection. The visit is free and very near to it, there is the perfect place for a picnic, with an amazing view of London. After spending your day in the park, have a wander into Flash Walk, a pedestrian alleyway full of hidden treasures.
North London is also home to famous attractions, such as: Welcome Collection, Kings Cross Station and the British library. A few minutes walking from Kings Cross, you are going to find an unusual bookshop that you should have a look at. Word on Water, by Granary Square, is a..
Looking for an insider’s guide on the best area to stay in Tokyo? We get it, exploring one of the world’s biggest cities can be daunting. But don’t worry, we’ve got the scoop on Tokyo’s coolest neighbourhoods – from buzzing neon lights to crazy Kawaii cuteness.
First off, we’re talking about a megacity here, so it would be impossible to discuss every single neighbourhood. We’ll focus on the best places to stay in Tokyo and the best things to do for backpackers. Yep, Tokyo is a perfect backpacking destination. Who wouldn’t want to explore a city where futuristic technology and ancient traditions are a part of everyday life? It’s no secret that the food is some of the best in the world – flavoursome fresh sushi and flaming hot ramen so spicy it comes with a health warning? Sign us up! The nightlife is every bit as crazy as you might expect, with tiny bars that only fit three people inside and restaurants full of performing robots (but don’t worry, we’ll come to that later). Almost 150 weird and wonderful hostels mean you’ll always have a fun place to stay, that’s kind on your wallet. The awesome Japan Rail Pass for tourists makes it easy to explore the country further on a budget too. Sounds like backpacking perfection to us!
Each of Tokyo’s neighbourhoods is like a city in itself, so you’ll want to get all our local tips before choosing where to stay. There’s the bright lights and fast pace of Shibuya, the centre of Kawaii in Harajuku, the wild nightlife of Shinjuku, the old-fashioned charm of Asakusa and the manga mania that’s Akihabara, plus countless other neighbourhoods further off the beaten track. Each area attracts its own quirky subculture, and the different trends you’ll spot around the city are what make Tokyo.
Getting around Tokyo is made possible by an extensive subway system that will become your best friend, once you’ve mastered it. Traffic can be crazy (this includes people traffic, you’ve seen Shibuya crossing right?!) and taxis are expensive, so stick to the underground. Train lines are operated by different companies, which is where it gets confusing – your best bet is to purchase a rechargeable smart card, as this can be used on all lines. Be prepared for some of the busiest trains you’ve ever seen. As they say in Tokyo, “there’s always room for one more”!
Ready to discover your favourite bit of Tokyo? Here’s our ultimate neighbourhood guide!
1. Shibuya – the best area in Tokyo to feel the city’s buzz
When you think of Tokyo, the image that comes to mind is probably the colourful neon billboards, towering buildings and huge crowds of people filling the streets of the world-famous Shibuya district. Shibuya is Tokyo’s most energetic neighbourhood where you’ll experience the city’s hustle and bustle at its most intense. It’s partly a commercial area and business hub, and it’s home to the world’s two busiest train stations – try navigating your way around those after a few too many sakes! At the same time though, it’s creative and cool. Its electric atmosphere, unbeatable vintage shopping, quirky drinking holes and endless cafes and restaurants attract Tokyo’s young and trendy crowd.
There’s so much to discover in Shibuya away from the usual tourist checklist. Half the fun in this hectic neighbourhood comes from just exploring its winding, neon-lit streets and seeing what mad things you stumble upon… or what random items you can buy from a vending machine!
Probably the most famous spot in Tokyo, no visit to the city is complete without battling your way across Shibuya’s scramble crossing. This multi-way intersection just outside Shibuya station sees up to 1000 pedestrians cross in every direction every few minutes, so if you want to feel Tokyo at its busiest then look no further. This area is every travel photographer’s dream come true, with dazzling billboards and video screens surrounding the never-ending sea of people. Pro tip: for the best photo and video opportunities, head to the roof terrace of the MAGNET shopping complex.
Just around the corner, you can pay your respects to Japan’s favourite dog at the Hachikō Memorial Statue. Hachikō was a Japanese Akita who used to meet his owner at the exit of Shibuya station every day when he finished work. After his owner passed away, Hachikō continued to visit the station every day for nine years… is there something in our eyes?! He’s become a Japanese legend and is commemorated with a bronze statue in the spot he used to wait.
Shibuya is a shopper’s paradise. One of the most popular streets, Centre Gai, is lined with eclectic shops and pachinko (pinball) parlours and is THE hang-out spot for Tokyo’s young Gyaru subculture. The street also hosts regular parties and celebrations, and when Japan are competing in any international sporting event you can expect Centre Gai to erupt!
Speaking of shopping, do not miss the bright yellow, cartoonish building that houses Tower Records, Japan’s largest music store. Browsing all nine stories of this legendary institution is a must for music lovers in Tokyo, and if you’re lucky you might even catch a J-Pop gig in the basement!
For an authentic night out in Shibuya, head to Nonbei Yokocho. This narrow, lantern-lit alleyway is jam-packed with tiny restaurants and intimate izakaya pubs that only fit a few people. Even the language barrier doesn’t stop friendships forming in these close quarters! For something a little less…traditional, check out Fight Club 428. Your typical bar may not have a live boxing ring in the middle, but on a Tokyo night out anything goes!
Places to eat in Shibuya
Being Tokyo’s busiest neighbourhood, you might expect Shibuya’s dining options to be off the chain – and you’d be right! From humble vending machines serving hot tins of soup to exclusive Michelin starred restaurants, Shibuya’s got it all. Word of advice: start practising those chopstick skills now.
If you’re after delicious sushi for a great price, head… well, pretty much anywhere. This is one thing you won’t struggle to find in Tokyo! In Shibuya, you can’t go wrong with Sushi-Go-Round on Dogenkaza. Not only do you get the quintessential Japanese experience of grabbing plates of freshly rolled sushi from a conveyor belt, it also gets rid of any awkwardness caused by trying to understand the menu, as long as you’re adventurous. Plus, it’s budget-friendly.
To satisfy your sweet tooth, try The World’s Second Best Freshly Baked Melon Pan Ice Cream. Yep, that really is the name of the shop – the owner named it so because he says that the woman who taught him to make it is the best in the world, therefore he’s second best! If you haven’t tried this Japanese delicacy, you’re in for a treat. The melon pan is a sweet, warm bun that’s soft on the inside and crispy on the outside. It’s served with ice cream or whipped cream sandwiched in the middle for a decadent snack.
For seriously cheap eats in Shibuya, burger chain Mos Burger is your new best friend. There are a few of these dotted around the city serving up fast food favourites with a Japanese twist, but what’s special about the Shibuya branch is that they also serve bargain booze. You can grab a beer or glass of wine for ¥400, or about £2.70 – very cheap by Tokyo standards.
Best hostels in Shibuya
Shibuya may be known for its ‘love hotels’, but don’t worry, we’ve got hostels that are more backpacker-friendly and less X-rated! If you want to stay in the heart of Tokyo’s most buzzing neighbourhood while making sure you don’t dip into your all-important ramen budget, we’ve got the places for you.
A futuristic capsule hostel where you can control the facilities in your pod by a device you’re given at check-in… could The Millennials Shibuya be any more Tokyo? Not only is the concept awesome, it’s super social and perfect for solo travellers, with plenty of common areas and a 24-hour bar that serves unlimited free beer for an hour every night. It’s got the perfect atmosphere balance for anyone who’s looking to make friends, without being too rowdy.
Now, if you are looking for more of a party hostel, Wise Owl Hostel Shibuya might be right up your street. Their epic 24-hour bar/coffee shop opens out onto the street, so whether you’re necking cocktails or recovering with a matcha latte it’s a great spot to hang out and people watch. Their happy hour runs from 4-7, and you can get whisky sodas for ¥300, or £2! It’s also within walking distance to Shibuya’s best bars and clubs, so when you want to continue the party you won’t have to worry about missing the last train home or expensive taxis.
2. Harajuku – the best area in Tokyo for Kawaii culture
Even though it sits within the Shibuya district, Harajuku is a neighbourhood so unique, so iconic and so downright crazy that we think it’s more than deserving of its own section in this guide. It’s the hub of Kawaii culture in Japan, which is literally the love of all things adorable – prepare to enter a whole new world of cuteness!
The pastel-coloured streets of Harajuku are lined with cosplay stores and quirky boutiques where you can kit yourself out in the latest Kawaii trends. The young people who hang out on Takeshita Street are world-famous for their street style, so you’ll never be short of inspo – the more colourful, cartoonish and over the top, the better! Expect to see anime characters and cute mascots everywhere too, from street art to cuddly toys and life-sized models. Even the food in Harajuku is precious – between rainbow cotton candy and bunny rabbits made of ice-cream, it can be hard to put your camera away long enough to eat anything!
Harajuku is wacky, weird and wonderful… and there’s nowhere else quite like it.
What to do in Harajuku
The first thing you need to do in Harajuku is take a stroll down its main shopping avenue, Takeshita Street – what are you laughing at?! This street is the epitome of Kawaii and browsing through some of the independent boutiques will get you acquainted with Harajuku culture,..