Budapest Like A Local

Budapest Like A Local

This week, I decided to dig deep into my photo archives and revisit destinations I’ve yet to blog about. Though pictures on a screen don’t do Budapest justice, they rekindled that head over heels feeling this city gave me.

Last summer, I spent three nights in Budapest with my dad and brother. From the moment I laid eyes on the Parliament Building, I was in awe. During the day, the contrast of the strong gothic architecture against the serene Danube River was enough to make me swoon, but as the day went on, I fell even more in love with it. Viewing the building from Fisherman’s Bastion (on the Buda side) was one of the highlights of my visit, but seeing it completely lit up in gold at night while birds resembling shooting stars danced above it truly took my breath away.

My time spent in Budapest was hardly enough for me to feel capable of offering advice on “top must-sees,” so I decided to pick my friend @diathesun‘s brain about the place she once called home. Dia lives in NYC, but grew up in Budapest and returns there every summer to attend Sziget Music Festival.

If you aren’t familiar with Budapest, the first thing you should know is that it’s divided by the Danube River into Buda and Pest (pronounced pesht). Some of the more touristy spots I visited and Dia recommends are Buda Castle, Hero’s Square, and the Hungarian State Opera House. All are rich in history, and not too shabby to look at (and by that, I mean not at all).

The National Gallery located inside the Buda Castle has a wonderful collection of Hungarian masterpieces placed in an amazing art deco building. Dia recommends keeping an eye out for their special exhibitions as last summer they had a Picasso and a Modigliani retrospective at the same time. Budapest also has a large Jewish community and is home to Europe’s largest temple, the Dohany Steer Synagogue.

We both agree that a visit to the Széchenyi Baths should be at the top of your list! I ended up getting a full hour body massage for roughly 60 euros (a steal compared to US prices) and it was one of the most heavenly experiences I’ve ever had. Not to mention, Széchenyi is the largest thermal bath in Europe with 20 baths of different sizes and temperatures (both indoor and outdoor), saunas, steam rooms and more. What more could a girl ask for?! Gellért Baths is a good alternative if you’re into having options.

Moving on to food. To be honest, I had a bad stomach bug in Budapest so I didn’t really get to enjoy the cuisine (one of my favorite parts about traveling), so this is where Dia comes in big time! Her favorite restaurant is Rosenstein, known for their selection of wild game and “the best matza ball soup in town.” She also recommends her friend’s restaurant, Keksz, as a locals-only spot to grab a burger and beer.

A must-try Hungarian dish is Lángos, which is basically fried dough. I picked one up at the Great Market Hall, another must-see spot, and tried it with bananas, strawberries and nutella, but you can get just about anything you want as a topping! The Great Market Hall has everything from local cuisine to specialty crafts. Hungary is well-known for its lace, which you’ll notice once you start wandering around the city, so I picked up a piece from a vendor there.

If you’re planning a night out, take advice from a local and head to Belvaros or English Inner City (District V). There are also a ton of pubs all around Wesselenyi street. According to Dia, summer is the best time to visit Budapest because there are so many young people from all over the world. But rest assured, no matter when you visit, you won’t be disappointed. In my opinion, Budapest is definitely one of Europe’s most underrated destinations.

Visiting Budapest? Have a question I didn’t answer? Reach out to me in the comments!

Hero's Square

Hero’s Square
Great Market Hall

Great Market Hall
Langos

Langos
Széchenyi Baths

Széchenyi Baths

Szechenyi baths

Parliament Building

Parliament Building
Parliament building

Fisherman’s Bastion

Hungarian State Opera House

Hungarian State Opera House
Hungarian State Opera House

Danube Bank Architecture

Shoes on the Danube Bank

Shoes on the Danube Bank

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Get Lost in Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia

Get Lost in Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia

Having visited 16 countries, people often ask me what my favorite place is. It’s tough to choose, but there’s one place that pops into my head every time, and that’s Plitvice Lakes National Park.

This past summer, I traveled to this world-renowned national park in Croatia. Despite my pleas to go to the ever-popular Krka, my brother insisted on Plitvice. Well, I can whole-heatedly tell you I’m glad he persuaded me. Not that Krka isn’t beautiful, but Plitvice is entirely more epic in my opinion. The only con is you can’t swim at Plitvice like you can at Krka, but once you get there, you’ll appreciate the undisturbed beauty.

Plitvice Lakes is something out of a movie. Every step feels like some sort of dream, with seemingly endless waterfalls cascading in every direction you look, even around your feet. This type of natural beautiful is something I’ve never experienced anywhere else, and for that reason, Croatia will always hold a special place in my heart.

croatia park

waterfall photography

waterfalls plitvice

lake plitvice stream

A little background on the park

Plitvice Lakes (pronounced PLEET-veet-seh) is made up of 16 pristine lakes that weave together to form the most idyllic waterfalls and streams, all stitched together by wooden pathway and limestone rock formations.

The recommended starting point is Entrance 2. If you’re like me and want to stop for photo ops (quite often, might I add), plan to spend several hours hiking. For the most part, the trails are very leisurely. There were only a few steep areas, but the paths are extremely well groomed. If you want to cover ground quickly, there is a free boat that takes you across Kozjak, the park’s biggest lake, as well as multiple buses that run regularly.

croatia lakes

croatia national park

croatia plitvice

croatia waterfall

Getting to the park

My family and I headed to Plitvice Lakes by car from Dubrovnik, and I’ll admit that I slept for most of the ride despite the breathtaking views. The drive took a little over five hours with stops. Shoutout to my brother for driving the entire way. You’re the real MVP.

The low-down on accommodations

If you want to get the most out of your Plitvice experience, I highly recommend staying in the park overnight. My family and I actually stayed within the park for three nights, but 1-2 will suffice if you’re limited on time. You’ll definitely want a full two days of hiking as there are many different trails and so much to see.

We ended up staying at an adorable little B&B called House Nina (pronounced Nay-Nah). I truly can’t say enough great things about this adorable little house, particularly about Nina herself. First of all, it was a great deal. Be sure to call her directly to book a room as it’s cheaper than booking through Trip Adviser or another site. (Actually, you should always call directly, especially in Europe!) It was a bit tough to find, but once we arrived, we were ecstatic to learn that it’s just a five minute walk to the tallest waterfall in the park (and in Croatia!), Veliki Slap.

plitvice

waterfall plitvice

Nina’s place was quaint with a garden where she grows vegetables, raises her sheep, and has countless kittens running around. She actually grew up in the house, and when she was young, she would swim and fish in the lakes before it was prohibited. Our stay with Nina was the finale of our month-long trip through Europe, and she made us feel completely at home. This isn’t a place you visit for an upscale, flashy experience. It’s a place where you come to throw on a t-shirt, go for a hike, chill out by a fire, get a home cooked meal and spend quality time with loved ones. Some of my favorites memories include Nina making us breakfast every morning and hanging out by a bonfire on our last night with a couple of beers.

croatia kittens

The food situation

The food options are very limited within the park. I’m pretty sure we had our choice of a cheeseburger, chicken sandwich and possibly a salad of some sorts. If you’re a picky eater, I recommend packing your lunch. This may or may not be illegal, so don’t tell the park ranger, but the blackberries in the park were perfectly ripe, so of course we had to indulge and try a few… (Completely just solidified the American stereotype right there, didn’t I?)

wildflowers

blackberries

wild blackberries

What to bring

If you’re traveling during the warmer months, I recommend tank tops, athletic shorts and a t-shirt or two. I’d also throw in a cardigan or denim shirt as it cools off quite a bit in the evening— even during summer. Obviously, lather on the sunscreen, toss on your sunnies and be sure to throw a reusable water bottle and your camera in a backpack to capture the moment. I brought my DSLR out one day, and my GoPro the next. Comfortable shoes are also a must! I lived in my birkenstocks and sneakers.

waterfall

plitvice pic

Plitvice lakes

plitvice family trip

lake plitvice trail

waterfalls

lake plitvice park

lake plitvice

Plitvice Lakes is truly unlike any other place I’ve visited in Europe. While it was still heavily saturated by visitors, it felt intimate– and beyond that– authentic. With no tourist traps, gift shops or manmade attractions, Croatia opened my eyes to a new kind of European experience that allowed me to get in touch with nature.

Have you ever visited a destination in Europe that took you by surprise?

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Travel Guide to Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia.

My Top Must-Dos in Barcelona

My Top Must-Dos in Barcelona

Barca, barca, barca. After two visits to this captivating city, it’s abundantly clear to me that this classic destination is in a league of it’s own. My first trip to Barcelona was a weekend stint during my semester abroad in Florence back in 2013. This summer, I had the chance to revisit what is better known to locals as the capital of Catalonia. Of course, I revisited the classics like Barceloneta beach and the famous La Rambla, but I also got the chance to see some sights I missed out on previously. If you’re traveling to this vibrant region of Spain for the first time, you can’t go wrong with hitting up these spots.

1. Check out the street art

As soon as you step onto the streets of Barcelona, you can’t help but notice it’s bold personality– particularly, the quirky street art. From this funky lobster statue near La Rambla, to the many abstract Picasso works, you’ll be thoroughly entertained as you walk around the city.

Barcelona street

2. Wander down La Rambla

Also known as the street that never sleeps, La Rambla may look like a place for a casual stroll in the photo below, but don’t be fooled– it is constantly busy! Countless street performers, artists, and various vendors line the street while hundreds of tourists and locals alike weave their way down the street. This is the perfect place to pick up an inexpensive souvenir!

la rambla

3. Stop by the Barcelona Cathedral

This iconic church is also named the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia. As the story goes, the cathedral was dedicated to Eulalia of Barcelona, a young girl who was tortured and eventually executed by the Romans for being Catholic and refusing to declare otherwise. Aside from the fascinating story, the church itself is insanely beautiful with its gothic architecture.

Barcelona Cathedral

4. View the Arc de Triomf

Believe it or not, but the Eiffel Tower was actually supposed to go in its place, but the townspeople said there was no way something that ugly was going up in their city. Needless to say, they probably made the wrong choice. But then again, the Eiffel Tower wouldn’t have the same kind of charm in a city like Barcelona. The beautiful red-toned Arc de triomf fits in perfectly, marking the entrance to the city’s beloved Parc de la Ciutadella. We went here on our Fat Tire Bike Tour, which I highly recommend if you want to knock a ton of items off this list in a short amount of time while learning a lot about the history of Barcelona, Catalonia.

barcelona arc de triomf

5. Ride bikes around Parc de la Ciutadella

If you’re looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, look no further than this lush and expansive park. Once a fortress designed for soldiers to keep a watch over Barcelona and later a political prison, this huge area was demolished in 1869 and rebuilt to be what it is today. The Cascada (waterfall shown below) was built by Josep Fontsere with the help of his intern, Gaudi (yep, even he had to pay his dues). Within the park, you can also find a zoo, the Catalan Parliament building, museums, a small lake, and statues including a massive mammoth. I told you, Barcelona has no shortage of quirky art!

Parc de la Ciutadella

6. Get some culture shock at La Monumental

While you’re out and about, make a point to stop by Barcelona’s old bullfighting arena. Believe it or not, but bull fights took place as recently as 2011 when it was banned. I can’t even imagine what PETA would do if something like that took place just four years ago in the states! The building now serves as a bullfighting museum.

La Plaza Monumental

7. Indulge the senses at La Boqueria market

This is hands down my favorite spot in all of Barcelona, which is why it deserves so many photos! Seriously, this place can satisfy any craving. From sweets, to sandwiches, to the very popular smoothies and every type of fresh fish you can imagine,  this is the ultimate market. It gets insanely crowded, so I recommend going early to grab breakfast and some snacks for the beach. It’s located right off of La Rambla, by the way!

la boqueriala boqueria barcelonabarcelona la boqueriaMercat la Boqueria

8. Take a stroll near the docks

One of my favorite places to walk in Barcelona is near hundreds of the boats on the way to the beach. It’s absolutely gorgeous, and the perfect place to people watch.

barcelona boats

9. Chill out at Barceloneta beach

I bet you were probably wondering when I was going to throw this one in! Barcelona owes much of its notoriety to this widely adored beach. It truly embodies the personality and flair of Barcelona. First of all, it’s a topless beach. So if you’re looking to get rid of those tan lines and don’t mind the extra attention, make yourself at home. It’s also always busy. It can be pretty tough to find a spot, but it’s well worth the search. The water is crystal clear, and the ultra soft, dust-like sand is imported from the Sahara desert. Did I mention it’s a completely man-made beach?! It’s pretty hard to believe something this beautiful is artificial. The palm trees were also imported from Hawaii. Be prepared to be solicited by people selling everything from drinks, to tapestries, to massages. Definitely buy with caution! I tried a drink because it seemed like a good deal and I swear it had no alcohol in it. The tapestries are actually really pretty, especially if you don’t have a towel. Just keep in mind that you can easily talk them down to 5 euros if you haggle hard enough! Drinks at the beach bars are extremely pricey, so BYOB if you can.

Barceloneta beach

10. Take in the views at Montjuïc

For the best view of Barcelona, take the chairlift up to the top of Montjuïc. This is one of the attractions I missed on my first go around. I only suggest doing this if you have extra time, as the line can be pretty long. However, the views can’t be beat!

Montjuïcbarcelonabarca

11. Marvel at the Sagrada Familia

Full (and very embarrassing) disclosure here. I didn’t see the Sagrada Familia on my first visit to Barcelona. If you know anything about how significant this church is, you know why that was such a tragic fail. Gaudi’s plans for this baby are so insane, that it’s been under construction since 1882 and won’t be finished until 2026! I can’t even begin to understand how it’s going to work, but it’s going to be twice as tall when it’s finished! If you have the chance, head up one of the towers for an epic view. (View from the nativity tower pictured in second photo). The interior of the structure resembles elements in nature. For example, the columns look like trees. Every inch of the Sagrada Familia is intricate and beautiful. There is truly no other church in the world that compares!

sagrada familia
sagrada familia towersagrada familia inside

12. Check out mosaics at Parc Guell

When I first visited Parc Guell, it was free to enter all areas of the park. On my most recent visit, I was bummed to find out that it now costs money to enter the main area with the impressive mosaic tiles and beautiful overlook (pictured in the below photos). Even though it’s kind of ridiculous that they now charge a fee to view all of Parc Guell, I still highly recommend you visit. It’s one of the best places in the city for a colorful photo op, and the views are spectacular. Keep in mind that you’ll need to book tickets in advance, as you’re given a time slot for when you can enter the restricted area.

Parc guell barcelonaparc guell gaudiParc guellgaudi

Within Parc Guell, you can also find Gaudi’s former home turned museum, where he lived for nearly 20 years.

gaudi house museum

13. See a Flamenco show at the Palau de la Musica

I truly can’t say enough good things about this building. From the stunning, colorfully detailed exterior to the mind blowing stained glass ceiling and stage, the Palau de la Musica has earned its title as one of the most beautiful concert halls in the world. Even Franco (dictator who hated Catalonia and is now deceased) agreed, as he didn’t tear it down even though it was a Catalan building. I saw a flamenco show here, and it was the highlight of my Barcelona trip!

Palau de la Musicapalau de la musica barcelonapalau de la musica ceilingflamenco show barcelona

14. Stand in awe at the architecture of Casa Batllo

I can’t believe I don’t have a photo of this building, but it’s one of the most iconic structures in Barcelona because of it’s classic Gaudi architecture and mosaic tiles. Definitely a must-see!

15. Enjoy traditional spanish cuisine

Barcelona is well-known for its fresh seafood, fruits, and vegetables. Paella and various tapas like patatas bravas and croquetas are favorites among tourists and locals alike. Shy away from eating near the beach, as the restaurants are often overpriced and less authentic. Here are a couple of my favorite spots:

7 Portes
This is an extremely popular restaurant! We went right when it opened for lunch, and there was already a line outside the door. If you’re going for dinner, definitely make a reservation. The canelloni is not to be missed, and the sangria is really tasty!

Los Caracoles
Located right off of La Rambla is this very famous and authentic Spanish restaurant. You have to walk through the kitchen to get to the dining area, and it smells amazing. The restaurant is famous for their caracoles (snails). This was my first time trying snails, and they were actually pretty good! If you like live music, you’ll love the three men who play guitar and serenade you while you eat.

los caracoles

16. Live it up at Barcelona’s hottest nightlife spots

Of course I have to address one of the main reasons why people visit Barcelona: the nightlife. My favorite spots are the bars versus the clubs, but obviously the clubs are more iconic.

Chupitos Shot Bar
Chupitos shot bar is the perfect little place to start your night. Beware, it’s called a shot bar for a reason! AKA you’re probably going to take four or five before you leave. There are a million to choose from, and they’re all extremely creative and fun. My favorites are the Willy Wonka, which is topped with a piece of chocolate; the Boy Scout, which has skewers and a flame to roast a marshmellow over (seriously too cute!); and the Harry Potter, which has magical sparks flying all around it.

Dow Jones
This stock market themed bar is seriously a blast! It works exactly like the stock market: when a drink is in high demand, the price goes up. When a drink is in low demand, the price goes down. And of course, the stock market crashes throughout the night, meaning all of the drinks are extremely cheap!

dow jones barcelona

Opium
If you’re looking for a true Barcelona clubbing experience, look no further than Opium. This place is absolutely massive and full of professional dancers and DJs. That being said, the guys are pretty aggressive, so be sure to look out for one another! Also keep in mind that everyone tries to stay out until sunrise, so if you want to make it, you need to pace yourself!

opium barcelona

What are your top must-dos in Barcelona?

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The Girl’s Guide to Oktoberfest

The Girl’s Guide to Oktoberfest

So you’ve decided to go to Oktoberfest. Well, you can rest assured that you’re going to have a once in a lifetime experience. But what do you need to know before you go? From dirndls, to beer, to those ridiculous gingerbread hearts; I’ve got you covered!

What to expect

Believe it or not, Oktoberfest is a family friendly event– particularly during the day. There are countless carnival rides in addition to the famous beer tents, and hundreds of food options. There are 14 massive tents to choose from, each more epic than the last. It’s completely normal to only visit one or two tents per day depending on hour long you stay. If you get a good spot and are enjoying the environment, there’s really no reason to leave for another! Most tents have brass bands who play a mixture of Bavarian tunes and pop culture classics like Don’t Stop Believin’ on breaks. Feel free to join in on traditional drinking songs, and ask a local for the lyrics. You’ll feel like a natural in no time! Towards the close of the festival (11pm) the tents turn into a huge party with music you can’t help but sing along to.

oktoberfest munich

When to go

The best time to visit Oktoberfest is during the week, as weekends are insanely packed. However, even if you go during the week, be prepared to face some serious crowds. During lunch hour (12:00-4:30pm) you’ll find families and business people. During the later seating period (5:00-close), the crowds grow bigger (and wilder). To get to and from the festival, public transportation is really your only option. Keep in mind that most stations don’t accept credit cards.

The most important part… The dirndl!

Without question, you must get a dirndl! It makes the experience so much more authentic, and you’ll be treated differently if you aren’t wearing one. It’s a bit of a splurge at around 100 euro and up, but you can convince yourself that you’ll wear it for Halloween every year. (At least that’s what I did). When buying the dirndl, here are some things to consider:

    • Whether you want to purchase it ahead of time online or wait until you get to Munich is up to you. I chose to order one for $100 and paid $50 for shipping from Germany. My friend (Martha) decided to wait until we got there, and she found one at C&A for about 120 euro. You probably won’t save much money either way.
    • If you decide to order online, make sure you measure yourself to ensure sure it fits as return postage to Germany isn’t cheap, and do not opt for a short one. At the most, it should hit slightly above your knees, or you’ll end up looking tacky.
    • If you decide to buy it there, ask a local where to shop. There are tons of spots that cater to tourists, so you’ll want to make sure yours looks authentic– especially when you’re dropping that kind of dough! Martha’s from C&A near Marienplatz was absolutely adorable and super authentic!

oktoberfest prost

Tip: The proper way to prost (cheers) is by clanking your mugs from the bottom up while locking eyes. The goal is to slosh a little beer from one glass to another.

Where you tie your apron is important!

  • Right side: You’re married or seriously dating someone.
  • Left side: You’re single. Be prepared for some extra attention.
  • Middle: You’re a virgin.
  • Back: You’re widowed or a waitress.

dirndl oktoberfest

What else should you bring?

Keep in mind that anything you bring to Oktoberfest can and will get beer on it. I wore my Birkenstocks the first day, and lace up boots with a sweater the second day because the temperature dropped overnight. As far as purses go, bring one you don’t care too much about like an inexpensive crossbody. I brought my DSLR camera the first day, but I left it at home the second because it was too much to worry about. Your iPhone or GoPro will do the trick. Most importantly, make sure you bring plenty of cash! Credit cards aren’t really accepted at the fest, and running out of money is sure to ruin your time. I recommend at least 120 euro to be safe. Hopefully this goes without saying, but leave your passport and other valuables at home. And as always, keep an eye on your belongings. Other good items to bring include hand sanitizer, tissues, and a back up phone charger.

Don’t forget to eat!

Start your day off like a true bavarian with veal sausages, beer, and a pretzel with traditional sweet mustard. I was a little skeptical about the sausage, but was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it.

bavarian breakfast

Pretzels are your best friend! You may not want to look at another one after a couple days at the festival, but it is absolutely essential that you keep your stomach full when drinking liters of beer. Unless you want to end up on the hill of shame or on one of those ‘Oktoberfest fails’ YouTube videos.

pretzel oktoberfest

All hail the half chicken! *insert hands up emoji* This is an Oktoberfest classic. They’re extremely salty, but I promise they taste absolutely amazing once you’re a liter or two deep.

oktoberfest chicken

Around the festival, you can find other delicious treats like crepes, kettle corn, and bratwursts.

Getting a spot in the tents

This is by far the biggest battle you will face during your time at Oktoberfest. The tents are constantly full, and any open table is usually reserved. The rule is, if a table isn’t occupied within one hour of the reservation, it’s up for grabs.

The reservation windows are 12:00-4:30pm and 5:00-11:00pm

Our group got really lucky when we found an unoccupied reserved table at Schottenhamel, which is the “it tent” according to our AirBnB host, at around 5:30pm. Nobody ever tried to claim it, and we let other fest-goers join us to make our table complete. I highly recommend visiting this tent in the evening for an unforgettable time!

schottenhamel oktoberfest

If you don’t see an open table, try your best to walk around and politely ask if groups have room for you to join. The smaller your party is, the better your chances will be. If you’re unsuccessful, there is usually open seating outside each tent. It just isn’t as fun.

lowenbrau oktoberfest

A fan favorite tent is Lowenbrau, complete with a massive lion statue. The dreamiest tent (literally) is the Hacker tent with its cloud and stars theme. Hofbrau is world famous, and Augustiner is considered the most family friendly tent. For a map and complete list of tents, check out the official Oktobefest website.

Tours and reservations

If you want to play it safe, you can’t go wrong with a tour with The Thirsty Historian. Ours was 100 euro, which sounds like a lot, but it included a traditional bavarian breakfast (half liter of beer, two sausages, and pretzel), a private tour of one of the Pauliner breweries including another half liter of beer, a ferris wheel ride ticket, and a tent reservation at Lowenbrau from 12:00-4:30pm with two liters of beer and a half chicken. Plus, our host’s son was there and was the cutest thing ever.

oktoberfest germany

The more the merrier!

If you have a table at Oktoberfest with a little extra room, it’s important to spread the love. When you see someone looking for a spot who seems friendly, invite them to join your group. We made friends with the sweetest couple from Australia and a few Germans, and they made our experience even more memorable.

Keepsakes

Once you get to the festival, you’ll probably wonder why every girl is wearing one of those silly gingerbread hearts around their neck. Well, they’re meant as a sign of endearment from men and come in all different sizes with various sweet and funny phrases.

oktoberfest hearts

If you’re looking for something a bit more practical, I recommend a close pin with your name on it. This is what most of the locals wear. You can find them all around the festival with phrases like “Oktoberfest 2015,” but if you want a personalized one, they can be found inside the tents. We got ours at Hacker Pschorr. Of course, there’s no souvenir quite like your memories. Be sure to take lots of pictures!

close pins oktoberfest

Have any more questions about Oktoberfest? Just want to share your excitement after reading this post? Let’s chat in the comments!

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Your complete guide to Oktoberfest in Munich from dirndls, to beer, to those ridiculous gingerbread hearts.

Falling in Love with Córdoba

Falling in Love with Córdoba

I’ll be honest– I had no intention of traveling to Córdoba on my recent Europe trip. But after researching day trips from Madrid, I knew I had to explore this charming city in southern Spain. Córdoba was once the capital of Islamic Spain, and is one of the most important cultural heritage sights in the world. From the mesmerizing Mezquita to the city’s colorful patios, my visit to Córdoba was pretty much love at first sight.

Patios of Córdoba

First off, I highly suggest visiting in May! We just missed The Contest of the Patios of Córdoba (also known as the Battle of the Flowers) which is an annual two week event where families open their homes up to the public to enjoy the sights and smells of the alluring courtyards, free of charge.

The tradition of filling central patios with plants began as a way for locals to aerate their homes. Over time, people began to put more emphasis on creativity and decoration of the patios rather than their functionality. The hobby flourished as homeowners began planting vibrant flowers with irresistible scents in brightly colored pots. Of course, it was tough to keep such beautiful sights a secret from the public. Thus, the competition was born.

La Mezquita: Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba

An absolute must-see on any trip to Córdoba is the awe-inspiring Mosque turned Cathedral, better known as La Mezquita. Not only is it easily the most beautiful structure in Córdoba, but it has also gained recognition as one of the most astounding attractions in the world!

Upon entering, you can’t help but notice the grand courtyard, named the Court of Oranges. It almost made me feel like I was on the set of Game of Thrones in Dorne, which isn’t surprising because Seville (where the show is filmed) is just a two hour train ride away. The large fountain located in the center spouts safe drinking water from each corner, so definitely bring an empty water bottle!

Cordoba bell tower

After you’re finished enjoying the courtyard, get your entrance tickets for the Mosque and the bell tower, which has a scheduled entrance time. I recommend heading up the tower first for a nice introductory view of the city. The panorama views are breathtaking!

cordoba spain

View of Córdoba from the bell tower

bell tower cordoba

Dome at the entrance of the bell tower

Once I was back on ground level, I made my way over to the Mosque entrance. Suddenly, I was greeted by row after row of massive red and white striped arches. Pictures really don’t do it justice! Even though this structure stands in Spain, I almost felt like I’d been teleported to the Middle East when I was inside.

mosque cordoba

Iconic Mezquita arches

The islamic architecture and detailing blew me away. Can you imagine if this was all torn down once it was converted back into a Roman Catholic church?!

cordoba spain mosque

Mihrab in the mosque

After the Mosque was conquered by the Catholics, the impressive prayer hall was built. The stark contrast of the two religious design styles somehow compliment each other perfectly.

cordoba mosque cathedral

Catholic cathedral in the center

cordoba mezquita

cordoba mosque

With the most important item crossed off of the itinerary, it’s time to hit the streets. The best way to explore Córdoba is by foot or segway. My brother had been here before and made friends with a local, Rafael, who works at a shop called Córdoba by Segway. We opted for a private walking tour so we could take our time and stop for photos as we pleased– which I did quite a bit! Definitely make a point to take a tour with Rafael. He’s extremely passionate about his city, and can answer any questions you might have.

cordoba streets

cordoba street

As you can see, the flower pots aren’t just confined to courtyards. Córdoba takes pride in the history of the patios, and views gardening as something that brings their community together. This can be seen in statues like the one pictured below, which represents one generation helping the next to preserve the charm of the city.

cordoba culture

cordoba flower pots

Be sure to wander beyond the gift shops and tourist traps to discover the quaint, colorful streets of the town. The Jewish Quarter is a nice place to explore.

cordoba jewish quarter

Calleja de las Flores

Another iconic spot is the Calleja de las Flores in the Jewish Quarter. Though the flowers weren’t in their prime during my July visit, tourists flock to this spot to see the potted plants that lead up to a view of the bell tower in the distance.

cordoba calleja de las flores

calleja de las flores

I can’t remember exactly where this courtyard is located, but it’s open all year long and makes for some pretty epic photos. If you take Rafael’s tour, he’ll definitely take you here!

cordoba courtyard

cordoba flowers

cordoba travel

I somehow sniffed my way to this tea shop. The smells were all too enticing! I also stopped to sample some candied nuts at another little street shop in the city center. It’s all a bit too charming for words.

cordoba tea

Something that might not look as appealing is this strange sight I stumbled upon in a small market. I asked what it was, and the butcher informed me that it was goat’s leg– a regional specialty– and cut me off a small piece. Although it didn’t look particularly appetizing, I tried it and was pleasantly surprised to find that it had a similar flavor to prosciutto. I probably wouldn’t eat an entire dish of it, but as they say… When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

goat leg

Speaking of food, be sure to try Salmorejo, which is Córdoba’s signature dish. It’s basically a cold tomato and bread based soup with serrano ham and hard-boiled eggs. It’s the perfect lunch dish for a hot summer day!

Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos

I highly recommend making your way to this beautiful structure. The inside houses Roman ruins including baths, but the real treat is the outdoor garden. This was my JAM! But really, there were more flowers than in Mary Poppins. I was in heaven.

cordoba alcazar

ordoba Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos

cordoba alcazar

alcazar courtyard

cordoba pink

alcazar cordoba

A unique and historic craft of Cordoba is leatherwork. Believe it or not, but the work pictured below was made completely by hand with metals tools on a piece of leather. This ancient technique takes an unbelievable amount of precision, which is why the works are so rare. You can view this piece along with many others for free at the Leather Museum in the city center. If you take Rafael’s tour, ask him to bring you here at the end!

cordoba leather museum

Another custom is horseback riding. I found this caballero riding around town before a show outside of the Alcazar. Rafael took us to the Caballerizas Reales de Córdoba to watch as caballeros practiced riding techniques with their beautiful Andalusian horses. If you have time to see a show, he said they’re incredible!

cordoba caballero

Roman Bridge

The Roman Bridge is another adored spot in the city. It was built in the 1st Century A.D., although it has been restored many times. It’s situated above the Guadalquivir River (try to pronounce that!) and is right by the Mosque. I highly recommend ending the day here to watch the sun set as birds dance above the water.

cordoba roman bridge

mezquita cordoba

Exterior of the Mezquita

cordoba architecture

roman bridge cordoba

cordoba bridge

Would you visit Córdoba? Have you been there before? Let’s chat!

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Top Things To Do in Madrid

Top Things To Do in Madrid

Upon entering Spain’s capital, I was immediately immersed in a world of unfamiliar sights and sounds. Colorful tarps strung high above the streets greeted me by shielding the hot July sun from my face while flamenco style street music filled the air. With my luggage in tow, I was ready to take on all that Madrid had to offer. Here are, in my opinion, the top things to do in this wonderful city. Disclaimer: Although this was my first visit, my brother studied abroad here, so I had an advantage over other first time visitors.

Stock up on energy at the Mercado de San Miguel

Start your day with a café con leche at Madrid’s largest and most famous market. If you’ve ever been to Barcelona, it’s basically a miniature version of the Mercado de La Boqueria. Fruit lovers should make a point to try the cherries or peaches. They look and taste worlds better than they do in America! Of course, the tapas are to die for as well.

Mercado de San Miguel image

madrid mercado image

Spend the day at Parque del Retiro

This is without a doubt my favorite place in all of Madrid. It’s basically the Central Park of Spain, full of beautiful gardens, marble monuments, and even a huge lake where you can take a row boat out for a spin. There are so many must-sees within the park, that you could easily make a day or two out of visiting.

Parque del Retiro

Retiro park

retiro park madrid

Parque del Retiro madrid

Check out the Palacio de Cristal

An absolute must-see in the Parque del Retiro is the Palacio de Cristal. I’m so in love with it, that I decided it deserved its own paragraph. This stunningly beautiful structure is made entirely out of metal and glass and houses temporary art exhibitions. I was lucky enough to visit while this tent made of bold tapestries was up. It was pretty magical to say the least.

Palacio de Cristal

Palacio de Cristal madrid

Peruse through the Royal Palace

Also known as Palacio Real, this enormous structure is drenched with frescoes, gold moldings, crystal chandeliers and tapestries, which cover every square inch of its 2,000+ rooms. Photography is prohibited inside, but if you google it, you’ll see what I’m talking about. Each room has a distinct look and color scheme. The dining room, complete with a table fit for 144 guests, is easily my favorite of them all! Come back at night to see the exterior completely lit up. If you’re lucky, you’ll hear the same phenomenal harp player that was there during my visit.

Royal Palace Madrid image

Royal Palace

Stop by the Catedral de la Almudena

Right next door to the Royal Palace is this gorgeous baroque-style cathedral. It took more than a hundred years to complete due to a little thing called the Spanish Civil War. The interior is full of pops of color like the beautiful square cupola and chapel pictured below.

Catedral de la Almudena

Marvel at the Prado Museum

So, I’m really not a fan of too many museums, but this one blew me away! I mean, those Spaniards truly have the whole ‘art’ thing down. With that being said, this place is freaking huge! I took a break in the coffee shop downstairs (which has free wifi) half way through my four hour visit. Be sure to check out Las Meninas by Velázquez and of course, the Picasso and Goya works.

Pop over to the San Jerónimo el Real

Right beside the Museo del Prado is this adorable 16th century church. Even if you don’t go inside, it’s worth checking out and snapping a picture in front of!

San Jerónimo el Real

Watch street performers at Plaza Mayor

This large meeting place (which once held bull fights) is basically a huge rectangle full of people surrounded by beautiful red-toned buildings. In the evening, it’s full of costumed characters from Hello Kitty to Spiderman. One of the most iconic characters is the tinsel goat, who makes a clacking noise while whipping its body from side to side. It sounds strange, but you’ll recognize it when you see it! There are tons of places to grab dinner around the square. One of my favorites is Los Galayos.

Plaza Mayor image

Plaza Mayor

People watch at the famous Puerta del Sol

This is one of the most iconic spots in all of Madrid. Similar to Plaza Mayor, Puerta del Sol is the perfect place for people watching. There is a lot of hustle and bustle, but if you grab a seat beside one of the large fountains, you’ll find yourself feeling right at home. A highlight of my trip was watching a team of rollerbladers amp up the crowd as they jumped over stacked boxes and a row of six girls.

Puerta del Sol

Stroll through Gran Via Street

Some would say Puerta del Sol is the Times Square of Madrid, but I think the area near the Schweppe’s advertisement is. The bright lights and billboards draw you in, and the surrounding shops make you want to stay. Just try not to get lost in the sea of people!

Gran Via Street

Have drinks on top of the Palacio de Cibeles

Adding this to this list is almost like giving away a well-kept secret. Believe it or not, this building is actually a post office. At night, it turns into a kaleidoscope of colors that you can’t help but stare at. When my brother took a closer look, he saw people near the top. So obviously, we had to be up there too! Just enter the building and take the elevator to the top. Grab a seat by the railing to watch as cars circle the roundabout.

Palacio de Cibeles

Wander around and see what you find!

My last piece of advice is to wander around and see what you stumble upon. Below are a couple of pictures pictures I snapped while meandering through the beautiful streets of Madrid.

madrid streets

Madrid image

What would you add to this list of top things to do in Madrid? Connect with me in the comments!

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