The final stop of Norway in a Nutshell tour was Bergen – one of the oldest port cities in Europe. With only 24 hours to spare, including an overnight stay, we wanted to see as much as we could of the city. Luckily, with Bergen being a small city, we were able to cover its main attractions on foot.
We arrived at Bergen train station at 6pm and of course, it was completely chucking it down. Bergen is known for its rain and is considered the rainiest city in the world. It rains 240 days per year!
We dropped our bags off at our hotel which was just a mere 2 minutes’ walk from the main train station and made our way in search of dinner. We stayed in Grand Hotel Terminus, a beautiful 131-room classic, yet modern hotel located in the centre of Bergen. It opened in 1928 and is one of the most traditional yet elegant hotels I’ve stayed in. Only a 5 minutes way from Torgalmenningen Square and 10 minutes’ walk from the UNESCO-listed Bryggen Wharf, this hotel is conveniently located in a place where you can easily explore many of the city’s main attractions.
Evening of Day 1: Dinner at Kafe Special, Fisketorget Fish Market
Hidden in-between the houses, we found a cosy little café, Kaf Special. I would definitely recommend this place for some delicious freshly made pizza (with what seems to be an infinite selection of toppings) and pasta, at a very affordable price. The atmosphere was super chilled and the service is amazing! We seemed to be the only tourists there and was very popular with the locals.
Fisketorget Fish Market
We wanted to go for a walk to digest the food and so we made our way to this fish market located right by the Bryggen. It’s a great place to window-shop or grab a bite to eat. Its been an ongoing market since the 1200s and is part of the port, fishermen and trading locations history. We went to the indoor section of the market which is open year-round – the outdoor market opens on May 1st for the summer.
Day 2: Funicular up Mt. Floyen, Bryggen
Funicular up Mt. Floyen
One of the most popular things to do in Bergen is to ride the Floibanen funicular up Mt. Floyen. At around 400m, Floyen is one of Bergen’s (small) city mountains and offer the most amazing panoramic views over Bergen and out to sea. The journey only takes about 5-6 minutes but you should try and get there early as there is often a queue. We only stayed at the top for half an hour before making our way down to the next stop. There was a Godt Bodt bakery a few houses down which we stopped for some great coffee. I wanted to try their cardamom bum but we just had a huge breakfast buffet at the hotel so was pretty full.
We then made our way to the place I was looking forward to seeing the most – Bryggen. This is an old wharf and is home to over 60 narrow, brightly coloured wooden boathouses. Today, these buildings are used by various restaurants, tourist offices and hotels. It actually reminded me more of the houses we would use to play monopoly – all stacked up nicely next to each other.
Since 1979, Bryggen has been on the UNESCO list for World Cultural Heritage site. This old wharf is a standing reminder of Bergen’s importance as part of the Hanseatic League’s trading empire from the 14th to the mid-16thcentury. The Hanseatic League is an organization founded by northern German towns and merchant communities to protect their mutual trading interest. It established a total of 4 overseas Hanseatic Offices and Bryggen is the only one preserved today. Though fires have ruined a lot of the original buildings (the last being in 1955), Bryggen rebuilds itself, closely following old property structure and redesigning the artistic designs and wood architecture. The area is such a beautiful place to wander around. I just loved the wooden houses that looked like it came straight out of a Harry Potter movie.
Get lost in Bergen!
We spent the majority of the day getting pulled left and right by the most adorable streets of Bergen. It was nice not having a set plan or route. As we kept walking, every small street was calling our name for us to explore it. Wandering Bergen just made my heart swell with happiness as I instantly fell in love with the beauty, design and architecture of Nordic countries.
For lunch, we highly recommended trying the traditional Scandinavian hotdogs serving reindeer sausage at Trekoneren! This hotdog stand translates to “three crowns” and is a popular tourist destination in itself. Even though this might be a bit of a queue, I would recommend eating here. My mouth is watering whilst thinking about the classic crispy onion toppings!
Explore the Modern Bergen City Centre
As it was starting to get dark, we just had one more stop before taking the bus to the airport. Even though Bergen’s historic areas are undeniably the city main attraction, we wanted to check out the modern downtown area. It definitely has its own charm to offer with street performers in every corner and locals buzzing about their days. It has all the mainstream shops and some souvenir shops.
We didn’t get a chance to do any shopping but we did go to Sostrene Hagelin so that we could try some local food at this café. We had some fish cake and fish soup which were very fresh. We wanted to try more things from there but we were still quite full from the hotdog. We highly recommend trying this restaurant if you are visiting Bergen!
We then made our way to the bus stop outside Bergen train station to catch the direct bus to the airport ready for the next stop – Tromso!
Norway in a Nutshell tour takes you through Norway’s most breath-taking UNESCO-protected fjord and mountain scenery. It is a packaged tour that combines a scenic ferry ride on two connected fjords (Naerotfjord and Aurlandsfjord), a bus ride on the steep hairpin bends of Stalheimskleiva and a spectacular railway journey in the mountains.
This tour is targeted towards travellers on whirlwind tours of Norway and is a very convenient way to the see the ‘best of the best’ of Norway in limited amount of time. Even though this is meant to be a round trip (Oslo – Bergen – Oslo), we only did as a single journey from Oslo to Bergen with an overnight stop in Flam. Because we did the tour in December where the days are short, we wanted to stay overnight at the beautiful Flamsbrygga Hotell, a chalet- tyle hotel overlooking the fjord. I am so glad we did it in this way as we were able to enjoy lovely views spaced out in two days.
This was our Norway Itinerary: (December 2019)
Day 1: Arrive in Oslo in the early morning.
Day 2: Oslo
Day 3: Oslo – Flam. Overnight stay in Flam
Day 4: Flam – Bergen.
Day 5: Bergen – Tromso (Take a late-night flight to Tromso).
Day 6 – 9: Tromso.
In order to save money, we pieced together our very own Norway in a Nutshell tour. This was super easy to do as we purchased tickets separately for each part of the journey. We bought the train tickets in advance and just bought tickets for the fjord cruise and the Flam Railway separately.
Train journey to Flam!
Starting from Oslo, we set out on a westbound train journey through scenic mountain terrain on the Bergen Railway which is about 4.5 hours. Upon arrival in Mrydal, we disembarked the train. This sleepy Nordic town looks to be straight out of a postcard as the views from this station are stunning. We then changed trains to the legendary Flam Railway. The Flam Railway was built in the 1920s. It finished in 1940 and took around 200 men to build the line, 10 stations, 20 tunnels and bridge. This is a 20.km long branch of the Bergen Line and this train ride is often named one of the most beautiful train journeys in the world. It is also one of the steepest train lines from 863 metres at Myrdal to sea level at Flam. For 45 minutes, you will be able to witness THE MOST spectacular views of the Norwegian mountains and local villages as it glides through steep valleys.
The Flamsbana scenic route makes one short stop along the route for photos at the base of Kjossen Waterfall. Even though it was frozen, it still made for an awesome spectacle.
The train rides end in the fjord town of Flam at 2pm, which is where we stayed for the night.
Overnight Stay in Flam
There are only a few different hotel options in Flam but we stayed in Flamsbrygga Hotell and it was sooooo cosy. It’s just a lovely, rustic quintessential Norwegian hotel located in the harbour of Flam. The room was lovely with a balcony overlooking the fjord and the mountains. The room was very warm and the shower was so hot and powerful. I loved how quirky the room was decorated.
After checking into the hotel, we just walked around the city. It was tiny and literally took us 15 minutes to discover it all!
We went back into the hotel, had a lovely warm shower and then changed into our pyjamas. It was only after that we realised, we forgot to check out Aegir Brewery and Pub as it was shut when we first walked around. I dragged my husband out after he insisted, he just wanted to chill in the room and do a tiktok dance. This is a great place for pub food, such as burgers, ribs and soup. As we went in the evening, the pub takes on a Viking theme with a roaring hearth. After sitting by the fireplace and chatting, we went back to the hotel room.
The hotel breakfast the next day was also on point. Like Oslo, the most delicious smoked salmon was served in this breakfast buffet, which I just stacked my plate along with some eggs and bread.
Travelling from Flam to Bergen
First thing in the morning, we had breakfast in the hotel and boarded the boat. We bought the tickets a few months in advance from their official website. This was by far the most favourite part of the tour – a 2 hour cruise through some of Norway’s best fjord scenery, including the picturesque Aurlandsfjord and the dramatic Naerofjord. Naeroyfjord is one of the narrowest fjords in Europe and is also on the UNESCO’s World Heritage List. It was so lovely just standing on the deck with the mountains towering over us.
The weather wasn’t the greatest but luckily the boat has both indoor and outdoor seating. We then arrived in the small village of Gudvangen. From here we boarded a bus that took us through Naeroydalen to the small town of Voss. You can only pay for this bus ride on the bus itself, not in advance. In Voss, we boarded another train with some beautiful scenic nature landscapes and charming villages before arriving in Bergen at 6pm.
We had such a good time doing this tour in the Winter and I would highly recommend doing it yourself if you can! You save lots of money and you share the exact same journeys and transport with those who paid double the price!
We got up early and were so excited to do some sledging. This was such a last-minute decision (literally decided the night before) which made it even more exciting! We both knew that no trip to Oslo in the winter would be complete without playing in the snow but this takes playing to a whole new level. Its NOT just a cute, romantic, leisurely ride down a gentle slope in the park. Nope.. this was pure madness. Korketrekkeren translates to “corkscrew” which is what the slope is similar to. When we searched this on YouTube, videos with titles such as Death Sled and The Madness came up.
This is a bobsled run that was built for the 1952 Winter Olympics. Its 1.25 miles long with over 800 feet of vertical. Depending on your lack of skill and sanity, you might hit speeds in excess of 25 mph. I have no idea what happened to me, but it was like I had no fear, no brakes, no barriers, nothing! Just me, the sledge and my dear god, the speed! But this was soooooo unbelievably fun.
After checking that Korketrekkeren is open (it was the first day of it opening), we went hard on the buffet, put on several kilos of clothes and then went to the train station.
The Train Ride to Frognerseteren
What was so good about this experience was just easy everything was. Not only can you ride the metro to the hill, you can actually use it as your ski lift. We bought a 24-hour ticket on the metro which will let you ride as much as you want for an entire day. This was helpful for us as we wanted to travel to different parts of Oslo for the second half of the day. Once we had our ticket, we headed down the platform and board the #1 train to Frognerseteren. Metro 1 starts out underground but after a few stops, it goes outside and that’s when the ride itself becomes interesting and beautiful. You start passing through quirky neighbourhoods of Oslo and then, with increasing elevation, you see more snow and stunning snow-covered wood houses.
When you reach Midstuen Station, you see a mass of sledders boarding with their sledges in hand. This is because the Midstuen is the lower end of the sledding run so this is part of the trian journey would also be the ski lift to the top. When you get to the end of the train line, you can rent your sled form the shop at the bottom of the hill – you basically just follow the people (mostly locals).
Renting a Sled
We rented our sled from Skiservice Kjelkeurleie Sledges because the sleds are metal, which are supposedly better. There is also another sled rental shop over behind the restaurant, but I think they were closed on the day we went. Once we were inside, we filled out a brief form with our name and contact info along with the payment. Riding in Korketrekkeren is free, but sled rental costs NOK 80-100 per day. We received the sledges and the helmet and they gave us a few instructions as it was our first time sledging (as going down a UK park hill on a plastic float doesn’t count apparently).
We then went outside and found the starting point (we just followed the crowd!).
It started off relatively well and gentle, which was good so that you can become one with the sled. We practised slowing down, stopped, turning etc. We got the hang of it pretty quickly and even started showing off by leaning into the curve to turn the sled.
We finally made it to the bottom of the hill and boy was the ride amazing! It was so exciting and such an adrenaline rush. I was shocking at the lack of health and safety precautions that was used to in the UK. Not trying to sound melodramatic, but if you take the wrong turn, or didn’t break in time – then it will not end well.
The end of the run is rather flat but if you come barrelling fast enough through the final curve then you could sled all the way into Midstuen metro station, which is rather convenient – especially if you see the train pulling in.
It takes about 10 minutes to ride the course if you don’t stop much. It probably took us about 15 minutes realistically. The trains are 15 minutes apart and takes around 16 minutes to ride back up on the metro.
Apart from the very last ride where I tried to turn around to get my husband’s attention and rode straight into a tree (that was my bad) which ended up bending my thumbnail back, it was SO SO fun.
If you are ever in Oslo during winter, do visit. Just let go, don’t think twice and have the time of your life.
Often rated as one of the world’s best (and most expensive) places to live, Oslo was one of the locations that my husband and I both wanted to visit for a long time. Oslo is the capital of Norway and was founded over 1000 years ago by the famous Harold Hardrada. The city sits at the northern tip of the Oslo Fjord and is surrounded by beautiful mountains and green hills with 40 islands and 343 lakes within the city limits. The city has temperate climate with mid 20s temperature in the summer months, but as we visited in the middle of their winter and it was super cold!
After trying the British Airways lounge for the first time (eeek, thanks AMEX!), we landed in Oslo airport. Earlier research directed us away from the over-priced Express train into the city and towards the local train. It was only an extra 10 minutes but was half the price. Within 40 minutes, we exited Oslo S Station in the late afternoon and checked into Anker Hotel. As we only had two days in Oslo, we quickly dropped off the bags and made our way to our first stop – Oslo Opera House. With sunset being around 3:30pm, we had to get as much done as we can during the day time.
Oslo Opera House
Oslo Opera House was our first stop and was something my architect husband was super keen on seeing – and it was worth it! This is home to the Norwegian National Opera and Ballet and is unique in the sense that it is the only Opera House in the world where you can walk on the roof. Its angled exterior surfaces are covered with Italian marble and white granite. It looks stunning in the photos.
This contemporary Opera House is relatively new, only opening in April 2018. Designed by Snohetta, it won numerous awards including the Culture Award at the 2008 World Architecture Festival and the 2009 EU Prize for Contemporary Architecture.
When you look at the Fjords, you will see the She Lies (Hun Ligger) Sculpture by Monica Bonvinci which is made out of stainless steel and glass which is meant to represent an iceberg. It sits on a concrete platform and is meant to move with the tides and wind which then offers changing reflections of the water and the opera house. See behind us:
We actually came back the next day later in the evening to see the lobby. Its one of those things where I am so glad my husband loves architecture as I wouldn’t have been too fussed if I missed it. But boy am I glad I went in! The lobby is absolutely beautiful and contemporary. It was minimalistic but well thought-out. I loved how the lobby is surrounded by 49ft tall windows and to ensure the views of the water are not blocked, they had very little framing.
We then walked 15 minutes to the Akershus Fortress. This was built in the 1290s and is used as a Palace, royal residence and a prison. We didn’t go on an official tour but just walked around this Medieval Castle grounds which is free to do. The fortress was mainly built to protect Oslo and holds a good position for combat because of the immediate proximity to the sea. During World War II, Norwegian resistance fighters were executed by Nazi firing squads here while the same happened to collaborators after the war.
Its definitely worth the visit and you can enjoy panoramic views of the harbour and city from here.
Oslo City Hall
We then walked a further nine minutes to the horrible City Hall. Im sorry (or am i?) but it really is an ugly building that just doesn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the stylish and hip architecture. It was constructed in the 1930s and houses the city council and lots of the administration services of Oslo. It also hosts the Nobel Peace Prize Awards. At least move it from the waters edge…
Moving very swiftly on, we walked past the Nobel Peace Centre to the upscale neighbourhood of Aker Brygge that was developed on the site of a former shipyard. The boardwalk is full of yummy (and extremely expensive) restaurants, quirky cafes and unique little boutiques.
It’s a cool place just to wander and explore the lively pier. We walked to the Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art whilst watching the colourful and dramatic sunset
Just as the sun set, we walked 20 minutes to the Royal Palace (I know, we love walking!). The Royal Palace dates from 1840 and is the official home of the Norwegian monarch King Harald V. Interestingly, King Harald is the first Norwegian born monarch for over 640 years! Unbelievable. The palace looked fantastic in the late afternoon sunset – it also looked like its been taken straight out of a Wes Anderson movie with its majesty and delicate shade of primrose yellow. The palace is surrounded by a huge park and path leading to the main shopping street. Its quite interesting how close you can get to the front door considering the King still lives there!
When we went on 26th December 2019, there was a vigil outside the palace as the family of Princess Martha Louise’s ex-husband, Ari Behn announced that Behn had “taken his own life”. It is quite unusual that these reports came out considering that Norway has always been a country that’s been reluctant to report or otherwise publicly acknowledge suicide. Either way, there were swarms of people weeping by the column outside the palace which was filled with candles and flowers.
We walked down the infamous Karl Johan Street and accidently (but thankfully!) walked straight into their Christmas market! I LOVE European Christmas markets and this one did not disappoint. As always, there were lots of little stalls selling handicrafts, sweets and hot drinks. There was a busy ice-skating rink in the middle. We walked around and sat by the fire with a hot drink. I just remember turning to look at my husband, who in turn was staring into the fire and just smiling and appreciating life. Its strange the small things that you remember in these holidays. By this point, we were so hungry and in the borderline of being hangry. We both had our heart set on eating pizza and luckily there was Peppe’s Pizza a 3 minutes walk away from the market! We also wanted to try this as it’s a highly popular chain of pizza restaurants across Oslo. We shared a large pizza and it was so delicious but I think we also just appreciated taking our layers off and being indoors in the heat! We then went back to Anker Hotel which was conveniently a 16 minutes’ walk away.
We woke up and hit the breakfast buffet hard, ready and fuelled for the day ahead. Our first stop was Kortetrkkeren
Korketrekkeren Tobaggan Run
We spent half a day sledging! As we just had such a blast, I wanted to write about this detail – especially as there wasn’t that much information about it online. See the blog post here.
Viking Ship Museum
After one crazyyyyyyy morning sledging, we went to the Viking Ship Museum. After learning about Vikings in primary and secondary school, I was so fascinated by them. The structure of the museum itself was built to house two remarkably well-preserved funerary Viking ships. These ships data back to the 800s but it was only in 1903 that the world’s largest Viking grave was discovered on the Oseberg Farm, a short distance south of Oslo (thus the name Oseberg Ship). When a prominent figure died, the Vikings would build an entire ship to bury the bodies along with their worldly possessions. Archaeologists say that this particular ship was the women’s grave and that they were powerful during their time.
I was mesmerised at the excellent condition and perfectly preserved the ship was – its detailed carvings and dark, thick planks looked like something from a movie set!
Norwegian Museum of Cultural History
Right next to the Viking Ship Museum was the Norwegian Museum of Cultural History. Due to time constraints, we didn’t actually have enough time to go inside but to be honest, we weren’t too bothered. We did pop our heads in and discovered some collections of artifacts from all social groups and all regions of the country.
We then took bus 30 to Vigeland Park and boy did this park amaze me. It is one of the most visited sites in Norway and the largest sculptures park in the world. Located inside Oslo’s Frognerparken, it is definitely unique.
The Vigeland Park is filled with art instalments designed by Gustav Vigeland, a Norwegian sculptures (same guy who designed the Nobel Peace Prize). These instalments covers 80 acres of Frogner Park and features 212 bronze and granite sculptures. The first thing I noticed is that all of them are naked. Vigeland said “it is only when you put clothes on people, that religion and origin are identified. When you are naked you can be anyone, anywhere and at any time”. I was so impressed with how accurate the statues are as all ages and genders being represented. The main theme is the circle of life. The highlights of this park are:
The bronze fountains – From the centre of the square basin, six men support a large basin from which the fountain water flows
The monolith’s terrace which houses a 17-meter high column showing 121 intertwined human figures. The column is called monolith because it was carved in a single piece of granite.
The granite bridge – This has 58 life-size bronze statues of men, women and children represented. The Sinnataggen (the furious child) is the most famous statue, which has become one of the symbols of Oslo. My favourite was the women dancing while pulling her long hair (Khaled says she looks like me on a bad day – cheers)
We were almost going to call it a day, but my husband was keen to check out the controversial Barcode project. Located to the west of the centre of Oslo, next to the Opera House, this consists of 12 narrow high-rise buildings of different heights and widths and with some space in between them (this looking like a barcode). Now it houses leading national and international businesses and 10,000 people work here on a daily basis.
It is controversial in the sense that almost 70% of Oslo’s population was not in favour of the project and try to campaign against it. They thought it was an architecturally provocative project, at least for the traditional standards of the Norwegian capital. It is in stark contrast of the city which has low houses, is open with lots of green areas.
We just walked around there and went up to the bridge connecting the buildings before we called it a day and wanted to grab some dinner.
Dinner at Rice Bowl Restaurant
As we wanted something cheap and cheerful and very filling, we went to this high recommended and very popular restaurant that just happened to be around the corner from the Barcode Project. They serve tasty, affordable Thai food in huge portions. Just look at the smile in Khaled’s face was when the food came!
Accommodation Review: Anker Hotel
I would definitely recommend this hotel. It was a slick, almost business-like hotel which is well located in the city centre. Everyone knows how super-expensive Oslo is but this hotel was extremely affordable (£30 per night for the both of us!). It also included a buffet breakfast which we hit quite heavily each morning. This was my FIRST plate of my buffet selection. It was so fresh and delicious. I loved the smoked salmon!
Ever fancied spending some time in your very own castle?
Astley Castle is an 800-hundred-year-old Grade II listed building located in Warwickshire, England. It has links to three Queens of England and Victorian novelist Georgie Elliot. For hundreds of years, it stood as a fortified manor house but became derelict after being turned into a hotel and gutted by fire in 1978.
In 2005, grants were obtained from the Heritage Lottery Fund and English Heritage (and many other organizations and individuals) to restore the historic building and turn it into a holiday home. The project was given to architects Witherford Watson Mann to complete the design and cost a whooping £2.7m. Fusing the old with the new in 2013, it won a major design award, the RIBA Stirling Prize for Architecture. It recently opened its doors to allow for accommodation up to 8 people.
What I loved about this castle is that some of the original 13th century stonework and timbers were preserved and integrated with a beautiful intrinsic modern design. It’s almost as if the new living accommodation has been carefully and sensitively stitched into the shell of this ancient moated castle. Truth be told, I’ve never seen anything like it.
As you enter the building, you will walk through the bare ruins of the outer walls which will then lead into four ground-floor bedrooms. Each bedroom has its own unique style and viewpoint. There were two rooms with double beds and two with single beds. As we went with three other couples, this was slightly inconvenient. However, it doesn’t take away from the breathtakingly beautiful building.
This is the view from our bedroom:
The timber staircase will then lead you upstairs to the one large open-plan hall, incorporating a fully-equipped kitchen with a medieval-style wooden dining area and lounge. This is where we spent most our time cooking and playing games. As we stayed for four nights, every couple took it in turn to cook a three-course meal one night. We had the first night to cook and so I cooked vegetarian stuffed courgettes with rice. At that time (pre-Covid), I wasn’t very confident in cooking so I just wanted to get it out of the way ASAP. Now that I spent time during the lockdown learning how to cook, I wish I could go back to make a more elaborate and delicious dish.
There is also an outdoor dining area within part of the stone walls. We had a bbq one afternoon where the guys would be outside with the drone acting as a fan and headlights. The food was so delicious!
After dinner, we would sit down and play games – namely charades. There is a fireplace with logs already cut up, which we would spend every night putting on, drinking chai and talking until the early hours of the morning. It was just perfect and special spending quality time with our friends.
The building had large windows that looked out onto the neighbouring village church and across a moat to fields and trees.
As we spent 5 days in the area, we decided to do a few days trips to keep us busy. One day we just walked around the castle, which in itself was pretty. Another day we all drove to Peak District but as the weather wasn’t on our side, we only walked up a hill, got extremely muddy and then walked backed down. In the last day, we also ventured out into Warwick where we had the most delicious breakfast at The Neighbourhood Leamington, walked around Warwick Castle and then indulged in the Tring Champneys Spa.
If you’re looking to enjoy a short break somewhere truly different and unique, check out one of Warwickshire’s best kept secrets!
The good news is it won’t cost a king’s ransom but the bad news is there’s a long waiting list.
Paris is one of the my favourite European cities with its French cuisine, countless museums, historic architecture and charming parks. I treated my sister with two tickets to Paris for her 18th birthday so that she could go with her best friend to see the Christmas Markets. Because my family still had some reservations about her going alone, I had to go and just be their point of contact if they need. Who wouldn’t turn down tickets to Paris!?
In my opinion, Paris is not a once and done type of city. I would happily return again and again, especially with my husband. Paris is just so vase and there is so much to explore. Im going to give you a brief breakdown of what I did in each of the three days. You will find that it was pretty laid back because I went to Paris as an opportunity to de-stress from work and to re-connect with myself. In other words, I wanted to see the main attractions but also soap up the wonder of Paris at a street side café, indulge in way too many croissants at a local patisserie, watch the Eiffel Tower sparkle at night and just feel the city envelope you – that’s part of the Parisian charm!
As we went in late November, we were lucky enough to experience the French Charismas market. There’s an extra dose of magic when visiting Paris in winter. So dig out your scarf and glove and see the best three day itinerary for Winter.
After checking into the hostel, my sister and I parted ways. The first thing I always like to do is go on a free guided walking tours to learn more about the city’s history and to get my bearings. This is what I go up to on day 1:
I booked the walking tour with Sandman’s as I’ve used them before and know they are brilliant. The 3 hours ‘Free Tour of Paris’ covers many of Paris’ top attractions, including Notre Dame Cathedral, the Louvre and the Arc de Triopmhe. It started at the Saint Michel Fountain and ended at the Louvre. It was a great introduction to Paris at a price that suits everybody’s budget.
Notre Dame was the first stop of the walking tour and was the most architecturally impressive in my opinion. Like many other cathedrals, it was very intricately detailed and had some beautiful glass-stained windows. The cathedral has free entry so before the tour began, I quickly went inside to appreciate its beauty. Unfortunately, due to the huge fire last year, the church is closed for the foreseeable future until they do the repairs.
After walking along the Seine for about 40 minutes, passing iconic sites such as Alexandre iii bridge and the Tulleries Garden, the tour ended at the world-famous Louvre Museum. The louvre is home to hundreds of medieval ruins and priceless artefacts from around the world. It also happens to be the largest museum in the world. I did find the museum to be expensive as you have to pay for each separate section – so I just opted for the site with Mona Lisa and that was plenty for me. Catching a glimpse of the Mona Lisa was on my bucket list, so I didn’t want to pass this opportunity by.
Even if you don’t plan to go inside, I would aim to at least visit the outside of the Louvre as the architecture is simply stunning.
The two grand shopping complexes along Boulevard Haussmann are Galeries Lafayette and Printemps. Both stores are completely decked our with stunning window displays. I went to the stunning dome shaped 10 story Galeries Lafayette after dinning as I was keen to see the larger than life-sized Christmas tree, which has a different theme each year.
I loved just walking around each floor of the shopping mall. I bought a gold bracelet from this pop-up stall Lou Yetu as the queue was leading to outside the mall. It is also home to one on of the best free panoramic views in the city if you go its rooftop terrace. You can also ice skate on the roof of this department store, but as I was alone, I didn’t think it would be fun.
At this stage, i was absolutely exhausted and started to get hangry, with myself as i had no-one to aim my hanger towards. I have no idea where i walked or how long i walked for, but it seemed like more than an hour. I reached this neighbourhood which was evidently not very popular with the tourists. I was craving a duck confit and finally came across this adorable french restuartaunt. I had the nicest conversation with the waiter and ordered duck confit. I just remember sitting down and my head was so clogged up with thoughts about work, family, friends, life that i just pulled my notebook and started writing. I really enjoyed it, especially with the candle and dim-lit room. The food also exceeded my expectations! Im a terrible travel blogger as i should have noted down the name, but it felt good being lost in the moment.
En route to Eiffel Tower, we stumbled the most French street market you can imagine. It was the cutest thing – I picked up some cheese from here.
There is nothing more Parisian than catching a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower. We also ascended the Eiffel Tower – even though it provided a great view over the city. I personally don’t think it was worth it, and you’re better off seeing from the top of Arc de Triomphe or another rooftop bar. Luckily there was no queue when we went so it didn’t necessarily eat up my time.
Arc de Triomphe
Another must-see in Paris is the Arc de Triomphe; a monument in honour of troops who fought in the French Revolutionary. Its located at one of the Champs Elysees and is looks very majestic. Its worth checking out from the outside and if you have the chance, to go up to the very top.
This is the oxford street of France – a huge boulevard lined with famous French luxury brands including Louis Vuitton and Cartier. I spent a long time just sitting outside in Paul café, reading my book, people watching and drinking coffee and eating their amazing pastries.
Dinner at Bouillon Chartier
I heard great things about the Bouillon Chartier. It shows a slice of Parisian history as its perfect-preserved relic of an old Paris, with glass-globe fixtures, tables jammed together, coat racks high above the tables and a menu that hasn’t changed in the last three or four decades. I was eternally curious…
Bouillon Chartier is tucked away down an alley off a side street, Bouillons were established so anyone can get affordable traditional French food and speedily. There are very few left and the price of started range from €1 – €6.80 and mains not exceeding €13.50 (and that includes steak). Its no wonder there was a queue snaking outside into the street. I expected lots of tourists, but I surrounded by the locals. It wasn’t too long before I was sat in this beautifully ast room, elbow to elbow with some strangers on a shared table and digging into my steak.
Going to a restaurant is an experience and never just about your meal. Its about the room, the service and everything in between. The steak I had was absolutely delicious but the experience was even better.
I wanted to do something slightly different on the third day and explore a new district. I was recommended by my colleague to go to Montmartre to soak up with 18th arrondissement’s ambiance. I definitely did not regret it as it was my favourite part of the trip. The hilltop neighbourhood of Montmartre was once synonymous with drinking, dancing and debauchery. This is because in the mid-19th century, it was just outside the city limits meaning it is free of the city’s taxes and controlled and ultimately evolved into a bohemian, artistic enclave. I did a self-guided walking tour of this unique city.
This stunning location is named after Dalida, a legendary Italian-Egyptian singer who is absolutely huge in France. I just know her from her rendition of Bang Bang, which is just perfection.
Dalida’s Parisian home was in Montmartre and it was only after she died that the city named this square after her and installed the bust of her. You’ll notice a few shiny places because its apparently good luck to rub it – hmmmm. Say hi to the bust of Dalida and continue up the stunning Rue de l’Abreuvoir, the most beautiful street I saw in Paris.
This Is the birthplace of the can-can dance. I wanted to go to a show here but the tickets were sold out. Maybe next time…
Le Moulin de la Galette
Le Moulin de la Galette is the last remaining windmills in Montmartre and also a tourist attraction. This windmill, once used for grinding flour is a favourite of Vincent Van Gogh. The owners of the windmill created a brown bread (Galette) that was so popular that the windmill got its name from it.
Built in late 1800s, Sacre Coeur, otherwise known as the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris is one of the most famous churches in Paris. I enjoyed going inside the church and also just enjoying the sunset over the city. However – be cautious with your personal belongings as there many pickpockets around.
I couldn’t leave Paris without trying a fresh Macaron from a bakery. I came across one on the way back to the accomodation and was blown away. It was so fresh and sweet that i had to go back and buy a box for my family!
Do you have any questions about travelling to Paris that I didn’t answer? Be sure to leave them in the comments, and I’ll get back to you as quickly as possible 🙂
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Milan is one of the most interesting places to visit in Italy and is becoming an increasingly popular tourist destination. However, its also definitely worth visiting the forgotten yet hidden gem of Lombardy – Bergamo.
Bergamo is at a stone’s throw from Milan (around 45 minutes by train) and can be a great day trip. I was so surprised how underrated this cute little city is as I felt it was most authentically Italian city i visited during my trip to Northern Italy – especially the old city, known as Citta Alta. This part of Bergamo is a maze of narrow alleys, gorgeous buildings and has some great viewpoints.
Here’s a quick travel guide to this beautiful Italian city and the best things to do in Bergamo.
Take the funicular up to the Citta Alta
The city is divided into two main parts, with a further sub-division once you reach High Bergamo (Citta Alta). This part of Bergamo dates back thousands of years and was built in the Roman era.
Below, where the train station is, you will find the newer part of the city (though also dating back at least 5 centuries). We actually took the funicular walk up to the old city but then walked down to the new city.
Visit the Tempietto di Santa Croce
This incredibly stunning ancient 11th century chapel is hidden in plain sight, so much so that my family walked straight past it. This best-kept secret in Bergamo gives you a glimpse of Bergamo history with its stone structure leaning on to one.
Visit the Duomo di Bergamo
Bergamo was once home to two cathedrals but only one survives to this day. The Duomo di Bergamo (Bergamo’s cathedral) can be found right next to Piazza Vecchia, part of the Roman Catholic Church.
Enjoy Coffee in the Piazza Vecchia
We really enjoyed just drinking Italian coffee in the Piazza Vecchia, the old town square. As it was the last day before Coronavirus Lockdown, the streets and the square was empty. Like many smaller Italian towns and cities, the prices of Bergamo are much less than those of Rome and Milan.
We really enjoyed just drinking Italian coffee in the Piazza Vecchia, the old town square. As it was the last day before Coronavirus Lockdown, the streets and the square was empty. Like many smaller Italian towns and cities, the prices of Bergamo are much less than those of Rome and Milan.
Walk through the Bergamo City Gate
The Venetian walls which characterise Bergamo start from the San Giacomo Gate, the old entrance to the city for those travelling to Bergamo from Milan.
As we walked down the old city to the new city, we noticed the beautiful Venetian Walls surrounding the old city. Bergamo is heavily fortified by the Venetian Walls, which are now designated as a UNESCO world heritage site. The walls were constructed in the 16th century under the republic of Venice. Today, the renaissance era walls are some of the best-preserved walls standing in the world today.
The complete loop stretches over 6km in length and walking along the high walls by foot is the best introduction you could have to the city. This one my parent’s favourite part of the day – just walking along the high walls and looking out at the beautiful views.
Wander the cobbled streets
The best way to reveal Bergamo’s hidden gems is simply to allow the city to reveal itself to you. This Lombardy city is a place where its atmosphere needs to eb absorbed and you should just go where your feet takes you.
Soak up the history of the beautiful ancient city.
Do you have any questions about travelling to Bergamo that I didn’t answer? Be sure to leave them in the comments, and I’ll get back to you as quickly as possible 🙂
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I visited Milan in mid-February, during Milan Fashion Week 2020 and the a few days before the travel ban for coronavirus. It was a birthday treat for my mum as she loves European city getaways with the family.
I never suspected a thing during my time in Italy. Everyone was out as normal, right up to the day of my departure. I only understood the gravity of the situation the day before we were about to depart. All of the famous monuments, restaurants, bars and cafes were shut because of the Covid-19. When we went from pharmacy to pharmacy to try and find face masks, everything was either shut or sold out.
The fashion capital of Italy is full of lovely little cobblestone streets, amazing churches, great restaurants and the best shopping places in Europe. You can discover the city by foot which is great as the monuments and iconic locations are not far from each other. You could also take the reliable tram service around the city if you need to.
There are three airports in Milan – Malpensa, Bergamo and Linate. Malpensa is by far Milan’s most popular airport, Linate is closest to the city and Bergamo is a train ride away from central Milan.
We spent 4 full days in Milan but with two day-trips – one to Lake Como and the other to Bergamo. Watch our travel video here:
You can’t miss Milan’s magnificent Duomo. The cathedral is gothic and majestic. You can also visit inside the cathedral and go up to the top for spectacular panoramic views. With over 3,500 statues, 135 spirals and 5 bronze doors, it’s not surprising that it looks 500 years to complete the Duomo. I believe entrance is 9 euros if you walk up and 13 euros if you use the lift. We were planning on going up the cathedral but unfortunately due to the coronavirus, it was the first day the government ordered it all to close.
Beware there are lots of pigeons all over the square – it doesn’t help when your parents are feeding them bread while you’re trying to run away from them :l The entire square was flooded with people, as expected. We really enjoyed walking around the square, entering the shops and tasting local food in the area.
If you wanted some good views of the cathedral without being in the cathedral – you could try going into Terrazza Aperol which is right next to it. We actually went to the 7th floor of La Rinasente shopping Centre which has free entrance and you can just order coffee/lunch to sit on the terrace.
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
This is one of the most beautiful shopping centres in the world with all of the top luxury Italian designers you can imagine – from Prada, Gucci and Armarni. The galleria opened in 1877 and is named after the first king of united Italy and is built in a classic neo-renaissance style with marble, iron and glass. The architecture is impressive and it combines wall paintings, mosaic floors and high glass ceiling. I was just mermerised whilst walking around the shopping centre. If you want a more affordable shopping option, try going to via Montenapoleone, one of the most famous streets for shopping.
There are exorbitant restaurants and bars but I wouldn’t recommend going in them as they’re overpriced and you can probably find better food elsewhere.
On the left-hand side of the Galleria, you’ll find a small crowd around a mosaic bull on the floor. It’s a Milanese tradition to spin on the bull’s balls three times with your heels – so much that the bulls but are periodically retiled – nice.
Go to Italy’s ONLY starbucks
We came here as my sister read about it online and wanted to try out their coffee. The Milan Starbucks Reserve Roastery is the only roastery in Europe, and one of only five into the World. Its also Europe’s largest Starbucks being 2400 metre squares, found in Milan’s Piazza Cordusio, minutes away from the Duomo. We walked here from the Duomo to Sforzcesco Castle. It was so beautiful inside and so i’m not surprised it was labelled by the company itself as “the most beautiful Starbucks in the world”.
we enjoyed a coffee from here and it was SOO good. There’s 115 different types of coffee blends to choose from but no Frappuccinos frappuccinoas Italians are very specific with their coffees.
This wonderful park is Milan’s best park by far and a great place you can laze on the grass and have a picnic. It is home to the Sforzesco Castle, an aquarium, a design and art museum, Branca Tower and a few bars and cafes.
Make sure to head over to the Arco della Pace (the big arch at the far end of the park) for some people watching and for aperitivo. It was actually when we were sitting here we realised the seriousness of Covid-19 as my sister got a call from her summer job saying that the Italian group from Verona whom she was meant to be looking after are no longer allowed out the country. My sister, not wanting to tell them she’s in Milan tried subtly ask her if anyone was currently allowed to leave the country. We were starting to worry about not being able to get back home!
Built in the 15th century by Francesco Sforza, the castle now houses 12 museums and a vast archives of artefacts. This impressive building used to be the home of Milan’s rulers in the 15th century and the one of the largest citadels in Europes in the 16th century. Leonarda da Vinci also lived here for a while, working on the Last Supper and some of his Codexes.
The castle entrance is free, but admission to all of the museums costs 10 euros. We just walked around the castle, looking at the imposing towers and moat all around it.
This Leonardo da Vinci masterpiece resides in the church of Santa Maria della Grazie. The painting is well preserved and historians still hasn’t resolved all of its mysteries (does the spilled salt in front of Judas symbolize his betrayal?). We didn’t get a chance to see this because it was closed due to the Coronavirus – but If you do get the chance to check it – I definitely recommend you doing so, but book in advance!
This canal district is so beautiful, especially in the evening where the locals come out for their aperitivo. There are plenty of bars, cafes, clubs and restaurants to go along the canal and has a lively atmosphere. Don’t go too late as places get full very quickly. Every last Sunday of the month there is a huge vintage market named Navigli Grande Antique Market, where you can find second hand items of all kinds.
On the way from the Duomo to Navigli, walk via Pizza AM for a snack/dinner – the pizzas there are sooo good!
In my recent trip to Milan in February 2020, I was fortunate enough to be invited to the Milan Fashion Week. I attended the Emerging Talents Milan show on February 23. I brought along my sister, Yasmin for good company. This show gathers outstanding international brands in the historical Palazzo Visconti di Modrone. It is such a beautiful palace built by Spanish nobleman, Count Bolagnos in the 18th century. In the 19th century, Visconti di Modrone transformed the façade and interior in rococo style. I’ve been to a few fashion shows, but this is perhaps the most beautiful fashion show venue I’ve ever been to.
My sister and I were one of the first to get in and so gave us plenty of time to people watch, once we’ve found our seat. We were pleasantly surprised how relaxed and chilled people well. I mean all of them made efforts to their looks, but nothing over the top. There are also weren’t as many photographers taking shots as what I normally experience in other fashion shows. The show lasted exactly an hour.
My sister and I had an absolute blast. Here are some photos of the event.
Leaving Milan, my heart was filled with so much content and joy. Not only did i truly enjoy the experience but also that my sister was super excited and was able to join me. I loved how stylish and friendly all the citizens of Milan were. Its left me wanting to go back!
If you’re visiting Milan and want to escape the busy city streets for the day – then the day trip from Milan to Lake Como is perfect for you. I knew that I wanted to experience its mountains and fresh air from the moment I step foot in Italy. Even though there are numerous organized day trips that can take you to Lake Como and back to Milan in a day, take a self-guided tour is much more rewarding and super easy!
We came here for my mother’s birthday and it was her favourite day from our entire trip to Milan. We absolutely loved Lake Como, and we know you will, too.
Watch our travel vlog here:
On a day trip to Lake Como from Milan, you’ll have time to explore a few of its beautiful villages and towns dotted along the lake.
Here’s the route you should take between Milan, Como, Bellagio and Verenna: Milano Central train station –> Varenna-Esino train station –> Ferry to Bellagio –> Bus to Como –> Como San Giovanni train station –> Milano Central training station
Each town is special and stunning in its own way. Luckily, they’re all close enough to each other to visit all three in one day.
You could purchase your train tickets online in advance, but as went in off-peak season in February 2020, we didn’t book in advance. We just went (ran) to the train station and bought out tickets. We literally caught the train by a millisecond and my mother and i had to try and force the train doors open while my father and sister caught up with us – literally the story of our lives. We bought a single from Milan to Varenna which was roughly £6 (7 euros) pp and the journey takes about an hour. It was a very scenic train journey as you had glimpses of the beautiful clear turquoise waters.
We also bought the train ticket back from Como to Milan which was slightly cheaper.The whole experience was super easy and reliable!
If you are going in peak season – you should purchase your tickets online and in advance from TrenItalia. You can simply keep your tickets on your smartphone; no need to print them out.
If possible, take one of the earliest trains into Como, and one of the last trains back to Milan. If you do that, you can easily spend three or more hours in each town!
Once you arrive in Vernna, its easy to navigate between the different towns around the lake using the ferry system. Again, we purchased the ferry tickets once we got to Verenna to go to Bellagio from a person at the terminal. If you get stuck, they will be able to advise you to which ticket you need to get. You cannot purchase ferry tickets online. However, check the ferry time tables before you arrive, so you have a plan. The ferries seem to be regular so you don’t have to plan timings too much, as you could always catch the next one. The ferry from Varenna to Bellagio takes just 15 minutes and costs 4.60 euros.
As I went with my entire family, there was an option to catch the ferry from Bellagio to Como but it would have turned out really expensive (£15 pp). we decided to catch the local bus from Bellagio to Como which was only £3 pp. This option isn’t advertised much around Bellagio but to purchase these tickets you need to go to a local newsagent to buy it. It’s a lot more economical for a group.
Things to do
I absolutely fell in love with Varenna. So much so, that it’s probably my favourite town in Lake Como. It was just so pretty walking around the quiet and delicate town. We walked along the cobbled streets and found a café with the most stunning views to have coffee and a snack. The harbour is very pretty and is lined with outdoor cafes and gelato shops.
After we got some energy, we continued walking down the steep cobblestone alleyways and exploring the churches and houses. The best thing to do is to get away from the main street and wander around the backstreets for a real sense of the place. I just loved the brightly coloured buildings and ornate balconies and all the beautiful flowers. It was so picturesque! You can walk around the small town in less than an hour, if you wanted to move fast.
Make sure you walk down the wonderful path called the Passeggiate Degli Innamorati (The Lover’s Walk). It hugs the coast and allows for the most peaceful walks and great views. The cobblestone streets and alley ways will eventually lead you to the historic centre of Varenna and the Church of San Giorgio with its clock tower rising above the town. Its definitely worth checking out!
If we had more time, I would have loved to explore a few castles and villas around the area. Especially, Castello di Vezio – an 11th century partially ruined castle. This can be reached by climbing to the very top of the mountain – roughly 45 minutes steep walk from the base of town. The climb would be worth it with the effort as you are rewarded with a panoramic view from the top.
I would have also loved to go inside Vila Montastero as I only saw it from the outside. This once inhabited villa on the lakefront is now used a conference centre attracting visitors to it botanical gardens.
After a morning exploring Varenna, you can take the short 15-minute ferry to its more famous neighbour – Bellagio often referred to as the “pearl of the lake”. Whilst roaming the streets, we paid attention to the details – the pretty pink flowers and beautiful lanterns.
It had lots of tall mountains, cypress trees, grand villas (including George Clooney’s villa!) and cute little cafes. Bellagio definitely has its own character and charm.
We walked the shoreline, climbed up the hill to the heart of town, explored ancient churches, browsed and shopped in boutiques found in narrow alleys (and bought a few Italian silk scarves!) and had a fantastic lunch. Make sure to visit the famous street for the iconic postcard shot of Bellagio – Salita Serbelloni (pictured above). We also savoured some fruity Italian gelato next to the lake while watching the sun dip behind the mountains as the sky turns pink.
Its easy to see why so many tourists flock to Bellagio. At 5pm, we caught the bus to our final stop – Como.
Como is the largest of the three towns you’ll visit during your day trip. Its not as pretty as the other two, but still worth checking out. We roamed the quaint streets and shops around the area. We arrived just in time before the sun completely set so we had some beautiful shots of the lake. You can take the funicular up the mountain to Brunate, but we didn’t have time to (or were that bothered).
From here, we took the train from Como back to Milan, which took about 37 minutes. Once we got back to Milan, we were so hungry but still wanted to try Miscusi as we researched about it and it had brilliant reviews. We saw the pasta being made in front of us and OH MA GAWDD it was so good.
Unfortunately my sister couldn’t really appreciate it as she was feeling slightly ill and had a block nose. It was at this point she was getting paranoid that she had the coronavirus (luckily she was tested and was fine!).
Have you been to Lake Como before? Which town is your favorite? Did you stay over night, or take a day trip from Milan?