Venice is a beautiful destination that attracts thousands of tourists every day. Before visiting it for the first time, I was aware of the risk of it being overrated, but personally found it to meet the expectations. Maybe a key decision was to follow the tip of visiting it during autumn, when the weather is still nice but the crowds are a lot smaller.
The main island of Venice is rather small and can be well explored in 1-2 days. It’s only 4 km long and 1 km wide. So if you have an extra day there, you can go island-hopping in the large Venetian lagoon.
Boats (or vaporettos) are really the main type of public transport in Venice – just like buses or subway trains in any other city. There are 24-, 48- and 72-hour tickets valid for unlimited boats trips, which are usually worth the money (plus, there’s a big discount on the 72-hour ticket for people under 29 years of age!). For more information, check here under “public transport”.
This was my favorite island in the lagoon, after Venice. The bright colorful houses along the canals heading towards the lagoon compose an extremely photogenic scenery. The island is known for its lace, which is sold in shops on the small streets. It’s a 30-minute ride from Murano and 40-minute from Venice.
Honestly, this island is better known for its history than for its attractions. It’s quite small and there is not much to see. There are a couple of churches you must pay to visit and a small museum. We decided to check it out since it’s so close to Burano – so if you’re feeling “why not?”, then do it. But know that – at least compared to the other islands in the Venice lagoon – it’s not so charming.
While Burano and Torcello are near each other and further away from Venice’s main island, Murano is quite close by (about a 10-minute ride). And just like Burano is known for its lace, Murano is famous for its glass products, hand-made on the island. You can watch artists in action making the small glass figures inside shops.
The calm and peaceful island of Sant’Erasmo is not a tourist must-see – BUT it’s a great option to stay overnight while visiting Venice. We found the cute Hotel Il Lato Azzurro to have excellent reviews on Booking.com and a ridiculously better price than hotels on the main island of Venice. I was a bit worried that it might be too far (location is a priority for me when booking accommodation), but the 25-minute boat ride from Venice didn’t feel very long (plus, we had a ticket for unlimited trips). The charming hotel compensates for the distance with balcony rooms overlooking the lake, nice breakfast, friendly staff and free bikes for guests to borrow whenever they want. Note: I was not sponsored by the hotel in any way to recommend it. 🙂
We also walked through Mazzorbo, a residential island attached to Burano – very quiet and not exactly a place that can’t be skipped.
San Michele is a small cemetery island located between Venice and Murano.
We did not visit Lido, on the southeast side of the lagoon, but it’s also an island where some tourists head to when visiting Venice.
So there is clearly more to Venice than just its main island. But one thing is a constant: water transportation, being it by gondola or vaporettos. You can’t (and shouldn’t) miss it.
Most of Berlin’s main tourist attractions are located in the central region, Mitte. Here, I put together an itinerary to see all of them in an efficient order and on foot. It’s doable to visit all the tourist spots in Mitte in 1 day, but it can be tiring. Depending on your pace, this itinerary can simply be paused and resumed the following day. Let’s begin:
Attractions in the city center (Mitte):
Start at Alexanderplatz (1), with the TV Tower (Fernsehturm) and the world clock. There are many stores around – including the bargain ones, Primark, Decathlon and TK Maxx – and the Alexa shopping mall near by.
Walk by the Rotes Rathaus (2) until you reach Unter den Linden – the long central avenue.
Keep on Unter den Linden: right after the river on the right is the Cathedral (Berliner Dom) (3) and the Museum Island (5 museums, one next to the other).
Continue on Unter den Linden; see the ‘Neue Wache’ memorial, walk by the main building of the Humboldt Universität (4) and keep on the avenue until reaching the Brandenburg Gate (5), one of the main landmarks of Berlin.
Walking through the gate: there is a long avenue ahead with the Victory Column at the end and a large park, Tiergarten, around.
Proceed to the right towards the German Parliament building (Bundestag or Reichstag) (6). You can visit the terrace of the parliament and have an audio-guide completely for free. But you have to book a time slot in advance through this website (‘Visit to the dome’). The building and the view are beautiful. Highly recommended!
Going back towards the Brandenburg Gate and walking straight ahead, you will find the Holocaust Memorial (7), a labyrinth of concrete that looks like a cemetery, with a very striking effect. Walk through it showing respect. There is also a free exhibition underground.
Walking towards the same direction as before, you will arrive at Potsdamer Platz, with the Sony Center (8), a giant and modern dome with restaurants and a cinema inside. Close by is the Mall of Berlin shopping center.
Go on to the Topography of Terror (9), another memorial about nazism, and then to Checkpoint Charlie (10) – a spot that symbolizes one of the former checkpoints between East and West Berlin while it was divided by the wall. But be aware that the checkpoint is not located on the exact spot where it used to be and today is only a tourist attraction.
Finish the route at Gendarmenmarkt (11), a lovely square right in the center of Berlin.
Outside the city center:
The East Side Gallery – the part that is left of the Berlin Wall, covered in colorful graffiti, is a must-see. Get off at the S-Ostbahnhof station and walk by the wall until its end, arriving at the Oberbaumbrücke bridge. It’s also worth it to explore at night the cool / alternative / hipster districts of Berlin, Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain, which are connected by this bridge.
In Berlin on a Sunday with good weather? Don’t miss Mauerpark! And check out the memorial about the wall, on the same street.
Staying 3 or more days in Berlin? Consider going a bit outside the city to visit the Sanssouci Palace and its gardens, in Potsdam (about 1 hour southwest of Berlin), and/or the museum of the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, in Oranienburg (about 1 hour north).
Want to go shopping? Besides the shopping malls in the city center already mentioned (Alexa and Mall of Berlin), a great option are the Tauentzienstraße and Kurfürstendamm (also known as Kudamm) streets, in the district of Charlottenburg. There, one can also visit the main zoo of Berlin and the Gedächtniskirche: the ruins of a church that was bombed during WWII and whose main tower is broken in half until today.
As you might know, I have the habit of looking for cheap flights to travel from Berlin, where I live. In one of these ‘treasure hunts’, I found flights that were not only super cheap, but also for the perfect times: leaving Friday night and returning Sunday night. Exactly for the weekend. A rare finding. The trip was to Bulgaria, for 43 euros round trip with Ryanair. To give you an idea of how cheap it was: this is the usual price for a train ride in Germany (round trip) that takes about two hours each way, if you have the card that gives 50% discount, because the normal price is double. In other words, flying for this price is not bad at all. I called a dear friend of mine who always joins me in these adventures and we got the tickets.
Two colleagues of ours who are from Bulgaria had told us that one day is enough to see the capital, Sofia, where we flew to. And several websites with traveler reviews also suggested visiting the second largest city in Bulgaria, Plovdiv, which is 2 hours from Sofia. So, that’s what we did: we spent the Saturday in Plovdiv (day trip) and the Sunday in Sofia. Bulgaria was the first country I visited whose language has another script (they use the cyrillic alphabet). Besides this, almost no one speaks English there. One thing that really helped was having written down the names of the cities we were going to visit in their alphabet, so we would be able to recognize them on signs. It was a slight adventure – but I wanted to visit Bulgaria precisely for being a country that is a bit different from what I was used to.
You can go from the airport to the center of Sofia by bus or subway. We found it easier to take the subway, but it’s good to know that the station is in terminal 2, and the low-cost airlines (like Ryanair) use terminal 3, which is apart from the main airport building. There is a van that transports passengers between terminals 2 and 3 for free, but it’s not available all the time. In Sofia we did the free walking tour, which was excellent, covered the main landmarks and told us a lot about the history of Bulgaria. The tour departs daily at 11 am and 6 pm from the Palace of Justice and lasts 2 hours. POINTS OF INTEREST: St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral (the main landmark of the city), Sofia Public Mineral Baths, Russian Church, National Palace of Culture (NDK), Ivan Vazov National Theatre (and the park around), Royal Palace, Vitosha mountain (a huge mountain very close to the city center), Vitosha Boulevard: the main pedestrian street, full of restaurants and shops (and tourists).
Plovdiv (Пловдив) HOW TO GET THERE: It is better to go by bus – the journey takes 2 hours while by train it takes 3 hours. The ticket costs 14 leva (7 euros) each way and can be purchased right before the trip at the bus station, which is right next to the train station. The buses usually leave every hour. To guarantee our return tickets, we bought them as soon as we arrived in Plovdiv. We stayed in this city from 11 am to 6 pm and it was enough. The bus is quite simple, but it takes you there. You can find the website for the trains here(available also in English) and for the buses here(only in Bulgarian! This is when you compare the scripts to find the city you want, or use an online translator). POINTS OF INTEREST: Plovdiv is full of Roman ruins scattered throughout the city. The most impressive one is the ancient Roman Amphitheater – a huge auditorium built some time B.C., and that is still used until to host concerts and events. There is also the Roman Stadium (underneath the main street in the city center) and the Roman Forum. Walk through the old town exploring its buildings (such as the Ethnographic Museum) and views to the city center. Near the train and bus stations, there is the Tsar Simeon Park, where a show of the ‘singing fountains’ occurs at night. In Plovdiv there is also a free walking tour starting at 11 am daily in front of the city hall, in the main street.
Bulgaria may not be one of the first destinations that come to mind when thinking about Europe, but it’s certainly worth the visit. Most of its streets and buildings have a very simple and humble appearance, but there are several points of interest for tourists. It’s a country where you spend very little, and it’s possible to visit the two largest cities during a weekend.
As said in the previous post, Malta was a special trip. And, as my travel planning is usually proportional to my excitement, you can imagine that I did quite some preparation for this trip. Summing everything I learned by researching and visiting this destination, I put together a time-efficient itinerary with the best points of interest in Malta.
This guide is ideal for 6 days – but, if your stay is shorter than this, you can simply prioritize the places you want to see the most.
Day 1: Valetta + Sliema + St. Julian’s + Paceville
Valetta Malta’s capital city – the smallest capital in the European Union. • Upper & Lower Barrakka Gardens, with views to the Grand Harbor and the Three Cities on the other side. At the Upper Barrakka Garden, a cannon is fired daily at noon and at 4pm by the saluting battery. • St. John’s Co-Cathedral • Republic Street: main shopping street • Explore the deserted old town side streets
Sliema •Promenade along the coast with great views of Valetta, several restaurants and swimming spots, going all the way to St. Julian’s
St. Julian’s •A big ‘love’ sculpture at the entrance • Many restaurants and bars • St. George’s Bay (beach): easy to reach, therefore usually crowded with tourists • Paceville: the youth party zone
Day 2: Blue Lagoon + Millieha or Golden Bay
Blue Lagoon Probably the biggest must-see in Malta!
This natural pool with transparent waters is located on the island of Comino. How to get there: drive or take a bus to Cirkewwa, and from there take a boat to the Blue Lagoon. All the boats make a few stops on the way back, showing the local caves. It’s recommended to go in the morning, when it’s less crowded.
There, you can rent a chair and umbrella to sit on the small sandy area, or simply take a seat on the rocks. We chose the second option because (a) it was free; (b) it was still easy to get in the water; and (c) we even had a great view to the Blue Lagoon from above.
If spending half a day in Blue Lagoon is sufficient for you (it was for us), you can still go relax on another beach on the main island for the rest of the day. But, of course, compared to the Blue Lagoon, they are not as impressive.
Some options near the disembark area in Malta are the Milleha Bay or the Golden Bay. In the Golden Bay, there are 3 beaches next to one another to choose from: Golden Bay per se (most easily reachable and most crowded), Gnejna and Ghajn Tuffieha (a bit more hidden and less populated).
Day 3: Gozo
The neighboring island deserves a full-day visit.
How to get there: take a ferry that leaves from Cirkewwa. The ride takes about 25 minutes and there is no need to buy a ticket before boarding – you only pay on the way back. (More information and fares here).
Board with your car if you have one. If you’re using the public transport, it might be worth it to get one of the hop-on hop-off buses to visit the points of interest on the island.
•Citadel: located in the capital city of Gozo – Rabat, or Victoria (many cities in Malta have two names). A medieval fortress, with a cathedral and a view to the surroundings. •Azure Window and Fungus Rock in Dwejra Bay: the famous and imposing rocky arch, where Game of Thrones filmed the scene where Daenerys gets married to Khal Drogo. As the rock is still under erosion, it is believed that the arch will disappear in a few decades. UPDATE: in March 2017, after a period of heavy storms, the Azure Window unfortunately collapsed and disappeared 😦 We had heard that would happen, but we didn’t expect it to be within less than a year after we visited it… •Ta’ Pinu Sanctuary: a large church, where many believers have left messages being thankful for the cure of their illnesses. •Ramla Bay: a cozy beach with reddish sand. The Calypso Cave viewpoint has a beautiful view to the Ramla Bay. •Xlendi Bay: another beach, with several restaurants around it (including a great ice cream shop). Ideal for a pit-stop to eat. •Ggantija Temples: Gozo’s megalithic temples. If you already plan to visit the other temples on the island of Malta, maybe you can skip this one.
Day 4: The Three Cities + Marsaxlokk + St. Peter’s Pool
The Three Cities Birgu (or Vittoriosa), Bormla (or Cospicua) and Isla (or Senglea) – (remember that in Malta many cities have two different names?)
Take a boat from Valetta to the entrance of the cities (the crossing is already a pleasant ride on its own) and explore their streets and waterfront views. If time is short: Vittoriosa is considered the nicest one.
Marsaxlokk A quite lovable fishing village, with dozens of small colorful fishing boats by the bay. On Sundays, there is a fish market.
St. Peter’s Pool A big natural pool, amazing to swim and jump into the water. It’s very close to Marsaxlokk, but the walk all the way up probably takes about 1 hour. So it is better to go by car or taxi.
Day 5: Mosta + Mdina + Rabat + Dingli Cliffs
Mosta •Rotunda of Mosta: the third largest church in Europe, with a big dome. During the second world war, a 50 kg bomb fell inside the church but did not explode – which was considered a miracle.
Mdina Known as the ‘silent city’, it’s a medieval town surrounded by walls. The entrance of Mdina was shown in Game of Thrones as the gateway to King’s Landing. •Fontanella Tea Gardens: a tea house offering a famous chocolate cake and a view to the surroundings (including the Rotunda of Mosta).
Rabat A charming town across from Mdina. •Roman Villa •Church of St. Paul •St. Dominic Convent (was also a Game of Thrones filming location)
Dingli Cliffs The highest point in Malta (253 meters) and considered the best spot in the island to watch the sunset.
Day 6: Blue Grotto + Hagar Qim & Mnajdra
Blue Grotto Boat ride through a few grottos and caves, including the Blue Grotto, with bright blue waters. The ideal is to go in the morning to capture the most impressive shade of blue of the sea. The ride is beautiful, but we found it quite short (about 20 minutes) and felt that the boat driver, although very nice, rushed through the stops (maybe because there is a line of boats behind him).
It’s also possible to see the Blue Grotto from above, from a viewpoint next to a bus stop called Panorama.
Hagar Qim & Mnajdra Near the Blue Grotto, you can find the megalithic temples of Hagar Qim and Mnajdra, some of the oldest standing monuments in the world (around 3000 BC). The ticket allows visiting both temples, which are next to each other.