Posts tagged Travel
6 Days in Greece
 
IMG_0061.JPG

GREECE HIGHLIGHTS

What we did: Athens—Lycabettus Hill, Temple of Zeus, Acropolis, Aeropagus (Mars Hill), Ancient Agora, Panathenaic Stadium, The Plaka

Santorini—explore Fira & Oia, hike from Fira to Oia, Byzantine Castle Ruins, sunset cruise with Sunset Oia

Where we ate: Athens—Atitamos Mezedopoleio, Platanos Taverna

Santorini—Pito Gyros (x3), Lolita’s Gelato, Sunsets Restaurant (need reservation- ask for a table on the balcony for sunset), Apsithia, Patisserie Medevio (dessert)

Where we stayed: Athens—Hilton Athens

Santorini—Lava Cave Suite in Oia (it included a daily maid service, breakfast, and our magical jacuzzi- we also got a discounted rate since it was the off season)

Foods to try: moussaka, gyros (be sure to get one with fries in it!), souvlaki, baked feta, baklava, saganaki

Things of note: We only spent about 24 hours in Athens, and it was enough time for us to explore the main historical sites… we downloaded the Beat app on my phone which was also really helpful to get around the city quickly (it’s what they use for taxis instead of Uber).

We went in the middle of May… Santorini was VERY crowded during the day when the cruise ships were there— I can’t imagine going in peak season when there would be double the cruise ships (yikes). You can check the cruise ship schedule online in advance to find out how busy it will be, but I definitely would try to avoid the crowds as much as your schedule allows! It also got chilly at night on the island, so make sure to have a sweater or jacket at dinnertime.


day one: athens

After loving our time in Amsterdam, we landed in Athens in the late afternoon and took a taxi straight to our hotel to drop off our bags before heading to our first Greek restaurant: Atitamos Mezedopoleio. We were definitely spoiled with this first meal because every bit of it was absolutely delicious. The waiter insisted on bringing us a sample of their dessert despite our refusal, and I now understand why— it is in the top 3 desserts I’ve ever tasted (we tried to ask the name of it but didn’t catch it; the dessert was similar to baklava…only way better).

With the sun setting quickly, we grabbed another cab up to Lycabettus Hill and hurried to the top to catch the last glimpses of the beautiful sunset over Athens while taking in the vastness of the historic city.


day two: athens/Santorini

The next morning, we ate breakfast at the hotel and headed to our first stop of the day: the Temple of Zeus. Thanks to the advice of some friends, we took advantage of the nonexistent ticket line at the Temple of Zeus to go ahead and buy the historical sites package so that we didn’t have to wait in the much longer lines at the Acropolis. (I think the tickets were around 30 Euro each, but the ticket included all of the sites we visited except the Panathenaic Stadium).

From there, we walked past Hadrian’s Arch to the Acropolis and started making our way to the top, stopping every so often to read about the ruins we passed along the path. The crowds grew as we got closer to the top, especially once we reached the Temple of Nike (note: there are bathrooms at the top if you need them). We tried to take in all of the sights at the Acropolis, then we walked back down the hill to Mars Hill/Aeropagus. This was probably our favorite place in Athens, as we marveled at the spot Paul preached these words written so long ago about the same God we serve today:

The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us...
— Acts 17:24-27

After taking our time at Mars Hill, we walked through the Plaka and stopped for lunch at Platanos Taverna and then grabbed gelato on our way to the Olympic Stadium. We did have to pay a small entrance fee at the stadium, but walking through the site was a pretty neat experience (they also hand out audio guides which were helpful in understanding the Olympic history there). We wrapped up our day of soaking in history and walked back to our hotel to grab our bags before taking a taxi to the airport, giddy about our upcoming time on the island of Santorini!

Our driver was waiting for us as soon as we landed at the (very small) Santorini airport (we opted for the transportation service that our airbnb provided as an option). The roads were pretty curvy from the airport to Oia, but we were busy taking in the beautiful island and cute little houses scattered across the landscape. After being dropped off at the edge of Oia, a porter was ready to carry our luggage through the crowded main street and down the many steps to our airbnb (Bless him). We were immediately blown away by the beauty of Oia and couldn’t believe we got to stay in a little slice of heaven for the next few days. After settling into our place, we walked over to Pito Gyros (for what would be our first of three meals there) and quickly ate our delicious gyros on our walk back to our airbnb to settle in for the night.


day three: exploring oia & fira

We slept in our first morning in Oia, already enjoying the slower pace of the island and opened up the front door to our first breakfast delivery (included with our airbnb). We ate on our little balcony while sipping the most delicious fresh orange juice I’ve ever tasted, then got ready for the full day ahead. We wandered around our neighborhood & up by the blue domed churches for some pretty views of Oia, grabbed gelato at Lolita’s (the first of many times) and then walked to the bus stop.

We took the public bus to Fira, where my little sister (Isabelle) was spending her last day on the island with a college leadership program. We walked to Isabelle’s hotel from the bus stop and then she led the way through Fira to a lunch spot (with more amazing views). After lunch, we all wandered through the charming little town and down random alleys, soaking in the beautiful scenery and snapping photos before stopping for (more) gelato and coffee. Shortly after, we said goodbye to my sister (she was leaving for Italy the next day) and hopped on the bus back to Oia.

Taking a minute to rest our feet at our airbnb, we then headed over to Sunsets Restaurant for our dinner reservation that night. (Actually, we walked into the wrong restaurant two different times before finally finding the right one.) But all of the confusion was so worth it, because that night we ate our very best meal of the trip. Kevin ordered the moussaka and I got the chicken (which was basically covered in queso)…both meals were out of this world, and the view of the sunset was perfect (not to mention, you don’t have to fight the crowds below). It was the perfect ending to our first full day in Santorini!


day four: sunset cruise

The next day we repeated more of the same morning routine, but we then had a sunset cruise booked with Sunset Oia (we booked the Platinum Cruise). What we didn’t realize until closer to time was that it was basically an all-day adventure, because we were the first pickup stop at 11 AM. Since the cruise didn’t actually start until 4 PM, we knew we would be hungry so we went ahead and grabbed an early lunch at Pito Gyros (It’s obviously disgusting and we hated the food there… said no one). After a quick lunch, we walked to our pickup spot and proceeded to ride the bus around the whole island until we picked up the rest of the passengers. They dropped us off at Vlychada port where we waited a bit before finally getting on our boat and we were able to enjoy the rest of the day on the Aegean Sea.

It was really beautiful to see Santorini from the water; we made several stops and Kevin jumped in at the hot springs, but the water was pretty cold and I was already chilly on the boat, so I opted out. At one of the last stops, we ate a delicious meal on the boat and chatted with our fellow passengers about soccer and weddings and the best Chicago burgers. After dinner, we made our way down the coast before finding our boat’s spot in Ammoudi Bay to watch the best show of the night: the Santorini sunset. It was a “pinch me & make sure I’m not dreaming” kind of night.


day five: hiking from Fira to Oia

Our last full day in Santorini, we soaked in another slow morning with our unreal caldera views, ate lunch once again at (you guessed it) Pito Gyros, and took the bus to Fira. Once in Fira, we started our 6.5+ mile hike back to Oia!

The views along the path were INCREDIBLE and the hike was probably the highlight of the trip for me (despite all of the sweat and blisters). We also made some friends along the way (shoutout to Alie & Pat!) and ended up walking the whole way with them, trading pictures and travel stories along the way. We got lost once due to construction, but the path was otherwise easy to follow. Along the way, we marveled at the beautiful views, commented on the crazy-nice luxury suites we passed, and stopped for lots of water breaks. We parted ways with our Colorado friends while we stopped for coffee on the outskirts of Oia and then headed back to our airbnb to rest our feet and relax in the jacuzzi. (On the way back to our airbnb, we may have also grabbed ice cream and cake at Patisserie Medevio to replenish some of our calories.)

Note: If you are planning on doing the hike, I would definitely pack snacks and water bottles (We used this bag and brought along my Swell and a disposable water bottle). There are a few places to stop along the way, but there aren’t many chances. (This guide is clutch if you decide to do the hike.)

After a brief rest, we dined slowly at Apsithia and soaked in more gorgeous views before we headed back to the airbnb while taking in glimpses of our last Santorini sunset of the trip.


Day 6: Greece to Amsterdam

We enjoyed our last Santorini breakfast, packed up our bags, and walked over to the Byzantine Castle ruins on our final morning in Greece. On the way, we wandered by Atlantis Books (unfortunately it was closed but even the outside was adorable!) and made mental notes to come back there on the next trip. After memorizing the beautiful views from the castle, it was time to check out of our airbnb and head to the airport…we had a long day of travel ahead of us back to Amsterdam so we could catch out flight back home the next day :(

Note: The Santorini airport is very small— they only let you enter an hour before your flight, but there is a place to get food right outside of the airport. If we had known that we would be fighting for seats/standing once we got inside, we probably would’ve stayed outside a lot longer than we did.

We absolutely loved our time in Santorini…the views, the people, and the food all made for an unforgettable experience, and it definitely made the top 3 places I’ve ever visited!

 
4 Days in Amsterdam
 
IMG_9706.JPG

AMSTERDAM HIGHLIGHTS

What we did: Bloemenmarkt, Canal Tour (we used Flagship & loved it), Anne Frank House, Beginjhof, Keukenhof Gardens & tulip fields (we also rented bikes there), Dutch Countryside & Windmill Tour, Vondel Park, Stroll along canals & Jordaan neighborhood

Where we ate: Blue Amsterdam, Foodhallen, The Pancake Bakery, Cafe Loetje, Salsa Shop, Van Wonderen Stroopwafels, Vlaams Friteshuis Vleminckx

Where we stayed: our airbnb is no longer active, but we stayed on one of the main canals about 15 minutes (walk) from Amsterdam Centraal Station. We actually really liked the location & the pretty canal views, but looking back— I think it would’ve been better to stay closer to Centraal to cut down on the amount of walking/Ubers.

Foods to try: stroopwafel, patat fries, bitterballen, poffertjes

Things of note: (On biking) There are a crazy amount of bicycles in Amsterdam and they take their biking rules very seriously. Tourists must take extra care in making sure they are not walking in a bicycle lane (which will usually be right beside the walking path). Unless you’re really familiar with where you’re going, I wouldn’t recommend biking around the city (at least it would’ve stressed me out). However, we loved renting bikes further out from Amsterdam where the bike lanes were not as crowded :)

(On the party scene): While most are familiar with Amsterdam’s infamous reputation, we really didn’t find it to be an issue. We definitely noticed that it was much more crowded on the weekends with celebratory groups of friends heading to the “coffee shops” (aka where it’s legal to smoke marijuana). It’s supposed to be illegal to smoke in public, but many people still did. Despite all of this, I wouldn’t list Amsterdam’s long-standing reputation as a reason not to visit; the city is so much more than the red light district & the coffee shops!

 
 

day one: bloemenmarkt & canal tour

We landed in Amsterdam around lunchtime on Saturday and took the train straight into the city. We couldn’t check in our Airbnb for a few hours, so we dropped off our bags in the storage lockers inside of Amsterdam Centraal Station, which ended up working out perfectly.

With lighter loads, we walked straight to lunch at Blue Amsterdam. We quickly learned that Amsterdam restaurants are a bit pricier than we were used to, but the food was yummy and it had cool views of the city, so we happily downed our food and espressos before heading to Bloemenmarkt.

The cutest flower market, Bloemenmarkt lines the canal with lots of vendors and beautifully decorated booths. We (Okay, I ) loved walking through the booths of the endless plants and florals while enjoying the wonderful weather. The best booth is on the corner with bouquets hanging from every inch of the ceiling. It was magical!

After Bloemenmarkt, we walked over to Beginjhof, which has the prettiest courtyard surrounded by historic buildings and two churches. We circled around the houses for a bit and then left to meet our airbnb host to grab keys to our apartment. Our perfectly-Dutch building was covered in ivy and flowers and sat right on the canal, so we soaked in the scenes of our home for the next few days before mustering up energy to continue exploring the city.

We dodged bikers and wandered through the Jordaan neighborhood while snapping photos of the crooked-but-quaint rows of houses. We walked around the corner of the Anne Frank Museum to wait for a canal tour with Flagship. Since we didn’t know the timeline of our schedule for that day, we didn’t buy tickets ahead of time, but had no trouble catching a boat for the hour-long tour. While there are many boat tours near Centraal Station, we opted for an open-air cruise with a live guide and a smaller group. We loved our time on the boat ride— our guide was great and we really enjoyed learning more details about Amsterdam.

After the tour, we dropped off our luggage at the apartment and walked around the corner to eat dinner at Salsa Shop (it’s a chain, but it was a 1 minute walk from our airbnb & ended up being very similar to Chipotle so we’ll call it a win). Exhausted but already in love with Amsterdam, we settled in for the night so we would be ready to explore again the next day.


day two: Anne Frank House & Keukenhof

Our first full day in Amsterdam, we walked through the (darling) Jordaan neighborhood once again to eat breakfast at The Pancake Bakery. This was one of our favorite meals of the trip, because we really love breakfast food and this cute restaurant offered the biggest pancakes & omelettes I’ve ever seen. It was also really convenient to eat there because we had tickets to the Anne Frank House that morning, which was right down the street.

The Anne Frank Museum was one of our favorite (although difficult at times) experiences and is a must-see if you’re ever in Amsterdam (Important note: you must buy tickets 2 months in advance and enter at your ticket timeframe since they only allow a limited number of visitors per day). They don’t allow photos inside the house or museum, but I didn’t mind because I was too busy taking in all of the facts and history in those holy little rooms. We walked the narrow, steep staircases and marveled at all of the history and horrors that occurred in those spaces.

I don’t think of all the misery, but of the beauty that still remains.
— Anne Frank

We wrapped up our time at the museum, and then walked back to Centraal Station to catch a train to Keukenhof, a beautiful park full of tulips (and about an hour outside of Amsterdam). Originally we thought we would miss out on the tulips completely since we visited in late May, but we (excitedly) managed to grab tickets on the last day the park was open.

Even though some of the flowers were no longer in bloom, it was crazy-pretty with the rows of bright florals and idyllic scenery. The park is huge, with lots of places to stop and eat or grab coffee (we did both). We spent a couple of hours walking along the bloom-filled paths and then rented a bike from the little parking lot stand. Typically, visitors rent the bikes to explore the surrounding tulip fields. But since the bulb fields were no longer in bloom, we just biked around with no agenda and enjoyed the more laidback bike paths (compared to the crazy busy ones in Amsterdam).

Note: If seeing all of the tulip fields in bloom is high on your priority list, the locals recommended visiting in April!

As it was nearing dinner time, we wrapped up our bike rides and grabbed an Uber back into the city. We ate dinner at Foodhallen, which was a really cool spot with delicious food stands (the sweet potato nachos I ate were unreal, y’all). We also bought some bitterballen from one of the vendors, which were so good and a must-try when in Holland. We saved a bit of room for dessert, so we navigated our way over to Van Wonderen Stroopwafels to try another famous Dutch food: the stroopwafel! We waited our turn and then walked back to our airbnb while trading bites of the most delicious warm, salted caramel dessert. I am actually still dreaming about it.


day three: Dutch countryside & windmill tour

We had heard good things about the tour of the Dutch countryside, and I am so glad we ended up going! Even if you don’t do a bus tour, I highly recommend going to some of the smaller historic villages outside of Amsterdam; they were so traditional and quaint and lovely.

We didn’t buy tickets for the tour until a few days before, so we were stuck with the earlier time slot, but we grabbed a coffee and took an Uber to Amsterdam Centraal station to join the rest of our tour group. After a few songs on the keyboard and a few more witty remarks, our bus driver and tour guide woke us all up and got us excited for the day ahead.

Our first stop was Zaanse Schans to see the (gorgeous) windmills. We were able to go inside of one of the windmills there and learn about how they worked, then snapped photos and climbed to the top for a pretty view of the other windmills along the water.

Next, we drove a bit more to the little fishing village of Volendam. We listened to a presentation on how Dutch cheese is made, and then we were able to taste lots of different types. It was the perfect appetizer, as we quickly headed to a lunch spot down the street toward the docks. With full bellies after our delicious & much-needed lunch, we walked down the dock to our boat that took us over to Marken.

Once off the relaxing boat ride, we walked through the charming streets of Marken while I admired the cutest houses and ended up at our last stop, where we learned the traditional practice of wooden clog making! It was a really cool and impressive experience; after the demonstration, we laughed as we tried on some of the wooden clogs. Although we left empty-handed (our feet were clearly not cut out for the wooden clog lifestyle), we headed back to Amsterdam full of unforgettable experiences after our (6 hour) trip through the Dutch countryside.

Once back in Amsterdam, we walked to Vlaams Friteshuis Vleminckx to order the famous fries-in-a-cone. Chatting and eating yummy fries, we continued walking through the gardens & the tunnel at the Rijksmuseum (it was near closing time, so we unfortunately never made it inside the museum as we had opted to explore the countryside that day instead). From there, we headed down the street and entered the pretty gates of Vondel Park. With miles of green space, we soaked in the pretty scenery of the park: locals lounging by the lake, a family of ducks following each other around the water, bikers heading home from work, and kids heading to soccer practice.

The brief rest in Vondel Park gave us the energy we needed to walk to dinner at Cafe Loetje (one of our Uber drivers recommended this place- it was good & affordable for a steakhouse). We took our time dining and people watching from the restaurant patio before we headed back to the airbnb, exhausted after our day full of adventures.


day four: amsterdam to athens

We slept in Tuesday morning, taking our morning slowly with no particular agenda. We packed our bags and sipped coffee while snapping a few last photos of the canals, then grabbed an Uber to the airport because our next stop was GREECE!

 
NYC in Photos

On NYC: Uber drivers with colorful dreads and determined driving. Traffic in the misty rain with commuters blaring rap music. Swapping photos with kindred tourists. Coffee for warmth and energy while shouting, “No sleep. Till Brooklyn.” Hidden skyscrapers in the fog. Subway passengers dressed for Friday night in the city. More walking, always looking up.

On 9/11 Museum & Memorial: Waterfalls surrounded by the names of victims. Visitors’ notes scribbled on the wet plaques, like love notes left on shower glass or fogged up mirrors. Watching 9/11 unfold before us with a few thousand people in complete silence. News clips & paper headlines & timelines of events. Mementos found in rubble & never-heard cell phone messages. Burnt flags & dust-covered clothes. All of the photos—the passengers, the employees, the onlookers, the rescuers & the rescued; the hijackers, George Bush, Bin Laden. 
And all of us—walking through the exhibit, the remnants of tragedy, the graveyard of faces—lost in thoughts and prayers and questions and disgust. 
But still, I think it is good and important to remember.


Explored: Brooklyn Bridge & Park, Times Square, 9/11 Museum & Memorial, Rockefeller Center & Top of the Rock, Broadway- Gershwin Theatre (Wicked), St. Patrick's Cathedral, City Sightseeing Tour- Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty, Central Park

Ate: Hourglass Tavern (need reservations), Shake Shack, Cascabel Tacqueria, Melt Shop, 5 Napkin Burger, Schmackary's (cookies)


5 Days in Maui
 

When Kevin said he might "have to go" to Hawaii for work, I said I would take one for the team and tag along because marriage is ALL ABOUT SACRIFICE, people. It was okay there, though. I mean, we made the best of it. What else can ya do?


A few of our favorite Maui adventures:

LAHAINA

I loved exploring Front Street and wandering in and out of the shops there. We ate lunch at Lahainaluna Cafe, bought a few secondhand books at the bookstore, and marveled at the pretty little park that's nested in the midst of the shops and tourists. The trees reminded me of the Angel Oak Tree in Charleston!

SUNRISE AT HALEAKALA NATIONAL PARK

Fun fact: you now have to buy tickets in advance if you want to watch the sunrise at Haleakala. We did not know this, but luckily someone from the hotel told us they release an extra 40 tickets 2 days prior (at 4 PM Hawaiin time). So we set an alarm on our phones Friday and were able to grab tickets for the Sunday morning sunrise. (You can buy tickets here. )

We never fully adjusted to Hawaiin time, so the 2 AM wakeup call wasn't that bad for us. It was about a 2-hour drive to the park from where we were staying and then about another 30-minute drive to the top. Everyone warned us how cold it would be, and they were right. It was COLD. But it was also beautiful and definitely worth the numb fingers. 

We reached the top a little early, so we were able to grab a parking spot near the observatory and look at the prettiest starry sky for a few minutes before watching the sun come up. 

Pictures don't do it justice. 

ROAD TO HANA

We are a little crazy (if you haven't noticed) and decided to do the entire Road to Hana on the same day we watched the sunrise at Haleakala. While it was a looong day (and everyone warned us not to do this), I am actually glad we did because:

-We got a super early start (obviously) before the rest of the island woke up.

-When you drive the Road to Hana after leaving Haleakala, the most logical way is to do the drive backward. This means we went the opposite direction from most of the other tourists and we were able to see the main attractions of the Road to Hana at the beginning of the drive before everyone else.

-We saved a lot of time. We were staying about as far away as you could get from the Road to Hana and Haleakala is in the middle of the island, so we were able to save the other days for relaxing at the beach instead of driving the entire island again.

Kevin may disagree with me on the above points because he was the one driving... and going against traffic on tiny roads and the edge of cliffs is not for the faint of heart.

I, however, was loaded up on Dramamine and annoyingly exclaiming every other minute, "Can you believe how PRETTYYY it is?!" To which he would reply, "I am just trying not to wreck."

Right. Good talk. 

__

We started out by eating a big breakfast (and loading up on coffee) at Kula Bistro, changed out of our sunrise clothes into shorts and swimsuits, then hit the road.

I downloaded the Shaka guide app before we left, which was a huge help along the drive. We may have sarcastically talked back to the guide the whole drive, but in the end, we were so glad we had him!

The more desolate places on the drive reminded us so much of Ireland (our all-time favorite place), so we were obviously big fans.

Our stops along the Road to Hana included: St. Joseph's Church Kaupo, Huialoha Church, Oheo Pools, Wailua Falls, Kaihalulu Red Sand Beach, Black Sand Beach, Coconut Glens (the best vegan coconut milk ice cream!), Ho'okipa Beach, and lots of the viewpoints along the way

The only place we really wanted to see but didn't was Jaws, which is the big wave surf beach (the surfers have to get towed into the waves with a jet ski. Whoa). Our rental car didn't have 4-wheel drive and we were starting to run out of daylight, so we ultimately decided to stop at a beach with some smaller wave surfing (which was still fun to watch).

Apparently, a lot of tourists don't drive the entire Road to Hana, but I am so glad we did. Every inch of the landscape seems to be something new and all of it is beautiful. The guide told us that the reverse Road to Hana drive (which ended in Pa'ia Town) would take 10-12 hours, but due to our head start and prioritizing the stops we made, we completed it in about 7 hours.

By the end of the day, we were exhausted and happily headed back to the hotel to sleep. We purposely planned to stay nearby the remainder of our trip and enjoy the slowness of the resort. 

KAPALUA (the area we stayed)

Our favorite breakfast in Kapalua was called The Gazebo. It is kind of hidden (located behind a hotel), but it had a beautiful view of the ocean and the food was delicious. We also grabbed a few meals and snacks at the Honolua Store, which had a market, great meal options, and a cute little coffee bar.

While it was a little inconvenient to not adjust to the local time, it was kind of nice watching the sunrise every morning from an empty beach. 

Aloha, Hawaii. You are a dream. 


All photos are property of Alex Fly

 
10 Days in Spain + Portugal

Keeping all of the disclaimers from this post in mind, we had the best time traveling abroad with our pals, the Sturdivants. It was definitely a whirlwind (we packed in A LOT of adventures) but we were able to see almost everything on our list!

This is our second year in a row to visit Europe (see posts from last year: London, Ireland, and Italy) and people always ask how we find the time/money/energy to take a week and a half adventure with friends. There are definitely some tips I can give you on ways to save money, but it really just comes down to actually doing it. Mark the calendars, book the flights, reserve the rooms, do the research, save the money, pack the bags. Traveling is hardly ever convenient, but it is always worth it. 

Okay, I am getting off my soapbox. Here are our practical travel tips:

-Travel Hacking: It sounds illegal, but it's not. Basically it's about using the right credit cards to maximize your airline miles (Thankfully, Kevin is a pro at this). If you plan far enough in advance, you can rack up enough points to pay for your flights. Resource of choice: The Points Guy

-Airbnb: We exclusively use airbnb when traveling and have only had one bad experience. Not only are the prices way better than hotels, but you also feel more immersed in the culture and receive insider tips on the city from your host! When booking, make sure you reserve the entire place (not just a room) and try to book with the Super Hosts for the best quality experience.

-Travel during the off-season (if you can): shorter lines and lower prices? Yes, please. 

-Do the research: I'm not going to lie-- this takes time. But if you do the research in advance, you can find the best ticket prices/transportation rates/places to stay AND you can maximize your time when you are actually there. We had a google doc of our trip itinerary, and I can't tell you how many times we needed it throughout the trip. 

-Pack light: Pack everything in a carry-on. When jumping in and out of cities and parking far away from your hotel/Airbnb- you do not want to be carrying large suitcases (nor will you be able to fit everything in your rental car). We all packed carry-ons and were so glad we did! 


Since this may be the longest post in the history of posts, here is a short summary of each city we visited if you don't have time to read my ridiculous novel below.

Madrid is a fun, busy city with lots of culture and flower shops and the most beautiful park. 

Córdoba has bucketfuls of charm, quirky bachelorette parties (?), flower-lined patios, and color at every turn. 

Granada is full of little white houses stacked on one another, bands of Spanish hippies, fascinating histories, and charming narrow streets. 

Málaga is very clean, a little ritzy, has lots of fresh seafood and is not your typical beach town. It's easy to become a believer of the city after just one visit. 

Ronda is adorable and enchanting and has the most stunning scenery. If I could only go back to one place from the trip, it would be Ronda. 

Seville is a big city with loads of tradition and beautiful architecture and endless activities. This city has plenty of opportunities for adventures at bull fights, soccer games, and historic landmarks. 

Lisbon has the prettiest tiled buildings, rows of red rooftops, and is delightfully similar to San Francisco. Whenever we told people we were going to Lisbon, they would respond "Aww, Lisbon!" and now we know why everyone falls in love with this unique city.

Keep reading for photos and details of our trip (sections divided by each city)...

 


PART ONE: Madrid 

We landed in Madrid, grabbed coffee and croissants, and hit the ground running! Luckily you can basically walk anywhere in Madrid, so we wandered through Plaza Major and Puerta del Sol and made our way to Mercado de San Miguel. The market was filled with rows of various stands carrying fresh food and drinks and ice cream; we all loved the market and ate some of the best paella (a rice dish typically with chicken or seafood) of the whole trip from a little stand right inside. Our next stop was the Royal Palace of Madrid and the gardens, which were both beautiful. Brittany and I took lots of pictures while the boys goofed off (typical), then we headed back to the airbnb for an afternoon siesta. With our second wave of energy, we walked to Retiro Park and enjoyed our first (of many) churros con chocolate. Y'all, they do not mess around with the giant cup of chocolate. Apparently the locals actually drink the chocolate straight out of the cup after they finish with the churros. I am forever amazed and impressed by this one fact alone. 

Retiro Park was stunning (especially at sunset) and probably my favorite stop in all of Madrid. We tried to check out the Prado that evening since the last hour is free, but the lines were ridiculously long so we ended up paying the entrance fee the next day. We had been told to make this art museum a priority, and I'm so glad we did! We all remembered learning about some of the more famous paintings and loved looking through the different artists' works. After the Prado, we met up with Robert and Brittney's friend (who lives in Madrid) and she showed us an awesome rooftop view of the city at Círculo de Bellas Artes, then we grabbed more churros & chocolate at Chocolatería San Ginés and wandered into El Viajero for dinner (If you can't tell, we ate. A LOT.)  

To Do: Plaza Major, Puerta de Sol, Royal Palace of Madrid (& gardens), Retiro Park, Museo Nacional Del Prado, Círculo de Bella's Artes (rooftop views)

To Eat: La Rollerie (brunch), Chocolatería San Ginés (churros), Mercado de San Miguel (snacks), Taberna La Concha (tapas), El Viajero (dinner on the roof)

To Stay: Click here for Airbnb listing


PART TWO: Córdoba

We woke up early and took the train to Córdoba, the most charming and colorful town we visited. After picking up our rental car and stopping for toast and coffee, we headed to the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos and wandered around the beautiful gardens. It was easy to fall in love with Córdoba right away, especially after we walked through La Judería (the city's oldest Jewish neighborhood)-- each street was lined with colorful flower pots and filled with admirers of the city. We were also able to see the iconic architecture of the Mezquita, which brought back lots of memories from high school Spanish history lessons. Unfortunately we were only in the city for one night, so we took the rest of the day slowly (in true Spanish fashion) and tried to soak up the charm as much as possible!

To Do: Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos, Patios de Córdoba (La Judería had the best patios we saw), Mezquita Cathedral de Córdoba

To Eat: Roma MMXVI (breakfast), restaurant in La Judería (lunch), Restaurante La Tagliatella (dinner), Café & Té (breakfast)

To Stay: Click here for Airbnb listing. 


PART THREE: Granada

To be honest, Granada and this team of travelers did not get off to a great start. Let's just say this is not necessarily the city you want to drive a rental car through (see the photo where Kevin is stretching out his arms? We may or may not have gotten stuck in that alleyway and we may or may not have gotten a standing ovation from a gathering crowd of people when we finally made it through...) We also quickly found out that tickets to the Alhambra were sold out and needed to be purchased months in advance (we had no clue), so we frantically searched tour shops for guided tour tickets instead. We got super lucky and found the last four guided tour tickets of the Alhambra for early Tuesday morning (our last day in Granada), then celebrated with ice cream and dinner at a pretty viewpoint called Mirador San Nicolás. 

We didn't really have anything planned for Monday since we set aside that day for the Alhambra, so we had time to explore at a slower pace. We saw the incredible cathedral, the bath houses, and stopped frequently for food (of course). We stumbled upon a hole-in-the-wall pizza place that was extra delicious, and that night we went to Jardines de Zoraya for dinner and a flamenco show. Flamenco is the traditional Spanish dancing and a must-see when in Spain! The next morning we left for the Alhambra bright and early. There is a lot of hype around this castle and for good reason; the Alhambra definitely rivals the Vatican in having the most impressive rooms I've ever seen. We were also really glad we got the guided tour tickets-- we were able to hear more of the Alhambra's history and the tales about the people who inhabited the palaces. If you visit the Alhambra, don't skip over the GeneraLife Gardens. They are amazing and worth the extra euros. We definitely left Granada on a much better foot than when we started!

To Do: Paseo de los Tristes, Mirador San Nicolás (great views), Catedral de Granada, El Bañuelo, Dobla de Oro, Jardines de Zoraya (flamenco show), Alhambra (Both palaces & GeneraLife Gardens) 

Tips on visiting the Alhambra: If you don't have time to buy tickets before you get to Granada, go to Granada City Experience (in the City Center) for guided tour tickets- they don't sell tickets online so they are your best bet for getting them in person. The Alhambra ticket offices do reserve some tickets for same-day sales, but people start lining up for those as early as THREE (!!!) o'clock in the morning. You can walk to the Alhambra from the city, but I recommend getting a taxi- it is a pretty steep walk up the hill and you will do a ton of walking once you are inside. After getting your ticket, you will need to hang onto it because you have to show it at all of the palace entrances and the entrance to the gardens. 

To Eat: Restaurants outside on Paseo de los Tristes (there are about 5 in a row that all serve similar food and have a great atmosphere), Helados San Nicolas (ice cream), Ristorante El Balcón de San Nicolás (dinner), Cafetería Lisboa (brunch), Bar Miguel Bajo (lunch/pizza), Jardines de Zoraya (tapas/dinner)

To Stay: Albaicín neighborhood

 


PART FOUR: Málaga & Ronda