Your Guide to Santander, Cantabria, Spain

For a list of things to see or places to eat, scroll to the bottom. Otherwise, enjoy the pictures and ramblings – I promise there are some great tips if you plan to travel here! 🙂

Admittedly, I didn’t spend nearly as much time in Santander as I should have. My original plan was to visit San Sebastian and Bilbao for the 4 day weekend, but my host family insisted that Santander was worth seeing. They told me it was only a short drive past Bilbao, but it ended up being about 1.5 hours past Bilbao. Plan accordingly!

When I researched Santander, not much came up online. That worried me a little, because this would actually be my first trip ever alone (besides moving to Spain in the first place, that is). There weren’t many hostels available in the area either, so if you’re planning to take that route as well, be sure to take that into account.

When I told people I would be going to Santander, most people asked “But… why? What’s there?” It’s true, it isn’t the biggest tourist destination, especially for Americans and Brits. But what I’ve discovered is that it is a pretty popular destination for Spaniards.

Getting There

Santander is about a 1.5 hour bus ride away from Bilbao. There are some lovely views along the way! There is also a train, I suppose it would take about the same time or perhaps a little less. However, be sure to plan ahead and buy your tickets in advance, especially on weekends. When I tried to leave on Sunday to return to Bilbao, I couldn’t leave in the morning like I had planned because both the train and bus were sold out! Luckily I wasn’t in a rush, but that could definitely ruin your trip.

Where to Stay

I stayed at a “hostel” in the Puerto Chico region of Santander, only because during that time it was the only (cheap) thing available. The hostel actually turned out to be a spare room in someone’s apartment, but my stay was nice nonetheless. Since it was my first time travelling alone, I was hoping to meet people at the hostel, so it was a bit disappointing. But I had a nice and pleasant stay with them, the family was very nice (but spoke no English, so be prepared with a little Spanish). If you’re interested, you can book it here on the hostelworld website.

There are also many hotels in the area if you’re not on a budget, and many of them are located more centrally near the peninsula. Airbnb is always good to check, too!

Puerto Chico (Port Area)

If you’re coming to Santander by bus or train, you’ll be dropped off in this area. However, this is not the central part of Santander. At least, not where most of the touristy things to see are located. There is the port, which is quite nice to walk along, and there are many delicious pinchos restaurants to choose from. And, since it isn’t a huge tourist city, you can find some amazing deals on food!

I had a lovely walk along the coast enjoying the view of the villages on the other side of the bay, the views are pretty spectacular (even though the weather wasn’t fantastic). There are also a few parks along this route, with some nice sculptures to admire. Nearby, there is also a sailing school, so you’ll probably see some amateur sailors taking advantage of the day.

The Arch of Banco Santander

In this area, there is also the original Santander Bank (if you don’t know why this should be important, don’t worry – it’s just a very popular bank in Spain). It is nice to check out, especially if you’re into architecture. It was built in the early 1920’s by architect Javier González de Riancho.

The Courtyard of Banco Santander

As you wander along the streets nearby, you’ll find lots of cool street art- if you’re into that kind of thing. I walked around this city alone at night, and while I don’t recommend doing the same, it is a safe and beautiful city to explore if you have the time.

If you wander back towards the coast, you’ll find some lovely parks and statues. Grab a gelato, take the hand of a loved one, observe the sailors… take advantage of the beautiful walk.

I noticed that there were many lovely buildings throughout the city of Santander. Just keep your eyes open, you never know what you’ll find 🙂

If you keep walking north along the coast, heading towards the peninsula, you will pass by the sailing school and also the strangest government building I’ve ever set my eyes upon:

It takes about 20 minutes to walk from the main downtown area of Puerto Chico to this region, and then perhaps 10-15 more minutes to reach the beach and peninsula region. There are buses that you could take, but as of May 2015, google maps did not have them listed in my phone. But I assure you, the walk is worth it!

Peninsula de la Magdelena

After walking along the coast, you’ll find yourself at a nice beach. There is a path that goes along the cliff, or you can slip off your shoes and enjoy walking across the sand. At the end of this beach, there will be another path that’ll lead you towards the main entrance of the park on the Peninsula.

Not a shabby place to live, eh?

The Peninsula is definitely worth a visit, and many tourist sites recommend at least three hours to fully explore it. There is a huge park, a small zoo, and even a palace! The views from this peninsula are breathtaking, even on a cloudy day. And the best part? It is completely free! I guess there are tours inside of the palace, which you can pay extra for. There’s also a little shuttle that you can pay for to take you around the peninsula, but I highly recommend just walking it.

If you follow the path to the left first, you’ll find yourself at their small zoo. They don’t have much, but it is still pretty cool! There are penguins (a funny sight to see with the beach in the background) and seals. If you continue following the path, you’ll come across a mermaid with 3 ships – a very typical photo moment in Santander!

Continue further and up the hill, stopping to admire the views off of the cliffs. After a few minutes, you will see the palace. It isn’t anything super impressive, but it is pretty. You can walk all along it, and then continue on the path back down the hill, on the other side of the peninsula. There are a couple of different paths that lead more inland or closer to the cliffs.

Just imagine having a picnic here. Either on the grassy knoll, or surrounded by beautiful trees with a distant view of the mountains or horizon. Think: jamon serrano, a tasty yet inexpensive wine, some olives, a handsome Spanish man by your side…

Playa de los Peligros

Peña Vieja and the Beaches

When you loop back around the peninsula toward the entrance, if you continue through the gate and to the right, you will find yourself at another lovely beach called Primera Playa (or First Beach). The first thing you’re sure to notice is Peña Vieja (or Old Rock), with lovely views of the other main area of Santander behind it. I’m sure this beach would be lovely during the summer! I went during the Spring, and what with the weather being wetter in the North, the weather varies quite a bit from day to day.

From there, walk further along the coast and you’ll find Parque de Piquío, a small break in between the two main beaches of Santander. They have some lovely gardens and benches and of course a magnificent view of the beach in both directions.

The City near the Main Beaches

After you’ve had enough of the beach (if you can ever have enough of the beach), you can head inland to explore the city area on this side of the peninsula. I noticed lots of unique buildings and enjoyed just strolling through the city. In fact, since my phone wasn’t allowing me to find a bus route home, I just walked straight through the city to the other side and back to Puerto Chico (see above). This was quite a long walk, however, and if you could find an alternative route, that’d probably be for the better.

Another popular tourist location on this side of Santander is the Gran Casino Sardinero. When I was there, there was a big formal event going on, so I couldn’t go inside. But other travel websites say it’s definitely worth a look, even if you don’t gamble!

Food and Drinks

So, you’re in Spain. Of course you’re going to expect the best of the best when it comes to food and drinks. You’re in luck, because Santander has some amazing restaurants, both for a midday “menu del dia” and for some lighter pinchos in the evening with delicious wine. Some of the places I went to I had researched beforehand, and others I just happened to be hungry and went to the first place I could find. All of them were delicious, I think it’s hard to go wrong.

My first night, after walking all through the city, I was exhausted. But I can never be too exhausted for a drink. I stopped in a themed bar named “Little Bobby Speakeasy.” It was still a little early in the evening, so when I entered, there weren’t too many other patrons. However, the place itself is quite lovely and well decorated in the 1920’s style. All of their drinks are inspired by old movies and TV shows. I highly recommend stopping by!

I realized I was a bit hungry, so I decided to go to a place that I had found recommended online: Dias Desur. I only planned on having one or two pinchos and some wine, but that turned into 4 pinchos and 2 glasses of wine. It was amazing, even after having such ridiculously decadent pinchos as I had in San Sebastian. This is a must stop for anyone visiting Santander! It can get quite busy, but it is worth the wait. Something even as simple looking as the teeny weeny mini burger they recommended just had the perfect flavor combination to make my eyes roll back in delight.

On my second day, I walked into a random restaurant along Calle Castelar near Puerto Chico. I ordered the menu del dia (if you’re unaware, it’s amazing – each restaurant puts together a couple of possibilities for a 2-3 course meal, generally with wine and dessert included, for a low, fixed price. I’m not talking about small dishes, either. I’m talking massive plates that’ll make you walk away wishing you had your big Thanksgiving pants) and was blown away by the food. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the name now, but I am pretty confident that you wouldn’t be disappointed with any options here.

Don’t be afraid to be a stereotypical tourist… order the paella!

I forget what the name of this was, but it was an unusual name for pork… and it melted in my mouth.

Before catching my bus, I decided to stop at one last place in the Port area for some pinchos. This place was called Casa Lita, and it had a great variety of pinchos, although admittedly not as amazing as Dias Desur (it is hard to beat perfect)… but still quite good.

List of What to See

  • Peninsula of Magdalena – Beautiful views of the bay and nearby beaches, with free entrance to the park and zoo.You can go by foot (recommended) or pay extra for a little trolley to take you around. There is also a palace at the tip of the Peninsula, you can pay extra to go in.
  • Playa Primera de El Sardinero
  • Piquío Park – A lovely park separating two beaches, with great views on both sides.
  • Parque de Cabo Mayor – Panoramic views
  • Puerto Chico – Lots of restaurants and bars, a nice area to walk around near the port.
  • Edificio del Banco Santander – A nice archway and courtyard in honor of Santander banks in Puerto Chico.
  • Menéndez Pelayo Library: Calle de Rubio, 6 – Beautiful library inside and out, with lots of stained glass and old wooden shelves stuffed to the brim with books.
  • Gran Casino Sardinero: Plaza de Italia, s/n, 1 – Worth seeing, even if you don’t gamble.
  • Barrio Pesquero – A run down area, but worth it for the seafood restaurants.

Where to Eat (AKA The Most Important Part)

  • Café Pub La Rana: Calle de Daoíz y Velarde, 30 – lively joint that is popular with its young clientele who want to line their stomachs before a night out; famous for its patatas bravas, but also serves hamburgers and sandwiches.
  • **Little Bobby Speakeasy**: Calle Sol, 20 – A fun, well decorated 1920’s style bar with great cocktails.
  • La Conveniente: Calle de Gómez Oreña, 9
  • Asubio Gastrobar: Calle Daoiz y Velarde, 23
  • ***Días Desur***: Calle Hernán Cortés, 47 – Absolutely amazing pinchos and delicious wine
  • Casa Lita: Paseo de la Pereda, 37

Your Guide to Amsterdam – Things to Do other than Visit ‘Coffee’ Shops

For a list of things to see or places to eat, scroll to the bottom. Otherwise, enjoy the pictures and ramblings 🙂

Everyone knows Amsterdam, and it is world-renowned for being the city of sin. From it’s wide array of coffee shops to countless streets cloaked in red lights, if you tell a friend you’re going to visit they certainly don’t expect it to be innocent.

Regardless, you don’t have to be the seedy type to enjoy Amsterdam. If you don’t smoke, do drugs, or have sex with strangers, you can still have a lot of fun! The canals that weave their way through the city are gorgeous, and if you’re an art or history lover, there are tons of museums to choose from (*coughAnneFrankcoughVan Goghcough*). You just need to plan ahead!

There’s just so much charm in Amsterdam, even in the random neighbourhoods.

Expect lots and lots of people. We should have seen it coming, but it was a little bit overwhelming, especially compared with all of the other cities we visited that trip in Belgium (read about Brussels, Ghent, Bruges, and Antwerp). We asked a local if it was normal to have so many people or if it was just because of the holiday weekend, and she replied that it was always like that. So prep yourselves.

Museum Tickets – Plan Ahead!

Two weeks before leaving, I tried to book tickets for the Anne Frank House. Everything was fully booked for months into the future. I had heard that lines outside of the Anne Frank House could last for many hours, so my friends and I decided not to make that commitment. If you’re planning a trip, buy everything ahead! Even for the Van Gogh tickets you had to wait a few hours in line. We got lucky and only had to wait about 45 minutes to buy the tickets, and we bought them for an entrance time of 3 hours in advance so that we could walk around.

Accomodations

Since it was a holiday weekend, most hostels and hotels were already booked up or at extremely insane prices (for instance, one hostel was charging nearly 80€ for a simple hostel bed in a room of 30 more – insane!). We ended up deciding on the ibis Amsterdam Airport Hotel, which is about a 30 minute train ride away from the center of the city. Not ideal, but necessary. They provided a free shuttle to the airport, but it was the worst experience ever for us. The shuttle only comes once every 30 minutes or so, and if you’re there on a busy weekend, it can be nearly impossible to get on. Everyone is shoved in like sardines, and many people who have already been waiting for over 30 minutes had to wait yet another 30 minutes for the next bus, with no guarantee of space. When you’re on vacation or trying to get to the airport, that’s the last thing you need.

Public Transportation – The 3 Day Pass

From there, you take the shuttle to the airport and then take the train to the center of Amsterdam. The train pass is very confusing, even though they sell it to you as being very simple and all-inclusive. We bought a 3 day pass for 25€, and they assured us that it worked on all buses and trains in the city. But that’s the trick, right there… the airport and hotel are NOT technically in the city of Amsterdam. So when we tried to take the night bus back, we were told that are passes were useless and we’d have to pay 7€. WTF. Luckily, the bus driver was kind enough to let us on anyways. But all of that stress was enough to really piss us off, especially since we had 2 more nights to figure out.

Another stupid thing about the pass – you have to check yourself in AND out. I had never seen this before. When you enter the bus or train, you scan your card. But you CAN NOT forget to scan it again upon exiting, or it’ll screw with your card. We ended up having to go back to the airport and reset our cards because they refused to scan (we think we missed a scan upon exit one time).

Even though the pass proved to be a royal pain in the ass, it was necessary. Without it, public transportation in Amsterdam is ridiculously expensive. We also found a night bus that was included with our pass (hooray!), but it only picked up in one part of Amsterdam, came only once an hour, and it took FOREVER to get to the hotel. We fell asleep on the bus every single time we took it. Plus, the bus stop is about a 10-15 minute walk from the hotel itself… in the freezing cold.

The moral of this story? Don’t stay at the ibis Airport Hotel unless you absolutely have to!

The City

When you finally arrive in Amsterdam, you will find all kinds of food shops with waffles, fries, burgers… you name it! We ate so many fries on this trip, it was ridiculous. We preferred the waffles in Brussels, though. Of course, you also find a lot of coffee and sex shops. It IS Amsterdam, after all. Weed and fatty foods go together like peanut butter and jelly.

On our first day, we decided to take it easy and just wander around. We ended up near the Red Light District, and it was super interesting to see just how many canals there are that wind through the city. Sure, you know that Amsterdam is known for its beautiful canals… but until you’re there, it really doesn’t hit you. Also, Amsterdam’s layout on a map looks super cool (and illustrates my point about just how many canals there are):

The Red Light District and The Oude Church (or Oude Kerk)

Near the famous Red Light District, you will find The Oude Church, Amsterdam’s oldest building. A strange place for a church, eh? You have to pay to go inside, so we decided to pass… considering just how many churches you come across when in Europe.

The Red Light District is like no other place in the world. Women are literally on display at all hours of the day, scantily clad in lingerie of all types. You find all varieties of women, from blonde to dark haired, skinny to fat, etc. It wasn’t nearly as sketchy feeling as I had thought, and my friends and I didn’t feel uncomfortable walking down these streets, even at night. I wouldn’t go alone, though. We were truly surprised by just how many customers these ladies got, at all hours! The rooms are super small (basically a closet), and oftentimes you just see the girls looking bored and playing on their phones. I was surprised by just how little effort they put in, but I suppose the customers come anyways.

In between all of the women on display, you find sex shops and shows galore. There are dildos, vibrators, and toys of all types out on display like candy. Guys hang outside of theatres and try to convince you to go in, at insane prices. We asked, just for fun, how much a certain show cost and he said €60 for a half hour… insane! There are shows here for everyone’s tastes, but expect to shell out a lot of cash.. if that’s what you’re into. They also have peep shows, where you pay 2€ to see a couple going at it for 2 minutes. It’s a strange city for sure!

Another thing – there’s a strict no camera policy, hence a lack of photos besides the pretty canals. I was super tempted to take pictures, but you won’t find anyone else with one and I hear that the ladies put the curtains down and get pretty upset if you try.

Doesn’t look sketchy at all, am I right?

The ‘Coffee’ Shops

I have a question… what if you legitimately want a coffee? What then? I didn’t see any legit coffee shops!

Anyways, the famous Amsterdam Coffee Shops are EVERYWHERE. Some are bigger and more corporate than others. For instance, I wanted to take a peek inside one of them and the bouncers asked to see our passports and made us go through a metal detector. At a different one, they just asked if we were old enough and were happy enough when we said yes. While smoky inside, the coffee shops were not at all what I expected. People weren’t going crazy or acting super stupid, it was very chill. It was mostly people having casual conversations with their friends.

We didn’t partake in any of it, but from what I saw the prices aren’t cheap. Also, in every tourist shop you go into, they sell “weed” cookies, candy, beer, etc. You name it, they have it. But don’t expect there to really be weed in there, my friends. Most of the time it is just clever packaging and maybe a hint of weed flavor. Not to mention, everything is ridiculously overpriced.

Another thing I was super surprised by was how many ‘head shops’ there were that sold every drug you can imagine, from mushrooms to ecstasy. I knew marijuana was legal here, but I had no idea pretty much everything else was as well. Be careful if that’s what you’re into!

Leidseplein

On the far end of the main part of Amsterdam, you find Leidseplein, a very popular square for young people. There are tons of bars, restaurants, and concert halls here. We walked the whole way, but we would recommend taking a tram considering it is free with the 3 day pass and it is much quicker.

Drinks here are super expensive, so beware. You can expect to pay about €5 for a pint, which is up there with Dublin for some of Europe’s priciest drinks. Also, on weekends, they seem to make you charge for the restroom… EVERYWHERE. It was super frustrating. When you’re out drinking with friends, the last thing you want to bother with is some jerk making you pay 50 cents every time you need to go. Be prepared, and bring change!

If you really enjoy music, especially electro, be sure to check the concert halls in this area for their schedules and tickets (see at the end of this post).

The I Amsterdam Sign and Museumsplein

It is obligatory to take a picture with the Amsterdam sign when you’re there, or so it seems from the plethora of photos all over the internet. Before we went, I had read somewhere that it’s necessary to arrive very early in the morning in order to get a decent picture without hoards of people in it. We didn’t heed this advice, unfortunately. If this is a priority for you, keep this in mind!

Nearby, you’ll find the Rijksmuseum (in fact, that’s the building you see behind the I amsterdam sign), the Van Gogh Museum, and the Stedelijk Museum. Like I mentioned before, it is necessary to buy tickets to all of these places beforehand, unless you have tons of time to kill! The Rijksmuseum is very highly rated, but unfortunately we didn’t have enough time for that and the Van Gogh Museum. You can expect to pay about 17.50€ to enter, and you’ll find a lovely collection of masterpieces including Rembrandt and Vermeer. It closes at 5pm.

A garden to the right of the Rijksmuseum.

The Stedelijk Museum costs about 15€, and last time I checked, it stayed open a little longer, until 6pm. In here, you will find Monet, Picasso, Rodin, etc. And last but not least, the Van Gogh Museum will cost you about 17€ and is open until 10pm on Friday. It displays Van Gogh’s early works and drawings, and has some great hand-written letters between himself, his brother, and his friends. It was very interesting, there was a lot about Van Gogh that I did not know before!

Van Gogh’s Palette

Would you have ever guessed this was by Van Gogh? There’s an interesting story behind it, too.

The Keukenkoff Gardens, Where You’ll See More Tulips than you have in your Entire Life!

View from the top of the windmill. I wasn’t kidding when I said there were tons of people.

We had read really good things about this, so we decided to devote one day to going. That day happened to be Easter, and everyone else had the same idea. You can pick up a bus from the airport that will take you there, it is about a 50 minute ride. However, if you’re unlucky, you will be stuck standing in the bus the whole time. Since Easter was a big day for the gardens, when we arrived at the airport there was a huge line like I’ve never seen. We almost ditched our plans immediately. However, we asked a few people towards the front of the line how long they had been waiting, and they said only about an hour. We sucked it up and decided to go for it. Luckily, they’re very efficient! It costs about 25€ for the gardens and transport to and from the airport.

It is basically a huge park with tons of different types of tulips. There are some buildings scattered throughout that house various exhibitions using different kinds of flowers, it was pretty cool to see. There’s also a windmill that you can go inside. The gardens are only open for 2 months a year, so check to see if you’re they’re during the right time! It begins at the end of March and ends sometime in May. If you go in the beginning of April, not all of the flowers will be bloomed, but it is very nice nonetheless.

We were lucky that we went at the right time, they were celebrating the 125th anniversary of Van Gogh’s death and had one building entirely themed after his paintings. Check their website to see if there are any special events!

Sight-seeing

  • Van Gogh Museum: Paulus Potterstraat 7, €15, 9am-5pm Sat & Sun, 9am to 10pm Fri – A must-see. Opened by Van Gogh’s brother, contains a large collection of drawings, paintings, and letters.
  • Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam: Museumplein 10, €15. 10am-6pm – Monet, Picasso, Chagall, Rodin, etc.
  • Rijksmuseum: Museumstraat 1,€17.50, 9am-5pm – Also a must-see, housing Rembrandt, Vermeer, and other masterpieces.
  • Heineken Experience: Stadhouderskade 78 – I didn’t personally do this, but it had good reviews. It is nearby Museumplein.
  • Albert Cuypmarkt: 10am-5pm Friday and Saturday – Large market that sells everything you can imagine, including many local specialties.
  • Anne Frank House: Prinsengracht 263-267, €9, 9am-7pm – Obviously a very important think to visit while in Amsterdam, but be sure to buy your tickets way in advance!
  • Royal Palace Amsterdam: Dam Square, €10, 12pm-5pm
  • Sex Museum: Damrak 18 – Worth a visit if you have an open mind!
  • Oude Kerk: Oudekerksplein 23, €5, 10am-6pm (Mon-Sat), 1pm-5:30pm (Sun) – Amsterdam’s oldest building, near the Red Light District.
  • Red Light District (De Wallen): Enge Kerksteeg 3 – No comment necessary.
  • Begijnhof: Begijnhof 30, 8am-5pm – Former convent.
  • Keukenhoff Gardens: Stationsweg 166A – Tulips galore! Only open 2 months a year. Outside of Amsterdam, pick up a bus at the airport.
  • Amsterdams Verzetsmuseum: Plantage Kerklaan 61A – History of the Resistance during WWII.
  • Museum Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder: Oudezijds Voorburgwal 40 – A hidden church with fascinating history.

Local Food Specialties – Must Try!

  • Patatje Oorlog – A delicious sauce to put on fries: mayo (mayo is on everything!), sate sauce and onions. The literal translation is war chips. Mannekin Pis is the best place to try it: Damrak 41
  • Stamppot – mashed potatoes with vegetables and sausage.
  • Stroopwafels – waffle caramal sandwiches
  • Bitterballen – deep-fried gravy bites
  • Appelgeback – apple tart
  • Poffetjeslittle pancakes with sugar

Super delicious!

Restaurants and Cheap Eats

Food is very important to me. Like, REALLY important to me. I generally research the best places online before I go somewhere, and back home in California I ALWAYS yelp places. I had read on one blog that they were very disappointed in the food they tried, and that it was necessary to research good places before going. Don’t have to ask me twice! Here’s the list of places all over Amsterdam I found in my research:

  • Burgerlijk: Runstraat 1 – huge, delicious burgers
  • Sky Lounge: DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Amsterdam Centraal Station, Oosterdoksstraat 4 – try bitterballen here! Amazing view of the city.
  • Bar Huf: Reguliersdwarsstraat 43II – Great fondue and hang out place.
  • Café Het Paleis – Paleisstraat Centrum 16 – Good for lunch or coffee. Try appelgebak!
  • 5&33: Martelaarsgracht 5 – Great atmosphere, and good place to share food.
  • Nam Kee: Zeedijk 111-113 – Cheap and delicious Chinese food.
  • Hap Hmm: Eerste Helmersstraat 33 – cheap eats, around 6€ for a filling meal!
  • Latei: Zeedijk 143 – healthy snacks, vegetarian meals.
  • Broodjeszaak ‘t Kuyltje: Gasthuismolensteeg 9 HS – Dutch sandwiches.
  • Singel 404: 1016 AK Amsterdam – Claims to have the best sandwiches in Amsterdam, starting at 5€.

Some of the burgers at the Getto.

  • **Getto**: Warmoesstraat 51 – Actually made it to this room! Near the Red Light District, it is a very fun place with great food. Everything is drag queen themed, and they also put on shows! They also have some great and delicious drink specials. Worth a visit!
  • Peperwortel: Overtoom 140 – Great fusion of food.

Drink Places

  • Cafe Kooper: Leidseplein 16 – dive bar, but nice
  • Skek: Zeedijk 4-8 – Good hang out place, and if you’re still hungry they offer snacks and burgers.

  • Brouwerij ‘t IJ: Funenkade 7 – A brewery inside of a windmill! It was super cool, but unfortunately closes super early… at 6pm I believe. Great beer! Worth a visit, even though it is on the far side of the city. Use the tram!
  • In De Wildeman: Kolksteeg 3
    • One of the best drinking establishments I have been to. Huge selection of ales with a great barman. Relaxing atmosphere and somewhere you just keep revisiting. Search it out – you will not be disappointed

A City a Day: Antwerp, or ‘Hand Throw’ (A Guide)

For a list of things to see or places to eat, scroll to the bottom. Otherwise, enjoy the pictures and ramblings 🙂

After saying goodbye to beautiful Ghent and Bruges, we headed off to our last Belgian city of our Benelux tour: Antwerp. I didn’t know much about the city itself, but after doing some research it seemed like a worthwhile and quirky place to visit.

We got off the train, and the first thing you are struck by is the beautiful station. It is huge and just gorgeous to look at, has numerous floors, and there is even a zoo attached to it! In fact, Newsweek once rated it the world’s 4th greatest train station, and the British Magazine Mashable rated it the world’s most beautiful. It is definitely worth a peek around!

From there, we headed towards our hostel so we could get rid of our heavy bags. We stayed at Antwerp Student Hostel, which was okay but I would not highly recommend it. The price was pretty high for what it was (although it was a holiday weekend, so that might have contributed to it) and the staff weren’t the nicest (in fact, they were a bit rude). About half of the beds are in what they call “capsules” – basically wooden boxes with one open side. If you’re claustrophobic, this is not the place for you!

Anyways, Antwerp is a decent sized city, but if you’re able-bodied, you can pretty much walk everywhere (at least, that’s what we did). I have starred all of the main attractions that I found in my research.

Our first stop was St. Carolus Borromeuskerk, a quaint church in a quiet square. It was pretty on the outside, but (as I’ve mentioned before) when you travel around Europe, all of the churches kind of begin to blur together. My friends and I even joked that we should start a blog just on all of the churches we had seen in this one trip alone.

A short walk from there is Grote Markt and Antwerp City Hall. It is a lovely square with a quite unique and eye-catching centerpiece. If you look very closely, the man at the top of the statue is holding (and about to throw) a severed hand. Ew. Legend has it that there was a giant who used to charge people to cross the river, and when they couldn’t pay, or refused to, he would cut off their hand and throw it into the river. One day, a dashing young knight came along and said “Screw you, giant!” (I’m sure more eloquently than that) and cut off the giant’s hand, throwing it into the water like all of the giants’ victims. For good measure, he cut off his head, too. Lovely story, isn’t it? The name of the city, Antwerpen, literally translates to ‘hand throw.’

A couple of blocks away, you will find the beautiful Cathedral of Our Lady Antwerp, or Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedraal. It’s imposing tower and prominent clock can be seen from all over the city, and it is rather impressive. Inside, you have to pay a small fee in order to see the famous paintings it houses. To get a peek of the cathedral, just sneak off to the left of the ticket booth and go into the prayer area, but stay quiet! It took 169 years to build this masterpiece.

The above picture is the free view you get from the prayer area, and below is one of the halls of paintings you can see if you pay the entrance fee. I hear it is definitely worth a visit and holds many Rubens, but we didn’t have time to go.

At this point, we were starving so we decided to head to one of the restaurants on my list. About a 10 minute walk away from the cathedral and through Groenplaats square (shown below, with a nice statue of Rubens), and admittedly a little hard to find, we stopped at De Groote Witte Arend, a lovely restaurant inside of an old 17th century convent building. It was definitely charming, and the food was local and delicious.

The waiter recommended the local specialty Stoemp, basically mashed potatoes with eggs, lettuce, and bacon added. It was quite delicious (I was a little wary about the eggs) and extremely filling! I would definitely recommend it. However, if you’re with friends, it might be a good idea to order a meat plate as well and share, so you can have both your carbs and a meaty protein.

After that filling lunch, we decided to head toward the river and see Hetsteen Castle then try to make it up to the MAS Museum. We asked the waiter for directions, and he warned us “You know it is a small castle, right? Not really anything to see?” However, when we got there, we were glad we made the short journey. Although small, it is still very picturesque and right on the river. There is even a nice cafe inside where you can have a rest and look out over the water.

We wandered along the waterfront for a bit (be sure to look back towards the city center, there are some nice views of the cathedral), then headed up north towards the MAS Museum. We stopped at St. Paul’s Church, or Sint-Paulusparochie, along the way. The church was unique because in the gardens they had statues and a diarama of sorts of various important scenes from the Bible. I had never seen anything quite like it. The inside was nice, but nothing out of the ordinary. When you walk in, at the far end there is another hallway with some interesting paintings that are worth a visit.

One thing that surprised (and confused) us was at the far end of the Cathedral, near the altar. In the picture above, you see white, black, and gray balls of differing sizes connected by strings. Weird, right? There was no informational poster or anything, but I have the feeling it was a temporary exhibit of some sort.

From there, we headed directly North. It was getting late and we wanted to be sure that we got there before dark (while the MAS exhibits close at 5 or 6, you can still go all the way to the top for the views). What we didn’t realize is that Antwerp has a mini Red Light District. We were so busy trying to read street signs and check our map that we didn’t realize where we were headed. Next thing we knew, there were women in string bikinis posing for us in the windows and men perusing slowly, deliberately. In fact, thinking back now, just a couple minutes prior a guy passed by us and gave us a weird hand signal and laughed, then power walked towards the main street. We had no idea what to make of it, but perhaps that should have been a clue.

Since we were heading to Amsterdam the following day, we decided to let this be a ‘taste’ of what was to come. We walked a little bit faster, but slow enough where we could still see what was happening. It felt nerve-wracking to be the only girls walking this street, surrounded by half naked women. I couldn’t believe how popular it was in the early afternoon! If you’re in the area during the day, it is worth a look if you’re in a decent sized group. However, I wouldn’t recommend anyone coming at night or even going by themselves during the day. It isn’t Amsterdam, there aren’t a lot of tourists around. It seemed like mostly a local thing, and a sketchy local thing at that.

From there, it was about a 10 minute to MAS, or Museum aan de Stroom. It is a very unique building, 10 stories high, with big, curved glass. If you arrive after the museum closes, you can take the escalators all the way to the top.

I hear it is a very nice museum, so if you’re in the area and have time, it is probably worth the visit. The views from the top are also nice, but I wouldn’t necessarily go out of my way to see it if time was an issue.

By this time, our feet were killing us, it was freezing, and we were dying for a drink. We headed back towards the center and bar hopped a bit, and luckily were able to catch the beautiful sunset against the Cathedral.

It is a very lovely city, especially when wandering the streets at night. We went to a nightclub that night and I met a guy who was from there, and he asked me why the hell we came to Antwerp because there was “nothing there.” A lot of Belgians seemed to have that opinion, but don’t let it stop you from making a visit if you have time! We truly enjoyed our time, and enjoyed lots of good Belgian beers and fries. We were sad to say goodbye!

THINGS TO SEE

  • Rubenshuis (Ruben’s House): Wapper 9 to11 – We didn’t make it to this, but if you are a fan of art (and, of course, Rubens), you should definitely take a look. The inside holds a lot of special treasures and also has a nice garden.
  • Carolus Borromeuskerk (Carolus Borromeus Church): Hendrik Conscienceplein 12
  • Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedraal (Cathedral of Our Lady Antwerp): Groenplaats 21, €5, 10am-5pm – Belgium’s finest Gothic cathedral, took 169 years to make. You can see it from all over the city. It costs money to enter the main portion with the altar and paintings, but you can have a free glimpse by (quietly) entering the prayer area.
  • Grote Markt – The main square, also where city hall is.This is where you will find the famous statue where Antwerp gets it’s name. The man at the top is named Brabo, and he cut of the giant Antigoon’s hand (and head).
  • Antwerp City Hall: Grote Markt 1 – Built in the mid-1500’s.
  • Groenplaats: 2000 Antwerpen – Lots of bars and restaurants.
  • Museum Plantin-Moretus: Vrijdagmarkt 22-23, €8, 10am-5pm – We didn’t visit, but it is highly rated. It is a medieval building and has a lovely courtyard, an antique library and bookshop.
  • Het Steen: Steenplein 1 – Small but beautiful castle on the river. In front, there is a very strange statue of a peeping Tom (we didn’t get it). There is nothing to see inside, just a cafe.
  • Sint-Paulusparochie (Saint Paul’s Church): Sint-Paulusstraat 22 – Lovely church, some Rubens inside!
  • MAS: Hanzestedenplaats 1, €5 – We didn’t see the museum portion, but be sure to get the ipod guide or use your phone with QR code capabilities because apparently nothing is in English. It is free to go all the way up to the top for the views.
  • Cogels Osylei: Zurenborg – A lovely street to walk down (supposedly, we didn’t have the chance to see it!) but a bit out of the way.

FOOD and DRINK

  • De Groote Witte Arend: Reyndersstraat 18, €13-22 – Built inside a 17th century convent building. Great, local food and drinks! Try the stoemp, carbonnades, or rabbit.
  • Den billekletser: Hoogstraat 20 – unique beer bar
  • Falafel Tof – cheap
  • Le John: Kasteelpleinstraat 23, €13-26, dinner only, very artistic inside.

La Diada de Sant Jordi (St. George’s Day) in Catalunya

Since the day I arrived back in September, the Catalan people have been buzzing about St. Jordi’s Day, or La Diada de Sant Jordi (every year on April 23rd). I remember my first host family taking me out into Barcelona and showing me the cathedral and Palau de la Musica, and somehow they always tied things back to their beloved Saint. A couple of weeks back, I decided to ask more about this tradition and the legend it came from (I guess they also celebrate this in England, but us Americans are a little behind the times, I guess).

My 8 year old host sister came out with her Saint Jordi book (a must-have item in every Catalan household) and hers just happened to also have an English translation. She read it to me and we discussed. Basically, there is a dragon that terrorized a city and the princess was captured. A young (of course, handsome) knight came to save the day and slayed the dragon. Out of the dragons blood bloomed a beautiful rose, which the prince gave to the princess. In return, she gave him a book. To this day, Catalan people continue this tradition and exchange books and roses. To read more about this interesting legend, click here. This is basically the Catalan St. Valentine’s Day, and they look forward to it every year.

As you walk down the streets, you see many people holding roses to give to their loved ones. There are little stands littering all street corners with people selling books, roses, and the famous Sant Jordi bread with the Catalan flag on it. When I arrived to school, my friend and colleague was nice enough to give me one of these breads to try. They use cheese and sobresada (a specialty here made from meat, usually spread on bread) to make the yellow and red stripes, then the crust that surrounds it has nuts.

Inside the school, all of the teachers were wearing little rose pins on their shirts and the young students were all abuzz, roses being passed out everywhere. It was so adorable to see! All week the classes had been working on various crafts, and the entire school was decorated for the occasion.

During lunch, my friend and I decided to walk around our small town to see what was happening. Normally during our lunch time, everything is shut down. However, today all stores decided to stay open and sell themed items. There were stalls with more books than I’d seen in quite awhile, rose and dragon crafts, foods and pastries… it was so interesting to see!

After I got back from wandering around, one of my 8 year old students surprised me with a rose. It was so adorable because he is super shy, and his mom (who also works at the school) had to lightly give him a little shove to have him approach me. I later asked why there was the wheat sprig, and I guess it is for fertility. I don’t know if I was a young person that I’d want to give my girl or boyfriend a fertility rose! Sons also give their mothers and grandmothers roses on this day… “Here, grandma, a fertility rose!”

After school, I headed into Barcelona with some friends to explore the festivities in Plaza Catalunya and La Rambla. Everyone at my school told me that I just HAD to go. It was nice to see, and I’m glad I went, but I honestly preferred the festivities in my small town. In Barcelona, it was PACKED with people… everyone was shoving everyone else to get through and see things. In my small town, there was a lot of people, but it was still very easy to see everything and the wares they were selling were a lot more creative, in my opinion.

If you’re ever lucky enough to be in Catalunya on St. Jordi’s Day (April 23rd), I recommend that you try to check out Barcelona during the day (if on a weekday, most Catalans are probably still at work) and try to find a nearby small town to get the full experience. One thing is for sure – I enjoyed my first St. Jordi’s!

A City a Day: Ghent, Here Be Dragons! (A Guide)

Stars indicate main attractions. At the bottom, you will see Backstay Hostel, a short walk from the center.

For food and drink recommendations, scroll to the bottom! 🙂

When we were planning this trip, we weren’t sure whether we should go to Ghent, Bruges, or both. We had all heard great things about Bruges, but one of the friends that was with us had said that Ghent was better and less touristy. Following her advice, we decided to book two nights in Ghent to give ourselves a buffer and allow ourselves to possibly go to Bruges for a day trip on one of those days. Ghent is less than 2 hours away from Brussels by train.

We stayed at Backstay Hostel Ghent, which I would highly recommend to anyone. It was one of the nicest hostels I’ve ever stayed at, with every floor in a different theme. They even had a cinema room! We never got to check it out, but it seemed pretty cool. The beds were also very modern looking, and each bed had a little compartment near the pillow with 3 personal plugs. They also provided complimentary lockers which was a nice touch. Oh, and their breakfast! It was probably the best breakfast I’ve ever had at a hostel, you could make your own waffles and hard-boiled eggs in addition to the usual lunch meats and cereal. Fantastic! And it is only about a 10 minute walk to the center of town.

The main center. You can pretty much get anywhere in the city within 10 minutes by foot!

Our first stop was St. Bavo’s Cathedral, which is famous for the art it houses including the Mystic Lamb by Hubert and Jan van Eyck (as shown in the movie Monuments Men). You have to pay an extra fee to see the painting and the audioguide is included. Only one of my friends went inside, and she said it was very interesting. The rest of the cathedral is very beautiful, and you can go down inside of the original crypt and see some other timeless art pieces along with some really old books.

Inside St. Bavo’s

Like in the other cities we visited (Brussels and Luxembourg), everything was under construction so we couldn’t get a picture of the exterior. It’s crazy, I’m thinking that maybe they try to build everything in spring before all of the tourists come in summer? Who knows.

Stolen from Wikipedia, just to show the outside of St. Bavo’s which we didn’t get to see.

Just across the small square, you will find the Belfry Het Belfort van Gent, a large tower topped with a dragon. It is one of the most important buildings in Ghent and symbolizes their independence. A dragon was placed at the top of the tower in the late 1300’s to watch over the city and also the precious documents held within. Today, the dragon at the top is not the original. If you go inside, though, you can see one of the originals on display.

The Belfry, with the golden dragon at the top.

Once you get to the very top, you are graced with some absolutely amazing views of the city. It is a tight squeeze to get through some of the areas, especially if there are a lot of people, but it is definitely worth it. The best view is the side the goes towards Saint Nicholas’ Church.

Saint Nicholas’ Church. It was such a beautiful day!

View from another side.

Just some lovely buildings near the Belfry that I couldn’t help but take a picture of.

If you’ve been throughout Europe, you know that there are more Cathedrals than you can count. It can be quite difficult to remember them all, they just all start to blur together. You have to start taking note of unique characteristics of each one if you want to remember them, but the reality is that you really only remember the truly spectacular ones. For me, that includes the amazing Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, the Notre Dame in Lyon, and the Notre Dame in Paris. Saint Nicholas’ Cathedral is one of those that I think I will always remember for the grand looking exterior. Inside it is nice as well, but there’s something about this medieval architecture that is really impressive.

Saint Nicholas’ Church

If you continue down the street and to the right, you reach the Graslei area of Ghent. The first street will take you down an avenue with tons of restaurants and shops, and the second street on the right will take you down the waterfront. Both are worth exploring! The buildings are all so beautiful. My descriptions don’t do it justice, so here’s some candy for your eyes:

We found a restaurant in the Graslei area, and unfortunately I can’t remember it’s name 😦 But it was near the Pizza Hut! They recommended me a local beer called Petrus, which I highly recommend! I loveloveloved it! Strangely, I couldn’t find it anywhere else.

We ordered the local specialties that I had read were really worth trying: waterzooi and stoverij. The waterzooi was AMAZING. It is a local specialty from Ghent, supposedly Charles V’s favorite dish! I don’t blame him. If you leave Ghent without trying this deliciousness, you’ve failed at life. You can get it with either chicken or fish. I tried the fish, which I guess is the original. The sauce is a very creamy, rich sauce that is sure to please even the pickiest of eaters.

Fish Waterzooi, topped with gray shrimp (another specialty in Belgium). I can not even tell you how amazing and mouth-wateringly delicous this was. I want more. Now.

Stoverij, a decadent beef stew. I never ordered this while I was in Belgium (I just ordered waterzooi repeatedly because I loved it so much), but my friends really liked this dish. I had a taste and it seemed tasty, but very, very rich.

Chicken Waterzooi. Same delicious sauce.

After our delicious meal, we went about exploring the city some more. We crossed the river to explore the Kraanlei neighborhood.

Here, you will find the Castle of the Counts Gravensteen, a cute little castle built in the 1100’s. We ended up not going inside, but it comes highly recommended on most travel sites.

Gravensteen Castle

One thing you should definitely do while in Ghent (well, I suppose anywhere, really) is to stop in the little shops on the way to see what they offer. I ended up picking up some local tea and chocolates that I just couldn’t say  no to. That’s one of my favorite things about travelling. I always ask the shopkeepers what they recommend, and it’s so easy to do that here because everyone speaks English!

After exploring the Kranlei Neighbourhood and Patershol district (it has nice reviews on TripAdvisor, but there was nothing going on when we were walking around), we went back towards the center of the city and happened across Vrijdagmarkt Square. It is adorned with lovely buildings, a statue, and a plethora of great-looking restaurants. We were still full from our lunch, so we decided to find a drink somewhere nearby.

We found a little bar called Cafe Afsnis right next to St. Jacob’s Church. It had a lovely interior, kind of old-fashioned with candles and wood. The bartender was extremely friendly and helpful and encouraged me to try a passion fruit jenever, a popular liquor in Belgium. It was delicious! The smell was unbelievably tropical, yet not too sweet. She also recommended a nice beer.

After our rest, we decided to just wander around a little bit more to see if we had missed anything. Ghent is very small, and even in a day we were satisfied with what we saw. The beauty of Ghent is just aimlessly wandering around and seeing what surprises it has in store for you.

View from St. Michael’s Bridge

St. Michael’s Church

Street Art visible from St. Michael’s Bridge

View of St. Nicholas’ Church from St. Michael’s Bridge

We headed back to the hostel to freshen up, then headed back out that night to find some bars that we had heard were really good.

We went to the Het Waterhuis aan de Bierkant (see address below) and enjoyed some good drinks. The bartenders were great at recommending local beers! We then went to Hot Club De Gand, but we arrived a little too late because it was packed due to a live band playing. It looked like a really nice place, though, and is definitely worth the look. We ended up at ‘t dreupelkot nearby, and it is a must-stop! It is a very small bar, and also very popular. It is famous for having tons of flavors of jenever, including cranberry, cactus, fig, licorice, strawberry, passion fruit, etc… the list goes on! Great prices and definitely worth the visit.

We felt like dancing, so from there we headed back towards our hostel and (thanks to the recommendation of some locals) visited the popular Sint-Pietersplein, where all the young people go out for drinks and dancing at night. We went into the first club we saw and stayed all night! They had one of the best DJ’s we had ever heard, he played all of the classics and hits. We also met some very friendly people, I highly recommend checking this area out! But go in groups – we were told that it isn’t too safe to wander around on your own at night here.

From my research, here are the highest-rated food and drink places:

  • Gentse Stadsbrouwerij Gruut: Grote Huidevettershoek 10 – Local favourite dishes and home-brewed beers.
  • t’Klokhuys: Corduwaniersstraat 65 – eat waterzooi!
  • Het Waterhuis aan de Bierkant: Groentenmarkt 9 – beautiful waterfront terrace, great beer pub.
  • Hot Club De Gand: Groentenmarkt 15b – cozy concerts, outdoor seating with candles, nice lounge
  • Dulle Griet: Vrijdagmarkt 50 – selection of 250 different drinks
  • Groot Vleeshuis: Groentenmarkt 7 – old butcher’s hall turned restaurant and cafe
  • ‘t dreupelkot: Groentenmarkt 12 – tons of flavors of jenever! Very popular, worth a visit. Try the cactus flavor, it tastes like a margarita!
  • De Trollekelder: Bij Sint-Jacobs 17 – great locals bar

One thing that I really wanted to do that we didn’t have time for is the Museum Dr. Guislain, a mental-health museum (psych was my major!) housed in an old asylum. How cool is that?! It is located a bit outside the city, which is why we didn’t have time, but if you’re a nerd like me… check it out! And tell me how it is!

Another museum with good reviews is the Huis van Alijn in the Kraanlei neighbourhood. It only costs €5 to go in and displays everyday things from life in the last 100+ years.

A City a Day: Brussels, Land of Mussels, Fries, Beer and Waffles (A Guide)

Brussels MapAfter a long and rainy day in Luxembourg, we boarded the train and made the 3 hour journey to Brussels, Belgium. We stayed at 2Go4 Hostel, about a 10 minute walk from the Brussels Nord train station. We were excited about seeing the sun here (apparently it is a rarity), but the second we walked outside we realized that the wind chill was absolutely insane. We stopped along the way to ask one lady for directions, and she was literally crying from the wind. Anyways, the hostel was pretty nice, and I would recommend it. It is about a 10 minute walk from the main center of Brussels, but they do require an extra €10 deposit that they return to you upon check-out. The decorations here were pretty cool, the lounge there looks like it would be fun to hang out in if you had some extra time. We were also upgraded here from a 6 bed to a 4 bed because we had asked to be placed together, so boo yah! The only problem with this hostel is that it doesn’t serve breakfast. There is complimentary tea and coffee in the morning, but the coffee is instant and the cream is powder… blech.

We asked our hostel for some restaurant reservations and headed off towards the center. The hostel recommended Chez Léon, which has been in business since 1893. It is on rue des Bouchers 18, which is a main restaurant tourist trap avenue. There must’ve been at least 20 other restaurants on this street, all advertising those hokey big yellow signs with giant pictures of mussels and fries. And the waiters are relentless, too… They’re all standing outside trying to convince you to come in, and they really don’t leave you alone. I hate to ignore people, but you have to here. You so much as look at them and they follow you down the street, offering you free drinks and refusing to leave you alone. If you don’t respond or look at them, they start talking to you in 5 different languages, trying to figure out which language they can communicate to you with. Some of them say the darndest things, too…

Chez Léon, Photo Cred: http://www.insidebrussels.be

Anyways, Chez Léon. It was one of the few restaurants on the street that didn’t have all of those cheesy tourist signs, so we figured we’d give it a try. The food was pretty good, although pricy. We didn’t realize until after we had eaten just how huge and touristy the restaurant really is. I wouldn’t say that I wouldn’t go back, but I will say I might recommend finding something better for next time (see other restaurant recommendations below).

Anguilles au Vert

My friend decided to try the Anguilles au Vert, or Eels in Green Sauce. During my research, I read that this is a specialty of Brussels and tastes better than it sounds. However, neither of us really liked it… There was the spine still in it, which we weren’t expecting, and it had a strange texture. My friend didn’t like the green sauce, but I did. I have actually tried eel before on sushi and loved it, but this is nothing like that.

Mussels Provençale

I decided to order mussels, because hey… it’s a Brussels classic after all. They had many different variations of Mussels, and instead of going for the normal version, I decided to try something new: Mussels Provençale, basically mussels sauteed in snail butter and topped with a melted layer of parmesan cheese. It was very tasty, I must admit… but my god it was a lot of cheese! You can’t even see the mussels underneath. I, of course, paired it with a fine belgian beer and fries.

Les Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert, Photo Cred commons.wikimedia.org

Nearby, you will find the Les Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert, a beautiful glass-roofed mall (or arcade). It was built in the mid 1800’s and is famous for being the first mall built in Europe. We only went through one corridor, and it was lined with chocolate stores galore. There were some pretty amazing displays! Definitely worth a visit.

Charles Buls Square

When you exit one of the main halls, you come out onto Charles Buls Square, a very nice area to walk around and often accompanied with live music. If you go to the right, you hit the main square and Grand Palace. If you go to the left, you find the Cathedrale St-Michel et Ste-Gudule.

Cathedrale St-Michel et Ste-Gudule

If you’re sick of seeing cathedrals, just go right towards the main square (or Grote Markt). The cathedral was nice, but it wasn’t spectacular. One interesting thing was how they had statues of saints lining the main hall on the pillars, I had never seen that before.

After that, we headed back towards the main square. It really is a sight to see. In all directions there are beautiful buildings lined in gold. I guess during one part of the year, they also cover the majority of the ground in a beautiful flower carpet like this:

If you could visit during that time, it’d definitely be a sight to see! But the square is beautiful regardless, and is known as one of the most beautiful squares in all of Europe.

After staring in awe at the beautiful buildings a while, follow the signs (or your handy map) to get to the famous Mannekin Pis. But don’t expect much… it is literally just a little boy having a wee. I don’t get it. At all. But the best part is that right next door, you will find a famous waffle house… and you just HAVE to buy a waffle there.

Oh, and on the way there, you will see some fun street art:

Adventures of TinTin! On the road from the main square to Mannekin Pis. Photo Cred clausitosfootprints.com

As for Mannekin Pis… behold, the wonder that is a little peeing statue that everyone comes to see:

It’s so very terribly interesting, don’t you think? Sarcasm aside, if you come at special times of year they dress him up. I’ve heard they have a museum dedicated to his outfits… -_-

Here’s what you do: take the mandatory picture in front of the statue, and move on. In fact, turn left onto the same street you came from and go a couple doors down until you find a line coming out of a delectable smelling waffle shop. Take out your wallet and give them your money… it’s worth it!

The famous waffle shop, right next door to Mannkein Pis. Don’t be fooled by that €1 sign, though… We paid about €5-6 for our waffle complete with strawberries, bananas, chocolate, and whipped cream. The €1 must be just for a plain waffle… how boring! Don’t be that person.

Yummers. It is messy as all hell, but get over it. And throw the forks away, there really is no use. Just use your fingers and enjoy!

After you’ve enjoyed that deliciousness, check your map and head towards the palace. It is a bit of a walk, though… Expect about 10-15 minutes, depending on your speed. If you go back to the right of the Mannekin Pis statue and go uphill, you’ll pass by some more street art:

On your way to the palace, you will come across the Jardin du Mont des Arts which houses a statue of Albert I on a horse and some nice landscaping. From the top, you will have a nice view of the gardens and the city laid out below you, especially on a clear day. I’d imagine it’d be quite nice to have a picnic there during the warmer months.

If you continue upwards further, you will find a lovely street with some beautiful architecture and lovely museums. We decided not to go inside any of them, but if you have lots of time and enjoy museums, here is a list of the top ones from my research:

You can really take your pick, though… I saw a museum of cinema, of musical intruments, etc. It’s a museum-goers paradise up here.

The Courthouse and Plaza

Up at the very top of the hill, you will find the courthouse. If you turn left and then make a right on the first street, you will find Coudenberg (the remains of the ancient palace; we decided not to go in, but I’ve heard it is interesting) and then the current palace, Palais de Bruxelles. However, unless you’re in Brussels during the summer months, don’t expect to go inside. It is closed to the public, but you can get your cheesy picture out front:

Royal Palace of Brussels. When you see the flag flying at the top, it means the King is in town.

By this time our feet were extremely tired, so we decided to circle back around towards the central square and grab a drink at the Delirium Bar. If you like beer (and well, you’re crazy if you don’t), you should definitely check it out! They have lots of varieties, and the prices are pretty good. It also has a very fun atmosphere, and seems to be one of the more popular hang outs at night. On the way to the Delirium Bar, you will pass by some other lovely street art:

For a peek inside the bar itself, here you go:

Photo Cred ourtastytravels.com

Photo Cred: Trip Advisor

If anyone reading this has ever been to or knows anything about Brussels, you’ll realize that there’s something very important missing: Atomium. Unfortunately, Atomium is located way outside of the city center, and is a little difficult to get to if you don’t have time and don’t know where you’re going. I had a goal of visiting the Atomium during the day so that we could go up inside of it and see the wonderful views, but that didn’t happen. Instead, we came at night to admire the beautiful lights. There weren’t many other people around, but it was definitely a lovely sight to be seen. I guess there’s also a really nice restaurant at the top, but expect to pay a lot of money and have a reservation!

Atomium during the day. Photo Cred ojoscuriosos.com

If you want to go to Atomium during the day, make sure you have at least a half day to do it. Also, ask your hotel for SPECIFIC directions on how to get there. When I google mapped the directions, it told me it’d only take about 15 minutes. However, when we followed the basic directions of the hostel, it took us about 45 minutes… and the trams only came about once every 20 or 30 minutes.

Atomium at night. Photo Cred Flickr

During the day until 6pm, you can go up inside of this marvellous structure and see some great views, from what I hear. If you’re here for longer, you should definitely check it out!

Below, I will list other museums and restaurants that I didn’t have a chance to see, but which my research found to be worth seeing:

Museums

Food and Drink

Think I missed something? Please feel free to let me know in the comments! 🙂

A City a Day: Luxembourg, a Fairytale City (A Guide)

This will be my first Guide Post, so let’s see how it goes! Before my most recent trips, I have spent hours and hours researching and planning everything, and instead of just throwing everything away when I’m finished, I figured that this information might come in handy for others interested in visiting these places. Below, I will not only share pictures and personal experiences, but also include names of restaurants, hotels, museums, etc. that I researched and might be of use for those coming to visit. If you have anything you think I missed, please feel free to let me know in the comments! I will also link to informational websites that describe each site further.

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I don’t know how we did it, but we found really cheap flights to Luxembourg during Spring Break (we paid €45 one way). If we had left on any other day, the prices shot up to over €200… insane! You really have to do your research if you want to include Luxembourg on your itinerary if you don’t want to pay a fortune.

We arrived at around noon, and it was a rainy day. The rain normally wouldn’t bother me too much, but it was also EXTREMELY windy… it was almost pointless to use an umbrella because it kept either flying away or getting blown upside down. In fact, all of my friends had to throw away their umbrellas at the end of the day because they were ruined. But, no matter… we weren’t the type of people to let a little rain and wind ruin our day!

In my research, I read that it was pretty easy to catch a bus from the airport and take it straight into the city. In front of the bus stop is a machine where you can buy tickets, and a short term ticket costs €2. We bought our tickets only to find out that buses were free on Sundays =X No matter… Also, we were told to take Bus #9 and it would take us very close to where our hostel was. However, when Bus #9 arrived, it drove right past us and a group of at least 8 other people… wtf? We ended up hopping on a different bus and getting a transfer in the city center.

There is only one hostel in Luxembourg City, and it’s actually a pretty nice one: Luxembourg Youth Hostel. It is HUGE, and looks more like a hotel than a hostel on the outside. It was very clean, and we only paid about €25 for the night. Plus breakfast was included! Can you get better than that? Yes, you can! We paid to have a 6 bed dorm, and there were 4 of us. I emailed the hostel asking if we could be placed in the same room, and to our surprise they upgraded us to a 4 bed room so we could have our privacy. The staff were also extremely friendly. I highly recommend it!

The hostel is right down the hill from the main road that takes you into the city center. It is a little bit of a hike to get back up, but not too bad. The views as you cross the bridge are also incredible. Unfortunately, there was a lot of construction going on… one entire bridge was covered in ugly steel and tarps. And there were cranes everywhere. But it was still unbelievably beautiful, even in the rain.

As you cross the bridge, you will pass by the Casemates du Bock, which are basically old passageways carved into the mountainside. Unfortunately we didn’t have much time to explore all of them, but you will find them throughout the city and they are highly recommended to see.

One of the first things we came across was Saint Michael’s Church, which was unfortunately under construction on the outside. I’d recommend having a peek inside, I really loved the unique stained glass.

We were starving after all of that travelling (woke up at 4am and got to the hostel around 2pm), so we started out immediately trying to find a place to eat. One of the first restaurants we came across was a lovely French cafe called Le Friquet’s (1, rue Sigefroi, L-2536 Luxembourg). We arrived pretty late, so we had the entire restaurant to ourselves. They were advertising their plate of the day, which appeared to be chicken. We were all going to order it when luckily the waitress warned us that it was basically stuffed chicken intestines… I’m all down for trying new foods, but I’m really glad we figured that out in time!

In the end, we decided on a specialty called Bouchée à la reine, which I highly recommend! It is basically a stuffed pastry covered in a deliciously creamy sauce, we were all very impressed. It cost €18.50, but it was honestly one of the best meals that I’ve ever had and was enough food to keep us full for the entire evening.

Bouchée à la reine

One thing that you hear about Luxembourg that it is an extremely expensive city. In fact, it is the richest country in Europe! Who knew. In all of my research, I read that you couldn’t really expect to eat cheaply in Luxembourg… and I’d have to back up this consensus. The receptionist at our hostel even told us that we wouldn’t be able to find a meal cheaper than €15, and that it would be at McDonald’s. If you’re planning to come here, keep this in mind! Also, be careful about ordering water at restaurants… we ended up paying €7 for a bottle of water that gave each of us a small glass’ worth =0 Such a rip-off! Might as well have bought wine.

Nearby the restaurant is the Musée national d’histoire et d’art Luxembourg (MNHA), which was on our list of things to see but we decided not to go in. I have heard very good things about it, though, so if you have the time and you enjoy museums, give it a try.

Kaale Kaffi Shop (9 Rue de la Boucherie)

From there, we continued on towards the palace. On the way, we passed by a cute coffee shop… and caffeine was greatly appreciated after our long morning. It was probably one of the most delicious coffees I have ever tried, and also one of the most unique coffee shops which also sold vintage wares. It is called Kaale Kaffi, and is definitely worth the pick-me-up and caffeinated deliciousness.

The Palais Grand Ducal is very small, and not at all what you’d think of when you think of the richest country in the world. There weren’t gates around it, either… just one lonely looking guard keeping watch. You can’t go in, either. So it was a little anti-climactic.

What it looks like on a sunny day, Photo Cred: inzumi.com

Nearby is the Place d’Armes, a large square where young people meet up. There are many restaurants in this area, along with shops, and it’s a good place to waste some time. There weren’t too many people there on the day we went due to the rain, but I imagine it’d be lovely on a sunny day. Nearby is another square called Place Guillaume II, which is worth checking out on a nice Sunday because there is an open market.

If you’re interested in museums, there is the Musée d’Histoire de la Ville de Luxembourg which has great reviews on all of the travel websites. Apparently it is state-of-the-art and very interesting. Unfortunately, my friends and I prefered to walk around and explore rather than stay inside, so I can’t vouch for this.

Going south a little further, you hit the Cathédrale Notre-Dame (no, not the big one in Paris). Like most cathedrals, it is very beautiful… but the more you travel Europe, the more these cathedrals start to blur together. By the end of our trip, my friends and I were joking that we should start a blog just about churches because we visited so many. We ended up sitting inside for a bit as a safe haven from the wind and rain… which is exactly what a church is supposed to function as, isn’t it? A safe haven?

Nearby is the Place de la Constitution, a nice square with a tall monument in the middle and topped with the statue of a girl in gold. It has lovely views of the valley and city across the way, but the wind made it really difficult for us to stop and admire it for longer.

If you continue down south a bit, you will find the Chemin de la Corniche, otherwise known as Europe’s Most Beautiful Balcony. And it lives up to it’s name. As you look around, you feel even more like you’re in the middle of a fairytale. There’s just a charming atmosphere that emanates through the entire city, and being able to see these views from above is just marvellous (even in the rain!). It is very green here, and it’s easy just to sit there and admire the views for awhile. Unfortunately, as I mentioned before, a lot of construction was going on during this time… so you can see cranes in the background of a lot of these pictures.

Nearby, there is an elevator that you can take to go down to the bottom level of the city called Grund. When you exit the elevator, you walk through a small tunnel showcasing local artists. Some of them were very interesting! Others were just… weird.

At the other end of the tunnel, there are a bunch of small streets, cafes, and a lovely river cutting through it all. Not much was open on a Sunday, but we did stop at a local cafe called for a drink. It was an English bar, and the bartender was very nice. It had a cool feeling to it because one wall of the cafe was the hill-side. It is easy to find because it is the first place you find to the left when you exit the tunnel.

The Grund Neighbourhood is very beautiful and quaint, plus there’s a lot of places to pop in for a rest. Definitely worth the visit, but preferably on a nice day!

Forgive the crazy hair… the wind and rain got to it!

After seeing all of that, and stopping in yet another church to shelter us, we decided to just head in whatever direction felt right to explore what was left of the small city. We ended up coming across these strange statues in the middle of town, and couldn’t help joining in on the fun.

We wandered around some more at night, but unfortunately all of the lights and rain didn’t allow my photos to show up correctly. But here’s an idea of what beauty you can expect from the amazing Luxembourg City at night:

We didn’t end up going out to eat that night, but rather just grabbed some warm soup and a beer at our hostel. However, I had done some research on affordable places to eat that might be useful to other people:

Food

Bars

I had also planned a half day across the river in the more industrial part of town, but we never got around to seeing it because we thought we should head to Brussels in the morning. But, from my research, I hear these are pretty nice to see as well: