Madrid: A Special City

Madrid is such a wonderful city and is one of my favourite places to visit. Not only because it’s like a second home to me, but I love the chilled atmosphere of the city. There’s nothing quite as relaxing as sitting in a Spanish restaurant at night with a few beers. But Madrid is still a city with a great buzz about it. The city offers travellers so much and has a different feel from other European capitals. Madrid is a city that offers a true Spanish experience, with the seemingly infinite variety of different foods and its cultural history.

Paella

When we visit new places we try our best to try different foods and take part in different cultures. In Madrid one of our favourites things to do is just eat all things Spanish, whether that be tapas, paella or a Spanish omelette. If the best places that offers great Spanish food is the ‘Mercado De San Miguel’. The market has a wide range of traditional food as well as drinks for you to try. We have visited the market so many times and can really recommend this place for its food and atmosphere. Its a great place if you want to just chill, have some great food and have a drink or two. The market has a real Spanish feel too it and is really chill.

Mercado De San Miguel

What makes Madrid such a good city is that it is rich with culture and history. This means that there are so many different things you can do! You can choose to partake in flamenco dancing, a Spanish cooking class or enlightening yourself in its many art galleries. However, as we wanted to embrace Spain’s culture and history in one, we decided to visit the ‘Plaza Toros las Ventas’ – Bull Ring. Even if you do not like the idea of bull fighting, the tour was very educational and gave you a great idea of how the stadium was built and how the sport plays out. The tour is quite long so make sure you have plenty of time to spare if you want the full experience. The tour allows you to walk around the bull ring at your own pace whilst listening to an audio headset. Personally, we enjoyed the tour as it gave us a greater insight on how bull fights work, as well learning about the history of the sport and what it means for Spain.

Another must see sight in Madrid is the Royal Palace. The Royal Palace is quite simply mind blowing. Whether you’re interested in the history, the art or the architecture, by the end you will be fascinated by all three. If you do visit the Palace, make sure you do not miss the armoury as it is made up of Spanish weapons from its past colonial empire. Each room in the Palace is decorated superbly and you really can see why it was the former Palace of the Monarchy. Unfortunately, you will not be rubbing shoulders with any Spanish royalty, as it is now used for ceremonies only. Again, if you want to truly appreciate just how good the Palace is, we would recommend giving yourself a couple of hours so you don’t have to rush anything. We spent a few hours here, even though some of us had been before. There is a lot to see, especially if you want to fully engage with the tour.

Royal Palace

You can’t mention Madrid without mentioning football. Real Madrid is not only the biggest club in Spain, but the biggest in Europe. With its recent domination of European football visiting the stadium is a must! If you’re a fan of football and/or basketball, then the Santiago Bernabeu is a paradise. The stadium tour allows you to see the stadium at your own pace and does not require a tour guide. This is very rare for football stadiums and makes the experience a lot more enjoyable. Having access to indulge in the history of one of the greatest footballing sides was a wonderful experience. The tour is very interactive and not a bore like some other stadium tours are. This is something that we would highly recommend visiting the stadium as it is so iconic to the city and Spanish history in general. The tour gives you a chance to take a picture of their 11 (now 12) European trophies all in one. However, as someone who does support Real, then I could be quite biased.

During our stay, we took a short-day trip to Toledo via the train, a small Spanish city close to Madrid. Whilst in Toledo we ate at more Spanish restaurants as well as visiting its castle. The castle is a bit of a walk away from the train station (it doesn’t help that we got lost) but is certainly worth the effort. The castle grants the opportunity to take pictures of some stunning views that are a must see! We really enjoyed visiting Toledo as it was something completely different from what we have done whilst visiting a capital city. Toledo also has a magnificently designed cathedral that you should visit if you have the time. As someone who has now studied the Spanish Civil War at University, learning about the history of the Toledo during this period was an eye opener for me looking back at my time spent there. Toledo is historically an interesting city and is definitely worth checking out!

Toledo

As someone who has visited Madrid many times the amazing atmosphere and buzz you get from the city never disappoints. However, this was the first time that I had gone with my friends and not my family, and I was finally old enough to drink. What surprised us was that Madrid has an incredible nightlife. It was such a pleasant surprise as we were not expecting just how good It would be. Like a lot of other cities and if you will know if you have read some of our other blog posts, we would recommend signing up to a bar crawl online or at your hostel for the best exposure to what a night in Madrid has to offer. The pub crawl took us to some of the best bars and clubs in the city and made the night out one to remember.

 Madrid is such a wonderful city and we would recommend anyone to go over a lot of other cities. Whether it be for a weekend or more, you will not run out of things to do. Madrid is a city that can give you whatever you want. If you like the chilled atmosphere, then Madrid can give you that. Most restaurants, squares and markets are some of the most relaxed places we have visited. However, if you like a city that is on the move, upbeat and eccentric then Madrid can give you that!

View the rest of our Madrid pictures here.

 

Amsterdam: A Capital on A High

Well known for its canals, bikes and coffee shops, home to the famous red-light district and amazing art galleries, Amsterdam is a city with a lot to offer. Having been to Amsterdam twice, we can say that for us Amsterdam is rather different to other European cities that we have visited. However, if we do have a criticism of Amsterdam, is that it can be over priced and sometimes over hyped.

Canal
Canal

Nevertheless, Amsterdam is still a great city if you’re looking for a weekend getaway. If you have the money, then Amsterdam really isn’t a bad place to spend it. One of the most enjoyable activity that we did whilst in Amsterdam is renting bikes. Cycling is a fantastic way to explore the city whilst soaking up those summer rays. We rented bikes for 24hours and spent most of the day riding from attraction to attraction, while seeing a lot of what Amsterdam has to offer. Bikes are reasonably cheap and make the city so accessible. Amsterdam has got lots of cycle lanes which make it a lot safer than cycling through the busy streets.  However, do be careful whilst on your bike as one of us rode into a local for being in the wrong cycle lane. For anyone from the UK, remember Europe drive/cycle on the other side of the road!

Bikes
Bikes

Amsterdam is well know for its night life and for people wanting to party. And if that’s what draws you to Amsterdam over its art galleries then perhaps stay in a party hostel. Why party hostels are so good is that you’re surrounded by people from all over the world who share your passion for travel, meeting new people and drinking. Amsterdam is full of travellers and there isn’t that many places in Europe better for meeting new people. Another reason why we stayed in a party hostel is that they usually have a night club or at least a bar, as well as organising their own pub crawls. This just makes your life so much easier as you don’t have to worry about finding the best bars or clubs, as the hostel just does that for you.

If you enjoy drinking Heineken, then there is no better place to go then the Heineken Experience. After walking around the brewery and learning how Heineken is made, you get given two Heineken beers at the end of your visit. Answer the questions you get asked and be rewarded with more free beer! You can spend as much time as you like in the brewery, and there are many side exhibitions such as having a photo of you taken virtually winning the Champions League trophy as well as playing FIFA against your friends. If you’re a big beer and football fan, then the Heineken Experience should be high up on your priority list. This was probably our favourite activity that we did in Amsterdam. As all of us are mad football fans and love to drink beer, both combined made for a pretty good day!

Heineken Experience
Heineken Experience

Another great alcoholic experience is the Ice Bar. The Ice Bar brings a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘A cold one’. The Ice Bar is a unique experience where you’re given the chance to stand, drink and get your picture taken in minus 9°C temperatures. After you have finished your drink smash your ice glasses together and enjoy any drink of your choice back in the warmth. Warm coats and trousers are provided for your visit so don’t worry about getting too cold! Unfortunately, one of us accidentally spilled the others drink all over them, and at 10+euros a drink, they’re not that cheap to replace. Luckily, it was a free drink.

Turning back to football now, Amsterdam is home to one of the great European clubs. Ajax are four time champions of Europe and their Amsterdam Arena is not too far away from the city centre. The Amsterdam Arena was a great chance to learn about Ajax and its history in the Netherlands and in Europe. However, we did think that the tour was quite long but that isn’t necessarily a criticism. After the tour, you have the chance to buy any Ajax memorabilia that you would like to take home or just continue to browse around the arena.

Our experience of the nightlife in Amsterdam is a bit of a mixed bag. In other European cities, we have regularly signed up to the pub crawls as they really have made our nights amazing. However, the one we signed up to at our hostel was a little disappointing. One of the reasons for this was because we were so hyped due to how good Lisbon was, that we thought Amsterdam would live up to the hype. Unfortunately, this was not the case as it only took us to really small bars and you didn’t get many free drinks for the money you paid like other cities. Nevertheless, the pub crawl did attract many people and offered a great chance to get to mingle with people from around the world. With all being said, we did have some great time in Amsterdam, and depending on what you’re wanting from your night, Amsterdam can be a great night out.

Let’s be honest one of the reasons many people go to Amsterdam is to smoke weed, see the red-light district and the night life. If you’re reading this and thinking “Yes, that’s me!” then you’ll be happy to know that coffee shops are all over the city. No matter where you are you’re always close to a coffee shop. If you just want to have a chilled-out day, then visiting one or a few of these is a way to accomplish that.

Amsterdam Central Station
Central Station

Finally, Amsterdam’s escape rooms are something a little different that you might want to try. If you’ve never heard of an escape room, it’s a room where you have to complete a series of tasks to get out. After first completing our first one in Riga, we got quite addicted to trying them. The Amsterdam one was great fun (We won’t go into detail to avoid spoilers should you want to try it), and we would recommend trying one! Although they can be a little pricey, if you have an hour to burn then it’s a great away of passing the time and testing your knowledge with your friends.

Although a bit on the expensive side, Amsterdam can offer you a different type of experience to other capital cities in Europe, with many different opportunities for you to explore. If you’re looking for a short weekend getaway then Amsterdam can certainly be a great one!

View the rest of our Amsterdam pictures here.

Lisbon: A Capital With It All

Lisbon has everything travellers could want from a place. There are so many different aspects of the city for you to explore. For us, what made this city so unique was how they all play such an integral part in making Lisbon one of the best places we have visited. We don’t say this lightly, as we have been to some amazing places around the world. But Lisbon has that spark that some places just don’t have.

Beach fun
Lisbon Beach

What’s great about Lisbon is that it’s a capital city with beaches very close by. As we all like the beach, it just gave us another reason to choose to come to Lisbon. Originally, we wasn’t going to come to Lisbon. However, we had a couple of friends who said that we should definitely go to Lisbon as its such a great city. A couple of weeks later, we were experiencing for our selves just how amazing Lisbon is. If you do want to go to the beach then just take a short trip to the nearest beach via Lisbon’s metro network; I’d recommend Cascais. Lisbon has many incredible beaches nearby with some great beach bars but after visiting some of them, Cascais stood out as the best.

On our way to the beach, we decided to buy a small beach ball to play football and water sports. As you usually do at a beach, we used the time to relax, go for walks and get a tan. If you’re feeling hungry there’s a large selection of top quality beach bars and restaurants that you can visit. As surprising as it may sound, we had one of the best Lasagnes whilst on the beach in Lisbon!

Famous Lasagne
Famous Lisbon Beach Lasagne

If you have adequate time, we would highly recommend spending some of it looking at other cities that are near Lisbon. We decided to visit Estoril but there are many other great Portuguese cities that you could visit. Why we wanted to visit Estoril is because it is just a short train ride from Lisbon. When you get off the train the first thing you will see is the famous Hotel Palacio that inspired Ian Fleming to write Casino Royale – for any Bond fans out there. Whilst in Estoril there are many beaches that you can choose from to relax. Like Lisbon, you have a large variety of bars and restaurants on the beach to choose from should you get peckish. We would have visited Estoril again if we had more time as it was such a fantastic place to relax.

Estoril
Estoril

Back in Lisbon, you have many activities to choose from. Personally, Lisbon castle was one of the best that we have ever gone to. However, saying that we must be honest and admit that we haven’t gone to that many. But that being said, from talking to other people it is highly talked about. Although you have to climb a lot of stairs to get there, and we mean a LOT of stairs, when you finally get to the summit the view is worth the effort. Entry to the castle is €10 (with student discount) but it is worth the price. The castle offers magnificent views of the city and offers an interesting walk around the castle grounds. If you go in the summer, there’s also an ice cream van within in the castle walls that we can thoroughly recommend. After climbing 100’s of steps in the boiling heat, sitting down and looking at the spectacular view always goes down well with an ice cream. After the trip to the castle, we would recommend going to Bairro Alto to get a beer. Bairro Alto is a neighbourhood near the castle with lots of pubs and bars which is definitely worth a visit.

Another wonderful place you can choose to visit whilst in Lisbon is the Jeronimos Monastery. The Jeronimos Monastery is an incredible piece of architecture. Just one stop away from Lisbon, the monastery can easily be accessed via train, tram or bus. If you appreciate architecture or religion then the Jeronimos Monastery will appeal to you. The grounds are very big and the Monastery itself is very informative. If you’re a student you get student discount on your entry fee.

If you’re a football fan then you might want to visit Benfica’s stadium – Estadio da Luz. Benfica’s stadium was designed by the same architects that built Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium. Benfica is one of the biggest clubs in Portugal and as former European Champions the stadium tour allows you to experience the stature of the club. Whether you’re a fan of Benfica or just of football in general, the stadium tour was very interesting and it allowed you to sit in the stands as well as the dugout. After paying for a lot of stadium tours around Europe, we have to say this was one of our favourites.

We are the first to admit that we were surprised by Lisbon’s nightlife. It was amazing! Many people might sneer at this suggestion, but if you decide to go to Lisbon, you will see that there isn’t anything to sneer about. If you like signing up to pub crawls whilst you’re away, we would recommend: “http://lisbonpubcrawl.com/”. For just 15 euros you can get free entry into pubs, clubs and an hour unlimited beer or sangria. We’d highly recommend the free beer if you’re stuck on what to choose. This pub crawl really is epic. It attracts hundreds of people every night and is very well organised. We met so many people that we even met a friend for life that eventually moved over to the UK! The reps who organise the crawl are interested in one thing: getting you as drunk as possible. In fact, we enjoyed it so much we went back 3 nights in a row (to different pubs and clubs each night). The great thing about Lisbon is you can drink on the streets. This mean you don’t have to finish or waste your drink.  We wanted to go on their party boat adventure the next day, but unfortunately that was the day we were leaving for Amsterdam. It takes a lot when people are sad for leaving for Amsterdam.  What we can say about this pub crawl is if you like cheap booze and meeting new people then we would highly recommend it.

Overall, Lisbon is an amazing city and somewhere that we would re-visit in a heartbeat. We thoroughly enjoyed the day time activities with the beach, the sun and experiencing the true feel for Lisbon through its history. The nightlife only added to the euphoria of the place. It’s another place everyone should visit.

View the rest of our Lisbon pictures here.

Krakow: A Sesh-Lover’s Capital

If you’re a young sesh-lover, then Krakow should be right up there on your party list!  If you want to be close to the action then our number one recommendation is to stay at a party hostel. ‘The Little Havana Party Hostel’ was voted the most popular hostel in Krakow. This hostel offers everything a sesh-lover could dream off. A cheap pub crawl, Foosball tournament, beer pong tournament and Karaoke – is there any better combination? If this doesn’t interest you then don’t worry the hostel offers something for everyone. Havana Hostel provides free or cheaper activities to help you plan your day. This ranges from cliff diving, beer tasting to an ice hockey game.

After deciding to organise a trip to Krakow with 8 people, we can honestly say that this hostel was incredible. It gave you an awesome platform to have a great night. This was our second visit to Eastern Europe and both times we have stayed in a party hostel and both times have been truly out of this world. After speaking to quite a few people, we know that some people are put off by party hostels as maybe partying isn’t their thing. However, places like Krakow are such a fun party city that if you are going there and think you will want to go out, honestly we cannot recommend this party hostel enough!

Now you’ve sorted your accommodation out and decided that you want to stay in a party hostel, its time to hit the town. What makes party hostels so great is that you can sign up to the hostel’s  pub crawl offer, which allows you to have a great night, lots of booze and all for cheap prices. Instead of worrying what the best pubs, clubs and drinks are in Poland, let the hostel do that for you. You should worry about the amount of alcohol you’re going to consume before you even hit the town. With a tonne of free shots and a free happy hour, you will literally be drinking from the bottle. When you finally get to town (if you’re still standing) make sure to accept your free shots in each club before heading to the bar.

In the day time, the 8 of us regularly just walked around the square and main parts of the city looking for somewhere good to eat. However, although we didn’t do too much in the day times when we hadn’t got anything planned, there are many things to do in Krakow during the day time. The old town square and market place is bustling with locals and tourists. Here there are many restaurants and shops for you to visit and spend time at. There is always a great buzz around the square and its street performers only add to this. After experiencing the life of the market, the Royal Castle is about a 15-minute walk away (google maps came in handy here). It’s not the most brilliant castle in the world, but it does have free entry and the overview of the city from the top of the castle provides a nice little way to pass the time.

Krakow old town squre
Old Town Square

Obviously, when you travel to Krakow you must go and visit Auschwitz. Even if history is not your thing, the sombre feeling around the place is something else. The tours are brilliantly run and informative, the sense of what happened here still shocked all of us. The tour will take you around the concentration camp and shows you the furnaces where so many perished. Finally, you will be taken into the death camps where you enter the appalling accommodation of past prisoners. If this does not make you feel a sense of shock and horror then nothing will. Very few words can describe this place but it allows time for reflection. Auschwitz is a place everyone going to Krakow must see.

IMG_0710
Auschwitz

On a cheerier note, Krakow’s famous salt mines are another place you should visit. Now, I know what you’re thinking; “How can a hole in the ground where they get salt from be remotely interesting?” Well, we too were surprised at how amazed we were by Krakow’s salt mines. In the mines, there are multiple statues, crosses and even a full-size chapel, all made from pure salt. We highly recommend going to the salt mines just to see this chapel, it was quite frankly one of our favourite excursions to date. The mines also feature a restaurant, so if you’re feeling peckish and haven’t already ruined your appetite by licking too much salt off the walls you can always try some Polish food.

One fun activity you can choose to do is shooting. Shooting was an incredible experience! Getting taken to a very remote location on the outskirts of Krakow by a local with an “alternative” driving style (wear your seat belt) only added to the excitement. The activity is not one to miss out on and even if you’re not good at shooting, you still get to fire shotguns, pistols and machine guns – not many things come close to this.

Although for us, Krakow was a place we went to have a short trip away with our friends and a place to have fun, Krakow did have many things other than drinking that travellers can enjoy. Like us, visiting Auschwitz, the salt mines and shooting, are all activities that people should do! Auschwitz is one of the main reasons why we wanted to come to Krakow, and we are all so glad that we could go and just educate our self more on the Holocaust. Readers of our blog will know that our trip to Krakow was very different to our other trips that we have planned. For the first time, we had a group bigger than four people and we had to accommodate things that everyone would like. What I can say, is Krakow is the perfect city for a group of people to visit, as we had a group mixing of boys and girls, some people had never even met before, and everyone went home raving about Krakow!

View the rest of our Krakow pictures here.