Turning 50 is a pretty big deal in the Netherlands. I’ve often seen signs of it in Amsterdam and around the country – family and friends decorate the house of the one celebrating with festive bunting, banners and balloons emblazoned with “50”, and sometimes prominent, inflated figures on the front lawn! The birthday person is referred to as ‘Abraham’ or ‘Sarah’, a custom that celebrates the wisdom gained over fifty years, and is expected to throw a party (and foot the bill). This is how I celebrated my 50th birthday in Amsterdam.
When I ushered in 2022, I remember my thoughts drifting to the ‘milestone’ ahead and the pressure of planning something special. I had nine months to plan my 50th birthday. In the months that followed, countless ideas and plans were formulated and scrapped. Would I prefer a big party or a small, intimate celebration? Should I organise a single event or multiple events over the course of a few days? Plan something in Amsterdam or somewhere else? I couldn’t make up my mind. I knew one thing for sure: I didn’t want any bunting and definitely no inflatable figures!
Then one day, about two months before my birthday, it hit me! What I really wanted and knew I would enjoy, was to celebrate my 50th birthday in Amsterdam with my loved ones, doing things I love. I created a birthday itinerary that pretty much had ‘me’ written all over it! Haha! And you know what? It turned out to be an unforgettable day filled with laughter, love and fabulous food, and a storm, sunshine and a few rainbows thrown in!
A private birthday cruise
We started out in the afternoon by boarding a ‘notary boat’, a 100-year-old boat that was formerly used for business dealings. I’d arranged a 1.5 hour private cruise around Amsterdam complete with high tea and wine. It was cold and rainy when we boarded – good thing I hired a boat with a roof! – and found the high tea beautifully laid out on the table. There was a mix of sandwiches, wraps, cakes, chocolates, macarons and scones. In the little bar, there was a selection of wines and champagne. The friendly skipper welcomed us on board and promptly served us a hot cup of tea.
Several minutes after leaving the pier, the dark clouds made way for bright sunshine, allowing us to open the windows and enjoy the view. I selected a bottle of wine before tucking into the delicious high tea. We ate, drank and listened to the skipper as he told us stories about the landmarks we passed. Amsterdam looked absolutely glorious in the sunshine.
I’d been on numerous private cruises before but this one, with its delicious high tea served on porcelain, and a private bar with top-notch wines and champagne, felt more fitting for the occasion. Everyone had a fabulous time, and I couldn’t stop grinning from ear to ear!
Fabrique des Lumières
After the cruise, we made our way to the Fabrique des Lumières in the Westergasfabriek. I attended the opening of this digital art centre a few months earlier. The exhibition of the works of Klimt and Hundertwasser was absolutely magical and I knew my friends would love it too.
We spent more than an hour there watching the multimedia show in total amazement. Read my post about Fabrique des Lumières, which also includes a video of the experience.
An architecture walk
From the Westergasfabriek, we walked through the leafy Westerpark to the Spaarndammerbuurt, a district known for its Amsterdam School of Expressionism architecture. I’m a big fan of this architectural style so it was a joy to tour the neighbourhood, which also has some cool wine bars and restaurants.
Our architecture walk continued in the adjacent Houthavens district. This area used to be part of the Amsterdam port, which was once one of the world’s most important merchant ports. This new neighbourhood, built on several islands and piers, is designed to be climate neutral. I love the mix of architectural styles, from colourful cubes to a modern take on the historic canal houses.
We stopped at the Karaat bar/restaurant for a drink and a snack before making our way to our dinner spot.
Dinner at REM
For my 50th birthday dinner, I wanted a restaurant at a unique location, preferably with a view and that served excellent food and wines. For me, this was the most important part of my birthday itinerary. It had to be spot on! I took my time researching restaurants in Amsterdam and decided on REM. Housed in a former communications platform that was moored in the North Sea, REM certainly ticked the box in terms of a unique location. I asked for a table with a view; another box ticked! I also read many reviews about the food and almost all of them were positive.
REM is moored at the end of a long pier at the Houthavens. As we were halfway along the pier, a storm passed and in an instant, we were battling sheets of rain and the howling wind. The rain miraculously stopped and blue skies returned just as we approached the restaurant! We were drenched but my best friend assured me that this was a sign of good things to come. Haha!
We took the lift to the top and stepped straight into the restaurant. The large windows offered panoramic views of the Amsterdam Ij-Harbour and the city skyline. We were led to a table in a corner so we had fantastic views on two sides. The view of the harbour, combined with menacing rain clouds and patches of blue, was simply spectacular!
Four-course Chef’s menu at REM
We opted for the chef’s four-course dinner and it was superb! Each course was a treat in itself, featuring fresh ingredients, ingenious flavour combinations and beautiful plating.
It was a truly unforgettable day full of wonderful, often hilarious moments with my loved ones. For me, it was the perfect way to celebrate my 50th birthday in Amsterdam.
Would you like to arrange a similar day for a special occasion in Amsterdam?
Nîmes is a city in the Occitanie region of southern France (map). Famous for its impeccably preserved Roman monuments, Nîmes is often called the French Rome and is a popular destination for visitors to the region. On my recent stay in nearby Montpellier, I made it a point to go on a day trip to Nîmes and see its Roman heritage. I discovered a spotless city with impressive Roman buildings, beautiful museums, lively squares and leafy streets. Read on about my walk around Nîmes and the places I visited along the way.
Located roughly between Montpellier and Avignon, Nîmes can trace its roots back several thousand years. The city rose to prominence as a regional capital of the Roman Empire situated on the Via Domitia, an important road connecting Italy and Hispania (present-day Spain). Around the 1st century BC, Caesar Augustus (also known as Octavian) commissioned the building of walls, city gates and monuments, some of which can still be seen today. These historic places can easily be visited on a day trip to Nîmes. The old town is pretty compact, making a walking tour the best option to see the highlights.
Nîmes walking route
I kicked off my visit at the grand Fontaine Pradier. If you’re arriving by car, there’s a large parking garage under the square. Gare de Nîmes, the main train station, is a 5-minute walk away. The walking route below can easily be covered in several hours, though more time may be needed for a tour of the Arena and Tour Magne, and if you choose to visit the museums.
Fontaine Pradier is the centre-piece of the triangular Esplanade Charles de Gaulle. Opened in 1845, the fountain is an important symbol of Nîmes.
Arena of Nîmes
From Fontaine Pradier, it’s a short stroll to the most important attraction in Nîmes: the Roman Arena, one of the best preserved Roman amphitheatres in the world. It’s amazing to think that this arena, fashioned after the Colosseum in Rome and just a tad younger, was built more than 2,000 years ago! It could accommodate 24,000 spectators and is still used for events.
At the ticket office, visitors can purchase a single ticket for 3 attractions (the Arena, Tour Magne and Maison Carrée) with the Musée de la Romanité (Roman archeological museum) as an extra option.
Musée de la Romanité
The Musée de la Romanité is located across the road from the Arena. This stylish building, opened in 2018, houses important artifacts and uses ingenious methods to bring the city’s Roman past to life. This museum is a must-visit for history buffs!
Behind the Arena lies the maze of streets of the old town. I spent some time walking aimlessly around and discovered some lively squares such as Place du Marché, with its Crocodile Fountain and (touristy) restaurants.
In the quieter Rue des Greffes, I stumbled upon a fabulous restaurant called Le Menestrel. It turned out to be one of the best meals I had on this trip!
Eglise St. Paul
After lunch, I continued my stroll around the old town and arrived at Eglise St. Paul, a stunning 19th century neo-Romanesque church. Inside, you’ll see an impressive nave with a blue ceiling, frescoes and numerous beautifully decorated chapels.
Just up the road from Eglise St. Paul lies another top attraction in Nîmes, the Maison Carrée. Built in the 1st century BC, it’s one of the best preserved Roman temples in the world. In fact, it has miraculously survived intact for more than 2,000 years! Inside, I found a short video and exhibitions about the history of Nîmes.
Across the road from Maison Carrée stands a striking building of glass and steel. This is the Carré d’Art museum of contemporary art. Designed by Sir Norman Foster, the museum’s appearance is a modern interpretation of the Maison Carrée.
Les Jardins de la Fontaine
From Maison Carrée, I resumed my walk past Place d’Assas to the Quai de la Fontaine. This shady promenade along a canal was a welcome respite from the hot sun.
I continued to the Les Jardins de la Fontaine, a resplendent park built in the 18th century. This ornamental park, with its grand ponds and statues, was certainly designed to impress.
Within the park lies the Temple de Diane. Constructed in the 1st century AD, it was excavated in the 18th century during construction work for the Les Jardins de la Fontaine. Despite its name, there is no evidence that it was a temple dedicated to the Goddess Diana. Instead, experts believe it was a library.
At the end of the park are a series of low hills, one of which is topped by another Nîmes attraction, the Tour Magne. This 32 meter tall tower was part of the city walls built by Augustus in the 1st century BC. Visitors can climb its 140 steps to the top for panoramic views of Nîmes.
The tower is about a 10-minute uphill walk from the park. As much as I wanted to visit the tower and check out the view, I couldn’t bring myself to climb the hill in the 40 degrees Celsius heat.
Tour de l’Horloge
From the park, I continued my stroll along the Quai de la Fontaine towards the Les Halles market. Unfortunately, the market was closed (opening times: 6am-1:30pm) so I proceeded to Place de l’Horloge, with its 16th century clock tower, Tour de l’Horloge.
Cathedral of Nîmes
My next stop was the Cathedral of Nîmes, or rather, the Cathédrale Notre-Dame-et-Saint-Castor de Nîmes. This 17th century Romanesque-Gothic cathedral is believed to have been built on the foundations of an ancient Augustinian temple.
My last stop was Porte d’Auguste. One of two Roman city gates that still exist today, Porte d’Auguste dates back to the 1st century BC. It was one of the entry points of the Via Domitia. Not much remains of this ancient gate but it’s nevertheless worth a visit, if only to marvel at the structure of walls and arches that are more than 2,000 years old.
Pont du Gard
Nîmes can easily be reached by train from many cities in the south of France such as Marseille, Montpellier and Avignon. If you have a car, don’t miss visiting another impressive Roman monument near Nîmes: Pont du Gard.
This three-tier aqueduct bridge was built in the 1st century AD to transport water to Nîmes. It is the tallest of all Roman aqueduct bridges and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The aqueduct is a 35-minute drive from Nîmes.
Germany is awash with charming medieval towns packed with picturesque cobblestone streets and half-timbered houses. One of the most beautiful of these medieval towns is Miltenberg (map). This little town, located in Lower Franconia (Bavaria), lies on a narrow strip of land between a bend of the Main River and the forested hills of the Odenwald. The old town, with its quaint houses, hidden alleys and gorgeous squares, is a delight to explore. You can walk along the Haupstrasse (Main Street) from one end to the other in about 30 minutes but I recommend spending more time in Miltenberg to truly appreciate its romantic ambiance and variety of cultural, natural and culinary attractions. Here are twelve things to do in Miltenberg and its surroundings:
Miltenberg can trace its history all the way back to pre-Roman times. However, the town as we know it today had its beginnings in the 13th century. Most of the approximately 150 half-timbered houses, which give the town its fairy-tale like appearance, were built between the 15th and 18th centuries. These days, Miltenberg is a popular stop on any Franconia travel itinerary, especially in the summer. Visit Miltenberg during the shoulder months like May-June or September-October and you’ll have a more tranquil experience. Here are my recommended things to do and see in Miltenberg:
1. Stroll along the Hauptstrasse
Hauptstrasse is Miltenberg’s Main Street and where you’ll find most of the town’s attractions. A leisurely walk from Mainzer Tor to Würzburger Tor (the town’s two historic tower gates) at either end of the street takes about 30 minutes but take your time to enjoy the atmosphere, admire the half-timbered houses and pop into some of the shops.
2. Enjoy Schnatterloch
Schnatterloch is Miltenberg’s famous old market square. Lined by stunning houses and the imposing St. Jakobus (St. James Church), and with a beautiful fountain in the middle, Schnatterloch is very photogenic. Stop at one of the cafés, order a drink and take in the gorgeous scenes, which are especially lively on market days.
3. Climb up to Mildenburg
Mildenburg (Miltenberg Castle) overlooks the old town and dates back to the 12th century. From Schnatterloch, it’s a pretty easy climb up the steps to the castle. At the top, you’ll be rewarded with stunning panoramic views of the town, the Main River and the surrounding hills.
You can also visit the Museum Burg Miltenberg which houses a collection of icons and modern art. On the way down, I recommend taking either the road along the old city wall or the path through the forest which leads back to Schnatterloch.
4. Visit Museum Stadt Miltenberg
Museum Stadt Miltenberg is located at Schnatterloch. Housed in historic Renaissance houses, the museum traces the history of the town and the surrounding region.
5. Stay in a medieval hotel
If you’ve always wanted to stay in a medieval hotel, this is your chance! Miltenberg boasts several, all located in half-timbered houses of course. The most famous, Zum Riesen, is one of the oldest inns in Germany (and perhaps the world)! Founded in the 15th century, the inn has hosted, amongst others, two Holy Roman Emperors, Napoleon and Elvis Presley!
I stayed at Schmuckkästchen which overlooks Schnatterloch (and therefore enjoys my preference). Inside, you’ll find creaky staircases, ancient wooden beams and rooms with beautiful views of the market square. It also houses a restaurant and wine bar. Search for accommodations in Miltenberg (Booking.com).
6. Go for a walk along the Main River
A lovely promenade runs along the river, making it a wonderful place for a leisurely walk. I recommend a stroll along the promenade just before sunset. Start at the Mainbrücke (Main River bridge), where you’ll have great views of the town.
Continue along the river towards Faust (brewery, restaurant and beer garden) where you can tuck into a meal with a river view or enjoy one of their brews.
7. Hike in the Odenwald and Spessart hills
The forested hills behind Miltenberg are perfect for a nature hike. There are numerous trails which lead to several viewpoints. Along the way, enjoy the beautiful foliage, gushing streams and stunning vistas. Check at the tourist office for the hiking routes.
8. Admire the Martinskapelle
Just a 5-minute drive or a 10-minute bike ride away lies the town of Bürgstadt. One of the foremost historic treasures in this sleepy wine town is Martinskapelle (St. Martin’s Chapel).
Built in the 10th century, this chapel is famous for its wall and ceiling paintings and is an amazing sight which shouldn’t be missed! The most prominent of the paintings are the 40 medallions depicting scenes from the Old and New Testaments.
If the chapel is closed, head over to the florist next door or the Churfranken Vinothek (see below) and ask for the key.
9. Visit the Churfranken Vinothek
Bürgstadt is packed to the brim with wineries (the vineyards grace the slopes of the hills just outside the town). Each winery takes its turn opening its doors to visitors for wine and food tastings. In the centre of the town, opposite the old Town Hall, lies the Churfranken Vinothek, the regional wine store.
Here, you’re able to purchase local wines, arrange a wine-tasting (at Churfranken Vinothek or in the vineyards) and obtain a schedule of the Bürgstadt wineries’ opening days/times.
10. Hike the Rotweinwanderweg
This region produces some of the best red wines in Germany. The Frankischer Rotweinwanderweg (Franconian Red Wine Trail) is a 30 kilometer hiking route along the terraced vineyards from Bürgstadt and Miltenberg to Grosswallstadt. You’ll pass forests, fields and mile after mile of vineyards, with spectacular views as a bonus. Inquire about the route at the Miltenberg or Bürgstadt tourist office.
11. Visit Schloss Löwenstein
Schloss Löwenstein (location) is an 18th century, late-Baroque castle located in the town of Kleinheubach, a 5-minute drive from Miltenberg. Visit the castle, in which many rooms have been beautifully restored, and stroll around the leafy gardens. In the adjacent old town, built in the form of a square, visit the historic Altes Rathaus (Old Town Hall).
12. Visit Fürstliche Abtei Amorbach
The Fürstliche Abtei Amorbach or Amorbach Abbey (location) is a former Benedict monastery which has a history that dates back to as early as the 8th century. A 15-minute drive from Miltenberg, the abbey was completely refurbished in a late-Baroque/Rococo style. In the 18th century, the abbey was further renovated and featured, at the time, the largest organ in the world.
Medieval towns like Miltenberg are one of the reasons I love visiting Germany. If you’re visiting Bavaria or Franconia, I recommend spending at least a night in Miltenberg. Visit the tourist office website for more info.
There are numerous beautiful cities in Puglia but my favourite is undoubtedly Lecce. The capital of the province of the same name in the ‘heel’ of Italy, the city of Lecce is often called the ‘Florence of the South’ due to the abundance of Baroque architecture in its historic centre. The city can trace its history back to Roman times, remnants of which can still be seen today. There are many things to see in Lecce and the great part is, these sights can easily be visited on a leisurely walk. In the map below, I’ve created a walking route around the most important sights in Lecce. This can be done in a day but I recommend spending a few days in Lecce to immerse yourself in its historic treasures, food and vibrant atmosphere.
Lecce walking route
Note: the purple pins represent the main attractions in Lecce. The orange pins denote other attractions worth a visit should you have time. The headings of each place described below follow the same colour codes.
In my book, Lecce is the most beautiful city in Puglia and an absolute must-visit. If you’re a fan of architecture and/or art history, you’re in for a treat! The Baroque architecture, with its intricate carvings and rich detail, is plentiful and resplendent but you’ll also find numerous examples of Gothic, Renaissance and Rococo styles. Add to that an impressive Roman amphitheatre, charming alleys, lively squares and a terrific culinary scene, and you have a city that’s definitely worth taking a closer look at.
Note: most of the churches are free to enter, however, there’s an entrance fee of EUR 9 for the city’s most important churches. This ticket can be purchased online and includes entry to the Duomo (Cathedral), Basilica of Santa Croce, Santa Chiara and San Matteo churches, and the Museum of Sacred Art.
Here are the most important things to see in Lecce on a walk around the old town (following the route above):
Porta San Biagio (Gate of St. Blaise)
Kick off your exploration of Lecce at one of the city’s three historic gates: Porta San Biagio. This imposing Baroque-style gate features a towering archway guarded by huge columns on each side. From here, stroll down the atmospheric Via dei Perroni, with its many restaurants, shops and grand mansions.
Lecce boasts two Roman theatres, the Teatro Romano and the amphitheatre (2nd century AD). The Teatro Romano is just off Via dei Perroni and is an interesting detour if you have time for a visit.
Chiesa di Santa Chiara (Church of St. Clare)
Your next stop is another gem: the Chiesa di Santa Chiara. This 17th century church, with its elegant façade featuring impressive columns and floral embellishments, is quite a sight. Step inside to admire the extravagant interior. The leafy square across the road, with its cafés and restaurants, is a lovely place for a drink or meal.
Chiesa di San Matteo and Castello Carlo V
A little detour from the walking route takes you to Chiesa di San Matteo, with its curved façade, a rather unique feature among Lecce’s churches. A short distance further takes you to the 12th century Castello Carlo V, with its formidable walls and archeological excavations.
The 2nd century AD Roman amphitheatre is one of the top attractions in Lecce. In Roman times, this venue could accommodate up to 25,000 people! Only a small portion of it remains today but it still makes for an incredible sight. Adjacent to the amphitheatre, you’ll find two other historic monuments: the column of St. Oronzo (built to mark the end of the Appian Way, an ancient road that linked Rome with southern Italy), and the Palazzo del Sedille (a 16th century mansion with Gothic and Renaissance influences).
Palazzo Carafa o delle Paolotte
From the amphitheatre, head northwest to the Palazzo Carafa o delle Paolotte. Originally a monastery founded in 1500, the palace was restored in the 18th century and features a beautiful Rococo façade.
Basilica di Santa Croce (Church of the Holy Cross)
This ornate Baroque church is one of the best things to see in Lecce! Its stunning exterior is simply breathtaking but don’t miss the interior as well! Next door, you’ll find the Palazzo della Provincia di Lecce, the offices of the provincial government. This is a gorgeous building best seen when its richly decorated façade reflects the colours of the sunset.
From the Palazzo della Provincia, head north and turn left on either Via Idomeneo or Via Principi di Savoia and continue to Porta Napoli. One of the three historic gates of Lecce, the 16th century Porta Napoli is certainly the most imposing.
Adjacent to Porta Napoli, you’ll notice a building with a large dome. This is the Chiesa di Santa Maria della Porta. It’s worth having a peek inside to see its impressive dome.
Obelisk and Chiesa dei Santi Niccolò e Cataldo
If you have time, continue from Porta Napoli to the Monumental Cemetery of Lecce, past the Lecce Obelisk. On the cemetery grounds is another stunning church: Chiesa dei Santi Niccolò e Cataldo. This 12th/13th century church is perhaps one of the oldest and most unusual in Lecce as it combines Baroque with touches of Gothic and Moorish elements. Inside, you’ll find beautiful frescoes and elaborate ceilings. A definite must-visit for art historians!
From Porta Napoli, head south along Via Giuseppe Palmieri. Stop at the Palazzo Palmieri to admire its beautiful exterior. Further up, you’ll pass Piazzetta Panzera, a strikingly beautiful square with three towering palm trees.
Your next stop is the majestic Piazza del Duomo. This square is home to Cattedrale di Maria Santissima Assunta e San Oronzo (or rather, the Cathedral) and the Campanile del Duomo (Cathedral bell tower), the tallest tower in Puglia.
The 12th century Cathedral features an elaborate Baroque façade and a nave with twelve side chapels. The bell tower, constructed in the 17th century, is 70 meters tall and offers views as far as the Adriatic Sea and the mountains of Albania on clear days. Look carefully and you’ll notice that it’s slightly leaning.
From Piazza del Duomo, continue west along Via Giusseppe Libertini. At the end of this vibrant street, you’ll find the modest but no less impressive Porta Rudiae, the third of the city’s three historic gates.
Next to it stands the resplendent Basilica del Rosario e di San Giovanni Battista. One of Lecce’s most beautiful churches, this 17th century basilica has a rich Baroque exterior with two spiral columns and a statue of St. Dominic. Inside, you’ll find an ornate interior with many fascinating details. This church is another must-visit for art historians!
If you love browsing around local markets, visit the nearby Mercatino Porta Rudiae. There’s also a stall there that sells delicious roast chicken!
How to get to Lecce
There are two international airports in Puglia: Bari and Brindisi. Lecce is located about a two-hour drive from Bari Airport and about 40 minutes from Brindisi Airport. In addition, there are train services from Bari and Brindisi. I recommend visiting Lecce as part of a broader Puglia road trip. As there are many things to see in Lecce, I recommend spending 2-3 nights in the city.
Lecce is a great place to indulge yourself in Puglian cuisine. I recommend Crianza (Via Principi di Savoia, 64) and Alle Due Corti (Corte dei Giugni, 1) for local specialties, great wines and wonderful service. For steak lovers, check out Tabisca “il Vico dei Tagliati” (Via Dietro Ospedale dei Pellegrini, 29).
For something lighter, try L’angolino di Via Matteotti (Via Giacomo Matteotti, 31) which serves some of the best puccia (a sandwich made of wood-fired pizza dough typical of the Salento region) in Puglia.
The nhow Amsterdam RAI Hotel is a striking building along the Zuidas (southern axis) of the Amsterdam Ring (A10) highway. With its three triangular blocks stacked atop one another, each at a different angle, it looks like a Rubik’s cube in play. I often passed it when it was being constructed and it never failed to intrigue me. It was completed just as the COVID-19 pandemic struck so I never got to check it out… until now. I treated myself and my partner to a weekend there to celebrate our anniversary, and, well, here’s my review of nhow Amsterdam RAI:
Designed by OMA, a world-renowned Dutch architect firm, the nhow Amsterdam RAI has 650 rooms, making it the largest hotel in the Netherlands. Its design was inspired by the advertising column in front of the RAI convention centre. I’m not a fan of big hotels, however, I was excited to stay in this unique building.
The perfect location!
Situated next to the RAI Convention centre, various train/metro stations and the A10 highway, nhow Amsterdam RAI (map) is a stone’s throw away from the Zuidas financial district, just 10 minutes by metro to the city centre and 10 minutes by car/train to Schiphol Airport. In addition, the best sights of Amsterdam are within easy reach, making it perfect for business people and tourists alike.
Check-in was swift and the front office staff were friendly and helpful. During the booking process, I opted for a room with a city view. I was allocated room 1101, which had a city view, but, as I later discovered, the views from the higher floors (18 and above) are much better.
The room itself was bright and spacious, and I loved the little design touches, such as the fish in the bedside tables, the old-fashioned telephone and the cool kettle. The bedside reading lights were well-designed too, as you could adjust both the height as well as the angle of the lamp. Love it when cool design is coupled with handy functionality!
The bathroom was of a decent size with a fabulous rain shower and refillable toiletries. The king-size bed and pillows were incredibly comfortable – I slept very well that night!
There was also a small fridge, which I later filled with wine and snacks I purchased at the small shop on the ground floor. Above the fridge were a coffee/tea making corner, with a kettle and espresso machine.
I started my exploration of the hotel by taking the lift to the 17th floor. There’s a restaurant there where guests can enjoy breakfast and dinner. I found a striking restaurant with fantastic views of the city and the suburbs; I even spotted the Utrecht skyline, some 30 kilometers away! The restaurant also has three outdoor terraces, each with a different view.
I didn’t have dinner there but breakfast the next morning sure was a treat. It was a Sunday morning and the breakfast buffet was large and varied. There was also a station with sparkling wine (cava) and ingredients to make a Bloody Mary. Nice! The food was great but the view was definitely the highlight!
As I explored the hotel, I found 3 gyms (!) on the 9th, 16th and 19th floors. On the first floor was a large lounge and bar, as well as the Guest Relations counters. This is the most colourful space in the hotel, with brightly coloured Asian-African-Middle-Eastern-inspired figures and motifs covering the walls and floor. My partner and I found a corner, ordered some wine and simply watched other guests taking photos and selfies of this cool space.
One architectural detail that caught my eye as I looked at the building from the outside were the circular ‘skylights’ under each protruding section. I searched for these inside the building and they were exactly what I thought they were: glass floors. They can be found on various floors such as the 18th floor.
We had a lovely stay at nhow Amsterdam RAI Hotel. It has a lot going for it: a fantastic location, great views, comfy rooms, a very cool interior and terrific staff. My only concern is the size of the hotel, with its 650 rooms. I wonder, considering the relatively small reception area and the lounge/bar, how it’ll be when the hotel is fully booked. That said, whether you’re visiting Amsterdam as a tourist or for business/convention purposes, or if you’re looking for a weekend/couples getaway, the nhow Amsterdam RAI certainly is a hotel for all reasons. Check the rates for nhow Amsterdam RAI (Booking.com).
The Main River is the longest river (entirely in Germany) and flows through central Germany in the states of Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg and Hesse before joining the Rhine River near Mainz. Due to its navigability, many towns, fortresses and castles were founded along its shores. The river is also often considered the northern border of southern Germany, with its predominantly Catholic population. These days, it remains an important transport artery, but has also become a popular touristic route. Visitors can visit many of the places along the Main by train, boat, car and even by bicycle (the Main Radweg or Main Bicycle Route). I had the opportunity to embark on a road trip along the Main River. During this trip across the Franconia region, I discovered many picturesque towns, historic and cultural attractions, nature parks and countless vineyards! Here’s my Main River Franconia road trip guide, including the best places to visit along the way:
This Franconia travel guide contains links to three services I often use myself and can recommend: Booking.com (for hotel bookings), Rentalcars.com (for car hire) and GetYourGuide (for easy-to-book tours). If you make a booking via one of these services, I will receive a small commission (at no extra cost to you). These commissions help me to maintain my blog and share more travel experiences with you.
I kicked off my Main River road trip in Frankfurt-am-Main, before continuing to Aschaffenburg. From there, I followed the river to, amongst others, Miltenberg, Würzburg and Bamberg before ending in Bayreuth. The route crosses a large part of Franconia, a region characterised by its distinct culture and dialect. Historically founded by the Franks, an ethnic group, Franconia stretches across numerous states.
Situated in northwest Bavaria, less than an hour’s drive from Frankfurt, Aschaffenburg is famous for its imposing Schloss Johannisburg (castle).
I recommend a stroll around the compact old town, a visit to Schloss Johannisburg and a walk along the walls to the Pompejanum (a 19th century replica of a Roman house found in Pompeii). The views from the Pompejanum of the Main River and the castle are stunning. Then head down to the river bank for a local beer just under the castle, before tucking in for dinner at Zum Fegerer, a terrific Franconian restaurant in the old town. Search for hotels in Aschaffenburg (Booking.com).
Miltenberg is arguably one of the most charming towns along the Main River. Its old town is packed with about 150 gorgeous half-timbered houses, giving it a fairy-tale like appearance.
Don’t miss the Alter Marktplatz (old market square), the views from the hilltop castle (Burg Miltenberg), the old town hall (you can’t miss its beautiful red-stone façade) and a stroll across the Mainbrücke (Main bridge).
For a meal, head to the Faust brewery for great local food and beers. I also recommend a stay in one of the two historic inns in Miltenberg: Zum Riesen (one of the oldest inns in Germany) or Hotel Schmuckkästchen (the double room on the second floor has gorgeous views of the old market square). Search for accommodations in Miltenberg.
Located about a 5-minute drive or 10-minute bike ride along the Main River from Miltenberg, Bürgstadt is famous for its wineries. As you enter the village, you’ll soon spot them. The wineries take turns opening to visitors for tastings and food. For an overview of the local wines (and a schedule of the wineries’ opening times), head to the wine store Churfranken Vinothek, located opposite the town hall. They can also help to arrange a wine-tasting in a nearby vineyard up in the hills.
Bürgstadt is also home to the 10th century Martinskapelle (St. Martin’s chapel) with its stunning frescoes. Don’t miss a visit to this chapel – if the doors are locked, inquire at the florist next door or at Churfranken Vinothek.
Bürgstadt can also be reached from Miltenberg by boat (there’s a frequent ferry service). For the active ones, you can hike the Fränkischer Rotwein Wanderweg (Franconian Red Wine Hiking Trail) from Miltenberg.
If you love exploring castle ruins, then you shouldn’t miss the imposing Henneburg Castle! Located in the town of Stadtprozelten, near Wertheim-am-Main, this imposing 12th century castle overlooks the Main River.
The most northerly town in the state of Baden-Württemberg, Wertheim was founded in the 8th century at the confluence of the Main and Tauber rivers. These days, it’s well-known for its medieval old town and castle. As you exploe the town, look out for the Wertheim Optimist, the colourful symbol of the town.
Climb up to the castle for panoramic views of the town and drop by at the café for a drink/meal while you take in the view. Search for accommodations in Wertheim.
One of the largest cities on the Main River, Würzburg is a vibrant university city with numerous historic monuments. Founded at around the 6th century, Würzburg was heavily damaged during WWII. The locals, mainly women, painstakingly rebuilt the city’s most treasured monuments. The result of their work is simply amazing!
There are lots of things to do in Würzburg. Don’t miss the:
18th century Würzburger Residenz palace (inspired by Versailles), a UNESCO World Heritage site,
Dom (Cathedral) and the adjacent Neu-Munster (New Cathedral). Another church that shouldn’t be missed is the beautiful Käppele in rococo style, located on a hill just outside the city centre,
Juliusspital winery. Founded in the 16th century, this huge winery has a 250 meter long wine cellar!
Haus zum Falken, a public library and tourist info office, with its ornate façade,
Marienberg fortress, located on a hilltop facing the city,
Alte Mainbrücke, the old bridge. Get there before sunset, join the locals with a glass of wine (there’s a café on the bridge) and enjoy the sunset!
In addition, I recommend walking the Steinweinpfad, a walking route in the Stein vineyard (one of Germany’s oldest and largest) located near the Central Station (Hauptbahnhof).
This small town on the Main River makes for a tranquil stop on this Main River route. Located in the heart of the Franconian wine region, it’s a charming town with a compact old quarter. It’s also a great spot to enjoy activities on the Main River such as kayaking or stand-up paddling.
For a meal, drop by at Schlemmerei. If you plan to overnight here, I recommend the Deutsches Haus Hotel.
Volkach is another charming town in the Franconian wine region. It makes for a lovely stop between Kitzingen and Schweinfurt. A stroll along the Hauptstrasse, with its wine boutiques, cafés and restaurants is a must.
Often listed as one of Germany’s most beautiful towns, Bamberg is a popular tourist destination. The old town was listed a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1993 for its well-preserved medieval buildings.
Founded in the 9th century, some of Bamberg’s best-known sights include the Old Town Hall, perched on an island in the river, the 12th century Bamberg Cathedral in Romanesque style, and Michaelsberg Abbey, a former Benedictine monastery. The best thing to do in Bamberg is to simply stroll around its gorgeous streets and soak up the atmosphere.
If you enjoy beer, you’re in for a treat! Famed for its Rauchbier (smoked beer), Bamberg is home to eleven breweries! Every August, Bamberg hosts the Sandkerwa Festival in which beer plays a central role.
Kulmbach is another beautiful town, located near the confluence of the Red Main and White Main rivers. As you approach the town, you’ll undoubtedly spot its famous Plassenburg Castle atop the hill. This castle has a curious claim to fame: it’s home to the largest collection of tin soldiers in the world! The castle also offers terrific views of the town and the surrounding hills.
Another attraction in Kulmbach is the Bayerisches Brauerei- und Bäckereimuseum (Bavarian Brewery and Bakery Museum), which provides a fascinating look into traditional beer and bread production. Beer has been brewed here for more than 600 years! While you’re there, stop for a beer and a meal at the adjacent Mönchshof Brauhaus (brewery). Kulmbach is also famous for its bratwurst (pork sausage) and this is a great place to try some if you wish.
In the old town, look out for the beautiful Rathaus (town hall), the 14th century White Tower and the 14th century Badhaus (Public Badhaus).
The last place to visit on this Main River road trip route, Bayreuth, is an absolute gem! The city has its origins in the 12th century and experienced its heyday in the 18th century during the reign of Frederik and Wilhemina of Bayreuth. During this time, some of the city’s most prominent monuments were built such as the Margravial Opera House, the New Palace and the Sun Temple at the Hermitage palace. Nowadays, in addition to these famous buildings, Bayreuth is well-known for its annual Bayreuth Festival (a world famous opera festival).
There is a lot to do in Bayreuth. The major attractions include:
the 18th century Margravial Opera House, one of the most beautiful Baroque theatres in Europe. Book a tour of this opera house for a jaw-dropping experience!
the 18th century Hermitage complex that consists of various castles, the stunning Sun Temple and exquisite gardens,
the New Palace (Neues Schloss) in rococo style and Hofgarten park,
the Bayreuth Festival Theatre,
Haus Wahnfried or Richard Wagner Museum (the famous composer’s lavish villa courtesy of King Ludwig II, who was a big fan of Wagner’s work. Read more about the famous castles of King Ludwig II),
the Franz Liszt Museum (located in the house where he died).
Street art in Bayreuth
As you walk around Bayreuth, you may notice some interesting street art. These were commissioned by the city and produced by famous street artists from around the world.
This 7-day/6-night self-drive Main River itinerary takes you past the best places in Franconia as described above. It starts in Frankfurt and ends in either Nuremberg or Munich. If you’re flying into Frankfurt/Munich/Nuremberg, I recommend picking up a rental car at the airport. This route can also be done by train using a combination of national and regional lines. Visit Deutche Bahn for more info.
Lanzarote is an extraordinary island off the coast of Morocco. One of the Canary Islands archipelago that is part of Spain, Lanzarote covers approximately 850 square kilometers and lies less than 200 kilometers off the coast of Morocco. Formed by fiery volcanic activity, Lanzarote, with its countless volcanic cones, barren landscapes and ancient lava flows, is a wondrous place to visit. Aside from the otherworldly volcanic landscapes, you’ll find picturesque whitewashed villages, sandy beaches, vineyards and numerous miradors with breathtaking views. The best way to visit these places in Lanzarote is to hire a car and embark on a road trip to explore the island. I’ve created this guide to give you an idea of where to go and what to see in Lanzarote on easy road trips around the island.
Update May 2022
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, please be aware of any changes to restrictions or entry requirements. Visit the government website for the latest info.
This Lanzarote road trips guide contains links to three services I often use myself and can recommend: Booking.com (for hotel bookings), Rentalcars.com (for car hire) and GetYourGuide (for easy-to-book tours). If you make a booking via one of these services, I will receive a small commission (at no extra cost to you). These commissions help me to maintain my blog and share more travel experiences with you.
I’ve created three driving routes that cover the northern, central and southern areas of Lanzarote. For the purposes of this guide, each route starts and ends in Arrecife. On the map above, I’ve also marked my favourite beaches (yellow pins), the best places to visit in Lanzarote (purple pins) such as towns, viewpoints (miradors) and other attractions, and some of the Lanzarote wineries I’ve visited (blue pins). Each of these Lanzarote road trips can easily be done in a day.
Driving in Lanzarote is easy – the roads are good and there’s little traffic – so you can literally explore the island at a relaxed pace. In addition, it makes economic sense to hire a car instead of paying separately for transportation to/from the airport and tours. Pay attention to the road signs, make sure you drive in the right lane, don’t drink and drive and you should be good.
Northern Lanzarote route: cacti, lave tubes and incredible views
Arrecife is the capital of Lanzarote. From its harbour, ferries connect Lanzarote with other Canary Islands as well as the European and African mainland. The old town, with its narrow streets, is a delight to explore. Another attraction is the 18th century Castillo de San Miguel (now an art museum).
Jardin de Cactus
From Arrecife, follow the LZ-18 road to Costa Teguise. There’s a variety of beaches (including the sandy Playa de las Cucharas), hotels, restaurants and shops. Search for hotels in Costa Teguise.
Continue to the Jardin de Cactus (Cactus Garden). Built in an old quarry, the Jardin de Cactus is a Cesar Manrique creation (more on him later). The garden, designed in the shape of an amphitheatre, houses more than 10,000 cacti from around the world as well as beautiful volcanic stone sculptures.
Jameos del Agua
From here, follow the LZ-1 road northwards to one of the coolest places in Lanzarote: Jameos del Agua. Along the way, you can opt to stop at the natural rock pools in laidback Punta Mujeres, a lovely place for a drink and cheap and plentiful tapas (at the Pool Bar Pichon).
The Jameos del Agua, is for me, one of the island’s most fascinating attractions and a must see in Lanzarote. The Jameos is a striking combination of geology, architecture and design. The island’s most famous artist/architect, Cesar Manrique, built a visitor centre complete with a restaurant, bar, one of the most amazing auditoriums I’ve ever seen and a museum inside what used to be a gigantic lava tube. Visiting the Jameos del Agua is definitely one of the best things to do in Lanzarote!
Get acquainted with the works of Cesar Manrique – as you explore Lanzarote, look out for more examples of his amazing creations.
Across the LZ-1 road, you’ll find the wondrous Cueva de los Verdes, a 3,000-year-old lava tube. The tube extends for 6 kilometers above sea level and for another 1.5 kilometers below the sea (the world’s longest submarine lava tube). Join a tour to explore the cave and learn about the island’s geology.
Mirador del Rio
You can continue northwards along the coast on the LZ-1 or take the shortcut to the LZ-201 and continue to the next attraction: the Mirador del Rio. Another Cesar Manrique creation, this viewpoint, neatly blended into the cliff-face, offers breathtaking views of the imposing cliffs and of La Graciosa island across the strait.
From the mirador, return to the LZ-201 road and follow it southwards to Haria. Located in the Haria Valley or ‘Valley of a Thousand Palms’ (find out about the origins of this name in the town), this stunning whitewashed town contrasts sharply with the barren volcanic landscape. Stop for a stroll around this lovely town, have a drink at the main square (Plaza Leon y Castillo) and visit the quaint church at the plaza.
This is also popular area for hikers and there are various viewpoints in the surrounding mountains for spectacular views. The viewpoints accessible by car are Rincon de Haria and Valle de Malpaso.
The last stop on this northern route is Teguise. The former capital of Lanzarote, Teguise is a quiet town that bursts to life on Sundays (9am – 2pm) when it hosts the largest market on the island. There’s lots of fresh produce, wines, arts and crafts. The wonderful atmosphere makes the market a great place to visit on Sunday mornings.
Central Lanzarote: the wild coast, Martian landscapes and unique vineyards
Caleta de Famara
From Arrecife, take the LZ-20 – LZ-30 and LZ-402 roads to Caleta de Famara. This windy beach, with its long arc of golden sand, is a popular destination for surfers and kitesurfers. Backed by imposing cliffs, it’s one of the most scenic beaches (in a wild sense) on Lanzarote.
Timanfaya National Park
Continue along the wild, windswept coast towards La Santa (another surf spot) before heading to the Timanfaya National Park. One of the most popular places to visit in Lanzarote, Timanfaya consists of 25(!) volcanoes and expansive lava fields. Drive up to the visitor centre and leave your car there to join a bus tour of the park (the entrance ticket to the park includes parking and the bus tour).
It’s a surreal experience touring the park. As you pass volcanic cones in a multitude of colours, old lava flows and intriguing rock formations, you might think you’d just landed on Mars! Back at the visitor centre, watch the guide ‘create’ a geyser and other cool stunts. You can also opt to go on a 4-hour guided hike through the park (advance bookings required).
From the national park, continue to Uga and further to La Geria (on the LZ-30 road). Located on the edges of the Timanfaya National Park, La Geria is the premier wine-producing region in Lanzarote. What makes it especially intriguing is its black, ashy landscape and horshoe-shaped rock walls which protect the vines.
There are various bodegas (wineries) worth stopping at for a tour and/or wine-tasting. I can recommend Bodega La Geria and Bodega Rubicón. I also enjoyed the wine-tasting/tapas experience at La Bodeguita del Tablero. Don’t miss the local favourite, Malvasia, or the Moscatel varieties. If you’d like to learn more about the history of wine-making in Lanzarote, continue along the LZ-30 to El Grifo, a bodega with an interesting museum.
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Southern Lanzarote: a green lagoon, salt flats and beaches
From Arrecife, follow the LZ-2 road to Charco de los Clicos. Also known as El Golfo, this green lagoon is a fascinating place to visit. The unusual colour of the lagoon is created by a type of algae found in the water. Backed by the eroded walls of a crater and contrasting sharply with the black beach, El Golfo is certainly an incredible sight.
From here, continue to Los Hervideros, further down the coast. This viewpoint is a popular place to visit due to its breathtaking views of the rugged coastline. Spend some time here to enjoy the sights and sounds of huge waves crashing into the volcanic cliffs and caves. There’s a trail here which leads to other viewpoints and a lava field.
Salinas de Janubio
Head further south towards Salinas de Janubio, a patchwork of colourful salt flats. It’s a great photo stop and there’s also a shop which sells different types of salt.
After all that driving, it’s time for the beach! Some of Lanzarote’s best beaches are found in this area. From Salinas de Janubio, follow the LZ-2 to Playa Blanca. This bustling beach community offers many accommodation options and a plethora of restaurants, bars, cafés and shops. Search for hotels in Playa Blanca.
For something more secluded, head for the beaches of the nearby Costa de Papagayo. It costs a few euros to enter the park but once inside, you have a choice of five beautiful beaches! Playa Papagayo is the most famous (and crowded) of the lot. My favourite is Playa Mujeres.
I hope you find this Lanzarote guide helpful. Hire a car and explore this amazing island. These three driving routes will take you to all the best places in Lanzarote!
Note: this post is brought to you in collaboration with iambassador and the Spain Tourist Office. As always, all views mentioned above are mine, and mine only.
One of the highlights of my trip to Barbados was a catamaran cruise along the west coast. There are various operators to choose from – I went with Cool Runnings who operate luxurious catamarans from the marina in Port St. Charles (map). After a half day out at sea, I was convinced that a catamaran cruise is one of the best things to do in Barbados!
A Barbados catamaran cruise with Cool Runnings
The operator picked us up at our hotel and drove us to Port St. Charles, less than an hour north of Bridgetown. The catamaran looked amazing: spacious, with various lounge areas and decks to lie on. It certainly was well-equipped with a restroom and shower facilities. I was excited to go on this cruise as there were possibilities to snorkel to a shipwreck and around some coral reefs. I chose a cozy corner on the upper-deck to lounge at so I could watch the captain at work and enjoy the scenery.
After the safety briefing, we departed the marina, navigating through a narrow channel, under a drawbridge and out to the Caribbean Sea. A gentle breeze greeted us as we left the harbour. I looked at the blue expanse ahead of us and was absolutely mesmerised! Once out at sea, the sails were hoisted and off we went!
The crew were terrific! They welcomed the guests and made everyone feel very much at home. Drinks and snacks were soon served – we didn’t have to lift a finger as they came around frequently to make sure we were OK.
The scenery was absolutely gorgeous. We passed coastal communities such as Speightstown and Holetown, beaches, as well as numerous villas and mansions. I loved how tranquil it was as we glided across the water. I felt absolute bliss just watching the scenery and enjoying the colours of the water.
We made several stops during the cruise, when everyone could go for a swim. The first stop was at a shipwreck. It was a relatively shallow area so it was easy enough to dive down to the wreck for a closer look. The water was very clear making it easy enough to see the wreck from the surface. Later, we continued to another spot to see some coral reefs. As I swam above the reefs, I spotted a cute puffer fish, other colourful fish and a few stingrays.
Back on board, a delicious lunch was soon served. The chef sure did a great job grilling the seafood to perfection!
After lunch, we continued to another spot. The captain explained that there was a bale of resident turtles there. I’ve swum with turtles around the world, such as in the Galapagos Islands, and it’s always a treat to see them glide so graciously in the water. I was one of the first ones in the water and true enough, there were many turtles there. Swimming with these turtles was definitely one of the highlights of my trip to Barbados!
Note: when swimming with the turtles, please do not approach or touch them. Try to remain stationary as much as possible and don’t make any sudden moves when they’re near you.
I had a fantastic day on the Cool Runnings catamaran cruise. The catamaran was steady and comfortable, the crew were great and the scenery, both above and under the water, was simply beautiful. If you’re visiting Barbados, I highly recommend booking a catamaran cruise!
The price for this lunch cruise is USD 100 per adult and includes transportation to/from the marina, snorkeling equipment, unlimited drinks and a delicious lunch.
Note: I visited Barbados for a series of business meetings, however, I got to experience the island thanks to the wonderful hospitality of Tourism Barbados. That said, all views shared above are mine, and mine only.
I’m sometimes asked why I visit Germany so often, and the reason is simple: I just love Germany! Contrary to a common perception of Germany as being somewhat staid, the country is very diverse, both geographically and culturally, and it’s this great diversity that I find so appealing. There are countless interesting places to visit in Germany; from the sandy beaches of its North Sea islands to vibrant cities like Berlin and Hamburg, picturesque medieval towns, the Rhine Valley with its vineyards and castles, and the majestic Alps in the south, Germany is a multi-faceted destination that never ceases to amaze. Add to that a centuries-old cultural legacy, friendly, hospitable people and fantastic food and wines (and beer!), and you get a plethora of reasons to visit Germany. With such diversity, you can visit Germany at any time of the year!
Memories of Germany
I first visited Germany about thirty years ago, when, as a teenager, I embarked on an unforgettable Rhine River road trip, starting in the Netherlands and following the river past cities like Cologne, Bonn, Heidelburg and Freiburg. Since that first trip, I’ve done this route a few more times by car, train and boat (it never gets boring)!
My second trip followed a year later, in 1991: I went on a road trip to explore East Germany. The Berlin Wall had fallen and the reunification of West- and East Germany was starting to gain momentum. It was a remarkable trip in which I visited cities like Jena, Weimar, Erfurt, Eisenach and Dresden. It was an extraordinary time, when the pothole-filled roads were packed with rickety Trabants, the towns were covered in soot and Soviet soldiers still patrolled the region.
Yet, change was all around and the excitement of the people was tangible. I vividly remember sitting in a square in Jena, surrounded by dilapidated buildings and being served a West German beer by a visibly proud café owner. Or my stay at the historic Wartburg Castle (where Martin Luther once stayed and now a UNESCO World Heritage site), which was hastily being converted into a hotel – I was perhaps one of the first guests there and had the entire castle to myself!
Since then, I’ve travelled to Germany many times – it’s less than a two-hour drive or train ride from my home in Amsterdam – often for a city break but I’ve also done numerous road trips throughout the country. I’ve racked up many more fabulous memories of Germany and I can’t wait to return and see more of the country. If you’re wondering why you should consider Germany as your next holiday destination, here are ten great reasons (including ideas for where to go in Germany):
1. It’s so easy to get around
Lying in the heart of Europe, Germany has one of the most extensive road and rail networks in the world. With its famous autobahn and efficient ICE high-speed trains, it’s incredibly easy to explore Germany by car or train.
2. Scenic road trips
I love going on a road trip in Germany and there are many routes to choose from. The Rhine River route from Cologne via Koblenz to Freiburg (at the edge of the Black Forest in southern Germany) is one of my favourites. In this land of the Riesling, you’ll pass many castles, picturesque medieval towns and mile after mile of vineyards. Make sure to stop at towns such as Rüdesheim, Bacharach and St. Goarshausen.
From Koblenz, another route that’s absolutely gorgeous follows the Moselle River. This region of forested hills, vineyards and quaint villages is perfect for great food, wines and leisurely hikes.
One other route I’ve driven several times follows Highway 4 from Eisenach (the birthplace of Bach) past historic cities such as Gotha, Erfurt (with its incredibly preserved medieval centre), Weimar (the home of Goethe and Schiller) and Dresden, and ends at Görlitz at the Polish border.
Another stunning Germany road trip is the Romantic Road. Starting in Würzburg, the 400km route passes charming towns, verdant forests and dozens of historic monuments, and ends at the world-famous Neuschwanstein Castle. Read more about my road trip along the King Ludwig II castles including Neuschwanstein.
One route that’s high on my list is the German Alpine Road which skirts the northern flanks of the Alps. This 450km route passes incredible Alpine scenery, glistening lakes and beautiful castles.
Talking about castles, there’s also a Castle Road! This 1,200km-long route stretches from Mannheim right into the Czech Republic and passes many medieval castles, palaces, abbeys and historic towns.
I’m a big fan of Germany city breaks! Berlin, the capital of cool, in itself represents one solid reason to visit Germany, but other cities like Hamburg, Munich, Cologne, Leipzig and Dresden are great destinations too. They offer a broad array of attractions and sights to keep visitors occupied for at least several days.
Read more about:
When you stroll around any of the cities, keep on the lookout for great street art. Street art in Germany is absolutely amazing!
4. Nature – islands to forests, lakes and mountains
Germany is home to an incredibly diverse array of natural attractions. The country counts no less than 106 nature parks, 16 national parks and 16 UNESCO Biosphere parks! In the north, the Wadden Sea islands such as Amrum and Baltrum offer expansive dunes, sandy beaches and colourful fishing villages. Another nature park in the north is the Bourtanger Moor-Bargerveen International Nature Park which extends from the Dutch province of Drenthe and continues into Lower Saxony, and consists of wild moorlands and sandy dunes.
In the south, you’ll find one of Germany’s largest nature parks: Altmühl Valley Nature Park. Located in Bavaria, this 3,000 square kilometer nature park is home to numerous hiking and cycling paths, the Danube Gorge and the oldest brewery in the world!
Also in the south, you’ll find the Berchtesgaden National Park, the only German national park in the Alps, and the world-famous Black Forest.
5. Historical attractions
Germany’s long and often tempestuous history provides the backdrop for an enormous variety of historical attractions: from the castles of King Ludwig II and centuries-old monasteries, to the Reichstag in Berlin and the industrial legacy represented by the Völklingen Ironworks. There are more than 40 UNESCO World Heritage sites in Germany, making it a haven for history and culture enthusiasts.
6. Amazing museums
Through the centuries, German artists have played an important role in art movements, classical and modern music, design and architecture. This rich history comes to life in its more than 6,000 museums.
The Museum Island in Berlin – with its eight world-class museums, a UNESCO World Heritage site itself – is perhaps the most famous but there are numerous museums across Germany dedicated to art, WWII, technology, architecture, design, the automotive industry, and even bread-making!
This is one of my favourite reasons to visit Germany! There’s no shortage of fairytale-like medieval towns and villages in Germany. It’s simply a joy to stroll around these towns and soak up the delightful atmosphere.
Some of my favourite medieval towns in Germany include Tübingen, Monschau, Bamberg, Erfurt, Marburg, Alsfeld and Rothenburg ob der Tauber.
Germany’s culture is incredibly diverse and this is best showcased in its many opera houses, concert halls and festivals across the country. Fans of ‘high culture’ will be spoiled for choice at the opera houses of Dresden, Berlin, Bayreuth or Munich, and the philharmonic halls of Hamburg or Berlin.
Germany’s diversity is also reflected in its festivals. Germans love them and this is evident by the countless number of festivals held in the country throughout the year. Oktoberfest in Munich is the most famous festival but there are many other music, art, wine, beer and food festivals to experience.
Some of the best German festivals worthy of any bucket list include the annual Karneval in Cologne (perhaps the most colourful and boisterous), the Asparagus festival (Spargelfest) in Schwetzingen (I love asparagus!), Reeperbahn music festival in Hamburg, and the Medieval Festival in Selb. If you love sausages and wine, you shouldn’t miss the Wurstmarkt, held every September in Bad Dürkheim!
During the holiday season, Germany puts on a fabulous array of Christmas Markets that never fail to get everyone into a festive mood! The markets are absolutely magical with lots of opportunities to try different foods, buy Christmas ornaments and of course sip on delicious glühwein! Some of the best Christmas Markets can be found in Munich, Nuremberg and Dresden.
Germany also has a long tradition in wellness – Germans frequently visit a health resort or wellness spa to relax and recharge. These can be found across the country, from the islands to lakeside locations or up in the mountains. So, if you’re looking to slow down and rejuvenate, while feeling pampered in beautiful natural surroundings, there’s a wide choice of health resorts and spas to choose from.
10. Food, beer and wine!
You didn’t think I would leave these out did you? 😉 Germany isn’t widely known for its culinary prowess. Ask anyone about German food and they’ll probably say sausages, dumplings and potatoes. This may have been true fifty years ago but these days, that’s another misconception.
Nowadays, Germany counts more than 300 Michelin-starred restaurants! But you don’t need to go high-end to enjoy German cuisine. Across the board, Germany has truly elevated the quality and depth of its culinary offerings, making it a terrific foodie destination. From the beer halls to vaulted restaurants and street stalls, there are many places to experience wholesome German cuisine.
Germany is perhaps most well-known for its beer, of which there are thousands of varieties, but as you explore the country, you’ll get to know its diverse wine offerings beyond Riesling and Gewürztraminer in the country’s wine regions.
There you have it: ten great reasons to travel to Germany! Though, to be honest, this list barely scratches the surface of what this amazing destination has to offer to visitors. I guess the best thing to do is to visit Germany yourself and discover its many facets!
Note: this post was brought to you in partnership with the German National Tourist Board for the Duitsland Dichtbij campaign. All views mentioned above, including my unbridled enthusiasm, are mine.
Friesland is a province in the north of the Netherlands. The only province with its own language, Friesland has a distinct history and culture that sets it apart from the rest of the country. It is a land of lakes, waterways and endless meadows grazed by the famous black-and-white Frisian cows, punctuated by picturesque villages and historic towns. Off the coast, separated from the mainland by a shallow sea, lie the Wadden Islands, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Friesland is a popular holiday destination: visitors come here to sail around its extensive network of lakes and canals, hike through its national parks, find seclusion on one of the islands or explore its historic towns. Here’s my travel guide to the best places to visit in Friesland on a road trip:
I’ve visited Friesland many times and I’ve pinned many of the best places to visit in Friesland on the map below. I’ve also included a suggested ‘Friesland tour’ road trip route that starts and ends in Leeuwarden, the capital of Friesland. This road trip can easily be done in four days but I recommend adding a few extra days to visit one of the Wadden Islands and/or spend an extra night or two in Leeuwarden, the European Capital of Culture in 2018.
This Friesland guide contains links to three services I often use myself and can recommend: Booking.com (for hotel bookings), Rentalcars.com (for car hire) and GetYourGuide (for easy-to-book tours). If you make a booking via one of these services, I will receive a small commission (at no extra cost to you). These commissions help me to maintain my blog and share more travel experiences with you.
The Eleven Cities of Friesland
Friesland has eleven historic cities. Many of these cities are not more than villages in terms of size but which received city rights as far back as the 11th century. The eleven cities are: Leeuwarden, Sneek, Ijlst, Sloten, Stavoren, Hindeloopen, Workum, Bolsward, Harlingen, Franeker and Dokkum. Some of these cities such as Stavoren and Hindeloopen joined the Hanseatic League, a group of merchant guilds in northwestern and central Europe, in the 14th century and became wealthy trading hubs.
With its many lakes and waterways, Friesland is all about the water! In the summer months, the water is filled with countless sailboats and windsurfers. In the winter, when it freezes, Frisians take to the ice on their skates. Friesland is home to the ‘Elfstedentocht‘ (Eleven Cities Tour), a legendary ice-skating marathon that spans 200km and passes the eleven historic Frisian cities.
Each time it freezes in the Netherlands, the eyes of the entire country shift to Friesland! Conditions have to be perfect though for the ice masters to give the green light. For instance, the ice along the 200km route has to be more than 15cm thick. Frisians take speed-skating very seriously – in fact, many of the Dutch speed-skating World and Olympic champions come from Friesland.
11 Fountains of Friesland
In conjunction with Leeuwarden – European Capital of Culture 2018, eleven artists from around the world were invited to design unique fountains in each of the Eleven Frisian Cities. When you visit these cities, make sure to look out for the 11Fountains! Each of the eleven cities has one.
The Best of Friesland road trip route in this guide includes all eleven cities. If you’re very fit, you could even do this route by bike or on foot!
How to get to Friesland
Friesland is less than a two-hour drive from Amsterdam via the A7 (often faster) or A6 highways. Taking the A7 highway has the added advantage that it crosses the historic Afsluitdijk, a key defense line to protect low-lying areas of the Netherlands from the sea, that connects North Holland with Friesland. This Friesland road trip can also be easily combined with the shorter Markermeer road trip just south of Friesland. Alternatively, you can take the train from Amsterdam to Leeuwarden (2 hours) and pick up a rental car there. Search for flights to Amsterdam with KLM.
For the purposes of this guide, this Friesland road trip starts and ends in Leeuwarden, like the ‘Elfstedentocht’ and can be done in 4-5 days. Here are the best places in Friesland to visit during your road trip.
Leeuwarden is the capital of Friesland. Home to more than 100,000 inhabitants, it’s the economic and cultural centre of the province. In 2018, Leeuwarden was named the European City of Culture.
It’s a pleasant city with leafy parks, picturesque canals and a vibrant café culture. There are around 800 national monuments, including the Oldehove (a leaning, unfinished church tower) and the City Hall. There are also numerous museums to visit including the Fries Museum (an art, culture and history museum) and the Princessehof Ceramics Museum. To learn more about Leeuwarden, I recommend joining a walking tour. Visit the city’s tourism portal for more info.
Restaurants in Leeuwarden I’ve eaten at and can recommend include By US, Eindeloos, De Koperen Tuin (in the leafy environs of the Prinsentuin gardens) and Barrevoets.
From Leeuwarden, head northeast to Dokkum. This historic city is characterised by impressive fortified walls and a charming city centre. It’s a joy to stroll around the city’s canals and walls, admire the gorgeous houses and relax at a waterfront café. The city’s fountain is also one of my favourites of the 11Fountains.
From Dokkum, head for the north coast. You can continue towards Moddergat or stop at the Lauwersmeer National Park. The park, with its thick forests and lakes, is popular for leisurely hikes and bird-watching. The park is also an internationally-recognised Dark Sky Park – free from light pollution, people come here to enjoy the night sky. On clear nights, the Milky Way can easily be seen, a rarity in this highly-urbanised country. Visit the park’s website.
This village of about 200 people lies directly behind an impressive dike. In the 18th-19th centuries, Moddergat and its sister village, Paesens, had a large fishing fleet which enjoyed direct access to the Wadden Sea. In 1883, the villages were struck by disaster as a storm wiped out its fishing fleet and killed 83 villagers. This tragedy is commemorated by a monument on the dike. There’s also a little museum comprised of the old fishermen’s houses.
These days, Paesens-Moddergat is a popular hiking area. People come here to enjoy the unique landscape that stretches out into the horizon from the top of the dike.
From Moddergat, continue southwestwards to Franeker via Holwerd. Drop by in Holwerd to see the 5-meter high sculpture “Waiting for High Tide” that depicts two women looking out to the Wadden Sea.
Franeker can trace its history back to 800 AD (!) when it was a Carolingian stronghold. In modern times, Franeker is most famous as being the home of the 18th century Eise Eisinga Planetarium, one of the top-100 heritage sites in the Netherlands. A visit to this museum is a fascinating experience!
Your next stop is Harlingen. A short hop from Franeker, Harlingen is a lively port city with an amazing number of historic monuments that reflect its wealthy past. Stroll around the historic warehouses and admire the beautiful houses along the Noorderhaven. I recommend spending the night to enjoy the lively food and café scene. Search for hotels in Harlingen (Booking.com) or visit the city’s tourism portal.
Harlingen is also the gateway to the Wadden Islands of Vlieland and Terschelling. Regular ferry services depart from Harlingen’s port. As no cars are permitted on Vlieland, the port also has a large parking zone.
From Harlingen, continue along the coast before turning off to Bolsward, another of the Frisian Eleven Cities. Bolsward is a charming town with a rich mercantile history. There are several notable buildings including the 13th century Broerekerk (church) which is now a ruin after a fire destroyed it in 1980, and the Stadhuis (City Hall).
Workum, your next stop, is a lovely town for a quick stroll. Famous for its pottery, Workum has several noteworthy museums, such as the Jopie Huisman art museum, and churches. Just outside the town, look out for the beautiful eight-sided Ybema’s Mole windmill.
From Workum, follow the N359 road to Hindeloopen. This gorgeous village on the Ijsselmeer is a popular watersports area (especially wind- and kite-surfing) and has a picturesque historic centre with canals, wooden bridges and charming houses.
Despite its current size, Hindeloopen has a long and colourful history. In the 14th century, it became a member of the Hanseatic League, a group of merchant guilds and trading towns in northwestern and central Europe. These close trading relationships arguably led to the development of the unique Hindeloopen language (or Hindeloopers), a mix of West Frisian, English, Danish and Norwegian.
Driven by international trade, Hindeloopen experienced its pinnacle in the 17th and 18th centuries. The merchant and sailor homes, its traditional costumes and hand-painted artwork are a legacy from this era that can still be seen today. Read more about things to see in Hindeloopen. I recommend spending a night here or in Stavoren (Booking.com).
Your next stop, Stavoren, shares a similar mercantile history with Hindeloopen. These days, it’s the gateway to the Frisian lakes for sailing enthusiasts. Its harbour is often packed with yachts and there are numerous hotels, restaurants and cafés to choose from. Stavoren is also home to one of the most eye-catching of the the 11Fountains: Visit the city’s tourism portal for more info.
From Stavoren, continue along the N359 to Lemmer. This lakeside town, popular with day-trippers, has a bustling centre that surrounds the inner harbour, and a beach. Its favourable position as the gateway to the Frisian lakes makes it a busy place in the summer when its harbour and waterways fill up with many boats and yachts.
One place of interest to visit in Lemmer is the Wouda Pumping Station. A UNESCO World Heritage site, this pumping station was opened in 1920 and remains the world’s oldest, still operational, steam-powered pumping station in the world.
From Lemmer, back-track a bit on the N359 road and turn off towards Sloten. The smallest of the Frisian Eleven Cities and located in the heart of the Frisian lakes, Sloten is an idyllic village with beautiful canal-side houses. The nearby Slotermeer (lake) is connected to the village by a canal, and is popular with water sports enthusiasts.
Continue north along the N354 road to Sneek. Before reaching Sneek, turn off the N354 to Ijlst, another of the Frisian Eleven Cities. This picturesque town, with the Geeuw river flowing through its centre, is famous as a base for water sports enthusiasts and its abundant greenery. Stroll along the gorgeous Galamagracht canal and visit some of the town’s national monuments such as the 17th century sawmill ‘De Rat’.
Continue to Sneek, just a short drive away. Sneek is well-known for its iconic Waterpoort (Water Gate), marinas and historic city centre, with its canals, shops, cafés and restaurants. Other places of interest in Sneek include the 15th century ‘Stadhuis’ or City Hall (with its striking rococo façade) and the 15th century Martini Church. Visit the city’s tourism portal for more info. I recommend spending the night in Sneek as there are numerous hotels and restaurants. Search for hotels in Sneek (Booking.com).
Heerenveen is a mecca for speed-skaters from around the world. Its speed-skating stadium, Thialf, is world-renowned, and it’s an unforgettable experience to attend a competition there! Your next stop after Sneek, Heerenveen is a pleasant city with a historic centre. Stroll around to admire the historic ‘stins’ or manors, such as the ‘Oenemastate’ and ‘De Crackstate’.
If you have time, I recommend visiting Giethoorn, a historic village in the neighbouring province of Overijssel. In my book the most picturesque village in The Netherlands, Giethoorn is less than a 30-minute drive away from Heerenveen. Read about things to do in Giethoorn.
De Alde Feanen National Park
From Heerenveen, head northeast via Drachten to the Alde Feanen National Park. This unique park encompasses 25 square kms of morasses, lakes, forests, peat and meadows. In the area, at least 450 plant species and 100 bird species, including the bald eagle, can be found. Hire an electric boat and explore the maze of waterways in the park to see the unique flora and fauna. There are also extensive hiking and cycling paths throughout the park. Visit the park’s tourism portal for more info.
From here, it’s a short drive back to Leeuwarden, where this road trip ends. For more info about Friesland, visit the province’s tourism portal.
The Wadden Islands
While you’re in Friesland, I recommend visiting one of the Frisian Wadden Islands: Terschelling, Vlieland, Ameland and Schiermonnikoog. The Wadden Islands stretch from North Holland, past Friesland to Germany and further north to Denmark.
Between the mainland and the islands lies the shallow Wadden Sea, a biodiversity hotspot that’s formed by the tides. This area is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Characterised by expansive beaches, windswept dunes, thick woodlands and charming villages, the Frisian Wadden Islands are a magnet for those seeking solitude and unspoilt nature. It’s hard to choose which island to visit. Terschelling and Ameland are the most developed, whilst Vlieland and Schiermonnikoog consist mainly of dunes and forests with not more than a handful of villages between them.
Popular activities on the islands include hiking, cycling, mudflat walking and seal-watching by boat. Walking on the Wadden Sea mudflats is a tiring but absolutely unique experience! Every June, Terschelling, the largest of the Frisian Wadden Islands, hosts the famous Oeral music festival.
Schiermonnikoog, the smallest of the Frisian Wadden Islands, is one big national park. Here, you’ll find idyllic villages and unique landscapes, including Europe’s widest beach, the Rif.
How to get to the Frisian Wadden Islands
Ferries leave from Harlingen for Vlieland and Terschelling. The regular ferry transports vehicles but many people choose to leave their cars in Harlingen (there’s a large parking area) and take the fast passenger ferry service. Cars are allowed on Terschelling but not on Vlieland. Check the website of the ferry service for more info.
Ameland is reachable from the mainland via a ferry service from Holwerd (map). To get to Schiermonnikoog, drive to the Lauwersoog port (map) and take the ferry from there. No cars are allowed on the island but you can park your car at the port. Visit the website of the ferry service to Ameland and Schiermonnikoog.
If you’re visiting any of the islands, I suggest leaving your car on the mainland and hiring a bicycle on the island. Visit the islands’ tourism portal for more info.
Note: Friesland travel guide
This Friesland travel guide covers places I’ve visited and is by no means comprehensive. That said, I hope it’ll help you to enjoy the many wonderful places in Friesland, and that you’ll discover even more!