Travel Planning Advice – Part 2

One of the most important aspects of planning any trip is the logistics.  Even the most well made plans can fall apart if you don’t have the logistics of your trip covered.  I told you about the mistakes I made when planning our trip to Switzerland a few years back, but let me elaborate as they are great examples of how poor logistics can add a lot of unnecessary stress to your trip.

After starting to plan our trip, we narrowed down the cities that we would be visiting to Zermatt, Interlaken, Grindelwald, Lauterbrunnen, and Lucerne.  We would be coming up from Italy, and had about a week to see all of these places.  I know, not enough time.  That was logistical mistake number one.  I love pushing the envelope when it comes to fitting as much as I can into a trip, but fitting five cities into five days was tight.

That issue was compounded by the next logistical mistake that I made.  Instead of picking one or two central locations to use as hubs, and then traveling out from those locations daily to see what we wanted to see, I booked a different hotel each night in each one of those cities.  More on the hotel in Grindelwald in a bit.

If you are familiar with the geography of Switzerland, the towns of Interlaken, Grindelwald, and Lauterbrunnen are all about a 30-45 minute train ride a part.  It would have made a whole lot more sense, and been much easier, to book one hotel for 3 nights in one of those cities and then taken a train back and forth each day.  Instead, we had to lug our baggage on trains from city-to-city and check in and out of multiple hotels.  Needless to say, it added a lot of unnecessary stress, and wasted time, to our trip.

To make matters even worse, the hotel that I booked in Grindelwald, which was absolutely beautiful, was only accessible by cable car or foot.  And because cable cars need to be operated by humans (go figure), there was only a certain window in which you could get up to the hotel or back down to the city each day.

Travel-1352

If I hadn’t booked hotels in multiple cities, and we weren’t so set on exploring much of the region, this would have been perfectly fine.  The hotel was fabulous and the scenery was stunning.  But we wanted to explore a lot of the region and didn’t want to be restricted on when we had to come and go from our hotel.  I have no problem with walking, but lugging baggage up a mountain is a different story.  Again, another logistical mistake.

I know by now I probably sound like a bumbling fool, and it is a little embarrassing to look back on this now and realize just how naïve about travel I was back then, but it was great travel experience.  It taught me some invaluable lessons.  The most important of which is that you should never take shortcuts in your travel planning, especially with the logistics.  Spend the time up front because it can save you a world of frustration later.

In Part One of this article I talked to you about the W’s and H’s, and the 3W/3H approach to planning a trip.  In that article I discussed how important it was to start planning any trip with a simple assessment of what you want to see, and then determine where those places are.

If you were following along with your own trip in mind, you should have a compiled list of all of the things your group would like to see, ranked in order of what your group would like to see the most, and a map with all of these places laid out on it.  If you haven’t done that yet, I suggest you go back and do that before reading this article any further.  It will be awfully difficult to start planning the “how”, or the logistics, of your trip if you don’t yet know what you want to see and where those things are.

With that said, let’s start talking logistics.

The “How”

Now that you know where the places you want to see reside, the next step is to work out the logistics of how you are going to get to these places.  If everything you want to see is in one place, you’re all set.  Just find a hotel that you like, book it, and apart from figuring out how to get from the airport to your hotel and back, you are practically set.

However, more than likely the things that you want to see are in different parts of the city, the country, or may even be in completely different countries.  In those cases, logistics become extremely important.

Determine Proximity of Locations to One Another

The first thing I typically do when working out the logistics of my trips is take the map, or maps, that I created in determining the “where” and group the locations by proximity to one another.  To do this I create semi-transparent squares and use the map’s legend to make sure I know what size area they represent.  For instance, in the map below I created semi-transparent squares that have sides that are twice the length of the legend, or roughly 105km x 105km (which converts to roughly 65 miles x 65 miles).

I then took those squares and tried to fit as many of the pins on my map representing locations we need to visit into as few squares as I could.  As you can see below, three of the squares I placed on the map have multiple locations within them, while the other three squares are limited to just one location per square.

4 - Grouped Map

This is a great way to start to conceptualize which locations are close to each other, and which might be off by themselves and more difficult to get to logistically.  This will help me start to lay out a schedule by giving me some insight into where it might make the most sense to stay.

You are essentially trying to pinpoint locations that you can use as hubs to minimize the number of different hotels you will need to book, so don’t make the size of the squares too large.  It will do you no good to make squares that are 400 miles x 400 miles as it is unlikely you are going to want to travel 200-400 miles each way in a day to see something.

Now, distance is only one factor, as there may be circumstances where two places you want to see are only a short distance between each other, but still take an excessive amount of time to travel between.  That said, starting with the proximity in distance is a good starting point.  You can always make adjustments later.

Looking at the map above, Dublin, the Ring of Kerry, and the Slieve Leauge Cliffs are all off on their own.  Unless there are multiple attractions we want to see in those locations, this will make these locations more difficult to justify visiting (depending on the time you want to spend on your trip).  It may be too difficult to justify traveling the distance it would require just to see one attraction.

This is where the list, with rankings, that you and your travel companions made comes in handy.  If the attraction at one of the locations off by themselves is highly ranked, it may be worth the effort to get there.  On the other hand, if the attraction is very lowly ranked, it may be more worthwhile to cross that location off your list.

In my example the Ring of Kerry is the top rated attraction on our list, while both Dublin and the Slieve League Cliffs were both near the bottom.  This tells me that the Ring of Kerry would probably be worth the effort to work in, while the Slieve League Cliffs and Dublin may not be worth the extra effort to get to.

Because of this, I will keep the Ring of Kerry on the list, but cross off the Slieve League Cliffs.  I can always re-add it later if I find some extra time.  Considering the fact that it is highly likely that whatever flight we take to Ireland will arrive in Dublin, I will put a question mark by that for now, but leave it on the list.

Keep in mind, I have done the same thing with my maps of Scotland and London, but haven’t posted those maps so that I can keep the illustration as simplified as possible.

Determine Mode of Transportation

The next step in the “how” process is to determine what mode of transportation you will be using to get from region to region, and location to location.  This will assist you in determining which cities you will use as hubs, or base camps if you will, in which to explore the different regions (areas where your locations are concentrated).  In turn, this will assist you in determining where you should book your hotels.

There are essentially four main modes of transportation to get you from region to region, and from place to place.  Each have their pros, and each have their cons.  Those modes of transportation are as follows:

  • Renting a car
  • Taking a train
  • Riding a Bus
  • Flying

Taking a taxi is an option to get you around a city or small region, but they can be awfully expensive, especially for long trips.  For that reason I left taxis off my list, but they shouldn’t be ignored as they can be a good option in some circumstances.  Here is some advice I have found or can give on using each of these modes of transportation.

Renting a Car

Renting a car is probably the most convenient mode of transportation you can choose, as cars afford you the flexibility of coming and going as you like.  However, renting a car can also be the most expensive mode of transportation you can choose (yes, even more than flying in some cases).

Renting a Car in the United States

If you are traveling state-side, renting a car at your location is probably your best option for a number of reasons.  First off, it will be relatively affordable.  The average costs to rent a car in the USA are listed below:

Economy:  $45 to $65

Intermediate:  $50 to $70

Standard:  $55 to $75

Luxury:  $80 to $1

Forbes has some great advice on saving on car rentals in their article, Where It Costs The Most To Rent A Car (And How To Always Pay Less).  It’s definitely worth the read.

If you are traveling overseas, the cost of renting a car will likely be higher than it is state-side when you factor in gas prices and all of the different fees.  For those reasons, and others, renting a car may not be the cheapest or most convenient way to travel abroad.

Renting a Car in Europe (or I should say “hiring a car”)

The UK Telegraph does an excellent job of laying out the cost of renting a car in the different destination countries in Europe.  As you can see, when factoring in potential other costs (the Excess Payable column), the cost to rent a car in Europe can be much more than you are used to paying in the US.

RickSteves.com also does an excellent job of laying out some tips to control the Rental Car Costs in Europe.  You will absolutely want to read this article if you decide that renting a car is the way to go.

I typically budget $250-275 a day for a car rental in Europe.  That includes the rental cost, plus taxes, insurance (I always purchase insurance out of country), fees, gas, tolls, parking, etc..  Which is why I tend to look at public transportation as my first option when planning the logistics for my trips.

Renting a Car in Asia

Looking to rent a car in Asia?  I haven’t travelled to Asia yet, but there is a lot of great advice out there that may help you.  Justlanded.com has some helpful advice on what you will need to make a car reservation in China, and what you will need to pick up your rental car, as well as some other helpful advice.  And here are some other useful tips from China Service Mall on what to be aware of when renting a car in China.

According to Japan-guide.com, renting a car to explore Japan is preferable because public transportation can be both infrequent and inconvenient.  However, if you plan to rent a car in Japan, make sure you pick up an international driving permit before you leave home because they are not issued in Japan.

They also have a lot of useful information about locating a rental car company in Japan and some tips about rental car pricing should you decide that renting a car is the option for you.

If you are planning to travel somewhere else in Asia, or to a destination in South America, Africa, or somewhere else wonderful in this world, make sure you do your research on car rentals and driving regulations before you commit to renting a car.  In addition to pricing, here are some other pieces of information you should research.

  • Do you need an international driving license?
  • Do they sell international driving licenses locally, or should you obtain one before leaving?
  • Is purchasing insurance required or recommended?
  • Are there any driving laws that you are unaccustomed to?
  • What do you need to reserve a car?
  • What do you need to pick up a car?
  • What rental car companies are available?
  • What rental car companies are recommended?
  • Are there any additional fees that you may be subject to?
  • What is the cost of gasoline?
  • How accessible are the roads to the locations you wish to visit?
  • How is the traffic in the locations you wish to visit?
  • Will you have parking available at the hotels you plan to stay at?

All of these factors can influence whether renting a car is the right option for your trip.  After all, the last thing in the world you want is a rental car reservation, but no international driving license and no way to get one.

Taking a Train

If you are planning to travel in the US, then using public transportation (such as the subway) in some of our nation’s largest cities might make a lot of sense.  That said, if you are planning to travel extensively across the country on a long road trip, it probably won’t be your cheapest or most convenient option.

However, if you are traveling overseas, taking a train may be more convenient and economical than renting a car.

Before deciding to use trains to travel between your locations, it will be important to take several factors into account.

  • Will trains get you to all of your destinations?
  • How frequently do trains run to your destinations?
  • What is the cost of a rail pass where you are traveling?
  • Do you have to purchase reservations on top of the cost of your rail pass where you are traveling?

The first factor to consider is arguably the most important.  If trains do not service the locations you wish to visit, it will be awfully difficult to use trains to travel there.  When we visited Spain last year, we wanted to check out Gibraltar.  The problem was, there wasn’t train transportation to Gibraltar.  We could have taken a train to the nearby town of Algeciras and then walked or taken a bus a few miles to Gibraltar, but the trains ran very infrequently to that town from where we were planning to stay and the hassle was more than it was worth.  We ended up renting a car for that day to get to Gibraltar.

That brings me to the next question you need to answer.  How often do trains service the locations you wish to visit?  If trains arrive and depart from a location infrequently, it can make it difficult to use trains to travel to that location.  For example, we wanted to visit the town of Ronda while in Spain.  We could have taken a train to Ronda, but trains to and from the town of Ronda ran very infrequently.  If we would have taken a train and arrived late morning, we would have had to get on another train to get back to where we were staying early that same afternoon.  This didn’t make train travel to Ronda very convenient, so we ended up using a rental car to travel to Ronda as well.

Taking Trains in Europe

On top of the train schedules that are available on the Eurorail website, there is also a really cool app available that can make investigating possible rail travel in Europe a breeze.  The name of the app is Train and Bus, and I included a screen shot preview of the app below.  Just enter the name of a departure city, select a departure time early in the morning on any given date, and then try a number of different destination cities to see how often trains service the city you are investigating.

6 - App

If you do decide that train travel is the right choice for your European vacation, you will want to start exploring your options for purchasing tickets.  Here are the costs of some of the different Eurorail passes that you can purchase, depending on your needs (Prices are for 1st Class and Family assumes 2 adults and 2 children).

Note:  You can find some help on how to choose the right pass on Eurorail’s website.

Global Pass

  • Explore up to 28 European countries by train.
  • Free delivery in the U.S.A, Australia, Brazil and more countries. Plus, they can deliver your pass to a European address

5 - Global Pass

Duration Youth (18-25) Adult (Over 26) Family
5 days within 1 month $424.00 $528.00 $900.00
7 days within 1 month $516.00 $643.00 $1,096.00
10 days within 2 months $636.00 $793.00 $1,352.00
15 days within 2 months $833.00 $1,039.00 $1,770.00
15 days continuous $541.00 $673.00 $1,148.00
22 days continuous $696.00 $868.00 $1,478.00
1 month continuous $854.00 $1,065.00 $1,814.00
2 months continuous $1,203.00 $1,501.00 $2,554.00
3 months continuous $1,482.00 $1,851.00 $3,150.00

Select Pass

The Eurail Select Pass lets you discover 2, 3, or 4 bordering countries of your choice, including popular destinations like France, Spain, Italy and Germany.

  • Take your pick from 27 European countries.
  • Use the map below to select the countries you want to visit.
  • Free delivery in the U.S.A, Australia, Brazil and more countries. Plus, they can deliver your pass to a European address.
  • Prices will vary depending on which countries you choose and how many.

6 - Select Pass

One Country Pass

  • Select one country that you are going to travel to.
  • There are 21 different passes to choose from.
  • Information on a Germany rail pass can be found Here.
  • Prices are listed below.
Country Price Country Price
Austria $150.00 Italy $150.00
Benelux $150.00 Norway $174.00
Bulgaria $94.00 Poland $69.00
Croatia $94.00 Portugal $94.00
Czech Republic $94.00 Romania $69.00
Denmark $126.00 Scandinavia $202.00
Finland $150.00 Slovakia $126.00
Greece $94.00 Slovenia $69.00
Greek Islands $184.00 Spain $174.00
Hungary $94.00 Sweden $174.00
Ireland $150.00

Are Reservations Required?

You are also going to want to do some research on whether or not reservations are required on top of the rail pass that you purchase.  When we were in Switzerland, our rail pass covered us for most of the train trips that we had to take.  We could make a free reservation to ensure that we had a seat on a train, but we didn’t need to pay an extra fee to make the reservation, nor was a reservation required.  In fact, it also covered any boat, bus, and even gondola ride that we wanted to take in the country.  Switzerland’s rail pass is absolutely fantastic!  However, when we travelled in Italy and Spain, reservations were required on most of the train trips that we took, and it cost a fee to book our reservations.

This may play a factor in whether or not train travel is the most affordable option for you.  And even if it is the most affordable option, it may impact whether or not you purchase a train pass or just purchase your train tickets individually.  If you will need to take a lot of really long train rides, than a rail pass will probably be worthwhile as it will cost a considerable amount (as much as $200-$300) per ticket for some routes.  The cost to book a reservation is considerably less (roughly $10-$30 per reservation in most cases).  However, if you are only planning to take very short train rides, then the cost of a ticket may be fairly close to the cost of a reservation, or at least low enough where it will be cheaper to buy all of your tickets without a rail pass instead of rail passes and reservations.

For instance, when we were planning our trip to Spain we took a look at how much it would cost to travel by train to the following destinations:

  • Barcelona to Valencia
  • Valencia to Sevilla
  • Sevilla to Cordoba
  • Sevilla to Madrid
  • Mardid to Toledo
  • Mardid to Segovia
  • Madrid to Zaragosa

While the cost to purchase a train ticket without a rail pass from Madrid to Toledo ($16), Madrid to Segovia ($30), Madrid to Zaragosa ($67), and Barcelona to Valencia ($67) were relatively cheap, the cost to purchase a ticket from Valencia to Sevilla ($114), and Sevilla to Madrid ($106) were considerably more expensive.

In our case it cost less to purchase a rail pass with reservations than it would have been to purchase each of our train tickets without a rail pass.  Though like I said, this is not always the case, so do your research.

I would suggest using RailEurope’s website to look up the cost of purchasing all of the train tickets you would need to purchase, then compare that to the cost of purchasing a rail pass and any reservations that might be required.  Which ever option is lower would be your best option.

In regards to purchasing tickets or reservations in advance, please keep in mind that there is flexibility in switching some tickets if you want to take an earlier or later train once you get there, but you will need to show up at the train station well in advance.  If you show up a half hour before your train is set to leave, you will probably be out of luck.

For that reason, I would suggest that you only purchase the tickets or reservations for the long train rides between hub cities.  In other words, make sure you are guaranteed to get to your next hotel on time.  I would wait to purchase the tickets or reservations for the train rides you will be taking from your hub cities to other locations until you get there.  This will give you more flexibility should you want to change your plans on the fly.  If you are nervous about trains selling out, I would give RailEurope a call and get their advice on specific trains you plan to take.

They have a 1-800 number here in the US and have been very helpful in my previous experiences working with them.

Need help?  Rail Europe offers live help 5 days a week: Monday – Friday, 9:00am to 7:30pm Eastern Time. Call 1-800-622-8600 in the USA, 1-800-361-RAIL (7245) in Canada and 01-800-112-6680 in Mexico.

We also have a dedicated staff to assist with Group Travel of 10 or more travelers.

Rail Europe, Inc.
44 South Broadway
White Plains, NY 10601

Taking Trains Elsewhere

If you are planning on traveling to Asia, South America, Africa, or some other fabulous place in this world, I don’t have nearly the experience with train travel in those places as I do in Europe, so I have less advice I can give you.  However, just like traveling by train in Europe, I would make sure you research the following information:

  • Do trains service the locations you wish to travel to?
  • How frequently do trains service those locations?
  • Are there rail passes available?
  • What options are available for rail passes, and what benefits do they give you?
  • How much do rail passes cost?
  • Are there different classes of tickets for the trains you want to take? (First class is usually more expensive than Second class)
  • Do you need a reservation even with a rail pass?
  • Do you have to purchase reservations, and how much do they cost?
  • If rail passes aren’t available, how much will it cost to purchase all of the train tickets you will need?
  • Is it cheaper to buy a rail pass and make reservations or to purchase your tickets without a rail pass?
  • Is it advisable to purchase your tickets or reservations well in advance?
  • Is there any flexibility in exchanging your rail tickets for an earlier or later train?
  • What are the rules for exchanging your rail tickets?  Are there fees?
  • Are there sleeper compartments on the trains?
  • Do they serve food and beverages on the trains?
  • Where is luggage stored on the trains, and is it secure?

 Riding a Bus

Another option that you have to travel between one location you would like to see and another is by bus.  Although this is arguably my least favorite mode of transportation, as it combines all of the annoying stops with the slow travel speed of car travel, in some locations it can be the most accessible and even most convenient way to travel.

As Leaveyourdailyhell.com points out, in some areas of the world (in this case South America), bus travel may be your best bet.

I am guessing that in more areas than I am aware travel by bus is not only the most accessible and affordable mode of transportation, but also the most comfortable.  Many bus companies in countries throughout the world offer sleeping arrangements and even meals as part of their service.  Factor in accommodations and meals you would have had to otherwise buy if you took alternative transportation, and this can further reduce your travel costs.

In addition, depending on what you are traveling to see, some of the roads that you would have to take if you drove might be quite dangerous.  Would you want to operate a car on the so-called “death road” in Bolivia (pictured below)?  Me neither.

Bolivia-Death-Road

On top of the driving conditions of the roads you would have to travel, there are other factors that may influence your choice of transportation.  One set of often overlooked factors are the driving regulations in the country you are traveling to.  Those regulations might make it difficult for you to rent a car.

The map below illustrates which countries honor international driving permits, and which do not.  If the country you are traveling to does not honor international driving permits, than you may or may not be able to operate a motor vehicle in that country.  It all depends on the driving regulations in that country.  So do your research in advance.  Another reason why public transportation, like riding a bus, might be your best bet.

7 - Driving Permit

8 - Legend

Some of the things you will want to research when determining whether bus travel is the best option for your trip are the following:

  • What is needed to purchase a bus ticket?
  • What is the cost of a ticket?
  • Is it recommended to purchase tickets for your bus trips in advance?
  • What are the durations of the bus trips you will need to take?
  • What is the likelihood of cancellations or delays?
  • What is included with your ticket (meals, sleeping quarters, etc..)?
  • How often do the buses run?
  • Is there storage space for luggage on the buses?  Are those storage spaces secure?
  • Is there a high frequency of theft or crime on the buses?

Flying

I think air travel is probably the most often over-looked method of travel for people once their reach their orginal destination.  As Americans, I think it is engrained in us that once you fly to a destination, the next step is to rent a car and start exploring.  The problem with driving, as I touched on earlier, is that it can take a really long time to get from one location to another (even if the distance isn’t that great).  The same can be said for train travel in certain circumstances.  The high speed trains in Europe are amazing, but that type of efficiency isn’t matched all over the world.  In some countries a long train ride can be an all-day, and even all night, affair.

Besides, in some cases flying might just be the cheapest option.

For instance, when researching transportation for my upcoming trip to Ireland, Scotland, and London, I looked at different modes of transportation between Dublin, Edinburgh, and London.  In my case, there were no train options available between Dublin and Edinburgh, and the train ride from Edinburgh to London had a duration of roughly 4 hours and cost $114.  When I looked at airfare between Dublin and Edinburgh (1 hour and 15 minutes flight for $83) and Edinburgh and London (1 hour and 35 minute flight for $85), flying made a whole lot more sense.

So if you need to travel a great distance during your trip, from one city or country to another, my advice to you is to look into the option of flying before booking any other transportation options. While in some regions of the world (like South America) it may not be worthwhile to fly because of price and/or schedule, in other regions of the world you may be shocked at just how affordable flying can be.

However, before you book a flight, make sure you do research on the airlines you plan to use.  It will really ruin your trip if you book a flight from Dublin to Edinburgh and then get to the airport only to find out your flight has been significantly delayed or cancelled.

A website that I commonly use to research the on-time\cancellation history of flights before I book them is Flightstats.com.  As you can see below, I did some research on the on-time\cancellation history of Aer Lingus flights from Dublin to Edinburgh and got some pretty valuable information.

9 - Flightstatus

As you can see in this example, flight EL 3250 has an on-time history of 91%, which is pretty good.  On the other hand, flight EL 3256 only has an on-time history of 50%, which is rated as “very poor”.  If I am going to book a flight from Dublin to Edinburgh, I am going to want to avoid flight EL 3256 or choose a different airline all together if none of the results for the airline are satisfactory.  Paying a little more for a flight is a whole lot better than spending a large chunk of your vacation in an airport waiting on a delayed flight.

If you aren’t seeing any airfare options within your budget, but have some time before you need to lock in your transportation, you can always monitor the airfare prices to see if prices come down.  A wonderful app that I like to use to do this work for me is Hopper (I included a screen shot below).

Enter your departure and arrival destinations, as well as your travel dates, and Hopper will give you a visual representation of which days are more expensive to fly to your destination and which days are the cheapest.  This information can save you big.  Hopper also lets you know when it anticipates prices to be lowest and will monitor your search and alert you if prices drop.

11 - Hopper

Picking Your Hubs

After you have had a chance to research the transportation options where you are traveling, you can start to think about which cities you will use as your hubs.  That will allow you to start looking for and reserving hotels.

A tool that I have found very useful in helping me determine which cities to pick as my hubs are time tables.  I like to create time tables for the various forms of transportation I am thinking about using on the trip, and then using those tables to determine whether a certain city or another makes the most sense to use as a hub and what type of transportation I want to use.  Let me use our trip to Spain last year as an example.

When determining which cities would be best to use as hubs, and how many hubs I would need, I created this time table to show how long it would take to get from one city we were planning on visiting to another by train.  After all, you don’t want to be spending half your vacation on trains, so it is important to make sure travel times aren’t too long.  I used conditional formatting in Excel to highlight which times are short (yellow), which times are long (red), and everything in between.  At the bottom of the columns you will find the average duration for all train rides from the city to the other destinations on my list.

Table - Time

I also created a seperate table to show how many trains run between the different cities every day.  This is also important because you don’t want to be limited in how long you can visit various cities because you have to catch an early train back to your hotel.  Again, I used conditional formatting in Excel to highlight which cities have the most train service (yellow), which have the least (red), and everything in between.  At the bottom of the columns you will find the average number of trains that service that city from the other destinations on my list.

Table - Frequency

With all this information in mind, lets start with the cities that would not make good hubs.  As you can see by this chart, Gibraltar would make a horrible hub if I wanted to use Spain’s train system to get around as there is no train service to Gibraltar.  Likewise, the city of Ronda would be a horrible hub as the frequency that trains service the town is small and the travel times to and from Ronda from our other destinations are long.

On the other hand, Madrid would be an absolutely fantastic hub.  There is plenty of service from Madrid to many of the other cities we wanted to see, and the travel time from Madrid to these cities is fairly short.  Madrid would make the hub list for sure.

Summary

Got all that?  Just kidding, I know I threw a whole lot of information at you.  The important thing to take away from this article is that the logistics you plan for your trip play a big part in how enjoyable your trip will be.  In other words, the “how” is just as important as the “what” and “where”.  After all, if you can’t get to what you want to see, how are you supposed to enjoy it?

In this article I talked about the advantage of picking “hub” locations if your trip is going to include stops in multiple cities, regions, or countries.  Not only will it save you the hassle of having to lug your bags around as much, but it will also save you time.  Time that can be better spent enjoying your vacation.

I also talked about the different modes of transportation that you can choose to get from place to place.  They all have their advantages and disadvantages, and these pros and cons can differ greatly depending on where you travel.  So please, make sure you do your research before you start making reservations.

At this point in your planning you should have a pretty good feeling about what cities you want to use as your hubs, and which places you can reasonably visit from those hub cities.  In Part III of this article we will start to discuss the process of putting together an itinerary for your trip.  This will give you a good idea of “how long” your trip will need to be to see everything on your list, “when” you will want to go, and “how much” that will cost.

Even if you need to go back and make adjustments to your trip, you will be well prepared to do that.  You will know what everyone in your group wants to see, and how badly they want to see it.  Therefore, you’ll know what your group won’t mind cutting out, and what they can’t live without seeing.

And even if you need to cut some things out of your trip to save time or money, you’ll know that you didn’t overlook some transportation logistics that could have saved you either.  You will have researched all of your transportation options and will be prepared to make any adjustments as you start to layout your timeline.

So until next time, safe travels!

 

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Travel Planning Advice – Part 1

Planning a big trip?  For some people this can be a daunting task.  For many people this is their least favorite part of taking a trip.  Call me strange, and I probably am, but this is one of my favorite parts.  Everything is new and exciting, like a blank slate waiting to be filled in with all of your upcoming adventures.

Perhaps it is for these reasons (other’s disdain for the task and my enjoyment of it) that I am typically tasked with planning trips with family and friends.  And it is likely a result of this that I have picked up on so many tips and tricks along the way.

Now, before I get too far into outlining my process, let me be the first to say that I am in no way claiming to be an expert.  Unless of course you call someone who has booked a hotel up a mountain in Switzerland with little access in or out in good weather, let alone a snow storm, an expert.

Travel-1937

Photo by Josh Hewitt

 

Nope, I am just a guy who has made a lot of mistakes, and learned a lot from experience and talking to others, who might have a few insights to point out.

You always have the option to use a travel agent to book your trip, or take a group tour, as both options can make a lot of sense in some circumstances.  However, in many cases the prices you get from a travel agent or for a group tour will give you much less bang for your buck.  And I am all about squeezing in as much value for my travel dollar as I possibly can.

That is why I decided to write on this topic.  I have been extremely fortunate to have been able to travel as much as I have the past several years, and extremely fortunate to have learned as much as I have from people on both the Internet and while traveling.  It’s time to pay that forward.

You might read this article and think I am crazy in how overboard I go in planning my travel, and you probably wouldn’t be crazy for thinking that.  But if you take just one thing from these articles and put it to use in your travel adventures, then I will have done my part.  By the way, don’t be afraid to ask questions or leave your own travel tips in the comments section.  This is an open forum for travel enthusiasts of all levels.  All are welcome, and no feedback is unwelcome.

So let’s get started!

The W’s and H’s

I’m sure most of you are probably familiar with the Five W’s from grade school.  When writing a story, it is always important to come up with the Five W’s: The Who, the What, the Where, the When, and the Why.

Well, when it comes to planning a trip, it’s the three W’s and three H’s. For simplicity sake, let’s call this the 3W/3H approach.  They can be most easily described as the What, the Where, the How, the How Long, the When, and the How Much.  Figure these out, and you will be well on your way to planning a successful trip.

The big difference between the Five W’s of story writing and the 3W/3H approach to trip planning is that the Five W’s can be determined in any particular order.  You can determine the who before the what, the what before the who, and so on.

However, with the 3W/3H approach to trip planning, it is always best to go in sequential order.  The what determines the where, which leads to the question of how, which determines the how long, which leads to the when, which all adds up to the how much.

Instead of diving head first into your trip planning, booking your flights, then realize that you either booked your trip for the wrong time of year, or for not long enough, it is always good to let your trip planning progress from the most basic of principles, what you want to see, all the way to the end result of how much is it going to cost you.  Then you can always go back and make adjustments should the “how much” be too much.

In Part 1 of this article, I am going to talk about the What and the Where.  These are essential first steps in planning any trip.  After all, if you don’t know what you want to see and where you need to go, how are you going to make any of the other travel decisions that probably have your head spinning?

To help illustrate this process, I am going to use a trip I am currently planning to Ireland, Scotland, and London (as well as some past experiences from other trips I have taken) to illustrate.  It’s always easier to explain with examples.

The What

So let’s begin with the “what”.  Simply put, this is a matter of what you want to see.  And I don’t mean just which cities you want to see, but what you want to see in those cities.  You want to go to Ireland?  What is it in Ireland that you want to see?

Create a list.  And don’t just limit it to things you want to see in the city, but things you want to see in the surrounding area.  You’ll be surprised at how much you can fit in and at what cost with some proper planning.  One of the biggest disappointments for me when traveling is getting back from a trip and regretting not stopping to see something when I had time I didn’t think I would have.  Anyways, you can always cross things off later if it doesn’t work out.

If you are traveling by yourself, this will be easy.  Just create a list of what you would like to see.  However, if you are traveling with others, it can be more difficult.  This is especially true if you are traveling in a large group.  There may be some things you all want to see, but I am guessing there is going to be some disagreement on other things.  In some cases this can be solved by simply splitting up.  However, what happens if people want to see different things on different sides of the country?  That can be more difficult to work out.

Here’s what you can do.  When you have everyone put together their list of what they would like to see (remember, be specific), have them rank the Top 10 things they would like to see in order (1o being the Top 10 thing they are most anxious to see and 1 being the Top 1o thing they are least anxious to see).  They can list more than 10 things, but only have them rank 10 items. Everything else is unranked.  If you want to rank the Top 15 or 20 places because you’re planning to take a long trip, that is fine to.  Just don’t feel obligated to rank everything on the list.

When you are done, you should each end up with something like the list below.  Notice how the top 10 items on the list are ranked from 10 to 1 in decreasing order, and the other items on the list have no ranking.  This is what you want from everyone.

1 - List

When everyone has gotten their lists back to you, the next step is to compile the lists and then average out the rankings for each attraction.  For the items that people listed, but did not rank, they will get a zero for the ranking.  That should leave you with something like this (notice I sorted the compiled list by average ranking).

2 - Compiled List (2)

This gives us a great starting point from which to plan the trip.  Now that we know “what” everyone wants to see (with the added bonus of how badly they want to see it), we can start to figure out the “where”.

The Where

If you haven’t figured it out already, the “where” isn’t so much about what you want to see as it is about where you will need to be, or more importantly stay, to see it.  The “where” can be as simple as what side of the city you plan to stay in to get you the closest to the majority of the attractions you want to see, or as complex as which cities in a country you should use as hubs to allow you to explore as much of the country as possible.  It all depends on what you want to see.

In my example we are planning on visiting Ireland, Scotland, and London.  Before I can figure out how much of the things on our list we can see, I need to know how long it would take to get from one place to the next.  From Point A to Point B, if you will.  But before I can figure that out, I need to know where Point A and Point B are.  That is the “where” in the equation.

To do this, I take a map and then put a marker (or pin) on that map for each place on the list.  Since we are hoping to visit three places:  Ireland, Scotland, and London, and I know it will take considerable travel time to get between these places, I chose to create three separate maps.  The map I created for Ireland is below.

3 - Map

As you can see above, I have all of the places on my compiled list that are in Ireland laid out on this map.   This allows me to conceptualize how close some of these places are to one another, and how far a part from one another others are.  More importantly, it lets me know exactly where each of these places are, so when it comes time to figure out the “how”, as in how to see each of these places, I’ll have a place to start.

Coming in Part II

In Part II of this article I will be discussing the “How” in the 3W/3H approach.  We will begin to look at how exactly you plan to get from one place on your map, to the next place on your map, to the next.

I will talk about how to choose the right transportation to use on your trip (this can differ greatly depending on where you are traveling), and how to avoid some of the common mistakes people make in choosing and booking transportation.

We’ll also start to look at my favorite logistical tip in trip planning, which is to use hub locations for long trips.  Believe me, this can save you a TON of time and headache when taking long trips abroad.  Unless of course you absolutely love lugging your suite cases around Switzerland every day.  Yup, I made that mistake too.

Until next time, safe travels!

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Travelor’s Guide to Valencia

After spending a few days sight seeing in Barcelona, we took a train South to the wonderful coastal city of Valencia.  One of the larger cities in Spain, and definitely one of the liveliest, Valencia is known for its amazing beaches.  Situated on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, and with average highs in the upper 60’s in the winter and above 90 degrees in the summer, Valencia is a very popular European vacation destination.

We ended up visiting in early Spring, so the beaches weren’t as packed as they become in the summer months.  We were also only planning on visiting for a few days, so we didn’t visit any of Valencia’s infamous beaches.  We did however take in many of the cultural and historical aspects of the city that also make it so wonderful.

Recommended Time to Visit

It’s tough to give a really good recommendation as to when you should or should not visit some place without knowing exactly what you are going to do or see.  So instead of telling you when I think you should visit Valencia, I will show you how I investigate when to visit places I plan to travel to.

I plan on doing a separate article in the near future that outlines exactly how I plan my trips, and I will touch on this a little bit more then, but here is my process for determining when to make my visits in a nutshell.

The first thing I like to do is make a chart that outlines (color coding these charts makes it easier to visualize) the mean daylight hours, the average precipitation days, the average rainfall, the average temperature high, the average temperature low, and the mean temperature for each month of the year.  As an example, please refer to the chart below I created for Valencia.

Weather

I also take a look at tourism literature to see which months are the busiest months for tourism in the region, and which are the least busy tourism months.  If you want to avoid overly crowded beaches and long lines for popular tourist attractions, this is important info.  I found the following chart in the tourist statistics from the city of Valencia.

Tourism

This should be most, if not all, of the information you need to determine when to make your visit.

Best Month to Visit for Beach Vacation:  June

If you plan on visiting Valencia to spend time at it’s beaches, you will probably want to plan your visit for when the weather is hot and the average rainfall is low.  June thru August have the best beach weather as the temperatures are high and the average rainfall is low.  If you want to avoid overly crowded beaches, you will probably want to avoid going in July and August, which happen to be the busiest tourism months of the year for Valencia.  This makes June the best month to visit if you want to enjoy the beach.

Best Month to Visit for Cultural and Historical Vacation:  March

If you are planning to visit the many cultural and historical attractions in and around Valencia, the weather may not be as big of a concern for you.  However, you will still likely want to pick a month to visit that has the most daylight to take advantage of and the least amount of rainfall to ruin your plans.  If it were me, I would avoid the months of November thru February as they offer the least amount of daylight to take advantage of.

The months of September and October have some of the highest rainfall averages for the year, which make those months less than optimal for visiting.  If you want to avoid the big summer crowds, but still have a lot of daylight and avoid rainy days, the Spring (March thru June) is the best time to consider. Considering that one of the most well known festivals in Spain, Las Fallas, is held in Valencia in March, this may be the best month to plan your visit if you want to enjoy Valencia’s history and culture.

Recommended Length to Visit

Again, it’s really hard to tell someone how long they should visit a place unless you know exactly what they are going there to see.  However, I did put my recommendations for roughly how much time you might want to spend at the various tourist spots I outlined below.

If you take the time to see all of the sights on my list for the amount of time I recommend, then you will need roughly 5 days to see it all adequately.  We only had two days in Valencia as we were on a mission to see 12 cities on our trip to Spain, so we didn’t get to explore everything to the extent that we would have wanted to.

Recommendation 2-5 days

Top Things to See

Valencia is a large city that is rich in history and culture.  So, as you can imagine, there is a wealth of things to see in the city.  It would take me days to run thru all of the wonderful things there are to do and see in Valencia, so I stuck to my top ten things to see when you visit, listed in order below.

10. Valencia Street Art

Valencia-1060

Photo by Josh Hewitt

 

The city of Valencia is a treasure trove for those interested in art and culture.  From the City of Arts and Sciences, to the many ceramics, to the intricate traditional clothing, to the local cuisine, Valencia is a city that loves to celebrate its culture.

One of the more unique and wonderful ways in which this culture is expressed is thru the many pieces of street art you will find thru ought the city.  I took the picture above while walking past one of the many street cafes in the city.

I found a great collection of Valencia street art photos if you are interested in seeing more of this fabulous art work.

Recommended Time to See:  See as you explore

9.  Wine Tours

Valencia-176

Photo by Josh Hewitt

Valencia is part of the Comunidad Valenciana region, which has a history of wine making that dates back thousands of years.  For this reason, it is no surprise that Valencia is considered the wine export capital of Spain.

The Comunidad Valenciana wine region is broken down into four sub-zones, and the kind of wines you will find vary by region because of the climate and soil type.  Those regions are as follows:

  • Alto Turia (to the Northeast) – Mountainous area with vines planted at very high altitudes. This is primarily a white wine-making area that grows Merseguera and Macabeo grapes.
  • Valentino (to the Northwest) – Gentle slopes and a Mediterranean climate are suitable for the growth of Semillon, Chardonnay and Tempranillo.
  • Moscatel (in the center near Valencia) – This low-altitude, hot climate is best suited for growing the grapes for which the area is named. And for producing the luscious sweet wine that eventually made the region famous.
  • Clariano (to the South) – Suited for growing a number of different grapes. Many white grapes are cultivated, including Macabeo and Moscatel. Reds grown are Tempranillo, Monastrell, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

The two wineries that we visited are listed below.  I’ve included some recommendations for wine tours in my list of recommended excursions at the end of this article as well.  If you have the time, I would suggest taking a tour.  It was a great experience.

Recommended Time to See:  8 hours

8.  Torres de Quart

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Photo by Josh Hewitt

 

The Quart towers are part of an old Christian city wall system that was built in the 14th century.  The towers were added later on in the 15th century.  The walls of the Torres de Quart still show signs of bombardment from France’s siege of the city in 1808.

If you have the time, go inside the tower and make your way to the top.  Not only is the structure itself pretty cool to see from the inside, but the views of Valencia from the top are amazing.

Recommended Time to See:  2 hours

7.  Plaza del Reina

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Photo by Josh Hewitt

 

Considered by many to be the beating heart of Valencia, the Plaza de la Reina is one of the oldest and busiest plazas in the city.  While at sight it may not be the picturesque Spanish plaza that Spain is famous for, it is home to many of Valencia’s most popular tourist attractions and is an excellent hub for which to explore the city.

The plaza is surrounded by the Cathedral de Valencia and its bell tower, the Miquelet to the north, and Plaza Santa Catalina with its beautiful Iglesia in the south west.It is also an oustanding place to sit at a cafe, enjoy some wonderful Spanish cuisine, and do some serious people watching.

Recommended Time to See:  3-4 hours

6.  Mercado Central (Central Market)

Built in 1914 by Francesc Guàrdia i Vial and Alexandre Soler, it is considered one of the oldest markets in Europe.  The market is comprised of over 400 small merchants and restaurants selling seafood, meats, produce, candy, nuts, and a variety of other foods.

If you have the time, explore the market and sample some of the amazing food that is available.  It is amazing to see the variety of food that is available and to see the pride that the vendors take in their businesses.

Recommended Time to See:  2-4 hours

5. Llotja de la Seda (the Silk Exchange)

Valencia-444

Photo by Josh Hewitt

 

The Llotja de la Seda, a gothic syle civil building, was built between 1482 and 1548 and served as one of Europe’s main venues for the booming silk trade of that time.   The silk exchange is one of the busiest tourist attractions in Valencia, and for good reason.  If the building wasn’t beautiful enough, the fact that it is still authentically furnished adds to the historical interest of the building.

The silk exchange is comprised of three seperate parts.  The main hall (shown above), which is lavishly decorated with amazing twisted columns and a gold plated ceiling, is where the merchants would meet to do business.

The side-wing, named the Pavilion of the Consulate, is where the seat of the Tribunal del Mar (the tribunal that ran the silk exchange) was seated.

Finally, there is the Tower of La Lonja, which is where the tribunal would imprison merchants would could not pay their debts.

Recommended Time to See:  4 hours

4.  Valencia Cathedral and the Holy Grail

Valencia- 5

Photo by Josh Hewitt

 

The Valencia Cathedral, otherwise known as Iglesia Catedral-Basílica Metropolitana de la Asunción de Nuestra Señora de Valencia, was constructed in 1238 by the first bishop of Valencia after the Spanish reconquest.  It was dedicated by James 1 the Conqueror to the Saint Mary.

The cathedral is home to one of the alleged Holy Chalices in the world, and most Christian historians in the world maintain that this is the most likely candidate to be the actual cup used by Christ.

This is a must see for anyone visiting Valencia.  Even if you aren’t of the Christian faith, the beauty of the church and the historical significance of the chalice (real or not) is worth seeing.

Recommended Time to See:  3 hours

3.  Plaza de la Virgen

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Photo by Josh Hewitt

 

The Plaza de la Virgen sits on the site that was once the forum of Roman occupied Valencia.  In the center of the square is the Turia Fountain, which represents the Turia river in human form surrounded by its tributaries.  The sound of the fountain is often regarded as the sound of Valencia.  You can check out the sound of the fountain below.

Hear the Turia Fountain

For two of the four days of the festival Las Fallas the city is taken over by parades of people in beautiful, traditional costume bringing flowers to the Plaza de la Virgen.  The flowers are placed in a giant wooden silhouette of the Virgin Mary in a ceremony to honor Mary.

Virgin

The Plaza de la Virgen is beautiful and culturally significant as it is, but it is it’s role in this festival that makes it the #3 must see attraction on my list.

Recommended Time to See:  8 hours during festival, 1 hour otherwise

2.  Valencia’s Beaches

beach

The people of Valencia love the beach.  Which probably explains why there are a ton of them around the city.  During the summer months they come alive with activity as these beaches are some of the more popular tourist draws for Europeans.  If you are a beach bum, Valencia in the summer may be your idea of Nirvana.

We visited Valencia in early Spring, and didn’t have much time to explore its beaches while we were there, but I have included a few guides to the best beaches in the Valencia area for those who are interested.

The five best unspoilt beaches around Valencia city

Best Valencia Beaches

Recommended Time to See:  1-2 Days (or more if they are what you came to see)

1.  L’Oceanogràfic

Valencia-1701

Photo by Josh Hewitt

 

The largest aquarium in Europe (1.2 million square feet and 11 million gallons of water), L’Oceanogràfic showcases over 45,000 animals of over 500 different species of fish, mammals, birds, reptiles, and invertebrates.  Among these are sharks, penguins, dolphins, sea lions, walruses, Beluga whales, and more.

oceanografic

We didn’t have a lot of time, so we didn’t go inside the aquarium, but the outside of the aquarium alone was worth checking out.  It is definitely something that we would have checked out if we had more time and is certainly something I would put near the top of your list of things to see in Valencia.

Recommended Time to See:  10 hours

Top Restaurant Recommendation

We ate at a number of fabulous restaurants while in Valencia, which makes it difficult to pick just one restaurant.  So instead of picking a restaurant, I am going to recommend a dish to try.  Seeing as though Valencia is considered the birthplace of Spanish Paella, I would recommend that you sample this wonderful rice dish.  It is typically made with a seafood base, but you can find a lot of variations (from seafood, to chicken, to pork, to vegetarian) at the restaurants you visit.

Valencia-7334

Photo by Josh Hewitt

 

To assist you in finding some great restaurants to visit, here is Trip Advisor’s list of the Top 10 restaurants in Valencia.

Trip Advisor’s Best Restaurants in Valencia, Spain

Top Excursion Recommendations

We took a wine tour while in Valencia, and we are definitely glad we did.  I learned more about wine on this tour than I have in any of the wine tours I have taken in the US or Italy prior.  I have included a link to the wine tour below, as well as some other excursions I researched before we took our trip.

Word of caution, the samples of wine on the wine tour are large.  Meaning, your group finishes the bottles.  I would recommend eating something before the tour.

Requena Wine Tour

Tapas Tour Valencia

Do! Valencia Hot Spring Day Tours

Coming Soon!

Please be on the lookout for my next article in which I will outline in detail the process I use to plan my trips.  I hope to share some of the lessons I have learned in trip planning and help you take advantage of some of the tricks I have learned and avoid some of the mistakes I have made.

Posted in 2015, Europe, Spain, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Travelor’s Guide to Barcelona

My wife has always wanted to visit Spain.  For me, outside of the language and the love for bull fighting, it was a place I didn’t really know much about.  And I don’t just mean the culture, but the geography as well.  Beyond Madrid and Barcelona, I would have had a hard time naming another city within Spain if asked.

Barcelona-Blog-7106

But that is why I love to travel.  I love to see and experience new things.  And I guess that is why I love photography and videography, as I love to share those experiences with others.

So when my wife told me that Spain was the next place she wanted to visit, I dove right in without knowing much of what to expect from our visit.  And that excited me.  After months of preparation, we finally made the trip in the Spring of 2015.

The first stop on our trip across Spain was Barcelona.  I did have some recollection of Barcelona from the Olympic Games they had held a ways back, and I knew they had a very successful Fútbol team (FC Barcelona).  But outside of that, my knowledge of the city was very limited.

I guess in that regard it is difficult for me to say that the city exceeded my expectations as I didn’t really know what to expect, but I will say that Barcelona did not disappoint.

Top 10 Must See Sites

Barcelona is a big and amazing city, so I could spend literally hours listing all of the various spots that are worth checking out.  However, here are the Top 10 things I recommend people see in Barcelona:

10.  El Drac de Gaudí at Finca Güell

Barcelona-Blog-586

One of legendary Antoni Gaudí’s gems in Barcelona, we discovered this treasure almost by accident.  We were working our way back to our hotel from Camp Nou (the stadium where FC Barelona plays), and we noticed the dragon gate as we got off at one of the stops.

We didn’t have time to tour the site, but stopping to check out the spectacular dragon ornamented gate is worth it alone.

Recommended Time To See:  1 hour

9.  Casa Vicens

Casa Vicens

We were able to catch some good glimpses of this Antoni Gaudí masterpiece from the city hopper bus that we were on.  True to Gaudi form, the building is an amazing work of art.  Considered one of the first buildings of Art-Nouvaeu, and the first house designed by Gaudí, it was commissioned in 1877 by Manuel Vicens i Montaner, an owner of a brick and tile factory living in Barcelona at the time.

Recommended Time to See:  2 hours

8.  Arc de Triomf

Barcelona-Blog-6644

Situated on the busy Passeig de Lluis Companys, near the Parc de la Ciutadella, the Arc de Triomf is hard to miss.  Built as the main access gate for the 1888 Barcelona World Fair by architect Josep Vilaseca i Casanovas, the front frieze contains the stone sculpture Barcelona rep les nacions (Catalan for “Barcelona welcomes the nations”) by Josep Reynés.

Recommended Time to See:  1/2 hour

7.  La Pedrera

La Pedrera

Another one of Antoni Gaudí’s masterpieces that we only got to see from the city hopper buses that we took.  Built between 1906 and 1912, this was the last civil work by Gaudí.  Be careful when trying to locate this building as it can be quite easy to miss from the city hopper buses.

Recommended Time to See:  2 hours

6.  Las Ramblas Street

Barcelona-Blog-823

If you are looking to see the heart and soul of Barcelona, look no further than Las Ramblas street.  Well known for it’s shopping and night life, Las Ramblas street should be on the list of every visitor to Barcelona.  Whether you are looking to do some shopping, eat at one of the many street cafes that line the street, or just sit and people watch, Las Ramblas street is definitely worth experiencing.

Recommended Time to See:  4 hours

5.  Montjuïc Castle and Cable Car

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Constructed starting in 1640, Montjuïc Castle has seen many battles because of its strategic defensive position on top of Montjuïc mountain.  Once captured by Napolean during the Napoleonic Wars, Montjuïc Castle is most notable for its use as a torture facility for both sides during the Spanish Civil War.

We didn’t have a lot of time, so we didn’t tour the castle.  However, we did take time to walk around the perimeter and check out the fortifications.  Even if you aren’t into castles and history, the ride to the top of Montjuïc mountain via the cable car is worth it for the views.  After taking the cable car to the top, I would recommend walking back down so that you can soak in all of the breathtaking vantages of Barcelona.

Recommended Time to See:  6 hours

4.  Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria

Anyone who is a fan of farmer’s markets will be a fan of Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria.  Fresh meat, seafood, produce, juices, candy, you name it.  Even if you aren’t hungry, walking thru the market just to see all of the merchants at working selling the fruits (excuse the pun) of their hard earned labor is worth it.  I recommend that you snack your way thru the market, grabbing a variety of foods.  What better way to learn about the local cuisine!

Recommended Time to See:  2 hours

3.  Casa Batlló

Casa Batlló

This may be my favorite of Antoni Gaudí’s works.  This house has been remodeled several times, but it was Gaudi’s work in 1904 that made this house famous.

Given the name case dels ossos (House of Bones) locally because of it’s visceral, skeletal look, Casa Batlló is absolutely mesmerizing to look at.  We only got to admire it from the outside, but if you have the time I recommend that you tour the inside.  From the pictures I have seen, it is absolutely gorgeous.

Recommended Time to See:  3 hours

2.  Parc Güell

Parc Güell was one of the places I was most looking forward to seeing after doing some research on Barcelona.  It is a public park composed of gardens and buildings designed by, you guessed it, Antoni Gaudí.  Built between 1900 and 1914, it officially opened to the public in 1926.  One of the most notable treasures in the park is Gaudí’s own house.

We really enjoyed walking thru the park and taking in all of the beauty.  If you really want to experience everything the park has to offer, you are going to want to plan at least a full half day to explore.

Recommended Time to See:  4-8 hours

1.  The Sagrada Família

Toping my list of the top things to see in Barcelona is one of the most famous, if not most beautiful, churches in the world.  The Sagrada Família is arguably Antonio Gaudí’s most famous works, and for good reason.  To call the church breathtaking would be an injustice.  The detail work on the church’s exterior and interior will blow your mind.

If you have the time, you can pay to go up one of the two towers in the church.  One of the towers highlights the nativity and the other the passion.  You get to see the church from a whole other perspective, and the views of Barcelona aren’t bad either.  One thing is for certain, you definitely don’t want to short change your time spent exploring the inside and outside of this cultural treasure.

Recommended Time to See:  4-8 hours

Top Restaurant Recommendation

We ate so much amazing food in Barcelona that it was really hard to pick just one place.  However, in the end my mind kept coming back to one place.

La Flauta

Barcelona-Blog-7114

One of the things we were really anxious to try in Spain were some authentic Spanish Tapas.  After asking around to get some recommendations, La Flauta came up a few times.   It did not disappoint.  The tapas were authentic (unlike some of the stuff you get from your average street café that caters to tourists), and the atmosphere was wonderful.  Definitely worth trying should you ever find yourself in Barcelona.

Trip Advisor Reviews

Top Excursion Recommendations

We didn’t take any excursions while in Barcelona because of time constraints, but I did do quite a bit of research on excursions in the Barcelona area while planning my trip.  Here are some of the top excursions that I had highlighted:

Food Lover Tour

Taste Barcelona Walking Tour

Marta’s Private Paella Cooking Classes

Recommended Length of Visit

It’s always hard to tell people how long they should plan their stay in a certain area because everyone’s interests are different.  When we travel we tend to try and fit in as much as we possibly can, which tends to mean we spend less time in every city we visit.  There is just so much that we want to see and do and so little time.

If you are really excited about visiting Barcelona, it is definitely a city that is worth your time exploring.  There is so much to do and see, you could probably spend a whole week just visiting Barcelona.

At the bare minimum I would recommend that you spend at least 2-3 days in Barcelona if you are going to visit.  Both the Sagrada Família and Parc Güell can justifiably take a large portion of a day to see by themselves.  If you want to save time, I would definitely recommend you check out the Hop-on-Hop-Off Sightseeing Bus Tour.  It’s a great way to efficiently get around the city and not have to rely on public transportation and hailing down taxis.

Coming Up ….

In my next blog post I will talk about our time in Valencia, Spain and highlight some of my favorite aspects of that wonderful city.

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