Scotland Travel Guide

Scotland Travel Guide

To describe Scotland, in a nutshell, would be a huge disservice to this intriguing UK country. With its stunning natural landscapes, historical settings, pristine lochs, countryside castles, and more, it is a destination of myriad highlights. Consider this a brief primer on Scotland travel and its many wonders. Get outside the purple heather of Cairngorms National Park and the Highlands, or liven things up in Glasgow and Edinburgh. Get inspired, then let’s chat about getting you there.

When Is the Best Time to Visit Scotland?

city streets in Scotland

As with many European countries, the ideal time to visit is the spring and fall, once the weather has warmed up, but it’s not too hot, outside peak tourism seasons. Consider late March to May or September to November.

Springtime temperatures will fall between 43°F to 59°F. Expect lingering snow if you’re traveling into the mountains of the Highlands and the Cairngorms. In the fall, tourism dies down around late October. Capitalize on this and see Scotland’s gorgeous fall foliage without the crowds. Some sites will close mid-October, but you’ll still find much to do through November.

Getting to and Around Scotland

take the train in Scotland

Scotland is easily accessible from the rest of the UK and overseas. Travel into and around the country by road, rail, ferry, and air, with a little more careful planning for reaching the more remote areas and islands. Scottish towns, cities, villages, and ferry ports are almost all serviced by public transportation. And there is an extensive road and rail network throughout the country.

Top Things to Do in Scotland

st-andrews-golf course Scotland

Here are just a “wee dram” of the countless attractions throughout Scotland: 

 

  • Ride the world-famous West Highland Railway (you’ll cross the Glenfinnan Viaduct you know from Harry Potter).
  • Hike at Portree Bay, Creag Bheag, and Fort William for mesmerizing views of Ben Nevis, the UK’s highest mountain.
  • Browse the art galleries and craft shops of Kingussie, or go golfing or horseback riding nearby.
  • Visit the Eilean Donan Castle, first inhabited in the 6th century and known for its picturesque island setting.
  • Taste and tour whiskey distilleries on the Isle of Skye.
  • Learn about Glasgow’s history at the Riverside Museum and enjoy a fish supper in Merchant City
  • Explore Edinburgh, its imposing castle, the Royal Mile, the fairytale-esque Dean Village, and eclectic portside Leigh for shopping and dining.
highland-cattle-in Scotland

Best Places to Stay in Scotland

Scotland castle -eilean-donan

From storybook guest cottages to lavish countryside estates, family-run B&Bs to sleek city stays, Scotland offers a host of accommodation options. Here are some of our favorites:

The Torridon 

For pampering and prestige, stay at this family-owned and -operated retreat where outdoor pursuits range from clay pigeon shooting to mountain biking to kayaking in a sea loch. The award-winning Whisky Bar and the 3 AA Rosette-awarded dining room are a must. 

Arden Country House 

On the beautiful grounds of Belsyde Country Estate and close to the Royal Burgh of Linlithgow (birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots), this peaceful yet modern country house B&B provides easy access to Edinburgh and central Scotland. 

Glenapp Castle 

Live out your royal fantasies at five-star Glenapp Castle with just 17 indulgent bedrooms and a renowned dining room. Tucked away in Ayrshire, the castle boasts period furnishings and interiors, breathtaking gardens, mystical forests, and luscious seascapes surrounding the grounds. 

Blythswood Square

This Glasglow city center hotel is a sophisticated stay after a day of sightseeing, with the city’s first luxury spa, 100 elegant guest rooms, a delightfully casual restaurant, a couple of convivial bars, and even a private screening room. 

If you’ve enjoyed this taste of Scotland, stay tuned for our upcoming blog post, “A Week in Scotland,” for inspiration and ideas for your own trip.

If you’ve enjoyed this taste of Scotland, stay tuned for our upcoming blog post, “A Week in Scotland,” for travel inspiration and ideas for your own trip.

Exploring Amsterdam:  The Ultimate Travel Guide

Exploring Amsterdam: The Ultimate Travel Guide

Exploring Amsterdam is a fantastic experience you should add to your travel itinerary. Its characteristic canals (UNESCO World Heritage) surrounded by narrow, low, and crooked 17th-century houses make it one of Europe’s most charming capital cities most travelers want to visit. Despite its full-scale city size, Amsterdam maintains its small-town feel thanks to its vibrant culture and numerous entertainment options.

With over 50 museums, of which many are famous across the globe, this city is a real treat for art-lovers: highlights include the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum, and the Stedelijk Museum.  Use my travel tips from this Amsterdam travel guide to plan your trip!

This post may contain affiliate links, which means I may receive a commission, at no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link.

Best time to visit

Summer is the most popular time for tourists to visit Amsterdam. To avoid crowds, come in April–May or September.
The spring season is characterized by mild temperatures, while golden trees indicate autumn.

The peak tourist season occurs in April and May. Regardless of the season, be prepared for rain. Locals use websites like buie.nl to predict when the weather is down to minutes.

Amsterdam is a popular tourist destination in the summer, so expect long waits at popular attractions. Regarding accommodation, summer is also the most expensive time of year.

As the temperature drops in the autumn and winter, so do hotel prices and tourist numbers. Museums and cafes are the perfect indoor attractions during this time of year. Seeing the city blanketed in snow is a spectacular sight. If the winter happens to be particularly cold, you can ice-skate on the frozen canals. Some cafes set tables and chairs straight on the ice.

Getting to Amsterdam

getting around Amsterdam by bike

Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (AMS) is a modern, efficient, and traveler-friendly airport. 90 airlines depart from Schiphol to over 250 destinations worldwide. The easiest and cheapest way to travel from the airport to Amsterdam is by train. The train station at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol is located directly below the airport. During the day, trains leave at least every 15 minutes for Central Station (less frequently at night). Purchase your ticket at the NS service desk or ticket machines.

Getting around Amsterdam

netherlands clogs

Taxi

You can take taxis to and from the airport when the trams stop running late at night or when you’re running late. During peak traffic times, however, public transport might get you there even faster. At tourist hotspots, you can hail a taxi or catch one at designated cab stands. 

Public transportation

A GVB day or multi-day ticket is the most convenient way to travel. In Amsterdam, you can choose from 15 tram lines, 41 bus lines, 7 ferry connections, and 4 metro lines to reach various destinations. These tickets are available at GVB Tickets & Info and tourist offices.  

Electricity

The Netherlands use the 220-240 Volt (50 Mhz) system that’s common everywhere in Europe, Australia, Asia and Africa. But since electricity plugs often still differ, visitors from some countries (e.g. the UK, Australia, Switzerland, Ireland) need to bring a plug adaptor.

Currency

In Amsterdam, as well as in all the Netherlands and many other countries of the European Community, the accepted currency is Euro (EUR, €), no other currencies are commonly accepted, so you will have to change your dollars, sterling, yens, etc to Euros.

Things to do in Amsterdam

Anne Frank House

During World War II, Anne Frank wrote her famous diary in the Anne Frank House. In this location, you can find quotes from a diary, photos, films, and original objects owned by the people in hiding and those who helped them. Anne’s original diary is on display in the museum as well. As a museum, it recreates the holocaust and war years.

Pro tip:  If you plan on visiting Anne Frank House we recommend purchasing tickets at least 3 weeks in advance or when the tickets come out on the 1st of the month before the month you plan on visiting.

 

anne frank museum in Amsterdam

Rijksmuseum

Rijksmuseum is the largest and most important museum in the Netherlands. After extensive renovations, the Rijksmuseum has reopened with a completely revamped layout. More than 1 million objects are displayed, including many masterpieces and artifacts worldwide.

Pro tip:  We highly recommend booking skip-the-line tickets for Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum along with any other major attractions.

Where to stay

Jordaan street Amsterdam

Amsterdam has a lot of hotel options for all budgets. Jordaan is the city’s most affluent neighborhood and home to world-class hotels and restaurants. For first-time visitors, the city’s center is a great place to stay. To help you out, here are a few of our favorite hotels in Amsterdam.

Pavilions Amsterdam, Hotel Toren – 4-star hotel in the canal district

The Dylan Amsterdam – a luxurious boutique hotel in a stunning location

Banks Mansion – 4-star boutique all-inclusive hotel

We hope that this travel guide has helped inspire you to visit Amsterdam.  If you have any questions about the city reach out to us.

A London Primer

A London Primer

Captivating in countless ways, London is one of the most popular cities in the world. Between world-class museums and historical monuments, you can duck into charming pubs or picnic in peaceful urban parks. You can search for treasures in Portobello Road Market in Notting Hill or eat your way through the bustling Borough Market. Attend mesmerizing theatrical performances and stroll through characterful neighborhoods like a local. Here’s a primer for your trip to London. In addition to these tips, I have a great deal more information.

This post may contain affiliate links, which means I may receive a commission, at no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link.

When to Visit London

big ben view in london

Similar to the Pacific Northwest in the United States, London can be overcast, foggy, and drizzly for much of the year. It doesn’t tend to get heavy-parka-cold. But when the temperatures are cool, and it’s raining outside, it can feel colder than the thermometer registers. The winter/low tourism season is from December to February when temps can dip below 41°F.

Summer/high tourism season is July and August when the temperatures (and prices) are at their highest (but typically no warmer than 86°F. Consider traveling to London during the spring (late March-June) or autumn (September-October), when the temperatures are moderate, and the crowds are thinner. No matter when you visit, bring along a light jacket and travel umbrella.

Getting to London

getting around London

London is one of the most well-connected cities in the world. Direct flights from the US depart from Atlanta, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, Washington, DC, Orlando, Las Vegas, Dallas, Houston, and other gateway cities. London’s largest airport (and the busiest in Europe) is Heathrow Airport (LHR). Gatwick Airport (LGW) is the second largest airport in London. Both are convenient and linked by public transit to the city center.

London is also readily accessible by Eurostar train. A nice option if you travel elsewhere in Europe before or after visiting London.

Cuisine & Culture

mcmullen-london
english tea and scones
bangers and mash

Whatever your palate prefers, you’ll find it in London. There are haute cuisine options in many of the more upscale hotels and neighborhoods. But if you’re seeking something more authentic and local, you’ll find it here, too. From Indian in the East End to Turkish at Green Lanes, from the up-and-coming eateries of Soho to Chinatown, foodies find much to love in London.

Culturally speaking, you can’t go wrong in London. Visit the Tate Modern and the British Film Institute or take in a theater or musical performance along with the South Bank, and of course, don’t miss the West End if you’re a true theater buff. Move on to the Tate Britain in Pimlico, the National Portrait Gallery in Trafalgar Square, and you’ve accomplished a more cultural day than almost any you’ve had recently.

Want more? Time your visit with the London Fashion Week in September or The Lord Mayor’s Show in November, full of pomp, circumstance, and processions.

Top Things to Do in London

british-museum-London England

While this is not an exhaustive list by any means (and we can chat about your personal interests and preferences), here’s a starter guide to the city’s top highlights: 

 

Pro Tips

buckingham-palace-

Stay Central: For first-time visitors who want to be conveniently located to the top attractions, consider staying in Covent Garden, Piccadilly and Leicester Square (all part of the West End). 

Pre-Book Attractions:  Consider pre-booking certain attractions with timed entry. This will save you heartache if something is super busy or sold out, and help you plan your sightseeing time overall. 

Travel in the Off Season:  Like we mentioned above, consider traveling to London in the spring or fall to beat the crowds. 

We hope you have found this London travel primer helpful. If you have any questions about the destination or need help planning a trip, let’s chat! Looking for more info? Check out my guide for your First time in London

Naxos Travel Guide:  A Gem in the Cyclades

Naxos Travel Guide: A Gem in the Cyclades

Naxos, one of the most beautiful Greek islands, is the largest of the Cyclades islands. Unlike its neighbors Santorini and Mykonos, Naxos remains relatively unfazed by the North American hype. Even though the picturesque island continues to surface on Greek island round-ups. Its low-key ambiance and quiet pace make it the perfect destination for visitors seeking an authentic Greek island experience. And only three and a half hours from bustling Athens. In our Naxos travel guide, find out more about this gem in the Cyclades.

When to go to Naxos

The weather in Greece is warm from March/April onwards, with peak crowds in July and August. Early September is an ideal time to travel to Naxos. By September, fewer tourists are packing the ferries and beaches, as children across Europe are back in school.

Getting There

The easiest way to arrive at Naxos is by ferry from Athens. From the port of Piraeus (just outside of Athens), a highspeed ferry will deliver you to Naxos in roughly 3.5 hours, while other ferries offer a more scenic 5.5-hour journey. Purchase your tickets in advance to alleviate any headaches at the port and guarantee your arrival time.  Check here for ferries:   https://www.greekferries.gr/

What to Do

Eat. Be sure to arrive with a healthy appetite and eat plenty. Don’t miss the local Naxian cheeses and olive oils! As is imbibing on a glass of island-made Kitron (a spirit made from citron trees, a relative of the lemon). There are plenty of restaurants directly across the street from the port. However, going inland (even if it’s a block or two) will often reveal restaurants aimed at locals instead of tourists, complete with more reasonable prices and authentic cuisine.

 

dine in local restaurants-Naxos

While it’s a drive nearly 45 minutes inland, a visit to Rotonda (located in the Apeiranthos region of Naxos) will deliver gourmet food with jaw-dropping views of the island and sea.

Pro Tip: Reserve a table for sunset; the views are some of the best on the island.

 

Beaches

Naxos has no shortage of stunning beaches and beach bars. From the Chora (town center), the first beach is Agios Georgios, an easy 15-minute walk from the center of town. While there are ample oceanfront restaurants and beach bars, Agios Georgios is often the most crowded due to its proximity to the town center.

beautiful beaches in Naxos

Outside of the town center, three well-known beaches dot the coast – Agios Prokopios, Agia Anna, and Plaka. Each boasts crystal clear turquoise water, not unlike the Caribbean, and Agios Prokopios and Agia Anna are within walking distance of each other. All three beaches are easily accessible by public transit that runs every half hour from the town center.

Pro Tip:  If you want to rent a sunbed for the day (highly recommended to find reprieve from the scorching Mediterranean sun), visit any number of the beach bars along the beach. Some will rent two beds and an umbrella for a flat fee. Others will include them for ‘free’ with food or drink purchases.

 

Museum

Unique to Naxos is the Eggares Olive Press Museum, one of Naxos’s oldest remaining olive mills. A brief complimentary tour showcases the mill’s history, including original production materials once used at the site. Don’t miss a tasting. I dare you to leave without buying some of their oil. Once you try it, you’ll be hooked.

olive oil museum

Photo:  Eggares Olive Press

Where to Stay

Naxos travel guide-places to stay

There’s no shortage of accommodation options on Naxos, ranging from luxurious private villas to basic room rentals.

 

Kavos Boutique Hotel is located a ten-minute walk from Agios Prokopios beach. It offers guests their choice of villas, apartments, or suites overlooking the Aegean sea and nestled among the bougainvillea. With an outdoor pool, restaurant, and pool bar, guests will want for nothing. https://www.kavos-naxos.com/

Hotel Grotta Is rated #1 on TripAdvisor for a good reason. The Greek hospitality is evident from the moment you arrive, welcomed with a snack and glass of white wine from the family’s vineyard. Don’t miss the legendary breakfast spread; it’s dreamy. https://www.hotelgrotta.gr/

Interested in visiting Naxos, or maybe island hopping for your next vacation? Contact me here; I’d love to curate your perfect Mediterranean escape! 

The Complete Alaska Travel Guide

The Complete Alaska Travel Guide

Alaska offers so many things to do and see! Among the wildlife you will find are; polar bears, brown bears, wolves, and arctic foxes. Not to mention the magnificent ice glaciers, which are also a big draw for visitors worldwide.  Alaska has an estimate of more than 100,000 glaciers, most of which are unnamed. Here is my Alaska travel guide that will help you plan an unforgettable experience.

What to expect in Alaska

great horned owl-alaska travel guide

[great horned owl in Alaska]

The Gold Rush Days

In many ways, gold put Alaska on the map. Through the 1800s, gold was discovered in all corners of the state. Russians made the journey first, followed by hardworking miners. In 1896, the Klondike Gold Rush drew around 100,000 prospectors, laborers, and entrepreneurs to Northwest Canada, Dawson City, and the Yukon River. Many made their way there through Southeast Alaska ports.

Currency

Alaskan merchants are ready and willing to accept just about all major credit cards. Visa and MasterCard are the most widely accepted cards, but American Express and Discovery are also widely used.

Climate

Alaska glaciers

Alaska summers are warm, with temperatures up to 90° F.  Yukon holds the record with a sizzling 100°F recorded in 1915. Many believe that the far northern part of Alaska would be the coldest.

When to visit Alaska

The best time to visit Alaska is from May to September. If you are looking for a more affordable time to go, May & September are the best months. Lots of tourists and cruise ships will be visiting during the busiest summer months of July and August.

Getting there

visit Skagway in Alaska

[visiting Skagway in older times]

Getting to Anchorage is simple! Take a plane, climb aboard a ship, or hit the road, but keep the camera close at hand as the journey itself can be breathtaking. An easy option for Alaska travel adventures, Anchorage is well connected by rail, road, and air.

Traveling to Alaska by ship

View direct service from domestic airports. Cruises and the state ferry system connect the Pacific Northwest with Alaska. Cruising departs from Vancouver, British Columbia, via Southeast Alaska and Southcentral Alaska, then heading into Anchorage.

Alaska travel by road

Driving to Alaska is high on the list of many adventurers. The trip is legendary for its beauty. Once a bumpy dirt road, the Alaska Highway is now a modern, well-maintained highway.

Some of the world’s wildest and most beautiful national and state parks are along this route. Cultural attractions, adventure tours, incredible scenery, and unforgettable experiences make this option popular with independent travelers.

Alaskan culture

Salmon in Alaska

[fresh Alaskan salmon]

Even though Alaskan culture may not seemingly differ from those found in the other 48 states, the residents engage in activities unique to the state. Many of these activities can be enjoyed through Alaska’s annual events.  Including the Tesoro Iron Dog Snowmobile Race from Anchorage to Nome, followed by Fairbanks, and others. Other not-to-be-missed cultural happenings include the BP World Ice Art.

Things to do in Alaska

Alaska travel-national parks

These are some of the activities and places to include during your Alaska trip.

  • Hike and fish in Alaska’s Emerald Isle
  • Meet the creatures that live under the sea in Homer
  • Mingle with the wildlife at Creamer’s Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge
  • Pan for Gold at El Dorado Gold Mine
  • Climb Flat Top Mountain
  • Sea kayaking
  • Ice cave exploration
  • See the Northern Lights

We hope you have found this travel guide to Alaska helpful. If you have any questions about the destination or need help planning a trip, contact us for more information.

A Guide To Cruising The Douro River

A Guide To Cruising The Douro River

Cruising the Douro River traveling through Portugal and Spain is a captivating experience. There are a lot of reasons to take a cruise on the Douro River. Besides the outstanding scenery, the oldest wine region in the world offers plenty of wine tasting in historic wineries. Indeed, it stands to be the best in Europe. During a Douro cruise, you can choose from several different activities. Here is a perfect cruise guide.

How to Get to Douro River

The adventure begins at the train station in Porto. From where one can see the Douro valley through tiled views. Connect to river Douro from Porto by car and cruise down the River to Porto by ship or a boat.

landscape view from the Douro River

Essentials to pack for the cruise

Bring casual clothes and comfortable walking shoes for a relaxed, informal atmosphere for river cruising on the Douro. Ensure your backpack is well equipped with necessities to get you through the day of excursions. Include items such as water, a camera, and local currency for shopping.

Top activities to venture around Douro River

The picturesque town of Lamego is home to one of the most important pilgrimage sites in all of Portugal. Visit Nossa Senhora dos Remédios (The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Remedies). The Shrine’s almost 700 steps, decorated with white and blue tiles, will appeal to adventurers with active lifestyles.

Senhora dos Remédios, Lamego

Senhora dos Remédios in Lamego

Step back in time to the Middle Ages during your escorted tour of Salamanca, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Take time to explore the two cathedrals in this beautiful city.

cruising the Douro River to Salamanca, Spain

Salamanca Cathedral in Spain

Today you will cruise to Barca d’Alva to visit a hilltop medieval castle (Castelo Rodrigo) with steep narrow streets with centuries-old walls.  Also, you can opt to hike to the village to explore more local culture.

Do not forget your camera to capture the views.

Castelo Rodrigo

medieval Castelo Rodrigo

Local Experiences

For a truly authentic culinary experience, your cruise stops between the rivers in a tranquil village for a traditional Portuguese lunch. Quench your thirst in this village with your fellow travelers. Wine tasting is an activity you can not think of neglecting.

Here, in Porto, you will have an exclusive opportunity to learn much about this wine-producing center in Portugal.  With the help of a local guide who will unveil the history of Porto.  Your cruise will involve sampling the delightful vintages and other fabulous wine estates. Also, wine lovers should visit the Douro museum wine-producing region.

wine cellar in Porto, Portugal

Porto Portugal wine cellar

Dishes to try

The excellent culinary skills give an exceptional taste of bacalhau ’a bras. Order a plate full mouthwatering of seafood, olives, and a fried egg for diner relaxing listening to fado music.

When’s the best time to go on a Douro cruise?

Typically, the popular times to cruise are in spring (May & June) or during the fall (Sept & Oct) when the temperatures are pleasant. Inland during the summer months, the temperatures are hot while cities are crowded. Nevertheless, cruising starts in March and ends in November.

Porto Portugal

Porto on the Douro River

Extend your cruise on land

Certainly, seven nights on the river cruise may seem short. If you extend your stay with three pre-cruise nights in Lisbon, you will experience the Portuguese culture.  Tour the capital city with an excursion to the fairytale castle Pena Palace with your guide.

Key stops

Take a view of Douro by making stopovers at different spots for sightseeing. Get to explore the very best of Douro valley by visiting areas like the green hills, vineyards, and estates. Visit the scenic places to discover the fascinating towns and villages. The sleepy Pinhao, the golden Salamanca, Lamego, and Barcos are some of the magical Cities worth exploring.

If you have any questions about cruising the Douro River, contact us here