Deemed as a world-class drinking and dining scene, need I say more? Really though, Barcelona is magical. Vibrant street culture, incredible food, inexpensive (and good!) cava, history around every corner and home to one of the most impressive and unique churches on the planet. Grab a plate and fall in love with Barcelona!
Recommended stay: 3 days, 4 if you want a beach day
A couple of great options in the heart of everything.
H10 Urquinaona Plaza is my favorite! A great mid-range option located conveniently in Urquinaona Plaza, one block from the Placa de Catalunya and just off Via Laietana. Both are major streets/squares connecting all of the main areas of interest in Barcelona. Decor is modern with a urban twist. Awesome rooftop bar and pool area with complimentary cava upon arrival. Rooms are super tiny, but brand new with great showers.
Hotel Denit, is another great option. Location is also prime with easy access to all the main sights. Centrally located at the intersection of Las Ramblas and Placa de Catalunya.
Hotel 62 and The Majestic are other fantastic high-end choices in terrific locations. See more on Majestic below...
BARcelona. So many fab bars tucked into magical spots all over town. If I lived in Barcelona, Id live in El Born. Charming cobblestones, buzzing and full of beautiful people. Paseo del Born – stroll this street for tons of bar options...
Saboc – fun bar, lively scene
Llamber – great ambiance, I preferred the bar area. Great spot for after dinner drinks.
Bormuth Bar - great low key bar to start the night, we really enjoyed the vibe here
Orio Gastronomia Basca – stop early evening for a few snacks. There are dozens of specialties to select from and then you are charged based on the toothpicks on your plate – www.grupsagardi.com
La Champagneria Cava Bar (below) – this is a MUST!!! We had a blast. Things to know: It’s hard to find, street is under construction, no signage, but you’ll hear the noise and crowd. Awesome vibe inside. Cava by the bottle for 2 or 3 euro each and several little ham, cheese and tapas plates. Standing room only, super fun!
Majestic Hotel – rooftop bar (right). This is my favorite view in the city! This is a great stop for afternoon cocktail. It'll cost you, but it's totally worth it for panoramic views of Barcelona, including an amazing view of the La Sagrada Familia.
Sensi Bistro is hands down my favorite restaurant. I've had dinner here on two separate trips and both were unforgettable. Service is fantastic. From the moment you walk in you're treated like a friend showing up for a long anticipated dinner party. Their spin on tapas serves up larger dishes with a great selection for vegetarians and seafood connoisseurs. Must try... truffle ravioli, yellowtail ceviche and truffled flank steak.
Café Zurich – on the corner of Placa de Catalunya at the start of Las Ramblas, is a great to start your day! Grab a cafe table outside and watch the beautiful people of Barcelona rush off to start their days while you map out your day.
Day one... Sagrada Familia! It's absolutely worth the hype. I actually got teary eyed the first and second time I entered the cathedral. It's unlike any other church in Europe and will leave you in a trance as you stare at the vibrant stained glass and Gaudi's signature quirky style. Tip - purchase your tickets here before you go to avoid the 1-2 hour wait typical of peak season. After your visit to Sagrada, head toward Avinguda de Gaudi for several lunch and shopping options. In the afternoon, stroll back down Paseo de Garcia “the heart of Barcelona” upscale shopping street, tons of cafes, bars and high end shopping. As you make your way back towards Placa de Catalunya, stop at Casa Batlló – one of Gaudi's masterpieces. Before heading back to your hotel to freshen up for dinner you may be interested in stopping at Marsella, supposedly Barcelona's oldest bar where absinthe is the must have drink.
Day two... After a cafe and a croissant at Cafe Zurich, head for a stroll down Las Ramblas - the very popular pedestrian tree-lined street that connects to most of Barcelona. Plan to make a stop at La Boqueria, an 800 year old market known to be one of the best public markets in the world. We loved taking in all the smells, sights, colors and delights of this bustling market. Tapas, fresh fruit and drinks, chocolate, candy, vegetables, fish, meat, flowers, jewelry are all available. Weave your way down Las Ramblas to Barri Gothic. Make a stop at Cathedral de Barcelona – beautiful and quick to visit. You can also hit the Picasso Museum, if that's your jam. I certainly appreciate art and I was good after 45 minutes here. Next up, wander the streets of Barri Gothic and El Born stopping for pinchos and tapas (at the spots mentioned in Booze) while making your way to dinner at Sensi Bistro.
Park Guell - I've never made it out to Park Guell, but I hear it's absolutely worth a visit. From the center of Barcelona you can take a bus or taxi, plan 30 minutes each way.
For crazier nightlife the clubs down by the water go all night… I didn’t venture out there, but CDLC and Aqua were recommended. Apparently CDLC is one of the top nightlife spots in the world.
Cabs are cheap and the metro is super easy. However, a metro ticket is 3 euro each. Most cab rides are 6-8 euro… so if you have more than 3 people cabs are your best bet.
Italy is undoubtedly my favorite country in the world. And Rome is the center of it all. Charming cobblestone streets, decandent gelato shops, endless piazzas, pasta and pizza and many of the most impressive works of art in Europe. Heaven! The eternal city is the perfect juxtaposition of history and modern life. And you'll find Italians and tourist alike savoring it around every corner. You'll be mesmerized from the moment you step foot into this city that was founded in 27 BC. I know, mind blown.
Rome is a relatively small city which makes it easy to navigate. You can cover a lot of ground in one day and the entire city is (mostly) walkable.
Recommended stay: 3-4 days
My favorite hotel is Hotel Delle Nazioni located in the heart of the city and steps from Trevi Fountain. Pros: LOCATION, clean, the front desk was very helpful and a free breakfast is included. Cons: rooms are tiny and showers are even smaller. My 6 foot 2 husband could barely close the door. But alas, location trumps all and watching him try provided free entertainment! The hotel also rents bikes for 5 euro per hour. The location is smack in the middle of all major sights. For reference, Spanish Steps is about a 10 minute walk and the Colosseum 25 minutes. Rooms are affordable, around 180 euros per night (which includes breakfast).
Another great option is the Hotel Fontana also near the Trevi Fountain and the only hotel to actually overlook it. The reception area, rooms and bathroom are all very small. However, the location and adorable rooftop lounge make up for the other tiny spots.
On the high-end is the Rome Cavalieri an unforgettable luxury hotel located on a hilltop overlooking Rome. The hotel offers a complimentary shuttle to the center of the city. If you prefer to escape the rush of the city after sightseeing all day, this is the spot. The grounds are stunning with an incredible pool, spa and grand reception and bar area. The Cavalieri is pricy! Rooms range from 400-700 euros per night and can be even higher in peak months. This is a great options for couples.
With tens of thousands of restaurants to choose from, I'm going to refrain from offering specific recommendations and suggest you pick spots that speak to you as you explore. However, I'll provide some insights into our favorite piazzas and neighborhoods. From there, you're sure to find something delicious.
My preference is to eat in a bustling piazza (yes, touristy and I love it!) and there are so many to choose from! Piazza Navona is probably the most famous. Piazza della Rotonda is my favorite - the square that encircles The Pantheon. There are several restaurants to choose from and you can't go wrong with any of them. Scusate Il Ritardo has terrible Yelp reviews, but we loved our lunch here. I enjoyed the linguini and clams and my husband said their pizza was one of the best thin crusts he'd had on the trip. Piazza de Fiori is an other great option with dozen of restaurants to choose from.
Trastevere, one of my favorite neighborhoods is located on the west bank of the Tiber. It's just outside of all the main attractions and offers a more laid back vibe with endless narrow streets to explore and a bustling restaurant and nightlife scene. It's known for it's bars and is deemed the area with the best seafood in town. There are tons of dining options here. I'd recommend heading to this area of town in the late afternoon and exploring (bar hopping) until you find a dinner spot.
The Colosseum was our favorite. It's surreal to stand in a place of such carnage and history. The queue can get very long early in the day. When we arrived around 10am and the wait was already 1-2 hours. Note that portions of the queue do not have shade and the waiting can be extremely uncomfortable in the summer months. We opted for the much pricier option of a semi-private tour (12-14 people). For 35 euros each we skipped the line and were led for about 30 minutes by a local guide before being left on our own to explore. Keep in mind the 35 euros almost includes entry to The Forum next door. It's a preference thing, but I'm all about maxing our time and therefore skipping the line and getting to the good stuff was totally worth it! No need to book in advance for the tour. As you approach the Colosseum, guides will start pitching you.
Next we made our way to The Forum, what some historians refer to as "The Center of the Universe". For centuries this was the heartbeat of public life in the Roman Empire. While some may not appreciate the way the forum looks today, I assure you it is quite impressive. I highly recommend doing a little research prior to your visit to fully understand the significance of this incredible sight.
The Altare della Patria, also known as the Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II or Il Vittoriano, is a monument built in honour of Victor Emmanuel, the first king of a unified Italy. WOW! The grandness of this building left me speechless. Some have described the design of the building as a giant wedding cake. For 5 euro you can take an elevator to the top observation deck which offers great aerial view of the Forum and Colosseum. The mid-deck (where you board the elevator) offers a bar/restaurant with outside terrace, that's me just outside the restaurant (I spy the Colosseum!).
The Vatican is another obvious choice. Read all about it here. It's as incredible as people say it is. Tip for ladies: you must have your shoulders covered and a reasonable length to your shorts/skirts/dresses. They will not allow entrance into the Sistine Chapel or St. Peter's without it. So pack a sweater or pashima and/or wear pants during your visit. I broke both rules on my visit wearing shorts and a sleeveless top. Thank goodness Craig had a pullover in his backpack, see my trendy outfit below, Pope Francis approved!
Home of the European Union and NATO, Brussels is the political capitol of Europe. That's great and all, but we came for the beer, chocolate and frites and we weren't disappointed! Oh and did I mention, Brussels is home to the first "mall" in Europe... I think I'm in love!
Recommended stay: 2-3 days
We loved our stay at The Dominican! It offers everything you'd expect from a high-end boutique without the high-end price tag. The location is in the dead center of the city with the Opera House literally across the street and minutes from Delirium, The Grand Place and the metro. The reception and bar area was fabulous. Modern decor and several small sitting areas created a warm and inviting atmosphere. In fact, I wish we had more time to just hang in the lobby.
Welcome beer lovers, this is your town. In Belgium, beer is so much more than a beverage, it's a way of life. There are over 180 breweries in Belgium brewing over 800 varieties of the frothy delight. Oddly enough beer was first brewed by monks used a fundraising effort endorsed by the Catholic church. Now that's a fundraiser I can get behind!
Delirium Cafe is the most well known of Brussels bars, it's claim to fame is holding the Guinness World Record for having the most beers available for purchase - 2,004 choices. It's like the Cheesecake Factory of Brussels. And I'm not sure that's a good thing. While I do recommended you make a stop, it wasn't our favorite bar we visited. That said, stop in for a Delirium Tremmens, their signature strong and tasty pale ale. The bar is located down a small alley just a few minutes walk from Grand Place. Look for the pink elephant.
Our favorite was Moeder Lambic, which we learned about from an episode of Brew Dogs. Watch the episode here. We stopped in for a beer and stayed for 3 hours making friends with the locals next to us. We tried about 10 different styles and had a fabulous cheese plate. My husband was really digging the sour beers, I was not.
Cantillon Brewery was highly recommended. We didn't make it this trip, but will on our next visit.
Le Porte Noire and Bier Circus are other noteworthy stops.
Grand Place, especially at night, is pretty spectacular. One of the most popular squares in Europe and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It also includes architectural styles from 3 different eras - Baroque, Gothic and Louis XIV. This is Brussels center attraction and it's crowded 24/7. Grab a seat and a beer at one of the dozen cafes lining the square and settle in for hours of glorious people watching.
Manneken Pis. Hmmmm so, I'm still not sure what was happening. Basically, there's a very tiny bronze sculpture of a boy peeing into a fountain AND hundreds of people are pushing and shoving to get a glimpse. There are many tales as to the origin of the boy - my favorite - invaders set to destroy the city by fire, left a wick to ignite the flames, the boy pissed on the wick and saved the city. Anywho, this chocolate waffle was so freaking good. (Manneken Pis, Chocolate waffle below)
Cinquanternaire is a large public park with an impressive arched entryway commissioned to celebrate Belgium's independence. AutoWorld is just beyond the gates and offers a fun look into the last 120 years of the automobile. The park surrounding this area is beautiful. We wished we'd packed a picnic and some beers and hung in this park longer.
Galeries St Hubert is known to be the first "mall" in Europe and dates back to 1846. It's an airy shopping passage with several chocolate and specialty shops and a few restaurants.
The Atomium was originally built for the World's Fair and looks a giant spaceship. It's about 30 minutes outside of town. The top cube has a restaurant that serves brunch and lunch.