In July, 2018, we spent a few weeks driving around Scotland, and during that time, had a chance to visit the Isle of Skye. We camped near the fairy pools, wandered around the epic Neist point, were entranced by the fairy glen, said hello to the Old Man of Storr, and hiked through the Quirang.
Here is a video compilation of our epic road trip about this most beautiful place.
Music: Line of Sight (Reprise) [Instrumental] by ODESZA
Our time on the Isle of Skye were unforgettable. The island boasts epic walks, beautiful views, and some of the most spectacular coastline I’ve ever seen. It is easy to get around too, so you don’t need too much time to see a lot of it. That being said, I could have stayed another week, driving, discovering, and wild camping in magnificent spots.
San Pancho, the perfect little village, situated just north of Sayulita, about 45 minutes from PVR. Here, you will find a beautiful, swimmable beach, a small surf break, artisanal shops selling handmade goods, and most importantly, delicious food. We spent a week here, and I collected the names of our favourite places; the places with the best deals, the best food, and the best people. Here is what to eat in San Pancho:
I ❤️ Al Pastor
Ok, I don’t actually know if this is the name of this place, but that’s what their shirts say. Here you will find the Mexican City classic, pork meat slow roasted on a spit. There is a pineapple on the top of the spit that drips down as the meat cooks. The meat is expertly shaved with a giant machete, and piled onto a fresh corn tortilla. Make sure to order “con piña” for a couple slices of pineapple on top. You decorate your own tacos with a variety of sauces ranging from creamy avocado sauce to ‘sweat through your cheeks’ habanero sauce. This street spot is always busy, so be patient and be sure to snag a seat at the picnic table if one becomes available.
Want a good deal? Look no further. Con Amor has a nice, little menu with delicious tacos, beautiful quesadillas, and great prices! They are next door to a grocery store where you can buy beer and drink it at your table. And who doesn’t like dinner and a show? The local minstrel always comes by Con Amor to serenade the patio with his renditions of Queen, David Bowie, and Pink Floyd.
This family owned restaurant is closer to the beach, and has a lovely little outdoor seating area. The food is a little more expensive than the al pastor place, but this is where we satisfied our craving for aguachiles. Big, fresh prawns are drowned in a bowl full of lime and chile. The citrus cooks the prawns, and the chile adds just enough bite. At Limbo, the aquachiles is served with tostadas, and salsas on the side. I’m salivating just thinking about it.
The Best Sandwich Ever.
Actually though. This restaurant didn’t appear to have a sign out front, so I’m actually not sure what it’s called. BUT, it is kiddy-corner to the ATM, Cajero Banorte. They are only open during the day, but they don’t serve breakfast. The Mexicana torta will change your life. A sandwich on fresh bread, with cooked sausage, ham, bacon, beef, and onions, drizzled with homemade sauces, diced tomatoes, and jalapeño. We ordered one each, then looked around and noticed that every local sitting at this place was eating a Mexican torta. Seriously, best. Sandwich. Ever.
People will tell you for the best tacos in town, go to Los Arbolitos. They aren’t entirely wrong (I mean the al pastor tacos around the corner are the best tacos in town), if you are looking for chicken, beef, or mushrooms. The frijoles at Los Arbolitos are next level, and the best part is that they are sitting out on the table with all the sauces, so you can take as many as you want! I had half a mind to bring a Tupperware and just fill it up to take home… I refrained. The beer is a good price at Los Arbolitos too, so you won’t break the bank.
Looking for a fancy AF cocktail? Look no further than TuTu. This is a nightclub, I think the only one in San Pancho, but we never saw it busy because our bedtime was too early for such activities. We sat outside at one of the two tables, and ordered fancy mezcal and passionfruit cocktails. The glass was rimmed with tamarind and the paper straw was wrapped in a tamarind candy – Mexico, where even the candy is spicy. Here, you won’t find much food, but if you’re feeling a bit boujee, and want a very photogenic drink, this is the place for you.
Cerveceria Artesenal San Pancho
What would a cool, small, hippy surf town be without an artisanal craft brewery?! Cerveceria Artesenal drew our attention one evening when a band was set up outside, and sitting at the tables were the coolest people I’ve ever seen. The beer selection is great! IPAs, blondes, and ambers. Good ol’ craft breweries. You can order snacks food bites too, if a liquid dinner isn’t your thing.
You’re going to Berlin? That’s fantastic! Berlin is definitely one of the coolest capital cities in Europe. It’s also kind of like another world. Anything goes in Berlin and you can be anyone you want. There is so much to do in Berlin, I had trouble keeping the list down to just ten. Use this as your Berlin travel guide, here are ten things to do!
1) Free walking tour. Duh!
I am not sick of writing it, I am not sick of doing it, free walking tours are the best things to do in Berlin and in any city! SANDEMAN’s New Europe free walking tours are some of the best free walking tours I have ever done (and I proudly say this with no compensation from the company). The tour guides are so well informed about the history of the city, and so clearly love this place, it is hard not to fall in love yourself. They work on tips, so you decide how much the tour was worth at the end.
Cost: €5-€10, but you tip whatever you feel!
2) Have a photoshoot by the East Side Gallery
When the Berlin wall came down in 1989, a lot of the wall was removed, but there are still a few places where the wall still stands. The East Side Gallery is a part of the wall that has become a huge gallery for street art. Each piece tells a story. Some are funny and use bright colours, others are more solemn and serious. Every piece is beautiful, and is really one of the most Instagrammable places in Berlin.
3) The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
As far as memorials go, this has to be one of the most incredible. Spanning an entire city block, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in an immersive monument which encourages people to walk through it. The stones are different heights, the ground is uneven, and as you walk into the middle, the sounds of the city disappear. All of a sudden, you’re alone and it’s silent. It’s beautiful and solemn. It is a place of contemplation and warning. As an added bonus, check out the museum underneath and do the audio guided tour. It’s beautifully done.
Cost: Free! (The audioguide in the museum does cost a few euros)
4) Go to Teufelsberg for a picnic
You may not find this in any other Berlin travel guide….. In the middle of Grünewald Forest, is a man-made hill called Teufelsberg, created from rubble and debris moved from Berlin after World War II. The Americans used the Radomes -weatherproof enclosures that protects a radar antenna – atop the hill as listening stations during the Cold War. When the Berlin wall fell, the equipment was removed, but the Radomes and buildings remained. It’s now what I believe is a squatter’s paradise, and is open to the public! Read the full story about my day at Teufelsberg here!
Cost: €8 to enter and to wander about.
5) Mauerpark on a Sunday afternoon
If it’s a sunny day and a Sunday, Mauerpark is the perfect place to go. The flea market sells everything from jewellery to vintage clothes, antique furniture to beautiful art. Around every corner is someone playing music. We saw a group playing funky brass music, we found an African drum circle, a moody solo autoharp player, and even a DJ with a set up out of his van. Starting around 3pm, in the Bearpit, a huge amphitheatre, a man named Joe hosts Bearpit Karaoke! Here, people have the chance to volunteer to sing their fave song in front of the crowd. Read a story about when I did Bearpit Karaoke here!
Cost: €2-€5. Joe works by donation!
6) Check out a techno club!
Berlin is known for its clubbing and techno scene where the party doesn’t stop until Monday morning…and even then. If you’re looking for something to do on a Friday or Saturday night, head out on the town and prepare yourself for a wild night. Berlin is also home to one of the most exclusive clubs in the world, Berghain. Exclusive because not everyone gets in, and nobody knows why! Read a story about how Michael and I got into Berghain here!
Cost: It depends on the club and their cost of cover… Hopefully it’s under €10
7) Eat a Döner kebab.
You’ve heard “go to Berlin, eat a currywurst!” and yes, sure, eat a currywurst in Berlin. It’s really just a hot dog in ketchup with curry powder sprinkled on top. They’re ok, but not my fave. The REAL treat and best thing to do in Berlin is the döner kebab. Freshly sliced meat from the rotisserie stuffed into freshly warmed bread, layered with sauce and vegetables, and all for the very reasonable cost of €3-€4 (don’t pay more than that)!
8) Drink a Wegbier
On the top of the list of things to do in Berlin, is drink your beer anywhere: the parks, the sidewalk, even the train (although technically not on the S-Bahn). The word ‘wegbier’ literally translates to ‘away beer’. Basically, it’s a beer you take to go. You can drink anywhere and beer is cheaper than water! Head to the closest Späti (the store in which you buy a wegbier), find a Berliner or take a Gösser Radler, and grab a bottle from the back — it will be the coldest. Then, do as the Berliners do, and drink anywhere!
Cost: €1.80 for a Berliner
9) Take a photo in a Photoautomat!
Scattered around the city are photo booths, known as Photoautomats. Here, for only €2, you and your friends can pose for four photos that are printed into a beautiful photo strip. Some of the cameras shoot in colour, some are B&W, some will be busier than others with lines leading up to them, some will smell like pee, and might even have someone sleeping inside! No matter what, you will get a series of four beautiful photos that will make you laugh every time.
Cost: €2 per four photos
10) No Berlin Travel Guide would be complete without a Biergarten!
My fave is the Prater Biergarten. It’s in the middle of the city, and the whole place is just community-style seating. You can buy beers and classic German snacks like hotdogs and pretzels. How can you go wrong with a beer and a wurst on a sunny summer day?!
Cost: €2 for a beer, €2 for a dog!
Looking for more things to do in Germany? Why not go to Oktoberfest?!
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(that aren’t the red light district or the Heineken brewery)
I lived in Amsterdam for six months while I was on an exchange through university! I spent my days cycling around the city, searching for the coolest, trendiest, and most Dutch places I could find. This is a list of ten of my favourite activities and places to go in one of the most beautiful cities in the world!
1) Get around like a local
Amsterdam is probably the most bicycle friendly city I have ever been to (Copenhagen is a close second…), and I firmly believe you can’t go to Amsterdam without renting a bicycle. Not only is the city built completely for them — it is faster to bicycle anywhere than walk, take a tram, or drive — but the bicycle is the king of the road, and has the right of way. The best place to rent your bicycle from is Starbikes located behind Amsterdam Centraal. It is not cheaper than any other bicycle rental place, BUT it does not have a huge “I am a tourist” bicycle rental sign plastered on the front. The bicycle you rent here will allow you to blend in and you will get less eye rolls from the locals on the bike path.
2) Learn the difference between a cafe and a coffee shop.
A cafe is where one can purchase coffee, tea, sandwiches, cakes, etc. A coffee shop is where one can purchase different varieties of smokeable herbs… Coffee and Coconuts in De Pijp is a cool old theatre that’s been turned into a crazy, 5 story loft Cafe with organic food and delicious tea and coffee. Coffeeshop 137 is a really cool cannabis store in the Jordaan area. You can tell them how you want your weed to make you feel and they will recommend the perfect blend for you. This coffee shop is a little less cliché. You won’t find any Bob Marley references here, and you may not even see another traveller here — just locals!
3) Wander around the Negen Straats (the Nine Streets)
In the heart of Jordaan, you will find nine intersecting streets that are home to super hip vintage shops, artisanal restaurants, and designer clothing stores. A lot of the clothing stores are expensive, but the streets are beautiful to wander along. My favourite store is The Darling on Runstraat. They sell cute, vintage clothes, and cupcakes!
4) Head to the Cheese Museum!
This is a museum/cheese shop, on Prinsengracht near the Anne Frank museum. It is free to get in, but really touristy. It’s a bit crowded, there are people wearing fanny packs all over the place, and it’s a bit chaotic, BUT, they have all of their cheese out for samples. I have been there many many times and have filled myself up for free with delicious Dutch cheese. They do have some cheese paraphernalia downstairs too, so you can actually learn something while you’re there! (Or just eat cheese).
5) Have brunch at Staring at Jacob
Open Thursday to Monday, Staring at Jacob is a super hip, restaurant east and a bit outside of the city centre. To get there is a delightful bicycle ride that takes you along canals and more classic Amsterdam canal houses. My favourite menu item is their chicken and waffles — real maple syrup (which is important to a Canadian), home made hot sauce, and flaky fried chicken. OH my damn, it’s good. They also have a hefty list of alcoholic brunch beverages, so take your pick and enjoy your ‘hair of the dog’ in the sun!
5) Have a beer at Hannekes Boom
Located just near Amsterdam Centraal, close to Nemo (the huge science centre), is Hannekes Boom. This bar has a backyard that overlooks the canals, with about 100 picnic tables each painted by a local artist, and a killer tree swing over the water. If in Amsterdam on a Sunday, try to go and snag a table! They have different bands play every Sunday around 4pm and you won’t disappointed. Live music, cheap beer, bearded men, and the feeling of a music festival. It’s the perfect Sunday afternoon!
6) Watch the sunset from a canal bench
Albert Heijn, the main grocery store in Amsterdam, sells pretty cheap wine. I’m talking €3 a bottle. Buy a bottle of wine, some plastic cups, and hang out somewhere! You can drink anywhere on the streets, unless it’s marked otherwise. One of my favourite places was sitting on the bench where Prinsengracht and Brouwersgracht meet. It’s a lovely place to watch the sunset over the canal, and watch boats go by.
7) Indulge in a slice of pie from Winkel 43
In Jordaan, across the street from the big, old church, Noorderkerk, is Winkel 43. Here, you will be able to order the best and biggest slice of homemade apple pie in the city. If you go in the afternoon for a coffee and a slice, prepare yourself for a long wait for a table. If you’re like me and don’t like waiting, go to Winkel 43 in the evening, after 7pm. You will be able to find a table, and they will happily still serve apple pie. The crust alone is worth the wait for a table at this cafe.
8) Rent a paddle boat and cruise the canals!
Paddle boats (or bicycle boats) are really cheap to rent and SO funny. Cruising the canals of Amsterdam in any watercraft is a must, and a paddle boat is a cheap and funny way to check it off your bucket list. Just beware of the huge canal tour boats, they don’t like when you get in their way, and will honk their horn to tell you! If a pedal boat isn’t your style, you can rent a motor boat from boats4rent (their website here). It is a cheap option as well!
9) Have a slice of cake at Zoet en Hartig
Directly translated from Sweet and Savoury, Zoet en Hartig is the place to go for any kind of food craving. They have a delicious spicy chicken wrap for lunch, and totally beautiful desserts. My favourite treat were the hot chocolate spoons, you melt it into hot water and it becomes delicious hot chocolate. You can also try their alcoholic spoons with whatever your favourite liquor that releases into the milk as your chocolate melts!
10) Try a classic snack at Cafe Thijssen
You can’t go to the Netherlands without trying some of their classic snacks. Cafe Thijssen serves the most delicious bitterballen — a ball of doughy deep fried perfection served hot with grainy mustard. You can also try their modern twists of the classic favourite! Two glasses of Amstel and a plate of bitterballen to share will set you back about €6, what’s not to like!
The van is named Vinnie, it is a 1997 Ford Transit. Vinnie may not be much to look at on the outside, but this van does exactly what we need it to do.
We have a solar panel on the roof to power all our gadgets. We have a gas stove with two burners, built right into the countertop. We have running water with a pump powered by the solar. We have a bed that is cozy, with a big duvet and too many pillows to know what to do with. Our bed slides up and converts into a sectional-style couch that wraps around a table that folds out from the wall. We have enough storage space in the back for two folding bikes, a table, two chairs, and all of our tools. And of course, we have fairy lights. That being said, the van is a never-ending project. I learned to sew in order to sew our blue drapes (pictured further below), we just finished building a beautiful new box over the wheel well out of a few pallets we found in an alley, and we rigged our new surf board to hang from the ceiling!
Van life is amazing. We drove through France and did the France Passion program (read about France Passion here!), we drove through the north of Spain (read ten things to do in the north of Spain here!). We have stayed in campgrounds, on farms, in the parking lots of trailheads. My favourite though, is finding a parking lot by the beach, out of the cities. We wake up with the beach to ourselves. We can open the back doors, and enjoy our coffee looking out over a perfect ocean.
When we just can’t find a sneaky camping spot by the beach, we use two applications on our iPhones; Camper Contact and Caramaps. These apps show us campervan parking spots where we can stay the night, and service stops for when we need to fill up with clean water, drain our waste water, or even where we can do laundry if we need it.
Here’s some info about driving in Germany:
If you are going to drive in Germany for longer than 6 months, or anytime after 6 months of being there, you need a German driver’s licence OR an EU driver’s licence. If you are from Canada, your International Driver’s Permit, will NOT cut it. You have to have a German one. To get this, you go to the Bürgeramt (same place you register your address), and apply. They take a photocopy of your Canadian licence and your passport. You can’t pay cash, you must pay from a German bank account! Maybe bring a German friend who can speak for you and use their card to pay. Otherwise, expect to speak German at the desk.
We bought our van in Germany, and brought it to Berlin to be registered. We are registered in Berlin, and would have to register the car there too (for information about visas and registrations in Berlin, check this article here). In Berlin, it takes 3 weeks to register a vehicle and be able to drive it, so we left. We drove to Bavaria. We registered a new address there, and were able to register our van there too. We needed a German bank account to do so, for the taxes of driving a car come off your account automatically every month.
As Canadians we required International Driver’s Permits to drive in Spain. No other country required it as far as we know.
Living in a van with your partner is an our of this world rewarding challenge and the trials and tribulations that we have faced and overcome have only made our love for each other and our love for van life stronger. Stay tuned for more stories and updates as we continue to drive the van to Morocco!
And as always, if you have questions or concerns, comment below or send me a message!
So, you’re in the capital of Portugal. You did a day trip to Sintra, you’ve spent a beachy day at Caiscais, now you’re looking for some things to do in Lisbon itself. Here are my top five things to do in the city:
1) Free Walking tour
I am not sick of writing it, I am not sick of doing it, free walking tours are the best activity one can do in any city. SANDEMAN’s New Europe free walking tours are some of the best free walking tours I have ever done (and I proudly say this with no compensation from the company). The tour guides are so well informed about the history of the city, and so clearly love this place, it is hard not to fall in love yourself. They work on tips, so you decide how much the tour was worth at the end. I generally stick to €5-€10, because I am on a crazy budget, but you tip whatever you feel!
Cost: €5 (-€10 if you’re not a cheapskate)
2) Get the view of the city from St George’s castle
You can take an elevator for €7 up most of the way to this observation deck, OR if you find the monastery, there is a little pathway beside it on the right. Follow the path and you will find the top of the elevator. You just saved €7, my friend! You still pay €3 to walk up the stairs all the way to the top of the lookout point and the view is spectacular. I would say it may even be worth €7 for the elevator as well as the €3, but then you will drink those two beers you bought with that €7 and you’ll thank me.
Cost: €3 if you take the shortcut!
3) Get Lost in Alfama
The streets of Alfama were built to make enemy soldiers get lost. It was some of Lisbon’s greatest defense! I can see how one could get lost… Turn a corner, and you’re at a dead end. All of a sudden, the only way to get home is by climbing a super skinny, dark, steep staircase. Streets are only as long as 100m until they turn or end. Go, wander, bring some water just in case. You can continue making your way uphill and find the Miradouro das Portas do Sol Observation Deck for a view of Porto you won’t quickly forget!
Cost: Free. €1 if you buy a shot of Ginginja…
4) Eat dinner at Time Out Market
The Time Out Market, located a quick walk from old town, is a restaurant market full of many different vendors selling many different food and drinks! It’s the perfect night out, because everyone can get something different! I had delicious croquettes from Croqueteria Está Aquiz, tried some Oysters from Monte Mar, and split a bowl of Poke from the Hawaiian fusion place. Come here to drink beer, eat a delicious meal, and people watch.
Cost: Whatever you want it to be!
5) Eat a pastel de nata at Manteigaria
A Pastel de Nata is an incredibly delicious, creamy, custardy Portuguese pastry. In Lisbon you can get one from any bakery, but the best Pastel de Nata is from Manteigaria. When you are walking through the streets of Lisbon and you hear a bell toll, no, it is not a church bell (well it might be, there are a lot of churches in Lisbon) it is the bell of bakery Manteigaria signifying you that a fresh batch of Pastel de Nata has just come out of the oven! RUN there. Do not walk. The most amazing custardy tart awaits you!
Cost: €4.50 for two tarts, a coffee, and a tea
Looking for some more inspiration? Read about my day in Lisbon here!
Heading to Porto? Check five things to do in Porto here!
Porto is a totally beautiful city in the north of Portugal. Built alongside the huge Douro river, with views of the ocean, Porto is a perfectly picturesque place in Portugal you won’t want to miss (pardon the alliteration, but I couldn’t resist).
Here are SIX things you can do in Porto:
1) Learn too much on a free walking tour
As always, I am a huge advocate for free walking tours (Madrid, Valencia, Florence…). The best way to see a city is to walk around it, and on a free walking tour, you get stories and fun historical facts to accompany the views. Your tour guide works on tips, so you decide how much they deserve at the end of the tour. I tend to tip €5-10 (because I am traveling for an extensive period of time and have a SUPER tight budget), but it’s up to the attendees what they pay. I like that.
We did our tour with Porto Walkers, check their website here!
2) Indulge in a Francesinha sandwich
How could you go to Portugal and not eat the Portuguese food? About 50 years ago the Francesinha sandwich was invented at a cafe in Porto, and now, has become a staple dish in the city. Vegetarians and vegans look away! This is a sandwich of bread, meat, sausage, bread, meat, and sausage, wrapped in melted cheese, topped with a fried egg, served floating in beer sauce, with fries on the side. Oh. My. Gosh. It is amazing! Trust me you are probably going to want to share this sandwich. I ordered sauce on the side so I could decide how submerged I wanted my sandwich.
Cafe Santiago on R. de Passos Manuel serves an authentic Francesinha for €9.
3) See Porto from a different angle
Porto is a beautiful and super colourful city. They say the buildings along the river were painted bright colours as an attempt to cheer up the women whose lovers and husbands left on the fishing boats for weeks and months at a time. My favourite view of Porto is actually from Gaia, the city across the river. It is said that the best thing about Gaia is the view of Porto from the Serra do Pilar. You can either walk across the top level of the Luis I Bridge, which is dazzling, OR walk along the bottom level and make the trek up the hill on the other side. For a view of Porto you won’t forget, head here.
4) Go to the beach!
Porto is right on the Douro river, and very close to the Atlantic coast. Matosinhos is a beautiful little beachy neighbourhood that is only a 15-20 minute metro ride away from Porto. Here, you can try your hand at surfing some perfect beginner waves, have a beer on the patio of Lais de Guia, or just buy a bottle of wine and some olives at the nearby Pingo Doce, and bring it to the sand to watch the sunset!
5) Find out how Port Wine is made (and then drink a bunch)!
Porto, and more specifically, the Douro valley, is the home of Port Wine. In fact, in order for wine to be classified as Port Wine, it must come from the Portuguese side of the Douro valley! The grapes are grown and processed at the vineyards, about 100km away from the city of Port (see next thing to do), and the wine is brought to the wine lodges in the city to age. Porto Walkers does a great Port Wine tour for €20 a person. You’ll see three wine lodges and taste seven wines. This is absolutely the best bang for your buck!
6) Go to the Douro Valley (where Port Wine grapes are grown)!
Now that you know where the Port Wine is aged and stored, it’s time to check out the vineyards where the grapes are grown! When looking at going to the Douro Valley from Porto, there are so many options online for tours you can book — a big bus takes you to the valley, you do a tour and a tasting, maybe hop on a boat and cruise down the Douro river — and the cheapest one goes for about €100 per person. The other option, is to hire a personal driver to take you and yours out to the valley for a private day. This is what we did. We booked through Maia Tours (their website here) and Ricardo gave us a personalized tour. We didn’t want to do another Port cave tour (we had done so many with Porto Walkers), and were more interested in lunch and multiple tastings, so he made that happen. He called a few wineries and made all the reservations for us. We were able to sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride! For the day with Ricardo, it was only €250 (€62.5 each for four people)!
Eat Port Wine ice cream at Porto Cruz!
In Gaia, amidst all the Port Lodges and wine tours, is Porto Cruz’ ice cream shop. Here, you can sample an incredible and delicious 10 year tawny Port mixed into a perfect sorbet. I promise you will not be disappointed!!
My first time in Spain, I travelled the south and the Mediterranean coast — Seville, Valencia, Barcelona, Madrid. It was all so beautiful! I fell in love with the food, the weather, the beaches, the architecture, and the history. Spain is gorgeous! That being said, there is a lot more to Spain than the south. In fact, the north of Spain has some of the most breathtaking landscapes I have seen. The north is stunning, and I would argue wildly underrated (and under-visited).
In 2017 I spent two months driving along the north cost of Spain in a van named Vinnie. We drove into Spain along the west coast of France, and drove next to the ocean (almost) the entire way through to Portugal! Along the way, I discovered that the north of Spain is amazing; breathtaking landscapes, beautiful architecture, and rich cultures.
Here are ten things to do in the north of Spain:
1. Hike through the Picos de Europa
The Picos de Europa is a super stunning mountain range in the north of Spain. The mountains here are perfect for hiking, bicycling, climbing, and more! The roads are beautiful to drive, the scenery is out of this world, and what better way to see a country than from the top of a mountain? We did a few different hikes while we were in the Picos de Europa. We did an easy day along the Ruta del Cares, a quick hike up to Bulnes, and a bigger hike up to the summit of Torre de los Horcados Rojos near Fuente Dé. We also did a via ferrata, which was a totally killer experience.
For more information about hiking in the Picos, check this out! And read about my via ferrata experience here!
2. Wander the streets of old Bilbao
Bilbao is the capital of the Basque country. It is the home of beautiful architecture, great shopping, and delicious food. Home also, to the infamous Guggenheim museum. What? But I thought that was in New York? Yes! So did I! Turns out there is a Guggenheim in Bilbao too, and I might argue the architecture of the Spanish Guggenheim outshines that of New York (sorry to offend the beehive fans). There is much to do in Bilbao, wander around the shopping district of Indautxu, drink a tinto de verano while sitting along the too-cool street, Erronda Kalea, or just sit on any bench by the river and watch the people go by.
3. Eat Pintxos and drink wine in Logroño
Logroño is the capital of the La Rioja wine region in the north of Spain. La Rioja is home to wineries that export their wine so far and wide, that I can buy a bottle in the local wine shop in my hometown of Calgary, AB, Canada. There are some big wineries here. Which means, there are lots of people, and lots of good food. Take an evening to stroll down the street of Calle San Juan and try a pintxo (pronounced peen-cho) from each place. Pintxos are tapas in the Basque language. Start at Bar Angel with a tower of garlic mushrooms and a glass of red, and at each place order a pintxo and a wine, pintxo and a wine. Then you’re doing it like a local!
4. Bicycle the wineries of Rioja
As I mentioned, La Rioja is home to some big, beautiful wineries. There are plenty of small wineries too! Sure, you can go winery hopping by car, but what fun could that be for your sad friend who has to drive? Bicycle is the only way to get around wineries. Now, a disclaimer: some of the wineries are on top of hills, some wineries are far away from each other, we planned our route accordingly — knowing that we would have a few glasses of wine at each place, and add weight to our backpacks with the bottles purchased. We rented bicycles from Navarent (their website here), and went to as many wineries as we could in half a day. Seven tasters and five bottles of wine later, we called it a successful day!
(More tips and tricks about Rioja and wineries here).
5. Take a nature walk by the Rio Urederra
As much as I love eating decadent food and drinking delicious wine, I feel like I can’t really get to know a place if this is my only activity. Just an hour outside of Logroño snakes one of the most beautiful places I think I have ever been, the Rio Urederra, or “The River of Beautiful Water.” This place is a magical getaway from the crowds, the bustling of the towns and villages, and the perfect place to spend a day. The walk is easy and takes about 3 hours, maybe more because if you’re like me, you will want to stop at every lookout point to take pictures.
(For more information about the Rio Urederra, read this!)
6. Challenge yourself with a surf
The north of Spain has some of the best surf in the world! Mundaka is home to a big, sandy, consistent wave, Bakio has multiple surf schools, and Loredo has a totally HUGE beach. Surfing may not be your strong point; it isn’t mine (though I did try river surfing in Canada and didn’t make a total fool of myself), but when mother nature presents you with some of the best beginner surf in the world, you kind of have to give it a go! Plus, I wanted a good picture of me wearing a wetsuit and holding a surfboard. In almost every village and town along the north and west coasts, you can find surf schools. Some, you can stay at for a week and take lessons, and some offer one day at a time. You will, most likely, stand up on your first day. Make sure someone has a camera ready, because you’ll be back down really quick.
7. Eat the octopus in Galicia
If there is one thing I know about Galicians, it’s that they know how to prepare octopus. Salt, pepper, paprika, and oil, grilled to perfection, and served with fresh bread. It is a definite must try! We shared a big plate in Razo, on the west coast, and the octopus was delicious. It is a really rich flavour, so I suggest ordering just one plate to share.
8. See a zebra at the Parque de la Naturaleza de Cabárceno
This wildlife park and natural reserve is built in a reclaimed mine, and unlike an ordinary zoo, gives the animals SO much room to roam. It is really beautiful. For the entrance fee of €23 (which kind of broke our daily budget), you can enter the park, drive the entire way around to see the animals, and, if you choose, take the gondolas to have a bird’s eye view of the entire park! We saw so many animals. The day we went was a bit cloudy, definitely sweater weather, and it wasn’t nearly as busy as I imagine a beautiful summer day would be. We had the gondola to ourselves!
9. Wander through a prehistoric cave
The cave of El Castillo is a cave boasting prehistoric art. Man, these caves are cool. I love wandering through and imagining the human that painted the art we are looking at. El Castillo is a great cave to see. You can go through the actual cave! The tours are only in Spanish, but our guide was able to explain a bit in English. It only costs €3 to enter!
The other cave we went to is the Cave of Altamira. This also costs €3 to enter, but is just a replica of the real thing. It is still very cool to see the art and learn about the mysterious people who painted it. On Friday mornings at 10:30am, there is a lottery and the five winners get to go into the real cave! We tried our luck and didn’t win, but maybe you’ll be luckier!
10. Drink cider in Gijón
Spain isn’t all sangrias and tinto de verano. In the northern beach city of Gijón, cider is the drink of choice. All throughout downtown are siderias, special bars that serve only cider (and food of course). It is brewed naturally and so has no carbonation. Because of this, the cider is always poured in the glass from arms length to create bubbles, and is consumed immediately while the cider is still frothy. We had no idea this was the thing. We just thought the bartender at the first sideria we went was an absolute maniac. Until we went to the next sideria, and the server poured our cider the same way.
The Picos de Europa are a totally spectacular mountain range in the north of Spain. Famous for the hiking trails with ocean views, they are a must see for anyone traveling to the north of the country. The hiking trails vary in difficulty, and they are all beautiful. Here are three hikes you can do in the Picos de Europa, plus how to get there, and their difficulty.
Ruta del Cares
This one was the easiest walk we did in the Picos. It typically begins in Poncebos and the end point is Cain, although if you want to do it the other way, I don’t see why not. The path snakes along the gorge of the river Cares, and the hike has been dubbed “the garganta divina” or “the divine gorge.” It truly is divine. The first two kilometres of the walk are uphill, but the rest is relatively flat. But, just because there isn’t much elevation gain, doesn’t mean it isn’t a hike. It’s a 22km round trip from Poncebos to Cain. A lot of folks end up doing the hike one way and then taking the shuttle bus back. We thought about it, but it’s a two hour bus ride and I do not know how much it costs. We drove right up to the trailhead in Poncebos and left our van there. We did the hike in October, and we weren’t alone. I imagine if you are here in July or August, it would be WAY busier.
Hike up to Bulnes
Bulnes is a small village perched high on a mountain top. In 2001, a funicular was built up to the village, to the delight of the locals. You can take the funicular up and go for a nice day hike around the top, which was our original plan, until we arrived at the funicular and discovered it is a €23 round trip (a bit out of our budget)! Next to the funicular is the original path that locals took to and from the village before 2001. We decided to hike it. We decided this path should be called The Cheapskate Path, for it is used only by cheapskates who can’t, or don’t want to, afford the funicular. The hike is about an hour. You will pass many other cheapskates on the way. Bulnes is a very quaint little village. Most of the bars and restaurants offer a menu del dia, which is typically an appetizer, a main course, a dessert, a coffee or tea, and water or wine. They normally cost about €8-12, depending where you are. From Bulnes there are more day hikes you can do, up to different summits or refugio huts. We had our lunch and hiked back down.
Torre de los Horcados Rojos
Out of Fuente Dé is an impressive gondola that takes you up 753m in 3 minutes. A round trip costs €17. The gondola spits you out at the top and from there, you will find many different hiking trails. We chose the summit of the Torre de los Horcados Rojos, mostly because it is a four hour round trip hike with a decent elevation gain, but also because it is very fun to say. This is definitely a bit more difficult than the other hikes we did. The two hours up to the end of the marked trail is entirely uphill, and of course, the last 20 minutes is a scramble to the summit. The summit is magnificent, boasting views of the ocean picture framed in between peaks. One of the most beautiful hikes I have done in Europe (and I’ve done a few! You can read about Switzerland, Austria, and Germany).
Hiked out? If you want to try something different, read about how to do a via ferrata in the Picos here!
The Picos de Europa are a totally spectacular mountain range in the north of Spain. Famous for the seemingly never-ending hiking trails, this natural park is a must-see when in the north of the country. If you are hiked out though, there are other activities to try! When we were tired of hiking, we did a via ferrata! A via ferrata is a mountain climb equipped with fixed ladders, cables, and bridges. It is kind of like rock climbing, but with steps and handles. It was my first time trying it, and we wanted to do an easy one. We called up Javier at Guiatrek, rented the equipment for a very reasonable €20, and were off!
Camaleño is a beginner/intermediate via ferrata, perfect for first timers. We parked the van at the trailhead, put on our harnesses, helmets, and gloves and began up the hill. When we reached the wall, I got nervous. I looked up the wall and saw the metal hooks and handles sticking out, until I couldn’t see them anymore because they were too high up. Phew. I began shaking in my boots a little bit.
There is really just one rule in a via ferrata. You have two carabiners on your harness. The one rule is to only clip and unclip one at a time. The cable that runs up along the side of the ladders and handles has breaks in it every few metres. Once you reach a joint, unclip one carabiner, clip it to the next bit of cable. Once it is clipped, only then can you unclip the next one and clip it again. The point is to always be attached to the cable, or as they call it in Spain, the lifeline.
Up and up and up we went. We climbed past two mountain goats, who were very confused as to why humans were up on a wall like this. We finished the first leg of the climb, and then the second. After the second, the trail diverges here, to an easy bit, and a more difficult bit. We decided to take the more difficult bit because it took us to a Tibetan bridge; a bridge that is made up of one cable for your feet, a cable on either side for each hand, and a cable above for your caribiners.
I hooked on to the cable above my head, grabbed the ropes on either side, and began my walk. “Don’t look down,” I told myself. My heart was pounding in my throat, my stomach was fluttering like a butterfly. I laughed and shrieked the entire way across. “I’m going to cry!” I laugh/yelled. I made it!
This was the perfect first try at a via ferrata. I am so proud of myself that I was able to finish such a crazy climb. I would absolutely recommend it to anyone! As always, commetn below with questions and comments about this or any other via ferrata experiences you have had!
And if a via ferrata doesn’t sound like your thing, stay tuned for more tips for travel in the Picos!