Sicily is the largest island in Italy and the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, surrounded by the Ionian, Mediterranean, and Tyrrhenian seas. Sicily is more rugged and raw than the mainland, which is one thing really I loved about it!
Sicily is quite big so you can’t really see it all in one trip (unless you stay 3+ weeks minimum). During my Sicily road trip, I decided to stick to the south east of the island (with a few day trips elsewhere) and I saw so many incredible places.
Food in Sicily
One of my Favorite parts about Sicily is the food. I stopped in Sicily on a Mediterranean cruise back in 2007 and had the best pizza of my life (that still stands til this day). I personally think they have better pizza than Naples, but hey, that’s just my opinion!
Foods you must try in Sicily: pizza (obviously), cannoli (Sicily is where cannoli originated), granita (flavored slushy ice drinks), Arancini (fried rice balls), and anything with ricotta cheese and/or pistachios. I think I gained 5 lbs from that trip alone…and I’m not even sorry about it.
Gluten free food in Sicily
Sicily was gluten free heaven and probably the most gluten free friendly place in Italy that I have ever been. Almost every restaurant had gluten free options and most pizzerias had gluten free dough. I wasn’t used to all the choices!
Here are a few places I visited on my trip to Sicily:
Licchios bar (Taormina)-gluten free cannoli and fried rice balls. They also had soy milk for coffee.
Mastrociliegia-gluten free canolis in Ragusa.
Gran Caffe del Duomo (Ortigia island in Syracusa) had an entire gluten free menu and gluten free cannoli. The pasta with mussels was really good.
Duomo pizzeria ristorante (Cefalú)-gluten free pizza right in the main square.
Driving in Sicily
Italians drive fast, that’s a given. The more south you go, the wilder it gets. That being said, I didn’t think the driving in Sicily was half as bad as so many people say it is. If you stay in the right lane (slow lane) on the highway no one will bother you, they will just go around you.
However on the country roads where there is one lane, just about everyone will be passing you. They pass pretty close to your car so just know what to expect and maybe scooch over a little bit to make room and you will be fine. Oh, and Sicilians don’t stop at stop signs so keep that in mind and use caution.
I would also recommend a mini car as some of the cities have tiny streets and it would be tough getting through with a regular size car. It’s also much easier to park a mini car also!
I rented a car for $200 for 10 days with Rentalcars.com (through Sicily by car). The company has terrible reviews online but it was my second time using them and it was fine. The big complaint people make is that if you decline their insurance they will take a deposit of 800€ so just know what to expect.
The total I spent on gas for 10 days was 122€ ($145).
*Make sure you do a walk around to see if there are any additional scratches or dents on the car that haven’t been marked (every time I’ve rented a car in Italy, I ALWAYS find additional scratches and that’s how they get you). If you don’t do this, they may charge you for the scratches later so please don’t forget! (Especially if you are declining their insurance…which I did because I have awesome car insurance through my Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card).
*Please note: my credit card insurance does NOT include 3rd party liability insurance (damage to the OTHER car or bodily harm to the other driver). Most credit card companies do not offer this so you either have to purchase this separately (usually at $15/day) or reserve a car that already has that included. My rental car already had 3rd party liability insurance included so I didn’t need to purchase anything extra. (I always choose the package on Priceline.com that includes the 3rd party liability insurance in the price if there’s an option).
Sicily Road Trip: 9-Day Itinerary
Day 1: Arrive Catania in the evening
Day 2: Taormina
Day 3: Caltagirone/Enna
Day 5: Scalia di Turchi/Valley of the Temples
Day 6: Ragusa/Modica
Day 7: Marzamemi/Noto
Day 8: Syracuse/Ortigia
Day 9: Necropolis of Pantalica/Fontane Bianche Beach
*I arrived to Catania in the evening on my first day and then went to Taormina all the next day so I really didn’t get to experience much of Catania. But from what I did see, I don’t think I was missing much as there were SO many other beautiful place to see in Sicily.
Taormina is one of the prettiest cities in Sicily and one place you don’t want to miss! There is a lot to see and so much history in Taormina.
I didn’t rent my car until the 3rd day because I wanted to take a train to Taormina. The train from Catania to Taormina costs 8.60€ return and takes about 45 minutes. You must then take a bus from the train station in Taormina up to the Taormina center (3€ return ticket).
What To Do in Taormina:
Teatro Antico di Taormina– the famous Greek theatre built in the 3rd century with epic views over Sicily and the surroundings. Entrance fee is 10€.
Piazza IX Aprile-the main square in Taormina with incredible views, cute cafes, and restaurants. It’s a popular gathering place with musicians playing throughout the day.
Isola Bella (“beautiful island”) -the prettiest beach in Taormina that was purchased by the Department of Cultural Heritage in 1990 and declared a Nature Reserve and remains protected.
Villa Communale-a public garden with spectacular views of the coastline. It’s a peaceful place to get away from the crowds.
Mt. Etna-you can climb to the top of one of the most active volcanos in the entire world! I didn’t have time for this and it remains on my bucket list! Mt. Etna is also a UNESCO site!
Caltagirone is a beautiful town with a famous 142-step staircase made from ceramic tiles, each with their own unique design. It’s an artistic masterpiece and has often been used as a backdrop for festivals and cultural events, decorated in flowers, candles, and colorful lights.
The Staircase of Santa María del Monte connects the upper old town to the newer lower town. There are some cute shops along the steps. It’s very picturesque and great to photograph. It was a nice stopover on my drive to Agriturismo Bannata, (see below for where I stayed).
From Catania to Agriturismo Bannata stop in Enna for amazing views of the countryside and hilltop towns. The best view is from the Rock of Ceres (free entrance) where you can see the castle and countryside with 360 degree views
Enna from afar
Cefalù is a cute seaside town located in northern Sicily. It took me about 2 hours to drive there from Piazza Armenia (which is where I stayed at Agriturismo Bannata).
One thing you must do in Cefalú is climb Rocca di Cefalu. It takes about 40 minutes to reach the top and the cost is 4€ cash only.
The top of Rocca di Cefalu gives you a panoramic view over the gorgeous Sicilian coastlines on both sides.
Cefalù has a wonderful promontory near the sea where you can sit and enjoy the view of the “rock” in the backdrop.
*Parking in Cefalù is a bitch, to be frank. But there is a paid lot near the beach for 7€ per 12 hours which is where I parked.
Scala dei Turchi
Scala dei Turchi (“Stairs of the Turks”) is a spectacular site to see in Sicily. You can walk on these ascending stair-like formations composed of soft white limestone marl (it feels like a hardened clay). The dramatic bright blue water contrasting the pure white rock is a natural phenomenon you should definitely add to your itinerary.
Valley of the Temples
The Valley of the Temples consists of 8 well-preserved Greek temples and other historical remains perched atop a hill overlooking the valley and sea.
The Valley of the temples is the most famous archeological site in all of Sicily and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Just outside the city of Agrigento, it can easily be combined with a day trip to Scala Dei Turchi.
Tip: Take a taxi from the car park up to the temple then walk down (2.5km) when you’re finished. The taxi costs 3€ and it saves an uphill walk. The entrance fee is3€. They do take credit cards.
The massive earthquake of 1693-destroyed 8 towns in of southeastern Sicily and they all had to be rebuilt. Caltagirone, Militello Val di Catania, Catania, Modica, Noto, Palazzolo, Ragusa and Scicli were all rebuilt in late baroque architecture of the times. The area is known as Val di Noto, and has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Ragusa is a GORGEOUS baroque town with upper and lower cities. This was my favorite city in all of Sicily and I just loved the old world feel.
Ragusa Ibla is the older lower city and more stunning part IMO.
Ragusa Superiore is the upper town and the more modern of the two. The 2 parts are separated by a deep ravine called Valle dei Ponti.
Some of the best views over the old city below are from the upper town at Chiesa Santa Maria (where I took the photo below).
Duomo San Giorgio is a beautiful cathedral in the center of a square with lots of restaurants and shops. It’s a good place to people watch and enjoy a cannoli.
Modica is another baroque town rebuilt after the earthquake that is known for its chocolate. There are many places where you can go in for a chocolate tasting. It had a weird texture and wasn’t my favorite honestly but the town is very beautiful and definitely worth a stop.
The center of Modica is at the bottom and Modica Alta is at the top, where you will get the best view.
Marzamemi is a cute little seaside town with a Greek vibe. It’s right on the sea and very quiet. There’s not much to do besides eat at one of the seaside cafes or go shopping in one of the little boutiques. It’s great for an afternoon of relaxation and eating seafood. Parking is 3€ in a designated lot.
Noto is a beautiful town with baroque architecture (and also one of the towns rebuilt after the 1693 earthquake). Go shopping in one of the cute artisan shops and pick up a painting or hand painted sculpture.
Go up Chiesa Santa Chiara for views over Noto (2€ entrance fee). There is easy parking at central Noto parking lot. Stroll down Vittorio Emanuel street and stop for a coffee with a view of the many baroque churches. It’s a great place to people watch.
Ortigia is the beautiful island connecting to Syracusa. You can walk around the outside along the sea. The water is crystal blue green and gorgeous. There are many cute shops with handmade stuff like leather bags and shoes. It’s a really nice place to just roam around and relax with a view.
Parking in Ortigia is an absolute nightmare, to be honest. I found an underground garage with the most confusing directions. I would definitely ask a local to see if you can actually park where you think you can (I got a ticket mailed to the USA 4 months later ugh).
Necropolis of Pantalica
Necropolis of Pantalica is home to more than 5,000 ancient tombs carved right into the rocks. This important archeological site is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The rocky tombs are surrounded by a deep gorge with gorgeous views all around.
You can also take a hike down to the beautiful grotto water below. It might take you 2-3 hours to complete the circuit, so make sure to make some time for it.
*Beware of snakes! I had one slither by me like 3 inches from my foot and it scared the living shit out of me. So watch where you’re stepping! I don’t think it was poisonous, but still.
It takes about 40 minutes to reachNecropolis of Pantalica from both Avila and Catania.
Fontane Bianche Beach
If it’s warm enough, I highly recommend stopping at Fontane Bianche Beach. It’s a gorgeous beach with soft white sand and swirly patterns of deep blue sea.
Where to Stay in Sicily
Staying in an Agriturismo
I’ve always wanted to stay in an agriturismo in Italy but for some reason it took me so long to do it. An agriturismo is a farmhouse that has been converted into accommodation. It’s kinda like a homestay where you rent a room out (usually you will have your own en suite bathroom). They serve the local wine and food from the farm animals and it is a really authentic experience.
My first agriturismo stay set the bar really high! Agriturismo Bannata was a secluded piece of paradise with a cozy and homely feel set in the Sicilian countryside. It’s a great place to sit by the pool (seasonal) or lounge on the balcony with a book in hand. There are also some trails you can walk nearby.
My room was spacious and had an amazing round tub in the middle of the room, as well as an ensuite bathroom.
I had dinner there one night cooked with the local ingredients and it was very delicious. I LOVED this place.
Price: $57/night (in April, shoulder season), including breakfast.
Where to Book: I used booking.com and you can check the listing HERE. If you’re new to booking.com, you can use my $20 OFF coupon here.
This place was a little more upscale than the other one, but it was nice to try the different styles! I had a single room in the attic with a spectacular view of the land from my window.
There was a pool and lounge chairs as well as huge comfy couches inside for when it was raining. It was a really relaxing environment and was a great spot to explore Ragusa.
Price: $116/night (in April, shoulder season).
Where to Book: I used booking.com and you can check the listing HERE.
Airbnb in Avola
For my last few days on the islands I stayed at a lovely Airbnb in Avola, a great location to explore the southern jewels of Sicily. I rented a room for $26/night but when I arrived the host upgraded me to the private little detached house with a private bathroom right next to the main house. It was such a great place to stay and the veranda at the main house was super cozy and pretty. The host was amazing and I felt instantly at home!
Where to book: You can check the listing HERE. And if you’re new to Airbnb you can use my $30 OFF coupon HERE.
Travel Insurance for Italy
I would never travel without travel insurance anymore. I learned my lesson. Too many bad things can happen (and they have unfortunately). Travel insurance is especially important when traveling to islands, as you may need to be air-lifted to the mainland in the worst case scenario. Do you know how much air-lifting costs? Think at least 5 digits (I.e. Expensive AF!).
My favorite travel insurance that I have been using for the past 4 years is World Nomads. I have made 3 claims so far and have been fully reimbursed for all 3 without any hassle. I highly recommend them.
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Ahhh Norway, one of my favorite places on earth! This was my 4th visit to Norway, and my second in 6 months. I think it’s safe to safe I am absolutely obsessed with Norway. The natural beauty and outdoor activities on offer are hard to beat. The reason I’ve been back so many times is because everything I wanted to see and do is very spread out. Norway is a long, skinny country and everything is very far away away from each other.
So I decided to rent a car and do an epic 10 day Norway road trip. The one place that didn’t really make sense itinerary-wise was Trolltunga. But hell, it was at the top of my Norway bucket list and I was gonna do it in even if it required a ton of driving!
During my 10 day road trip, there were 2 days that required about 8-9 hours of driving. However, the scenery on the way was half the fun. Renting a car is the best way to explore this beautiful country and saves a lot of time and stress trying to use public transportation.
Driving in Norway
Driving in Norway was so much fun because I could stop anywhere I wanted and take in the view. I didn’t notice any aggressive driving there so it was pretty stress free overall. The only thing you need to keep an eye out is the one-way tunnels. There were only a few of them on my trip and they weren’t too bad (probably because I was used to them after all the one way tunnels in Lofoten islands and Faroe islands).
I rented a car from Sixt in Bergen and returned it to Trondheim. When booking your car, make sure you check the one-way fees because I saw some companies that charged $800 for the one way fee! Sixt charged $250 which was the cheapest I found.
I had also used Sixt before a few times and absolutely loved them. Their customer service is great and I never have to wait in any line when picking up the car. This was a godsend at LAX airport!
Also, I’ve gotten upgrades for free 3 out of the 5 times I’ve rented with them. They really are no hassle and the cars are always shiny and new. And no this is NOT sponsored and I’m not getting paid to say this! I just really like the company.
TIP: Get the smallest car possible for those single-lane roads and narrow driveways. You won’t be able to pass some places with a big car
VERY IMPORTANT TIP: A lot of the drives in Norway require a ferry crossing at some point. For this reason, you can’t plan to drive in the middle of the night because you might get stranded and never make it to your final destination until the next day. All the ferry times are different depending on the route, but when I was looking at the schedules it appeared that the last one was usually around 10pm or 10:30pm. You definitely need to keep this in mind when driving in Norway.
If you use Google Maps and put the address is, you will see if there is a ferry crossing or not on the route. Just look for the little ship symbol (below).
Extra Transport Costs
There are a bunch of automatic tolls (mostly when you go into a tunnel) that you will pass while driving in Norway. Check with your car company because I was told not to stop and pay and that they would be automatically added to my bill in the end (way easier). Otherwise, there is a pay station before or right after the tunnel.
I ended up paying $108 in tolls for my long 10 day journey (ouch). The good news is I got upgraded to a Hybrid car and the total for gas was just $105 for 10 days. And that’s with 2 days of 8+ hours of driving.
I also paid a total of $50 in ferry crossings as well (4 ferries total).
National Scenic Routes in Norway
There are 18 national scenic routes in Norway offering stunning scenery with several viewpoints to stop at and have photo shoot or a picnic. You will see glaciers, fjords, coastlines, stunning architecture, waterfalls, and more. These are some of the most gorgeous drives in all of Norway, so make sure to drive at least a few of them on your Norway road trip!
I drove on a few of them throughout my 10 day Norway road trip including Atlanterhavsvegan (the Atlantic Ocean Road),Sognefjellet (on the way to Geiranger), and Geiranger-Trollstigen.
The Sognefjellet passes through Jotunheimen National Park, with towering mountains and some glaciers as well, it was spectacular.
Norway 10 Day Itinerary
Day 1-2: Bergen
Day 3-4: Odda + Trolltunga hike
Day 5-6: Geiranger
Day 7-8: Trollstigen + Ålesund
Day 9-10: Atlantic Ocean Road +Trondheim
Bergen is the most adorable little city and a great introduction to Norway. It is also known as the gateway to the fjords since many of the boat trips out to the fjords start in Bergen.
For all the best things to do in Bergen, I will redirect you to an article I wrote for Eurail HERE.
Where to stay in Bergen
More affordable: I stayed in an Airbnb that was a 15 minute walk to town. It was on top of a hill so the walk had beautiful views most of the way. It was a 2 bedroom apartment on the bottom of the host’s house. It doesn’t have a kitchen or stove but it does have a fridge so you can make sandwiches and such. It was super cute and the host was super warm and welcoming. She even leaves a mug of hot coffee outside your door in the morning. It was only $48/night and for the price, it can’t be beat in Norway! It can sleep 3 people. You can check the listing HERE.
*PS: I was supposed to be on this trip with 2 other friends but they cancelled last minute so I had 2 bedroom places the whole trip because of this…not because I’m ballin’ or anything haha.
More luxurious: on my first trip to Bergen I stayed at Hotel Oleana and LOVED it. You can read my review of the hotel HERE.
Drive from Bergen to Odda
Driving time: about 3 hours
Ferry crossing: there is a ferry crossing from Tørvikbygd to Jondal to get to Odda . It costs 53 NOK ($6) and takes about 20 minutes. (The ferry leaves about every hour). You can pay by credit card. They will come to your car with a card machine while you’re in line and it’s a super easy process. FYI: I didn’t need cash at all on this entire trip!
Odda is a gorgeous little town set in a fjord and is sort of like the gateway to Trolltunga. This is where you will want to look for accommodations if you plan on doing the Trolltunga hike.
Where to Stay in Odda
Airbnb: I stayed in a 2 bedroom apartment on the top of my host’s house that had the BEST views of the whole city in my opinion! The stairs to get up there were brutal and extra steep, but that’s the small price to pay for incredible views like that. There were sweet views from the main bedroom, the living room, and the kitchen.
The host was just incredible and like your mother greeting you with a big hug like you know each other. She even came and helped me with all my bags up those evil steps. She also brings up a basket of hiking gear that you can borrow like wool sweaters, hats, gloves and gives great tips about the hike and where to park/when to go, etc.
It was also one of the most affordable place to stay in all of Norway at $78/night for an entire 2 bedroom apartment. You can check out the listing HERE. You can also use my $40 OFF coupon here if you’re new to Airbnb.
Trolltunga is definitely one of the best hikes in Norway and the longest hike I have ever completed. My body was sore for days afterwards and I could barely even walk, but it was definitely worth it!
Tips for Hiking Trolltunga
Parking costs are RIDICULOUS so the more people in your car the cheaper it will be
Trolltunga upper parking only holds 30 cars and opens at 6am. Get there by 5:30am. I arrived at 5:33am on September 4th (end of peak season) and was number 14 in line. It cost is 600 NOK ($72). The cost to park at the bottom lot is 500NOK ($58) so not much difference.
Parking at the upper lot will takes off 3 KM each way of your hike so it’s totally worth it. It turns a 28km hike into a 22km hike.
The entire hike is on uneven rocks the whole time. There are no bathrooms or trash cans. There are also no bushes or trees to hide behind so if your bladder is weak, you’re going to have to get creative for your privacy. (I held mine for 12 hours like a champ).
The hike will take you 8-12 hours round trip, including a break for lunch and waiting in line for pictures. (I heard some people who completed it in 6 hours total, but they must be VERY fast hikers…it took me 11 hours, but I am on the slower side as I had a partially torn ACL on the hike!).
Start the hike as early as possible so you won’t have to wait in the LONG line for pictures on the Troll’s Tongue (Trolltunga). You also don’t want to be hiking back in the dark.
If you get in line for the picture before noon you won’t have to wait long for your picture. I heard that in the peak summer months it can take up to 3 hours to wait for your picture (Sucky!)
Just below Trolltunga on the left is a mini Trolltunga with a spectacular view. You won’t have to wait long for your picture there. You do have to climb down on some slippery rocks so just go slow.
The hike is super safe and can be done solo with no problem. There are many people on the trail so you’re never alone. There is no dangerous wildlife either.
Sunrise on the start of the Trolltunga hike.
Drive from Odda to Geiranger
Driving Time: 8-9 hours. This is the longest drive of this whole trip but you can stop at many places for a picnic or for photo ops. You will pass though a windy road through Icelandic landscape and even a glacier.
Drive through Jotunheimen National Park via Sognefjellet, home to Norway’s highest mountains (see National Tourist Routes above) to get to Geiranger. This road was absolutely breathtaking and the time passed so quickly driving through here. Although, in reality it took me forever since I kept stopping every 2 feet for photos.
There was a small fee for driving this road but it was SO worth it. It cost 80 NOK($10).
Just a glacier in the background, NBD
Stop at Lom Stave Church on the way to admire the beautiful traditional Norwegian architecture (and also to stretch your legs).
Geiranger is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and I think it’s one of the most beautiful places in all of Norway.
What to Do in Geiranger
Flydalsjuvet viewpoint and rock-to get to the rock you have to step over a 1 foot mini fence behind the men’s bathroom. Then walk straight down the path that curves to the right. It takes 1 minute from the bathroom. It’s roped off because it’s dangerous so please don’t bring your children or dogs out there. Also, make sure you’re not wearing sandals or unsturdy shoes. There are no rails or anything and the drop is several hundred feet. BE CAREFUL!
Fjordsetet (the Fjord Seat)-be the queen of the fjord and admire the vast beauty of Norway from this epic seat at the top of the lookout point.
Hike-there are many hikes around Geiranger ranging from 30 minutes to multiple hours. I didn’t attempt any hiking as it was raining most the time, and also because I could barely move from Trolltunga.
There are fjord cruises on offer that will take you around the fjords for 90 minutes. The cost is 350NOK ($41) and it leaves 3 times a day.
Fjordnaer Geiranger Sjokolade-this place is heaven for chocolate lovers. This cozy little cafe does chocolate tastings with unique flavors such as blue cheese chocolate and fresh berry chocolates (It sounds weird, but it’s so good).
They also offer a famous hot chocolate with white, dark, milk, or chili chocolate flavors. Oh, and maybe my favorite, coffee chocolate! My mouth is watering just reminiscing about this place.
Ørnesvingen Eagle road-on your way out of Geiranger, take the Eagle Road up the mountain to a gorgeous viewpoint over the fjord and valley. It’s on the 63 road on the way to Trollstigen.
Where to Stay in Geiranger
I stayed in a cute little 2 bedroom cabin apartment at the top of the hill with a magnificent view of the valley below. The views form the restaurant were mind blowing (pictured below).
A lot of the hikes start right from the accommodation so it’s an excellent place to base yourself. It’s so peaceful and quiet up there and I would definitely recommend it.
Where to book: I used booking.com for this place. It cost $140/night and fit 4 people. You can check the listing HERE. And if you’re new to booking.com, you can use my $20 OFF coupon!
Drive from Geiranger to Trollstigen
It takes 2 hours to get from Geiranger to Trollstigen on Road 63. The drive from Geiranger to Trollstigen is a national tourist route, as mentioned above.
Ferry Crossing: there is a ferry crossing from Geirangervegen to Trollstigen at Eidsal. It takes 10 minutes and costs 98 NOK ($12).
Trollstigen is known as “The Trolls Road” and is probably the most famous National Tourist Route that you can drive in Norway.
Trollstigen is a famous windy road carved into the mountain that consists of 11 hairpin turns going steeply up the mountain with the gorgeous Romsdal Valley below.
The turns are so sharp at some points that I had to honk because I couldn’t see around the corner. It sounds scary, but if you drive slow, it’s more fun than anything. You’ll also pass some beautiful cascading waterfalls on your way down as well.
NOTE: Trollstigen is usually closed from October/November to mid May due to snow so make sure you plan accordingly (the dates may vary, but you can check the status here on the official page of the Norwegian Scenic Routes.
Drive from Trollstigen to Ålesund
It takes 2 hours to drive from Trollstigen to Ålesund.
A fire in the early 1900s basically burned Ålesund to the ground and they rebuilt it in the art nouveau style. That’s why it looks different than any other city in Norway. It looks like the old town of a Central European city.
What to Do in Ålesund
Hike up to Aksla viewpoint (Aka Fjellstua), a mere 418 steps to the top. There is a cafe with an awesome view at the top where I sipped cappuccino and had a lovely GF pastry.
The Ålesund harbor is a nice place to grab a drink and people watch.
Kayak-there are kayaks available to rent to take around the harbor if it’s a nice sunny day.
Ålesund can easily be done in one day (or even a day trip from somewhere else), but it was a nice place to relax and unwind after all the driving I had been doing.
Where to Stay in Ålesund
I stayed in a 2 bedroom penthouse apartment with the most amazing views of the city throughout the whole penthouse. It was right in the center of town so it was nice to just walk outside and be around all the restaurants, attractions, and shops. It was also only a few minutes from the walk up to the viewpoint.
View of the center from the living room
View from the bedroom
Where to book: My 2 bedroom Airbnb was $200/night and could fit 4 people. This was in September so it might be a little more during peak season. You can check the listing HERE.
Drive from Ålesund to Atlantic Ocean Road
It takes a little less than 3 hours to get from Ålesund to the Atlantic Ocean Road.
Ferry Crossing: You must take a ferry from Vestnes to Molde. It costs 152 NOK ($18) and takes about 40 minutes. (The ferry runs about every 45 minutes).
Atlantic Ocean Road
The Atlantic Ocean Road is an epic windy road connected by peninsulas in northern Norway. The road goes over the powerful ocean and on stormy days the waves come crashing onto the road. Google pictures of it, it’s quite scary looking!
The Atlantic Ocean Toad takes less than 10 minutes to drive and has many stop-off places to park and take pictures. There is a little visitor center with a cafe and toilets. They also built a 360 degree walkway that you can walk full around and see both sides of the road.
Ferry Crossing: from the Atlantic Ocean road to Trondheim takes about 3.5-4 hours and requires a ferry crossing from Halsa to Kanestraum. It costs 106 NOK ($12.50) and takes about 20 minutes. (The ferry runs about every 20 minutes).
Trondheim was founded by the Vikings in 997 and used to be the Viking capital of Norway until 1217. Trondheim is a super colorful town that has lots of things to do so don’t overlook this awesome city. It really surprised me!
What to Do in Trondheim
Go to the old town bridge for the best views of the colorful buildings against the water. The old wooden buildings used to be housing for the working class. They have been beautifully preserved and now house cute cafes, shops, and restaurants.
Walk through Bakklandet area for the cutest little neighborhood and cafes. This was my favorite area of the city and I could have gone cafe hopping all day.
Walk up to the Kristiansten Fortress for great views over the city. There were many picnic tables and people jogging and working out up there.
Go to the famous Bakklandet Skydsstation for fish soup (and GF bread). This is a traditional little restaurant with a homey feel inside.
Where to Stay in Trondheim
I stayed in a 2-bedroom apartment that was about a 15 minute walk to the main part of town. The tram was also right outside so it was very convenient to get around. It was super spacious and cost $120/night and fit 4 people. You can check the listing HERE.
Travel Insurance for Your Norway Road Trip
Shit happens, especially when you’re out being adventurous every day. That’s why I would never travel anymore without travel insurance. Travel insurance doesn’t just cover your delayed/cancelled flights, it also covers medical expenses in case of emergencies, lost or stolen items on your trip, and lost baggage.
My go to travel insurance is World Nomads. I’ve been using them for 4.5 years now and I love them. I have had to file 3 claims so far and I got fully reimbursed for all of them with no hassle. It’s not the cheapest on the market, but they have some of the highest coverage of any travel insurance. For this reason, I will continue to use them!
How to Get World Nomads for Your Next Trip
If you want an idea of how much travel insurance is going to cost, you can get a quick quote below:
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Wow, each travel year keeps getting better and better and as I reflect on the places that I’ve gone, I still cant believe it! In 2018 I traveled to 7 new countries including Georgia, Armenia, Ukraine, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, UAE, and Vietnam. I also re-visited some of my favorite countries including Greece, Norway, Italy, Croatia, Spain, Denmark, England, Albania, Canada, Iceland, and Northern Ireland.
In 2018, I visited a total of 18 countries on 3 continents. It was extremely hard to pick my favorites but I’ve narrowed it down to the following 6 places (plus a few more). Hopefully it provides some new travel inspiration for 2019!
The Lofoten Islands were a dream destination for me and high up on my bucket list. Norway is one of my favorite countries in the world and the natural landscapes in Lofoten Islands were just unreal. Lofoten Islands exceeded my expectations and literally took my breathe away. It’s also a photographer’s dream!
This trip was also special because it was my first ever GROUP TRIP that I led and it was so much fun to meet new girls and share the experience with others for a change. We stayed in the coziest cabin right on the lake and were dazzled by the Northern Lights on our last night there. The icing on the cake! I plan on doing another group trip there in 2019 since I loved it so much. Lofoten Islands was probably my favorite place I visited in 2018!
Not many people I know go to Bagan…one of the reasons that it really appealed to me! I loved it and it was such a unique place that was different to any other place I had ever been. Riding E-bikes around dirt roads searching for the sunrise or sunset was magical. I was also there during the water festival (“Thingyan”) which was…interesting haha.
It took some work getting all the way over to Bagan, but I’d say it was truly worth it! If you want somewhere different or off the beaten path, Bagan is the place to go in 2019! PS: try to make it during hot air balloon season (I just missed it by like a week or 2).
The Faroe Islands (made up of 18 islands) are a self-governing region of Denmark located in the North Atlantic Ocean halfway between Iceland and Norway. It reminded me a lot of the landscape in Iceland, but with NO crowds. The Faroe Islands are the place to go if you love nature, hiking, photography, and isolation.
I spent a total of 5 days there and couldn’t recommend it more. Just beware of car rental prices because they are absurd! Book in advance. Also, if you’re interested in seeing puffins, the season runs from late May to early September! For all of the details and the 5 day itinerary I put together, check out my post about the Faroe Islands here.
I had been to Canada several times before but nothing prepared me for what I would see in Banff. The most beautiful blue and crystal clear lakes you will ever see in your life are in Banff. This was also a group trip destination and it was such a fun time. Banff had some of the most gorgeous hiking trails and the scenery is hard to beat! Banff should definitely be at the top of your 2019 travel wish list!
Banff is the perfect place to go if you love hiking in nature and breathing in the fresh mountain air. Make sure to carry bear spray and try not to hike alone because some trails actually require a minimum number of hikers (but you can always join other hikers as well).
PS: some of the trails and roads are closed throughout the year due to snow so to be safe, travel there from June to early September if you want to make it to Moraine Lake, etc.
Ninh Binh, Vietnam
Vietnam was one of those destinations that really surprised me in 2018, particularly the countryside. I took a day trip to Ninh Binh and Tam Coc and it blew my mind! You can easily take a 2 hour train ride from the crazy bustling Hanoi center to a whole different world filled with epic mountainside views and tranquility.
Make sure to take a boat ride through the valley with the Vietnamese feet rowers for a very cool experience that will take you through some caves and let you feed some goats on the way. And you cannot leave the area without hiking up to the Hang Mua Caves, pictured below.
Not only did I LOVE Vietnam, but I can now honestly say Vietnam has the best coffee in the world! (along with Italy and Colombia). The egg coffee is life changing (and i’m not even being dramatic haha). Oh, and did I mention endless Pho soup for only a few bucks? I was in complete heaven.
Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland
It took my second trip to Iceland (and my last group trip) to finally make it to the lesser visited Snaefellsnes peninsula, and boy was it worth the wait! I had longed to visit Arrowhead Mountain from Game of Thrones and it was absolutely gorgeous.
One of my favorite memories was actually on the way up there stopping at a cute little hot spring in the middle of nowhere. What made it so magical was that we were the only ones there and it felt like a little gnome house or something.
My other favorite destinations from 2018 included Sicily (Italy), Rhodes (Greece), Northern Ireland Game of Thrones trip, Sri Lanka, The Cotswolds (England, and an epic Norway road trip.
The Cotswolds, England
Sicily Road Trip
Mirissa, Sri Lanka
GOT tour, Northern Ireland
What’s On My 2019 Travel List
There are SO many places I can’t decide! But i do know I am going back to Asia for a few weeks and also going to try to visit the few countries left in Europe that I haven’t been. And my ultimate destination will be Patagonia (which I have been trying to go to for the last 3 years). I’m hoping 2019 will finally be that year!
I also have a few destination weddings I am going to in North Carolina and Mexico so it’s going to be a busy year!
More Group Trips
I had a BLAST doing group trips last year and I want to continue them in the new year! I will probably host 3-4 trips in 2019, the first being Lofoten islands, Jordan, and Beirut! Check the details here.
Other group trip options for the second half of the year are Azores islands, Peru, GOT Northern Ireland tour, Scotland road trip, Oman, Lapland, and Patagonia!
Lofoten Islands: March 7-12, 2019 (Update: will be moved to Oct/Nov now)
Jordan: March 27-April 3rd
Beirut, Lebanonadd-on: April 3-7th
My 2019 Group Trips will all be run based on demand. Since these destinations got the most votes, these are my first set of group trips for 2019. I will do 2 more trips by the end of the year (in the fall) so stay tuned for those as well.
Lofoten Islands, Norway Group Trip (Oct/Nov 2019)
UPDATE: Due to some schedule conflicts, this trip will be moved to Oct/Nov now. Stay tuned for the exact dates in the next few months.
Last March, I took a small group of adventurous ladies to the remote Lofoten Islands in Norway and it was an absolute blast! I can honestly say that it was one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen (& I’m pretty sure all the girls would agree).
Not only that, but we had the most breathtaking cozy cabin right on the lake with the most AMAZING VIEW of the mountains and water, the perfect setting to view the Northern Lights! (which we saw right from our living room!).
The Northern Lights from our living room in Lofoten
We had such a great trip that I wanted to open up a second trip in March 2019!
The Lofoten Islands are an archipelago off of Northeast Norway known for their cute little traditional fishing villages, epic mountain peaks, stunning fjords, and breathtaking panoramic views.
The Lofoten islands aren’t the easiest (or cheapest) to get to, which is why they aren’t on the main tourist track (another reason they are so intriguing to me). The good news is I took all the stress out of planning this trip for you!
The Lofoten Islands are a photographer’s dream, especially because they are a good place to see the Northern Lights. And there is nothing prettier than seeing these cute little seaside towns all covered in snow.
We will meet in the town of Bodo, Norway, which is like the gateway to the Lofotens. The next morning we will take a short 20 minute flight to the islands.
I have rented a car and plan to drive around to some of the best photo spots on the islands like cute little villages, arctic beaches, and viewpoints over the islands.
There are also some EPIC hikes to do in the Lofotens, although only some are accessible during the winter time. But I do plan on doing 1 of the smaller hikes if the weather gods permit. We will check the avalanche warnings the night before and decide from there. So ya, you kinda should be into hiking and be in moderate shape.
That being said, you will need waterproof boots/hiking shoes and microspikes. It is still very much snowy this time of year and we will be walking around all day so it would suck to have wet and soggy feet.
At night, it’s gonna be all about searching for the Northern Lights. There is never a guarantee that they will come out to play (so you have to set your expectations accordingly). However, the Lofoten Islands are 100 km above the Arctic Circle so that gives me lots of hope! We saw them on our last night of our trip and it was MAGICAL!
We will stay in a cute little cozy red cabin (just like you see in all the pictures…and the same one as last year) right on the water in Homnøy, the most photographed village in the Lofotens. There is a deck overlooking the water and mountains, which is the perfect setting if the Northern Lights appear. How cool would that be to just walk outside and see them without having to go anywhere? My dream! (Update: this actually happened!!!)
So What’s It Gonna Cost Me?
Non-Refundable Deposit: $400
Total Trip Cost: $1675
Another important note: As with all group trips, travel insurance WILL be required for this trip. Plus, it’s foolish not to travel without it anyway.
Norway is expensive AF! In fact, Norway is one of the most expensive countries in the world, so this is definitely NOT a budget trip. This is more like a bucket list trip!
Norway is also one of my top 10 favourite countries in the world (out of 83 that I’ve been). The natural beauty is unmatched and keeps bring me back for more (this will be my 4th trip). Trust me when I say the steep prices are 100% worth it!
I’ve also taken a look at photography tours of Lofoten Islands and they run anywhere from 2500 EUROS to 4500 EUROS! I am not a professional photographer, hence the lower prices. But I definitely have more skill than the average person, which I will use to help you get some awesome shots!
5 nights accommodation in double occupancy (you will have your own twin bed in a room shared with another female traveler..possibly your new BFF)
Return flights from Bodø to Lofoten islands and back
Private transport around the islands
Lifelong memories and friendships!
What’s NOT Included:
International flights to Norway
Food (however, there will be a kitchen where we stay and I will be making grocery store runs…restaurants are limited on the islands so this is a good option to eat cheap). I think we all spent less than $80 on food for the few days we were there.
Travel insurance (mandatory)
Where Can I Sign Up?
I am only taking 4 other adventure travellers with me so spots are VERY limited. You can sign up HERE (Oct/Nov dates will be announced at a later time, but feel free to fill out this form so i have your email and to assure you get first dibs on spots!). Please only fill this out if you are super serious about gong.♥
Jordan Group Trip
Dates: March 27-April 3rd, 2019
Trip starts in: Amman, Jordan on March 27th
Trip ends in: Amman Jordan on April 3rd
Visa Required: YES (for US citizens, this can easily be obtained during your passport check on arrival)
Activities: Petra, Petra by Night, luxury stay on Dead Sea, desert glamping (with actual beds)
I am SO excited to go back to Jordan as it is one of my favorite destination of 2017 and my favorite country in the Middle East! I went solo and felt totally safe, in case you are wondering!
On this trip, we will spend 2.5 days in Petra and I will show you all the epic viewpoints I found on my last trip. There is some hiking involved so you must be ok with this! But no hiking experience needed, don’t worry!
After Petra we will spend one night glamping in the desert (there will be beds inside your tent so it’s not roughing it by any means).
We will also visit the Dead Sea and stay in a luxury hotel with a sea view.
The trip starts and ends in Amman so we will have time to explore the city as well.
Jordan Trip Itinerary
March 27: Amman
March 28-31: Petra
March 31-April 1: Wadu Rum desert glamping
April 1-2: Dead Sea resort luxury hotel
April 2-3: Amman
Non-refundable deposit: $400 due by January 23rd
Total Price: $1600 (due by February 23rd)
*For any past guests on my previous group trips, you will get a special discount, just ask 🙂
7 nights accommodation in double occupancy (you will have your own twin bed in a room shared with another female traveler).
Private transport around Jordan
Petra by Night entrance fee
Lifelong memories and friendships!
What’s NOT Included:
International flights to Jordan
Jordan Visa Fee* (see below)
Entrance to Petra for 2 days* (See below)
Food (other than the breakfasts mentioned above)
Alcohol (It’s a dry country so there will not be much alcohol consumption)
Travel insurance (mandatory)
*I did not include the 2 day entrance fee to Petra since its cheaper to buy the Jordan Pass before you enter Jordan, which reduces your visa entry fee. I’ll give you more details about it once you book the trip, don’t worry! It’s pretty easy 🙂
Rhodes was a place that I only had mediocre expectations for and it blew them all out of the water! Rhodes was absolutely awesome and I’m kicking myself for not going sooner.
Rhodes’ appeal lies in their spectacular turquoise beaches, beautifully preserved medieval towns, gorgeous mountains, awesome food, and more cats than I have ever seen anywhere! Basically, Rhodes was complete bliss!
When to Visit Rhodes
Rhodes stays unbelievably warm even through the fall! I went in mid October and it was sunny and 75-78 degrees every day! The “season” in Rhodes ends October 31st (a little longer than most Greek islands). That means a lot of the day tours and ferries are still running daily.
This was a great time to visit because it was at the tail end of the season and the crowds had gone and the prices had dropped tremendously, yet everything was still open.
I would avoid July and August due to high crowds, prices, and intense heat.
Rhodes, Greece 5 day Itinerary
Day 1: Anthony Quinn bay, Lakido beach, Tsambiki beach, Kalithea springs.
Day 2: Symi day trip
Day 3: Lindos, St. Paul’s bay
Day 4: Kritinia, Monolithos, Prasonisi, Glystra
Day 5: Rhodes town
What to do in Rhodes, Greece
Day 1: Anthony Quinn bay, Lakido beach,Tsambiki, Kalithea Springs
Tsambiki beach: long sandy beach with many bars and restaurants. It’s framed by the mountains on each end. If you want a beach with a lot going on, this is the beach for you! In terms of beautiful beaches, the others I visited while on Rhodes were much more impressive.
Kalithea Springs: Gorgeous Italian architecture that’s a great place for weddings. There are sun beds and a little cafe on the water to just relax. It’s less than 15 minutes from Rhodes. While the hot springs are no longer in use, I still really enjoyed my time here.
There is a 3€ entrance fee, but i think it’s definitely worth it.
Anthony Quinn Bay: tied for prettiest beach on Rhodes island, this is an absolute must! As you can see below, Anthony Quinn Bay is a small coved bay that has the most beautiful clear blue/green waters. I can imagine this place being super popular in the summer, but it was very calm and unpopulated when I went. I LOVED this place.
There is a little cafe overlooking the bay with the best view that you must go and experience, not for the food but for the view!
Lakido Bay: a gorgeous bay right across the parking lot from Anthony Quinn Bay. If you have time, definitely stop here for a bit also.
Day 2: Day Trip To Symi Island
Symi is a short 50 minute catamaran ride away (or 1.5 hours by ferry) and definitely the one day trip you should take when visiting Rhodes.
I read online that you could take a taxi boat to the beaches, which was my plan when I arrived. But I soon realized that the taxi is more like a bus in that it has a schedule so you can’t just randomly arrive and get a taxi boat (which is what I thought). The taxi boats cost about €10-12 each way.
There was only one taxi boat that leaves in the morning, hits up all the popular beaches, and then returns at around 4 or 5pm, but it wouldn’t give me much time to see the beautiful port of Symi or walk up to Chorio so I decided to pass and hope to get a taxi at Pedi Bay.
What to Do in Symi
Walk up the 400+ steps to Chorio
Chorio is the main town that sits perched up on top of a hill overlooking the gorgeous marina and surroundings. From Chorio you can walk another 20 minutes to Pedi Bay, and then to 2 other beaches from there.
Stop at Olive Tree Cafe for a healthy brekkie/brunch of Greek yogurt, honey, and fresh fruits. The setting is super cute as well with a view of the town below.
Visit the Beautiful Beaches
The 2 beaches I was able to visit were Agia Marina and Agios Nikolaos.
Agia Marinahas gorgeous turquoise waters and a little island with a monastery you can visit.
Agia Nikolaos has is a small pebbled beach with a few beach shacks selling food and drinks but it’s pretty secluded.
How I got to these beaches:
I missed the morning taxi but I got really lucky and met these amazing locals who offered to take me for free! They first took me to Agia Marina just for pictures and then dropped me off at Agia Nikolaos. They even picked me up later to bring me back! The Greek hospitality is unmatched. So you could try your luck in Pedi Bay or make sure to get on the morning taxi boats when you arrive in Symi harbor.
Walk: from Pedi Bay you can walk 30 minutes to Agia Nikolaos or about 50 or so minutes to Agia Marina. To be honest, the path to Agia Marina looked extremely rocky and like there wasn’t a distinct path. Good sturdy hiking shoes would be required.
Some Symi day tours take you to Panormitis Monastery on the south side of the island. However, I decided to skip this because they leave you there for about 1.5 hours which is so long. I decided to go to the beaches instead of the monastery because you won’t really have time for both.
The other beach I didn’t have time for but was on my shortlist is Nanou beach (I heard random goats come on the beach and try to steal your food here so beware).
If you don’t care to go to the beaches the day tours offer plenty of time to see the monastery and then around 3 hours in Symi to explore (which is plenty).
Visit Nos Beach Near the Port
There is a beach called Nos beach in Symi and is only a 7-8 minute walk from the harbor (where the ferry drops you off). It’s gorgeous and there are many cute cafes along the water in that area.
There are also many cute little boutique shops with unique things to buy in Symi.
They are also famous for Symi shrimp, but I didn’t have time to sit down to try them.
Play with the cute little kitties swarming the island
How to Get to Symi Island
The catamaran from Rhodes to Sými took 50 minutes and costs 30€ round trip withDodecanese pride. I bought the tickets the day before online and then picked up the tickets at the little booth in front of the boats. Make sure to arrive early to get your paper tickets and find your boat!
Tip: They had some day tours they were selling at Mandraki port that were as cheap as 15€, however, they all had a stop at Panormitis Monastery, which like I mentioned above, I didn’t have that much interest in visiting.
St Paul’s Bay: this is the other prettiest beach I saw in Rhodes and you cant beat the view of the Lindos Acropolis in the backdrop.
As a bonus, the summer crowds had long gone and it was pretty empty when I went. I could have spent all day relaxing here lounging and sipping drinks.
Lindos Acropolis– while the 12 € entrance fee is pretty steep compared to most ancient ruin sites I’ve been to, you can get the best aerial view of St. Paul’s Bay and Lindos Beach on each side. You can also see the beautiful white Lindos town below (although I flew my drone there and had the same view honestly).
It takes about 20 minutes to walk uphill from St. Paul’s Bay to the entrance of the acropolis. There is free parking right next to St. Paul’s bay.
There is one restaurant at St. Paul’s Bay that’s pricey but you can’t beat the views! There are also hanging day beds and lounge chairs available to relax all day.
On your way up to the acropolis, stop at Lindian Apollo bar for a nice rooftop view of the acropolis. And make sure to order a cappuccino freddo! Yum.
Day 4: Kritinia, Monolithos, Prasonisi, Glystra
Day 4 will bring you to the west and south of Rhodes Island, the less busy part of the island.
Stop in Kritinia castle (free entrance) for amazing views over the sea. Also stop by the little cafe at the bottom of the castle. It’s super cozy and cute. They also do free wine, honey, and oil tastings.
Kritinia is 1 hour from Rhodes by car.
Leave Kritinia and drive 35 minute to Monolithos Castle. It’s a beautiful windy drive through the mountains, so take your time and enjoy the scenery.
Monolithos castle (free entrance) is perched upon a steep hill overlooking the coastline and it is stunning!
There are many unique openings in the ruins in which you can take some cool pictures (see below).
Prasonisi is at the very tip of the south of Rhodes island. It is very unique in that it is where the Mediterranean Sea and Aegean see meet and makes up a double beach in the summer (a peninsula). In the winter when the waters rise, Prasonisi becomes an island.
Prasonisi is a also very popular spot for wind surfing due to the winds.
Definitely stop at Glystra beach on the way back, which has golden sands and turquoise waters. It’s a little coved beach off the coastal road. There is a little beach shack for drinks
Glystra Beach from above
Day 5: Rhodes Town
There are SO many things to see in Rhodes town so if you only have a day, get an early start!
Inside the old city walls of Rhodes
In case you don’t know, Rhodes is surrounded by a walled city, with many grand entrances to this Medieval town. You will also notice many Turkish mosques throughout the city that are interesting to see and beautiful to photograph.
Palace of the Knights
What not to miss in Rhodes town:
Palace of the knights/Grandmaster’s Palace (6€ entrance)
Walk the ancient city walls (2€ entrance)
Discover all the epic entrances to to the walled city
Church of the Virgin of the Burgh (pictured below)
Windmills of Rhodes (there is a kitty sanctuary near the windmills, an added bonus!)
Windmills of Rhodes
Shopping! The street shopping was pretty good inside the city walls.
Acropolis of Rhodes has amazing view of the coastline just across the street (free entrance)
Elli beach is only 6-7 minute walk from the old town and a nice way to cool off during the day
Ronda Rhodes is a swanky beachside cafe on Elli beach with amazing decor and view. It’s pricey but well worth the view!
Ronda at Elli Beach
Mama Sofia Rhodes has awesome food! The dolmades were the best I ever had and also the lamb kleftiko was bomb.com (i.e. good AF). This was the best restaurant I found in all of Rhodes.
How to Get Around Rhodes Island
Rent a car and ATV from Zeus cars. The owner is super chill and nice and very helpful. The prices are pretty good. A 50cc ATV was 25€ per day and an automatic car (on the spot) was 30€ per day. They won’t rent you a scooter without a motorcycle license but you can rent a 50cc ATV with a regular US license. An international license is not required.
How to Get to Rhodes
Rhodes is one of the furthest Greek islands in the east, near the coastline of Turkey.
The direct flight was 50 minutes from Athens and cost $75 2 months in advance or $90 the night before.
The ferry from Athens takes 11-24 hours (depending on the company) so you might as well fly. The water tends to be choppy on Greek ferries so being on that thing for 11+ hours sounds like hell to me. Just fly.
Where to Stay in Rhodes
7 Palms Hotel
My plan was to take a bunch of day trips from Rhodes town so I stayed in the new town (which was a 20 minute walk from the old city). This location provided a better starting point for all my day trips.
The hotel had the best host who was super positive, energetic, and helpful! She gave me good restaurant recommendations and helped me add some secret spots to my itinerary that I would have never known about.
I stayed in a studio apartment at the hotel, which had a little stove and refrigerator. It also had an outdoor pool (seasonal). The hotel was spacious, comfy, quiet, and I highly recommend it! They also provide free bikes which came in handy.
I booked this place for $267 for an entire week on booking.com. You can view the listing here. It got a review score of 9.2! And if you’re new to Booking.com, you can use my $20 OFF coupon here (I will get $20 off too, so it’s a win-win, thank you!)
MY TOP RECOMMENDATIONS FOR TRAVEL GEAR
1.Sony Alpha 6000 Mirrorless Camera: I made the switch from my huge DSLR and I wouldn’t go back. It’s light, compact, and takes amazing photos!
2. Sony 10-18mm Wide Angle Zoom Lens: this wide angle lens is the key to landscape shots. I use this lens more than the original and am super happy with it. It’s not cheap, but super worth it if you want to get those special nature shots. Honestly, I would purchase the Sony alpha 6000 camera body only and save up for this lens to go with it.
3. E Bags Packing Cubes: the biggest life changer to keep me packing light! This is my biggest travel gear obsession and I have NO idea how I traveled without them before.
4. LifeProof NUUD Waterproof Case (iPhone 8): this helps protect my phone from water, sand, dirt, and the numerous drops that incur while I travel. I love it!
5. GoPro Hero 6 Black: I am a proud GoPro ambassador and obsessed with GoPro selfie pics if you didn’t notice! It’s super small, compact, and easy to travel with. Plus it’s so much fun to use! 🙂
6. Jackery Power Bank: This is hands-down the best external battery charger I’ve ever used. It has dual charger capability and I can charge my phone 3 times or more. It’s awesome!
Travel Insurance for Greek Islands
I would never travel without travel insurance anymore. I learned my lesson. Too many bad things can happen (and they have unfortunately). Travel insurance is especially important when traveling to islands, as you may need to be air-lifted to the mainland in the worst case scenario. Do you know how much air-lifting costs? Think at least 5 digits (I.e. Expensive AF!).
My favorite travel insurance that I have been using for the past 4 years is World Nomads. I have made 3 claims so far and have been fully reimbursed for all 3 without any hassle. I highly recommend them.
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Disclaimer: this post contains affiliate links, which means I receive a super small commission if you make a purchase using these links, at no extra cost to you. I only recommend products that I have used before on my own and that I truly love 🙂
Sri Lanka is a small island just south of India with an abundance of things to experience. Sri Lanka offers a little bit of everything: beautiful beaches, lots of wildlife, gorgeous hikes, serene countrysides, epic train rides, and tasty (spicy) food.
I recently spent 10 days in the beautiful island nation zipping around to experience as much as I could. It was a little hectic to be constantly moving, but I saw and did so much in the little time that I had.
This Sri Lanka 9-day itinerary is for those who are ambitious to see a big amount in a little time frame. It is not for those who like to relax and stay in one spot the whole time. I cut out one day off the suggested itinerary for a specific reason (which you will see below).
What NOT to do in Sri Lanka
I strongly urge you to skip Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. I admit I was lured in by the dreamy pictures that some of my favorite Instagrammers posted from here. It sounded to perfect to wake up to elephants bathing in a river right from your hotel room. But it was everything but dreamy.
The straight up ABUSE that I saw was extremely disturbing. I saw them use these sharp spears to force the elephants to do whatever they wanted and some were chained around their necks. The elephants did not seemed “loved” at all. In fact, they seemed terrified at their “caretakers”. I teared up and left early because I could not stand there for another second and watch these poor loving creatures get abused any longer.
I must say that I am extremely disappointed at these huge “influencers” posting pictures from here glorifying it just to get a couple hundred liked on Instagram. It was sickening. Here is my Instagram post from there which you can scroll through to see the “real” pictures from this terrible “orphanage”.
My advice would be to please research a place thoroughly before you make a decision to go. Just because a place has the word “sanctuary” or “orphanage” doesn’t mean the animals are being treated kindly.
Kandy honestly did not impress me that much. It was hectic city with only a few things to see. I knew this going in, but I stayed here 2 nights for a reason. The first is because this is where you start (or end) the famous train ride through the tea plantations in the countryside. The other reason is because this is where you can take a day trip to Sigiriya Rock.
What to Do in Kandy
Temple of the Tooth-an important symbol of Sri Lanka. It is believed that whoever holds the tooth relic, holds the governance of the country.
Kandy Lake-a peaceful lake in the center of the busy city that’s a good way to escape the madness and noise.
Botanical Gardens (25 minutes outside of the city)-I didn’t have time for this but photos of this place looked lovely.
Where to Stay in Kandy
I had the please of being hosted by Theva Residency while in Kandy and it was incredible. This boutique hotel is set amongst the beautiful hillside in Kandy, overlooking the lush countryside.
The most alluring part of Theva Residency is the infinity pool plunging into the green Sri Lankan mountainside. The views were incredible and the ambiance was super relaxing. It was so refreshing to be able to get away from the crazy noise and crowds from Kandy and sleep in a quiet paradise.
The floor to ceiling windows in the onsite restaurant is another attractive feature of this hotel. What could be better than enjoying a great meal with a glass of wine with a 180 degree view of beautiful nature? I can’t think of anything. The restaurant has indoor and outdoor seating and the food was quite delicious.
The view don’t end at the infinity pool and restaurant. The executive rooms come with a walk out balcony with table and chairs and unobstructed views of the hillside.
Other unique features of the boutique hotel include a game room with a pool table, board games, DVDs, a sauna, and a steam room! If relaxation and peace and quiet is what you are looking for, Theva Residency is the perfect place to stay in Kandy.
Day Trip to Sigiriya Rock
High on my Sri Lanka list was hiking up Sigiriya Rock. I decided to squeeze it in my short trip by taking a day trip from Kandy. I took a private car from Kandy to Sigiriya for 8000 Sri Lankan Ruppes(SLR) ($50) for an all day trip. This also included a stop at the Dambulla Caves on the way back (which I ended up skipping due to heat exhaustion).
The journey takes 3 hours each way. My only mistake was not going early enough because it was deathly hot during the hike. I would recommend leaving around 6am to beat the heat (I left at 8:30).
The hike takes about 30-45 minutes to the top and it’s uncovered so make sure to wear sunscreen and a hat if you have one. There is no water or snacks inside so make sure to bring some of your own.
The remains on the top of Sigiriya Rock
The entrance fee was very steep at $30 USD, which was very surprising since overall Sri Lanka was on the cheap side.
Train from Kandy to Ella
This journey was voted one of the prettiest train rides in the world, and thus a very popular ride. As such, if you’re looking for first class seats, buy the tickets about 2 weeks in advance. But the fun part is sitting with the locals in 3rd class and hanging out of the opened doors, so I wouldn’t bother with trying for first class!
Keep in mind, the train ride is 7 HOURS long. The first 1.5 hours and last 1 hour were very busy with locals and we were packed in there like sardines. Not quite the idyllic train ride I was imagining. When it finally cleared up and I got a seat at the door, it was great!
You can buy 3rd class tickets on the day of the departure about 1 hour before. The tickets cost less than $2 USD. Try to get on the train while there is still daylight so you don’t miss the views!
TIP: If you’re going from Kandy to Ella, sit on the RIGHT side of the train til about Nuwara Eliya, then switch to the LEFT side for the best views. Trust me on this one.
Note: bring some food as its a long ride! There are some vendors coming through selling fruits and nuts, but nothing major.
Ella is a backpacker’s town set in the tropical countryside surrounding by nothing but greenery and tea plantations. In other words, its breathtaking! Most people come here to do the hikes they have on offer. The town of Ella itself is just one dirt road with a few restaurants and shops, so not much to do there. I would suggest staying near the Demodara 9 Arch Bridge so you can get the views of the train and the beautiful curved tracks from above. You can take a tuk tuk to get around for cheap so don’t worry about being away from the town.
What to To Do in Ella
Little Adam’s Peak-this is the easiest hike with breathtaking views. It’s only a 15 minute hike for the entrance (or 45mim-1hr from Ella town). It had just rained so it was very misty and foggy when I went, but still pretty. Go at sunset!
Ella Rock-this hike is a little more difficult at 2 hours each way, but affords amazing views at a higher elevation (I didn’t have time for this one unfortunately).
Demondora 9 Arch Bridge-possibly the most picturesque spot in Ella. Photograph this bridge from above and right down on the tracks. Ask your accommodation what time the trains come so you can get a glimpse of the red or blue train coming through. You can also walk on the tracks all the way back to town. The view below is from my Booking.com homestay!
Ravana Falls-these falls are less than a 15 minute drive form Ella. There are upper and lower falls and I went to the lower falls that can be accessed right from the road. You can also do a hike to the upper falls. The lower falls was a gorgeous cascading waterfall that was super impressive. Try to get to it on your way out of Ella on your way to Yala.
Where to Stay in Ella
I found this homestay on Airbnb with an incredible view of the 9 Arch Bridge from my bedroom and the balcony where we eat breakfast. The room was simple but the views made it 100% worth it.
The host was one of the kindest people I have ever been hosted by and he offered me discounted tuk tuk rides whenever I needed. I highly recommend this place! You can check out the listing here. And if you’re new to Booking.com, you can get $20 OFF your fist stay here.
Where to Eat in Ella
AK Ristoro–serves curry, pasta, and sushi. They even had gluten free pasta so I was in heaven. The restaurant has a nice atmosphere and is away from the busy main street.
Adam’s Breeze-a great local restaurant with a view. They serve traditional curries which were really good. They give you many different small dishes kinda like tapas style. It was very cheap at around $4.50 for my whole dinner (pictured below).
How to Get from Ella to Yala National Park
A private taxi from Ella to Tissamaharama (close to Yala National Park) costs 6000 SLR ($38) including a stop in Ravana falls. The journey takes 2 hours and 15 minutes.
Yala National Park
There are a few national parks in Sri Lanka but my goal was to see leopards, which is what Yala National Park is known for. I stayed in the town of Tissamaharama (aka Tissa) and took the “5-12 safari Leopard Safari” which meant a 7 hour safari from 5am-12pm. The cost was only $36 and included pickup and drop off from all hotels in Tissa. The pickup is at 4:15-4:30am so get some rest! The company I went with is called Janaka Safari Jeep tours. The drivers drive a little wild, but I noticed that most the drivers in the park were driving like that, so hold on tight!
While I wasn’t lucky enough to see a leopard, I did see a bunch of other animals including a bunch of elephants, crocodiles, buffalo, some colourful birds, mongoose, and warthogs. I had alton of fun and it was definitely worth it! My safari vehicle only had 4 seats so there was no overcrowding and trying to fight to get photos.
How to Get from Tissa to Mirissa
Take a private taxi from Tissa to Mirissa for 7000 SLR ($44) and it takes 2 hours and 30 minutes. The safari company I used above also had a taxi company, so I just used them for the journey (Janaka Taxi Service). The telephone # is +94 77 297 2639.
There is also a bus with 3 connections which takes about 3+ hours and costs a few dollars, but I was short on time so I just wanted to get there ASAP.
I heard Mirissa was touristy and was apprehensive about going, but I’m so glad I did. Mirissa was one of the prettiest places I saw in Sri Lanka. It’s the perfect place for relaxation, sunbathing, and surfing.
What to Do in Mirissa
Parrot rock-here you can see views of the twin beaches from above. Make sure to go at low tide so you can actually see both beaches separated by the sandbar.
Palm tree heaven-(not sure the actual name of it but that’s what it felt like to me). To get there, it’s about a 15 minute walk all the way to the left of Parrot Rock (keeping the beach on your right side). If you get lost, you can put in Sea Star Hotel in google maps and enter the beach through this hotel then turn left.
Surf-I’m not a surfer but this is a very popular thing to do in this area. It was fun to watch!
Mirissa Beach-take a walk along the coastline or lounge around and get a tan. Mirissa is very relaxing and pretty so take some time to enjoy it.
Where to Stay in Mirissa
Glamour Mirissa-this little boutique hotel was adorable and in a quiet area right across the street from the beaches. My room came with a lounge area with kitchen and washer. At $38, it was a great deal! You can check out the listing on booking.com here.
How to get from Mirissa to Galle
Train: There are 3 trains a day which takes 50 minutes and cost about $1.
Tuk tuk from Mirissa to Galle fort is 2000 SLR ($13) and takes 1 hour.
A private taxi costs around 4000 SLR ($25).
Galle was my favourite city I visited in Sri Lanka. Galle fort is an enclosed Dutch fort built in the 1500s and occupied by Portuguese, Dutch, and later the British. It’s now a UNESCO world heritage site. It was such a cute little town with colonial architecture and adorable boutique shops.
Lighthouse-the most picturesque part of the city with a beach nearby where you can swim and/or sunbathe.
Shopping-Galle definitely had the best shopping in Sri Lanka with cute little boutique shops with unique clothes and souvenirs.
Jungle beach-an excursion 20 minutes from Galle. It requires less than a 10 minute hike to get down. Once you arrive, you’re greeted with beautiful green waters (it feels more like a bay as there aren’t much waves). There isn’t much there besides some fruit juice stands.
Unuwatuna Beach–From Jungle Beach, you can walk 25 minutes to Unuwatuna Beach, where they have an abundance of water sports, surfing, lounge chairs, and lots of beach side restaurants. There is also some cute shopping on the streets. A round trip tuk tuk ride from Galle should cost you 1000 SLR ($6).
Where to Stay in Galle
I stayed in the cutest little boutique hotel with the sweetest staff. It was right in the middle of the Galle Fort and walking distance to everything. The room was huge with a strong AC. Breakfast was served in the colorful courtyard pictured below. You can view the listing here.
Where to Eat in Galle
Chambers restaurant– If you get sick of curry (which I did after day 5), Chambers restaurant has good Moroccan tagine.
Poonie’s Kitchen -serves healthy foods like granola and yogurt bowls, salads, and juices. It had a cute and cozy little courtyard inside. Note: it’s closed on Sundays and closes all other days at 6pm/
How to Get from Galle to Colombo
The train from Galle to Colombo is 180 rupees ($1.15) 2nd class. The journey takes 2.5 hours. The last train leaves Galle at 3:35pm.
Sri Lanka Quick Tips:
I had trouble with getting money out of some ATMs as my card kept getting declined. But when I tried other ones, they seemed to work. So if you’re going to a remote area, I would suggest stocking up on cash beforehand. I did notice that HNB Bank worked the best for me.
Ask you accommodation host for a taxi ride to your next destination. I always got the best rates from them and they set up the whole thing which made it easy.
Train rides are very cheap in Sri Lanka, but tuk tuks and private cars arent that bad, especially if you are traveling with several people.
They drive a bit crazy in Sri Lanka (and on the left side), so make sure you’re prepared for that and have a lot of experience if you plan on renting a motorbike.
It’s pretty common for your taxi driver to randomly get pulled over by police (and then pay them off), so don’t let that alarm you. (note: the locals confirmed this and told me it’s a regular occurrence there).
ALWAYS negotiate beforehand before getting into a taxi.
Safety: I felt pretty safe as a solo female traveler in most places. I did feel a little uncomfortable walking the dark streets alone in Kandy at night (many cat calls from men). I never really felt unsafe though.
Disclaimer: Some links in this article may include affiliate links, meaning I may receive a small commission if you book through these links, at NO extra cost to you. It’s what keeps this site ad free (I hate ads!). Also, I was a guest at Theva Residency. However, all opinions are my own and I am in no way obligated to leave positive feedback. I had an amazing time in the beautiful secluded property and I highly recommend staying here if in Kandy.