Most Unique Things to Do in Lapland, Finland

Most Unique Things to Do in Lapland, Finland

Honestly, I never had any desire to go to Finland before, let alone to the very north in Lapland. But as usual, I was enticed by some awesome snowy pics of this beautiful country and I knew I had to experience it for myself. Plus, I really wanted to see Santa! Can you blame me?

I had no idea there were so many awesome and unique things to do in Lapland, Finland. I was overwhelmed by all the choices as I was deciding which ones to choose! My wish list included seeing the northern lights, doing an animal safari (aka sleigh rides), and something super traditional and completely out of my comfort zone (you’ll see).

So if you’re heading that way and need help deciding, let me highlight all the kick-ass things to do in Lapland, Finland below:


Most Unique Things to Do in Lapland, Finland


Go On a Photo Expedition

Take an all day photo expedition that includes some trekking through the nature and photographing some epic views over the land. This is a must do for photography lovers. No professional experience is needed! They basically take you to all the best photo spots in a winter wonderland and help you take some awesome photos. It was really better than I expected. 

Most Unique Things to Do in Lapland, Finland

I wrote a separate post on this so I won’t get into too much detail here. But honestly, this was one of my favorite things I did in Finland! You can read about my tour in more detail here.

Santa Claus Village

If you’re in Rovaniemi you kinda have to go see Santa! Ok honestly, the village won’t wow you or anything but it’s one of those things that’s cool to say you did. Where else can you visit the city Santa is from?

Most Unique Things to Do in Lapland, Finland

In Santa’s Village, you can send a postcard postmarked from Santa’s Village and get an official stamp on your passport. They also offer shorter reindeer and husky rides. Although it’s more commercial here, it’s still an option of you don’t want to fork out a huge lump of cash for the longer animal safaris.

Most Unique Things to Do in Lapland, Finland

Cross the Arctic Circle

While at Santa’s Village you can actually cross the arctic circle! How cool is that? This is one of the few places in the world where you can actually stand with one foot on each sides of the arctic circle. If you want, you can even get an official certificate proving you actually did it!

Reindeer Safari

I couldn’t go to Lapland and NOT ride a reindeer! I mean, how many other places can you do that? Not many. The ride was very slow and kinda “kiddie” so definitely something for small children to enjoy, but still kinda cool to do as an adult. 

Most Unique Things to Do in Lapland, Finland

The ride itself is about 25-30 minutes through the snowy forest. It’s a great opportunity for photos. We then visited the reindeer farm and got to see all the cared for reindeer, even some cute baby ones! To get warm, we huddled by the fire and roasted sausages and sipped on berry juice.

It was a nice and quick tour and the company was great, but honestly for the price I don’t think it was worth it. I say this because they off reindeer rides at Santa’s Village for a small fraction of the price. Unless you really love reindeers and want to spend a little extra time with them, I would do the ride at Santa’s Village instead!

(Disclaimer: I received a small media discount for this tour. While I greatly appreciate this, I need to be completely honest with my readers and tell it like it is). 

Snowmobile to the Northern Lights

I’ts always a smart idea to book a northern lights tour that also combines another activity, just in case you don’t get to see them. Seeing the northern lights is never guaranteed and they are very unpredictable.

The perfect example of this is the Snowmobile Safari/Northern lights tour I did with Wild Nordic. The snowmobiling really got my adrenaline pumping riding out to a frozen lake to chase the lights. The ride was a bit bumpy with all the ice, so you probably shouldn’t do this is you have any spine issues or recent injuries.

 

After about 45 minutes of zipping through the snow, we ended up on a frozen lake far from the city lights. Our awesome guide Raivis made a small fire and cooked us Finnish sausages and poured us the most amazing hot berry juice.

Unfortunately the conditions didn’t allow us to see the lights; however, bonding with the fellow travelers around the open fire is something I’ll never forget!

The snowmobiling experience was so fun we didn’t even care about seeing the lights (I had seen them a few days earlier in Tromsø so I was content). It was an awesome tour and something you shouldn’t miss!

Sauna/Ice Dip

This might have been the most crazy thing I did in Finland. However, it’s something very popular with the locals, mostly for the health benefits. Going from extreme hot to cold is good for your circulation and makes you feel refreshed (although caution is advised in those with a history of heart issues).

The setting at Immelkartano was absolutely perfect. It’s a small family run company (which you know I love) which operates 2 sauna houses set on a beautiful snowy frozen lake.

Most Unique Things to Do in Lapland, Finland

Set up my tripod and caught the Northern Lights faintly in the distance. This was not visible with the naked eye so an added bonus!

I was told by the attendant that going in the frozen lake up to your next cleanses you of your sins from the neck down. All sinners welcome 🙂

The ice dip was super invigorating to say the least! You start by heating up in a traditional Finnish smoke sauna in a private setting and then jump into an ice hole. You end the dip by drinking a shot of straight up Finnish vodka (trust me, you’ll need it!).

View the Northern Lights from Levi

Most Unique Things to Do in Lapland, Finland

Levi is an adorable little ski town that I had the pleasure of staying in for 2 days while in Lapland. Although I didn’t get to see the northern lights on my snowmobile safari, I was fortunate enough to catch them in the back of a restaurant I was walking to in Levi. I happened to have my tripod on me from before, so I ran behind the restaurant to catch this incredible display of Mother Nature. There is something special about seeing them when you’re least expecting them. It’s pure magic.

Visit a Snow Hotel

The Snow Village is located about a 30-40 minute drive from Levi but is worth the trip. I learned so much about ice hotels and the design and details blew me away. I didn’t know that they rebuild the ice hotel every year, and it never looks the same twice! I really wish I would have stayed one night. The place was amazing! We were able to go inside all the rooms and see what they were like. Every room has a different design with intricate carvings. The artwork is really incredible. There is also an ice bar, ice restaurant, and ice slide! It’s only for children, but I saw some adults breaking the rules (ahem, including me). 

Most Unique Things to Do in Lapland, Finland

Every year, the hotel has a contest for the best designed room. Applicants submit their design online and the winner will have their room brought to life with their design! They even get to come stay in the hotel in their room! How cool?! If only I could draw past stick figures…

Most Unique Things to Do in Lapland, Finland

Husky Safari

One of the most popular activists in Lapland is to go on a husky ride safari. This activity is a lot faster and more exciting than a reindeer ride. The adrenaline kick plus the frigid air smacking you in the face will really wake you up!

Most Unique Things to Do in Lapland, Finland

You will also have time to meet all the huskies and play with them afterwards. I’m a cat person honestly, but these cuddly creatures are so hyper and loveable that I fell in love with them. I’m not going to lie though, in the beginning when they get them all hyped up to ride, they were a bit scary and aggressive!

Most Unique Things to Do in Lapland, Finland

Look at those gorgeous blue eyes!

It wouldn’t be a true Finish activity without ending the day inside a hut roasting sausages over an open fire. God I love Finland!

Dancing with wolves 🐺🐺 #lapland #ourfinland #tundrahuskies #visitlevi #gopro #goplayoutside

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The company was called Tundra Huskies and it costs €75 for the tour. You get to visit husky farm and pet the dogs and then do a 25-30 minute ride. You can also visit some reindeer on the farm. The whole tour takes about 2-3 hours. 

Other Awesome Things to Do in Lapland, Finland

Most Unique Things to Do in Lapland, Finland

  • Get a panorama view from a fell (a fell is basically an epic lookout point over the land).
  • Stay in a hotel with your own sauna (I’ll get to that in the next post).

Other cool things to do in Lapland that I didn’t get a chance to try:

  • Scenic flight to chase the northern lights
  • Iceberg float
  • Ice fishing
  • Stay in a glass igloo hotel (my dream)

*This post was in collaboration with Visit Levi & Wild Nordic; however, my opinions are my own and I had a kick-ass time in Lapland, as you can see!♥

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Have I Convinced You To Want to Visit Lapland? What Activities Would You Like to Do?

 

Photographing the Stunning Arctic Landscapes of Lapland, Finland

Photographing the Stunning Arctic Landscapes of Lapland, Finland

In the famous words of Ned Stark: WINTER IS COMING! So I thought this would be the perfect time to highlight some winter destinations, specifically Lapland, Finland. During my time in Lapland I was able to partake in my 1st photo expedition, and it was a blast!

What is a Photography Expedition?

As someone who loves photography, I have always wanted to do a photo expedition. But honestly, I didn’t really even know what that meant. Is it like an on-site photography class? Well, yes and no.

This was my first (and hopefully first of many) photo expeditions, and from my experience it was more like a fun venture out to a photography lover’s dream landscape, and they help you with taking the photos when it comes to settings, technique, position, etc.

You have to have a basic knowledge of photography I think. I consider myself super amateur, and when people start talking about aperture and shutter speed I get a little anxiety. But this trip was perfect and because of the small group size, we got personalized attention, which was key!

Most the photos I featured in this article were shot with my Sony Alpha6000 with my 10-18mm wide angle lens that I’m obsessed with. I  also used my GoPro Hero 5 and iPhone 6 for a few shots.

Note: battery life is severely decreased in freezing weather so make sure to bring some extra batteries along!

Beyond Arctic Photography Expeditions

Beyond Arctic is a tiny Finnish company ran by 2 awesome guys, both named Juho! They personally lead all the expeditions themselves and work their butts off!

With Beyond Arctic, no 2 expeditions are the same! That’s because they have several different areas around which they can visit and tailor make the tour based on the groups wishes (& also based on weather).

Photographing the Stunning Arctic Landscapes of Lapland, Finland

Juho photographing me photographing him 🙂

Their expeditions have a max of 8 people, so the group always stays small and intimate. I had 2 others on my tour and we really got to know each other and it was really nice not having to be herded around in a large group.

Photographing the Stunning Arctic Landscapes of Lapland, Finland; Beyond Arctic

Beyond Arctic also offer Northern Lights photography tours, ice fishing, skiing, and wilderness snowshoe adventures. They also offer summer and autumn expeditions, where you can experience and photograph the midnight sun!

What Kind of Clothes/Equipment Do You Need to Go on this Expedition?

Honestly, you can basically show up naked and they will dress you from head to toe. But please, if you do, wear underwear! But really, even if you don’t have the proper winter gear, it’s no problem at all, they will provide everything you need. They gave us hats, ski gloves, overall ski suit, waterproof boots, and a backpack to store all our stuff.

Photographing the Stunning Arctic Landscapes of Lapland, Finland: Where We Visited

We drove for about 2 hours to Riisitunturi National Park. We began our trek through the park up hill for about 1 hour, through the snowy forest, stopping frequently to take pictures and take in the views. The trek is 4.5 km and requires a moderate level of physical fitness.

Photographing the Stunning Arctic Landscapes of Lapland, Finland; crazy travelista

The views from the top of the fell were incredible. You get a stunning 360-degree view of the national park and the nearby lake which was frozen, adding to the dramatic arctic landscape.

Photographing the Stunning Arctic Landscapes of Lapland, Finland

GoPro shot of me fighting the arctic wind

If you’re dreaming of a winter wonderland (which I was) this will for sure satisfy your needs!

Photographing the Stunning Arctic Landscapes of Lapland, Finland

We stopped at this cute little cabin base camp where we started a small fire and began to grill some lunch. We were provided with some yummy sausages and a grilled cheese sandwich.


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I alerted them ahead of time of my allergy and they even made mine with gluten free bread. Oh, and they even had a gluten free apple cake made for me for dessert! I’m so not used to getting such goodies (with my past luck, the tour “forgets” about my allergy and I end up starving half the time).

Photographing the Stunning Arctic Landscapes of Lapland, Finland

The trek back down was a lot easier and quicker and the lighting was a bit better. The sun was starting to fall so there wasn’t any more glare or brightness blinding you.

Sunset caught on my iPhone 6

It was very cold, but I felt bundled up enough. Overall, the trek wasn’t as bad as I thought, mainly because we kept stopping for photo ops.

After the tour, Beyond Arctic sent us some photos they took during the expedition, which was cool to see some candid shots. Here are a few Jugo took below:


There’s me trying to get some good iPhone pics.

The view from the top of the fell where you can see the frozen lake.

Me looking satisfied (and bundled up) at the end of the tour. Can we do that again?♥

Camera Gear I Used on this Expedition (and all my travels really):

 

Tips: The one thing I will recommend if you do this tour is to bring sunglasses (wait, what, on a winter tour?). It’s actually really sunny and the wind at the top is no joke. My eyes were watering for like 30 minutes straight and I could barely see. Also, staring at the bleach white snow for hours on end can put a little strain on the eyes. Oh, and bring tissues. Your nose will be running.

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Disclaimer: I was a guest of Beyond Arctic; however, my opinions are my own and I am in no way obligated to write a positive review. This small company was awesome and I would highly recommend them to my family, friends, and fellow travellers. ♥

*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 wouldn’t recommend anything I didn’t already use and love! ♥

 

How to Spend 3 Days in the Nusa Islands (Lembongan, Ceningan, & Penida)

How to Spend 3 Days in the Nusa Islands (Lembongan, Ceningan, & Penida)

The Nusas consist of 3 gorgeous islands off the coast of Bali, Nusa Lembongan, Nusa Ceningan, and Nusa Penida.

All 3 islands have something special to offer so if you have time, I highly recommend checking out all three!

I based myself in Lembongan for 3 days and was able to visit all 3 islands during my time there.

You can see Ceningan in a half day as it is the smallest of the three. It is accessed by a bright yellow bridge from Lembongan.

Penida is the largest and most rugged of the 3. It is completely devoid of mass tourism and has so many awesome things to see!

*I want to especially thank Jackie from @getlostwithjackie for introducing me to Lembongan and Christina from @jetsetchristina for introducing me to Penida. These girls’ amazing Instagram photos really enticed/inspired me to visit these places that I had never heard of before! ♥


If you’re short on time and want to see all 3 islands in 3 days it’s totally doable.

This was my 3 day itinerary in the Nusa Islands (see below for all the details on each place):

Day 1: Nusa Lembongan (Mushroom Bay, Dream Beach, Devil’s Tear, The Deck)

Day 2: Nusa Penida full day

Day 3: Nusa Lembongan private tour to Manta Point + half day in Nusa Ceningan

 


What to Do on the Nusa Islands


Nusa Lembongan

What to do on the Nusa Islands

What to Do and See in Nusa Lembongan

Dream beach– beautiful beach where Dream Beach Huts overlooks. The waves are huge and you can’t really swim in it as it’s dangerous. You can pay a small fee to use their pool and facilities if you want to spend the day there.

Devil’s Tear-a 5-10 minute walk from dream beach (to the right if you’re looking at the water) will bring you to Devil’s Tear. Watch as the waves crash into the crescent shaped rocks leaving a huge cloud of mist behind. It’s a petty cool site! Be careful as the waves come up on the rocks so don’t try to be that person to get the perfect selfie on the edge.

What to do on the Nusa Islands

Mushroom Bay-a gorgeous blue/green bay with cute little restaurants and some water activities nearby.

What to do on the Nusa Islands

The Deck-a cute little spot overlooking Nusa Lembongan Beach and probably the best place to view the sunset on the island. It’s a bit more expensive than other places and serves a bunch of Western food. I didn’t even care as the view was well worth it. They have sunset sessions with a live DJ in the evenings as well, so it’ a great place to mingle.

The Deck, Nusa Lembongan

Swim with Manta Rays-one of the main attractions of the Nusas is swimming with Manta Rays! You can take a group tour that will take you to Manta Point and a few other snorkelling spots. Or you can do what I did and get a private tour and make up your own schedule with the stops of your choice.

This obviously isn’t the cheapest option, but I liked the idea of a tailored tour! I negotiated a rate of 400k for 3 stops (about $30 USD), including swimming with manta rays, and snorkelling in Crystal Bay and Secret Beach. It was also great because I started early and was back by 11am, which gave me enough time to eat lunch and then head to Ceningan for the rest of the day to explore.

What to do on the Nusa Islands

Note: you aren’t guaranteed to see manta rays, but I got lucky and saw a huge one! My captain told me to jump in, and honestly I was scared sh*tless when I saw the huge shadow of the creature on the surface. The only bad part about being alone on a tour. Another boat showed up and I waited until they jumped in to go in (I’m such a chicken). It swam within a foot of me! I scrambled to turn on my GoPro but it had already passed so i don’t have the best pictures to show for it. Manta rays are massive! Yet so angelic and graceful. It was such a once-in-a-lifetime experience to be up close and personal with these amazing creatures! Don’t miss out on this!

Nusa Penida

Nusa Penida was my favorite of the 3 islands as it was the most rugged and untouched. I only saw a handful of tourists the entire day. To explore, you need to take a tour or rent a scooter and do it on your own (which is what I did).

What to Do and See in Nusa Penida

Atuh BeachThis beach took a steep hike to get down, but was totally worth it. It’s absolutely breathtaking! The plunging cliffs are freakishly tall and provides a beautiful setting. It takes about an hour drive from the port of Penida, then about a 10-15 minute hike down onto super steep steps/rocks.

What to do on the Nusa Islands

There are a few little shacks serving drinks and fried rice or noodles. It’s pretty secluded and a great place to relax.
There is no parking fee.

Kelingking T-Rex (aka the money shot)This is probably the most popular beach in Penida and it’s shaped like a T-Rex! You can walk down the vey steep steps/rocks down to the beach, bit it may take you awhile. You must go very slow as it is very steep! I made it 1/3 way down and didn’t have time to go all the way as it took way longer than I imagined!
Parking is 5k (~$0.30).

Angel’s Billabong (Gambar Untuk)a natural infinity pool of blue and green hues that plunges into the ocean. You can swim in it, but be careful when the tide is high as the huge waves will come crashing down and could take you out to sea.

What to do on the Nusa Islands

It’s about a 5-10 minute walk from Broken Beach (on the right). You’ll see the signs.

Broken beach (Pasih Uug)-the ride down to this place is the worst road conditions I’ve ever experienced on a motorbike. It’s extremely rocky and bumpy with many potholes so just go very slow! The epic view over the top of Broken Beach is spectacular. And the color of the water is stunning! Parking is 5k.

How to Get to Nusa Penida

  • By public ferry from Lembongan (near the yellow bridge).
  • The ferry goes at 7am. Be there at 6:30am to assure a spot. Costs for tourists is 50k (~$3.76).
  • To get back, you may need to hire a private transfer that costs 200k (~$15).
  • If you can find more people, you can split the cost. I had to wait about 10-15 minutes and 3 other people joined so it was only 50k each, the same as the public ferry!
  • It takes less than 15 minutes for the crossing.
  • There are also ferries from Bali(Sanur) that go to Penida.
  • The public boat will drop you in the port of Toyapakeh in Penida.

How to get around Nusa Penida

Rent a motorbike for around 50k (~$3.76). The vendors will start at 80k but make sure to negotiate. You can also rent a car, but I enjoyed the adventure on a motorbike.

Note: the roads are VERY bumpy and unfinished with many potholes, especially going to Broken Beach and Angel’s Billabong. If you feel confident on a motorbike and have good balance, you should be fine! However, if you’ve never driven a motorbike before (or on the left side), this isn’t a good place to start! And remember, they drive on the LEFT side in Indonesia!

Nusa Ceningan

Nusa Ceningan is the smallest of the Nusas, but it thoroughly surprised me with its sheer beauty!

What to Do and See in Nusa Ceningan

Blue Lagoon-a natural cliffside lagoon with super vibrant turquoise waters that will leave you in awe.

Secret Beach– a secluded beach overlooked by Villa Travally Resort. There were only a few people there and it was a great place to relax. You must buy something to stay.

What to do on the Nusa Islands

Mahana point for cliff jumping- there is a place to go cliff jumping a few minutes from the Blue Lagoon (although they charge 25k per jump!)

Last Stop Bar and Cafe-cutest little spot on the water with bean bags and a super chill vibe. They also have a great selection of fruit drinks. You can go right in the water from the steps and cool off. I loved this place!

What to do on the Nusa Islands

Ceningan cliffs-a restaurant/viewpoint overlooking Penida island. There are swings overlooking the viewpoint. It’s a little bumpy to get there, so if you don’t have time, it wouldn’t kill you to skip it.

Where to Stay in Nusa Lembongan

D’mas Huts-this family run place was absolutely fantastic. It’s composed of only 5 private huts and has a spectacular view over Nusa Ceningan and the gorgeous blue water in between. Oh, and it was only $18 per night!

Where to Stay in Nusa Lembongan

The owner Nyoman was the best host and catered to just about anything I needed. He always had a smile on his face  and really made my stay more enjoyable.

They also have a nice restaurant which serves a big varieties of foods at a super reasonable price. Plus the views over the pool and landscape below are fantastic! The food was super delicious as well!

I got a special deal on hotels.com and paid only $18/night. It was half off, but even at full price it’s super affordable. The value for money is incomparable and I cannot recommend this place enough! And no, it was NOT sponsored in any way!

They also have onsite scooter renewals for 50k/day. D’mas Huts was such a great find!

Have you Been to the Nusa Islands? Which one was Your Favorite?

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What to do on the Nusa Islands

 


MY TOP 5 RECOMMENDED TRAVEL GEAR FOR BALI:

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 6): this helps protect my phone from water, sand, dirt, and the numerous drops that incur while I travel. I love it!

5. GoPro Hero 5 Black: I am a proud GoPro ambassador and obsessed with GoPro selfie pics if you didn’t notice! The Gopro cameras are the best for action and underwater shots, and of course for taking those selfies when you’re traveling solo.  It’s super small, compact, and easy to travel with. Plus it’s so much fun to use! 🙂

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 🙂

 

Exploring Istria, Croatia by Car: the Perfect 1-Day Road Trip

Exploring Istria, Croatia by Car: the Perfect 1-Day Road Trip

Istria is one of the lesser known regions in Croatia, and very underrated in my opinion. Istria is a wine lover’s paradise as it is a prime wine harvesting region in Croatian. Also specific to the Istrian region is the coveted (and super expensive) truffle. Not to mention the food in Istria is known as some of the best in Europe. Go see for yourself!

Go truffle hunting, wine tasting, admire the medieval hilltop villages, or have a culinary field day with all the amazing food that comes from this region. Istria is incredible and it’s surprising that it hasn’t gotten too touristy…yet.

Istria road trip

If you’re planning on exploring the Istria region of Croatia, a car is actually the only way you can do it. Public transport does not go to most of these hilltop towns so your options are limited.

Istria is very small and you can easily explore the best spots in one day.

I have highlighted the perfect 1-day road trip in Istria below: 

Istria, Croatia 1-day Road Trip


First Route: Rovinj to Hum

Journey time: 1 hour 15 minutes

Parking cost: 10 kuna


HUM

Hum has been coined the “smallest town in the world” and has recently been recognized officially by the Guinness Book of World Records. The town has a population of 17….SEVENTEEN!

Hum Croatia, smallest town in the world

Does it get any more fairytale than this?

Walking through this town will literally take you about 5-10 minutes, it’s that small. What we saw in this town included a few residences, a tractor trailor, a cute little shed, a little farmhouse, a field with some crops, a single restaurant with great views of the countryside, and a handful of visitors.

Istria, Croatia 1-day Road Trip; Hum, smallest town in world

As you can tell by the description, there is not much to see; however, I would recommend a stop here as it is very quaint and unique in its own sense. Also, if just for the mere fact that you can say you’ve been to the smallest town in the world…officially.

(Note:  when we were there it was not yet “official”)


2nd Route: Hum to Motovun

Journey time: 40 minutes

Parking cost: 20 kuna


MOTOVUN

Motovun is a medieval hilltop town that rivals the top towns in Tuscany in terms of sheer beauty. Situated on the top of a hill and overlooking the plush Istrian countryside, make sure to grab a glass of the local wine in a cute little restaurant overlooking the land.

Istria, Croatia 1-day Road Trip; Motovun

Istria is famous for truffle hunting and you will not have a problem findings specialty shops with free truffle tastings. I honestly do not like truffles (they make me gag) so I passed on this. But if it’s you’re forte, make sure to grab a few small bottles for the perfect souvenir to bring back.

Istria, Croatia 1-day Road Trip

Make sure to set aside some time to get lost in the streets and have a mini photo shoot. The town is gorgeous and you’re going to want to take it all in. It wasn’t overcrowded in the least bit and that made it extra enjoyable!

Istria, Croatia 1-day Road Trip


3rd Route: Motovun to Grožnjan

Journey time: 25 minutes

Parking cost: free street parking


GROŽNJAN

Istria, Croatia 1-day Road Trip

I think I may have found my new home

Grožnjan might be my favourite town on our Istrian road trip. Also located on a hilltop, it was a lot smaller and quaint than the other towns and had a more local feel.

Istria, Croatia 1-day Road Trip

How cute are these blue shutters?

You could sense the artistic vibe as soon as you entered Grožnjan and it was nice strolling through all the quirky art shops. I wish we would have had more time here, as it was unexpectedly pleasant.

Istria, Croatia 1-day Road Trip

UMAG

Our next and last stop (kinda) was the city of Umag. As we arrived into the city and attempted to find parking, we weren’t too impressed. The city was more run down and didn’t have much character from what we could see (but hey, we could have been totally wrong and it could have been awesome). We just didn’t get a good vibe from it and made a quick executive decision to head to Novigrad for our final sunset stop. It turned out to be a great choice!


4th Route: Umag to Novigrad

Journey time: 15 minutes

Parking cost: free


NOVIGRAD

In our brief venture in Novigrad, we strolled the main street covered in colourful umbrellas and had an impromptu photo shoot. It was such a lovely street we couldn’t resist.

Istria, Croatia 1-day Road Trip

We then quickly rushed to the waterfront for the sunset and found the cutest little spot called Pepe Bar. There were cushions placed on the rocks and served as the perfect spot to view the sunset.

Pepe Bar, Novigrad, Croatia

It was more on the pricy side but the view and ambiance surely made up for it. Try the mojito if you go, it was really delicious!

Istria, Croatia 1-day Road Trip

CareBear and I enjoying the sunset in Novigrad


Last Route: Novigrad to Rovinj

Journey time: 1 hour

Parking cost: free


Where to Base Yourself in Istria

Rovinj without a doubt is the ideal location to base yourself for your Istrian road trip. You can reach all the above-mentioned locations in one hour and 15 minutes max. Also, ROVINJ IS INCREDIBLE and probably my favourite city in Croatia. For reasons why you should visit Rovinj, check out my post What to do in Rovinj: The Ultimate Guide to Croatia’s Most Underrated City

what to do in Rovinj

Where to Rent a Car in Istria

About a 10 minute stroll south along the water in Rovinj, you will find a little car rental agency called Vetura. We didn’t make advanced reservations and it wasn’t a problem at all. We reserved the car the afternoon before and it costed 450 kuna (about $69/day) for an automatic last minute rental. It was way more expensive than if you book in advance, so we learned our lesson.

Istria road trip

My first time renting a car outside of the USA. I look calm enough, huh?

We were pleased with the company and the owner was very relaxed about return times. I would definitely use them again.

To come along on our fun road trip, check out this video that my travel partner Carebear Abroad made of our awesome day! Hint: it may involve getting our car stuck in the middle of nowhere. 

Have you been to Istria? What was you favorite hilltop town?

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Istria, Croatia 1-day Road Trip

Istria, Croatia 1-day Road Trip

What to do in Rovinj: The Ultimate Guide to Croatia’s Most Underrated City

What to do in Rovinj: The Ultimate Guide to Croatia’s Most Underrated City

As holiday seekers flock to Dalmatia for the popular sailing trips on the Adriatic Sea, the Istria region in Croatia is often overlooked. It only took my 8TH TRIP back to Croatia to finally venture to this lesser-known peninsula, due to my intense (and some might say unhealthy) attachment to the mesmerising Dalmatian coast.

Rovinj is located on the coast of the Istria peninsula, in the Western part of Croatia. Istria is known for its impeccable wine, world class gastronomy, coveted (and expensive) truffles, and storybook hilltop towns. What’s not to love about Istria? Please tell me. I’ll wait…

Last September, my friend CareBear and I decided on a more slow-paced holiday and to spend an entire week in Rovinj, using it as a base to explore the Istrian peninsula. Let me start by saying Rovinj is the perfect place to base yourself when exploring this region, given its central position along the coast. Not only that, it’s f***ing gorgeous! That fact is undeniable.

I will say that I wasn’t expecting to love Rovinj as much as I did. The Dalmatian coast has set the bar super high for me and I must admit I am quite biased to that area. You could go as far to say that I’m passionately obsessed with it. But Rovinj absolutely blew me away and it quickly moved to the top as one of my favourite Croatian cities, if not my favourite.

The best way I can describe Rovnj is quaint, charming, clean, colorful, and rustic…all in one perfect package. It sounds cliche, but there are no other words I can use to describe the awesomeness that is Rovinj.

what to do in Rovinj

There is not much to see in Rovinj in terms of historical landmarks, monuments, or museums. However, it is one of those places where you can just relax and take in all the surroundings in a peaceful atmosphere. The people are extremely friendly and the service was excellent overall.

First Impressions of Rovinj

Rovinj has such a huge Italian influence, understandably given its close proximity. The city of Rovinj felt like a blend between Italy and Croatia, my 2 favorite countries in the entire world. The food, the rustic architecture, and the colours are like a spitting image of the Ligurian region in Italy (my favourite region in Italy!). At times, I forgot that I was actually in Croatia and felt as if i was in Cinque Terre. That’s how strong the Italian influence was.

what to do in Rovinj

What really surprised me about Rovinj is that Croatian didn’t seem to be the dominant language, although technically it is. We heard just as much Italian and German as we did Croatian. And when the locals spoke Croatian, it sounded like it was with an Italian accent. The dialect is completely different from further south along the coast, and it was distinctly apparent. I was extremely surprised to hear how much German was spoke there, until we were informed that these were Austrians speaking and it made sense as this region used to be ruled by Austria in historical times! 

Why is Rovinj so Lovely? Let me Count the Ways…

The Picturesque Streets of Rovinj

Rovinj is the epitome of Picture Perfect. The streets of Rovinj are a photographer’s dream. In fact, Rovinj was one of the most picturesque towns I have ever seen. Period. My favourite part about Rovinj by far was the consistently stunning streets. Every day we found ourselves just getting lost in the maze-like alleys and having a blast. Around every corner, it was more and more beautiful.

what to do in Rovinj

There were numerous little cafes with funky/colourful furniture that were just so visually inviting it made you want to go in for a coffee every 5 minutes. One can only drink so much coffee in a day, but damnit they were just so stinkin’ cute!

what to do in Rovinj

The stores were so unique and the eclectic displays were very pleasing to the eye. The immaculate design of each little shop astounded me and silently lured me in. I could have shopped all day, even though I didn’t buy anything. We experienced boutique heaven in Rovinj.

what to do in Rovinj

 What To Do in Rovinj

The Farmer’s Market

I could never leave a city without visiting the local farmer’s market. In fact, it’s usually the first place I visit when arriving to a new city in order to stock up on some healthy snacks. The Farmer’s Market in Rovinj does not disappoint. The fruit is super fresh, juicy, and robust. The vendors are also very friendly and inviting, often giving you loads of tasting samples.

what to do in Rovinj

Honey, olive oil, truffles, and figs, you name it and they had it there. What’s best about this specific one is that it’s basically open all day until about 10pm, unlike most farmer’s markets that are only open in the mornings.

We went there so often that everyone started knowing us by name, and eventually free fruit was thrown in here and there.

Monte Beach

Let me start by saying Rovinj isn’t known for its beaches. The one I would recommend is called Monte Beach and is located just a hop skip and a jump from the center (did I really just say that?).

Monte Beach isn’t really technically a beach, it’s more like a rocky cove frequented by sunbathers brave enough to lay on the rigid rocks. It was super cute and not too crowded, and this became our little go-to spot every day. We even went here a few times to watch the sunset over the rocks and it was incredible. Check it out at least once if you’re in Rovinj. Oh, and bring some wine.

Church of St Ephemia Clock Tower

This is where you can find the best panoramic views over the city. You have to walk up some wobbly/narrow stairs to get to the top, but it’s worth it for the 360 degree views.

what to do in Rovinj

Entrance fee is 3 euros.

Rent A Bike

This was a great way to see more of just the centre of Rovinj. You can’t really ride the bikes inside the narrow streets. Instead, we went along the coast where some of the other more populated beaches were located. There were rental places all throughout the city, so no need to book in advance. 

Go Boutique Shopping (or in our case, window shopping)

what to do in Rovinj

There was no shortage of specialty boutiques in the city, from eclectic jewellery shops selling one-of-a-kind pieces to musical shops selling cool vintage instruments. The displays in these stores were outstanding and you could really appreciate the attention to detail. All were so funky and different, it was nice to just browse through them one by one, entertaining our curiosities.

Find the Most Instagrammed Spot in Rovinj

As you’re walking through the city, you may stumble upon the cutest little street ever and your head will turn (as did mine). Can you see why it’s the most Instagrammable street in Rovinj?

Secret Find: Mediterraneo Bar

This was by far our absolute favorite place in Rovinj and we came back every single day. The irresistible archway framing the steps leading into the sea is what initially drew us in. A cozy cafe by day and a coveted drinking spot during sunset, this is the place you will want to be.

Newly opened in May 2015 by a Rovinj native, Jasmin Huskic, Mediterraneo Bar serves coffee and speciality cocktails in a cozy seaside retreat. The staff is warm and inviting, always making sure you are enjoying your time.

what to do in Rovinj: Mediterraneo Bar

The cafe/bar is nicely decorated with an eclectic and bohemian inspired flare. Plush colourful cushions placed on the rocks and mismatched furniture give it a vibrant atmosphere. During the day, you have the option of jumping from the rocks and swimming right in front of the cafe. How cool?

The best part about this bar is the “secrete escape” spot that is, well…a secret. Tucked away in a private corner on the rocks, there is a magical spot that offers privacy in a romantic setting with a small table, cushions, and soft blankets offered for the cold night breeze.

what to do in Rovinj

The secret escape has become so popular that reservations are now warranted for this coveted spot. It was truly a unique experience watching the sunset in our own private little nest.

Mediterraneo Bar is seriously one of my favorite cafes I have ever been to! Hands-down. And no, this isn’t sponsored in any way, it’s really that awesome! If you make it over there, tell Jasmin that Crazy Travelista and CareBear Abroad say hi!

Where to Stay in Rovinj

As I usually do, I highly recommend using Airbnb for accommodation. During my search, I came across a big variety of choices in the center of the city and at very reasonable prices. We chose to stay in the center and it was the absolute perfect location, everything within a few minutes walk.  We picked a private apartment and we couldn’t have been happier. It happened to be on what became our favourite street in Rovinj, with a restaurant and coffee bar conveniently outside our door.

what to do in Rovinj

The one-bedroom apartment had a full kitchen, private bathroom and shower, wifi, a flat screen TV, and a pull out couch. The apartment could fit 3 people comfortably. We really enjoyed utilizing the kitchen to save money on eating out every meal. The total price for one week including all taxes and fees was $350 ($175 each split between us). It could have been even less if we had one more with us. We paid a little more this time for the prime location and it was well worth it.

You can check out our Airbnb rental here. (Update: the price has increased a bit since we stayed here, wahhh). And if you’re new to Airbnb, feel free to use my $40 off coupon! They really do have a great referral program! (PS: even if you already have a AirBnb account, you can sign up with a new email and still get the $40 OFF. YAY)

Where to Eat in Rovinj

As a Gluten-free eater, my restaurant recommendations are often limited as I can only sample a small selection of foods, unfortunately. I also tend to cook most my meals if I can, even when I’m traveling. Nevertheless, I did manage to find a few Gluten-friendly options that I really enjoyed.

where to eat in Rovinj

Pano e Vino-I was so excited to find an Italian place that served Gluten-free pasta. I sampled the gluten-free bolognese and the seafood risotto which were both flavourful and rich. I loved the fact that they brought out gluten-free bruschetta as an appetizer on the house, as well as gluten-free bread with our meals. I highly recommend this place even if you are not gluten free. The staff was super friendly and even gave us a whole bottle of honey grappa on the house. If we hadn’t eaten here the last night, I would have definitely returned again.

Squid 2-this restaurant has a great view of the riva and offers a variety of fresh seafood. We opted for the fish platter for 2 and it was very good and filling. The bonus is that they take credit cards.

Scuba-this restaurant also offered a variety of gluten-free options at a reasonable price. I also sampled the seafood risotto here, which was delightful and a very big portion.

B52-this place had the best gelato we tried in Rovinj and with the biggest selection. This is also the ONLY place that would allow us to sample the flavors. The scoops were huge and well worth the price. I recommend the fig gelato, unusual, yet mouthwatering.

How to Get to Rovinj

Planes, trains, and automobiles…literally. The only airport located in the Istrian region is in Pula, about 40 minutes by bus to Rovinj (costs 43 kuna). There are many affordable flights to Pula within Croatia on Croatia Airlines. I flew from Zadar to Pula for around $75 and it took less than an hour.

There are also busses from Split and Dubrovnik by Bus Croatia, but they are less frequent, take 9-12 hours, and some cost almost as much as a flight. Busses from Zagreb take about 6 hours.

You could also rent a car and drive to Rovinj; however, parking in the city can be a pain in the butt. Also, you really would only need a car for a day or 2 at the most, so if you are staying for a week it’s kind of a waste of money in my opinion.

Your best bet is snagging a cheap flight from Dalmatia or Zagreb!

How to Get Around Rovinj

By foot! It’s a total walkable city given its small size. You can get anywhere in 15 minutes max. I do however, recommend renting a car for one day to explore the surrounding region.

Exploring Istria (day trip)

One thing you must do in this region is get out and explore the countryside by car. In fact, this is the only way to reach the nearby hilltop towns, as public transport doesn’t serve most of these areas.

Highly recommended on your Istrian road trip are the towns of Motovun, Hum, Groznjan, and Novigrad. You can do them all in one day as they are all less than an hour and fifteen minutes from Rovinj! Just make sure to get an early start. To get all the details, read my post Exploring Istria, Croatia by Car: the Perfect 1-Day Road Trip

Day Trip It to Pula

Pula lies on the southern tip of the Istrian Peninsula and is a short 35-ish minute bus ride from Rovinj. The main attraction in Pula is the magnificent Pula Area, which was constructed back in the 1ST CENTURY! In fact, it’s older than the Colosseum in Rome! It’s also the 6th largest Roman arena in the world that still exists today!

Pula Arena, Croatia

There are also a few cute beaches to visit in Pula, as well as the nearby Kamenjak National Park, which I’m kicking myself for not getting to (I was short on time). If you make it over to Kamenjak, please let me know what I missed!

Pula, Croatia

Moral of the Story?

GO TO ROVINJ! It’s an overlooked Croatian splendour that doesn’t get the hype it very well deserves. Rovinj is very relaxing and romantic, the perfect base for exploring the Istria countryside, is filled with hospitable people, has great food, and is undeniably drop-dead gorgeous! All the elements of THE perfect city if you ask me!

what to do in Rovinj

Do you have any other tips for what to do in Rovinj? Any secret finds I failed to mention? Please let me know in the comments below! I would love to check them out when I finally return!

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What to do in Rovinj

RECOMMENDED 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 6): this helps protect my phone from water, sand, dirt, and the numerous drops that incur while I travel. I love it!

5. GoPro Hero 5 Black: I am a proud GoPro ambassador and obsessed with GoPro selfie pics if you didn’t notice! This is an essential item when you’re traveling solo to get all your cool shots (and of course underwater pics). Plus it’s so much fun to use! 🙂

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 🙂

 

 

6 Awesome & Unique Things to Do on New Zealand’s North Island

6 Awesome & Unique Things to Do on New Zealand’s North Island

Traveling to New Zealand had been a long time dream for me. However, the price of the airline ticket and the distance kept me away for so long.

That is until I found an error fair on Qantas for $216 round trip!!!

I never in a million years thought that was even possible to get a ticket to somewhere that far away for so cheap! I had about 20 minutes to decide and book…and I never looked back!

Fast forward a few months later, where I spent 12 days in New Zealand over the past fall and it was one of my favourite trips to date!

I couldn’t decide between the North and South Islands, so I did a little of both! I rented a car and spent 8 days total on the North Island and I would highly recommend doing the self drive so you can get more off the beaten path (and save time).

I stayed in Airbnbs the whole time on New Zealand’s North Island and it averaged about $32 a night, so not bad at all!

I rented an automatic car for 5 of the 8 days on the island and it costed $232 (including the extra insurance and drop off at a different airport). It’s definitely cheaper if you know how to drive stick shift! 

I used RentalCars.comto book my car rental (which is what I use for ALL my car rentals. The prices seem to be the lowest and their customer service has been great. I have been using them for YEARS and I have no complaints!)

Disclaimer: Btw, the above link is an affiliate link, meaning I may get a very small commission if you book using my link, at no extra cost to you. It helps keeps this site up and running, so thank you!)♥

Unique Things to Do on New Zealand’s North Island 

1. Step Into the Magical Land of Hobbiton

Ok I have a confession, I have never seen Lord of the Rings OR The Hobbit. Yet, I still wanted to visit this place because it looked like something out of this world. 

Unique Things to Do on New Zealand's North Island

And boy was I right! Hobbiton was everything I imagined and more. Walking around all the miniature houses and taking selfies in front of the colorful round doors made me feel like a kid again.

This little village is the actual movie set of the famous movies and can only be visited with a tour, so make sure you book tickets in advance! I absolutely loved Hobbiton, and I can imagine fans of the movie would DIE over it!

Hobbiton is a must see in New Zealand, whether you’ve seen the movies or not!

2. Visit the Colorful Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland

This area is one of the most volcanically active areas of the world. I had no idea until I visited!

You know how after you’ve been to more than one thermal area, they all kinda look the same after a while? Well, not this one! I was surprised that I enjoyed this so much and spent a few hours here exploring the area.

what to do in New Zealand North Island

There are a few different paths you can take to walk around the whole park, so give yourself a few hours to do so. The colors of the hot springs were like nothing I had ever seen and they were very picturesque (albeit extremely smelly).

It’s a bit pricey to enter, at $32.50 NZD (about $23) a ticket, but honestly well worth it!

3. Hike to the Gorgeous Cathedral Cove (Coromandel Peninsula)

Unique Things to Do on New Zealand's North Island

A few years back, on a Contiki trip to Thailand, I met an adorable little Kiwi (New Zealander) girl. I asked her the ONE place I can’t miss if I ever come to New Zealand and she mentioned Cathedral Cove. She was SPOT ON!!! (Thanks Rachel).

To get to Cathedral Cove, it requires an easy 45 minute hike from the car park. There are 2 beaches on either side of the cove, both worthy of your time. Ironically, this beach reminded me a bit of Thailand!

Tip: There are a few detours you can make on the way back that are way worth it, namely Stringray Bay. The pastel green water framed against limestone cliffs and lush greenery is breathtaking. It’s also pretty secluded so it’s a great place to get away from the crowds.

what to do in New Zealand North Island

4. Go Wine Tasting on Waiheke Island

A 40-minute ferry ride from Auckland will bring you to a quiet little island called Waiheke. So what does Waiheke have to offer? A beautiful island with cliff-hanging epic views and several beautiful wineries. Need I say more? I was in absolute heaven. 

what to do in New Zealand North Island

There is a bus system that connects to most of the wineries, but you can also walk to some of them from the port. I decided to take the nice little path up to the first winery and I was afforded with great panoramic views of the cliffside and water.

Wine tastings cost around $10 for 3-5 tastings, not bad at all.

My favorite winery on Waiheke island was Mudbrick, so make sure to hit this one up while you’re there. It had such a cute ambiance and the views over the island were spectacular. You could ever see the Auckland skyline from there!

5. Explore the Mystical Waitomo Glow Worm Caves

I’m not going to lie, the glow worm caves was one of my top reasons for wanting to visit the North Island of New Zealand. Where else can you see something as cool as this?

I took a tour of the glow worm caves that lasted about 45 minutes. They took us to the caves and explained a little about the lifecycle of the glow worms and why they glow, which was very interesting.

The glowworms emit a bright bluish green color from their tails to attract insects, and to fend off other animals from eating them.

The glowworm has a lifecycle of only 11 months and only lives a few days as an adult fly. The term “life is short” takes on a whole new meaning for the glow worm.

We then boarded a small boat and our guide stood at the front and navigated us through the caves pulling on these seemingly invisible ropes attached to the walls. It was super dark in there and a little spooky, until you see the glowworms. It looked like a starry sky lit up in bright blue from underneath and it was a very peaceful experience. It kinda felt like we were in a virtual reality world, it was a really special experience.

Tip: you CANNOT take pictures inside the cave because it may startle the glowworms (also, they turn off their lights when they see light).

6. Escape to the Bay of Islands

The Bay of Islands is about 3-4 hours from Auckland by car and consists of 140 subtropical islands off the coast.

what to do in New Zealand North Island

As I was short on time, I only got to visit the cute little seaside town of Paihia, as well as took a boat to Russell. Russell was New Zealand’s first capital, it’s first sea port, as well as it’s first permanent European settlement. It serves an important part in New Zealand’s history and definitely worth a visit.

There are some cute seaside cafes, beautiful beaches, and a few lookout points you can walk up to for a panoramic view of the nearby islands.

A big attraction in the Bay of Islands is swimming with dolphins in the wild. You basically take a boat out and search for dolphins and jump in with them! Since I did this in Zanzibar, I skipped out on this but I would highly recommend doing something like this because it was a wild and unforgettable experience in Zanzibar!

♥New Zealand, You Have My Heart♥

Overall, I loved all the gorgeous beaches and unique attractions in the North Island of New Zealand. I think 9 out of 10 people would recommend the South Island over the North, but I had a fabulous time and saw so many fantastic things. Don’t skip over the North Island because it has so much to offer! Although, I would recommend not spending much time in Auckland, because honestly there was nothing special about it and there are so many other awesome places to see on the island.

New Zealand blew me away and has now become one of my top 3 favorite countries! New Zealand is quiet and peaceful and has so much to offer in terms of nature, adrenaline activities, beautiful beaches, and epic views. There are so many unique things to do on New Zealand’s North Island, and I only just scratched the surface!

Have you been to the North Island of New Zealand? What were the highlights for you?

PIN for later!♥

what to do in New Zealand North Island

Disclaimer: I was a guest of waitomo.com during my glow worms tour. However, my opinions are my own and I am in no way obligated to write a positive review. I would never sell out like that! It was such a unique experience and I highly recommend it.