What’s in my Carry On Bag

One of the questions I get asked ALL of the time is “what do you pack in your carry on bag”? Now, truth be told, I almost always try to carry on both pieces of luggage – my 20″ spinner bag and my trusted Longchamp (my favorite carry-on because it’s liquid proof, has a zipper, an internal pocket & seriously holds a ton!). Today I’m sharing what’s in my personal bag – you know, the one that goes at your feet (unless you’re like me and stick it up in the overhead bin to have more footspace…#sorrynotsorry).

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Ok, so now let me break it down for you. Given that I travel a TON and I pretty much have packing down to an art, I have a solid list of items I take on almost every trip. This list is tried & true and will be sure to help you get you through any flight:

Headphones…and not just earbuds- those kill my ears after a while & don’t drown out the background noise well enough. I recently was gifted these headphones and let me tell you – they’re great! They’re very affordable, stylish & lightweight. If you don’t want to spend the money on Beats or Bose (the crème de la crème), I definitely recommend them.

Bonus: they’ve also been great to run with.

So if you’re flying business or 1st they’ll give you an amenities kit; otherwise I always pack one myself with some face wipes, toothpaste/toothbrush and a few mini toiletries. When flying overnight or more than 3 hours, a little freshening up works wonders.

A couple of key items that are easy to forget, but critical for flying are an eye mask to help sleep and a pen for crosswords, Sudoku or customs forms. They’re so small and take up no space in your bag, but make a huge impact on your trip. Trust me.

iPads, books and magazines are a must to keep entertained, especially on a long flight. I usually read the magazine during takeoff and then try to watch a pre-purchased movie on my ipad while in flight. Thank goodness for in-flight internet!

Tip: if you’re not flying a carrier with free tv (such as Jet Blue or Virgin), head to the GoGo website to pre-purchase internet for a lower price than you’d pay once on board the plane.

I never leave for the airport without a water bottle – it’s cheaper than buying airport bottled water and it’s more eco-friendly. Plus, we all know that staying hydrated while flying is key. This is my #1 item that I must have while flying (or road tripping!).

Two critical pieces of clothing I always bring with me on flights are extra socks (the more plush, the better) and either an oversized scarf or an open front cardigan. Planes are notorious for being chilly & layering is key! I never, ever wear jeans – usually a maxi dress or these leggings with a long v-neck top. Comfort, while remaining presentable, is key my friends. Let’s not forget we’re in public.

So there you have it, 9 critical pieces that must go with you on your next flight. Use this list as a base and you’ll be sure to be comfy, cozy & have what you need to get through the most painful of flights (I’m looking at you, United).

What’s your “must have” item in your carry on?!

Iceland Part 3: The Blue Lagoon

We arrived back in Rekjavik around 6pm (read about our day 1 excursion here), grabbed a quick bite at happy hour & then quickly changed into our bathing suits for our 8:00 pm pickup. I wondered if we were too rushed and packed too much into one day, but let me tell you…Blue Lagoon at night is the way to go!

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We booked this transfer via FlyBus which was super easy. They picked us up at 8:30 pm and we arrived at the Blue Lagoon exactly 45 minutes later. As you pull up, the building is very sleek and feels very “of the element”- it’s all built with wood, stone, and moss.

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So, here’s how the Blue Lagoon works:

Step 1: You must buy your tickets ahead of time. This is critical. We bought ours about a week ahead and almost every time slot was sold out.

Hint: Buy the basic entry package. We brought a towel from our hotel & they had free silica face masks everywhere. There’s really no need to buy a more expensive package.

Step 2: They give you a wristband to control your provided locker and for any purchases. I threw my clothes in the locker, rinsed off, grabbed my towel & walked right in.

Hint: Bring either a waterproof phone case or a Go Pro – you’ll want to take pics!

Step 3: Grab a drink, put on a mask and enjoy all that the lagoon has to offer! I must say, the lagoon is much bigger than I was imagining, with rocks, bridges & coves all around. It’s this milky, creamy hot tub feel, sans bubbles. They’ve got a swim up bar, various grottos and coves. It’s super chill and relaxing, though I imagine it may not feel this way if it were crowded. We didn’t partake in the spa or restaurant; however, I heard they’re both very nice.

Hint: Plan to spend at least 2 hours at the lagoon. We could easily have spent another hour or two wandering around and enjoying the amenities.

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We packed up around 11:00 pm and headed out to catch the bus back. We caught the most incredible pink sunset and were back in our beds by 1am. We were so relaxed from the evening that we passed out right away & slept like babies. One last thing to mention (especially you ladies!), your hair is going to be a frazzled mess the next day. I used a lot of their provided conditioner but still had a slimy, dry feeling to it.

Overall the Blue Lagoon is incredible and so worth it! I’ve heard many people say it’s “too touristy” or “overcrowded” but I think that if you go at the right time of you, you’ll be able to enjoy the area as much as we did.

Related Posts:

Iceland Part 1: Golden Circle Tour

Iceland Part 2: Southern Iceland Tour

Below are some unedited pictures from our Go Pro to give you an idea of the size/space:

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Entrance to the huge lagoon

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enjoying a cold brew in the hot lagoon

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silica face masks

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pure relaxation

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heaven 🙂

Iceland Part 2: Southern Iceland

Remember in my first post when I said that the weather changes by the minute? Well, day two in Iceland was the perfect example. As we were eating breakfast on Monday, we noticed a slight drizzle outside. We thought “no big deal” as this is common for Iceland. Well, fast forward about 20 minutes and we were in full torrential downpour. That lasted All. Day. Long.

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thank goodness we stopped for more rain gear 🙂

We already had a trip set up with Bus Travel IcelandBus Travel Iceland to explore all that Southern Iceland has to offer, so we threw a few extra pairs of socks in our bag, added an extra layer and hit the road. My first impression of the Bus Travel Iceland bus was “is this it?” Iit was a very small (maybe 14 passenger) van. Given the weather, this small vehicle was not the most comfortable. To be honest, we were pretty cold the whole time and never felt fully dried off or warm. On a day like this, I would have preferred the coach style bus, although we only had 4 people total so it was nice to have a smaller group with a more personalized tour.

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Our first stop was about 90 minutes south on a working farmhouse in Village of Vík, the southernmost village in Iceland. A young couple owned the house and ran the farm, with 200+ sheep, 75+ horses & a lot of land. Their home was warm, cozy & quite charming. They were only about 500 meters from the sea. Upon arrival, the hosts had coffee, tea & traditional Iceland pancakes ready. Everything was delicious! (You can find their home on Airbnb!)

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their farm – with so many cute horses!

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our host in her lovely home

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yummy coffee & crepes

Next, we took the journey down Ring Road to the Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss waterfalls—taking time to walk behind the former The wind & rain were really bad at this point, so we ran out of the van for a quick 10 minutes but that’s about it. Then we stopped for lunch and I was quickly reminded why I kept reading to bring your own lunch. We were at a small restaurant attached to a petrol station that was mediocre at best. (We paid $37 for 1 lukewarm bowl of vegetable soup & 1 beer stew. Meh. Lesson learned)

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Seljalandsfoss – so massive & powerful

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Skógafoss

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soaking it all in at Skógafoss

The weather improved a bit and we headed to the black sand beaches of Dyrhólaey. I was SO looking forward to seeing this beach so the weather was a huge bummer here. I’ve seen some amazing pictures of this beach on a nice day and it’s stunning. The black beach is sandwiched between the ocean and these huge rocky mountains that form some seriously awesome caves. It was one of the most unique beaches I’ve ever seen and felt very Game-Of-Thrones. Here is a picture I found of the area on a nice day (our pictures didn’t turn out well):

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Our last stop on the tour was the Sólheimajökull Glacier. This was awesome! I’m not sure about you, but I had never seen a glacier in person before. For a minute, I felt like we were in Alaska. The large glacier was a very blue-ish white color with green mountains behind it. We saw a lot of groups doing glacier walks (that was another offered excursion) and I think that would be a really neat tour to do next time.

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the glacier on a rainy day

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Overall, I enjoyed the Southern Iceland tour but not as much as the Golden Circle on day one. Perhaps this was due to the inclement weather, but it just felt like a lot more driving and not as much sightseeing. I’d be eager to try this tour group on a warmer, better day as it would probably give me a better comparison.

Thank you to Bus Travel Iceland for sponsoring this post. They graciously provided us with this complimentary tour. As always, the provided opinions are my own.

Iceland Part 1: Golden Circle Tour

Oh Iceland, where do I begin? Let me start by saying that this country is unlike anywhere I’ve ever been…in a good way. Given that we only had 3 nights in Iceland, we opted to stay in downtown Reykjavik and partner with local tour companies for two excursions. Our full Iceland trip will be broken down into 5 sections, as I have a large amount of review, tips & tricks to share…

Day 1: Golden Circle Tour via Grayline

We woke up bright (literally- it was light out almost 24 hours!) and early on Sunday morning to grab a quick breakfast in the hotel lobby prior to our 10:00am pickup. Since we were staying in town at the CenterHotel Midgaurdar, pickup was a breeze. We waited out front as they pulled up right on time. The small bus takes you to the main bus station, where you are checked in and  directed to the appropriate large bus.

My first impression of the bus was very positive. It’s your standard 55-passenger bus, but felt new and updated. The seats reclined, there was free wifi and in-wall plugs to charge any electronics. Given that this was a full 8 hour excursion, having these amenities proved to be a valuable, and necessary, benefit.

Tip: Come prepared! We packed a backpack with extra socks, gloves, beanies, jacket, various snacks & water bottles. We used it all.

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The lush, green scenery of Iceland

Here’s our itinerary:

The Golden Circle Classic Tour takes you from Reykjavik city to Þingvellir National Park, arguably the most important site in Iceland in terms of history, culture, and geology.

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Þingvellir National Park, right after the rain passed

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A UNESCO world heritage site, Þingvellir National Park is home to Iceland‘s largest natural lake and the place where the tectonic plates of North America and Eurasia split and drift apart. From Þingvellir, the tour continues through an area of beautiful scenery towards two of Iceland’s greatest natural attractions at Gullfoss waterfall and Geysir hot spring area.

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Gullfoss

At Gullfoss waterfall you can take a short walk down a pathway and get right up close to this powerful waterfall and feel the mist of glacial water on your face as it cascades down into the narrow Hvítárgljúfur Canyon.

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Getting soaked by the powerful & beautiful Gullfoss

The Geysir area home of “The Great Geysir” hot spring, which all geysers are named after, this area is an impressive collage of bubbling mud pools, hissing steam vents, and colourful algae deposits. It also features one of the world’s most reliable fountain geyser, Strokkur hot spring, that every 4 to 8 minutes blasts out a column of super heated water up to 20 metres into the air.

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Overall, Grayline was a very easy tour group to deal with. Their busses are clearly marked, they come fully equipped & they run a tight ship. Our tour guide was very informative, knowledgeable & had a good sense of humor. I would definitely recommend them for this tour – I only wish we had more time to do a second tour!

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A surprise trip to a “secret” waterfall from our tour guide…

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Stay tuned for Day 1, Part 2 tomorrow…

Thank you to Grayline for sponsoring this post. They graciously provided us with this complimentary tour. As always, the provided opinions are my own.

 

What To Do In Austin, TX

Back in April, I shared part one of our Austin, Texas city guide, specifically what to eat! Let’s be honest, Austin is known for their amazing Mexican, BBQ, and more. So it only made sense that I started with food; however, I strongly believe in balance (especially while on vacation!) so let’s talk about what there is to do in Austin. One of my favorite parts about the city is the outdoor culture! There are so many outdoor activities you can do and ways to stay active. Of course, there’s hiking, biking, kayaking, lake water sports, and more. Today I’m going to share a few easy adventures those of us visiting can do – no equipment needed other than your shoes, a bathing suit & an open mind:

Barton Springs

Barton Springs is the perfect way to refresh yourself on a hot Texas day! This 3 acre natural cold spring has been formed into a swimming pool where you can drink an ice cold brew, lay out in the sun, or swim some laps. It’s a public space but feels a bit more private because you’re surrounded by trees. Best part? It’s less than $10 to get in.

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Wineries

Texas has a wine country? Yup, I had no idea either until I visited! After spending a day popping in & out of wineries (only about 30 minutes outside of Austin), I can totally see why so many Texas brides get married out here. The stunning views, the warm Texas sun, the friendly people…it all makes for the perfect day! We spent part of the day at Driftwood Winery and then headed over to Salt Lick BBQ after for a killer meal.

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Hamilton Pool

This was our favorite thing we did while in Austin! About 30 minutes west of Austin, the Hamilton Pool is a stunning nature preserve that is basically a huge swimming hole/grotto that was formed when an underground river collapsed thousands of years ago. We began by hiking for about 45 minutes into the woods (there’s a quicker, more direct path there but we were trying to sweat out the previous night’s libations!) and then all of the sudden, the trees open up to this beauty:

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Stunning, right? The water was a gorgeous blue-green color and so refreshing (warning: it’s freezing!) We spent a few hours there jumping off rocks, exploring the waterfall & frolicking in the water. You can hike & explore the area for hours, which I highly recommend. In fact, we stumbled across a huge river about 15 minutes away that was equally fun to wade through & take pictures. Definitely go here!

Murals

Lastly, you must do the touristy favorites and snap a few Insta-worthy photos. There’s the  “i love you so much” sign, the “greetings from Austin sign” and more. Check out this article to read about all of the creative, beautiful murals in Austin.

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What’s your favorite thing to do when you visit Austin?!

 

 

 

 

Switzerland Travel Guide: Zurich & Interlaken

So last May we went to Europe for 2 weeks and randomly decided to fly home out of Zurich. We knew we wanted to see France & Amsterdam, but wanted to take advantage of United’s open jaw flights so debated which 3rd country to visit. We ended up on Switzerland because we’ve heard time & time again how beautiful the country is. Once we found out that we could fly home direct via Zurich, we booked it.

Best. Decision. Ever.

We were only in Switzerland for a short 72 hours but we had the best experience and cannot wait to go back. We stayed at the Sheraton Neues Schloss which was a bit outdated and very pricey, but an excellent location. I’d recommend it, especially for those enrolled in SPG. Below is my Switzerland travel guide, specifically for Zurich & Interlaken.

Tip: Switzerland is expensive. Like, insanely expensive. Be prepared for all costs (hotel, transportation, dining out, etc) to be very inflated.

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Walk around Zurich

Despite being a small city, it’s a huge hub for large financial institutions and banking giants. It’s divided into 12 districts, each containing 1-4 neighborhoods. The public transportation here is stellar, making it extremely accessible and simple to get around. There’s the “old town” and the “new town”, divided by the water. There are endless churches, galleries, museums, restaurants, stores, winding streets, gardens, etc. Get lost and explore!

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This city is very clean, very safe & very walkable. One of the first things we noticed is how impeccable everything in Zurich is – the buildings, the greenery, the people. Everyone looks like a wealthy banker and is dressed to the nines. Honestly, we saw so many good looking people it was kind of intimidating! Lucky for us, they were all very friendly and all speak English.

View the City by Boat

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Zurich is located in north-central Switzerland at the northwestern tip of Lake Zürich.We didn’t know much about the area, but the boat tour was really fun because you can hop on/hop off in different towns around the lake. The weather was a bit misty & overcast when we went, but we grabbed a bottle of wine made the most of our two hour boat adventure. I totally recommend doing this!

Day Trip to Interlaken

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So, on a whim we decided to try to head down to Interlaken for a day. I have a zillion friends who went here while studying abroad and I’ve heard endless good things! The train was quite expensive (maybe because it was last minute?) so we were able to snag a rental car for under $100 total. Lucky for us, this is Switzerland and the “economy” car was a new C-Class Mercedes Benz….don’t mind if I do!

Let me start by saying- if you are ever within 2-3 hours of Interlaken, GO! We so desperately wish we could have stayed 1-2 nights here and just explored. Oh my gosh this town is SO adorable- filled with super friendly people, restaurants & bars, parks and endless outdoor excursion opportunities! We were originally signed up to go canyoning but due to the heavy rainfall the previous few days, the trip was cancelled and we were offered a white water rafting trip instead. Best $100 we ever spent and hands down, the best day of our entire trip to Europe. Words cannot describe the magical, out-of-body experience that happens as you’re floating down a river, tasting fresh (crystal clear!) water and looking up to see the majestic Swiss Alps staring back. It was truly one of the best experiences of my life and I cannot recommend this enough. The tour itself was exciting and we met a lot of awesome people. We stopped by the Balmers Hostel after for a few beers and snacks on their back porch – they have an amazing lawn filled with hammocks, picnic tables & killer view of the Alps. We wanted to spend the night here but it’s super popular & sells out way in advance. It’s on my bucket list to come back.

Train to Utielberg

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A friend-of-a-friend who lives in Zurich recommended that we check out Uteilberg and I am so glad that we squeezed it in! We took train (so easy and only S10) to Utielberg and climbed to the top for some seriously amazing views. The summit gives you a panoramic view of Lake Zurich, the Limmat Valley & Swiss Alps. There’s a restaurant up there (we didn’t go in) and the entire trip only takes about an hour. Worth doing!

Favorite Restaurants

B. Good

Funny story – as we were meandering through Old Town, we turn the corner and the first thing we see is B. Good (those of you Boston folks are probably getting a kick out of this!). They said this location was the first international spot & that so far, it was very well received. I had to support my local business, so we shelled out 33CHF for a salad & burger w/ fries (yup, it’s pricey!)

The COOP

  The COOP is the local grocery and has everything!Since Zurich is so expensive, we wanted to get a few items for the room. We picked up baked goods, fruit, chocolates (duh), wine and snacks for our trip. This grocery is clean, affordable & has everything you need! It’s great alternative if you want to avoid dining out for every single meal. 

Zeughauskeller

Our favorite Zurich spot! This actually came recommended by quite a few people. It’s actually an old armory, still decorated with tanks, canons and huge rifles. It’s a really cool vibe. Sure, it’s a wee bit touristy, but not overpriced or tacky. We sat outside because the weather was awesome. This spot is a fun, traditional Swiss restaurant with about 90 entrees and 88 of them being sausage. Ha! T got spicy sausage, while I ordered the chicken. All entrees comes with the world’s best potato salad, a traditional potato cake & green salad. Of course, we both had house beer. It was so awesome that we came back again for dinner (we usually are not repeat diners!) and had an even better time!

Santa Lucia

Since we had clearly had our fix of sausage & potatoes, we opted to try some Northern Italian food. Located down a winding road in Old Town, this was a hidden gem! We sat outside on the adorable back patio and split a glass of wine, salad & pizza. This did not disappoint. If you want a cute date or Instagram-worth spot, this is it.

Ristorante Italia

One of T’s clients who is a chef/restaurant owner here in Boston recommended this place and let me tell you…it was to die for! Given that it was in the opposite direction of where we spent most of our time, we never would have found this place. Upon entry, it feels super swanky and sultry- perfect for a date night. The delicious Italian red wine was pricey, but not by Zurich standards. They brought homemade bread & olive oil right away, which was incredible. We shared a starter salad of parmesan and fennel carpaccio…y’all, this salad was hands-down one of the best things I have ever tasted. Omg, I still dream about it! For entree, I had linguini nere with shrimp & pomodoro sauce, while T has ghnocci al pomodoro. Everything was fresh, handmade & beautifully presented. My only regret is that we didn’t have enough room to try the tiramisu because I’m sure it was outstanding. 

Side note: It was too dark to take any food pictures, but trust me and just go here!

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Overall, I can’t recommend Zurich enough! Yes, there are many other places in Switzerland that are high on my list, but if you happen to be passing through it’s a good city to have as a base to explore the area. Switzerland, we can’t wait to be back!

5 things you must do in Amsterdam

If you read my 2017 travel goals post here, you’ll see that one of my favorite 2016 trips was 48 hours in Amsterdam! After spending 5 days in Paris, we hopped on a quick (3 hours to be exact) train ride over to Amsterdam. I’m telling you, trains are the way to go. We showed up at the station 30 minutes prior to departure, grabbed a coffee & a window seat and left the station. It was so peaceful to just put some earbuds in and watch the countryside pass us by. If you have time, make a pit stop in Bruges- we didn’t have time, but I hear it’s darling. So, we arrived in Amsterdam on Tuesday afternoon (around 1:30pm) and left on Friday at 10am. Y’all…Amsterdam is TOTALLY possible to see in 48 hours. All you need is a double espresso & a plan. Let’s dive in…

5 THINGS YOU MUST DO IN AMSTERDAM

#1 Anne Frank Museum

I highly recommend buying tickets ahead of time, online. We showed up at 9:15 for our 9:20 tour and walked right in. Truthfully, it had been so long since I’d learned about Anne Frank that I’d forgotten a lot of the details. Being inside the home she & her family hid in (for years!) and reading her diary was such a touching, emotional experience. Her story is truly amazing and the tour really gives you a detailed history lesson. We found it to be very profound. A must do.

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#2 Pancakes

When you’re done with the Anne Frank house (go in the morning to avoid the crowd), head over to the Pancake Bakery- a famous pancake house! This is what Amsterdam is known for, so how could we not go? We ordered a pancake & an omelet to share. Both were huge & delicious! The meal came with OJ, tea, toast & bacon, and our total was less than 25 Euro.

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#3 Ride a Bike

This is hands down the best way to get around Amsterdam. It’s a fun, quick, efficient way to get around the city, especially if you’re crunched for time. Our hotel (Andaz hotel – amazing hotel, location & service. Can’t recommend enough!) provided bikes to us and  we used them from 12pm-7pm and went all over the city (5+ miles). Careful though- it’s quite scary when you’re dodging cars, pedestrians, mopeds & other bikes.

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#4 Red Light District

Now I’ll be the first to admit that I was really sketched out by going here. I had this horrible imagine in my head of what this would be like. We rode our bikes here during the day and it really wasn’t that bad. Would I spend hours hanging out here? Probably not. Would I walk around at night? Nope. But it’s one of those things that you have to go and see because you’re there. As expected, there are lots of sex shops and “coffee shops” but it’s fine to walk through once.

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#5 Heineken

Head over to check out the Heineken Experience…an experience is right! This is not your typical brewery. Plan to spend at least an hour or two here tasting beer, learning about the history, petting horses & hopping on a quick interactive ride. It’s such a fun place and totally worth going. If you’ve got time or want something more local, we also visited the less touristy, Brouwerij ‘t IJ- it’s on the southeast side of town in a more local area. Get a beer flight for 9 Euro and sit on the back patio full of picnic tables and shade trees. Also a very fun experience.

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Amsterdam Tips:

  • Stay in the canal district- it’s little quiet nook in the middle of a great area. You’re away from the touristy noise but have multiple restaurants & bars within 2 blocks.
  • If you need a fun dinner spot, check out Zazas ! I surprised Terry there with a birthday dinner and it was just perfect. They went above and beyond to recognize his day (I’m talking sparklers on cakes & complimentary champs and balloons).
  • Visit the Bulldog Coffee Shop – even if you don’t partake, it’s cool to see where this all started.

Who else has been to Amsterdam? What’s your favorite thing to do in the city?