Portugal highlights on a 2 week roadtrip

Portugal is a great country for visiting for 10/14 days as it has a heap of varied things to experience and not vast distances to cover.  By basing yourself in the 3 major areas of Porto / The Douro Valley, Lisbon, and the Algarve, you can use each as a hub for adventures nearby and also be able to stop off on a few places directly in between that are great for a couple of hours or so

 

Big highlights for me were actually some of the smaller places that I’d never heard of before I arrived in Portugal.  In particular the gorgeous Duoro Valley wine region, the hilltop town of Sintra and the beautifully charming streets of Cascais.  Plus, the more famous highlights of port tasting in Porto and various neighbourhoods of Lisbon

 

Each piece that makes up this itinerary has its own travel post, but I’ve also condensed the key points and listed some more general tips below

A day in Porto for port tasting and wandering through the Ribeira district

Porto is nice enough, and definitely worth a day trip.  Its UNESCO-listed Ribeira district and waterfront are nice to wander around, if very touristy, and a visit to one of the port wine houses in particular is good fun to sample the wines, learn about the production and enjoy the views.  But I thought it was a slightly less attractive version of the Alfama district in Lisbon and is more of a conduit to the real highlight of the area (and Portugal) which is the Duoro Valley (see Wine tasting around Pinhao in the Duoro Valley for more details)

All sounds a bit negative! – definitely worth a visit on the way to the Duoro, but no more than a day needed

Durham’s Cathedral, Castle and village

The famous travel writer Bill Bryson, after seeing half the world, was gobsmacked when he saw Durham and wondered why no one had told him about it before.  So much so that he decided to become Chancellor of Durham University and says, “If you have never been to Durham before, go there at once. Take my car, it’s wonderful.”  Easy to see why – the setting with the magnificent Durham Cathedral and Durham Castle perched high on the tight meander of the River Wear is just stunning and is complemented by the small narrow streets that branch off all through the nearby town

 

An easy day trip from Newcastle (see here for tips on Newcastle – A day in Newcastle), one of the key stops on the main east coast line that runs through the UK, and a must if in this part of the world

 

Top tip – be sure to walk around the river right by the waterfront.  The best bit is from Framwellgate Bridge to Prebends Bridge, but you can also walk all the Elvet Bridge

A day in Newcastle

Newcastle has a great reputation for its friendly locals (and, let’s face it, the accent everyone loves to imitate) and its world-class partying / lash that comes from both the locals and its giant student population (locals, aka “Geordies” will often like to quote how many top 10 lists Newcastle appears in for a night out).  But it also has a surprisingly elegant city centre with a riverfront that rivals anything else in the UK outside of London, and 4 places to visit nearby that are equally surprising in just how gorgeous they are

If you’ve got only a day (in summer!), I’d recommend the below itinerary for the best of Newcastle and the surrounding area

7/8 week itinerary for the highlights of South East Asia

South East Asia has to be the premier world traveling region.  A big call?  For sure, but consider what genuinely world class offerings it can provide:

 

  • World class beaches and coastal areas – think of THAT beach in Ko Phi Phi and HaLong Bay, one of the Natural Wonders of the World
  • World class food – think Thai, Vietnamese, Malay and the genuine fusion into the mix with the large established Indian and Chinese communities
  • World class ancient sites and history – think of the temples of the “8th Wonder of the World” of Angkor Wat, and the breathtaking site of the pagodas stretching across the plain in Bagan
  • World class cities and party locations – think of Singapore as the city of the future and the Full Moon Parties on Ko Pha-Ngan

 

And all this in a place that is super safe, outrageously friendly, easy and cheap to travel in.  A must for any keen traveler and the below itinerary will give you the highlights – enjoy!

2 days in London and top 10 things to do

One of the world’s premier cities and with just about everything you could hope for in a 2 day city visit.  World famous sites such as the Houses of Parliament and the Tower of London; world class restaurants, shopping areas and entertainment venues; vast parks which give you the opportunity to break away from the mayhem; and, of course, the mania that surround the Royal Family and their residences.  Yes, its busy, but it’s also a must visit city

 

There’s obviously heaps and heaps of things to do.  I’ve listed out below what I think are the top 10 split between must-sees and great to sees.  Plus, some general tips for how to get the most out of your visit

Full day highlights of Chicago

Winters are brutal, but in the summer Chicago is one hell of a place to be with its lakefront beaches, host of activities and with its general buzzy sassy attitude.  I, from a personal point of view, had one of the best days of my life in Chicago because I managed to combine a cycle up the lakefront, the boat tour of the sites, a baseball game, concert and drinks.  Chicago in summer is raring to go and I’ve listed my top tips for an amazing day in the Tips section below

Hiking the stunning Zhangjiajie National Park

You’ve seen Avatar right?  Zhangjiajie is the inspiration for the landscape of the distant planet in the movie, and that’s exactly what the 3000 or so karst pinnacles rising up from the subtropical forest feel like.  Its a bit of a bugger to get to because you need to find flights to the local Zhangjiajie Hehua airport, or take the 5 hour drive from Changsha.  It can also get quite crowded because . . . well . . . this is China.   But, overall it is well worth the trip, especially because by making some very basic changes you can avoid the crowds and get to hike some beautiful sections of what, arguably, should be one of the natural wonders of the world

2 days of baths and the Bosphorus in Istanbul

The crossroads of Europe and Asia and the former capital of the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman Empires, Istanbul is steeped in history and makes for a world-class destination city.  I only spent 3 days there, so won’t write a detailed review, but high level tips:

  • Hagia Sofia – the star attraction and will no doubt be on your list.  Be sure to not only see this incredible structure from the outside, but also to visit the extraordinarily beautiful interior
  • Definitely get a Hamam – these Turkish Baths, whilst a bit on the pricey side (around USD100 for the entrance and some treatments), are just the perfect way to relax after a day of seeing the sights and some have the most beautiful interiors
  • Best river views – try to find a spot that gives you both the views of the Golden Horn with its various bridges and the Suleyman Mosque.  Watching the sunset from one of the restaurants round there was one of our highlights of Istanbul
  • Take a boat – even if it is just a short one over the Golden Horn, its a great way to get views of the city
  • The Grand Bazar – worth a visit just for its sheer size and bustle
  • The airport – the lines for immigration can take hours, so be prepared.  You’ll have to pay for a visa sticker (45 euros, bit of a joke) which is quick, but then the immigration queue itself can be long

3 week European roadtrip for mountains and wine

If you look through a typical European highlights itinerary it will invariably be dominated by the cities.  For instance, the Lonely Planet’s top itinerary for Europe is 12 cities and nothing else, and of its 24 overall European highlights, only 6 are not cities (the Norwegian Fjords, the Matterhorn, Greece’s Santorini, Montenegro’s Bay of Kotor, Transylvania, North Macedonia’s Lake Ohrid . . .  if you’re interested).  It’s understandable – Europe is a centre for culture and stunning capital cities, but it also has some world class experiences to be found outside of the cities and this itinerary gives you a flavour of those with a focus on its mountain and wine regions

 

With this itinerary you will enjoy:

  • Mountains – the most spectacular views of Europe’s premier mountain regions with Switzerland’s “big three” of the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau from Interlaken, and the Pyrenes’ Cirques de Gavarnie
  • Wine regions – 4 of the best wine regions France has to offer with Bordeaux, Provence, Alsace and Champagne
  • Lakes – 2 of the world’s truly stunning lakes with the simply magnificent Lake Como and the Swiss Lakes surrounding Interlaken
  • Coastline – the epitome of luxury and style with the most famous stretch of coastline in Europe with the Cote d’Azur, its trio of corniches and Monaco
  • Hilltop villages and rural regions – the prettiest in Europe with the hilltop villages and elegant treelined streets of Provence and the timbered fairytale villages of the Black Forrest
  • Roman Ruins – some of the best preserved Roman Ruins with the Pont du Garde and the Arles Amphitheatre
  • Driving – and of course, some of the best driving scenery in all of Europe as you pass from one mountain range to another and along some of the prettiest countryside on the continent