WE’RE MOVING ABROAD!

The not-so-secret secret is out!

After one failed attempt at emigrating in January 2020 and 2.5 years of living in our first little flat together, Joe and I are finally making the move to ASIA in 6 weeks’ time!!

Whilst holidaying with the family in France in July we decided it was now or never. It was amazing being abroad enjoying the food, the sunshine and exploring new places. We realised this is the life for us, chasing the sun and seeing more of the world. So when we got home in early August, we booked a one way flight to Singapore.

Since then, we’ve been going through all the necessary preparations, from applying for new passports to getting travel vaccinations to selling all of our belongings. We’re not totally stressed by the situation (yet) but it is definitely creeping up on us and I’m keen to get everything wrapped up before the end of October when we will need to move out of our flat!

The main item on my agenda is seeing as many friends and family as possible. I was definitely naive when we first booked our flight, thinking we had loads of time to prepare and say goodbye to everyone, but in reality there are so many people we won’t be seeing for a long time. I’m managing to squeeze in a quick visit to my parents’ in France (literally 10 days before we fly to Singapore) so I’m looking forward to that too.

Work-wise, Joe will be quitting his jobs at the butchers and the pub where he has been putting in a daft number of hours this year and will finally be putting his Master’s degree to good use in the online finance world.

Meanwhile, my boss and colleagues have been incredibly supportive of this huge move and are happy for me to continue my role on a part-time basis while living in Asia, despite the time difference. We’ve spent the past few weeks working out the best way forward for both me and the business and I’m so grateful that I’ll be able to continue the job I love and earn a steady income while exploring the world.

Keep an eye out for more updates on here and on my Facebook and Instagram over the coming weeks and months!

First Time Skiing in the French Alps!

In March this year I took one of the best trips EVER: a ski trip to the French Alps with a group of my best friends!

It feels strange to be reminiscing on this trip while it’s the end of summer, but there’s a part of me that misses being bundled up against the cold, making snow angels and face planting the snow on the daily.

This trip not just my first time skiing, it was actually my first holiday with a group of friends – if you don’t count the backpacking I did a few years ago, where I made friends along the way. This trip just felt different; all of us going to Chill Factore in Manchester in the weeks and months leading up to it, planning via Zoom calls, and flying together as a big group. It was pure, wholesome fun.

We were actually supposed to go in the first week of January, but that was cancelled due to the *spicy cough* and France basically wouldn’t let Brits in. Sad times, but also good because I ended up catching said *spicy cough* on New Year’s Eve! So we rescheduled for March and the excitement was renewed. 

Unfortunately, our nice chalet was no longer available, so we made do with a very (VERY) basic dorm-style accommodation. We went on a budget and let’s just say the accommodation ticked that box. It was pretty awful but it kind of added to the fun and ultimately made it all the more memorable. Safe to say for the next group ski trip we will all be more willing to up the budget a bit for added comfort!

We flew from London Gatwick to Grenoble and were promptly picked up by our coach transfer to take us to Alpes d’Huez. I was so excited to visit Huez as I had apparently been before in summer when I was little, but I don’t remember it at all! Having grown up watching the Tour de France, the zigzag road leading up the mountain is iconic, and heading up there in a huge coach, precariously driving along the mountain edge, was an exhilarating experience to say the least.

Now, I have nothing else to compare it to, but Alpes d’Huez was a fantastic location as a first-time skier. I really was level one basic – happy to admit I was the worst out of our group – but found there were plenty of runs and, besides feeling a bit daunted by it all when we first arrived, it was really easy to navigate and I felt safe at all times.

The shop where we hired our gear was really easy to find, affordable, and they were super helpful, letting us store our skis and snowboards there every day and even keeping our shoes safe while we were out skiing. It was also right next to a little supermarket, a restaurant and a bar, so great location to meet back up before and after each ski day. It was called Rocky Sports, so definitely check them out if you’re planning a ski trip to Alpes d’Huez.

Each day we skied for around 6 hours, which is A LOT when you’ve never skied before. By the end of day one my bum and legs were numb from the cold and I felt like I’d been doing an intense squat sesh the entire day.

We started off skiing as a group but soon split off into groups, usually the beginners and the more advanced who had skied before. So day one was beginner slope, a mild green run, getting used to others flying past, and navigating the various chairlifts (I had a soggy piste map in my pocket at all times). I was nervous about using those but they were so fun, I could’ve gone round and round for hours just watching the pros do their thing on the slopes with the stunning mountain backdrops behind.

By the end of the trip, I was pretty confident on the greens (except one run, Chez Roger, which made me very very angry due to its icy bumpy hellishness) and was gaining confidence on the blues. Until of course we went on the hardest blue run ever on our final day and I ticked two things off the skiing bucket list which I wasn’t aiming for: 1) sit down and cry out of pure fear of the mountain edge, and 2) getting stuck in snow drifts and resorting to taking off my skis and bum sliding down the rest of the way. I’m convinced this was a black run and everyone was just lying to me.

One day some of the team actually did do a black run, the longest in the Alps, called La Sarenne. It starts at the top of Pic Blanc at 3330m – the highest peak in the Alpes d’Huez Grand Domaine. This involved taking a few chairlifts and cable cars up to the summit of the peak, where we marvelled at the surrounding views of the Alps and saw the mighty Mont Blanc in the distance, before bidding our pals a fond farewell and hoping we would see them a few hours and 16km later, unscathed. Aside from some face planting and accidental backwards skiing, they were fine. We reunited later that day and shared joyous stories of our separate snowsports adventures.

Every evening we either ventured out for food and drinks or stayed and cooked at our accommodation. There were some great restaurants around town where we carb-loaded on pizza, pasta, fajitas and nachos – just be prepared to drop 30 euros plus on a margarita pizza and a pint of coke. 

We also had a nightly ritual of giving out ‘awards’ every day for best ski moment, most improved, best fall, snow sporter of the day, whiny b*tch, and worst ski moment. I’m proud to say I won overall whiny b*tch (for my tantrums on Chez Roger and the dreaded blue run) by the end of the holiday, a title I hope to retain for years to come.

I think it’s safe to say that I am not a natural skier. But that’s OK because it was the most fun I’ve ever had with my friends! Core memories were unlocked and it was a fantastic experience learning a new skill together.

A few shoutouts to round off this blog post

Thank you to Hannah for planning literally everything and Louis for the assist (even though you got my name completely wrong on my boarding pass and feared I wouldn’t be allowed on the plane). Huge credit to Jenko who lost his phone on the slopes AND had his snowboard stolen on the same day and somehow got them back without panicking (too much). Jacob and Amber, thank you for giving me pep talks and cuddles when I was really struggling. Jim and James you guys are snow sporting legends and I could watch you ski/board all day long while I sit on my ass in the snow. Tegan you showed us all how calm and collected you are and you stuck with me throughout! And huge thank you to Benson for being the most patient ski teacher ever and making me feel better by falling over just as much as me. 🙂

PS. Jenko made a vlog of the whole ski trip if you want to check it out, click here!

My First Ever Luxury Cruise!

At the beginning of September, I did something I never thought I would be able to do. A type of travel I just never even considered, let alone pictured myself doing one day… I went on my first ever cruise!

Not only was it my first cruise, it was a six-star luxury cruise with Silversea Cruises, on their brand-new ship the Silver Moon.

Now, for those who don’t know, I work in travel and more specifically I work for a luxury cruise agent based near Manchester, called Panache Cruises. This obviously isn’t an ad buuuut of course if you want to go on a luxury cruise hit me up ;). One of the perks of my job is that I was able to go on an all-expenses-paid trip of a lifetime, sailing around the Greek Isles on a beautiful small ship.

I went with a colleague and was part of a small group of other travel agents, so it was lovely to have a group of friendly faces and people to enjoy the experience with. I was slightly concerned about being so young, but to my surprise (and delight) there was a much younger crowd on board than I was expecting. So there’s the first cruise myth busted – it’s not all grannies walking around on Zimmer frames and playing bingo!

The first thing I want to address is how safe I felt throughout the entire cruise. A requirement for boarding the ship was that everyone has to be vaccinated and tested prior to embarkation. We also had a compulsory Covid test done half way through the cruise, to ensure no one had gotten infected while visiting one of the ports, and while moving around the ship everyone was required to wear a mask. When seated, or outside on the pool deck, masks were not mandatory. I found these rules to be simple and effective; it was no extra effort as it had already become second nature to wear a mask and test fairly regularly back home anyway. As such, Silversea have a had a hugely successful return to cruising post-Covid.

Our itinerary

We were on board for six nights, embarking in Rhodes, before enjoying a day at sea on our way to Limassol, Cyprus, a day exploring the town (incidentally my 25th country!), then another sea day before docking in Heraklion (Crete), Mykonos, and finally reaching Athens where we disembarked.

At first I was unsure whether the sea days would be boring, as I was so excited to visit islands I had never been to before, but they actually turned out to be the highlight of the trip for me! The first sea day we had a business meeting (it was a work trip, promise) and a full ship tour, then spent the afternoon and evening getting to know the other agents on board.

Mykonos sunrise

We had certain appointments scheduled in throughout our time on board, such as a cooking class, shore excursion to a farm in Mykonos, and all our group dinners. Other than that we were able to roam free and do whatever we wanted, so each day in port we would go off the ship to explore in the morning and then return in the afternoon when it got too hot to be walking around, and enjoy lounging by the pool, eating far too much and sipping too many cocktails!

Highlights from each port

What I loved about the cruise is that we had a full day in every port we visited, and the freedom to explore as much as we liked. This gave us a nice little taster of what the place was like and has certainly given me ideas of where to go when I next visit Greece. Our first port of call was Limassol, a small port town in southern Cyprus. Unfortunately we visited on a Sunday and most places were closed, but we enjoyed a mooch around a few shops, old winding streets, and the glamorous marina for an hour or so. With little else to do in the town, we didn’t spend long there and went back to enjoy our frozen mojitos on deck.

Limassol, Cyprus

Next up was Heraklion, the one place I was super excited for prior to the trip. Situated on the north coast of Crete, Heraklion is the island’s capital and serves as a gateway to ancient Minoan history. The Minoans date back to around 3500BC and little is known about this mysterious Aegean civilisation. The palace of Knossos is one of the most famous and important archaeological sites in the ancient world, yet still no one knows what happened to the civilisation, which went into decline and disappeared altogether around 1100BC, possibly due to the massive volcanic eruption in Thera (Santorini). As an archaeology grad I was really keen to visit Heraklion Museum and maybe even jump in a taxi to Knossos, but it was incredibly busy (the queue for the museum was 2 hours long!), the sun was beating down, and I was out on my own, so I decided to give it a miss and will definitely head back to Crete in the future.

Heraklion, Crete

Our final port of call was Mykonos. There are hundreds of pre-arranged shore excursions for guests to sign up for, but we just went on one, to a hilltop farm in Mykonos where we were shown how to make various cheese and filo pastries. This was a fantastic day out and one of my favourite things to do when travelling; you learn so much from eating local food with the local people. If you are heading to Mykonos I thoroughly recommend a visit to Mykonos Farmers – Jiorg and his family are wonderful and their food is delicious!

Mykonos

We disembarked the ship in Athens the following day and unfortunately had to head straight to the airport so couldn’t explore the city. Another place I will be revisiting as soon as possible!

What was the ship like?

The Silver Moon is not one of those beastly monstrosities you see docked when you go on holidays to the Mediterranean, or the kind of ships which completely overshadow the beautiful Caribbean islands due to its sheer size. The Silver Moon is a much smaller, sleeker ship, holding a maximum of 596 passengers. I had no idea what to expect before I boarded her – OK, I had a bit of an idea seeing as I work in the industry – but everything I had read or been told by colleagues just wasn’t enough to prepare me for how awesome it was, seeing the ship in real life and climbing aboard.

I was very kindly given a Deluxe Veranda Suite and it was BEAUTIFUL. I was assigned a personal butler, had an array of luxury amenities provided (including Bulgari toiletries I brought home), complimentary Champagne on arrival and a minibar stocked with whatever I asked for whenever I wanted it. I had a king size bed with Egyptian cotton sheets which was the most comfortable bed on earth – plus no boyfriend hogging the space – a beautiful balcony where I spent each evening in my complimentary dressing gown watching the sunset with a glass of Champagne (how boujie do I sound), and I even had a bath. I was well and truly living the high life.

It was also the perfect opportunity to dress up a bit which I loved. Another cruise myth is that they are old fashioned and uptight when it comes to strict black tie dress codes but this simply wasn’t true, although jeans and casual footwear were not appropriate. We were given a schedule each morning of what events were on around the ship, the weather that day, any optional excursions, and the dress code for the evening. Every night was informal/casual except for one formal night, which basically just meant men had to wear a tie.

As I previously mentioned, I spent a lot of time on the pool deck, where I sampled every cocktail on the menu, ate at the poolside grill and pizza restaurant, chatted with other agents and guests in the whirlpool, and topped up my tan.

The food!

I sampled every restaurant on the ship except La Dame, a French restaurant with limited capacity which was sadly fully booked the whole week. La Terrazza was a beautiful open plan/al fresco restaurant where fantastic breakfasts, lunches and dinners were served. There was no breakfast menu, you simply asked for something and they made it! At lunch they had a Covid-safe buffet with fresh salads and light dishes on offer, while the evening was authentic Italian cuisine.

My absolute favourite restaurant was the SALT Kitchen. A little sidenote here to explain Silversea brand-new food concept: the SALT Programme. This stands for Sea And Land Taste; each day the food and wine menu is adapted to serve local cuisine from the port where the ship has been docked that day. On sea days, inspiration was taken from nearby destinations, such as Israel and Turkey. We dined here twice and it was absolutely incredible. Alongside the restaurant is the SALT Bar, where moody bartender Carlos whips up the signature drink ‘Selene’; the SALT Lab where we attended our cooking classes (I made baklava and it was delicious!); SALT Talks, where experts host lectures in the Venetian Lounge about local cuisines, wine and culture; and the SALT Ashore programme which organised food-related shore excursions like the one we enjoyed in Mykonos.

Another personal favourite was Silver Note, a tapas-style jazz lounge tucked away next to the casino. However, this was unlike any other tapas I’ve ever tasted. Absolutely awe-struck by the menu, we all wanted to try everything. So we did. We asked the waiter how many dishes we should order per person and he recommended four, so of course we all chose five. From lobster tail and sumptuous duck breast to octopus salad and delicately fried vegetables, each dish was *chefs kiss*.

Other places to eat on the ship were the main restaurant Atlantide, sushi bar Kaiseki, Hot Rocks grill, Spaccanapoli pizza restaurant, and the Arts Café, which was great for a mid-morning coffee – by day two the lovely barista knew my almond cappuccino order off by heart – and delicious pastries and fruit platters. I also had to take advantage of room service and had breakfast laid out for me one morning.

Aside from restaurants, there were a few bars and lounges on board. Each evening, our group met in the Dolce Vita lounge for Champagne and canapes; this area was nice and relaxed during the day as it’s where guests book excursions and can ask for help at reception, whereas in the evening there is live music and more of an atmosphere. We also had a pool party at the outdoor bar one evening which was great fun, we stayed up dancing until the early hours!

The ship also has a pretty swanky gym, luxury spa and wellness centre, boutique shop, casino and cigar lounge. If I had been on board for longer I would’ve liked to have used the gym, but to be honest trying as much food as possible was my number one priority!

You can see the full layout of the ship here.

Watch my video from on board below:

Our final night was spent watching the ‘Voices of Silversea’ perform on stage, followed by a thank you from the Captain and a standing ovation for all of the crew on board.

The six days I spent on board Silver Moon were truly incredible. It was such a surreal experience and one I will never take for granted. It opened up a whole new world to me and to my surprise, I cannot wait to get back on board a ship one day! Thank you to both my work and Silversea for sending me on the trip of a lifetime.

Two Weeks in Scotland

At the beginning of July, Joe and I set out on our first proper holiday in almost two years: a two week road trip around bonny Scotland!

Although we were fully prepared for it to be raining and cold, it actually turned out to be the most beautiful sunny summer holiday as we were there just in time for the UK’s heatwave. Who needs Greece when you’ve got mountains, lochs, and 25 degree heat?!

Highland Cow at Culloden

We knew that Scotland would be a popular ‘staycation’ destination this year, so we specifically booked it for before schools broke up for summer, and we also decided against doing the North Coast 500, as every man and his dog seemed to be doing that this year and we wanted to stay away from crowds (no thanks rona). So if you are thinking of heading to Scotland sometime soon, here’s a great alternative route to the NC500. PS. Check out the map of our route at the bottom of this post.

Loch Lomond

The first stop on our journey was the southern tip of Loch Lomond, where we stayed in a little glamping pod at Lomond Woods Holiday Park for two nights. This was the only time it rained on our trip so we had a soggy day walking Balloch Castle & Country Park and had a hilarious ferry ride on the loch, where we huddled in our waterproofs under the roof and got battered on all sides by wind and rain – not the best experience but a funny one to look back on. The cruise itself was actually really good as there was a voiceover pointing out different places we passed and giving us a bit of history about the area, so I’d recommend for a sunnier day.

Kilchurn Castle and Oban

After our stay at Loch Lomond, we drove all the way up the west side of the loch; the road hugs the water’s edge and we had to stop at Firkin Point for photos as it was our first day of blue skies and sunshine – little did we know we would be lucky with the weather for the entirety of the trip!

Our end destination for this travel day was Fort William, where we would be camping for 5 nights, but we took the scenic route across to Kilchurn Castle, the ruins of which perch on the edge of Loch Awe and offer beautiful views of the surrounding mountains. We stopped here for a leg stretch and a walk around the castle, but there wasn’t much else there so continued on to our next stop, Oban.

Kilchurn Castle

Sitting on the west coast and acting as a gateway to the Isle of Mull, Oban is a gorgeous little port town known for its stunning views, local seafood, and whisky. We stayed here for lunch and ate at the Waterfront Fishouse, devouring the best mussels I have ever eaten and fresh catch of the day while being serenaded by bagpipes. If you like whisky, make sure to book a visit to the local distillery just off the high street; we turned up and they were unfortunately fully booked.

After a couple of hours in Oban, we continued our drive up the coast and Loch Linnhe to Fort William, where our campsite was situated just outside of the town in the valley of Glen Nevis, at the base of Ben Nevis.

Glen Nevis

Our stay at Glen Nevis Campsite was amazing and I will 100% be going back. They had capped numbers due to Covid so we had a huge pitch to ourselves and it was really relaxing, just what we needed for a few days with limited signal (and therefore a digital detox!) out in nature. I will quickly sum up what we got up to during our stay here and really recommend you check these things out if you are staying near Fort William!

  • Glenfinnan Viaduct. Known as the ‘Harry Potter train’, Glenfinnan has great historical significance as being the place where Bonnie Prince Charlie began the 1745 Jacobite rising, so make sure to check out the monument here. The viaduct is indeed impressive, with trails offering hikes up and around the surrounding hills above the railway and the loch. If you want to see the train chugging past, this only happens twice a day so make sure to check the train times and arrive 30 minutes early.
  • Inverlochy Castle. This old ruined castle on the edge of the River Lochy is a short drive from Fort William and so we stopped by briefly on our way back from Glenfinnan. Worth a look if you enjoy walking around castle ruins but not much there so take a picnic and enjoy the views from the riverbank.
  • Neptune’s Staircase. We weren’t going to bother with this originally but decided on our last day to have a look at this historic series of locks on the Caledonian Canal. We actually saw more of these impressive locks when we travelled east towards Inverness and saw them in action in Fort Augustus.
  • Glencoe. My dad had told me that this was one of the most beautiful roads in the world and he was so right, Glencoe is incredible! We stood with our jaws on the floor at the viewpoint looking back down the valley. Photos don’t do this place justice and I spent the whole time just looking around and trying to commit it all to memory. I have also read a lot about the Jacobites and Scottish history recently, so visiting Glencoe and looking around the visitor centre was one of those moments when you’re standing where history was made. The scenery is just stunning and I highly recommend visiting if you’re in the area or passing through!
  • Glencoe Lochan. Just down the road from Glencoe is a lovely hidden man-made loch nestled in the woods and surrounded by mountains. It was a gorgeous little spot for a short walk around the loch and there were a lot of families there doing nature trails and having picnics.
  • Steall Waterfall. Down the road from our campsite, along the twisting, winding road through the valley, is a dead end with a small car park and footpath leading to Steall Waterfall. The hike takes about an hour and a half there and back, twisting among the trees and impressive rock formations until it opens out into a beautiful glen and the waterfall at the end. This was really enjoyable but beware of midges and wear boots or grippy trainers as spray from the falls makes the path slippery!
  • Ben Nevis. One of the main aims of our trip around Scotland was to complete the famous hike up the UK’s tallest peak: Ben Nevis. We set out at 7am which was a good decision because it was surprisingly hot, especially with the first section being very steep. At times seemed like it would never end, but the views that we were blessed with half way up, and the sense of achievement at the summit, made it well worth it. We were so proud of ourselves and surprised that we were back at the campsite for lunch time, however if you are new to hiking, make sure to get a good pair of walking boots, take it steady, bring plenty of water, and give yourself enough time to complete it (usually around 8 hours).

Inverness and Loch Ness

After our lovely sunny stay at Glen Nevis we had a travel day to our bed and breakfast in Inverness. It was a bit of a drizzly day so perfect for driving and stopping when the sun came out for short periods. Our first stop was Fort Augustus as the most western tip of Loch Ness, where we again saw the Caledonian Canal locks in action and had coffee and cake in a little café overlooking the canal.

We then drove on to Urquhart Castle, about halfway along the northern side of the loch. This 13th century castle is famous for the role it played in the Wars of Scottish Independence in the 14th century. It changed hands countless times, faced attacks from the water, and was finally destroyed to prevent its use by Jacobite forces in the late 17th century. From various places in the ruins, you can look out in both directions along Loch Ness, a truly impressive sight. Entry cost £9.60 each and we were able to park up and pay online, using a QR code to gain access to the grounds.

Urquhart Castle

When we reached Loch Ness, we settled into our B&B near Ness Islands, about a 20 minute walk into the centre of the city. We spent two nights here and again were blessed with gorgeous sunshine. An entire day here was spent at the loch; we had only planned to visit Dores beach for an hour or two but realized after getting the bus there that the return bus wasn’t for another 5 hours…luckily we had brought a picnic! The sun came out in full force and we regretted not bringing our swimwear (and suncream, oops), but went for a freezing cold swim anyway before drying off on the quiet pebble beach. We were shocked at how few people were there, it felt like we had the whole place to ourselves! The nearby woodland was great for a walk in the shade too. This is one place I absolutely recommend visiting if you are staying in or near Inverness.

Culloden and Whisky Tasting

After our second night we left the B&B and headed to Culloden, where we spent a couple of hours walking around the visitor centre and battlefield, learning about the tragic battle of Culloden which took place in 1746 and was the last battle to ever take place on British soil. This was a sobering experience, but one that is so vital to understanding Scottish history and the significance of the end of the clans. Entry cost £11 and visitors must book in advance for a specific time.

From Culloden we drove an hour east to whisky country, where we had booked a tour around the Glenfiddich distillery. The tour had been adjusted for Covid safety but was a fantastic immersive experience. At the end of the tour, each guest was given four samples to try, and as I was driving, they gave me a little takeaway sample! The tour cost £20 per person for around 90 minutes and was booked in advance.

Glen More

After a busy day on the road, we finally arrived at our next campsite at Glen More, near Aviemore, in the Cairngorm National Park. We stayed here for 3 nights, 2 days. One day we went for a few hours’ hike through the woods up to a spectacular ridge overlooking Loch Morlich, and then went into Aviemore for a wander around the sports shops. I can imagine in winter this place is heaving with skiiers!

The second day, we chilled on the beach and went kayaking at Loch Morlich Watersports (£25 for one hour). This was one of my favourite days of the whole trip; the weather was beautiful and we were sunbathing! In Scotland! Whilst looking up at snow capped mountains!!!

Edinburgh

After a wonderful couple of days at Glen More, we headed down to Edinburgh for the final few days of our trip. By this point we were on such a high and wanted to stay camped out in the sunshine hopping from loch to loch.

On our way to Edinburgh, we made a stop at Midhope Castle, where I became a crazed fangirl as this is one of the filming locations of Outlander. Joe begrudgingly became an ‘insta-boyfriend’ and took photos of me grinning like mad as I stood outside of Jamie Fraser’s home, Lallybroch. I have no regrets. We also then quickly stopped at Blackness Castle for a picnic lunch before heading into the city.

Once we had located our B&B, we walked about 15 minutes to Newhaven harbour, where our hosts had recommended we eat at Fishmarket, but there was a huge queue so make sure to book in advance for this one as it looked really nice and had lovely views.

The next day, we got a day rider bus ticket (the bus stop was just outside our B&B) and ventured into Edinburgh. The walk down was only about 20 minutes, but we found this to be the best mode of transport and meant we could avoid the hill on the way back! Our first port of call was a tour of Holyrood Palace, which I had prebooked online at a hefty cost of £16.50 each. We found this well worth it though as we did the audio tour and spent about 2 hours looking around. The castle was fully booked the whole weekend we were there so if you want to visit either of these places, make sure to book well in advance.

After the palace, we walked up to Arthur’s Seat, a deceptively difficult walk in the blazing sunshine. Beautiful views from the top were a great reward for the sweaty climb, even though I then fell over on the way down and had to walk around Edinburgh with a muddy bum.

This didn’t stop us, and we continued on foot all the way up the Royal Mile. I have to say, Edinburgh is one of my favourite cities and I already can’t wait to go back! We walked past the famous Elephant House café, where JK Rowling wrote Harry Potter, and marveled at the beauty of the castle perched high on the hilltop. My biggest tip for visiting Edinburgh, especially on a summer weekend, is to pre-book absolutely everything. It was so busy and if we had been there longer, I would’ve loved to have visited the National Museum, the Camera Obscura and World of Illusions, and gone inside the castle itself.

After a quick trip back to the B&B to shower and change, our final night was spent getting very merry at various bars along the Royal Mile. I thoroughly recommend dinner at Ecco Vino, just off the main drag, where we enjoyed delicious Italian food and lots of very nice (and expensive) wine.

I hope this blog post might come in handy for anyone looking to spend time in Scotland! Whether it’s a two week road trip like we did, a week’s camping in the Highlands, or a weekend break in Edinburgh, you are bound to have a wonderful time. Let me know in the comments if you have any further questions about our itinerary!

Yorkshire 3 Peaks

A couple of weeks ago I completed the Three Yorkshire Peaks challenge!

After a long weekend in the beautiful Yorkshire Dales last summer, my boyfriend, his mum and I all decided that we would take on the challenge together. The challenge is to complete the 24 mile circular route within 12 hours. Well, we managed it in… 9 hours and 20 minutes!!

Considering Covid had prevented our first attempt last October, cancelled our second attempt in February, AND I had a knee injury, we are all super proud to have smashed it in such a great time.

Joe and I had a bit of work to do to train for the challenge, so we spent a few weeks before going for long walks and getting back to the gym. I also went up to the Lake District at every opportunity (usually while Joe was working and couldn’t join me) to get some fell walking in to practice for the ascents. This really helped as I felt really prepared and fit enough to complete the walk…. despite activating an old injury 3 days before the challenge.

But no fear! I strapped up the knee and powered on, making it 20 miles before I felt any pain, so by that point it was pretty much all downhill and the worst of the walk was over.

We stayed in a lovely little cottage in Horton-in-Ribblesdale called Blindbeck Holiday Cottage – the lady who owned it also ran the tearoom next door, plus it was just a 5 minute walk to the pub, so I highly recommend it!

The view of Pen-y-Ghent from our cottage

The summary

The route we took started at The Crown Hotel in Horton-in-Ribblesdale and went first up Pen-y-Ghent (694m), then across to Ribbleshead Viaduct, where our ‘support car’ awaited us with more snacks and water. We then made the long trek around and up Whernside (736m), steeply down the other side to Chapel-le-Dale (another snack stop!) and finally up the dizzyingly steep Ingleborough (723m) and back down to Horton and a well-deserved pub dinner.

The details

Having started at 7:30am, our first ascent up Pen-y-Ghent only took one hour, despite the hordes of charity groups trudging up and, as many non-walkers do, blocking the path up. The excitement and adrenaline from having ticked off peak number one so early carried us the next 7-ish miles to the viaduct. When we arrived, there were people and cars absolutely everywhere.

Ribblehead Viaduct

My top tip if you are doing this walk and someone is meeting you at this point to help re-stock supplies, is to have an exact location to meet (i.e. the crossroads, the viaduct itself, or the pub just up the road) as we couldn’t find each other and ended up milling about for 10 minutes waiting for our food and water to arrive. This did come as quite a welcome break though as we literally had not stopped walking since we started and had already covered 10 miles!

The next stage was probably my favourite portion of the walk as walking alongside the majestic viaduct, past waterfalls, and on nice flat trails in the sunshine was really pleasant and easy to cover some more mileage. However, as it reached midday and we hadn’t yet made it to the summit of Whernside, I started to get a bit tired and deflated, so there was nothing for it but to rip open a bag of jelly babies for a much-needed burst of energy.

The path up to Whernside (out of sight to the left)

By the time we reached the summit of our second, and highest, peak at around 12:45pm, we had caught up to more big groups who were all stopping for picnics, so we decided to eat our sandwiches while making our way down the knee-buckling steps of Whernside to get in a sneaky overtake. My tip here if you struggle with your knees is to bring walking poles – I usually find them a bit annoying but I borrowed some and they were brilliant on this descent.

We had a 5 minute rest break in Chapel-le-Dale (there is a little barnyard café and toilets there) and picked up an energy drink and Mars bar – crucial supplies for the steep climb up our final peak, Ingleborough. By this point the crowds had thinned and we were only being overtaken by fell runners (AKA crazy people); the group of walkers we were keeping in step with were all getting to the point where we just wanted to get to the top and finally start the journey back to Horton.

Looking over to the ridge of Whernside from Ingleborough

This is when my knee decided to play up which wasn’t so fun whilst heaving myself over rocks up to the top – add to that the blistering heat and someone carrying a mountain bike and almost taking off my head with one of the wheels. But I made it and I would’ve struggled so much more without Joe physically pushing me up some of the steps, so here’s a shoutout for not leaving me behind.

Nice gentle start to Ingleborough…
…followed by this VERY steep scramble…
…but we made it!!! 3 Peaks done

Last but not least, we had a really lovely 4 miles of gentle downhill to get to the finish line. By the time we got to Horton I was hobbling a bit but I was so chuffed and proud of such an achievement! The 9 hours of pretty much non-stop walking was rewarded with a glass of wine upon our return to the cottage, a glorious hot shower, and then a pie in the pub. We were all passed out by 9pm but what a day we had.

Oh and one final tip: keep slathering on sun cream even if it gets cloudy! We’ve all been peeling ever since… not nice.

If anyone is thinking of challenging themselves, I thoroughly recommend looking into the Yorkshire Three Peaks. It’s bloody hard but the sense of achievement is so worth it! The area is simply beautiful and there is so much do in the surrounding villages and hills to make a weekend or even a full week of it. Check out my post from last summer for a 3-day Yorkshire itinerary if you want some more ideas.

Also, many people do it for a charitable cause, which we looked at doing but decided against just in case our third attempt was also cancelled due to Covid. Joe and I are thinking of doing the national Three Peak Challenge next year, so maybe we’ll do that one for charity…

30 before 30

I’ve heard of this concept for years and never really gave it any thought. I have a bucket list with many many (probably unrealistic) things I want to achieve throughout my life scrawled in various journals (I’ve linked my favourite one here) and ingrained in my mind.

But this week I was just scrolling on social media (what else is there to do during lockdown?) and came across Hannah Witton’s YouTube video ‘Reacting to my 30 before 30‘. Basically, she had written this list a few years ago about the 30 things she wanted to achieve before she turned 30 years old, and had unearthed it as she now embarks on her final year of her twenties. It was a funny video to watch, as many of the things on her list were unrealistic and were heavily impacted by other life events. So it got me thinking, what would be my realistic 30 before 30?

For context, I’m 24, so despite the pandemic and not being able to do much right now, I’ve still got a good few years left to achieve these goals.

  1. Live abroad. I attempted this in 2020 and it didn’t last long enough so I want to do it again, properly this time! I’m thinking Singapore, Bali, Chiang Mai, Brisbane, Rome, Istanbul…..
  2. Go on a city break with my little sister
  3. Volunteer abroad. Again, I’ve done this before with the most incredible company ever but would love to volunteer somewhere a bit more remote, maybe Fiji or somewhere in sub-Saharan Africa?
  4. Go on a wine-tasting tour
  5. Visit 50 countries (total, currently on 24) – this might be a bit of a push given the current world crisis. I’m also more interested in really seeing the countries I visit, so if that takes longer, I’d rather do it properly.
  6. Learn to surf
  7. Start paying into a pension
  8. Buy my first house
  9. Have a fancy dinner party in said house
  10. Have a stable career which I love (finally on track for this, yay!)
  11. Go wild camping, something I haven’t done in about 10 years!
  12. Explore more of the UK. There are so many places which I’ve realised I want to visit, as staycations became more popular and accessible during last year’s summer restrictions.
  13. Try some weird foods, like oysters
  14. Do a long walk, run, or bike ride for charity (let’s face it I shall not be running)
  15. Send my friends postcards while I’m on holiday 🙂
  16. Go to a casino (and don’t waste a load of money)
  17. Go to a cooking class. Something I loved when I went to Thailand, so I will incorporate this into my travels more!
  18. See my nephews as much as possible and watch them grow up
  19. Read more than 30 books in a year
  20. Eat more plant-based meals
  21. Treat my parents to a holiday/night away/fancy meal out/something nice to show how grateful I am for everything they do for me
  22. Win at bowling at least once (it is possible, I have done in the past, but it’s a rare and prestigious occasion)
  23. Visit the British Museum
  24. Have a crazy reunion weekend with my best friends! #archsquad
  25. Read all 6 Jane Austen novels
  26. Pay for someone else’s order at a drive-thru
  27. Be able to do a pull-up
  28. Go on a cruise
  29. Get into a good fitness routine and join the gym
  30. Visit one of the wonders of the world, preferably the Great Pyramids of Giza

Ta-da! All done. I really hope these are realistic, although I can only imagine a couple of these being ticked off in 2021! I tried to steer away from the more cliché ‘get married and have babies’ because I don’t want to put that pressure on myself. To be honest I’m not bothered about any of that in the near future anyway, I just want to see as much of the world as possible, become financially stable, see more of my family and friends, and be happy 🙂

Maybe if this blog is still going in 5.5 years’ time I can revisit this and let you know how I did…

What are some of your 30 before 30?

How to set Realistic Goals for the New Year

Hey 2021!

***Disclaimer: This post is a little late, as I wasn’t sure that putting pressure on people to set goals for 2021 would be insensitive – after all, many of us have had few successes in 2020 and feel a little sad and anxious about setting ourselves up for more disappointment. However, I personally love that feeling of achievement, big or small. Ticking something off a list and feeling a little wave of joy. So whether you set goals for this new year, that’s totally up to you. Set a challenge, or something more achievable. One of your goals could be ‘get dressed once a week’ or ‘try a new recipe’ or ‘climb a mountain’. You do you, and find the joy in the little things. 🙂

Each year I start a shiny new journal/notebook and list all of my achievements from the previous year and then set out all of my goals for the next. There’s usually only 10 or so on each respective list, but I find getting both down on paper are hugely motivating and provide a sense of achievement and worth. I truly believe that lists are the greatest invention and seeing my hard-earned achievements and future goals written down on paper extremely useful to look at throughout the year during times of self-doubt or de-motivation.

2019 was a pretty great year when I look at what I wrote down. I was so proud to have graduated with a First Class Honours Degree, I bought my first car, started my blog, explored two new countries, and got my first tattoo (just to name a few!). When I wrote these down, I considered the variety of achievements and tried to channel that into my goals for 2020.

I was able to tick off about 80% of my goals for 2020, including moving to China, gaining my TEFL certificate, reaching 100 followers on the blog, and reading at least one book each month – but I wrote more about reflecting on 2020 in my last blog post. Some haven’t been attained due to Covid, but I acknowledge that those things have been out of my control and that doesn’t equal failure!

Here are some tips that I have found useful when beginning to look at my goals for 2021….

BE SPECIFIC

My only mistake with my 2020 list was that a couple of them were too vague and I therefore can’t really tick them off. For example, “give in to peer pressure less” and “drink less alcohol”…. I can’t honestly say I have achieved these because they are impossible to measure or quantify. So with that in mind, my list for 2021 is going to include goals which are more measurable and thus less frustrating.

MAKE IT AESTHETICALLY PLEASING

This might just be me but… if my list looks nice, and is written in a lovely new journal, then it just makes me even more motivated to start working towards my goals! You might be like me and enjoy handwriting them, or using different colours, tables and formats, or typing them up on a spreadsheet!

SET SMALL GOALS…

There’s nothing to say for certain that 2021 will be ‘back to normal’ as we keep hoping, but it’s always worth striving for the best we can and remaining optimistic that we can achieve our goals no matter what. Perhaps, if the idea of setting big goals for 2021 makes you feel a little anxious, simply set aside your bigger dreams for now (or add them to a Five Year Plan, which I’ll explain in a bit) and focus on the smaller goals instead.

… OR CREATE A 5 YEAR PLAN

If you would rather set goals which can continue moving forward after the year is up, consider creating a five year plan instead. This allows you to set long-term goals which you can divide into stages. For example, one of your goals for a 5 year plan might be “buy a house”. Your goal for 2021 can therefore be “save up X amount of money for a deposit” or “choose an area I want to live in”. This allows for you to ultimately continue working towards the same goal for multiple years in a row until it is fully achieved. I was originally inspired to do this after watching Hannah Witton’s YouTube video about Five Year Plans, which you can watch here.

BE KIND TO YOURSELF

It’s easy when writing down your goals to be very self-critical – this is not what goal-setting is about. Instead of aiming to change things about yourself, which may affect your mental health and how you value yourself, try to turn it into a positive goal. Change “be less —-” to “be more —-”. I was inspired to do this by the lovely Sophie Cliff AKA The Joyful Coach, whose podcast and Instagram are really uplifting. My main aim for 2021 is simply to be more joyful. ❤

CATEGORISE YOUR GOALS

A method I find quite useful is to put your goals into categories, such as ‘Financial’, ‘Relationships’, ‘Career’ and ‘Fun’. This means you aren’t solely focusing on career or financial goals; it inspires you to consider a wider range of goals that you may not have thought of originally. These varying degrees or levels of ‘achievement’ thus help to make your goals challenging yet attainable.

CONSIDER ANY OBSTACLES

Finally, I believe it is realistic to consider any potential obstacles that may prevent you from achieving some of your goals. Want to go on a road trip but don’t have a car? This might cause a problem so make sure your goal is realistic, or put a plan in place to get around obstacles.

I hope these tips are useful for some of you! One of my main goals is to read 20 books – I may even up this to 30 as my sister is doing it with me so we’ll motivate each other! Another is to walk more in the Lake District, specifically to summit 50 Wainwright Fells (out of 214) in an effort to get more fit and see more of my favourite place in the UK. Let me know in the comments what one of your goals is for 2021!

Reflecting on 2020

Did I really live in China? Like, did that actually happen or did I dream it all up?

I think about this on a regular basis, more so the past few days as I realised it has now been 11 months since I first arrived in Guangzhou to start my teacher training. To kickstart a year of teaching, learning, travelling and living it up abroad.

I know some people are probably bored of me going on about China, but it was a huge step for me (as I’m sure it would be for anyone!) and the disappointment I have felt in crushing waves since I returned to the UK has been so significant that I can’t just bury it all and never speak of it again.

The fact is, I am SO GRATEFUL and SO BLOODY PROUD of myself for making that huge leap – and making possibly an even bigger leap in deciding to come home when I felt that it was for the best.

I’m pretty sure no one’s lining up to say how amazing 2020 has been for them. We’ve all lost something, or someone, we cared about. We have all mourned in some way for the shitshow that has been this year.

But I feel that we will all have come out stronger for it. When the UK was first plunged into lockdown back in March, everyone was saying “I can’t possibly work from home! What do you mean we can only go out for essentials? But I have to see my friends and family every day!”. Well, we now know that actually, we can cope with these things, if a little reluctantly. So many businesses have remained operating from home, people have discovered that FaceTime and Zoom quizzes are a great way of catching up with their loved ones remotely, and with so many shops, restaurants and bars being shut, we have all been forced to reconsider the concept of what is truly ‘essential’.

For the last couple of years I have chosen a nice shiny new journal to write down my achievements from the year, and then the goals I have for the New Year. My achievements this year have been a little different to last year’s, but they shouldn’t be forgotten. I urge you all to take a few moments to have a think and write down a few things you’ve done this year which you are proud of. You’ll soon find that maybe 2020 did have some highlights after all. Here’s a few of mine for inspiration:

  • I moved abroad on my own
  • Came off my anxiety medication
  • Moved in with my boyfriend
  • Saved for future travels
  • Took a job I hated but grew in confidence
  • Started an apprenticeship alongside my dream job

The one key thing I have personally learnt from 2020 has been to not plan so much. Be prepared for disappointment. Have a Plan B, C, D…. Not everything will always go our way. And that is totally OK!

Look out for my next post on how to set goals for 2021 – sign up to receive email notifications here:

Don’t forget to follow along on Instagram @wheresliv_ for more adventures in 2021!

7 Places To Visit For a Winter Getaway

Usually around this time of year I’ve just been (or I’m looking to go) on a cheeky winter getaway. A long weekend somewhere in Europe, to stroll around beautiful cobbled streets, sip hot chocolates and mulled wine, browse the Christmas markets, and enjoy seeing a city from a totally different perspective.

Although this year I’ve been unable to escape the oncoming British winter, it hasn’t stopped me from looking back at past trips and scribbling down ideas for winter breaks in years to come. I asked on my Instagram a few weeks ago for others to share their favourite winter destinations, and got a wonderful variety of answers. In this article, I’ve chosen a few of my own favourites, as well as some unique suggestions from friends and family…

Berlin, Germany

Who can say no to a traditional Christmas market?! The history of Christmas markets goes back hundreds of years to the four weeks before Christmas, when market sellers would up the ante with seasonal produce, trinkets for gift exchanging, delicious food, and outdoor singing and dancing. Germany excels when it comes to putting on lavish Christmas displays, with their authentic open-air market stalls, Glühwein (hot mulled wine), stollen (fruit bread), gingerbread and Bratwürst. While you can find these things at almost any Christmas market around Europe nowadays, the treats are traditionally German delicacies and the first genuine Christmas market is thought to have been held in Dresden in the early 15th century.

There are multiple markets in Berlin, but the best are ‘Winterwelt’ at Potsdamer Platz, ‘Christmas Magic’ at Gendarmenmarkt, and the Royal Christmas Market at Charlottenburg Palace. Also, check out Stacey’s guide to Christmas Markets here!

The iconic Brandenburg Gate, Berlin

London, UK

One of the best cities in Europe for hosting epic Christmas displays is London with its Winter Wonderland! From November to January, this winter festival in Hyde Park boasts over 100 rides and attractions, from Santa Land to themed ice bars. This magical Christmas extravaganza is a must-visit for locals and tourists alike – I can’t believe I haven’t been yet! In fact, I haven’t been to London much at all so it would really feel like a holiday for me. I cannot wait to go there next year with a group of friends and soak it all up!

London’s Winter Wonderland

Budapest, Hungary

My first city break was to Budapest in February, and oh my goodness it was so cold!! It was there that I realised I really enjoyed a winter city break, as it was quieter, less expensive, and just totally different to what I expected – in a good way!

We were able to do all the usual touristy stuff, like going on a tour of the Parliament building, walking around Margaret Island, and getting the funicular up to Buda Castle and the Fisherman’s Bastion. What was unique about going during the winter, though, was that there was an ice rink outside Vajdahunyad Palace! During the summer the gardens are apparently beautiful and packed with families picnicking and basking in the sun – however I’d choose skating around next to the palace any day!

Read more about my trip to Budapest here.

Vajdahunyad Palace Ice Rink, Budapest

Kraków, Poland

If you’ve been following my blog (and Instagram) for a while now, you’ll know that Krakow is probably my favourite European city so far. It is the place where I felt most relaxed and at home during my 3 night stay, and I haven’t stopped recommending it to others ever since. The town is fairly small and quaint, with a beautiful market hall selling handmade trinkets and homegrown produce, a uniquely impressive castle overlooking the river, and the BEST dumplings I have ever tasted in my life. I would go back tomorrow purely to stock up on pierogi. A visit to Auschwitz is both easily accessible and hugely important (you MUST go, even though it’s terribly sad), and the Salt Mines are apparently a spectacular sight to see.

Check out my blog posts on Krakow here.

Grandvalira, Andorra

Ever heard of this little European country? It sits between France and Spain and is a great choice for a luxury skiing holiday at Pas de la Casa! Having visited Andorra myself in the summertime, the winding mountain passes are gorgeous and the shopping opportunities are plentiful as the entire country is duty-free! Andorran resorts are supposedly some of the best in Europe for beginner skiiers, so maybe one day I’ll try my hand at skiing (yep, I’ve never done it!) and enjoy the buzzing nightlife, which is much cheaper than resorts in the Alps.

Andorra, taken by my lovely friend Hannah

Bansko, Bulgaria

An alternatively cheaper and more unique skiing destination is Bansko in Bulgaria, which was highly recommended by one of my best friends. I don’t know about you, but I’d never really thought of Bulgaria as a holiday destination at all, let alone for a skiing trip! The rugged mountain landscapes look absolutely incredible, and I hear the food there is also to die for. Worth looking into as a more budget-friendly option next winter!

Bansko, also taken by Hannah

Marrakech, Morocco

When I asked on an Instagram poll a few weeks ago, I had lots of people suggesting a destination with a much warmer climate, to escape the cold and have one last summery getaway! There were plenty of suggestions, but to wrap up this post I thought I’d choose one of my own favourites: Marrakech, Morocco.

Just a 4 hour flight from the UK (costing less than £100 return), Marrakech is so close and accessible yet so culturally different. The climate is hot and dry – hello Sahara desert – so I can imagine visiting around Christmas time would be a welcome change from the rain and sleet we have here. Hotels are super affordable and often have swimming pools, the food is some of the best I’ve ever eaten, and there are loads of activities you can do in and around the city – see my page about my 3-week trip to Morocco last year to see what we got up to!

Any of these on your list? Or any more you think should be on mine? Let me know in the comments!

GUEST BLOG: Christmas Markets Ranked Worst to Best

by Stacey Cutten @ Stacey Explores

Given that this year we are all sadly missing our dose of Christmas festivities, I wanted to take a little time to reflect on all of European Christmas markets I have visited – so next year you can visit the best ones! I am yet to visit any German Christmas markets, so I have potentially am yet to experience the best myself. However, this task was so much tougher than I thought it would be! Do you disagree with any of my reviews? I would love to see your thoughts below in the comments!

6. Brno, Czech Republic

We visited between Christmas and New Year in 2019, and in hindsight maybe this market was a omen of 2020! Perhaps that’s a little harsh, but the market sadly seemed to be packing up by time we arrived late on 28th December – so we didn’t get to see it in it’s prime, and in truth it was a little dull.

Of the stalls that were left, they mostly consisted of mystery meat & mulled wine. The strange mystery meat matched the strange monument in the centre of the square, which interestingly enough, is actually an astronomical clock?!

Unfortunately, when the Christmas market has been exhausted, there isn’t much else to see in Brno. You can visit the catacombs and tower at the Cathedral of St Peter and Paul, but you will have to pre-book onto a tour. The city however, does has convenient train links to Vienna, Bratislava & Prague, so it is certainly worth stopping by or using as a central base to visit other major European cities. You can check out more on our trip to Brno here.

5. Luxembourg City, Luxembourg

I recall Luxembourg having a cute little market with Nutcracker style attractions and a great number of shops. Unfortunately though (unless you love shopping), it lacked a “wow” factor; which is why it finds itself so far down my list. A great benefit of travelling around Luxembourg is that all of the public transport is free. Although – be warned – on the flip side of that, if you stay out late and miss the last bus across town, taxis are VERY expensive. Honestly, that is one of the only things I can really remember about Luxembourg… expensive taxis.

4. Tallinn Old Town, Estonia

Tallinn was the first Christmas market I had visited outside of the UK and it did impress me. The Christmas market setting seems to suit the medieval old town, with cosy fire-lit restaurants presenting sword fighting, a lot of alcohol and also, the colder Baltic weather. Similarly to Brno, we visited in between Christmas & New Year, except we were instead presented with a market in full force. This was back in winter 2015 and we specifically has picked Tallinn because it’s famous for it’s market staying strong through to the New Year.

Tallinn does full further down my list that I wanted to place it, though. If this was simply a competition of Christmas markets, then it ticks most boxes. However, the Old Town & market felt like a false façade once you left the realms of the Old Town. The TV Tower is worth a visit, but please steer clear of Tallinn Zoo – we had to leave after a short visit because we were too upset with the mistreatment of animals there.

Also, be wary before visiting – Estonia has never received much of an English influence and hence, there is not much reason for many to speak English! I’m not ignorant and don’t expect everyone to speak English, but there are serious language barriers that aren’t similarly experienced in most European countries. To add to this, many restaurants seem to present “Russian meat” as a dish, and to this day I’m still not quite sure what is meant by that.

3. Vienna, Austria

Vienna was a pleasant surprise. We visited on the 27th December and the Christmas market in the Museumsquartier was still running strong! The food was probably the best of the Christmas markets I have visited, since traditional Austrian cuisine perfectly fit with the market setting. I also appreciated the low waste efforts: for hot drinks you had to put a 4€ deposit on a festive mug, which could be returned when you were finished.

Vienna is also a fantastic spot for finding other things to do, and has a historic LGBTQ+ culture. You can check out the other things we did with our time in Vienna here.

I really wanted to place Vienna first in my list. The only thing that bought it further down in the ranks was that it was just plonked in the centre of a city – without too much thought to setting aside from the wood cabin market stalls. It misses the natural appeal of being in a Old Town like Tallinn, but doesn’t make an effort to recoup some of that atmosphere.

2. Strasbourg, France

That old town/traditional setting that I just mentioned was lacking in Vienna… yeah, well I think Strasbourg stole it! Strasbourg is home an array of absolutely beautiful medieval architecture and hence, the Christmas markets are perfectly consumed by their environment and there is a seamless integration between market & city.

I suppose the downside is, the markets are SO famous that they are very busy and they somewhat don’t live up to the “perfect” image. Perhaps my expectations were set too high! I also didn’t find that there wasn’t much to do in Strasbourg outside of the Christmas market, unless you like shopping!

1. London, England

Ah, London! In all honesty, I didn’t want to put London first, because it inevitably feels biased. Maybe I am only placing it first because a Christmassy London feels most familiar to me and therefore hits the spot? Who knows. It’s also awkward that I don’t have any photos of Christmas in London… Oops!

In my opinion, I think Winter Wonderland makes the most effort of the markets I’ve visited – it certainly doesn’t pull any punches. In doing this, you receive the correct setting for a Christmas market, but then also have London to explore within arms reach… and London at Christmas certainly doesn’t hold back either! There’s just something unbeatable about the double decker red buses and the lights on Oxford Street.

The only things that let down London’s markets are firstly the cost, and secondly how busy it can get. If you have the opportunity, I would recommend visiting in the daytime on a school day. For those visiting from outside of the UK, school holiday generally fall between 20th December and the 4th January. Also, there in an abundance of activities to partake in at Winter Wonderland (Hyde Park), but make sure you book online to secure your place before your visit!

In the absence of my own photos, I’ll sign off by directing you to one of my favourite Instagram accounts: @lukepilky_locations.

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