Visiting the Enzo Ferrari Museum in Modena

There are two Ferrari museums in Italy, one in Modena and one in Maranello, where the cars are actually built. The Enzo Ferrari Museum in Modena is the perfect setting to combine food and auto touring in Italy. Although the town is full of ancient cobblestoned streets and old stone buildings, it’s known as the “Detroit of Italy” due to its automotive heritage. It’s set in the Motor Valley where Ferrari, Maserati, and Lamborghini automobiles, along with Ducati motorcycles, are built. Located in the Emilia-Romagna region 250 miles north of Rome, visitors can tour factories and museums related to these legendary marques.

Modena is a city of contrasts. Two prominent buildings pierce the azure blue Italian sky; the 12th-century white marble cathedral and the sinewy, yellow curved roof of the Enzo Ferrari museum. (In Italian it’s the Museo Enzo Ferrari.) Modena may be the birthplace of Ferrari, the worldwide symbol of fast automobiles, but it is also the heart—or perhaps stomach—of Emilia-Romagna. Regional names such as Modena, Parma, Bologna and Reggio are all associated with famous foods.

Italians might make these famous foods slowly, but they like their cars to be fast. Enzo Ferrari was born in Modena 1898 and still leaves his mark on the city more than a century later. His bright red, road-hugging vehicles seem synonymous with the word “racecar.” Start your Motor Valley tour at the Ferrari Museum in Modena.

In the Footsteps of Enzo Ferrari

Enzo Ferrari Museum in Modena Italy
Ferrari Museum in Italy

You’ll walk in the legendary carmaker’s footsteps at the original workshop and home of his father–Alfredo Ferrari. Enzo inherited the buildings at age 20, but sold them soon afterward to buy a sports car. Here you’ll get up close to the first road Ferrari ever built, a 1947 Ferrari 125 S with a 1500 cc V12 engine pushing out 118 horsepower for a maximum speed of 210 km/hour.

Museum of Engines

Since, besides good looks, Ferrari cars are also known for their engines, there are more than 30 high-performance engines on display, which is why this area is called the Museum of Engines. It’s a gearhead’s paradise.

 1994
The 1994 Ferrari F129B engine was their first road-worthy V8 engine with a five-valve cylinder head. It was developed through their Formula 1 research. It put out 380 hp and was first used in the F355 Berlinetta.
ferrari Museum Modena 1951 500 F2 Formula 1 champion
Behind the wheel of the 1951 Ferrari F2 that won the Formula 1 world championship in 1952 and 1953 with Alberto Ascari driving.

Adjacent to the workshop a newer building’s striking yellow roof curves skyward, mimicking the hood of a 1950s racing Ferrari. Inside, more than 20 Ferraris are displayed under glittery lights as if they were jewels in a crown, although these Italian creations are more expensive than most diamonds. A soaring Luciano Pavarotti (another local boy) soundtrack creates a sense of autos as art. For more information go to the Ferrari Museum in Modena.

Ferrari Museum in Modena
1948 Ferrari 166 Inter Aerlux at the Ferrari Museum in Modena
The 1948 Ferrari 166 Inter Aerlux was the first four-seater Ferrari. It featured an aluminum body and clear panoramic roof.

The Pavarotti music can get you in the mood for visiting the nearby Luciano Pavarotti House Museum. Even for non-opera buffs (like me) it’s a fascinating experience; sort of like Graceland with an Italian twist. The house where he lived for the final years of his life is set on a bucolic one-lane road outside his childhood hometown of Modena.

Modena Ferrari Museum

The Ferrari Museum in Maranello

Ferrari Museum Marinello

Ferrari moved production to nearby Maranello in the 1940s. After you’ve seen the Modena Ferrari Museum you should check out the Museo Ferrari in Maranello. It focuses more on performance with a dose of Ferrari heritage and style added. The visitor’s courses through Ferrari Formula 1 race cars up to the “One-Off” gallery that on this visit included rocker Eric Clapton’s SP12EC (shown below). Make sure to enjoy the museum; the only way to go on the Ferrari factory tour is to buy one. Ferrari Museum in Maranello

Eric Clapton's Ferrari

After viewing primo cars, Modena is a great place to reward yourself with a fine Italian meal: it’s the town that invented tortellini pasta and the eponymous balsamic vinegar di Modena.

Visiting Modena With a Discover Ferrari & Pavarotti Land Passport

With so much to see and do in Modena, it can be a bit overwhelming at first. Fortunately there is a means of easily visiting many attractions within a few days. Discover Ferrari & Pavarotti Land is a shuttle service that whisks visitors to over a dozen sights related to food, wine, history and cars (including both Ferrari museums) with a stop thrown in at Pavarotti’s home. The price includes access to the attractions as well as the shuttle.

Interested in purchasing tickets? You can get them in advance here:

Tickets when traveling from Bologna: Ferrari & Pavarotti Land-Bologna Shuttle

Tickets when traveling from Modena: Ferrari & Pavarotti Land-Modena Shuttle

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Changes in Longitude Larissa & Michael Milne at Arctic Circle

We’re Larissa and Michael, your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive updates and valuable travel tips subscribe to our travel newsletter here.

From extravagant high teas to cosy cafes with scones and jam, we explored them all in search of the the best afternoon tea in Edinburgh. Read on for our recommendations.

It’s no secret that baked goods put us in our “happy place.” And if there was ever a (sort of) meal where baked goods are the star performers, it’s afternoon tea. Therefore it was a delight to sample some of the Edinburg’s best afternoon teas during our extended stay in the city.

Afternoon tea in Edinburgh can mean different things. It can be a gloves-on, pinky out affair with delicate pastry and finger sandwiches. Or it can be simpler mid-afternoon break with a traditional cream tea: a pot of tea and a scone with butter and jam or cream. (If you’ve read our post about finding the best scones in Edinburgh, you know we take our tea time seriously!) It’s even possible to have afternoon tea on a double-decker bus! Whatever your preference, you can to spend an enjoyable hour in the afternoon at any one of these spots.

Afternoon tea, Edinburgh: best spots for high tea

When it comes to high tea, Edinburgh has got more than it’s fair share of spots for a three-tiered extravaganza (often with optional champagne!). Certainly most major hotels have something on offer, no surprise there. We’ve sought out some spots that might not be that obvious, but still offer that great “special event” feel . . . in all price ranges.

Elegant high tea at the Colonnades in EdinburghIf you’re looking for a swanky, special-event-type-of-tea, this is the place. The Signet Library is an elegant early 19th century building owned by a prestigious Scottish legal society known as The Writers of the Signet. The majority of the building is private, but its lower library, “the Colonnades,” is open for lunch and afternoon tea. Nibble delicate sandwiches, cakes and freshly baked scones served on silver stands amid a hushed setting just off the Royal Mile. Great selection of teas, including the Colonnades’ own Signet Blend. Booking ahead recommended.

What we love: The beautiful setting and ultra-high-quality food.

Drawbacks: The price. At £38 (approx. $48 US) per person, it’s an expensive afternoon. We think the 2- or 3-course lunch, at £24 or £30 respectively, is a better value.

Elegant tea in a historic setting at the Grand CafeThe Grand Cafe offers a traditional afternoon tea with an old-world feel. Both the cafe and the hotel are located just off the Royal Mile in the former headquarters of The Scotsman newspaper. The soaring ceiling and marble-bedecked columns of the cafe began life as the Advertising & Notices department of The Scotsman. It’s easy to imagine a copy boy running through the room shouting “stop the presses!” At £21.95 (approx. $28 US) per person, it’s a good-value indulgence. There are options for enhancing your tea with a glass of Prosecco or Champagne as well. It’s a good idea to make reservations.

What we love: The Grand Cafe also offers a Children’s Tea, with treats geared to a more youthful palate, for £9.95 (approx. $12.50 US); great for traveling families.

Drawbacks: The genteel atmosphere can get a little boisterous as the adjacent bar fills up for early evening drinks.

  • House of Fraser/Jenners Department Store

High tea EdinburghThe cafe in this venerable old Edinburgh department store offers up a respectably traditional afternoon tea. The service is more casual than most three-tiered afternoon teas: you order at the counter and the food is brought to your table. But we can forgive that small service lapse due to the price. At £12.95 (approx. $16.25 US) it’s an excellent value. Don’t have a big appetite? Jenners also offers a simple cream tea for even less. [NOTE: During the month of August, in conjunction with the Edinburgh Festival and Fringe Festival, Jenners offers a special “Tea with Mr. Jenner” event for £29 (approx. $36.50 US). It’s super-swanky, held in the shop’s historic boardroom, and includes tales of the legendary retailers’ history. Reservations mandatory.]

What we love: The view. Located on the 3rd floor above Princes Street, the cafe offers a spectacular view of Edinburgh Castle and the Old Town.

Drawbacks: The savory sandwiches are a bit mundane (tuna, egg salad, etc.). But the scones and pastries are excellent–and isn’t that really why you’re out for afternoon tea anyway? 😉

best afternoon tea EdinburghEataket sells teas and tea-making accessories at a cluster of shops throughout Edinburgh, so you know their tea is top-notch. Their Tea Room on Frederick Street in the city’s New Town is a cozy, casual spot where you can sample their brews accompanied by the traditional afternoon tea accoutrements. For £15.95 (approx. $20 US) you get a choice of sandwich, a scone with cream and jam, and a selection of mini-pastries along with your tea.

What we love: For £8.95 (approx $11.25 US) Eataket offers a “High Tea,” which is a mini-version of their Afternoon Tea. (A half-sandwich, scone, and one pastry, plus tea.) This is a great value, and terrific for lighter appetites.

Drawbacks: While the tea was excellent, and the sandwiches and pastries tasty, we found the scones uninspired.

Afternoon tea, Edinburgh: best spots for cream tea

Ah, the simplicity of a cream tea! Edinburgh has more than its fair share of spots that offer a scone with a cuppa. Most cream teas in Edinburgh offer an option of either butter or cream (whipped or clotted) along with jam to top your scone. We’ve rounded up a few where the scones are a worth a special trip.

Blueberry scone, cream tea EdinburghThis cafe/gallery in the New Town is beautifully decorated with an ever-changing display of original art, managing to feel homey and sophisticated at the same time. Co-owner Stuart Allan bakes the best scones in Edinburgh—and you have a choice 6 varieties fresh-baked daily (4 sweet, 2 savory). They’re massive (about 4″ around), buttery, crumbly . . . and Stuart warms them to order. No need for the fancy stuff with a scone this good! (Although Stuart also bakes a selection of cakes daily if you’re seeking something sweeter.)

What we love: The blueberry scone, chock-full of fresh berries. Also, the cheese or sun-dried tomato & herb scones, which are served with butter and an onion jam or pickle, which make a great savory tea.

Drawbacks: Bon Papillon is closed on Mondays & Tuesdays. But I guess Stuart and his partner Ingrid Nilsson are entitled to some time off!

We almost missed this tiny cafe, run by Tom and Elaine Courtney tucked into the Royal Mile just west of the Museum of Edinburgh. But then we saw Elaine’s delectable scones displayed in the window, and knew we had to try them. Our eyes did not deceive us; they were crisp on the outside, crumbly and tender on the inside. We were particularly taken with their triangular shape, which gave them lots of crunchy bits.

What we love: The strawberry scones, which are plain sweet scones filled with strawberry jam, fresh whipped cream AND fresh strawberries. A real summer treat.

Drawbacks: The cafe only has about 12 seats, so you might not get a table during busy periods.

Cream tea in Edinburgh at Mimi's BakehouseMimi’s is an Edinburgh mini-chain, with 4 locations in the city, two of which are right in the Old Town and handy for visitors. In addition to rib-sticking sandwiches (called “sarnies”), Mimi’s bakes some hefty cakes and traybakes (bar cookies), plus whopping scones. The cafe offers both an afternoon tea (and a unique “beforenoon tea”), which includes a selection of all three. But the portions are so large, we opted to stick with the cream tea version, simply enjoying our scone.

What we love: The cafe on Market Street, just opposite the south exit of the train station, is a quiet oasis in the midst of the Royal Mile frenzy.

Drawbacks: The scones are popular and often sold out by noon or 1pm (according to the cafe worker we spoke to). This makes having an afternoon cream tea difficult. So, um, maybe they should make a few more?

Afternoon tea, Edinburgh: fun and unusual spots

Sometimes the atmosphere is half the fun! Below are two unique afternoon teas in Edinburgh, based on some quirky locations:

Best afternoon tea EdinburghOn top of being a great way to multi-task when visiting a city, this afternoon tea/bus tour is just plain FUN! Climb on board a vintage double-decker bus, sip tea/coffee and nibble on tasty treats while the vintage Routemaster bus drives by all the major sights in Edinburgh. During the 90-minute experience you’ll taste a selection of sandwiches and mini-quiches, pastries, and (we’re still not sure how they managed this one), freshly baked scones.

What we love: This beats any plain old bus tour, hands down. And it’s a great way to experience a lot of Edinburgh in a short period of time.

Drawbacks: The bus doesn’t drive particularly quickly, but it is a moving vehicle. So it might not be a good choice for clumsy sorts.😯

NOTE: This tea must be reserved in advance. Click here to book the Edinburgh Afternoon Tea Bus Tour on Viator. (This is an affiliate link, which means we earn a small commission, at no extra cost to you.)

  • Royal Yacht Britannia Afternoon Tea

Tea with the Queen? Not exactly, but this may be as close as most of us will ever get. The Royal Yacht Britannia, the former yacht of the British royal family, is open to visitors in Edinburg’s port of Leith. The Royal Deck Tea Room serves tea, cakes and light meals where the royal family once entertained. You can simply order a pot of tea with a scone for about £8 (about $10 US) or give yourself the royal treatment with the “Cream Tea special for one,” which adds a sandwich, slice of cake and a glass of sparkling wine to your tea and scone. Veddy posh!

What we love: Having tea on the yacht where Princess Diana spent her honeymoon is pretty awesome.

Drawbacks: The Royal Deck Tea Room is only open to those who have purchased a ticket to visit the yacht (approx. $20 US). But it’s a pretty fascinating self-guided tour—you can read about my visit to Royal Yacht Britannia here.

Want to enjoy more of the area? Explore the gorgeous New Town neighborhood in search of sites the 44 Scotland Street novels. Climb on board a Concorde at The National Museum of Flight, just outside of Edinburgh. Or go farther afield and take a Scotland road trip to see film locations for the movie Local Hero. You’ll find charming villages and one of the most beautiful beaches anywhere.

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afternoon tea Edinburgh

Changes in Longitude Larissa & Michael Milne at Arctic Circle

We’re Larissa and Michael, your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive updates and valuable travel tips subscribe to our travel newsletter here.

best scones in Edinburgh

We went on a quest to find the best scones in Edinburgh, and found them at a charming cafe in the New Town.

When you think of a food that defines Edinburgh, scones top the list. Well, some people may think of haggis, but really, the less said about that, the better 😉. (However if you must, check out our Haggis Taste Test.) But back to the scones. They are an Edinburgh institution. You can find them just about anywhere; virtually every cafe, tea shop or coffee house will have them on the menu, and markets carry prepackaged versions. Noted Edinburgh author Alexander McCall Smith even dedicated a title of one beloved 44 Scotland Street novels to them (The Unbearable Lightness of Scones.)Crumbly texture of good scones

Scones in Edinburgh are a good news/bad news scenario. Yes, you can find them everywhere—that’s the good news. But that’s also the bad news . . . it turns out there are some real clunkers out there. But for you, dear reader, we did the research. We explored the city in search of the best scones in Edinburgh, and finally found the hands-down winner!

What makes a good scone?

Best scones in Edinburgh-great crumbly texture

First, texture. If a scone has the proper texture, everything else—aroma, appearance, and, most importantly, TASTE—naturally follows. A good scone should be slightly firm on the outside, with a delicate crispy crust (it shouldn’t be spongy or squishy—this isn’t a yeast roll). Inside, it should be tender and crumbly, with what bakers would call a “crumb.” Create that texture and you’re onto a winner.

Second, the best ingredients. A good scone must be made with . . .butter. Anything less and you haven’t given your poor scone a fighting chance.

Armed with these two requirements, we purchased scones from bakeries and supermarkets, popped into coffee shops and cafes, and even stuck out our pinky at a few afternoon teas. We had some fair scones, a few lousy hockey pucks, and even a few good ones. But then we found the best scones in Edinburgh, and everything else paled in comparison.

The best scones in Edinburgh

Bon Papillon cafe and galleryLadies and gentlemen, I introduce you to Bon Papillon, an art gallery/framing shop and cafe on Howe Street, home of Edinburgh’s best scones! Bon Papillon is run by business and life partners Ingrid Nilsson and Stuart Allan. Ingrid is the artist and oversees the gallery; many of the works on the walls are hers. Stuart, a professional chef, is in charge of the cafe—and the scones.

Stuart makes his scones by hand (no mixer!) daily. Even before tasting one of these beauties I knew it was going to be a winner. It was a feast for the senses. Lifting it, I could feel the slightly firm crust, and upon breaking it open I was rewarded with a gorgeous crumb texture and a delicate butter aroma . . . aaaahhhh. The rich brown exterior gave way to a golden yellow inside, further testament to the buttery goodness within.

best scones in Edinburgh

My mouth was already watering by the time I had my first taste, and my fingers, eyes and nose hadn’t let my tongue down—this scone was delicious! The crust provided just a tiny bit of crunch, the interior was crumbly and moist (without being chewy or gummy-a sure sign of overmixing), and the taste was buttery and slightly sweet. All this deliciousness and I hadn’t even added any of the jam or freshly whipped cream provided on the plate! [Full disclosure, the whipped cream did NOT got to waste.]

I was a happy girl, we had found a winner! Michael announced he’d be purchasing 2 or 3 more to takeaway—a sure sign that he loved them as well (he hadn’t finished most of the scones we tried elsewhere.)

Sultana scones at Bon Papillon in EdinburghStuart with a tray of his freshly baked sultana scones

Scones at Bon Papillon

Unlike many cafes and tea shops that only offer one, or maybe two, varieties, Stuart Allan makes multiple flavors. He bakes them fresh each day, typically making 6 varieties: 4 sweet and 2 savory. (The savory versions are a delicious accompaniment to the salads or homemade soups for lunch.) We shared a blueberry scone on our first visit (there would be many more trips before we left Edinburgh); the seasonal specialty was bursting with fresh fruit. On the other hand, the “standards,” such as plain, sultana, and cheese are available every day. Stuart makes other flavors, like a savory scone with herbs and sun dried tomatoes or a sweet raspberry scone, according to seasonality or his creative whim.pretty cafe and art gallery

Bon Papillon’s scones are large, about 4 inches in diameter, and an excellent value. At £3 each, they make a delicious snack or light meal. Stuart and Ingrid serve sweet scones with strawberry jam and either butter or whipped cream; savory scones come with butter and a carmelized onion jam or savory pickle. The cafe also offers house made salads and soups, along with a large selection of teas and espresso drinks.

If you are traveling to Edinburgh, I recommend visiting Bon Papillon for a cream tea or light meal (with a scone!). Enjoy your scone amid artistic beauty, and you may even decide to take home some of Ingrid’s work. It will be a beautiful way to remember the day you tasted the best scone in Edinburgh.Gallery at Bon Papillon

Bon Papillon is located at 15 Howe Street, Edinburgh EH3 6TE

They are open Wed-Sun, 9am to 5pm (Closed Monday & Tuesday) 

Blueberry scone, cream tea Edinburgh

After you’ve fortified yourself with Stuart’s scones, consider visiting the Royal Yacht Britannia, or checking out the National Museum of Flight. Or explore the neighborhood of the 44 Scotland Street novels.

Changes in Longitude Larissa & Michael Milne at Arctic CircleWe’re Larissa and Michael, your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive updates and valuable travel tips subscribe to our travel newsletter here.

His gums duly numbed with painkiller, Michael reclined in the cushioned chair as the dentist loomed overhead with a whirring drill in her hand. Michael was about to start dental implant surgery to replace a broken tooth, a fairly standard procedure, except he was in a dental clinic in Bucharest, Romania. How did we end up there?

The short answer: affordable dental implants.

Dental implant cost: A mystery in the U.S.

Two years ago, we practically had to scrape Michael off the floor when he learned he needed a dental implant that would cost approximately $6,000. We’d gotten crowns and had root canals in the past, but never anything that rivaled the price of a decent used car. The high cost prompted us to explore less-expensive options. This endeavor proved to be more difficult than we expected.

It’s not easy to find published prices from most U.S. dentists. The U.S. practices we found advertising “discount” implants priced only the implant itself; they didn’t include the extensive prep work, including removal of the broken tooth and often the need for a bone graft, in the total cost.

 

Dental tourism Bucharest Romania intelident, affordable dental implants

We recalled that during a visit to Bucharest a few months earlier, we had noticed many billboards — in English — advertising dental services. Upon further investigation, we learned that Romania is a popular destination for European dental patients; the quality is top-notch, and  the prices are very low. Would we actually consider dental work outside the U.S.?

According to Patients Beyond Borders, a guide and website for medical tourists,  more than 150 million Americans lack dental insurance and are increasingly seeking dental work abroad. Currently, the majority of Americans traveling outside the country to see  dentists venture to Mexico from the border states of Texas, Arizona, and California.

“Dental tourism has been going on for more than two decades,” said Amid Ismail, dean of Temple University’s Kornberg School of Dentistry.

Ismail had no statistical data — good or bad — regarding U.S. patients who had work done overseas. From our research, we learned it’s important to perform your own due diligence on any overseas provider.

“There is quality dental care everywhere, but the range is wider overseas, so you must be careful who you choose,” Ismail said. “Cheap care is most often not equivalent to good care.”

Affordable dental implants in Romania

Which left us still pondering the value — and risks — of using a dental clinic in Bucharest, Romania. We knew from our previous visit that English is commonly spoken in the capital city, so communication wouldn’t be an issue.

As part of our research, we contacted the U.S. office of Romania Tourism. The website addressed dental tourism and provided links to several dentists. Romanian law requires dental clinics to post their prices prominently — something we wish American practices would do.

We homed in on one dental clinic in Bucharest, Intelident, for several reasons. Its website was in English and provided detailed information about the education and work experience of the dentists. The clinic also posts prices online, which made our research easier. In addition, it is part of a network that provides dental services to U.S. employees of American companies (such as Citi and Oracle) that maintain offices in Bucharest.

affordable dental implants romaniaMost importantly, we liked that Intelident used top-notch materials. We were determined to get a standard of care similar to that of the U.S. or Western Europe; there was no reason to consider dental tourism otherwise. We had heard anecdotes of people getting “cheap dental implants” in Eastern Europe, but details about the materials (and potentially the dental clinics) were sketchy. We wouldn’t seek out some back-alley practice back home; we sure as heck weren’t going to go that route in Romania.

We communicated extensively with the manager of the practice by email and clarified prices and approximate timelines. Unlike the U.S., where many dentists price the procedure in total, pricing in Romania is more of an a la carte model. Therefore, it’s important to understand exactly what is required for your complete procedure; a front implant cost may be different than a back tooth, for example, or you might need to factor in tooth extraction. (All cost comparisons here are as “apples to apples” as possible.)

The total cost to install Intelident’s most expensive titanium implant, made by highly regarded Swiss manufacturer Straumann, was approximately $1,500, including a replacement crown;  1/4 the cost of the same procedure in the U.S.

Now that we knew we could obtain affordable dental implants in Bucharest, was a saving of $4,500 enough for us to fly to Romania? Perhaps not. But what if we considered additional work?

We both had several metal-based crowns that were nearing the end of their useful lives; the replacement cost of a nonmetal zirconium crown in the U.S. was estimated at $1,400. The cost in Romania for a similiar crown would be only $350; root canals were similarly priced. If we got a significant amount of preventive work done, the trip would be worth it.

The Procedure

Our first appointments entailed a general examination, including a review of new X-rays. The dentists then prepared a complete treatment plan for each of us. Michael focused on getting his new implant, and  Larissa addressed replacing her old crowns, some of which required root canals. We were given specific pricing upfront. They even said we should defer some work they didn’t feel was necessary, so we never felt “up-sold.”

Dental tourism romania bucharest intelidentX-rays are taken in another office, about a mile away, saving the dentist the investment in equipment that is not often used. The excellent prices ($18 for a full set of digital X-ray bite wings, $6 for a single tooth) at the state-of-the-art imaging facility offset the slight inconvenience of an extra errand for the patient.

Throughout all our work, the Romanian dentists used sterilized equipment and sealed products that they opened in front of us.

For Michael’s implant, his dentist even shared the packaging materials to demonstrate their authenticity. Straumann implants come with a unique serial number, and Michael was able to verify his through the company’s website. Tomas Konrad, a Straumann representative, agreed that best practices include sharing the package with the patient.

A verification document with details about the implant also ensured that Michael could have follow-up work performed by any dentist around the world trained to use Straumann implants — which includes the dental clinic at Temple University.

“That’s a good [standardization] model,” Dr. Ismail said.

The result

To date, there have been no complications with the dental work we had done. Three months later we were back in the US where Michael had the work reviewed by an American dentist, who was impressed with the high quality level.

In the end, we saved more than $18,000 by seeking work outside the U.S. Of course, travel expenses must be deducted from that amount, which is a different variable for everyone.

Visit Romania: Travel considerations

By European and American standards, Bucharest is an inexpensive city. We found a fully furnished apartment in the heart of downtown on Airbnb for $850/month. (For more information on places to stay, please see our detailed guide to lodging in Bucharest.) The dentist’s office was within walking distance, so there was no need for a car. There are no direct flights from the U.S. to Bucharest, but Delta’s SkyTeam alliance offers several connections through European gateways. We flew from New York to Bucharest via Amsterdam.

Dental Tourism considerations: Do Your Research

Dental tourism is not right for everyone, but with the increasing costs of dental procedures in the U.S., it’s an option worth considering if you are facing extensive work. The ideal candidate is someone without comprehensive dental insurance who has an open mind and time to travel abroad.

If you choose to explore this option, it’s essential to do your research. Consider the following:

  • Education: Where did the dentist study? How good is the school? Has he or she done specialty training abroad?
  • Experience: On how many patients has he or she performed this procedure? What’s the success rate? According to the Journal of Dental Research, success rates for most implant procedures are 90 percent to 95 percent; be wary of  dentists who  say they have a 100 percent success rate.
  • References: Ask for names of patients, and contact them  about their experience.
  • Pricing: Be sure to ask for all costs related to the procedure, including X-rays and any prep work.

Even with satisfactory answers to these questions, there are still risks involved. If there is a problem with the work, the burden of extra costs falls to you. We acknowledged that if there were any problems, we’d have to take care of them in the U.S.

“Health tourism in a global economy is a reality of life, but we prefer that patients stay in their home country for continuity and follow up care,” said Ismail.

Prospective patients also need to verify the timing of their procedure to determine how long they will be overseas. One or two weeks are usually needed for a crown; an implant might require two separate short visits. Michael had already had his tooth removed in the U.S., which allowed several months for the bone to grow back before having the implant procedure performed in Romania.

We planned a month for our work in Bucharest, which also gave us plenty of time to explore the city and surrounding area. Overall, our experience as dental tourists was pleasant, and we will consider having work done here again. Plus we miss the Romanian pastries!

If you’ve got further questions about dental tourism, please click the “contact” tab at the top of the page. We’re not dental care experts, but we’re happy to share more about our particular experiences.

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Dental Tourism Romania, Affordable dental implants

 

Larissa and Michael are your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive our free quarterly newsletter with updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

If you’re looking for where to stay in Stockholm, particularly for a Stockholm Arlanda Airport hotel, consider Jumbo Stay Arlanda. It’s one of the coolest places we’ve stayed in our travels. The Jumbo Stay Arlanda is a Stockholm hostel parked at the edge of the Airport. But this isn’t just any hostel, it’s built into a retro-fitted 747 which was in service between 1976 and 2004. For airplane geeks this is the ultimate lodging.

JumboStay 747 hostel Stockholm

Jumbo Stay Arlanda: the ultimate hotel for plane geeks!

Boeing recently announced that in the not too distant future they may stop production of the 747. The iconic, humped airliner was the first of the Jumbo Jets and revolutionized air travel since PanAm first started flying them in 1970. For those who are fans of this airplane, the current crop of them will fly on for years. But with the Jumbo Stay hotel you have the opportunity to sleep on a 747, and not just in an uncomfortable coach seat while flying a red-eye over the ocean.

Where to Stay in Stockholm|Jumbo Stay Arlanda

Fly boy? Or just a plane geek?

Stockholm: Where to Stay

For travelers seeking a Stockholm Arlanda Airport hotel, the 747 is a marvelous sight. When you stand right below it you realize how enormous these flying machines really are. Guests take the elevator up to the former main passenger deck to check-in. The passenger seating area is now a long corridor with rooms on either side.

Jumbo Stay Arlanda airport hotel

You too can sleep in an engine cowling (or just walk on the wing) at the Jumbo Stay Arlanda.

More Than Just a Stockholm Hostel

Most of the rooms are simple, resembling cabins on a cruise ship with upper and lower berths, and shared bathrooms. For the full Stockholm hostel experience, a few rooms (four, to be exact) are actually contained in the former engine cowlings, resembling sleeping in a gypsy caravan. However, there are two separate “suites” for those who wish to have a private toilet and shower while staying at the Jumbo Stay Arlanda.

Jumbo Stay Arlanda cockpit suite

The Cockpit Suite, watch those controls!

The much-coveted cockpit suite is located, of course, in the former cockpit. It includes what used to be the first-class lounge. That was booked so we ended up in the “Black-Box Suite” in the rear of the plane. Yes, it’s where the infamous black box used to be located, a bit eerie, but we soon overcame that upon peeking out the window at airplanes soaring by.

Jumbo Stay Arlanda Stockholm Hostel room

The Black Box Suite

As a special treat the port wing is open for a stroll and some plane-spotting on the nearby runway. There are even a few tables to eat the breakfast that is provided. A shuttle runs regularly to the airport terminal, which is only five minutes away. We used the shuttle in the evening to have dinner at one of the airport restaurants overlooking the busy runway. They are conveniently located before security, so anyone can eat there, not just someone with a flight ticket.

Where to stay in Stockholm|Jumbo Stay Arlanda Airport

Enjoy breakfast, or just hang out, in the nose of the plane

Our Favorite Arlanda Airport Hotel

So if you’re seeking a Stockholm Arlanda Airport hotel (or if you’re just a plane geek), consider the Jumbo Stay Arlanda for a unique travel experience. It’s hard to imagine now, but at some point the groundbreaking 747 will be a vestige of another age, perhaps it already is.

How to book:

Check rates and availability at Jumbo Stay Arlanda.

Prefer a more conventional airport hotel? Check Arlanda Airport Hotels here.

Looking for something in central Stockholm? Check Stockholm Hotels here.

Note: If you’re interesting in staying at Jumbo Stay Arlanda, or somewhere else in Stockholm, please consider booking through one of our links above. We make a small commission at no extra cost to you. Just one of the ways we can keep things humming here at Changes in Longitude while offering valuable travel advice free to our readers 😊.

We paid for our stay. Opinions are our own. 

 

Larissa and Michael are your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive our free quarterly newsletter with updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

We have spent more than 5 months in Bucharest during multiple visits in the past two years and love the city. Read on for our recommendations for the best hotels in Bucharest, Romania (plus apartments) in all price ranges. If you’re planning a trip, where to stay in Bucharest will depend on how long you’re planning to visit and which Bucharest attractions you’d like to see. Keep and eye out for Field-Tested Travel Tips sprinkled throughout–these are our personal recommendations based on our travels in Bucharest.

Hotels in Bucharest Romania|City hotel Bucharest|Capitol Hotel Bucharest

Where to Stay in Bucharest: Best Neighborhoods

Already know the area where you want to stay? Use these links for quick access to reviews of Bucharest hotels in each neighborhood:

  1. Bucharest Old Town Hotels & Apartments
  2. The Cultural District (along Calea Victorei)
  3. Palace of the Parliament Area
  4. Piata Universitatii-East (Including the Jewish Quarter)
  5. Dorobanti/Primavera Neighborhoods
  6. Bucharest Airport Hotels (Baneasa/Otopeni neighborhoods)

Before you choose your Bucharest accommodation, it’s important to understand the way the city is laid out. Many hotels and apartments will describe themselves in a particular sector. The 6 sectors are shaped sort of like wedges of a pie radiating outward. Old Town is at the point  all the sectors meet in the center (see below). The sectors extend to a ring road on the outskirts of the city.

Map illustrating the geographic sectors in Bucharest, overlaid with neighborhoods. (Map designed by Bogdan Giuşcă in XaraX, used by Creative Commons; it was enhanced with landmarks/neighborhoods by me ☺️)

These sectors are great for giving you an idea of whether you’re north/south/east/west of the city center. But they’re not particularly helpful when choosing your accommodation. Bucharest is a big city; you might select a hotel in the same sector as the sights you want to see. Then upon arrival you to discover you’re staying out near the ring road several kilometers away. Oops.

Rather than use the city Sectors, we’ve used Bucharest attractions as a guide and grouped lodging around popular landmarks. This will help you determine which are the best hotels in Bucharest for those sights and activities of interest to you.

The center point from where the Sectors radiate is very near to Old Town. Most of the Bucharest attractions of interest to visitors will be north of this.

Accommodation in Bucharest: Excellent value

No matter what your budget or preference in accommodation, Bucharest has plenty of options. Bucharest accommodation runs the gamut from 5-star luxury, to cheap hotels, to apartments. Romania is a good value for travelers from Western Europe and North America. You can “upgrade” your lodging standards while here.

Even if you don’t normally opt for a luxury hotel, Bucharest is the place to consider a splurge without busting your budget. With some advance planning, you can find a major 5-star hotel in Bucharest for under $200 per night. That’s virtually unheard-of in most European capitals. If your tastes run more toward a boutique hotel, Bucharest has plenty to offer in in that category.

For more budget-minded travelers, there are an abundance of midrange and cheap hotels in Bucharest city centre. Even if your lodging preference is for a hostel, Bucharest has them, but we suggest considering a hotel or studio apartment. It’s easy to find a simple hotel with a private bath for what you might pay for a hostel in other European cities.

Bucharest apartments for travelers are plentiful, and available throughout the city. They are a great alternative if you’re planning to stay for a week or more, or if you’re looking for a family option.

A note about pricing: whether searching for an apartment or hotel, central Bucharest offers an excellent value. That said, prices can fluctuate based on availability. For the purposes of this guide we have used US dollars and grouped accommodations into four general categories:

  • $$$$:  $150 and higher
  • $$$:    $100-150
  • $$       $  60-100
  • $          under $60

All price categories are based on double occupancy and include a private bath, unless noted otherwise.

 Best Hotels in Bucharest: Old Town

Best for: Sidewalk cafes, Bars, Nightlife

Old Town is very near the geographic center of Bucharest. It’s a cluster of narrow, mostly cobblestoned streets open only to pedestrians. The neighborhood has a few beautiful old churches and the remains of a medieval estate. But the majority of the streets are lined with restaurants, bars and cafes that are wedged in side by side, with seats spilling onto the street. It’s arguably the core of Bucharest nightlife. If you love being in the center of the action, this is the spot for you.

Hotels in Bucharest Old Town are tucked in amidst all of this. Keep in mind that you might have to walk a few cobblestoned blocks to reach the entrance of your lodging.

The Mansion Boutique Hotel: $$$-$$$$ Chic & Swanky

Mansion Boutique Hotel Bucharest|Best hotels in Bucharest Romania

Repurposed from an elegant 19th century home, the Mansion Boutique Hotel is one of the newest additions to bustling Old Town. A cleverly designed atrium brightens up the interior, and all of the 19 rooms in this 100% smoke-free property are uniquely decorated. Field-Tested Travel Tip: rooms at the back, facing the atrium, are quieter. Check prices and availability on Booking.com.

Europa Royale Bucharest: $$$ Traditional & Central

Best hotels in Bucharest Romania| Europa Royale Hotel Bucharest

The Europa Royale is a classic European hotel, 100% smoke-free with 92 updated traditional rooms at the southern edge of Old Town (which means taxis can get you close to the front door). Outward-facing rooms on the upper floors have sweeping views over nearby Unirii Square park; request an atrium room facing the interior garden for a quieter stay. Check prices and availability on Booking.com.

Tania-Frankfurt Hotel: $$ Comfort & Value

Best hotels in Bucharest Romania|Tania-Frankfurt Hotel

This small (17-room) hotel is perched on a pedestrian corner right in the thick of Old Town. Rooms are comfortably furnished, with a few singles offering excellent value for solo travelers; 100% smoke-free interior. Breakfast is included in the room rate. Field-Tested Travel Tip: Check out the 3rd-floor outdoor lounge, where you can watch all the Old Town bustle from high above. Check prices and availability on Booking.com.

Apartments in Bucharest Old Town

CityLife Suite: $$$$ (Sleeps 6)

This Bucharest Apartment at the edge of the Old Town boasts 3 bedrooms and two bathrooms, making it an excellent option for a family or several couples traveling together. It has a central living area, along with modern kitchen and big dining table. Field-Tested Travel Tip: a large Carrefour supermarket is about 2 blocks away. Check prices and availability on Booking.com.

Antic Apartments: $-$$

Best hotels Bucharest Romania

These 10 newly renovated (2017) apartments occupy the 4th-6th floor of a building right in the center of Old Town. Sizes range from studios with basic kitchenette facilities to 1- & 2-bedroom apartments. They are furnished in a simple, comfortable style, with modern bathrooms. Field-Tested Travel Tip: check out Carturesti bookstore around the corner, which is in a beautifully renovated old theatre building. Check prices and availability on Booking.com.

Best Hotels in Bucharest: Cultural District

Best for: Art Museums, Concerts, Revolution Square

Many of Bucharest’s cultural museums, concert venues and beautiful Belle Epoque buildings are located in this neighborhood. Calea Victorei, one of the city’s main north/south streets, is the common thread that unites them all. This area is slightly north of Old Town, and houses the majority of 5-star hotels in Bucharest (although there are some moderate options as well.) If you choose this area for your city hotel, Bucharest and most of its main attractions will be within walking distance. Stay in this area if you like the sophisticated ambiance of a European capital.

A centerpiece of the neighborhood is the Athanaeum, a magnificent old concert hall that is one of the prettiest buildings in Europe. Field Tested Travel Tip: attend a performance at the Athanaeum to experience this magnificent building as it was intended. With its pocket park and nearby genteel sidewalk cafes, this is the area that earned Bucharest the nickname “Little Paris.”

Field-Tested Travel Tip: Check multiple dates around your intended travel time. Hotels here offer excellent deals on non-busy dates. A recent search yielded prices as low as ~$135/night for 5 star hotels. Bucharest is truly a rarity for affordable luxury hotels in a European capital.

Athenee Palace Hilton Bucharest: $$$-$$$$ Grand & Traditional

Best hotels Bucharest Romania

Cited by many as the Grande Dame of Bucharest hotels, the Athenee Palace Hilton occupies pride of place adjacent to the Athenaeum. It has been welcoming guests since 1914. Despite an exterior renovation in the 1930s to give it a more updated Art Deco look, the interior retains its Belle Epoque elegance. There are 272 rooms (some in a more modern wing), and all the amenities you’d expect from a 5-star hotel. Field-Tested Travel Tip: Try French Revolution pastry shop just up the street. They specialize in eclairs in a variety of flavors that are tres magnifique! Check hotel prices and availability on Booking.com.

Radisson Blu Bucharest: $$$-$$$$ Sleek & Contemporary

Best Hotels in Bucharest Romania|Radisson Blu Bucharest

The Radisson Bucharest is a large (487 rooms) hotel. It’s Bucharest’s “Rich Playboy Nephew” when compared to the historic Hilton across the street. The atrium lobby bar/cafe, with its cool under-floor water feature, is often abuzz with activity and looks out onto the swanky pool area. The adjacent casino is a magnet for young bucks looking to strut their stuff. Field-Tested Travel Tip™: Caffé Cittá, the restaurant just off the lobby, serves up some of the best pizza in Bucharest (our fave is the Pizza Cittá, with prosciutto and arugula). Check hotel prices and availability on Booking.com.

Grand Hotel Continental: $$$-$$$$ Regal & Understated

Everything about the Grand Hotel Continental Bucharest oozes Old World elegance. The Belle Epoque architecture, stately entrance courtyard and gilded furnishings are reminiscent of 19th-century Paris or Vienna. With only 59 rooms, guests have the feeling they are staying at the country chateau of a rich relative, rather than a hotel. An excellent option if you like luxury in a calm, understated atmosphere. Check prices and availability on Booking.com.

Mercure Bucharest City Center: $$-$$$ Edgy & Subtle

Best Hotels in Bucharest Romania|Mercure City Centre Bucharest

The 114 rooms at the Mercure Bucharest City Center are decorated in a modern, edgy style with nice amenities and great rainfall showers. This 100% smoke free hotel is a great choice for someone who wants a central location, but on a quiet side street, about 1 block from the Athenaeum. Field-Tested Travel Tip: check out m60, one of our fave Bucharest cafes, just around the corner. Check hotel prices and availability on Booking.com.

Hotel Capitol: $$ Traditional & Comfortable

Hotels in Bucharest Romania|City hotel Bucharest|Capitol Hotel Bucharest

The Hotel Capitol Bucharest is a pleasant 3-star hotel in a wonderful old building that is an excellent value. Located right on Calea Victorei midway between the cultural attractions and Old Town, the Capitol Hotel is a super convenient. The hotel’s 80 rooms were renovated in 2014 and are comfortably furnished. Field-Tested Travel Tip: the hotel restaurant serves an all-you-can-eat buffet lunch on weekdays. Each day features a different cuisine from Eastern & Central Europe, along with live music. The quality is excellent, and at €5.50, it’s one of the best values in town. Check hotel prices and availability on Booking.com.

Hotel Amzei: $$ Boutique & Discreet

Housed in a former early 20th-century residence, the Amzei Hotel has the feel of a country house hotel tucked into central Bucharest. The 22 rooms are elegant without being stuffy, and the public rooms off the simple reception area are a nice spot to rest and read up on the nearby sights. The location is a pocket residential area and fairly quiet. Field-Tested Travel Tip: an excellent bakery with a simple walk-up window is just outside the hotel entrance. Be sure to try the polonez cu nuca, a pretzel-shaped walnut danish that’s the best we’ve ever tasted. Check hotel prices and availability on Booking.com.

Bucharest Apartments, Cultural District 

Coming Soon!

Best Hotels in Bucharest: Parliament Area

Best for: Visiting Palace of the Parliament, Attending Conferences

Palace of the Parliament Bucharest|Best hotels Bucharest Romania

Palace of the Parliament is hard to miss. The massive structure dominates the neighborhood southeast of Old Town. Despite its name, only part of the building is used for government purposes. The complex also houses a contemporary art museum and a large exposition hall for conventions. With huge surrounding grounds, there’s not much of a conventional “neighborhood,” and lodging choices are limited. However, if you have business with the government, or are attending a conference here, this is the best area to stay.

JW Marriott Bucharest Grand Hotel: $$$-$$$$ Stately & Palatial

Best hotels in Bucharest Romania

With 402 rooms, several restaurants, a pool, spa, casino and shopping arcade of exclusive boutiques the 100% smoke-free JW Marriott Bucharest is practically a resort! Its location directly behind the Parliament complex makes it convenient for conferences there. Field Tested Travel Tip: this hotel is a bit of a walk to Old Town & the Cultural District, so plan to use taxis (which are plentiful and cheap in Bucharest). Check prices and availability on Booking.com.

Best Hotels in Bucharest: Piata Universitatii-East

Best for: Proximity to Sights, Local Neighborhoods

Best hotels Bucharest Romania

Piata Universitatii is the main traffic circle north of Old Town with a metro stop on the main north/south line. It is one of the busiest intersections in Bucharest (so busy that pedestrians must use an underground passageway). Hotels east of the Piata are also walking distance to Old Town and the Cultural District, but a bit farther away. This added distance provides some quiet neighborhoods and affordable options. Stay here if you are looking for good value and don’t mind walking a bit.

Hotel Intercontinental Bucharest: $$$$ Classic & Omnipresent

This hotel is hard to miss–at 24 stories high, it’s one of the tallest buildings in central Bucharest. Perched right at the Universitatii intersection, it offers excellent access to most major Bucharest attractions. Despite its wonky 1970s exterior, the interior is hushed and genteel, with rooms befitting this luxury brand. Field-Tested Travel Tip: check out the rooftop health club for spectacular views of the city. Check rates and availability on Booking.com.

Boutique Hotel Monaco: $$ Comfy & Quiet

Best hotels Bucharest Romania|Hotel Boutique Monaco

If you are seeking a city hotel in Bucharest that’s a bit removed from the hustle and bustle, the Boutique Hotel Monaco is a good choice. The hotel is set on a leafy side street across from the Hungarian Embassy, in a renovated Belle-Epoque style building. The mansard roof and the neo-19th-century French decor in the super-comfy rooms will have you feeling like you’re in a Parisian arrondissement. Field Tested Travel Tip: surf the internet al fresco at nearby Gradina Icoanei Park–the city of Bucharest provides free WiFi in all public parks. Check hotel prices and availability on Booking.com.

Flower’s B&B: $ Cozy & Affordable

Best Hotels Bucharest Romania

Flower’s is a traditional B&B in a converted early 20th-century home on a quiet street southeast of Universitatii. Rooms are folksy, clean and comfortable. Breakfast is available in the walled garden in warm weather. Field-tested travel tip: there is ample street parking adjacent to the hotel, making it a good choice for departing/returning from a road trip to the Romanian countryside. Check hotel prices and availability on Booking.com.

Apartments in Universitatii-East

Coming Soon!

Best Hotels in Bucharest: Dorobanti/Primavera

Best for: Parks, Outdoor Museums, Embassies

The neighborhoods of Dorobanti and Primavera are arguably Bucharest’s “gold coast.” Located at the northern end of central Bucharest, the leafy streets are filled with pretty homes and many embassies. Herestrul Park (the city’s largest) is nearby, as are both the Peasant and Village museums. Because of the residential atmosphere, hotels are located on the periphery; there are more options for apartments on the residential streets. Stay here if  you like a quieter location with a bit of greenery.

Sheraton Hotel Bucharest: $$$-$$$$ Classic & Modern

A classic big-city hotel, the Sheraton Hotel Bucharest is a good option if you’re seeking a full compliment of amenities and hotel services with well-known standards. Its location just off the bustling Piata Romana provides easy access to Old Town via the metro. Check rates and availability on Booking.com.

Hotel Christina: $$$ Stylish & Eco-Friendly

A member of the Bucharest boutique hotel scene, Hotel Christina is tucked away on a quiet street north of Piata Romana in an area with chic apartments and private homes. The smoke-free interior boasts some unique design features with clever lighting and eco-friendly materials. Field-Tested Travel Tip: For a taste of local cuisine, try the traditional Romanian communal dinner offered in the hotel restaurant every Monday night. Check hotel rates and availability on Booking.com.

Apartments in Dorobanti/Primavera

Coming Soon!

Best Bucharest Airport Hotels (Baneasa/Otopeni)

Best for: Airport, American Embassy

Bucharest city center is fairly close to its airport. As a result, there aren’t many hotels near Bucharest airport (Henri Coanada International). However, if you have an early flight, there are a few good options. The American Embassy is located on a compound in the Baneasa neighborhood just south of the Airport. If you are doing business with the Embassy, this area might be a good choice for a hotel.

Vienna House Easy Angelo Bucharest: $$$ Contemporary & Convenient

Yes, it’s an unusual name. But that doesn’t take away from from the modern, well-fitted rooms and convenient amenities at this hotel, Bucharest Airport’s nearest lodging. The hotel has conference facilities and is popular for business meetings, so be sure to book ahead if you have an early flight. Check rates and availability on Booking.com.

Best Western Plus Hotel Briston: $$ Classic & Reliable

Traditional airport hotel with comfortable rooms and good service with a smoke-free interior. Check rates and availability on Booking.com.

 

Note: If you found this information useful, please consider booking your hotel through one of the links provided above. We receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. This helps us keep things humming here at Changes in Longitude, while providing valuable travel tips free to our readers 😊.

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Best hotels Bucharest Romania|hotel Bucharest Airport|luxury hotel Bucharest

 

Larissa and Michael are your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive our free quarterly newsletter with updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

London is one of our favorite destinations in the world to visit. One of the reasons is that there are so many hidden sights in London that we’ve never heard of before. But with each visit there’s less and less new, or in London’s case, old, to explore. That’s why I was so intrigued with a new book by David Fathers called London’s Hidden Rivers: A Walker’s Guide to the Subterranean Waterways of London. It’s that last part that intrigued me. Sure, we all know about the strolling along the River Thames through the heart of London, but there are also underground waterways? This was worth checking out.

The book highlights 12 ancient rivers that helped form the city into its current layout. In medieval times these waterways were used for drinking, cleaning, powering industry, and sewage disposal. Due to this latter use, they were not pretty. In fact, as Fathers points out, by the 17th century the water wasn’t even drinkable.

London's hidden Rivers book review

 

As the rivers became literally toxic, they city started to bury them. An 1849 cholera outbreak that cost 49,000 lives also led to the creation of a city water works to provide clean water to Londoners. Over time the buried rivers were largely forgotten, but much of the path of development in the city can be traced to their prior uses. In fact, many of the city’s borough borders were defined by the rivers. These days, that’s more often a road that rides over the covered stream below.

Book Review London's Hidden Rivers Wilkinson Sword Company

The book features 75 miles of walks along 12 of these former rivers. The illustrations that accompany the maps of these walks were also drawn by the multi-talented Fathers. I particularly enjoyed learning about little anecdotes like walking along the track that Sir Roger Bannister used while training to be the first human to run the mile in under four minutes.

London’s Hidden Rivers is a great book for anyone who thinks they know London and is looking for something else to explore. Despite its compact size, it also makes for good reading about the history and development of London.

28581550060_131210d7e7_mLarissa and Michael are your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive our free quarterly newsletter with updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

Note: We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites like in the book review above. We earn a very small commission on these sales and it does not affect your price for the item. These commissions are one very small way we can continue this blog and provide readers like you with valuable travel advice for free.

Driving on a fog-moistened slippery dirt road, perched precariously on the side of a mountain, is not everyone’s notion of the ideal vacation. Nor is it ours either. Yet for some reason here we were doing just that, while driving the Ring of Valentia on the far west coast of Ireland.

A wizened old billy-goat with a long gray beard, who had obviously seen it all before, watched us with a sense of amusement as we tried to keep our tires on the treacherous path. What we would have given at that moment to have that goat’s sense of sure footedness.

Lord of the Rings

49128650 - fogher cliff; valentia island; ireland

How did we get here? You see, for us the Ring of Kerry was a bit mundane. Everyone we knew who visited Ireland had been there and done that. The more remote Ring of Skellig, just beyond the Ring of Kerry, sounded intriguing . . . until we saw a note on our map that the even more remote Ring of Valentia, a circumnavigation of Valentia Island, was just beyond the Ring of Skellig off the coast of the Kerry Peninsula. The narrowness of the road precludes the tour buses which famously clog the Ring of Kerry, particularly in summertime. While not as famous as the other rings, the Ring of Valentia is no piker in the “sights to see” department.

So off to the Ring of Valentia we went, which is how we ended up in our present predicament, perched on a narrow path on the side of a cliff. The last signpost had stated “Slate Quarry 1 km.” On reflection I wasn’t sure why we were bothering to risk our lives to see a slate quarry in the first place. Then I remembered . . .

Heeding the Kerryman

We had been to a Vodafone store earlier in the week to pick up a SIM card for our phone. Upon learning we were heading west, the young salesman proudly piped up with “I’m a Kerryman myself” and recommended some of the less touristy sights. “You should definitely go see the slate quarry,” he said. Apparently it provided the slate for the Paris Opera House and the Houses of Parliament in London. It was hard to see what all the fuss was about, we had lived near one years ago in the Philly suburbs. We used to pass it on the way to the mall, and that quarry had seemed pretty unremarkable. But this was a recommendation from a Kerryman after all, so who were we to argue?

As the car wheels slithered along and kicked some gravel down the mountainside I thought to myself, “this is less touristy all right.” Probably because mounting deaths of visitors would be bad for tourism. Rarely have I felt in such imminent danger of dying on vacation. As my life passed slowly before my eyes, I realized Larissa was as terrified as I was. She didn’t have to tell me, her silence was enough. Rarely is my extremely chatty wife this quiet.

Cliff driving

Driving in Ireland

Note: This road in Ireland is not the road by the quarry. But I liked the sign.

To bolster my confidence I recalled prior challenging drives outside our comfort zone: like the time we drove on Route 1 overlooking the California coast; the road for which guardrails are shunned. At the time I kept reminding myself, “I never drive off the roads at home and there’s no reason having a massive drop next to the road should make me do it here.” But I hadn’t taken into account the logging trucks and RVs whizzing around every curve that had no regard for staying on their side of the centerline. Yet we somehow managed just fine. Or anytime driving in France, which I am told has the highest highway fatality rate in Europe. (Surprisingly it’s not Italy, the land of my ancestors.) Or even Boston, where rotaries (most people know them as traffic circles) are an invitation to anarchy . . . Which brings me back to our precarious situation clinging to a cliffside path in Ireland.

Here the danger wasn’t another car, but whether our own vehicle would continue to grip the slippery road or go sliding over one of the famous windswept cliffs of Ireland. Way down below us we could see the waves creating five-story high flumes as they crashed against the rocks of a lone lighthouse guarding the treacherous coast. As I navigated the next precarious turn, not far from my thoughts was the hope that I wouldn’t soon be seeing those waves up close.

It was essentially a one-lane road that carried trucks in both directions. The fact that at any moment a heavy rig laden with several tons of slate could come careening around at us only added to the drama. I couldn’t, and wouldn’t, back up. It was a curvy road and (did I mention this part yet?) I was sitting on the opposite side of the car to what I am used to. I didn’t like my odds of backing up safely.

Your place or mine?

We finally made it to the end of the road and almost drove into the aforementioned slate mine. We were still under the illusion that the road connected to something, that by staying on it we could continue winding our way around the island. We didn’t realize it was a dead end. (A term we hoped would just be used metaphorically.) As the road got smaller and narrower and tighter we gradually realized it wasn’t a road anymore. The guys walking around wearing miner’s hats with lights attached to them should have been a giveaway at that point. Their faces strapped underneath the lights wore the same amused expression as the billy-goat a mile back. Eyes that had seen it all before.

At that point we realized that there was no other way out and we would have to turn around and traverse the treacherous way we had just barely made it in on. I thought of calling Hertz and telling them the car had broken down, but it was hard to picture a tow truck pulling the car to safety. So back we went. On our return journey it was worse for Larissa, as she was now sitting on the outside staring into the void, and crashing waves, below. Come to think of it, it’s probably always worse for Larissa.

Driving the Ring of Valentia

Ring-of-Valentia-Island-map

Despite our heart pounding experience we highly recommend driving the Ring of Valentia on Valentia Island, as long as you stick to real roads. From the west end of the island, off in the distance the craggy peaks of Skellig Michael loom over the Atlantic Ocean. This vista is familiar to anyone who saw the closing scene of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens when (spoiler alert) a grizzled Luke Skywalker finally makes his appearance. (Note the helpful Star Wars logo on the tourist map above.)

Nearby there’s also an interesting display that commemorates the first trans-Atlantic telegraph cable. It started out from this spot in 1866. Back in the day, this event was as significant as the modern-day birth of the internet.

 

28581550060_131210d7e7_mLarissa and Michael are your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive our free quarterly newsletter with updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

 

Note: We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. There are also links to other companies on this blog to purchase items. We earn a very small commission on these sales and it does not affect your price for the item. These small commissions are one way we can continue this blog and provide readers with valuable travel advice for free.

London is one of the most expensive cities in the world to visit, with some museums costing over $20 for a ticket. But with a little planning the tourist can find plenty of free things in London that are still outstanding.

1)      Westminster Abbey

What’s this doing on a list of free things in London? We approached Westminster Abbey and were shocked to find an admission price of 16 pounds, about $26. For a family of four it would cost over $100 to go to church, granted it’s a famous church, but still. . .

But you can visit Westminster Abbey for free. Five nights a week Evensong services are offered at 5pm (3pm most weekends). This service isn’t highly publicized. To attend the service, walk over to the iron gate by the main entrance to the Abbey, not the side entrance used for paid admissions. Guides wearing bright scarlet capes and stern expressions stand blocking the gate. Tell them you’re there for Evensong and they step aside while cheerfully welcoming you.

The 45-minute service is beautifully rendered by the Abbey choir. There is not much time for strolling about the Abbey after the service but you do get to see enough. In many ways, Evensong is preferable to walking around the Church with hundreds of other visitors during the day. The visitor gets to experience Westminster Abbey for what it was originally designed, worship and prayer.

Click the link for more information and current service times: Westminster Abbey Evensong services.

2)      The Wallace Collection

Free things in London Wallace Collection London

We love museums that can be visited in about an hour or so; with many interesting items on display but whose size isn’t so daunting that we feel like we’re missing most of it. The Wallace Collection, housed in a historic London mansion, is one of those museums. It was owned by five generations of collectors, including a few Marquesses of Hertford and Sir Richard Wallace, before becoming a public collection.

The collection has a little something for everyone: 18th-century French masterpieces and furniture, Galleries of Old Master paintings including Rembrandt, medieval religious manuscripts and a sterling collection of swords and armor.  The museum surround an open-air courtyard restaurant for snacks and afternoon tea.

Website: www.WallaceCollection.org

3)      Royal Air Force Museum

Free things in London RAF Museum

The RAF museum is about a 30-minute Tube ride from central London. It has an incredible amount of planes and helicopters on display in four large hangars. As airplane geeks we’ve been to many aviation museums and this may be the largest. One building is devoted to RAF’s derring do in the World War II Battle of Britain. Antique plane enthusiasts will enjoy the collection of pioneering airplanes in the 1917 Grahame-White Hangar, the UK’s first aircraft factory. If you are traveling with young kids there is LOTS of room to run around and burn off some energy.

Website: www.RAFMuseum.org

4)      Museum of the City of London

Free things in London Museum of London

Photo courtesy www.TravelCultureMag.com

Long before the kings, queens and Big Ben, London was a prehistoric settlement and then a Roman outpost. This museum takes the visitor on a time travel tour from the city’s distant past up to the present day. A combination of displays and interactive exhibits hold the attention of all ages. Feel the heat of the Great Fire of 1666, attend an 18th-century garden party and stroll through Victorian streets before going to the movies in the Roaring Twenties and hanging out with Mick Jagger and Twiggy in the 1960’s. The museum’s location gets visitors in the mood: a starkly modern structure built along the remains of ancient Roman Walls.

Website: www.museumoflondon.org.uk

5)  Victoria and Albert Museum

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPhoto courtesy of Walter Lim, Flickr

If decorative arts is your thing, the “V&A” is the place to go. This mammoth museum, located in swanky South Kensington, has some of the world’s largest collections of fashion, textiles, ceramics, jewellery (the “Veddy British” spelling), furniture and glass. Channel your inner designer by viewing the stunning collection of drawings, many of which provide insight on the design process. If you still have the energy, they have wonderful paintings as well.

Note: Although admission is free, the V&A can be a little overwhelming. If you’re pressed for time, or simply prefer to have someone point out the best things to see, we recommend booking this V&A Highlights tour from Viator.

Like it? Share it . . .Pin it!London  red double-decker bus with black and white background

A few other free things in London:

6)  British Museum – Massive collection of over 8 million objects. www.BritishMuseum.org

7)  National Maritime Museum – The largest maritime museum in the world with pride of place going to Admiral Nelson, including the bloody uniform he was wearing when he was killed at the Battle of Trafalgar. www.rmg.co.uk

8) National Army Museum — Great Britain has a pretty long military history so the Army Museum is a sprawling complex detailing battles going back centuries. I did find one glaring gap though. Their army didn’t seem to be involved in any activity between the War of Spanish Succession that ended in 1714 and the Napoleonic Wars that started in 1795. It seems a little skirmish that occurred in the American colonies has been forgotten.
Web Site: http://www.nam.ac.uk/

[Note: The National Army Museum is temporarily closed until spring 2017 due to a major retrofit.]

9)  The Wellcome Collection – The ghoulish may be interested in this medical collection which includes various body parts and antique medical devices. www.WellcomeCollection.org

10) Tate Modern – We’re not that into modern art, a pile of bricks that looked like they were left by a worker was one of the displays. But if you’re into that sort of thing this is the place to see them. Here’s information on visiting the Tate Modern.

Bonus Pick:

11) Abbey Road – Don’t forget to be a Beatle for a day and cross Abbey Road. It’s free and a lot of fun. Here’s information on how to cross Abbey Road.

This list highlighted 11 free things to do in London. Here’s a list of the 25 best things to do in London.

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Here are the top books about traveling to London.

28581550060_131210d7e7_mLarissa and Michael are your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive monthly updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

Sometime I select destinations just to see very tall buildings, which has gotten us to places as far flung as Dubai, Shanghai and Kuala Lumpur. But in Bucharest, Romania we met up with a unique one: the world’s heaviest building. You read that right. It’s not the world’s largest or tallest but the world’s heaviest building. I’m not even sure how one calculates a building’s weight but there you have it. Don’t just take my word on it, even the good folks at Guinness World Records have declared the Palace of the Parliament the world’s heaviest building. (BTW, it’s also, after the Pentagon, the world’s second largest government building.)

World's heaviest building Bucharest

During the 1980s dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu decided Romania should have a massive world-class building to reflect the country’s might during his rule.

Worlds heaviest building Romania

He razed about 1/6th of the city to build this monument to himself. Unfortunately, a major portion of the old city was demolished to make way for the development.

Palace of the people interior Bucharest Romania

Designed by 28-year-old architect Anca Petrescu, it is known as the Palace of the Parliament and houses the seat of Romanian government. The building holds over one thousand rooms (over half of which is empty) and is made of all Romanian materials. There are an additional eight floors which are underground. In addition to government offices, it now also hosts the National Museum of Contemporary Art. Ceaușescu never saw the building completed. He was executed on Christmas day, 1989, after a bloody, but relatively quick, revolution.

Palace of the Parliament Bucharest

We also visited the neighborhood where the communist party apparatchiks lived. As is usually the case, their homes were much nicer than the common folk. We stood outside Ceaușescu’s former home, which was surprisingly modest, and learned that if we had been standing on that same spot 30 years earlier we would have been arrested and executed. Times have certainly changed for the better in Bucharest.

Palace of the Parliament Bucharest exterior side view

Considering the dark times the city endured, it was one of our favorite places to visit. Bucharest offers diverse architecture and sights along with a unique culture that we enjoy. For digital nomads like us it also has the fastest Internet in Europe; even taxis are WiFi hotspots and the driver will give you a WiFi code to use during your ride. This is particularly helpful on the ride in from the airport if your mobile phone has not yet synced with the local network.

Bucharest Palace of Parliament night

We’re your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive monthly updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

Lake Como in northern Italy is one of the most gorgeous places in the world; which helps explain why celebrities like actor George Clooney live in villas overlooking its aquamarine waters with the Alps forming a snow-capped backdrop. The lake itself is shaped like an upside-down “Y” with its namesake town of Como located at its southwestern tip.

Como mountains in distance
Como, with its dazzling waterfront and medieval buildings, provides a convenient year-round base for tourism in this enchanting corner of Italy. Its location at the base of Mount Brunate provides an excellent jumping off point for touring other sights along Lake Como’s coast.
Como Italy

Como is located only 30 miles from Milan, making it an accessible destination for visitors. Due to low airfares on Emirates, we’ve used Milan as a gateway city to Europe lately, so a visit to Lake Como is an easy trip from destinations all over the world. Como boasts a restored medieval section that provides charm, shopping and restaurants.

Como piazza

An interesting spot in Como for science lovers is the Tempio Voltiano, a museum devoted to local boy made good Alessandro Volta. If that last name sounds familiar, it’s because the electrical scientist was an early pioneer with batteries and gave us the terms “volts” and “voltage” to  measure electrical power.

38799796 - the volta temple in como town, italy,

One of the best choices for lodging in Como is the Park Hotel Meublè. The 3-star hotel is conveniently located only 200 meters from Lake Como. While you’re staying there, the hotel can arrange a unique tour of Lake Como–viewing  it from above via a seaplane excursion. Maybe you’ll even wave to Mr. Clooney out on his veranda.
Park Hotel Meuble Como Italy
Any way you experience it, Lake Como is a spectacular destination for visitors. We may be a bit biased here, but since it’s also in Italy, the Lake Como region offers some of the best food in the world making it an ideal place for a holiday.

London is a fascinating city filled with history. From its official naming in the Roman era to its bustling streets today, the city has always been important to England..

We’ve already written about free things to do in London, and are now revealing many unusual attractions and historical sites that you can visit there. (Many of which are also free.) These are hidden sights in London, the ones that many visitors, and even locals, never see. Here are seven interesting and sometimes bizarre things that you can find in the capital that you won’t want to miss.

Hidden sights in London

The Eisenhower Centre

During World War II, several protective deep level air shelters were built. With kitchen and medical facilities, they were able to hold 8,000 people. The reason that this particular shelter on Chenies Street in Bloomsbury (near the Goodge Street Station) is so famous is because it also doubled as a signals and command facility for General Eisenhower’s during the war. It’s now leased as storage space, but the exterior is a must-visit for military history buffs.

Click here for info, tours and tickets to more World War II sights.

Burlington Arcade Beadles

Burlington Arcade beadles

Burlington Arcade can be found just off Piccadilly and has had its own legal jurisdiction since 1818. It’s like walking into a slice of Edwardian England, with Beadles walking around instead of security guards. If you run, whistle, hum, open an umbrella or do anything that might show a jovial nature, these guards in Edwardian dress will politely ask you to leave. It’s all part of the fun in this odd corner of London.

Ferryman’s Seat

On the South Side of the Thames, near to the Globe is an inconspicuous stone chair that is carved into a wall. This is what could be described as a Middle Ages taxi service where people would wait for the waterman so that they could get a ride through the city and to the other side of the river. A quirky scene, it’s a good site to visit.

Sewer Lamp

We’ve toured the sewers of Paris, but didn’t realize London had an “effluential” attraction too. Just off The Strand stands the Sewer Lamp. It’s long been rumored that the lamp runs on methane produced by the guests at the Savoy Hotel next door. There were actually lamps like these in England to help remove the methane from sewers, but sadly the original lamp was destroyed in a traffic accident. While this one is a replica, it is still an interesting and little known London fact.

York Watergate

Hidden sights in London York Watergate

Before the Victorian Embankment in the 1800s, the houses on the Strand had pride of place with beautiful gardens that fronted the Thames. The home of the first Duke of Buckingham, York House, was one of these and was built in 1237. The gate is all that remains after the house was razed during the 1600s. Here’s more about the tangled history of York Watergate.

Kensington Roof Gardens

The roof garden sits atop the former Derry & Toms department store above busy Kensington high street and consists of 1.5 acres of absolute beauty. With rose bushes and fruit trees sprawling across the grounds, it is also home to wandering flamingos and a stream filled with dazzling fish. It truly is like stepping through a portal to a completely different world.

Skeleton of Jeremy Bentham

In the south cloister of University College London, you can see the remains of the renowned philosopher and reformer Jeremy Bentham. A respected man, he requested that his body be mummified and displayed after his death, which it was. Unfortunately, it’s decayed so only his bones remain. The head is made from wax but actually contains his skull. If you’re into that sort of thing.

Hopefully you will pay these hidden sights in London a visit. With so many attractions hidden from the public eye and missed out in guidebooks, London offers much for the curious visitor to explore.

Interested in exploring some of these and other unique sights in more detail? Check out this great list of London Walking Tours from Viator!

Like it? Share it . . .Pin it!Quirky sights in London|Unusual sights in London

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The Venetian resort town of Bibione is a beautiful destination for a beach getaway. The gold sand beach hugs the crystal clear waters of the upper Adriatic Sea, providing a lush backdrop for a sun and surf vacation. The beach has been awarded the coveted “Blue Flag,” an award given to beaches that are managed with great care for the environment.

One of the things that impresses visitors to Bibione is just how much beach there is, stretching over six miles with a depth of almost a quarter-mile in spots, providing plenty of space for frolicking in the sand, sunbathing and recreational activities. Families love that their children can play in the abundant sand, always finding an activity with newfound friends.

During the summer the water temperature reaches 77 degrees Fahrenheit (around 25 degrees Celsius) creating a perfect swimming environment. For landlubbers there are hiking and cycling paths (20 miles worth) along the beach.

Venice is only an hour from Bibione. Bibione is conveniently located only 35 miles from one of the world’s most magical cities: Venice, just one hour by train. For those days when you want to add a little culture to your beach vacation, head over there to stroll its romantic byways and canals and perhaps take a sunset gondola ride with the sun casting its golden rays over the Grand Canal.

The Pineda ApartHotel in Bibione, Italy

An excursion just around the corner from Bibione is the Lagoon at the Valle Vecchia (Old Valley). Venice is famous for its lagoon but Bibione also offers this treat with nature. Coastal pinelands abound with more than 150 bird species, making it a birdwatcher’s paradise and providing a tranquil idyll during your stay in Bibione.

 

One of the best options for staying in Bibione is the Pineda ApartHotel, which is located just a block and a half from the beach. When we travel we like stay in places with a kitchenette. It’s easier to prepare some of our own meals and also provides a better value while in vacation. The apartment units at the Pineda ApartHotel offer kitchenettes along with terraces to catch sea breezes. A short stroll away is the Bibione Thermae, where massages and beauty treatments turn your getaway into a spa holiday.

Pineda ApartHotel in Bibione, Italy

Overall Bibione provides the ideal combination of sun, sand, culture, nature and sports activities.

This post has been provided by the Pineda ApartHotel.

We arrived by train after dark, but it was our first time visiting Slovenia so despite the late hour we were eager to begin exploring the capital of Ljubljana. Under the luminescent glow of a harvest moon it was only a five minute stroll to reach Prešernov Square—five minutes during which we were bewitched and felt as if we had stepped into the pages of a fairy tale.

Ljubljana Castle

With a magical castle perched overhead and the city center encircled by cotton candy colored buildings designed in the gaudy Vienna Succession style as if dressed for a ball, Ljubljana sets a bewitching tone for the entire country. It’s difficult to visit this pocket-sized nation without conjuring up thoughts of princesses, witches and trolls, perhaps even a handsome prince charging in to save a damsel in distress. There’s even a Dragon Bridge that is guarded by four large copper dragons, the symbol of the city.

Once upon a time Slovenia was the northernmost region—and economic engine—of Yugoslavia. When that man-made collection of Balkan states disintegrated in the 1990s, Slovenia was one of the first to declare independence. With a total population of only two million it seemed like a risky step, but the Slovenes, who had once been members of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, naturally looked toward Western Europe. They joined the European Union and are the only former Yugoslav republic using the Euro as its currency.

Ljubljana Slovenia

The country packs a little of everything into its compact borders, which encompass an area slightly smaller than New Jersey. Sweeping snow-capped Alps, quaint medieval villages, a sophisticated capital and UNESCO-sanctioned natural wonders provide an abundance of sights to keep visitors enthralled. It even manages to squeeze in a miniscule (30-mile) coastline on the Adriatic Sea, topped by a town that was an outpost of the once-mighty Venetian Republic.

As the clock struck midnight in Ljubljana’s pristine Prešernov Square we wouldn’t have been surprised to see Cinderella racing across the Tromostovje (Triple Bridge), leaving a glass slipper in her wake. The unique three-pronged pedestrian crossing straddles the diminutive Ljubljanica River as it meanders through the capital city’s medieval heart, which was transformed into a pedestrian zone in 2008.

Ljubljana Slovenia building detail

Much of Ljubjlana’s otherworldly atmosphere is due to Jože Plečnik, the de-facto architect laureate of Slovenia, who designed the bridge and river esplanades, along with many of the city’s decorative elements, in the early 20th century. Plečnik’s style is a sort of Steampunk merger between Art Nouveau and Greek Revival; it boasts a unique flair that is spotted on railings and streetlamps throughout the country.

Those longing to rescue Rapunzel can climb the 200-plus feet to Ljubljana Castle, which has been standing guard over the city for more than 500 years. (Or better yet, take the ultra-modern funicular, which will whisk you up in about 30 seconds.) The hilltop complex includes a selection of small museums and a medieval chapel, along with a commanding view of the city below, with the Alps in the distance.

While Rapunzel was growing her long locks, Sleeping Beauty could easily have been eternally dozing only 35 miles north in the foothills of the Julian Alps on Lake Bled. The crystalline waters are pierced by tiny Bled Island, barely large enough to embrace the 15th-century Church of the Assumption.

Lake Bled Slovenia

To reach his damsel in distress Prince Charming would have used the services of boatmen with a pletna, a traditional wooden craft resembling a large gondola that is still used today. The gnarled hands of our boatman were testimony to the demanding work of the unique motioned required to row the pletna 300 yards to the island. Despite the toil, the profession carries honor, rowers granted a license for this job decades ago pass the career down in families; boatman Janez rowed us out while his son Klemen squired us back to shore.

Visiting Slovenia Lake Bled pletna

After alighting from the pletna visitors to the island climb the 99 steps up to the church where they ring the bell for good luck. Unless you have an urge to unleash your inner Quasimodo, we suggest saving the six Euros required for the privilege and instead linger outside and listen to the results of other’s efforts while you savor poteca—a Slovenian coffee cake—at the island’s café.

Pin this image!Tiny Slovenia packs a multitude of attractions into it's fairy-tale-pretty borders.

If that setting isn’t magical enough, the lake is guarded by Bled Castle perched high atop a stone crag. It’s the oldest in Slovenia, the first references to it dating to 1004. Today it houses a cluster of craft exhibits and small museum and also offers a breathtaking view of the lake.

Lake Bled Cake

Perhaps the lake’s magical setting is due to the famous Bled cream cake. Rich custard and whipped cream sandwiched between layers of thin buttery crust and powdered sugar could enchant just about anyone. It’s available at restaurants overlooking the lake, but arguably the best view is from Belvedere, the Plečnik-ornamented teahouse perched on a hillside that was once part of Marshal Tito’s summer residence. The late “president for life” of Yugoslavia enjoyed bringing visiting dignitaries to this picture-postcard spot, which is now a luxury hotel that houses displays commemorating his glory days. Some of the former “glory of the workers” artwork is still on display.

Tito's Lodge Lake Bled Slovenia

skocjan-caves_foto_jame_id_1

Photo courtesy Škocjan Caves

Every fairy tale should feature an ogre or troll, and a perfect setting to find one is Škocjan Caves, which is the world’s largest underground canyon. The towering stalagmites and drippy stalactites along a three-kilometer subterranean trail could easily have been the setting for The Lord of the Rings (our guide assured us it was not). Nevertheless, traversing a narrow footbridge in a huge cavern 150 feet above the rushing underground river makes it easy to imagine Gollum lurking at every turn.

Sixty miles southwest of Ljubljana lays a land that is a mixture of Shakespeare and Arthurian legend. The 1000-year-old town of Piran occupies pride of place on a walled promontory along Slovenia’s brief slice of the Adriatic coast. Known colloquially as “Little Venice,” Piran reported to its big brother just 60 miles west across the sea. Perhaps that merchant of Venice Antonio strode the narrow alleyways to stock his ships en route to wooing his fair maiden back at the homeport.

Piran Slovenia

At a fishing pier south of Piran we met a modern day version of the Lady of the Lake. Irena Fonda is not seeking to resurrect Excalibur for King Arthur; she simply wants more fish in the sea. The PhD microbiologist, along with her scuba diving brother Lean, were concerned that the waters of the Gulf of Piran and nearby Adriatic were becoming depleted of seafood. They established Fonda Fish Farm to grow sea bass using largely sustainable practices.

Pira Slovenia waterfront

The Fondas’ efforts have paid off. The farm created an ecosystem that has attracted new sea life to the area, while Fonda sea bass is recognized throughout Europe as a premier brand. Visitors can tour the farm, boating out to the seabeds to help Irena feed her “babies”; sample the fish, along with other locavore products, back on land.

Visiting with Irena was like gently emerging from our fairy tale. We had glimpsed a land that seemed frozen in a magical time, yet while Slovenia cradles her past, she is progressive. With a myriad of historic sights, natural wonders and 21st-century business savvy, Slovenia is poised to live happily ever after.

Michael in Ljubljana statue

Traveler information for visiting Slovenia:

There are no direct flights from the US to Slovenia, however the main airport at Ljubljana has links to most European gateways. There is also excellent rail service from Munich and Vienna through stunning countryside.

The Slovenian Tourist Board: Excellent website with an overview of many sights, including Lake Bled, Ljubljana and Piran, along with practical information. www.Slovenia.info

Škocjan Caves: There are three hikes in the caves and canyons-two below ground and one above. The hike to the largest underground canyon is by guided tour only. Tour times are limited in winter, so plan ahead. www.park-skocjanske-jame.si//en

Fonda Fish Farm: Visitors can book a tour of the farm or a tour plus tasting. www.fonda.si/en/fonda/the-fonda-fish-farm

Slovenia castle
We’re global nomads who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011 seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive monthly updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

Transfagarasan Highway signBrakes? Check. Map? Check. No fear? Check.  We were about to drive on the  Transfăgărășan Highway, made legendary by the BBC program Top Gear as one of the world’s great road trips. The winding, twisting road carries intrepid drivers over the Carpathian  Mountains back to Bucharest from Transylvania. Picture what a plate of spaghetti thrown against a wall looks like and you’ll have a good idea of this tribute to automotive spunk.

The road was built in the early 1970s under the command of former dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu, apparently as a monument to himself. Beginning in alpine forests it looks like it was designed by an engineer with a severe chip on his shoulder before reaches a bucolic alpine meadow.

drive on the Transfagarasan Highway

Although the road is only 56 miles long it boasts dozens of hairpin turns and switchbacks (we lost count) that resemble a giant alimentary canal. Drivers soon note that guardrails are few and far between as the Transfagarasan climbs to its peak of almost 6,700 feet to reach the pristine glacial waters of Bâlea Lake.

Transfagarasan Highway curve

Fortunately as the driver I got to sit near the centerline during our drive on the Transfagarasan Highway, while Larissa had to stare out the window at the yawning chasms beyond the road’s shoulder.

People sitting on guardrail on Transfagarasan Highway

At this overlook that offers the best photo op (notice the road twisting off into the distance) people like to get out and stretch their legs. We met this nice group of Romanian retirees who were out for a Sunday drive.

Vidraru Dam Transfagarasan Highway

Vidraru Dam Romania

On the down stretch towards Bucharest one of the highlights is driving across the 540-foot-high Vidraru dam, one of the tallest in Europe.

Statue of Electricity Transfagarasan Highway

A shiny metal statue of Prometheus wielding a lighting bolt rises to the skies above the dam. Also known as the “Statue of Electricity,” it’s a remembrance of an era of massive industrial projects in the communist country.

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The Transfăgărășan can cause a few testy moments between the driver and the passenger, who sits on the outer edge staring down into the abyss. But it was better for me to drive because as Larissa will tell you, I make a lousy passenger.

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You never know what you’ll come across during a drive on the Transfagarasan Highway. The photo above is of a random German motorcyclist giving us a thumbs up as he drives by with an inflatable doll strapped to the back of his bike. Oh those crazy Germans.

Transfagarasan Highway

After arriving safely in Bucharest we treated ourselves to some tasty Romanian pastries.

Pin it!Romania's Transfagarasan Highway is a must-drive for road trip lovers!

Information for a drive on the Transfagarasan Highway

Location: When driving north start out in the town of Curtea de Arges, about 100 miles northwest of Bucharest via route E81. If you’re taking the road south like we did start your journey in Cartisoara, south of route E68

Open: The Transfagarasan Highway is usually closed from late October through May due to snow. For a full description and tips for this road trip go to drive the Transfagarasan Highway.

We’re global nomads who have been traveling the world since 2011 seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive monthly updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

We recently enjoyed a week in Bucharest, a city that pleasantly surprised us. While the Romanian capital is not among the first cities people think of when visiting Europe, we found it quite charming and extremely affordable. Initially we looked for enough activities to spend a week in Bucharest but ended up enjoying it so much we extended the stay.

Military Academy in Bucharest

Romania provides an authentic European travel experience at low prices that we haven’t enjoyed in decades. Part of that value is due to the strong dollar but part of it is also the fact that central and eastern Europe still provides many bargains. Those who treasure their old copies of Europe on $25 a Day would feel right at home here.

Bucharest park bench

During the late 19th century Bucharest was known as “Little Paris” and in certain sections, despite decades of an authoritarian regime that razed parts of the city, it actually does feel like Paris of times gone by, with a bit of Middle Eastern influences sprinkled in.

Bucharest School of Architecture

Avenues are lined with ornate domed buildings. Cafes with wicker chairs and tables sprout from wide sidewalks on sunny days while bakeries selling Turkish-style breads populate virtually every block.

Covrigul pretzel Bucharest

Don’t miss the covrigi (sunflower and poppy seed studded pretzels); in keeping with Romania’s good tourist value they sell for only 25 cents.

National Museum of Old Maps and Books Bucharest

Try to decipher Romania’s long and complicated history at the National Museum of Old Maps and Books; located in an old mansion at 39 Strada Londra in a quiet leafy neighborhood. Atlases and maps from the 16th through 20th centuries demonstrate graphically how the size and borders of Romania have transformed over the years as competing empires claimed parts of the strategically located country and also influenced its architecture, food and culture.

Romanian Athenaeum Bucharest 2

Bucharest’s orchestra hall, the circa-1880s French-designed Romanian Athenaeum, is an outstanding example of neoclassical architecture that is also a tribute to philosophy and culture. Names of great minds are chiseled in stone at the base of its dome: Moliere, Beethoven and others, along with our fair city of Philadelphia’s own Benjamin Franklin.

Romanian Athenaeum Bucharest

The best way to view the Athenaeum is during a concert. During our visit to Bucharest the biennial George Enescu Festival was taking place. While enjoying a chamber orchestra concert we were able to appreciate the interiors many murals making up the “Great Fresco”: 25 scenes related to Romanian history that ring the circular auditorium.

Romanian Athenaeum Bucharest

A few blocks away the Old Town section of Bucharest offers a pedestrian-friendly area of cobblestoned streets full of boutiques, restaurants and bars. The neighborhood is not yet inundated with the weekend party-seekers that have turned other cities’ historic sections into interchangeable outposts of faux Irish pubs and chain restaurants.

Old Town Bucharest

The funky Left Bank atmosphere attracts primarily locals—unlike similar neighborhoods in Prague or Paris where English and German speakers dominate—Romanian is the language most often overheard. As the city sees increased international tourism in the next few years this vibe may disappear, but for now it still feels like visiting “Old World” Europe.

Four decades of communist rule left an indelible mark on the city, yet Bucharest is assimilating that part of its past into the capitalist present. It is impossible to miss the Parliament Building, a brooding hulk of marble perched imposingly on a hill at the western end tip of Bulevardul Unirii (Reunification Boulevard).

Palace of the Parliament Bucharest

Ceaușescu’s massive monument to the glory of the party (and himself) was still unfinished at the time of his overthrow in 1989. It now is famous as the “world’s heaviest building.”  Unfinished at the time of Ceaușescu’s death, Romania’s central government now occupies it.

Venture two blocks from the Athenaeum to Revolution Square (formerly Palace Square) to witness the site of Ceaușescu’s downfall. In December 1989 Ceaușescu delivered his final speech from the balcony of the building fronting the square that housed the Central Committee of the Romanian Communist Party. Encouraged by the fall of the Berlin Wall, change was coming quickly to Romania. During the speech the crowd turned on the dictator, leading to protests that were met by government gunfire into the square. The resulting revolution was brief but bloody: over 1,000 civilians killed and a fleeing Ceaușescu and his wife executed within days.

Revolution Square Bucharest Romania

Today the space is peaceful with the pylon of the Memorial of Rebirth honoring the fallen piercing the sky. Rotating art exhibits fill the square while the Royal Palace across the street is now the National Museum of Art of Romania featuring Romanian artists along with Old Masters like El Greco, Rembrandt and Rubens.

Ateneuli Park, a small wooded space sandwiched between the Athenaeum and Revolution Square, is a perfect spot for an impromptu dessert picnic of a salted caramel éclair from the nearby French Revolution bakery. Like the fresco in the Athenaeum’s rotunda, Bucharest has come full-circle and “Little Paris,” with a few 21st-century twists, has returned.

For a tasty look at Romania check out our story on Romanian pastries.

 Visitor Information for a week in Bucharest:

  • There are no direct flights from the U.S. to Bucharest, however there are airline alliance connections through many European gateway cities.
  • The unit of currency is the leu (plural lei, pronounced “lay”). The exchange rate is around 4 lei to $1.00.
  • The language is Romanian, although most Romanians in Bucharest speak at least some English. Romanian has its roots in Latin; anyone familiar with French, Spanish or Italian will notice similarities.
  • Bucharest in Your Pocket is a free online guide that offers helpful, up-to-date tourist information http://www.inyourpocket.com/bucharest.
  • Our top travel guides for visiting Bucharest.

The lovely city of Bucharest, Romania offers plenty to see during a week-long visit

We’re global nomads who have been traveling the world since 2011 seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive monthly updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

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I love games and puzzles of all kinds. So when we had the opportunity to play a live-action escape game during a recent visit Prague we jumped at the chance. Could we find our way out of TheRoom?

The premise of TheRoom Prague is simple: you are locked in a room that is full of puzzles and clues, and given 66 minutes to “escape.” Sounds easy, right?

TheRoom PragueI figured I’d be a pro at this. I’ve played countless escape games online and know the way they work: you find yourself locked in a room (or a house, or an abandoned building . . . you get the idea) and must use clues and random objects to find the way out. Banging through the wall with a sledgehammer is not an option; this is a game of wits.
A seemingly random number on a wall photograph might be the combination for a lock on the other side of the room, or a key hidden under the sofa opens a box containing a key to a cupboard full of red and yellow balls that mean. . . what? That’s what you have to figure out.

We pushed the doorbell on an otherwise typical Prague building and were let into the courtyard by Susanna, who would be our “handler” and guide for the duration of the game. She explained the basics: the “escape” key for the exit was inside a box with 10 locks on it. We would have 66 minutes to find all 10 keys to the box and “unlock” our escape key.

The key to escape TheRoom Prague is in this box--find the 10 keys to open the locks in order to escape!

The box with 10 (!) locks that held the key to our escape

Susanna assured us that she would be in a hidden location and able to see us the entire time should we need help. There was a computer monitor that displayed time remaining; if we needed hints, we could ask out loud and she would post clues on that monitor. She also confirmed that we did not need to speak Czech–all of the clues were either in English or used numbers, shapes and colors. Lastly she pointed out the “panic bar,” which would let us out immediately in case of emergency, or if we just plain gave up.

We were playing the “Old World” version of TheRoom Prague, where the atmosphere had a Cold War spy flavor to it. (There is also a separate “Occult” version of TheRoom Prague.) We entered a dimly lit room (part of our task would be to find the lights), painted black and filled with some furniture and 60s-era Eastern European accessories like a chunky old phone and record player. Occupying pride of place in one corner was a big trunk with 10 locks attached. Game on!

TheRoom Prague has a Cold War spy atmosphere

The props in TheRoom Prague included Cold War era touches. Were those freaky goggles a clue to the escape, or just there for atmosphere???

We found our first key in about two minutes and thought, “piece of cake!” Wrong. Over the next 66 minutes we poked and prodded, knocked, tapped and puzzled, searching for clues and places to use them. As time wound down, we asked Susanna for clues more frequently. Finally our time was up, and we had only found six of the locks—epic fail? Not really. Susanna assured us that we were about average; about 50% of players escape with the help of clues, only about 10% can escape with no help at all. (Okay, so that makes us a little below average ?)

Reviewing the clues afterward it seemed obvious what we had missed. But hindsight is always clearer. We definitely need more practice at this type of game—and not just on a computer. It was great fun, a terrific way to exercise our brains, and a fun way to spend an afternoon or evening with a group of friends. We highly recommend it.

The unassuming entrance to TheRoom Prague

The cost to play TheRoom Prague “Old World” is 50 Euros for a 90-minute session (66 minutes for the game plus time for introduction and wrap up) that accommodates 2-5 players. Reservations must be made in advance on the online reservation page. You will have exclusive use of the game during your session.

Have you tried it? Did you manage to escape?

Thanks to TheRoom Prague for hosting us during this game. Opinions are our own.

We’re global nomads who have been traveling the world since 2011 seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive monthly updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

(Note: As of March 16, 2016 a new law went into effect in Romania banning smoking in public places. We visited the country later in the year and found almost 100% compliance with the ban. Dining (indoors) in Romania is now a smokefree experience.)

We really enjoyed our time in Bucharest and the beautiful Romanian countryside. One of the things we did not enjoy is the lack of non smoking restaurants in Bucharest and all over Romania. It is one of the few remaining European countries that still allows smoking in restaurants and public places. One travel expert about Romania even refers to it as Europe’s smoking section and suggests, in a perverse sort of way, that they use that distinction to attract more tourists who smoke.

According to the official Romanian tourism web site:

“It sometimes looks like almost every adult in Romania smokes. Unfortunately, some of those who do smoke have little regard of non-smokers’ comfort. The Romanian Government recently approved legislation that bans smoking in every public place but as in many countries in Eastern Europe some smokers might ignore smoking ban.”

While I appreciate their honesty, I wish they would just enforce the rules to reflect that a majority of their citizens do not smoke.

With all the smoke in the air, we were reminded of when we first visited Europe in the 1980s. However, we found a few leading edge non smoking restaurants in Bucharest which we share below.

Non Smoking Guide to Bucharest

Pin it!A guide to finding smoke-free restaurants in Romania's capital city of Bucharest

Non smoking restaurants in Bucharest

Caciula lui Guguta Romanian pastry

La Placinte – A Romanian mini-chain that specializes in the foods of the Moldovan region. The setting is attractive and the meals are affordable and delicious. Since they also have locations in other cities, we were actually working our way through their menu during our Romanian road trip. Our favorite location was at Bd. Gheorghe Magheru Nr. 26 near the Old Town. The dessert pictured above is Caciula lui Guguta. Various locations.

Carousel Bookstore Bucharest

Carturesti Carusel (Carousel Bookstore– This multi-storied bookshop is located in an elegant 19th-century building. The first several floors are devoted to books but the sunlight streaming top floor houses the wonderful Bistro Carusel. The menu focuses on light meals as well as hot beverages and fresh-squeezed juices. It’s conveniently located right in the popular Old Town. Strada Lipscani 55

non smoking restaurants in bucharest

Tucano Coffee – Located at the edge of the Old Town, this coffee bar offers excellent South American coffees and North American desserts like Oreo cheesecake and brownies. There are also smoothies, milk shakes, alcoholic drinks and teas. For a light snack try a salad or panini. Notice the table above? No ashtrays, a rarity in Bucharest. Strada Lipscani 79 A second location is near Pizza Romana at Calea Dorobanților Nr. 18

Beca’s Kitchen – Per Trip Advisor this is the #2 restaurant in all of Bucharest and came highly recommended by everyone we know who’s been to the city. The menu is limited at this small place to ensure the freshest ingredients and preparation. Mihai Eminescu 80, Sector 2

Origo Coffee Shop Bucharest – Coffee, tea, ice cream drinks, alcohol drinks, fresh fruit juices and a few cakes make up the limited menu at this place with a slick atmosphere a few blocks west of the Old Town. Strada Lipscani,  9

And if you’re really desperate to find a smokefree establishment in Bucharest you can always count on chains like Starbucks and McDonalds. 

Non-smoking hotel in Bucharest

flowers b and B Bucharest

Flower’s B and B Bucharest –  Tucked away in a neighborhood a five minute walk east of Old Town, this comfortable small hotel offers clean rooms in a quiet setting. Cold and hot breakfast included. The rooms also boast a rarity in Europe, window screens so you can let in fresh air without also inviting in the bugs. We stayed there our last night in Bucharest and would return. Strada Plantelor Nr. 2

Airbnb in Romania – Airbnb is also a good option when looking for smoke free lodging in Romania. We stayed for a week in a smoke free Airbnb apartment in Bucharest near the Old Town. It was actually hard to find one because Romania is one of the few countries we’ve visited where many of the Airbnb properties allow smoking.

Please add below in the comments section any smoke free places in Bucharest we should add to this list.

In our smoke free dining in Romania we did enjoy a variety of sweet treats like the dessert pictured above. Here’s our guide to Romanian pastries.

We’re global nomads who have been traveling the world since 2011 seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive monthly updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.