Obidos, Portugal

Probably one of our favourite places to visit during our stay in Portugal, Obidos is a very picturesque fortified town. The quaint traditional houses, the narrow cobbled streets reminded me a lot of Paraty in Brazil.

Obidos Portugal

I just love the Portuguese architecture with the white houses and their colourful trims.

Obidos street

Obidos is only an hour away from Lisbon, so just like Sintra and Cascais, it is a great day trip option.

Obidos street

The town is a great example of traditional Portuguese city. Historically, the place was owned by the queen of Portugal and you can understand why! Every square inch of Obidos is perfectly taken cared of. The pride of the locals transpires throughout the town.

Plants in street of Obidos

The Obidos is encircled with fortified walls which you can climb and walk around. It isn’t for the faint-hearted though as there are no safety rails. It is fairly high so avoid it if you suffer from vertigo. We ran into a few people a little petrified and who just couldn’t take a step further because of the height.

Medieval wall in ObidosObidos Portugal

If you are not afraid of heights and have good footwear make sure to climb on the wall! From there the views over the terracotta tiled roofs are wonderful.

Medieval wall in ObidosObidos Portugal

After a thrilling climb, rest and explore the quiet cobbled back-streets, far away from the tourist crowds. Get a pastel de nata if you feel a bit dizzy from the wall walk.

Obidos CastlePasteis de Nata in Obidos

Grab a glass of Ginja de Obidos, a cherry liquor produced in the region. The drink is served in small chocolate cups which makes for a flavoursome treat after drinking the Ginja.

The main street Rua Direita is lined with a variety of shops and the perfect place to get some beautiful traditional Portuguese ceramics. My favourite were the ones with the sardines design.

Obidos PortugalObidos street

At the end of your visit head to the main car park where you will find Obidos impressive aqueduct.

Obidos Aqueduct

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A day trip to Cascais and Sintra, Portugal

Following our 4 days in Lisbon, we thought a day trip to Cascais and Sintra would be a welcome break from the city. We rented a car and left Lisbon early in the morning for our first stop in Cascais. Note that you don’t need a car to get to Cascais or Sintra, both have frequent trains leaving from Lisbon. We opted for the car as we were heading to our next hotel in Torres Vedras but it also gave us the opportunity to drive on the coast which we very much enjoyed.

Cascais is west of Lisbon and only a 45 minutes drive from the city-centre. It is a famous commuters’ town as it offers the beach life within easy reach to Lisbon.

Cascais beach

Once in Cascais, we quickly realised that this was not just any coastal town, this was a very very nice one. Mansions with giant gates stretch along the coastline and the city-centre is a shopping heaven. I can imagine it to be a very pleasant place to live, however, as a tourist there isn’t that much to do so you will only need a few hours there to visit. Except if you are planning to make it a beach day! If you have very limited time in Portugal, I would head straight to Sintra further down below.

Cascais lighthouse

We found a parking spot very easily by Boca do Inferno a famous scenic cliffs spot with a natural archway and an open cave.

Boca do Inferno Portugal

After admiring the impressive views, we headed to the town centre.

Cascais has multiple beautiful buildings which really worth having a look at mostly if you love architecture. My favourites were the Condes de Castro Guimarães Palace and Palácio Seixas, both so grand that they almost feel out of place in this small town.

Condes de Castro Guimarães Palace CascaisPalácio Seixas Cascais

We explored the pretty historic centre on the lookout for a place to grab breakfast and did a spot of shopping before heading to our next destination Guincho beach!

Cascais city centre

Driving north along the coastline is a real pleasure, roll the windows down and enjoy the ocean air.

Unfortunately for us, it was extremely windy on the day we visited Cresmina beach and Guincho beach so we weren’t able to stay on the beach that long.

Cresmina beachGuincho beach

Both beaches are next to each other and still worthed swinging by as the views were fantastic!

Cresmina beach

After a hair blowing stroll, we started our journey into the land toward Sintra.

Without exaggeration, Sintra was our favourite little town to visit during our stay in Portugal. It is breathtakingly beautiful!

Sintra

We arrived mid-afternoon and struggled to find a parking place. Sintra is full-packed with tourists and the city gets really busy. We rushed to grab lunch at a little cafe before heading to the town centre to explore.

Sintra

Everywhere you look is beautiful in Sintra and the views of the valley below and the castles above are amazing.

SintraSintra

As we were a little short on time, we only strolled through the streets and skipped the museums. We wanted to have enough time to visit either Castelo dos Mouros or Pena Palace.

Pena Palace

The castles are fairly far from the town so you will need to take transport to head up there.

Castelo dos Mouros

We settled on Castelo dos Mouros because 1) it looks like it was out of Game of Thrones and 2) it offers great views of Pena Palace. We were not disappointed by our choice!

Castelo dos MourosPena Palace

From the car park, we hiked up to the castle and spent the last couple of hours to explore the castle. Again the views from there were just breathtaking.

Castelo dos Mouros

It was one packed day on the roads of Portugal, and even though we had to rush a bit toward the end we still had a great (although sweaty) time!

Claire Imaginarium

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4 days in Istanbul

Where the West meets the East, the great city of Istanbul is an amazing destination. Some of you may immediately think that with the recent events it is not very safe to visit, but we visited in between two incidents and if it wasn’t for the news we would have never known that something was happening.

I can safely say that Istanbul was one of the most beautiful and pleasant cities I have ever visited. Turkish people are very friendly, the food is amazing and the sights are breathtakingly beautiful. So follow me for 4 days in what used to be known as Byzantium and Constantinople.

Day 1 – Sultanahmet, Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Basilica Cistern

We started our trip in the most famous neighbourhood of Istanbul, Sultanahmet. This is where you will find the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and many more famous sights. We were lucky to have excellent weather, and after a quick breakfast on the go, we headed to Hagia Sophia.

Hagia Sophia

I knew the history of Hagia Sophia, once a Christian Orthodox cathedral, it was turned into a mosque, and is now a museum. What I didn’t know, on the other hand, was how big and beautiful the place was.

Hagia Sophia

The ceilings are so high it is unbelievable.

Deësis mosaic in Hagia Sophia

This is also where you will find the very famous Deësis and Comnenus mosaics, some signs left from its cathedral days.

Comnenus mosaic in Hagia Sophia

Make sure to peek through the windows for the most beautiful views of Istanbul’s roofs.

Istanbul's roofs

After a Turkish tea break, we were off to the Blue Mosque. It is good to note that the visits are allowed between prayer time and if you are a woman you will need to cover your hair. I made sure to wear a scarf around my neck at all time when in Istanbul so I could easily cover my head if I needed to.

Wearing a head scarf in the Blue Mosque in Istanbul

The inside of the mosque is embellished with light features, stained glass and mosaics.

The Blue Mosque in Istanbul

The building itself is breathtakingly beautiful and changes colours throughout the day, sometimes appearing blue, sometimes grey or even white!

The Blue Mosque in IstanbulThe Blue Mosque in Istanbul

We took a little bit of time to check out the Obelisk of Theodosius and the Serpent Column before grabbing lunch at one of the many restaurants around.

The Obelisk of Theodosius in IstanbulThe Serpent Column in Istanbul

In the afternoon, we first visited the Basilica Cistern, famous for featuring in a James Bond film (From Russia with love) and for its Medusa columns.

The Basilica Cistern in IstanbulMedusa column in the Basilica Cistern in Istanbul

We then spent some time exploring the streets of Sultanahmet. Stopping for some baklava.

Baklava in Istanbul

We headed toward the Yeni Cami square where the beautiful ‘New’ mosque stands.

Yeni Cami mosque in Istanbul

Our last stop of the day was the Spice Bazaar, where we smelled and tasted a few things before buying some tea and some Turkish delights.

Spice Bazaar in IstanbulTurkish delight at the Spice Bazaar in Istanbul

Turkish food is delicious and there are a few dishes I listed in a previous post that you need to try while there!

Istanbul and the Bosphorus

We crossed the Bosphorus and enjoyed watching the fishermen keeping busy at sunset.

Fishermen in Istanbul

Day 2 – Galata Tower, Karakoy and afternoon tea at Pera Palace Hotel

Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t great on our second day but we didn’t get discouraged and headed out to explore Karakoy neighbourhood.

Karakoy Istanbul

Our first stop was at the Galata tower, a medieval building with amazing panoramic views of Istanbul and the Bosphorus.

Galata Tower in IstanbulView from Galata Tower in Istanbul

We enjoyed the views and headed back downstairs for a warming cup of tea. The weather wasn’t getting better we, therefore, decided to go explore Karakoy’s streets so it would be easy to shelter in a shop if needed.

Street art in Istanbul

Embarrassing fact: I didn’t know Istanbul had an old tramway system running in the pedestrian streets. I actually discovered it when I almost got hit by one!

Istanbul tramway

We got lost in the streets and ran into some of the famous Istanbul sights like the Kamondo steps and Taksim Square.

Kamondo steps in IstanbulTaksim Square in Istanbul

It eventually started raining so we decided to take shelter at the Pera Palace Hotel for some tea and cake.

Pera Palace Hotel cakes

The place is beautiful and famous for hosting the Orient Express passengers – including Agatha Christie – before or after their trip on the train.

Pera Palace Hotel in Istanbul

Day 3 – Ortakoy and a cruise on the Bosphorus

We started the third day in the neighbourhood of Ortakoy, a beautiful traditional area with plenty of trendy restaurants and cafes.

Ortakoy in Istanbul

This is where we had the best Turkish breakfast of our trip!

After a very satisfying breakfast, we headed to Besiktas’ port to catch one of the Bosphorus boat tours. I cannot remember exactly which company we used, but they were very easy to find and we bought the tickets at one of the front desks at the port.

Ortakoy in Istanbul

We picked a hop-on-hop-off cruise which allowed us to stop and explore different neighbourhoods.

Bosphorus cruise in Istanbul

The boats are often enough that you won’t have to wait too long if the area you stop at is not very big.

Bosphorus cruise in Istanbul

We were lucky to have excellent weather on that day and the views were fantastic.

Bosphorus cruise in IstanbulBosphorus cruise in Istanbul

We first stopped at Emirgan, a small neighbourhood with a village vibe where we grabbed a coffee.

Emirgan in Istanbul

Back on the boat, we headed to Asia and stopped at Beylerbeyi for a quick bite on the go and nice views of the European side.

Beylerbeyi Palace in Istanbul

Our last stop was in Kadikoy, where we explored the small lively streets and grabbed yet another cup of Turkish tea (I did buy a couple of boxes to take back home as you can imagine).

Bosphorus cruise in IstanbulMarket in Kadikoy, Istanbul

We very much enjoyed Kadikoy with its lively market and plenty of bars and eateries. It seems like it would be a fun place to go out in the evening too.

Market in Kadikoy, Istanbul

Day 4 – Topkapi Palace Museum and the Grand Bazaar

Our final day was spent back in Europe. We spent the morning exploring Topkapi Palace.

Topkapi Palace in Istanbul

The place is beautiful, the architecture is amazing and the gardens are a real pleasure to visit.

Topkapi Palace garden in Istanbul

I also recommend visiting the harem where you can learn a lot about it, which (spoiler alert) is nothing like what you may imagine it to be. It was a lot more civilised and a lot less glamorous than what books and movies may have depicted.

Harem in Topkapi Palace in Istanbul

The harem was actually where the family of the sultan lived. It was a private and quiet house tucked away from the crowds of the royal court.

After lunch, we headed to the very famous Grand Bazaar, our final stop. We kept it for last as we knew we would probably buy souvenirs there (we did).

Istanbul Grand Bazaar

The place is very impressive with endless covered alleyways. It is vast and it is very easy to get lost in it.

Istanbul Grand Bazaar

It is also magical and feels like shopping in a giant Aladdin’s cave!

Istanbul Grand Bazaar

We absolutely loved our time in Istanbul and we will definitely be back, where Europe shakes hands with Asia.

Istanbul

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2 days in Osaka and Nara

The last stop on my Japan itinerary is Osaka with a day trip to Nara. We didn’t expect much of Osaka to be completely honest, the feedback we got from most people before we went was that there wasn’t much to do. Sometimes though, you have to experience things for yourself to make your own opinion, and we actually very much enjoyed our time in the Osaka area!

Brace yourself! This post is a long one but I just couldn’t select the pictures! I was so happy with most of them I wanted to share them all!

Day 1 – Osaka Castle and Osaka city centre

We arrived in Osaka from Hiroshima mid-morning and dropped our luggage in one of the station’s lockers as it was a little too early to check-in at our Airbnb. Once our luggage stored in a safe place, we headed to the top of the station for an unspoiled view of the Umeda building.

Umeda Sky building

After a quick lunch, we then headed to Osaka castle. A beautiful monument from the 16th century, which (fun fact), like many other Japanese landmarks, burnt and was rebuilt a couple of times.

Osaka CastleOsaka Castle

The grounds of the castle are absolutely beautiful too and very much worth visiting.

Osaka Castle

Make sure to take a moment to reflect at Hōkoku Shrine and relax in the sun in the plum grove.

Hōkoku ShrineHōkoku Shrine

After an afternoon of contemplation, we headed to our Airbnb to check-in and out to explore Osaka city centre. One thing we didn’t expect is how lively and busy Osaka is. If you are looking to go out and have some fun, Dotonbori is definitely the place!

Dotonbori

That is where you will also find the famous Glico Man.

Glico Man

We explored the area for a while and took a little bit of time to appreciate the rather creative shop signs before finding a place for dinner. I highly recommend Tsurugyu where we had the some of the best wagyu beef we ever had!

Dotonbori giant crabDotonbori shop signs

Day 2 – Nara

A day trip to Nara is a must on any Japan first-timer’s itinerary! The place is absolutely gorgeous and will give you a welcome break from the city. There are two ways to fit Nara on your itinerary, you can either go from Osaka (about 45 minutes on the train) or from Kyoto (about 35 minutes on the express train).

Train too Nara

On our arrival in Nara, we were greeted by greedy furry friends, like on Miyajima island, deer made Nara very much their home.

Deer in Nara

We decided to visit Nara by doing a big loop around the park, entering next to the prefectural building where we saw the last signs of the Cherry Blossom.

Cherry Blossom in NaraJapan flag in Nara

We then headed to Nandaimon gate, the very impressive gate to Tōdai-Ji shrine. The pictures don’t do it justice and the structure is truly gigantic in real life.

Nandaimon gateNandaimon gate

We then headed toward Tōdai-Ji main building.

Tōdai-ji

The place was extremely busy and a lot of Japanese people were wearing their beautiful traditional outfits in honour of the Golden Week.

Ladies wearing kimonos in Nara

Inside Tōdai-Ji you will find the giant Buddha, which is, well… giant!

Tōdai-ji giant buddha

Take a little moment to watch people pray, draw and follow various traditions.

Artist in Tōdai-jiTōdai-ji

Once outside Tōdai-Ji, we headed toward the west of the park to quieter alleyways where we visited various shrines before stopping for a picnic.

Nara shrineNara cemeteryNara shrine

As I mentioned in previous posts, we missed Japan Cherry Blossom by ten days. What we didn’t miss on the other hand is wisteria season, and there is no better place than Kasuga Taisha to see it.

Wisteria in Kasuga Taisha

A purple ceiling surrounded by the brightest red walls.

Wisteria in Kasuga TaishaKasuga Taisha

We then headed back toward the station with a last swing to the tall, dark and handsome pagoda.

Pagoda in Nara

Oh! One last tip before you go! Make sure to head to the top of Nara’s prefectural office for unspoiled panoramic views of the park!

We ran into a few last furry friends bending to say goodbye (you read that right, deer in Japan have learned to bend like humans) before heading back to Osaka for the night.

Deer in Nara

Planning a trip to Japan? Make sure to check out my guides to TokyoKyoto, Hakone and Hiroshima!

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2 days in Hiroshima

Hiroshima was made famous on the 6th August 1945 for very unfortunate reasons, and most of the pictures I had seen from the place were devastation scenes in my history books at school. I had absolutely no idea what to expect, and I was in for a surprise…

Modern Hiroshima is nothing like the history book pictures! Lively, busy, with an amazing food scene, loads of shops and very important historical sights. A real surprise and a nice one!

We stayed at the the Washington Hotel in the city centre. The room and bed are on the small side, but it is very good value for money and very well situated in the town.

Day 1 – The Peace Memorial Museum, Hiroshima Castle & the city centre

We arrived in Hiroshima around lunch time and grabbed a quick lunch on the go on our way to the hotel. After dropping our bags, we were ready to explore and started our visit a the Peace Memorial Museum.

The Peace Memorial Museum

The museum has been done very nicely and it explains very tastefully a terrible event, from the timeline of the day and weeks that followed, to the science behind the impact of nuclear weapons on bodies and plants. A real eye-opening experience and a very touching one too. A good reminder that peace is what we should all seek for and compromise on.

The Peace Memorial Museum

Outside the museum there are a couple of memorials. One is dedicated to the victims of the bombing, the other is the Children’s Peace Monument, both are touching and beautiful.

Hiroshima MemorialHiroshima Memorial

From the park, you will have a great view of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, the most famous remaining symbol of August 6th, 1945.

Hiroshima Memorial

After a rather heavy afternoon, we decided to walk to Hiroshima Castle to reflect on what we had seen and learned.

Hiroshima Castle

The castle definitely worth swinging by with its beautiful gardens and shrines.

Hiroshima CastleHiroshima Castle

We ended the day at  ふみちゃん 流川店 for the most delicious okonomiyaki.

Day 2 – Miyajima island

One of the most beautiful places we visited while in Japan, Miyajima island, is just outside Hiroshima. To get there we took the tramway for 40 minutes and then a boat for about 20 minutes. There is a fastest route I believe but we enjoyed our tramway ride seeing people commuting to work and children going to school.

Hiroshima Tramway

On arrival you will be met by a furry welcome committee, Miyajima island is populated with a large deer community. Keep a close eye on your belongings because if you carry any sort of food they will find it!

Deer in Miyajima island

Miyajima island has some amazing sights that you commonly see on postcards. There is the beautiful (but very busy) Istukushima Shrine.

Miyajima island

The very famous floating torii.

Floating torii in Miyajima island

The five-storied Pagoda which features on most cherry blossom pictures you would see of the island.

Pagoda in Miyajima island

Miyajima island is basically a giant postcard. We loved hiking up and down the hills all day, but the real highlight for us was Daishō-in.

Daishō-inDaishō-in

A magical shrine at the top of the hill, the place is gorgeous.

Daishō-in

After hiking a bit longer, and a few more close encounters with some deer, we headed back into town for another okonomiyaki.

Deer in Miyajima IslandMiyajima Island

A lot of our friends going to Japan asked us if Hiroshima worth visiting, my answer? Absolutely, but if you are going all the way there make sure to visit Miyajima island too! Otherwise it may not worth the hours on the train.

Deer in Miyajima Island

Planning a trip to Japan? Make sure to check out my guides to TokyoKyoto, Osaka and Hakone!

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4 days in Kyoto

If Tokyo is the busy and trendy Japan destination, Kyoto is the beautiful more traditional one. Kyoto has countless shrines, Geishas walk in the street like you would walk to a grocery shop, ryokans are the recommended accommodation type to stay at – this is where you will have a taste of Japanese traditions.

We stayed in Kyoto for 4 days, but, to be honest, I wished we had a fifth day there as there were a few things we had no time to do. I guess that’s an excuse to go back, right?

Day 1 – Higashi Honganji, Kyoto Train Station & Fushimi

After dropping our bags at our hotel we headed to Higashi Honganji, a big shrine, a stone’s throw away from Kyoto station. It is a complex made of multiple temples and very impressive.

Higashi Honganji

Higashi Honganji dragon fountain

Having worked up an appetite, we headed to Kyoto’s train station on the lookout for a place to eat. You may think that eating in a train station is a little sad, but Kyoto’s station is an architectural wonder and absolutely worth getting lost in.

Kyoto train stationKyoto train station

Among the floors of shops and eateries, you will find glimpses of the city and some magical architectural moments. And on the 11th floor, you will find an excellent tonkatsu at Katsukura.

Kyoto tower

After lunch, we hopped on the JR line to Fushimi. A few tips before we start the visit: when visiting Fushimi wear comfortable shoes that you can walk-in for a good few hours and have at least a bottle of water per person.

Fushimi

Fushimi is one of the most famous touristic sights in the world with its thousands of torii gates lined along the mountain trail.

Warning – the first kilometre is hell! You will be stuck in a crowd of tourists stopping every two meters to take a picture. After the first kilometre, people will start to head back, the trail will get less busy and you will finally have a quiet moment to embrace the beauty of the place.

Fushimi

Keep climbing (you have to walk that tonkatsu off, right?) to the quietest spot and unspoiled views of the valley.

Fushimi

Then turn around and head all the way back downhill to the station. There is no shortcut exit there. Take one last (sweaty) picture, and head back to your hotel for a shower.

FushimiFushimi

Freshened-up and starving, we enjoyed a ‘burnt’ ramen at Gogyo Ramen that evening.

Day 2 – The Bamboo Forest, Kinkaku-ji & Hirano Shrine

We started the second day at the famous Bamboo Forest. You must have seen this place all over Instagram, Pinterest and other social media. It looks beautifully serene on most pictures right? Well let me tell you, in real life, it is MUCH busier. No silence and bird chirping noises, camera noises and ‘say cheeeeese’ is what you will hear the most.

The Bamboo Forest

The Bamboo Forest is breathtakingly beautiful though, and once you adjust to the flow of people you will see through the chaos its true beauty.

The Bamboo Forest

Get lost in the small alleyways around the forest and explore some of the shrines surrounding the place before your next stop!

The Bamboo ForestThe Bamboo Forest

A train and a walk later, we arrived at Kinkaku-ji. Again, crazy busy, again ridiculously beautiful.

Kinkaku-ji

There you will find the most beautiful gold-plated shrine, in the middle of a wonderfully Japanese-looking pond.

Kinkaku-ji

The park is gorgeous and I really cannot emphasise enough on how beautiful the golden pavilion is.

Kinkaku-ji

On our way back to the station we swung by Hirano Shrine, a peaceful ‘everyday life’ shrine where we had a few last glimpses of the cherry blossom season (we missed it by only 10 days!).

Hirano ShrineHirano Shrine

Day 3 – Daimaru Kyoto, Nishiki Market, Pontocho & the Imperial Palace

Our third day in Kyoto was a rainy one. We started the day sheltered into the shops of Shijo Dori. A bit of shopping never hurts anyone!

Daimaru

If you are only going to enter one shop, make it Daimaru, their food court to be more precise. Daimaru is comparable to Selfridges or Le Bon Marche and the food hall is amazing!

Talking about food, after salivating in the alleys of Daimaru, we headed to Nishiki Market for our real lunch. Dedicate a good 90 minutes to two hours to the place as there is so much to see and to taste.

Nishiki Market

In need of a walk after so much food, we headed to the small streets of Pontocho with the hope to run into a geisha.

Pontocho

Geishas there weren’t, but charming little houses to take pictures of there were!

PontochoPontocho

The day was getting greyer and greyer but we still stuck to our plan and walked to the Imperial Palace park.

Imperial Palace parkImperial Palace park

After so much walking and in need of something warm and comforting to eat, we ended our day at What’s for some delicious beef.

Day 4 – Kiyomizu-dera, Sannen-zaka, Yasaka Shrine & Gion

Luckily our last day in Kyoto was sunny and warm again, the perfect weather to end our trip at one of the most famous sights Kiyomizu-dera.

Kiyomizu-dera

Kiyomizu-dera is easily recognisable from afar with its tall red pagoda.

Kiyomizu-dera pagoda

We explored the shrine before getting lost in the traditional streets of Sannen-zaka.

Sannen-zaka

Walking along the wooden houses was like a trip through time, and we FINALLY found some geishas!

Geishas in Kyoto

Be aware that geishas are coy by nature and not easy to photograph. Respect it as you don’t want to come across as a rude tourist.

Sannen-zaka

We wandered in Maruyama Park.

Kyoto's streetMaruyama park

Our last stop before lunch was Yasaka Shrine, a beautiful temple just off Gion’s streets.

Yasaka Shrine

After a quick lunch on the go, we got lost in the streets of Gion, a lively neighbourhood where you will find designers’ shops, traditional ryokans, and, again, some beautiful shrines.

GionGionGion

Where to stay?

We stayed in two different places during our time in Kyoto. We spent the first couple of nights in Sakura Terrace, a perfectly fine hotel a short walk away from the train station, great to hop on the JR line to Fushimi and the Bamboo Forest.

The following two nights we stayed in a traditional room at Matsubaya Ryokan, a great ryokan with an amazing traditional Japanese breakfast and where futons are lot comfier than what they look like.

Planning a trip to Kyoto? Take me there! And make sure to check out my guides to Tokyo, Osaka, Hakone and Hiroshima!

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5 days in Tokyo

That’s it! I am finally tackling all the Japan content I have! Over the next couple of weeks, I will be sharing my itineraries to help you plan your trip to the Land of the Rising Sun – starting with Tokyo!

As you can imagine, Tokyo is an amazing city, it is very old yet very modern, very calm yet very busy – it is a fascinating place! The itinerary below will take you to most of the main sights in Tokyo. The city is so vast that you could easily spend another five days exploring it, that is if you have a lot more time in Japan. If you are only there for a couple of weeks, five days is a good start for a first visit to Tokyo.

Day 1 – Arriving in Tokyo & Shinjuku

If coming from Europe, you will be landing in Tokyo around breakfast time. It will take you a good couple of hours to make it to Tokyo’s city-centre – time to grab your luggage, go through customs, taxi or train, etc. We were staying in Shinjuku where most of the big hotels are, so we decided to spend our first afternoon there.

Shinjuku

Shinjuku is one of the busiest neighbourhoods of Tokyo and a very convenient place to base yourself during your stay with multiple train and subway stations around the area. We stayed at the Hilton which was very nice but a little bit expensive.

Shinjuku

Shinjuku is also the perfect place to have a first taste of Tokyo. It is overwhelmingly crowded, but Japanese people are so quiet and respectful that it feels less busy than a London pub on a Friday night.

Shinjuku station platform

Day 2 – Meiji Jingu, Shibuya & Roppongi

The second day is a perfect mixture of modern and ancient Tokyo. First, stop Meiji Jingu in the heart of Harajuku. A beautiful shrine hidden in the middle of a park, offering a little bit of peace and quiet away from the buzzing streets of Harajuku, which I could best describe as the Shoreditch of Tokyo.

Meiju Jingu

After enjoying the tranquillity of Meiju Jingu, we walked through Harajuku and headed toward Shibuya. Coming from that direction you will arrive straight to the famous Shibuya crossing, which, in real life, looks and feel smaller than what you may have seen in pictures or in movies. It is still busy though!

Shibuya Crossing

For the best views of the crossing head to Starbucks for a coffee and the best time-lapse spot.

Shibuya Crossing

Get lost in the back streets of Shibuya and make sure to grab lunch at Toritake.

Toritake

Full of yakitori, we then headed to Roppongi, another very trendy neighbourhood of Tokyo and a great place to do a spot of shopping. We haven’t been there at night but it is supposed to be a very lively place to go out.

Roppongi street

After walking all day, we ended the day back in Shinjuku with a delicious ramen at the very popular Ichiran.

Ichiran

Day 3 – Asakusa, Tokyo National Museum & Ueno

On the third day, we headed to an older part of Tokyo and started in Asakusa. Just outside of the station you will have a great view of the Skytree. We decide not to visit it though to have more time visiting Tokyo and less time waiting in the notoriously long queue.

Tokyo Skytree

Head to the ancient Sensō-ji temple, you will walk through charming ancient streets to get there.

Asakusa

Embrace the atmosphere of the old shrine and bathe yourself in incense smoke for good health.

Sensō-jiSensō-ji

Head to Tokyo National Museum and grab lunch on your way there. You can easily find bento boxes and onigiris in supermarkets for a lunch on the go. We had our lunch in Ueno Onshi Park.

Ueno Onshi Park

The Tokyo National Museum is the perfect option if you only have time to visit one museum in Tokyo, or if you are not really into museums. It gives an overview of Japanese history and culture, from clothing to housing.

Tokyo National MuseumTokyo National Museum

After a few hours wandering the corridors of the museum, we headed deep into Ueno and got lost in the little streets for an afternoon walk.

Ueno street

We ended the day, again in Shinjuku, and had one of the most amazing meals at Imahan.

Imahan

Day 4 – Tsukiji Fish Market, Hamarikyu Gardens, Ginza, Chiyoda & Ebisu

I talked about Tsukiji Fish Market into details in a previous post, and, because you can only visit the market the morning, it is a great place to start your day.

Tsukiji Fish Market

After a couple of hours among the fish and their fishmongers, we headed for a bit of fresher air and decided to visit Hamarikyu Gardens. This park is an oasis of tranquillity in the middle of Tokyo.

Hamarikyu GardensHamarikyu Gardens

We grabbed lunch on our way to Ginza, an upmarket shopping district.

Ginza street

Not far from Ginza is Chiyoda where you will find the Imperial Palace. It is also supposed to be a fantastic spot to see the cherry blossom during the season.

Chiyoda

We ended the day in the very lively district of Ebisu where we had dinner and a cheeky beer at the Ebisu Beer Hall.

Day 5 – Akihabara & Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden

On your last day, immerse yourself in the gamer and technology culture in Akihabara.

Akihabara

Get lost in the game centres or in a cat cafe (we did both!).

Akihabara games centreAkihabara cat cafe

Take some cheesy photo-booth pictures and embrace the weirdness of the place.

Akihabara Sega games centre

A highlight of our Tokyo visit was the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. The place is breathtakingly beautiful and on a rainy day, like we had, it had strong Lost in Translation vibes.

Shinjuku Gyoen National GardenShinjuku Gyoen National Garden

Talking about Lost in Translation, make sure to end your trip with a drink at the New York bar, at the top of the Park Hyatt, made famous by Sophia Coppola’s movie. It offers the most incredible views of the city at dusk.

New York Bar view Tokyo

I hope you will enjoy Tokyo as much as we did! I just cannot wait to come back!

Planning a trip to Tokyo? Take me there! And make sure to check out my guide to Kyoto, Osaka, Hakone and Hiroshima!

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5 days itinerary in Tokyo

A day in Hakone – Japan

One of the most famous sights in Japan is Mount Fuji – the perfectly shaped volcano is on most postcards and a magical sight to see in person.

The tricky thing with Mount Fuji is that seeing it is very much weather dependent, indeed the volcano is famous to disappear behind a haze after midday or when temperatures rise making it difficult to see.

Mount Fuji from Shinkansen

I don’t consider myself particularly lucky, but I had the best luck seeing Mount Fuji during our two weeks there. Our first sight of it was on the Shinkansen on our way from Tokyo to Hiroshima. If the weather is good, keep your eyes peeled about 40 minutes out of Tokyo, the view is breathtaking.

Mount Fuji from Shinkansen

We didn’t have enough of Mount Fuji and decided to get a little bit closer. An obvious place to do so is Hakone. Hakone is part of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park. Famous for its hot springs, and its views across Lake Ashinoko of Mount Fuji. It is a very popular destination among Japanese and international tourists, and only an hour out of Tokyo which makes it an accessible day trip if you want a break from the city.

Getting to Hakone is also incredibly easy. What I loved in Japan is that everything is so organised and logical that you just cannot get lost, even if you don’t understand a word of Japanese. We took the Shinkansen to Odawara Station, once there, we dropped our luggage in a locker, as we were coming from Kyoto and heading back to Tokyo on that same day. In the station, you will quickly see signs for Hakone which will guide you to an office where you can get a map of the area as well as the pass for the train, shuttle and funicular to the National Park. It sounds like a lot of transport transfers but again, do not fear, it is very easy!

Train to Hakone view

We took the train from Odawara to Hakone Yumutu, there we transferred to the smaller train which took us up the mountains. Once in Gora, where the train line ends, we transferred to the funicular, which took us directly to the cable car station. Make sure to take a window seat on the right of the cable car for the best views of Mount Fuji.

Hakone cable car

We started climbing, it was very windy, which can be slightly intimidating if you don’t like heights. And suddenly, people started gasping, right there in front of us, the Mount Fuji was standing. The views were very clear, but unfortunately, my camera didn’t do it justice and it was much clearer and impressive in real life.

SONY DSCSONY DSC

The first stop once in the National Park is Owakudani. The views of Mount Fuji from there are fantastic and you will also see the sulphur fumes emerging from the ground. Only then did we really realise that we were visiting a volcanic area. Mount Fuji looks so peaceful that you can easily forget what it really is… Also the last eruption was in 1707 so it is a pretty chill volcano.

Owakudani Sulphur fumes

From Owakudani we then took another cable car down to Lake Ashinoko. We took a lunch break there while waiting for the next ‘pirate’ boat to arrive. You read that right, for some reason the sightseeing boats taking you from Togendai to the other side of the lake look like huge pirate boats.

Owakudani cable car

Hakone Pirate BoatSONY DSC

You will still be able to see Mount Fuji during the cruise, making for great shots of the volcano and the lake.

Mount FujiTorii in Hakone

That is if, unlike us, the weather is not ‘too’ good, indeed the day we visited, it was so sunny that the sky turned white and Mount Fuji started to fade against it so my pictures again really don’t do the place justice.

Mount Fuji

Once on the other side of the lake, we walked by the shore and explored Onshihakone Park.

Onshihakone Park

It was surprisingly quiet as it seemed most tourists don’t venture there. A great opportunity to enjoy the peace and tranquillity after a crowded boat ride.

Onshihakone ParkOnshihakone Park

We walked a little further down to explore the town.

HakoneHakone

We then caught the bus back to Odawara station. One good tip, the bus gets VERY busy at the Sightseeing Cruise bus stop, so try to catch it a stop ahead to make sure you can actually get on it!

Cherry blossom in Hakone

In no time we were back on the Shinkansen and off to Tokyo. One long but beautiful day trip!

Planning a trip to Hakone? Take me there! And make sure to check out my guides to TokyoKyoto, Osaka and Hiroshima!

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Tsukiji fish market – Tokyo, Japan

Today’s blog won’t be very pretty to look at, mostly if you are vegetarian! I am taking you to Tsukiji market, Tokyo’s fish market. This is one of the main sights to visit when in Japan. What I didn’t expect though is that it would look rather rough and like a slaughterhouse (well it is really). I guess when you think of Japan, you expect everything to be modern and super clean, Tsukiji market is at the other end of the scale, messy, busy and wonderfully authentic.

Tsukiji fish market Tokyo

A good tip before we start our visit, we read everywhere that we needed to be there super early to see the fish coming in , the tuna auctions, etc. However, it happens that the market was closed to tourists until 10/11am… Indeed, we were asked not to enter the main hall until then. So don’t sacrifice your hours of sleep, yes it will be less busy by the time you get in, but you will still see and experience the atmosphere.

Tsukiji fish market Tokyo

We arrived in the area early and once we realised that we wouldn’t be let in, we decided to walk and explore the streets around which are full of consumers markets (as opposed to Tsukiji main market which is mainly for businesses).

Tsukiji fish market TokyoTsukiji fish market TokyoTsukiji fish market Tokyo

Once a little tired of walking, we headed back to the main area where you can find plenty of sushi restaurants. Some are very popular, some only have set menu options, so we settled for Sushi Dokoro Yamazaki which offers a great ‘à la carte’ option. Unfortunately, I have a very severe allergy to raw salmon so I couldn’t risk to eat any sushi, so Andrew was the only one eating, and at 10 am he wasn’t feeling like eating an entire platter on his own. Sushi Dokoro Yamazaki was perfect for us as I could sip on a miso soup and some tea while Andrew was eating a small serving.

Sushi Dokoro YamazakiSushi Dokoro Yamazaki

Finally, it was time for us to enter the main hall. It is very easy to find your way in, follow the flow of tourists who are following a guard and you will get in. Note that people at the market are here to work, and they will very directly let you know if you are annoying them or on their way. I have never been honked at that much in my life! Should I be flattered?

Tsukiji fish market Tokyo

The scenes inside are very ‘real’ maybe a little too much for some. Sometime you forget that there was a very alive giant tuna behind that little California roll…

Tsukiji fish market TokyoTsukiji fish market Tokyo

Embrace the atmosphere, and accept it, don’t fight it. It is like looking at the food chain in the eyes.

Tsukiji fish market TokyoTsukiji fish market Tokyo

It is good sometime to just see the process behind some of our food, so that we are all a little bit more appreciative and mindful when eating.

Tsukiji fish market Tokyo

We came out smelling of fish, a little less hungry than usual and in need of a bit of fresh air, but overall very happy to have seen this side of Japan!

Planning a trip to Japan? Make sure to check out my guides to TokyoKyoto, OsakaHakone and Hiroshima!

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The prettiest Cotswolds villages

The Cotswold is one of the prettiest areas of England I have ever been to. Rolling hills, green valleys, quaint villages, everywhere you look is out of a postcard.

Cotswolds countryside

We woke up bright and early to made the most of the 2 days we had in the region. On the first day, we visited Blockley, Kingham, Stow-on-the-Wold, Lower Slaughter and Bourton-on-the-Water. It seems like a lot but some villages are teeny tiny so you will only need an hour or so there. On Sunday, we explored Painswick, Miserden and Bibury, before heading back to London.

Now to help you plan your trip to the Cotswolds, I listed all the villages below with a few recommendations here and there. Also, keep scrolling if you like pictures of quaint houses and autumnal foliage. Bundle up and let’s go!

Topshop shearling coat and Marc Jacobs sunglasses
Topshop coat (similar) and Marc Jacobs sunglasses (similar)

Blockley

BlockleyBlockley was just waking up when we arrived on Saturday morning. It is a very small village so you won’t need long to explore it. Take a moment to appreciate the local architecture. All houses are built with the local sand colour Cotswold stone.

Blockley

Walk to the top of the hill for glimpses of the countryside.

Blockley

There you will find a picturesque church, and you will see that even cemeteries are pretty in the Cotswolds.

Blockley church

Kingham

Our next stop was another very small, yet very pretty, village. Kingham is on flat land, the exact opposite of Blockley.

Kingham

It is all about the details in Kingham, the front porches are all ridiculously quaint.

KinghamKingham

Walk around the main green and wander toward the church.

Kingham cemetery

And if you happen to be in Kingham at lunchtime, make sure to try The Wild Rabbit, we didn’t eat there on this trip but I heard great things about it!

Kingham

Stow-on-the-Wold

For lunch, we headed to Stow-on-the-Wold, a bigger town and the perfect spot if you are looking for a busier atmosphere and an opportunity to shop!

Stow-on-the-Wold

The place has a lot of local products shops and antique boutiques. Make sure to explore some to find little treasures or souvenir!

Stow-on-the-Wold Costwolds cheese shop

If you happen to be there around lunch time, make sure to grab a bite at The Hive, I cannot recommend it enough!

Stow-on-the-Wold

Explore the city centre, everything is so pretty you will feel like you are in a Jane Austen era movie.

Stow-on-the-Wold church

Finally, make sure to pay attention when driving out of Stow-on-the-Wold, there are some amazing viewpoints which worth stopping at for a picture or 20 (you should see my memory card).

Cotswolds countryside

Lower Slaughter

Lower Slaughter is famous for its network of small canals. The village’s streets follow the path of the water to create the most charming atmosphere.

Lower Slaughter

Walk along the canal and head to the old mill. There you will be able to make friend with the ducks and see the hikers splashing around in the water to wash their muddy boots.

Lower Slaughter Old Mill

We then headed to the church and happened to run into a bride and a groom, freshly married, who were taking their wedding pictures in the village. I have to say, with that weather and the golden Autumn colours, their pictures will be extremely Pinterest-able.

Lower Slaughter church

Bourton-on-the-Water

Bourton-on-the-water

Our last stop on Saturday was also the busiest place we visited. Bourton-on-the-Water is full of tourists so be warned.

Bourton-on-the-water

It is absolutely beautiful though so it still worth merging into the crowd to walk along the water.

Bourton-on-the-water

It is nicknamed the ‘Venice of the Cotswolds’ and rightly so. It’s all about crossing bridges, feeding the ducks and grabbing a sweet afternoon treat there!

Bourton-on-the-water

Painswick

On Sunday, we started our day at Painswick. It is a very small village but it has a very noticeable cemetery (Again! I told you cemeteries worth a visit in the Cotswolds). The trees leading to the village’s church are all shaped like mushrooms. This makes for great pictures…

Painswick

…and ‘avant-garde’ headpieces (I am a very funny person indeed).

Painswick
Topshop coat (similar) and Gucci Disco bag

The village is also a hub for the serious hikers, so much so that you may struggle to find a free parking spot, even on Sundays.

Painswick

Miserden

Miserden was one of the prettiest, if not THE prettiest, villages we visited. Teeny tiny but really worth stopping by!

Miserden

The views of the valley are beautiful, mostly in the Autumn.

Miserden

The village is very peaceful, the locals friendly, the chickens walk freely in the streets, and honesty boxes are the common way to shop there. A little piece of heaven.

Jams Miserden

Also make sure to grab a little something at The Nursery on Miserden Estate, a nice spot for a cup of coffee and something sweet.

Miserden

Bibury

Our last stop was Bibury. This place is probably the closest I will ever get to feel like I am in the Lord of the Ring. Look at the houses! Hobbits could easily live there!

Bibury

The place is charming and therefore very popular with tourists.

BiburyBibury

It isn’t very big either, so once you are done walking around, head to The Swan for a warming drink or a Sunday roast (we went for the latter).

The Swan BiburySunday roast The Swan Bibury

The Cotswolds are the perfect Autumnal destination, and it was the perfect weekend away with the great weather we had! We came home rested and with (maybe) a bit of a tan.

Weekend in the Cotswolds

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