Adam and I had a blast visiting eight cities in three countries in our 2015 European adventure. I’ll share some of the highlights from each place plus some tips to pass along.
Our first stop was extra special as we had the chance to stay with our friends Leah and Brian, who were wonderful London hosts and tour guides. We visited Camden Market, Abbey Road, had afternoon tea at an adorable place called BB Bakery, saw Kensington Palace, walked through St. James’s Park and Hyde Park, ate in Covent Garden and SoHo, and saw “Romeo and Juliet” at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. Even though our wallets couldn’t believe London’s prices, we had a great time in this iconic city.
PRO TIP: Get your tickets far in advance for Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre; also, buy a multi-day transport for the Tube. Finally, we used the tour company Sandeman’s New Europe for London, Brussels, and Amsterdam and really enjoyed them.
Bath was the first of many cutesy, storybook towns we visited. Not only is it adorable, but it also is known for its ancient Roman baths — and its modern-day thermae spa! Our day in Bath was a perfect mix of touring, eating (Sally Lunn’s amazing famous buns), and relaxing in the heated mineral water pools of the spa.
PRO TIP: Go on a weekday to avoid long lines (er, “queues”) at the Thermae Spa.
Brussels, Belgium, or: The Place Where We Ate So Many Waffles We Nearly Became Waffles. Belgium is known for its waffles, chocolate, beer, and Belgian fries (I’m not even going to call them by their misnomer, French fries), but the waffles found a dear place in our hearts (and thighs!). In Brussels we took a walking tour of the city, learning about its beautiful Grand Place square and its beloved Mannekin Pis statue (Belgium’s mascot is a statue of a little boy peeing … yeah).
PRO TIP: Vegetarians, beware — some of the famous fries here are fried in beef fat!
We loved Ghent — such a lovely little town that nobody has ever heard of. While many tourists flock to Bruges (see below), Ghent is quieter and not yet taken over by crowds. We took a canal tour (the first of three canal tours on this trip!) and enjoyed strolling through the town.
PRO TIP: Make time in your plans — even for a day trip — to come here!
Bruges was cute, but, yes, crowded. We enjoyed the Friet Museum, some windmills, and the adorable town. The weird thing about Bruges, though, was that every single restaurant had the exact same menu. The same menu! Mussels, omlettes, pizza, pasta, and chocolate cake, basically. The menus outside of each restaurant were practically in the same font. Odd, right?
PRO TIP: To escape the crowds, head to the small park near the windmills on the northeast side of the town center for some peace and quiet.
If you like canals and bicycles, well, you’ve come to the right place. Amsterdam has a great feel to it, except — watch out! — don’t get hit by a bike! We took a walking tour and a canal tour of the town, visited Anne Frank’s house, and enjoyed the beautiful waterways.
PRO TIP: We enjoyed our stay at Hotel Keizershof (including a delicious breakfast), but get in shape at home on your StairMaster to prepare for the many flights of stairs in the hotel; get your Anne Frank tickets at the same time you book your flight to guarantee avoiding the lines. Also, the city is well connected, so get multi-day tram tickets.
We wanted more cuteness, so we visited a town near Amsterdam called Haarlem (I’m pretty sure it’s pronounced “Haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarlem”). We saw more cute architecture and more cute windmills.
PRO TIP: Try to go on a market day to see the town really come to life.
KEUKENHOF GARDENS, HOLLAND
We were so lucky to be in Holland during the tulip festival. We went to Keukenhof Gardens, where we enjoyed beautiful displays of tulips and other flowers — a wonderfully relaxing way to end our time in Europe.
PRO TIP: The garden is only open March through May, and the the tulip fields are best seen in April — in May they are already completely picked over (but the gardens themselves are beautiful throughout its open dates).
It was a great trip, and we’re excited for wherever our next adventure takes us!