A trip to the Emerald Isle of Ireland is not complete without a visit to Belfast, Northern Ireland. Belfast is only a short two hour bus ride from Dublin and has transformed over the last few decades, making it one of the most enriching and educational cities. Whether you are a history buff, film fanatic (Game of Thrones is filmed here), or art lover, you will find it here. Here are the top places to explore in Belfast on a weekend trip.
Watch the Belfast travel vlog:
Where to Stay: Ten Square Hotel
First stop is to check into our hotel, Ten Square Hotel, which is conveniently located next to the city's center point - the historic City Hall. The hotel has one of most comfortable beds, free wifi, and includes continental breakfast. If you are looking for a skyline view, the hotel's terrace overlooks the city center.
1. Peace Walls
For an educational and artistic way to enjoy the city, check out the Peace Walls, which are murals that showcase the city's past and future. The murals are found along Shankill and Falls roads. The older murals tend to contain political messages while the more recent murals opt for messages of humor and peace. You can tour the Peace walls by foot, Black Cab Tour, or the hop on hop off bus.
2. Titanic Museum
A visit to the Titanic Museum is a must see for visitors to learn the history of Belfast. The city's economy was based on ship building. Most notably, the Titanic was built here and was the largest ship afloat at the time. The museum tells the story of the ill-fated voyage with highly interactive exhibits, including a theme-park-style ride through a shipyard.
3. Game of Thrones!
Outside of the Titanic Museum is the filming studio for Game of Thrones which is in the unmistakable yellow and silver building. Many of the sights featured int he HBO series are filmed in Northern Ireland. There are tours of the filming locations which draw top photographers to the area as well as fans of the show.
4. Belfast Free Walking Tour
If you are a budget traveler, you will find plenty to do in Belfast. Belfast is filled with free activities, including one of the most educational activities - the Belfast Free Walking Tour. The small group tours are casual and informal, led by local historians who show you the important sights to Belfast's history and tell stories about each location. The tour showed the history from a local's perspective. Our tour guide, Gavin grew up in Belfast and watched the city transform to what it is today. It truly brought the city's history to life.
5. St George's Market
This lively market is the perfect place to sample the foodie delights of Northern Ireland. The building was built in the late 1800s and is filled with delicious food, crafts, antiques, and occasionally even live music. Outside of the St. George's Market, Belfast has historic pubs, Michelin star restaurants to satisfy foodie travelers.
Aside from my hometown of Los Angeles, Belfast is one of the top cities for street art. The city is filled with art on the facades of many buildings - all you have to do is walk around the city center to find them. Start at the MAC Belfast, which is a main hub for beautiful murals.
Belfast is one of the most historic, educational, and artistic cities that we have visited in Europe. What is your favorite thing to see in Belfast? Comment below!
During my trip to Israel, I had a 5 hour layover at the Ataturk Airport in Istanbul and did not want to miss seeing this amazing city. I applied for my Turkey e-visa ahead of time so I could make a mad dash to the city after landing. With a long list of spectacular sights, it was challenging to figure out what to see in a limited time. I felt like I was in the show The Amazing Race. Here's what I was able to see in the city on a time crunch.
Istanbul In Hours Layover Tour Video:
There were many different options to get to Istanbul quickly from the Airport.
1. Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Mosque)
We drove along the Bosporus ocean front and about a half hour later, we reached the Blue Mosque. This is one of the architectural crown jewels of Istanbul. It was built in 1616 by Sultan Ahmet when he was only 19 years old. It was built in Islamic late classical Ottoman style with 6 minarets, as opposed to the usual two to four for mosques. The interior consists of 260 windows and 20,000 blue tiles, hence the name.
Before going inside, visitors must remove their shoes (they provide plastic bags for them) and also adhere to the dress code (there are scarves to rent). Basically, shoulders, knees, collarbones, and hair (for women) must be covered. There is no entry fee as this is a practicing mosque to this day.
2. Hagia Sophia
Adjacent to the Hagia Sophia is the Blue Mosque. This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the architectural wonders of the world. The enormous domed building and towering minarets can be seen from afar. It was originally built as an Eastern Orthodox church in 537 AD, then converted to a mosque in 1453 adding Islamic disks and minarets, and has now been secularized into a museum starting in 1935. Many symbols from the original church were covered and not removed during the conversion.
There is an entry fee and optional tours (they take credit cards). Seeing this building in person is truly magical. The massive dome is the epitome of Byzantine architecture at 180 feet high. This church has been standing for over 1400 years.
3. Basilica Cistern
Last but not least, we walked across the street to the Basilica Cistern. Unfortunately, the Cistern only takes Turkish Lira for the entrance (no credit cards), so I wasn't able to get inside. Instead, we visited the bazaar and got some street food.
Istanbul is one of the most unique cities in the world. Demographically, it is one of the largest cities at roughly 15 million people and has a 99% Muslim population, although it maintains neutrality between church and state. It was ancient Byzantium and straddles two continents - Europe and Asia. It used to be known as Constantinople thanks to Roman Emperor Constantine. However, it is not the capital of Turkey (that is Ankara). It is also one of the most photogenic cities with colorful markets everywhere.
- Outside the Blue Mosque- Beware of aggressive shopkeepers at this mosque who will offer to be a tour guide for exchange for a visit to their shop. The Blue Mosque website warns about this.
- Outside the Hagia Sophia - People will offer you different tours with the promise of allowing you to skip the line. If you want a tour of the Hagia Sophia, make sure to go with a reputable guide.
- Wear appropriate clothing - This means cover up and wear a headscarf in mosques for women. Also, wear shoes that are easy to take off for the mosques.
- Ataturk Airport Turkish Airlines Lounge -Allow for extra time to get to the airport. And if you have extra time, don't miss the Turkish Airlines business class lounge. It is one of the most architecturally beautiful lounges where you can get a taste of the Turkish cuisine.
What are your must see places to see in Istanbul?
Mention the word Salzburg, and you will instantly have the attention of Mozart and "The Sound of Music" fans. This central Austrian city is an excellent day trip for many other reasons. Located on the northern edge of the alps, Salzburg is scenic and compact. Aside from being known as Mozart's birthplace and filming location for "The Sound of Music", it is also famous for its baroque architecture which deemed the old town a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and for the the Salzburg music festival, which draws classical music fans from far and wide. Here, we count down the top places to see in Salzburg on a day trip.
Watch the behind the scenes video where we go on a quest to find Mozart's house:
Music Credit: Mozart | All videos shot with iPhone 6 | Editing: iMovie
Here are the Top 5 Sights to Photograph:
1. Hohensalzburg - translates to "high Salzburg fortress" perched high above the baroque towers of the city. It is the city's famous landmark and one of the largest, fully preserved medieval castles in Europe. Construction began in 1077, built under the archbishop Gebhard during the time when Salzburg was a city in the Holy Roman Empire. Even though you see many cannons at the fortress, it was never actually used in battle. It was so foreboding that nobody every attacked Salzburg for 1000 years!
The fortress is accessible by cable car, making it one of the major tourist attractions. It is also my favorite spot for panoramic views of the city. Make sure to grab a bite at one of the cafes at the top of the castle and appreciate the views of the alps.
2. Mozart's Birthplace - This is Mozart's childhood home. He lived on the third floor for 26 years and is now a museum. Mozart is regarded as one of the greatest composers of the classical period and recognized as a prodigy and one of the most prolific artists. By age 6 he was writing his own compositions. The music plays almost everywhere in this city, and many shops and tourist attractions are dedicated to him.
3. DomQuartier - If you like Baroque architecture, you will love photographing the grandiosity of the DomQuartier. The DomQuartier is the cultural highlight in the heart of the city. The archbishop was key in building this opulent city - he strived to make Salzburg the "Rome of the north". The city's planning and architecture is such a masterpiece that it is protected by UNESCO. It includes the Salzburg Cathedral constructed in the early 16oo's. The historic old town survived the ravages of the war, and is hence where most of the tourist attractions are located.
4. Residenzplatz - "Residence Square" - This part of the old town and one of the most impressive attractions in Salzburg.
5. "The Sound of Music" was filmed in 1965, and tours of the filming locations make Salzburg a popular destination.
If you are in central Europe, be sure to visit Salzburg. You don't have to be a Mozart fan, classic film geek, or architecture lover to appreciate the charm of this city. It is beautiful and easy to explore. In fact, I was able to see all this in one afternoon, but if you are here longer, don't even get me started on the nature, lakes, skiing and other adventures this area has to offer.
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During my trip to Munich, I took a side trip to the picturesque Bavarian alps to visit the famous castles: Neuschwanstein Castle and Hohenschwangau. The castles are nestled in the mountainside of the village called Hohenschwangau which is about an hour's drive from Munich. It is one of the most magical sights in Germany.
View the behind the scenes travel vlog:
First stop is Schloss Hohenschwangau, which was the childhood residence of "mad" King Ludwig II of Bavaria. It was built by his father, King Maximilian II of Bavaria.
King Maximilian died in 1864 and his son Ludwig succeeded to the throne at the age of 18, moving into his father's room in the castle. As Ludwig never married, his mother Marie was able to continue living on her floor during the summer months. King Ludwig II enjoyed living in Hohenschwangau, however mostly in the absence of his disliked mother, especially after 1869 when the building of his own castle, Neuschwanstein, began on the site of the old Schwangau fortress, high above his parent's castle.
Tours and Photo Guide
Both castles are accessible only via guided tours which give you and inside look into the interior and the history. There is no photography allowed inside the castles, although many rooms are quite impressive. The exterior of the castles can be photographed from two prime locations. One is from the town below, which will give you a view of the alps. My favorite place to photograph the castles in all their glory is from the Marienbrücke bridge, which is where I got the below photo:
King Ludwig II lived in nearby Neuschwanstein, only a 15 minute tram ride away. It was built in Romanesque revival style, which later served as the inspiration for the Disneyland Castle. He used the castle as a personal retreat. Touring the castle, it is clear that the young king had quite an imagination. The rooms include the Throne Room, Cave Room, and Bedroom, as well as many stairs. King Ludwig II died mysteriously at age 40, and his castle now serves as a major tourist site, attracting roughly 1.3 million visitors annually.
What are your favorite castles to visit in Germany?
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