A day in…Red Hook, Brooklyn!

Red Hook’s waterfront cobblestone streets give this refurbished neighborhood the ambiance of a quaint, seaside town. It is the home to numerous pre-civil war maritime warehouses converted to art galleries, restaurants and Ample Hills, Brooklyn’s favorite ice cream shop. 

Red Hook was settled by the Dutch in the 17th century.  During the American Civil War, Red Hook was the location of Fort Defiance, and later was a hub for international trade. Remnants of this era are still evident today.

Much of Red Hook was built in the mid to late 1800’s when William Beard, an Irish immigrant, purchased the land for a shipping business. He had made his fortune as a railroad contractor and continued to grow his assets by creating the Erie Basin. Now much of the estimated $170 million Red Hook warehouses are owned by a former Drug Cop, Greg O’Connell. O’Connell bought the formerly abandoned warehouses from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for $450,000. I wish I had that foresight!

Eventually, the bustling shipping industry went elsewhere, and Red Hook went into disrepair in the 1950’s with the creation of the Brooklyn Queens Expressway (“BQE”) and Battery Tunnel which cut the neighborhood off from the rest of Brooklyn. Red Hook is also home to one of the largest public housing complex in New York City, having over 2,800 apartments; one of which is the birthplace of basketball player Carmelo Anthony. 

Red Hook is a peninsula jutting out into Upper New York Bay.  It is distinct for its equal parts of fisherman’s village, artist enclave and rehabilitated multi-use warehouses.  While Red Hook can be enjoyed any time of the year, the best time is during the warmer months from April through October. 

Transportation: my favorite means of transportation to Red Hook is either by ferry or bike. Here is a one-day itinerary:

Morning:

A “healthy” morning pastry…

Start your morning off at the quaint pastry shop, Baked (359 Van Brunt St), for coffee and a pastry. To burn off the pastry, walk the three blocks to Louis Valentino, Jr Park where you can rent free paddle boards and kayaks through the Red Hook Boaters during summer months. Spend a few hours taking in the breathtaking Panoramic views of the Statue of Liberty, the Manhattan skyline, and the Brooklyn Bridge.  

After kayaking indulge in a slice of key lime pie from Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pies. The family owned business has been around for 23 years. The proprietor and namesake, Steve ensure quality by using fresh squeezed limes and homemade crust. 

Window shop along Van Brunt St. Red Hook is home to a number of boutique stores, art galleries and even a record shop.  

Whiskey tasting in Red Hook.

Sip some whiskey with a tasting at  Van Brunt Stillhouse (6 Bay St, Tasting room hours: 2-9 on Saturday or 2-8 on Sunday, Tours 3-7PM on Saturdays) and/or Widow Jane’s (218 Conover Street Tasting room hours Sat and Sun 11-7, Tours 12, 2, 4, and 6pm). Soak up the malted barley with a lobster roll from the Red Hook Lobster Pound. 

Early Evening:

If it is the second Sunday of the month check out Pioneer Works, an artist run community center. Located in a former Iron Works building from the 1800’s that has been redesigned. They host free ‘Second Sundays’ with music, food, and a cash bar. Visitors are able to see the artists-in residency at work. More information can be found by clicking here. Most of the artists utilizes the cross section of technology and art, so don’t expect typical paintings instead its virtual reality-esque projections and social justice themed artwork. 

Red Hook has two iconic dinner spots:

Hometown BBQ (454 Van Brunt St), offers southern style pit smoked meats. 

Brooklyn Crab (24 Reed St, Brooklyn, NY 11231) three story seafood shack with corn hole and mini golf on the ground level. If you already got a lobster roll, I would go for the BBQ!

Evening:

After dinner relax with a movie under the stars back at Valentino Pier. At 8:30 PM in the summer, the Red Hook Flicks screens different movies on the pier. 

Savour a nightcap at Sunny’s:

Me and some girlfriends posing in front of Sunny’s!

As the website accurately describes it, the “knickknack-adorned Red Hook saloon that’s been around in one guise or another since the 1890s. Live music is a staple at this Brooklyn landmark.”

For those who do not want to indulge in libations, I recommend a scoop of ice cream from Ample Hills Creamery (421 Van Brunt St). The factory is able to churn out 500,000 gallons of ice cream in a year! 

Other unique bars, that are enjoyable with a group of friends: Brooklyn Winery (with great sunset views) and Sixpoint Brewery.

If you enjoy learning more about NYC, consider checking out some of my A Day in itineraries in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.

Featured

A day in…the Mission District!

The Mission District is named after the historic Missión San Francisco de Asís and the adjacent Basilica, known colloquially as “Mission Dolores.” In more recent times, the neighborhood has been a hip Latino neighborhood, known for its art, music and food scene. While gentrification has changed the vibe of some sections, such as Valencia Street and the neighborhood surrounding Mission Dolores Park, much of the southeastern neighborhood still holds roots as a working-class Latino enclave. While this guide is mostly focused on the Mission neighborhood, I include a stop in the Castro District with an evening restaurant option there. 

If you like exploring the bay area in day trips, check out my “A Day in” itineraries for Carmel, Oakland, Berkeley, and the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Morning: 

The ornate Basilica in Missión San Francisco de Asís.

Start your morning off with a coffee to go at Four Barrel Coffee (375 Valencia St).

Take a look at  the Missión San Francisco de Asís and adjacent Basilica at the corner of 16th and Dolores Streets. The Mission, founded in 1776, is named after St Francis of Assisi, the founder of the Franciscan Order.  The Mission church, which is the smaller white adobe building next to the basilica, was dedicated in 1791. It is said to be the oldest intact building in San Francisco, having survived the 1906 earthquake while the neighborhood buildings burned down. The Mission includes historical information about the Native Americans Ohlones, who inhabited the coastal areas around San Francisco and who were evangelized. 

Walk three blocks to Tartine Bakery (600 Guerrero Street.) for pastries. Enjoy your treat at Mission Dolores Park while people-watching and taking in the views of the city.

Afternoon:

Window-shop down trendy Valencia Street. There is a striking contrast between Valencia Street and Mission Street which caters to the traditional Spanish speaking population in the surrounding environs. 

A yummy burrito from Farolito; you can split with a friend!

Try a tasty burrito from Farolito (2779 Mission Street) for lunch. Don’t forget cash because they are cash only. Another good burrito place is Taqueria La Cumbre (515 Valencia Street) and for any empanadas lovers I would recommend Venga (443 Valencia Street). 

To work off the burrito head down 24th Street to Precita Eyes Muralists (2981 24th Street), a nonprofit organization promoting positive community change through artistic expression. Pick up a $5 map of the murals in the neighborhood and learn more about the meaning behind the artwork (most are deeply-rooted in ideals of social justice.) A significant number of the murals are around Balmy Alley, Clarion Alley, and the Women’s Building (3543 18th Street). Continue on 24th Street until Potrero Street then come back and take a right up Mission Street. 

While mural-viewing, stop for a margarita with a view of the city at El Techo, (2516 Mission Street). They have a reasonable-priced happy hour from 4-6 PM on weekdays.

Epic “Maestrapeace” mural at the Women’s Building. This portion of the mural depicts Rigoberta Menchú Tum, Guatemalan human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

Finish your mural tour at the “Maestrapeace” on the Women’s Building (3543 18th Street) or continue on to Clarion Alley. Walk to the Castro to see the LGBTQ epicenter of San Francisco. Indulge your sweet tooth with a treat from Hot Cookie (407 Castro Street). Spend some time walking around and get a chuckle out of the cleverly-named storefronts. 

Evening: Dinner and a movie! 

The iconic Castro Theater

Choose between Castro Theater, Alamo Drafthouse or Foreign Cinema!

Option 1: Grab a seat at the iconic Castro Theater for a movie and grab some post-movie grub at either the nautical Woodhouse Fish Comp or stylish Fin Town. For those musically inclined, the Castro Theater does sing alongs to Disney Movies and even movies like Bohemian Rhapsody. They even provide small goody bags! More information can be found on the Castro Theater website (castrotheatre.com/singalongs.html).

Option 2: Go to the Alamo Drafthouse for dinner and a movie (reserve tickets in advance to guarantee good seating.) 

Option 3: Have dinner at Foreign Cinema, a restaurant which has a cool vibe, where you can sit outside and watch old black and white movies while you dine, or try the indoor ambiance of the building with its high ceilings with movies projected onto the wall (make a reservation, evening seating on a first-come first-serve basis; bar seating can be limited).

A huge thank you to Jamie for giving me all the tips on your vibrant neighborhood! Another thank you to Sarah for testing everything out with me!

If you are looking for other neighborhood guides in the Bay area, check out my guides to Berkeley and Oakland.

Ten Day Itinerary in Greece: Athens, Santorini, Mykonos

Sunset in Santorini

The awe-inspiring sunsets of Santorini, the history laden strolls through Athens, and the spirited parties on the island of Mykonos make Greece an ideal vacation spot for any type of traveler. With sun-glistening views of the Aegean and 4 millenia worth of history it is no wonder that Greece continues to rank on the top ten bucket list vacations on such sites as Pinterest and Instagram. It can be a romantic getaway for two, a great girls trip, or a history buff’s haven. Greece also offers a child friendly vacation itinerary.

Generally I like to go from big cities with a lot of cultural institutions to progressively smaller cities so when exhaustion sets in from sightseeing, the last few days are reserved for a more relaxed pace. For that reason this itinerary goes from Athens to Santorini to Mykonos. The reason for placing Mykonos last was because of its international airport.

Greek Flag

Athens gets a bad rap. Many travelers suggest that you should get in do your thing and get out. I did exactly that but enjoyed my time. The vibrant city is a testament to the juxtaposition of modern and ancient; the layers of history surround you with every step. In anticipation of the 2004 Olympics, the City of Athens worked to clean up the congested concrete jungle. Post-Olympics,  they have continued to clean up and to pedestrianise many shopping thoroughfares.

A couple of tips:

  1. Plan early and book ahead. By the time we were looking at accomodations, we realized the majority had already been reserved.
  2. Look up the Athens and Epidaurus Festival and see if you can attend an event in the “Odeon of Herodes Atticus.” We researched the festival and ended up traveling to Epidaurus for an ancient Greek play, which was cool to see but I would recommend not taking the day out there and seeing something you would enjoy either way.

Checkout World on a Whim’s blog post on Greece, written by a dear friend and inspiration for starting my blog, for where I got the backbones to this itinerary, before travelling myself!

You may also be interested in adding an additional two days to hike the iconic cliff hanging monasteries in Meteora, Greece.

Day 1 of 10

Nightime views on the Acropolis Museum

Fly into Athens. Housing: I recommend finding something in the Plaka region. We were able to find a great Airbnb apartment, right in the bustle of the city.

We pushed ourselves to go the the Acropolis Museum on Friday night [ Summer hours: 8am-8pm, 10pm on Friday nights, 4pm on Mondays; 5 euros.] Book this ahead of time to ensure that your preferred time slot is not sold out. The Acropolis Museum, built in 2009, is a magnificent testament to modern architecture. It looks like a half-turned concrete and glass illuminated Rubik’s Cube in the Athenian skyline. The best part for me was that it is completely dedicated to the Acropolis and you can dedicate only about an hour and half and be done. I would recommend going to the Museum first so that you know what you are looking at when you visit the Parthenon/Acropolis. As opposed to the National Archeological Museum in which the average traveller will feel the information overload, I appreciated a museum completely dedicated to one site. There is Friday night Jazz in the Acropolis Museum. Bruin on a Budget tip: Rick Steves has a free audio tour of it, a great one-hour walk-through. Try to get there 1-1.5 hours before sunset (it won’t be crowded and there is a nice view of the Acropolis from the Museum.)

While the sunset and nighttime views of the Acropolis are magnificent from the restaurant, the food itself leaves customers wanting more. Instead get a glass of wine, take in the sights and then get a bite to eat in the surrounding neighborhood.

Day 2 of 10

Monastiraki square in Athens. You can try the battle for the best gyro between Savvas and touristy O Thanasis.

We had a quick breakfast of yogurt, muesli, and honey before taking the Free Walking Tour at 10:00 AM (ag. Asomaton 5, Athina 105 53), which we found to be a great foundation to the city. Our tour guide provided the history of many sights such as the Temple of Olympian Zeus, Hadrian’s Library, Theater of Dionysus, Ancient Agora Museum (Bruin on a Budget tip: Rick Steves has a free audio guide to the Ancient Agora Museum), Roman Agora, Kerameikos Cemetery. Our tour guide also spoke about different political movements she took part in as a young thirtysomething University educated Greek woman.

Mask of Agamemnon on display at the National Archeological Museum.
This is believed to be the burial mask of the Mycenean king Agamemmon, leader of the Achaeans the Trojan War.

An optional add on to the day is the National Archeological Museum [summer hours: 8:00 AM-8:00 PM] which is expansive. Santorini/Mykonos/Naxos/ and/or Paros are all apart of the Cycladic Islands, which are known for their ancient skinny figurines in this museum. I generally like to see artwork from the places I am going to bring it all together.

Bruin on a Budget: Rick Steves free audio guide is great to preview the highlights. It also helps narrow down this extensive history into a two hour audio guide to prevent your brain from exploding from the information overload.

Epidaurus Theater

We ended up doing a night trip to the Epidaurus Festival for a play. Although I am glad I did this, a non-history buff may find that the ride was too long for the eventual entertainment. I would see if you can attend a concert or other event in the “Odeon of Herodes Atticus” or the theater actually on the slopes of the Acropolis. Festival dates and ticketing information can be found here. The website itself is not the most user-friendly, but getting to see a concert in an ancient theater is priceless, (please reach out to me if you have any questions.)

Day 3 of 10

Enjoying some afternoon drinks while watching the world go by in Hydra.

Athens day trip to Hydra: if your itinerary can handle it, I would recommend staying overnight. The serenity of this small Sardonic Island of Hydra is a much needed day trip after the hustle and bustle of Athens. As you enter the harbor by ferry you are surrounded by the horseshoe of blanketed whitewashed houses and mansions surrounding the small harbor. There is no wonder this is the favorite day trip from Athens. This traffic-free island is as if time stood still to preserve a simpler way of life. Spend the day eating, sunbathing and lounging around Hydra.

Once off the ferry you will notice the fleet of donkeys with decorative beads on their heads ready to transport you to anywhere you want to go. For better smelling means of transportation, you can always take a water taxi. Or for travellers like myself you can just walk around getting lost on the side streets until you come to a quaint restaurant that is serving scrumptious sousaka.

Tips: I would book my ticket in advance, especially if going on the weekend because this seems to be a popular weekend getaway for the Athenians. Since we wanted to see Santorini and Mykonos, we took the 1.5 hour ferry there and back in one day.

We ended our night back in Athens with a nightcap at the Anglais, a rooftop bar in Monastiraki with views of the Acropolis.

Day 4 of 10

FYI: the Acropolis is the hill and the Parthenon (in the photo) is the temple on top.

Parthenon/Acropolis [8:00AM – 5:00 PM] 20 euro. The line to buy tickets was huge on Saturday morning probably because cruise ships stop on Saturdays in Athens. We saved this until Monday morning  (buy them online or at another site). I would recommend hiring a guide to give you the background on the sights. Bruin on a Budget tip: Again there is a Rick Steves free audio tour (download while you have wifi) which provides lots of information.

Late afternoon flight to Santorini: We flew from Athens to Santorini, as my friend and I had gotten seasick and the thought of remaining in a boat for 8+ hours seemed miserable. Check in to your hotel and relax for a little. We spent three nights in Santorini and each night we tried to get a different island sunset view.

Sunset in Thira, Santorini

The island of Thira (“Santorini”) was made by a volcanic eruption in the Bronze era, and is believed to be the origin of the legend of Atlantis. The cliff clinging whitewashed cave dwellings contrast with the blue domes and reflect the sunset hues of yellow, orange and pink. They create the awe-inspiring aesthetics for which Greece is known. Many photos you take on this island will be postcard-worthy. Santorini reminds me of Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants and Mama Mia!, both of which were much of my inspiration for wanting to travel to Greece.

Tip: Reserve your housing ahead of time. We stayed in the main village of Fira, and travelled to Oia when we wanted, but even with 4 months advanced planning we had limited options within our budget. Make sure to make reservations early (even as early as a year) to ensure that you are getting the best deal possible. Be prepared to pay high prices (which are worth it to see this beautiful island.)

On top of the “caldera”

Caldera Sunset Cruise:  Enjoy a beautiful sailboat with stately woodwork. Learn from our mistakes: We did the Volcano and Caldera tour, which allowed us to hike the (still active, eek!) volcano (the caldera) and swim in the springs. The “springs” are more like lukewarm rust-colored water on the coast (I personally found the springs underwhelming). When I envisioned springs I was thinking of the blue lagoon of Iceland. It was interested to have a geological understanding of Santorini, but we did not find that it was worth the trip. Obviously you can decide. The boat ride surpassed the sights on the enjoyment scale.

Day 5 of 10

If you feel up to it hike to Oia. The adventure can take anywhere from three to five hours depending on fitness level, but is well worth it for the tantalizing views of white splashed, blue capped villages cascading down the mountain. Pack a hat, sun protection, and bottle of water because the hike is unshaded.

There is a supermarket and also Lolita’s gelato by the bus stop. Treat yourself to some well deserved ice cream. Spend some time window shopping around the picturesque village of Oia.

The nerd in me cannot resist a browse through a bookstore. If you feel similarly, take a few minutes to check out the cavernous Atlantis Books. Then find a cafe with a good view for an iced coffee or aperol spritz. Photo taken from the Atlantis website.

We continued our walk and ate at Restaurant Katina, which is located down in Oia’s port. There are no donkeys here to take you up and down the stairs, but the view of the cave dwelling luxury hotels are well worth it. This may have been our best meal of the vacation, and was reasonably priced compared to everything up in the city. I like fish, and you are asked to literally pick a fresh fish (head and eyes intact) from the window. (We asked them for help!) Our stomachs full of wine and fish we sauntered all the way back up those stairs. I have also heard good things about Dimitris Ammoudi Taverna, which has a similar ambiance to Katina.

Leave plenty of time to get a good spot for viewing the sunset, as the whole village seems to move to the west side to watch the setting-sun. After sunset, the camera-laden tourists disperse to their different evening plans.

Transportation: If spending the day and evening in Oia, I would recommend double checking the bus schedules and take the second to last bus back to Fira. They sometimes leave early and you don’t want to get stranded. The public bus is actually a coach and they fill it beyond capacity, with passengers are standing in the aisles. It was a not-so-enjoyable ride while being one of the people standing in the aisle, but it was definitely memorable! Taxicabs can cost up to 100 euros.

Day 6 of 10

Rent a car and hit up all the towns and beaches. The rental company dropped the car off at the hotel in the morning, and then we dropped it off at the port the next morning (before our ferry to Mykonos.) Unlike in the United States, this rental car came nearly empty and one of the first things we needed to do was fill up on gas. The rugged, windswept island terrain is interesting to see and compare to the touristy and whitewashed villages of Oia and Fira. Here is where we went:

  • First stop: Vathonas (every building is cut into the mountain) Literally just parked for 5 minutes to look at the town then went on to  →
  • Pyrgos. We walked up to the monastery at the top of the hill for a good view of the island. We went to Kantouni Cafe for coffee and snacks and some people watching. Seemed to cater mostly to locals. →
  • The nerd in me wanted to see the ancient town of Akrotiri, similar to Pompeii (but on a smaller scale). This town went under ash when the Theran Volcano erupted (and yes that is the active volcano that created Santorini!) I recommend waiting for a guided tour; its $100 but they wait for ten people so it’s 10 each. You can have your hotel call and ask when the guided tours are scheduled. There is free parking across the street, which we utilized to walk to lunch and Red Beach→
Red Beach (named after the red rocks behind it.)
  • We walked to lunch at Dolphins Fish Tavern down the road and from there walked to Red Beach  →
  • Afterwards, we drove to Kamari Beach which was our favorite and where we relaxed and unwound for a while. It is a black sand beach and the most beautiful one we found →
This placed this in third place in our rankings of the sunset, (Oia #1, Fira #2 and the lighthouse #3) but still worth the drive.
  • After a few hours of soaking up the sunshine and the Aegean sea, we stopped for sunset at the lighthouse (which is more or less inaccessible without a car.)

Day 7 of 10

Take the ferry to Mykonos:

View from our BnB in Mykonos!

Check into your hotel and get acclimated to Mykonos. Walk around Old Town, Windmills (the sunset is beautiful here, too). We loved high-end window shopping at night and then checking out all the galleries. Most of the artists and gallery workers were friendly and happy to show us around and talk about their art work. Our favorite was the three story Dio Horio: they do art residencies for newer or lesser known contemporary artists. They also have a rooftop bar which is a great spot to enjoy a drink. All of the galleries close for “siesta” but reopen and remain open until midnight or after.

Mr. Brainwash on display at Kapopoulos Fine Arts hall. This summer was the first ever Mykonos Arts Festival, which showcases art from around the country. The tourism board is hoping that Mykonos will become a cultural center in addition to a party hub.

We loved and had our best (and longest) meal at Kounelas Fish Tavern. To order your fish meal: you have to go to the kitchen and they literally have fresh fish (head and eyes intact) in 6 metal drawers which they display. I consider myself a fish lover but was taken aback having to decide which one to order; obviously we asked for help! If the food had not been so delicious, I would have nightmares of fish in all my shelves at home.

Day 8 of 10

We rented an ATV and drove over to the beaches. Our first stop was on the West Coast to Agio Ioannis (secluded beach) for lunch. You can use this nice lunch restaurant as your home base if you want to go in the water; otherwise the umbrella and chairs are 40 euros). We drove through Kapari which was super-secluded, just around the corner from Ioannis, then back to Ornos beach which seemed family-friendly and quieter.

Turning around was a lot harder than it looks.

Funny story: while driving the said ATV my friend and I got stuck on a hill. Like the kind friend I am, I told her to get off that she was too much weight. The ATV was still stalling in the middle of a giant hill…So, both of us had to get off and push the ATV up the hill. All of this was while still pressing on the gas button and keeping the steering wheel straight…we must have been quite a scene to look at! Schlepping up that hill was not exactly the hair flowing, ATV driving Mama Mia! moment I had envisioned as I planned my trip to Greece!

Then we drove over to Psarou which was densely developed with ritzy shopping and nice public bathrooms at the beach side “mall.” We parked near the top of the hill because we were worried that our ATV wouldn’t make it back up (we saw a smart car get stuck, eek!) There were lines of parked luxury cars to impress. We found this beautiful, sandy beach to be the best for people-watching.

The path for “hiking.” As you can see hiking attire unneccessary.

From Psarou there is a beachside path for hiking between all the beaches and you can compare and contrast. You can obviously stop along the way to grab a drink or relax on the beach. The hike was a highlight of our trip. There is also a bus that you can take back if you get too tired. On your way back the rocky area by the campground between Parada and Paradise is a great spot for seeing the sunset.  

  • We went to Psarou, which seemed to be the most chic; it had the most high-end restaurants and shopping→
  • Platis gialos: This is an incredibly clean beach. The vibe was more of a relaxing beach day instead of a seaside party. This beach also was family friendly. The beds were more affordable at 2 for 20 euros. Really nice restaurants. The beach itself is the attraction.→
  • Agia Anna: This beach was very low key. Good for a more secluded, romantic couples beach day→
  • Parada Beach: The two clubs on this beach had unexpected surprises: one had a large pool party and the other had a sax player standing on the bar itself and festive champagne bottles with sparklers. The sand of the beach itself seemed grittier and the party was the attraction here.→
  • Kalamopodi or ”Paradise”: The crowd seemed a little younger than the last few. Reminded me a bit of a college party. When we were there people were dressed for theme days (togas and spartan outfits). The attraction is singing, dancing and mingling at the club.→
  • Plintri or “Super paradise”: We never made it here, but we were told that it provided the largest party.

Day 9 of 10

Relax and walk around Old Town which is small and walkable. Enjoy a pastry from Psillos, an unmarked, no frills family-run bakery or from Il Forno, a bakery with seating and ambiance.

Terrace of the Lions in Delos. This Pagan religious Mecca is believed to be where Apollo and Artemis were born.

Mykonos Excursion to Delos: Half day boat trip to uninhabited Delos. There are day trips twice daily, from a small kiosk at the old port of Mykonos. If the weather is foreboding the trip will be cancelled. The original excavations were done by the French School of Athens and therefore the museum offers Greek and French tags for all the items.

Make sure to make it back in time for sunset in “Little Venice”.

Other restaurants: we went to Pasta Fresca, just for a little change of pace from Greek food. It was intimate and had a buzz, but can’t compare to a Fish Taverna with Greek authenticity.

Sakis is the most popular gyro spot, and seems to be most popular with the late night crowd.

Day 10 of 10

Goodbye Mykonos!
Cheers to a wonderful vacation!

Mykonos has an international airport (although there were lots of delays…) You can either connect in Athens or fly out to another airport.

You may also be interested in adding an additional two days to hike the iconic cliff hanging monasteries in Meteora, Greece.

The ultimate long weekend in Barcelona: 3 day itinerary

Parc Guell

Barcelona, this vibrant coastal city buzzing with life, has long been one of my favorite cities in the world. The Catalan architect, Antoni Gaudí, modernized the city with colorful and eccentric buildings such as Casa Batllo, La Pedrera, and the Sagrada Familia church that add to the enjoyment of Barcelona make it more memorable. This unique city offers much on the arts, food, beach, and nightlife scene. It has something to satisfy every type of traveller.

Barcelona, the Catalan capital was originally founded by the Romans as a walled colony named “Barcino”, and some of the ancient walls are still visible in the city center. The narrow medieval maze of the Gothic Quarter (Catalan: Barri Gòtic – Spanish: Barrio Gótico) bears witness to the economic boom of the Middle Ages, when Barcelona was the political and economic center of the Western Mediterranean. The Gothic Quarter makes way to the bohemian El Born neighborhood which was created as an expansion of the walled city in the 1500’s. These historic sites are meant to be explored on foot.  

Barcelona was in the forefront of the artistic movement of the 20th century, following an economic and cultural expansion during the textile industry in the 1800’s. Notably, in 1862, Hans Christian Andersen remarked that Barcelona was the “Paris of Spain”. It is no wonder that many members of the nomadic “Lost Generation” were frequent visitors to Barcelona for literary inspiration as well as binge drinking. The Barcelona waterfront area bubbles with life offering a spot for sunbathers, a strip of nightclubs for night owls, and a beautiful stroll to be explored on foot or bicycle. Enjoy a café  con leche or signature churros con chocolate in one of the numerous cafes. Many of the cafes are called “granjas” and one can image Picasso, Dali and Hemingway creating the artistic vitality that Barcelona is still known for today. The passionate Spanish are stereotypically known for their love of the 5 F’s: food, family, fútbol and fiesta, and I can jump on board with that.

I would recommend reading In the Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, which is set in Barcelona around the end of the Spanish Civil War. I would also recommend watching Vicki, Christina, Barcelona starring Scarlett Johansson, Rebecca Hall, Javier Bardem, and Penélope Cruz, which also has its setting in Barcelona.

Accomodation and transportation: I have generally been able to find flights from NYC for $400 round trip. I would opt to stay in El Born, the Gothic Quarter, or stay in larger Eixample neighborhoods. Much of Barcelona’s city center is meant to be walked and staying in one of these neighborhoods will ensure that you are able to walk down the winding alleyways, or saunter through some of the numerous palm-tree-lined squares. The subway system is extensive and easy to use, and you can get multi-trip passes (I would recommend the T10 for ten trips).

Timing: The weather is best from April until October, and I personally prefer travelling on the “shoulder” seasons, meaning September/October or May/June, to avoid the crowds. I would also recommend going to the festival of La Mercè, which is held at the end of September. Check out World on the Whim’s blog post about La Mercè. Another fun festival is the Festas de Gràcia, which is held in August, where each street of this lively neighbourhood is completely transformed based on a different theme.

Bruin on a Budget: Bring a student or teacher ID and see if it works for discounted prices. At some locations you must be from the EU, but others accept any form of ID.

Warning: When walking on Las Ramblas, be on alert for pickpocketing. For men, I would recommend putting your wallet in your front pocket, and for women I suggest carrying a purse zipped and in front of you.

Without further adieu here is my 3 day itinerary for Barcelona:

Day 1:

Start at Plaça Catalunya. Walk down the pedestrian boulevard, Las Ramblas, which runs from the city center to the port, and is bustling with life. It is lined with street performers, flower stalls, and pushcart vendors offering various trinkettes. Along the walk you will see the Font de Canaletes, a famous wrought-iron fountain, which, legend says, if you drink from it you are destined to return to the city. This is the fountain Barça supporters go to for celebrating championship titles. Continue on Las Ramblas to breakfast at Pinotxo Bar in La Boqueria (full name is “El Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria”) an open-air market. I like to stock up on fruit from the market for later consumption.

Dancers still raise their arms to dance the Barcelona traditional dance, the Sardana, in front of the Cathedral on weekends (Saturdays at 6 pm and Sundays at noon).

Spend a leisurely morning strolling down Las Ramblas and into the Gothic Quarter. Take time to visit the Cathedral, Plaza Real, and the Palace of Music. The Gothic Quarter has storefronts with wares that overflow into the street. The same neighborhood can seem dark and moody, but still safe, in the evening, reminding a tourist of its Medieval history.

Take a break at Caelum (Carrer de la Palla, 8), a former women’s bathhouse now converted to a tea parlor. If you want something sweeter, you will have to try churros con chocolate, a Spanish donut served with dipping chocolate, and a Barcelona favorite! I love Granja M Viader, a cafe located off Las Ramblas in the Raval neighborhood. This stately restaurant, which has been running since 1870 and has been passed down for five generations, serves breakfast, lunch and dessert. You may also want to take a walk down Carrer de Petritxol, a quaint street in the Gothic Quarter, which has many pastry shops to choose from, and La Pallaresa is another favorite bakery for churros y chocolate.

In the afternoon take a trip to the Picasso Museum (if you are a fan). It is located in the Born neighborhood. I would recommend making reservations online to avoid a long wait. Additionally, you may want to pack some snacks and visit the Parc de la Ciutadella (Citadel Park.) Park Ciutadella, a magnificent park for picnicking. After, you can walk up to the Arco de Triunfo (Arc de Triomf).

After all this you may want to plan for a well-deserved siesta.

For Saturday evening, head out for a sunset drink on the Catalan Art Museum’s terrace.  The museum is free on Saturdays after 3:00 PM, and entrance to the terrace is 2 euros. Don’t miss the “Magic Fountain,” a light show beginning every half hour starting at 9:30 PM, on Thursday through Sunday, from May to October. The Spanish do not eat dinner until 9:00 PM so head over to the Gothic Quarter, Born, or Gràcia neighborhoods for dinner.

If you are interested in the clubbing scene: Barcelona has numerous popular places and among the favorites are: Razzmatazz, Pacha, La Terrazza, ShÔko, and Opium. They name their nightclubs as randomly as celebrities name their children.


Day 2: The Modernist Day

Start your day off at Gaudí’s Parc Güell, with its much photographed and instagrammed mosaic benches and salamander stairway. The €7 entrance fee for the park also includes access to the museum. There is superb vantage point of the city (I believe it may actually be a cross).

The ornate exterior artitecture of Casa Batlló.

From Parc Guell take a winding 1.6 mile walk (or taxi ride) through the Gràcia neighborhood to Casa Milà or La Padrera (“stone quarry”). En route, stop to view the exterior of Casa Vicens and Casa de les Punxes. When visiting the interior of Casa Milà, take note of the ornate roof.  From there, it is a 5 minute walk to a block of Gaudí houses: Casa Batlló, Casa Morera, or Casa Amatller. From early June through mid-September you can listen to jazz on the rooftop of La Pedrera.Find the information here.

Stop for lunch in the Gràcia or Eixample neighborhoods. A personal favorite is Napa, a Catalan restaurant with great service and reasonable prices.

Take a taxi or metro to Gaudí’s masterpiece, the Sagrada Familia Church.

Evening: enjoy a leisurely paella meal or go tapas-tasting around a few different restaurants.

Day 3:

An interesting look-out stop is the “W” hotel, so bike up to the right side of the hotel and enjoy the awesome water view.

For fun and exercise other than walking, rent a bicycle for two hours. Rental bikes are available at Passeig de Joan de Borbó, down by the Barceloneta metro stop. (Directions: From the metro station, cross the busy street towards the water and continue for about 10 minutes down the street to the rental place. The location is well-situated for a beautiful bike ride along the water to see the port.

Rub elbows with locals at Can Paixano. This place is usually standing room only, so if you don’t like crowds, don’t go here.

You may want to mix in with the locals at a hole in the wall called Can Paixano (Calle de la reina Cristina, 7). You can order a bottle to split between you and a friend and it comes with two tapas. Roset (or pink champagne) is my favorite, along with the croquetas, fried cheese or ham.

From Barceloneta you can take the scenic funicular to Monjuic and spend the day roaming around the Olympic stadium, museum, and castle.

If you want to get out of the city you can take a day trip to the mountaintop monastery of Montserrat or the coastal town of Sitges. Both are great half-day trips, if you have the time. Montserrat has a boys’ choir who perform everyday but Saturday, so try going on a Friday or Sunday to hear them. Montserrat is serene and peaceful and has a farmers market with fresh local produce. Hiking to Montserrat is a full day trip, you can walk from Monistrol de Montserrat (a town below the mountain) up to the monastery and then up to the top of the mountain, at about 1237m above sea level.

Cafes:

Enjoying hot cocoa and churros (the hot cocoa here is like a melted dark chocolate bar so you need something to balance it off.)

Basically every café can be fun and the people-watching can be interesting for visitors to Barcelona. You must at least try café con leche (even if you don’t like coffee) and hot cocoa and churros. You also need to try goffrees (fried waffle-type things with ice cream on top).  Here are a couple of suggestions for cafes:

Outside of Granja M Viader

Café de l’Òpera: This cafe, known for its old world charm, is probably the most famous cafe in Barcelona. It is located on La Ramblas, on the left side of the street if you are walking from Plaça Catalunya towards the water. I highly recommend a visit.

Café Zurich: This cafe has a great location at the corner of Las Ramblas and Plaça Catalunya, with outdoor seating. A must-visit place during good weather, as it is perfect for people watching and for taking in the street scenes. Good for coffee and a snack, not the best place for connoisseurs of fine food.