Fascinating Athens

I finally visited Greece last week, the first trip to the country known as the crossroads of Europe, a first for both me and mum. We chose Athens, not only because of the cheap flights (we were flying off-season)  but because we fancied a city break, full of none stop sights, history, legends and great food, and with us going in February, it had a better chance of reasonable wandering weather than say a city break to Paris or Porto.


Arrivals. All the main budget airlines fly to Athens from a good portion of the UK, regular flights leave from Edinburgh, Manchester, Bristol, London and although nothing from Belfast, you can fly from Dublin, all taking approximately 3 – 4 hours. Once you have arrived, its easy to jump on Line 3 of the metro to the city centre. Many people though travel into Athens via boat, with Greeks largest port Piraeus only a short 10km ride away, so it’s easily accessible via cruise ship or if you fancy, a trip from one of the Greek islands. Once you arrive at Piraeus, hop on line 1 of the metro to Athens city centre. It is also possible to head into Athens from the neighbouring countries via train, but Athens is quite far south on the mainland, so you will be looking at quite a long trip from say Sofia in Bulgaria or Skopje in Macedonia.

Once you have arrived its super easy to get around Athens, most places are easily walkable, but if you need a helping hand or are short of time, then the metro is really easy to navigate, with stops directly by some of the main sights such as the Acropolis, Kerameikos and Syntagma. Lots more Athens transport info can be found on this helpful website but to be honest, other than getting too and from the airport, my 71 year old mum and I walked everywhere quite easily.

History Bit. Wow, I mean what can you say about this country that is at the junction of Europe, Asia and Africa, and has had people living here on this part of the globe since 270,000 BC. Greece is said to be the birthplace of the first advanced civilisation of Europe, they created a new way of living, that ended up being copied and replicated all over the world. They started the first democracy, with a model that was developed in Athens, spreading out across the country, allowing citizens to vote on the laws of the land. They started the Olympic games and produced some of the worlds greatest ever thinkers, scholars and philosophers, bringing new ideas to light about science, art and philosophy.

Athens itself is said to be named after the goddess of wisdom Athena, with the site of the original centre of the city, which was founded in 3000 BC, atop the rock where the Acropolis stands. This makes it one of the oldest cities in the world and has been continuously inhabited for 5000 years, resulting in a city break brimming full of things to see, do, learn, eat and drink.

Sights¬†– I better start at the ancient fortress situated high up a rock, visible from most parts of the city, otherwise known as The Acropolis. This collection of remains atop the hill was the original centre of Athens, with the star of the show being the former temple, known as the Parthenon. We visited in February, and so had a dry, clear day with a light breeze accompanying our climb up, affording us the time to just wander, take in the views and visit the Theatre of Dionysus, but I could imagine at the height of summer full of crowds, it could be quite tiring and overwhelmingly busy. We entered via the south-east corner, close to the Acropolis Metro Station, pretty much opposite the newly built, modern looking Acropolis Museum. There is a larger entrance to the west with a car park, meaning bus loads of tourists arrive via this route and so it can be a lot busier, therefore I’d definitely recommend the smaller side entry gate. Back on lower ground, the recently constructed Acropolis Museum is well worth a visit, at ‚ā¨5 you can view many of the retrieved finds from all over the archeological site, including tools, columns and statues and jewellery.

If you are staying in Athens for a few days and plan to see as many of the historical sites as possible, then it’s well worth investing in a 5 day multi ticket pass, for ‚ā¨30 (reduced depending on the season and discounts available for children & seniors) you get entry to around 10 of the best archeological wonders dotted around the city and you can get the pass at any of the ticket offices that are part of the deal. The main museums and the Panathenaic Olympic stadium are not included, but we still felt it was worth it.

The Acropolis is situated in the Plaka area of Athens, which is the picturesque, colourful, old centre of the town, full of tiny streets, cafes, craft shops and traditional restaurants. We stayed in this area and it was perfect for being central to explore the whole of the city, as well as having a decent choice of places to eat each night. Like everywhere in this city you will stumble upon some kind of the historic ruins at every corner, so take your time, grab a seat outside a cafe, order a greek coffee and just soak up the atmosphere.

Ancient Agora was the heart of ancient Athens, with people living here as far back as 3000 BC. Its part of the multi-pass ticket and you can easily spend a couple of hours exploring. We had a long walk all over the area, constantly stopping to investigate the many many things on show. Highlights included the museum in the Stoa of Attalos, the Statue of Hadrian, the incredibly impressive Klepsydra or water clock, the remains of the ancient main road that lead to Piraeus, and make sure you walk up to the Temple of Hephaestus as the views across the city are breathtaking and perfect for a selfie with the Acropolis in the background!


About a 15 minute walk from Ancient Agora past the Thiseio metro station is¬†Kerameikos. One of the lesser visited archeological sites I believe, but if you have time to spare, I would recommend a visit and it’s also included in the multi-ticket. Within this large and still being excavated site, is a museum, a burial ground, the ancient walls of the city and it was the area of town where the majority of the pottery was made, some of which is now displayed in the on site museum.


As you walk back from Kerameikos towards the centre of the modern city, you will more than likely pass through the bustling neighbourhood of Monastiraki.¬†Lots of restaurants, cafes and tourist shops line the streets, and there is a famous flea market here too to peruse although we found it quite loud and hectic. You wont be able to avoid the area though, as there are far too many sites located around here, including the fascinating¬†Hadrian’s Library. Originally built in 132 AD the famous Roman Emperor¬†built a massive complex for people to read and learn, which included study rooms, reading rooms and a garden to relax in.¬†Roman Agora¬†is just a 2 minute walk from the library which you enter via an imposing gate, the whole area was financed by Julius Caesar with the highlight here being the¬†Tower of the Winds, an ancient time and weather station, so cool! Both Roman Agora and Hadrian’s Library are included on the multi-ticket too, see told you it was worth it.

For a breath of fresh air and some greenery, we spent an hour away from the ruins, and climbed up Philapappos Hill to the monument on the top. You can easily find the signed entrance to the hill and the various paved trails, close to the South West entrance of the Acropolis. With water and snack bars, we slowly made our way to the top for some outstanding views, it’s a popular spot for the locals and tourists alike and a nice getaway from the hustle of the streets below.

Heading east away from the main sights in the centre and across the busy main road, you cannot fail to notice¬†Hadrians Arch.¬†This ancient marble gateway used to cross one of the main roads from the centre of Athens and although quite a lot is missing, it still makes an impressive image. Behind the arch we could see another vast area of columns and other remains, so we followed the pavement round to the left and came across the entrance to¬†Temple of Olympian Zeus. This¬†gigantic temple was erected in honour of the god of sky and thunder himself, although construction was slow and took over 600 years to build from start to finish and then fell into disrepair about a century after it was built. It’s worth a visit to appreciate the sheer scale of the place, which was the largest temple in Greece, and you can put your purse away, as its also part of the multi-ticket deal!


Opposite the grounds where the temple is located is the National Gardens, a place we walked through a number of times on our trip. Of course there are ruins dotted around here, but there are also busts, including one of Lord Byron who visited Greece and fell in love with the country. There are beautiful palm tree-lined paths, ponds, colourful trees, cafes and if you pass the Zappeion exhibition building, climb up the steps and peek inside to the pretty atrium.

Visiting the national gardens may not be top of anyones list visiting the city for the first time, but as you exit the gardens from the south-east you are instantly greeted with a spectacular view of the¬†The Panathenaic Stadium¬†so its worth taking the scenic route to the stadium instead of the dusty pavement for sure. ¬†Originally it was built in 330 BC for the Panathenaic games which involved nude men competing in various athletic events as well as horse and music competitions, which I can’t imagine getting an afternoon slot on BBC TV nowadays. It was abandoned after the 4th Century when Christianity came into favour and naked bloody duels were no longer seen as entertainment, but it was refurbished and brought back to life as the venue of the first international Olympic games in 1896 and most recently used in the 2004 Olympic games that were held in Athens. All that alone should be enough reason to visit this magnificent piece of history, but it’s also the only stadium in the world made entirely of marble. Although it’s not included in the multi-ticket its only between ‚ā¨2.50-5 to visit and for this you get full access to the stadium, the stands, the competition floor, a museum and obligatory giftshop as well as the chance to climb upon the medals stand, so its definitely worth it!

If you fancy a quiet reflective walk whilst you are over in this part of town, then the First Cemetary of Athens is a 15 minute walk away. Many notable Greeks are buried here,  few small churches on the grounds to see aswell. Close by is Varnava Square where there are lots of nice cafes, restaurants and bars which appear to be visited more by locals than tourists, which is always a good sign and we had the most delicious falafel for lunch at the Baba Ganoush Falafel Shop.

Heading back towards the centre, and close to the Stadium and National Garden is Aristotle’s Lyceum, which was a secondary school or gymnasium and the first of its kind in the world. ¬†Although we read the opening hours as 8am-8pm, it was most definitely closed when we arrived around 4pm one day, ¬†and we weren’t the only ones who seemed to have been misinformed about the opening hours, but we were still able to glance through the surrounding gate to get a sense of the place and its history.

Pretty much round the corner from here is the Parliament building and Syntagma Square, the central square of the city, site of many protests and celebrations over the years. There is always stuff going on, including lots of cafes and restaurants, while across the street at the Parliament building is the tomb of the unknown soldier with a changing of the guard every hour (official ceremony is every Sunday at 11am). ¬†Look out for the rather unique slow walk and check the soldiers uniforms complete with pom poms on the shoes, it’s a strong but¬†culturally significant look.

Probably the most important museum in the city is the¬†National Archeological Museum of Athens¬†and its jam-packed full of historic finds from all over the country. It’s a little stuck out to the North of the capital, but a short walk from Omonia and Viktoria metro stations. Not having quite made our 10,000 steps for the day, we walked from Syntagma Square up along Omonoia to the museum, as there were some pretty impressive and historic buildings along this route. The Academy of Athens is a hard to miss neoclassical building with statues of Plato, Socrates and Apollo out front, next door is the National University of Athens another neoclassical building and one of the largest universities in Europe and next door to that, the National Library of Athens, the third neoclassical building in a row, so its makes for an interesting walk and really brings home the scale of history around every corner of this city.


Coffee and Cake. Our first taste of thick dark Greek coffee was at Aioli Cafe Snack Bar, super friendly, with outdoor seating in the Plaka area, it was a great place to rest our weary feet. Attika Aptonoieia¬†at¬†the bottom of the busy shopping street Ermou was another great place we found for coffee with the most delicious selection of sandwiches and cakes, offering a soya milk option, with outdoor seating opposite the¬†Panagia Kapnikarea Church¬†and its well worth sticking your head inside this tiny church whilst you’re there. Round the back of the Acropolis museum is the delightful Little Tree and Books Coffee Shop, friendly service with none-dairy milk options and to die for cakes and brownies, I would have returned here had we the time. Another find was the¬†Bread Factory¬†no none dairy options, so I had an espresso, but the sticky lemon cake was so good!

Eats First off we tried to visit Ariston as any quick internet search will tag it as probably the best place to try the traditional pies, unfortunately it was closed when we eventually located this small bakery, we aimed to return but we never quite made it back. Yiasemi though, we did make it too, and had our first taste of Greece sat by the Plaka steps, devouring a crumbly, juicy spinach pie with a ¬†local beer, be warned though, this place is very popular and you may need to wait a while for service. We ate quite a few times around Kidathineon Street in Plaka on recommendation from our hotel, here there are lots of little cafes, ice cream parlours and restaurants, all offering deals ¬†for 3 courses and a glass of wine (or beer) for under ‚ā¨20. ¬†We had great local dishes and friendly service at Acropolis Taverna, Byzantino Taverna and Trattoria as well as another 3 course meal deal with great portions at Scolarchio also in Plaka, all with vegetarian options too. None dairy ice cream is no problem for the Greeks with dairy free ice cream and iced lattes on offer at Ice Queen Gelato opposite the Acropolis Metro station and one night we sampled local dishes at¬†Ydria¬†close to Hadrians Library in a lively little square and then had a glass of wine and cake sat in the window at¬†Meliartos¬†for our dessert, perfect.


Extras: Benaki Museum of Islamic Art, Catching a Funicular up to the top of Lycabettus Hill and the Benaki Museum of Art, Culture and History.

Always Be Polite:  Thank you : Efharisto  Good Morning: Kalimera  Hello: Yassas





Day trip to Kaunas

Arrivals – Lithuania’s second largest city and just over 60 miles from the capital Vilnius, trains regularly leave the capital and take between 60-90 minutes, costing less than ‚ā¨6. You can easily buy your ticket on arrival at the station and there are lots of daily options, but if you have a particular journey in mind or are travelling in from other towns or countries such as Poland, you could book online –¬†Lithuanian Railways. ¬†There are great inexpensive bus routes all across the Baltic countries, so you can travel into Kaunas from many other cities and towns, such as Riga in Latvia or Warsaw in Poland. I have used¬†Lux Express¬†to travel in this region, but other bus companies in the area are¬†Eurolines¬†and¬†Ecolines.


History Bit – Legend has it that the Roman duke Palemon fled Rome with his 3 sons -Barcus, Kunas and Sperus. After his death, the land he inhabited was split between his 3 heirs and Kanas got the land which became known as Kaunas. This part of Lithuania has been important for hundreds of years though, mainly because it is located at the spot of the 2 largest rivers in the country, the Nemunas and the Neris. Many wars, uprisings, the Black Death, great fires and for a while during the early 19th century, it was the temporary capital of Lithuania while Vilnius was under control of the Russians and Polish.

Sights – Full of green spaces, long leafy streets full of shops and cafe’s, beautiful orthodox churches and a historic old town with a picturesque castle at the heart, I am definitely glad I layered up and caught the train from the capital for the day. ¬†Heading straight out of the train station, I stuck to the main road and headed up Vytauto Prospektas towards the Cathedral of the Annunciation, then past the Ramybes Parkas a snow covered park (well, it was January) full of interesting and undecipherable¬†monuments due to my poor ¬†(none existant) Lithuanian language skills. Continuing up the same street I excitedly came across a very interesting orthodox church known as¬†St. Michael the Archangel’s Church unfortunately it was closed, which was a disappointment as the more chance I get to explore these ornate religious buildings and see the insane golden fresco’s inside, the more I want to visit them. But by this time I was starting to lose the feeling in my fingers as I had spent quite some time wandering outside, so it was time to head on and I ventured down what appeared to be the main pedestrian street of the city, Laisves Aleja.

It was indeed pedestrian, regardless of the fact that in the UK, the amount of snow on the roads would have rendered it impassable anyway, and I was pleased to see my favourite Baltic coffee chain РCoffee Inn in the distance. I made a beeline for its orange sign and warmed up over a coffee and probably, maybe some cheesecake as well. There are lots of shops, cafes and restaurants along this street, so you can easily spend an hour meandering down it, exploring whats on offer, if like me you still like sending postcards (I know!) the main post office is located here too.

Walking straight down this long pedestrian street takes you to the center of the medieval old town, its well signposted, so its not¬†hard to get your bearings and find your way around without too much trouble. There are lots to keep you occupied in this part of town, with the castle, town hall square, churches and the Kaunas National Cultural Centre all close together and all worth visiting. The gothic Kaunas Castle, stands proud on the bank by the river and when I visiting in the winter it was absolutely picture post card perfect. As well as exploring the castle there is an art gallery inside the round tower, but its worth noting, it’s closed on Mondays. ¬†Also visit its neighbour the gothic St George the Martyr church, although its not much to look at, because of the distruction it has been subjected to over the years, it plays a long and important part in the history of this town and is luckily being renovated.

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Before you get to the castle though, you’ll more than likely walk through the town hall square, you wont miss it, as right in the heart is the town hall itself with its 53 metre tower, known as the white swan. This building has had an interesting history since the original hall was burnt down, reconstructed in 1542 its been a trading post, prison, ammunition store, home for Russian Czars, a firemans office and theatre. Nowadays its a popular place for weddings, as well as being home to a ceramics and history museum. It was a busy place when I arrived and I saw at least 2 couples pull up outside to get married and take pictures, which made for some great people watching.

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If you need a place to shelter from the cold, or want to learn more about the history of this town, then the Kaunas City Museum is a short walk from the town hall, also closed on Mondays! If art is more your thing, then the National Museum of Art which is one of the largest and oldest art galleries in the country and close by too. There is also a lovely park called Santakos Park which I only briefly explored due to the freezing temparatures, but can imagine in warmer times its a great place to picnic and admire the views of the 2 rivers which join here.

I stopped for some traditional food as I made my way back along Laisves Aleja, I cant quite remember the name of the place, but they did big plates of dumplings for about ‚ā¨3.50, before I grabbed an upstairs seat on the early evening train back to Vilnius.

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Always be polite ¬†–¬†Thank You is AńćiŇę! (pronounced almost like Achoo)¬†¬†Please is¬†PraŇ°au¬†(prasow)


Vilnius two ways . .

I have experienced the capital of Lithuania twice, once in the freezing -10 snowy conditions in January after scoring some rediculously cheap Ryanair flights, and then again in the summer months, when I was going to use it as an inexpensive gateway to Belarus. If you only plan to visit the capital once and you want to make the most of its outdoor spaces  and dont have any thermals, then I would recommend the summer option, but if you like adventure, empty museums and warming up with coffee every 40 minutes, then take a chance and head over during the winter, it made for some amazing memories.


Arrivals. You can fly direct from many UK airports to the capital Vilnius (VNO), including Liverpool, Leeds, Sheffield, Birmingham and Belfast. From Edinburgh and Bristol you can fly into Kaunas, which is a beautiful city in itself and only a short direct train journey from the capital. If you are already over in mainland Europe a great way to see this part of the globe is by bus, as well as flying into Vilnius I have used the overnight¬†Lux Express Bus¬†from Warsaw, and have also flown with¬†Air Baltic¬†for other trips in the region. Trains aren’t that great at the moment in this part of the Baltics, but there is a direct train from the Belarus capital Minsk to Vilnius that leaves daily.

Getting into the city centre from the airport is easy too, there is a airport train that travels 16 times a day between the airport and the main train station in Vilnius, from there its a short walk or taxi journey to your destination. The translation of airport is Oro Uostas which may be handy if you plan to use one of the ¬†local buses that regularly leave between the main bus station (Stotis) and the airport, you could hop on the 1, 2 and 88, all costing ‚ā¨1 or another more direct bus option is the¬†Micro Bus¬†that also costs ‚ā¨1.

History Bit. The area that is now Lithuania¬†has been inhabited by tribes in the Baltic region for thousands of years with the first king of Lithuania being crowed in the 1200’s. By the 1400’s, Lithuania was one of the largest countries in Europe as it encompassed parts of present day Belarus, Russia, Poland and Ukraine. ¬†Many wars and famines caused unrest, migration, uprisings and coups pretty much off and on until 1991 when it gained its independance from the Soviet Union after WW2. The capital Vilnius itself was first recorded in the history books in 1323 and has always played an important role in the history of the country. It was here that over 200,000 people demonstrated against Soviet rule in the late 1980’s culminating in a bloody battle that resulted in the Republic of Lithuania finally being recognised as an independant country once again, free from foreign rule.

Sights. Awarded UNESCO status in 1994, the Old Town is a great place to start with the beautiful Cathedral Square making a central point in which to visit a lot of the historic sights.


Here you can find the impressive Bell Tower which acts as a beacon across the old town ringing out every 15 minutes, and you can climb to the top for a small fee for an even better view of the city. Opposite the Bell Tower is the most important catholic building in Lithuania, The Cathedral of St. Stanislav and St. Vladislav, definately pop inside to see the stunning interior, frescos and the crypt, guided tours are available on certain days too, should you want to learn more.

The other important and must see building here in Cathedral Square is the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania, now a national museum. The original palace was demolished in the 19th century, but its now rebuilt and hosts official and public events, with the museum part of the building showcasing the history of the country including architecture and folklore.  When I visited in early January, I pretty much had the museum to myself, but it is a v popular tourist attraction and looked a lot busier when I walked past a few months later, so time your visit well, again guided tours are available. Cathedral Square itself is a lovely place to explore and people watch, surrounded by benches and green spaces, notable highlights are the markets that spring up at various times of the year like at Christmas, the statue of Gediminas the famous ruler of Lithuania and the lucky stebuklas tile that is said to grant wishes. Its also here where the New Year Eve celebrations take place.

IMG_0037 Sunny day chilling by Cathedral Square

Gedinimas Hill and Tower – You cannot fail to miss this impressive 15th Century tower looking down on the city and with 360 views afforded from the top of the hill, its the reason I have been up in both in the winter and summer. It is definately easier to walk up the path in the summer than in snowy conditions, but a ‚ā¨2 funicular ride is available around the back should you fancy a more sedate journey upward. Once on the top there are ruins to explore, a history museum¬†inside the tower (currently closed for renovations) and just epic views across the capital.


Summer and winter views.

Gedinimas Avenue – If you head across Cathedral Square away from the hill and bell tower and cross over the road, you walk down what is essentially the Oxford St of Vilnius. The main street of the city is full of shops, restaurants, theatres and government buildings, if you walk far enough you end up at the Parliament. Keep an eye out for the Feast of Muses sculpture outside the Lithuanian National Drama Theatre and Vinco Kudirkas Square which is named after the author of the National Anthem, as I was travelling on a budget I bought some food from a local supermarket, then found a bench and ate here watching the locals pass by.


Ausros Vartu Street¬†– Where Gedinimas Avenue has all the shops and cafes, Ausros Vartu Street has the history, religion and architecture. There are lots of churches to explore here, St Cazimir, St Teresa and the Holy Trinity as well as the original city defensive, the Gate of Dawn built in the 1600’s, its even more important now that the other 9 gates have been destroyed. I really enjoyed just wandering up and down here and peeking my head inside the various churches and interesting buildings.


The Republic of Uzupis –¬†Not long after the country gained its independance and freedom back from the Soviets, a small bunch of artists wanted to test the idea of independance to the max and so in 1995 decided to set up a partly tongue in cheek republic of their own, so they did and 15+ years later, its still going strong. Uzupis means ‘other side of the river’ and its only a short walk over a small bridge (over the river!) about 10 minutes from Cathedral Square to this quirky, neighbourhood inside the capital. There are cafes, restaurants, some really cool bohemian shops and art galleries as the place is still inhabitied by many local artists. Make sure you visit the angel statue, the multilingual welcome sign as you enter and pick up a copy of the¬†constitution¬†which includes – Everyone has the right to love and take care of the cat and Everyone has the right to be happy, which I think should be on everyones constitutions dont you?



The Museum of Genocide Victims. Housed inside the former KGB headquarters this haunting building and reminder of past atrocities will stick with me forever. I am not sure if it was due to the winter weather so I pretty much had the place to myself that made it more eerie, but im pretty certain due to the subject matter, its most definately is a place for stark reflection due to the horrific nature of what occured here. The museum serves as a living reminder of the terror from when the Nazi’s and then Soviets took over this imposing building that once was a gym. Spread over a number of floors, the museum takes a no holds barred approach to telling its story. Culminating in the cells, torture and execution chambers, I needed some quiet time to take it all in once I left the museum, but I’m glad I visited as I learned a hell of a lot, but be prepared to need a little recovery period afterwards.


Ensemble of St. Anne and Bernardine Church. Standing out due to its red brick exterior, St Annes church at over 500 years old its worth a visit as is its neighbour the Bernadine Church. I visited these on the way to the Bernadine Garden, which when I visited in the January was a snowing wonderland of children sledging and ducks skating on the frozen river, quite beautiful, there is a botanical garden, fountains and a monastery here too, so make sure you give it enough time.


Once I had explored the park, I was still feeling energetic and not too cold, so I crossed the River Vilnelńó and climbed the many steps up the Hill of the Three Crosses¬†for spectacular views across the snow covered city. Originally at the summit were 3 wooden crosses said to be the site where Franciscan Friars were beheaded hundreds of years ago. These crosses eventually perished, were rebuilt, only to be torn down during Soviet rule, with a new and improved version finally being erected in 1989 once the country became independent again. Now a prominant monument of the city, its a popular spot for both locals and tourists and i’m glad I made the effort to climb up to the top, it involves a bit of a climb and a lot of steps, so bare that in mind first.


Town Hall Square, Vokieciu Street and Pilies Street are all areas I explored at length, both in my summer and winter visits. The tourist information centre is located inside the Town Hall Square, which was one of my first stops to load up on a local map and grab a few tourist leaflets, off from here are loads of shops, cafes, interesting buildings and intriguing alleyways. In the winter is was definitely quieter but there were still outdoor market selling wooly hats and local crafts, returning in the summer the cafes opened their doors and put tables outside and there was much more of a buzz, understandably as it wasnt -10!


Coffee and Cake – Coffee Inn located on Didzioji and Laisves al are just two of many locations from this Baltic coffee chain, but don’t think because its a chain its all sterile tasteless coffee and uncomfortable seating. Im pretty sure each Coffee Inn is run independently and each one has a unique vibe and style, one I visited had a bookshop inside, another a record store, and all seemed welcoming to a solo English traveller, they serve soy milk and their cheesecake was insane! Another caffeine gem I found was¬†Second Cup¬†which is also a chain, although this one goes further than just the Baltics, with cafes in Iraq, Ghana and soon the UK apparently. Again, friendly¬†comfy seating, with plenty of places to charge devices, they had a really great menu of regular and flavoured coffees with soy milk options too and lots of cake!


Eats РFor my first night I wanted to eat Lithuania 101, so I headed to Amatininky uzeiga a friendly restaurant serving local beers, delicious beetroot soup and stodgy potato Zeppelins which I devoured after a snowy sightseeing afternoon, then followed it by the recommended and ginormous apple pie. If you fancy something slightly less meaty, but still with massive portions, the vegan restaurant Gyvas Baras was a place I visited for lunch and dinner and then returned for another meal on my summer return. I found it a really friendly place, relaxed, and not just serving the typical falafal, but the menu included amazing burgers, mexican food, insane desserts and local beers.

IMG_0052  Cheers!

Other sights to see – Explore the Jewish ghetto around DominikonŇ≥ and VokieńćiŇ≥ Streets, head out of the Old Town to the tallest building in Lithuania, the¬†TV Tower¬†for epic views of the city, and take a train for a day out in Kaunas the 2nd largest city and less than 90 minutes by train (thats a whole other blog post!)

Always be politeHello is Sveiki and Thank You is AńćiŇę! (pronounced almost like Achoo)




Day Trips from Kotor Bay, Montenegro


When we took a chance on booking flights to Tivat, Montenegro earlier this year, we had no idea where it was on the map. A brief google search ensued and we found it made sense to stay a 10 minute taxi ride away, through the other side of the mountain and in the UNESCO world heritage region of Kotor Bay. As I wrote in my blog post about Kotor Bay¬†earlier this year, there is a lot to explore in this ancient walled town, but its position on the Adriatic Coast and its access to regular and inexpensive bus routes, means that its easy and cheap to use Kotor as a base to see more of this young Balkan country and that we did. So where can you go for easy day trips from Kotor . . ¬†read on –

PERAST – Only 15-20 minutes along the main road north towards Croatia, every visitor to Kotor should make the short but scenic trip along the bay to this small town. Blue Line buses leave regularly just outside the old city walls of Kotor, its easy to pick up the bus, even though there is no physical bus stop, just look for the white bus sign painted on the road, close to where the market stalls set up. There will more than likely be people waiting around to board and there are benches close by to sit and wait, buses are regular and cost ‚ā¨1.

IMG_5593 Riding the bus to Perast

Perast itself is a small town with only one main road, but there is a whole heap of history here, including gorgeous interesting buildings, stunning views across the bay and 2 unique small islands a short boat ride away. Its colourful historic past vast outways what appears at the surface just a picturesque coastal town, its position along the Adriatic meant that the town was involved in important wars with the Venetians as well as schooling many Russians sailors in the 18th Century at their aclaimed naval academy. This has allowed a lot of wealth to flow into Perast and is responsible for the many elaborate churches and palaces that stand here to this day.




You can easily explore this little town by foot, the Church of St Nicholas¬†is by the main square¬†and the Tower Museum is located inside the Bujovic Palace. These are popular sights, but many arrive here to visit the two islets situation a short boat ride away. Both are incredibly unique with widely varying histories, despite their close proximity to one another. One islet, Sveti ńźorńĎi or the Island of St George is home to a 12th Century Benedictine Monastery and has been owned by the Venetians, the French and Austrians, before eventually returning to Montenegro. The 2nd Island – Gospa od Skrpjela or Our Lady of the Rocks is actually a man-made island, and was formed with rocks that were left there by the sailors for good luck before a voyage, locals starting dumping rocks too and eventually a small island was formed. A small chapel was then built on the island to which captains passing through would offer a silver gift, all of which are now displayed inside the chapel which has expanded to become a small church and museum. Its a fascinating place and well worth a visit, boats leave regularly for the islands for a small fee, and with us visiting just out of season, we had a boat to ourselves.




There are quite a few places to eat and drink here too, with many offering bayside outdoor seating with spectacular views, we started with a coffee mid morning at Cafe Armonia and ended up returning for a delicious lunch and glass of local wine in the afternoon.

BUDVA. This Adriatic coastal town is well worth the 30 minute trip south, not only is it a busy seaside town with beaches, shops and restaurants, there is also a fascinating well preserved medieval old town that is over 2500 years old! You can easily split your day by eating/walking/shopping around the modern ‘Miami of Montenegro’ as well as steeping yourself in the captivating history and buildings of the old town.

Buses leave regularly from the main bus station in Kotor and Tivat, taking about 45 minutes, with tickets costing¬†between ‚ā¨3-4 euros direct.





Located along a peninsula, there is a stunning shoreline of around 17 beaches, glistening blue waters, offshore islands and limestone mountains serving as the backdrop. A great selection of cafes, bars and restaurants line up just back from the beach, where you can order a coffee or glass of wine, sample some local cheeses and soak up the views whilst watching the locals walk their dogs and prepare their boats for the next trip out.

The newer area of Budva is developing into a modern bustling town, with plenty of shops, restaurants, nightclubs and markets. In the summer months it becomes known as the Montenegro party capital, so if¬†Turbo Folk¬†is to your liking, you’ll want to at least stay one night to hit the cocktail bars and clubs.

But if that is most definitely not your thing, don’t be put off, there is a lot more to Budva than just its nightlife and shops. It’s just a short walk to the old walled town, with its enthralling citadel, churches, passageways, sunlit squares and breathtaking views of the terracotta rooftops and Adriatic from up high. Take time to just wander and get lost in the paved alleyways with many shops selling local crafts, making sure to explore inside of the Church of St John, the Church of the Holy Trinity and Church of St Mary in Punta. The City Museum is a charming small museum and really gives context to how important and well preserved Budva is and I was glad we made time to visit that too. In the summer months there are often concerts and exhibitions up here inside the walls, so its worth checking online¬†if there is anything worth seeing before planning your visit.





There are a few islands just off shore, with water taxis easily available to take you there or you could hire a canoe and make the journey yourself. We didn’t manage to squeeze that into our itinerary, but its something we would have liked to have done, popular and picturesque¬†islands that are highly recommended by locals include¬†Sveti Stefan,¬†and¬†St Nikola Island.

You will be spoilt for choice for places to eat and drink among the many beach front cafes and restaurants all offering prime seating with perfect views across the peninsula. We stopped for a coffee at a lovely place on our way to the Old Town and then had a delicious Serbian meal right by the beach at Jadran on our return, before catching a bus back up to Kotor in the evening, watching the sun set as we travelled up the coastline.

IMG_5868 Serbian food and wine with beautiful Budva backdrop.

CETINJE is the old historic royal capital of the country, and high up in the mountains. Taking just over an hour on the bus from Kotor, its what can only be described as a breathtaking, but heart in mouth mountainside bus ride.



Once you have recovered from the bus journey, and have landed back on terra ferma, there is a lot to explore here, its all well signposted and the centre is a short walk from the main bus station. Although the capital of the country is Podgorica the president actually lives here in Cetinje and its here where many government and cultural events take place. ¬†The town has a really vibrant, busy feel that although it seems on top of the world, doesn’t feel too far removed from it.

A good place to start is the central square where there are lots of little shops and outdoor cafes, once hydrated, walk a short distance North to the Vlaska (Vlah) Church on Baja Pivljanina. This plain looking church is only small, but take a look inside for the most beautiful interior and we found a very helpful elderly volunteer who also gave us mints as we explored inside, check out the guard rail outside aswell, which is made of ottoman rifle barrels.



We then headed back towards the main square and explored the only pedestrian street in the town, this is where the main restaurants, cafes and shops are to be found, its worth a wander especially for postcards and souvineers and a chance to try some local food and wine.

Probably one of the main tourist sights here in Certinje is the¬†Cetinje Monastery, it was demolished in the late 1600’s by the Venetians but rebuilt with the original stone. Located a short walk from the main square and easily signposted, you can visit the grounds as well as the inside where several relics are to be found, including what is said to be John the Baptist’s hand, which I admit wasnt completely sure about. Where the original monastery stood is now a lovely little church called Church of the Birth of Our Lady which is worth a visit to see the beautiful golden iconostatis from Russia.


The Chipur Church is short walk across from the Monastery, but if its locked, just head back over to the Monastery ask around, and you will be given a key to venture inside.



The National Museum of Montenegro actually comprises of a few small museums dotted around the town, and you can get single or joint discounted tickets depending on what you fancy seeing. We made time to see the Archaeology Museum, the Historical Museum and Art Museum, which are all located close to one another in the Vladin Dom.


Before heading back down to Kotor on the bus, we had a bite to eat, I originally didn’t want to try what I would term ‘Italian’ food which seemed to be on the menu everywhere. Soon though, I rather ignorantly realised that pasta and pizza dishes are pretty standard and local here too, with its close history to Italy. So we went for Pizza and beer at Obelisk on the main street sitting outside outside, a lovely end to our day trip.











Clearing US immigration in Ireland.

Ive just done my first ever US Pre Clearance and it was a revelation! I have been aware of it for a while but only just got round to trying it out and I’m¬†not sure I can ever go back now. Any none US travellers who have visited the United States must have experienced that fun 30-90¬†minute wait, filling in the white arrival cards and being sternly instructed to GET IN A LINE. Then undergoing 20 questions about where you’re going, who you’re staying with and for how long, whilst being jet-lagged, confused and forgetting the name of your accommodation, then missing your connection to Nashville? No, maybe it’s just me then.

There are actually 6 none US countries from which you can now go through all the immigration and customs checks, before you board your flight when you are still fresh faced and excited for the journey ahead. The particular airports are located in Aruba, The Bahamas, Bermuda, Abu Dhabi, UAE, Canada and where I boarded, Ireland. Sweden and the Dominican Republic are next to join the list I believe.img_2388

The main reason I believe these pre-clearance centres have been set up is to reduce the risk of terrorism and identify potential criminals before they even board the plane to the US. The other advantages for everyone else, is these airports potentially gets more traffic, it reduces the numbers and waiting times for everyone else at border controls in the US and makes it easier for travellers to leave their destination airport quickly and easily without delays on arrival. Basically a win win!

I¬†travelled to Newark, New Jersey from Manchester, UK via Dublin this month (Nov 2017) with Aer Lingus and it was smooth sailing or should I saw flying, the whole way. I was then heading onward to Philadelphia, so it was refreshing to get straight off the plane and to the train station, potentially catch an earlier train than I would have if i’d had to queue in customs.

On arrival in Dublin there are loads of staff on hand to direct and advise all passengers who are travelling onward to the US, the Pre-Clearance area is easily signposted with a small US flag, making it hard to get lost. Before going through customs though, you end up in the main departure lounge, so unless you immediately need to head to your next flight, stick around here for a while. There are coffee shops, restaurants, bars, shops and a currency counter, although there are a few places to eat once you pass the pre-clearance area, they are limited. If you are vegetarian there are quite a few options, but the only place I found accommodating vegans was coffee express which had a falafel wrap, all coffee shops did seem to offer soy milk though.

I chatted to a member of staff who said at times the Pre-Clearance area can get busy, so don’t leave it too long to go through, but there were also announcements advising when passengers should clear the customs area for each US flight. When I heard an announcement for a different American flight, I left it 20 minutes and decided to take my chances and go through.


First there is small x-ray security area to pass through with your bags, there was no queue! So I quickly moved on to stage 2, which was the customs machine. Here you answer the questions that are on the white arrival form, it is push button answers so it’s much easier, then you scan your own passport and fingers, again no queue. A clearance form was printed off and it was on to final stage 3, speaking to an official. Third time lucky, there was no queue again, and after a friendly chat, my passport was stamped and I was welcomed to ‘America’, the whole process maybe took a little over 5 minutes.

There is a separate departure lounge for all those who have passed clearance and are travelling on to the US, which like I mentioned has some facilities, a small bar, small restaurant, coffee kiosk, charging points, toilets and free but temperamental wifi, but its not as extensive as the main departure lounge, so just be aware. Once I landed in New Jersey, we exited as though we were on a domestic flight, straight out into arrivals, I had carry on luggage only, so headed straight to the Air-train onward to the main railway station.


I would definitely consider travelling via Ireland (Dublin or Shannon) again, especially if I had a considerable amount of travelling to do once I had landed. It just means you can get a stress free head start on your onward journey and don’t need to factor in for an unknown wait at customs. In fact, I’m already looking at flights to Boston for next Autumn maybe . . . .

Bratislava and beyond 

Back to Europe for this post and my most recent trip, as I just got back a few days ago. I started visiting Europe more extensively a couple of years back, when I didn’t want to travel too far and for too long with dad being so ill, and so I became interested in the central and eastern regions of Europe, with its rich interconnecting histories, fascinating cultures and breathtaking landscapes. Slovakia is known as the country at the heart of Europe due to its geographical position, it is surrounded by Austria, Hungary, Czechia, Ukraine and Poland, and as I have already visited all of Slovakia’s neighbours, it was about time I paid a visit to the country in the middle connecting them all.

History Bit – The capital of the Slovak Republic is Bratislava but due to the history of the country and the fact that Slovakia only amicably split from Czechoslovakia in 1993, makes Bratislava one of the youngest capitals in Europe, but one with a long and interesting history that goes back beyond the 2nd century BC. This is definitely reflected in the sights dotted around the old town area of the city, that has a distinctly different feel than the rest of the capital.


Arrivals. We arrived at Bratislava airport late on a midweek evening, so armed with a telephone number from the hosts of our apartment we rang The Green Taxi company, who arrived quickly and dropped us off in the old town for ‚ā¨10. There are public transport options too and from the airport as well and we used them on our return the following week. Bus number 61 is the airport bus and takes around 20 mins to get to its final stop of the main train station, which is about a 20-25 min walk from the old town, if you don’t fancy the walk with your suitcase from the train station, the no1 tram goes from the train station & stops just outside the periphery of the historic centre. Catching the bus or tram is easy, you purchase a ticket prior to boarding (valid on both buses and trams) from a machine by the stop, and you purchase it according to the duration of trip, ie a 15 minute (0.70‚ā¨) 30 (0.90‚ā¨) or maybe a 60 minute trip (1.20‚ā¨) and just validate the ticket using the machine on board.

Bratislava itself is very close to the Austrian, Hungarian & Czechia borders, and so you could easily travel in by using the extensive Train network that is all around this area. From Budapest a direct train takes about 2hr 40 minutes, from Brno in Czechia it takes just over 90 minutes and from Vienna in Austria around an hour. 

There is plenty to do over a long weekend here, with cathedrals, castles, churches, a clock tower, museums, the Danube river, an observation tower, & some really unique friendly coffee shops and restaurants as well as lots of pubs serving local beer and all the dumplings you can eat.

   Views from top & bottom of St Michaels Gate.

Sights. We stayed in an apartment close to St Michaels Gate, the only remaining gate left of this once heavily fortified city and this made a good base in which to visit the old town, but we were a close enough walk to the sites outside the walls.  As soon as you walk outside the mainly pedestrianised old town, there are lots of signposts helpfully directing you to the other sights and conveniences with lots of available tram and bus stops. Staying close to St Michaels Gate meant that it was one of the first sites we visited, you can visit the inside of the tower and climb to the top, to do so, the main entrance is to be found on the right of the gate from inside the old town.  As well as the not too strenuous climb to the top, there is the Museum of Arms spread over each floor on your way up, once at the top, there is a great view of the old town and a chance to get your bearings. Also, dont miss the zero kilometre plaque underneath the gate showing how many KM it is from Bratislava to other places on the globe.

One of the oldest buildings in Bratislava is the The Old Town Hall located on the largest square in the town, Hlavn√© N√°mestie. Inside is the large, informative Bratislava History Museum, which has really unusual artefacts including the shooting targets which are basically oil paintings on wood, and the building itself in which the museum is situated is grand and beautiful, be sure to check out the thick vaulted doors and intricate ceilings as well as climbing to the top of the tower, which provides a great vantage point to look over the square and towards the castle. 

   Looking up at the Old Town Hall on our sunny day and looking back down from the top of the tower on our rainy day.

Visable from all over the city is the spire of St Michaels Cathedral located in the south west of the old town, next to some of the original wall and across from the castle up on the hill. Quite a simple and gothic interior, it’s nowhere near as colourful or extravagant as some of the other cathedrals I have visited recently,  but it’s simplicity is part of its charm, as long as you time your visit to avoid the crowds arriving from the Danube cruise boats. As well as some impressive alters, you can also head downstairs to the crypt, and don’t forget the memorial to the now demolished synagogue outside in the square. 


Opposite the front door of the cathedral was a little alleyway with a sign advertising tea, if you follow the sign up along the historic wall you will find the most delightful outdoor Tea Bar selling hot and cold drinks, including Slovak Tea made with linden flowers. We ordered hot Slovakian tea and sat and watched the world go by for a good half hour here, a definite recommendation for when you need a little pause in your sightseeing, there was even little blankets ready for if the weather turned cold. 

 Hot Slovakian tea with linden flowers (squint and you can see St Martins spire top right)

Another place we stumbled upon whilst just exploring the streets, squares and small alleyways, was what turned out to be the Oldest Souvenir shop in the town with a small museum in the back. Well worth a look in, located just off FrantiŇ°kanske Namestie on Biela, close to the Old Town Hall, keep an eye out for the small sign out front leading you down a small side alley.


About a 10 minutes walk east outside the city walls, is the uniquely decorated, bright blue church of St Elizabeth. The walls, the roof, the shiny mosaics are all blue, I’ve never seen anything like it before, and it’s curved lines and colours reminded me of Gaudi. When we arrived, we were disappointed to find it was closed and only open for services, so check online when you are there for the worship times, we returned during the Sunday morning service and was pleased to find the interior is just as beautiful and unique as the exterior. 


Another place initially closed to visitors when we got there was The Palffy Palace,  although advertised as open, there seemed to be a private function happening which was a shame. The palace is home to the Bratislava City Gallery, but the real reason we wanted to visit was to see the Matej Kren Passage, an art installation comprising of around 15,000 books and looks surreal, we never got chance to return during our stay, but you always have to leave a reason to return right?

Towering up on a hill, looking down upon the capital over in the west of the city is Bratislava Castle, its impossible to miss and is a short but uphill walk from the old town walls and the Danube. The interior of the castle is currently undergoing a huge renovation project, so its not open to tourists, but the Museum of Slovak History is still available to visit, and the impressive grounds of the exterior are open and free and with its elevated position, there are superb views across the whole of the capital and beyond.


There is another castle that should be on anyone’s itinerary when visiting Bratislava and that is Devin Castle, which is a short and easy 20 minute bus ride from the Novy Most bus station, which is located under the Most SNP, this is the huge cable bridge with the observation tower on. The bus you need is the 29 (28 also goes there I believe)which when we caught it, left from the main road under the bridge on the old town side and not inside the actual station. This bus takes you straight into Devin and although there is a bus stop right by the castle, when we visited on a Saturday and in October, the bus only stopped on the main road and its then a short walk to the castle, I am presuming in summer when its busier, the bus has an extra stop right by the castle carpark. 

There are two main things to do when visiting this part of town, the castle and the ruins for sure, but there are some really nice and well signposted walking trails along the junction of the Morova and Danube rivers, this section of river also becomes the countries border, with the opposite shore being Austria. We made time to do both, but started with the castle and the museum that is situated inside the castle grounds, the upper part of the castle is closed for extensive renovations, but there was still a lot available to explore. The castle grounds are pretty big and encompass a field with donkeys, an excavation area with archologists hard at work &  leafy footpaths taking you to various medieval ruins along the way, including an amunitions store, a chapel & a workhouse. The castle itself is built high into the surrounding rock and well worth taking time to explore, the views from the top are magnificent and keep a look out for the many caves dotted into the cliff face. There are a few stalls selling souvenirs outside the main entrance, as well as a hotel and a few restaurants should you fancy a meal before heading back to the centre of Bratislava.


Eats and Drinks. Restaurants serving local beers, wine and traditional food are plentiful in the old town. We heard about a traditional place just outside the old town walls with great reviews on TripAdvisor called Bratislava Flagship Restaurant as we fancied at least one night sampling some regional dishes. The restaurant is huge, the largest in the capital, but friendly, casual, and suitable for large groups and solo/small groups, housed in a former cinema the building has a great atmosphere and is connected to a monastic brewery, so be sure to try the beer too. The menu covers all bases when it comes to Slovakian food, I had the garlic soup served in a bread bowl and then shared a dumpling platter for two with mum.  The majority of traditional Slovak dishes feature pork, it is possible to get vegetarian options but they will more than likely feature a lot of sheeps cheese, although there were some none traditional places we ate at that had great vegetarian and vegan options on the menu and the food was outstanding.

Enjoy Coffee was an absolute delight, we visited daily and sampled dishes from their breakfast, lunch and dinner menus as well as having coffee to go. The menu was fresh, healthy, with creative dishes such as buckwheat muesli, homemade bread with avocado spread, celery fries and courgette pasta, they had a great selection of coffees, teas and smoothies and served alcohol too. There was outdoor and indoor seating, with a children’s play area towards the back and friendly multilingual staff who always made us feel welcome. 

We stumbled upon Fach by accident as we were wet and cold once we returned from Devin and fancied some soup. This coffee bar, cafe, bakery and restaurant was a real surprise, their menu was really interesting, unique and simple, focussing on 15 seasonal dishes at a time. I ordered carrot soup, but it was actually carrot velout√©, fermented ginger and hazelnuts, it was outstanding, it came with the dried, fermented and cooked ingredients in a bowl and then the waitress poured the warm soup on top, and priced at just over ¬£5 it was probably the best soup I have ever tasted. It was only when we investigated afterwards that we realised the main chef trained and worked in Michelin starred restaurants prior to opening Fach, and it truely shows from the decor, the presentation and of course the food, but most of all it was friendly, inviting and perfect for 2 wet sightseers to warm up.


The final eating place I will rave about is Mondieu, there are 4 in Bratislava and we visited the bistro situated on Laurinska for our final brunch before heading to the airport. They specialise in coffees and chocolate but also have an extensive breakfast and lunch menu with lots of crepes, salads and sandwiches, I had the beetroot, hummus and avocado open sandwich and mum had the avocado and poached egg open sandwich both were fresh and delicious. They have a huge selection of speciality coffees, I had an espresso with raw cacao and mum had a beautifully presented coffee with chocolate, but the star of our last meal here was the dairy free lavender and blueberry ice cream from their vegan ice cream bar, it was to die for! Our mains cost around ¬£5 each, the ice cream and coffees around ¬£2 each and the staff were helpful and happy to let us sit with our suitcases and not feel in the way. 

Hot Tips –  

  • If you have an hour or so to kill with large bags and suitcases, then visit the Old Town Hall Tower and the Bratislava History Museum as there is a free bag store by the ticket desk.
  • Ice cream lovers head to the Laboratorie branch of Mondieu,  located on Laurinska down the road from the bistro, here they have an ice cream bar where you can design your own flavours and toppings.
  • Keep a look out for the many bronze statues dotted around the old town, including the old man peaking out of the drain, the paparazzi statue has been removed though, so dont spend a good hour wandering aroundlookimg for it like we did.
  • If you are into your “metal” there is a Metal Megastore close to Palffy Palace.

Other sights – UFO Observation Tower – Museum of Pharmacy – Museum of Clocks – Slavin War Memorial, a walk along the Danube or river cruise.

Always be polite ūüôā –  Thank you in Slovak is pronounced something like Dakujem (Da Qui Em) 

A weekend in Ukraine – LVIV

I never intended to visit Ukraine, or at least last summer anyways, although it has always been on my list. I had originally planned to travel to Belarus, via Lithuania, but there was an issue with my visa payment and then my passport got lost in the post. So 4 days before my flight to Lithuania with my passport back but no visa, I quickly planned a trip through Poland and into Ukraine overland and then back to Poland where I already had a flight home booked from Warsaw.

Arrivals. I chose to visit Lviv as it was close to the Polish border and on the train line from both Krakow and Warsaw, so it made sense to do a round trip and visit all three. There seemed like there was enough to do for a weekend with it being a UNESCO City and I could get the overnight sleeper from Krakow (and then on to Warsaw) it meant I had two nights of accommodation which I wouldn’t need to budget for. Although you can fly direct from many UK airports to the capital Kiev, currently there are no direct flights to Lviv from the UK, so you could fly via Kiev and get an internal flight to Lviv (takes just over an hour) or you can fly to a different European city first and then get another flight on to Lviv. Popular budget airline Wizzair fly to many European destinations from the UK and also fly into Lviv from Berlin and Wroclaw. 

Of course you can enter the Ukraine overland like I did & again there are a few options if you are coming from the direction of Poland. Bordered by  Belarus from the North, you will have to arrange a visa in order to travel through that country, which is where I failed (although check the embassy website, controls are being slackened for short trips), to the East is Russia, another country with strict visa controls and an unstable border around the South East. The Western border stretches along a few countries, so with a bit of planning I’m sure you could drive, bus or train in from Moldova, Hungary or Slovakia, but the closest country and closest foreign cities from Lviv are Poland and either towns Lublin (132 miles) or Krakow (200 miles).

I travelled in from Krakow, as there was a direct overnight sleeper train and as I had never visited Krakow before, I could do the sights there first. 

 At Krakow train station about to board to Ukraine.

Although no visa is needed for EU nationals to visit Ukraine, it isn’t a Schengen area, and so as you cross the border you are rudely awakened by a serious looking female border guard (or at least I was). Half asleep after having a torch shone in my face and passport taken off me, our train continued off in the same direction, I felt that this was a good sign, and 20 minutes later my passport was returned to me with a shiny new stamp and I settled back to sleep.

Border check at 01.01am
New passport stamp!

I booked my train tickets online before I left the UK using Polrail and then picked up the tickets from their office close to the station in Krakow on arrival. The overnight from Krakow to Lviv took just under 8 hours and I booked a bed in a shared sleeping compartment for around ¬£47. Polrail were super helpful and sent simple easy instructions via email, but be aware of local spellings when choosing your intended destinations, Lviv is also spelt Lvov and Warsaw is also spelt Warszawa.

I arrived in Lviv early Sunday morning at around 6am, so the city was still waking up, and so was I to be honest. It was about a 40 minute walk to my accommodation the Old City Hostel which cost me around ¬£14 a night, but first I needed money. It is pretty hard to get your hands on any Ukrainian money in the UK, your local Thomas Cook will definately not have any behind their currency exchange counter, but I told my bank of my plans before I left and the first ATM I popped my card into on the main street (Horeodotska St) worked, SUCCESS!

Early morning view of train station
First views of Ukraine

As my hostel wasn’t technically open until later that morning they still kindly let me dump my bag, charge my phone and freshen up, then I headed back outside to find breakfast. Not too much was open early on the Sunday morning, but I was glad of the walk to get my bearings and I stumbled upon a lovely little friendly cafe selling juice, coffee and crossants, I managed to point and smile and successfully order my breakfast at the aptly named Lviv Croissants.

History Bit. People have inhabited Lviv since the 6th century and this region of Ukraine has been part of many different countries/states over the centuries including Poland and Hungary. It wasn’t until the end of the nineteenth century that Lviv became the centre of a new Ukrainian national movement and so retained its importance when the country became indepedant during WW1, WW2 and then again after Soviet rule in 1991 and is currently the 7th largest city in this compelling country. 

Sights. The unofficial centre of this city is in and around Rynok Sq. Here is where you can find the tourist information centre, so I stocked up on a tourist map and got the opening times of the local sights. You can spend the best part of a day around this Historic Square, and it is the reason for its UNESCO status, so be sure to visit the town hall, which if you have the stamina, climb to the top of the tower inside to admire the views. Also around the square are many other fascinating buildings, including the Black House, which is one of the oldest houses in Lviv, built in sandstone that has blackened over the years hence the name and now is home to the historical museum. 


As well as museums and historical architecture, there are 4 fountains – Diana, Neptune, Adonis and Amphitrite, shops, restaurants, bars, as well as a large LVIV sign that always had a small cluster of people waiting for a photo beside it. It was especially busy and bustling the weekend I was there, due to a Jewish food and drink festival taking part in the square and there was a great mix of stalls selling food, drink, souvenirs and even Putin toilet paper.

More than once over the weekend, I sat outside one of the bars dotted around the periphery of the square to soak up the atmosphere, listening to the music and watching the locals engage in traditional Jewish dancing, the stress of my visa and passport woes from the previous week eliminated.

 Putin toilet paper for sale  Beer in the Square

It wasn’t just in the main square where there was dancing, stalls and festivals, a short walk opposite my hostel was the City Garden a long expanse of lawn, benches, fountains, statues and walk ways, which was always full of locals morning, noon and night. For the two days I was there, it played host to a strong man competition, a singing competition, traditional dancing and loads more, it was always full of life and perfect for people watching.

    Lviv was certainly full of life!
One of the standouts of Lviv for me, other than just the wonderment of watching the locals take having fun, very seriously whether it was a weekend or work day, was the cathedrals and churches. There are many to visit and all easily walkable, the most impressive I felt was the Armenian Cathedral, only small, but the interior was outstanding and should be a must on any visit to this city. There is also a Latin Cathedral, the Church of Holy Communion, the Bernadine Church and a Carmelite Church just to name a few, but it is by no means a full list of all the places of worship which are all walking distance from the main square. 


If you fancy a good walk and getting out in the fresh air, then head east from Rynok square to the well signposted High Castle Hill, an artificial hill built on the summit of the now ruins of  Lviv Castle. Though you could take a taxi half the way up, its only about a 2km walk from the city centre, with lots of vantage points and walking trails to follow, and I really enjoyed just taking my time along with many other locals and their dogs in what is obviously a popular local afternoon out and you are rewarded with great views once you reach the top.

 Hiking to the top

On my way back down, I didn’t head straight back to the centre, but took a road west, initially back towards the train station and then turned right up Vicheva Street, as there was a stretch of interesting buildings along this route. First up is a Benadictine Monastery and church, there are a number of little cute shops, a small square, a museum and two more churches, which made for a great detor on my way back to the old town. 

I spent another good afternoon just seeing where the wind took me, stumbling upon the national opera house, with a rather refreshing fountain, more gardens, more churches, a market and there were lots of dairy free friendly coffee shops as well as people dressed in traditional costume and traditional dancers, the streets were always alive.

Food and Drink. Speak of coffee, as well as the croissant place I found on the first morning, I had some brilliant other finds for coffee, cake and local dishes, all inexpensive and friendly, not all with English translated menus, but that’s all part of the fun isn’t it! Lviv is known as the coffee capital of Ukraine, and you are never too far from somewhere selling you a hot or cold caffeine drink. Some real jems I visited included The coffee shop company with a great selection of cakes, the adorable Mocco Coffee and cheesecake is a must at Brown Tea and Coffee Shop & they all seemed to offer soy milk. As for dumplings and local beer, even eating & drinking on the Square isn’t expensive, as in other European cities that maybe are further west, so take your pick.  I spent time sipping the beer & sampling dumplings at Atlas opposite the LVIV sign and another one that didn’t seem to have an English translation, which was just off the square to the west, but I do remember the borscht was delicious, I even found a vegan restaurant on Brativ Rohatyntsiv St called Green

 This restaurant just off the square had helpful photos of the food on the menu.

It was an adventure, and has just whetted my appetite to see some more of this captivating country, sample more of the food and learn more of its history, I hope to return!

LVIV tip – if arriving or departing by train at the main station, there is one ‘foreign language’ kiosk who can advise on trains, correct platforms etc in English, a lifesaver if you don’t understand the Cyrillic notice board like me. Also, for a small fee there is a fancy waiting room with comfy seats and wifi, perfect if you have a long wait for your train.

Always be polite ūüôā The translation for thank you is pronounced something like Dyakuyu ūüôā