One of my favourite things about travel is that you don’t necessarily have to jump on a plane to a really unique location halfway across the world to feel like you’ve really travelled. Sometimes, hopping on the Eurostar or a short flight to spend 48-or-so hours in a random European city is just a as rewarding.

European cities are currently big on my to-travel list currently. I’ve got trips lined up for both Copenhagen and Lisbon over the next coming months and I’m constantly keeping an eye out for somewhere more underrated to visit.

Here are some lesser known European gems you could consider visiting before this summer is out – perfect if you want to avoid the tourists in places like Amsterdam or the prices of popular cities such as Copenhagen.

Formidable Joy | UK Lifestyle Blog | Travel | 5 underrated European cities | Cluj-Napoca | Bruges | Newcastle | Vilnius | Giethoorn

CLUJ-NAPOCA, ROMANIA
Most people think of Bucharest when they think of Romania, or many tourists tend to flock to Brasov, home of the famous Bran Castle (Dracula’s castle). But for a place that is the perfect balance between the two; you’ll want to visit Cluj. The sights are just as pretty as the ones spotted in Brasov, and although it’s generally quieter than Bucharest, it has enough buzz for cool stuff to often be going on. It boasts beautiful churches, a chilled nightlife and, in the summer, Untold festival. This August will see artists such as Black Eyed Peas, The Chainsmokers and Tiesto perform.
Tip: Visit Bricks for the best Mojito outside of Mexico – and trust me on this one, I’ve been after a decent Mojito in every place I’ve visited after my Mexico travels!

VILNIUS, LITHUANIA
No, I’ve never heard of Vilnius either. But LuckyTrip tells me this is the ideal place to visit on budget. Known as the city of 100 churches, this unique place also boasts weird angel sculptures, hidden underwater roads and more charming cafes you can shake your stick at. Visit the old town to take a slow stroll and explore, or, if you’re feeling more adventurous, hop on a bus and visit Trakai Castle which is around 30 minutes outside of the city.
Tip: A climb up Gediminas’ Tower is said to provide the best views of the city – do this when you first arrive to scope up any must-visit places.

GIETHOORN, THE NETHERLANDS
Technically not a city, the village of Giethoorn is totally underrated – but if you’re a Pinterest addict like me, you’ve probably seen photos of this place many a times. Giethoorn is dubbed as ‘Venice of the Netherlands’ and is unique in that it has no roads. To get around, you must use a whisper boat (obviously) along one of the village’s many canals. It’s beyond peaceful (a stark contrast to Amsterdam) and is most beautiful in summer or autumn when the trees and flowers show their most beautiful colours. Still, even a visit in winter would be fun, as many photos show villagers ice skating across the icy canals! You’ll feel like you’re in a fairytale visiting this place.
Tip: if you’re an adventurer like me, take a two hour road trip (or you could even stop off and spend a night in Amsterdam!) down to Kaatsheuvel, where you’ll find the huge and unique fantasy themed amusement park Efteling.

BRUGES, BELGIUM
Most people tend to head to Brussels or even Antwerp when visiting Belgium, but not many people know about the unique gem that is Bruges. Though there’s not much to do there most of the year, the place really comes alive at Christmas. Everywhere has the most beautiful and classic festive decorations, the centre square has an ice skating rink and there’s even music played as you walk down the street. I visited one Christmas years and years ago with my Mamaw and my sister and it’s still one of my fondest memories. I’d love to go back one day with someone special as it’s a very romantic place too. You’ll also feel like you’re in a fairytale/another world when visiting here.
Tip: Watch the hilarious black comedy film In Bruges either before or after your visit. I’d recommend after as a) you don’t want to spoil the surprise of how festive it really looks and feels when you arrive and b) it’s so much fun watching the film and realizing you visited so many locations from the movie.

NEWCASTLE, THE UK
Finally, much closer to home is Newcastle. Forget Geordie Shore for a moment (although there’s no denying that Newcastle is a great night out), there’s much more on offer then cool bars. Newcastle is rich in history with two castles super local, has tons of museums (The Centre for Life is a science village in the centre with exhibitions, a Science Theatre and a planetarium) and it is one of the shopping capitals of the UK. And yes, it’s not technically underrated, but places like London, Birmingham and Liverpool tend to always come first when people visit the UK.
Tip: If you want to get out of the city there’s tons to do nearby in the North East: Alnwick Castle, Chillingham Castle, the charming Durham village, Beamish Museum and the quirky Forbidden Corner.

If you’re really after an adventure, may I suggest waiting for a flight sale and literally just booking at random or whatever’s cheapest? Or, try LuckyTrip for something more suited to your budget! Who cares if you’ve not heard of the place before or it doesn’t look exciting. Visiting somewhere new will always be exciting. Hostels will always be cheap and you’ll always find something fun to do with enough research. And if the place really doesn’t have much going on? Book as plush of a hotel you can afford, stick some movies on your laptop and just soak up a weekend of being able to do whatever the hell you want. Getting on a plane and being somewhere new is bound to give you tons of inspiration.

Do you have any must-visit but underrated European cities to recommend? Let me know!

Follow:

I cannot believe it’s been over a year since my big Mexican BLT trip to Mexico with TrekAmerica. Having seen so much of Mexico by visiting places like Cancun, Merida, Campeche, Palenque, Bacalar, Mahahual, Tulum and Playa Del Carmen to name just a few, I think I definitely discovered some hidden gems during my time travelling.

Here are some awesome alternative things to do in Mexico.

Formidable Joy | UK Lifestyle Blog | Travel | Mexico | 7 unique experiences to try in Mexico

JUNGLE TREKKING IN PALENQUE
Want to feel like Indiana Jones? Here’s your chance. In my opinion, the ruins at Palenque are the most beautiful we visited in Mexico – even though I’d still suggest visiting Chichen Itza. But the views of Palenque are exactly the kind of views I dreamed of when I first decided I wanted to visit Mexico. There’s lots to see and do, but for a real unique experience, book a guide to take you off the beaten track to explore an actual real life jungle. It was mega fun.

PARTY ALONG THE RIVER WITH A XOXCIMILCO TOUR
Unfortunately I didn’t have the time to try this but essentially you jump on an uber colourful boat with some alcohol in tow and spend the next few hours stopping at different ports along the river for food, drink, games and entertainment – without even getting off the boat! There are a few of these about but the one with Experiences Xcaret looks the best in my opinion (and was the one I wanted to try). I still regret not being able to do this – so a return to Mexico is definitely on the cards!

HAVE A TRADITIONAL MEXICAN NIGHT OUT AT DON MUCHOS
I loved this gem of a place, also in Palenque! Don Muchos is a really cute traditional Mexican restaurant in the jungle – to get there, you have to walk a path through the trees, tread over wooden boards balanced over the mud and even walk over mini bridges over small streams – it’s half of the adventure. Once there, you find a small cluster of businesses – a small community bustling in the night. The food here is lovely – and you must order a tequila shot – and most nights you can watch traditional Mexican entertainment with your food. Afterwards, get up and dance on the small dance floor until the early hours of the morning.

GET YOUR CREEP ON AT THE ISLAND OF THE DOLLS
A visit to Isla de las Muñecas (Island of the Dolls) is an absolute must if you like to get your creep on like me. Although never intended to be a tourist destination, the story says that a girl drowned on the island and, when a caretaker later saw a doll floating near the canals, he hung it from a tree as a sign of respect for the drowned girl. Legend says that the caretaker became possessed by the girl and hung more and more dolls to rid her spirit. He was later found dead in the same spot the girl drowned. Now, the island is filled with creepy deteriorated dolls hanging from trees and tourists bring their own dolls when visiting. Who knows how real the legend actually is but there’s no doubt that the island itself is beyond creepy…

PARTY HARD AT COCO BONGO
Coco Bongo isn’t necessarily a hidden gem but it is a totally unique night out. It’s cabaret/show meets club, where you join in with half the fun. I won’t reveal all, but you can expect superhero dance offs, the opportunity to dance on your seats and so, so much confetti. It’s a whole lot of fun and definitely not to be missed.
Top Tip: it is expensive, but to get the most out of your night, I would recommend getting a VIP table as it’ll include free drinks all night, a waiter just for you and somewhere to sit down (and you’ll want this, trust me) and party right in the heart of the music. It works out cheaper than buying your drinks all night, especially if you chip in and get a table as a group.

VISIT A REAL NATURE THEME PARK AT XCARET
Xcaret is one of the coolest places I’ve ever visited; it’s a natural theme park meets nature reserve in one. You can swim in underground rivers, visit flamingos, take relaxing boat rides, visit a traditional Mexican burial ground and then, when night falls, watch the mindblowing Xcaret Mexico Espectacular. A day at the park is so varied with so much to see and even though I visited Xcaret alone, it was hands down one of the best days of my life.

SCUBA DIVE TO CANCUN UNDERWATER MUSEUM
Another one that is already quite well known but still extremely unique – I mean where else are you going to visit an underwater museum? True, you can easily see most of the artifacts by Googling but that’s just not as fun..

If these seven unique experiences don’t convince you to book a holiday to Mexico right now, I don’t know what will. Still, may I also add that Mexico is filled with stunning beaches, amazing weather and tons of quirky bars?!

Would you ever visit Mexico? Let me know…

Follow:

So recently I’ve been thinking about how I’m not really going on a proper holiday this year. I’ve got Boomtown Festival in August and Thailand in January but nothing really in between. So when I saw that Ryanair had a sale on recently, I decided to spontaniously book flights to visit Copenhagen on a long weekend in September.

Because, well, why not?

Formidable Joy | UK Lifestyle Blog | Travel | Copenhagen | Travel Inspiration

If there’s anything these past two years have taught me it’s that I can travel alone (although judging by my trip to Berlin, I’ll be making sure to stay in a hostel this time around). And if there’s anything these past few months have taught me, it’s that life is short and that I should say yes more and do spontanious things.

So this is a spontanious thing.

I’ve been trawling Pinterest for ideas and here’s some places on my must visit list.

I’ve wanted to visit Tivoli Gardens for years now but I’m kind of in two minds about going as ideally I want to visit them for the first time in a relationship and when the entire place is decorated for Christmas. It’s the second oldest amusement park in the world and is really classic; in fact it’s said it served partly as inspiration for Disneyland. At Christmas (and Halloween), it’s absolutely beautiful and it’s right in the centre of Copenhagen – accessible by foot!

I’m not planning to go to Copenhagen to drink but I do like the sound of this bar which is very similar to a classic American speakeasie. Though it’s deemed to be quite classy (i.e expensive), I think it’ll be well worth a visit, especially since a hidden door-come-bookcase opens later in the night to reveal a dance floor and additional bars as it gets busier.

Copenhagen’s Botanical garden looks super pretty and like it has a lot on offer. Plus, even if it’s not warm, it’s all inside (obviously!) so it doesn’t even matter. Pictures of it in winter reveals it’s just as stunning in the snow too.

And other generally pretty photos…

And by the way, you can follow me on Pinterest here!

Please note, all images above are taken from Pinterest and you can click on each individual image to see the source – I do not own these images. The first image is taken from Pixabay.
Follow:

Oh Romania, how I love you so. It’s funny how a three week visit to a country I previously knew nothing about last summer left me falling so head over heels for a place. I may have been biased, but I still want to go back and visit the beautiful country again and again.

Being that I travelled around the country in the summer of 2017, I got to see a fair bit (though not enough!) of Romania, inspiring me to create this post of some of the most beautiful and most instagrammable spots around the country.

Note – these are just some of many, many beautiful spots in Romania. I have no doubt I’ll be creating a second list in the near future.

Formidable Joy | UK Lifestyle Blog | Travel | 6 of the most Instagrammable places in Romania | Romania | Bran Castle | Brasov

BRAN CASTLE, BRASOV
Bran Castle is a beautiful little place that looks like it’s straight out of a book (which it kinda is) or fairytale. What makes it unique is that it doesn’t necessarily fit into the usual norm’s of a castle. With copper coloured stone tiles and wooden beams, the fortress boasts an oldy-wordly look about it. Despite the fact that it’s famous for being the home of Dracula, you can’t visit this site and not be blown away from its beauty. In summer, it’s stunning but seeing it in the snow is said to be breathtaking.

TURDA SALT MINE, TURDA
Ever been in an underground salt mine that also doubles up as an amusement park?! No, not many people have, which is why this is the prime opportunity for a ‘been there, done that’ Instagram shot. Inside, you’ll find six different mines and an underground lake. Amongst these mines, tourists can find a spa treatment room, a bowling alley, a Ferris wheel, mini golf and much more. As well as all these fun attractions, there’s also the added benefit of their surroundings and the fact that all of this takes place deep underground in a salt mine…

HOIA BACIU FOREST, CLUJ-NAPOCA
I’m never one to shy away from anything creepy, so a visit to Hoia Baciu Forest has been on my bucket list for a while now. However, as well as being dubbed as one of the worlds scariest forests, Hoia Baciu Forest is also perfect for some beautiful – and edgy – photography. It’s said to be a hub of supernatural occurrences, but the strange phenomenon of the unnatural twisted trees is what causes tourists to gather here and snap away.

TRANSFAGARASAN 
As it goes, there are many spots along this famous road that can serve as a total instagram gem. The slow and twisting drive up throughout the mountains – think stone bridges and plus green trees – is exciting enough, with many opportunities to stop and take in the view. At the very top, the view that overlooks the mountains and the road you’re about to crawl back down is a rewarding sight. The entire drive itself isn’t easy, so to make it to the top in one piece is certainly something to be proud of! Finally, on the way back down, you’ll find yourself passing by the beautiful Balea Lake – in winter, you’ll find an ice hotel here too.

PELES CASTLE
If you’re one of those people who became obsessed with A Christmas Prince on Netflix this Christmas just gone (let’s face it, who isn’t?!) then a visit to Peles Castle, where the film was shot, is a must do. The castle is beautiful in it’s own right and I dare anyone to visit and not pose in front of any of the scenery or castle that appears in the movie. As a bonus, if you do plan to visit Transfagarasan and Bran Castle in Brasov, Peleș Castle is the perfect pit stop between the two.

CLUJ-NAPOCA
Cluj is a charming little place which is oozed in history. The city boats many museums – Bánffy Palace and the National Museum of Transylvanian History are popular choices – plus the beautiful St. Michael’s Church – a perfect Instagram set up. As well as plenty of history to soak up, there’s also a fabulous nightlife with tons of chic cocktail bars and many music festivals are held there too.

Have you ever been to Romania? Are you tempted after reading this post and seeing these beautiful places? Let me know!

Follow:

Berlin is somewhere I’ve wanted to visit for a few years now, so when a deal popped up on Wowcher recently, I knew I had to book it for my time off work in January. The deal would allow me 36(ish) hours in Berlin, as well as entry into Tropical Islands – an awesome indoor beach/water park in a giant airplane hanger south of Berlin.

The kicker is that I almost didn’t go. The deal was booked for my ex boyfriend and I (long story there), but he dropped out a few days beforehand. However, since I sort of travelled to Mexico alone, I knew a short break in Berlin would be pretty easy compared to that. So even though I was a little scared and not feeling in the mood, I made the decision to go anyway, which saw me getting up at the early hour of 3am on Wednesday morning (to catch a 4am train to catch an 8am flight).

Formidable Joy | UK Lifestyle Blog | Travel | 36(ish) hours in Berlin | Berlin | Germany | Berliner Dom

WEDNESDAY
Still, eventually I found my way to my hotel early Wednesday afternoon, throwing my stuff in my room and napping for an hour whilst my phone charged. I stayed at Days Inn South Berlin in the Neukölln district, which was a little way outside of Berlin but was in a perfect location. It was pretty much across the road from a subway stop (meaning I could get into the centre of Berlin in around five or so minutes), as well as a giant supermarket. I was also told that the area of Neukölln was really trendy and had I had more time, I would have loved to explore some of the nearby bars. Though it was only a three star hotel, Days Inn South Berlin was actually really nice and I’d definitely stay there again.

I discovered that Berlin has it’s own dungeons (as in the London Dungeons but in Berlin obviously!), and you can take English led tours there, so of course that was on my first agenda. The Berlin Dungeons was fun – as always, the set’s were really cool and the history was great to learn, but I felt some sets/rooms were not as great as the others. For example, some of the actors had a sense of humour that I guess wasn’t very British (though being in Berlin, I can’t really complain!) so some parts were quite corny or just didn’t work. It was fun overall though.

Following this, I took some time to walk around that part of the city. I headed over to Museum Island just as it was getting dark. I strolled around the outside of a few of them, and gazed in awe at how pretty Berliner Dom is. It’s definitely one of the most stunning buildings I’ve ever laid eyes on.

Formidable Joy | UK Lifestyle Blog | Travel | 36(ish) hours in Berlin | Berlin | Germany | La Stella Nera | Vegan Food

I then headed to vegan restaurant La Stella Nera for tasty pizza. I chose a salami pizza (though the salami was more like sausage than pepperoni) with vegan cheese and herbs and a really tasty but doughy base (the crust was delicious). I also had a pate bruschetta which was yummy also.

Having had such a long day, I then headed off back to the hotel for the evening.

THURSDAY
When I woke up on Thursday, the weather was grey and dreary with a bit of rain. Once getting up, I headed straight to a shop to stock up on some snacks, then headed into town to grab a ride on the City Sightseeing Traditional Tour. I love these open top bus tours (though because of the rain it was covered obviously), and having had these tours in both Amsterdam and York before, I knew it would be a great way to see the city.

Whilst I was waiting for the bus to arrive, I had a look around one of the most famous department stores in the city (I was told celebrities often shop there), and I took the lift to the top floor (I think there were seven floors altogether!) which housed tons of mini food courts. I visited a cute cupcake place and bought a tiny but very luxurious Oreo cupcake for later, then headed back down to start the tour.

The next hour or so I got to see all around the city, snacking away in comfort. We drove past remnants of the Berlin wall, Checkpoint Charlie, the TV tower, the The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe and lots of historic buildings too. It was really interesting, and I stayed on an extra two stops after the full tour so I could jump off and visit Topography of Terror, a museum all about Hitler’s reign and the terror he caused. This exhibition in particular was very eye opening and sad. The museum also has a large part of the Berlin wall on it’s site too.

I spent some more time walking around Berlin afterwards, visiting a small museum right by Checkpoint Charlie, then headed back to the hotel to grab my backpack and set off towards Tropical Islands.

Tropical Islands is an amazing indoor beach south of Berlin. It is set in a giant airplane hanger and because of the way it’s built, it’s actually really warm inside. It also has a mini rainforest, a spa, a waterfall, waterslides, hot air balloon rides and outdoor activities and rapids too. It’s a place I’ve wanted to visit for so many years, but unfortunately I did not make it there.

When I bought the deal on Wowcher, the page failed to mention that the deal only included entry to the Tropical Island’s evening excursion which was four hours long. Still, an evening entry is better than nothing so I still wanted to go. The site itself was super complicated to get to, with over an hours journey and problems with one of the trains. When I ended up at a really rundown station to catch my second train but simply couldn’t understand or find out where to board, I kind of gave up. I didn’t feel safe being at that station alone, and after struggling to find wherever I had to board, I was running late. I did catch my first train back to another busier station, but had the same issue. The train I was supposed to get didn’t run very frequently, so even if I had managed to catch it, at this point I would have made around a two hour journey for, well, only about two hours there with how late it was getting.

It didn’t seem worth it to me so I turned back and have decided to try and go again later in the year – in the day, this time!

Instead I went back to another vegan restaurant I wanted to try; Chaostheorie Berlin. The tiny eatery is popular for serving vegan junk food and delicious vegan cocktails. When I visited, there was a set menu and I tried a vegan kebab with chips. It was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever eaten – how they re-created a kebab as vegan I’ll have no idea but I kind of wished I had longer in Berlin so I could have gone back again and again. The low-lighting and steady pace of house music suggested that this place turns into a popular location for after-work drinks too, so next time I’m in Berlin I’ll certainly be making another visit.

Formidable Joy | UK Lifestyle Blog | Travel | 36(ish) hours in Berlin | Berlin | Germany

FRIDAY
On my last day in Berlin, I didn’t actually do much. I planned to go to Beelitz-Heilstatten – a creepy abandoned bunch of run down old buildings which include a hospital where Hitler was once treated. I love anything weird and creepy so I was super excited for this, but my Google maps took me the wrong way entirely, and then I got kicked off the train for not having a right ticket (even though it was checked previously with no trouble), then I got off the train and tried to buy a new one at a tiny station but the machine wasn’t working, then I got confused with everything being in German and missed my next two trains which were FOURTY MINUTES apart, so I spent at least a good three hours just getting on and off of trains and slowly freezing, ha. After an almost breakdown and a tearful phone call to my ex where I all but screamed at him ‘THIS IS YOUR FAULT, IF YOU HAD COME WITH ME I WOULDN’T BE LOST RIGHT NOW’, I eventually made it back to the original station, popped into Aldi for some snacks and got the correct train back into Berlin.

So my last day was a fail, but I managed to do a bit of clothes shopping until I had to get to the airport, so at least it wasn’t a complete fail.

Overall though, apart from the places I didn’t get to go, and the evenings where I had nothing to do, it was a good few days away. Berlin is a really great place with lots to do and see and it’s fairly cheap too, so I’d love to go back, perhaps in the summer so that I can benefit from some of it’s beautiful parks. I definitely felt that there were a lot of things I didn’t have time to do, but all in all, I did enough for my short break away and enjoyed my time travelling alone.

Have you ever been to Berlin? Let me know!

Follow: