My Favorite Places in Amsterdam

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I love Amsterdam for many of the reasons I love Paris: stunning architecture, a wealth of art, and an unpretentious food scene. Both cities are easy to explore on foot, or by public transport when you get tired. And both have enough quality attractions to keep even the discerning traveler occupied for at least a week. I’ve been to Amsterdam three times and still feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface. I dug a lot deeper on my most recent visit thanks to the Amsterdam Museum Card. As in Paris, the card helped me discover a few gems I might otherwise have missed, like Museum Van Loon and the Hermitage. It also helped alleviate the guilt for quickly leaving one if it wasn’t my cup of tea. But museums aren’t the only top attractions in Amsterdam! Read on to find out which spots make the cut.

Canal Ring

amsterdam canals

The best attraction in Amsterdam is arguably the city itself. Designed in the 17th century, Amsterdam’s UNESCO-listed Canal Ring is an engineering marvel. In order to expand the medieval city, it was necessary to drain the surrounding swamps. A network of canals were dug and the land in between filled in. Gabled townhouses were added once the project was completed, and the rest, as they say, is history. If I did nothing other than stroll along the canals and ogle the city’s distinctive gables, it would be a trip well spent.

amsterdam canal houses

amsterdam netherlands

amsterdam canal boat

amsterdam canal boat tour

A canal boat ride in Amsterdam

amsterdam sunset

amsterdam night shot

Museum Van Loon

van loon house amsterdam

Want to see inside one of those lovely buildings lining the canals? Head to Museum Van Loon, the only canal house in Amsterdam to retain both its garden and coach house. While the Van Loon family still resides on the upper floors, it’s possible to tour the rest of the home all the way down to the basement kitchen. Wandering from room to sumptuous room past the family’s private possessions, I felt like I was getting a glimpse of a secret world. It was delicious!

van loon house amsterdam

van loon museum amsterdam

I enjoyed the fashions and family portraits displayed in each room

van loon house museum amsterdam

van loon house museum amsterdam

The Van Loons’ Carriage House

Van Gogh Museum

van gogh museum amsterdam

Do you have a favorite artist? Mine is Vincent van Gogh. I’ve long been drawn to his use of bold, rich colors and thick brushstrokes. It fascinates me that someone with such a troubled mind could see and express such beauty. Largely unsuccessful during his lifetime, van Gogh’s paintings didn’t make waves in the art world until after his suicide at the age of 37. He had been painting for just 10 years. But what a legacy he left behind! The Van Gogh Museum does an excellent job of bringing the enigmatic artist to life. Many of his masterpieces are on display – including several self portraits – as well as works by those who inspired him. You’ll want to allow several hours to explore the collection and peruse the gift shop. Photos aren’t allowed inside the museum, presumably to encourage visitors to buy prints.

Almond Blossom, 1890, Vincent van Gogh. Image source

Rijksmuseum

rijksmuseum amsterdam

Delve further into Dutch art at the Rijksmuseum. Nearly 8,000 artworks are on display, including many paintings by Dutch Masters including Jan Steen, Frans Hals, and Johannes Vermeer. Pride of place goes to the Night Watch, Rembrandt’s monumental masterpiece. The biggest surprise was Cuypers Library, which was recently restored to its original grandeur. Tucked in a back corner of the museum, I stumbled upon the gorgeous room almost by accident. The Rijksmuseum Gardens, designed by the building’s architect Pierre Cuypers, are especially lovely when the spring flowers are in bloom. The gardens abut Museumplein, where you’ll find the famous “I amsterdam” sign from the tourism board’s genius marketing campaign. Good luck getting a photo!

night watch rijksmuseum

rijksmuseum treasures

The Rijksmuseum Cuypers Library in Amsterdam

rijksmuseum gardens

Anne Frank House

A statue of Anne Frank in Amsterdam

For all of Amsterdam’s beauty, it has a dark side, too. After Nazi Germany invaded the Netherlands during World War II, many Jews went into hiding. One family was Otto Frank’s, a German Jew who relocated to Amsterdam after Hitler came to power. Anne Frank, Otto’s daughter, kept a diary during the two years the family was in hiding. It provides an intimate look at their lives seen through the eyes of a teenage girl. Anne, a talented young writer, was also working on a novel about the family’s ordeal but never got to finish it. In 1944 the secret annex was discovered and the inhabitants were deported to Auschwitz. Only Otto Frank survived. He eventually published Anne’s diary, fulfilling her wish to become a writer. I encourage everyone to visit the Franks’ secret hiding place, which is now a part of the well-done Anne Frank House Museum, to learn about this tragedy and honor the memory of the victims.

anne frank house amsterdam

Original entrance to the building where Anne Frank and her family hid during WWII.

Royal Palace

royal palace amsterdam

Originally built to be Amsterdam’s Town Hall in the 17th century, the grand structure was converted into a Royal Palace by Louis Napoleon (Napoleon Bonaparte’s brother) in 1808. Louis’ reign was short lived, but his French Empire-style furnishings have endured. In fact, the Palace boasts one of the finest collections in the world! The fully furnished rooms, illuminated by heavy gilt chandeliers, are a feast for the eyes. The cavernous central hall is equally impressive. Gleaming marble floors are inlaid with two hemispheres which demonstrate Holland’s global importance during the Dutch Golden Age.

The Dutch Royal Palace of Amsterdam

amsterdam royal palace empire furniture

amsterdam royal palace tour

Hermitage Amsterdam

hermitage amsterdam museum

Interestingly, a branch of the famed Hermitage Museum of Saint Petersburg can be found in Amsterdam. Opened in 2009, the Hermitage Amsterdam was intended to highlight the long relationship between the Netherlands and Russia. Today, the permanent exhibition is entitled, “Portrait Gallery of the Golden Age,” and features group portraits of prominent 17th century Dutch citizens. At the time of my visit, another large exhibition held the works of Spanish Masters from the Hermitage Collection. Check the museum website to see the current schedule. The vast building, Amstelhof, served as a home for the elderly for over 300 years until it was converted into museum space.

hermitage amsterdam portrait gallery

dutch masters hermitage amsterdam

amsterdam tulip festival

Red Light District

amsterdam red light district

You don’t need the Museum Card to enter Amsterdam’s notorious Red Light District, but you do need an open mind and some discretion. Prostitution was legalized in the Netherlands in 1810, though it was quietly tolerated by the authorities at least a century before. De Wallen, Amsterdam’s largest red light district, is also its medieval Old Town. The Oude Kerk, or Old Church, was built in the early 1300s and is Amsterdam’s oldest surviving structure. The neighborhood is more sedate than one might expect since many of the brothels are tucked away in narrow alleys. Often, you can’t see the women until you are standing directly in front of their window. Most seemed bored and were checking their phones, perhaps a way of ignoring the leering crowds constantly passing by. But I was there during the early evening, so the atmosphere could liven up as the night progresses.

A brothel sits prominently next to the Oude Kerk in Amsterdam’s Red Light District

Amsterdam's historic Red Light District

amsterdam red light district

De Wallen, Amsterdam’s oldest neighborhood

Begijnhof

begijnhof amsterdam

Another historic Amsterdam neighborhood is Begijnhof. In the 14th century, almshouses were built around a quiet courtyard as a sanctuary for a group of Beguines – religious women who took a vow of chastity. Although the last official beguine died in 1971, community residence is still restricted to women. The charming brick homes, with their leaning frames and gabled roofs, mostly date to the 17th century. Only one wooden house from about 1520 remains. Spui, the large square outside Begijnhof’s entrance, hosts a weekend flea market that’s also worth a gander.

begijnhof amsterdam

Shopping

amsterdam cheese shop

While the city boasts many fabulous shops, two won my heart. The Amsterdam Cheese Company specializes in artisan Dutch cheeses and spreads. The friendly sales woman let me try as many samples as I wanted until I was sure of my choices. Of course I would have loved to load my suitcase with the entire contents of the store, but settled for two wheels of Dutch Gold Gouda (7 Months and Cumin) and a jar of Honey Thyme Mustard.

I also took home a few Delft Blue KLM Houses sold at Kramer Arts & Antiques. The family-owned shop may be best known for its stock of antique tiles, but I couldn’t resist snagging a few of the charming little houses as a souvenir of my trip. Originally filled with Dutch gin, or genever, the porcelain bottles are modeled after actual buildings in Amsterdam. Since the 1950s, KLM Airlines has given one to every passenger lucky enough to fly in World Business Class.

kramer antiques amsterdam

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A Windswept Day at Kinderdijk, Netherlands

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No image is more iconically Dutch than the windmill. (Well, except maybe the tulip.) For centuries its sails have harnessed the power of wind to help manufacture items as varied as paper, mustard, and chalk. Saw mills were particularly important in early shipbuilding when a large naval fleet was a key to economic success. Later, as natural drainage systems in the Netherlands began to fail, pumping mills controlled water levels and reclaimed land for the low-lying country. The advent of the steam engine eventually rendered traditional mills obsolete, though thankfully 1,000 or so still stand. One of the best places to see historical windmills in action is Kinderdijk. The network of 19 mills has been so perfectly preserved that it’s been included on the UNESCO World Heritage List. When a friend casually mentioned that she wanted to race past the windmills like Hans Brinker, I didn’t need much convincing.

We rented bikes from a shop near the entrance and pedaled merrily along the dykes and canals. The wind was brisk, as was to be expected, but not unpleasant. The further along the path we rode, the thinner the crowds became. Local men sat fishing while sneaky ducks and birds tried to steal their catch. A lone woman on horseback sauntered past, presumably from one of the neighboring villages which I wish I’d had time to explore. The complete cycle route around Kinderdijk is 60 kilometers long, though at my snail’s pace that would take me two days at least.

Kinderdijk windmills

A windmill in Kinderdijk, Netherlands

Kinderdijk Netherlands

Kinderdijk UNESCO site

The UNESCO listed windmills of Kinderdijk, Netherlands

Kinderdijk windmills

Two of the historic Kinderdijk windmills have been converted into museums. The 1950s-style interiors have been left intact, giving visitors a glimpse of what life was like for the families that lived in and operated the mills. One family had 12 children! It’s incredible to think about all those kids sleeping next to churning gears and playing in the yard while the sails swung round and round.

Dutch windmill

Kinderdijk windmill museum

It’s possible to travel from Amsterdam to Kinderdijk via public transportation, but plan for a full day trip. I took the train from Amsterdam to Utrecht, then rode bus 90 to Kinderdijk. The most challenging part of the journey was buying the bus ticket in Utrecht, as the line at the counter was long. In hindsight, it might have been faster to transit through nearby Rotterdam, but I enjoyed the two hour ride through the bucolic Dutch countryside. Food options at the park are limited, so bring your own provisions. I bought a sandwich at the Utrecht train station and ate it on the bus.

netherlands bus 90

Kinderdijk bus stop

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Crazy for Kyiv: My Four Days in Ukraine

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I was searching for flights for a last minute getaway from Riga, and the cheapest direct flight was to Kyiv. Until that moment, Ukraine wasn’t on my travel radar. Russia’s annexation of Crimea was big news in Latvia and the 2014 Euromaidan riots still seemed all too recent. Was it safe to visit Ukraine? Mr. Google said yes so I quickly booked flights and a hotel. What followed were four incredible days discovering a dynamic European capital keen to shake off its turbulent past and welcome tourists with open arms.

During my visit I found Ukrainian flags flying proudly against a backdrop of stunning architecture, UNESCO-listed monasteries glittering in the sun, vibrant street art, hipsters sipping lattes in stylish cafes, and kids on pony rides in leafy parks. It felt a lot like Budapest, but without the annoying crowds. There were so many interesting things to do in Kyiv that I could have spent a month there and still not have done it all. Four days simply weren’t enough.

Kyiv Ukraine

Kyiv Ukraine

Ukrainian Flag

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Kyiv Street Art

Kyiv Soviet Architecture

My first stop was Maidan Nezalezhnosti, or Independence Square, scene of the heaviest violence in 2014. Two years later few signs of destruction were visible. The burned-out Trade Unions Building was draped with white canvas sheets and two vehicles were left parked across the street. A memorial wall dedicated to the dozens of Euromaidan victims stretched up the hill towards Hotel Ukraine.

Kyiv Maidan Square

Kyiv Maidan Memorial

Kyiv Independence Monument

The square itself was completely rebuilt after World War II when Kyiv was all but obliterated by Soviet forces. The new buildings were constructed in the heavy “Stalinist Empire” style and now look wonderfully retro with their colorful block letter signs. All the Soviet monuments came crashing down along with the USSR itself in 1991 and were replaced by symbols of an independent Ukraine.

Kyiv Maidan Square

Kyiv Stalinist Empire Architecture

Many of Kyiv’s main attractions fan off from Maidan and it took me over two days to explore them. One of the most stunning is St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery. The cornflower blue cathedral is actually a modern reconstruction of a medieval church destroyed by the Soviets for having “no historical value.” Thankfully, many of the original mosaics were removed before demolition and have since been returned to their rightful place inside the cathedral.

Kyiv St Michaels Golden Domed Monastery

St Michaels Golden Domed Monastery Kyiv

The nearby Saint Sophia’s Cathedral fared much better under the Soviet regime and was saved from destruction by the efforts of scientists and historians. Constructed during the 11th century during the reign of Vladimir the Great, Saint Sophia’s Cathedral was meant to rival its namesake, the Hagia Sophia, in what was then Constantinople. After Vladimir’s baptism, Kyiv became ground zero for the spread of the Orthodox faith in the region. Saint Sophia’s breathtaking mosaics and frescoes, created with the help of Byzantine masters, remain largely intact. It’s no wonder this was the first site in Ukraine to be inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

Kyiv St Sophias Cathedral UNESCO

St Sophia Bell Tower Kyiv

Be sure to climb St. Sophia’s bell tower for terrific views of the city!

A little further north is Andrew’s Descent, a steep cobblestone street that winds between two of Kyiv’s historic neighborhoods. The descent is named after the landmark St. Andrew’s Church, a Baroque beauty designed by Bartolomeo Rastrelli, the same architect responsible for the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg. About a quarter of the way down is Mikhail Bulgakov’s House, a museum dedicated to the Kyiv-born author. I took a tour given entirely in Ukrainian and understood not a whit, but am now eager to read his novel the White Guard.

St Andrews Church Kyiv

Kyiv Bulgakovs Museum

Kyiv Andrews Descent

Andrew’s Descent is perhaps most famous for the souvenir stands that line the street. Some true gems can be found in with the tourist tack, including vintage Ukrainian fabrics and hand-painted wooden eggs. The sellers were super friendly and happy to pose for photos and have a chat – one man even got an album out of his car to show off the huge fish his son had recently caught!

Kyiv Souvenir Shopping

The Podil neighborhood at the base of Andrew’s Descent is home to the Chernobyl Museum which provides an in-depth look at the world’s worst nuclear disaster. When a reactor at a power plant in Pripyat, Ukraine exploded in 1986, it released 400 times more radioactive material than the Hiroshima bomb. Informative headsets walk visitors through every stage of the cataclysmic event, from the initial explosion and aftermath to the continuing impact of radiation poisoning on humans and the environment. The museum calls out the Soviet regime for attempting to downplay the disaster and blame the reactor’s operators rather than admit to faulty design and inadequate training as the main causes. The whole situation is astounding, and you’ll want to allow several hours to fully absorb the details.

Kyiv Chernobyl Museum

Kyiv Chernobyl Museum

Kyiv Chernobyl Museum

South of Maidan you’ll find architectural landmarks including the Golden Gate, National Opera of Ukraine, and House with Chimeras. I had hoped to see Mariyinski Palace, but it was undergoing restoration at the time of my visit and completely hidden from view. The Museum of Western and Oriental Art was a very pleasant surprise, however. In 1918, at the “urging” of the new Soviet regime, Varvara Khanenko “donated” the private collection of her recently deceased husband, Bohdan, along with their beautiful home to the city of Kyiv. European paintings, Chinese porcelain, Roman sculptures, and Byzantine icons are displayed inside the rooms of the restored mansion. My mouth dropped open when I first entered and saw the grand wooden staircase – and it only got more impressive from there!

Kyiv Landmarks

Last but certainly not least is Pechersk Lavra, or Cave Monastery, a unique complex included in the UNESCO listing for Saint Sophia’s. Commanding center stage are the Dormition Cathedral and Great Bell Tower, which is absolutely worth climbing for its spectacular views. The cathedral was blown up during WWII and rebuilt in 2000, but you’d never know it. The reconstruction was meticulous!

Kyiv Pechersk Lavra UNESCO

Kyiv Dormition Cathedral

I may have snuck a photo of the interior. Shhh.

Kyiv Pechersk Lavra Great Bell Tower

Kyiv Pechersk Lavra

Kyiv Pechersk Lavra

What makes Pechersk Lavra unique is the labyrinth of caves hidden below ground. At one time, 1,200 monks lived in these subterranean cells. The narrow corridors are supposedly lined with the mummified remains of some of the monks, but I can’t confirm this. I didn’t have time to explore the caves because I spent too long gaping at all the pretty things in the Museum of Ukrainian Decorative Folk Art, housed in one of the monastery buildings. But seriously, look at these gorgeous fabrics! I’ll just have to go back to Kyiv to explore the rest of the complex.

Kyiv Ukranian Folk Art

Museum of Ukrainian Decorative Folk Art

Kyiv Folk Art Museum

I wasn’t able to get my hands on a guidebook in time for my trip, but it turns out that I didn’t need one. The tourist map I got from my hotel was so detailed that it even listed the hours and addresses of all the top sights. Super helpful and time saving on a short visit – kudos to the Kyiv tourism board!

I was also impressed with Kyiv’s extremely efficient metro system. Three lines make it easy to access nearly all parts of the city, and rides cost a mere four hryvnias (about 15 cents). Some stations are decorated with the standard Soviet motifs of wheat boughs, stars, hammers and sickles, while others feel more modern. The Arsenalna station – which you’ll pass through if you go to Pechersk Lavra – is the deepest metro station in the world!

Kyiv Metro

Stay tuned for my Kyiv restaurant recommendations in an upcoming post.

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Top things to do in Kyiv, Ukraine

48 Hours in Helsinki Finland

Falling in Love with Helsinki, Finland

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Have you ever visited a new destination and felt instantly at home, as if you could move there tomorrow and your life would fit in seamlessly? I’ve traveled through over 40 countries, but only felt that sort of serious connection to a handful of places, including RigaDublin, Budapest, Paris, and New York. Another city I’d be happy to move to is Helsinki, Finland. It’s quiet, unassuming, and a little quirky – like me! I only spent a weekend in Helsinki, but it left an imprint on my heart. Here’s how I made the most of my short time there, and why I’m so eager to return.

Helsinki Finland

Helsinki is a shopper’s paradise, with boutiques and designer stores at every turn. Famous names like marimekko and iittala might be the big draw, but Helsinki’s Design District boasts more than 200 venues where one can peruse the latest in fashion, jewelry, and home decor. I loved being surrounded by that level of creativity, even if I could only afford to window shop!

Helsinki iittala store

marimekko helsinki store

Vibrant marimekko fabric for sale at the brand’s flagship store in Helsinki.

Helsinki Design District

The distinctive Finnish aesthetic can be further appreciated at the Design Museum. The ground floor takes visitors on a walk down memory lane through showrooms filled with innovations by decade. Upstairs, it’s all about fashion. It’s really a shame some of the styles never caught on!

Helsinki Design Museum

During the warm summer months, artisans and farmers sell their wares in Market Square next to the harbor. This is a great place to pick up affordable souvenirs, seasonal produce, and fresh fish. Nearby in the Old Market Hall, you can find all manner of Finnish delicacies. My friends and I put together a picnic of cured reindeer meat, crusty rye bread, sea buckthorn jam, and cold pear cider.

Helsinki harbor market

Helsinki harbor market fresh fish

Old Market Hall Helsinki

We enjoyed our picnic on Suomenlinna, a UNESCO-listed island fortress not far from the city. Built by Sweden in the 1750s to protect against Russian expansion, the fortification changed hands several times over the centuries, as did Finland itself. No longer used for military purposes, Suomenlinna – which means “Castle of Finland” – is a grass-covered haven for tourists and locals alike. To get there, hop aboard the ferry which departs from Market Square harbor. Tickets cost €5 and are good for 12 hours.

Suomenlinna Island Fortress

Helsinki Suomenlinna Fortress

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Interestingly, around 800 people live on Suomenlinna year round.

Helsinki’s Uspenski Orthodox Cathedral is a striking visual reminder of the century Finland spent within the Russian Empire. The redbrick church topped with golden onion domes is perched on a hillside above the city where it captures the morning light.

Helsinki Uspenski Orthodox Cathedral

Helsinki Orthodox Church

It’s possible to visit Helsinki as a day-trip from Tallinn, Estonia, but I don’t recommend it. Helsinki deserves much more than a single day (as does Tallinn)! Plus, where else can you spend the night in jail and not have it show up as an offense on your permanent record? Hotel Katajanokka is located in a historic building that was used as a prison until 2002. Although tastefully updated into a modern boutique hotel, many of the prison’s interior features have been left intact. It was definitely one of my more memorable hotel stays!

Helsinki prison hotel

As ever, I ate well during my time in Helsinki. The Sea Horse restaurant has been serving up traditional Baltic fare since 1934. I feasted on pickled herring, Finnish meatballs, and pancakes sweetened with homemade strawberry jam in the homey bistro setting. At the other end of the dining spectrum, Restaurant Kuu puts a modern spin on those classic flavors. Reindeer steak is updated with barley risotto and a port wine reduction; the humble salmon is elevated with a delicately herbaceous broth. I regret not sampling one of Kuu’s innovative desserts, but I was saving room for salmiakki, or salty licorice, ice cream and all the Fazer chocolates.

Helsinki Sea Horse Restaurant

Helsinki Restaurant Kuu

Finnish Salmiakki Ice Cream

I think part of the reason I felt such a connection to Helsinki is that it reminded me of my beloved Riga, particularly the architecture. I had a constant crick in my neck from looking up at the unusually-shaped buildings decorated with unexpected details. Pear cider in a leafy park helped me recuperate.

Helsinki 25

Helsinki train station

Helsinki architecture

Helsinki in summer

Like Riga, Helsinki comes alive during the summer months.

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48 Hours in Helsinki, Finland

Island Hopping in Stockholm, Sweden

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Summers in Northern Europe are short but oh so sweet. Endless daylight hours and cool breezes create an ideal climate for sightseeing, while the tourist crowds tend to be fewer than in the sunny South. One of the loveliest Nordic destinations is Stockholm, whose many attractions are spread across 14 different islands in the Baltic Sea. The best way to explore them all is, of course, by boat. Let’s sail away to some of Stockholm’s top sights!

Swedish Flag

To get the lay of the land – er, sea – I started with an “Under the Bridges of Stockholm” boat tour. We cruised under 15 of Stockholm’s 57 bridges and through one of the locks that regulates the surrounding water level. The two hour-and-15-minute journey was accompanied with highly informative factoids delivered via personal headsets, and I thought it was €25 well spent. Sit on the right side of the boat for the best view, and be sure to bundle up as the air blowing through the windows can be quite chilly – even in July!

Stockholm Sweden

grona lund amusement park stockholm

Grona Lund, Stockholm’s thrilling amusement park.

stockholm boat tours

For an even longer ride past some of the city’s more idyllic islands, hop aboard the ferry to Drottningholm Palace, a UNESCO-listed residence of the Swedish royal family. Although built in the 1660s, the palace’s most notable feature is the stunning 18th century French-inspired interior. I spent half a day wandering through the ornately furnished rooms and marveling at the fine details! Drottningholm is located on Lovon island and the journey takes one hour each way. I recommend purchasing a combination ticket that includes the boat ride and entrance to the palace.

Stockholm Drottningholm boat

Stockholm Drottningholm Palace

Drottningholm Palace tour

Drottningholm Palace garden

The Drottningholm Palace ferry departs from the pier next to Stockholm City Hall, which is worth visiting in its own right. The red brick building went up in 1923 and has hosted the Nobel Prize Banquet since 1930. After dining in the Blue Hall, guests ascend the stairs to dance the night away in the showstopping Golden Hall. Our tour guide demonstrated how the staircase was especially designed to accommodate women’s ball gowns and high heels. Talk about a grand entrance!

Stockholm City Hall

Stockholm City Hall Golden Room

The Golden Hall glitters with 18 million mosaic tiles.

Stockholm City Hall tour

Stockholm’s most famous island is home to the picturesque Gamla Stan, or Old Town. The colorful buildings have been wonderfully preserved, with many dating to the 13th century. The cobbled lanes, some so narrow that you can touch the houses on either side, are a photographer’s dream! Souvenir shops and restaurants line the main streets and squares, though quiet nooks can be found at every turn. You’ll definitely want to linger here!

Stockholm old town

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Stockholm old town

The Royal Palace of Stockholm is the official residence of the King of Sweden and a sumptuous setting for state functions. It is also a major tourist attraction, drawing in hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. Tickets include entrance to the Royal Apartments and the Treasury, where the crown jewels are on (well-guarded) display. I watched the Changing of the Guards ceremony before heading inside the palace; to be honest, it was a little anticlimactic. I wish I’d spent those precious extra minutes in the gorgeously appointed rooms!

Stockholm Palace

Stockholm Palace throne room

The Swedish throne is made of solid silver!

Stockholm palace tour

Stockholm palace church

The breathtaking Royal Chapel is free to visit during the summer months.

Skansen, a vast open-air ethnographic museum and zoo, is my favorite Stockholm attraction. Founded in 1891, Skansen uses actual historical buildings and costumed performers to recreate centuries of rural Swedish life. I love these types of museums because they give you a real taste of a place’s culture and its development over time. Plus, this one has animals! The Skansen zoo showcases Scandinavian species such as moose, elk, bears, and wolverines, alongside more exotic breeds. Fun fact: the European bison was brought back from near-extinction thanks in part to a herd living in Skansen!

Stockholm Skansen open-air museum

Skansen Stockholm

Skansen animals

Swedes today may be known for their prowess on the water, but this wasn’t always the case. In 1625, the Swedish king and a Dutch master shipbuilder set out to forge Vasa, the most powerful warship in the Baltic. Three years later, and a mere 1,300 meters from shore, Vasa toppled over and sank to the bottom of the sea. There it remained until the 1950s when the colossal wreck was discovered and eventually raised. 98% of the original vessel, including masts and sails, remains frozen in time. Sweden’s greatest boondoggle has given the world its only preserved 17th century ship. It is on display at the Vasa Museum along with the the bones and personal effects of some of the men and women who perished in the disaster. The whole thing is tragically fascinating.

Stockholm vasa museum photos

The Vasa Museum and Skansen are both located on Djurgarden island. I rode the “Hop On Hop Off” boat over from the ferry terminal near the entrance to the Gamla Stan, but had to take the tram back as the boats stop running at 4:30pm. Tickets are valid for 24 hours, so I could have used mine to explore even more of Stockholm’s islands – if only I’d had the time!

top things to do in Stockholm Sweden

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Essential Riga: A One Day Walking Tour

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While I always recommend spending as much time as you can in a new destination, often that’s simply not possible. Many cruise ships that dock in Riga give their passengers just one day to explore the city. So how can you make the most of that precious time? I’ve put together a one-day walking tour that combines the must-see attractions with a few of my own favorite spots. So skip that boring cruise ship tour and see Riga through the eyes of a local!

8:00 am*  From the ferry terminal exit, walk to the main road (Eksporta Iela) and cross at the light. Head east down residential Citadeles iela, away from the river, then turn right on Kronvalda bulvaris and follow the tram tracks towards Old Town. Leafy Kronvalda Park, one of Riga’s many green spaces, will be on your left. At the end of the boulevard, walk around the elegant Latvian National Theater on the left corner to the crosswalk next to the bridge. Cross over busy Krisjana Valdemara iela at the light and enjoy a peaceful stroll along Riga’s City Canal, once a moat that flowed outside the Old Town walls. Those medieval fortifications were torn down in the 19th century to allow for geographical expansion, and some of the stones were used to create lovely Bastejkalns Park.

Riga City Canal

Riga Bastejkalns Park

8:45 am  At the end of the park you’ll arrive at the Freedom Monument, a beacon of Latvian independence since 1935. (Amazingly, the Nazi and Soviet regimes both chose to reinterpret the statue rather than tear it down.) Important holidays are celebrated here, often with music and always with flowers. The Latvians love flowers more than any people I know on Earth.

Riga Freedom Monument

9:00 am  Part of Riga’s charm lies in its sophisticated cafe culture, so I’d be remiss not to suggest starting your day with a cappuccino and pastry. My current go-to cafe, BakeBerry, is located in a pretty red building on Audeju iela, or Weavers’ street. To reach it, cross the tram tracks next to the Opera House and enter Old Town by way of Teatre iela, or Theater street. Turn on left on Kaleju iela, or Blacksmiths’ street, right onto Audeju iela, and the cafe will be on your left.

Riga Opera House

Riga Pastries

9:30 am  Sufficiently fueled, you’ll be ready to tackle Riga’s Central Market, one of the largest and busiest in Europe. To get there from BakeBerry, turn right onto Audeju iela, then right again onto Valnu iela, or Ramparts street. Once at the end, go down the stairs in front of you to cross under the busy road. Keep going straight through the tunnel towards the autoosta, or bus terminal, and go up the staircase at the opposite end. The market is housed in five WWI-era zeppelin hangars, each dedicated to a particular food group (i.e. fish, meat, dairy). This is a good place to find souvenirs, such as Latvian honey and woven linens, and to sample local delicacies, like salted herring or smoked chicken. Don’t miss the pickled vegetable area!

Central Market in Riga Latvia

Riga Central Market

10:30 am**  Go back the way you came (under 13 Janvara iela) and head to St. Peter’s Church. Originally built in 1209 and oft damaged due to lightning and war, restoration works remain ongoing. Inside, you’ll find a gorgeous reproduction of the 19th century wooden altar, intricate royal coats of arms, and a bronze 16th century candlestick that survived WWII in Wloclawek, Poland, and was returned to its original home in Riga in 2012. Take the lift to the observation deck in the church’s spire – the birds-eye view of Old Town is worth every penny of the €9 ticket price!

Riga St Peter's Church

Riga Latvia

11:15 am  Exit St. Peter’s Church and walk straight to Town Hall Square. This is where you’ll find arguably Riga’s prettiest attraction – the House of the Blackheads. Originally built in the 1300s but demolished during WWII, this stunning building is a testament to Latvian craftsmanship and patriotism. Locals are proud of the meticulous work that went into its post-Soviet reconstruction, and rightly so. Look for the spot outside the building which marks where the world’s first decorated Christmas tree stood centuries ago.

Riga Town Hall Square

12:00 pm  OPTION A  If you’re like me, you’ll be starving for lunch at this point. I like to take my guests to “Key to Riga” in Dome Square, opposite the Cathedral. It may seem a bit touristy and overpriced at first glance, but this medieval-themed restaurant is a great option for lunch if you know what to order. I recommend the pretty-in-pink cold beet soup and potato pancakes with sour cream and lingonberry jam, washed down with a Latvian beer. (Valmiermuiza and Mezpils are good choices.) I’ve found the service at “Key to Riga” to be friendly and efficient. Just make sure to ask for the check when the plates are being cleared away to speed up the process.

Latvian Food

12:00 pm  OPTION B  Got enough to eat at the Central Market? Then skip lunch and check out two of the city’s top attractions. Dome Cathedral has been the ceremonial heart of Riga for 800 years. While religious services were suspended during the Soviet Occupation, the church remained in use as a concert hall and its organ is renowned for its beautiful sound. Across the square, the Riga Bourse Museum boasts a large collection of 17th- to 18th-century fine arts as well as a sweeping view of Dome Square from the top floor window.

Riga Dome Cathedral

Riga Dome Square

12:00 pm  OPTION C  Museums not your thing? Then use this time to shop ’til you drop! Latvia produces some of the finest handicrafts in the world and it would be a shame to return home without a souvenir of your travels. Exceptional products include pottery, linen scarves and tablecloths, wooden children’s toys, and traditional Latvian mittens. The large craft market in Egle Square is a convenient place to find all of the above at a fair price. Just look for the stands next to the beer garden, where you can celebrate your purchases with a refreshing glass of pear cider.

Riga Craft Market

1:00 pm  Depending on which option you choose, you’ll have about 45 minutes to wander through the rest of Old Town and admire the varied architecture of this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Make your way past the Three Brothers (some of the oldest buildings in the city) to Riga Castle, the newly restored home of Latvia’s president. Head down Torna iela, or Tower street, to find the Swedish Gate and the Powder Tower, two of Riga’s most iconic structures. Around the corner, the Black Cat House faces off against the Large and Small Guilds in Livu Square. (To learn more about these fascinating buildings, read this.)

Riga Castle

2:00 pm  OPTION A  Old Riga is so charming that it can be easy to forget Latvia’s difficult history. That’s why I think visiting the Occupation Museum is so important. Currently housed in the former U.S. Embassy building on Raina bulvaris (one block from the Freedom Monument), the museum explains in detail the dark days of Latvia’s Soviet and Nazi occupations during and after WWII. Knowledgeable guides give 45-minute tours (€3 per person) in English everyday at 14:00, and the personal tidbits they share will give you a fuller picture of the damage done.

Riga Occupation Museum

2:00 pm  OPTION B  If you already know a bit about the Soviet Occupation, or would rather spend your afternoon looking at pretty things (no judgment!), then maybe the Latvian National Museum of Art should be your next stop. The historic building only recently reopened after a multi-year restoration and is truly extraordinary to behold. The permanent exhibit on the top floor showcases the best Latvian painters and sculptors, including Janis Rozentals, Johans Walters, and Vilhelms Purvitis, to name a few. I thought it was interesting to see the progression of these artists’ styles during their careers, as well as Latvian art as a whole throughout its oft-turbulent history.

Latvian Museum of Art

Latvian Museum of Art Staircase

3:00 pm  No visit to Riga would be complete without stopping to gape at the impressively detailed buildings of the Art Nouveau district. From 1900-1913, Riga experienced unprecedented economic and geographic growth. The old city walls were demolished and hundreds of new buildings constructed, many of them in the Art Nouveau style. Jugendstil, as it’s also known, is characterized by the use of fanciful decorations that celebrate womanly beauty, nature, and mythology. While over one-third of Riga’s buildings are Art Nouveau, the largest concentration can be found along Elizabetes and Alberta ielas.

Riga Art Nouveau Architecture

If you have time, check out the Art Nouveau Museum to get an idea of how these sumptuously decorated apartment buildings looked when they were first built. The ground floor of Albert iela 12 has been beautifully restored and lavishly decorated to recreate early 20th century Riga life, while staff in period costume complete the effect. Even if you don’t have time to go through the whole museum, at least go inside the lobby and look up at the wondrous spiral staircase!

Riga Art Nouveau Museum

3:30 pm  Sadly, your day in Riga has come to an end and you must rejoin your fellow passengers on the boat. Walk to the end of Elizabetes iela, carefully cross the street, and make your way to your ship’s embarkation point. Then immediately start planning your return visit. There’s so much of Riga left to explore! Have a bit more time before departure? Art Cafe Sienna on Strelnieku iela is a perfect place to wait!

Riga Art Cafe Sienna

* The cruises that stop in Riga have wildly different schedules, so please adjust this according to your trip’s timetable to ensure you’re back on the boat before it leaves!

** Most museums and attractions don’t open until 10:00 am and are closed on Mondays.

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Norway in a Nutshell Fjord Tour – Is It Worth It?

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When my friend suggested we travel to Norway to see the fjords, I was completely on board with the idea. Norway boasts some of the most stunning scenery in Europe the world, with two fjords included on the UNESCO World Heritage List. But what’s the best way to enjoy them? My friend and I didn’t fancy strapping on heavy backpacks and hiking through the mountains, but we also wanted to see as much of the country as possible. I looked into different cruises and tours and ultimately decided the Norway in a Nutshell fjord cruise from Bergen was the best fit for us.

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Norway in a Nutshell isn’t a conventional tour with a guide. There is no cumbersome headset to wear. Rather, the company prearranges various means of transportation, leaving you to free to enjoy the scenery without worrying about buying bus or train tickets at the next stop. Norway in a Nutshell makes the process so easy! I loved that the only thing I needed to do was get myself to the next departure point on time. (And when it turned out a family of four had gotten on a train going in the wrong direction, the conductors worked to get them straightened out.) Could you manage the same tour route on your own? Probably, though you might not see as much in one day.

Bergen Railway View

Riding the Bergen Railway through the morning fog.

Bergen Railway View

Where does the earth end and the water begin?

We did the standard route in reverse, riding the lovely Bergen Railway to Voss and quickly hopping a bus bound for Gudvangen. Part of the trip took us down the impossibly steep Stalheimskleiva road which boasts a total of 13 hairpin turns; the talented bus driver paused at bends to give everyone a chance to appreciate the engineering feat.

Norway in a Nutshell Tour

How would you like to have this waterfall cascading in your backyard?

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A perfect mirror image captured through the bus window.

Norway in a Nutshell

Stalheimskleiva Road

Stalheimskleiva Road Norway

From Gudvangen, where we picked up a boat, we cruised through two breathtaking fjords (Aurlandsfjord and Nærøyfjord) as the morning fog just began to lift over the soaring snow-capped mountains. Even in June, there was snow on the ground in places and a chill in the air. As we sailed through passes carved over millennia, we marveled at small towns and villages that must be cut off from the world for half the year. I wonder what it’s like to live in such a remote place!

Norway in a Nutshell Fjord Cruise

Norway in a Nutshell Fjord Cruise

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Norway in a Nutshell Fjord Cruise

Norway in a Nutshell Fjord Cruise

Norway in a Nutshell Fjord Cruise

Food wasn’t included in the Norway in a Nutshell tour price, but there was time built into the schedule to eat along the way. We enjoyed a tasty lunch at a cafe in Flåm, facing the water and surrounded by craggy mountains. I had a brief pang of regret that we hadn’t planned an overnight stay in Flåm. The sun was shining brightly and I could have soaked up the view (and warmth) for hours!

Lunch in Flam Norway

Instead, we took an unforgetable ride on the Flåm Railway to Myrdal which surely must be one of the world’s most magnificent journeys. Snow cover increased as we climbed higher and colorfully painted farm houses appeared like toy models in the vast landscape. To everyone’s delight, the train stopped at Kjosfossen waterfall so that we could disembark and be duly impressed by the spectacular sight.

Riding the Flam Railway

Can you spot the houses?

Kjosfossen Waterfall, Norway

A viking spirit commands the power of Kjosfossen waterfall.

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We changed trains in Myrdal and headed back to Voss, the so-called “adventure capital” of Norway. As we waited for the next connection in the sunshine, brave souls paraglided far overhead of those of us who kept our feet firmly on the ground. I’ve since read that it’s possible to go horseback riding in the mountains surrounding Voss and I would love to go back and do that one day.

Myrdal Train Station, Norway

Myrdal Norway

Norway in June

Norway Mountain Scenery

The final train ride from Voss to Bergen was spent in sleepy silence as we watched the ever-changing landscapes pass by, returning in time for a scrumptious seafood dinner at the waterside Bergen fish market. All told, Norway in a Nutshell was one day and US$145 (1200 NOK) well spent!

Voss, Norway

The picturesque town of Voss, Norway.

Voss, Norway

Norway in a Nutshell Tour Review

Now for the most important question: where to sit on your Norway in a Nutshell tour for the best views? I Googled this same question before my own trip and took copious notes (and photos) en route. While there is no bad view, some sides do afford more dramatic sights than others. Here are my recommendations (reverse them if you are traveling in the opposite direction):

Bergen > Voss // Train – sit on the LEFT

Voss > Gudvangen // Bus – sit on the LEFT

Gudvangen > Flåm // Boat – sit on the RIGHT

Flåm > Myrdal // Train – sit on the RIGHT

Myrdal > Voss // Train – sit on the RIGHT

Voss > Bergen // Train – sit on the RIGHT

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two days in split

Wandering the Ancient Alleys of Split, Croatia

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As destinations go, Split, Croatia is one of the more extraordinary I’ve come across. In fact, the Old City as we know it today shouldn’t even exist! At the beginning of the 4th century, Roman Emperor Diocletian built a retirement palace on the shore of the Adriatic Sea near his hometown in what is now Croatia. I’ve read conflicting reports on the fate of the palace after his death. Some say it continued to host vacationing Roman rulers, while others claim it was abandoned. Either way, the opulent residence got a new lease on life in the 7th century when residents from the sacked city of Salona, capital of the Roman province of Dalmatia, took refuge within its fortified walls. Amazingly, ancestors of those Salonans continue to live inside the palace to this day.

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Standing in front of the entrance to Diocletian’s imperial residence.

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The Peristyle, or main courtyard of the Palace.

Visitors will be hard-pressed to make out the details of what is considered the world’s most intact Roman palace. At least, I was. This is because a town sprang up within, walls added and removed, Diocletian’s living quarters and army garrison morphing into individual family homes connected by a latticework of courtyards and alleyways. In the Middle Ages, Diocletian’s mausoleum was converted into a Christian church, which surely had the steadfast pagan rolling over in his grave. At least he’s still surrounded by the marble columns and sphinxes he imported from Egypt.

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Everyday at noon, “Diocletian” and his empress greet the masses.

The interior of the Cathedral of St. Domnius is magnificent, with 13th century carved wooden doors and choir stalls, a green porphyry pulpit, and a large gilded Gothic altar. The cathedral’s bell tower soars 57 meters into the sky, providing unbeatable views of Split and the stunning Adriatic coast – that is, if you can handle the rickety climb up!

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Those with acrophobia might do better with the terrace of the Ethnographic Museum, which is reached via a much sturdier staircase. The view might not be as sweeping, but you’ll be standing on the roof of Diocletian’s Palace. The museum also boasts an impressive collection of traditional Croatian costumes, jewelry, and handicrafts, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

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For a different look at the palace, head below ground to the Basement Halls. Cool and empty, these substructures were built to support the weight of the rooms above and give an idea as to the layout of the imperial living quarters. They also offer a refreshing respite from the unrelenting Southern European sunshine.

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Split’s true charm lies in its tangle of alleyways, with shops and cafes tucked into every available nook and cranny. Every morning as I lingered over coffee, I watched locals come and go, greeting one another like old friends. My wanderings took me past their apartment doors and below their hanging laundry, providing an intimate glimpse of life within the palace walls.

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The palace walls are more visible from outside, as are the modifications that have been made over the centuries. Shops and market stalls now flank the entrance gates, though you might still run into a Roman guard or two. The space between the palace and the sea is occupied by the Riva, a palm tree- and cafe-studded promenade. I liked to sit there on a bench, cup of fig gelato in hand, gazing at the boats bobbing in impossibly blue water as the setting sun turned the sky a dramatic shade of pink.

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Dubrovnik, Croatia: Three Days of Bliss

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Often when I travel to a new destination, I try to see and do as much as possible in the time available. I want to get to know the place, try it on, and see if it fits. I’m usually asking myself questions: Could I live here someday? What would that be like? But every once in a while, I arrive somewhere and simply want to absorb its beauty. Koh Lanta, Thailand, Santorini, Greece, and Dubrovnik, Croatia are a few of those rare places where I was content to do nothing. I didn’t go to a single museum or palace. Rather, my three days in Dubrovnik were spent relaxing by the sea, eating all the Croatian food, and admiring the medieval city from every possible angle.

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Thick stone walls have encircled Dubrovnik since the 9th century, protecting it from invaders. Visitors now patrol the ramparts, searching for ships on the horizon and perfect photo ops, of which there are many. It’s possible to walk the entire length of the Dubrovnik City Walls, which continue unbroken for 1,940 meters. Watch towers punctuate the fortifications and afford a dramatic look at the city’s jumble of red rooftops. Damage incurred during the 1991 siege and bombing is noticeable, though the city has mostly been restored thanks to UNESCO support.

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Dubrovnik’s walls provide a dramatic backdrop even from ground level as visitors slink along their perimeter like so many ants. One of my favorite ways to pass the time was people watching at a harbor-side cafe, ice cold beer in hand. Others soaked up the late summer sunshine atop a small jetty or from rocks at the base of the walls, jumping gleefully into the blue water to cool off. Those in the know relaxed at a secluded bar that clings precariously to the city’s foundation.

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Between the walls, a grid of steep stone staircases forms the backbone of the old city. I loved wandering beneath hanging laundry and the profusion of plants, watching locals carry on with their daily life inside a medieval fantasy world. The alleys were lined with apartments and guesthouses, restaurants and shops, and yet they never felt loud or crowded. Perhaps this was because it was late September and most of the tourists had moved on, but I still felt like I was in on a wonderful little secret.

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One evening I came across d’vino wine bar and took up residence at an empty table tucked along an alley wall. Unfamiliar with Croatian wines, I opted for a tasting of three refreshing whites from different parts of the country. While all were tasty, the most memorable was a full-bodied Posip from the island of Korcula.

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To fully appreciate the Pearl of the Adriatic in all her glory, I headed to Panorama restaurant atop Mt. Srd. Reached via cable car (€15 round trip), the umbrella-shaded terrace is the perfect spot to marvel at the sweeping view (over wine and cheese, naturally).

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My rental apartment was located in the neighborhood of Gruz, some two kilometers from the Old City. The daily climb up and down the hill was strenuous, but it provided a fascinating glimpse of workaday life in Dubrovnik. And the gorgeous scenery more than made up for the effort.

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Is Croatia on your bucket list? How would you spend three days in Dubrovnik?

Versailles: In the Footsteps of Kings and Tourists

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I first visited the Palace of Versailles as a teenager and was enchanted by its grandeur. Our private guide regaled us with interesting tales of Court life and I left not a little obsessed with France. I read books about French royalty and the Revolution, attended the Broadway production of Les Miserables, and studied French in college. So when I visited Paris for a week last year, a return to Versailles was an obvious choice for a day trip. But would it live up to my exalted memories?

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Marie Antoinette’s Estate was as charming as ever and remains my favorite part of Versailles. In 1774, Marie moved into Le Petite Trianon, a “modest” mansion surrounded by gardens and somewhat secluded from the rest of Versailles. Here she was able to enjoy some privacy; Louis XVI’s unfortunate queen felt stifled by the pomp and circumstance of the Palace.

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A decade later, longing for the simple pleasures of country life, Marie had a veritable village constructed on the grounds near her small palace. The so-called Queen’s Hamlet consisted of 11 houses spread around a lake, along with orchards, vineyards, and a livestock enclosure. Peasants were brought in and soon turned the place into a working farm whose produce fed the royal Court. Marie liked to visit the farm with her ladies-in-waiting and play the milkmaid in her replica dairy, further contributing to her reputation as a spoiled rich girl completely out of touch with reality. We all know how that turned out.

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Marie Antoinette wasn’t the only French noble who wanted to escape the prying eyes of Versailles. Louis XIV needed someplace secluded to enjoy clandestine assignations with his mistress, so naturally he built her a palace. Le Grand Trianon is a vision of pink marble stretching languidly across the far corner of the grounds. King Louis moved in along with several members of his immediate family, presumably to keep up appearances. After the Revolution, Napoleon had le Grand Trianon restored and lived here with Empress Marie-Louise.

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Even in March, without the famed fountains running or blooms on the trees, Versailles’ Gardens are still impressive. Pools of water reflect the ever-shifting sky, while bronze and marble sculptures embellish the immaculately tended walkways and parterres. Hidden groves bring to mind the covert meetings of lovers and revolutionaries alike.

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That leaves us with the Palace. In the 1670s, Louis XIV built Versailles on the site of his father’s hunting lodge. He was fed up with the scheming nobility and relocated the entire French Court from Paris to a remote location where he could monitor them more closely. Versailles was designed to show off Louis’s absolute power as the Sun King and the wealth of the French monarchy. Nowhere is this more evident than the Hall of Mirrors. 357 mirrors reflect the light from the wall of windows opposite, as well as the abundance of crystal chandeliers and gold paint, to dazzling effect.

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The mirrors will also reflect the hordes of other tourists crammed in next to you. Because here’s the thing about Versailles: It receives over 7.5 MILLION visitors each year and is one of the most popular attractions in the world. I went on a weekday morning in March and some rooms were so crowded I could barely move.

Versailles Interior

I somehow managed to crop most of the people out of my shots so here’s one from Daniel Felde on Flickr, also taken in March.

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versailles crowds

Heading through the main gate.

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Waiting in line.

Should you still visit Versailles? Absolutely. But it’s important to go in with realistic expectations. Paris Museum Pass holders will not get to skip the line, which will be lengthy. Rooms inside the main Palace building are minimally furnished as most items of value were auctioned off during the French Revolution. The included audio guide wouldn’t play as there was too much interference from the sheer number of headsets in each room. This wouldn’t have been a problem except there weren’t any written descriptions to read instead. Thankfully, I had the tidbits gleaned from the tour guide on my previous visit to keep me engaged. If you want to make the most of your time at Versailles, I recommend signing up for a guided tour. This is one of the few places where I think it’s worth it.

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The royal family would dine here in front of an audience – a 17th century version of reality TV.

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For a more intimate look at Palace life, head to the Mesdames’ Apartments. Located in a private wing with a separate entrance, these are the rooms that Louis XV gave to his six darling daughters, two of whom stayed in residence until the Revolution. This lovely corner of the Palace is furnished as though the ladies will return home at any moment and boasts full English descriptions in every room. Even better, hardly anyone else was inside!

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Don’t leave Versailles without dining at Angelina. Although technically a tea house, I was delighted to find foie gras salad and truffle ravioli on the lunch menu. (If there was ever a place to eat like a queen…) The highlight, of course, was dessert. Angelina is renowned for its outrageously delicious “African hot chocolate” made from cocoa sourced in Niger, Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire. This decadent drink pairs well with the irresistibly light Millefeuille à la vanille Bourbon, though all the pastries look heavenly.

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Have you been to Versailles? What were your impressions?