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Asia Guides Insider Tips

Top 20 Places to Visit in Tokyo in 2020

I have a feeling that by the end of 2020 Tokyo is going to be the “it” city to visit in the world. Why is that? Well, if you haven’t heard, the summer Olympics are coming to Tokyo. And after people see the sights and neon lights of Tokyo on their TV sets or their computer or phone screens, they’re going to want to visit. So, you better beat everyone else to the hottest city of 2020 and book your ticket NOW!

Tokyo is a great place to explore the two sides to Japanese culture: the traditional side of temples and history and the modern side of manga and robots. Here are my top 20 places to visit where can experience both sides of Tokyo in 2020:

Where to see the best traditional Culture of Tokyo:

1. Senso-ji Temple

The oldest and one of the most important Buddhist temples in Tokyo is Senso-ji.

Originally built in 645, Sensoji is dedicated to the Bodhisattva of Compassion (a.k.a. Guanyin in Chinese culture). Senso-ji was destroyed during World War II, so the current one that you’re seeing was built in the twentieth century.

Pro Tip:  Make sure to get a omikuji, a paper fortune. Just follow the instructions (written in English). Don’t worry, if you get a bad fortune, just tie the paper around a nearby rack to stop the bad luck from happening.

2. Meiji Shrine

Meiji Shrine is one of Japan’s most popular shrines. This shrine is the one Tokyoites visit at the beginning of every year in order to pray for good fortune.

Built in 1920, the shrine is dedicated to the deified spirits of the Meiji Emperor and his wife, the Empress Shokun.

What to do at Meiji Shrine: Write your wish on an ema, a votive tablet, and place it under the big camphor tree to the right of the main hall.

3. Tokyo National Museum

This museum is the best place to visit in Tokyo to get a sense of the overall history of Japanese art.

The Tokyo National Museum is made up of 5 buildings. It would take you a few days to visit all of them. However, you don’t need to do that. Just head to the one in the center, the Honkan Gallery. Here you’ll see an overview of Japanese art from the Jomon to the Edo periods.

Pro Tip: I love the paintings by Hakusai. His most famous one, “Great Wave of Kanagawa,” was located on the first floor when I visited.

4. Edo Tokyo Museum

This spectacular museum in Sumida covers the fascinating history of Tokyo.

The Edo Tokyo Museum takes you through the history of Tokyo when it was called Edo to the present day. It’s filled with reproductions such as the Nihon Bashi Bridge (considered the center of Edo), a Kabuki Theater, and a Japanese apartment from the 1960s.

Pro Tip: The Edo Tokyo Museum is huge! To see it all, you’ll want to schedule three or four hours. Be sure to arrive early because most museums in Japan close at 5:00 pm. Also, make sure you have enough time for the post World War II section of the museum.

5. Ukiyo-e Ota Museum of Art

If you’re looking for a break from the teeny boppers crowds of Harajuku, head to this small, gem of a museum, the Ukiyo-e Museum of Art.

This museum focuses on Japanese woodblock prints of the Floating World in the Edo and Meiji periods. The Floating World was the term used to describe the pleasure world where Japanese went to watch kabuki, drink, gamble, and visit geishas and prostitutes.

Pro Tip: It’s small, so you need just an hour to visit. You could go back to this museum every month as the prints change monthly.

6. Kabuki-za Theater

Watching a kabuki performance at Tokyo’s Kabuki-za Theater is a must for anyone wanting to explore Japanese traditional culture more deeply.

Kabuki is traditional Japanese drama. The stories usually feature tales of romance and heroism. It was traditionally performed by all female casts, but the Japanese people felt this was too risqué, so female actors were banned and replaced by an all-male cast.

Pro Tip: The Kabuki-za theater has four to five performances every day from morning to evening. You can buy single act tickets on the day of the performance from 600 yen to 1,500 yen. I highly recommend renting an electronic translator at the theater to get a translation of the play.

7. Ryogoku Kokugikan Sumo Stadium

Seeing a sumo match is not just for the sports enthusiast, but also for those wanting to experience one aspect of Japan’s unique culture. You can do that at the Ryogoku Kokugikan Sumo Stadium in Samida.

Official Sumo tournaments only take place in January, March, May, July, September, and November. If you’re not in Tokyo in those months, you can also watch a morning practice session.

Pro Tip: You can buy tickets on Voyagin or Viator websites. You can also buy cheap same day tickets at 8:00 am. However, they sell out very quickly, so get in line really early in the morning.

8. Oedo Onsen Monogatari

Another cultural experience you must try before leaving Japan is a visit to a hot springs (called onsen in Japanese). An easy way to visit one in Tokyo is at a hot spring entertainment park called Oedo Onsen Monogatari in Odaiba.

At Monogatari, you’ll find an outdoor foot bathing area, a food court, and a gender-separated bathing area with several different kinds of baths. The other unique aspect about this experience is that you’ll wander around the park in a traditional Japanese robe called a yukata.

Pro Tip: Japanese hot springs can be an intimidating experience for the first-timer. Before your visit, watch some videos to learn how to tie a yukata and read up on Japanese bathing etiquette.

9. Tsukiji Outer Market

You can’t leave Japan without experiencing its world-famous food. One of the most fun ways to do it is to visit Tsukiji Outer Market. Here you’ll get to sample Japanese street food like tamagoyaki, sea urchin, and oysters. There are also lots of delicious restaurants for a sit-down meal of sashimi or seafood rice bowls.

Tsukiji Market used to be divided into 2 parts: the outer market for tourists and the inner wholesale market. The wholesale market moved in 2018 to modern facilities in Toyosu. You can also visit, but it’s far away and it lacks the character that Tsukiji has.

Pro Tip: Shops are open from 9:00 to 14:00. All are closed on Sundays and some are closed on Wednesdays.

10. Staying in a Ryokan

You should at least experience staying in a traditional Japanese inn, called a ryokan, at least once during your trip to Japan. Tokyo is a great place to experience this only-in-Japan style of accommodations.

Ryokans have several features that are uniquely Japanese. They’ll have their own hot spring bath for their guests. Some of them will also serve a multi-course breakfast and/or dinner consisting of seasonal dishes.

Pro Tip: Asakusa and Yanasen areas have some affordable ryokans for around (and sometimes under) US$100 a night.

11. Visiting traditional pre-war neighborhoods

If you want to see what Tokyo was like before World War II, the neon lights and shiny skyscrapers, then wander through the streets of Yanasen. 

Yanasen consists of three areas: Yanaka, Nezu, and Sendagi. Here you’ll find pre-war wooden buildings, lots of old temples and cemeteries, and shops selling traditional sweets and home goods.

Pro Tip: Try to have lunch or dinner at Hantei or Kamachiku.

Modern Japanese Culture

12. Visiting Shinjuku

If you have time for only one place to visit in Tokyo, make it the district of Shinjuku. Here is where you’ll see the Tokyo from the movies: the neon lights, unique bars, the crazy pachinko parlors, modern skyscrapers, and crowds of hip Tokyoites.

When visiting Shinjuku, there are three modern places to visit: Kabukicho, Omoido Yokocho (a narrow alley filled with tiny bars and yakitori restaurants), and Golden Gai (a series of small lanes filled with more tiny bars).

Pro Tip: Join a food tour of Shinjuku to get the inside scoop on where to go. You can sign up with tours through Get Your Guide.

13. Shibuya Crossing

Shibuya Crossing is THE famous crosswalk where you see a mess of people coming from all directions at one time to cross one intersection. To add to the experience, you’re surrounded by bright neon lights, huge television screens, and slick skyscrapers.

Don’t feel embarrassed if you do the crosswalk numerous times. I think all tourists do it! After doing Shibuya Crossing, check out the surrounding neighborhood. I found it to be a great place for street photography.

Pro Tip: Find a place from above to watch the crossing. An easy place to watch is from Starbucks. Sometimes it’s hard to find the exit from the station for Shibuya Crossing. Be patient. Look for the Hachiko Exit. This also leads to the statue of the famous dog called Hachiko.

14. Takeshita Dori Street

Takeshita Dori is a fun street to visit in Harajuku. It’s where Japanese teens go to shop, to eat, and to strut their stuff in the latest fashions.

Takeshita Dori is the perfect place to do both your people watching and shopping. You’ll see Japanese teens showing off their latest hairstyles and clothes. There are lots of trendy boutiques, inexpensive shops selling things you really don’t need, cat cafes, hedgehog cafes, and cafes serving crepes, cotton candy, and whatever the latest snack fad is.

Pro Tip: Stand at the beginning of the street to take a photo of the sea of people bobbing their heads as they parade down the street.

15. Fluffy Pancakes

The Japanese like to take foreign dishes and put their own spin on them. One dish that the Japanese have made their own version of is the pancake called the fluffy pancake. You can find restaurants all over Harajuku selling this delicious it.

You can find fluffy pancake restaurants in Harajuku. Here are some popular ones: A Happy Pancake, Burn Side Street Cafe, Flippers and Rainbow Pancake.

Pro Tip: Expect to wait in line to get in. I arrived at A Happy Pancake before it opened at 9:00 am, put my name on a list, and went off to wander the streets of Harajuku.

16. Akihabara

Another teen hangout that epitomizes modern Japanese culture is Akihabara.

You’ll find lots of stores for electronics, manga, anime, and video games. Looking for a Maid Cafe? Look no further than Akihabara.

Akihabara is named after Akiba, a local shrine. On Sundays, the main street, Chuo Dori, becomes a pedestrian only zone from 1:00 to 6:00 pm.

Pro Tip: You’ll see “maids” standing outside maid cafes getting customers to come inside. Please ask first before taking photos of them. They hate it when you snap one without asking.

17. Robot Restaurant

Some may say that the Robo Restaurant is a tourist trap, but it’s a fun and only-in-Japan tourist trap that keeps people coming. 

The Robot Restaurant isn’t a restaurant per se. You can order food, but you don’t have to and you probably don’t want to since the food isn’t all that good. The main focus of the “restaurant” is the robot show.

Pro Tip: Buy tickets for the show through Klook to get a discount.

18. teamLab Borderless

MORI Building Digital Art Museum: teamlab Borderless is the newest tourist sensation in Tokyo. It’s a museum devoted to interactive digital art. The digital art is projected onto the walls, floors, and ceilings. It’s constantly changing so that you can enter a room twice and experience different works of art.

There are actually two of these museums in Tokyo: teamLab Borderless and teamlab Planets. The teamLab Borderless in Odaiba is a permanent museum, while another one is temporary.

Pro Tip: Buy your tickets ahead of time because they sometimes sell out AND arrive before the museum opens to be the first ones in the museum. You’ll avoid crazy long lines.

19. Tokyo Sky Tree

The Tokyo Sky Tree is the best place to see 360 degree panoramic views of Tokyo. It towers over the city at 634 meters. 

Tokyo Sky Tree was finished in 2011 in Sumida district of Tokyo. It has one of those glass floors that you can walk on and see the world below you.

Pro Tip: Some people suggest skipping the tree and going to the Tokyo Government Building in Shinjuku. It’s free, while Tokyo Sky Tree isn’t. I felt the views were better from the Sky Tree, and you can actually take photos without the glass causing a glare on your camera.

20. Studio Ghibli Museum

The Ghibli Museum is the animation museum of Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli. The studio made many famous Japanese anime movies such as Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, and Princess Mononoke.

You’ll find exhibits on the process of making an animation movie and an opportunity to watch a movie that can only be seen at the museum.

Pro Tip: You need to buy the tickets online and in advance. You can’t buy tickets at the museum. Online tickets go on sale 3 months before the date of the visit. They sell out quickly, so as soon as your ticket date is being sold, buy it. Don’t even wait a day.


To read more about what to see and do in Tokyo click here!

 

Europe Guides

The Ultimate Guide to Ljubljana, Slovenia

Warning, within five minutes of stepping into Ljubljana’s historic city center, you will be completely under its charm. Its colorful, Baroque buildings radiating from the Ljubljanica River create a picturesque, fairytale city that whisks you to another time. And it’s that time machine feel that is the main attraction of Ljubljana.

A city of dragons, Ljubljana is said to be founded by Jason (of golden fleece fame), who came upon a dragon in a nearby lake and slaughtered it. Since then, the dragon has been intricately linked to the city. Now, the dragon stands as a proud protector of the city and its people. You’re never far from a dragon when exploring Ljubljana. A fun game to play is seeing how many dragons you can find.

As Slovenia’s capital, Ljubljana is a city that’s safe to walk around. And Slovenians are very friendly people. Named the European Green Capital in 2016, Ljubljana is ahead of many European cities in its sustainability initiatives. It’s easy to find recycle receptacles in town. Don’t forget to bring your reusable water bottle to Ljubljana. There are drinking fountains throughout, too and that water tastes good! Though vehicle traffic has been greatly limited within the historic city center, you still need to watch out as many locals bike to work.

Top Sights in Ljubljana

One of the most wonderful things about Ljubljana is that you don’t need a map to get around. It’s compact that just by strolling around, you will find all the major attractions. The city is so inviting, that you’ll find yourself wondering down every street anyways. So, enjoy the thrill of stumbling upon something rather than planning the day. Here are some of the highlights of Ljubljana that you can look forward to experiencing.

Ljubljana Castle

One sight you can’t miss is Ljubljana Castle. It stands above the historic city center, a symbol of Ljubljana. This medieval fortress goes back to the 11th century, when it was the main defense of the city. Now it’s a museum showcasing Ljubljana through the ages as well as history of the castle.

There are two ways to get to the castle, walking or taking the funicular. If walking, there are several trails up the hill. They do get a little steep, but in less than 10 minutes you’ll be enjoying the views from the top. You can also take the funicular up for an additional cost to the admission to the castle. The ride is less than two minutes.

Prešeren Square

 

The heart of the city center is Prešeren Square. Its star attractions are the Baroque Church of the Anunciation (also known as the Pink Church) and the Triple Bridge. You can sum up the character and beauty of Ljubljana in this one square. It gets crowded as the day progresses.

Town Hall

This stunning building originates from the 15th century. The best way to see the inside of the Town Hall is via a free guided tour that must be booked in advance at the Ljubljana Tourist Center (just opposite the Triple Bridge).

In front stands the Robba Fountain, which is reminiscent of the Four Rivers Fountain in Rome. But for this fountain, it’s three men pouring water from jugs, each representing a river of the region.

Dragon Bridge

Flanked by four dragons, it’s easy to see how Dragon Bridge got its name.These dragons are synonymous with Ljubljana, making it the city’s most iconic site. This delicate bridge was built in the early 1900s.

Central Market

Every European city has at least one good market and Central Market in Ljubljana cannot be missed. It sprawls between several buildings and a square. On the weekends, the square is full of pop up stands offering freshly made food from every region in the world. The building lining the river features small cafes and souvenir stands. The lower level of the building opposite has fresh meats and dried nuts and fruits vendors. If you’re looking for some fresh food to take on a day trip, this is the place to be.

Another market is found near St. Nicholas’ Church. This market features some of the most beautiful and massive looking fruits and vegetables. The smell from the fresh produce overloads your senses and may make your mouth water.

St. Nicholas’s Church

Squeezed into the heart of the city, St. Nicholas’s Church (also known as Ljubljana Cathedral), with its burnt yellow towers, cannot be missed. A church has stood on this sight since the 13th century. Though the church is small, it’s still worth a visit inside to see the Baroque architecture.

Congress Square

Another popular meeting space is Congress Square. Surrounded by stunning buildings including the Ursuline Church of the Holy Trinity and the Slovenian Philharmonic (one of my favorite buildings), the square also features a small park. You can also see fragments of the ruins of a monastery that once stood on the site.

Not-to-Miss Buildings

As I said, Ljubljana oozes incredible buildings. Some are complete works of art. Popular buildings to admire are the Parliament Building, with its sculptured entrance located across the Republic Square, and the exterior of the National University Library. A special shout out goes to the Art Nouveau buildings on Miklošičeva cesta near the Pink Church.

Ljubljana Sculptures

All around Ljubljana, with most close to the river, are bronze sculptures. Honestly, they are a bit weird, but they do make you pause and have a think. Most of these sculptures are the creative work of Jakov Brdar, a Slovenian sculpture. While wandering around town, keep a look out. Some are quite small and others are tucked in alleys.

Tivoli City Park

Less than a 10-minute stroll from the river is the sprawling and lovely Tivoli City Park, the largest park in Ljubljana. You can spend hours exploring this beautiful green space. Inside the park, you will also find the Tivoli Castle (a mansion), the Cekin Mansion which houses the Museum of Contemporary History of Slovenia, a large pond, rose garden, and countless sculptures.

Metelkova Mesto

After the classic beauty of the city center, Metelkova Mesto may be a shock. Full of graffiti and street art, this offbeat haven is a must visit. Walking around in daylight, you can appreciate all the different art (and some of it is truly stunning). In the evening, it’s a hopping joint. It may not be for everyone, but it’s still a place that should be seen.

Take Time to Just Walk Around Ljubljana

The best way to truly appreciate Ljubljana is walking around town. As the historical center is compact, you can cover a lot of ground quickly. However, you don’t end up covering much ground because every building begs inspection. Each new curve in the river provides a different perspective that must be admired.

Strolling along the cobblestone streets, you can appreciate the atmosphere of the city. There are tons of unique and quirky shops that are fun to either window shop or browse. It’s something you don’t expect from a town that feels of the past, but it’s just another reminder of how modern the city is too.

Don’t forget to take in the different view points of the river and city from the many bridges. Not only is each view different, but each bridge is unique too.

Where to Eat in Ljubljana

There are countless cafes and restaurant options in Ljubljana. Many of them are found along the river banks providing you with lovely views as a backdrop to your meal. Price ranges vary. My personal favorite was Ljubljanski Dvor, right on the banks of the river near the university. They have an extensive selection of handmade pizza and it is delicious! Even better, it’s one of the cheapest meals you’ll have (the small pizza is still pretty big, so come with an appetite). Next door, dessert awaits at the Romantika Gelateria. And who doesn’t love gelato?

If your lodging comes with a kitchen, there’s a small, but good grocery store located next to the Intercontinental Hotel near the train/bus station.

Day Trips from Ljubljana

Ljubljana makes for the perfect base for exploring other destinations in Slovenia. If you don’t want to do a road trip of your own, Slovenia has a great bus system that takes you to much of the highlights of the country. The fairytale beauty of Lake Bled is only a 1.5 hour bus ride away with Lake Bohinj just 20 minutes past Lake Bled. Both are fantastic day trips from Ljubljana.

You can also visit one or more of the many caves around Slovenia. My personal favorite is the Škocjan Caves with its other worldly Murmuring Water Cave. There are also the popular Postojna Caves, and in summer Predjama Castle, which is built into the mouth of a cave. Taking a break from nature, there’s the popular seaside city of Piran with its Italian influence.

If you do take the bus, regardless if you’re purchasing the ticket at the ticket booth at the bus station or on board the bus, tickets are cash only.

Getting to Ljubljana

If you’re already in Europe, the easiest way to Ljubljana is via bus or train. The train and bus stations (right next to each other) are an easy walking distance to the center of town (roughly 15 minutes to the Pink Church). So, you can either walk to your accommodation or take a short taxi ride.

If arriving by plane, the Joze Pucnik Airport is 25km from Ljubljana. There is a bus service to the city center that runs every hour. Or, a taxi will run you about €35.

Ljubljana completely took me by surprise in the best possible way. It’s now one of my favorite cities in Europe, and one I cannot wait to go back and visit. Give yourself one to two days to leisurely explore the city because once you’re under its charm, you won’t want to leave.

 

Advice Asia Guides Insider Tips

What Not To Miss In Singapore Your First Time

For me, Singapore is my home away from home.  The things I adore about Singapore are often the things that tourists miss out on when they visit.  As it turns out, Singapore is so much more than just shopping on Orchard Road. 

Follow this list of things you won’t want to miss your first time visiting Singapore and you’ll get to experience everything Singapore has to offer.

1. Eat at the Hawker Centres

You will find hawker centres all throughout Singapore.  These are essentially government-regulated food courts where the locals go to eat. Here you’ll experience some of the best and most authentic dishes in all of Singapore.  

We would highly recommend you eat most of your meals at hawker centres and do your best to try different dishes each time!  Some local favorites include char kway teow, laksa, wantan mee, and roti prata.

2. Shop on Orchard Road

When most people think about what to do in Singapore, the first thing that comes to mind is shopping…  and Orchard Road is the quintessential spot in Singapore to do it! You’ll get the opportunity to shop at countless high-end shopping malls (with air-conditioning thankfully) and every brand you can think of.  In fact, most big brands have numerous shops on Orchard Road.

If you are a big shopper, then Orchard Road is an absolute must.  Even if you aren’t, it’s still well worth taking a few hours out of your day.

3. Visit Gardens by the Bay

Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay is a stunning feat of architecture found right in the heart of Singapore.  A handful of giant supertrees tower over the park. A sky bridge extends through the grove connecting two supertrees and allowing you to walk amongst the treetops.

Two massive conservatories contain two separate ecosystems – one filled with tropical plants and another packed with flowers.  It’s absolutely worth visiting and spending the S$28, but if you are limited on time consider skipping the Flower Dome.  

The Cloud Forest is by far the more impressive of the two structures, containing the second tallest indoor waterfall in the world (after the Jewel at Changi Airport, also in Singapore).

4. Shop & Eat at Chinatown

Make sure to visit and explore Chinatown.  It’s home to some of the best Chinese hawker stalls in Singapore, plus it’s a great opportunity to get some shopping done and find some souvenirs to take back home.

Make sure to check out Sri Mariamman Temple and the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple.  Making it here during a Chinese festival, such as the Chinese New Year, can be absolutely stunning.  The streets will be decorated with lanterns and you can expect the locals to be festive.

5. Explore Clarke Quay and Visit the Merlion

Clarke Quay is a great spot to explore for a few hours on a nice evening.  There are plenty of upscale eateries and bars here and a river with boat rides and bridges.

A short walk will offer spectacular views over the bay towards the Marina Bay Sands Hotel and the Singapore Flyer.  You also won’t want to miss a photo of the iconic Merlion which was relocated here in 2002.  

6. Stroll Through Macritchie Reservoir Park

The Macritchie Reservoir is Singapore’s oldest reservoir and is a giant park found in the middle of the island.  Consider hiking the Macritchie Nature Trail, where you will find eleven kilometers of trails, with a full loop taking around four hours. 

Along the way, expect to encounter some cheeky, long-tailed macaques (yes, monkeys) that want nothing more than the food in your bags.  Make sure not to feed them – and be especially careful not to corner them. They are cute to look at, but they can be aggressive.

You may also come across a treetop walkway suspended 25 meters above the ground.  It’s a great way to experience the park from the sky, but consider avoiding it if you’re afraid of heights.

Asia Beaches

Seychelles: A Peek Into The Heavenly Islands

Seychelles, this archipelago of 115 islands is a dream destination for any traveler. Being home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, Seychelles is considered as a perfect honeymoon gateway.

However it has a lot more to offer than meets the eye, including some perfect adventurous activities, the nature reserve of the heaviest seed in the world and the only country having the giant tortoises of Aldabra. 

Out of the 115 islands, only three islands in the archipelago are inhabited by the humans. Seychelles has an abundance of amazing marine life and perfect diving spots can be located on the islands.

Mahe Island

The capital city of Seychelles, Mahe Island is one of the smallest capital cities in the world and is home to almost 60 beaches. Seychelles Sea has crystal clear water with a beautiful blend of turquoise and white color, making Seychelles beaches very mesmerizing.

Beau Vallon, Grand Anse and Royale Anse are some of the most visited beaches on the island. There are three hiking trails on the island which rewards the hikers with spectacular views around. The Victoria market is a must-visit on Mahe Island.

Praslin

Praslin Island is the second-largest island in the archipelago and is home to the nature reserve of Coco de Mer, Valle de Mer, which is the largest seed in the world. Praslin is easily accessible from Mahe Island through an hour ferry ride. Beaches in Praslin are less crowded and prettier with Anse Georgette, Grand Anse and Anse Lazio being three of the best beaches on the island.

La Digue

If one wishes to go back in time, there isn’t a perfect place than La Digue Island. Home to the most photographed beach in the world, Anse Source D’Argent, La Digue Island is tranquil and surreal. Its beaches are mesmerizing which are guarded by giant boulders. There are no motor cars on the island and cycles and trucks are used to commute. The giant tortoises of Aldabra atoll are endemic to the La Digue island in Seychelles and can be found roaming around freely. One of the must-do activity in La Digue is to feed these beautiful creatures.


Not as popular as the Maldives, Seychelles islands are straight from heaven. Generally considered as a destination to enjoy only beaches, Seychelles can make anybody fall in love with itself.

Europe Food Insider Tips

An Insiders Guide: Austria – Vienna to Admont to Hallstatt to Gmunden

Sharing a few key sights in Vienna before getting a glimpse of the Austrian countryside with a visit to the Admont Abbey Library.

Where to Stay

Starting in Vienna (or Wien in German), the capital of Austria, I situated myself in the 3rd district. Vienna is broken into 23 districts, with the 1st being the heart of the city. I would recommend staying in one of the lower numbered ones for convenience. I stayed at the Hotel Daniel which was steps away from Belvedere Palace and the city centre. This was a great home base, plus it included daily breakfast.

See + Do

Vienna is a historic city with notable culture and distinguished architecture. I started my day walking the Ringstrasse  which is a boulevard surrounding the heart of the city and a good point of reference for locating the sights. A visit to all 3 of the palaces (Belvedere, Hofburg, and Schönbrunn) is a must. Of the palaces, my favorite was walking through the majestic gardens of Schönbrunn. My other favorite destinations in the city were the Vienna State Opera, the Kaiserappartements (imperial apartments), Stepansplatz, the Albertina, and MuseumsQuartier. Be sure to go up in the south tower of St. Stephen’s Cathedral for 360 views of Vienna (it’s 343 windy stairs but worth the view).

Viennese facades

Views from the top of the Stephansdom

Schönbrunn Gardens

Karlskirche

View of Vienna from Belvedere Palace

Eat + Drink

Start your day with a Wiener Melange (black coffee covered with whipped cream) at a Viennesse coffee house. Stroll through Naschmarkt – an old, open-air street market. Traditional Austrian food is hearty and my favorite dish was the classic Wiener schnitzel with a fresh squeezed lemon paired with a local white wine or beer (try Radler or Stiegel Weisse for a citrus-y beer). Vienna is home to many great restaurants but I had a few favorites stand out. For an afternoon lunch, a must visit is a tiny local spot called Kleines Café, enjoy an Aperol Spritz and cheese platter on their patio. For dinner, the tropical Palmenhaus brasserie, steps from the Albertina, was a great place to grab a casual dinner and drinks.

Getting Around

Vienna is an extremely walkable city, and there are public transportation options including the U-bahn train (subway), the S-bahn (local train), Straßenbahn (trams) and there is the bus lines. Uber is also here. I recommend using Google maps for the best routes.

Journey through the Alps

If you do not have time to travel to stay in other cities for extended time, I highly recommended doing a full day trip out to Hallstatt with visits to the Admont Library and the town of Gmunden to get a taste of the rest of the country. Plenty of tourism companies offer prearranged visits with a tour guide and it’s easier than trying to navigate the trains. I departed early in the morning and admired the panoramic views of the Austrian Alps along the way.

Our first stop was the Admont Abbey (or Stift Admont) in the town of Admont. I had never heard of this treasure of a library before and am so glad I was able to visit here. Admont Abbey is a Benedictine monastery, founded in 1074, and contains the largest monastic library in the world, holding over 70,000 volumes! The Baroque architecture was absolutely breathtaking, I felt like I was Belle walking swooning over the library in Beauty and the Beast. Also in this stop, was a visit to adjacent museum and the Abbey church. Pictures simply do not do it justice.

From Admont, we visited the picturesque town of Hallstatt, a village on Lake Hallstatt in the Salzkammergut region. I loved seeing the 16th century Alpine homes and wandering the streets full of shops and restaurants. The landscape here is a UNESCO listed world heritage site because of its salt production dating back to 2nd millennium BC.

After leaving Hallstatt, our final stop was the town of Gmunden situated on Traunsee lake. This felt much more like a local’s town. Scattered sail boats and a visit to Ort Castle were my favorite highlights. Austrian folkore says that Traunsee is home to a mythical sea creature named Lungy, a waterhorse being ridden on the back by a mermaid. You’ll have to visit for yourself to find out if it’s true.

Concluding this day excursion, I returned to Vienna to end my visit before heading to my next European destination: Santorini (which you can fly to non-stop from Vienna!). Hope you have enjoyed this guide. You have my heart Vienna.

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