Sofia Adventures

Welcome to Sofia!

Sofia is an intriguing city, with corners that show at various times a glint of the splendor of Vienna, the charm of Istanbul, the quirkiness of Budapest, and the brutalism of Moscow. You’ll find Roman ruins in our subway stations, medieval icons in the church basements, and Thracian relics in the former presidential palace. Yet Sofia brings all of these seemingly disparate traditions together into one magical, inspiring city.

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13 Compelling Things to Do in Niksic, Montenegro

In case you want to take a breather from crossing the must-see tourist attractions around Montenegro off your list and relax on your trip a little bit, then Niksic is the right place to go.

Located right in the middle of the country, Niksic acts like as a crossroads between the northern part on one side and the Boka Bay (on which Kotor sits) on the southern side.

Only about an hour’s drive away from the capital city of Podgorica and about 20 minutes away from Ostrog Monastery, Niksic is more than often stop where travelers choose to slow things down and experience the ordinary everyday life of a Montenegrin.

Its rich cultural heritage with various museums and monuments testify to this area’s long and storied past, and it’s yet another reason why everyone should pay a visit to this little laid-back town.

While Niksic is the second-largest city in Montenegro, it has a population of merely 70,000 people, creating a quiet and charming vibe. The city offers plenty of excursion sites near lakes, mountains, and charming rivers.

When the sun goes down, Niksic is known throughout Montenegro to be the so-called ‘town of beer and rock & roll’, and it has a pretty vibrant nightlife with numerous bars and pubs to mingle with locals while sipping the famous Niksicko beer, of course!


The Best Things to Do in Niksic, Montenegro

Wander down the city’s main promenade

The main promenade that goes out from the main square is the center of all events in Niksic.

Stroll down the main walking area filled with cafes, bars, pubs, the abundance of stores and shopping centers, all around the renewed Main Square, in order to get a better understanding of life in Montenegro away from the main tourist attractions.

Regardless of the time of the day, businesses along the promenade will always be full of people sipping the third (or fourth…) coffee of the day, flipping through the newspapers, or enjoying a beer after a long workday. Montenegrins like to take it easy and slowly, and it may take foreigners by surprise how laidback and unhurried life can be around here.

In the middle of the main city’s square, you’ll surely notice a 10-meter-tall Monument to King Nikola, the only Montenegrin king and the founder of modern Niksic, after it was liberated from the Ottoman Empire in 1877.

The statue of the national hero Ljubo Cupic is also located on the main town’s square and represents a symbol of the fight against fascism in Montenegro.


Size up history at the king’s palace

An imposing building of what used to be the residence of the late King Nikola and the royal family was built in 1900 and then later transformed into a Heritage Museum in 1951.

Located within the town’s center and beside the main park, it’s hard to miss this striking building of the enormous cultural and historical significance.

The museum showcases archaeological, ethnological and historical collections testifying Montenegrin long and turbulent history.

Besides the museum, there is also an Art Gallery frequently having various Montenegro-themed art installations at the display, as well as the library. To enter the premises of the palace, you’ll have to pay 2.50 euro for the ticket.


Climb your way up to the grandiose cathedral

Right next to the Heritage Museum stands St. Basil of Ostrog Orthodox Cathedral, a memorial temple dedicated to the fallen Montenegrin and Herzegovinian heroes who died fighting against the Ottoman Empire.

Situated on the top of the pine-covered hill, this 34-meter-tall temple certainly is one of the most awe-inspiring buildings in Niksic.

Made exactly 120 years ago, the temple is equally magnificent both inside and out. Giant chandeliers hanging from the ceiling and the delicate iconostasis painted in a realistic manner add to the cultural importance and beauty of this unique Orthodox Christian temple.


Hike up the Trebjesa hill

In the vicinity of the town’s center stands the natural trademark of Niksic, Trebjesa hill.

The hill is the most popular place for doing sports, exercising, hiking or just taking an unrushed afternoon walk before or after the sun goes down. If you want to stay fit while on the road, Trebjesa hill is where you need to be heading.

On the top of the hill, there is also a hotel with a beautiful terrace placed under the tall pine trees, as well as the observation point with the view extending all the way through the Niksic plain. 

It will obviously take some effort getting up the hill, but it will, needless to say, be worth it as you can compensate the lost calories with the taste of the exquisite national cuisine and breathtaking view!


See the odd but beautiful Communist Partizan Monument

With their peculiar design and distinctive construction, the Yugoslav-era socialist-realist monuments (spomeniks) attract the attention of admirers all around the world.

One of those is placed right under the Trebjesa hill at the end of the walking trail, on the same spot where Italian fascists murdered 32 local soldiers.

This magnificent construction is dedicated to all the individuals who lost their lives during the Second World War fighting for freedom against fascism. For more details, read here.


Work your way up to the imposing fortress settlement

Rising above the town’s main boulevard, Bedem Fortress is one of the must-see places when stopping by Niksic.

Erected by the Ottomans after they conquered the town on the remains of what used to be Romanic Gothic cathedral, nowadays the fortress is regarded as a state-protected national historical monument of extensive cultural importance.

Bedem Fortress attests to this area’s long and often turbulent past, and passing through the ancient walls and towers feels like reliving ancient history all over again.

Aside from being an observation point from which the entire town is visible, the fortress also regularly hosts various cultural events such as live concerts, performances, poetry nights, and more.

The most popular event held between the walls of the fortress is the music festival called Bedem Fest, taking place in August each year. With a 10-year-old tradition, the festival has brought many musicians and artists from all around the Balkans, promoting unity and peace as the main ideas of this festival.


Take the advantage of the town’s oasis

One of Niksic’s main draws is its incredibly beautiful lakes and their surroundings, and it’s no surprise that one of the local favorite things to do in Niksic is get out and enjoy the nearby scenery.

Krupac Lake is the locals’ favorite getaway location. A short drive from the town’s center will bring you to the charming artificial lake, initially created for the producing electricity.

Today, the lake is used for various activities — whether you want to hang loose and sip a cup of coffee or pint of beer in a romantic ambiance of the pine forest around the lake, do some jogging, or even embark on a water sports adventure like kayaking, this lake provides it all! Its sand beach, bar, restaurant, and crystal clear water are the real paradise for the locals searching to cool off.

There are also water polo and swimming schools available, as well as equipment for trying out different water sports. On the other side of the dam, locals usually gather under the shade of the tall trees for barbecuing or spending some quality Montenegrin-style leisure time relaxing in nature.

Each August, the area behind the dam hosts one of the most popular alternative music festivals in Montenegro called Lake Fest. Gorgeous nature combined with the sounds of the best regional music stars creates a special experience and adds to the list of reasons to visit Niksic!


Check out Jaguar’s lake of choice

On your way towards the seaside, you’ll notice Slano Lake, another artificial lake surrounded with steep, rocky terrain and wild nature.

Far less touristy than Krupac Lake and with far fewer amenities available around it, Slano Lake still offers the breathtaking sunsets and the opportunity to experience unspoiled, wild nature of Montenegro.

The fact that the British automobile giant Jaguar chose Slano Lake for testing and promoting their first SUV car model, F-Pace, undoubtedly speaks about the beauty and uniqueness of this place!

The sights of copious mountains and hills, as well as several tiny islets making up this lake, make taking some jaw-dropping photographs here almost mandatory.


Witness a 150,000-year-long history

Potentially one of the most significant archeological sites in all of Europe is located 30 kilometers away from downtown Niksic.

Red Rock Cave and archeological site (Crvena Stijena in Montenegrin) testifies to the life of first early human societies dating back up to 150,000 years in the past.

The archeological findings of Red Rock will give visitors the opportunity to fathom the idea of life and development of civilizations through Middle Paleolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic as well as the Bronze Ages.


Swing by a 120-year-old brewery

It’s is quite impossible for beer lovers not to try Niksicko beer while staying in Montenegro — so visiting the brewery where it’s made is one of the best things to do in Niksic for beer fans!

Since 1896 when the production first started, Niksicko beer has been the trademark of Montenegro. Besides being the Montenegrins’ favorite, it been well known and enjoyed all around Balkans ever since. Large quantities of Niksicko beer are nowadays exported to France, Germany, Switzerland, Canada, and England.

If wondering about the process of top-notch beer production, you can drop by the Trebjesa brewery, located only a few hundred meters away from the downtown area, and see for yourself where the magic happens.

Trying some high-quality beers and being able to experience its creation firsthand is every beer enthusiast’s dream come true. You should check out the Trebjesa brewery website to request a guided visit beforehand.


Have a drink at Propaganda Bar

One thing that Niksic has no lack of are most definitely bars, pubs, and cafes! With an abundance of places for enjoying that first-morning espresso or third mug of a beer, there is a pretty big variety to choose from.

The place that stands out for its uniqueness, quirkiness, and distinctive cultural concept is Propaganda Bar. Positioned right behind King Nikola’s monument, with a charming, colorful veranda overlooking the entire main square, Propaganda Bar is known to be one of the locals’ favorite spots to hang out in all of Niksic.

What sets this place apart is the variety of events, such as movie screenings and live gigs with both aspiring local musicians as well as musicians from all over the world. Also, this place is known for great coffee, alcoholic beverages, and a rather exceptional choice of cocktails.

Do you really need any more reasons to come by and check this place out firsthand?


Feel the funky vibes at Floyd

Only a block away from Propaganda Bar, you’ll run into a comfortable yet quite bold and intriguing bar named Floyd.

Despite being in the heart of the downtown, its enclosed terrace under the dense branches of the chestnut trees will give you the impression of being far away from the city center. Bright purple walls covered with eccentric drawings will seem like a call to come inside and check this place out.

Among the main reasons why the youth of Niksic opts for Floyd Bar is certainly a great choice of music: ranging from diverse funk, disco, and techno music, here the most prominent local DJs play the nightly tracks, giving a rhythm to the crowd dancing the night away.


Check out the impressive Emperor’s Bridge

Assembled in 1894, the Emperor’s Bridge was among the most architecturally valuable constructions in Montenegro at the time of its creation and is an essential thing to see in Niksic.

Aside from its architectural importance, this bridge symbolizes Montenegrin fight for freedom from almost five centuries of Ottoman rule.

Today rather forgotten, the Emperor’s Bridge has a quite impressive construction of 18 spans extending over the area of 270 meters. Each of the bridge’s pillars has one gold coin inside, as the king Nikola I ordered during the construction of the bridge.

This remarkable, bridge represents one of the most significant historical monuments in the entire country and it definitely deserves being on every traveler’s itinerary.

Where to Stay in Niksic

Budget: For an affordable double room at approximately $30 USD a night, you’ll enjoy the well-reviewed Aparthotel Koliba, with beautiful surroundings on the outskirts of Niksic, 10 kilometers from the city – a perfect place to stay if you have a car and are planning on visiting nearby Ostrog Monastery as well. Breakfast is included, and there is a tasty restaurant on-site serving traditional Montenegrin classics.

>> Read reviews, see photos, and book your stay here

Boutique: For a room smack-dab in the center of Niksic at a mid-range price, look no further than Garni Hotel Atrium. Garni is a trusted small hotel chain with fabulous hotels in Montenegro and Serbia, offering gorgeous boutique-quality accommodations at a budget price; it’s one of our favorite small chains in the region, as you get a lot of bang for your buck, and the reviews for this one in Niksic are fabulous.

>> Read reviews, see photos, and book your stay here

What to Bring with You to Montenegro

Kotor - Montenegro - island church with trees

If you’re planning a trip to Montenegro, you’ll want to pack all the normal essentials, but here are a few things we strongly recommend bringing that may not have crossed your mind. For more, check out our complete Montenegro packing list. 

– A physical guidebook, in paper or on Kindle. We recommend the Lonely Planet Western Balkans which includes Montenegro but also Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Albania, North Macedonia, Kosovo, and Serbia. Blogs are great, but a combination of a blog and a guidebook is key to having the best access to information easily at your fingertips.

– A water bottle with a filter. While generally, the tap water in cities and towns in Montenegro is drinkable, especially in touristic towns such as in Kotor, Budva, and Zabljak, we generally recommend using a water bottle with a purifying filter regardless.

It’ll help to reduce your plastic consumption and ensure you won’t drink any funny-tasting water on your stomach that could make your trip unpleasant! We recommend the GRAYL water bottle – it filters water perfectly in an instant so that you can even drink from lakes, bad taps, etc.

– Motion sickness pills. Montenegrin bus and car rides can be winding and cause motion sickness! If you have a weak stomach as we do, save yourself and bring some non-drowsy motion sickness pills.

– Water shoes: While some beaches in Montenegro is sandy, many more beaches in Montenegro are rather pebbly. Pebble beaches are a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the pebble seafloor is what creates that gorgeous deep turquoise-colored water that is hard to beat, as the lack of sand means you have incredibly clear water. However, on the other hand, pebble beaches and rocky shores can be downright painful!

Our friend recently cut his foot on a rocky beach in Croatia; had he been wearing water shoes, he’d have avoided such unpleasantness! We suggest these unisex water shoes. They’re not sexy, but they will make your trips to the beach far more pleasant!

 Travel safety items. We think Montenegro is very safe to travel, but at the same time, it never hurts to be prepared! Some people like to carry money belts, but neither Stephanie or I use these.

Instead, we both carry the same PacSafe anti-theft backpack. It has locking zippers, slash-proof construction with metal mesh hidden in the fabric, and tons of other smart security features — all while being cute and stylish enough to be our everyday bag. We recommend it highly for both male and female travelers, as it’s neutral enough to be unisex. We also strongly recommend travel insurance! Our recommendation is at the bottom of the post.

Read more: Essential Montenegro Packing List: What to Wear & Pack for Montenegro

More Montenegro Travel Resources

Montenegro - woman in winter clothes taking photo at harbor

We are in the process of writing up all of our Montenegro city guides, but for now, you can check out our 1-week Montenegro itinerary and our Montenegro packing list.

We also have a guide on things to do in Budva and things to do in Ulcinj.

Also visiting Kotor? Check out where to stay in Kotor and our Kotor Instagram and photography guide. 

We also have a post on the best places to visit in Montenegro to help inspire you before your trip, as well as a post on the best Montenegrin beaches to visit in the summer!

If this will be one of your first trips in the Balkans, check out our massive list of things to know before traveling the Balkans as well as our Balkan busroad trip, and itinerary guides. 

Finally, if you’ll be headed to Montenegro as part of a larger trip around the Balkans, check out our Balkan currency guide which explains how money and tipping work in the different countries here.

We publish new content nearly every day! Bookmark our pages on Montenegro and the Balkans so that you don’t miss out on any new info or resources that we publish before your trip!

Don’t Forget About Travel Insurance!

Finally, make sure you always travel to Montenegro with a valid travel insurance policy. Montenegro is a very safe place to travel, but accidents or theft can easily ruin your trip if you don’t have the travel insurance coverage to recover the losses!

For travel insurance, we use World Nomads. We’ve been happy customers of theirs for almost three years, and we’re happy to refer them to anyone we meet.

>> Get a travel insurance quote for your trip here <<

17 Sublime Things to Do in Hydra for a Glamorous Getaway

Hydra is a popular place to visit for travelers who will be spending some time on the Greek mainland. This Saronic island is one of the closest islands near Athens, and you can visit as part of an organized Greek island day trip or you can visit on your own. Once here, these are the best things to do in Hyrda, plus a few Hyrda travel tips!

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Things to Do in Hydra

An Introduction to Hydra

Hydra, a small rocky island, is only a two-hour boat ride from Athens. Once in Piraeus harbor, it is easy to catch a “Flying Cat”, or hydrofoil, to the prettiest island of all. The Saronic Gulf is the closest destination from Athens, for visitors short of time, as the boats leave every couple of hours in the summertime.

Greece - Hydra - Hydra Island

Voted as one of the 20 Greek Islands to visit in 2020, by CNN Traveller, and many other travel magazines, it is a safe choice to enjoy your time in Greece.

What Sets Hydra Apart from Other Greek Islands?

Hydra - Greece - Horses

Its central charm lies in the fact that there are no cars allowed on the island. Also, there are no motorcycle or bicycles. Unbelievable, right, in the 21st century?

Well, this is why so many celebrities and artists have come to live here, and still continue to settle down on Hydra: David Gilmour, Mika, and Adam Cohen, are some the modern artists you may meet on a sweet summer night.

Hydra’s fame started though much earlier: in 1956, its discovery for the main public is due to the movie shooting “ A boy and a Dolphin”, starring Alan Lad, and Sophia Loren.

The scenery since then has not changed much. In fact, strict architecture codes have kept most of the buildings intact. Between 1956, and 2020, very few houses were built, and the narrow paved streets echo with the past.

What’s It Like to Travel to Hydra?

Greece - Hydra - Harbor

Hydra counts around 3,000 inhabitants year-round, but in the summertime, this number can double. Villages on the islands are located on the front side, while the back of the island is wild. There are no major roads crossing the island.

It has remained nearly unchanged for centuries, even while being so close to busy Athens. It is famous around Greece for its history and cultural heritage.

While it is quite easy to find accommodations during the off-season (from November to March), the island gets quickly busy from April onward. It is always best to book a room prior to your visit in the summer.

The Best Things to Do in Hydra

So, once you disembark, what are the top things to do in Hydra?

People Watch while Sipping Greek Coffee

Greece - Hydra - A beautiful wild, stray cat resting on a green wicker chair at a cafe or taverna, on the enchanting Greek Island of Hydra.

Regardless of how long you will be on Hydra, this is a must-do. There are so many coffee places to choose from on this small island, but some of them are local favorites while others are beloved by the expats who come here!

A sure bet is the cafe Isalos right near the boat disembarkation. Another great option is The Pirate Bar on the opposite corner of the harbor.

The Pirate, formerly owned by Menelaus “the Pirate,” is now a local favorite with owners Takis & Wendy being popular island fixtures. You can have brunch, lunch, or cocktails here, depending on the hour. Many Greek locals, sailors, fishermen, but even celebrities come here to enjoy its atmosphere and famously warm welcome. 

See the Gorgeous Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin 

Greece - Hydra - Detail from the courtyard of the cathedral of Hydra town, Hydra island, Greece.

If you’ve never explored an Orthodox Church before, you’re in for a real treat! Located underneath the clocktower, it’s hard to miss this important island landmark.

The original church dated back to the seventeenth century, but the current structure was built in the nineteenth to replace the previously destroyed one. 

Set aside some time to visit the Ecclesiastical Museum which is on-site. The museum houses beautiful Orthodox icons from the Cathedral and island’s history, along with some important relics.  This part of the cathedral used to be home to the island’s prison.

Entry to the church is free, and it costs four Euros to visit the museum. 

Climb to the Prophet Elias Monastery

Greece - Hydra - View during a hike to the top of Mount Eros at Hydra island, Greece

One of the most popular hikes in Hydra is to go up to Profit Ilias Monastery and continue on to the Mount Eros, the highest point of the island. Panoramic views reward all who climbed. If you are not fit enough to walk up, you can also decide to go with a horse and your own personal guide.

A well-known guide is Harriet and her horses. British Born and Hydra educated, Harriet speaks both English and Greek, and she is one of the most popular guides on the island. 

Other horse owners can also arrange trips to the top, and you may be able to negotiate a good price if you are going as a group of six or more. Some tourists like to see the sunset from Mount Eros, but sunrise is also a favorite.

Should you decide to go on foot and won’t have data, you can find some detailed GPS maps at the local newspaper agency.

Enjoy the Miaoulis Festival on the last weekend of June

One of the major events in Hydra’s local life is the Miaoulis Festival, which takes place every year on the last weekend of June. It commemorates the Independence War against Turkey and the victory of Admiral Miaoulis against the Turkish Navy in 1821.

The show starts on Saturday evening and is best viewed from the “Spillia” rocky beach. It is a naval reconstitution of the battle, with an explosion of a replica ship, and fireworks.

A music concert follows, and during the whole week, many dance and musical events also take place. It is a wonderful time of the year to visit Hydra, as temperatures are still bearable, and crowds are mostly Greek.

Relax with a Day at the Beach

Hydra - Greece - Beach

You probably didn’t come all the way to Greece to skip out on the beautiful beaches. There are several to choose from, and you can pick what’s near your accommodations or get adventurous and try out a few from around the island. 

Indulge Your Sweet Tooth and Try the Local Amygdalota

Greece - Hydra - Pastry Shop

From the word amygdalo in Greek, which means almonds, the amygdalotas of Hydra are famous all around Greece.

These sweet almonds macaroons are unique to the island, which originated from the pastry shop called Tsangaris. Located in a small lane off the main harbor, the recipe came from the family’s great grandmother and is still secretly kept by the great-grandson.

You can also try them also at Flora’s Anemone bakery. This is the local delicacy not to miss!

Take a Walking Tour of Hydra Villiage

Greece - Hydra - Shop

The town of Hyrda is small, but it is packed with interesting sites to see. You’re sure to miss some if you try to do everything on your own. Hire a guide through your accommodations or go on the tour with your cruise so that you get to see all of the main village’s most important sites. 

Explore Mandraki by Foot or by Sea

While Hydra is both the name of the island and the main village’s name, there are also a few other settlements, accessible by foot or by sea taxi.

You can walk to Mandraki Beach settlement and Beach resort, within around 30 minutes. It is a 2 kilometer-walk, which is easy enough in winter but can be hot in summer.

By sea taxi, it costs around 15 euros, but you will get there in 5 minutes. In Mandraki, you can find a man-made sandy beach, a small marina, with wooden boats, a typical tavern, and some houses to rent. There are no supermarkets or shops, so you need to take some water along with you, when you go there.

Visit the Villiage of Kamini

Kamini is another village, accessible on the left side of the island. It became famous in the 1960s, for Greek visitors, through black and white movies filmed there.

Kamini is a charming fishing village, with its own personality. While in the summertime, it is now filled with tourists and rented houses, in springtime it is an exceptional place to visit.

Wildflowers are everywhere! At Easter time, the tiny harbor welcomes the Greek Orthodox Good Friday procession. The religious icon is taken into the sea, carried by eight local men. 

Kamini is an easy walk if you are in good shape, but there are steps on the way. If you prefer, you can board a water taxi from the main harbor to take you there.

See Tiny Vlychos on the Far Side of the Island

Finally, Vlychos is the last village to visit. By foot, it can be reached within one hour, following the seaside, while the mountain trail takes you inside the village.

Vlychos is a bit abandoned during the winter months, with few people living there full time. It is mostly a summer settlement, with hotels, small bed & breakfast, and villas to rent.

Cruise on a Boat Ride Around the Island

Being on an island this gorgeous makes you want to get out and explore the water. You can do this by traveling on the water taxis to the other parts of the island, or arrange for your own private boat tour around Hydra.

Enjoy Some Romance at the Sunset Viewpoint 

Hyrda is not Greece’s most famous sunset spot, but it will not disappoint!. If you are do not want to deal with the crowds at Oia, in Santorini, or Little Venice in Mykonos, then Hydra is the perfect spot for a romantic sunset, a cocktail, a dinner or even a wedding spot.

Personally, I find the very best place in Hydra, and in Greece, to have a cocktail with a view is at the Hydronetta bar. A long-time favorite of locals and tourists alike, it comes alive from April to October.

While in the morning you can taste Greek yogurt and breakfast there, the best hour is Happy Hour for sunset.

With its tables and chairs facing the sea all the way out to Dokos and Spetses islands and the Peloponnese hills, you can see the sun going down in the Mediterranean while listening to the best music and sipping any cocktail of your choice. Service is always friendly, professional, and well-priced.

Go Beyond Greek Food with the Local Fusion Cuisine

If you are also into enjoying the local gastronomic scene, there are plenty of choices!

Since 2015, various places opened, bringing “fusion Greek food” to Hydra. If you are staying around the harbor side, you may try the Omilos seafront restaurant. This is a modern, sleek, fusion food place, which opened in the former Lagoudera building.

While it is open for lunch with a reasonably priced set menu, the best time to go is for sunset. The main terrace overlooks the waves, and you will be able to taste fine seafood or meat dishes while admiring the view.

Enjoy a Glimpse into Mid-Century Glamor

Hydra was so famous in the 1970s with the likes of Onassis, Kennedy’s, Elizabeth Taylor, Melina Mercouri, or The Beatles visiting during the summer months.

While the old Lagoudera where they would meet has long since closed, locals still talk about it, and the building itself was renovated in 2010, opening under the name of Omilos. It still a place where Greek maritime tycoons gather at times of festivals or celebrations.

The nostalgic atmosphere is everywhere, with older people telling you tales of Sophia Loren living on Hydra for six months to shoot the movie Boy and the Dolphin.

Pay Homage to Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen’s fans love to gather on Hydra, walking up the steps to find the house he bought here in the 1960s.

While Leonard Cohen’s House now belongs to his children, Adam and Lorca, and his grandson, tourists make the pilgrimage to see the grey door, at the top of the “Donkey Shit Lane” as the locals call it.

There are more than 400 steps to get there, a lane that used to be filled with donkeys carrying merchandise to the upper houses. The house does not have any specific signs, but sometimes a few fresh flowers or a note left by a music lover.

On Hydra, both locals and international fans collected funds to build a “Leonard Cohen” Bench. In 2017, the municipality installed the bench on the paved road to Kamini village. It overlooks the sea, in a beautiful location, and sometimes is a meeting point for friends.

If you still want more, you can join the Leonard Cohen’s Informal Festival held in June, every two years.

More than one hundred and fifty people gather from around the world to sing along, and remember the poet, writer, and artist, who composed Bird on a Wire in Hydra.

Enjoy Hydra at Night with Some Traditional Music

Listening to traditional songs, played by locals is not to be missed! 

Bouzouki is the local Greek music instrument, which is kind of a cross between a guitar and a lyre. Many locals play this instrument, usually passed on from father to son or through a local teacher.

A couple of traditional taverns have them play, not only in the summer, but also for local traditional events, such as carnival, Tchikno Pempdi (clean Monday), Easter Sunday, or specific name days. You might meet “Fanassis,” “Dimitri,” or “Giorgos,” while you travel to Hydra.

Visit During October to Celebrate the Rebetiko Festival

Another option to listen and dance to Greek songs is during the Rebetiko Festival.

Every year, in October, the Rebetiko Music Festival takes place in Hydra. Rebetiko is a specific form of traditional music, created with bouzouki and baklama (the small bouzouki). The musicians gather informally in a few taverns, and one night formally at the Douskos Tavern called Xeri Elia.

Back in the 1950s, Rebetiko music had been forbidden, as they were seen as somewhat counter-cultural and were not welcomed by powerful politicians. However, nowadays, Rebetiko is fully legal, and part of the Greek cultural heritage.

If you listen to the informal music, you can have a bite in one of the taverns. However, if you decide to join the formal event on Saturday night, you will need to book in advance, and it is a set menu for everyone.

Ready to Visit Hydra?

You can find in Hydra all you need, from full relaxation and meditation spots to celebrity sightings in the summer. From hiking and yoga retreats to the latest Greek fusion food trends, Hydra is a posh, yet authentic, gem in the middle of the Saronic Gulf. 

Greece - Hydra - A waterfront of the town of Hydra, Hydra island

Hyrda might be a pocket-sized destination, but you can experience the breadth of Greek culture and island life right here!

Have you been yet or is Hydra calling? Let us know!

What to Bring to Hydra

Greece - Crete - Heraklion - Old Venetian Harbor Luggage

If you’re planning a trip to Greece, you’ll want to pack all the normal essentials, but here are a few things we strongly recommend bringing that may not have crossed your mind. For more packing tips, check out our complete Greece packing list.

– A physical guidebook, in paper or on Kindle. We love Lonely Planet Greece for this region and strongly recommend it to supplement blogs. Blogs are great, but a combination of a blog and a guidebook is key to having the best access to information easily at your fingertips.

– A water bottle with a filter. While often, the tap water in Greece is drinkable, there are places where it isn’t, including some popular tourist destinations like Santorini and Mykonos.

We generally recommend using a water bottle with a purifying filter to reduce your plastic consumption and ensure you won’t drink any funny-tasting water on your stomach that could make your trip unpleasant!

We recommend the GRAYL water bottle – it filters water perfectly in an instant so that you can even drink from lakes, bad taps, etc.

– Motion sickness pills. Very necessary if you’ll be taking a ferry or boat! The ferries in the Mediterranean can be quite choppy. If you have a weak stomach as we do, save yourself and bring some non-drowsy motion sickness pills.

 Travel safety items. We think Greece is very safe to travel, but at the same time, it never hurts to be prepared! Hyrda is rather safe but is nowhere is immune from pickpockets, so be cautious (this goes double if you plan to go to Athens – the metro is notorious for its pickpockets, and a travel blogger friend of ours got his phone stolen on it!).

Some people like to carry money belts, but neither Stephanie or I use these. Instead, we both carry the same PacSafe anti-theft backpack.

It has locking zippers, slash-proof construction with metal mesh hidden in the fabric, and tons of other smart security features — all while being cute and stylish enough to be our everyday bag. We recommend it highly for both male and female travelers, as it’s neutral enough to be unisex. We also strongly recommend travel insurance! Our recommendation is at the bottom of the post.

More Greece Travel Resources

Greece - Hydra - Stephanie leaving Hydra on an Island Cruise

Leaving Hydra by boat and heading to Aegina

Headed to Greece? We have some great travel resources to help you with your trip. First read our guide to planning a trip to Greece, which covers visas, budgets, vaccines, and much more. Next, you’ll want to read our all-season Greece packing list.

If you are still trying to figure out your Greece itinerary, check out our guides on where to go in Greece, the best places for island hopping in Greece, and when is the best time to visit. 

Many people combine a trip to Athens with a trip to Hydra. Check out our Athens Instagram guide, the best Athens day trips, and our complete Athens hotel guide. We also have Athens safety tips so your trip can be hassle-free. We are currently working on our mega-post of things to do in Athens as well as our itineraries, so stay tuned! 

If you’ll be on Hydra for a few days, you may want to combine your time with a day trip to Spetses. Here’s our guide to what to do on Spetses.

If you’ll be on Mykonos, we have our Mykonos Instagram guide and our Mykonos itinerary, as well as our favorite Mykonos beaches!

We also have guides to several other Greek islands, including ThassosIosZakynthos, and more on the way!

We publish new content about the Balkans almost every day! For more information about traveling to Greece and the Balkans, bookmark our Greece and Balkan travel pages so you can find out what’s new before your trip.

Finally, Make Sure You Come to Greece with Travel Insurance!

I’m sure you’re aware that it’s a good idea to have travel insurance for traveling in Greece, the Balkans, or anywhere in the world!

We have both been paying customers of World Nomads for the last three years. We love the peace of mind it gives us in case of emergencies, accidents, illnesses, theft, or trip cancellation or disruption.  While Greece is safe, there’s always a risk inherent in everyday travel like theft or injury, so it’s better to play it safe.

>> Get a travel insurance quote for your trip here <<

Pin This Guide to the Best Things to Do in Hydra!

Things to Do in Hydra

15 Fabulous Things to Do in Spetses for an Authentic Island Experience

Spetses is the southernmost island in the group composing the Argo-Saronic Gulf. With less than 5,000 inhabitants in winter, it’s far from the tourist trap that some of the country’s more famous islands can become. Here are the best things to do in Spetses so you can enjoy your authentic Greek island getaway.

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Best Things to Do in Spetses Greece

A Little about the Island of Spetses

Well known in Greece for its historical legacy during the Independence war of 1821, Spetses holds a special place in the Greek imagination. Yet even though it’s very close to Athens, most foreigners have never heard of it!

The Saronic Gulf is the closest destination from Athens, for visitors with a short time, as the boats leave every couple of hours, and it is only fifty-four nautical miles from the capital city. After stopping in Poros and Hydra islands, the boat continues through to Spetses.

Greece - Spetses - Agioi Anargyri beach in Spetses island, Greece

However, a great benefit of a visit to Spetses is that you can reach the island by sea or by car or bus through the Peloponnese.

In Ancient Greece, its name “Pityousa” related to the numerous pine trees growing on the island that still exist today. The Venetians then changed its name to “Isola de Spezzie” or “the islands of aromas”, as plenty of wild herbs grew there.

The elegant atmosphere of Spetses is striking, as soon as you disembark from the hydrofoil boat: from the luxury swimsuit shops on the left harbor side to the 5-Star Poseidonion Hotel on your right. Spetses harbor is home to wealthy Greeks and is a favorite vacation destination among the Greek elite.

It does not seek publicity, but its charming and green surroundings attract repeat visitors and celebrities alike.

Famous writers also loved and discussed the island in their works, from John Fowles (The Magus) to the Japanese novelist Murakami (A Day in the Life of a Novelist on Spetses スペッツェス島における小説家の一日).

Greece - Spetses - A gorgeous bougainvillea in front of a white traditional house in Spetses island, Greece.

In recent Greek history, political figures, as well as shipping tycoons, all bought properties on the island: from the former King of Greece Constantine to shipping magnate Niarchos, who bought a small island called “Spetsopoula” (the small Spetses). The island still attracts key figures of the Greek political and merchant life.

As part of a trip to Greece, in particular the Greek mainland, Spetses will add the charm of an “authentic Greek island”. In fact, while being touristy, it is still mostly home to summer villas for Athenians, Greek magnates, or Greek expatriates from the US, or Switzerland.

The Best Things to Do in Spetses

So, what are some of the best things to do on Spetses? Here are my favorites.

Enjoy a Carriage Ride along the Sea

Greece - Spetses - Horse drawn carts, used as taxis on the Greek island of Spetses, waiting for customers

While Hydra is a car-free island, Spetses, along the years, allowed a few cars, taxis and motorcycles to ride in the main roads. Tourists visiting from Hydra sometimes see it as a nuisance, as the noise level can rise, especially in the summertime. Let’s just say that Spetses is a lively, rattling island, rather than a quiet and laid-back one.

Aside from the vehicles, you can still find the traditional “horse-carriage” car, with beautiful well cared for horses. It is one of the top things to do in Spetses: board the horse-carriage (fees vary around €10 to 15 euros) and let yourself enjoy the scenery to a close-by beachside tavern. The authentic and unique pebble mosaics decorating the streets of Spetses echo the horseshoes’ claps.

Join the “Armata” (Bouboulina) Festival on September 8th

Greece - Spetses - Armata Spetses Island

On the second weekend of September, every year, the “Armata” festival takes place. It is the occasion for the island, but also for many Greek people, to remember the courage of the warriors and the events that took place in 1821.

In Spetses’ harbor, the sea taxis, local wooden boats, and other sailing ships from the region participate in the commemoration. A wooden boat that is built during the year is then set on fire, serving as an effigy of the 1821 Turkish boat. The show ends with fireworks and dancing through the night.

On that night, there are many boats arriving from the Peloponnese, from Hydra, Hermione, and Porto-H,eli towns. It is safer to book a room and a boat ticket in advance on that specific weekend.

Discover a Modern Greek Heroine at Bouboulina’s Museum

Spetses was the first island to deploy the flag of the revolution in April 1821. Its historical role in the Independence war still resonates nowadays in the pebble mosaic streets around the town center.

The main character, Laskarina Bouboulina was the local heroine of the Independence war. There are many remembrance points in Spetses, from her old Mansion, turned into a museum, to Central Square.

The museum, located inside the 19th Century mansion, is officially called the Bouboulina Museum. It’s now one of the top attractions in Spetses.

Opened in 1991 by Bouboulina’s descendants, it honors the only female admiral in navy history. Many ancient furniture and paintings, as well as miniature wooden boats, help the visitors appreciate the elegant atmosphere in Bouboulina’s mansion.

Her parents originally came from Hydra, but they moved to Spetses when she was a child. During the first days of the Independence war, she gave her fortune to arm ships and took on Spetses’ men to fight the Turkish fleet.

 You will find the museum in the Pevkakia area (in the Greek language: Πευκάκια).

Pay Homage at Bouboulina’s Statue 

Greece - Spetses - The statue of Laskarina Bouboulina heroine of the Greek war of independence in Spetses island, Greece

Don’t have time to visit the museum? You can still pay your respects. Bouboulina’s statue stands in the center of Spetses’s main square, near the Poseidon Hotel.

Feast on the Local Cuisine of Spetses

Greece - Spetses - Tables and chairs of a tavern in Spetses island, Greece

Each island in Greece is home to a specific dish or a local delicacy. Hydra is famous for its “amygdalota”, while Spetses is known for its “Spetsofai”, translated in English as “sausage or tender pieces of pork with Picante peppers” casserole. In order not to lose the taste of the dish, the ingredients need to be chopped in very coarse pieces.

To sample some of the specific Spetses dishes, try to book a table at “Καπελογιάννης” (Capelogiannis) a restaurant with pergola on the water, that opened in 1945. 

Visit the Fish Market

Greece - Spetses - Fish Market

Located right in the center of town, this is an interesting stop for all visitors, but it’s an especially great Spetses activity for anyone renting a self-catering apartment. It’s also a great way to save a bit of cash on local fish.

Indulge Yourself in a Day at the Beach

Greece - Spetses - Beach on idyllic greek island Spetses.

If you prefer to relax and spend a day at the beach, Spetses offers many places to choose from.

A locals’ favorite is the pebble beach of Vrelos. Accessible in around 20 minutes by the regular bus, by motorcycle, or by car, it has a convenient parking area within the pine trees and gives the visitor a choice between organized beach sitting, or just sitting on the rocks.

The waters are crystal clear, and it is a great swim choice for families too, as some areas are shallow waters.

The small “cantina” snack bar next to it has refreshments, ice, and snacks.

If you do not want to go as far as Vrelos, you can also stop at the “Caiki” beach, with organized beds, umbrellas, and water sports. There are also plenty of small cafés and snacks there. It is a fairly easy walk from the town center. Horse carriages and taxis can take you there too.

Rent a Bike and Cycle Around the Island

Greece - Spetses - A tourist rides a bicycle with a child along the famous embankment of Spetses island on Saronic gulf near Athens, Greece. Tourism concept.

There are various rent-a-bike places, as you walk right from the harbor. The streets in the town center are quite small and winding, but the road along the coast fairly flat, making it easy to explore on bicycle. Bring a picnic for a truly glorious day outside.

Walk along the Old Harbour 

Greece - Spetses - Spetses island old harbor, Greece

While every Greek island loves to boast about its harbor, Spetses’s harbor is truly a stunner. Enjoy a morning, afternoon, or even an evening strolling here. The walk itself is rewarding: as you turn left at the main harbor, the winding road just follows the sea and the old docks, while at night, it is a romantic spot for sunsets.

Dine at One of Spetses’s Fabulous Restaurants

Greece - Spetses - A glass of white wine with bread by the water

After tasting the local cuisine, or a romantic cocktail on the rooftop of the Poseidonion Hotel, you can head towards the Old Harbour and choose among the numerous taverns, with pergolas right on the water.

Among the well-known restaurants, the “Orloff” is housed in an old mansion, dating back to 1802. It gives the opportunity to dine on the roof terrace and is usually opened from April to October.  It is possible to walk along the old Harbour along the sea.

Another lovely place to sit down and enjoy the summer breeze is “Mourayo”, serving Greek food, and local dishes, and views on the harbor. Please always bear in mind that the fish prices in Spetses, but also in Greece in general, may be higher than in your home country. This is normal, and the same rates apply to local customers.

Explore Spetses at Night

Greece - Spetses - Spetses Island, Greece at night during summer

Spetses, in comparison to Hydra, for example, has a vibrant night scene. Relying on numerous local Greek tourists, along with expats and VIPs, the nightlife spots around the Old Harbour (Palio Limani) get rolling after dark.

Since the economic crisis in Greece, Spetses’ municipality and local businesses started to shift their touristic profile, bringing customers with various interests, from regatta sailing to marathon runners, on top of the traditional touristic season visitors. This makes the Spetses nightlife scene all that much more interesting and enjoyable. 

As a result, the town is vibrant, and you will surely find the perfect spot for a late drink, a summer cocktail, or live jig. Try the Stavento Club for an unforgettable night. 

Arrive in Style on a Luxury Speedboat or Yacht

Greece - Spetses - Luxury white fast motor boat docked at the pier of Spetses island, Greece.

Who has never dreamed of arriving at a Greek island on a luxury private jet or speedboat? Well, in Spetses the dream can come true! The newly launched company Spetses Cruising can organize a VIP arrival and water limousine taxi for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Pamper Yourself at the Spa at the Grand Poseidonion

Greece - Spetses - Foot bath in bowl with lime and tropical flowers, spa pedicure treatment, top view

The Asian Spa Group offers organic treatments at various spas across Greece. If you can’t afford to stay at the Grand Poseidonion Hotel, you can still enjoy a visit and relax at the Asian Spa’s Spetses location in the hotel. 

Enjoy Vintage Spetses at the Tweed Run Bicycle Ride

For the last 6 years, Spetses is home to delightful Tweed Run, sponsored by the Poseidonion hotel and the Hellenic Bicycle Museum, which takes place every year in October. Riding classic bicycles, while wearing the best vintage suit attire, participants to the Tweed Run bring style and elegance, once more, to Spetses.

The evening ends with a swing party and a beauty pageant!

Visit the Titania Outdoor Cinema

A nostalgic evening at the open-air, Titania Outdoor Cinema is also perfect to bring you back in time. Built in the 1960s, it used to be a family gathering spot in the summertime. In recent years, the Titania got a revamp, with Dolby Surround sound and digital projectors. But the scents of the island and the cicadas ‘humming are unchanged!

Ready to Visit Spetses?

All in all, Spetses is a genuine Greek island, where tourism booms but most sites and experiences still recall the aromas of the 20th Century. A popular spot for local Greeks tourists, Athenians, and foreigners alike, it will add an unforgettable flavor to your Greek holiday and will make you want to return again and again.

Well, where is your next stop in Greece? Will it include Spetses? We’d love to hear about it!

Want to Rent a Car for Spetses?

While not all trips to Spetses require a car, if you’re planning to drive from the mainland of Greece, a rental car may come in handy! [Just don’t drive if you’re going to be drinking, obviously — taxis exist for that reason!]

We’ve rented cars dozens of times in the Balkans through various search engines and have settled on Discover Cars as the best car rental search engine – it searches over 500 trusted rental companies to find the cheapest price for your rental! Compare prices for car rental in Greece here.

What to Bring to Spetses

Greece - Crete - Heraklion - Old Venetian Harbor Luggage

If you’re planning a trip to Greece, you’ll want to pack all the normal essentials, but here are a few things we strongly recommend bringing that may not have crossed your mind. For more packing tips, check out our complete Greece packing list.

– A physical guidebook, in paper or on Kindle. We love Lonely Planet Greece for this region and strongly recommend it to supplement blogs. Blogs are great, but a combination of a blog and a guidebook is key to having the best access to information easily at your fingertips.

– A water bottle with a filter. While often, the tap water in Greece is drinkable, there are places where it isn’t, including some popular tourist destinations like Santorini and Mykonos.

We generally recommend using a water bottle with a purifying filter to reduce your plastic consumption and ensure you won’t drink any funny-tasting water on your stomach that could make your trip unpleasant!

We recommend the GRAYL water bottle – it filters water perfectly in an instant so that you can even drink from lakes, bad taps, etc.

– Motion sickness pills. Very necessary if you’ll be taking a ferry or boat! The ferries in the Mediterranean can be quite choppy. If you have a weak stomach as we do, save yourself and bring some non-drowsy motion sickness pills.

 Travel safety items. We think Greece is very safe to travel, but at the same time, it never hurts to be prepared! Septses is rather safe but is not immune from pickpockets, so be cautious (this goes double if you plan to go to Athens – the metro is notorious for its pickpockets, and a travel blogger friend of ours got his phone stolen on it!). Some people like to carry money belts, but neither Stephanie or I use these. Instead, we both carry the same PacSafe anti-theft backpack.

It has locking zippers, slash-proof construction with metal mesh hidden in the fabric, and tons of other smart security features — all while being cute and stylish enough to be our everyday bag. We recommend it highly for both male and female travelers, as it’s neutral enough to be unisex. We also strongly recommend travel insurance! Our recommendation is at the bottom of the post.

More Greece Travel Resources

Greece - Delphi - Stephanie Selfie

A selfie in Delphi

Headed to Greece? We have some great travel resources to help you with your trip. First read our guide to planning a trip to Greece, which covers visas, budgets, vaccines, and much more. Next, you’ll want to read our all-season Greece packing list.

If you’ll be on Mykonos, we have our Mykonos Instagram guide and our Mykonos itinerary, as well as our favorite Mykonos beaches!

We also have guides to several other Greek islands, including ThassosIos, Zakynthos, and more on the way!

If you are still trying to figure out your Greece itinerary, check out our guides on where to go in Greece, the best places for island hopping in Greece, and when is the best time to visit. 

Many people combine a trip to Athens with a trip to Spetses. Check out our Athens Instagram guide, the best Athens day trips, and our complete Athens hotel guide. We also have Athens safety tips so your trip can be hassle-free. We are currently working on our mega-post of things to do in Athens as well as our itineraries, so stay tuned! 

We publish new content about the Balkans almost every day! For more information about traveling to Greece and the Balkans, bookmark our Greece and Balkan travel pages so you can find out what’s new before your trip.

Finally, Make Sure You Come to Greece with Travel Insurance!

I’m sure you’re aware that it’s a good idea to have travel insurance for traveling in Greece, the Balkans, or anywhere in the world!

We have both been paying customers of World Nomads for the last three years. We love the peace of mind it gives us in case of emergencies, accidents, illnesses, theft, or trip cancellation or disruption.  While Greece is safe, there’s always a risk inherent in everyday travel like theft or injury, so it’s better to play it safe.

>> Get a travel insurance quote for your trip here <<

Pin This Guide to the Best Things to Do in Spetses Here!

Best Things to Do in Spetses Greece

10 Stops for the Perfect Romania Road Trip Itinerary

Note: This is a guest post by Rachelle Gordon of Adventure is Never Far Away

Nothing is better than hitting the open road with the promise of good times ahead: discovering new favorites and hidden gems along the road; creating new memories and cultivating friendships with your travel partners; laughing and smiling along the way as you ramble around country roads and speed down metropolitan highways.

If life is a highway, then a road trip is the pulse that pumps the heart of every adventure-seeker. Road tripping through Romania is an adventure guaranteed to be a memorable experience.

There are so many corners of Romania just waiting to be discovered and fallen in love with. If you are heading to Romania and want to embark on an epic road trip, here are 10 stops for the perfect Romania road trip itinerary (and don’t forget to pack appropriately for your road trip!)

10 Essential Places to Visit on a Romania Road Trip

Bran

Giant castle on cliff with trees
Photo provided by Rachelle Gordon and reused with permission.

“Dracula’s Castle” is one of the most iconic destinations in Romania, and no Romanian road trip would be complete without it. Bran Castle is widely believed to be the influence for Bram Stoker’s classic novel, “Dracula.”

Although Bram Stoker never stepped foot in the castle and Vlad the Impaler’s actual fortress is miles away, Bran Castle has an amazing history and worthy of a visit. The iconic red roof is unmistakably striking against the lush green mountains of Transylvania and Wallachia.

Bran was named for the Turkish word ‘gate’ and the castle has provided protection over Bran town and its surroundings for centuries. The first documented mention of Bran castle was recorded in 1377 and the fortress has been used in defense against the Ottoman Empire in the 15th century. As soon as you walk into the castle, you can feel the whispers of history from within the walls.

Insider tip: Arrive early to avoid the crowds. Spend some time wandering around the grounds just outside of the castle, soaking in the sheer grandeur of the location.

Peleș

White and red castle on hill
Photo provided by Rachelle Gordon and reused with permission.

Perhaps one of the most recognizable castles in the world, Peleș Castle is nestled in the Carpathian Mountains near Sinaia.

Built in the late 1800s for Romania’s first king, King Carol I from Germany, Peleș originally served as a hunting lodge but is now considered a national monument and international treasure. Perched high in the mountains, the ascent into the courtyard is enough to set your excitement on overdrive. Your eyes are instantly arrested as you glimpse Peleș through the trees.

Touring Peleș Castle is a must-do during your Romania road trip. King Carol I approved building plans that included one-hundred and sixty rooms: from bedrooms to theaters, concert halls, weapons rooms, libraries, offices, card rooms, bathrooms, painting rooms, tea rooms, children’s playrooms, meeting rooms, breakfast rooms, and formal dining rooms.

But the best part is that each room, as well as the foyers and hallways, were originally decorated in differing styles, each drawing influences from the French, Moors, Florentines, Venetians, and Turks. Whenever you turn a corner, your eyes are assaulted with tapestries, a fantasyland-like architectural design of doors and staircases, and more crystal than anyone can imagine.

Insider tip: Arrive early for the tour. If the lines for the English-speaking are too long, hop into the shorter Romanian-speaking line. Even if you don’t speak Romanian, there are signs along the way in English in each room.

Brașov

Romania - Brasov - Center of Town

Have you ever seen the Hollywood sign in California? A stop in Brasov to check out the Romanian equivalent is a great addition to your Romania road trip itinerary.

High atop Tampa Mountain and visible from just about anywhere in the city, the gleaming white letters of BRASOV beckon visitors to this medieval city. If you need a break from your road trip, hike or take the cable car up to the sign for an unobstructed view of the city.

Spend your day roaming around the cobblestone streets, lined with lively cafes, busy shops, and street carts selling sweet-smelling kurtoskalacs.

Catch an organ recital or performance in the Biserica Neagra (Black Church), the center focal point of Brasov’s main square. Although the church itself isn’t black, it earned the title after a fire in 1689 darkened the walls from the smoke. On the exterior, see if you can find the grooves in the stone where residents used to sharpen their swords.

Insider tip: Brasov is known as the gateway to Transylvania and is a great place to make your home base!

Castelul de Lut

Fairytale looking castle
Photo provided by Rachelle Gordon and reused with permission.

Tucked away in the Transylvanian countryside of Romania lies the Castelul de Lut Valea Zanelor, translated to “Clay Castle of the Valley of Fairies.”

This quirky, soon-to-be-open hotel is made entirely of clay, straw, and sand, with all 10 rooms having their own style. The structure was built by craftsmen from Maramures, a region in Transylvania known for beautiful wooden churches. If you want to experience something truly unique, a stop at Castelul de Lut should be on your Romania road trip itinerary.

As you make your way through the 10 unique rooms, marveling at the style and individuality of each one, you’re instantly transported to another time. Another reality. The building looks like something out of Alice in Wonderland or The Hobbit.

Insider tip: After soaking up as much of Castelul de Lut as you possibly can, head over to the other side of the property and sit under the shady trees at the banks of the babbling brook to experience a true Romanian countryside.

Sighișoara

Belltower with colorful houses in an alley
Photo provided by Rachelle Gordon and reused with permission.

If you’re looking for one of the most picturesque cities in Romania, the historical town of Sighișoara (sig-ee-SHWAH-ra) is most definitely it! Sighișoara is like something straight out of a fairytale: a walled city center, colorful buildings, cobble-stoned streets.

Hundreds of years of history breathe out of the old town, transporting you back to the medieval times. The city center looks like a box of brightly-colored crayons exploded all over the buildings, making it fun and easy to find your way around. Head to the old town center, which also happens to be a UNESCO heritage site and immerse yourself in the colors, history, and personality of the town.

If you’re a fan of Dracula, Sighișoara is surely your mecca as Vlad III (Tepes) was said to be born in the old town. Tour his supposed birth home and learn more about his role in shaping Romania’s future. Spend time climbing to the top of the clock tower for a bird’s eye view of the city. Check out the defensive towers situated around the city, each one representing a craftsman guild: tinsmith, butcher, bootmaker, etc.

Insider tip: the early morning sun makes the colors of the city pop. Spend some time in the morning wandering around the cobblestoned streets and enjoying the stillness.

Sibiu

Traditional houses in Sibiu
Photo provided by Rachelle Gordon and reused with permission.

A visit to the city where the houses have eyes should be on your Romania road trip itinerary.

Sibiu was built in the 12th century by German Transylvanian Saxons and the houses in the old square have a particular unnerving feature on their roofs: eyes! The eye-shaped windows were added to houses to assist in cooling the attics, but they still give the impression that the houses are watching over the old town.

Sibiu is also home to the Bridge of Lies, an iconic landmark and full of legends. The legend of the Bridge of Lies says that the bridge itself has ears and unexplained mystical powers. The bridge listens to those who walk across it, and creaks when a lie is told. The bigger the lie, the more the bridge creaks. And if you tell the biggest lie of all, legend says the bridge will collapse. Although the legend is fanciful, locals are still known to avoid the Bridge of Lies.

Insider tip: Sibiu has many dilapidated doors that lead to beautiful courtyards. Peek through a few!

Corvin Castle

Hogwarts looking castle
Photo provided by Rachelle Gordon and reused with permission.

If you’re a Harry Potter fan, a stop at Corvin Castle in Hunedoara should definitely be on your Romania road trip itinerary: it looks like Hogwarts!

Originally built during the 14th century (exact date unknown) for Charles I, King of Hungary and Croatia until 1342, the fortress acted as a keep and strategic stronghold.

When it became the home to John Hunyadi, regent-governor during the mid-1400s, Corvin Castle underwent the first of many transformations. Over the next few centuries, wings, halls, rooms, and towers were constructed for reasons both aesthetically-pleasing and defensive.

Now known as one of the Seven Wonders of Romania, Corvin Castle is one of the largest castles in Europe and probably one of the least well-known outside of Eastern Europe.

And if you’re fond of historical legends, Corvin Castle has its fair share. One such legend states that Vlad the Impaler, Bram Stoker’s inspiration for his novel Dracula spent 7 years in the dungeons of Corvin Castle. While this isn’t true and has absolutely no physical evidence to support the theory, visitors are still told the tale.

Insider tip: Take time to explore every nook and cranny of the castle. Each view from the towers is different and breathtaking.

Transfagarasan Highway

Winding highway down a mountain
Photo provided by Rachelle Gordon and reused with permission.

Since you’re already on a Romania road trip, why not head over to the Transfagarasan Highway?

The Transfagarasan Highway is a strip of road that winds through the Carpathian mountain range, connecting Sibiu County with Arges County, about 150 miles northwest of Bucharest. The section of the Carpathian mountains the Transfagarasan Highway cuts through is sometimes called the “Transylvanian Alps.”

Put your vehicle’s top down and get ready to drive one of the best highways in the world, according to the guys from Top Gear. Hundreds of corners and hairpin turns along an impressive mountain range, leading up to Balea Lake and one of the most stunning views. Don’t drive the Transfagarasan Highway to make good time: drive it to have a good time. Here are some tips for driving it!

Insider tip: There aren’t any suitable rail guards as you drive up the highway, so take your time. Heed the speed limit and only drive if you’re comfortable.

Bucharest

Bucharest - Romania - Palace of the People building with pink flowers

No road trip to Romania would be complete without a stop in the country’s capital. Bucharest is one of the most underrated and surprising capital cities in Europe.

The country itself is still waking up to tourism, so the capital city still has that raw, yet-to-be-discovered feel. From hidden bars and passageways to lush city parks and green spaces to an Instagram-famous bookstore, Bucharest has a little bit of everything.

At first glance, you see communist-style buildings adorning some of the main plazas, run-down apartment complexes tucked into corners, derelict and vacant shells, all encompassed in an earth-toned color palette. But if you take the time to look a little bit deeper and understand a little more about this city, it just might surprise you how much you are drawn to it.

Take a free walking tour. Follow the #experiencebucharest Instagram posts to some of the most photogenic locations you didn’t expect to find in post-communist Romania. Rent a bike and see if you can understand the love Romanians have for green spaces.

Insider tip: Ask a local for restaurant recommendations. It’s always a great idea to go local!

Rașnov

Fortress on hill
Photo provided by Rachelle Gordon and reused with permission.

As you arrive in the city of Rasnov, your eyes will immediately be drawn towards the heavens…where you’ll find the town name spelled out in white letters, similar to neighboring Brasov.

The fortress dates back over 700 years and has a strong history as a successful defensive point. The fortress was its own self-sufficient community, serving as a place of refuge and safety during attacks, rather than being a getaway for royals.

The fortress has been restored recently, making it one of the best-kept ruins of its kind throughout Romania. Get lost in the maze of streets within the fortress. Pop into some of the restored structures and imagine what it must have been like back in the medieval times. Climb up on one of the high ridges and take in the breathtaking views of the valley. Walk along the fortification walls and fully appreciate how difficult it would have been for invaders to penetrate the inner part of the stronghold.

Insider tip: Parking can be tricky, but if you follow the signage, you shouldn’t have any issues.


Romania is full of small villages that motorists will inevitably pass through along their journey, where shepherds still tend their livestock, little old ladies sit on their front benches to share the latest gossip, and haystacks far outnumber the local population.

Be sure to spend time exploring these small villages, because they won’t be around forever. Romania is swiftly developing now that it has been able to finally shed the old skin of its communist past. During your Romania road trip, visit the villages where you can still find fresh homemade bread and butter on the table every night, where a traffic jam involves horses and buggies hauling hay and firewood, and where life is simply beautiful.

About the Author

Rachelle Gordon is the writer behind the travel blog Adventure is Never Far Away. You can follow her on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and Instagram.

21 Incredible Day Trips from Istanbul

Istanbul is one of a kind city, full of 24/7 vibrant life. Millions of tourists flock to this city every year to see the Grand Bazaar, Bosphorus Bridge, Sultanahmet Mosque, Beyoglu, Moda, and countless other sights that this city has to offer.

However, Istanbul is also a travel hub for many tourists — as well as locals –who want to get away from its hustle and bustle, thanks to its unique geographical situation on the Bosphorus. The city offers short breaks you can take either by car, by boat, or by a short flight.

The greatest feeling, of course, is returning to one of the most beautiful cities in the world — and that’s Istanbul.

Let’s get started, shall we?

Best Day Trips from Istanbul by Car

Gallipoli War Cemeteries

Back in 1915, the Ottoman Empire was attacked by the Allied forces with the main purpose of taking control over the Dardanelles. One of the most historic and bloody battles of the world took place on the Gallipoli peninsula. Thousands of lives were lost.

The clash lasted around nine months and there was an astounding amount of casualties. With 100,000 dead and 400,000 wounded, the place has a deep sentimental value to the people of the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, France, and of course the Republic of Turkey.

Thousands of tourists visit Gallipoli War Cemeteries every year to pay their respects to the souls who were lost there.

Note that if you plan on visiting during ANZAC Day, which is a commemoration for the Australian and New Zealand Corps, you might have to plan your trips ahead since it gets pretty busy during the time.

It gets so busy that most visitors actually never get to see the ceremonies because of all the hustle and bustle.

For the very same reason, Gallipoli War Cemeteries are best accessible by road and having your own vehicle or going on a guided tour helps quite a lot.

If you would like to see the commemoration ceremonies, try visiting during ANZAC day, which falls on April 24 and 25. We must remind you, it gets pretty intense during the memorial services.

We recommend this guided tour which covers the Gallipoli peninsula if you’re planning to visit the area. Unless you’re renting a car, which presents some challenges, it’s too long of a trip to do by public transit.

Troy

Troy, best recalled from Homer’s “Iliad,” was thought to never exist.

However, Heinrich Schliemann discovered it in 1868. It gained worldwide popularity after the movie Troy, featuring Brad Pitt, was shot, and more people started visiting the city. Ironically, the film wasn’t even filmed in the actual Troy!

A great historical site and the oldest ruins in the area dating back to 3,000 BC, the drive to Troy from Istanbul is 5 hours each way — but it is worth it!

Because of its distance, it’s best to combine it with other nearby sights, like Canakkale and Gallipoli.

We recommend this guided tour to Troy if you only have a day, but if you have two days, better yet to do a combined Troy and Gallipoli overnight tour.

Canakkale

Situated on both sides of the Dardanalles, Canakkale is the perfect spot to start your journey before you head to Gallipoli War Cemeteries and Troy, as they are all clustered close together and often combined on a day trip from Istanbul.

The historic city is also considered quite mythological. It has seen many historical battles, such as the War of Troy, which can be found in Homer’s Iliad, and also the Battle of Canakkale, which took place during World War I, under the command of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

Apart from its historical importance, Canakkale is a pleasant city with a number of museums, as well. If visiting Canakkale independently, try to include the Naval Museum, Military Museum, the Canakkale Archaeological Museum, Dardanalles (Hellespont), and the Cimenlik Fortress on your list.

At the center of the city is the historic Clock Tower, which is also a must-see and a locals’ favorite meeting point.

Locals prefer eating cheese halvah and you should definitely taste this amazing dessert. My favorite place is Kadir Yaşar Çanakkale Helvacısı. (address: Arap İbrahim Paşa Cd. No:30, Canakkale

İznik

Once called “Ancient Nicaea,” the walled city of Iznik is situated on the shore of Lake Iznik, which is on the southeast of Yalova.

The city is a significant place for Christians, as it played a huge role in the spread and shaping of Christianity. History says that two ecumenical councils were also held in Iznik.

Also well known for its tile-making prowess in the traditional Ottoman style, the city is full of tile shops and tea houses where locals get together for a hot cup of tea or Turkish coffee.

While it is basically a farming town, it is also worth a visit for its picaresque lakeside views.

Situated right at the center of the city, Hagia Sophia Church, now transformed into a mosque, is one of the must-see places in Iznik. Another sight worth seeing is the Green Mosque, which portrays full Turkish influence in its design.

Edirne

Located near Bulgaria and Greece, Edirne is a worthwhile day trip from Istanbul that is skipped by most tourists who tend to travel east and south from Istanbul.

Located to the west of Istanbul, Edirne is home to beautifully built mosques featuring elegant Ottoman architecture; in fact, it was once the second capital of the Ottoman Empire.

The Great Synagogue is also located within Edirne. This synagogue was deserted due to a lack of attendees and then restored by the Turkish government in 2015.

Once you are there, wander through the streets observing the Ottoman Victorian designs, take a walk down Meric River over the Ottoman stone bridge, and explore the bazaars. Don’t miss the Selimiye Mosque, either!

If your trip falls in the months of June or July, you may be able to catch Kırpınar Wrestling Tournament, which is an ancient sport dating back to the days of Ottoman Sultan Orhan.

You can get there by public bus or by an organized day trip from Istanbul – this is the day trip I recommend.

Tekirdag

Situated on the western shore of the Marmara Sea, Tekirdag is a 4,000-year- old city. A walk along Rakoczi Street could show you everything you need to know about the city, which is full of houses of all kinds: old, about to collapse, new, and newly restored.

The Archaeology and Ethnology Museum is also located here, once known as Tekirdag Vali Konagı, a provincial governors building.

The end of Rakoczi Street is home to Rakoczi Museum, which was once the home of a Hungarian nobleman named Prince Francis II Rakoczi. He is known to be the person who led the revolt against Habsburgs in Hungary. After accepting defeat, Rakoczi moved to the soils of the Ottoman Empire upon his request, and he died in Tekirdag at the age of 59.

Tekirdag is very famous for its meatballs! If you want to eat the most delicious meatballs in your entire life, visit Özcanlar. It has various restaurant chains; therefore take a look at its website before you go. No need for reservations!

Agva & Şile

The town of Agva is another popular tourist destination reachable by a short drive from Istanbul. Only a 70 kilometers drive will take you to this region, dating back to 700 BC.

Agva is famous for the Tomb of Kum Baba, a historic Muslim Saint, and it’s a perfect day trip from Istanbul for anyone looking for some peace and wanting to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Also known for its cotton production called “şile,” stroll among the shops selling dresses and towels made from this cozy soft cotton. 

Only a 3-hour drive away from Istanbul, you can take the bus from Otogar in Istanbul to Agva, or rent a car for the day if you’re brave. Agva has everything a peace-lover could ask for, from serene beaches to lush mountains. You can set up camp by the river and catch fish, or go fruit picking.

Do not return to Istanbul without enjoying rakı-balık (fresh fish cooked in an anise liquor called rakı) in Marin Balık, one of the top fish restaurants in Şile. It’s address is Hacı Kasım, Liman Sk. No: 20, 34980 Şile

Sapanca & Kartepe Mountain

Fresh air: that’s the first word that comes to mind when someone mentions Sapanca. Home to Lake Sapanca, a perfect destination for someone who loves scenic views, and the countryside, Sapanca attracts many nature lovers to take a day trip from Istanbul.

Visitors can walk along the lakeshore, a perfect spot for some stunning photos. You can go to the local zoo, hike in Kartepe Mountain, or take a ski lift tour.

A popular destination for peace seekers as well as ski lovers due to its close proximity to Istanbul, Kartepe Mountain and fine resorts around it make a popular destination during the winter season.

The easiest way to get here is by guided tour – you can find one here.

Bursa

Bursa was the first capital of the Ottoman Empire, and the remnants of Ottoman influence are still alive and well in this city.

A must-see for anyone with even the slightest interest in architecture, Bursa is home to the Muradiye-Hudavendigar Mosque, which dates back to 1366. This architectural masterpiece is based on Seljuk Turkish architecture, birthed by the Ottoman Empire.

Another must-see is Emir Sultan Mosque and the various styles of Ottoman housing kept secret in the suburbs.

Bursa also attracts a lot of elderly people who seek remedy to their illnesses by visiting hot mineral baths and spa resorts in Cekirge. Keep this in mind, if you ever visit the city in the winter!

I should also mention that Bursa is famous for Iskender Kebap. You should definitely pay a visit to Kebapçı İskender / Mavi Dükkan, serving its guests since 1867.

This small local restaurant gets incredibly crowded; therefore avoid lunch hours when locals also pay a visit. Its address is at Tayyare Kültür Merkezi Yanı Atatürk Caddesi No: 60 16170 Osmangazi, Bursa.

To get here, you can either go by public bus or by an organized tour which includes Uludag, the next place on this list of Istanbul day trips below.

Uludag

An escape to Uludag is often combined with a trip to Bursa or done on its own as a ski escape in winter – yes, you can ski close to Istanbul.

Should you get tired from the city, you can also easily escape to Uludag, known as Mt. Olympus or Great Mountain, via cable car from Bursa. The cable car takes you to the summit for hiking in summer and skiing in winter.

This tour combines Bursa and Uludag.

Bolu & Kartalkaya

Kartalkaya and Bolu are both winter wonderlands for ski fanatics. Surprisingly, Bolu and Kartalkaya are both accessible by road, thanks to Bolu Mountain Tunnel.

The area is most popular during the winter due to the Kartalkaya Ski Center. It is home to the most modern winter facilities and the most preferred skiing slopes in Turkey. These features, plus the fresh pine trees in the surroundings, make Kartalkaya the capital in winter tourism industry in Turkey.

Other places to see in Bolu and Kartalkaya are Haccagiz Plateau, the Victory Tower for its architecture and historical significance, Karamurat Lake for its natural green beauty, and Gazi Suleyman Pasha Mosque for its architecture.

Abant Nature Park is also a must-see in Bolu to get away from your everyday stress and free yourself with some peace.

Yedi Göller

Any visitor who first lays their eyes upon Yedi Göller National Park is always star-struck by its beauty. As you view the small seven lakes for the first time, the first thought that will come to your mind will be that this is heaven on earth – it’s hard to believe this is a day trip from Istanbul!

Full of trees and herbs of all kinds, the great thing about Yedi Goller National Park is that the plant protection program of the park has been working well, which has led to an increase in the number of animals and plants inside the park.

This park is absolutely serene with trees covered in red, yellow and green, which make autumn the best season for a visit. It is 1,623 hectares and its nature, the seven lakes, the flora and fauna, hiking activities, camping activities, and the fishing of fresh salmon are just some of its highlights.

Assos (Behremkale)

Officially named Behramkale, this town is still referred to by its old name of Assos. Founded by colonists coming from Lesvos where Aristotle sailed to after coming to Assos and marrying King Heremeias’s daughter, it is a remarkable historic gem.

The Temple of Athena is situated in Assos, although it is now only just ruins and is now surrounded by cemeteries and the walls of a crumbling city. The Greek island of Lesvos can be seen from the temple, with a view of the Aegean Sea.

The city is of historical significance as well, as St. Paul and Aristotle visited it. It was under the control of Persians and Lydians and was also taken over by the Macedonian King Alexander the Great during later years.

The Romans left behind their ruins, and the cultural significance of the city is still protected by the Republic of Turkey, after its establishment.

I should also mention the seashore, earning blue flags with its crystal clear water. Be aware of the waves though as the sea can get pretty rough sometimes thanks to the winds of the north. If you are not a good swimmer, be careful.

Day Trips from Istanbul by Boat

Gökçeada

Primarily populated by the Greeks in the past, Gökçeada is now well known for its beautiful beaches, seafood and stone houses. It is a colorful island with beautiful sunsets and sunrises.

Being near the Aegean Sea, the views are extremely vibrant. Gökçeada is a laid-back island and nature has taken over in the area. Locals have nicknamed the place “the heavenly island,” and it has definitely earned its fame.

Wandering goats and sheep stumbling upon historical buildings from the past are not uncommon. The town has been encouraged to stick with and retain its natural state.

You can access Gökçeada by taking the ferry from Canakkale. A bazaar is held on Sundays where you can find the specialties of the island such as, almond cookies, honey and cicirya, which is a Greek dish made of melted goat cheese, mint and thyme.

Bozcaada

Situated near Canakkale, Bozcaada is the third largest island in Turkey. It is also one of the two islands on the Aegean Sea that belongs to Turkey rather than Greece.

Bozcaada is a high and rocky area, due to its rocky cliffs. It is also home to numerous coves and beaches. Traditional Greek houses can be seen on the island, and it is the perfect holiday spot for those looking for a quiet calming area.

The island is so laid back and chill that your most tiring task of the day would be biking around the city. Places in Bozcaada that should be visited are the Yali Mosque, Namazgah, Meryem Ana Church, the vineyards of Bozcada, the Greek houses, Koprulu Mehmet Pasa Mosque, the Mermer Cape and Polente Lighthouse.  

September and October are great months to visit the island as wine and music festivals are organized.

Bozcada is easily accessible by ferry and boat, and transportation is available throughout the day.

Princes Islands

Seeing the Princes Island would require you to keep your entire day free. The Princes Islands are a chain of nine islands in the Marmara Sea, though only four are open to the public.

The Princes Islands define silence, since no motor-operated vehicles are allowed on the islands: just what you want on a day trip from Istanbul, some peace and quiet! The Princes Islands are easily accessible by boat from Kabatas in Istanbul, and it is just a 50 min boat-ride away.

With numerous hotels and restaurants available on the island, though, you don’t need to worry about missing your boat back should you be entired to stay more than a day!

The people are generally friendly and they love their cats and dogs. The island is full of friendly cats and dogs. A view of the Istanbul skyline can be seen from the shore of any island.

It’s easy enough to get here independently via ferry from Istanbul, but you can also take an organized day trip if you want more guidance.

Day Trips by Flight

Pamukkale

Pamukkale literally translates to “Cotton Castle” in Turkish and is rightfully named so, due to its picturesque pools hanging like a waterfall.

Pamukkale is the site of well-preserved ruins and terraces of warm water-pools. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it is the single most visited attraction of Turkey. Did you also it is often considered the eighth wonder of the world?

Pamukkale is also the only place in the world where you can find hot springs, temples, bathhouses, and ruins of ancient Roman civilizations all in the same place!

Don’t forget to bring slip-on shoes and swimwear with you, and note that you cannot wear shoes when walking on the travertine path, so as not to erode and stain the delicate surface.

Keep in mind that because everything is white, everything is bright and sunglasses are a must! Sunscreen is also a must as the water will reflect the sun, and if you have fair skin, you will certainly burn.

If you want to do it as a day trip, booking a guided tour is basically a must, as they will organize all the logistics including flights. You can book a guided tour here for a suprisingly affordable price given the flights!

Efes (Ephesus)

Efes, also called Ephesus, is one of Turkey’s most visited sites, and is the best-preserved Roman city in the Mediterranean region. This spectacular archeological marvel is home to St. John Basilica and the Isa Bey Mosque which are both must-sees.

If possible, avoid visiting Efes in the summer months, as you will have difficulty in walking among the ruins under the scorching sun. I prefer May or September when the weather is nicer for long peaceful walks.

The perfect place for history fanatics as its ruins are world class, it is said that the ruins of Efes are even better than the ruins of Rome itself!

As you leave the ancient city, head to Sirince that is a historical Ottoman village, with old houses, mansions, vineyards, and olive orchards.

Again, as this tour requires flights, the only way to do Ephesus as a single day trip from Istanbul is to organize a tour who can make all the tight connections work — we suggest this highly rated one.

Cappadocia

Cappadocia is the most picturesque area in Turkey and the place to be for Instagrammers! With backgrounds of the hot-air balloons, the place is so visually pleasing to the eye.

The “moonscape” area of Cappadocia is a must-see due to the beautiful force of nature, which has eroded the caves and clefts in the most astounding manner.

The area of Cappadocia has been referred to in the Bible’s New Testament, making it a historical place and it has been important since the times of Jesus.

Aside from the famous hot air balloon rides, Cappadocia is also famous for its painted cave churches, which are historically very significant.

Be sure to get a taste of testi kebabı as well when you are visiting this magical atmosphere. The kebab is cooked in a pot where it gets its earthy and smoky taste.

While Cappadocia definitely warrants more than just a day trip from Istanbul, sometimes that’s all the time you have. If you only have one day for Cappadocia, we suggest this private day trip from Istanbul.

Where to Stay in Istanbul

Turkey - Istanbul - Hammamhane

We have a ton of resources to help you decide where to stay in Istanbul!

Check our giant neighborhood guide and hotel recommendations, or look specifically for our favorite Sultanahmet hotels near the Blue Mosque or our favorite Bosphorus view hotels.

If you just want our quick recommendations, here are our top picks for each budget category.

Budget: For a great budget-friendly hotel, you can stay in single or double rooms at the Dreamers B&B. Colorful and cozy, the B&B boasts a fabulous location in Beyoglu, less than a kilometer from Taksim Square. You can explore all of Beyoglu from here, and then head to Sultanahmet when you’re ready to see the old city. Check pricing, reviews, and availability here.

Mid-Range: For an affordable, yet trendy boutique hotel, we recommend Peradays. It’s perfect for all Istanbul visitors, from first-timers to Istanbul veterans. The lofted rooms are generously large, so you can spread out and relax after a long day of sightseeing. They also have two cats that live here, Pera and Daisy, which you’ll be happy to greet after counting cats all day when out in the city. Check pricing, reviews, and availability here. 

Luxury: Istanbul has no shortage of fabulous hotels, but we love Hammamhane, a boutique apartment-hotel that was originally a hammam, and the sister hotel of Peradays. Built in a historic hammam (Turkish bath), the suites are spacious and luxurious. Located in the heart of Cukurcuma, the antiques district, Hammamhane is within walking distance to art galleries, design stores, antique shops, and chic cafés. Check pricing, reviews, and availability here.

What to Pack for Istanbul

Greece - Crete - Heraklion - Old Venetian Harbor Luggage

We have a guide of what to pack for Turkey, but here are five things you definitely want to bring with you!

The Lonely Planet Turkeya good guidebook can help you with the kinds of safety tips you need if you’re out in the city and feel a bit lost, especially if you don’t have internet or a cell signal. These also have specific neighborhood information that will help you in different parts of the city, and it’s a great supplement to blog posts like this one!

Unlocked Cell Phone: Stephanie and I both have unlocked cell phones that we bought in Europe (Stephanie uses a Samsung and I use an iPhone). This allows up to get sim cards when we travel so that we always have the internet. This has gotten us out of so many jams! If you don’t have an unlocked cell phone that can use a Turkish sim card, you can buy a cheaper unlocked phone online and bring it with you!

Pacsafe Citysafe or Other Anti-Theft Bag: This is the bag both Stephanie and I use for all our travels. It has a pouch with RFID technology so our credit cards can’t get scanned from afar, interlocking zippers to make it harder to pickpocket, and it’s roomy enough to be a perfect sightseeing day bag, yet it’s still quite stylish for all of its security features. If you’d rather bring something smaller, you can pack a money belt instead. 

Grayl Water FilterWhile the water is *technically* safe to drink in much of Turkey, I would still avoid it. If you don’t want to be buying millions of plastic water bottles, you can get a reusable water bottle that comes with a water filter so that you can stick to the tap water and reduce your plastic waste. If you’ll be traveling outside of the major tourist centers, check if the water is potable locally.

Seabands: If you get seasick easily, pack some Seabands or seasickness pills so you don’t miss out on the best parts of Turkey – being on the water! A trip to Turkey isn’t complete without a cruise or at least a quick boat trip, so make sure you’re prepared to enjoy it to the fullest!

More Turkey Travel Resources

Turkey - Istanbul - Istanbul in Winter Snow Selfie Stephanie

Headed to Turkey? We have some great travel resources to help you with your trip.

If this will be your first time traveling to Turkey, check out this guide to planning a trip to Turkey (including visa information) and this guide beautiful places to visit in Turkey. You can also check out our Balkan currency guide, which explains how the Turkish lira works and guidelines for tipping in Istanbul.

If you’re heading to Istanbul, we have you covered. Start with our essential Istanbul Travel Tips and guide to staying safe in Istanbul

We’re working on our massive things to do in Istanbul post, plus you can check out our guide to the best Instagram spots around Istanbul, tips for shopping in Istanbul, the best Turkish food to eat, how to plan an Istanbul honeymoon, and what to do in Istanbul at night.

If you will be visiting in winter, we have a special winter in Istanbul guide plus an overview of Istanbul weather in January.

If you want to be in the city for just a few days (four or less), check out our Istanbul city break guide, which breaks down the best of the city so you won’t miss anything!

Headed to Cappadocia? If you’re curious about the most Instagrammable places in Cappadocia, we’ve got you covered. We also have posts on the best things to do in Cappadocia, and how to plan a perfect 3 day Cappadocia itinerary, plus how to get to Cappadocia from Istanbul.

We have tons more Turkey and Balkans resources, and we publish new content nearly daily. Bookmark our Turkey and Balkans travel pages so you can find any new resources that come out before your trip!

Don’t Forget About Travel Insurance!

I’m sure you’re aware that travel insurance is a good idea for traveling in Turkey (or really, any part of the world)! We have both been paying customers of World Nomads for the last three years. We love the peace of mind it gives us in case of emergencies, accidents, illnesses, theft, or trip cancellation or disruption.

While Turkey is safe to travel around, there’s always a risk inherent in everyday travel, so it’s better to play it safe.

>> Get a travel insurance quote for your trip here <<

Visiting Golubac Fortress from Belgrade: Serbia’s Unconquerable Fortress

The Danube itself is a majestic river. Over the millennia, it divided the empires and regions, and today, it is a waterway that connects peoples and has enormous tourist potential.

It passes through 10 European countries; a fascinating fact is that four European capitals, one of which is Belgrade, are located on the riversides of the Danube.

I will not sound biased to say that the most exciting journey along this river is through Serbia, where the Danube is navigable all along its course (almost 600 kilometers or 370 miles). Up to Belgrade, the river lazily wades through the plain areas, and from the capital of Serbia, it passes through beautiful hilly landscapes.

This river has always fascinated people. Many of the earliest European cultures and settlements, such as the Vinča or Starčevo, originated on the banks of the Danube.

During the various periods of rule on the Balkan peninsula, the Danube was used as a critical navigable route, but also for military purposes. On its shores, various fortifications have arisen, and one of them that attracts a lot of attention is the Golubac Fortress: which, incidentally, is a perfect day trip from Belgrade.


A Brief History of Golubac Fortress

Considering that this stone building was a military stronghold, it is no surprise that the Golubac Fortress has an extremely strategic position. Right near the small town of Golubac, the Danube is quite wide, which means that the visibility from the fort was excellent.

This area is symbolically called the Iron Gate, the longest and the trickiest gorge in Europe. It represents a natural entrance to the Djerdap National Park. In front of the fort was a civilian settlement, as evidenced today by only some partially investigated buildings.

There is no closer information as to who and when built the Golubac Fortress. This part of Serbia was under the Hungarians during the 14th century. It is one of the assumptions that this structure was the heritage of their rule.

However, ownership of the Golubac Fort has changed over the centuries, depending on who won the battles. The final dominance of the Serbs over this fortification occurred in the mid-19th century when the current authorities advocated the return of this fortress to Serbia.


Underestimating the Tourist Potential of Golubac Fortress


Golubac Fortress is just another addition to Serbia’s already rich tourist offerings. Still, until a couple of years ago, that wasn’t the case. The state seems to have neglected Golubac Fortress, apparently underestimating its tourist potential.

When the situation on the Balkan peninsula calmed down at the beginning of the 20th century, Serbian people initiated the demilitarization of Golubac Fortress. For a long time, it was neglected. But Serbian authorities comprehended the significance of the fortress and declared it a monument of culture of exceptional importance… and that was about it.

At first, tourists didn’t pay much attention to the Golubac Fortress, although you couldn’t miss it if you were passing through this area. Through one of the gates of the fortress, the path of the Danube motorway was created.

In the early 2000s, what is now a monumental building was a mockery. The walls have resisted the test of time, but not human culture. This monument of culture of exceptional importance was covered in trash and overgrown with weeds. Still, it is fascinating that Golubac fortress, even in such poor condition, attracted enthusiasts to visit it.

The 21st Century Brought New Life to this Area

Until the 2010s, it was only possible (and safe) to do sightseeing from the outside without entering the fort. Fortunately, various funds succeeded in collecting the money for the reconstruction of the Golubac fortress. It was about time for this monument to restore its old splendor.

But the reconstruction of Golubac Fortress lasted much, much longer than it was planned. Maybe the ‘culprit’ for these deadlocks was archaeological research. Experts conducted them in parallel with the reconstruction process.

Deadlines were continually missed, and with that, the opening of the fort for visitors. It all ended just last year (April of 2019) when Golubac Fortress was officially open for tourists. Locals could hardly wait for this to happen – could you just imagine all that potential (and profit) wasted over all those years?

After reconstruction, people in charge of this complex decided to make a walkway with accompanying structures in a rather large area around the fortress. They built a pier, allowing tourists to access the fortress from the Danube river as well.

The motorway that passed through the fort was relocated. When this road was made, maybe five decades ago, it significantly contributed to the destruction of the Golubac Fortress. That has been solved now. Also, the walls have been renovated, and the safety of visitors is now at the highest level.


The Excitement of the Golubac Fortress

The locals call this fortress the jewel of the Danube. When you first see it in person, you will understand why. At first sight, this monument seems much smaller than it really is. But once you enter it, you’ll be stunned by its size and unique structure.

The first thing that will catch your eye when you come to this place is the view of the Danube River and the landscape around it. You will undoubtedly want to spend some time enjoying the nature that surrounds this fort. No matter you come individually or with an organized tour, you should dedicate the part of your visit to an ‘outside’ tour of the fort.

The first builder of the Golubac Fortress designed a fort with nine towers located in the front, back, and upper parts of the fortification. Five towers belong to the first, oldest phase of the fort’s construction, while the other four were added later. The Turks also added one more tower, and at the same time, strengthened the entire fortification with openings for cannons.

All the towers are in the shape of a quadrangle except the donjon (Tower No. 1), which represents the safest and most reliable place in the fort. I assume it was the last line of defense in case of attack. This tower has a polygonal base, and the upper part is cylindrical, which is why it is called ‘Hat Tower.’

After reconstruction, and as part of increased security, Golubac Fortress was divided into four zones. Before you enter the fortress, you’ll get the instructions on where, when, and how to tour this sight. There is a section for children and the elderly, and there are paths where you shouldn’t step without a guide.


Know Which Zone of Golubac Fortress to Visit


The Green Zone is accessible to all categories of tourists and includes three towers (out of 9) and the palace. That is an ideal place to get acquainted with the medieval culture of the area, and kids will be delighted with the permanent display of the Knights Exhibition. The green zone is the only part of the fort that allows individual visits. For entering all other zones, you need a guide.

In the Blue, Red, and Black zones, minors are not allowed to enter. Touring of these parts of the fort is not recommended for people who are not in good physical shape. In the Red and Black zones, the trails are pretty steep – if you’re not in athletic wear and sneakers, don’t even think about climbing there.

In these areas, after reconstruction, builders installed bridges and crossings to make certain parts of the fortress accessible. But these constructions are not supposed to withstand a lot of weight. Therefore, a maximum of 5 people (plus guide) can enter these zones at the same time.

So be extremely careful when taking photos from these places in the Golubac Fortress; don’t fool around looking for the best light and angle for your Instagram photos. The view itself is phenomenal; there is no need for photo sessions that can be dangerous, especially from that height.

If you have a heart problem, nothing but a Green Zone is suggested. Climbing towers in Red and Black, even in the Blue Zone, requires a high level of physical stamina. And you certainly shouldn’t test the limits of your body just to get an attractive Instagram photo! You can be satisfied with the Green Zone and the canteen located within the fort. Coffee with the view of the Danube and fortress is a photogenic scene as well.


How to Get to Golubac Fortress from Belgrade


Serbia is not a large country in terms of its size. From the capital city, Belgrade, wherever you go, you reach the border in a maximum of 3 hours. Golubac town is located in the east of Serbia, on the border with Romania.

The main road, known as the Danube Motorway, leads there. The distance from Belgrade to Golubac Fortress is about 130 kilometers (about 80 miles) by land, and about 200 kilometers (125 miles) if you plan to get to the Golubac by the river, which is my sincere recommendation.


Bus Tours

If you choose to visit the Golubac Fortress by bus, get ready for a two-hour long journey if you take one of the direct bus lines. However, if you decide to take organized tours, which include a visit to some other sights by the way, such as Smederevska Fortress and Viminacium, the trip will be prolonged significantly.

But it’s worth every second, and frankly, it’s not that painful. If you find a trustworthy agency like this recommended company, you’ll ride in high-end and quite comfortable buses with a live tour guide. And if you take a great crowd with you, the journey goes on in the blink of an eye.

A top-rated bus tour brings together visits to medieval buildings and remains of Roman rule. For less than $100 USD, you get a full-day historical tour and the opportunity to enjoy the beautiful nature that surrounds Golubac Fortress.

Book your Golubac Fortress tour by bus here!

It’s your unique chance to visit the nearby locality of Lepenski Vir, which is the oldest urban settlement in Europe. This landmark takes place in the heart of Djerdap National Park, surrounded by untouched, state-protected nature.

In general, the whole area around Golubac is quite rich in viewpoints, which offer a magnificent view of the Fortress, Danube River, and Romanian mountains. Here are the opportunities for amazing landscape photos, Instagram fans!


Boat and Cruise Tours to Golubac

Those who have had the opportunity to cruise the Danube say that its beauty cannot be described, but it can be experienced. Note that unlike bus tours, boat trips do not have additional stops. From Belgrade, you go straight to Golubac Fortress. The marina in Golubac was reconstructed during the restoration of the Fortress. Now it’s capable of accommodating speedboats, boats, and river cruisers.

If you are coming by boat, you will have the opportunity to see the Golubac Fortress from a different perspective. Only when one looks at it from the river does one notice its imposingness. You will sail through the areas where the Danube is widest in its entire length. Near the Fortress, this river is about 7 kilometers wide. For a moment, you will lose the feeling of being on the river and feel as if you are at sea.

Book your boat tour to Golubac from Belgrade here!

Some boat tours, in addition to Golubac Fortress, also go deeper into the Iron Gate gorge. In this place, the Danube is the most beautiful, given the wild beauty that surrounds it throughout the entire Djerdap National Park.

Besides the fortification near the Golubac, if you come by boat or cruiser, it is possible to see the ruins of the Roman Castel, Trajan’s Plaque, and the Stone Statue of Decebal Rex. Interestingly, Trajan’s
Plaque can only be seen from the river. So if you are interested in Roman culture and archaeological sites, this boat tour is your cup of tea – book it today!


When You’re Already There, Don’t Miss…

… Local fish specialties. After visiting the Golubac Fort, you will likely be hungry. Still, it is not easy to go around all those towers and check every steep path. And what could be better for regaining the strength than home-made fish soup, barbecue, and red wine?

In one of the fish restaurants on the renovated promenade along Danube River, you can take one last glance at the Fortress at dusk, soak up every dawn of the sun, and remember every detail of this unique excursion to Golubac from Belgrade.

What to Pack for Serbia

Serbia - Gardos - Backpack

We have a full Serbia packing list, but in case you just want the quick version, here are a few essentials you shouldn’t forget to pack!

A good guidebook: While travel blogs are great, we still think a good guidebook is always handy. Lonely Planet Western Balkans is the main guidebook we recommend for Serbia, as it covers the country well plus others in the region.

Pacsafe Citysafe or Other Anti-Theft Bag: This is the bag both Stephanie and I use. It has a pouch with RFID technology so our credit cards can’t get scanned from afar, interlocking zippers to make it harder to pickpocket, and it’s roomy enough to be a perfect sightseeing day bag. If you’d rather bring something smaller, you can pack a money belt instead. 

We feel quite safe in Belgrade, which is not overly touristic and full of pickpockets, but we wear it and suggest it all the same.

Unlocked Cell Phone: Stephanie and I both have unlocked cell phones that we bought in Europe (She uses a Samsung and I use an iPhone). This allows up to get sim cards when we travel so that we always have the internet. We wrote a guide to picking up SIM cards in Serbia, as it’s really quite simple!

Being able to pick up a Serbian SIM card is a great way to stay in touch while on the road. If you don’t have an unlocked cell phone that can use a Serbian SIM card, you can buy a cheaper unlocked phone online and bring it with you!

Travel Insurance: We recommend it for everywhere we go! We suggest World Nomads and go into more detail about why at the end of the post.

More Serbia Travel Resources

Serbia - Subotica - Selfie

If this is your first trip to Serbia, check out our guide to planning a trip to Serbia and Serbia travel advice. 

Since you’re likely visiting Belgrade, check out our resources! We have this mega-guide to 101 things to do in Belgrade, the most Instagrammable spots in Belgrade, what to do in Belgrade in winter, and the best Belgrade street art. We also have a Serbian souvenir guide and Serbian wine guide if you want to do some shopping.

Headed to nearby Novi Sad? Start with our guide to the best things to do in Novi Sad and our 2-day Novi Sad itinerary. We also have a guide of the best Instagram spots in Novi Sad as well as what to do in Novi Sad in winter and how to visit the Novi Sad Christmas Market.

If you love guided tours, here are eleven great Belgrade tours to pick from. If you want to get out of the city for a day, here are our guide to Belgrade day trips and what you should know before renting a car in Serbia. We also have lists of our favorite places to visit in Serbia and the best Serbian towns and cities if you need more day trip inspiration. 

We have tons more Serbia and Balkans resources, and we publish new content nearly daily. Bookmark our Serbia and Balkans travel pages so you can find any new resources that come out before your trip!

Don’t Forget About Travel Insurance!

If you’re planning a trip to Serbia, it’s a good idea to travel with a valid travel insurance policy, so that you will be covered in case of an emergency. Travel insurance covers you in case of theft or an accident, which can save your trip if there’s an incident, or cancellation or trip interruption.

For travel insurance, I use World NomadsI’ve been a happy customer of theirs for almost three years, and I’ve never had an issue when making a claim. I’m happy to refer them to anyone I meet.

>>Get a travel insurance quote for your trip here.<<

Pin This Guide to Visiting Golubac Fortress!

Planning to visit Golubac Fortress in Serbia? We have a guide on how to visit this beautiful Serbian fortress on a day trip from Belgrade - either by bus or by boat cruise on the Danube River, including the Iron Gates
Planning a trip to Sofia? Check out our best free trip planning resources