Having spent the last 5 days based in the city of Naples on the west coast of Italy, we were now cramming ourselves and our luggage onto the very busy Circumvesuviana train to spend a few days in the coastal town of Sorrento.
It was our third time riding the Circumvesuviana line from Naples having used it already over the last few days to visit the archaeological sites of Herculaneum and Pompeii as well as to visit Mount Vesuvius itself. Sorrento is the last stop on the line and it took us just over an hour to get there.
From Sorrento station, we got a taxi to our hotel for the next 3 nights. Hotel La Badia was situated on top of a hill just a short, but steep, 15 minute walk from the centre of town. Being on a hilltop, there were beautiful, sweeping views of the coast from our room.
By the time we had arrived and settled in, it was already dusk. We had a wander into town and I was surprised at how crowded with tourists it felt after spending time in the much calmer Naples. It did at least make for a jovial atmosphere and despite it being night time, I could straight away see how pretty Sorrento was. We were spoilt for choice for places to eat and settled on pasta from a small restaurant-cafe down a narrow side street.
With our time in Naples being spent constantly on the go either in the city or on trips out to nearby attractions, we decided to spend our first day in Sorrento relaxing. We awoke to beautiful weather – blue skies and warm sunshine – so after breakfast at the hotel, spent the first morning sat by the hotel pool and cooling off with a quick dip before taking a stroll into town mid-afternoon to explore.
The town of Sorrento is made up of a series of narrow cobbled streets all lined with a range of stores and restaurants and we spent the afternoon browsing and shopping for souvenirs. Every other shop seemed to be a Lemoncello store, selling a range of products based on the liqueur famously produced in the region and all offering samples to try and get tourists through the doors.
From the town, we walked down to the marina, strolling along the front to enjoy the views before sitting at one of the many restaurant-bars near the harbour for drinks.
After more shopping back in town, we found another bar perfectly positioned for people watching and sat out in the sunshine for aperitivo – an Italian socialising tradition of having drinks served with various nibbles.
After heading back to the hotel to freshen up, we then walked back into town. Sorrento is just as bustling in the evening with many of the stores lining the narrow streets staying open late so we once again wandered through the centre to look in the shops before going for a late dinner at one of the many local restaurants.
The next day, we took a boat trip out to the nearby Amalfi coast town of Positano.
The town is built into a cliff and we spent the day exploring, shopping, visiting some of its churches and enjoying the amazing views over the coast from the cliffs. After a pizza lunch at one of the many restaurants, we spent some time relaxing on the beach before catching the boat back to Sorrento for the evening.
Once back in Sorrento, we spent the last evening of our trip having drinks in town. I’d enjoyed our time on the Amalfi coast and Sorento had been the perfect place for a relaxing few days after our busy time sightseeing in Naples.
With my friend studying Italian in Rome, I decided to fly out there as her course ended for a couple of nights there followed by a few days in Naples and then Sorrento.
Having been to Rome a few times before, my time there was mainly spent at the bars, cafes and restaurants catching up with my friend and enjoying the sunshine in Villa Borghese gardens. From here we caught the train from Termini station south to the city of Naples.
It would be my first visit to the city although my friend had been once before and we were staying at the same hotel she had stayed in before, La Stanze Del Vicere Hotel, near the Toledo area of the city and not far from the Archaeological Museum. The hotel is situated inside a restored 16th century townhouse and the original 16th century staircase remains leading into the main building.
Checking into the hotel late afternoon, one of the first things we wanted to do was experience the famous Neopolitan pizza – the Margherita pizza is said to have originated in the city of Naples, but more on that later! – so we went for a walk to Piazza Dante, stopping along the way at a tucked away restaurant for dinner, then on to the popular Piazza Bellini for drinks.
The next day, we walked the short distance to Naples Archaeological Museum spending most of the morning exploring its extensive collection of Roman artifacts including many from the nearby archaeological sites of Herculaneum and the more famous Pompeii.
After leaving the museum, we spent some time exploring the historic centre of Naples. Heading south along Via Duomo, we passed Naples Cathedral stopping to have a look inside then we wandered along the busy Via dei Tribunali with its many cafes and souvenir stores.
After stopping for coffee and pastries we decided to buy tickets for the nearby Naples Underground attraction. Here, visitors can take a tour of a series of tunnels running beneath the city once used as Roman aqueducts and, more recently, as bomb shelters in the Second World War.
The tour was really interesting but not one to take if you don’t like confined spaces – at one point we had to squeeze along an extremely narrow passageway with just a candle to light the way!
Following on from our underground tour, we continued to walk south towards the marina stopping in Piazza San Domenico Maggiore, overlooked by the church it is named after. Unfortunately, the church’s doors were closed so we didn’t have chance to look inside but instead, we sat out at a cafe in the square having drinks to cool us down before continuing our walk to the seafront.
Finally reaching the seafront late afternoon, we visited Castel Nuovo, a medieval castle overlooking the marina.
While not the most exciting attraction in the city, the views across the bay with Vesuvius looming in the distance made the small entrance fee worth it.
From Castel Nuovo, we walked towards Piazza del Plebiscito, a large pedestrianised square beside the Royal Palace of Naples before taking a stroll along the sea wall to the imposing Fontana del Gigante, a 17th century fountain and then along the peninsula to Castel dell’Ovo.
It was free to look around this castle overlooking the harbour and as the sun was starting to set, we spent a bit of time enjoying the views.
After visiting Castel dell’Ovo, we walked back along the sea front to Piazza del Plebiscito and the nearby Pizzeria Brandi.
Supposedly the birthplace of the Margherita pizza, there was a long wait for a table but it was worth it to eat in such a historic venue as well as it being the best pizza I had all trip!
Then we walked to a nearby metro station to catch the train back to our hotel, stopping first for more drinks (and dessert!) at one of the many bars along the way.
The next day, we caught the metro to Central Station where we would be catching the Circovesuviana train out to the archaeological site of Herculaneum.
The Circovesuviana runs between Naples and Sorrento with stops including Pompeii and this would be the first of a few trips along this route during our trip.
Herculaneum is an ancient town which, like the better known Pompeii, was buried under ash following the explosion of Mount Vesuvius.
The site is even better preserved than Pompeii – there was a lot less structural damage to the town than there was to Pompeii so there are buildings almost entirely intact with perfectly preserved mosaics and many household objects still there. Visiting the site was almost like walking around a Roman town as it would have been back then.
After spending a few hours exploring, we stopped for lunch nearby before catching the train back to Naples where we spent the evening having drinks in Piazza Bellini.
Day 3 of our stay in Naples was once again spent outside of the the city, this time visiting the island of Capri.
We’d booked our ferry ticket in advance catching the metro down to the marina early morning ready to board. Once in Capri, I was really looking forward to seeing the Blue Grotto, a sea cave you can go on a boat tour to visit, but after a tumultuous crossing from Naples – causing sea sickness among many passengers! – it was announced that the conditions were too rough for the small rowing boats to make trips out to it.
That gave us a bit more time in Capri itself and we decided to spend some time relaxing on the small pebble beach enjoying the sunshine for a while in order to recover from the ferry trip!
From the beach, we took the bus to Anacapri, one of the towns on the island situated high up on the island. Being summer, there were huge queues for the bus – a tiny minibus with very few seats and we were packed on like sardines trying our best not to fall over as we raced up the steep hills of Capri.
Once at our destination, we spent some time enjoying the views over the bay before wandering down the streets for some window shopping and then finding somewhere just about affordable for lunch.
After lunch we walked to Capri town for more window shopping before catching the funicular railway back down to sea level and catching the ferry back to Naples.
Our last full day in Naples and we were again riding the Circumvesuviana, this time to Pompeii.
The Pompeii archaeological site was somewhere that had been high on my list of places I had wanted to visit for a long time and while I did find exploring the site fascinating, I do wish that I had taken a guided tour of the site to get more out of my visit and learn more about what I was seeing.
Arriving early, we spent all morning at Pompeii. After eating lunch at a local cafe, we then went to visit the crater of Mount Vesuvius.
We booked transport on the Busvia del Vesuvio which dropped us at the start of the path which lead up to the crater. It was an easier hike than I expected and once at the crater, there were guides at the top ready to answer any questions and reassure us that we weren’t in any immediate danger of an eruption! After retracing our steps back down the path, we were picked up by the bus and returned to Pompeii station to catch our train back to Naples again.
The next day, we would be leaving Naples for a few days on the Amalfi coast but first, we had the morning to spend in the city.
We decided to walk to Via San Gregorio, often referred to as ‘Christmas Avenue’. The road is famous for being the home of a row of shops selling Christmas ornaments and gifts all year around. After spending some time browsing, we picked up some ornaments as souvenirs to take with us.
Then it was time to collect our luggage from our hotel and once again make our way to the train station to catch the Circumvesuvio, this time, all the way to the end of the line in Sorrento.
I’d really enjoyed my time in Naples and the surrounding area. Away from the touristy marina area, I had found it to feel a lot more authentically Italian than some of the other more touristy Italian cities I had visited with its narrow lanes, cobbled streets and residents busily going about their day and I hoped to return someday.
Despite it being just a short 45 minute flight from my local airport, its only been within the last few years that I first visited the Irish capital. I loved it so much, I’ve been back a few times since, trying to see a bit more of this colourful city each time.
Here are some of my tips and favourite things to do on a short city break in Dublin!
Generally arriving at Dublin’s international airport, I have always made use of its airport link bus with its regular and, in my experience, reliable services in and out of the city. It is also possible to use the local buses between the airport and the city. While a slightly cheaper option, these buses make more stops along the way so the journey takes longer but depending on where you are staying, might possibly drop you more local to you accommodation so are worth looking into.
For the most part, Dublin itself is a pretty walkable city, but for those attractions a bit further afield, it is well served by public transport with an easy to use tram service running alongside the local buses.
On my first visit to the city, I made use of the hop on/off tourist bus to get around. Most of the buses came with a live guide rather than a pre-recorded commentary and we found it a convenient way to get out towards those attractions which weren’t quite walkable from where we were staying – such as the Guinness Factory and Phoenix Park – while also learning some of the history of the city.
Where to stay
Each time I have visited the city, I have stayed in different areas of the city as well as very different types of accommodation. On my first visit, we stayed north of the River Liffey where we found prices to be cheaper. This put us close to O’Connell Street and it was still walkable Temple Bar and other more touristy areas across the river. Our accommodation on that trip was Anchor House, one of the many small, family run guesthouses in the area and was perfect for what we needed for a 4 night break in the city.
If it’s a bit of luxury you are after then I couldn’t fault the beautiful and very conveniently located Westin Hotel by Trinity College. I stayed there after winning it at an extremely reduced price last minute in a priceline bid and it has to be one of the nicest hotels I have ever stayed in.
To cut down the cost of eating out, a city apartment is always a good bet. We booked an apartment for 4 located in the Temple Bar area though The Key Collection and making full use of the kitchen to save a bit of money.
For budget hotels in the city, you can’t go wrong with a Travelodge and we found the St Stephens Green Travelodge to be particularly well-located for the price.
Things to do
On my first trip to the city, seeing as many sights as we could was the main priority. We spent 4 nights in the city giving us 3 and a half days to explore and we easily managed to fill this time.
Using the hop on/off bus, we started with the famous Guinness Factory. While not a big drinker and certainly not a drinker of stout, visiting the Guinness Storehouse while in Dublin just seemed like a must-do.
The self-guided tour through the factory traced the story of the drink showing the brewing process, providing samples to try along the way and also covering the role of the drink in popular culture and adverting for the brand. The highlight though, came right at the end with a visit to the Gravity Bar, a bar on top of the Storehouse which offers views across the capital. After trying a sample of Guinness along the tour and deciding it definitely wasn’t for me, I opted to exchange the voucher we had been given for a free Guinness in the bar for a Diet Coke instead!!
If whiskey is more your thing, then there are a few distilleries you can tour in Dublin including the original site of the Jameson Distillery on Bow Street.
Trinity College and the Book of Kells
The next day, we walked across the River Liffey to south Dublin and visited Trinity College. While it is possible to take a guided tour of this historic campus, we chose to look around by ourselves, picking up some pamphlets from its visitors office. Here, we also booked tickets into the college’s Book of Kells exhibition. The Book of Kells is an illustrated Gospel dating back to the first century and it was really interesting to see pages of the intricately decorated text and learn about it.
That afternoon, we hopped back onto the tour bus, riding it out towards Phoenix Park and hopping off at Kilmainham Gaol. This former prison can be visited by taking a guided tour. Our small group was lead around the building with its history and stories of former inmates explained to us. With Ireland having such a rich history of civil unrest, there were plenty of tales to be told and while this was one of the more unusual attractions on our list, we found the tour fascinating.
Staying more central the next day, we wandered back towards the River Liffey, veering off O’Connell Street for a spot of shopping on Henry Street. Running west from the huge Spire sculpture on O’Connell Street, Henry Street is a great place to shop with a huge selection of high street stores including Penney’s, the Irish version of Primark.
Heading next across the bridge to the Temple Bar area with its cobbled streets and snapping a photo with the famous Temple Bar pub, we then walked along the river to take photos with the iconic Ha’penny Bridge before walking further into the city, past the Molly Malone Statue and up to Grafton Street.
This is the main shopping street in Dublin, lined with department stores such as Brown Thomas and high street favourites like the Disney Store. It is also well-known for its buskers. Acts can only play there for an hour before moving on so there’s usually something different on offer each time you walk down the street!
At the top of Grafton Street, lies St Stephen’s Green, a pretty city park with landscaped gardens, fountains, a lake and sculptures dotted around. We found the park to be an oasis of calm from the busy city and enjoyed our stroll through.
If you enjoy exploring green spaces then head to Phoenix Park in the west of the city. This park is one of the largest in Europe and also home to Dublin Zoo.
Not far from St Stephen’s Green is smaller Merrion Square. Our main reason for visiting this park was to see the Oscar Wilde sculpture surrounded by some of his famous quotes.
If you’re a fan of Irish literary works, then a visit to Dublin’s Writers’ Museum on the north side of the river at Parnell Square is a must do.
The museum celebrates the works of Irish writers including Wilde, Yeats, Joyce with letters, books and personal artefacts on display and an audio tour guiding you through is included in the admission.
While in the area, we also visited the Garden of Remembrance at Parnell Square.
I’ll be honest, I didn’t even know Dublin had a castle until it was pointed out to me on the hop on/off bus tour of the city!
We decided to visit and took the guided tour option which took us through the state apartments and more. We found the tour interesting, providing plenty of history on the city although after taking the bus tour and Kilmainham Gaol tour, we felt we had heard some of the stories over and over again by now.
We did especially enjoy seeing the many opulently decorated rooms of the castle.
River Liffey Boat Cruise
We got out on the River Liffey taking a 45-minute guided river cruise with Dublin Discovered Boat Tours. The boats were fully enclosed allowing the cruises to operate in any weather but had large glass windows allowing us good views out as we sailed down the river.
The tour took us down to Dublin Docklands from Grattan Street bridge in the city centre and back as the history of some of the many bridges we passed under was explained as well as important building such as Customs House pointed out.
Since my first visit to Dublin, I have returned a further three times, each time the main reason being to attend a concert. The city’s o2 Arena, east of the city on the north bank of the River Liffey at The Point, is a great venue and easy to get to on public transport from the city if you don’t fancy the walk.
If you’re after some Irish culture, there are a few venues in the city offering traditional Celtic nights with Irish dancers and music. We attended one at the Arlington Hotel. Although it was possible to attend it as a dinner show with a 3-course meal included, we opted to just sit in the bar area and have drinks while watching the entertainment.
Dublin has a lively nightlife with the Temple Bar area being especially popular with clubbers and stag and hen parties. We chose to stay away from that area in the evening but did enjoy a visit to Cafe En Seine on Dawson Street with its Art Nouveau decor and delicious cocktails.
Dublin has lots to offer and plenty of other attractions to visit including many World-class museums such as the National Gallery of Ireland, the National Museum of Ireland’s Natural History Museum, The Little Museum of Dublin and the GPO Museum.
It is a city I love to return to over and over again!
Christmas had always been a family occasion for me. No matter what we were doing, my brother and I would always spend Christmas Day at my parents. There would be the usual big dinner followed by board games, more food and the inevitable slump in front of the TV at the end of the day.
But after my brother got married and they wanted to spend a few Christmases alone as a new family, it became just me and my parents for Christmas Day and it began to feel just like a standard Sunday.
So I decided to mix it up a bit. Telling my parents I had decided I was going to go abroad for Christmas and it was up to them if they wanted to join me or not, they said if I could get a cheap enough deal, they would consider it. Cheap and Christmas break don’t necessarily go together and for a while, it was looking like another standard Christmas in the UK but finally, in mid-December, I found a hotel and flights package through Love Holidays for a week in the resort of Costa Teguise in Lanzarote over Christmas coming in at under £250 each. It was departing from Manchester, not our local airport, but even factoring in getting an airport hotel, doing a stay and park deal we found on Holiday Extras, and petrol, it still worked out a pretty bargainous deal.
We had gone away for Christmas once before, spending 3 weeks in Cyprus over Christmas and New Year when I was a teenager. Back then, Christmas at home had been a fun time of the year I always looked forward to and it was odd spending it away. As much as we enjoyed the holiday itself, Christmas felt weird an we all said we’d never do it again. But now as an adult, when Christmas was different anyway, it felt like the right time to give Christmas abroad another go.
Things did not get off to the best start when we arrived at the Oasis Lanz Beach Mate aparthotel to find they didn’t have our booking. We were told we had cancelled our booking, which obviously we would never have done, and had to use the hotel phone to contact Love Holidays to find out what had happened. It turned out they had accidentally cancelled the hotel portion of our trip.
Luckily, the hotel had a room we could have, although not the superior room we had booked. Without any other options, we took it and Love Holidays refunded us the difference.
The room was fine for the time we spent in it – a ground floor room with one bedroom and a bed-settee in the lounge, a fully equipped kitchen and a patio which opened out onto the hotel pool. It was also in a great location just a short walk from the beach and the main part of town but far enough away from the bars and clubs that it was nice and quiet for us.
We had been to the resort of Costa Teguise once before, again when I was a teenager, and were keen to find out if it had changed much from what we remembered so once the room drama was sorted and we had settled in, we ventured out into the evening to see if we could get our bearings and still remember our way around.
We found that the area hadn’t changed much at all, maybe a few more bars and clubs, especially of the British variety, which we would make sure to keep away from.
The next day was Christmas Eve’s Eve and unfortunately, a rare cloudy day on the island. We used the day to explore the area more now it was daylight, walking along the main stretch of beach, Playa de la Cucharas, to the small cove up by the five star Melia Salinas hotel, the beach we had mainly used on our last visit many years ago.
Continuing along the coast path, we eventually reached Playa de los Charcos, another small beach, where we sheltered from the wind in an already built stone windbreak and sat having lunch before walking back into town.
The sun making an appearance in the afternoon, we returned to our apartment and sat poolside, taking a dip in the pool to cool off, venturing out in the evening to a local pizza restaurant for dinner.
The weather improved on Christmas Eve but the strong winds made it too chilly to sit out on the main beach so instead, we followed the coast path around to Playa del Jablillo, the small cove by the Hotel Grand Teguise Playa, where it was more sheltered.
As the sun started to retreat in the late afternoon, we decided to go for a walk further along the coast path where we ended up at another small cove, Playa Bastian. It was a really pretty walk and it became a regular stroll for us over the course of the week.
The next day was Christmas Day and it was strange waking up to warm sunshine. We put a Christmas song playlist on in our apartment and opened the few presents we had brought away with us before walking to the beach. It was a great atmosphere on the beach and in the town with lots of people wearing Christmas shirts, hats and other adornments.
That evening, we had booked to eat out at a Steakhouse in town and while not the usual Christmas dinner, we really enjoyed our meal.
The rest of the week was more of the same, a really nice few days of sunshine and relaxation and when the time came to go home, we were sad that we had only booked to go away for a week.
While not the usual way to spend Christmas, we had really enjoyed our alternate celebrations and agreed we wouldn’t hesitate on going away for Christmas Day again in the future.
I thought I’d pause on recounting my memories of a pre-pandemic trip to New Zealand for a one off post on an unexpected trip I took to Rome last weekend. Not unexpected because it was unplanned – quite the opposite in fact – but unexpected because having had various other trips I’d had planned for this year cancelled, I never once thought this one would actually go ahead with the way things currently are.
The trip had been planned many months ago as a long weekend away for my friend’s 40th birthday. We’d booked return flights from Birmingham airport and a hotel a just a few metro stops out of Rome city centre but as the situation with the global pandemic continued, we became less and less confident of the trip happening so decided against booking any tours or attractions in case we didn’t have time to cancel and get refunded.
As September came to an end, Italy remained on the UK’s travel corridor list, meaning we’d not have to quarantine upon return from a trip there. But in the week leading up to our Friday departure date, as Covid cases in Italy continued to steadily rise, rumours began to circulate in the media that it was sure to be added to the UK’s quarantine list when it got it’s weekly update.
As the list is updated on a Thursday evening, this would not give us much time to cancel or rearrange things and it was a stressful day waiting to find out whether our early morning departure the next day would go ahead or not.
Luckily, Italy was saved for another week and I had to rush to pack for a trip I never thought would actually go ahead!
Friday morning we were up early and at the airport the standard 2 hours before our 8am departure. It was the first time I’d travelled abroad since the World began to lock down in March and only the third trip abroad I’d taken this year following two February half term trips, one to Milan and one to Disneyland Paris. Little had changed about the airport experience except for having to wear face coverings everywhere unless sat down at the restaurants and cafes and despite less flights meaning less people, the queues through security didn’t move any quicker as there were a lot less lanes open.
Once in the departure lounge, I just had about time to munch down a bacon sandwich from Costa and buy a bottle of water from Boots before we had to make our way to the gate for boarding.
We were flying with Jet2, an airline I’d never flown with before. We were all on the same booking but despite being sat in the same row, had been given the middle and aisle seat on the left of the row and the seat across the aisle on the right meaning my friend in the middle seat was sat next to someone she didn’t know in the window seat and I was sat next to a couple I didn’t know across the aisle. I was surprised that with things as they are, that more effort wasn’t made to seat parties in the same bubble together rather than next to random strangers.
Our masks had to be worn throughout the 2.5 hour flight unless eating or drinking and we were encouraged to stay in our seats as much as possible with queuing in the aisle for the toilet no longer permitted. I was surprised to see that there were magazines, menus and safety cards tucked into the pouch in front of each seat as usual for us to flick through during the flight especially as no sanitiser was being provided by the airline.
Luckily I’d taken my own bottle on board in my handbag which I used regularly throughout the flight.
Even though signs up around Fiumicino Airport said arrivals would be subject to temperature tests, we only had to clear passport control once we’d landed. We had had to fill in a declaration form on the plane saying that we hadn’t tested positive for Covid in the last 14 days but this was collected in by the flight attendants to hand in upon arrival on behalf of all the passengers.
We had booked a private taxi transfer to our hotel and the driver was waiting for us at arrivals. We had to gel our hands before touching the seat belts and like in the UK, our masks had to stay on for the journey. As we travelled, the driver informed us that due to rising Covid case numbers, from noon that day it had been made mandatory in Rome and the region of Lazio to wear face coverings at all times, inside and out, and it would be enforced by fine from midnight.
Throughout the weekend, we saw police and military out in force on the streets of Rome blowing their whistles and shouting at the few people who may have removed their masks but overall, there was 99% compliance everywhere we went.
Our hotel was a bit of a hidden gem. A bed and breakfast hidden on the seventh floor of an apartment block in the Garbatella suburb, we were mildly worried when we pulled up to a slightly run down looking side street. But after following the instructions we’d been sent to navigate our way through the rather high-tech, keyless and contactless locking system, we found ourselves in a really lovely, clean and spacious hotel room.
The room lead out into a common area which we assumed would normally be where breakfast was served. Instead, breakfast was a selection of pre-packaged goodies in our room, such as croissants and cookies, which were topped up daily when our room was serviced. We had a coffee machine and coffee pods in our room and a kettle lay out in the common area next to a bottle of sanitiser and wipes although, despite teabags being provided, as I often find the case in Europe, there was no sign of any milk for my tea and I had to buy some from the local convenience store!
After settling in and freshening up, we headed straight out for the afternoon walking straight down the main road to Garbatella station. The area seemed very authentically Italian with office workers and locals filling the tables at pavement cafes and shopping at the neighbourhood stores and market stands. It was a 10-15 minute walk to the station where we bought a 72-hour travel pass for 18 euros and then caught the metro just 3 stops to Colosseo, the stop for the Colosseum.
As we exited the station, the impressive, ancient Colosseum building immediately loomed in front of us. Having been to Rome twice before, the first time spending almost a week properly exploring and the second time spending 24 hours just passing through, I had toured the Colosseum before. That time, we had walked to the quieter and less visited Palatine Hill to buy tickets allowing us entry to three sites (Palatine Hill, the Roman Forum and the Colosseum) and were then able to skip the line upon visiting the Colosseum later that day. The building was just as impressive from the inside as the outside and I found it fascinating to find out about what it would have been like to be there all that time ago attending a huge event.
This time, we admired the building from the outside taking plenty of photos and fending off ticket touts and tour guides trying to convince us to buy from them, eventually replying to them all with a standard “we’ve already toured it” in order for them to leave us alone!
From the Colosseum, we walked past the ruins of the Roman Forum. Again, having visited before, we didn’t venture in this time. On my first visit to Rome, it had been an extremely hot August day when I had visited the Forum straight after spending a few hours wandering through the sun-drenched ruins of Palatine Hill. Tired, hot and in need of shade and water, I’m not sure I had fully appreciated what I had seen there with one ruin starting to look like the rest and I’d like to go back sometime and maybe tour both of these places with a tour guide rather than wander through myself. Today, we just took photos of the ruins from the viewing point before continuing on towards the Vittorio Emanuele II National Monument.
This monument is one of the buildings that stands out the most to me from my memories of my first visit to Rome. Taking the open top tour bus from our Termini area hotel, I always remember rounding a corner and suddenly seeing this white, marble building glittering bright in the sunshine and everyone on board simultaneously gasping at the sight of it. Relatively modern compared to the ancient Roman buildings scattered around the city – construction didn’t being until 1885 – it’s classical architecture and sheer size still stands out as a beautiful must-see building in the city. It is free to enter the building but with the current restrictions there was a long queue so we didn’t stay on this occasion.
Next, we walked along Via del Corso, eventually turning off the main road to follow signs to the Trevi Fountain and grabbing a sandwich and drink from a small cafe along the way. The last time I had visited Rome, the Trevi Fountain was covered with scaffolding while restoration work took place and the first time I had visited, it was difficult to get anywhere near it with the huge crowds of tourists filling the square. Today, I was please to find it was a lot quieter and we were easily able to spend some time admiring the beauty of the sculpture and getting our photos.
Our final stop of the afternoon was at the Spanish Steps as we passed through to get to the metro station. Deciding not to climb the steps today, we took a few photos then caught the train back to our hotel to get ready for an evening out.
We began our evening by meeting with a friend who lives in Rome near her Piramide area flat, one metro stop from where we were staying in Garbatella. From here, we took a short walk to Piazza Testaccio, a small square surrounded by bars and cafes where locals would purchase their ‘aperativo’ – drinks served with bite size snacks – and sit out in the square socialising while their children played in the centre of the square!
There was a great atmosphere and the pizza bites, small sandwiches crisps we were served with our drinks were all a delicious appetiser before the meal we had booked for later!
For our main meal, our friend had booked a highly recommended nearby restaurant, Felice a Testaccio. Here, the most menu item, and the one ordered by us all, was the Roman pasta dish Cacio e Pepe which literally translates as cheese and pepper. Our pepper-sprinkled Tonnarelli pasta was brought out to us in a bowl absolutely covered in parmesan cheese. We then watched as the servers skillfully tossed together the contents of the bowl and a thick cheese sauce was formed. Delicious!
After dinner, we walked back towards Piramide station, stopping for drinks across the road at the Tram Stop bar, my friends particularly enjoying a ‘Hugo Spritz’ – an elderflower flavoured drink – as a change from the usual Aperol Spritz.
After a big night out the day before, we were late up the next morning. Walking back towards the Piramide area (so called because of a huge, first century-built Pyramid-shaped tomb in the area), we met up with our friend at her nearby apartment before going for brunch. She took us to a small cafe/micro-bakery called Marigolds in the nearby Ostiense. There was a half hour wait for a table during which time we wandered through the local streets before returning to be seated.
Marigolds bakes all its bread on the premises but despite this, I found it’s 11 euro charge for a tiny grilled cheese sandwich and 4.50 for a pot of tea to be a bit on the expensive side. My friends did really enjoy their orders of Shakshuka – eggs cooked in a tomato-based sauce – and the sandwich of the day – a huge pork and coleslaw filled sandwich on sourdough.
After brunch, we stopped for dessert at Gelateria La Romana – I highly recommend the Biscotto della nonna (like a cookie and cream flavour) and Crema di nocciola al cacao (hazelnut and chocolate) flavours! – then walked from Ostiense to Circo Massimo. We wandered through the grounds of Circo Massimo, the remains of an ancient chariot-racing stadium and continued on to the Jewish Quarter, passing the ancient Roman Theatre, Teatro Marcello which influenced the architecture of the much more-famous and later-built Colosseum. After drinks sat out a a cafe in the Jewish Quarter, we walked back to the Colosseum and caught the metro back to our hotel to freshen up ready for the evening.
That evening, we had decided to dine at Sorbillo, a popular restaurant in the centre of Rome specialising in Neapolitan-style pizzas. I had eaten at Sorbillo’s in Milan in the past and really enjoyed it so was looking forward to eating at the Rome branch. Sorbillo operated a no booking in advance policy so we arrived early at 8pm, just half hour after opening. The restaurant was already busy and we were told it would be a 45 minute wait for a table to be available. Putting our name down, we went for drinks at a bar around the corner and returned to find our table ready.
For starters, we ordered a highly-recommended potato croquette each. When they arrived they were huge and did not disappoint in their taste. Mains was pizza’s all round and although I went for a basic margherita, it was one of the best I’ve ever had! We stayed at Sorbillos late, having drinks at our table after our meal and then walking back towards the Spanish Steps to catch the metro back to our hotel. It was pouring with rain as we left but this did mean that the Spanish Steps were almost completely deserted making for a rare photo opportunity!
We had one full day left in Rome and had decided to spend it revisiting, or rather whizzing past, the sights we hadn’t yet seen on this visit. We started in Vatican City where we planned on visiting St Peter’s Basilica. I had taken a tour of the Vatican Museums, which included access to the Sistine Chapel, on a previous visit to Rome, making sure I pre-booked to avoid the huge queues that tend to form there on a daily basis.
That time, we had arrived back at St Peter’s Basilica just as a mass started meaning I didn’t get to see as much of the church as I would have liked so I hoped to explore a bit more today. However, as we got closer to St Peter’s Square, there was a heavier than usual presence of security and police as well as large crowds of people. We were redirected to a front entrance to the Square where we had to go through a security check to be allowed into the Square itself.
Moments after clearing security, we realised that with it being midday on the first Sunday of the month, the Pope was about to make an appearance on the balcony to say a blessing. This was a completely unexpected coincidence and we stayed to watch him address the crowd.
With the square being so busy, we abandoned plans to stick around after to visit St Peter’s Basilica and instead walked from Vatican City back to Rome past Castel Sant’Angelo and across the Tiber River. On my first visit to the city, I had taken a river cruise along the Tiber which had been included with my hop on/off bus ticket but had found there wasn’t really a lot to see.
Today, there seemed to be kayaks and boats for hire along the riverside which would have been fun to take advantage of if we’d had more time! Instead, after crossing Ponte Sant’Angelo, we wandered the back streets of Rome ending up in the beautiful Piazza Navona. Despite being hungry for lunch, I had learned my lesson from a previous experience of sitting out in one of the restaurants in the Piazza only to be met with inferior food and a hefty charge for service and bread so instead, we found a side street with some quieter tucked away restaurants and had lunch there.
Passing the Pantheon along the way, we joined the short queue for the temperature check to enter and had a quick walk around. We had walked into a few churches for a look around over the weekend and it was always worth it no matter how unassuming they looked from the outside!
Next stop was Pompi, a tiramisu store near the Spanish Steps which we had been assured sold the best tiramisu in Rome. We then wandered along Via del Corso for some last minute shopping and down to another pretty square, Piazza del Popolo, flanked by its twin churches, one of which had it’s doors open so we wandered in for a look around.
Realising we’d not yet climbed the Spanish Steps despite passing them more than any other sight over the course of the weekend, we walked back to rectify this and visit the Trinità dei Monti church at the top. On my first visit to Rome, I had walked from here along to Villa Borghese, a huge and extremely pretty park with landscaped gardens, sculptures, museums and a boating lake and I was disappointed that we didn’t have time to walk there today.
Instead, we found another back street bar for drinks before catching the metro to Cavour and walking to the Monti area. It was early Sunday evening by now and the cafes and bars in the area were already busy with tourists and locals out for drinks and aperitivo. We had drinks from Antigallery bar, where we were given complimentary tortilla chips and popcorn to munch on as we sat out in Piazza degli Zingari then moved down to Grazie a Dio è venerdi bar where we got a delicious pizza with every 2 drinks!
After seeing an almost constant queue at the neighbouring Fata Morgana gelateria, we decided to sample some for ourselves. The store offered some of the most unusual ice cream flavours I’d seen and while I enjoyed my scoops of chocolate chip gelato and Nutella swirl gelato, it wasn’t quite up there with the ice cream from Gelateria La Romana the day before.
We finished our evening with a walk back to the Colosseum to see it lit up at night before retracing our steps from our first day’s sightseeing to grab photos of the illuminated Vittorio Emanuele II Monument and Trevi Fountain. Then it was time to wave goodbye to Rome’s city centre and ride the metro back to our hotel one last time before catching our flight back to Birmingham early the next day.
Despite the mandatory face coverings and general restrictions with travelling amid a global pandemic, our city break in Rome had felt like a breath of fresh air and a taste of normality in what has been a far from normal year. I certainly had my reservations about going ahead with our trip despite Italy remaining on the UK’s travel corridor list but if anything, my experience has made me more likely to plan similar breaks and, where possible, travel as I would usually.
Have you had any experiences of travelling on holidays or city breaks during the pandemic? Let me know in the comments!
While not a stop on my UK National Parks road trip this summer, Pembrokeshire Coast National Park is a park very close to my heart after visiting it at least once every year for the last 27 years. As a child and teenager, our annual summer holidays there were spent mainly on the beach at Tenby, only venturing further afield on rainy days where the beach was no longer an option.
Back then, our summers were mainly warm and sunny so these trips out of Tenby were rarities. Now our visits tend to be out of season, early September or late March and even on the occasions we do make it there at the height of the British summer, the weather is rarely nice enough to be able to sit on the beach for hours on end so instead, we’ve spent a lot more time getting out and exploring more of what the park has to offer. And what it has to offer is a lot. Enough to make it my favourite place in the World. Despite all the travelling I have done the last 10 years, I am yet to find anywhere that matches the beauty of Pembrokeshire.
I spent some time revisiting some of my favourite spots and at seeing some parts of the park I’d not been to before on a trip earlier this summer.
In recent years, Tenby has been our base for most of our trips to Pembrokeshire National Park, usually hiring a static caravan at one of the Penally holiday parks. This year, due to demand for staycations and our trip being a bit of a last minute decision, we ended up staying inland near the market town of Narberth, right on the Pembrokeshire/Carmarthernshire county border but once settled in to our accommodation, Tenby was, as always, our first port of call on day 1 of our trip.
Parking up at Penally Station just outside of Tenby, we followed the coast path signs choosing to take the turning down to the beach at the Kiln Park junction rather than continuing along the path which runs behind the dunes.
We walked along South Beach enjoying the views of Caldey Island which lies a few miles off the coast of Tenby. In a normal year, it is possible to take a day trip over to Caldey Island with boats regularly departing from Tenby Harbour – or Castle Beach at low tide – every day except Sunday. We last did this a couple of years ago and spent most of the day walking up to the lighthouse and along the island’s coastal paths enjoying spectacular views along the way.
From South Beach, we took the path off the beach and up to the Esplanade which offers more beautiful views of Caldey Island and also the much closer St Catherine’s Isle. St Catherine’s Isle has recently reopened to the public in the last few years although I’m yet to visit.
Tenby is a walled town and we entered at the Arches and wandered through to grab an ice cream from one of the many shops selling them. During the summer months, Tenby closes its centre off to traffic between 10 and 5 meaning the many cafes and restaurants can put their tables out in the street during these times.
After wandering through the town, we exited by Tenby’s North Beach. This huge sandy beach is my favourite of all the wonderful beaches on offer in Tenby. We stood at the viewpoint on the cliff and took in the view of the beach, the harbour and Tenby castle before following the path down to the golden sands.
When the tide is out, it is possible to walk around from Tenby North Beach to Castle and South Beach but unfortunately this wasn’t the case today so instead we followed the path back off the beach and through the harbour.
From the harbour we walked up towards the remnants of Tenby castle upon the hill top for more spectacular views over the bay and a chance to visit Tenby’s lifeboat station, before returning to Castle Beach and walking back to Penally along South Beach.
Amroth, Wisemans Bidge and Saundersfoot
Day 2 and we returned to another old favourite – following the coastal path from Amroth to Saundersfoot and back. Parking up at the back of the small coastal town of Amroth, we walked to the end of the beach and turned up the road until we saw the acorn signpost pointing out the coast path.
We followed it up a steep hill through the woods until it opened out onto a field and past a caravan park before leading back down hill onto the road into Wisemans Bridge.
Here we walked alongside the pebbly beach and then followed the sea wall path to Coppets Hall Beach on the outskirts of Saundersfoot. The tide was out enough to walk along the beach from here to the main beach in Saundersfoot where we grabbed tea and cake from a cafe in the small town and wandered around the harbour before retracing our steps back along the coast path to Wisemans Bridge and then Amroth.
That evening, we had a ride out to Carew Castle and Tidal Mill to do a circular walk around it. Parking at the castle is free and from the car park, we walked back up to the main road, crossing it to follow signs to the small village of Carew Cheriton. Here, we stopped to look around St Mary’s Church, parts of which date back to the 1300s before following a riverside path from the village and across a wooden bridge which brought us back out at the main road across from the village of Milton. A public footpath across a field which took us back to Carew Castle where we followed the path looping up to the Tidal Mill and around the mill pond.
When the tide is in, the walk looping Carew Castle offers beautiful views of it reflected in the mill pond and it looks especially pretty at sunset and we often do a shorter version of this walk just following the path around the castle and Tidal Mill without detouring to Carew Cheriton and Milton followed by drinks at the pub across the road!
Lydstep, Skrinkle Haven and Manorbier
Day 3 and we drove a bit further up the coast past Tenby to Skrinkle Haven, a part of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path nestled between the more popular beaches of Lydstep Haven and Manorbier. Following the road signs to Skrinkle Haven, we drove past the YHA and up to the cliff top car park. From here there are amazing coastal views in both directions but the main attraction is the view of the beautiful Skrinkle Haven beach.
We picked up the coast path and wandered along it until we came to a set of steps leading down to the small Church Doors Cove, so called because of door-shaped caves carved into the cliffs by the sea. After climbing back up the steps from the rocky beach, we continued along the coast path a little further but came to Ministry of Defence land which the path seemed to detour around. While we had heard it is now possible to once again access Skrinkle Haven beach itself from the coast path after it was closed off for years, we couldn’t quite work out how so instead, decided to retrace our steps back to the car park.
Skrinkle Haven lies just down the coast path from the popular town of Manorbier with its castle and sandy beach. While we didn’t visit Manorbier on this trip, we have in the past and it’s definitley worth a stop, especially if you follow the coast path up from the beach in either direction for more beautiful views.
Instead of driving north to Manorbier today, we instead drove back towards Tenby stopping at Lydstep. Here there is a national trust car park and circular headland walk although it can be a little difficult to find and access as it is down a narrow one-track road with an unpaved section at the end a steep hill at the very end up to the cliff! It’s definitely worth it though.
From the cliffs there are views across to Caldey Island and down to Lydstep Haven beach backed by the caravans on it’s upmarket holiday park. After walking a loop of the cliff, we returned to the car park and walked down the steep hill towards Lydstep Haven Beach. When the tide is out, it is possible to access sea caves from here but today, we just walked along the pebbly beach before climbing the hill back to the car park.
Freshwater East and Barafundle Bay
The beach that was always our rainy day ride out when we visited as kids, Freshwater East is a dog friendly, long sandy beach which is great to visit at low tide when the cliffs and caves at the far end of the beach become visible.
After walking along the sands, we attempted to follow the circular ‘family walk’ along some of the coast path and up into the dunes which we remembered taking in the past but found that some of the arrows and numbered posts were missing. We managed to find our way around using a bit of guess work and from what we remembered from before and eventually found ourselves back at the car park.
After lunch on the beach, we continued along the coast to Stackpole Quay where we parked up at its National Trust car park to begin our walk across the coast path to Barafundle Beach. Often finding its way onto the ‘best beaches in the UK’ lists, Barafundle is a bit of a hidden gem. With no direct access, the only way to reach it is to hike across the headland to it.
From Stackpole Quay, this is a relatively easy half mile hike from which you eventually follow a few steps down to the bay. As a child, it was always a beach I longed to visit and spend the day at playing on its golden sands and swimming in the sea, but with its isolated location and complete lack of facilities, I can now see why my parents were never as keen on the idea and we always stuck to Tenby’s North beach on sunny days!
Today however, I happily spent an hour or so sat on the beach and walking down to the sea front before walking back along the cliffs to the car park at Stackpole Quay.
Bosherton and Broad Haven South
We headed a bit further up the coast the next day to visit Bosherton Lily Ponds, another go to location on a rainy day when we were younger!
Another National Trust Car Park from which we followed the path down to edge of the lily pond to begin our walk. We turned left, following the sign to Broad Haven South, to take the anti-clockwise route around. The walk was mainly flat and eventually brought us out at the junction with Broad Haven South, a large sandy beach home to Church Rock, a rock formation just off the coast.
After stopping for snacks, we returned to the path around the lily ponds continuing to follow it around and enjoying the views across the lily ponds. Whether or not the lillies are in bloom, this is a really pretty walk and a great place for spotting wildlife too. My favourite part of the walk is crossing a couple of long bridges across the pond.
The bridges are open on the one side and quite narrow which can make it a challenge if someone starts walking across from the opposite direction!!
After our walk around the lily pond, we took a short drive to the next point on the coast path, St Govans. St Govans is a small chapel built into the cliffs. From the car park, you can walk down some steps to the chapel and even go inside. I continued down the cliff from the chapel to the small bay beneath to enjoy the views before climbing back up to the car park.
From the car park, we followed the coast path along the cliffs to the point overlooking Broad Haven South beach. The views were again stunning.
Stack Rocks and the Green Bridge of Wales
Our final stop today was to see Pembrokeshire’s famous rock formations, The Green Bridge of Wales and the Stack Rocks. We followed the signposts to the Green Bridge down a long road towards the cliffs which lead past Ministry of Defence land and parked on the free car park.
A path from the car park split in 2 directions and we took the right fork towards the viewing platform for the Green Bridge.
After admiring the views and taking plenty of photos, we followed the coast path along the cliff to see the Stack Rocks, rock pillars lying just off the coast. We continued along the coast path for a while, enjoying the views before looping back to the car park and calling it a day.
Freshwater West and Angle
It was off to one of my favourite Pembrokeshire beaches today, Freshwater West but first, after a wrong turn, we made a quick stop at the nearby West Angle Bay. This is a small beach, especially when the tide is is, but at low tide, it can be fun to walk to the rocks around the edges of the beach to explore the rock pools!
From Angle, we finally found our way back to Freshwater West and as usual, the first glimpse of the dramatic combination of cliffs, dunes, beach and crashing waves was breathtaking.
Freshwater West is known for its strong waves and surfers can often be seen bobbing around in the sea here. The beach is also famous for being used in one of the Harry Potter films – Shell House was built into the dunes here for the purpose of filming and although it has now been dismantled, the beach is often visited by fans of the films and books to see the site of Dobby’s grave. The 2010 Robin Hood film starring Russell Crowe was also filmed at Freshwater West!
Today, we began our visit with a walk along the cliffs to a seaweed drying hut sat on top. From here there were beautiful views across the bay. We retraced out steps back down to the road and followed the path down to the beach taking a long walk along the sea front to the rocks and cliff at the far end before returning to the car. A great way to spend the day!
We took a break from the coast today for a bit of family fun at Heatherton World of Activities, another favourite from family holidays of the past! The park is situated not far from Tenby by the village of St Florence. Currently, visitors have to pre-book passes for the activities so the park can keep attendance down and social distancing can be maintained. We opted for a 6 credit pass and used up our first 2 credits on a round of Adventure Golf then spent the rest of our credits on activities including pistol shooting, laser clay pigeon shooting and, our favourites, the bumper boats. A really fun day out!!
While we didn’t have chance on this trip, other fun family days out we have enjoyed on past visits to Pembrokeshire have included visits to Clerkenhill Adventure Farm for a round or two of Frisbee Golf and Oakwood Theme Park which we like to visit on an ‘After Dark’ day when the park and rides stays open until 10pm ending the day with a firework display.
Broad, Little and Sandy Haven
Today’s destination was Broad Haven. Not to be confused with Broad Haven South by Bosherton, this Broad Haven lies further up the coast and is a long sandy beach backed by a row of cafes and shops.
The tide was going out as we arrived meaning there was a huge expanse of sand leading down to the sea. We paddled along in the shallows and with the tide going out, were able to walk around into the next bay, Little Haven. On days when the tide is in, it’s still possible to walk between the two beaches but over the cliff top on the coast path instead.
After a few hours, we left Broad Haven when, in typically Welsh fashion, the weather changed from glorious sunshine to cloudy with the threat of rain. With it still being early afternoon, we consulted our map on the back of the visitor magazine Coast to Coast and decided to visit Sandy Haven, an area we had not been to before.
Arriving just as the rain set in, we parked at a pull in just off the road and followed the coast path signs through a holiday park and out towards a rocky beach. This was a lovely, hidden away location, spoilt only by views of a power station off the coast in the distance. With the tide out, an array of rock pools were revealed and we had fun carefully scrambling over the rocks along the beach to find a way down to the sea.
We began today with a ride out to the city of St Davids. As well as being the only city in Pembrokeshire, St Davids is also the smallest city in the UK!
We parked at the top of the town and walked down the main street towards the city’s cathedral. The Cathedral was open for visitors to look around. Next to the , is the medieval ruins of the Bishop’s Palace but as admission was by pre-booked ticket only, we couldn’t explore this any further.
Solva and Newgale
After grabbing a delicious ice cream in St Davids, we returned to the car and drove down the coast to the town of Solva, a place we had driven through many times but never stopped in.
We parked by the pretty harbour and decided to follow the coast path signs to see where it took up. A quite steep, muddy track eventually opened out to give us amazing views over the harbour, and, as we continued further, we found ourselves on a cliff top with beautiful coastal views.
Rather than following the path any further, we returned the way we had come and instead, drove to the next bay, Newgale Beach. Like Freshwater West, Newgale is a popular surfing spot. The beach here is pebbly and we didn’t stop long before continuing our drive back to our accommodation making one last stop at the tiny bay of Nolton Haven along the way.
The Blue Lagoon
Not to be confused with the Centre Parcs-style Pembrokeshire holiday park of the same name near Narberth, today we were visiting The Blue Lagoon, a former slate quarry in Abereiddy. The quarry has since flooded, the slate giving it the colour that gives it its name.
A visit to this area of Pembrokeshire had long been recommended to us but for some reason, we had yet to make it there until today.
Parking for the Blue Lagoon is behind the small beach of Abereiddy. From the car park, we followed the coast path a short distance to the Blue Lagoon viewpoint. Straight away we could see the contrast in the colour of the water here to the colour of the sea. There were some visitors swimming, kayaking and jumping into the lagoon but we stayed on land and decided to follow the coast path a bit further along up to the cliff top overlooking it.
From here, we walked along the cliff top path, a small cove soon coming into view in the distance. We continued along until we reached a signpost at the top of some steps reading Traeth Llyfn, or Llyfn Beach. We took the steps down to the secluded beach where the tide was out enough to reveal a pretty sandy cove and the perfect place to sit down for a while, enjoy the beautiful scenery and have a snack.
After climbing the steps back up to the coast path, we walked back towards the Blue Lagoon and Abereiddy Beach where we sat and had lunch.
After a quick stop at another secluded beach, Abermawr, we continued up the coast for an afternoon visit to Strumble Head, another part of the park we had never visited before.
Here we walked down to get a closer look at the lighthouse before following the coast path south for a bit to get beautiful coastal views and views looking back towards the lighthouse.
After retracing our steps back towards the car park, we walked down to a wildlife viewing hut built onto the cliff, looking out to see if we could spot any of the birds, seals or sea creatures listed on the building’s wall.
Failing to spot anything other than a few noisy seagulls, we returned to the car to drive back.
As always, we had had an amazing time exploring the Pembrokeshire Coast and out walking along the coast path and it had been fun to visit some new places along the way as well as revisit lots of old favourites and I can’t wait to go back.
Leaving Ashington, our base for Northumberland National Park, we travelled down the coast making an early morning stop north of the city of Newcastle at Whitley Bay where we took a brisk walk along the seafront. We then bypassed Newcastle City and crossed the Tyne Bridge and made a second stop, this time to see the famous Angel of the North sculpture up close (it was smaller than we thought it would be!).
It was then time to continue on back to Yorkshire where we eventually passed a sign to say we were within the boundaries of the North York Moors National Park. We had decided to assign the afternoon to visiting the coastal area of the park, leaving the next day, our only full day in the park, to get out onto the moors. So with that in mind, we followed the road signs to the seaside town of Whitby.
Arriving at midday on a Sunday, we soon found ourselves in a queue of traffic into the town and into the harbour car parks. After a few loops of all the car parks in the area with no sign of any spaces becoming available any time soon, we decided to give up and head back out of town to the park and ride we had passed a mile or so out! Here, there were plenty of spaces available and,for £5 each, we got a return bus ticket into town.
It was the first time I had used public transport since the pandemic began but the buses were regular enough to be pretty quiet and it didn’t take long for them to reach the town centre.
Whitby was busy enough that we felt the need to wear our face coverings in some parts of the town, mainly narrow streets that were like bottleneck, pushing people walking in every direction together into small spaces but once we got away from the main streets and harbour area, it was easier to socially distance and we felt much safer.
We followed signposts to Whitby Abbey, walking up the 199 Steps to the church grounds at the top and stopping there for a while to take in the views over the bay (and catch our breath!). Entrance to the Abbey was by pre-booked ticket only and we had decided not to go in but it was possible to see quite a bit of the Abbey building from outside.
Returning to the town, we got ice creams from Sprinkles Ice Cream Parlour then walked along the pier and down by the beach before catching the bus back to the car park and driving to check in at our hotel. As with the other National Parks we had visited, we would again be staying just outside of the park to keep the cost down, this time staying 2 nights at a Premier Inn near Middlesbrough.
On day 2, we drove back into the park this time taking the scenic route driving along more narrow, steep roads, passing through the small town of Grosmont, across pretty heather covered moors and and eventually arriving at our destination of Goathland.
Goathland is well known as the village which doubled as Aidensfield in 90s TV show ‘Heartbeat’ and the town continues to play on this connection keeping up a sign saying ‘The Aidensfield Arms’ on the side of The Goathland Hotel, and shops such as the Aidensfield Village Store still selling Heartbeat related souvenirs.
After parking up, we walked straight through the village past all the shops and cafes and headed down the road toward the Mallyan Hotel, dodging the many sheep roaming freely around the roads, pavements and grass verges everywhere!
At the side of the Mallyan Hotel, is the trail head leading to Mallyan Falls. Taking a circular route, we followed the trail down lots of steps into a wooded area then along the river before scrambling over precariously balances rocks to finally see the waterfall come into view!
Scrambling back over the rocks to the path, we then followed it alongside the river, up and down more steep steps and past some fields to the tiny village of Beck Hole where we stopped for a quick break next to the river before following the path for a long uphill walk back to Goathland.
After a walk around the village, we returned to the car just after midday and began our drive towards the south end of the park and the Hole of Horcrum. We parked at Saltergate car park from which there are sweeping views of the Hole of Horcrum. After taking lots of photos, we turned right and followed the path around the edge. From here it was possible to turn left and follow a path down into the hole or to continue around the edge. We continued straight on, crossing a stile onto a path that lead through Levisham Moor, surrounded by purple heather.
While it is possible to do a complete loop of the Hole of Horcrum, we had only paid for 2 hours parking, not long enough to complete the 5 mile circular route, so after a while, we turned back and retraced our steps back to the car park.
After lunch overlooking the Hole of Horcrum, we continued our drive through the park heading towards Pickering, then looping back north through the pretty riverside village of Hutton-le-Hole.
From here we continued to follow the road north as it opened out into beautiful hill top moorland, driving carefully to avoid the sheep milling around on the roadside or even in the road itself and stopping at pull in points to get out and enjoy the view.
Our final stop of the day was in Danby at the National Park Visitor Centre. The centre was part gift shop and part interactive exhibition centre with displays outlining the history of the park. After having a look around, we took a stroll around its woodland walk area before returning to the car and waving goodbye to the North York Moors National Park.
It had been a fun 2 weeks road tripping around the north of England to visit a total of 5 National Parks and we found that they all had something special to offer and that maybe we should make more time in the future to spend time exploring what is really just on our doorstep!
A hastily arranged 2-week road trip visiting the National Parks of the northern England had so far taken us to the Peak District, the Yorkshire Dales and the Lake District National Parks. Now we were travelling further north to see Northumberland National Park, a park which before planning this trip, I admit I didn’t know existed! I mean, I knew of the area of Northumberland but just didn’t realise that part of it had national park status!
Looking at our route to the park from our Cockermouth base in the Lake District, we noticed just how close we were to the Scottish border so we decided to make an unscheduled pit stop in Gretna Green, pulling in to grab photos with the Welcome to Scotland sign then paying a quick visit to the Famous Blacksmiths Shop, a tourist stop with shops, restaurants and conveniences.
Waving goodbye to Scotland, it was back to England to drive towards Hexham and visit Hadrian’s Wall. We had booked a timed entry ticket into Housesteads Fort, the ruins of an old Roman Fort next to part of the wall. Housesteads is jointly owned by the National Trust and English Heritage and is therefore free to members of both although there was a standard charge to park.
Once parked up, we made our way up a long, uphill path towards the ruins in the distance. At the top of the hill, there was a building with a queue outside so we assumed we had to first go here to get our tickets scanned and gain entrance to the fort grounds. In fact, this was a small museum about Hadrian’s Wall.
Our tickets allowed us entry to the museum so we had a quick look around before walking back towards the ruins. Here there was an entry point and our tickets were scanned before we were allowed in to explore.
With the ruins being outside and visitor numbers being kept low with timed entry tickets, we were not required to wear a face covering but were advised that there was a one way system in place around the ruins. It was interesting to see the remains of the Roman fort. Sections of the buildings were labelled as to what room they would have been and there were information boards providing more details and history as to what we were looking at.
Hadrian’s Wall ran along the rear of the ruins so we made sure we had photos with it before we left.
It is possible to walk from Houseteads to Sycamore Gap, one of the most photographed parts of Northumberland National Park but as it was a wet and windy afternoon, we decided to drive back on ourselves slightly to Steel Rigg car park from which the walk to Sycamore Gap was shorter.
We took a circular walk heading out alongside Hadrian’s Wall, scrambling up and over some steep hills before finally emerging at Sycamore Gap where a lone sycamore tree lies in the valley between 2 hills. From here, we returned to the car park on a less hilly public footpath path through fields and over stiles.
After our brisk walk in the wind and rain, we continued to our base for the next 2 nights, a Premier Inn in Ashington, north of the city of Newcastle and just outside the Northumberland National Park’s boundaries.
This was the park we had done the least amount of research on only really knowing that we wanted to see Hadrian’s Wall so that evening we used the park’s official website to look up walks we could do in other areas of the park.
So the following day, we decided to drive north towards the Cheviot Hills area of the park. Here, we parked in Hethpool car park and followed an easy circular walking route alongside a river, past Hethpool Linn waterfall and through fields offering views of the Cheviots Hills. We were hoping to spot a wild Cheviot goat or two along the way but unfortunately couldn’t spot any on the hills!
From Hethpool, we drove back to the pretty town of Wooler where we visited a local bakery for tea and cake before heading into the Beamish Valley area of the park. We pulled into Bulby’s Wood car park to eat our picnic lunch by the river.
Next we drove to the town of Rothbury. Parking slightly out of town, we followed the riverside path into the centre, looking around the shops there before looping back around.
From Rothbury, we took the scenic route back to Ashington driving south through Northumberland National Park towards Elsdon, pulling over regularly to enjoy the scenery before heading east back to our hotel for the evening.
While we had enjoyed our time in Northumberland National Park, we wish we had looked into what the park had to offer a bit more past the obvious visit to the Hadrian’s Wall area. Our favourite part of the day had been our drive through the park from Rothbury towards Elsdon and wished we had reached this part of the park earlier in the day and had time to do some walks here.
But for now, it was time to leave for our final park on our 2 week road trip, the North York Moors.
Watch my vlog of my trip to Northumberland National Park here:
Hastily rearranging our planned 5-week tour of US National Parks to a 2-week tour of UK National Parks, the Lake District was my ‘must do’, somewhere I had talked about visiting for as long as I could remember but never getting around to making plans to actually go!
Trying to emulate some of the activities we would have down on our US trip, we stopped off along the way at Lakeland Maze Farm Park to have a go at their giant Maize Maze. Usually, this would have been a “let’s see what the weather is like on the day and decide then if we want to do it” type of activity but with Covid-restrictions rendering spontaneity obsolete, if we wanted to visit any type of attraction, it had to be pre-booked well in advance. Unfortunately, it had rained most of the morning for our hike around the Ingleton Waterfalls Trail in the Yorkshire Dales and as we left there, there was no sign of a change in this weather as we drove north-west.
Stuck in a huge maze in the rain, traipsing through mud and huge puddles, wasn’t the most fun we had all trip and as the rain got heavier, we resorted to using the maze map we had been handed as we checked in to find our way out quicker than we otherwise would have! Once safely out, we spent a bit of time saying hello to the animals at the farm before continuing to our Travelodge accommodation at the north end of the Lake District National Park in Cockermouth.
For our first full day in the park, we had pre-booked a return boat trip across Lake Windermere, the largest lake in the park, travelling from Ambleside to Bowness-on-Windermere. Luckily, seeing as we’d booked outside seating on the boats, the weather had dramatically improved from yesterday and the sun was even trying to shine!
Expecting the Lake District to be the busiest of the National Parks on our road trip, we had booked the first boat of the day to take us to Bowness. We parked up for the day in Ambleside town on the large, and rather expensive, Miller Bridge car park from where it was a mile walk to the waterfront. Being early, the car park was almost empty. After taking some pictures of the lake, we checked in and boarded the boat to Bowness.
With the boat acting as public transport between the towns, we were required to wear our face coverings for the duration of the 30 minute journey and every other row of seats was blocked off to ensure social distancing between parties.
It was a pleasant ride across the lake and once in Bowness, we had just over 2 hours to explore before we had to be back at the marina to catch the boat we had booked back to Ambleside.
Before departing, we had looked up short walks that could be done in the area and decided on a 1.5 mile walk to Post Knott for views over the lake. The mainly uphill walk took us through the busy town and then along a steep public footpath bring us out at Biskey Howe Toposcope. The views here were already pretty impressive and we took a moment to take some photos and catch our breath before following the route instructions we had downloaded and continuing on to Post Knott for more views over the lake before retracing our steps back into the town.
After stopping off at one of the many bakeries on offer to grab a slice of delicious looking cake, we walked back towards the marina and took the short lakeside stroll to Cockshott Point, a grassy lakefront area with a stony beach and we sat here to eat our cakes before wandering back in time to catch our return boat to Ambleside.
Once back, we strolled into Ambleside town and had a pre-booked lunch at the George Hotel before spending the afternoon looking around. Ambleside was smaller and slightly less busy than Bowness. We found our way to Bridge House, a small house built on top of a bridge which you can normally go in and look around but was currently closed due to Covid restrictions, and then we took the circular hike out into the woodlands to see Stock Ghyll Force, a nearby waterfall.
After a busy day, we walked back to the car park where we found cars now queuing to get in and find a space and as we drove out of Ambleside, we passed miles of traffic queuing to get into the town even though it was now late afternoon proving we were right about this being the busiest of the parks we would be visiting.
Day 2 in the Lake District and, again trying to replicate activities we’d have down on our planned US road trip, we had booked a segway adventure at Whinlatter Forest Park. We arrived at 10am to find an already packed car park and only just managed to find a space to park up in then went to check in for activity.
We had segwayed multiple times on our visits to the US and in Europe but it had always been in city centres whereas in the UK, it’s only allowed off-road on private land. Our previous segwaying adventures had always been lengthy 2-3 hour tours but today’s would be just an hour, 20 minutes of which were spent setting us all up on the segways and practising before our segways were finally put into the easier to use full-power mode.
Riding on a gravelly surface with lots of quite steep up and down sections made the session more challenging – and a lot more fun – than we had expected and we really appreciated a stop at one of the highest points of the forest park which offered beautiful views across the Lake District. It was an amusing way to spend an hour and we were really glad we had booked it.
Segway session over, we returned to the car to find the packed car park had now been closed off with ‘sorry, we are full up’ signs outside the entrance. I’m not sure what we’d have done if we’d have booked an afternoon segway session!
With no set in stone plan for the rest of the day other than to spend it exploring the Lake District further, we had looked up the possibility of hiring canoes, kayaks or even a motor boat for that afternoon only to find everything fully booked days in advance so instead, we thought we’d do a circular walk of one of the lakes. After some investigation, we had settled on Buttermere Lake which various sites had told us was one of the quieter, lesser visited of the lakes and which only took a few hours to walk the entire circumference. So with that in mind, we started our drive towards the National Trust car park there.
What we didn’t realise was that the drive from Whinlatter to Buttermere would take us along Newlands Pass, a beautiful scenic drive but also one of the windiest, steepest one track roads we’ve ever encountered! As we neared Buttermere, the drive was made more challenging by cars parked in pull in places and other inappropriate places slowing down traffic in and out of the village.
We could tell straight away that Buttermere was not going to be quiet at all and that we’d be lucky to find a parking spot but we gave it a go anyway trying both of the village car parks to no avail. It would seem that the Lake District, in the summer months at least, is one of those places where you need to get to your destination for the day early, preferably before 10.30am in order to get a parking space and then you need to stay in that place for the rest of the day because if you move on, you’ll probably not find a parking space at your next destination!
Unsure where to head for next but knowing that we would not be exiting Buttermere the way we came in – we’re not sure our car would have made it up the 25% gradient hill! – we kept driving until the road widened out and we spotted a place to pull over. It was still pretty scenic where we were and sheep were milling around on the road and in the open meadows around us so we had lunch in the car and, seeing as there was no reception to get on line, consulted a map.
We decided to try our luck at Grasmere, a town and lake which we had passed on the way to Ambleside the day before. Luckily, Grasmere had a huge car park and an even bigger overflow car park which we easily managed to find a space in! Relieved at finding somewhere to go, we walked into the town centre.
It was very busy with queues reaching around the block to enter its famous Gingerbread store and even for ice cream. We found a quieter ice cream store inside a church cafe and indulged in what we felt was a well-deserved treat then looked up walks we could do in the area as we sat and ate them.
We decided on a 3.7 mile circular walk around Lake Grasmere and screen shot the easy to follow instructions before setting off. The walk took us out of the town and up to a viewpoint then through parkland running alongside the River Rothay where the path eventually opened out to the lakeside before looping back into the town. Apart from the initial steep path up to the viewpoint, the walk was mainly flat and easy and there were beautiful views across the lake. A perfect way to finish off our Lake District adventure!
The second stop on my tour of UK National Parks was 3 nights in the Yorkshire Dales. Having spent a good portion of the day hiking in the Peak District, it was early evening by the time we arrived. We had again chosen accommodation outside of the park’s boundaries, this time in a Travelodge near the town of Skipton.
For our first of 2 full days in the park, we had booked to visit the nearby Bolton Abbey Estate. The site has 4 car parks to choose from and, having not visited before, we were unsure which to pick but eventually booked into the Riverside car park as it seemed to be somewhere near the middle of the grounds. We deliberately chose an early slot so we could make a full day of our visit and we arrived to find the car park almost empty and just a few dog walkers about.
Seeing the priory ruins in the distance, we decided to walk along the river in that direction. It was a pleasant walk and it didn’t take us long to reach the priory. We were able to look inside the chapel which is still used for services and then we walked around to explore the ruins behind the main building structure.
From here, we walked back towards the river heading for the park of the estate we were most looking forward to – the Bolton Abbey stepping stones. Here, visitors can choose to cross a rather wide section of the river by hopping across a series of stepping stones.
It was harder than it looked with some of the stones being quite widely spread and one or two wobbling a bit as we trod on them and as much fun as it was, it was also quite a relief to safely reach the other side!!
After walking back along the other side of the river and making a quick visit to the cafe near the Riverside car park for a delicious locally produced chocolate Brownie, we followed signposts to walk to the Valley of Desolation. It was a relatively short and easy walk out to the very pretty waterfall.
After a picnic lunch, we finished our visit with a walk along one of the shorter trails through the ancient woodland of Strid Wood. An information board as we entered this area of the estate showed maps of the circular walks available and details on the length and difficulty of each walk and we found coloured the signposting of the trails once we were in the woods to be really easy to follow.
By the time we left Bolton Abbey Estate mid-afternoon, the car park was full and the park was extremely busy with families walking, picnicking and playing in the river and we were glad we’d thought to come early and seen it while it was quiet first thing in the morning.
Next, we drove to the town of Pateley Bridge to visit England’s Oldest Sweet Shop. On the drive there we had our first experience of some of the park’s narrower, steeper roads which were even less fun to drive along in the worsening weather. The quaint town of Pateley Bridge was busy for a Sunday afternoon and we had to queue for 10 minutes or so to enter the traditional sweet shop. After browsing the shelves and buying a couple of gifts, we called into a cafe further along the street for ice creams before driving back to our hotel.
Day 2 in the Yorkshire Dales National Park we drove to the north end of the park, starting the day with a walk to Aysgarth Falls. Arriving just after 10am, we parked at the very quiet National Park Visitor Centre car park and followed the signposts across the main road to pick up the trail leading past the different parts of the falls. The trail took us through woodland to the Middle Falls then to Lower Falls before looping back to the now packed car park.
From here we followed the signs pointing in the opposite direction to the short trail to the Upper Falls. It was another easy, mainly flat walk along the trail and it didn’t take long to see all three waterfalls. While we enjoyed the walk, the falls themselves were not as spectacular as the Valley of Desolation waterfall at Bolton Abbey.
From Aysgarth Falls, we drove to the busy town of Hawes to visit Wensleydale Creamery. As well as a shop, restaurant and cafe, the creamery also offers the Wensleydale Cheese Experience – a museum and interactive exhibit which also allows you to peak in at the Wensleydale factory.
At the moment, some of the more interactive exhibitions are closed due to Covid restrictions so the entrance price has been reduced to reflect this but it didn’t stop visitors from wanting to enter and we faced a 30 minute wait to get our ticket and enter! The museum and its exhibits were interesting but our favourite part was watching the cheese being made in the factory.
With queues for the Wensleydale shop reaching back and around the corner, we decided to follow our visit to the Wensleydale Cheese Experience with lunch at the Creamery’s cafe in hope that the store queues would subside in the meantime. After a delicious Wensleydale and Yorkshire Red Cheese on Toast lunch, we found the store queues had not gone down much at all so sucked it up and joined the end.
It took about half an hour to reach the main gift store but after looking around that, we then had another 10 minute wait to enter the cheese section! We couldn’t leave without buying some Wensleydale to take home with us though.
Although our visit to Wensleydale Creamery had taken a lot longer than we had anticipated with all the queues, we still had a good portion of the afternoon left so we decided to drive back to the southern end of the park for a stop at the village of Malham. Along the way we passed Ribblehead Viaduct so pulled over to take a few photos before continuing our drive along more narrow, steep, winding roads.
While Malham village itself is a lovely place for a quick stop with its array of pubs and cafes, we were there to do the walk to Malham Cove, a curved, limestone cliff just outside of the town. We parked at the National Park Visitor Centre car park and walked through the busy town to the trail head. The trail ran alongside a babbling stream and with the sun deciding to suddenly shine, it was a pretty settling for an afternoon stroll.
It didn’t take long at all to reach the cliff face and we stopped there for a while to watch some adventurous rock climbers scale it before retracing our steps back to Malham and driving back to our Skipton hotel for the evening.
We had one more morning left in the Yorkshire Dales National Park before driving to our next stop, the Lake District, and we planned to spend it at the Ingleton Waterfalls Trail, a 5 mile circular trail that takes in 5 waterfalls as well as woodland and views of the Yorkshire Dales. The trail is on private land and therefore an entrance fee of £7 per person is charged. Parking was free of charge and again, arriving early at 10am, the large car park was quiet.
Unfortunately, we picked a grey, miserable day with some heavy downpours but while it made the trail muddy and slippery in parts, it did seem to make the falls look more dramatic! It took us just over 2 hours to complete the trail and we stopped for a look around the shops in the village of Ingleton before returning to the car park for a picnic in the car as the rain started bouncing again.