Birmingham

Being a tourist in my own city

I’ve lived in Birmingham all my life so to me it’s just home. These days, I rarely even visit the city centre despite it just being a 10 minute drive or 15 minute train journey away but after making friends from all over the country and even from around the World while travelling, I’ve had a lot of them visit me here expecting to be shown around everything Birmingham has to offer. Which got me to thinking, what does the UK’s second city (yep, it’s Birmingham, not Manchester as many assume!) have to offer it’s visitors?

Here’s my take on the best things to do in my home city and surrounding areas!

Unusual Buildings

Birmingham Library

Looking out at Centenary Square from the library at Christmas

A library might not sound like the most exciting place to start a visit to a new city but this relatively new addition to Birmingham’s city centre is housed in a rather interesting-looking modern building. The gaudy boat-like design has divided locals but is certainly eye-catching. As well as thousands of books inside, there’s a cafe and 2 roof-top gardens providing great views over the city.

The Cube

If interesting architecture is your thing then Birmingham has plenty to offer. As well as the Library Building, our famous Selfridges building (see the section on shopping!), and the Bullring’s Rotunda, you might be interested in seeing The Cube, so called for it’s dice-like shape and home to a few shops, restaurants, apartments and even a hotel. Visit Marco Pierre White’s skyline Steakhouse Bar and Grill for views over the city as you drink and dine.

Birmingham’s Venice

The NIA Arena, canalside at Brindley Place

Birmingham is said to have more canals than Venice and you can experience these without leaving the city centre as the central canal system network is easily accessed from the Mailbox shopping centre and Brindley Place. Take a stroll along the towpath or, in the city centre, sit out at one of the canalside bars or cafes.

Lego Giraffe outside the canal-side Lego Discovery Centre, Brindley Place

If you want to get out on the water, you can catch the water taxi or there are barges offering sightseeing and dinner cruises all departing from near Brindley Place.

Right next to the canal at Brindley Place is Birmingham’s National Sealife Centre which along with the usual ocean life, has exhibitions on the wildlife found in Birmingham’s canals!

Shopping

If shopping is your thing then Birmingham is the place for you! The main shopping centre, Bullring, is home to another of the city’s most recognisable buildings, Selfridges, as well as 3 floors of high street stores and restaurants.

‘Bully’ dressed up for Christmas!

Look out for ‘Bully’, the Bullring Bull sculpture outside the centre and often dressed up to mark special occasions such as Christmas, St Patrick’s Day and Birmingham Pride and, in complete contrast to the modern mall, St Nicholas’ Church, still standing in the square below.

Just across from the church, you will find Birmingham Markets selling a variety of fresh produce, household items and clothing at bargain prices.

Next to the Bullring shopping mall is High Street, home to the World’s largest Primark store. This recently opened store hosts 5 floors of fashion as well as a beauty salon and 3 cafes, including the much talked about Disney cafe!

Grad Central and New Street Station below

If you arrive to the city by train then you’ll more than likely find yourself at New Street Station, home to the new Grand Central shopping centre. The centre is mainly home to slightly more eclectic stores than Bullring but also a large John Lewis store. There’s also a food court with plenty of eating options.

If your tastes are a bit more high scale, then head to the Mailbox, also a short walk from New Street Station where you’ll find designer stores including Emporio Armani and Harvey Nichols. (It’s also home of the Birmingham BBC Studios which you can book a tour of!)

The Mailbox and the Cube, canalside in Birmingham
The German Market fills New Street at Christmas

Visiting at Christmas? Then you might be in the city in time for the annual Frankfurt Market. Sellers from Germany descend upon the city each year to set up a traditional German Market which runs all down New Street and up into Victoria Square. This year, the market will be back, bigger and better than ever, running from November 7th through to December 23rd.

Jewellery Quarter

Just outside of the city centre, this area is full of jewellery factories – a good proportion of the UK’s jewellery is made here – and independent jewellery shops. The area has been rejuvenated over recent years and is now a popular place to visit. As well as the many jewellery shops, there is a museum where you can learn the history of the Jewellery Quarter and take a factory tour and a growing number of bars, restaurants and cafes. There district is easily accessible by train, tram or a walk along the canal from the city centre.

Museums

For culture vultures, Birmingham is home to plenty of museums and galleries. Walk to Chamberlain Sqaure, past the Town Hall and Council House buildings and you’ll find the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. Free to visit, the museum houses a large collection of art, an Ancient Egypt collection, exhibits on local history, a natural history collection and various temporary exhibits.

Nearby, just off Broad Street, is the Ikon Gallery. Also free to visit, the gallery houses 2 floors of contemporary art.

If science is more your thing then head to Thinktank, the Science Museum at Birmingham’s Millennium Point. The museum offers interactive exhibits on Science, Industry and Natural History that will keep kids entertained for hours. My personal highlight is the outdoor Science Garden – an educational playground!

For a bit of Birmingham history, visit the National Trust owned Back to Backs. The last surviving 19th Century back-to-back houses have been restored and can be toured by appointment.

Cadbury World

The Cadbury Chocolate Factory in Bournvile

Birmingham is famous for producing the UK’s favourite chocolate, Cadbury’s, and no visit to the city can be complete without venturing out of the city centre to Bournville Village, home of the original Cadbury Chocolate Factory. Cadbury World is home to interactive exhibits on the history of the factory in Birmingham and allows you to see inside the factory where the chocolate is still produced today. And best of all? You get a load of free chocolate to try along the way!!!

Cadbury World is easily reached by a short train journey from the city centre’s New Street Station to Bournville and the pretty, old-fashioned village itself is well worth a look around while you’re there.

Parks

Cannon Hill Park

I’ve always felt one of the things missing from the city centre is a green space, a park for workers to sit out in in their lunch break or to visit after work or a place for visitors to enjoy between shopping trips…we’ve plenty of nice open Squares but where’s our Hyde Park, Central Park or Boston Common?!

Cannon Hill Park

While not in the city centre itself, Cannon Hill Park is worth the short trip out to the suburb of Edgbaston. With plenty of open grassy areas for picnics or ball games, woods to wander through, pretty flower-filled gardens, a large boating lake on which you can hire pedalos, a fun park with children’s rides, a land train to take you around, an adventure golf course and two well-equipped children’s play areas, you can easily spend a day here. The park is also home to the Midlands’ Art Centre or MAC, host to various exhibitions, galleries, small theatre shows and a cinema usually showing cult classics and independent films.

Next door to the park is the Birmingham Conservation Park, known locally as the ‘Nature Centre’ where for a small fee you can see a variety of mammals, reptiles and birds including red pandas and monkeys!

There’s plenty of parking at the various entrances to the park in Edgbaston and Moseley but my favourite way to enter the park is to park up on Moor Green Lane opposite the Highbury pub and walk through Holders Lane Woods (entrance next to the Moor Green Lane Medical Centre) which leads into the south side of the park.

The Shires

Birmingham was home to JRR Tolkein, writer of the The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings and you can wander around much of the area that inspired the lands he created in the books. Head to Moseley Bog and the nearby Sarehole Mill, now part of the renamed Shires Country Park where you can pick up a leaflet detailing the sites that inspired him and follow the ‘Tolkein Trail’!

Lickey Hills

Further out of the city, but worth the journey into South Birmingham in my opinion, is the vast Lickey Hills Country Park offering well-marked woodland and parkland trails and rewarding views across the city from it’s highest peaks.

Nightlife

If you want to party the night away, then there’s really only one place to head in Birmingham – Broad Street is lined with bars and clubs and drunken students and is your best bet for a lively night out. For something a bit more sedate, or a few drink before hitting the clubs, try the canalside bars at Brindley Place or the popular afterwork bars at the Mailbox.

Nearby attractions

River Avon walk with the RSC in the background at Stratford-upon-Avon

One of the best things about living in Birmingham is it’s central location and proximity to other cities and attractions. From the city centre, day trips can easily be made to Stratford-upon-Avon for all it’s Shakespeare attractions and beautiful riverside setting or to Worcester, a cathedral city situated on the River Severn. For some child-friendly fun, West Midlands Safari Park and Dudley Zoo are in easy reach for animal lovers or try Alton Towers and Drayton Manor theme parks for thrill seekers. The Black Country Museum is also close by for some living history where costumed actors show visitors what life was like in Victorian times.

A Long Weekend in Prague

Usually when I have a city break – or any kind of trip – planned, I’m well prepared for it by the time it comes around. I research places to go, things to do. I pre-book attraction tickets to expedite entry or get an online discount, I find out how to get to the places I want to visit and even come up with a rough plan of how to spend each day. But for this trip to Prague, I felt wholly unprepared. I’d just been so busy over the past few weeks, I’d not had the time to look things up. In fact, I only realised a few days before departing that I needed Czech Krona and not Euros to spend – luckily with just enough time to order some in to my local currency exchange branch. My friend had mentioned possibly doing a bike tour but with time ticking away, we’d not got around to looking any up, ever mind booking it and as the morning of departure approached, I’d only just about managed to look up the weather forecast – it was going to be hot but showery – and how to get to our hotel from the airport.

Our flight out of Heathrow was early, which must have felt like a good idea at the time of booking but felt less so when the 4am alarm went off at our airport hotel. We’d landed at Prague airport by 10.15am and the small bit of research I had done told me to save a bit of money by avoiding the Airport Express to the main station and instead catching the local 119 bus to the start of the metro Line A then catching the metro into the city – all for the equivalent of just over £1! It was an easy way to get into the city – we got off the metro at Muzeum Station, the stop for the National Museum and Wenceslas Square and it was a short walk to the lovely Hotel Sunrise in the Prague 2 district from here.

Charles Square

While it was too early to check in to our room, we were able to leave our luggage at reception and were told they could have our room ready for us within the next hour. Not knowing where we really were, we wandered downhill and found ourselves in Charles Square where we grabbed some snacks from a convenience store and sat rifling through some tourist leaflets which we’d picked up in the hotel lobby before walking back and checking in.

Dancing House

After settling into our room, we ventured out into the city again. We walked downhill towards the Vltava River where we couldn’t help but notice a rather odd shaped building on the street corner which didn’t exactly fit in with the other building in the area. This was ‘Dancing House’ which we were later to learn had been built on the site of an area bombed and destroyed during the Second World War. The building is sometimes referred to as ‘Fred and Ginger’ as it is supposed to resemble two dancers.

Old Town Square

From here, we followed the river towards the Old Town, stopping at the bridges along the way to take photos of the famous Charles Bridge in the distance and Prague Castle on the hill across the river. As soon as we reached Charles bridge itself and the street leading to the Old Town, we were astonished by just how busy it was and found ourselves battling through the crowds filling the narrow streets.

Tired from the early morning and not feeling up to fighting our way through, we went to eat at the first place we came across – we found menu prices to be surprisingly reasonable despite being in the touristy centre – then briefly visited the Old Town Square. Old Town Square is home to the Old Town Hall and Astronomical Clock and crowds gather each hour to watch the clock chime. We had just missed its last display so instead just wandered through the Square admiring the architecture and shrugging our shoulders at the bizarre displays of street performers dressed as pandas and polar bears dancing about.

A huge Trdelnik filled with ice cream

Leaving the Old Town the same way we entered, we stopped to buy a Trdelnik – a kind of doughnut spiral, spread with your choice of filling. These are not exactly traditional, more something dreamed up to get tourists shelling out their money, but they looked so delicious we couldn’t resist! We chose to have ours spread with salted caramel and then filled with ice cream. It was extremely messy to eat, especially as the heat was making the ice cream melt quicker than we could eat it but still really yummy! We then fought our way across the Charles Bridge and walked back along the other side of the river through Kampa Island before crossing back by Dancing House and walking back to our hotel.

First view of St Vitus Cathedral in the castle grounds
Guards at the castle entrance

The next morning, over breakfast, we decided that due to our lack of research, we would buy a hop on/off bus ticket to take us around the city then we could explore anything that looked interesting as and when we came to it. We opted for the City Sightseeing company’s 48 hour ticket and caught the red line bus at a stop near to our hotel. The bus took us across the river and up the hill to Prague Castle where we decided to hop off. It is free to explore the grounds of the castle including it’s courtyards and gardens or a ticket could be purchased to visit the various exhibitions inside. We opted to just look from the outside and found an online self-guided walking tour of the grounds to follow to learn a bit of the castle’s history and find out what we were looking at as we went.

The castle is more of a series of palaces and buildings than a castle in the traditional sense. Being a Saturday morning, it was extremely busy and although we seemed to just beat the crowds to get through the security queue, once inside we found ourselves once again battling our way through all the people as we tried to make our way from courtyard to courtyard.

The buildings were impressive, especially that of the Cathedral in the centre of the grounds which unfortunately had yet to open it’s doors to visitors at the time of our visit.

At midday, we watched the Changing of the Guard ceremony at the entrance gates before wandering through the gardens which offered views of the city below.

Strahov Stadium and ventilation tower

We hopped back onto the bus planning on staying on until we had reached the stop nearest to the Old Town (traffic is not allowed in this area so the bus has to stop just outside of it) only to be told that the bus would be stopping for a 30 minute lunch stop at the Strahov Stadium stop. The rather unattractive concrete stadium sits at the highest point of the city but other than the view of the city, there was nothing to see at the stop making it a rather bizarre choice for a lunch stop. Our bus guide pointed us in the direction of a canteen-style restaurant a short walk from the bus stop so we grabbed drinks and snacks from here then walked back to catch the bus again.

View from outside Strahov Stadium

If we had realised how little there was at this stop, we’d have got off at the Monastery at the previous stop instead but we just assumed that since the Stadium had been chosen as the 30-minute stop, that there must have been something worth seeing or doing there. There wasn’t!

Inside Old Town Hall Tower

We completed the loop on the red line bus and walked into the Old Town. It was just as busy as it had been the previous evening. We wanted to go up to the observation deck at the top of the Astronomical Clock but had read it often had long queues. Seeing the crowds, we expected the worst but were in fact surprised to find no queue at all. We bought our tickets and caught the lift up to the top. The city looked really pretty from above, looking down on a sea of red roofs below us, and it was definitely worth the small entrance fee to climb the clock tower.

We made it back down just in time to see the Astronomical Clock chime on the hour. The display didn’t last very long and we wondered what all the fuss was about – some people had been waiting in the square for ages to get a good view but I was glad we had just turned up last minute as it would not have been worth the long wait!

After leaving the Old Town, we found a small Pizzeria down one of the side streets to eat at then walked back to our hotel to get ready for a concert we’d be attending that night at the city’s O2 Arena. The public transport in Prague was easy to navigate and there were a few options for getting to the arena. We took the number 16 tram which dropped us just a short walk away and then caught the last tram back after the show.

Entrance to Vysehrad Fortress

We had another day left on our hop on/off bus ticket so the next day jumped onto a Purple line bus. Unlike the red line which used the traditional double decker, open top bus, this line must have been a less popular route as instead, a small enclosed mini-bus turned up. We had decided to hop off at Vysehrad Fortress on the outskirts of the city. From where the bus dropped us, there was no sign of the fortress so we asked our guide where it was. She looked confused and waved her arm in the direction of where it was only for the bus driver to get off the bus and tell us that she had pointed us in the entirely wrong direction and tell us to walk another way!

We soon found the fortress following his directions. Like Prague Castle, it was free to wander the grounds and we set about walking the entire caste walls. There were great view of the city and the river from the fortress walls and it was a really pleasant way to spend the morning.

Vltava River views from Vysehrad Fortress

Luckily, we arrived back at the bus stop just as the bus pulled up. The rest of the route took us up past Prague’s TV Tower – yet another place to get city views – Prague has plenty of opportunities for this! – and back towards the city centre.

Wenceslas Square and the National Museum

We hopped off the bus at the Wenceslas Square stop. The square is the heart of the city. It is positioned in front of the huge National Museum and is lined by high street stores, cafes, restaurants and hotels. After a coffee break at one of the many cafes, we walked down towards the Old Town.

The ridiculously crowded Charles Bridge

Experts at navigating our way through the Old Town now, we quickly made our way towards the always busy Charles Bridge and walked along the river in the opposite direction to before to the Prague Boats terminus. The sun had finally decided to come out and we decided to take the opportunity to do a one-hour river cruise. We opted for the small boat cruise which would have a live rather than recorded commentary and allow us to enter “Prague’s Venice” – the smaller waterways off the main river. We definitely felt we made right choice as our guide was full of interesting facts and the scenery was really beautiful.

After the cruise, we walked across Charles Bridge into the Mala Strana area passing some of the waterways we had just cruised down. We passed Lennon Wall, covered in grafitti then walked to Kampa Island and through the park retracing the route we’d taken on our first evening in the city but being a bit more awake to appreciate it this time!

After a quick put stop to freshen up back at our hotel, we walked back into the Old Town and went for dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe. Our hop on/off bus tickets came with a voucher for a free dessert there with the purchase of a main meal so being Hard Rock fans, we decided we may as well make use of the offer!

Sunset from Charles Bridge

We left the restaurant just as the sun was starting to go down so decided to walk back down to the river to watch what was left of the sunset. It had unfortunately started to cloud over a bit from the blue skies if the afternoon but the castle still looked pretty under the twilight sky.

With an early evening flight to catch out of the city airport the next day, we had about 3 hours left in the city the next morning. On a longer trip to the city, we’d have still had plenty of things to do to fill the time – we had not made it to Letna Park or the Eiffel Tower-inspired Petrin Tower and it would have been interesting to have done a walking tour of the Old Town or Jewish Quarter or even take a trip out of the city to Český Krumlov or Kutná Hora. But with none of these things fitting our timescale for the day, we instead walked back to the river and hired a pedalo for an hour. It was a beautiful day with blue skies and temperatures reaching 30 degrees but being out on the river there was a bit of a breeze and it was a relaxing way to spend an hour.

We then took a quick walk through the city’s Jewish Quarter, past the many Synagogues in the area before returning to our hotel to retrieve our luggage and make our way back to the airport.

A beautiful day in Old Town Square

Apart from the crowds, I really enjoyed my first visit to the city of Prague and would definitely like to return someday to explore a bit more, see some of the many museums on offer in the city and spend more time learning about he history of the city.

Bavarian Castles day trip from Munich

Visiting Linderhof Palace, the town of Oberammergau and Neuschwanstein Castle

While on a city break in Munich (which you can read about here), we took the organised tour to Linderhof Palace and Neuschwanstein Castle with Grayline Tours. Being big Disney fans, our main reason for doing the trip was to see Neuschwanstein, said to be the inspiration for the original Disney Castle at the California Park. We looked into making the trip ourselves using public transport but it involved trains and buses and not speaking any German, we decided it looked to complicated and an organised day trip would better suite our needs. All of the English speaking tours we saw offered online on sites such as Viator and Expedia seemed to be offered by Grayline so we decided to book their full day trip which also went to Linderhof Palace. The price included travel from Munich to Linderhof and Neuschwanstein with an English speaking tour guide and also a stop at Bavarian town of Oberammergau but excluded lunch and admission fees to the castles which would be collected by the company on the day. After the online booking process, we received a voucher and instructions to meet the tour nearby Munich Hauptbahnhof at least 20 minutes before departure.

On the day of our trip, we left our hotel and walked to the station arriving a good 10 minutes before the recommended time but still found crowds of people queuing for the tour. Unlike many of the small group day tours on minibuses I have done in the past, this was tour was a much bigger affair with multiple double decker coaches lining the street waiting to be boarded. Helpful Grayline representatives pointed us in the direction of the queue for the English speaking tour and despite the long line in front of us, the boarding process was quick and we easily found seats together on the top deck of the coach. As soon as our coach was full, we departed ahead of schedule leaving the remaining people in the queue to board a second coach so it was worth arriving a bit earlier to get a head start on the tour.

Linderhof Palace

As we travelled to our first stop, about 1 hour 45 minutes out of the city, our guide introduced himself and explained the day’s itinerary before coming along the coach and taking the money for the castle tours. Anyone that didn’t want to do the guided tour could opt out of one or both but we paid for entry to both Linderhof and Neuschwanstein.

Most of the journey was on the German autobahn with little to see along the way, made worse by the dreary, drizzly weather but we were assured the scenery would improve once we turned off to our first stop. As we neared Linderhof – via a steep, narrow road up a mountain which did not feel suitable for a large coach to travel up! – our guide explained what would happen once we arrived. We were given strict instructions to follow him to the ticket office, making use of the toilets if we wished to while he picked up our tickets before taking our ticket and walking to the palace entrance. Tours were timed so we were warned not to stop at the shop or cafe for anything as if we missed our times entry, that was it. We were also told that the coach would leave on the dot at 10.45 so if we ended up on the second tour slot, we needed to walk quickly back to the coach after – again no time to stop for souvenirs, drinks or snacks!

Fountain in front on Linderhof Palace

Those who had gone to get the tickets off the guide straight away were put on the first tour at 10am while we decided to use the toilets so got allocated on the second tour 10 minutes later. By this time, the drizzle had become heavy rain so we wished we weren’t in the group that had to hang around as there was nowhere to shelter. Our guide told us to watch the fountain show as we waited – every half hour, the fountain outside the palace started up – while the first group would be out by 10.30 and would be able to watch then. As soon as the fountain stopped, our group was called in for the tour.

Watching the fountain before our tour of the palace

While not particularly impressive from the outside, the palace – which like Neuschwanstein, belonged to King Ludwig II, the last King of Bavaria -is definitely worth seeing from the inside! If I had to use one word to describe it, it would be gold. Gold, gold and more gold. Everywhere. It was completely over the top with each room more gaudy and ornate than the previous one. Highlights were the master bedroom and the famous ‘room of mirrors’. Our tour was given by an English speaking guide and we were given a little history behind the building of the palace and the mysterious circumstances of King Ludwig’s premature death. It was a short but interesting tour – we were inside no longer than 20 minutes and were shown just the one floor – and unfortunately, we were not allowed to take any photos inside.

Traditional Bavarian-style houses in Oberammergau

Once our tour was finished, we took a brisk walk back to the coach making it back 5 minutes before the deadline. Luckily, everyone else on the tour was just as conscientious and we were able to depart on schedule.

Theatre where the Passion Play is staged once a decade.
Painted building in Oberammergau

Our next stop was at Oberammergau, a town famous for its painted houses and for its staging of the Passion Play in a purpose built theatre once every 10 years. We drove around the town on the coach as our guide pointed out some of the fairytale inspired designs painted onto many of the houses, along with the essentials like the souvenir stores, cafes and best place for ice cream, before we were dropped off and given about 50 minutes to explore. Luckily, the rain had stopped for the time being so we wandered along the streets looking around at what the town had to offer.

After a spot of shopping and photo taking, the rain started up again so we ducked into a local cafe and ordered some tea and cake before heading back to the coach.

Walking through Oberammergau
View of Neuschwanstein from the village of Schwangau

Next up was the day’s main attraction – a visit to Neuschwanstein Palace. This was just a short distance from Oberammergau and we soon caught our first glimpse of it on a hill in the distance. As we made our way there, our guide explained how the afternoon would run. The time slots for our groups wouldn’t be until at least 3pm meaning we had a few hours in Schwangau, the village in the valley below the palace. During this time, we could get some lunch (not included in the trip price) and had to make our own way to the palace entrance. There were a few options for this – we could walk up the hill to it, take a trip in a horse and cart or, the option recommended by our guide, catch the bus there. Whichever we chose, we were warned we must be there for the time on our ticket as if we missed our slot, there were no transfers to a later time.

Horse and cart rides running to Neuschwanstein from Schwangau and Hohenscwangau Castle in the distance

Once tickets had been handed out – ours with a time slot of 3.05pm – we were left to our own devices until we had to be back on the coach. We’d brought our own lunch with us but struggled to find anywhere to sit and eat it especially as it was raining heavily. We ended up sheltering under a shop awning and eating as we stood there. We spent some time in the souvenir shops, again, mainly to keep out of the rain and also took some photos of Hohenschwangau Palace, another of King Ludwig II’s residences, on the hill opposite Neuschwanstein.

The very busy Marienbrucke

With the queues for the horse and cart being too long and a 40 minute uphill walk in the rain not sounding at all appealing, we decided to catch the bus up the hill to Neuschwanstein. After a steep climb, it dropped us just a short walk from the palace and two nearby viewpoints. Luckily, the rain had briefly stopped so we walked to Marienbrucke, a pedestrian bridge over a gorge which offers amazing views of the palace. There was a huge number of tourists on the bridge, although a handy digital counter just before you reach the bridge told us there was still room for plenty more and we soon found that most people were crowded on the near side.

Once we got past these, there was plenty of room – and better palace views – on the far side of the bridge! While the view of the palace was impressive, it is worth mentioning that it is not the familiar view of the palace used in all the promotional pictures but instead the view of the back of the palace.

The view of Neuschwanstein from Marienbrucke

After taking plenty of photos, we left the bridge and continued our walk to the palace, passing another viewing platform along the way – this one providing sweeping views across to Hohenscwangau Palace and the valley below. From here, it was a steep uphill walk to the palace entrance. We explored what we could of the grounds but the rain started to fall heavily again so we ended up sat in the visitors centre until our time slot came around.

Looking back down at Schwangau and across at Hohenschwangau Castle from the scenic viewpoint

Once inside the palace, we were provided with an audio guide handset each but also told to follow a live guide around the palace. Unlike the informative guide at Linderhof Palace earlier, the only purpose of this guide seemed to be to tell us when to put the audio guides to our ear and unfortunately, our group was so large that it was often hard to see or hear when we were told to do so. The palace interior was not as impressive as Linderhof, being a lot darker and less gaudy and adding to our disappointment, a lot of it was covered up or surrounded by scaffolding as it was under renovation. Like at Linderhof Palace, we were not allowed to take any photos inside but we both agreed the palace was a lot more impressive from the outside than it was in.

Views of the castle from within the grounds

After leaving the palace, we had about 20 minutes to get back to our coach. We had been warned by our guide that we would need to walk back as queues for the buses etc made these more time consuming options and we’d be late. The walk back was at least downhill but still not much fun in the pouring rain. We did easily make it back on time along with everyone else on the trip and left for Munich on schedule.

Looking up at the castle from within the courtyard

Despite hitting the rush hour traffic, we made it back to Munich centre on time and said goodbye to our fellow passengers. Tired from travelling and still damp from the rain, we found somewhere for dinner then walked back to our hotel ready for a quiet in!

Munich City Break

Day trip to Salzburg

One day in Salzburg

While on a recent city break to Munich (read about it here), we decided to take the train to Salzburg, Austria for the day. So how did we spend 1 day in Salzburg?

Getting there

Getting to Salzburg was really straight forward. We booked our tickets in advance and purchased a Bayern Ticket – a travel ticket that can be used on all regional transport including visits inside Bavaria but which also allows travel to the first stop across the border meaning it was valid to travel to Salzburg. The ticket can be purchased for individuals or groups and for 2 of us, worked out at just €32 or €16 return each!

Seats on the train couldn’t be reserved so we arrived at Munich Hauptbahnhof 30 minutes before departure to give us plenty of time to find our platform and get a seat on the train as soon as it arrived. The station was easy to navigate and we soon located the departures board and found our way to the platform to board the train. It took just under 2 hours to reach Salzburg station from Munich!

Sightseeing

From Salzburg Station, it was an easy, straightforward walk towards the city centre. It took about 15-20 minutes to reach Mirabellplatz, home of the famous Mirabell Palace and Gardens.

Mirabell Palace and Gardens

While it is possible to go inside the palace, we decided we probably wouldn’t have time with just a few hours in the city so instead we spent some time strolling around its beautiful gardens, famously featured in the film The Sound of Music. Unfortunately the weather was drizzly and the some of the paths were blocked by large puddles but the rain did nothing to dull the bright colours of the flower filled gardens.

From Mirabellplatz, we passed the small museum at Mozart’s former residence and crossed the pedestrian ‘Love Lock’ bridge from the new side of town to the old town.

Getreidgasse

The street running alongside the river was lined with touristy souvenir stores, pretzel-filled food counters and cafes so we took one of the narrow side roads off the street and found our way to Getreidgasse, a shopping street where ornate signs hang over the store doors. At the far end of the street, we stumbled across the Sound of Music store and museum from where you can take a location tour. Having never actually see the film, I didn’t do this but I have friends who are fans of the movie and have taken the tour and highly recommend it!

Mozart’s Birthplace

Further along Getreidgasse, you will also find Mozart’s Birthplace, now another museum about the composer.

As we wandered up and down the side streets in the old town, we stumbles across Universitatplatz where there was a small market with stalls selling, among other things, souvenirs that were a bit cheaper than in the stores we’d passed. There was also a food van selling giant pretzels in various sweet and savoury flavours – perfect for a lunchtime snack!!

Pretzel stand in Universitatplatz
Mozart statue in the centre of Mozartplatz

Not far from University Square is Residenezplatz, where we got our first glimpse of Salzburg Cathedral, and the adjoining Mozartplatz where a statue of the composer stands proudly in the centre. We followed the road leading around the cathedral, past a game of giant chess going on in Domplatz, to the cathedral entrance and went to have a quick look inside.

Next to the Cathedral, was St Peter’s Abbey. We wandered through its grounds, the Petersfriedhof or St Peter’s Cemetery, the oldest cemetery in the city of Salzburg and which, along with the Abbey’s catacombes, also featured in The Sound of Music film.

St Peter’s Abbey and Cemetery
View of the fortress on the hill

Behind the abbey, was the terminus for the funicular railway which takes visitors up the steeps hill to Fortress Hohensalzburg. It is possible to hike u to the fortress but we decided against this and instead bought a value ticket which gave us a return trip on the funicular railway as well as entrance to all parts of the fortress and its museums.

The main reason for visiting the fortress has to be the stunning views over the city from the fort’s grounds. We took the audio tour of the salt rooms which took us up to one of the towers for a 360 degree view of the surrounding city and the mountains looming in the distance.

In one of the state rooms

The fortress museums did not take long to look around and in all honesty, our ticket upgrade giving us access to the state rooms probably wasn’t worth it as there really wasn’t a lot to see in the couple of rooms this allowed us into although there did seem to be a few sections of the fortress closed off for renovations on the day we visited.

As we left the fortress, the drizzle turned to a full on downpour. We abandoned our plan to walk down the hill back into the city and instead made use of our return ticket to ride the funicular down. Hoping it would be a passing shower, we made our way back to Mozartplatz and went for tea and a slice of traditional Sacher Torte chocolate cake at Glockenspiel Cafe. Being in a touristy area, the refreshments were a bit pricier than usual but the cake was so light and absolutely delicious!

A slice of Sacher Torte!

With the rain not abating, we walked back to Getreidgasse and spent some time shopping to keep dry before it was time to walk back to the station for our evening train back to Munich. While we could easily have filled another day or so in Salzburg taking a walking tour, visiting the palace and its many museums or, in better weather, taking a riverside walk or a river cruise, a day had been long enough to see the main sights and get a flavour of the pretty city. And it’s definitely a city I’d like to return to someday.

Read about my Munich city break.

Munich City Break

What did Munich have to offer?

Last week, I flew out to Munich for a few days. As I mentioned in an earlier post, it’s not my first time in the city. On my last visit though, 11 years ago now, I was there less than 24 hours and had only 2 of those hours to get out into the city – and then the main aim was finding somewhere for dinner, not sightseeing!

So this time, while the reason for my visit – a Backstreet Boys concert! – was the same, I wanted my experience of the city to be very different. With this in mind, we booked 4 nights in the city giving us 3 fulls days and 2 bits of a day at either end of the trip to explore.

Travelling to the city from Munich airport

We had investigated in advance our options for getting to our hotel from the airport – taxi, bus or S-Bahn train – and decided to opt for the train. We easily followed the green ‘S’ sign out of the arrivals terminal and to the train station and the ticket machines could be put into English and were straight forward to use. Again, from a bit of pre-planning, we knew which station we needed to get to and the ticket type and price we needed so we could see that the price and details that came up on the screen matched what we expected. For those of you not comfortable using the ticket machines, you could queue for a counter service instead.

The S1 and S8 trains both run in the direction of the Hautpbahnhof – Munich’s Central Station and while our hotel was walkable from here, we got off one stop away at Hackebrucke station which was slightly nearer. We had noted down directions to our hotel from here and found it straight away without any problems.

Where to stay in Munich

We could probably have done a bit more research on this. On my first visit to the city, we had stayed in Hotel Mirabelle which offered triple rooms and was walkable from the station. This was slightly out of our price range this time. Our search concentrated on hotels within our budget which included breakfast and were walkable from the main station so that we could get to the concert easily. We booked at Hotel Munich City which fulfilled both criteria but being west of the station was a slightly longer walk from the main part of the city – about 30 minutes stroll from Karlsplatz, 15-20 mins walk from the main station – than we’d have really liked and not quite close enough to the metro train system that it made using this instead of walking time efficient. Apart from this though, the hotel was fine for our needs. The room was on the small side but we didn’t spend much time in it anyway and breakfast was excellent!

Sightseeing in Munich

After booking our trip and doing some research on the city, we found that maybe we’d overestimated how much time we’d need in Munich as it’s quite a compact city with less touristy things to do – that appealed to us at least – than we’d thought. Therefore we decided to book a few trips out of the city to fill 2 of our full days there (I’ll review these is a separate post when I get the chance!).

Fountain at Karlsplatz
Karlsplatz Gate

Upon arrival at our hotel, our main priority was finding food. Being a Sunday evening, this wasn’t as straight forward as it sounds, especially when you’re two fussy eaters who don’t want to go near the various sausage-filled Bavarian cuisine most touristy restaurants that were open were offering!! While wandering around looking for somewhere that served food that we ate at a price we could afford, we found ourselves passing many of the city’s main squares. Karlsplatz and the shopping street leading from it’s gate, was familiar to me from my last visit although this time the huge fountain in the middle of the square was switched on. The square is surrounded by various shops and fast food restaurants and if you follow the subway escalator down you’ll find an underground mall with more eating and shopping opportunities.

After strolling down the high street from Karlsplatz, we found ourselves in Marienplatz, home of the Rethhaus or Townhall. This square is famous for its Glockenspiel Clock which chimes at certain times throughout the day. We arrived just in time to see its last display of the day. While it was fun to watch at first, it went on for a long time!!!

Off on a Segway Tour

We also wandered past Munich’s Cathedral with its twin towers and past Promenadeplatz, randomly the home of a Michael Jackson Memorial set up by fans in front of a hotel he once stayed at, before settling on L’Osteria restaurant for dinner, an Italian chain serving huge pizzas.

Our Segways lined up during a break in Englischer Garten

The next day, we had booked ourselves on a Segway Tour of the city with Fat Tyre Tours. We have taken segway tours in a few US citied over the last few years and always find them a fun way of seeing the highlights of a city. We figured we could return to anywhere that looked interesting after the tour had finished and spend more time there.

The 3.5 hour tour started at Karlsplatz and then took us up though the Old Botanic Gardens into Konigsplatz and past some of the city’s museums before a stop in Odeonsplatz to visit one of the beautiful Theatine Church and a ride around the courtyards of the Munich Residenz Palace. Later, we rode into the Englischer Garten Park where we stopped for coffee and watched surfers riding the ‘Munich Wave’ on the River Isar. We followed the river back into the main part of the city and battled our way past the busy Viktualienmarkt and Petersplatz before returning to Karlsplatz.

As well as getting to see a lot of the city in less time than it would have taken walking or using public transport, we also learnt a lot including where the famous ‘biergarten’ had originated from!!

After a lunch stop, we decided to return to the Viktualienmarkt area we’d earlier whizzed past and spend a bit of time going around the market and visiting it’s biergarten. The market is a great place to visit if you’re after some cheap souvenirs or want to grab some food and there was a great atmosphere at its busy biergarten.

The Biergarten in Viktualienmrkt

That was all we had time for in the city that day as we had to get ready to go over to the Olympic Park for the evening’s concert.  The Olympic Park can be reached easily by train from Odeonsplatz and is home to a few of the city’s tourist attractions.  It is where you need to head to if you’re into your cars and want to tour the BMW Factory and Museum and is also home to the TV Tower with it’s observation deck.  We had thought about heading out a bit earlier so we could go up to the observation deck but unfortunately, the weather took a turn for the worse and we decided there wouldn’t be much of a view at that point!

The Monopteros in Munich’s Englischer Garten

After spending the next 2 days doing trips out of the city, we had a few hours on the last morning of our trip to do some last minute sightseeing. With the rain finally stopping and the sun coming out, we decided to get the train to one of the stops near to the Englischer Garten and explore the park a bit more. We walked in to the park from the west side and followed the main path towards the Monopteros, a Greek style circular structure on top of a hill in the middle of the park.

We climbed up the hill to the tower and sat and enjoyed the sunshine and view across the park for a while before wandering through the park up to the large boating lake and past its biergarten. Before we knew it, it was time to return to the city centre and walk back to our hotel to collect our luggage before returning to the airport.

The boating lake in Englischer Garten

I’d enjoyed my trip to Munich and having more time to see the city this time around and would definitely recommend it as a short break destination!

Upcoming trip to Munich

So although a lot of my posts will be about trips I’ve been on over the last few years, there’s rarely a time that goes by when I’m not busily planning a new adventure. In fact, I’m currently planning 4! The first of which is a 4 night break in Munich, Germany!

One of the few photos I have from my previous trip to Munich!

I’m a huge pop music fan, especially late 90s/early 00s pop music. And I like going to concerts. A lot. So when I can tie in my passion for music with my passion for travel, I’m a very happy bunny! Just last week, I was in Sheffield on a city break during which I saw Take That in concert and at the end of 2017, I toured the UK seeing my favourite pop band, Steps, all over the country. But this year, I’m extra lucky as my favourite boyband, Backstreet Boys, are touring. Being an international band means the opportunity to see them outside of the UK. Over the years I have not only travelled throughout the UK and been to various cities in Europe to see them but tied in holidays to the USA and Australia with their concert dates just to make my trips that bit more exciting.

So this year, I’m going to a *few* shows, the first of which will be Munich in late May. I’ve been to Munich once before, funnily enough also to see Backstreet Boys in concert, but it was sandwiched in the middle of a 3 night trip also including Stuttgart and Leipzig so we spent less than 24 hours there and had very little time to sight-see. This time, I want to come away feeling like I actually got to know the city.

One of the few bits of Munich I saw on my last trip!

We’re flying hand-luggage only with a budget airline and staying in a budget hotel near the Hautbahnhof. Both were booked through expedia to get loyalty points to spend against future trips as well as through cashback site Quidco to reduce our costs. Our hotel rate includes breakfast and we’re hoping it’s the kind where we can sneak out a bread roll and a bit of cheese or ham to make our lunchtime sandwich too! Food-wise, Germany does slightly concern me – I don’t like German sausage, sauerkraut or apple strudel, my tastes in general are very plain. So we’ll probably end up looking for pizza or burgers rather than trying anything traditional!

We have a segway tour of the city planned for our first day. Segways are something I’d never considered in the past – in fact I thought the idea a bit of a waste thinking you’d be too busy whizzing around to actually see anything or take photos of anything – but since deciding to give it a go a few years ago, I’ve been hooked and we thought it would be a fun way of finding a bit out about the city and getting our bearings. Hopefully we’ll see some things we want to return to and spend more time at over the rest of our trip.

Rather than spending the entire time in Munich city itself, we also have some trips out planned, the first of which is a visit to the ‘Disney’ castle. We’ve booked this as an organised coach trip as getting there by public transport using trains and buses sounded a bit too complicated. This way, we’ll be picked up, taken by coach to the castle, given time to look around, taken to a second castle, given time to look around that one and then be driven back to Munich. At least that’s what the itinerary on the company website tells us. Hopefully it’ll run to plan just like that!

Not only will we not be spending our entire trip in Munich but on one of the days we’re planning on leaving Germany completely for a day trip to Salzburg, Austria. We thought long and hard about doing this as an organised trip vs using public transport and eventually decided to go it alone. We’ve pre-booked special tourist tickets – which were a lot cheaper than we expected them to be – which get us to and from Salzburg station, giving us about 8 hours there which will hopefully be enough to see a few of the main sights. We’re still in the early stages of planning this day and may look up a suggested walking route/one day itinerary to follow.

If you’ve visited Munich – or Salzburg – and have any tips, suggestions, must-sees etc then please let me know in the comments below!