Arriving into the port of Heraklion quite a few hours later than planned due to ferry delays, we made the short walk to our city apartment block which would be our island base for the next 4 nights. With darkness already descending outside, we walked into the town centre to grab something to eat from a Greek fast food-style restaurant before returning for a quiet night in.
Wanting to see as much of Crete as possible, we had chosen Heraklion due to its central position on the north coast of Crete and had made plans to take excursions to different parts of the island from here over the next few days.
First up was a trip to West Crete. We were met by a company representative at a pick up point close to our accommodation the next morning and driven to a main road where we joined a coach load of people already on board.
Being the most westerly pick up point that day meant we were last on – the positive of that being we hadn’t had to get up too early and hadn’t spent hours sat on board making stop after stop picking up more passengers, the negative that it was a full coach and the last few seats were at opposite ends of the bus from each other.
Taking the last seat in the middle of the very back seat between two sets of strangers wasn’t ideal, especially as it seemed they’d been some of the first to board and had therefore been up since the early hours. Unable to keep there eyes open, I found my shoulders regularly becoming cushions for them to rest upon!
It was still a couple of hours drive from Heraklion to our first stop in the city of Chania. The journey was broken up with a convenience stop at a roadside cafe and our guide kept us entertained with an informative commentary as we travelled.
Once in Chania, we were given a decent amount of free time to explore although it was lunch time and when we factored in finding somewhere to eat, this did drain into our time to explore quite a bit.
From the coach park, we made our way through the pretty narrow streets at the back of the town and then out to the main square where a former Mosque (now used as an exhibition space) stood right on the water’s edge. We made our way around the sea wall out towards Chania lighthouse in the distance, from where there were impressive views of Chania’s beautiful Venetian harbour.
This turned out to be a longer walk than we’d anticipated forcing us to turn back just before reaching the lighthouse itself and make our way back to the seafront. Lined with shops an restaurants, the promenade was bustling with seas of tourists enjoying the sunshine and pretty views.
We chose one of the many restaurant cafes to sit out at and ordered some toasties and drinks and then it was time to walk back towards the Venetian fortress which was our maker for finding the coach again.
An hour later we reached the second stop of the day, Lake Kournas. For those who could hold out for food, our guide had recommended eating here at one of the restaurants with a rooftop patio overlooking the lake but apart from hunger, we had had another reason for wanting to eat in Chania – we wanted to hire a pedalo during our free time at the lake!!
This was a really pretty spot with the bright blue water of the lake surrounded by mountains.
Not wanting to hire the boats for the full hour being advertised, we took our guide’s advice to haggle with the vendors for a deal on a shorter amount of time and we soon found ourselves clambering into a pedal-powered boat and setting off for the middle of the lake.
As well as being a lot of fun, this was a great way to get some beautiful views of the lakeshore.
Once back on dry land, we wandered along the shore, looked in some of the souvenir stores and grabbed an ice cream from one of the cafes before it was time to board the coach again.
It was just half an hour to our final stop of the day, another town with a Venetian port, Rethymnom. Here, we again wandered through pretty back streets past shops, restaurants and cafes and out onto the seafront with its Venetian-style harbour.
Whether it was because it was early evening – and therefore quieter – or not, but I liked Rethymnom more than Chania as it felt less touristy. We spent the last few minutes enjoying the atmosphere around the pretty harbour before boarding the coach one last time.
As we were last pick up that day, we were first drop off at the end. Instead of being dropped back in Heraklion itself, we once again found ourselves at the side of a busy main road where we were met by a driver to take us back into town.
The day had finished slightly earlier than we’d expected giving us plenty of time to walk up to the main square in Heraklion where we found an Italian restaurant for a pizza dinner before returning to our apartment.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!