It was an unexpected pleasure that I had ended up in the little-known historical city of Augsburg, Germany. Visiting Germany in the winter months has become a sort of an unplanned tradition for me, and despite being one of the largest cities in Bavaria I have yet to meet anyone that has actively travelled there, nor stumbled upon it during their time in the country.
I had come to this little gem, just a stones throw away from Munich, for work purposes, and so there was very little time to explore. But hey! That’s what evenings and early mornings are for… exploring.
With this being my third time in Germany I had some expectations; friendly people, giant beer glasses, a bratwurst dominated menu, Gothic architecture, and cold weather. I was mostly right and the main sites were worth bracing the cold weather in the afternoon!
Augsburg could easily be missed, but if you’ve run out of things to do in Munich then a half day/ day trip here wouldn’t be a mistake. Here are some of the highlights:
Leopoldo Mozart (Mozarts dad) was born in this humble home, tucked away in amongst surrounding shops and houses. Tours and audio guides are available for those who want to soak in as much information as possible.
Mozarthaus museum in Augsburg
Two words, night life. If you’re looking for somewhere to eat, party, dance, or drink then this is the street for it. Maximilianstrasse is full to the brim with excellent bars, restaurants, and necessary chip shops to soak up the German beer. Despite getting lost looking for the “Oyster Bar” which turned out to actually be called the “Auster bar” we had no trouble in finding dinner here.
Just some of the quirky menu options on Maximilianstrasse
3. Perlachturm Tower and Town Hall
The 70 metre tall ex-watchtower is a sight best viewed from one of the restaurants below in the square. Situated next to the Town Hall I recommend that you sit down for a snack or a beer and enjoy the view for a short while before continuing your tour of Augsburg. For a small fee (1 Euro for students) you can enter the town hall and learn a little more about he history of Augsburg.
Evening view of the town hall and the tower
4. Augsburg Cathedral
The enormous Roman Catholic Church is hard to miss. The architecture is so varied that our will be left questioning when on earth it was built.
5. Dorint Hotel Tower
Ok, so this may be considered an eye-sore to many, but if you can manage to get yourself up to the top then you will be presented with a view that is simply the best in Augsburg. I found the building itself to be quite interesting especially following some research on what it is and why it looks the way it does. This tower is known by locals as the ‘corncob’ and has a large open park at its base, perfect for a picnic or afternoon stroll.
The view from one of the Rooms in the tower that was being rented as an Air bnb for the week.
With little time to explore I sadly didn’t get to see much else in Augsburg, just enough for a half day visit.
If you have longer to stay in this lovely place then why not check out the highly rated Fuggerei, botanic gardens, or many interesting museums.
The decision of whether to stay in a hotel or not whilst on holiday is not usually at the forefront of many people’s minds. Most holiday goers will book their flights and then the top recommended hotel without even a second thought as to where else they could stay.
Why are so many of the population failing to remember that there are alternative, cheaper, more immersive and entertaining options available. Or maybe they just haven’t been informed yet. Well in that case, let’s begin.
Hotels: What are you paying extra for? Absolutely nothing.
If you enjoy late night strolls around a resort, listening to a British expat performing Whitney Houston Covers, and fighting other holiday makers for the sun lounger closest to the pool then hotels are definitely for you. Hotels are notoriously safer, and offer heightened security for families with private lockable rooms with en-suits and balcony areas. Great! But this is not the say that the same quality can’t be found elsewhere.
To offer some tangible evidence of what Hotels offer lets look at ibis hotels.
Whilst staying in an ibis hotel I couldn’t fault the breakfast service, the room, or anything else for that matter really. Although, the common area was less of a common area and more of a standard entrance area into the hotel.
Ibis hotels make good on the buffet breakfast and provide you with all your breakfasty needs from cereals to continental meats you’ve probably never thought to eat for breakfast.
This is all well and good you might say, but why oh why am I paying £50 – £100 (or more) a night. One person, one room, one bed, one breakfast, and you are asking for £60. Call me a cheapskate (because I am) but I say this pricing is totally unnecessary!
To be completely fair to ibis hotels, I searched the going rates across 10 countries in Europe, even ‘cheap’ countries and the prices were pretty similar across the board. Ibis hotels aren’t the only offenders of high prices for little in return, Premier Inn, Travel Lodge, Best Western, Hilton, Marriott… You name it, it was all a little too overpriced for me.
In my opinion, if anyone is paying £50-£80 per night, this is the least you should be asking for:
Sound Proof Walls
Breakfast and Dinner
A fun, free, functioning common room
Outdoor seating areas
Comfortable bed and en-suit
Tea and Coffee in your room
If your paying over £80 for a hotel room then firstly – what on earth are you thinking? And secondly, there had better be a huge heated pool and a sauna with onsite creche for the kiddies to play in.
Hostels: It’s not all doom and gloom
Once you understand that not all hostels are as grubby as they seem in the movies your holiday savings will increase, and your holiday experience will change forever.
Hostels are available in almost every country in the world, and at a fraction of the price of booking a hotel you’d be silly not to consider it. Some of the nicest places I have ever stayed have been hostels costing no more than £13 a night WITH breakfast included. For more information about what staying in a hostel is really like read Myth Busting: Hotels – To stay or not to Stay.
So, let’s address 3 of the main issues that people talk about when I suggest that they stay in a hostel.
1- “I don’t want to stay with 10 other people with no privacy or bathroom to myself.”
2- “It won’t be a safe environment for the kids to sleep in or to be able to walk around in.”
3- “I’m not sleeping in a dirty room where the sheets are gross and the bathroom smells”
I am happy to report that for the most part I have found none of this hearsay to be true. Read
Overall I have found hostels to be more welcoming, friendly, cleaner, entertaining, and helpful than any hotels I have previously stayed in. Private rooms are always a little pricier, but you get what you pay for after all. Booking is easy with sites like Hostelworld and HostelBookers offering a transparent efficient service to users.
Home Stays: Living like a local
Staying in someone else’s home can feel daunting, especially if the family are still in the vicinity during your visit. Unless you had selfish plans to trash the place there’s no reason to feel nervous at all, provided that you have done your research beforehand.
Me with my incredible host family in Nicaragua. 3 months together and we were part of the family.
Whilst in Vietnam we stayed in a host home – accidentally. The family had advertised their home on a hostel site. We were pleasantly surprised as, luckily, we got on well with the family. They were knowledgeable and friendly, and we learnt a lot from the experience.
Whilst some host family / home stays are advertised on the usual hostel sites your best bet is to head over to sites such as Homestay.com or simply type ‘host family stay’ into Google and check out the many country specific results available.
Another option is the increasingly popular Airbnb which offers a wide variety of options depending on your needs. You can rent a whole home, a room, or shared accommodation. The majority of places you find on Airbnb will be self catering, so you will miss out on the luxury meals you are used to at the hotel, but with thousands of yummy restaurants around every corner why not sample the real local cuisine in the streets. This also cuts out all of the moaning about the lack of diversity on the hotel menu.
When booking with Airbnb be sure to tick the ‘whole house’ option if you don’t fancy meeting the homeowners each day. Another mistake we made whilst in Paris was not ticking this. We didn’t mind ultimately, but we did find it strange that the owner was still at the house. That is, until we realised we hadn’t ticked the all important ‘home alone’ button.
Despite any booking errors we may have faced in the past, staying with a host family is always a very enriching experience. I’ll admit that it’s more of a solo traveller / couples travel option, but if children are welcome then why not just book the whole house instead for a fun family experience?
Will you take the plunge?
I think it’s clear to see that I am a hostel kind of girl. Be it a private room, or a communal room, it’s all good to me. Don’t forget to read my blog ‘Myth Busting: Hotels – To stay or not to Stay‘ for a real insight into why I view Hostels as being the best.
Next time you book your accommodation for your holiday perhaps you may take a step back and consider just how much you could save to spend on enjoying expensive foods or activities, rather than on the £100 room that you could have got for £20 elsewhere.
Flying into Berlin is a pain free, quick, and easy process that is truly reflective of that good old stereotypical German efficiency .
Shame about the train stations… The train stations that baffle and bewilder many a tourist ruin the efficiency illusion in an instant and, if you don’t speak German, will have you wishing that you had listened more in German class (if you even had the option to learn it).
Unless you have arranged a pickup, I strongly recommend that you research the route to your chosen destination BEFORE you get on the plane. If you are staying in Berlin then you will probably find that the S Bahn is your best option. Type your route into google maps and print it before you leave home. Google maps has a tendency to be rather incredible without shoving your stupidness in your face.
When to go:
Berlin is a city that can be visited all year round with no real limitations to activities due to weather conditions. Just bare in mind that if you want to climb a tall building (because there are so many here) to get a great view, this is not going to happen when it’s poring with rain or foggy outside.
Remember that Sunday afternoons and public holidays can be quieter, with many museums and shops being closed.
The currency is Euro. Berlin can be expensive in and around popular tourist sites. Despite this, it is easy enough to find cheap food if you venture into the suburbs. Kebab shops, burger stops and chippies are never more than a five minute pace away.
The Sbhan is the easiest way around the city. If underground trains aren’t for you then grab a map and explore on foot. Many attractions are close to each other so you shouldn’t have to walk too far between sights. Typical to most European cities, Berlin’s inhabitants do fall prey to telling tourists that “it’s too far to walk” and that they should “take the train because it’s faster and easier”. At least once I challenge you to ignore the nice citizen and go on foot to see if it really is too far. And if come back and it was too far… Well, I’m sorry and I’m sure you made memories that made it worth it anyway right!?
Things to do:
Reichstag dome – Tickets must be purchased online in advance of your visit or you will be refused entry. Allow 15-20 minutes to get through the quick security checks before you enter. Upon entering through the mini airport security you will be transported by an elevator up into the huge dome that sits on top of the reichstag. Audio guides are free and automatically feed you information as you scale higher and higher into the sky. If you are scared of heights you may want to think twice as the majority of the dome is glass, so not looking down is not really an option!
Brandenburg Gate & Around – The gate is situated near some of Berlin’s other main sights and is usually tourist heavy. Before heading here have a walk through the Jewish Monument situated a ten minute walk away. Both the gate and the monument make a big impression at night when the lights come on.
It is almost impossible to go to Berlin and not learn a little about the history it possesses. Going down to see the remaining wall is an interesting visit along with Checkpoint Charlie (be warned that it gets very crowded with tourists), and free museums such as the Topographie des Terror (a highlight of our trip).
Not so central – Venturing out of the centre is highly recommended. Just in the train and explore outer Berlin for some spectacular sights and entertaining things to do. Parks, museums, and more are easy to find.
A place to stay:
If you are looking for a decent place to stay then Plus Berlin Hostel is great. The hostel is by far the biggest hostel I’ve ever stayed in, and with a swimming pool, family friendly rooms, common rooms, restaurant, gardens and even its own art exhibition,it’s as though this hostel made love to a hotel and produced this huge beast. Staying in a dorm here was strange. The rooms were cleaned daily with cute chocolate pieces left on your pillow. Fresh towels were on the foot of the bed when you came back from a days adventures ( see! Just like a hotel right). The pool was a great addition. On one of the days when it was raining we opted for a swimming session which was totally worth it. The food was reasonable for dinner, and the all you can eat breakfast buffet was delicious. Every smart traveller knows – get up a little later and make the buffet a brunch instead of a breakfast for optimum money saving.
Vibes- The general vibe in Berlin is a friendly yet equally standoffish vibe. Kind of like London but with less rushing and more chit chatting. An example of the humour and lightheartedness of Berlin was when I asked a guy if he would take a photo of us. He joked saying that he could not… I didn’t get the joke and stood apologising for even asking, embarrassed. My boyfriend, the comedian, and his friend found it hilarious and laughed at my expression.
Bears, green men, and red women-
If you really pay attention to your surroundings you will notice things that people often miss. Sadly for the unobservant (and I’ve asked around) many people return from Berlin having not seen a single bear statue. Considering its significance here it is sad that they have not one photo or memory of seeing one. Sadly, these same people also have no idea what I’m taking about when I ask them what they thought of the traffic light people. They stare at me blankly… “There are entire shops dedicated to the little people inside the traffic lights! How could you miss them?!” It turns out they just weren’t looking hard enough. Therefore, my recommendation is to pay close attention.
Berlin for me is a standard city of art, culture, history, business and pleasure. Personal preference sways me to feel no real urge to return. A controversial feeling I am aware. Personally, having seen Potsdam, Dresden and Bonn I find that I prefer these smaller jewels for reasons of which I’m not quite sure. But why does it matter? Make up your own mind and get to travelling!
Before jumping aboard the “couples travel” train I was quite against the idea of exploring with anyone other than myself. Why exactly? I’m not quite sure. I guess there is a common misconception that travelling alone means that you have more freedom of choice. I have learnt from travelling with a partner that this is (thankfully) not necessarily true, and that travelling with a partner can actually cause you to end up going to places you love that you had you been alone wouldn’t otherwise have gone to.
Here is what traveling with him has taught me:
1) You should always, always, always pack an extra day bag. Our first trip away together was to Rome. It was a dream for the following reasons. Whilst we explored… A) I carried my stuff. B) He carried his stuff. The end.
By the second trip away together however, we had obviously got comfortable with each other because well, let’s just say that if I have to carry his stuff because he forgot to pack a spare bag AGAIN then there will be trouble.
Now every time we plan a trip and start packing my first conversation with him is “have you packed a spare bag” to which his answer is usually “na, I’ll just carry my stuff in my hands”… (what he means is, “no i’ll butter you up and you’ll be carrying my stuff before you know it”
Dead set against going to Disney I moaned as he pressured me into coming with him. (By pressured I mean that he bought tickets and I thought meh it’s free why not.) When we arrived at Disney Land I absolutely transformed into a huge child. It became less about him geeking out, and more about me wanting to have a photo taken with Mickey Mouse and watch the princess show. Our time there was nothing short of FUN. Possibly the most fun ever.
The Olympic Stadium also hadn’t appealed to me. Being the supportive girlfriend that I am I said yes. It’s only fair that you both get to see things you enjoy right? Although it wasn’t quite as thrilling as Disney World I had to admit that the stadium was an impressive site, and I left there happy to have seen it in the flesh.
Disney For Life
3) You will become a pro at masking your embarrassment (usually to do with his bad habits) and, at lying to other travellers to cover your partners back. I won’t go into too much detail here, but when your sharing a dorm in a hostel and your other half blocks the toilet, in one of the coolest and cleanest hostels ever, because “the plumbing is different than England”… you will find yourself pretending you know absolutely nothing about it. “Yea I know it’s gross, it was like that when we got here” you will say to the desperate, tired travellers who really need to pee but can’t. Your boyfriend will smile at you in solidarity, and you will never speak of it again. Until the next blockage. (Or you decide to write about it in your blog) – sorry Irfan ❤️
4) You will always end up playing the role of 1) the head of logistics 2) linguistic guide and, 3) chief ideas generator.
“I’m taking you somewhere” he will say beaming from ear to ear. You will arrive in the country of his choice and await his instructions on where to go from the airport. Only to be greeted with “how are we getting to the hostel?”
This truly is when you realise how much you like them, because if you didn’t you would probably just walk away and make your own way there without them.
Being the loving person that you are you will get your phone out, google maps the data right out of your phone, walk up to random strangers and ask for directions in your best GCSE level French – all whilst he tags along behind you until a solution is found.
Note that he WILL make the trip excellent. He just won’t make the journey from the plane to the hostel an easy process.
Sometimes getting lost leads to the Louvre!
5) You learn how to live with them.
For couples that don’t already live together, travelling with a partner is an excellent test of whether or not you would survive/ put up with/ work well living together. Whether you are travelling for a weekend, a month, or longer seeing how you both cope in stressful situations is a great indication of how you will function as time goes on.
Lucky for us we have found that travelling together is no issue as long as you give each other space sometimes. Whilst on our travels we have met every kind of couple. The ‘glued at the hips’, the ‘I’ll go my way and they’ll go theirs’, the ‘this relationship only works at homes’… We have seen it all.
I’m not saying that we are ‘couple of the year’ (although we come pretty close) but one thing we have definitely learnt is that when you respect each others boundaries and let each other do their own thing, travelling together is easy and fun.
Tips: Exploring Thailand? had enough of staying in dorm rooms? Treat both yourselves to a private villa when in Thailand by staying Villa Varich in Chumphon.
Vietnam: Separate motorbikes, same shared experience.
Ask anyone that knows me and they will tell you that fashion is not something I consider as a priority. That’s why when I’m travelling I’m more than happy to embrace local dress or copy the ‘quirky backpackers’ in the hostel’s fashion choices. I look like an idiot in many a photo, but I strongly recommend you try these fashion ideas out whilst exploring… Here are some tried and tested items.
When in… South East Asia:
Printed trousers (also known as ‘Gap Yah Pants’) – These are the epitome of backpacker fashion and scream “I have a care free attitude’ to all the non shoestring budget travellers. They’ve got zero stretch, making the most basic activities hard, but who cares when you look this cool ?!
Hippy Head Scarf/Wrap – So you were at the vegan hostel for a night and now you think you’re a Greenpeace representative? You bought a cool hippy scarf and you’re ready to show the world how organic you are with your head wrapped in a multicoloured cloth. Yeah, it will probably never see the light of day after your trip… but it makes an excellent sweat band in the ridiculously humid temperatures. Plus you look like a lovely free spirit.
When in… South America :
Never before worn hiking boots – There’s always that one backpacker that’s hobbling behind the rest of the gang because they didn’t wear their boots in. Despite the pain they will carry on because they look super outdoorsy and adventurous. If you’re nice you’ll give them the blister plasters your mum told you would “come in handy”.
When in… any country in the world:
Universally accepted alcohol advertisement shirts – When I went to Tanzania advertising the local beer ‘Tusker’ (hilarious as I wasn’t even old enough to drink yet). It may have been the elephant on the front, or the slogan “baada ya kazi” (enjoy your drink) written on the back that made me so compelled to buy it. Regardless, I bought it, and 8 years later I still have it, along with multiple other beer shirts from other global locations. The funny thing is. I don’t drink beer. Weird right?
Bracelet heaven. Forgotten what your wrists look like? Me too. When you get bored of buying magnets for your eclectic fridge it’s time to switch to bracelets. The best part is being able to tell a story about your travels to all those who admire them. The worst part is when you lose one or it falls off. When my Tanzanian bead bracelet snapped in a hostel in Germany I may have had a little cry in the middle of the dorm 👀.
When in… Europe:
The borrowed life guard jacket – All you need to know is that I borrowed one, did a slow motion Baywatch run down the beach, had a photo, pretended to be a life guard, freaked out when a kid hurt himself and thought I could help him, and gave the jacket back. Why wouldn’t you get one?
Socks and sandals – You know it’s a bad look when people would rather see your bare feet than what you are currently displaying to the world… Let me just clarify one thing. I do not endorse this look. Especially if you have sandals that go in between your toes. How do you even grip the shoe??? Anyway, if you are a wearer of the sock and sandal. I salute you for your courage, but I do not applaud you.
Whatever your quirky travel fashion choices are, continue to embrace them as I continue to observe, laugh, and join in!
Getting in: Arriving in Croatia was a complicated mess of passport control, unoccupied help desks and tourists eager to get into the country before the other tourists. Luckily the airport is small and getting lost in it would require considerable effort on your part. If you are staying in or near the Old Town then work your way (unaided by no one other than equally baffled tourists) to the bus ticket shop.
The shuttle bus takes you down the beautiful coastline from a great height. Eventually after fretting over your drivers ability to drive on the edge of a cliff you will gain an incredible view of (cue Game of Thrones music) King’s Landing!!!! – I mean, The Old Town. At 40 croation kuna for a one way ticket this is the best way to head into town from the airport.
When to go: April was a strange time of year. With not many tourists around it was great to be able to walk round without having thousands of people pushing you out of the way or photobombing every shot. In the evenings however the atmosphere in Lapad, Gruz and other surrounding areas was non existent. The locals were all at home and, the tourists seemed to have gone to bed. Perhaps summer is the better time to experience night life.
Money: Anything within the walls of the Old Town is expensive so we ventured a little outside of the vicinity for cheaper goods. Most places accepted Kuna and Euro. When paying with Euro we learnt to expect to receive change in a well calculated (yet highly confusing) mix of Euro and Kuna.
Getting around: Bus tickets can be purchased on the bus for 15kuna or at a ticket shop. We were tipped off that if you buy the ticket from a shop the price is 12kuna. Score! Money saved!!
The transport staff were notably miserable I’m sorry to say. We found no word of politeness from any transport staff. Whilst we knew that they owed us nothing, it was still a shock to be grunted at every time we jumped on the bus.
If you were slow entering or exiting the bus you would be either left behind or shut in the bus doors ( I was shut in the doors no fewer than two times ).
Fun Activities and things to do:
Walk the walls – If stairs are your thing then head for the walls and keep walking up. You will need to pay to do this and your fitness will need to be at a good level to get up the never ending steps. If you don’t fancy climbing your way into an asthma attack then opt for staying at ground level and following the wall around from the lower levels.
Cable Car –
How Long: Fast and Furious – If you intend to take day trips to Montenegro or Bosnia ( p.s. 1 day in Bosnia is not enough) then consider 5-6 days. If you are just intending to stay in Dubrovnik then 4 days in perfect.
Slow and Steady – If you tend to spend an hour or two a day people watching, or drinking a bottle of wine at dinner then you may want to add a day onto the fast and furious itinerary.
4 Day ITINERARY
Day 1. Arrive midday to see the old town lit up. Find somewhere on the Main Street for dinner before heading to your hotel. The further away from the main street, the cheaper the food – is a good general rule to go by.
Day 2. Grab a bus to Pile gate, walk around the back of the fortress and jump aboard the cable car. You can spend a good few hours exploring up here. Have breakfast in the restaurant before looking around the museum taking selfies and staring into the distance. Head back down before lunch and walk to the old town. You can spend the entire afternoon and evening here trekking in and out of the hidden alleys. Gasp at the Game of Thrones locations, walk the walls and marvel at the curious items in the museums. In the evening you can stay in the old town or head to Lapad for a quiet meander and a drink.
Day 3. Islands are on the itinerary for today. If you want to see a few then opt for the three island tour. A less common (and less rushed idea) is to grab a boat to Lokrum island. Lokrum is a beautiful diverse island full of peacocks and rabbits. Wear your swimming costume under our clothes if you intend to swim in the mini cove on the island. Stroll around the monastery, botanical gardens and park before scrambling through the rock pools. You can also find the Iron Throne which is somewhat of a hidden gem as there is little advertisement to suggest it is even on the island! Following your visit to Lokrum head to the old town to revisit any areas you missed on the previous day.
Day 4. If you aren’t planning any onward travel or day trips use today to take the three island tour or a day trip to Cavtat. Enjoy the Game of Thrones Scenery, the crystal blue waters and, the historic fortress. Have an incredible time in Dubrovnik.