Top 17 Tourist Attractions in London

If you’re coming to London it’s really hard not to be a tourist for at least a day or two. Even after spending months and months living there, I still enjoyed putting on my tourist hat and venturing to different tourists shops and attractions from time to time. However, London is absolutely full of tourist attractions. I had the luxury of time on my side when it came to trying out these attractions but if you only have one or two weeks then it can be a littler harder to narrow down your choices. Hopefully this list of MY top 17 tourist attractions in London can help you plan a little better, especially if you’re into the broad range of interests like myself.

Tip: Use WalletFlo for all your credit card needs. It’s free and will help you optimize your rewards and savings!

17. Hyde Park (Free-£)

Hyde Park, one of the largest parks in London, is a great place to go for a nice walk and get a little relaxation from the city life for a bit. Together with Kensington Gardens it encompasses 253 hectares (625 acres) and while a bit smaller than Central Park in New York, it’s still pretty easy to find some solitude in this park, at least momentarily. If you’re in the mood to expend a little bit of energy then consider renting pedal boats for about £10 on the Serpentine for an hour or so and enjoy the scenery from the lake. Check the events calendar to see if anything interesting is coming up and consider stopping by Speakers’ Corner, a traditional site of public speeches and protests since the mid 1800s.

Hyde Park
Hyde Park

16. The National Gallery (Free)

The National Gallery in London is one of the best places in Europe to see tons of renowned art work. Come here to see Van Gogh’s famous Sunflowers (the most famous of the bunch he painted) and some other works of his as well. There’s also tons of Rembrandt and works from countless other famous artists like Johannes Vermeer and Titian. Apart from the art, the building’s architecture, both inside and out, is also a site worthy of a visit on its own.

Van Goghs famous Sunflowers

15. Big Ben and Westminster Palace (Free)

If there’s one thing you’ve got to see while you’re vacationing in London its Big Ben, right? Make your way to the Westminster Tube Station and step on out and bam! Big Ben is right in your face! Take a stroll across the River Thames on Westminster Bridge as you listen to the bell’s echo from inside the clock tower and feel like you’ve officially made it to London. This area is usually filled to the brim with tourists about 99% of the time so be prepared for swarms of people. However, I’ve found it to be relatively calm to visit it at night when far fewer people are around so consider an evening visit for a less stressful experience.

Big Ben London at night

14. The British Library (Free)

The British Library might not be at the top of your list but it should definitely be a strong contender for a place to see in London, especially if you’re even remotely interested in history. It’s free to get in and the place is full of fascinating documents like the Magna Carta, original Shakespeare print books, original music sheets from greats like Mozart and Bach, works from the Beatles, and even Leonardo da Vinci’s notebook. That’s just a small fraction of what there is to see there and if you catch an exhibit at the right time, you can see a lot of other cool stuff (we saw Thomas Jefferson’s copy of the Declaration of Independence alongside an original copy of the Bill of Rights).

Sculpture outside The British Library
Magna Carta The British Library

13. Take a double-decker bus (£)

When you think of London these big red busses are probably one of the first things that spring to your mind. While you’re in the city you might as well take advantage of a great (and cheap) way to take in the scenery. (Go straight up to the second deck and try to sit in the front row for the best views.) Sure, you can always go for the hop-on-hop-off busses but taking one of the official red busses will allow you to get up close with some real Londoners and it’s a great way to people watch as you navigate through the busy streets of London. The bus fare is only £1.50 and they accept Oyster Cards, contactless payments, and even Apple Pay making it very convenient for tourists.

Red double-decker bus London

12. Watch a West End Show (££-£££)

London’s great theatre scene is one of the best in the world. There are numerous theaters available for you to choose from and countless plays to see like Wicked, Stomp, The Phantom of the Opera, and my favorite, The Lion King. I’ve actually seen the Lion King in both New York and London and I think that both are equally spectacular. West End shows are going to cost you a pretty penny usually but in some cases you can find reasonable rates for the tickets, all depending on where you want to sit of course.

The Lion King - Lyceum Theatre
The Lion King – Lyceum Theatre. Photo by Andy Roberts

11. Tower Bridge (Free-£)

To many, Tower Bridge is the most famous bridge in the world. It’s one of the many iconic sites around the city and is always a great place to take a few memorable photos. Built in the late 1800s, it was originally considered an eye sore to many locals but as time went on, the love for the bridge began to grow. Today, you can go inside the bridge and walk across the glass floor walkway for only about £8 — it’s an interesting experience and offers you a slightly dizzying view of the River Thames below and panoramic views of the London skyline. If you’re not interested in going inside the bridge, then try to plan your visit for a time when the bridge will be opening for ships to pass through, it only happens a few times a week so witnessing it is a pretty cool feat.

Tower bridge London
Tower Bridge London

10. Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio (££)

So if you’re not a Harry Potter fan then this option may not excite you much and there’s nothing I can really do for you. However, if you are a Harry Potter fan then you really can’t turn down the option of going to see the Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio Tour because it will blow your mind. This “studio” is more of a Harry Potter museum to me and it’s chock-full of thousands of props, amazing sets like Diagon Alley, and full of a bunch of inside info on the Harry Potter movies. Make sure to get you some butterbeer and maybe a chocolate frog or two before you leave but be weary of overpriced gift shop at the end! Tickets start at £25-33 for children/adults.

Diagon Alley Harry Potter London
Weasleys Dining room Harry Potter tour London

9. The London Eye (£)

London Eye

There are a number of options for you to get a great view of the city of London. You’ve got the Shard, Tower Bridge, The London Eye, and a great deal of other options around the city. While the “Coca-Cola” London Eye is about as touristy as it gets, I still give it the nod because of the great shots you’re afforded of Big Ben and Westminster Palace — I’m not aware of any other easily accessible views as good as this one, though they may be out there. A full rotation on the Eye takes about 30 minutes so you have more than plenty of time to take in and photograph your views, and if you’re feeling the need to splurge on champagne or chocolate, there are plenty of options for you to do so here. But if you just want to keep it simple, tickets start at about £20.

The Shard London

8. The Natural History Museum (Free)

The Natural History Museum is a perfect destination to bring the family to. But even if you don’t have kids, it’s still a great place to entertain yourself for a few hours as you discover fully assembled dinosaur remains, massive whales skeletons suspended from the ceiling, intricate displays of birds and creepy-crawlies, and get a taste of what a real-life earthquake feels like while standing in a quivering mini-market. And the best part is: the museum is free. The museum is home to over 80 million items so you don’t need me to tell you that there’s a lot to see here. Try to allocate between 2-3 hours if you really want to see a lot of it, though if you’re a science lover you might still need more time than that.

Outside Natural History Museum London
Dinosaur Bones Natural History Museum London

7. Westminster Abbey (Free-£)

This iconic building is one of the most beautiful structures in the entire city of London. The history of the site dates all the way back to the 11th century when Edward the Confessor founded it in 1065. Everything about the place has an almost scared feel to it. It’s been home to every Coronation since 1066, 16 royal weddings, and it’s where thousands of prominent British figures have been buried, including 17 monarchs. There’s a lot to see inside including St. George’s Chapel, the portrait of Richard II (the oldest surviving portrait of a British Monarch, the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, plenty of other memorial sites, along with the stunning Gothic architecture. Tickets for tours will run you £20 for adults and you can book online.

Outside Westminster Abbey London

6. Day trip to Stonehenge (£)

If you’re coming to London for a week or so and you’re interested in doing a day trip there are more than plenty of options. There’s Oxford, Bath, and any number of small towns and villages you can check out only about an hour or two away. If you’re into “wonders of the world” type attractions then consider giving Stonehenge a visit. I’ve got some tips for visiting Stonehenge but the best word of advice I have is to do your best to read up on the history of the site and try to get yourself excited about seeing such a mysterious and legendary structure. Otherwise, you may fall victim to the “it’s just a bunch of rocks” mindset. Also, try to book an inner-circle private tour if you can spare the extra £ because your experience will be much more intimate with the “Henge.” Standard tickets start at about £15.


5. Fish-n-chips/Pubs (£)

This one is a given but you’ve got to try to make sure that you give yourself the opportunity to try some good ole fashion British fish and chips while you’re here. I tried at least a handful of places over the year’s time that I was in England and just about any pub I tried them at in London left me pretty satisfied  (the meat pies are always a solid option as well).

British fish and chips with peas

In addition to feasting on fish and chips do your best to try to experience one of the over 7,000 pubs in the London area. The pub culture is really something that sets London/Britain apart from many other places in the world and is a major part of London’s charm. You may notice that people are always at the pub, especially from about 4-7 when many of the pubs have lads lining the exterior of the pub because there isn’t any room inside. That’s how dedicated Britons are to their pubs.  Try your luck by just hopping into the nearest pub or check out some of the top pubs in London.

4. Catch a game at Wembley Stadium (££-£££)

Wembley Stadium is a brilliant stadium and one of the coolest venues I’ve ever watched a sporting event at. I didn’t manage to catch a soccer (football) game there but I did catch an NFL game and it was a really cool experience. Fans from all the different teams showed up and it created a unique sporting atmosphere. We were there to see the Dallas Cowboys take on the Jacksonville Jaguars but a lot of people were there just to rep their team (in full game-day attire). If you’re visiting in the fall and you’re an NFL fan, then I highly recommend you attending one of these games! (Just try to get your seats a little early because the prices can get a little high.)

Wembley Stadium

3. Buckingham Palace (Free-££)

Checking out Buckingham Palace and the changing of the guard may be one of the most quintessential London things there is to do (for tourists, that is). When you visit the Palace, take a look to see if the flag is flying on top of the palace — if it is that means the Queen is home. If the Queen happens to be out and about then you can actually arrange a tour of the state rooms and the Queen’s Gallery for about £35. Not looking to drop the extra quid on a tour? Then take the free option and check out which days you can witness the changing of the guard ceremony, always starting at 11:30 am.

Royal Gibraltar Regiment Soldiers Take Part in Changing the Guard Ceremony at Buckingham Palace
Photo by UK Ministry of Defence

2. The British Museum (Free)

The British Museum is one of the finest museums in the world and one of my all time favorites. And once again, it’s yet another free attraction in London! The highlights of my trip to the British Museum were seeing the Greek Parthenon marbles, the Rosetta Stone, and the Easter Island statue. Of course, there were hundreds of other remarkable exhibits including Egyptian, Roman, and Asian artifacts so whatever your appetite is for history it will likely be appeased here. This place is very busy during the day and on weekends, though, so try to plan your visit for early in the morning if you want to a little bit of time to enjoy the exhibits in peace.

British Museum
Rosetta Stone

1. The Tower of London (£)

The Tower of London is a must-see destination for anyone coming to London, even if you’re not into touristy destinations. That’s because there’s so much history in these walls that it’s hard to imagine not stopping by it for at least some time. If you pay to go in (about £20) you’ll have the chance to follow along on an official Beefeater tour as they take you by Traitor’s Gate and old execution sites. You’ll also get a chance to see the astonishing display of the Crown Jewels, which is a brilliant collection of crowns, sceptres, and spoons (Coronation spoons — they’re kind of a big deal). In addition to that, it’s a great feeling to just  walk along the castle walls like people have done for hundreds of years and ponder all the rich history of this site that dates back to the 11th century. If you’re planning way ahead, then look into booking a slot at the Ceremony of the Keys, a nightly ceremony that’s been going on every night for over 700 years! Not many tourists find out about the ceremony until it’s too late for them to book, so be sure to get on it if you’re interested.

Tower of London

Should You Drive in Lisbon, Portugal? Probably Not.

Every once in a while, we find ourselves in a sticky situation. A situation where we’re not sure how we got there and would really like to get out. Driving in Lisbon, Portugal on a busy sunny weekend was one of those situations. If you are thinking about renting a car and driving through the streets of Lisbon then please consider the advice in this post.

Tip: Use WalletFlo for all your credit card needs. It’s free and will help you optimize your rewards and savings!

Driving in Lisbon

First, let me just say that I didn’t do any of the driving — our car was manual and I’ve yet to teach myself how to work such a thing so my SO Brad handled the wheel while I was busy recording footage out the window with our GoPro. Brad’s a very efficient and experienced driver. In fact, he’s one of the best drivers I know. With that said, driving through Lisbon was still an overall “nightmarish” experience for both of us.

Road to Lisbon Portugal

Arriving in Lisbon

We first arrived in Lisbon from the south, over the 25 de Abril Bridge bridge — you know the beautiful bridge that looks exactly like the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. It’s a hell of a way to make your entrance into Lisbon, with great views of the surrounding bay/river. Everything was pretty good up to that point. And really, things were still okay once we made it across the bridge.

Bridge at Lisbon Portugal

Our first destination was to find Pasteis de Belem, so we turned west right off from the bridge. This area in Lisbon was totally tolerable from a traffic standpoint. While I found that they did drive quite aggressively in Lisbon, there wasn’t a very high concentration of crazy drivers or pedestrians in the west area of the city.

Busy street at Lisbon Portugal

We even easily found open parking very near to Pasteis de Belem and were able to park our car and then walk about the area and admire some of the colorful architecture. It was still relatively early, about 10-11am, so the streets weren’t congested too bad, though the line at Pasteis de Belem was already waayyy out of the building.

Buildings in Lisbon Portugal
Buildings in Lisbon Portugal

After we had a little breakfast, we decided to check out the really interesting part of Lisbon: Old Town Lisbon. This is where all of the amazing castles, viewpoints, and awesome hills are. Little did we know, things were about to get really hectic.

The madness begins

Trolly in Lisbon Portugal

As we began to approach the hilly side of Lisbon, the lanes became narrower and we soon found ourselves navigating a labyrinth of tight corners, alleyways, busy pedestrian crossings, clamoring cable cars, and tuk-tuks. The drivers became much more aggressive in this part of town. We got cut off, yelled at, honked at, and received a bunch of crazy stares as we fought for survival. It was every man or woman for themselves.

The thing was, this seemed like just another Saturday in Lisbon, not too much out of the ordinary. It was stressfull and pretty annoying but we still maintained our composure, at least for a while.

Things became a bit unravelled at one point when we got stuck behind a pile of cable cars that weren’t moving at all. The worst part: we were in the middle of a really busy intersection! Herds of pedestrians were weaving through the intersection, in front of us and in back so we couldn’t move. Cars were laying on their horns. Bells were ringing. People were shouting.

At this point, the honking and defensive gesturing had gone on long enough, so I jumped out of the car and actually started to direct traffic.  Looking like Chris Pratt out of Jurassic World, I stood out in the middle of the street and forced pedestrians to hold and signaled for a line (yes, an entire of line of bumper-to-bumper vehicles that were behind us) of cars  to back the f*** up and  let us get out!

(It’s really too bad I didn’t have the GoPro running for all this.)

The crazy thing is that the people actually listened to me. One by one, the cars slowly moved back. The pedestrians waited patiently. And once there was as little as an inch for us to break free, we darted down some tight roads not even trying to get the GPS to work and just hoped to find somewhere where we would decompress (and maybe chug a pitcher or two of sangria). The only problem was that we needed to stop to do so and so our quest to find parking in Lisbon began.

We drove, and drove, and drove, looking for parking and found nothing! The parking lots were all full. And not just full, but jam-packed to the point that if you entered into a lot it was pretty much the land-of-no-return and you weren’t going to be able to get out. The streets were lined with vehicles for what seemed like miles. And what made it worse is the whole time you’re looking for non-existent parking, you’re also trying to avoid collisions with cable cars and a bunch of drivers who are zipping through the streets like they’re trying avoiding the policia.

A parallel parking spot, on a steep incline, with only enough room to fit a slim stack of Euros between the cars.

Calm area of Lisbon Portugal
A calm section of Old Town

However, we finally did find parking about a mile and a half further from where we were originally planning to park. Even this spot was a challenge. A parallel parking spot, on a steep incline, with only enough room to fit a slim stack of Euros between the cars. Luckily, we squeezed right in, half of our vehicle hanging up on the curb. The entire process had only lasted about an hour but it was the most stressful hour we’d experienced in Portugal by far.

Once we finally got out of our car we made sure to make the most of our time and resorted to walking everywhere so we didn’t have to go through that experience any longer. And while we weren’t able to catch a ride on a cable car, we did very much enjoy walking around the city — it’s definitely a great place to stroll around and with the hills and cable cars clamoring around, it reminded me of San Francisco.

Lisbon Portugal

So that was our driving experience in Lisbon…. I do want to say that we only spent one day driving in Lisbon so it could’ve been just a crazy day or we could’ve just gotten really unlucky and it may not always be so crazy. However, from other research that I’ve done, Lisbon just seems like a tough place to get around in a vehicle. With all that said here are a few pointers if you’re considering driving in Lisbon:

Tip: Use WalletFlo for all your credit card needs. It’s free and will help you optimize your rewards and savings!

Try to avoid driving in Old Town

Driving in the Algarve was fine and even driving outside of Old Town Lisbon was okay. Therefore, I recommend that if you must drive in Lisbon, try to park away from Old Town and then make your way into Old Town via cab, bus, tram, or just resort to walking.

Try to avoid weekend driving

It’s very possible that given the beautiful conditions and the fact that it was a Saturday, we were just asking for crazy conditions in Lisbon for driving. I know plenty of other cities that also become nightmares for parking and such on weekends, so maybe if you can swing driving in the middle of the week, it won’t be so bad?

Only try this if you know you can handle it

Only attempt driving in Old Town if you’re comfortable. For some, it may not be as bad of an experience. There are some areas that aren’t heavily congested and are a lot of fun to ride through. And even amidst all the pandemonium, looking back it was still kind of fun so if you like really adventurous stuff you might actually enjoy it a bit. However, if you’re the type who really doesn’t deal well with stressful driving conditions, then Old Town Lisbon is not the place for you to drive because those brief moments of calmness are outweighed by the craziness.

Be aggressive

Be aggressive. This is the only way you’re going to find parking and not have to waste a lot of time getting stuck because of inconsiderate drivers. If you’re from a part of the world where drivers regularly offer to give you room to pull out or to make your life a little easier, that’s likely not going to happen here.

Don’t rely too much on your navigation system

Don’t rely too much on your navigation system. Our navigation system, while rock-solid in the Algarve, was going mad due to the maze of streets we were trying to work through. It proved to pretty much be useless when we got to the really densely populated parts of Old Town. You’re better off relying on manual GPS tracking or even a paper map.

Remember where you’re parked

Take extra time to remember where you parked if you ended up finding a parking spot in some random side-alley among the maze of streets. It’s really easy to lose track of where you parked in those areas. And if you just really want to park in the one of the lots close to the famous lookout points located around the city then my suggestion is to make it to Old Town at like 8am and stake out your parking spot so that you can have it for the the day (assuming you can park there that long).

I hope I’m not making it sound like the Portuguese are A-holes because they were absolutely great people with an amazing culture. I think their driving, which was crazy to us, is simply “just the way they do things.” They’re not trying to be rude to you, so try not to take offense when you get cut off by car after car who feel no need to use their turn signal and just enjoy your time in Lisbon. After all, it’s one of the most beautiful cities in the world, even if driving there is a bit absurd.

The Top Five Best Beaches to Visit in the Algarve, Portugal

Whether you have one week or only a weekend to explore the Algarve, you’ll find that you’ll have plenty of time to see some of the top beaches. On our recent trip to the Algarve we really only had about one full day to get out and explore but I felt like we were able to see many of the top sights there. We’d just spent months living in the cold and cloudy UK and the sun in southern Portugal felt like a warm slice of heaven every day we were there, especially at the beaches.  So here’s a breakdown of the top 5 best beaches to visit in the Algarve (the first two destinations aren’t exactly beaches but they are coastal destinations worth your time!).

National flag of Portugal

Tip: Use WalletFlo for all your credit card needs. It’s free and will help you optimize your rewards and savings!

1. Farol do Cabo de São Vicente (Cape St. Vincent)

Cape St. Vincent is a stunning sea cliff area where instead of jumping into the water, you’ll just be amazed by the sheer beauty of the landscape. The Greeks and Romans actually believed this place to be sacred for hundreds of years; in fact, the Greeks actually built a temple there that they dedicated to Heracles. It was here that they believed the sun sunk from the sky and marked the edge of their world. It’s a fascinating feeling to look out from these cliffs and imagine that millions of people before you once thought that this marked the outer bounds of their existence….

Dramatic cliffs at Farol do Cabo de São Vicente
Dramatic cliffs at Farol do Cabo de São Vicente

This cape was also a place of war, where pirates plundered from Holland and France. More buildings would likely still be standing here but the famous earthquake of 1755 is said to have flattened the area. Still, there’s an interesting lighthouse to check out that was built in 1846.

Red lighthouse at Farol do Cabo de São Vicente
The Red lighthouse at Farol do Cabo de São Vicente

This was the first place that we stopped at on the edge of the European continent and it was our first glimpse of the beautiful Atlantic Ocean. A heavy layer of grey clouds hovered overhead as we made out way from sunny Albufeira and with the coastal winds picking up, it was pretty cold at this spot so be prepared for winds and bring an outer layer. Also, be careful navigating around the cliff sides, they can be pretty treacherous at times, not to mention high at about 75 meters!

2. Fortaleza de Sagres (Sagres Fortress)

This place is just a few kilometers south from Cape St. Vincent so it’s a must-see if you make it to the area. This is the only destination not 100% free but entrance into the fortress was only €3. This is the place where Prince Henry the Navigator built his famous school of navigation. Some of the most famous and well-respected mariners, astronomers, cartographers, and ship builders convened at this place to construct and learn how to navigate ships during the period known as the Age of Discoveries.

Cliffs outside Fortaleza de Sagres
The cliffs just outside of Fortaleza de Sagres

The fortress was originally built back in the 15th century but had to be rebuilt in 1793 after it was destroyed — not by earthquake — but by Sir Francis Drake back in 1587. It’s a cool structure to roam around and ponder the history of some of the greatest explorers of all time. One of the cool sights is the 39 meter wide wind compass that has been partially restored known as the “Wind Rose.”

The Wind Rose at Fortaleza de Sagres
The Wind Rose at Fortaleza de Sagres

I recommend walking around the trail that follows along the outside of the peninsula where you can stand among the most southwestern point of Europe and look out from the cliffsides. You’ll likely comes across several local fisherman perched out on the edge of these cliffs trying to catch some tasty sea bass.

Paved trail at Fortaleza de Sagres
Paved trail at Fortaleza de Sagres

There’s also really intriguing geology around the area with rocks scattered about that kind of give off an otherworldly feel.

Rocky terrain Portugal
Interesting rocks

Once you make your way back to the entrance of the fortress you can ascend to the top of a mound that sits over the entrance gates and catch a better view of the wind compass and other surroundings.

Outside fortress at Fortaleza de Sagres Portugal
The outside of the fortress at Fortaleza de Sagres

3. Praia De Dona Ana

After you get your history fix and battle the likely cold windy conditions found on edge of the continent it’s time for you to head back east toward some more laid back beaches. One of the best views in the entire Algarve has to be Praia De Dona Ana!

Portugal Algarve Praia De Dona Ana
Praia De Dona Ana

There’s a small parking lot right by the beach that surely is taken up during peak season but at other times of the year will likely still have spots open. From the lookout point, you’ve got great photo opportunities of the clear, blueish-green waters and golden sea stacks.

Algarve Portugal Praia De Dona Ana
Praia De Dona Ana

The beach also look irresistible but because temperatures were still a bit cold, we held off from swimming. If you happen to be visiting the Algarve in the summer, especially on the weekend, then you better get here early because this is one of the most busy beaches in the Lagos area.

4. Praia De São Rafael

Portugal Algarve Praia De São Rafael
Praia De São Rafael

We caught this beach right at sunset and it was one of the most relaxing scenes I can recall from my entire stay in Europe. What was also great is that there was nobody around whatsoever. We were able to hop around the lush sea bluffs for over an hour, exploring little crevices in the sides of the cliffs and opting for photos without seeing a soul (other than a few fisherman perched in the distance).

Portugal Algarve Praia De São Rafael
Praia De São Rafael
Portugal Algarve Praia De São Rafael
Praia De São Rafael
Portugal Algarve Praia De São Rafael
Praia De São Rafael

There is a restaurant/bar located right on the beach that looked like fun  but we opted to stay perched on the edge of the cliffs in solitude. Climbing around these cliff areas is exciting but again just make sure that you exercise plenty of caution when you attempt this because it’s a pretty long drop all the way down.

5. Benagil Beach, Faro, Portugal

Bengail Beach is a must stop. The beach area is nice and all but the reason that you want to come to this beach is for the awesome sea cave tour that you can embark on! You’ll be darting through grottos and catching glimpses of color-changing seas as you zip through the sea stacks along the shore.

Algarve Sea Cave Tour
Benagil Beach Sea Cave Tour

The highlight of the boat tour is catching the famous Benagil Sea Cave. Try to allocate about an hour total if you’re planning on doing a tour and check out the link above if you’re interested in finding out more for information on the grotto tour.

Benagil Sea Cave
Benagil Sea Cave

The “secret beach”

There is a secret beach called Praia do Carvalho (ssshhh…) in the Algarve that is accessible via a cave and it is just west of Benagil Beach. We saw this beach from our boat tour and were not able to actually go down on the beach but it looked like a really cool secluded beach that you could check out!

Remember, we saw all of these top five beaches in one day and still had time to settle down for a bit and enjoy a couple of great meals, so even if you only have one or two days in the Algarve you can still see plenty (just get an early start)!

Looking for more information about Portugal? Check out where to eat in the Algarve and find out how to work the toll roads!

Foods and Drinks You Must Try in Portugal!

Portugal is a great country to visit for foodies, especially if you are into a variety of different seafood dishes. Here are 8 foods and drinks that you must try if you visit Portugal. (These were found in both the Lisbon area and the Algarve and you shouldn’t have a hard time finding them in either region.)

Tip: Use WalletFlo for all your credit card needs. It’s free and will help you optimize your rewards and savings!

1. Grilled Sea Bass

Grilled sea bass Portugal

The first thing to know about ordering fish of just about any type in Portugal is that you will have to pick out the bones. On top of that, you will sometimes have the skin on the fish as well (this is uncommon in most American restaurants – we usually don’t do bones or skin). We ordered grilled sea bass twice (once in the Algarve and another time in Lisbon) and the latter time, the fish came out with the skin. We’d never tried skin on fish before but it wasn’t bad at all! In fact, the grilled sea bass boasted an amazing, juicy texture that was full of flavor — I definitely recommend you trying it if you’re making you’re way to Portugal.

2. Salted Cod (Bacalhau)

Salted cod Portugal

This is the national dish of Portugal and so it’s also a must-try while you are there. I had some very tasty cod at a cafe in Lisbon, near one of the famous overlooks. While I enjoyed the fish, they definitely don’t hold back on the salt at all. I know I ordered salted cod but I just didn’t expect it to so salty that I couldn’t even finish it. So if you’re a salt person, you can’t go wrong with the fish but if salty foods aren’t your thing, maybe stick to some other dishes. Just know that the Portuguese claim that there’s over 365 to 1,000 different ways to cook their cod so you might be getting something a little different each time you try it.

3. Tapas

Tapas Portugal

Most people think of Spain when they hear someone mutter something about tapas but don’t forget that Portugal has some amazing tapas that you can find as well! We had one of the best tapas plates in the Algarve while we were in Portugal. It had a little bit of everything: octopus, crab, shrimp, squid, etc. but it was one of the best meals we had during our European trips!

4. Pastéis de Belém

Pasteis de Belem Portugal
Pasteis de Belem Portugal

This dish at this specific place is sort of a rite of passage when you visit Portugal. The custard dishes are very good and if there’s one place to try them it’s here. Don’t be too intimidated if you show up on a weekend and there’s a huge crowd – it actually moves pretty quickly because this place is used to dealing with the crowds. I was slightly disappointed to hear that they only had one flavor variety for the dish but in a way it kind made it appeal a bit more to me in a classical sense (I think you can top them with powdered sugar and/or cinnamon). They stuff the pastries in a cylinder for you to take on the go so you can always order more than you think you can handle, though the eggy centers of these pastries are very rich!

5. Green Wine (Vinho Verde)

Vinho Verde Portugal

For me, green wine or Vinho Verde was more of something that we just had to try. Before you get too excited just know that “green wine” isn’t actually green. Green refers to the type of grapes used in the winemaking process so your “green wine” could actually be red or white. These grapes used are younger than the ones typically used producing wine and that’s what gives off the light and slightly sparkling taste. I’m not much of a fan of white wine and that’s the type of vinho verde we ordered so I can’t really rave too much about it. However, if you like drier wines with a bit of a tartness then you’ll probably fall in love with this stuff.

6. Chicken Piri Piri

Piri Piri Chicken Portugal

The first thing that comes to mind when I think about Portuguese cuisine is chicken Piri Piri. The chicken we had with Piri Piri sauce was great. Full of spice and flavor. Although the Piri Piri peppers used to marinate and bast the chicken originated in South Africa, you can find Piri Piri sauce bottles and menu options just about anywhere in Portugal. We wanted to really expand our horizons so we didn’t eat it more than once but I don’t think you can go wrong with this dish while in Portugal.

7. White Sangria

White sangria Portugal

We tried some great white sangria (or sangria blanca) in the Algarve. Every place that we tried the more traditional red sangria was also pretty good as well. I also enjoyed seeing sangria on tap as I thought that was pretty cool but the best stuff was always the pitchers full of chopped berries and fruits that you knew were fresh and required a little bit of work to put together.

Fun Fact: As of January 2014,  the European Union only allows sangria made in Portugal or Spain to bear the name “sangria.”

8. Steak and Eggs

I’m not sure exactly how traditional this meal is to the Portuguese but I saw it on menus at a few different restaurants. Since breakfast isn’t really a big deal in Portugal it can be a little difficult to find hearty breakfast options at restaurants. We came upon a place outside of Lisbon where we ordered steak and eggs for a nice brunch that filled us up. You might not be able to find it at many cafes around breakfast time but it’s a good option if you’re in the mood for something a bit more familiar while staying in Portugal.

Need more info on visiting Portugal?

Find out how to work the toll system from Lisbon to the Algarve or find some great places to eat in the Algarve!

A Guide to the Tolls in Portugal: Lisbon to the Algarve

The toll system in Portugal is still a little confusing to me even after going through it this past spring in 2015. I heard from numerous sources that there were different rates and ways to pay while planning our trip yet when we arrived to rent our car it seemed that a lot of that information was wrong.

So here’s what you can expect when renting a car while trying to get from Lisbon to the Algarve.

Renting a car at Lisbon Airport

First thing is renting the car. We found the rental procedure at Lisbon Airport to be pretty straight forward. We went with Avis and the staff for them was very helpful and spoke pretty good English so there weren’t really any hiccups in the process.

Also, for Avis, we didn’t have to take a shuttle or anything to get our car because the garage is right there by the airport so that was nice and that appears to be the same for other car rental companies.

Tip: Use WalletFlo for all your credit card needs. It’s free and will help you optimize your rewards and savings!

Get the transponder

When renting your car with Avis be sure to tell them that you want the transponder in your car.

I recall there being a small fee for having the transponder put into the car and a small daily fee as well but from my understanding the alternative routes for paying would’ve been to find some random post offices or pay shops to pay the tolls or some other means that we weren’t fully clear on.

The only thing we were clear on was that the transponder would allow us to be charged as we travelled and then we would pay one final fee at the end (though the bill takes about a month to hit your credit card). Thus, going with the transponder seemed like the most convenient way for dealing with the tolls.

Toll transponder Portugal
The transponder.

Note: There may be easier ways for you depending on your routes and destinations, but I’m simply stating what worked for us to get us from Lisbon to the Algarve in a relatively simple way. Quite frankly, every other way of paying sounded like a headache compared to this way.

How exactly do all the tolls work?

While we understood how we would pay for what we would be charged, I still wasn’t clear on how all of the tolls worked. When I asked Avis how much we should expect to pay, the staff member just told me that it ranged from like €1-€20 — a pretty drastic range.

When I pressed with more questions, she attempted to explain how it all worked but it wasn’t really getting across. It ended up being one of those slightly awkward scenarios where you just kind of act like you understand what the person is telling you for the sake of moving on to your next destination.

Freeway in Portugal

Once you get your car you want to think about your route and how the tolls are going to add up for you. I’m pretty sure that each toll works in a different way depending on your location.

Unlike in most areas in the United States, where you pay the total toll once you pass through each toll gate, on the highway to the Algarve you first drive through an entry gate that begins the “toll” for your charge and then once you pass through an exit gate — depending on how many miles you’ve traveled — your total will then be calculated based on the distance.

(I think this is how it works based on how we were charged, so you might want to make sure for yourself.)

Here’s a helpful link with a breakdown of charges you can expect on major routes.

You should be able to see the toll fee light up on the screen as you pass through but not every toll showed the total. Also, if you go the transponder route you’ll pass through the lanes on the left, under the green “V” signs each time. I’m not sure how the other lanes work at all.

Toll road Portugal

Getting from Lisbon to the Algarve via Highway A2

If you travel straight from Lisbon to the Algarve via A2 you should expect to be charged right around €20!

To get to the Algarve from Lisbon we took the A2/E1 highway, which is one of the most popular toll highways. We knew we would be getting charged but we didn’t realize it would be about €20!

The alternative to taking the A2 highway is to jump on the IC1 (on the west) but when we input that route into our GPS it added almost 2 hours to our route.

Whether that was accurate or not we were a bit short on time and sunlight so we opted to take the quickest route to get to the Algarve.

Car navigation

While the tolls can be a bit confusing and stressful the good news is that the drive down to the Algarve is a very scenic drive even on the A2.

I suspect that the smaller highways may have been a bit more scenic but I can’t verify that. If you’ve never driven in Portugal be prepared for a lot of people speeding down the interstate in their little cars.

We didn’t have any major issues with them but you’re bound to come across several of these people who fly by at reckless speeds and never use their blinkers (turn signals).

A2 highway Portugal
Scenic hills along the A2

Tolls on the A22 Road in the Algarve

So once we arrived to the Algarve we jumped from town to town for the weekend.

We decided to use the A22 road (the toll road of the Algarve) instead of the free highway that runs roughly parallel to that road for the same reason as before: we were trying to see a lot of different spots in a short amount of time and the alternative route would’ve cost us a couple of hours overall of driving time.

Also, I was told that the free highway was poorly maintained and even worse, poorly marked, making it much more difficult to navigate so consider that.

I believe that the tolls on the A22 work differently than on the E1. These tolls charge you flat fees as you pass through their gates that are much cheaper and range from €0,50 to €2,00.

Here’s a breakdown of the fees charged on the A22 road.

As you can see, the fee charged to you depends on the class of vehicle you are driving and can vary by up to €1,50 depending on the location of that gate you are driving through.

How much do the tolls cost to travel from Lisbon to the Algarve roundtrip?

The final amount we were charged was: €55.

Keep in mind that this included the round trip from Lisbon to the Algarve and also several trips hopping around the different beaches and towns in the Algarve for a couple of days.

The one drawback to the transponder is that you are putting trust in the rental company to get your charges correct. Apparently, there are stories of people getting screwed over by the car companies but I don’t think that happened in our case.

I think it was safe to assume that we were charged correctly and I only would’ve questioned the charge if it had been a pretty outrageous number. Still, it’d be a good idea to calculate a rough estimate before you get charged so you can get a sense of what you will be paying.

Again, I can’t say for sure how all of the different tolls work in Portugal. It is a bit confusing and a bit stressful for outsiders to deal with. However, if you are planning on traveling from Lisbon to  the Algarve then I highly suggest that you go with the transponder and expect to pay around what we payed for a couple of days worth of exploring.

Now that you know how the tolls work in Portugal be sure to check out the best sea cave tour in the Algarve and also where to eat in the Algarve!

Photographing London

London is one of the funnest cities to photograph for me. It reminds me of New York City in that it seems like at every corner you come across there’s another amazing photo opportunity that allows you to capture some iconic piece of the the London landscape. Here’s just a few of the shots I’ve taken around the city while exploring some of famous icons in London.

Tip: Use WalletFlo for all your credit card needs. It’s free and will help you optimize your rewards and savings!

Obviously when you first arrive you’ll want to photograph Big Ben, one of the most photographed places on earth. In case you weren’t aware, Big Ben is actually the name of the bell inside the tower, while the tower housing the massive clock faces in known as the Elizabeth Tower. One thing a lot of people don’t know is that you can actually go inside the clock tower and see the unique view of the inside the clock faces. You’ve got to have some political pull, but if you’re going to be in the UK long enough (6 months to a year) you can arrange this kind of tour.

To get to Big Ben head to the Westminster Tube Station and once you walk out it will be right in front of you. I recommend you walking across the River Thames for some of the best views of the palace and the tower. If you arrive there early enough in the morning you might be able to catch a perfect sunrise shot and even capture the reflection of Big Ben in the River Thames before the herds of boats make their way up the river and break up the occasional still waters.

Big Ben and Westminster Palace London
Big Ben and Westminster Palace

Don’t forget there’s Westminster Abbey right there as well. Try to capture it about an hour before sunset to capture the golden reflections of the sun like below.

London Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey

A bit further east you have Tower Bridge, which is always photogenic day or night. I like the views of it from just about anywhere along the River Thames.

Tower Bridge London
Tower Bridge
View of Tower Bridge from the Tower of London
View of Tower Bridge from the Tower of London

If you go inside the Tower Bridge glass walkway you’re given some pretty great views of downtown London and the Tower of London.

Skyline of London
Downtown London
The funky skyline of London

London is also great place to photograph at night — my favorite time to photograph cities because of the endless creative potential for playing around with light. You’ve got endless frames to work with while shooting the iconic spots of Big Ben and Westminster Palace along with the River Thames as well as the London Eye.

London eye at night
The London Eye at night

Perhaps what’s funnest to shoot are the double-decker busses that move continuously through the city. If you’ve never been to London these famous red busses are literally everywhere and it’s not hard to spot them. Simply wait at any street corner in central London and within seconds you’ll probably see one coming into view. They’re fun to photograph at night with slow-shutter effects because they’ll leave  all kinds of different colors and streaks behind as they move across your viewfinder.

Big Ben at night London busses
Big Ben at night

One shot I really liked was getting close to Big Ben and setting up my tripod in the middle of one of the protected curb islands in the middle of a busy intersection. A few of them have gating around them and actually have nice alcoves for you to set up your tripod so you’re not right in the middle of the busy pedestrian walkways or on the verge of getting hit by a bus.

Big Ben at night London busses

Another thing you’re going to want to capture are the phone booths, which like the busses, are scattered pretty much everywhere throughout central London.

Big Ben London at night

These are just a few of the many different shots you can get around London and I intend on updating this post as I get to photograph more of this amazing city so be sure to check back in the future for more shots!

Where to Eat in the Algarve, Portugal

While planning for our upcoming trip I constantly read reviews about how touristy the Aglarve was and how we wouldn’t be able to find authentic Portuguese cuisine. However, after eating at a few places this past weekend I think that the food scene at the Algarve is fantastic and appeared to have plenty of places for some fairly authentic selections. Here’s a review of four places we ate  and drank at over the past weekend and what you can expect from those restaurants.

Tip: Use WalletFlo for all your credit card needs. It’s free and will help you optimize your rewards and savings!

1. Gran Via Tapas Bar (Albufeira)

After learning that our #1 restaurant was going to be closed for the entire weekend, we had to get out and find an alternative for our first night in the Algarve. So we dropped into the Gran Via Tapas Bar for a couple of beers (€3.50 for a large beer) and to get some good dining recommendations. The owner of the bar was quite the character.

He was extremely friendly with a love for 80s music and didn’t hesitate to show off some of his interesting dance moves. After offering us a couple of complimentary shots and chatting it up a bit, he recommended that we try out the restaurant below. I suggest dropping into this bar just for a couple of drinks  and maybe enjoy a little bit of 80s music. If you do want to grab a bite I did see them serving up some pretty delicious-looking and smelling trays so it might be a good idea to stick around for some tapas.

2. O Zuca (Albufeira)

We were referred to O Zuca and I couldn’t have been happier to try out this restaurant. It was cheap and the food was of very high quality. Brad had the grilled seabass for €11 and I went with the piri piri chicken €7.50. Both were exceptional! The seabass was perfectly seasoned and the piri piri chicken was great as well. (If you’re new to this region and coming from the United States, be prepared to deal with fish and chicken bones at pretty much any restaurant you go to.)

For two beers and the two and our meals it was only €21.70 and was one of the cheapest options we came across in the Algarve.

Grilled seabass with potatoes
Grilled seabass
Piri Piri chicken with french fries
Piri piri chicken

3. Bahia Beach Bar (Lagos)

This “beach bar” is also a restaurant with great food and beautiful open surroundings located right on the sandy beach. You walk across a boardwalk to access the bar (don’t get it confused with the bar right next door) and once you walk in you’re greeted by very friendly staff and servers.

Table and chairs on beach

For drinks we went with the white sangria for €13 a pitcher. It was my first time with white sangria so I didn’t have much to compare it to but I loved it! It was very fruity but still stronger than some of the other sangria we’d had and was full of different flavors and apple and orange slices along with berries.

White sangria Portugal
White sangria
White sangria Portugal
White sangria

As for food, we actually had our best meal of our entire trip here. It was a tapas platter for two for only €19.90. The tapas platter comes with seven different types of tapas and they differ day-to-day depending on the day’s fishing haul and the chef’s choice so you don’t always know what you’re going to get but I don’t see how you couldn’t love the tapas here.

Tapas at Algarve Portugal

Our platter had chorizo, steak, zucchini, squid, octopus, homemade hummus, mushrooms, peppers, olives, prawns, crab, and some kind of amazing cheese. With or without bread, these items were cooked perfectly and packed with flavor, especially the crab and the octopus. We’d just been blown away by tapas in Madrid about a moth ago but these were even better than the ones we’d tried in Spain!

Tapas at Algarve Portugal

4. Prazeres Restaurante (Albuferia)

I’ve decided to start including the places we weren’t completely fond of in addition to the great restaurants. Because we had so much success with out first recommendation we decided to take the word of some more locals to find another great restaurant. Unfortunately, the restaurant didn’t live up to the hype.

I ordered the shrimp and squid kebab (€13.50) just to try something a little different and Brad went with the tuna steak (€12.50). The tuna steak was cooked a bit too much in my opinion and soaked in the juices so much that it seemed to have lost its tuna taste. It just wasn’t very good. My shrimp and squid was okay but nothing very special.

Tuna steak at Algarve Portugal
Tuna steak
Shrimp and squid kebab at Algarve Portugal
Shrimp and squid kebab

We also decided to try the “green wine” that’s a Portugal speciality. (The wine’s not actually green but made from “green” grapes that aren’t fully ripe, hence the name.) I probably should’ve tried the red wine version but nonetheless we went with the white wine. It was okay and interesting to try but again didn’t really blow me away.

Vinho verde at Algarve Portugal
Vinho verde

We walked away from this restaurant with a €43 tab and not really too impressed with our meals. I don’t want to bash this place because the food wasn’t terrible, just not very good. Also, the service was great and the place does have plenty of good reviews on Trip Advisor and from locals so we could’ve just caught it at the wrong time.

I don’t profess to be an expert on authentic Portuguese cuisine but from my traveling experience you can often get a sense of how local the foods are by the atmosphere in the restaurants and by talking to your servers about the foods offered. To me, all of these places felt pretty authentic and at the very least the first three places were some of the best eating and drinking experiences we’ve had in Europe so I give them a ringing endorsement.

8 Things to Do in Sydney, Australia

Sydney has a ton of things to offer tourists and travelers. I actually lived in Bondi Beach for a summer (really a winter) and got to work and go to school in Sydney a couple of years ago, so I’m pretty familiar with some of the attractions offered in the city. Here are 8 things to do in Sydney if it’s going to be your first time in the city.

Tip: Use WalletFlo for all your credit card needs. It’s free and will help you optimize your rewards and savings!

1. Take a ferry ride through the harbor

One of the first things I did when I arrived in Sydney was board a ferry for a ride through the harbor.  It’s a perfect way to get acquainted with the layout of the harbor areas and capture some fantastic views of the Sydney Opera House,  Sydney Harbour Bridge, and the skyline of the city.

Sail boat harbor Sydney Australia

2. Pet some kangaroos and koalas 

This is obviously a pretty touristy thing to do but how can you go to Australia and not pet a koala or kangaroo? A good place to do both of these is the Wildlife Sydney Zoo.  It’s an interesting wildlife center where you can see a lot of the famous Australian creatures known for their deadly bites and stings, including some of the most deadly snakes, spiders, and jellyfish. The kangaroos there are known as “red kangaroos” and are the largest species in Australia. My first time seeing them walk in real life was a bit trippy. It’s hard to explain, but their so large and their body movements are so different from anything that you’ve seen that they kind of resemble aliens at first glance.

Closeup of kangaroo in Sydney Australia

Nowadays they only let you gently pet the koalas due to some tourists getting too rough with the koalas and fracturing their fragile ribs. So just be a little careful with these furry little animals and you’ll get some great photos.  If you’re lucky, one might actually come out of its slumber and open its eyes for your photo op. There’s a pass you can get to access to the zoo and some of the other attractions like the aquarium and the Sydney Tower so that you can save a little bit of money.

Koalas in tree

It’s a bit pricey bit if you have the extra cash and the sense of adventure you can take the ferry over to Manly, Australia and actually enter their shark tank. It’s a really cool experience and one that I’ll never forget about.

Scuba diver with nurse shark

3. Day trip to the Blue Mountains

My only regret is not planning for a full day trip or possibly staying overnight in the Blue Mountains.  Still, even if you only can book a tour to go through the area for a few hours you’ll still enjoy the experience. There are multiple waterfalls pouring off sheer cliffs topped with lush vegetation, rainforests, and towering sandstone spires that can be admired from a suspended cable car (the steepest and largest aerial cable car in the Southern Hemisphere).  If you go with the right tour group, they’ll also take you past some ancient petroglyphs and even allow you to encounter some kangaroos in the wild.

Man jumping in air over blue mountains
Blue Mountains waterfall

4. Check out Bondi Beach

When I lived in Australia, I actually stayed at Bondi Beach so it will always be a special place to me. The beach scenery is absolutely beautiful with its clear blue waters and constant breaking surf.  There’s a number of different restaurants lining the main street of the beach so you can grab some grub. I had plenty of great Thai food while living there so be sure to try some out while you’re there.

Bondi Beach Sydney Australia

Bondi Beach is a hotspot for surfers year-round but you’ll want to be careful if you’re trying surfing here for your first time because the swells and the rip currents can be something serious.  We’d been warned about venturing out into the waters during a severe swell but we decided to “test-the-waters” anyway. To say that we were manhandled by the ocean that day would be putting it lightly. Nevertheless, it was a lot of fun and a hell of a way to get an into to surfing.

Surfer in water Bondi Beach Australia
Surfer riding wave Bondi Beach Australia

Apart from the surfing, there are often other activities going on in the area. In the middle of the Southern Hemisphere’s winter, they set up an ice skating rink on the beach for Christmas in July and it’s a pretty cool little set up. Don’t forget to look into exploring the rocky tide pools and discovering all different kinds of wildlife that can be found between the rock cracks.  At low tide, you’ll be amazed with what you uncover.

Starfish on rock in Sydney Australia

The nearby Icebergs bar is a great way to relax while not missing the views through their see-through walls and the pathways winding along the coast are an amazing sight to experience the rugged headlands. If you have a couple of hours to spare then consider the extremely scenic walk to Coogee.

Beer at Icebergs bar with view of ocean

5. Visit the Sydney Opera House

You’ve seen it in countless movies and brochures and it’s one of the most famous buildings in the world. While you can always catch a show inside, just walking around the area and exploring the nearby grounds of the Opera House is a worthy attraction and can be very romantic at night if that’s something you’re interested in.  Also, the botanic gardens are right next door and are a beautiful area to check out on your way to or from the Opera House.

Sydney Opera House
Sydney Opera House in black and white
Sydney Opera House at night

6. Walk across the Harbor Bridge

I have a slight fascination with walking across some of the iconic bridges around the world (Golden Gate, Tower Bridge, Brooklyn Bridge, etc.) so I would recommend walking across the Harbour Bridge to anyone. It offers great views of the Opera House and the surrounding buildings and you can often catch spectacular sunsets on the bridge.  If you’ve got the extra cash, aren’t afraid of heights, and looking for a little adventure you can book a tour walking across the top of the bridge. This looked like it would’ve been a lot of fun but I personally got turned-off by the price tag of this adventure. At $150 AUD for the cheapest, middle of the week time-slot it just seemed to be a bit much.

Sydney Harbour Bridge

7. Check out a rugby or Australian football game

It seemed that some of the rugby fans looked down on Australian football a little bit, supposedly because Australian football doesn’t require the same toughness and ruggedness of rugby. That’s probably true but it didn’t stop us from catching a game there. I must admit that I knew zilch about Oz football so I was pretty clueless about what was going on.  Still, it was pretty fun to have a couple of pints and try to mesh with some of the locals and experience how they do sports down under.

8. Whale Watching

Sydney was actually my first place to ever go whale watching out on a boat. We weren’t too lucky in that we didn’t have the best showing of whales that day; however, we didn’t completely strike out and we did come across a few of them. I quickly realized how difficult it is to photograph whales (at least when they’re being shy).

Whale breaching in Sydney Australia
Whale breaching in Sydney Australia

I managed to get a few decent shots but the experience of seeing humpback whales for the first time was still a lot of fun. Just don’t forget your motion-sickness pills — roughly half of the boat seemed to get sea sick while we were out and I quickly realized what all the little baggy things were for that I set around the seats.

These are only 8 of the many things to do in Sydney. While most of these are pretty touristy things to do, I still recommend you giving them a go on your first trip to Sydney.

Top 10 Completely Touristy Things to Do in NYC

It’s your first time to NYC and you’re looking for some advice on what to see and do… my recommendation: just bite the bullet on this first trip and be “okay” with being a tourist for a week (or at least a couple days). NYC simply offers too many good tourist attractions to not partake in them at least for some of your time there.  With that in mind, here are 10 top tourist attractions to consider on your first trip out to New York City.

Tip: Use WalletFlo for all your credit card needs. It’s free and will help you optimize your rewards and savings!

1. Catch an amazing view of Manhattan from up high

Nowadays you have three great options for obtaining the perfect view of the New York City Skyline: top of the Rock, top of the Empire State Building, or the new viewing platform at WTC One.  I haven’t checked out the WTC One view but I have checked out the views from the ESB and top of the Rock. I recommend the the Rock as I found it more photogenic for the simple reason that you can photograph the ESB.  However, if you’re more into bragging rights or bucket-list type attractions, going to the top of the Empire State Building is a pretty cool experience as well.  It costs an extra $15 to go from the 86th floor to the 102nd floor to get inside the spire of the ESB but the crowds are usually thinner up top and it’s really cool to see photos of the ESB and think back to a time when you were hanging out inside its massive spire.

View from the Top of the Rock New York
View from the Top of the Rock
View from the top of the Empire State Building
View from the top of the Empire State Building

Tickets for these experiences range from about $30-$70 depending on things like express packages. Skipping the line may be worth it as sometimes the crowds can get pretty ridiculous. We actually visited the Empire State Building on a rainy late afternoon and because of the weather, the crowds were non-existent. By the time we got up to the top, the rain had cleared out but low-lying clouds were still hovering through the city and it made for some great photographs.  If you’re wanting to see the city during the day but also catch the amazing night skyline, the Top of the Rock offers an option for you to visit the observation deck during both the day and later on during the night. I highly recommend night time visit because the view of the city lights is stunning.

Top of the Empire State Building
Top of the Empire State Building
View from the top of the Empire State Building
View from the 102nd floor of the Empire State Building

2. Bike through Central Park

Central Park is pretty massive and while it’s a great place to go for a stroll, it’s also a perfect place to go for a bike ride.  Look for vendors near the main entrances of the park. Prices for bike rentals start at about $15 an hour and go up a few bucks for each additional 30 min or hour.  It was a lot of fun riding around the park but we definitely had to bob and weave through a lot of people so just keep an eye out for other tourists and locals. Also, another great option in addition to cycling is to rent a boat and go for a paddle through Central Park. Boats also start out at about $15 per hour with usually an extra $3 charge for each additional 30 minutes.

Central Park as seen from the Top of the Rock
Central Park as seen from the Top of the Rock
Lake in Central Park
Lake in Central Park

3. Broadway

The tickets can be a little pricey, depending on the show and your desired seats but this one is pretty much a given for most tourists that come to NYC, especially for the first time. I’ve only seen a few Broadway shows to date, but I highly recommend The Lion King to anyone that’s not seen it or ever been to a Broadway show. Tickets can be bought on sites like but some recommend purchasing tickets the day-of so to save up to 50% or more off the price.  While you’ll usually save money buying last minute tickets, keep in mind that seat availability will often be limited and you might get stuck with some less desirable seats for your show. Expect to spend anywhere from $100-200 if going through a site like Ticketmaster.

As a interesting side note, my room mate from law school (in California) just happened to be in the same exact showing of the Lion King when we saw it… pretty crazy considering we no so much as mentioned to each other that we’d be in NYC that week.

View of Times Square from the Lion King Theater
View of Times Square from the Lion King Theater

4. Museums

The Metropolitan Museum of Art (known as the Met) and the Museum of Modern Art (known as MoMA), are two of top museums you’ve got to check out on your first visit to NYC.  The Met is the largest art museum in the US and one of the top 10 in the world. MOMA is of course home to Vincent van Gogh’s, The Starry Night, among many other famous and inspirational works.

5. Statue of Liberty

Take a ferry to the Statue of Liberty and check out the most iconic statue in the world up close and personal. Gifted to the US by the French in the late 1800s, the statue represents Libertas, the Roman goddess of freedom, and is the ultimate symbol of freedom if you ask me. It costs $18-21 to get over to the statue depending on whether or not you want to inside of it up to the crown. Also, the tours usually stop by Ellis Island, where you can see where tens of thousands of immigrants first arrived in New York after being greeted by the Statue of Liberty.

Statue of Liberty
The Statue of Liberty
Statue of Liberty

6. Food Carts and Trucks

So these may not exactly be touristy, but you shouldn’t pass them up! The food carts are what kept me out of many restaurants in NYC. We found these all over the city and had amazing food of all different ethnicities. Whether you want Mexican, Mediterranean, hot dogs, burgers, sweets, whatever… if you look hard enough, you’ll find them. I wish I had thought more about it before my trip and I would’ve researched more places to check out but I can honestly say that all of the places that we stopped by on a whim were excellent. So my suggestion: research the top food stands and trucks nearby where you’re staying so you’ll have a couple of go-to places in case you can’t decide on where to eat.

Food Stand with the Chrysler Building in the background
Food Stand with the Chrysler Building in the background

7. World Trade Center Memorial

This was one of my favorite things to see in NYC.  It gave me goosebumps to see those two empty square holes in the ground where the Twin Towers once stood. It was definitely moving and now there’s a museum to check out on site where you can learn more about the victims, their families, and the heroic efforts of first-responders on that day. They also have massive beams and parts to the Towers on display that are warped from the extreme pressure and heat they endured and they are very moving to see. Regardless of what state or country you’re coming from, I highly recommend a stop to the memorial site for everyone.

Tickets to the museum and memorial are $24.

World Trade Center Memorial
World Trade Center Memorial

8. Walking through the city

There are plenty of places and neighborhoods  to see on foot around Manhattan.  I enjoyed checking out the Flatiron building, strolling through the Greenwich Village and popping in and out of a few pubs, exploring Little Italy and Wall Street, and even enjoyed experiencing the madness of Times Square.  There are great photo opportunities at just about every corner so have your camera ready at all times.

New York Stock Exchange on Wall Street
New York Stock Exchange on Wall Street
Little Italy in New York
Little Italy in New York
Washington Square Park in the Greenwich Village New York
Washington Square Park in the Greenwich Village

One walk I recommend is the walk across the historic Brooklyn Bridge.   It’s easy to overlook the Brooklyn Bridge with all of the other things to see but don’t forget this was once the longest suspension bridge in the world and was also considered to be the 8th wonder of the world for a while.  It was pretty packed when we made the walk and there were plenty of cyclists on the path so it was a bit crowded but I still enjoyed the walk and the views of the city are great, too.

Brooklyn Bridge
The Brooklyn Bridge
Brooklyn Bridge
Brooklyn Bridge
View from the Brooklyn Bridge
View from the Brooklyn Bridge
Times Square
Times Square

Of course, you never know who you might run into in NYC. Here’s a photo of people going into a frenzy when Ricky Martin showed up around Times Square.

Ricky Martin spotted at Times Square
Ricky Martin spotted at Times Square

9. Taking a ferry tour around the city

Taking a ferry boat tour around Manhattan gave me a better appreciation for the massiveness of the New York skyline and all of it’s great bridges that I wouldn’t have gotten by just walking around. Not only will you get amazing photo opportunities but it’s also just a great way to relax, maybe have a couple of beers, and catch the sights of this amazing city.  I think the only view that probably beats this would be booking a helicopter tour, which is something I would have definitely looked into had it came across my mind.

Manhattan Bridge New York
Manhattan Bridge
The Financial District New York
The Financial District
New Yorker Hotel
The famous New Yorker Hotel
Stacks with Empire State Building
Empire State Building looming in the background

10. Yankees game

You either hate them or love them, but you can’t deny the legacy behind the New York Yankees.  While the old Yankee Stadium is long gone the new state-of-the-art stadium costed $2.3 billion to construct! It’s a great stadium and even for non-MLB fans it’s a bucket-list type experience, especially if you can catch them when the Red Sox are in town.

Yankee Stadium field
Yankee Stadium
Yankee Stadium sign
Yankees vs Red Sox!
Inside Yankee Stadium

One last thing, if you’re going to be visiting a lot of these places then you may want to look into the City Pass which will save you some change on your admission to many of these places and also allow you to skip the lines at some of the attractions.

Obviously, New York City is a special place that offers visitors endless attractions beyond these major tourists attractions.  However, if it’s your first time in the Big Apple, you owe it to yourself to at least check out about half of the things on this list.

How to get from Madrid Airport to Atocha Train Station

If you’re heading from Madrid Barajas Airport (MAD) to Atocha Station and you’re wondering how to get from the airport to the the train station you are in luck because it’s one of the easiest methods of transportation I’ve come across yet.

Tip: Use WalletFlo for all your credit card needs. It’s free and will help you optimize your rewards and savings!

Before I go into my recommendation, there are other options. You can take a taxi, which will run you about €30 or you can look into booking private transfers (helpful if you’ve got a lot of luggage). 

The cheapest option is to take the metro which costs about €2, but comes with the hassle of having to transfer to at at least one station to get to Atocha.  I don’t want to completely discount the Metro as we didn’t use it to get to Atocha; however, I had a great experience with the route we took so I’m going to pump that option up here.

Inside Terminal 4 at Barajas Airport in Madrid
Inside Terminal 4 at Barajas Airport in Madrid (MAD).

I believe the Línea Exprés Aeropuerto, which runs 24 hours and during peak times come around every 15 minutes, is the easiest option.  This bus will only take a couple of stops on your way to Atocha Station but it’s a great option at only €5 per person. Just make sure that you have the cash on hand because the bus driver will only take cash (and I don’t think you can purchase tickets ahead of time online).

We landed at T4 and took the bus from there but I’m pretty positive it also stops at T1 and T2 but don’t remember it going to T3 so check ahead if you think you’ll be arriving at that terminal.  A few sites reported that it would take about 40-45 minutes to get to Atocha Train Station but I recall it taking us about an hour to get there so plan accordingly.  The ticker and routes maps inside the bus were a little confusing so when we made a couple of stops I wasn’t exactly sure where we were stopping at.  However, when you finally do arrive at Atocha you will know you are there as the station is so large it’d be impossible to not know you were at Atocha.

The bus stop for the  Exprés Aeropuerto will be on your right as you exit from T4. Just head to where the busses are and look for the yellow post pictured below. You really can’t miss the bus once it shows up.  Also, the bus never got really packed when we boarded it going into the city or even coming back so hopefully that’s the norm and you won’t have to worry about any major crowds.

Pick-up Point at Terminal 4 Madrid Airport
The Pick-up Point at Terminal 4, Madrid Airport

One last tip: don’t get confused when you are ready to head back to MAD airport.  On the post at Atocha Station, the sign will say that Terminal 4 is only for arrivals. I’m not sure why that signs says that but you can definitely depart from Terminal 4 like we did. If for some reason you don’t have your ticket with you and you’re not 100% sure which terminal you will be departing from there is a list of all of the airlines and their corresponding terminals on the bus driver’s window, inside the bus. So just check that list out and you should be fine.

Finally, if you’re looking for an easy and convenient way to get around Madrid, then consider booking a hop-on-hop-off tour bus. Although it might seem too “touristy” to some people, it’s one of the easiest and cost-effective ways to get around Madrid, so I’d look into it.

1 10 11 12 13