Athens

The birthplace of democracy, Athens is at once a tantalizing blend of antiquity, modernity and the natural world. Ancient structures and monuments tower over a modern city interspersed with mountains and rocky hills, and striking views of the Saronic Gulf just a few kilometers to the south. Foodies and oenophiles rejoice, the food and wine is phenomenal!

Summers in Athens are hot, searing and touristy. We recommend visiting in spring (Greece in bloom is divine!) or fall to avoid the crowds.

There are a few options for getting to and from Athens International Airport. The easiest and most direct way is via taxi with a flat rate of €38. Alternatively, take Metro line 3 from the airport to Syntagma Square Metro Station. It takes about 40 minutes and will drop you right in the heart of the city.

EAT

Dióskouroi Cafe Tavern This taverna next to the Agora is popular with the locals. The house salad is a MUST try. Great for lunch.

Esperides A taverna in the adorable Anafiotika neighborhood situated right at the top of a dreamy, cobble-stoned staircase. The roof has views of the Acropolis and live music. Go for lunch or stop by in the evening for a tipple and mezes.

Karavan This teeny, tiny sweet shop is tucked (literally!) into the side of a doorway but is known for its incredible baklava.

To Kafeneio One of our most memorable meals in Greece, this tiny taverna was empty of tourists and perfectly delicious. They have their own vineyard and winery in Nemea. Definitely try the housewine and meatballs with sauce!

The Old Tavern of Psarras Local restaurant perfect for lunch near the Acropolis or for a sunset dinner with their lovey terrace overlooking the Ancient sites.

DRINK

Couleur Locale This hip drinking hole is located on a third floor roof deck overlooking the Acropolis. Go for sunset and stay for dinner. It’s a little tricky to find - walk inside the No. 3 building, head to the back, and the go up the stairs.

Dos Gardenias This Cuban-style tapas bar in the trendy Monastiraki neighborhood is a great spot for a drink before dinner or at the end of a long, dusty day.

Oinoscent Awesome wine bar near Syntagma Square with over 50 wines available by glass. Bustling with a PYT crowd on a Friday. If you like reds, try the local agiorgitiko varietal from Nemea.

Taverna Acropoli This taverna is next door to the Roman Forum and overlooks the ruins. Stop here to refuel on Greek coffee and take a break from the sun before heading to the next archaeological site.

PLAY

Anafiotika This charming neighborhood rises above the Plaka against the walls of the Acropolis rock. It’s blue and white buildings and winding walkways are reminiscent of the Greek islands. Awatara is a cute shop featuring world clothing, jewelry and accessories.

Archaeological ruins These should be at the top of your Athens list. Purchase a €30 three day entrance pass from any of the major archaeological sites to gain access into all the sites you’ll want to see. The “do not miss” list includes the Acropolis and its museum, the Ancient Agora, the Roman Forum, the Temple of Zeus, Kerameikos (the ancient, “seedy” part of town) and Hadrian’s Library.

National Parliament Building Worth a stop by to observe the ezone guards in their traditional wear.

Lykavittos Hill Hike or take a cable car to the top of this hill just north of Syntagma for spectacular views.

Monastiraki Flea Market The go-to spot for tourist shopping. Pick up Greek wine, olives, jewelry and decently priced leather jackets.

The Pynx This hill towers above the ancient Agora and was an important gathering place for the Athenian democratic assembly. It is an important place in the birth story of democracy, and a great viewpoint overlooking the city.

Syntagma Square and Syntagma Metro Station Syntagma is the heart of Athens today and its Square is surrounded by the shopping district. Check out the Syntagma Metro, also a celebrated archaeological site! Looking for local gifts to bring home? Check out Greek skincare company Korres Natural Products.

STAY

Nearly all the major archaeological sites in Athens are within walking distance of the Old Town, Plaka. While lovely and a great place to stay, Plaka is also touristy. For something a bit hipper, younger, or just slightly quieter, look for an AirBnb in either Psiri or Monastiraki.

Alternatively, we enjoyed staying at the three star Athenian Callirhoe Hotel just south of Plaka. It was well-priced with large rooms, breakfast included and was a 10 minute walk to Plaka.

LOCATIONS NEARBY

Istanbul

Istanbul straddles both Europe and Asia and for centuries has been a physical bridge between the Orient and West. The former capital of the Roman and Byzantine Empires, Istanbul was known throughout the ancient world as Constantinople. With its views of the Bosphorus Straight and Sea of Marmara, orange tiled rooftops, and Islamic minarets, it is a stunning city. Visit for the delicious Mediterranean food, shopping in the Grand Bazaar, and gorgeous architectural antiquities including the Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace.

Istanbul is a delight to visit in warm weather. Go anytime spring through early summer or in the autumn. To see all the sights and fully enjoy the city, we recommend at least three days.

Be sure to check Visa requirements before visiting Turkey. Online visas can be applied for here.

From the airport, take the M1A Yenikapı - Atatürk Airport subway line to the city center. Alternatively, cabs are an option but heavy traffic can make the journey take twice as long. We would only recommend this if you arrive early morning or late in the evening.

EAT

Antiochia Hip, brick-walled restaurant in Beyoğlu with amazing food. Great spot for dinner.

Cemil Dulda'nın Yeri Mardin Meat and kebab hall next to the Grand Baazar. Try the Iskander kebab and eggplant kofte.

Hocapasa Pidecisi Humble little lunch spot in Hocapasa serving up excellent pide (Turkish pizza). It is very near the Gülhane Parkı Çeşmesi park.

Hünkar Turkish and Ottoman food in the Nisantasi neighborhood.

Meze by Lemon Tree Diner  Excellent Turkish food near Taksim Square. Go for dinner.

Restaunt Mürver Beautiful view overlooking the Bosphorus from the top of the Novotel in Karaköy.

Tarihi Karadeniz Döner Kebab sandwiches in the Besiktas neighborhood. Great option for lunch on the go.

DRINK

Be sure to try the local tea, called çay, and Turkish coffee.

Anadolu Nargile Çorlulu Ali Paşa Medresesi This 300 year old, former Islamic school is now a hidden shisha bar near the Grand Bazaar. This spot has an authentic, local vibe, though as with most shisha bars in Islamic countries, it does not serve alcohol.

Istiklal Caddesi There are lots of great places for drinks in the narrow streets that flow from Istiklal Caddesi, a main street near Beyoğlu and Taksim Square. Nevizade Sokak is a particularly good side street.

Mikla Trendy roof-top bar (and restaurant) in Beyoğlu. Go for cocktails and watch the sun set over the Bosphorus.

PLAY

For visits to the mosques and other monuments, we recommend buying tickets in advance. The lines are a cluster and often warrant long wait times.

Dolmabahce This is the former palace and place of death of Atatürk, the Turk hero who brought down the Ottoman Empire.

Galata Kulesi (Galata Tower) Medieval tower in Karaköy quarter of the city. Historically, this was the city watchtower and now welcomes visitors to see a 360 view over Istanbul at the top of the tower.

Hagia Sophia This must see Orthodox church was converted into a mosque by Muslims. After you have toured the interior, grab a Turkish coffee on the terrace of nearby restaurant Seven Hills for the best views.

Kapali Carsi Grand Bazaar. Some of our favorite shops include:

Koç In need of a leather Jacket? They have two shops, one in front of the other, but try the smaller shop. The seller speaks good English.

Recep Karaduman Beautiful Turkish Carpets, worth the visit even if you are not looking to buy.

Kiz Kulesi (Maiden's Tower) Go by ferry and enjoy the beautiful views of Istanbul and the Bosphorus from the top of the tower.

Sultanahmet Known as the Blue Mosque, this active place of worship is famous for its blue tiled interior and architecture. It is a 10 minute walk from the Hagia Sophia. Free entry.

Taksim Square The heart of the trendy Beyoğlu neighborhood, this is a hot spot for cafes, bars and people watching.

Topkapi Palace This old Ottoman palace overlooking the city which was the center of Istanbul.

Turkish Baths There are many. Don’t miss trying one!

STAY

Sultanahmet is a neighborhood close to most of the major sites but does not offer many restaurant options. We enjoyed Hotel Niles Istanbul, a tiny, boutique hotel with a lovely roof terrace that is a few blocks from the Grand Bazaar.

Otherwise, check out Beyoğlu, Beşiktaş or Nişantaşi neighborhoods. Beyoğlu is known for its proximity to bars, restaurants and shopping.

LOCATIONS NEARBY

Porto

Clinging to the steep banks of the Douro River, Portugal’s second largest city is filled with medieval intrigue, historic bridges, beautiful views, delicious seafood and port wine! Portugal’s famous port takes its namesake from the city itself, as the wine passed from the hands of its Dourvo Valley producers on its way to England and beyond. Both the Porto and the Douro Valley are UNESCO World Heritage sites in their own right.

Fall is lovely time to travel to Porto. The sun is shining, the days are warm and the Douro Valley wineries are wrapping up harvest!

Uber and taxis are widely available in Porto and its an easy 20-25 minute drive to the city center. It is also possible to take the Metro do Porto light-rail system from the Airport station into the city where it makes various stops.

The Douro River Valley is a one to two hour drive from the city and a very easy day trip.

EAT

Cafe Progresso Great brunch spot just north of the Universidade do Porto and Livaria Lello bookstore.

Fábrica da Nata This bakery serves up this most exquisite pasteis de nata, delicious Portuguese custard tarts.

Jimão Tapas e Vinhos Small tapas-style restaurant and wine bar in Riberia.

The Wine Box Hip, bustling restaurant just a few blocks north from the Riberia. The sommelier is incredibly friendly and happy to make recommendations.

Vintage Theory This boutique port winery in the Douro River Valley has a lovely restaurant with a stunning view.

DRINK

Bar Ponte Pensil A small cafe at the base of the Luís I Bridge on the north bank. Go at sunset for a glass of vinho verde to admire the stunning views of the city and river.

Douro Valley Wine Tour No trip to Porto would be complete without a visit to this world renowned wine-making region. We especially loved this full day tour with eFun Tours which included lunch and wine (and port!) tastings at three different wineries.

Quinta do Beijo Small, family owned winery in the Douro with many vintage ports. The winemaker gives tours himself.

La Boheme entre Amis Bright and airy bar near the Universidade do Porto. Stand at the bar and sip a glass of port.

Letraria Craft Beer Garden This hole in the wall craft beer garden has a large outdoor area and decent selection of craft beers and lunch foods. Pop by before dinner or on Sunday before heading to the airport.

Majestic Cafe This art deco cafe, just down the street from Fábrica da Nata, was a favorite haunt of JK Rowling’s when she taught at the Universidade.

Xico Queijo Hip bar and restaurant near the Universidade. Great spot after hours and the surrounding bars and restaurants will all be busy well into the night.

PLAY

Cedofeita One of Porto’s trendiest neighborhoods. Take a stroll down the Rua de Cedofeita and pop into cute boutiques, restaurants and bars.

Livraria Lello The historic book store that inspired JK Rowling’s Hogwarts. Purchase entry tickets from the Armazéns do Castelo or in advance online.

Luís I Bridge Walk across the Douro River and admire the splendid view.

Muralha Fernandina A medieval castle in the center of the city whose ancient walls, staircases and watch towers remain intact today.

Porto Cathedral

Ribiera Walk along the river and winding streets of Porto’s medieval Old Town.

South bank wineries There are tons of wineries and port tasting rooms on the south bank side of the city and around the Castelo area.

STAY

Stay within walking distance of the Ribiera or Universidade to be close to all the sites. We enjoyed this AirBnb near Bolhão, which was a 15 minute walk from the riverfront.

LOCATIONS NEARBY

Paris

The City of Lights and Love is truly special. There is so much to do, see, and taste in Paris and often too little time, making it easy to feel overwhelmed when planning. Besides the major sites, our favorite way to enjoy the French capital is just walking around the different neighborhoods, stopping in a café to just enjoy the moment.

Charles de Gaulle and Paris Orly are the two nearest international airports. Orly is smaller and offers the Orlybus shuttle from the airport to Paris Denfert-Rochereau Station in the city center. The bus costs about €8, takes roughly 30 minutes, and departs every 15-20 minutes. It is also possible to take a bus from de Gaulle into the city but may take longer due to traffic. Uber is also in the city and an efficient option.

If you are coming from London, take the Eurostar from St. Pancras Station direct to Paris Gare du Nord. The trip takes about 2.5 hours total.

While Paris is magical any time of year, we love it best in spring and fall. The weather is milder and the tourists that descend upon the city in summer have long gone home. Try visiting during the first weekend of October, when Parisians celebrate Nuit Blanche. “White Night” is an all-night festival when museums, art galleries and other cultural institutions are free and open all night. The city also celebrates special installations and performances which are hosted in public spaces throughout the city.

While in France attempt to speak French! Parisians are friendly but even friendlier if you dust off your rusty high school French.

EAT

Derriere A fun and funky spot for dinner. Good for groups.

Ellsworth Casual spot where the Parisians take on some American classics

Le Comptoir du Relais A well-known bistro in St. Germain.

La Jacobine A tiny, adorable and affordable restaurant in St. Germain. Make a reservation for dinner.

Le Marais Boulangeries (bakeries) Wander around the neighborhood and treat yourself to the local specialities: croissant, pain au chocolate, baguette tradition, and chausson aux pomme.

La Petite Perigourdine Quintessential French restaurant in the Latin Quarter. Try the steak and aligot, a smooth, buttery potato side.

DRINK

Bar du Marché This St. Germain bar is open late and a great stop for a night cap.

Candelaria Not far from Le Marais, this taqueria features a hidden, speakeasy in the back. Good for cocktails.

Chez Jeannette Hip bar between the 3rd and 10th arrondissements with a PYT crowd.

Les deux Maggots Hemingway is rumored to have frequented this old world, St. Germain cafe. Stop here for a coffee or beer and watch the world go by.

Le Syndicat An amazing cocktail bar in the 10th.

Lockwood Relaxed and understated cocktails in the 2nd.

OChateau Wine + Cheese tasting lunch Lunch and learn!

Prescription Cocktail Club Posh cocktail lounge in St. Germain. Recommended by friends.

PLAY

Eiffel Tour Paris’ most beloved icon. Sit on the lawn and admire the view with a picnic.

Jardin du Luxembourg A lush sanctuary in the heart of the 6th arrondissement.

L'Arc de Triomphe Stop to admire this monument built to honor Napoleon before strolling down the posh Avenue des Champs-Élysées.

Le Marais One of Paris’ coolest neighborhoods, go for the delicious French pastries, medieval cobble-stoned alleys and trendy boutiques. We especially love Blue Lemon Paris, Merci and Sézane.

Louvre Home to da Vinci’s timeless Mona Lisa, plan to spend at least a half day at the world’s most famous museum. While here, check out the nearby Tuileries Gardens. Bring some cheese, wine, baguettes, and enjoy the views.

Montmartre This village-esque art enclave on a hill is one of our favorite neighborhoods in Paris. Stop by the Sunday Brocante des Abbesses market, admire the Sacre Coeur church, observe the street artists and musicians, and look out across the gorgeous city view. The Moulin Rouge is also nearby.

Musée d'Orsay Internationally recognized for its Impressionist art, including works by Monet, Manet, Degas, Cézanne and more. The museum is closed on Mondays.

Notre Dame Cathedral A must see. Truly beautiful architecure inside and it. Aside from your day visit, we recommend an evening walk along the river to photograph the illuminated cathedral.

Saint Germain and the Latin Quarter The 5th and 6th arrondissements are traversed by the ghosts of literary and artistic legends who flocked here in the 19th and 20th centuries. Today these bohemian, student neighborhoods are excellent for a mosey around.

Seine river cruise A bit touristy but offers amazing views of the city from a different vantage point. Go at sunset.

Day Trips

No trip to France is complete without a visit to the Champagne region. Home to Moet, Veuve Clicquot, and Dom Perignon, this region is a must see. Rent a car for a self-guided trip or book a tour through Ô Chateau.

Palace of Versailles The opulent, former seat of the French monarchy is an easy day trip from the center of Paris. About an hour by train, go in the morning to tour the chateau before spending an hour or two in the gardens. For a little insider tip, rent a golf cart to explore the full extent of the gardens. Buy tickets online in advance.

STAY

Our favorite neighborhoods to stay in are Le Marais (3rd arrondissement), the Latin Quarter (5th) and Saint Germain (6th). Airbnbs are generally the best value for money. Friends have also recommended the four star Hôtel Atmosphères near the Sorbonne in the 6th arrondissement.

LOCATIONS NEARBY

Ho Chi Minh City

Saigon was the 19th and 20th century capital of French Indochina and a major outpost of the Vietnamese-American war. Today Vietnam’s southern metropolis, renamed Ho Chi Minh, reminds us of New York City with its grit and exhaust, blaring horns, bustling population and crumbling colonial infrastructure.

For visits up to 30 days, many nationalities can apply for an eVisa in advance of travel.

Walk or take taxis or Ubers to get around. A trip from the airport to the city centre should be around $10. Only use the green or white cabs from the Mai Linh and Vinasun companies. Make sure the driver is wearing a uniform, that his identification is clearly listed upfront and that the meter is on.

EAT

Make sure to try a bowl of beef pho, fresh and fried spring rolls, and a Vietnamese omelet.

Hoa Tuc Authentic, contemporary Vietnamese cuisine. The restaurant also offers cooking classes.

Quán Ngon 138 An airy, two-story restaurant with traditional fare.

DRINK

The Vietnamese do not mess around when it comes to coffee (and they make it strong!). Pop into one of the city’s many cafes for a sweet iced coffee.

Rex Hotel Garden Bar The Rex was made famous during the Vietnam War as the American military would hold a daily conference here. Today its rooftop bar has great views of the city and live music in the evenings.

PLAY

Cu Chi Tunnels A short trip outside the city, the tunnels were an underground network built and used by Viet Cong soliders. They played a critical role in the Viet Cong’s resistance against the Americans during the war. Book a half day trip through your hotel or a local tour shop.

Ben Thanh Market The city’s largest marketplace, stop by for local handicrafts, souvenirs and food. Make sure to haggle!

Independence Palace Also known as Reunification Palace, it was home to the President of South Vietnam during the war.

Mekong Delta if you have enough time, take a day trip to explore the delta and Vietnamese countryside. Book through your hotel or a local tour shop.

Notre Dame Cathedral

Saigon Central Post Office This colonial vestige is incredibly well-preserved.

STAY

District 1, also known as Bến Nghé, is the city centre and provides convenient access to most sites, restaurants and nightlife.