About Megan McDonough

Megan McDonough

Megan Eileen McDonough is writer, blogger and social media specialist based in New York City. She also runs Bohemian Trails, a lifestyle blog designed for the savvy and stylish traveler. Bohemian Trails aims to feature must-see places around the world, covering everything from revamped neighborhoods and vibrant street art to innovative tech hubs and everything in between. Her cultural escapades have taken her to Latin America, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East.

Megan is also a freelance writer and social media specialist based in New York City. She contributes to various online and print publications in the travel and fashion industries and is an international correspondent for both Jetsetter and Northstar Travel Media.


Latest Posts by Megan McDonough

Jamaica Is So Much More Than Its Beaches

July 20, 2014 by  

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My recent trip to Jamaica was filled with so many memories that it’s hard not to recount them all. Everything from the picturesque beaches to the inventive culinary scene is impressive, not to mention extremely appealing to millennials. During my short but sweet stay in Jamaica I explored both Negril and Montego Bay. Although they are only about an hour or so apart by car, they felt very distinct from each other so I can only imagine what the rest of Jamaica has to offer travelers.

Many people heading to Jamaica spend a good amount of their time relaxing at the all-inclusive resorts and while there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, I wanted to highlight a few additional ways to see a more cultural side of Jamaica. As tempting as it is to sleep by the beach all day drinking piña coladas (don’t worry, I’ve been there!) spend at least a day or two getting out and immersing yourself in the colorful culture waiting just outside your hotel’s door.

Millennial Travel Guide to Jamaica

Volunteering at the Negril All Age School

By far the most rewarding experience while in Jamaica was getting to spend a few hours volunteering at the Negril All Age School. Whether you’re a seasoned volunteer or simply looking to dip your toes into the field while on vacation, this program makes it easy for all travelers to get involved at some level. We spent time with the children during their recess and then broke up into pairs and read to the students.

I was a little nervous at first but I left feeling really invigorated. In fact, I didn’t want to leave. When they all hugged me at the end of class, I felt so incredibly loved. Back in the day (high school) I spend my summers lifeguarding and teaching swim lessons. Although that was a decade ago, it took a visit to this local school to make me realize just how much I miss working with kids. It also was another perfect example of how happiness has little to do with one’s physical possessions and much more to do with one’s outlook on life.

As I went from classroom to classroom, I couldn’t help but compare their humble school to my upper-middle class elementary school. The two couldn’t have been more different and yet the students at Negril All Age School looked a whole lot more content than I remember being at their age. I might have been there to teach them, but it was ultimately these students who taught me a much more profound lesson. For anyone interested in getting involved during their stay, you can reserve your volunteer spot through the Rockhouse Foundation.

Visitors to Jamaica (not just the hotel itself) can contact them by phone or email and ask to help out at the school Monday through Friday. Something worth noting is that many hotels have their own community programs, so it wouldn’t hurt to ask the hotel you’re staying at about what programs they offer.

How to Experience Jamaica Beyond the Beach

Eating Jamaican jerk at Murphy’s

Right after our volunteering experience we slowed things down with a stop at Murphy’s for a taste of Jamaican jerk. He was nice enough to open early just for us and I’m so glad he did. Our group each ordered something different on the menu and everyone raved about their food. I ordered the jerk chicken, which came with a beautifully styled tomato on top, this delicious donut-type dessert called festival (it really is a party in your mouth!) and some fresh fruit. In true Jamaican fashion, I flushed it all down with a Red Stripe.

After gobbling down our food like nobody’s business, Murphy swung by to see how we liked everything. As it turns out, Murphy’s dad originally started the restaurant, so he’s been working there his whole life. He also lives on the property and grows ackee and mango trees in the backyard.

Opting to not use black pepper, Murphy makes his own curry, jerk and other spices from the plants on his property. More information can be found on his Facebook page and make sure to stop by during opening hours (2-10pm daily). What I appreciated most about our time at Murphy’s was how approachable he was and how passionate he is about his craft. Clearly talented, his laid-back vibe and easy going nature helps create an all-around comfortable atmosphere. I wandered around the grounds while waiting for our meal and it really feels like you’re eating in someone’s home rather than a restaurant.

Jamaican Jerk

Visiting a traditional Rastafarian village (complete with jam session)

Jamaica is the land of Bob Marley and there are plenty of ways to dabble in the reggae arts. Our group spent a few hours at a traditional Rastafarian village. This, along with the volunteering, are the most rewarding ways to delve deeper into Jamaican culture in my opinion. When I first learned that we were going to be meeting some Rastafaris, I was intrigued but also unsure as to how authentic this would feel. Sometimes mass tourism can take away the “realness” of a place but luckily this was not the case at all at the village. After learning about some of the Rastafarian beliefs and ways of living, we followed our guide across a creek and through a grassy trail. Along the way he pointed out the different trees and what purpose each served. There was one tree that apparently hints at when a rainstorm will hit. It made me realize how powerful nature is and how much we can learn from the sights and sounds around us. Finally, we entered a quiet village area where there were members building local crafts, preparing vegetarian dishes and a few people playing the drums. After a leisurely tour through the grounds, it was time to listen to our new friends play some music. After about three songs, the band members invited us to the stage to contribute to the next few songs. I look pretty excited to be up there, don’t I? Before leaving, I stopped by the craft market to do some shopping. Similar to the Negril All Age School, I found it hard to leave this serene oasis in the middle of Jamaica.

Rastafarian village in Jamaica

Time Traveling at Rose Hall

When we learned that our adventure tour was canceled due to mud all over the trails, our group leaders suggested we visit Rose Hall instead. This was a completely spur-of-the-moment decision and one that filled me with a mix of anticipation and trepidation because we would be walking into ghost territories…maybe. Rose Hall is located in Jamaica but could easily fit somewhere in the American South.

There were moments when I was so swept up in the story of the “White Witch” that I did confuse my surrounding with the beautiful backdrop of Savannah or Charleston. Despite the picturesque views, the story behind Rose Hall is not so beautiful. Without getting too gruesome, because it really is a sad reflection on humanity, plantation owner Annee Palmer earned the nickname of the “White Witch” because she was so horrific to her slaves.

She managed to charm and then kill her three husbands before she herself was murdered by one of her slave lovers at the tender age of 29. Our guide was dressed in typical clothing from the 1820s when Annie first occupied the residence and as creepy as our day tour was, they also offer ones at night. While this was not originally part of our itinerary, I think it’s a good eye-opener to how far we’ve come as a human race. Subjects like slavery, murder and physical abuse are never easy but it’s important to understand our past so we can create a better future for all races, genders and ethnicities. For more information on the events that took place here, visit their website.

Rose Hall Plantation

 

Snorkeling and dancing the day away

While this article focuses on how to go beyond the beaches, I’m squeezing in a cruise option because, well, technically, you aren’t on the beach. Our three hour Reggae Catamaran cruise combined soft adventure with drunken dancing. After about half hour of cruising, passengers have the opportunity to snorkel. This was the first time I opted to wear my contacts while snorkeling and that was a good decision.

There were tons of fish swimming near the reef and the water was a nice refresher from the summer heat. Once everyone is back on the boat after snorkeling, the bar opens and there is lunch served inside. There’s another stop in Margaritaville involving a slide and a trampoline floating on water. At this point, most passengers were clearly tipsy and the lifeguard in me was like “wait, are they ok?!” but of course everyone was perfectly fine.

Once everyone is back on the boat, the DJ picks up his set and people dance like there’s no tomorrow. Also worth mentioning is that this excursion is definitely geared toward the 21-35 crowd. It was nice letting loose for awhile, sipping a rum punch and laying out on the outer deck. I’ve personally never been on a cruise that combined snorkeling with a dance party and for millennials, this was the perfect mix of culture and nightlife so to speak. If you decide to follow in my footsteps, make sure to bring your camera because the views are absolutely stunning.

adventure tours in Jamaica

Looking for more opportunities to experience the real Jamaica? The Meet the People program is a great way to gain a local perspective by actually meeting and spending time with locals. We took advantage of this by setting up a meeting with fashion designer Pablo Palair and stopping by his showroom in Montego Bay.

What was the most noteworthy thing you’ve done on a trip ? Tell me in the comments below!

This trip was hosted by Visit Jamaica however all opinions are my own.

 

Explore 5 of the Best Bike Trails in Berlin This Summer

July 14, 2014 by  

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Berlin is one of those magnificent cities where biking becomes an art form. My first time there, about two years ago, I signed up for a few walking tours or simply wandered through the neighborhoods on my own. While this is certainly a great way to get a feel for local culture, biking does give a new perspective.

Here are five bike trails for every interest. Keep in mind that many of the routes will intersect, thus giving you a tour of many of Berlin’s most popular and iconic neighborhoods. Happy trails!

Parks

Berlin is a city filled with green space, which may come in the form of a spacious park or a quiet courtyard. I would start in Mitte (literally means middle, or center) and make your way to Volkspark on the edge of Friedrichshain and Prenzlauer Berg. The tree-shaded park is open 24/7 and has playgrounds, tennis courts, a pond and a restaurant. Then I’d somehow weave along from East to West until you reach the Tiergarten (pictured below). Located in central Berlin, this is where you’ll find the zoo and a few cleverly hidden beer gardens. This is a huge park so biking really is the best way to see it all. If you’re been biking all day, watching the sun set along the river is the ultimate reward. Otherwise, just stop here for a picnic before heading back to your hotel.

Berlin Bike Trails for Art and Culture

Architecture

Berlin is one of the most fascinating cities when it comes to architecture and I didn’t quite realize this until seeing it from the bike lane. Prenzlauer Berg is one of the best examples of gentrification following the fall of the Berlin Wall. What once was a bohemian hangout for struggling artists is now a hotspot for Berlin’s trendiest residents. Because of the increase in rents, there are also a lot of families living here. Yet, if you look up at the buildings you can see that there are a few that haven’t been revamped, like the brown flat pictured below. From here, make your way to the Friedrichshain neighborhood where many of the buildings are modeled in East German architecture. On foot, I never noticed the contrasting styles. By bike, however, it is too obvious to ignore.

5 Berlin Bike Trails for Every Interest

Street Art

With gentrification came a whole lot of street art so pretty much anywhere you go in Berlin, you’re sure to stumble upon something that catches your eye. I even managed to a few of El Bocho’s “Little Lucy” graffitis. Kreuzberg is one of the areas most well-known for its street art. The famous Kreuzberg “Astronaut-Space Crusader” by Victor Ash, located near Kreuzberg’s Skalitzer Strasse, has become one of the city’s most iconic images. “Brothers” and ”Leviathan,” both work by Blu, are also here.  Depending on how much time you have, Friedrichshain is another neighborhood where street art reigns supreme. Although the infamous Tacheles is no longer open, I still recommend going to Mitte to see a few different types of graffiti like stencils (made out of cardboard paper) for example.

street art in Berlin

Markets

If you’re hoping to hit up a few different markets, remember that many of them take place on the weekends. The Mauer Park flea market is one of my favorites but plan your visit around your particular interest. Arrive early in the morning to beat the crowed or swing by in the late afternoon/early evening for a massive outdoor karaoke party. The Kreuzberg market is another popular weekend pastime where you can shop for second-hand clothes, flowers and even stop for a beer in the garden next door. If you’re visiting during the week, consider heading to the Turkish Market, held on Tuesdays and Fridays. From textures to fresh fruit, color is all around. Finally, the Flea Market at Bode Museum on Museum Island is the go-to spot for antique books.

Berlin markets

Lifestyle

Berliners really know how to live and I’m somewhat jealous of their mastery of the whole “work/life balance.” Most people commute by bike so there will always be a place to lock your bike, and do make sure to lock it rather than testing your luck. In general though, Prenzlauer Berg and Mitte are the best spots for fashion, design and an all-around boho-chic vibe. Mitte has some of the newest and hippest bars and restaurants, making this a perfect area to stop for a light lunch or coffee. Stop by St. Oberholz to mingle with Berlin’s start-up crowd or indulge in a four-course dinner at Der Hahn Ist Tot! for 19 Euro. To really get to the heart of Berlin’s lifestyle, splurge on a tour with Henrik of Berlingaten. I’ve toured with him twice now and he eat, sleeps and breathes Berlin.

lifestyle trends in Berlin

Portland Oregon Guide: From Culture & Architecture to Crafts & Breweries

July 9, 2014 by  

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As I quickly learned upon landing in PDX, Portland is a city that is constantly innovating itself while never shedding its “weird” appeal. Personally, Portland has interested me because there is so much going on in terms of organic produce, farm-to-table cuisine and beer trends but that’s just scratching the surface compared to what I experienced while on the ground. I discovered that Portland is also quite interesting in terms of architecture, neighborhoods and artisan crafts. Whether you’re in town for three days like I was or planning to extend your visit even longer, here are 5 bohemian ways to tour Portland.

Artisan Crafts

It seems like everyone is Portland is busy creating something and that was such a treat to experience during my stay. One of my favorite places to find artisan crafts was in Union Way, a collection of shops all housed under the same roof. I snapped this photo at WILL Leather Goods after admiring an array of colorful, leather wallets near the entrance. I also popped into QUIN (mentioned again below) for some sugary samples.

They are really great about selling products from other local companies. About two blocks away from Union Way is Powell’s Books, the largest independent used and new book shop in the world. One could easily spend an entire day here plan ample time to explore. Alberta Street in the Alberta Arts District and Mississippi Avenue are other hotspots to eat, drink and shop the local way. There’s also some great street art here, so keep your eyes and ears open.

5 Bohemian Ways to Tour Portland

Breweries

As of right now there are 53 breweries in Portland, with an estimate of 60 opening up by the end of 2014. In the greater Portland area, there are 106 breweries so there is a lot of variety when it comes to beer. Our group took a tour with Brewvana, a company that offers pretty awesome small-group brewery tours. We started at Hopsworks to sample some organic beer before stopping by Commons Brewery and Cascade Brewering.

Burnside Brew Company is also a local joint and if you’re venturing beyond Portland, definitely take in the fabulous view at Thunder Island Brewing. In general, most of the breweries are located on the east side of Portland, mainly because there is more space so taking a tour really helps in terms of getting from one brewery to another. If you’re interested in sour beers, my favorites were at Cascade Brewering but in general, I enjoyed the beer at Commons Brewery the best.

Portland breweries

Lifestyle

Portland is as laid-back as I imagined it to be and that was a refreshing change from many places I’ve visited. One of the aspects of Portland that I appreciate so much is the mix of urban and residential areas. If you walk through the Pearl District or Old Town Chinatown, you really get the feeling that you are living in a bustling city. Yet, just across the river on the east side, it feels much more family-friendly and bohemian.

Many of the beer gardens are located here, in addition to the Alberta Arts District, lively Mississippi Avenue and plenty of bars, restaurants and cafes. Another lifestyle trend I noticed was the importance placed upon fresh produce and Farmers Markets. There are a number of these markets including the Portland Farmers Market (the main one, located on the Portland State University (PSU) campus), the Hollywood Farmers Market and the Beaverton Farmers Market.

Another aspect of Portland living is getting out there and dipping your toes in adventure. Our group spent a day in and around the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area. With more than 100 waterfalls adorning the cliffs on both sides of the Columbia River, countless hikes and breathtaking backdrops, it’s hard to believe that this is less than an hour’s drive from downtown Portland.

Portland neighborhoods

Architecture

During our bike tour with Cycle Portland Bike Tours, our guide gave us a crash course into the local architecture by taking us to one of the city’s most famous double-decker Steel Bridge.

Portland features every different type of bridge architecture and this particular one is among the only double lift telescoping bridges in the world. In general, Portland is a very green city so naturally, it has become a leader in sustainable architecture as well. Several of the most prominent examples are within walking distance of Portland State University on the west side of town. Hotel Modera, KOIN Center, Portland Building and the US Marshal Department are all worth a picture.

A few other highlights include the Rose Garden Arena, Ziba World Headquarters and the Oregon Convention Center. Even biking across the bridge to the east showcases different architectural styles.

In fact, next year (September, 2015) Portland’s newest bridge will open. It’s the first new bridge in over 40 years so this is pretty exciting. Recently named Tilikum Crossing, it will go from downtown to Southeast Portland and will be used for public transportation, cyclists and pedestrians. Sorry, cars, no room for you! Coined the “bridge of the people,” it’s another example of Portland’s sustainable planning.

Millennials Travel Guide to Portland

Desserts

When it comes to desserts, let’s just say that Portland takes the cake. Voodoo Doughnut is a favorite among both locals and tourists and I highly highly going there to see (and taste) the funky flavors like Bacon Maple and crazy toppings like Oreos, Fruit Loops and vibrant-colored sprinkles. For better tasting donuts, Blue Star is delicious and surprisingly healthy, at least for a dessert.

They make their donuts with a brioche recipe originated from the south of France, sustainable bread flower, Cage Free eggs and other local products. For something to beat the summer hear, head to Salt & Straw for an array of fresh flavors with a kick. I ordered their Sea Salt Ice Cream with Caramel Ribbon. For a head-start on Happy Hour, try one of their rotating cocktail flavors like the Lemon Amaretto Sour Sherbet or Rhubarb Saffron in Champagne. Overall, Portland is definitely the place to indulge your sweet tooth.

For even more sweets, visit Ruby Jewel for ice cream and ice cream sandwiches, QUIN for artisan candy in Union Way, Lauretta Jean’s for pies, Two Tarts for tiny cookies, Petunia’s Pies & Pastries for vegan options, The Sugar Cube (formerly a food cart) for pastries and Saint Cupcake or Pix Patisseries for macaroons. The list really goes on and on but I’ll stop here.

Portland cuisine

What bohemian city have you explored recently? Tell me in the comments below!

This trip was hosted by Travel Portland. All opinions are my own.

Milan Italy for Food, Culture and Lodging

July 1, 2014 by  

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When you think of Italy, what do you think of? When you think of Milan, where does your mind take you? For most, it is bound to be fashion, as this glamorous city located in northern Italy is home to internationally known designers and prominent retailers. Others might be more concerned with football, owing to the fact that both Internazionale and AC Milan are two of the world’s most famous teams.
An Offbeat Guide to Milan

Photo: Flickr/Maurizio

But those who choose to delve a little deeper on city breaks to Milan will be rewarded with a profusion of historical and cultural delights. By taking things slowly, getting off the beaten track and approaching this city like a local, you’ll truly appreciate the Milanese’s love of art and food together with fashion and football.

Millennials Travel Guide to Milan

Photo: Flickr/ilClaudione

Where to stay

Arco della Pace and Corso Sempione – Situated behind the Castello Sforzesco and Parco Sempione, Corso Sempione with its Arco della Pace area is a vibrant neighbourhood where bright orange trams make their way through tree-lined streets. Due to its aperitivo bars and late-night dining options, travellers that want a good night’s sleep should probably look elsewhere. However, its cosmopolitan and energetic vibe makes it an appealing place to soak up authentic Milan.

Città Studi – For something completely different, consider staying in this decidedly residential area of the city. Although public transport links aren’t the greatest, you’ll be able to experience a slice of typical Milanese life against a backdrop of quite parks and green spaces.What to do

Try some classic cuisine – It should be considered a crime not to try some traditional Italian dishes while in Milan. Signature meals in this particular city include risotto alla Milanese (saffron flavoured risotto with bone marrow), cotoletta alla Milanese (breaded veal cutlet that is fried) and cassoeula (a dish made up of pork and green vegetables typically served in winter).

Learn about the residents’ affection for art – The Bagatti Valsecchi museum celebrates and gives its name to the remarkable tastes of art collectors Fausto and Giuseppe, who used to live in this late 19th-century neo-Renaissance palazzo. Seeing as these two brothers wanted to be surrounded by the trappings of 15th century life, the museum is filled with Murano glass, Flemish tapestries and Renaissance art.

Go on a bike tour – Even if you’d prefer to visit unusual attractions, a tour of the city’s biggest landmarks is still an enjoyable experience. A relaxed and easy-going bike ride of Milan’s most intriguing and enthralling areas will typically only take a few hours too. From Palestro and Manzoni to Ticinese and San Babila, you’ll be able to go back and explore your favourite places at another time as well.

Milan Travel Tips

Photo: Flickr/Nick Grosoli

Where to go

Brera – Home to the famous Pinacoteca di Brera art gallery, Brera is just a stone’s throw away from the beating heart of Milan – the Duomo. This area has plenty of quaint and quintessentially Italian cafes, bars, restaurants and shops, which can be found down Brera’s charming narrow streets.

Navigli – Similar to the other bohemian neighborhoods in major cities, the Navigli area has gone from a place where cash-strapped creatives previously dwelled to a more gentrified and privileged district. Even so, the beautiful canals perfectly compliment the area’s small art studios and thriving nightlife.

Things to do in Milan

Photo: Flickr/Bjørn Giesenbauer

Although Milan conjures up thoughts of catwalk models and passionate football fans, this city is a hotbed for art, culture and cuisine. So to get the most out of this fascinating place, act like a local and go at your own pace.

This is a guest post by Christopher Harvey.

 

Sweden in June: Artsy Stockholm by Day & Night

June 30, 2014 by  

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I love Sweden and its flagship city and capital Stockholm, is one of the most design-oriented and fashionable cities I have ever visited. Artistic expression is seen through the clothes people wear, the food they eat and the galleries they frequent.

Södermalm For the Vintage & Quirky

Södermalm, or “Söder” as it’s more commonly called by locals, is the southern island in Stockholm. The bohemian vibe has become the prime location for independent shops ranging from quirky design stores to vintage shops. Within the island of Södermalm, the SoFo (South of Folkungagatan) area is the most lively. I slipped into a few coffee shops, one of which hat allows patrons to purchase the second-hand furniture they’re sitting on. For a little bit of everything, wander down the streets surrounding Nytorget city square and playground.

Head to Grandpa or Brandstationen for 50-70s design, Retro.etc for 60s ad 70s fashion or Wigerdals Värld for nostalgia. Just above Folkungagatan Street is Monica Förster (Östgötagatan 18), one of the most famous contemporary designers and also nearby is 10-Gruppen (Götgatan 25) features colorful, uncompromising designs that never go out of style.

Neighborhood Guide to Stockholm

Hornsgaten for Artisan Crafts

There are a few different areas to purchase the best crafts Stockholm has to offer and Hornsgaten is one of them. The neighborhood is also located on Södermalm in the north western tip of the island. This is one of the prettiest areas in my opinion, partly because parts of the neighborhood are located on top of a hill overlooking the Old Town. Formerly nicknamed “Knife Söder, this neighborhood has undergone a complete revamp over the years. Now a popular spot for flea markets, locally brewed beer and top-notch restaurants, some people have started calling Hornsgaten “Knife and Fork Söder.”

Hornsgaten, between Slusen and Mariatorget, is home to several ceramics and art galleries. There’s literally a hump in this area so that’s a clear indicator that you’ve reached the right spot. There are plenty of stores here, with Konsthantverkarna, Blås & Knåda, Kaolin and The Glassery among the most renowned. For traditional Swedish crafts, Östermalm may be a slightly better bet.

Fashion and Design Guide to Stockholm

Östermalm for Great Sweden Design

I spent three hours walking through Östermalm, if that gives you any indication of how much there is to discover here. Located in Central Stockholm, this is one of the city’s most exclusive neighborhoods, at least when it comes to interior design. Asplund is Swedish minimalism at its best. Shop for everything from high-quality furniture to rugs and lamps or just look around like I did. Skultana Concept Store (Grev Turegatan 18) is a 17th century brass factory store that somehow manages to feel contemporary and even a little modern.

Östermalm is also a great place to shop for high-end antiques. Most of the auction houses and antique shops are located along Arsenalsgatan, Sibyllegatan and Nybrogatan. I slipped into a few, including Rehns Antikhandel (Sibyllegatan 26) and was blown away by all the items up for grabs. Also in this area is an indoor food market where people can stock up on groceries or just enjoy a leisurely lunch with friends.

Stockholm's Design District

Norrmalm for Fashion & Shopping

Norrmalm is a great area to shop for clothing. Besides global brands like H&M, there are plenty of other options like NK, Ströms and MOOD Stockholm. Åhléns is a popular department store selling many of Sweden’s most popular brands, so this might be a good starting point if you want an overview of current fashion trends.

Don’t skip town without strolling through Biblioteksgatan, one of Stockholm’s most famous streets and home to Sweden’s premier fashion brands. Here you will find the original flag ship store for Acne, one of Sweden’s biggest success stores. There’s also a mix of established and up and coming Swedish labels, with styles ranging from preppy to glam. Filippa K for great for simple yet stylish pieces with timeless appeal while Hope focusses on tailored outerwear, purses and shoes. WeSC, or We Are The Superlative Conspiracy, promotes diversity and human rights.

Stockholm Fashion

Gamla Stan for Architecture and Conscience Crafts

The Old Town may feel a bit touristy, but that’s hardly a reason to skip it entirely. In fact, thanks to a few helpful readers who suggested I walk through Gamla Stan in the early morning before most people are awake, I was able to enjoy the historic buildings and quiet streets all to myself. In terms of design, stores range from typical souvenir stores to conscience crafts. Kalikå (Österlånggatan 18) sells Fair Trade toys while Iris Hantverk sells crafts made my blind artists. There’s really something for everyone in Gamla Stan so take your time.

In terms of architecture, The Old Town is simply stunning. The Royal Palace, Stockholm Cathedral and The Nobel Museum are all located in this area and feature various styles of architecture. Dating back to the 13th century, the medieval alleyways and romantic cobblestone streets are reminiscent of North German architecture and give visitors a glimpse into what life was like hundreds of years ago.

Stockholm Architecture

If you have time I’d also recommend visiting both Kungsholmen and Vasastan. Also primarily a residential island, Kungsholmen has tons of restaurants, bars and cafes especially along Hantverkargatan and Fleminggatan. If visiting during the summer, there are a few places on the island to swim. Vasastan, another residential area, also has a slew of restaurants. Most of them are concentrated around Odenplan and St. Eriksplan. There are also several vintage stores here and when you need a breather from all that shopping, stop for a picnic in Vasaparken.

This trip was hosted by Visit Sweden and Visit Stockholm. All opinions are my own.

Going All Green in Urban Spaces Throughout Berlin

June 24, 2014 by  

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Having just returned from Berlin for the second time in less than two years, I’m even more determined to make this fabulous city my home one day. In many ways, Berlin reminds me a lot of New York. It has the same contagious energy that lures people (like me) back time after time. Yet, Berlin has a few things that New York lacks and its these differences that makes the biggest impact. Firstly, the variety of green spaces really help to balance out the more urban areas. Secondly, there are also far fewer people here, but that’s true of almost any city.

The most fascinating aspect about Berlin, at least in my opinion, is that it is in constant flux. This year marks the 25th Anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and you can feel the excitement in the air. Furthermore, new developments like Bikini Berlin in City West are revolutionizing the way travelers interact with the city. Regardless of your travel style, here are five urban and green spaces to find inspiration during your visit.

For creative writing inspiration, go to the Fairy Tale Fountain

The Fairy Tale Fountain (or Märchenbrunnen) is something that feels like it’s literally out of…well, a fairy tale. Located in the Volkspark Friedrichshain park, this hardly your typical watering hole. For anyone who is remotely interested in creative writing, stumbling upon this fountain may very well become the highlight of your trip. See if you can guess what fairy tales are represented in stone sculptures. A few, like Sleeping Beauty and Little Red Riding Hood are fairly obvious but there are a few that aren’t as well-known, at least by American standards so take your time. Our group passed through this area on our bikes but I could have easily stayed here all afternoon. If you’re ever looking for a peaceful spot to read a new book of perhaps write one of your own, this is the perfect place.

Insider's Guide to Berlin

For innovation inspiration, go to St. Oberholz

I’ve worked with a few companies based in Germany so naturally, I was curious to see what the start-up scene is like in Berlin. While there are a few co-working spaces throughout the city, St. Oberholz seems to be the “it” hub for innovative tech companies. Conveniently located in the trendy Mitte neighborhood, this joint serves multiple purposes. On the ground floor is a restaurant and cafe, with tables and desks lining the walls. Upstairs is where the real co-working area begins. The space is open 24/7 and there’s even a conference room for weekly meetings. Finally, in the event that you are super lazy or simply too smitten with Mitte to leave, you can live in the building as well. I’m sure this is rather appealing to start-ups because they really do work round the clock.

Inspiring Urban and Green Spaces in Berlin

For introspective inspiration, go to the nearest courtyard

Berlin is a city filled with courtyards so if you’re ever needing a few minutes of solitude, just slip into the nearest one. Sure, courtyards are technically designated for residents who live in the apartments surrounding them but it’s completely fine to pass through and wander around. From my experience, Berliners are generally friendly and won’t mind you stepping on their turf. This particular courtyard is in the revamped Kreuzberg neighborhood and it is one of my favorites. Another way to experience one of Berlin’s courtyards is to make a meal of it. I recommend heading to Katz Orange because the food is delicious and they have outdoor seating. Perhaps the most famous cluster of courtyards are The Hackesche Höfe in the center of Berlin. Here you can walk through eight interconnected courtyards.

courtyards in Berlin

For alternative inspiration, go to Görlitzer Park

Kreuzberg is easily one of Berlin’s most beloved neighborhoods and it deserves every and all praise. So many things intrigue me about this area – everything from the architecture to the street art screams creativity and there’s always form of art taking form. Görlitzer Park has something for everyone. There is a children’s farm and playgrounds for kids and hip bars and outdoor seating areas for adults. Plan to come here on a warm day and pack a picnic to share with friends. Like many popular public parks in cities around the world, this might not be the best place to hangout after dark. The park was once an old railway station so it’s thrilling to see how much it has changed over the years. That being said, it has a gritty appeal, thanks to the graffiti-covered walls.

Berlin's hippest neighborhoods

For design inspiration, browse through Bikini Berlin

Exploring City West was a mostly new experience for me and at times, I didn’t even feel like I was in Berlin. Unlike the hipster neighborhoods of Friedrichshain and Prenzlauer Berg, City West caters to a more upscale crowd. Our hotel overlooked Bikini Berlin on one side and Tiergarten park and Berlin Zoo on the other, providing quite the view. I thought people were joking when they said that you can see the monkeys from the hotel but that’s completely true and undeniably awesome. Anyway, Bikini Berlin is situated right beside the hotel and houses some of Europe’s top design brands. On the top floor is an outdoor bar and meeting space, which also overlooks the monkeys and on the lower floors there are galleries and shops selling designer duds and items for the home.

Bikini Berlin

For anything else, head to Prenzlaur Berg’s secret garden

If you’ve read even a few posts from my adventures abroad, you’d know that I find cemeteries to be extremely peaceful places. So technically this is a cemetery and not a garden but it sure feels like one. This particular cemetery, which is actually three packed into one: Georgen-Parochialgemeinde, St. Nikolai and St. Marien, was closed in 1970 and reopened in 1991. Many of the graves have since been restored yet it still feels frozen in time, almost as if you’ve stumbled upon something secret. I spent a few minutes walking through the area and could have easily gotten lost not only in direction but in thought. This is a great retreat right in the middle of the city center. It’s also very close to the Fairy Tale Fountain so try to squeeze them both in while you’re in the area, either on foot or by bike.

cemeteries in Berlin

This trip was hosted by Visit Berlin. All opinions are my own. I stayed at 25hours Hotel Berlin during my stay and toured many of these spots with Berlin on Bike. I reached Berlin from Hamburg via Rail Europe‘s German Rail Pass.

3 Stunning Cruise Ports in Europe for Sailing This Summer

June 18, 2014 by  

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Since summer is in full swing, we decided to take a look at some of Europe’s most captivating and compelling port cities. Whether you choose to visit the beautiful and balmy Mediterranean or the colder yet equally attractive Baltic Sea, there are plenty of opportunities to discover what life next to the coast is really like. Three of the most scenic coastal cities are Hamburg, Barcelona and Dubrovnik but even if you don’t get the chance to see them by boat, they are just as impressive by land.

So if you fancy joining these masses, or simply feel like getting away from it all for a spell, why not check out some of Europe’s most ports.

Hamburg

Despite going toe-to-toe with Berlin and Munich, Germany’s other economic powerhouses, the country’s largest port has a more cosmopolitan and hedonistic feel to it. Two thirds of the evergreen Hamburg is dedicated to parks or lakes while time-honored buildings and modern architecture overlook the city’s canals and quaysides.

As you’d expect from a water-rich city, numerous activities and attractions make the most of Hamburg’s lakes and canals. You can sail across the Alster Lake, paddle a canoe along winding waterways or just unwind at the Holthusen Baths.

Learning about Hamburg’s commercial side with a tour of its port is an educational experience, but for more cultural encounters be sure to check out the Kunsthalle art museum.

Top Cruise Destinations in Europe

Photo: Flickr/Giuseppe Bognanni

Barcelona

Even if this is one of Europe’s most popular cruise ports, the remarkably beautiful city of Barcelona simply cannot be ignored. Catalonia’s capital is an eclectic mix of Gothic architecture, modern skyscrapers, beaches to die for and a vibrant nightlife.

Barcelona is known as one of the most bike-friendly cities in the world, so put the ‘green ring’ of cycle paths that surround the city’s metropolitan area to good use and explore the sights with pedal power. Alternatively, the Costa Brava coastline is the perfect spot for surfing, wakeboarding and jet-skiing.

The work of renowned architect Antoni Gaudí is visible throughout the city, but La Sagrada Familia, Parc Güell and Casa Milà are particular highlights. For a quintessential Barcelona experience, take a stroll down La Rambla (the city’s most famous street) and let the various street performers and human statues entertain you, or visit the harbor side promenade La Ribera.

Cruising to Europe’s Prettiest Ports

Photo: Flickr/Miquel González Page

Dubrovnik

According to George Bernard Shaw, “those who seek paradise on Earth should seek it in Dubrovnik.” Encircled by the Adriatic Sea, Dubrovnik is referred to as “the Pearl of the Adriatic” and the old city sits comfortably on the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites.

If you like adventure sports, you’ll like Dubrovnik. Sea kayaking, mountain biking, scuba diving and rock climbing are all here in plentiful supply, thanks to the surrounding waters and Dalmatian mountains. More traditional Croatian encounters include hunting small game like mouflon and fishing for bluefin tuna.

Historical attractions are the order of the day here. Dubrovnik Cathedral, the Franciscan Monastery, Sponza Palace, Rector’s Palace and the Church of St Blaise should be on the bucket list if you’re looking to come away with a sense of Dubrovnik’s history and culture.

You have bohemian Hamburg, cultural Barcelona and historic Dubrovnik. The time on the seas… the adventure… the discovery… visiting ports like these is what makes cruises fun.

Dubrovnik, Croatia

Photo: Flickr/Jonathan Tweed

This is a guest post by Christopher Harvey.

 

Cycling Your Way Through Hamburg Germany

June 11, 2014 by  

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Next time you head to Germany, think beyond Berlin and Munich. Hamburg is a great neighborhood city so as expected, I had a field day biking through them all. For the most part, Hamburg is already pretty established yet there are many changes in the works to drastically modernize the city as a whole. Many of the neighborhoods have or are currently experiencing gentrification, with HafenCity undergoing a complete revamp. There are a lot of neighborhoods in Hamburg but these fie are my favorites and in my opinion, the most appealing to any bohemian traveler looking to experience the city’s more alternative side.

Old Town / City Center

Like many European cities, the Old Town (Altstadt) serves as the Hamburg’s City Center. There’s technically a New Town (Neustadt) as well but if you look at a map, you’ll notice that these are somewhat meshed together. The newer side has more parks while the older side houses many of Hamburg’s historic buildings, pedestrian walkways and monuments. This is probably the most traditional-looking district in Hamburg but it’s not to be overlooked. I suggest heading to the harbor for a picturesque view of the city or shopping for local spices at the market. Rathausmarket (pictured below) is the center of all the action and is located next to City Hall. This is a good starting or ending point.

Neighborhood Guide to Hamburg

Sternschanze

By far Hamburg’s most bohemian neighborhood, Sternschanze, or simply “Schanze,” is where all the hipsters live, work and play. There are also cafes, bars, restaurants and nightclubs to keep people entertained at all hours of the day and night. If you’ve ever visited Berlin, this neighborhood might feel a bit familiar. It’s gone through gentrification but there’s still a gritty appeal to the streets and a feeling of creativity in the air, as seen through the colorful street art lining the walls, weekend flea markets and a mixture of rundown and renovated buildings.

Schanze belongs to the borough of Altona, an up-and-coming area that boasts a bohemian and multicultural culture. Ottensen high street is the go-to place for shopping and clubbing and for live music, go to Fabrik.

Hamburg's Hippest Neighborhoods

HafenCity

There are lots of exciting changes happening in Hamburg and many of them are taking place in HafenCity, the city’s newest quarter. This mostly upscale residential area has been revamping abandoned warehouses into fancy offices, hotels, shops and cultural museums. As our tour guide explained, right now most of HafenCity is occupied by the wealthiest inhabitants who own several homes, which might explain why the neighborhood feels much quiet than most. The HafenCity project master plan covers ten different neighborhoods of different sizes so we can expect a lot of new developments in this part of Hamburg.

Just north of HafenCity is the Speicherstadt, the largest imber-pile warehouse in the world and also formerly part of the free zone. The Hamburg Dungeon, the Miniaturwunderland or the Deutsches Zollmuseum are all located here.

HafenCity, Hamburg

St. Georg

I spent my last morning in town walking through the St. Georg neighborhood. Just a short walk from the city center, St. Georg is Hamburg’s gay district and in my opinion, one of the most architecturally stunning. I wandered along Lange Reihe on a Saturday morning and things were already starting to pick up. Along the streets are cafes where locals get together for brunch, fashion and accessories stores and on this particular day, a street fair was about to take over the neighborhood. I saw several pop-up bars, a few rather impressive food stands with mobile ovens and even a few interactive games for children. All in all, this family-friendly area is one of Hamburg’s most frequented areas.

Hamburg's Gay District

Karolinenviertel

Located in the northern part of St. Pauli is the tiny neighborhood of Karolinenviertel. The main street is Marktstraße and while the area is mostly gentrified, there still plenty of hints of what the streets looked like before. Despite its quaint appearnce, the shops are surprisingly innovative.

Head to Maison Suneve, a Hamburg-based fashion label that designs womenswear, for pieces blending French and German minimalism and elegance. Their work is mostly inspired by digital prints and abstract shapes and if you look closely at some of their dresses from last season, you’ll see that the prints are actually based on some of the world’s most famous architectural buildings and landmarks.Similarly, Lockengeloet sells unique handmade items made from recyclable materials. Everything, from the oil barrels that become cupboards to the vinyl records that turn into wall lamps or books, are produced locally in St. Pauli

street art in Hamburg

St. Pauli

Also known as “Kiez,” St. Pauli is a avant-garde blend of culture, grittiness and entertainment. It’s Hamburg’s Red Light District but don’t let that deter you. The streets north of the Reeperbahn are more appropriate for day activities, as there are many cafes, restaurants and art galleries to visit. The streets south of the Reeperbahn are more nightlife-centric, so plan on hitting up a few bars and clubs in this part of town. Beatles’ fans should visit INDRA (Große Freiheit 64), where they band first performed. You can also stop by the apartment where they used to live, which is about a two minute walk from the infamous venue. To catch some of the after parties, head to the fish market on Landungsbruecken.

Hamburg's Red Light District

This trip was hosted by Hamburg Tourism. All opinions are my own.

 

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