About 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
There are so many fabulous neighborhoods in London to explore. Similar to New York City, I found that each area had its own distinct personality and that’s not the case in every city. This list doesn’t cover them all, but here are five neighborhoods perfect for the traveler wanting a unique off the beaten path experience.
I lived in Islington and I must admit that when I first arrived to my flat, I was disappointed. It was a rainy day and I had just had my first experience of taking the Tube during rush hour and let’s just say that my spirits were low. I soon learned to love this neighborhood for various reasons. For one thing, many residents are young, which means that there are tons of bars, shops and music venues nearby. Don’t be fooled by Islington’s hipster appearance. This is a popular neighborhood for people from all walks of life, including celebrities, socialites and successful professionals.
By now I’m sure you know how much I like writing about revamped neighborhoods and Shoreditch a great example of one. This is a great area to spot graffiti and wall murals because there are still many industrial warehouses yet to be covered in art. Some of the older brick warehouses have even converted into art galleries and in some cases, a free canvas for Banksy and other street artists. The neighborhood’s gritty appearance even extends indoors. Local bars and restaurants generally keep with the same ambiance, thus separating Shoreditch from other trendy hubs.
I worked in Marylebone at a fashion agency so clearly, this is a more posh neighborhood than some that made the cut. I much prefer the shops here rather than the ones on Oxford Street. Even though Marylebone is mere blocks from Oxford Street, it feels much more remote. There were so many days when I strolled through the neighborhood and barely heard a peep. Here you fill find top notch 5 star hotels, cozy cafes and small bookshops in addition to high-end boutiques and family-owned shops. Everything here is simply beautiful, from the elegant white stone buildings to the colorful streets.
Similar to Shoreditch, World’s End (not to be confused with the pub in Camden) is a revamped neighborhood that in many ways is still in the works. Location-wise, it’s in the western end of King’s Road in Chelsea and the residents here range from boho-chic young professionals to elderly couples who have lived here for decades. Definitely check out the Lots Road Auctions if you’re in the mood to score some vintage items. During the Swinging Sixties, bands like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones lit up the stages on Kings Road. Nowadays, Chelsea is a mix of true bohemians and polished professionals.
Located in the heart of London’s West End, Soho has cleaned up its rowdy reputation for the most part. Once happening spot for shadiness has since transformed into a cosmopolitan hub for music, stand-up comedy and cabaret performances. This is a great area to experience different forms of culture, from cuisine to clubs. Sure, Soho is crowded, but there is always something going on here and it’s that contagious energy that makes it so alluring to locals and tourists alike.
What is your favorite London neighborhood?
Kyoto is often considered a traditional city, particularly because there are so many temples and places of worship. While that’s certainly true in many aspects, I also found it to be very modern and full of creative people doing innovative things. Here are three cultural activities that I recommend for any savvy and stylish traveler…and even if you’re not necessarily seeking these off-the-beaten path attractions, these ideas will give you a glimpse into the local culture.
Visiting HOSOO was the very fist thing I did in Kyoto and if I hadn’t heard about it from another journalist, I probably would have skipped it entirely. For one thing, it’s not located in the city center but rather in the Nishijin District, a neighborhood characteristically known for its weaving and textile history. I had a meeting with Mr. Hosoo and since I was running late I decided to take a taxi, knowing that my sense of direction in a new city is never too accurate. Upon arriving, I immediately noticed the old style architecture of the houses. It’s also much quieter in this area and it feels more residential than the hustle and bustle of Kyoto Station.
Founded in 1688, Hosoo is a Kyoto-based textile company specializing in high-end interior design and fashion. Their headquarters are in Kyoto but they’ve partnered with global brands like Dior and Chanel so you might have already seen their work. As modern as they may seem, I was surprised to learn that the company actually traces back to the Kyoto silk industry in the sixth century.
On this particular afternoon the Hosoo team was prepping for a gallery reception that night where they would unveil their latest collection. I had a chance to see all of the items up close and let’s just say that I quickly became obsessed with the concept. Basically, each artist contributed furniture and decorative pieces to the space.
The artists featured are all part of Japan Handmade, a cooperative of Kyoto-based craft artists. They have a playful approach to traditional Japanese crafts and are constantly breaking boundaries through their work while keeping with the beauty of Japanese design aesthetics. They also teamed up with Oeo, a Danish design studio, to bring their vision to life. The collection includes pieces made from ceramics, metal-knitting, wood and bamboo.
What’s really fascinating is that even though many of these designers are young, they learned their trade from someone in their family so in many cases, these skills have been passed down from generation to generation. Although the technique and materials may be traditional, the designs feel so modern and very cutting-edge. Their techniques are 1,000 years old but their products are geared toward a global audience.
Before leaving Hosoo, I had the chance to go behind the scenes to see where they make their kimonos. The machines were so impressive but I was more interested in touching the soft fabrics scattered around the room. Hosoo fabrics are developed using premium materials like silk and wash paper and everything is manufactured right here in their workshop. The end-result is a design that stays true to the Japanese three-dimensional weaving technique but one that also showcases a more contemporary and international style.
If you’re interested in visiting the showroom during your trip, they recommend you making an appointment ahead of time just so they are aware of your visit. Their website is super informative and in English so don’t hesitate to reach out to them. To see more design spaces, keep an eye on Beyond Kyoto. Their luxury tour packages have not officially launched yet but they will feature visits to several artisan studios in addition to other unique experiences like an excursion to a tea plantation and a private Zen meditation session and Michelin-star restaurants for dinner.
Address: 752 Bisyamon-cho, Kuromon-dori Motoseiganji sagaru, Kamigyo-ku, Kyoto 602-8227
Fashion: Nishijin Textile Center
After visiting Hosoo, I stopped by the Nishijin Textile Center and within five minutes of being there, a live Kimono fashion show took place. It was so exciting to see how the seasonal elements of fall influenced the kimono designs and apart from the music and backdrop, the show felt just as fashion-forward as many of the shows I’ve seen during New York Fashion Week. What I liked about this textile center is that it allows tourists to learn about the art of kimono making in a free and interactive way.
If you go upstairs you can either souvenir shop or watch local weavers in action. I happened to visit on a day that was not crowded but I’m sure this place does fill up pretty fast during high season. However, it was one of the highlights of my trip and I left with a deeper appreciation for Kyoto art and tradition. Hosoo is less than a five minute walk from the Nishijin Textile Center so you can easily do both in one afternoon.
Address: Imadegawa Minamiiru, Horikawa-dori, Kamigyo-ku, Kyoto City
Sake: Matsui Shuzo Brewery
Unlike my journey to Hosoo, I took a public bus to Matsui Brewing during rush hour and I nearly missed my appointment altogether. From the outside, the space looks like a house rather than a sake brewery and store but then again, I wasn’t really sure what I was supposed to look for. Shortly upon arriving, the owner Matsui-san, took me behind the store to where he actually brews the sake. I climbed a small ladder to the top of the barrel and for the first time ever, I saw sake taking form.
I’ve taken tours of a couple vineyards before but I’ve never been able to get close enough to really understand how the whole process works. Matsui spoke perfect English and was genuinely excited by all of my questions. He also said that anyone can take a look at his brewery so if you are in town, don’t be afraid to ask.
When we went back to the store, it was time to sample a few different types. All are local and all are delicious, I promise! If I wasn’t planning to take my suitcase as a carryon, I would have had a shopping spree in here. The brewery tends to have a mixed clientele and that’s mainly because it’s located in a residential area but also quite close to the university. If you’re planning a day of sight-seeing, Matsui is about a ten or fifteen minute walk from the Imperial Palace.
There are two main reasons why I found this brewery extremely unique. Firstly, this water you see in the photo below is from the local water source. Sure, this is hardly revolutionary but I really appreciate that he is making use of his surroundings and thinking about the environment. Furthermore, 60-78% of energy used is solar energy and he even has a machine that keeps track of the measurements. It was also one of the last things he mentioned to me and only after he saw me aimlessly wandering around the shop.
Address: 1-6 Yoshida Kawaramachi, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto, Japan 606-8305
This trip was hosted by the Kyoto Convention Bureau. All opinions are my own.
One of my travel goals is to explore more cities in the United States and Nashville was at the top of that list. Oh, and if I’m going to be completely honest here, the ABC hit show of the same name might have had something to do with it. Although I don’t own a TV, I started to notice that every week I came up with some silly excuse to watch an episode on Hulu. Nashville was never far from my mind but the show definitely reignited my interested in visiting.
I also chose to explore Nashville in the winter because I simply love off-season travel. As a newcomer to Music City, there were a few things I noticed right off the bat that I think are worth sharing. Here are five reasons travelers will appreciate this cultural and creative city.
1. Nashville IS and IS NOT a walking city
Clearly, I didn’t do too much research before boarding my flight because I always assumed that Nashville was a walking city…and it is in some ways. On one hand, many of the main touristic attractions are located downtown – The Country Music Hall of Fame, the famous honky-tonks and The Frist Center for Visual Arts to name a few. Then there are the attractions that are father away and require a car, like The Parthenon (more on that later), Cheekwood and Belmont mansions and the Belle Meade Plantation. You might not have time to see them all but I recommend at least visiting one mansion because it’s a great representation of Nashville’s old-world charm.
2. Nashville’s music scene goes way beyond country
With a hit television chronicling the lives of two fictional country stars and a city with the nickname “Music City,” it’s only natural that one might assume that Nashville is all about country music. In many ways, it is but there are several different types of genres represented here and I wasn’t expecting that. Being the nerdy classical fan that I am, I spent an evening at the Nashville Symphony listening to The Irish Tenors perform. I got so into the live performance that there were moments when I forgot I was in Nashville and not Ireland. Then, the next night, I caught a show at The Bluebird Cafe. The lineup changes nightly but the intimate seating arrangements and soulful atmosphere remains the same.
3. Honky-tonk hopping is a culture
Yup, I discovered this first hand. If you’re unfamiliar with honky-tonks just imagine a crowded bar filled with people of every age jamming out to live country music, with a beer in hand. Then multiply that scene by about twenty because if you stroll down Broadway, there are a slew of of bars to choose from. It’s not like karaoke though – the performers do know how to sing and I really appreciated that. I stopped by a few but The Second Fiddle and Tootsie‘s were my favorites.
Even though each honky-tonk was more crowded than the next, I found the atmosphere very friendly and welcoming. Couples young and old were dancing to their favorite country song as others simply bobbed their heads to the music. My advice is to be prepared for anything. I got pulled onto the dance floor by a random, which felt completely strange to me but based on the reactions of those around me, this is a completely normal occurrence.
4. There are a lot of crazy talented people living here (and I’m not just talking about musicians)
I don’t even know where to begin. If I had to pick one thing that surprised me the most, this is hands down the winner. I got really lucky because I was able to stop by the Porter Flea Holiday Market, which only rolls around twice every year. I felt like a kid in a candy shop, with innovative design concepts and quirky crafts surrounding me in every direction. It was so refreshing to speak with these young designers and learn how and why they started their businesses. Beyond markets however, there are a few really hip neighborhoods that feature crafts as well. 12 South, East Nashville and Marathon Village are definitely worth checking out.
5. Everything is bigger (and better) in Nashville
Did you know that there’s a Parthenon in Nashville? I certainly did not and when I turned the corner and saw Athena staring me in the face, I nearly toppled over. Ever since my fifth grade school project on how awesome Athena is, I’ve been fascinated by Greek Mythology. Both the 42-foot statue and the Parthenon itself are full-scale replicas of the originals. Sure, this seems a bit odd but having never been to Greece myself, I found this fun fact really thrilling. If you’re not sold on the whole Athens thing, that’s fine. There’s also an art museum inside that features permanent and temporary exhibits and lovely walking trails in Centennial Park, where the Parthenon is located.
Fun Fact: Aspiring artists can actually sculpt with the renowned sculptor, Alan LeQuire, at his gallery. Reservations aren’t required so you could literally walk in and take a class. Perfect for the avant-garde traveler looking to master a new skill.
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Although my time in Tokyo was short, I was still able to experience several unique aspects of the city. It almost felt like a sneak peek though because as soon as I touched down in New York City I was ready to turn back around.
Like most international hubs, there are so many different ways to tour Tokyo and this post is aimed at five: architecture, avant-garde art, cuisine nature and nightlife. I could have kept going but I figured it was best to stick to the areas I explored myself. Whether you’re interested in cultural travel or simply in search of a quiet city break, this boho guide should help get your started.
I don’t even know where to begin when it comes to Tokyo architecture because it’s literally everywhere. Tokyo Tower is pretty hard to miss and while it’s not exactly Paris, it’s certainly impressive. Built in 1958 and reaching 1,093 feet in the air, the tower offers a 360-degree view of the city. I also enjoyed visiting the Asakusa Kannon Temple, which happens to be one of Tokyo’s top touristic attractions so you’ll probably find yourself here sooner or later.
The next time I’m in Tokyo I’d like to see St. Mary’s Cathedral’s stainless-steel exterior, the Nakagin Capsule Tower, the Golden Gai Bar District and the edo-era architectural style of Fumiko Hayashi Memorial Hall.
One of my favorite hidden art hubs in Tokyo is 2k540 Aki-Oka Artisan. The art space is located under the elevated part of Okachimachi Station and it’s also close to the Suehiro-cho Station on the Ginza Line.
This was the last place I visited while in Tokyo and I wish it had been the first. It wasn’t until stopping through 2k540 that I really felt connected to this city. I was so inspired by all of the local designers and craft artisans that set up shop here. You can buy everything from leather bags and wooden figurines and the prices are reasonable. There was even one store that sold clothing made from eco-friendly materials with built-in SPF.
Aside from this artisan space, there are many museums and galleries to choose from including The Museum of Contemporary Art and The National Museum of Modern Art. I’d also recommend walking through Akihabara, a neighborhood known for its futuristic tech shops and comic book stores. It’s such a sensory overload that it’s almost as if you’re part of a living exhibition.
I ate a few authentic meals while in Tokyo but my favorite foodie experience was wandering through the famous fish market. I arrived around 9am and it was already bustling with people shopping or selling fresh seafood. Even though I’m not generally a huge fan of crowds, there is enough space to walk around that it doesn’t feel too confined. The outer market sells household items and offers food samples while the inner market is where you’ll see lots of fish. I sampled a little bit of everything and would have waited in one of the restaurant lines if I had more time.
As far as fine dining goes, I had a tofu feast at Shiba Tofuya Ukai, a restaurant located right next to Tokyo Tower. Before even sitting down at our table, I walked through their private charming Japanese garden for a few minutes. It was the ultimate city escape and the staff also gave our group a mini tour of the property. The restaurant is made up of several dining rooms that all overlook the garden.
The picture below is from the Shiba Tofuya Ukai garden, which leads me into my next point. My first impression of Tokyo was that it was overwhelming. Of course, I like the chaos of big cities but there are still times when I need some peace and quiet. There are a couple public parks and green spaces in Tokyo and they are spread out throughout the city.
The Imperial Palace East Gardens is less than a ten minute walk from Tokyo Station and is free of charge. This is where the Edo Castle once stood and the home of the current Imperial Palace. Ueno Koen is another scenic spot and it’s quite close to a handful of museums. It’s also a popular spot once the cherry blossoms bloom. It was interesting to be standing in the middle of a park and still be able to see the modern buildings in the distance.
Tokyo has a lively nightlife scene and there are a few neighborhoods where most of the action takes place. When the sun sets and the bright neon lights come on, it’s hard not to get a boost of energy. Most travelers stick to Ginza, Roppongi and Kabuki-cho in Shinjuku because this is where most of the famous venues are found. They range from super expensive geisha bars to dane-heavy clubs so it really depends on what you’re looking for and of course, your budget.
Our group actually checked out one of Tokyo’s themed-bars called Ninja. Much to my surprise, there’s a location in New York and a few other cities. Themed bars and restaurants are apparently really popular in Japan so I’m glad I got a taste of what it’s all about. Before reaching our tables, we were led through a dark cave and when we did finally start eating, there was a performance for each course.
This trip was hosted by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. All opinions are my own.
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I found Kyoto very manageable, especially compared to a larger city like Tokyo. I spent three days exploring the different neighborhoods, sampling local food and people-watching whenever my legs needed a break. Kyoto has a good number of neighborhoods and just like other cities like New York and London, each feels different and appeals to a different crowd. I didn’t get to visit all of them, but here are a few of my favorites. One thing to note is that the first four are actually in the city center and the rest are located within the outskirts.
This was the very first neighborhood I visited and easily my favorite. The area is very quiet compared to Kyoto Station and Gion and that’s just one of the charming things about it. The Nishijin District is also coined the Weaving district because there are many clothing factories here. The architecture is also pretty impressive, with well preserved streets lined with wooden buildings dating back 100 years.
There are a few really cool places to visit in the Nishijin District. HOSOO is a super innovative textile company, showroom and factory featuring designers that are taking traditional materials and turning them into high-end, modern interior design items. They suggest making an appointment before showing up but it’s well-worth the trip. To catch a free kimono fashion show and do a bit of shopping, head to the Nishijin Textile Center. If you’re craving a snack, try one of the delicious treats at Aishin-do.
Shinkyogoku Shopping District
If you’ve saved all your shopping time for Kyoto, that’s a wise choice. This district is the most popular place to shop for just about anything. On Shinkyogoku Street you’ll find quirky souvenirs, some of which might have you scratching your head out of confusion, but memorable nonetheless. A stroll down Teramachi Street brings you to a more refined shopping area, one with art galleries, fashion stores and bookshops. If you visit the Imperial Palace, I recommend walking south along Teramachi Street and you’ll see the stores shift from boutiques to more consumer brands.
Then there is Nishiki Market which is bustling with locals picking up their evening groceries and tourists sampling traditional food. The market runs between Teramachi and Shinmachi and is one block north of Shijo. I actually started here and then made my way to the department stores and other boutiques nearby. From here, you can cross the river via the bridge and you are in Gion.
Gion is located on the eastern side of the river and is perhaps the most famous of Kyoto’s neighborhoods. This is one of the main Geisha districts and tourists are always showing up here in the evening hours to catch a glimpse of the elusive Geikos and Maikos. (Geisha and Geishas-in-training). I signed up for a Geisha-themed walking tour on my first night in town and really learned a lot about the area. Although we only spotted one Maika, it was thrilling to discover where the most notorious teahouses are located and other fun facts about the district’s fascinating history.
It’s surprising how quiet it is here compared to Shinkyogoku. You literally turn a corner and it feels like you are in a private backyard or something. Considering how popular Gion is with tourists, it’s nice to see that the neighborhood has remained much of its mysterious allure. Many of Gion’s streets are designed for pedestrians which definitely cuts out the traffic noises you’ll hear in Shinkyogoku.
On my last day in Kyoto I ventured to the northern part of Kyoto to visit a few of the temples there. Due to a bad rain storm I never made it all the way to the Kinkakuji (Temple of the Golden Pavilion), but I did tour through Ninnaji Temple and Ryoanji Temple. Other religious sites include the Daitokuji and Enryakuji temples and the hot springs at Kurama. Walking through the grounds is completely free but there is a small fee to actually tour the inside of the temples. In my opinion, this view of was well worth the 500 yen (about $5 US).
Similar to other areas in Kyoto’s outskirts, you can easily spend an entire day here or just a few hours depending on your interest and time constraints. I walked from Ninnaji to Ryoanji and there are several local restaurants along the way in case you get hungry. I started my day in Arashiyama and then took the Keifuku Railways, which is a local tram-like train, to Omuro Ninnaji Station.
Fushimi Inari Shrine is the main shrine of Inari and one of Kyoto’s biggest touristic attractions. Inari is the god of rice and while the main shrine was built in 1499, the earliest structures date back to 711. While the name might allude to a singular shrine, there are about 32,000 sub-shrines housed here as well and if you want to reach the top of the mountain, bring a water bottle. The main sub-shrines are all located along the path and there are also trails that lead off in different directions in case you need a break from the crowds.
The journey takes about five minutes via train if departing from Kyoto Station but the grounds can easily consume an entire day. I arrived here around 9am on a Saturday and was able to beat most of the crowd. I would have preferred to get there even earlier for a more peaceful and reflective experience, not to mention better photos. I spent about three hours in total but at certain points I felt rushed.
Western Kyoto District
One of the main attractions in this area is Arashiyama, which is a quick and inexpensive train ride from Kyoto Station. The Togetsukyo Bridge is the most well known landmark and is especially popular during the fall season and when the cherry blossoms bloom each spring. If you have time, rent bikes and explore the area at your own pace. Alternatively, you could take a Hozu River Boat Tour or hitch a ride on the Sagano Scenic Railway. History buffs should dedicate time in Saga-Toriimoto Preserved Street, which features architecture from the Meiji Period (1868-1912).
Some people spend the whole day here wandering through the vibrant bamboo groves, the many temples and other points of interest while others get their fill after a few hours. It’s a good idea to pick and choose what temples you want to see because they require a small entrance fee for admission and after awhile that really starts to add up. From the top of Jojakkoji Temple you have a great view of downtown Kyoto.
This trip was hosted by the Kyoto Convention Bureau. All opinions are my own.
The two hour drive from Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes National Park was a gloomy one. The skies were cloudy from an early morning rain and it seemed like the closer we got to our destination, the gloomier it became. Almost as if the skies were playing a little trick on us, the clouds began to clear right as we approached the park. By the time we had made it to the entrance to meet our guide, the clouds were nothing but a memory.
Now that my trip to Plitvice Lakes is in fact a memory now, and a very good one indeed, I have compiled some essential info about when to go, why to go and what you can expect by working it into your itinerary.
Plitvice National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site featuring 16 lakes, a picturesque forest, mountains and a ridiculous amount of natural beauty. Besides the natural landscape that makes Plitvice one of the most significant in Europe, there is so much history associated with the park. For thousands of years humans – Illyrians, Thracians, Celts, Japods, Romans, Avars, Slavs and Turks – to be exact, lived here.
Our group reached the park via car but there are also regular buses leaving from Zagreb, Zadar and Split. If you’re traveling solo and want a bit of guidance along the way, there are daily tours that you can book and in most cases, transportation to and from the park is included in the price.
Is this Croatia or Middle Earth?
This was honestly the question we all pondered during our nearly five hour trek through Plitvice. Everything here seemed like it was a better version of itself. The grass was greener, the leaves were every color of the rainbow and even the waterfalls looked otherworldly. I felt like a kid in a candy store except the candy was the fall foliage and taking photographs was my sugar rush. I took this photo just as our tour was beginning. From here, we descended down along a rock path until we reached the trail to the base of the waterfall. It was so interesting to see it at various angles.
Why travel in autumn?
Visiting during the fall season means there will be far fewer tourists than during the summer. For me, this can easily make or break a trip. It’s hard for me to really appreciate my surroundings when I’m waiting in line to snap the the same picture as everyone else and according to our guide, this is exactly what you should expect if visiting during high season. My preference for off-season travel goes way beyond Croatia. I just enjoy landscapes and cultural attractions when I arrive early to beat the crowds. It makes the experience feel more intimate and it suits my daydreaming tendencies.
Why scenery will you see?
Visiting Plitvice Lakes in the fall ensures that you will see the park as it appears in these photos. Perhaps I’m biased because autumn is my favorite season but I found the park to be extremely beautiful this time of year. Walking along wooden trails leading to vibrant plants and leaves of every color had me feeling like I was inside the pages of my favorite novel. There were some parts of the park where I couldn’t see any other tourists and in these moments I really did feel like the leading lady in my own book. Look down as much as you look up because there are fish and ducks as well.
Where are the best views?
Considering how many photos I took and how little I had to edit them, there really is no bad place to photograph in Plitvice Lakes National Park. That being said, it will become fairly obvious what spots are the most popular because there re wooden indentations that allow you to get a 360-degree view. At the base of the main waterfall (first photo in this post) there is a definite camera-opt moment. Tourists can climb onto a large rock and have the cascading waterfall in the background. I recommend taking a few panoramic shots and also a few close-ups of the changing leaves.
How should you plan your day?
The park is open all day but I recommend making it the first activity in your day. We arrived at 10am and by the time we left five hours later, several huge tour buses had just arrived. There are also three main walking trails to choose from depending on how much time you have at the park, how adventurous you want to be and your specific interests. Our route included a lot of walking, a scenic boat ride and a bus ride and we had a guide with us the whole time. Visitors can also create their own combination of routes and can tour the park independently. Take your time and go at your own pace.
This trip was hosted by the Croatian Tourism Board. All opinions are my own.
Japan was absolutely beautiful in October, not that I expected anything less. Before reaching Tokyo and then moving on to Kyoto, our group spent several days exploring a few of Tokyo’s neighboring towns and attractions that are often overlooked by tourists. The only thing I would change if I could do this over would be to have more time in each place rather than rushing through them all. That being said, the three cities and sites included in this post are the ones I’d recommend adding to your Japan bucket list.
Narita: for temples, shops and fresh fish
The first thing to note about Narita is that when you fly internationally into Tokyo, you are most likely in Narita. For whatever reason, the main international airport is located here so if you’re looking for a few cultural excursions to do during a long layover, you are in luck.
Narita is a city within Chiba Prefecture and most famous for its Naritasan Shinshoji Temple, which is easily accessible from Tokyo and the Narita airport via train. A short walk from the temple is the famous Omotesando Road, with its shops selling handmade crafts and fresh produce. The street is rather narrow so keep an eye out for cars. Don’t leave without ordering some fresh eel. We ate at Kikuya and my mouth was in heaven.
This was my first time visiting Japan (and Asia in general) and my day in Narita was a good introduction to the country’s unique culture. We arrived to the temple around 8am and watched the ‘goma’, a Buddhist ceremony where prayers are recited. There were hardly any tourists around and I found the whole experience rather spiritual even though I didn’t know know the literal translations. I also really enjoyed walking along Omotesando Road and eating eel for the first time.
Nihon-ji Temple at Nokogiriyama: for great views and trails
Our morning started with a cable car ride up the mountain followed by a very scenic walk through Nokogiri’s many trails. Not too far from the Nihon-ji temple is a collection of more than 1500 statues depicting mortals who have reached enlightenment. Their faces are so expressive and I cold have easily spent my entire day, or at least the afternoon, taking photographs of these personable characters.
Clearly, I didn’t do too much research the day we visited Nihon-ji Temple at Nokogiriyama because I was not expecting to see this large Buddha when I turned the corner. Once again, we were the only tourists around and that made all the difference in my opinion. Sure, this sight is amazing no matter when you visit but I enjoyed hearing nothing around me but the quiet sound of birds chirping.
Marveling at one of Japan’s largest Buddha statues was truly awe-inspiring but even if it wasn’t there, I’d still recommend visiting the park, especially if you are looking for hiking trails and a break from city life. Since it’s not as easy to get here via public transportation as Narita, it’s best to make this a day trip so you don’t feel rushed.
Kawagoe: for architecture, sweets and local life
Kawagoe is located in Saitama Prefecture and takes about 30 minutes to reach from Ikebukuro, Tokyo if you go by train. The city is perhaps best known for its sweet potatoes and if you head down “Candy Street”, you can buy sweet potato chips, sweet potato ice-cream, sweet potato coffee and even sweet potato beer. From an architectural standpoint, several of the streets feature preserved buildings from the Edo period (17th to 19th centuries). Tourists usually visit the bell tower, the Kita-in Temple and the 500 Statues of Rakan.
I am not kidding you when I say that we visited Kawagoe during a pretty bad rainstorm. Instead of passing the time inside a warm coffee shop, were were led all through the town in an effort to stay on schedule so I tried making the best of it. There are very few places that remain beautiful in cold, rainy weather and luckily for me, Kawagoe is one of them. My favorite part about the town was seeing so many locals doing everyday things like shopping, walking home from school and sporting the most colorful array of umbrellas I’ve ever seen.
This trip was hosted by Chiba and Saitama prefectures. All opinions are my own.
Before visiting for myself and discovering otherwise, I assumed that summer was the best time to experience Croatian culture. Images of larger-than-life yachts and drunk twenty-somethings danced in my head but that was as far as my imagination wandered.
Our trip was specifically tailored toward budget, off-season travel so I was somewhat surprised when some of the regional reps said things like “why are you visiting now?” and “oh, you should come back in summer.” Looking back on it now, it makes total sense. As a local, you want tourists to remember your city in its best light because you are genuinely proud of your hometown. The above photo was taken in Kastav.
Tangent aside, Croatia in October proved to be both budget friendly and cultural. There were rarely any crowds and I was able to actually envision what it must feel like to live in one of these small, charming little towns. Here’s a coastal guide to Croatia based on the specific towns so just be aware that this is only a sampling of what you will find along the Croatian coast.
Opatija: for traditional and modern influences
This stunning coastal town was my first introduction to Croatia beyond Zagreb. I spent two night in Opatija and and I wouldn’t have minded staying longer. Sure, most of the major sights are doable in a few hours but what I appreciated most about this town was the creative mediums for art. For example, in the park just outside of Villa ”Angiolina,” there the wall of the Open Air Theatre is covered in murals depicting some of Opatija’s most famous visitors including Albert Einstein, Robert De Niro and Louis Lumiere. If you’re interested in checking out the local food scene, shop for locally-sourced ingredients at Opatija’s Market Hall or satisfy your sweet tooth with treats from Cafe Wagner and take in the ocean-front view.
Kastav: for medieval buildings and avant-garde art
Mid-way through a guided tour of Kastav, something caught my eye. I had unknowingly stumbled upon Željan Pavić’s humble gallery fascinated by his shadow paintings and use of untraditional materials like leftover scraps of coffee bags. I found it strange that here, in one of Croatia’s most medieval towns, there was a man selling avant-garde art. Besides his obvious talent, I felt Željan’s positive energy and his insistence that we touch his paintings, made his work more tangible. After this, I walked through the old town slipping into museums and other galleries along the way before enjoying lunch in an outdoor garden. Kastav is three miles from Opatija and six from Rijeka but each feels a world apart.
Rijeka: for contrasting architecture and urban fashion
This was the third stop on our coastal tour and I immediately felt a sense of familiarity. I had never been here before but it was the closest thing to a “real” city that I had seen since leaving Zagreb. I soon learned that a lot of architecture students study here because Rijeka is known for showcasing contrasting styles of architecture. The Roman Gate is hard to miss and it’s Rijeka’s oldest architectural monument. City Tower is another must-see building, as it survived the earthquake of 1750. The city has a very downtown feel, with hipsters fashionably dressed in leggings, leather jackets, boots and shielded from the sun with trendy sunglasses. I expected Zagreb to be the main fashion hub but Rijeka takes the crown on this one.
Pag: for cheese and old-world charm
My first few hours in Pag were spent indoors, as there was literally a monsoon outside. Our guide said this was probably the worst storm the city had seen in a decade. However, when the storm finally calmed, I eagerly explored my new surroundings. Pag is a city on the island of the same name and is perhaps best known for the delicious cheese produced here. Like a few of the other towns on this list, Pag is a little tricky to reach unless you drive so just keep that in mind when planning your trip. In the summer this place is buzzing with tourists but on this particular autumn afternoon, there was hardly a person in sight. After walking across the bridge for a view of the docked boats, I spotted these adorable little locals.
Zadar: for innovation and nature
Zadar is a curious city and I mean that in the best possible way. I arrived on a rainy evening and left two days later to sunny skies and a whole lot of creative energy brimming within me. Home to the innovative Sea Organ and Greeting to the Sun solar panel light show, Zadar embraces the future of technology without losing any of its historic appeal. I recommend a simple walking tour, which you can easily do yourself because the city is very manageable. Don’t leave without strolling through Gundulićeva and Frankopanska Streets or Flower Market and make sure to watch the famous sunset followed by the Greeting to the Sun.
Split: for history and lifestyle
Next to Zagreb, Split is the second largest city in Croatia and one of the most ancient. Despite a less than impressive tour guide, I managed to see the beauty of Split before I “split” myself (couldn’t resist that pun). There are two main parts of central Split: inside and outside the palace walls. Venturing within the palace takes you back in time to the days when Diocletian, the go-getter who climbed his way up the social ladder from slave to ruler, was Roman Emperor. In 305 AD, he became the only emperor to voluntarily abdicate his role, which was pretty revolutionary at the time. There’s an entrance fee to go into Diocletian Palace but it’s free to walk through the maze of narrow streets lined with shops and restaurants.
What is your favorite coastal destination?
This trip was hosted by the Croatian Tourism Board. All opinions are my own.