The Great Wall of China – Jiankou to Mutianyu

When planning our three week trip to China last year, some sights were an absolute given. The Great Wall of China was a must-see for both my boyfriend and I, and as we were flying into Beijing, it was one of the first things we would do on our journey across five cities. 

We soon realised, however, that it wasn’t a case of just ‘seeing’ the wall. The UN World Heritage Listed site spans more than 20,000 kilometres (12,427 miles) and comprises walls, watch towers and shelters. There are different sections ranging from a 40 minute drive from Beijing to more than two hours away, and the type of wall differs from fully restored to completely inaccessible. 

Which Section?

So you’re going to visit the Great Wall, but which section is best? There are at least 10 options from Beijing, but here’s an overview of the most popular parts: 

  • Badaling: the most touristy, completely restored. Avoid if you can, according to locals.
  • Mutianyu: restored, but slightly less crowded than Badaling. You can walk a distance then turn around, or continue to Jiankou. 
  • Jiankou: wild, unrestored wall with challenging hiking. Going from Jiankou to Mutianyu is a popular (but not busy) route.
  • Jinshaling: minimally restored, less crowds but further away.
  • Simatai: a mix of restored and wild wall, night tour options.

*Note: The path between Jinshaling and Simatai was closed when we visited in September 2017 and it’s not clear if it’s reopened. 

The section you choose will depend on how much time you have, your fitness and personal preference. Badaling is the closest to Beijing so great if you’re pushed for time – it’s also the best option for anyone with limited mobility. Mutianyu is a bit less touristy and well restored, but not for those wanting to see original wall. Jiankou has been dubbed the most dangerous section, completely untamed and requiring a hike through a village. Some say Jinshaling is the most beautiful but it’s two to three hours from Beijing so you’ll need a full day. Others say Simatai is the most peaceful. Tour company China Highlights, with whom we booked unrelated train tickets, has a good overview of the different sections.

My boyfriend and I read various blogs and Chinese tour company websites to try decide which section to choose. We wanted to avoid crowds, hike a section, we had a full day available and we wanted to see unrestored wall. As the Jianshaling to Simatai section was closed, we chose Jiankou to Mutianyu. 

Tour group, guide or solo?

When it came to the Great Wall, my boyfriend wanted a guide while I wanted to do it solo. I figured with enough research, printed maps and allowing lots of time, we’d be fine. My boyfriend, on the other hand, said it was the first day of a three week trip in a country neither of us has been to before. We’d chosen a wild section of the wall that was reportedly the most dangerous and if we got lost or injured, it could set us back for the rest of the trip. He had a point. I reluctantly agreed to a guide, although I resented the extra cost and sharing the experience of seeing the wall with a stranger when we were both fit and seasoned travellers. 

On the plus side, we would had a private vehicle, could choose our departure time and didn’t have to use our brains on the first day of vacation. After reading some TripAdvisor reviews, we emailed a few companies for quotes and availability before booking Beijing Walking. It cost US$300 for two people, payable in cash on the day. 

Hiking Jiankou to Mutianyu

Here’s what to expect specifically on the Jiankou to Mutianyu route. You could hike in either direction, but as Jiankou is higher, it’s easier to start there and go downhill. The path is about 9km (5.5mi) and can be broken into three sections:

  • Xizhazi village to Jiankou Tower 
  • Jiankou Tower to start of Mutianyu
  • Mutianyu to cable car/exit 

1. Xizhazi village to Jiankou Tower 

Our guide Joe met us at our Beijing hotel precisely at 7.30am. It took nearly 2.5 hours to reach Xizhazi village thanks to traffic, but we weren’t on a deadline. The drive was mostly highway, but became mountainous and jungle-like in the latter half. Both my boyfriend and I fell asleep at times, still recovering from our red-eye flight.

Our vehicle stopped at Xizhazi village, but there was no obvious town centre. We used restrooms next to some old exercise equipment before driving for another few minutes. We arrived at a small car park, although the area looked more like small farms than the start of a hike. Choosing the Jiankou to Mutianyu route for the least tourists, I was disappointed when another car pulled up next to us. It was a young couple with a baby and they didn’t have a guide. They set off while we got our backpacks ready and put on sunscreen. As soon as I got out of car, I noticed it was harder to breathe. It was a warm day too.

 Xizhazi Village: the start of our one hour walk to reach Jiankou Tower.
Xizhazi Village: the start of our one hour walk to reach Jiankou Tower.

From memory, we took off about 9.45am. We began our walk at good speed, following our guide along the zig-zagging, uphill path. It wasn’t long before we caught up to the couple, who’d stopped at a fork in the path. Our guide pointed the way and they continued, while I paused so we’d get some distance between us. My legs were fine but I was puffing and panting, and felt like I couldn’t catch my breath. I was really surprised, as my fitness levels are good and I hardly felt like we were high up. But I was dripping with sweat within 20 minutes.

We saw the couple again, once more uncertain of the way. Their baby started wailing and they followed us for at least another 10 minutes. I was so mad! They’d saved a few hundred dollars by just hiring a taxi – then took advantage of the private guide we’d paid a premium for. Their child’s screams were destroying the serenity. My heart began to sink. 

 Hike from the village: the first glimpse of the wall feels incredible!
Hike from the village: the first glimpse of the wall feels incredible!
 Jiankou Tower: you'll need to pay a farmer to borrow a ladder.
Jiankou Tower: you’ll need to pay a farmer to borrow a ladder.

I was still stopping every 10 minutes or so to try catch my breathe. There were at least three times when the path forked with no signage about where the Great Wall was. It was getting increasingly humid in the trees and behind my knees was getting itchy. There were bugs too. But finally, we lost the couple and their screaming infant. And after 45 minutes, my boyfriend and I got our first glimpse of the wall! I was so excited! We wound our way up the steepest part yet, then we were suddenly at the base of tower. Exactly as we’d read in other blogs, there was a farmer with a ladder. We paid him 5¥ each and voila – we had reached the Great Wall! 

There is no way you could climb up the tower without the ladder, unless you maybe had a few people and could climb on each other’s shoulders. The farmer had a selection of beer, Red Bull and water for sale too. I was grateful to have a guide for this part of the hike only, as there really was little signage or clear paths to reach the tower. 

2. Jiankou Tower to start of Mutianyu

Standing on top of the tower was an extraordinary moment. After spending almost an hour hiking uphill in jungle, it was incredible to emerge in an open space and witness the Great Wall for the first time. I looked out in all directions, admiring the Chinese ingenuity and remarkable history before me. It became clear what an impressive defence structure the Great Wall once was. 

 Jiankou Tower: you'll have a 360-degree view on top.
Jiankou Tower: you’ll have a 360-degree view on top.

After a good amount of photographs, water and towelling down, we began hiking the Jiankou section. There’s only one direction you can go – towards Mutianyu – as the other way is completely inaccessible. The path, while overgrown and a bit uneven, is easy to follow. Trees and shrubs will brush you constantly. The wild section didn’t last long though. We weaved up and down but the wall was mostly downhill from Jiankou tower. That didn’t stop my legs quivering and turning jelly! There was no shade either, except in towers. For perhaps an hour, we had the wall largely to ourselves and I felt reassured we’d chosen the best route after all. 

 Jiankou: it's called 'wild' wall for a reason - it's unrestored and trees are unkept! 
Jiankou: it’s called ‘wild’ wall for a reason – it’s unrestored and trees are unkept! 

About halfway on the Jiankou section was the Ox Horn, a very steep part that goes up and down the side of a mountain. Our guide told us 10 people fall to their death each year, which I can only assume is fall and slip as there was no cliff face as such. Our guide took on a detour, saying the Ox Horn section was closed as the downhill part was too dangerous. We left the wall for the first time, heading slightly south then parallel to the wall through light forest. Again, there was no signage or paved path so this may be difficult if attempting to do the hike on your own. It was maybe 10 minutes before we resumed walking the wall. 

 Jiankou: the steep loop is called the Ox Horn - our guide took us on a detour slightly south and off the wall. 
Jiankou: the steep loop is called the Ox Horn – our guide took us on a detour slightly south and off the wall. 

3. Mutianyu to cable car/exit 

The end of the Jiankou section and the start of Mutianyu was marked by two men with umbrellas selling snacks and drinks. We’d hardly seen another soul for an hour but the crowds started here. Hilariously, tourists were posing with a sign that said ‘I Climbed the Peak of the Great Wall’ despite that spot not being the highest (Jiankou Tower is the highest point). From here, the walk was simply down a lot of steps. I felt for those who were travelling in the opposite direction to us, as the staircases were steep and still no shade. People were wearing fashion boots, sandals, jeans, and even summer dresses. I was still sweating just going down steps, and my legs shook whenever we stopped at a flat section. The last 10 minutes or so was particularly picturesque – it was every image of the Great Wall you’ve seen come alive! 

 Mutianyu: the restored path is much more even and clear than wild Jiankou. 
Mutianyu: the restored path is much more even and clear than wild Jiankou. 

Our party of three reached the Mutianyu cable car at 1pm, and I was surprised we’d gotten there so quickly.  We’d hiked quite fast, which I assumed was necessary to cover the distance but I didn’t expect our Great Wall experience to end so early. I would’ve rather have slowed down, and perhaps stopped for 10 minutes somewhere to have some water and take in the views. Our guide gave us the option to either take the cable car down down or walk another 40 minutes to the bottom. However he explained the local restaurant he intended for lunch wasn’t near the Wall and stopped cooking at 2pm. 

 Mutianyu: Our guide Joe said Chinese tourists were to blame for this trash, but I wasn't so sure. 
Mutianyu: Our guide Joe said Chinese tourists were to blame for this trash, but I wasn’t so sure. 
 Mutianyu: a restored section and the most popular with foreign tourists. This is near the cable car. 
Mutianyu: a restored section and the most popular with foreign tourists. This is near the cable car. 

Part of me was sweaty and thirsty, and my legs were stiffening whenever we went uphill. But I also hate taking shortcuts. My boyfriend felt the same. We decided to take the cable car down, given we’d covered a good distance, the rest of our holiday would be quite physical and also, we wanted to experience a good local restaurant on our first day! 

The cable car cost 100¥ and took three minutes. It was nothing special, convenience only. I was surprised to see how touristy the area was at the base was compared to the seemingly empty village where we’d started our journey. Here, there were restaurants, market stalls, even a Subway and Burger King. There were busloads of tourists, especially those who were older, likely retired, and had little desire to walk far. I cringed at the long line for the restrooms – only to realise the women were waiting for a Western toilet rather than use the squat toilets. I walked past all of them, shaking my head, used the bathroom, and remembered why I prefer independent travel. 

We took a shuttle bus down to the car park, met our driver, and then drove to our lunch venue for an incredible feast and a few beers. We arrived back in Beijing around 4pm, giving us enough time to shower before heading out in the hutongs that night! You can read more in My Must-Do in Beijing

It was absolutely surreal seeing the Great Wall in real life and the best thing is, I can do it all again with another section! While I don’t think a guide was necessary for the main Jiankou to Mutianyu route, there was no way we could’ve identified which paths to take from the village to the wall. The Ox Horn detour may have also been proved tricky, based on the lack of clear paths or signage. 

Was it Dangerous?

Not at all. The greatest dangers on the Jiankou to Mutianyu route were getting lost on the village trail, sunburn or chaffing. That said, we didn’t do the Ox Horn section and the September weather, although warm, was ideal as there was no wind or rain. If this was reportedly the most dangerous section, it’s a very tame wall indeed! 

 Jianko (immediately after the Tower): far from feeling like 'the most dangerous' section.
Jianko (immediately after the Tower): far from feeling like ‘the most dangerous’ section.

What to Bring

Bring sunscreen, water and a hat (I accidentally left mine in our vehicle). We visited in early September and it was 31°C (75°F). I’m not usually a big sweater and I’m from Western Australia, known for its hot climate, but I sweated! The only shade is in the towers and you’ll be walking steep hills, steps and/or long distances. I would also bring a small towel to wipe off sweat (a hotel hand towel would be perfect). By chance I had some baby wipes, and thank goodness because there was nothing else to soak up the sweat. 

What to Wear  

It was a warm day so we both wore active wear (okay, I wore a Lululemon runsie but it’s so comfortable!). Part of me wished I was in crops or a t-shirt to give better coverage from shrubs and branches but it was the trade-off to stay cool. If the forecast is cooler, bring layers. I had a light, long sleeve shirt but I left it in the car as it was obviously going to be a warm day.

 Mutianyu: you'll walk down this coming from Jiankou.
Mutianyu: you’ll walk down this coming from Jiankou.

While some blogs recommended hiking shoes, this was absolutely not necessary for Jiankou to Mutianyu . Given this was meant to be the most dangerous route, it’s safe to say you don’t need them anywhere on the wall. Sneakers were perfectly fine, although I’d avoid tennis shoes or Converse for example, as you want something that will absorb the impact of all those steps. 

Next Time? 

When I next visit China, I’d absolutely return to the wall! I would love to see some water or lake areas, see the wall at night or even camp there. I’m hoping the Jinshaling and Simatai sections will an option, as these are reportedly the most beautiful and peaceful parts (although I wasn’t at all disappointed with our views). It’s unlikely I’d do the Jiankou to Mutianyu route again, but only because I like to experience new things. However, as mentioned, I’d probably go slower and stop for water and snacks somewhere just to take in the views. 

QUESTION: If you’ve visited the Great Wall of China, please add your experience and tips below! 

My Must-Do in Beijing, China

My boyfriend and I’s arrival in China was far from glamourous. We’d caught a red eye flight from Perth, Australia, had a layover in Singapore and upon landing in Beijing, I raced to find a toilet due to – I suspect – some artificial colours and flavourings in the Singaporean Slings we’d had on our flight. Beijing Airport was hot and busy compared to the wintery scenes we’d left in Perth.

We reached our hotel in the central and touristy Wangfujing area via the airport train and subway, and took in the sunset from the rooftop club lounge. Sure, there was smog on the skyline – but we were pretty damn excited to start our three week adventure. I’ve travelled to Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand and India but China was different. Its capital of 21 million people was modern, organised and clean. You can read more in 10 Things I Didn’t Expect in Beijing

The city is also flat, meaning you can easily get around on foot or use the excellent subway system to explore. Even if you only have two days in Beijing, you can make a day trip to the Great Wall of China and then spend a day taking in the city. For a suggested plan, check out Our Three Week China Itinerary which includes four days in Beijing. Remember, you won’t be able to Google addresses, entrance fees or opening hours unless you have a VPN. I simply switched to Yahoo search and used the excellent offline map app Maps.Me.

Here’s my list of my must-see places in Beijing!

1. Tiananmen Square

This is probably the most well-known landmark in Beijing, the city square infamous for the student protests of 1989 dubbed the ‘Tiananmen Square Massacre.’ When visiting the square, it’s hard to imagine the scenes that played out almost 30 years ago, as it was seemingly spacious when we were there on a warm autumn day. 

While the city square is public space and therefore open all the time, there was strict security and road blocks when we accessed Tiananmen Square from the southern point at Qianmen E St. It wasn’t always clear which line to join, there are large tour groups and I felt like we kept showing our bags and passports at various checkpoints. But once you reach the actual square, simply walk around and observe.

  • Cost: Free. 
  • Tip: If you see large lines and barricades, it’s people lining up to visit Mao’s Mausoleum. Check your bag before lining up at the facility across the street. We did it, and it’s pretty special – but be prepared for a 1-2 hour wait for just seconds of viewing time. 
 Tiananmen Square: the infamous site of the 1989 student demonstrations, facing the Forbidden City.
Tiananmen Square: the infamous site of the 1989 student demonstrations, facing the Forbidden City.

2. Forbidden City

You must see the Forbidden City when you visit Beijing! This world heritage listed site is an extraordinary testament to Chinese civilisation, spanning 130,000 sqm (32 acres). Now officially called the Palace Museum, it was an imperial palace from the Ming dynasty to the Qing dynasty (1368 – 1911). It’s literally like stepping into another world, and it’s incredible such a huge space survives unchanged in the heart of the city. 

If you arrive at Tiananmen Square from the south, simply head north and you’ll reach the entrance to the Forbidden City. While some reviews said to pre-purchase tickets and allow six hours, my boyfriend and I had two hours spare and decided to chance it. We reached the entrance on a Saturday about 3pm, kept walking and reached the ticket area at 3.15pm (yes, the site is that big). There was a sign saying to buy tickets using a QR code but it was no problem to buy tickets the traditional way, although you’ll need to show your passport (do this everywhere in China). There was a short line but it only took a few minutes. We also rented an audio guide at a separate station (to the north) for 40¥ (AU$8), which helped us learn about the significance of each building and notice some features we would’ve otherwise missed. 

 Forbidden City: it's truly like stepping back in time
Forbidden City: it’s truly like stepping back in time

We walked slowly, took photos and went into a gift shop, although we didn’t see the west palace as it was closed. The imperial garden is stunning and busy, but not shoulder to shoulder. Its greenery was a welcome respite from the barren concrete of the main areas. You could buy food and drink too and rest if you need, although seating may be difficult to come by. After an hour, we’d reached the end of the Forbidden City (4.15pm), although you could stay much longer if you have a particular interest in Chinese architecture and artefacts or stopped for lunch. Again, we didn’t rush – we just kept selfies to a minimum and didn’t study every single building and object.

  • Cost: 60¥ (AU$12) high season (April – October), 40¥ low season (November – March).
  • Opening hours: 8.30am – 5pm (4.30pm in low season), closed Mondays except July – August.
  • Website: The Palace Museum
  • Tip: go later in the afternoon if you can, for fewer crowds.
 Forbidden City: the gardens offer some shade and respite from the concrete areas, but are still busy.
Forbidden City: the gardens offer some shade and respite from the concrete areas, but are still busy.

3. Jingshan Park

Why must you visit this park in Beijing? To get panoramic views of the Forbidden City and beyond! If you’ve walked through the Forbidden City from south to north, the park entrance is literally across the road when you exit. The main lookout was signposted, and you’ll need to walk up a lot of steps but only for a few minutes. Then join the crowd and enjoy the views! The remainder of the park looked lovely too, but we’d skipped lunch and it was approaching 6pm so we left. We exited the less-busy west gate and got a taxi straight away (38¥ to Beijing Railway Station, as we had to collect train tickets). The image at the top of this post is the main lookout at Jingshan Park!

  • Cost: 2¥ (AU$0.40!)
  • Opening hours: unsure, but they were still selling tickets at 5pm. 
 Forbidden City: as viewed from Jingshan Park (the smoggy skyline is real)
Forbidden City: as viewed from Jingshan Park (the smoggy skyline is real)

4. Great Wall of China

I’ve done a separate post about hiking the Great Wall of China, but honestly – go there. It’s a day trip from Beijing, with many different sections ranging from 45 minutes away by car to more than two hours. We chose the wild Jiankou section to the restored Mutianyu path. It was like stepping into a photograph and having a 360-degree view! If you only have a day in Beijing, you could always visit the wall early, return mid-afternoon then explore the city in the evening. 

5. Hutongs

When I was researching Beijing, I read about ‘old laneways’ and knew I had to visit! My boyfriend and I were lucky that my sister had lived in China and organised for us to meet one of her friends. He suggested we visit the hutongs for dinner and drinks, and boy, did we drink! The alleyways were like a dark concrete maze of houses, eateries, bars and strong-smelling public toilets. While I can’t give any reliable details about where the hutongs start and finish, I can recommend heading to Peiping Machine Taphouse and The Tiki Bungalow to get your party started. The tiki bar isn’t easy to find, but just get to Jiaodaukou Street near Beixinqiao subway station and explore the area from there. For those who prefer, there are plenty of organised hutong tours too. 

  • Cost: Free.
 Hutongs: Houses, courtyards, restaurants and bars are hidden behind the walls. 
Hutongs: Houses, courtyards, restaurants and bars are hidden behind the walls. 

7. Wangfujing Street

Every city has its main shopping street and in Beijing, that’s Wangfujing Street. I love shopping – not so much buying as looking, exploring and people watching. I always dive into book stores and stationery shops, and shoe stores. On Wangfujing Street, you’ll find the usual international clothing chains like H&M, Zara and Gap, along with MAC Cosmetics. But there are also lots of Chinese confectionary stores (great for random snacks or to take home as gifts), a good food court in the ground floor of the book store and designer stores. It’s also home to the famous Wangfujing Snack Street – marked by a large gate and the smell of food wafting down to the main street. More for novelty than serious eats, you can find bugs on sticks, noodles and what I called ‘swirly potato sticks’ – essentially skewered, home style potato chips. If you need a SIM card, head to the small China Unicom stand inside the mall closest to the snack street. 

  • Cost: Free
  • Tip: The snack street closes at exactly 10pm – don’t be idle! 

7. Temple of Heaven

It was a rainy old morning when we walked from our hotel to the Temple of Heaven, but that meant less crowds. We reached Tiantan Park about 12pm and followed the signs to the temple. It was built in 1412 and I found the architecture so striking, especially when imagining royalty travelling from the Forbidden City to the site for ceremonies. The main attraction is The Great Hall of Prayer (north) with nearby buildings containing various artefacts and information, although from memory only some of it was in English. We walked south to reach The Circular Mound Altar before exiting. We spent just over 90 minutes there altogether, but you could take some time to explore the park surrounding the temple – it’s a beautiful place to read a book, do tai chi or have a picnic.

  • Cost: Park entrance 15¥ (AU$3), extra 20¥ for the temple (buy outside the temple).
  • Opening hours: Park 6am-10pm, Temple of Heaven 8am-6pm in high season (July – Oct).
  • Website: Temple of Heaven (map)
 Temple of Heaven: The Great Hall of Prayer is its most iconic structure 
Temple of Heaven: The Great Hall of Prayer is its most iconic structure 

8. 798 Art District

After being immersed in imperial culture, it was refreshing to see a vibrant, youthful side to Beijing in the 798 Art District. My boyfriend discovered the area when he was researching drone stores and it looked really cool. We had limited time so took a cab there from the Temple of Heaven. We showed the taxi driver the name in Chinese using Maps.Me, and the 40 minute journey cost around 50¥ (AU$10) with Sunday traffic.

 798 Art District: You'll find large sculptures throughout the streets. 
798 Art District: You’ll find large sculptures throughout the streets. 

798 is an old factory area that’s been converted to artist studios, cafes, galleries and stores. The neighbourhood is big – not quite Forbidden City size, but definitely big enough to spend a few hours walking the streets and admiring the art, grabbing some street food and going into studios. I highly recommend heading here to check out Beijing’s art scene, and even if you’re not into art, the huge street sculptures and people watching are sure to entertain you for a few hours. 

  • Cost: Free.
  • Website: 798 Art District
  • Tip: If you see bags of rolled up, wafer-like sweets, buy them. They’re delicious! 

Next time

While we saw a lot in our three days (including a day trip to the Great Wall), we couldn’t fit in the imperial garden Summer Palace, a Beijing brewery tour or visit Hou Hai (Back Lakes) which is meant to be most impressive at night I would also love to return to the hutongs and see more of Beijing’s neighbourhoods too. It’s no problem, because I know I’ll be returning to Beijing as soon as I can! 

Where to stay

We stayed at New World Beijing, a five-star modern hotel in the Wangfujing area, Chongwenmen in Dongcheng district. It was perfectly located in the middle of all the attractions we wanted to see, only 15-20 minutes to Tiananmen Square, the Temple of Heaven and Wangfujing Street. The club room was excellent value at AU$210 per night, including a sizeable breakfast buffet, generous evening drinks and canapés and most of all, a spacious rooftop for drinks or relaxing. Staying in a club room means you can also request a 4pm check-out.

 New World: the club lounge is excellent, offering breakfast, evening canapes and drinks.
New World: the club lounge is excellent, offering breakfast, evening canapes and drinks.

At the end of our trip, we stayed at Park Plaza Beijing (AU$114/night). Located at the opposite end of Wanfujing Street to New World, the hotel was older but still perfectly fine. The area was much more business-like, surrounded by other hotels and high-rise buildings. If you can afford it, stay at New World! 

Getting there

Beijing is well served by air and train. The airport express train was 25¥ (AU$5) and took about 30-40 minutes to Dongzhimen, the main subway hub. From there, we took the subway to our hotel (Dongzhimen to Chongwenmen station, 20 minutes) followed by a short 10 minute walk. Our departure flight was early so we took a cab – from memory, it was maybe 120-150¥ (AU$24-30) from our Dongcheng hotel heading into peak hour.

There are five main train stations in Beijing, namely Beijing Railway Station, the West, North and South railway stations and Badaling station. Be sure to closely check which one you’re arriving or departing from! 

Getting around

  • Subway: It’s fast, reliable and cheap. It was just 3¥ (AU$0.60) for most of our short, one-way journeys. Note the subway isn’t 24 hours, with most services stopping at 11pm-12am.
  • Taxis: They’re cheap, plentiful and professional but communication can be difficult. Always have your destination in Chinese, even for a big hotel. I used Maps.Me for directions when our cab driver mistakenly took us to New World apartments instead of New World Hotel (thankfully only 10 minutes away on foot).
  • Foot: It’s really easy to get around Beijing on foot. We walked 7 to 13km (4.5 – 8 mi.) most days we were in Beijing. It’s flat, and footpaths or roads are mostly wide and level (making them fine for luggage and baby strollers too).
  • Buses: We didn’t use these as subway, taxi and foot were adequate. But there were English numbers on the front and bus stops were obvious because of shelters.

Currency

The Chinese Yuan Renminbi can be expressed in a number of ways, from ¥ to CNY or RMB. It’s all the same. While we could use our credit card at major hotels, most attractions and transport were cash only or if they did accept credit card, it was only locally-issued ones. Bring lots of cash otherwise there are ATMs available. As a rough guide, 100¥ = AU$20, US$15, £11 and €13.

QUESTION: What are your Beijing highlights?

Our Three Week China Itinerary

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw how cheap the flights were. Perth, Australia to Beijing was just AU$280 return with Singapore Airlines! It was November 2016 and I’d spotted the deal at 5.30am on my way to the gym. I quickly forwarded the alert to my boyfriend, who was still asleep. I got home around 8.30am just as he woke up and I frantically asked him if he’d seen my email. He yawned and rubbed his eyes which indicated no, so I gave him the rundown.

The sale was for September 2017, so 10 months away. The date worked for us as we would return from Europe in May 2017 and have three months to save. We did our mandatory checks for booking flash sales (what’s the weather, are there any national holidays and what’s the average hotel price). By 9.30am, we’d booked two of the four remaining seats. We were going to China for 19 days!

It turns out the airfare was a company error but Singapore would honour our bookings. Six months later, we returned from Europe and sprung into action. China was just four months away! 

Planning our trip

The first task was deciding where exactly we wanted to go, as neither my boyfriend or I had been to China before. Obviously we were flying into Beijing and wanted to see the Great Wall, Shanghai would be easy to get to, and my boyfriend was set on seeing the Terracotta Warriors in Xi’an. I wanted to eat Sichuan food so its capital Chengdu was added to the list. I’d grabbed some catalogues from a travel expo and was enchanted by photos of pillar-like mountains in Zhangjiajie, so that went into the possibles too. We had the first draft of our China holiday.

Organised tour or solo?

My boyfriend and I had limited time and wanted to see as much as possible so we looked a few organised tour companies, including Intrepid and G Adventures. However their China tour dates didn’t quite line up with our flights and what’s more, the itineraries weren’t that attractive. There were multiple long train rides (necessary to keep costs down) but also things like ‘traditional performances’ and visits to ‘local culture villages,’ which I generally loathe as entirely constructed experiences.

In the end, my boyfriend and I devised our own three week itinerary for China. It was the best decision we could’ve made! We allowed roughly four nights in each city, booked trains and flights, and then pencilled in essential sightseeing (for example, some attractions were closed certain days). While it was a physically demanding holiday, there was also plenty of food, beer, culture and luxury. If you’re considering doing a self-guided trip of China, I really recommend it! It was much easier to get around than we expected, with trains modern, punctual and organised.

I’ll share specific posts about each location in the weeks ahead, but for now, here’s what we covered in three weeks. 

our three week itinerary

Days 1 – 4: Beijing 

  • Day 1: Arrive in Beijing. Hit a rooftop bar and watch the smoggy sunset with local beers. 
  • Day 2: Drive two hours to the Great Wall of China. At night, head to Beijing’s hutong area for dinner and drinks.
  • Day 3: Walk around Tiananmen Square before heading to the nearby Forbidden City. Continue to Jingshan Gardens for sweeping views of Beijing. At night, head to the shopping and food precinct Wanfujing Street.
  • Day 4: Visit the Temple of Heaven and surrounding park. Check out art and street eats in Beijing’s 738 Art District. Check out My Must-Do in Beijing for more details!

 Great Wall of China: a must-see when going to Beijing
Great Wall of China: a must-see when going to Beijing

Days 5 – 8: Xi’an, Shaanxi

  • Day 5: Catch a high speed train from Beijing to Xian. Have dinner in the Muslim Quarter.
  • Day 6: Cycle around Xian’s city wall before spending an afternoon at the Terracotta Warriors. Craft beer at night.
  • Day 7-8: Hike Mt Huashan, staying overnight on the mountain. Watch sunrise and continue hiking before returning to Xi’an. *See note at end of post.

Days 9 – 13: Chengdu, Sichuan

  • Day 9: Fly to Chengdu. Head to Jinli Street for Sichuan hot pot and street snacks. 
  • Day 10: See pandas at the Chengdu Research Base for Giant Panda Breeding. Check out the world’s biggest building New Century Mall. Go on a night time food tour.
  • Day 11: Explore the city, taking in Tianfu Square, Chengdu Museum, the People’s Park and pedestrian street Chunxi Road. Check out craft beer and Anshun Bridge at night.

 Chengdu, Sichuan: I wanted to eat as much local cuisine as I could! 
Chengdu, Sichuan: I wanted to eat as much local cuisine as I could! 

Days 14 – 17: Zhangjiajie, Hunan

  • Day 14: Fly to Zhangjiajie and have dinner downtown.
  • Day 15:Head to Zhangjiajie National Park, before driving an hour to the Glass Sky Bridge and Grand Canyon.
  • Day 16: Return to Zhangjiajie National Park to see the mountains featured in the movie Avatar.
  • Day 17: Take the world’s longest cable car to Tianmen Mountain. Walk the Glass Sky Walk and visit Tianmen Cave. Late flight to Shanghai. *See note at end of post.

 Zhangjiajie National Park: I saw these mountains in a catalogue and knew I had to visit.
Zhangjiajie National Park: I saw these mountains in a catalogue and knew I had to visit.

Days 18 – 20: Shanghai

  • Day 18: Explore Shanghai on foot, visiting the former French concession, Xintandi, YuYuan and the famous Bund. Have dinner and drinks in former French concession.
  • Day 19: Learn to make noodles or dumplings in a local cooking class. Head to Nanjing Road for retail therapy before cocktails from the 87th floor Cloud 9 Bar in Pudong.
  • Day 20: Return to Beijing via high speed train.
  • Day 21: Depart Beijing.

Cost

Not including airfares, the trip cost us around AU $5500 plus we each spent roughly $1500 extra mostly on food, drinks and admission fees. Here’s a rough breakdown of costs: 

  • Accomodation: $1800 (3x nights 5 star hotel, 7x nights 4 star hotel, 4x nights hostel, 1x night overnight train). Not included = 3 nights in Zhangjiajie (part of package tour).
  • Internal flights & trains: AU$2000
  • Guided/package tours: AU$1400 (four days in Zhangjiajie) + USD$300 (Great Wall day trip)
  • Activities (i.e. cooking class, food tour): AU$200

I was surprised by how expensive internal transport was, particularly airfares. There were cheaper train options, but they were often much slower and we had limited time.

My boyfriend and I agreed afterwards our China trip was one of the best we’ve ever done! There was a good mix of sightseeing and relaxing, and we didn’t feel like we were moving around too much or rushing any location despite the internal flights and some early starts. I would’ve loved more time in Shanghai but there’s always the next holiday! 

resources

I highly recommend the following websites when planning a trip to China: 

In coming weeks, I’ll share the highlights (and disappointments) from each destination along with my general travel tips for China, such as which apps to download and why you should bring a thermos.

*Note: There was very little information online about hiking Mt Huashan and Zhangjiajie, and most of it was inaccurate. If you’re planning to visit either of these places, I’ll be sharing our experiences in detail in the weeks ahead. Subscribe to my newsletter to stay up to date.

QUESTION: What’s the best airfare deal you’ve scored?

First-Timer’s Guide to Santorini, Greece

For too long I’d scrolled through social media and been tormented by friends travelling through the Greek islands. My only visit to this Mediterranean nation was as a backpacker in 2005, when I revelled in the culture, kebabs and affordability of Athens for a week. Aside from the couple in my hostel room who got intimate most nights, I adored Greece and vowed to return when I got the chance. While I made several trips to Europe in the following years, Greece never quite happened. It was in fact only earlier this year that a friend’s wedding in London prompted a five week trip across the continent with my boyfriend. It was game on, Greece! 

If you regularly read my blog, you’ll know we found a seemingly excellent route from Italy’s Cinque Terre to Santorini but our flight was diverted at the last minute. We instead spent the night in Athens and caught the eight hour ferry to Santorini the next morning. We arrived exhausted, mid-afternoon in the middle of May. In one direction were extraordinary views of the Aegean Sea, and in the other was a parking lot filled with taxis and travellers moving towards a single road up a rocky, barren hill. Our four night holiday had become just two full days, but we met our driver, checked in to our villa and opened a bottle of wine. Let the holiday begin! 

overview

Santorini is the largest of a small group of Greek islands called the Cyclades, about 240 kilometres (150 miles) southeast of Athens. The island is just 20km (12 mi) long, almost a crescent shape with the caldera (volcanic crater) on western side. The three main villages of Fira (also called Thira), Imerovigli and Oia are in the island’s north and on the western side, hence have “caldera” views. The resort-style beaches are on opposite side in the south, with archaeological sites also in the southern half. Santorini has a local population of just 15,000, but numbers swell during the peak summer season (June – August). 

 Oia: a Mediterranean fairytale, even on a cloudy day
Oia: a Mediterranean fairytale, even on a cloudy day

Did you know Santorini isn’t the island’s official name? It was given to the island by the Venetians in 1153, who arrived and saw a chapel for Saint Irene (Santa Irini). The name stuck, but the island remains Thera on all official documents. The capital Fira is a variation of Thera. 

what to do

the views

Sweeping views of the Aegean Sea and the distinct architecture are arguably the number one reason people visit Santorini. From the whitewashed buildings of Fira and Imerovigli to the more colourful townscape of Oia, seeing these villages against the backdrop of the water is unforgettable. Appreciate the different views during the day, sunset and at night when the pools shine turqoise. You can take in the views poolside, over drinks or a meal, while hiking or on a cruise (more details below). Be forewarned – the majority of Santorini is rocky, barren and doesn’t appear on postcards. 

 Imerovigli: watching sunset from our villa on our first night was magic!
Imerovigli: watching sunset from our villa on our first night was magic!

hiking trails

If you’re feeling energetic, there’s a range of walks on the island. The rocky but flat path between Fira and Imerovigli is an easy 45 minutes (no shade) and you can continue north on the more challenging path to Oia. The total walk from Fira to Oia is 10km (6 mi) and takes around 3 to 4 hours. Bring water and sunscreen as there’s little shade unless you retreat to a cafe. My boyfriend and I were still fatigued from hiking in Italy, so we just did the short Fira to Imerovigli section on our first day.

Those who are more adventurous should head to Skaros Rock, accessed from Imerovigli. We didn’t have time during our trip but the hike takes around two hours, and is reportedly challenging at times due to steps and some climbing to reach the top. Only about half the groups we saw from our villa during our stay reached the summit. Bring sunscreen and water, and possibly snacks if you’re going to stay out there. 

 Hiking: views on the trail from Imerovigli to Fira
Hiking: views on the trail from Imerovigli to Fira

ancient sites

Take a history lesson and visit Santorini’s two archaeological sites, Akrotiri and Ancient Thira. Akrotiri is in the island’s south-west, near Red Beach. Entry is €12 or there’s a combined pass with other attractions for €14, although there are some free admission days throughout the year too. Read more here. Ancient Thira is on the top of Mesa Vouno mountain, in the south-east side of the island near Pirassa Beach.  Entry is €4 or you can also get the combined pass. Click here for more details. 

caldera cruise

We lost a day in Santorini because of our flight diversion, but otherwise I would’ve been cruising! While there are mixed reviews online, a work colleague who’d recently been to Santorini highly recommended my boyfriend and I see the island from the water. There are a few companies offering tours of the caldera and hot springs before finishing in Oia for sunset. One for next time! 

 Amoudi Bay: viewed from the top of Oia
Amoudi Bay: viewed from the top of Oia

amoudi bay (oia)

If you cruise the caldera, there’s a good chance your vessel will end in the port of Amoudi Bay at Oia. But you can also walk or drive down from the village and enjoy fresh seafood or a drink. I’m told this is one of the best swimming spots in Santorini. We only had time to gaze down at Amoudi Bay from Oia, and my heart broke a little. I told myself there’ll be other islands. 

beaches

I love the water and desperately wanted to be beachside after a mostly chilly month in Europe. You’ll find Santorini’s most popular beaches along the eastern (non-caldera) side, near the Ancient Thera site. There’s Kamari Beach, and then the resort-like strip of Perissa and Perivolos with sun beds lined up on black sand. We spent several hours lazing by Perivolos Beach but the water was too cold for me! It wasn’t busy, however it a cooler day during the shoulder season.

 Perivolos Beach: more resort style, with plenty of dining and bars opposite
Perivolos Beach: more resort style, with plenty of dining and bars opposite

Less for sunbaking and more for sightseeing are Red Beach and Black Beach. We followed signage while quad biking to reach the parking area for Red Beach, which is then a five minute rocky walk to a viewing area before another 10 minute walk to reach the beach itself. I don’t recommend the path for the frail or elderly. Black Beach is also in the south of the island, however we relied on Google Maps because there was no signage. We gave up after making a few wrong turns. 

 Red Beach: more for sightseeing than sunbaking
Red Beach: more for sightseeing than sunbaking

wineries

Being wine lovers, my boyfriend and I weren’t going to miss the chance to drink Greek vino! We booked a tour of Santo Wines weeks in advance and added on six glass of wine tasting and a food platter for sunset (€38 each). The walking tour was around 30 minutes and we learnt about the island’s unique grape growing method, where vines are woven into a basket shape to protect the grapes. Our group then watched a short video about Santorini’s history, which was interesting if a little cheesy. The best part was sitting outside and simply admiring the caldera views with my boyfriend while we enjoyed our enormous trays of wine samples and local produce. 

The wine itself was average and we weren’t tempted to buy any, but the overall experience was magical. Bring a jacket for when the sun goes down and also some spending money, as there’s a sizeable store selling pasta, olives, tomato paste and other produce. Our hotel arranged transport which was €20 return for the two of us. 

 Santo Wines: the six glass wine tasting & food platter
Santo Wines: the six glass wine tasting & food platter

shopping

The biggest collection of shops I saw were in Thira, but they were very touristy. Sometimes that’s fun though! There are plenty of stalls selling dresses, shoes and hats plus standard souvenirs. I was much more interested in the stores in Oia, which looked more artsy. 

food

 Pita: stuffed with fava at my request on Perivolos Beach
Pita: stuffed with fava at my request on Perivolos Beach

Visiting Santorini is like an immersive in the Mediterranean diet, albeit with more wine. Local highlights include:

  • fava: a dish made from split peas, similar to Indian dal or hummus
  • sesame stick: breadsticks coated in sesame seeds
  • capers: edible flower buds from the caper plant 
  • olives: and luscious olive oil

Seafood lovers will be in heaven and there’s no shortage of cheese or salads either. During our three night trip, we had everything from beachside pitas, grazing boards and wine, to fine dining with caldera views. The latter was a brilliant coincidence, as our accomodation Kapari Natural Resorts (see “where to stay” below) boasted one of Santorini’s top restaurants. It was too cold to sit outside, however we spent several hours enjoying three courses and a bottle of white wine recommended by the in-house sommelier. The bill came to just €110, including €45 for the wine. Excellent value – but be sure to book ahead! 

 Kapari Wine Restaurant: my dish of fava, capers and tomato
Kapari Wine Restaurant: my dish of fava, capers and tomato

drinks 

 Kapari Natural Resort: complimentary wine and fruit
Kapari Natural Resort: complimentary wine and fruit

Everyone we spoke to (hotel staff, other guests) recommended a different bar but they can be tricky to find in the village mazes. In the end, we just drank whenever and wherever the mood struck us. The warm days called for Mythos beer while we drank local white wine at night. 

As mentioned under things to do, head to Santo Wines and do wine tasting at sunset. This was one of the most memorable experiences during our three night stay. If we’d had longer, I would’ve spent a day simply reading and drinking while occasionally looking up at the sea.

where to stay

There are three main options if you’re visiting Santorini for the first time:

  • Fira (Thira): the island’s capital and the biggest of Santorini’s three towns. Good for shopping, nightlife and central location. Closest to the airport and port. 
  • Oia: the northernmost and second largest town. It’s artsy, colourful and boasts Amoudi Bay. About 30 minutes (15km/9mi) drive from Fira.
  • Imerovigli: the smallest of three villages, but walking distance (45 mins) from Fira. It’s more like a cluster of cliff-side villas and restaurants than a town, although you’ll find a convenience store and some cafes at the top. In my opinion, it’s the most romantic of the three. 

 Kapari Natural Resort: incredible views in Imerovigli
Kapari Natural Resort: incredible views in Imerovigli

Here are some crude analogies if it helps. For those familiar with the Indonesian island of Bali, Fira is like touristy Kuta, Imerovigli is like the romantic and relaxed Seminyak while Oia is like the artsy and further away Ubud. For those who know New York City, you’d call Fira midtown, Imerovigli Chelsea (close by but less hectic) and Oia would be the East Village or Soho (further away but distinctive vibes). Feel free to dispute these or make your own suggestions in the comments section below! There are other towns to stay in of course, however if you’re visiting for the first-time you probably want to be centrally based with the greatest number of amenities and attractions.

 Kapari Natural Resort: the bedroom and bathroom in our enormous cavern-like villa
Kapari Natural Resort: the bedroom and bathroom in our enormous cavern-like villa

We splurged for the final leg of our Europe trip, staying at Kapari Natural Resort in Imerovigli for €330 (AU$510) per night. The price included a delicious buffet breakfast with made to order dishes as well, which we enjoyed outside overlooking the caldera. Our villa was spacious, cool and well equipped. The kitchen had a stove, kettle and refrigerator although no tea or coffee was supplied. The cavern-like style meant there were few windows, so we couldn’t see the caldera unless we stepped outside. Staff greeted us by name when we arrived and gave us a brief overview of the island and facilities. They continued to welcome us back each evening. 

We booked through boutique hotel website Mr & Mrs Smith which secured us free hotel transfers and a bottle of wine and welcome platter. The hotel’s pool was very small (but we soon saw this was the norm) and cold, but again, it was mid-May. Next time, I’d try find a villa with views from our room or stay in Oia for something different. 

 Map: supplied by our ATV company (click to enlarge)
Map: supplied by our ATV company (click to enlarge)

getting around

It’s easy to walk around Santorini’s villages, but the winding paths can make trying to find a specific location difficult. This is especially the case in Imerovigli, where the nearly identical white properties and low-lying walls can feel like a maze. As mentioned, Fira and Imerovigli are walking distance while Oia, the beaches and archaeological sites will require transport. Your options are buses, taxis and minivans although we only saw cabs around Fira’s main square. We were quoted €40 for a return trip from Imerovigli to Oia in a minivan, which seemed outrageous for a 15 minute journey. We declined.  

Rather, the best way to get around the island is to hire a quad bike (or “ATV” as they’re called locally). We arranged ours through our hotel for €56 for the day, which included a few Euros for insurance. There were cheaper bikes but we paid more for a sturdier option. We rode to the southern tip of the island, checked out Red Beach, had lunch on the eastern beaches before heading to Oia in the late afternoon. It was a memorable day, although the weather turned cold and rainy at the end. Be warned there’s no gas station in Oia so fill up at Imerovigli before going further north. 

getting there

 Santorini Airport: not exactly the paradise 
Santorini Airport: not exactly the paradise 

You can reach Santorini by ferry or plane. We attempted to fly and could see Santorini from our window (check out Getting from Italy’s Cinque Terre to Santorini) but ended up Catching the Athens to Santorini ferry instead. Our hotel included transfers from the port (about 20-30 minutes) and to the airport (about 20 minutes). I can’t speak to catching taxis or buses except to say the port was very busy. 

Santorini Airport is very basic. There’s a cafe inside but after clearing security, you’ll have a kiosk and plastic chairs with one lonely person in passport control. The day we left, our flight was delayed two hours because airport workers were on strike. 

money

Greece is part of the European Union and therefore uses the Euro (€). We paid by cash and credit card, only using an ATM once (there was one at the top of Imerovigli next to the convenience store). Santorini isn’t as cheap as you might assume. For example, I got a manicure and pedicure for €45 (AU $70) while my boyfriend got a 60 minute massage for €60 (AU $95). As mentioned, transport can also be expensive. 

language

English is widely spoken but be polite and learn some Greek. My head was already filled with French and Italian, but our waitress at Athens was kind enough to teach me the following: 

  • efcharisto (ef-ka-RIS-to): thank you
  • parakalo (parra-kar-lo): you’re welcome/ please

 Greek lesson: I got some tips from our waitress in Athens
Greek lesson: I got some tips from our waitress in Athens

other tips

  • Don’t expect all of Santorini to look like the postcards. The three main villages are small and beyond them, you’ll find mostly barren rock and the occasional industrial area.
  • There’s not much privacy either. You’ll be able to see the rooftop, paths and balconies of almost every other property around you from your doorstep. 
  • Dress codes are very relaxed. Think maxi dress and sandals for ladies, while guys will be fine in button-up shirts and shorts even for higher-end places. Leave the heels at home.
  • There’s no shade and the sun will radiate off the white buildings. My boyfriend and I can handle sunshine but we got seriously burnt on the return leg of our Imerovigli to Thira walk. 

I didn’t want to leave Santorini, and losing a day of our trip meant we barely saw Oia. The weather in mid-May was also too cool at times to lay by the pool. If we had more time, I would’ve climbed Skaros Rock, cruised the caldera, dined at Amoudi Bay and explored the beautiful art stores of Oia. But I’m grateful we made it to Santorini at all! It was 12 years since my first visit to Greece but I loved it just as much. And I guarantee there’ll be a third visit, although I’ll head to different islands and stay much longer!

QUESTION: Have you been to Santorini? If so, what’s your best tip for first-time visitors? 

Cinque Terre’s Hiking Trails in Detail

I’ve shared My Guide to Cinque Terre and my Tips for Hiking in the region, but the final post in this series covers exactly where my boyfriend and I trekked over three days. We were staying in Monterosso, the biggest of Cinque Terre’s five villages, and our approach was to start with easier hikes and finish with a full day trek. This was both to ease into hiking after three weeks of holiday indulgence as well as familiarise ourselves with the terrain, signage and how accurate estimated times were. 

We did four hikes in three days and each one was impressive but in different ways. They were:

  • Day One: Monterosso to Vernazza
  • Day Two: Vernazza to Corniglia, then Riomaggiore to Manarola
  • Day Three: Riomaggiore to Portovenere, via Pass of Telegrafo and Campiglia.

 

I recommend reading my Tips for Hiking Cinque Terre for an overview of the different trails (Blue Path versus High Path), along with general advice on what to wear and what to pack. As I’ve said in earlier posts, my boyfriend and I are two active people in our early 30s and didn’t do any training for these hikes. We do occasional leisure hikes around our home city, but nothing wild. There were easy sections and challenges in Cinque Terre, but nothing was impossible. 

Here’s what we did: 

Day One

Monterosso to Vernazza

  • Time: 2 hours (moderate pace but stopping for photos)
  • Distance: 3.5km (2.2mi)
  • Difficulty: The easiest you’ll find, but there are still steps! 
  • Path name: Blue Path, 2d.

This is the most popular with tourists and for good reason: the coastal views are stunning, the track is obvious and it connects two beautiful villages. We started in Monterosso, simply because it’s where we were staying. The path begins at the base of Old Town, just a minute or two from the waterfront.

 Monterosso: the view from the trail to Vernazza after 10 minutes or so. 
Monterosso: the view from the trail to Vernazza after 10 minutes or so. 

Going from Monterosso towards Vernazza, your hike begins with a steep staircase but it only takes five or 10 minutes. It’s a good warm up! You’ll get your first ‘wow’ moment soon after, looking back at Monterosso.

 Monterosso: viewed early on from trail to Vernazza.
Monterosso: viewed early on from trail to Vernazza.

There’ll be some flat sections and you’ll reach a checkpoint, where you can buy a one or two day trekking pass (€7.50/€14.50 adult), with an optional train pass. I suggest buying a one day, hiking only pass as this path was the only one with checkpoints. Payment is cash only and you definitely don’t want to go back down that initial staircase! 

The trail continues to hug the coastline and there are plenty of photo opportunities. This is the busiest path, so you may have to go slow or wait at times. Occasionally we got a section to ourselves for a few minutes. Continuing towards Vernazza, you’ll encounter more steps but none of them last too long. After about 90 minutes, you’ll get your first glimpse of your destination. Seeing a town for the first time is the most magical moment in Cinque Terre! 

 Vernazza: our first glimpse of the villge on the trail from Monterosso. 
Vernazza: our first glimpse of the villge on the trail from Monterosso. 

We continued towards Vernazza and encountered loose rock and mud. I was grateful I was wearing good quality sneakers. We passed the Vernazza checkpoint and arrived in the village about noon. My legs were a little jelly as we descended into the town centre, but I felt okay. There wasn’t any signage pointing to the main square, but we just followed our instincts through the narrow laneways in between tall buildings. We grabbed lunch at the perilously perched Al Castello and would’ve hiked again that afternoon if it hadn’t rained heavily an hour later. Instead, we chatted with an American couple as we finished our wine, enjoyed limoncello and explored the town. 

When in town

Check out Vernazza’s castle for a unique view of the coastline. Relax on rocks by the pier, eat gelato (ask for ‘senza latte’ if you want dairy-free options) or fuel up at any of the restaurants around the harbour or higher up. Read more in My Guide to Cinque Terre

Getting there/back

There’s a train station in both Monterosso and Vernazza, with the fare only €4 to or from any other village in Cinque Terre. Trains are fast, just five minutes between each town and fairly frequent (every 20 minutes or so). Alternatively, you could turn around and just walk back or catch the ferry (see ‘resources’ below).  

Day Two

Vernazza to Corniglia

  • Time: 2 hours
  • Distance: 3.2km (2mi)
  • Difficulty: Still easy, but slightly harder than Monterosso to Vernazza due to longer ascents.
  • Path name: Blue Path, 2c. 

We caught the train to Vernazza to start this hike around 9am but realised we didn’t know exactly where the trail started. Thankfully there was a map at the station which pointed us in the right direction (which was away from the town centre). We walked up the main road past the post office and soon saw the iconic red and white symbol painted on a wall, letting us know we were on the right path.

My legs were resisting the steps, even though the path was just gently winding upwards through people’s backyards. After 5 or 10 minutes we reached a cafe we’d seen the day before from Vernazza’s castle. You could stop here for a picturesque breakfast but we’d hardly earned a break so early on. 

 Vernazza: the trail roughy follows the power line before going into the forest (top right). 
Vernazza: the trail roughy follows the power line before going into the forest (top right). 

 Vernazza to Corniglia: an easy and pretty section. 
Vernazza to Corniglia: an easy and pretty section. 

Soon we were surrounded by forest instead of coastal views, still making our way up. There were some awkward stone staircases, sometimes steep, sometimes uneven and often both – but you just have to keep going. At one point it was my turn to carry the backpack “for this hill” but my boyfriend and I kept laughing as we’d finish one section, go around the corner and realise another round of steps awaited us. I carried that sweaty bag uphill for at least 20 minutes! Only twice did I see people give up and turn around, which I don’t understand as you can go slow or rest at any time.

What I liked about this trail was that it was less busy than Monterosso to Vernazza. There were still congestion points, but we more regularly had the path to ourselves. That said, more of the trail is set back from the sea so there are less coastal views. 

The last quarter of the path is a gentle descent into Corniglia and we were lucky to have a man playing accordion as we approached the town. The sound carried through the trail and while it was totally for tourists, I loved it. Trek two completed! 

When in town

Corniglia is the smallest of Cinque Terre’s villages but you’ll still find a range of lunch options. We were famished and walked past several restaurants before finding Bar Terza Terra, which had endless views of the dramatic coastline! I almost felt like I was in Greece. 

Getting there/back

I’ve said this my two previous Cinque Terre posts but it’s worth repeating. Corniglia is on top of a hill and its train station is at the bottom. There’s a long set of cement stairs, and going down took us about 10 minutes. I did see a sign for a shuttle bus at the bottom with a few people waiting, but it was unclear whether this was a public or private service. Corniglia is also the only town not serviced by the ferry, as it’s on top of a hill.  

Riomaggiore to Manarolo

  • Time: 50 minutes
  • Distance: 1.35km (0.8mi)
  • Difficulty: Intense but short. You’ll climb non-stop, steep steps for 25 minutes and then go down the other side.
  • Path name: 531.

With the Blue Path closed between Corniglia and Manarola until 2019, we looked at alternate routes. We chose a one hour, intense hike figuring that like the other trails, we were moderately fit and could stop rest or go slower at any time if needed. 

Fuelled by a few Aperol Spritzes and foccacia, we caught the train from Corniglia to Riomaggiore to begin our second walk of the day. There were others doing the same hike so we just followed the path but soon saw our steep ascent. You are literally walking directly up and over a mountain! Maybe it’s just a big hill. Either way, it’s steep.

 Riomaggiore: our destination was clearly marked, along with the iconic red and white paint which marks the trail. 
Riomaggiore: our destination was clearly marked, along with the iconic red and white paint which marks the trail. 

As our research had warned, you walk up steps non-stop for 30 minutes. They’re uneven and many were so high, I was practically lifting my knee to my chin to climb up them! I’m 163cm (5′ 3″) but it was easier for my boyfriend. 

 Riomaggiore: can you see the hikers? Click to enlarge!
Riomaggiore: can you see the hikers? Click to enlarge!

 Riomaggiore: the steps close up. 
Riomaggiore: the steps close up. 

It was on this path I told myself that pain quickly gives way to numbness and it’s true. My quads were tired but we kept going. After 25 minutes, we were at the peak! It was a great feeling and we were rewarded with the below view of Riogmaggiore.

 Riomaggiore: looking at the town on our intense, 50 minute hike to Manarola. 
Riomaggiore: looking at the town on our intense, 50 minute hike to Manarola. 

 Corniglia: approaching on descent from Riomaggiore.
Corniglia: approaching on descent from Riomaggiore.

Going downhill was easier but still not easy. The steps were still uneven, but with much more loose rock. Occasionally my boyfriend would help by holding my hand, and I helped a few hikers going uphill too. I felt going from Riomaggiore towards Manarola rather than Manarola to Riomaggiore was a wise choice, as there was a lot of downhill rubble. We got closer to Manarola and the scenery went from backyards to buildings. We’d reached our destination! As usual, we headed towards the waterfront and grabbed a cocktail.  

When in town

Put Nessun Dorma at the top of your list! This outdoor cafe is perfectly placed to admire Manarola all day long. Food and drink prices are also very reasonable given the view. A few people were swimming at the waterfront, although it’s entirely rock. For those who are lactose-intolerant, I found a small store by the train station selling soy milk. 

 Nessun Dorma: the perfect place in Manarola for post-hike cocktails with a view! 
Nessun Dorma: the perfect place in Manarola for post-hike cocktails with a view! 

Getting there/back

You can easily reach both Riomaggiore and Manarola by the regionale train (€4) or by ferry. See ‘resources’ below for links to timetables. 

Day Three 

Riomaggiore to Portovenere

  • Time: 4.5 hours (not including our 1 hour lunch break)
  • Distance: 12 km (7.45mi)
  • Difficulty: Moderate. The path isn’t always clear, and I scaled a few boulders. 
  • Path names: 593V (ex. 3a). Riomaggiore – Pass of Telegrafo & 1/a Pass of Telegrafo – Portovenere

My boyfriend and I wanted to end our three days of hiking in Cinque Terre with a big one. We’d read reviews from other hikers and travel websites, and chose to do Riomaggiore to Portovenere. It would take us along more of the Ligurian coastline and beyond Cinque Terre, and we could enjoy an hour-long ferry ride back to Monterosso. We allowed six hours for the hike, as the last ferry left Portovenere at 5pm but we wanted a few hours to explore the town beforehand. If we missed the ferry, we’d need to catch a bus to La Spezia and then a train to Monterosso. We set off at 9am at a steady pace. 

Riomaggiore – Pass of Telegrafo

We arrived in Riomaggiore by train and looked for the red and white painted symbol. There are a few trails out of the town centre, so it’s important to get the right one. The Cinque Terre hiking app was really helpful, as was an elderly Italian woman who pointed up at a huge staircase and said “Portovenere.”

Whether it was my exhausted quads, mild hunger or the deadline of the last ferry, I didn’t enjoy this section. It was the first time in three days the trek felt like a chore, despite being so privileged for what we were experiencing. My boyfriend and I walked up steps, more steps, crossed a road and saw cars for the first time in three days, and then went up more steps. My legs were crying out for relief.

After about 45 minutes, we reached the Sanctuary of Montenero. Other hikers were resting but we didn’t stop. I didn’t feel the view or ordinary building was photo worthy either. I had a granola bar and my spirits lifted as the path went from steep steps to an even, but still ascending trail. 

We reached a large tour group about 15 minutes later but there was no room for overtaking as there were vineyards and shrubs on both sides of the narrow path. It turns out they’d missed a turn off and they turned around anyway. A little further on, our path became a paved road and we continued the uphill walk. We didn’t see another soul. 

 Riomaggiore to Portovenere: the path around Pass of Telegrafo, about 90 minutes before Campiglia. Easy! 
Riomaggiore to Portovenere: the path around Pass of Telegrafo, about 90 minutes before Campiglia. Easy! 

 Around Pass de Telegrafo: we were on track! 
Around Pass de Telegrafo: we were on track! 

After about 90 minutes into our hike, I finally got the relief I’d wanted. A beautiful wide, flat path where we simply walked in the forest. Mindful we needed to catch the last ferry, our pace quickened and I almost began trail running because my legs were so liberated! We reached the Pass of Telegrafo (marked only by a sign and cafe) and felt a sense of achievement. But on we hiked! We passed a military exercise area too.

Pass of Telegrafo – Campiglia – Portovenere

As much as we wanted to hike Cinque Terre, my boyfriend and I didn’t want to miss the chance to see a new town either. Campiglia is a bit over than halfway between Riomaggiore and Portovenere so it was a natural stopping point for lunch. Our goal was to get there by 12.30pm and break for an hour maximum. We continued on the forest path before beginning our descent into the town.

 La Spezia surrounds: as viewed from the path into Campiglia. 
La Spezia surrounds: as viewed from the path into Campiglia. 

You’ll get your first glimpse of greater La Spezia on the left as you approach Campiglia. There are a few picnic benches and we saw a couple in hiking gear taking foccacias out of their bags to enjoy the view. We weren’t that organised. We continued into Campiglia and saw an open air restaurant, but staff were sitting outside smoking and didn’t look enthusiastic. I’d read about Campiglia’s oldest restaurant La Lampara, which had opened in the 1800s. I soon saw a sign for it. 

 La Lampara: Campiglia's oldest restaurant, which apparently opened in the 1800s. 
La Lampara: Campiglia’s oldest restaurant, which apparently opened in the 1800s. 

The venue was empty, silent and straight out of the 1980s. An older man wearing a full suit appeared us and showed us to a table inside. I apologised for our hiking attire and sweaty appearance. My boyfriend ordered the saffron gnocchi and a beer, while I ordered the fish (view the menu here). Bread quickly arrived and about 15 minutes later, a whole fish was placed before me! Our waiter offered to fillet it and he took four to five minutes to painstakingly but skillfully debone the fish with just a fork and spoon. It was art in motion. We ate our food in the silent venue and took in the view. After using the restrooms and applying more suncream, we continued our trek. 

As we left Campiglia, the open air restaurant we’d seen earlier was now bustling with diners and further along the path was a venue with hammocks and bean bags, possibly a beer garden. I slightly regretted our lunch choice but also felt we’d had an authentic, if not bizarre, experience. 

 Approaching Portovenere: the path becomes part dirt, part rock along the mountain ridge.
Approaching Portovenere: the path becomes part dirt, part rock along the mountain ridge.

 Approaching Portovenere: what scenery! 
Approaching Portovenere: what scenery! 

The next section became coastal and rocky. A magical moment was when we reached a lookout, seeing what I think was the island of Palmaria. We stopped and chatted with a group of Norweigan hikers and they were kind enough to take our photograph! I think the selfie best captures how happy we were though. 

The path will then take you back in the woods, where you’ll see La Spezia again. This time, the view is much less obstructed than the one from Campiglia. You’ll continue slightly downhill, seeing rocky ruins that may have been homes or shelters, and then it’s the home stretch. I was shocked and thrilled to suddenly see a castle! 

 La Spezia: the biggest town we'd seen during our four day stay in Cinque Terre. 
La Spezia: the biggest town we’d seen during our four day stay in Cinque Terre. 

 Portovenere: I didn't expect to see a castle in Italy! 
Portovenere: I didn’t expect to see a castle in Italy! 

 Portovenere: looking over the town from the trail.
Portovenere: looking over the town from the trail.

We were ecstatic once we reached the outskirts of Portovenere, although after three days my toes were starting to hurt in my sneakers. We navigated our way down the rocks and found a path alongside the castle. The downward steps were an awkward height and length, but after five or 10 minutes we were spat into the centre of Portovenere. We high fived each other and were so proud that we’d finished, hadn’t gotten lost, and we had 90 minutes before the final ferry left! We bought our ferry tickets back to Monterosso, and then walked to the waterfront to grab a cocktail. 

When in town

I was struck by how touristy and developed Portovenere seemed to Cinque Terre’s villages. The crowd was much older and I suspect the town is popular with cruises and day trippers. Portovenere is much flatter and better paved than Cinque Terre, so it’s probably more attractive to less mobile visitors. 

 Portovenere: the waterfront area with plenty of outdoor dining and shopping options. 
Portovenere: the waterfront area with plenty of outdoor dining and shopping options. 

We chose Bar Gelataria Doria for its prime waterfront location. Our waiter was grumpy and birds tried to eat our snacks, but for €24 we had two Aperol spritzes each and complimentary chips and nuts. If we’d had more time, I would’ve toured the castle and walked the entire waterfront. You can also catch a ferry to three nearby islands, which along with Cinque Terre and Portovenere, are UNESCO Heritage Listed. 

 Portovenere: waterfront near the ferry area. 
Portovenere: waterfront near the ferry area. 

 Portovenere: not my usual post-workout recovery! 
Portovenere: not my usual post-workout recovery! 

Getting there/back

There’s no train station in Portovenere, hence our need to catch the ferry back to Monterosso (€18). You can buy tickets from a booth at ferry. Alternatively, buses run between Portovenere and La Spezia (30 minutes) and then you can catch a train to Monterosso (22 minutes). You can plan your journey with Google Maps, but remember Italian trains are often delayed. 

Resources

I highly recommend the website In Cinque Terre for a detailed description of all routes in the area along with trail statuses. We found the estimated hiking times more or less correct too.

Download the smartphone app Trails of Cinque Terre (AU$4.49) if you attempt the Riomaggiore to Portovenere route. It uses GPS to track and guide your journey, and is helpful at points where you wonder if you took the correct path or have missed a turn off. 

For general information such as what to wear, what to pack and just how much your legs will hurt, check out my Tips for Hiking Cinque Terre. As for where to stay, language tips and how to get to the region, there’s My Guide to Cinque Terre

You can view the train timetable here or click here for the ferry timetable. 

 Portovenere: the castle viewed from the ferry back to Monterosso. Incredible! 
Portovenere: the castle viewed from the ferry back to Monterosso. Incredible! 

on reflection

My boyfriend and I left Cinque Terre feeling lucky to have explored such an unspoilt part of the world. The feeling of reaching a lookout or town after hours of walking is magical, and we had several moments where we stood in awe of the spectacular scenery. While Monterosso to Vernazza is stunning, hiking from Riomaggiore to Portovenere was especially rewarding as it was longer, more physical and far less crowded. Our legs shuddered on staircases for days afterwards (I’m looking at you, Florence!), but nothing was unbearable. 

If you have the chance, hike Cinque Terre at least once in your lifetime. It’s perfect for anyone seeking an active holiday, looking to jump start a fitness program or just wanting to explore nature among quaint, coastal villages. Next, my boyfriend and I head to China and we have plenty of hikes planned! Just 40 days until we fly. 

QUESTION: Have you hiked Cinque Terre? What was your favourite trail? 

Tips for Hiking Cinque Terre, Italy

Hiking is something I never thought I’d enjoy. Walking up a hill all day in chunky boots and unattractive attire had as much appeal to me as rolling in grass during hayfever season. But I like running outdoors and I believe in mixing things up fitness-wise, so I gradually succumbed to the idea. My boyfriend and I went on a few hikes around our home city last year and while I didn’t love them, I did feel a sense of calm from the nature hit and absence of protein-smashing weight lifters.

When my boyfriend suggested we visit Italy’s Cinque Terre during our trip to Europe earlier this year, I jumped at the chance. Not only is it jawdroppingly beautiful, but hiking is one of its key attractions. Again, I wasn’t wooed by the long steep hills. I just wanted to keep fit on a five week vacation. Thankfully, Cinque Terre isn’t the hardcore GPS, water filtering and pants with 15 pockets kind of hiking. Advanced routes exist but mostly, you’ll find stunning, centuries old footpaths that should satisfy anyone who likes to move. 

This post covers my general tips for hiking in Cinque Terre and I’ll bring you a detailed guide to specific trails we hiked in coming weeks. For advice on where to stay, eat and how to get to the region, check out My Guide: Italy’s Incredible Cinque Terre.

Trails Overview 

The most popular trail is the Blue Path. These are the four scenic, relatively easy paths connecting each of Cinque Terre’s five towns which (in order from north to south) are Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. The total path stretches 12 kilometres (7.5 miles). Unfortunately, the Corniglia-Manarola and Manarola-Riomaggiore sections were closed during our visit and won’t reopen until 2019. Don’t let that stop you. We found alternatives! 

There’s also the High Path, which as the name suggests is higher and more inland than the Blue Path. It’s far longer than the Cinque Terre, stretching 40km (25mi) from Levanto in the north (shown in map below) to Portovenere in the south (not shown). 

There are plenty more paths, but the above details should suffice for first-timers to the region and beginner hikers. 

Choosing a path

With hundreds of trails to choose from, where should you start? Firstly, check the status of the paths here or ask at a local tourist bureau or railway station. As mentioned, two sections on the Blue Path were closed during our visit (Corniglia-Manarola and Manarola-Riomaggiore) but we found an alternate, intense 50 minute hike over a mountain from Riomaggiore to Manarola. Also, check the weather. You don’t want to hike during or after rain so plan accordingly. 

 Riomaggiore: the Blue Path section to Manarola was closed but we took an intense, 600 step alternative. 
Riomaggiore: the Blue Path section to Manarola was closed but we took an intense, 600 step alternative. 

My suggestions: 

  • If you have one day: Do the Monterosso-Vernazza Blue Path (2 hours) and if you enjoy that, continue with Vernazza-Corniglia (2 hours). You’ll be more than satisfied.
  • If you have three days: You can easily do all of the Blue Path (depending on trail statuses) and an extra hike on the High Path. We did four hikes in three days, including Riomaggiore to Portovenere. This post is coming soon.
  • If you have a week: You lucky thing. You’re spoilt for choice! You can explore Cinque Terre and beyond (such as Levanto, La Spezia or Portovenere) and have a day’s rest at Monterosso’s beaches too. 

If you’re a serious hiker, you’ll nail the entire Cinque Terre in a day but who wants to rush on vacation?

 Monterosso to Vernazza: the most popular hike which takes just two hours. Don't be fooled. There are still steps. 
Monterosso to Vernazza: the most popular hike which takes just two hours. Don’t be fooled. There are still steps. 

How fit do I need to be?

 Vernazza: an easy approach on the trail from Monterosso.
Vernazza: an easy approach on the trail from Monterosso.

I run, cycle and do strength training six days a week but I still found Cinque Terre challenging. This could be because a) I have shorts legs b) I don’t normally hike and c) I’d been eating out and drinking for three weeks before I reached Cinque Terre. If you’re reasonably active, you’ll be fine. 

You control the pace, you can take a break anytime, you’ll be stopping for photographs anyway and there’ll be plenty of struggling seniors (there’ll be lots who’ll kick your ass too). I tried to find yoga classes to stretch out without luck. These are small fishing villages! 

How sore will I get? 

Neither my boyfriend or I were sore after our Monterosso-Vernazza hike but that’s only two hours. You’re bound to get jelly legs at some point on your walk and be prepared to groan when you stand up after lunch. Our accommodation was up two flights of stairs which was painful, and the steps up to train station platforms weren’t pleasant either. By day three, my legs instantly stiffened with the first step. However, I say hiking is like getting a tattoo – it hurts at first but you’ll quickly go numb. For the remaining two weeks of our Europe holiday, my quads seized whenever we went up stairs. Again, we’re two active people in our early 30s who didn’t do any training. We survived. 

Should I do a tour?

Absolutely not. The Blue Path sections are clearly marked and each part only takes a few hours. There are people everywhere. You will NOT get lost! If you’re travelling solo and plan to hit the High Path for a week, then an organised tour might be an option as these trails are less busy and can get a little confusing. My boyfriend and I saw a few tour groups, both on the popular Blue Path and on the High Path. The group on the High Path looked quite professional but even then, their tour leader turned them around after we’d been tailing them for 10 minutes because they’d missed a turn off. 

 Monterosso: the checkpoint to get your trekking pass. 
Monterosso: the checkpoint to get your trekking pass. 
 Hiking fees: €7.50 for a one day pass (adult)
Hiking fees: €7.50 for a one day pass (adult)

Cost

We hiked four paths in three days and only had to pay an entrance fee on the most popular route, which is Monterosso-Vernazza. We paid at the Monterosso checkpoint and there was also a checkpoint on the outskirts of Vernazza. A one day adult pass cost €7.50 (cash only – and your nearest ATM is a good 15 minutes hike down a staircase).

We didn’t bother with a train pass as we weren’t sure of our plans and it’s only €4 per ride anyway. We didn’t see any other checkpoints during our four days of hiking.

What to wear

If you’re in Cinque Terre without athletic gear, you could walk the Monterosso-Vernazza path in shorts and a t-shirt, with casual sneakers or tennis shoes. Your shoes will get dirty, dusty and possibly muddy. Some people say flip flops are fine, but I’d say they’re a last resort and only on the Monterosso-Vernazza path as it’s the most sturdy. You’ll still encounter uneven terrain, dirt, loose rocks, and possibly mud. 

I was very comfortable in my Lululemon crops, Lulu tank and Asics sneakers although my toes were a little sore after day three, even with orthotics. My boyfriend wore board shorts and a t-shirt or singlet, also with sneakers. We sweated like crazy but even in May, I still wore a puffer vest as the sun went down. Both our shoes looked a little worse for wear after Cinque Terre, but were fine once we’d cleaned them. 

I was concerned about going to the villages restaurants and cafes in my hiking gear, but it was perfectly fine. There were hikers everywhere and no-one blinked when we turned up to venues with white tablecloths and suited waiters, despite us being in singlets and sports shoes. This was true at night too. One bar in Monterosso felt like I’d stepped into a North Face catalogue!  

What to bring

The obvious stuff – water, a hat, suncream and your phone or camera. On the short Blue Path hikes we had a 500ml (16 oz.) bottle each, and on the longer High Path hike (Riomaggiore – Portovenere) we had two bottles each. We also brought a small towel and a sweater/puffer vest each, as it did cool in the afternoons. My boyfriend brought a spare t-shirt to change into after hiking as he’d sweat through the first one. I saw people carrying their dogs on the path and people with baby hiking frames too. 

 Riomaggiore-Manarola: don't try this in the rain!
Riomaggiore-Manarola: don’t try this in the rain!
 Monterosso-Vernazza: you'll be walking single file.
Monterosso-Vernazza: you’ll be walking single file.

Facilities

There were no restrooms on any of the routes we did, except for the 12km (7.5mi) Riomaggiore-Portovenere path which had a cafe at Pass of Telegrafo and you can also break in Campiglia. I stay really hydrated and was concerned I’d need a bathroom break, even on the two hour hikes. But we sweated so much it wasn’t an issue. Don’t assume you can run into trees if nature calls – the trails are busy, they’re mostly exposed and there’s a cliff face below so it’s not always safe or possible to deviate. 

I didn’t see any water available despite signage on the Riomaggiore-Portovenere route, but there were occasionally picnic tables or flat rocks where you could have a nice break. 

 Riomaggiore to Manarola: downhill may look easy, but the ground is uneven with loose rocks and often steep steps.
Riomaggiore to Manarola: downhill may look easy, but the ground is uneven with loose rocks and often steep steps.

When to go

We were in the Cinque Terre in mid-May and temperatures were around 17-18°C (62-65°F). It was fresh in the morning so I wore a puffer vest at first but quickly shed it. I love the heat and I don’t sweat much – but boy, did we sweat on those tracks! You’re walking uphill and there’s only occasional shade. I told myself I wouldn’t want to visit any later, even if the nights were cool enough to warrant a jacket. The crowds were also noticeable at this time, and multiple times we had to wait at narrow sections or go slowly upstairs because of people ahead. Thinking back, I’d possibly go a few weeks later but only so I could ditch the coat at night.

Do NOT hike in the rain or immediately after. Even in dry conditions, I came close to slipping several times wearing my reliable, $200 cross-trainers. There are loose rocks too. It must have rained in the days before our visit as the paths were also muddy in some parts. 

Transport

There are a few ways to reach your starting point or return to your accommodation: 

  • Train: There’s a station in every village and services are frequent (every 20 minutes), fast (5 minutes or less between each town) and affordable (€4 per journey). If travelling to or from Corniglia, be aware the village is on a hilltop and the train station is at sea level, with about 15 flights of stairs connecting them! I did see a sign for a shuttle bus but didn’t use it. 
  • Ferry: The ferry is much slower but a nice way to sightsee and appreciate the terrain you’ve covered at the end of the day. A one-way adult ticket from Portovenere to Monterosso is €18, with services approximately every 30-90 minutes. The ferry doesn’t stop at Corniglia. Click here for the 2017 timetable.
  • Walk: If your trail is a loop or you’re feeling energetic, you can get home on foot. I guarantee this is less attractive after a few aperitifs
 Vernazza: viewed from the ferry. We had lunch at the cafe with the green roof! 
Vernazza: viewed from the ferry. We had lunch at the cafe with the green roof! 

References 

The website In Cinque Terre is excellent. We used this extensively to plan our hikes and found the information both detailed and accurate. The estimated hiking times were more or less correct too.

My boyfriend downloaded the app Trails of Cinque Terre (AU$4.49) which I highly recommend if you’re doing the Riomaggiore-Portovenere route. I liked that we could track the distance we covered – 12 km (7.5mi) in less than five hours! It was also helpful when the path reached a fork or wasn’t obvious. Every step is valuable and you don’t want to go uphill unnecessarily! 

More info

Want to see the four hikes we did on our trip? Stay tuned – that post will be up shortly! As mentioned, you can also check out my guide Italy’s Incredible Cinque Terre for general tips on the area, such as where to stay, language and where to eat.

The Cinque Terre trails have been the most memorable hikes of my life and inspired me to find more treks around the world. Monterosso to Vernazza is a walk everyone should do once in a lifetime, and the region’s National Park and UNESCO Heritage Listing statuses make it some of the most pristine yet tourist friendly paths you can find. The scenery was breathtaking and jawdropping, and I’m forever grateful my boyfriend suggested we visit Cinque Terre.

QUESTION: Where’s your favourite hiking spot in the world? 

Italy’s Incredible Cinque Terre: My Guide

About a year ago, my boyfriend and I sat down with a giant piece of cardboard, a handful of Sharpies and our laptops. We’d booked return flights to London to see one of my best friends get married and we had month afterwards to explore Europe! My dream was to cycle through French vineyards while my boyfriend wanted to visit Cinque Terre. I’d never heard of it. “It’s in Italy. It looks cool!” he said. He showed me some photos on Instagram. It looked incredible so it went onto our list.

Our plans progressed and in May this year, we boarded a train in Nice, France and five hours later arrived in Cinque Terre. It was a surreal moment, disembarking at Monterosso’s small train station at sunset and towing our suitcases along the beach path to our guest house. The days that ensued were absolutely magical. 

If you’re looking for spectacular scenery, dramatic architecture and a relaxed village vibe, Cinque Terre delivers it all. Bonus: Italian food and wine! 

Orientation

Cinque Terre (“Five Lands”) is on the northern Italian coastline, about two hours north-west of Florence and 450 kilometres (280 miles) north-west of Rome. It comprises a string of five coastal towns, each a few kilometres apart. Cinque Terre is a national park and was placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1997 for its outstanding cultural value, along with nearby Portovenere and several islands.

 Corniglia: the only hilltop village in Cinque Terre. 
Corniglia: the only hilltop village in Cinque Terre. 

From north to south, Cinque Terre’s towns are: 

  • Monterosso: the biggest, made up of Old Town and New Town (about 10 minutes walk between them). It has a large beach area. 
  • Vernazza: arguably the second most popular village, and rivalling Maranola for most beautiful. Probably the most photographed, thanks to being an easy hike from Monterosso. Vernazza has an iconic pier and castle. 
  • Corniglia: the only town without direct beach access, it’s instead perched high on a hill. For that reason, it has the least number of tourists. Considered the most quant and peaceful. 
  • Manarolo (shown in the cover photo): another popular choice, often considered the most beautiful.
  • Riomaggiore: the most southern village in Cinque Terre, so the first one you’ll reach if travelling north along the coast.

 Vernazza: the village has an iconic castle (top right) and pier.
Vernazza: the village has an iconic castle (top right) and pier.

It’s worth noting the nearby towns, as they’re important for getting your direction right on train travel: Levanto is north of Monterosso and you’ll find La Spezia and Portovenere south/south-east of Riomaggiore. 

where to stay

My boyfriend and I found this one of the most difficult things to decide when planning our visit. Thankfully, a colleague had just been to Cinque Terre and recommended we stay in Monterosso’s Old Town. He said it was beautiful, and the only village big enough to handle the influx of tourists without feeling too crowded. He was spot on! Make sure you book accommodation as soon as you can. We were travelling in the shoulder-season and had limited options when trying to book three months in advance!

 Affittacamere Irene: view looking left from our window.
Affittacamere Irene: view looking left from our window.

We got a double room at the perfectly located Affittacamere Irene for 4 nights (Via XX Settembre 16, Monterosso | €130/night). It was one of four rooms at the family-run guesthouse and very spacious, just a minute or two from Monterosso’s bars, restaurants and bakeries. Our host was running the guesthouse for her mother and personally showed us to our room, along giving us an introduction to the region. She provided some great dining recommendations too! The complimentary snacks, tea and coffee were enough for a light breakfast before hiking and the small fridge was handy too.

If you’re struggling to pick a town, consider these factors:

  • 1. How much luggage do you have? 

Make no mistake – Cinque Terre is steep. While the main street may be wide and comparatively flat, guesthouses may be several flights of uneven steps so taking a cab (if available) isn’t an option. We had a 23kg (50 lb.) suitcase each but thankfully our accommodation was a 10 minute, flat walk from the train station. Corniglia is on top of a hill but the train station is at sea level. It’ll take you at least 10 minutes to go down the stairs, let alone going up with a bag! If you’ve just got a weekend duffel, you’ve got more options. 

 Corniglia: perched on a hilltop but the train station is at sea level, via a lot of stairs! 
Corniglia: perched on a hilltop but the train station is at sea level, via a lot of stairs! 

  • 2. How many bar/dining options do you want? 

Monterosso is the biggest of the towns, so if you like to explore different venues over a few nights, this is a good bet. We didn’t actually make it to the New Town area during our four night stay because we had so many local choices! We spent less time in Vernazza and Manarola, but there were multiple dining spots on offer too, both by the water and at higher lookouts. Corniglia is the smallest town although one of our favourite bars was here (see “drinks” below). Riomaggiore is the only village we didn’t eat or drink in, but only because it didn’t work with our hikes. 

  • 3. Will you spend more time hiking or beaching? 

Monterosso has the biggest beach area, made up of public and private facilities. Vernazza and Manarola have small harbours to swim in. As Corniglia is perched on a hill, beach access is possible but not easy. The town to train station stairs would be torture after a day of hiking and there’s no ferry access. Riomaggiore has a rocky, pebbly beach but the town is an excellent base for hiking, as you can continue further south to Portovenere.

 Riomaggiore: the southern-most village, photo taken from the ferry at dusk.
Riomaggiore: the southern-most village, photo taken from the ferry at dusk.

The best advice I can give is that ultimately, it doesn’t matter where you stay. None of the villages are particularly big, they all have similar facilities and the Regionale trains between them are cheap (€4), fast and frequent. If you like bigger towns and have a heavy suitcase, go for Monterosso. If you want the most quant and least touristy village, head to Corniglia. I felt Vernazza was overcrowded with tourists, but this may change at night once daytrippers have left. Manarola was a magnet for Instagrammers but honestly, most of Cinque Terre is selfie-central. It’s shame we only transitted through Riomaggiore! I’d possibly stay there or in Manarola next time, mostly to explore alternate hiking routes. My boyfriend said he’d happily return to Monterosso. 

what to do

Hiking

If you’re mildly active, you’ve got to do at least one hike in Cinque Terre. There are popular hikes, each 1-3 hours, connecting each of the villages as well as more challenging, professional paths. These footpaths have actually connected the villages for centuries. The most popular walk is the simple, two-hour hike between Monterosso and Vernazza. It’s a perfect introduction to the region and one of the most memorable experiences of my life. 

 Vernazza (with Monterosso in the background): you'll get this view when hiking to Corniglia! 
Vernazza (with Monterosso in the background): you’ll get this view when hiking to Corniglia! 

My boyfriend and I were keen to hike as much as we could, and we did four journeys in three days (each one harder than the last!). The scenery was jaw-dropping and breathtaking at almost every step and meeting travellers from all around the world was a bonus. Our daily routine became a morning hike, leisurely lunch, an afternoon hike and apertifs (see “drinks” below) before returning to Monterosso for dinner. I’ll do a separate, detailed post about our hikes shortly but in the interim, this website has detailed, accurate advice: www.incinqueterre.com/en/trails-advice.

Beach

Make your Cinque Terre trip a real vacation by spending a day at the beach. As mentioned, Monterosso has the biggest beach area (both private and public facilities) but you can reach the water from any of the villages with varying levels of difficulty. We spent an hour or so sunbaking on rocks at Vernazza, but in Manarola it was too chilly to swim in the small harbour. The beaches are more rock than sand, so bring a towel. 

 Vernazza: the view from the castle tower.
Vernazza: the view from the castle tower.

Churches

Whether it’s a sanctuary, monument or plain old church, each village has at least one place of worship. I saw two – a church in Vernazza we awkwardly walked through to get to a beach and another on our hike between Riomaggiore and Portovenere. I’ve seen enough churches and temples in my travels for a lifetime, but if this is your thing you’ll some options in each town.

Cooking classes

I love taking cooking classes abroad and Cinque Terre would’ve been exceptional! I looked into local schools and found most classes were around €130. When researching this post, I did see the cafe Nessun Dorma (see “where to eat” below) offered a pesto making course for €35. Amazing! If you offer or have taken a cooking class in Cinque Terre, please comment below.

where to eat

 Ristorante Ciak: the best meal I had in Cinque Terre!
Ristorante Ciak: the best meal I had in Cinque Terre!

Cinque Terre is in Italy’s Liguria region which is famous for its pesto! You’ll find the short, twisted trofie pasta on most menus, as the shape is apparently well-suited to the famous basil sauce. Sadly, pesto contains parmesan so I couldn’t try any but I ate a lot of other food! Spaghetti pomodoro, minestrone, salads, bruschetta, focaccia and dairy-free gelato! The menus were seafood heavy too, with anchovies a local specialty. The meat dishes are a great option if you need a break from carbs. 

You won’t find McDonalds or sushi anywhere, and pizza is only occasionally on menus. I chuckled at the number of restaurants with signs saying “NO EGGS!,” referring to Americans’ love of a cooked breakfast. You’ll receive a bread basket everywhere – it’s included as part of the €2-3 per person service charge.

Our favourite places were: 

 Bar Terza Terra: lunch & drinks with a view! 
Bar Terza Terra: lunch & drinks with a view! 

  • Monterosso: Ristorante Ciak (Piazza Don Minzoni 6) served the most gobsmackingly delicious meal I had during my entire visit. I couldn’t finish my gnocchi (€14) so staff kindly packed it to go. Local white wine was €19 a bottle. You MUST eat here! 
  • Vernazza: We had a post-hike lunch at Al Castello, perched high near the iconic castle overlooking the town and sea. The food was fine, but it was the views and value that were impressive. We paid €14 for a bottle of house white and €8 for spaghetti pomodoro.
  • Corniglia: We walked past half a dozen restaurants before reaching the exquisitely located Bar Terza Terra. It was like we were on a private island, tucked around a corner with only a dozen other people taking in the incredible scenery. We had multiple Aperol spritzes (€6) paired with assorted bruschetta (€7) and focaccia (from €2.50). A real highlight! 
  • Manarola: I’d go back to Nessun Dorma in a heartbeat! This entirely outdoor venue is exceptionally popular due to its stunning views of the town. It was full of Instagrammers but was surprisingly good value given the setting. They had a range of drink and platters combinations from €11-20, focaccias at €6-7 and of course Aperol spritzes. This venue alone is worth a day trip to Manarola. 

drink

 Nessun Dorma: Aperitifs overlooking Manarola.
Nessun Dorma: Aperitifs overlooking Manarola.

We arrived in Cinque Terre after four days in France’s best vineyards but that didn’t stop us from guzzling Italian vino. While you can’t compare Grand Cru with the local Cinque Terre wine, we truly enjoyed everything we drank. My boyfriend and I ordered mostly local white wines, which were around €15-20 for a bottle and €4-8 for a glass. On one occasion we tried an €8 bottle of house white, which surprisingly good too. Beer lovers, there’s options for you too. 

Aperitif is something I’d heard of but not experienced. Consider it Italy’s cocktail hour, enjoyed pre-dinner with snacks such as chips, nuts or crackers. 

Recommended bars: 

  • Monterosso: La Balena Blue (or “the Blue Whale”). Our host suggested this place but it took us a while to find because the signage was quite small. I liked that Italians were drinking here, and people would simply drop in and say hello. A few people had their dogs with them. 
  • Corniglia: We had lunch at Bar Terza Terra, but I’d return just for drinks. And the scenery! 
  • Mararola: I’m repeating myself, but go to Nessun Dorma. You could stare at Manarola all day.

 Corniglia: Post-hike Aperol spritz at Bar Terza Terra!
Corniglia: Post-hike Aperol spritz at Bar Terza Terra!

 Wine list: a sample of local wines and prices (click to enlarge).
Wine list: a sample of local wines and prices (click to enlarge).

getting around

The Regionale train is by the far the easiest way to get between towns. The services are fast, frequent and only €4 per trip. Be sure to check the last train times (around midnight) to avoid being stranded after dinner. Click here for the timetable.

 Ferry from Portovenere to Montorosso (€18): it stops at all towns except Corniglia and takes about an hour.
Ferry from Portovenere to Montorosso (€18): it stops at all towns except Corniglia and takes about an hour.

A ferry also connects all the towns except Corniglia, and goes further south to Portovenere. The ferries are less frequent, every hour or so, and more expensive (€18 one way Portovenere to Monterosso) but it’s a nice way to see the villages from the water. Click here for the 2017 timetable.

Of course, you can walk between the towns too with each only 1.5 – 4km (0.9 – 2.5mi) apart. The villages themselves are best explored on foot due to their small size and steep inclines. 

getting there

The nearest major cities are Milan (220km/135mi) and Genoa (130km/80mi) in the north, and to the south-east Pisa (100km/62mi) and Florence (170km/105mi). As mentioned, Italy’s capital Rome is about 450km south-east of Cinque Terre (or a five hour train ride). The simplest way to reach Cinque Terre is to fly or catch a train to one of these cities, and then catch another train.

 Train: I became obsessed with photographing Cinque Terre's railway tunnels. So beautiful! 
Train: I became obsessed with photographing Cinque Terre’s railway tunnels. So beautiful! 

We travelled from Nice, France to Genoa (3 hours) and then onto Monterosso (1 h, 15 mins) which was €24.90 each, for both journeys. We pre-booked our tickets using the excellent website Loco2. Italian trains are frequently delayed so be generous with connection times. We were delayed by 20 minutes a few times and saw others delayed by 40 minutes. You could also hire a car but we found the train services were more than adequate.

 Manarola: the main street between the station and seafront.
Manarola: the main street between the station and seafront.

money

You’ll need Euros (€) for Cinque Terre, as it’s part of Italy. I was surprised at how affordable the area was, given it’s touristy and somewhat remote. For example, a basic pasta was often €8-10 and focaccias at a bar started from €2.50. Be warned: there’s only a couple of ATMs in each town, and they were frequently out of service. You can pay for trains and maybe half the restaurants by credit card, but smaller grocers and hiking fees for example were cash only. 

language  

I used our train ride to Monterosso to brush up on my Italian (learnt in Rome, 2006 while backpacking). English was widely spoken in Cinque Terre but to varying degrees. Either way, it’s polite to know the basics. Download the free app Duolingo to learn Italian, otherwise here are some essentials: 

  • Hello/bye = ciao (“chow”)
  • Thank you = grazie
  • Please = per favoure
  • Excuse me/pardon = scusi
  • Do you have a table for two? = Avete un tavolo per due?
  • May I have..? = Vorrei..?
  • White/red wine = bianco/rosso vini

other tips

Don’t buy stamps from postcard vendors. They’ll cost you €3 each (on top of the card) and are actually part of some private courier service. Instead, search for a post office here.

I left Cinque Terre feeling I’d had a once in a lifetime experience. The walks were spectacular and the villages, although touristy, were as unspoilt as the scenery. It was a fantastic way to stay fit while travelling and inspired me to explore much more of Italy and its regional cruises. To my boyfriend – thank you for choosing such a stunning, memorable destination! 

QUESTION: Where’s your favourite place in Italy?

A Guide to Queenstown, NZ

I’m a city-dweller. I like to holiday in big cities. I like exploring the complex jungles of concrete, bars and metro systems. Nature is something I find in city parks or on a day-trip before returning to the sanctuary of my apartment at night. I run but I can’t ski, and I certainly don’t snowboard. 

Needless to say, New Zealand was not on my travel radar. As I boarded my flight to Queenstown in 2015, I felt like a foreigner. I was surrounded by people with chunky knit beanies and snow bags. I was an imposter. A city-dweller! But two beautiful friends were getting married in the snow, so to Queenstown I went. At least I could hike! 

It turns out, I got struck with a horrible mystery virus and was bedridden for most of the holiday. But the few days I ventured out in Queenstown have stuck with me ever since. I was enchanted. There’s something magic about the city, with its pristine lake, distant snow-capped mountains and streets of adventure seekers. I missed the chance to experience the party-side of Queenstown (which I’m told is wild), but even the wine bars with log fires were gorgeous and cosy. Queenstown, you won me over!

Getting there is a short 3 hour flight from Melbourne or Sydney or 10 hours from Perth (via Sydney, Melbourne or Auckland). It’s not exactly a weekend away, but it’s a winter wonderful that makes for a special week’s vacation.

Here’s my guide to Queenstown! 

Orientation

Queenstown sits along the shores of the mighty Lake Wakatipu, about 15 minutes from Queenstown Airport. It’s hard to take your eyes off the stunning water views, but if you gaze up you’ll see snow-capped mountains forming an almost distant fort around the town. The city centre is small and fairly flat, with just a few main streets and a pedestrian mall where most eateries, shops and hostels are. A little further around the lake (between 10-30 minutes walk) is a stretch of hotels, including Rydges and Mercure. You’ll quickly hit inclines once you leave the lake and CBD area. 

 Lake Wakatipu: the stunning natural centrepiece of Queenstown
Lake Wakatipu: the stunning natural centrepiece of Queenstown

Where to stay

My first instinct was to book a five-star hotel along the lake. However my boyfriend, who’s been to Queenstown before, said the majority were slightly out of the CBD (up to 30 minutes walk). Not far, but not ideal for a group or walking home from the pub. Instead, we booked Novotel Queenstown Lakeside for four nights (NZ$200/night). It was perfect! Just metres from the lakefront, and you literally cross a street to hit bars, dining and shopping. 

The hotel itself was modern, clean and staff were fantastic. It was no problem to park our hire car but from memory, it was cheaper to park it on the street if we had multiple trips out. I didn’t eat at the bar or restaurant but everything looked good when I walked past. Being ill, I was so grateful for room service and free wi-fi! I had the minestrone soup delivered most days which helped bring me to back to health. But the absolute luxury of this hotel? It had a laundry!

What to do

1. Hit the Snow

The long, skinny bags carried by many as they touch down at Queenstown Airport gives you a good idea of why people come here. Whether you ski or snowboard, you can easily spend a week in Queenstown hitting plenty of different spots. The bigger mountains are Cardrona, Treble Cone, Coronet Peak and The Remarkables. The ski season generally runs from early to mid June until October, but of course each year will vary. To get to the snowfields, you can hire a car and drive or catch one of the buses that leave several times a day from central Queenstown. Some offer hotel pick up too. 

 Mineret Peaks: only accessible by helicopter but worth the effort! 
Mineret Peaks: only accessible by helicopter but worth the effort! 

If you want to splurge, go heli-skiing. You’ll be flown to a spot only accessible by helicopter, have a guide and be spoilt with untracked runs. You want to be at least an intermediate to advanced snowboarder/skier to do this. The price varies on how many runs you want to do in a day, but it’s around NZ$1000. My boyfriend went with a group to Wanaka and he was ecstatic (and exhausted!) when he returned. If you can afford it, it’s a must-do.

2. Hike

 Tiki Trail: I was shocked to see snow near the top! 
Tiki Trail: I was shocked to see snow near the top! 

Not a skier or snowboarder? Neither am I! My plan was to hike and trail run in Queenstown while my boyfriend was on the slopes all day. That didn’t to go plan, but I did manage to hike the Tiki Trail on my final day. The trail starts in central Queenstown at the bottom of the Skyline Gondola. Just follow the signs and walk up! It’s fairly steep most of the way and took me around two hours, but I was still sick and took it really easy. The highlight (apart from reaching the top) was seeing snow. The sun was out and it was maybe 6°C (42°F) – I didn’t expect snow at all! Clearly, because I was wearing Lululemon crops and sneakers. 

Once you reach the top, there’s a cafe, restaurant, restrooms and a souvenir shop. Grab a cup of tea and take in the expansive views of Queenstown and The Remarkables mountain range! There’s outdoor seating too. Don’t want to hike? For NZ$33, you can catch the gondola to the top and back. I took the gondola down the mountain, but it was nowhere as rewarding as the hiking feeling!  

 Tiki Trail: the reward when you reach the summit of Bob's Peak!
Tiki Trail: the reward when you reach the summit of Bob’s Peak!

3. Shop

I was sick as a dog, but I still got my retail fix! With The Remarkables as your backdrop, shopping in Queenstown is a unique way to spend a few hours. You can find plenty of stores selling New Zealand artisan foods and wine, along with retailers like Lululemon, Peter Alexander, Witchery and Quiksilver. You can also pick up hiking or snow gear from places including Kathmandu and Macpac. There are bigger shopping centres on the city’s outskirts too. You wouldn’t visit Queenstown solely to shop, but I happily enjoyed an afternoon exploring the stores. 

 Central Queenstown: a compact shopping area with mountain views
Central Queenstown: a compact shopping area with mountain views

4. Day trips

There are some cute towns near Queenstown and you’ll encounter spectacular views throughout the journey. I’d recommend Arrowtown (20 mins) for an afternoon or drive through the stunning Crown Range to Wanaka (1 hour), where we stayed three nights. On the way to Wanaka, stop at the Cardrona Hotel for lunch (40 mins from Queenstown). It’s one of New Zealand’s oldest pubs and one of only two remaining buildings from the Cardona Valley gold rush era. You probably need to double these travel times though, because you’ll constantly stop to take photos! 

 Arrow Junction: just a short (20 minute) drive from Queenstown en route to Wanaka. Spectacular! 
Arrow Junction: just a short (20 minute) drive from Queenstown en route to Wanaka. Spectacular! 

food & Drink

 Fergburger: 'Holier Than Thou' and yeah, it was.
Fergburger: ‘Holier Than Thou’ and yeah, it was.

What do tourists do after hitting the snow all day? Shower, eat and drink! There are heaps of dining options in Queenstown, from classic pubs to Mexican, Japanese and Starbucks. I didn’t eat out much (like I said: room service minestrone) but the few places I did go were reasonably priced with very sizable portions.

Do NOT leave Queenstown without having a Fergburger! My sensational man delivered one to me at our hotel room when I was bedridden, insisting it was a must-have Queenstown experience. He wasn’t kidding. My ‘Holier Than Thou’ (NZ$11.50) with tempered tofu, coconut satay sauce, bean sprouts, fresh cucumber and tomato was truly a spiritual experience. O-M-G. 

While my trip to Queenstown was tame, I did make it to a few wine bars. It was heavenly to sit by a log fire, in dim lighting with a glass of a New Zealand white. You’ll smell the distinctive woody smoke in almost every place you go to. It’s easy to bar hop across the city as you’re never far from a drop!

getting around

If you’re staying centrally, you can get around Queenstown on foot. We booked a hire car and collected it at the airport, as we needed to get to Wanaka for our friends’ wedding. It was handy for checking out nearby towns but certainly not essential for Queenstown. As many people come to New Zealand to explore the landscape, there were plenty of hire cars at the airport and largely affordable. As mentioned, there are regular buses to the snow fields and some offer hotel pick ups.

 Arrowtown: a small but cute and cosy town 20 minutes from Queenstown
Arrowtown: a small but cute and cosy town 20 minutes from Queenstown

Currency

The New Zealand Dollar (NZD) is pretty close to the Australian dollar, with NZ$1 buying about 90 Australian cents. I convert it mentally by adding 10 per cent to the Australian figures. Here are some examples (as at March 2017):

  • AU $10 = NZ $10.80
  • US$10 = NZ $14.50
  • EUR 5 = NZ $10.60
  • GBP 5 = NZ $8.80

While I didn’t explore as much of Queenstown as I wanted to, my limited trip was still magnificent. New Zealand is truly a land of jaw-dropping beauty, and the areas I saw were pristine, clean and sparsely populated. I’ve already recommended Queenstown to family looking for a week long holiday somewhere different, and who can resist a winter wonderland with wine? I’m looking forward to returning and conquering those trails – and experiencing the party town vibe!

QUESTION: When have you been struck by illness on vacation?