Day Trips You Need to do from Guanajuato City

The easiest and fastest way to explore the surrounding cities is by hiring a Day Tour. There’s kiosks and people selling these right in front of Teatro Juarez. You can compare several companies but they all have the same itinerary and price. For $250mxn per person, I got the “Independence Route” which took about 8 hours in a van with about 12 people. The route consisted of the following:

  • La Sierra de Santa Rosa
  • Dolores Hidalgo “Pueblo Mágico”
  • Church of Atotonilco
  • San Miguel de Allende “Cultural Heritage” (Patrimonio cultural de la Humanidad)

First, let me explain what a “Pueblo Mágico” is why Mexico is filled with them. It translates into Magical Town and Mexico created a program that names several small towns in the country as such since these towns have a history, symbols and other attributes related to Mexican history. Symbols can be statues, cave paintings, churches, missions, virgin beaches, etc. After being named a Pueblo Mágico, resources are focused so the town may increase and maintain tourism. There’s a lot more to say about this program and why it has been criticized but I won’t get into the politics of it. Here’s a list of all Mexico’s Magical Towns. For tips on what to do, see and eat Guanajuato City, see this post.

jicama
I LOVE jicama on a sunny day!

La Sierra de Santa Rosa 

Our tour started in some shops that sold affordable silver. We were there for about 30 minutes then started up the mountain towards La Sierra de Santa Rosa. Our tour guide shared stories of José Alfredo Jimenez, a famous singer from Dolores, Guanajuato who wrote all his songs based on his experiences, some in La Sierra (the mountains). He is buried in a humble cemetery but the locals built him a memorial with a huge “charro” hat that he was famous for wearing. In front of the cemetery, we tried homemade Mezcal, mixed fruit with hot sauce & lime, craft beers, and more. We also went to a small shop near the highway were a group of local women sold craft snacks and drinks, such as chamoy (sweet and sour fruit sauce), honey-covered peanuts, jams, etc.

Dolores Hidalgo

Later, we went to Dolores Hidalgo, where the Mexican Independence began with a scream. I won’t go into detail about the story, but it was great getting a refresher from our guide, as well as hearing myths from my textbooks as a child, debunked.

My favorite thing to do in Dolores is taste the many exotic ice cream flavors.

Dolores is a cute and small town that can be explored in a few hours. The most popular things to do here are to visit the Independence Museum and José Alfredo Jimenez’s home. MY FAVORITE THING to do in Dolores is taste the many exotic ice cream flavors. I tried avocado, cheese and mole (cacao and chili-based sauce). There’s also shrimp, nopal (cactus), beer, chicharrón (pork rinds), and an endless list of odd flavors. Each ice cream stand competes for the most original and authentic tasting flavor each year. So you must indulge in flavors you will try nowhere else.

Church of Atotonilco

In my opinion, this place was not worth the time. I wish that instead we had more time in San Miguel de Allende. This catholic church looks like most; covered in golden statues and catholic murals, with the exception of a Dolores statue standing outside. I don’t mean to sound like a hater, but I was initially told we would have 3-4 hours in San Miguel de Allende and that turned into 1 hour and 15 minutes, so keep that in mind when a tour vendor tries to sell his tour over another. They are really all the same.

Dolores
Dolores & The Church of Atotonilco

San Miguel de Allende

This small town is now quite famous. Celebrities have come to buy properties here. That has brought a lot of money into the town, but unfortunately, it has also raised prices exponentially compared to the rest of Guanajuato. So, if you’re on a budget, I recommend staying in Guanajuato City instead and doing a Day Trip to San Miguel. There are buses that connect both towns. They are 1 hour 30 minutes away from each other. Since my visit was short, I cannot share much on this town but below are a few recommendations friends shared with me prior to my visit.

SanMiguel
Parroquía de San Miguel Arcángel

Keep in mind that most day tours stop at a restaurant near the highway in which they have a previous agreement with. In most cases, these restaurants only serve meat. You are not obligated to eat here but there are hardly any other options in the middle of the highway.

Friendly reminder that I have another post with tips on what to do, see and eat Guanajuato City. Enjoy your time in this beautiful state. There is so much to see, do, and, especially, eat. Always, BE PRESENT and follow me on Instagram @joyzcortez for up to date tips and tricks from current travels.

The Best of Guanajuato in a Nut Shell

After two years of nonstop travel in Europe, I finally get to travel in my home country. I know it’s a popular destination, but I really wanted to visit Guanajuato, which ironically enough gave me European vibes.

The small-colorful houses on the steep hills reminded me of Portugal, the beautiful cathedrals reminded me of Spain and the iconic Teatro de Juarez reminded me of France. I was reminded I was in México when I paid $6 mxn for a bus ride to the Museum of Mummies. Also, when I paid $15 mxn for a mouth-watering, hand-made gordita for which I felt like giving my soul while living in Spain.

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Mercado Hidalgo – upstairs

I was again reminded I was in a special and new place to me when exploring the underground streets, the mercados filled with original artwork, jewelry, spicy candy, aguas frescas; also when seeing murals appealing to my country’s history. The real eye-opener was when I took a Day Tour and got to explore small villages, highways going up the green mountains, I got to try home-made Mezcal and hear the native tongues. All of these reminders made me feel like I was where I belonged. I discuss this tour in detail in my Day Trips post.

Teatri Juarez
Teatro Juárez

What to do in Guanajuato City

La Callejoneada is a must while in Guanajuato. As with almost everything, you can find ticket sellers in front of Teatro Juárez. This is also where the tour begins. Callejón means alley, so Callejoneada is a tour through Guanajuato’s narrow alleys given by La Estudiantina, a group of funny dressed men with musical instruments. You’ll follow the Estudiantina through the alleys stopping in certain areas where they tell tales of locals and the city in song. Most songs are funny and they involve the audience. If you’re traveling with your significant other, this can be a very romantic tour since the last stop is “El Callejón del Beso“, Kiss Alley.

The Museum of Mummies is a landmark in Guanajuato. It’s affordable, even if you have to pay to take pictures. You’ll see mummies from all shapes and sizes, including fetuses and corpses who have been buried alive, some by mistake, some for torture. If you’re not into the grotesque, the museum also has a lot of history. I do recommend you bring a Student or Teacher ID if you have one since the discount is significant. I also recommend you avoid buying the second part of the museum, which seemed like a cheap haunted house.

Mummies
The famous Guanajuato mummies

El Mirador del Pipila is a tall viewpoint with amazing views of the city. There are other tours than include a ride and a meal up there. There is also a cable car if you prefer to avoid the hike.

Other places to visit are Museo Casa de Diego RiveraMuseo Iconográfico de Don Quijote and the Alhóndiga de Granaditas.

Mdo Hidalgo3
Entrance to Mercado Hidalgo

Where and what to eat

Mercado Hidalgo is a large warehouse offering every type of Mexican dish. This is also where you will find the most variety and best prices for souvenirs, as well as for food. There are freshly squeezed juices, fruit salads, enchiladas, tortas, chicharrón, micheladas, tostilocos, corn in a cup or stick, gorditas, tacos, chiles rellenos… literally, any Mexican dish, but the one to try in Guanajuato is the “Enchilada Minera“.

The easiest way to explain an enchilada is a wet burrito. The wrapped tortilla is filled with chicken or cheese, laid out on the dish, and covered with green or red sauce. The green sauce is made with tomatillo, a small and green tomato with a sour taste. The sauce in the enchiladas mineras is made with chile guajillo, so expect them to be spicy. The dish is topped with potatoes, lettuce, sour cream, fresh cheese, carrots and jalapeños in vinegar.

“Esquites” are also found in every corner of the city. You can try this delicious roasted corn on a stick or in a cup. I prefer them in a cup since it’s less messy. I noticed Guanajuato had different ingredients, instead of butter like we do in the north, they use mayo, along with dry-shredded cotija cheese, lime, hot sauce and chili powder. Some offered cream instead of mayo. Feel free to tell the vendor to skip or go easy on certain ingredients.

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Enjoying a Michelitro at a rooftop

Where to Stay

I stayed in the center which made everything within walking distance. The bus station was a 20-minute car or a 30-minute bus ride away. The airport was about an hour away since it’s in another city, Silao. There’s a bus departing from the airport to Guanajuato City’s bus station every 30 minutes, the schedule is here: une bus.

I loved my Bed & Breakfast! Casa de Pita is cozy, colorful and family-owned. We had a delicious and vegetarian home-cooked breakfast every morning! Our room was small but cute and had everything we needed, including a small bathroom and a window where the Callejoneada would pass by. It was a 5-minute walk from Teatro Juárez and had the best gorditas (Mexican empanadas) food stand right down the street.

There is so much to see, do, and eat in this magical city. Here’s a Google maps list of all the places I’ve mentioned in this post. If you have a day to spare, I recommend taking the “Independence Route”, a day trip to other towns in the state of Guanajuato. I describe in detail in my Day Trips post. Follow me on Instagram @joyzcortez for updated travel tips.

Enjoy your time in delicious and beautiful Guanajuato and always BE PRESENT!

What to See in Beautiful Brittany

What to See in Beautiful Brittany (Bretagne), France

Let’s start with Saint-Malo, a port town famous for Intra-Muros., which translates to “within walls”.  Intra-Muros is a medieval city next to the English Channel surrounded by tall walls. It’s quite picturesque and worth a visit when in Brittany. It is also the most centric area, so it’s best to book lodging here, especially if you don’t have a car since St. Malo lacks public transportation, besides a few buses that run during the day.

This area is also famous for the small “disappearing” islands that you can only visit when the tide is low. The tide changes so dramatically that if you are in one of the islands during high tide, you’ll be stuck there for about 6 hours until the tide comes back down. One of the memorable spots near Intra-Muros was Le Velvet, a cozy and vintage-looking bar that serves delicious mulled wine in the winter.

low tide
Saint-Malo during low tide

Another historical landmark to visit when in St. Malo is Solidor Tower, it is beautifully light at night. I loved walking around it and listening to the beach waves. 

Dinard is another Bretonne beach town. It is right next to St. Malo. I recommend visiting during the day and checking out the Market. Here, you’ll find many places to try delicious Bretonne goods such as cider, cheese, and pastries. After this, I strolled along the “boardwalk” that surrounds some rocky hills. There some outstanding views of the Atlantic Ocean, as well as from my “future home” aka really beautiful and large houses by the beach I will never be able to afford,  but I’m a dreamer.

Dinard
“boardwalk” in Dinard
gallete
Gallete du St- Jacques (Scallop crêpe)

After the walk, I found myself at a local pub that had the best thing to eat in both St, Malo, and Dinard, the Coquille St. Jacques, aka Scallops. They are served in a crêpe, with pasta or in their shells. I lost count of how many I had during my visit to Bretagne. That’s where most of my money went. I also spent it in Kouign-amanns (buttery cake) aka Bretonne Cake pronounced “Queen Aman”. Another thing to try while in Bretagne. The server at this local pub called Le Skipper was so nice and patient with my “baby French”. She was mainly intrigued since it seemed I’m the first Mexican they had ever seen in that town. At least, that they know of.

 

 

 

The most curious thing about the Northern French,
is the way they drink coffee.

Coffee bowls are a thing! Their excuse is that they have to get the energy from somewhere else due to the lack of sun. Sounds legit. 

My reaction to coffee bowls

I noticed the trend when I saw the bowls with names on every souvenir shop. I thought there were for dogs. Later, a local explain the logic behind them. Quite a contrast from the rest of Espresso drinking Europe. My thought was “and they saw Americans supersize everything”, but then again… to each its own.

A curious rumor about Dinard is that the house from Hitchcock’s Psycho was inspired by a house along the coast of Dinard. This explains the random Hitchcock statue with birds, that ironically was covered in bird poop.

Hitchcock

There are many beautiful cities and towns to visit while in Britanny besides the mentioned above, such as Rennes and Nantes. Pays de la Loire is also very near and worth a visit. Remember to bring an umbrella, even when visiting in the summer, since the weather changes drastically. No matter where you stay, enjoy the delicious French wine, cheese, and bread. Give seafood and Kouign-amann a try when in Bretagne, walk it all off with a stroll around the coast (during low tide please) and always BE PRESENT! Follow me on Instagram @joyzcortez to check out more photos of this and other trips.

 

 

Nantes, The Best of This French Hidden Gem

Nantes left an impression on me despite its gloomy weather so much so that I’ve been here both during Christmas time, as well as summer. This college town offers so many attractions as well as good public transport. I’m a sucker for Belgian beer and Nantes’ Delirium Cafe was never as crowded as the original in Brussels. Surprisingly, Nantes is the sixth biggest city in France, yet it does not have many international tourists.

What to Eat in Nantes

The center is pretty walkable with plenty of restaurants where to try the famous Gallete Bretonne (salty crêpe), as well as the Kouign-amann (buttery cake) aka Bretonne Cake, pronounced “Queen Aman”. Don’t forget to pair your Gallete with the Bretonne cider. A small but great spot in the center is Crêperie Au Vieux Quimper.

L’Epicerie is a cozy and delicious tavern looking restaurant that is opened late and serves delicious and local food. A good option for a cute date night. I can’t even remember what I had, but I do remember it was cheesy and damn delicious. Sorry for the blurry pic, but I also remember being really hungry after the first spot we stopped by had no tables available on a Saturday night. Always a good idea to try to make reservations!

L'Epicerie
L’Epicerie

What to See in Nantes

 stunning and colorful images are projected to the beat of the music

Cathédrale Saint-Pierre et Saint-Louis is beautiful and has an amazing show during Christmas season. The front of the cathedral serves as a canvas where stunning and colorful images are projected to the beat of the music. Not that it was related to Christmas, but I saw exotic birds flying in a forest, among other landscapes. You can get a glimpse of this odd but beautiful show in my Instagram Highlights.

Catedral
Cathédrale with Christmas light show

Another beautiful landmark in the center of Nantes is the Castle of the Duques, shown as the Feature Image on this post. There’s an entrance fee but if you have the time, I truly recommend exploring this Château (castle). It is not far from the train station, so definitely worth a visit, if you have an hour to kill.

One of the most visited areas in Nantes apart from the castle is the Passage Pommeraye. This Renaissance-inspired mall is quite fancy. I personally do not care for high-end brands, but walking through this mall was free and offered many great selfie corners. It is beautifully decorated during Christmas as well.

Passage 2
Passage Pommeraye


Last but not least, my favorite place in Nantes, even more so than Cafe Delirium, is
Les Machines de l’Île, The Machines of the Island. This place is hard to describe, but it’s basically a steampunk paradise. There’s a gorgeous and sophisticated carousel with a variety of mechanical creatures. You can also ride through the center in a larger than life-size mechanical elephant. Or if you decide to pay the museum fee, you are also able to drive a mechanical spider and look at other mechanical animals such as hummingbirds. Even if you’re not into steampunk, this place is worth a visit when in Nantes. You don’t need to pay the entrance fee to appreciate most of the machines.

 

Where to Shop in Nantes

After living in a small town (Saint-Brevin-les-Pins) and riding horses every day for two weeks during my Workaway experience, I was in dire need of a new pair of jeans. Passage Pommeraye is not an option for my unemployed self, so I had to resort to the well-known chains such as H&M, Zara, Bershka, etc. You can find these stores, as well as some small locally own boutiques near the center on Rue de Calvaire. It leads to other small streets like Rue de Budapest. It’s all very walkable.

Where to party

I was drawn into the “Canadian pub” out of curiosity and because of

Bar Tabarnak
Bar Tabarnak

Being that Nantes is a college town, some bars are more affordable but crowded with college students, especially on weekends. I was drawn into the “Canadian pub” out of curiosity and because of their “vin chaud”, hot wine or mulled wine. One of my FAVORITE winter drinks!  Bar Tabarnak was quite spacious, with outdoor seating and friendly staff.

Le Chait Noir (The Black Cat) is a cool speakeasy type bar with live music and a good wine selection #France.

Delirium Café is always a good idea if you’re a beer fan. It’s a good spot to go as a group or start the night, maybe even a pre-dinner drink, or even after dinner, why not? I could have Belgian beers any time of the day (no judging please). If cocktails are your thing, La Ribouldingue, which is a way of saying “party” is a cool spot with a terrace and a DJ on some nights.

Whatever your reason may be for visiting this jolie ville of Nantes, you are guaranteed a memorable time. Enjoy your visit, bring an umbrella or raincoat and always BE PRESENT! Follow me on Instagram @joyzcortez for more pics and other travel ideas.

Beautiful Adventures at Pays de la Loire

I had the privilege of doing volunteer work through Workaway at an equestrian center in Pays de la Loire where I also got to explore a bit of Bretagne. Check out this post where I write about towns like Saint-Malo, Dinard, and Nantes. As always, I’ll list my fave food spots and what I ate in beautiful (and butter covered) Brittany, Bretagne in French.

Horsey
Bae doesn’t like selfies

Workaway is for travelers who want to live, work, and eat like a local. My work at the center included teaching English to teenagers, helping with the stables, assisting in the kitchen, as well as supervising and entertaining the campers. In exchange, I received free lodging, all 3 meals a day (including plenty of French cheese!), beach trips, private equestrian lessons, and most importantly, I practiced French every day. Also, my amazing host was gracious enough to drive me around to explore the surrounding towns.

I arrived at the St. Nazaire train station and my lodging was located at Saint-Brevin-les-Pins. My work schedule was so flexible that, some mornings, I could run to Plage L’Ermitage, a beach next to a small forest, or to Plage de Saint Michel. Neither beach was ever overcrowded despite it being the middle of summer. Not even on Bastille Day where we had an evening picnic and watched the fireworks.

Pornic (1)
Pornic and la femme enjoying her strawberry ice cream

What to See in Pays de la Loire

Among some of the most memorable towns I visited were Pornic, Le Croisic and La Roche. Each town has its own water views, landmarks, boutiques, cafes, and ice cream shops. These places are best exploring on foot since the summers are pretty tempered due to its northern location. You’ll find delicious strawberry ice cream everywhere as well as affordable Belgian beers at the bars and cafes. Pornic was bustling with Parisians during the summer making it a bit more expensive, but still beautiful. Le Croisic is famous for its WWI US Naval base and Le Roche is a bit more local and small, a hidden gem.

Being that I am the product of the Disney generation, I’m a fan of castles, especially medieval looking castles. Guérande is a medieval town next to Le Croisic where you’ll find several castles and old churches, mostly used for events such as weddings but open to the public when there are no events. Here is a list of several castles in Guérande.

Guérande 2 (1)
Les Remparts de Guérande

Best Pastries in Pays de la Loire

My Workaway host has a sweet tooth and I’m grateful because French pastries quickly became my addiction. Cheese already was, I totally adored that French people have cheese for dessert! If it wasn’t for my horrible pronunciation, I could so fit in with this culture.

If you’re craving some sweets or damn tasty bread, I recommend Fournil du Pays Blanc and Christophe Roussel. On Sundays, we also visited the market where you can find every local product imaginable such as bread, pastries, jams, all kinds of cheese, coffee, cider, hand made jewelry, and much more! Definitely visit and bring cash to the Marché de la Pierre Couché. I have videos of the market and the pastry shops in my Instagram Highlights of Pays de la Loire.

Pastry
Pastries from Christophe Roussel

There’s so much to see, do, drink, and EAT in North Western France. I’m sure no matter where you go, you’ll have a delicious time. When visiting, keep in mind that even though this area of France is not too far from the UK, don’t expect locals to speak English but do bring an umbrella, even in the summer. I found the weather would change dramatically one week from the other. En fin, also remember to always BE PRESENT! And follow me on Instagram @joyzcortez for more travel pics and ideas!

 

 

 

 

All You Need to Know About Madrid

My first Madrid post serves the tourist who’s visiting for a few days. It gives basic info on the MUSTS in Madrid such as Rastro, which is the Sunday flea market. As well as a DIY walking tour of landmarks in the city center. I also listed some amazing places to visit outside the center for you to pick from. The second post is on Where to Eat & Drink in Madrid. A comprehensive list of my fave spots I frequented during my two years living in this lively city.

In this post, I break down Madrid for the traveler who wants to visit like a local. I’ll share every relevant thing I’ve learned while living in Madrid, such as late dinner times, as well as the best ways to travel. You’ll be surprised by the many travel options that Spain offers and the diverse possibilities for near travel from Madrid. Let’s begin by listing the best neighborhood, aka barrios, in Madrid.

“This post focuses on the coolest neighborhoods in Madrid,
as well as tips and tricks to experience the city like a local.”

BEST BARRIOS IN MADRID

Lavapiés is a short walk from Sol and it is one of the most affordable neighborhoods near the center. It has numerous bars and restaurants to enjoy and is home to Tapapiés, a food (more specifically, tapas) fest celebrated in October. Many of the restaurants in the area offer a special and affordable (€1-2) tapa for the event. Beware of the many Indian restaurants in the area, most of them are tasteless.

Tapapiés is how I found one of my favorite spots in Madrid, Toscanaccio, a small and family-owned Tuscan bakery. I honestly visited this place weekly. It is delicious, affordable, and offers veggie and vegan options. It has both savory and sweet choices.  MUST WHEN IN LAVAPIES!

“If you’re a risk-taker and want to blend in with the locals and expats…”

Plaza 2 de mayo
Botellón @ Plaza Dos de Mayo

If you’re a risk-taker and want to blend in with the locals and expats, stop by Plaza Dos de Mayo in Malasaña. Beware, it smells like piss most of the time. The reason being that this is the most popular area for “botellón” which is the Spanish tradition of sitting and drinking on the street. It is not legal to do so, but most days, the police looks the other way. Police cars will show up later in the night to disperse the crowd so as to avoid noise complaints, and there are people who have been fined in this plaza, so this is an “at your own risk” experience.

Malasaña is a cultural hub and also the home to the Conde Duque Cultural Center, which hosts all kinds of events. From art exhibits to free concerts, even beer fests. This barrio is also home to numerous boutiques, bars, restaurants, and local specialty stores.

My favorite thing about Malasaña is its plentitude of original street art thanks to a festival called “Pinta Malasaña” where shop owners select an artist to decorate their storefront. This fest is celebrated annually, keeping the art fresh and different every year, while making way to new local artists.

PintaMalasaña
Street Art from Pinta Malasaña

La Latina is the neighborhood for foodies. It is home to the many restaurants and taverns for all tastes and budgets. I made a list of my fave restaurants in this area including El Buo and La Taberna Sanlúcar in the Where to Eat and Drink in Madrid post. There are infinite options to choose from in La Latina. You can walk around and look at the menus posted outside, just be mindful that most places close after lunch and open for late dinner.

For drinks, I recommend Hopper, which has amazing cocktails and a great happy hour. On hot summer nights, I went to the rooftop of El Viajero, just be mindful that you’ll have to be patient and wait a while to get seated. Another great rooftop that is frequented by travelers, since it belongs to a hostel, is The Hat. In your in the mood for Asturian cider, a cute place with a terrace near the metro stop is La Bobia. The bottle of cider is affordable and shareable. It is also low alcohol content, and great day drink.

 

Goya
Plaza de Goya

Goya is a “pijo” area. Meaning that people with funds tend to live or visit this area. Hence, it is a bit posh but has the best-stocked stores in my opinion. It is near Retiro park, so you could easily exit from the north side of the park and walk around Goya. The plaza is known for the Wizink Center where many international artists have performed. Unlike Gran Via, It is not usually crowded nor are the stores picked out, except for Christmas time. Although busy, it is beautifully decorated during Christmas and there’s plenty of local restaurants, so this area definitely deserves a visit if you’re in Madrid for a longer stay.

DON’T buy day trip tour packages NOR pay for museums!

THINGS TO KNOW

  • Museums are free during the last 2 hours.
    Arrive 30 minutes before the free hour (6pm or 7pm, depending on the day) to get in line. It will be long but it will move fast as soon as the doors are open for free visitors. Check each museum’s website for their schedule:

  • Thyssen Museum is free on Mondays but closes at 4pm.
  • History Museum of Madrid is always free
  • Avoid route buses during rush hour.
  • Avoid bocadillo de calamares.
    I love calamares but fried calamari on a dry baguette is not the best. Drier than a  torta de tamal (yet another Mexican reference, worth a Google)
  • Avoid taxis departing from the center.
    Use Uber or Cabify., they cannot enter the small streets but can pick you up on main avenues that are always near. Taxis tend to overcharge and taking longer routes, with the additional fee if you get picked up at the center.
  • Tap water is potable and tastes fine.
    Don’t pay for water, buy vermouth or wine instead.
  • Don’t buy day trip tour packages.
    These are sold at kiosks and they’re rushed and overpriced. It’s really easy to move around by train or bus to other cities. Below are the details on how to DIY day trips like to Toledo, Segovia, Salamanca, Zaragoza and El Escorial/San Lorenzo from Madrid.
  • Spanish schedule:
    • breakfast 9-10am
    • lunch 3pm: shared rations & tapas (small plates) or menú del día (a preset menu that includes appetizer, meal, drink & dessert)
    • dinner 9-10pm
  • Eggs are also for lunch and dinner
  • Paellas in Madrid tend to be frozen.
    It’s best to try it in Valencia or Murcía, even Andalucía
Toledo
Toledo. Castilla La Mancha

DAY TRIPS FROM MADRID

Use the renfe website for checking train schedules. Cercanías trains move within the Comunidad de Madrid, meaning the outskirts. For example, you can take the Cercanías train to El Escorial which is still Madrid Comunidad, but it’s not Madrid city.

  • To visit Segovia or Toledo, you need a Long Distance train (tren de larga distancia) which is also renfe.
  • If you want to go to Barcelona or Málaga, you can take the AVE, which is the fast train to further Comunidades.
  • Barcelona being in Catalunya, for example
  • Málaga is in Andalucía
  • Segovia is Castilla León
  • Toledois in Castilla de la Mancha,

Both Castilla León and Castilla de la Mancha are the neighboring Comunidades to Madrid. The easiest way to understand this is by imagining that the Comunidades are like States.

comunidades-espana
Map of Spain’s “Comunidades Autónomas” for reference

Once you’ve arrived at the station you can use public transportation to get to the city center or wherever your lodging is. To explore the schedules of metros and buses in Spanish cities or in other European countries I recommend using Citymapper and the Moovit app. You can see The Essentials blog post where I explain how to use these. Google maps tends not to have accurate info on buses in small cities like Toledo.

Feel free to reach me with any questions regarding travel within Spain, especially departing from Madrid. I was once a lost tourist and know the struggle. Spain is incredibly easy to travel, not only because of its size but also because of its many transportation options within the country. You have the option of using low-cost airlines, fast trains, comfortable buses, and BlaBlaCar. This last one is a ride-sharing app where you travel in a local’s car. Much more affordable and faster than other road transportation options.

Wherever you go, I am sure you will have a blast in this beautiful and diverse country. Follow me on Instagram @joyzcortez for more pics and travel ideas! Enjoy every moment of your travels and always BE PRESENT!

Where to Eat and Drink in Madrid

I’ve made three posts on Madrid so far since I lived in this lively city for two amazing years. I don’t claim to know this city inside and out since there are new things popping up all the time, but I’ve listed the places I frequented making it “My Madrid”. For info on landmarks or for a brief and efficient visit, check out my first post. For insider tips on the city and best day trips check out the All You Need to Know About Madrid post. This one is for the foodies, a comprehensive list by neighborhood of my fave taverns, bars, holes in the walls, etc.

WHERE TO EAT

Lavapiés is a short walk from Sol and one of the most affordable neighborhoods near the center. It has numerous bars and restaurants to enjoy and is home to Tapapiés, a food (more specifically, tapas) fest celebrated in October. Many of the restaurants in the area offer a special and affordable (€1-2) tapa for the event. Beware of the many Indian restaurants in the area, most of them are tasteless.

Tapapiés
is how I found one of my favorite spots in Madrid, Toscanaccio, a small and family-owned Tuscan bakery. I honestly visited this place weekly. It is delicious, affordable, and offers veggie and vegan options. It has both savory and sweet choices. Besides Toscanaccio, I also frequented Mercado de San Fernando in Lavapiés.

This food market offers options from all over the world!

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Ceviche peruano in Mercado San Fernando (man butt not included)

My faves are, no doubt, the Mexican spot as well as the Peruvian since you’ll find delicious ceviche in the latter. The Mexican restaurant has amazing micheladas and several types of tacos, as well as tamales. Near it, there’s a Puerto Rican and Lebanese spot. This Mercado also has all types of Asian, including Vietnamese, Japanese, Chinese, etc. Check out their opening hours since its best to visit during the day.

Taberna Sanlucar
La Taberna Sanlúcar en La Latina

La Latina is near Lavapiés and it’s the most famous barrio for dinner. My favorite restaurant in this neighborhood is La Taberna Sanlúcar, which is a cozy and delicious tavern serving Andalucían food. The menu might take some time to decipher but the waiters are so kind and will gladly offer suggestions, I do recommend you try the “vino de Jerez”. Sanlúcar is next toOff Latina” which is a legit flamenco venue if you’re planning on catching a show.

Buo
Tortilla from Buo en La Latina (objects are larger than they appear)

If Tortilla (Spanish omelet) is on your list to try, which despite being egg-based is enjoyed for breakfast, lunch or dinner, I suggest Buo. There’s one in La Latina and another in Chueca. It also has its sister restaurant, La Buha. Despite location, I never found any differences between the two. The one in La Latina has a terraza (outdoor tables), so you could enjoy your dinner outdoors when the weather permits, just beware that Spaniards are avid smokers. Buo has a large selection of ingredients for their large Tortilla and it’s only €10. It will feed at least 6 people. Another famous Tortilla spot is Pez Tortilla. There’s one in La Latina and another on Calle del Pez in Malasaña. Pez offers raciones (slices) of a wide selection of tortillas, as well as craft beer.

Extremeño
Tosta de Pulpo & Sangría Blanca, El Capricho Extremeño

El Capricho Extremeño is a must on Rastro days (Sundays) and only serves Tostas which is toasted bread with a variety of toppings. They also have a delicious white sangría that pairs great with the Tosta de Pulpo. La Extremeña offers veggie and vegan options. The line is long, but it moves fast since it serves pre-made toasts “To-Go”.

Also in La Latina, Lamiak has the best pintxos, which are bigger tapas from the north of Spain. It gets really busy so it’s best to arrive for US dinner time instead, considering that Spanish dinner time is between 9 and 10pm.

Txirimiri is a chain so there’s a few locations in different neighborhoods.  It serves Basque country cuisine and it has the best Solomillo I’ve ever had, which is a very tender beef bathed in a type of light gravy

Juana la Loca is near Sol and is a great place to go with groups. Reservations are available. The decor is very original and cute, but the real deal are the delicious and affordable tapas.

Los Artesanos 1902  Churros & Chocolate (fudge) are a thing in Spain, especially during cold weather. This place has the best chocolate I’ve had in Spain, taking into account that it’s a thick fudge for dipping, although some locals sip on it.

WHERE TO DRINK

Madrid has probably more bars than people, hence the long list below. I listed a few bars I frequented with the reasons why. Keep in mind that there’s a plethora of options depending on the kind of night, or day, you’re looking to have.

La Playa de Lavapiés is a bar frequented by locals that serves Estrella Galicia on tap. Believe me, it is much better than the popular Mahou. La Playa is not far from the Lavapiés metro stop and it’s on a popular street filled with bars and terraces, which are a hot commodity unless it’s raining since everyone wants to smoke and drink at the outdoor tables.

Chinaski
Beer Menu at Chinaski in Lavapiés

If you’re a craft beer lover, you need to stop by Chinaski. It is on Calle de la Fe and conveniently located across from Toscanaccio. Chinaski has plenty of indoor seating, perfect for a rainy or cold night, but the biggest attraction is the wide variety of European craft beer at affordable prices.

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Yayos at Casa Camacho

Casa Camacho is a landmark and a must when in Malasaña. A great way of starting the night in Madrid is with a “Yayo”, the staple of Casa Camacho. A Yayo is a small glass of  Vermouth, gin and tonic water. Beware of the alcohol content, don’t be fooled by its size.

Sala X1
Decor in Sala Equis

Sala Equis is an old porn cinema turned bar. It is difficult to describe this place since it is still a cinema but showcases modern films. Downstairs there is stadium seating with some lounge chairs facing a projected film. Upstairs is a bit more intimate and covered in red neon lighting. Cocktails are great and there’s a good selection of Spanish beers.

Pepe Botella is an indoor and typical tavern frequented by locals with plenty of seating. It is ideal for an intimate night with friends or a date.

Vacaciones Cocktail Bar is a cute but small summer-themed bar, great for dates too. Fyi, there’s more seating downstairs.

Ojalá is another interesting place in Malasaña, it is known as the “sand bar” because the floor is covered in sand. I’ve heard the food is good here but I’ve only been for drinks.

La Realidad was my go-to place, especially for dates since its corky decor and dim lighting make it a perfectly cozy place to get to know someone. It is also near, Pirata Malasaña, which is another one of my go-to craft beer bars, along with the recently opened Mikkeller Madrid.

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Stranger Things decor at Twist&Shout

Next to Malasaña, you’ll find the famous ChuecaI could write a whole post about this popular neighborhood, but I’ll stick to mentioning one of my favorite, and the nerdiest bar in Madrid. Twist&Shout is decorated with Sc-Fi and comic book fandom. The drinks are themed as such, and you’ll find anything from Butter Beer to Game of Thrones and Disney themed shooters.

Fuencarral street is known for its many shops during the day, but further up towards Tribunal metro stop, it is known for its lively nightlife. You’ll find a mix of locals and expats in this area, drinking at bars such as Freeway, Triskel Tavern, or dancing the night away at La Vía Láctea, unless you’re looking for a club, then Teatro Barceló is nearby.

BEST COFFEE SPOTS

HanSo Café  best avocado toast I’ve ever had! Free Wi-Fi and great place to work in Malasaña. Just remember that it’s pronounced “wee-fee” in Spain.

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Cafelito with Sarah ❤

Cafelito, cozy and cute coffee shop in Lavapiés with an affordable  and wide menu, including all types of plant-based milks. Conveniently near Toscanaccio, my fave Tuscan bakery.

La Doña is quite affordable, centric, and spacious. it is located next to the Noviciado metro spot. It has plenty of seating and a clean bathroom. The only downside is that the Wi-Fi is limited to about an hour per visit.

Wherever you go and however long you stay in Madrid, you are guaranteed a good time. This city has something for everyone and I hope my list serves as a guide for an unforgettable time. Follow me on Instagram @joyzcortez for more pics & travel ideas. Enjoy beautiful Madrid and always BE PRESENT!

The Best of Madrid by a Local

I’ve been postponing this post since I have so much to say about the city I called home for two years. So I decided to make at three posts about Madrid. In the All You Need to Know About Madrid post I  make a brief reconnaissance of the coolest neighborhoods in Madrid, the best times to visits the museums, understanding Madrid’s public transportation, as well as tips and tricks to experience the city like a local. For the foodies, I recommend checking out the Where & What to Eat Madrid post. This one is about the best things to see and places to visit, including a DIY Walking Tour that I would give my friends when they visited.

DIY Walking tour in the city center

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Km 0 marks the geographical center of Spain

1. START AT Puerta del Sol

This is the busiest and most centric area in Madrid. It is also where you can find Km 0,  the point from which distances are measured in Spain.
The most touristy thing to do here is taking a pic with the sculpture of the Madrileño bear. You’ll have to be patient since many tourists line up for this pic. I personally preferred the picture with Km 0, something that tends to go unnoticed.

Plaza Mayor 2
Plaza Mayor

2. WALK TO PLAZA MAYOR

Take Calle Mayor towards Plaza Mayor and enter from any of the many of the passages leading to the Plaza. During the day, you’ll be able to appreciate the fresco-like painting covering the façades. It is also beautifully lit at night.

San Miguel
Bird’s eye view of Mercado San Miguel

3. MERCADO DE SAN MIGUEL

I had my first vermouth in Spain and my life will never be the same. This has become my drink of choice, and although Spaniards drink it as an aperitif, I drink it at any time of the day. There is a wide selection of types of vermouth in Mercado de San Miguel, starting from sweet, dry to bitter. My personal favorite is the “Andalucía” because is a good blend between sweet and bitter. Enjoy your vermouth with any of the many delicious tapas that the Mercado has to offer. You will need the strength to continue your walking tour. Remember to save your receipt since they’ll ask for it before entering the restroom, otherwise, it’s ¢50 which is not bad if you are in dire need of a clean restroom in the center, but in the other hand, you also have the option of the restroom at Corte Inglés for free.

Palacio
Behind the Royal Palace, above the gardens    (I’m so awkward at poses)

4. SABITINI GARDENS & ROYAL PALACE

The Sabitini Gardens are located behind the Royal Palace, which can be easily accessed without entering the palace. The best pics are from the stairs heading down towards the gardens, shown in the pic above.

5. BEHIND PLAZA ESPAÑA

Walk out of the gardens and head towards Plaza España. There’s a monument of Don Quixote & Sancho Panza next to a pond on the back side of the Plaza. If it’s not too busy, you’ll be able to take pics with the monument without too many tourists around.

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Templo Debod in Parque del Oeste

6. PARQUE DEL OESTE & TEMPLO DEBOD

Enjoy the views from Parque del Oeste and, if you’re lucky, Templo Debod will have water. At sunset, the reflection of the temple can be appreciated along with the colorful sky. The temple was donated by Egypt and it’s a must-see while in Madrid. The park hosts free concerts during the summer. The park has the most amazing views and plenty of space for a picnic. Be mindful you’ll have to go up a few stairs to reach the park and temple, also it tends to be windy up here.

7. THE FRONT OF PLAZA ESPAÑA

Walk back down to Plaza España, but this time walk in front of it, towards Gran Vía. This side of the plaza has a large fountain representing the Birth of Water and other large sculptures. Definitely, more impressive with lights at night. If you’re lucky enough to be in Madrid during Pride Fest, this is area hosts one of the largest stages.

8. GRAN VÍA

Walk up to Gran Vía and check out the shops and theaters. I also consider this area to be more beautiful at night with all the big city lights. If you plan on doing some shopping, most shops close around 9 or 10pm. Primark is a must if you want cheap shopping, but you have to be patient because this store will be crowded with every tourist in Madrid. Luckily, there are toilets, Wi-fi, chargers, and couches for shoppers to take a break. A local tip is to go pay and use the fitting rooms on the floor before the last. This is the floor with men’s clothes and home accessories.

PlACES TO VISIT OUTSIDE THE CENTER

Retiro Estanque
Lake in Retiro Park

RETIRO PARK

This is the largest park closest to the city center. It has several entrances including one by the famous Puerta de Alcalá. The landmarks inside the park are the Crystal Palace and a lovely man-made lake where you can rent boats. The Crystal Palace is free and has a rotating art exhibit. Keep in mind there might be a long line to enter in peak season. Next to the Crystal Palace, there’s the Palacio de Velázquez, a free museum. You can spend the whole day exploring Retiro and never get bored. There’s an innumerable amount of cool looking fountains (including one of the devil with its demons), gardens that look like something out of Alice in Wonderland, even peacocks!

CASA DE CAMPO

This is another huge green area but it might be a bit dry if you go in the summer. Casa de campo is mainly for sports like biking and running, but it also has a beautiful lake surrounded by lounge chairs and restaurants. Inside Casa de Campo you can find one of the entrances to the Cable Car (Teleferico). You can either take it one way from Casa de Campo to Argüelles (where Parque del Oeste is) or vice versa. Roundtrip is €6 as of summer of 2019.

Faro de Moncloa
Arco de la Victoria next to Moncloa Tower

MONCLOA TOWER (FARO DE MONCLOA)

Besides the cable car, another great way to overlook Madrid is Moncloa Tower, which is also near the center. It’s €3 to go up an elevator and once up, you’ll be in a well-ventilated lobby with an amazing bird’s eye view of the city.

Circulo de Bellas Artes
View from Círculo de Bellas Artes

CÍRCULO DE BELLAS ARTES

If you prefer the view without protecting glass, then I recommend going up to Círculo de Bellas Artes. This rooftop bar charges a €4 cover and tends to have a line but that sunset view over Gran Vía is totally worth it.

MATADERO

One of my favorite places in Madrid is a little further south of the center. Matadero is off Legazpi metro station on lines 3 (yellow) and 6 (gray). It’s an old brick slaughterhouse along the river that is now an art hub. It is free to visit and it hosts rotating local art exhibits (naves) along with some free or cheap movie showing in the beautiful theatre. There is also a cantina with a lovely patio that serves drinks and pizzas, as well as a larger cafeteria with plenty of outdoor and indoor seating, even a small theatre inside. Make sure to check out the calendar for the many free events, such as concerts, food festivals, farmer’s markets, etc. It is also located next to a huge, new mall if you prefer to avoid the crowds in Gran Vía.

RASTRO

If you’re in Madrid on a Sunday make sure to check out this enormous flea market. It begins in Embajadores every Sunday from 8am – 3pm. You will find everything from antiques, handmade jewelry and clothes, the cheapest coats and shoes, the most affordable souvenirs made by local craftswomen and men, and anything else you can think of. Beware of pickpocketers since it gets very crowded. I found that the best times to go are either 9am or 1pm, so as to avoid the rush.

In the All You Need to Know About Madrid post I  make a brief reconnaissance of the coolest neighborhoods in Madrid, the best times to visits the museums, understanding Madrid’s public transportation, as well as tips and tricks to experience the city like a local. For the foodies, I recommend checking out the Where & What to Eat Madrid post.

Enjoy your time in this magical and underrated city. If you ever become annoyed by the heat, cold, or crowds, just stop to have a caña (small beer) and tapa anywhere. You’ll be surprised how affordable this metropolitan city is. Follow me on Instagram joyzcortez for more travel pics & ideas. Have fun in beautiful Madrid and always BE PRESENT.

 

How to Make the Best of a Few Days in Copenhagen

Copenhagen has something for everyone, street art, craft beer, beautiful views, colorful neighborhoods, a themed park that leaves Disneyland in the dust, a sense of community, and even, good ‘ol Mary Jane 🌿.

I list the coolest neighborhoods and landmarks, tell you how to get there and for how much, as well as share some of the best places to eat and drink, which were recommended by locals. And last but not least, you’ll read about how to legally get marijuana in Copenhagen (but technically not Copenhagen).

Famous Neighborhoods in Copenhagen

Nyhavn

When I first moved to Madrid from Los Angeles, I had a 5-hour layover in Copenhagen. I saw how easy and quick it would be to go from the airport to the city, so I went for it, suitcase and all! I took the metro to Nyhavn, which translates to New Port. This area reminded me a bit of Amsterdam because of the canal and numerous cyclists, but Nyhavn’s canal is much wider, surrounded by colorful buildings and flooded by tourist boats. Definitely check out this area but beware that the bars and restaurants along the canal are tourist traps, in other words, overly expensive. Drinking in public is legal so it’s a good idea to get a beer from literally anywhere (souvenir shop, food market, train station…) and enjoy it while overlooking the canal.

You’ll find a few cafes, restaurants, and shops in Christiana

including the sale of marijuana.

Christiana
Front of a shop in Christiana

Two years later, I’m back in Copenhagen with more time to explore. My first stop is the neighborhood with the most street art! Christiana is only a 15-minute walk from Nyvhan and a MUST when visiting Copenhagen. “Christiana is an autonomous society where each individual can freely develop under the responsibility of the community.” There’s a palpable sense of community when you walk in. I enjoyed strolling around this neighborhood and taking in the diverse and large amount of impressive art, including murals and sculptures.

You’ll find a few cafes, restaurants, and shops in Christiana including the sale of marijuana. Yup, totally cool since this is an autonomous community with its own rules. The restaurants, bars, and shops vary from more affordable than the rest of Copenhagen to more high-end places. All the money spent here stays in the community and serves its residents. Something worth noting is that there are no pictures allowed, except for a few shops which will have a sign posted allowing you or not to take pictures. Be respectful of this when visiting Christiana.

The Meatpacking District is in the district of Vesterbro and next to Central Station. This neighborhood is very centric. I recommend lodging in this area, especially if you’re only visiting for a few days since its home to the trendiest bars, restaurants, and cafes. Some are actually affordable and there’s a wide variety of places for all types of tastes.

Where to Eat in Copenhagen

I recommend Vesterbro Chinese Food (that’s the restaurant’s actual name) is quite, quaint and surprisingly for a Chinese Restaurant, it has offers good cocktails. Hyggestund has a great brunch menu and outdoor seating for summer days and it’s right next to Mikkeller Bar.

Mikkeller is a microbrewery founded in Copenhagen that has become internationally popular. I first tried it in San Diego, California, but have also visited their branches in Los Angeles and Madrid. You’ll find that they have MANY different types of beers. Do not feel overwhelmed, you can ask the bartender for a taster or get a small glass to start with to allow yourself to try different kinds. Beware of the high alcohol percentage, it will be written on the board.


For the freshest, most legit Mexican restaurant in Copenhagen, you have to visit La Neta. The rumor is that the founder of Mikkeller visits Mexico so often (makes sense since he was breweries in California) that he hired a chef from Oaxaca to open La Neta in Copenhagen.  The tacos and quesadillas are sooo good, just like they would be at home (remember I’m Mexican). The best part is the salsa bar! It has many different types of salsas ranging from what I called the “no pica” (mild) one to “no mames” (spiciest). La Neta also offers delicious vegan options.

The decorations also brought me home, along with the cumbia playing in the background. Of course, they only difference from taquerías back in Mexico is the price per taco. Converting from DKK they’re around 3 EUR each. Still, that’s a price I’m willing to pay for good Mexican food while living abroad.

The Best Landmarks in Copenhagen

Little Mermaid
Apretando la sonrisa, because I can’t keep a straight face.

The Little Mermaid statue is not in the center, but not far from Central Station. It’s about a 20-minute metro ride. You can take any line (metro or train) 2-3 stops (2 for train, 3 for metro) to Østerport then walk towards the port. There’s not much to see in this area, but the statue is in a park facing the ocean, so a picnic is a good idea if the weather allows for it. Be mindful that the statue is small but the crowds might not be, especially if there are tour buses parked nearby. You’ll have to be patient if you want a picture with the statue, or of the statue with no one around.

The Royal Library is locally known as “The Black Diamond” since its Copenhagen’s new pride and joy. It’s a very modern and beautiful glass building by the river. I definitely recommend this place to watch the sunset. Check out their website for visiting hours.

Børsen has one of the trademarks that makes Denmark’s architecture stand out and it’s what I call the “unicorn horn”. A twisty and pointy tower erected from almost every building. Turns out that it’s a spire representing 4 intertwined dragon tails. You’ll also find dragons everywhere since it’s a symbol of the city.

 

 

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The Church of Our Savior

Vor Frelsers Kirke (The Church of Our Savior) is a small church with an incredibly tall tower that is only open when there’s good weather since it goes really high up. Unfortunately, it was drizzling when I went so the stairs were closed. I’ve heard that the views are unreal from up there, definitely worth the 35 DKK (about 4.60 EUR) or 25 DKK with a student card. You can see if they’re open on their website.

Rosenberg
Rosenberg Castle in King’s Garden

Another good place to have a picnic is at the King’s Gardens. This is a pretty large park where to get lost in and admire unique sculptures, as well as the Rosenberg Castle. The castle is guarded off with a fence and soldiers, but you can pay to visit the inside of the castle, its gardens, and the museum where you can see the crown jewels. If you’re interested in visiting you can find details on their website.

Last but not least,one of the most gorgeous places in Copenhagen…

the Tivoli Garden

Last but not least, in my opinion, one of the most gorgeous places in Copenhagen is the Tivoli Gardens. I might be biased since I visited in spring when the gardens were in full bloom. I saw enormous and beautiful tulips and lilies everywhere. Some flowers were in colors I’ve never even seen before! I avoided paying the entrance fee (about 12 EUR) until my last day in Copenhagen when my brother persuaded me to go in a rollercoaster with him for all time’s sake. I couldn’t pass on the opportunity to scream my heart out in a socially acceptable environment.

Tivoli Gardens
Entrance to Tivoli Gardens

Rumor has it that Walt Disney was inspired by Tivoli when creating Disneyland and I can certainly see the resemblance. For starters, the mascot at Tivoli is a monkey with red overalls and big yellow buttons. The park itself is divided into different sections, including a type of “tomorrow land” and every Saturday night, the park closes with a beautiful fireworks show that can be appreciated from the surrounding neighborhoods. Tivoli retaliates by selling Disney character merchandise.

Surprisingly, the prices inside the park are quite affordable compared to the city’s. Although the ride prices add up, food, drinks, and souvenirs are the cheapest I saw during my trip. There are also packages you can buy if you intend to go on many rides with the additional benefit of reentering the park as many times as you’d like.


You can find the entire list of places I’ve mentioned here, including some beautiful and peaceful cemeteries with cherry blossoms, which I believe bloom around February but the petals are quickly blown away by the Danish wind. Remember, you can download Copenhagen’s map on Google maps to save data. For instructions on how to download offline Google maps in your phone check out my The Essentials post. Follow me on Instagram joyzcortez for more pics and travel ideas.

Copenhagen is a beautiful city with so much to offer so I hope you enjoy every moment despite what the weather might offer.  Even when exhausted from walking all day remember to look up and take everything in… always BE PRESENT.

The Best of Helsinki, on a Budget

Spring in Finland was a beautiful experience despite the cold. Although it’s known for being an expensive city, my private tour guide (aka my Finnish friend) showed me there are many inexpensive and even free places in the city. I’ll list all you can do in Helsinki while on a budget and how to get around this stunning city.

Finnish Tradition

If you’re visiting when it’s cold, which statistically you will unless you visit in the heart of summer, you need to join in the Finnish tradition of sweating your butt off in a sauna. I’m lucky enough to have known a local who invited me to share in her apartment building’s sauna. There are many public options available. A famous one is Kotiharjun, keep in mind that it’s closed on Mondays.

How to Get Around in Helsinki

The metro and bus tickets can easily be purchased from your cellphone with the HSL app. You only need to show the online ticket to the bus driver or ticket controller in the metro. Honestly, I never got asked to show my ticket in the metro, but my local friend mentioned that the fines are quite high, so I rather pay the €2.80 one way or €8 for the full day and be on the safe side.

The more days you include in your ticket, the cheaper it is. The one-way ticket includes transfers since it’s valid up to almost 2 hours from purchase. Helsinki is divided into zones A, B, and C. For transport to and from the airport you need an ABC ticket. You can also map your route using the HSL app and it will show which is the quickest way to get there with public transport along with up to date time tables.

“Free” is my second favorite word.


FREE Places to Visit

“Free” is my second favorite word. The first one being “food”, of course.
If you travel loads or you’re on a budget here are some great ways to explore Helsinki.
There’s a small but cute botanical garden in Helsinki known as the Winter Garden with no entrance fee. You’ll find diverse flora, such as succulents that transported me back to Mexico, palm trees which reminded me of California, beautiful orchids, lilies… etc. This seemed to be the place where locals get their wedding photos taken since rain or shine, it’ll be safe in the greenhouse. Also, it’s worth noting that there is a free and clean restroom available inside. A very important note when you’ve been exploring the city all day.

If you’re in Helsinki on the first Friday of the month,

you can enter any museum for free!

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Iiu Susiraja, Finnish artist

If you’re in Helsinki on the first Friday of the month, you can enter any museum for free! I chose to check out Kiasma, Museum of Contemporary Art, where I immediately became a fan of the amazing Finnish artist Iiu Susiraja. Her self-portraits are so thought and laugh provoking, I was truly inspired by her boldness and colorful portraits.

There are many other museums to choose from such as the National Museum of Finland where you can learn about Finland’s history, including the civil war from where the bullet holes in certain monuments come from. There’s also the Finnish Museum of Natural History, famous for the sculptures of the coffee drinking-sun bathing giraffes on the balcony. Here is a list by Culture Trip of the best museums in Finland. If you’re undecided, you can see the current exhibits on display on the museum’s website or simply, flip a coin.

Island hopping in Finland is a thing!

How to Visit the Islands in Helsinki

When in Helsinki, a day trip to Suomenlinna island is a must. The ferry is not technically free but it is included with the metro day pass. You also have the option of going island hopping for €10, a good idea on a sunny day. Suomenlinna is a world heritage and an old army fortress where you can explore the old tunnels and touch the huge cannons (pun intended) facing the Baltic Sea. It also has some beautiful views and beaches where you can chill. Above all. we happened to pass by a pirate ship on our way back to land. Anything can happen in Helsinki.

There are two places that stayed with me from my visit…

Unforgettable Landmarks

There are two places that stayed with me from my visit: the Uspenski Cathedral and Sibelius monument.

cathedral
Uspenski Cathedral

After exploring so much of Europe, cathedrals rarely impress me anymore, but Uspenski was a breath of fresh air… literally, it’s next to the port.

This beautiful brick, turquoise and gold cathedral sits on top of a hill surrounded by boulders. The interior has a very minimalistic decor, definitely not what I am used with Spanish, Italian, French or Belgium cathedrals. It is easy to locate since it’s next to the port with the ferries departing for the islands, and also near the market.

Sibelius
Sibelius monument from behind

It’s hard to believe that the Sibelius monument was built in the 60’s since the design looks so modern and it’s 600+ metal pipes look shinning new.

It gives a magical feeling because it seems to be floating above the water when seen from a distance facing the lake. Jean Sibelius is a Finnish classical music composer during the romantic era. The monument was built by Finnish sculptor Eila Hiltunen. A smaller version of the monument sits in the United Nations building in NYC.

The Best of Finnish Food

Cinnamon buns! These are not as sweet as the American version since they’re less glazy and more cinnamony, which I adore. Cinnamon is life for me, especially in coffee, so few things are better than Finnish coffee with a cinnamon pastry…. except, of course, for tacos.
Another must-try are the potato and rice cakes. Imagine open-faced empanadas filled with either mashed potatoes or rice. The best way to have them is with the eggy butter, which is literally melted butter mixed with mashed hard-boiled eggs. You can find these cakes in the market near the port, but they are much more affordable at supermarkets, although you’ll need to make the eggy butter yourself. Definitely an easy recipe.

Salmon and Reindeer are very common in Finland. You’ll even find reindeer kebabs in the market, as well as their antlers for sale at the outdoor market. I didn’t have the heart to try the reindeer meat but I did have an amazing salmon burrito worth the €12 at Soma Sushiburrito. I also remember seeing a huge salmon sandwich in the market for only €6.

 

Alcohol is restricted in the city


Where to Drink in Helsinki

Helsinki is known as an expensive city, so expect to pay up to €8 or €9 for a beer. Also, alcohol is restricted in the city. Hard liquor, wine, and high percentage alcohol beers can only be bought at bars or in liquor stores which have limited opening hours.

If you’re into craft beers, I recommend B-Side Bar. It has a very chill vibe, friendly bartenders and it’s in an artsy square that holds concerts in the summer. Another artsy and lively area in the summer is Kulttuuritehdas Korjaamo (cultural center). It is an old tram hall that is now used for outdoor drinking, music, art exhibits, food and it even has a movie theater. Definitely worth checking out during the summer or warmer days.

Another artsy and chill bar, despite the name, is Bar Molotov. The walls are covered with random stuff and you could spend the whole evening exploring all the knick-knacks used as decoration in this bar or you could also relax after a day of touring the city while playing board games and enjoying a long drink. This is a local specialty cocktail with gin and different flavors such as cranberry and grapefruit. Don’t expect anything fancy since it’s premixed and comes from a tap, still pretty good.

There’s quite a few bars, restaurants, and cafes you can check out on Vaasankatu street (where Bar Molotov is). It’s a hip area with some cool street art, worth exploring during the day or night.

For more activities in Helsinki, you can visit the city’s website. You can also save in Google maps all the list of all the places I’ve mentioned above. If it’s too cold to explore the city, I recommend taking a break in one of the many malls in the city. There are some underground ones with loads of restaurants and shops, including the famous Moomins stores. Follow me on Instagram @joyzcortez for more travel pics & ideas. Enjoy your time in this beautiful city and always BE PRESENT.