Stockholm Bucket List II: Skansen, Vasa Museum and the Best Dinner Ever


After a gorgeously sunny and warm arrival in Stockholm we woke up to a very rainy Stockholm on our second day. Undeterred, we took advantage of the poor weather to tackle a few of the indoor activities we wanted to explore (and one outdoor activity that we couldn’t resist)!

We started our day slowly trying to work up the courage to venture out in the rain, with a specific rainy day plan in mind. Yesterday we stumbled upon a great little tea shop just as it closed and, as you all probably know, I love tea, so we put it at the top of the list for today.

True to our word, Chaikhana was our first stop today and boy, was it a good one! We ordered a cup of tea each (I got the Bai Mu Dan, a very delicate white peony tea) and I ordered the Indian Omelette, which came with a side of gluten free toast. The service was admittedly a little slow and would have been preferable later in the afternoon, when our day was coming to an end and we didn’t feel pressured to get moving. Still, the food and tea were worth the wait (the omelette was to die for) and I topped it off with an amazing gluten and dairy free cake.

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Chaikhana is located directly across from the German Church, so we popped in there quickly and took a peek around. The church itself is small but beautiful, and we snapped a few pictures before we had our fill and continued on to what we thought would be the primary activity for the day–the Vasa Museum. Due to a slight lack of prior research on my part, the Vasa Museum was not exactly what I thought it would be, but it was very interesting all the same. We learned about the history of this 17th century would-be warship, which ended up sinking approximately 1000 meters into its voyage and killing 30 people. We learned about the reclamation and restoration process and about the lives of passengers that had died during the journey, which I thought was the most interesting part. Life in Sweden during the 1600s is an area of history I’m admittedly clueless about, so it was interesting to get a better understanding of what that was like.

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We left the Vasa Museum around 4:30 and made the impulsive decision to visit Skansen, an open-air museum and zoo. Although I typically have reservations about zoos and their treatment of animals, Skansen actually surpassed my expectations tenfold and I was disappointed I didn’t get to spend more time there. We paid the entry fee of 180 SEK and went straight to the aquarium, which confusingly houses not only fish and reptiles but also open-air monkey exhibits, including lemurs (my personal favorite). There was an extra fee of 120 SEK, but it was well worth it.

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Photo credit: Photos by Ena

The rest of the museum was huge and we were stressed about the fact that it closed at 6:00 PM, but that was an unnecessary worry. Sweden is apparently an incredibly trusting country and Skansen, at least, seems to operate on the honesty policy. We walked at our leisure and weren’t kicked out promptly at 6:00, and saw others who continued to explore  until 6:30 at least. We felt compelled to leave at closing time, being the rule abiders that we are, but no one seemed too bothered that we spent a couple extra minutes looking at the Lynx exhibit or playing peek-a-boo with a cheeky seal.

Our exhausting day ended at a little local tapas-style restaurant called Matkonsulatet, where we had some of the most amazing food I’ve ever had. The restaurant itself was pricey by my broke millennial standards, but well worth every single krona! We sat at the bar and ordered a wine while we chit-chatted with the server–I started off with a rose champagne and informed him that I’m gluten free and not hugely fond of fish. The menu was in Swedish only but the staff spoke perfect English, so we asked him to just pick 5 of his favorite dishes for us (and were so hungry we ended up getting a sixth).

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Elise and I shared all of the dishes, starting with patatas bravas, a strawberry salad with balsamic and sheep’s milk cheese (amazing), pork belly with anchovy sauce (not as amazing), a cured beef dish, hangar steak and a pork side with parsnip chips and a parsnip puree (my personal favorite dish). We both topped off with a dessert–I got the chocolate mousse/fudge with olive oil and Elise got the vanilla/toffee version. We liked it so much that we went back again on our last day! I’ll be writing a blog post specifically about Matkonsulatet in the near future (and will link back here), so keep your eyes peeled for that!

Bucket list review:

Vasa Museum:

Activity Type: History & Culture, Museum

Price: 130 SEK for adults (~USD$15), 100 SEK students (~USD$11.75, we got in on student prices)

Value for Money: Moderate. The museum was very well thought out and interesting and worth a see, but like everything in Sweden  it’s fairly expensive. Best for history/naval buffs.

Suitable for: Everyone! Parts of this museum were definitely made with children in mind, and it made for a good rainy day activity.

Recommend: This wasn’t my favorite thing to do in Stockholm, but I definitely tend to lean in towards experiences instead of museums (i.e animal encounters, skydiving, etc), but for museum buffs this would be a nice activity. 

Skansen Open Air Museum:

Bucket List Traveler Info:

Activity Type: Zoo, Outdoor Adventure

Price: SEK 180 (~USD$21.22), Aquarium SEK 120 (USD$14 extra)

Value for Money: Moderate to high. I loved this museum and wished I’d made an entire day of it. That said, entry prices were steep and paying more to see the aquarium felt a little unfair, even if it was a very enjoyable exhibit. I’d pay it again, but I could see some people not enjoying it as much as I did.

Recommend: 100%! I really enjoyed this museum and love getting to spend time outdoors. Exhibits were large and animals looked mostly happy (even in the miserable rain), which is unusual for zoos. The history of Sweden was also explained in many interactive, open air exhibits, which was very interesting. 

Want to know more about Stockholm? 

Click here to read about eating, drinking and exploring Old Town Stockholm! 

 

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Stockholm Bucket List I: Eating, Drinking & Exploring in Old Town


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Greetings from Stockholm! Our first day got off to a bit of a late start; our 9:10 flight from the UK had us getting into Sweden around 1:00 in the afternoon, which meant we didn’t get to our hotel until about 2:30/3:00. Public transportation in Sweden is actually incredibly easy and efficient; from the airport we took the Arlanda Express into the city center, which was a quick and comfy 20 minute ride. From there we hopped onto the subway and then connected to a tram, which brought us directly in front of our hotel. We checked in at the fabulous Motel L and were given access to our room immediately and were pleasantly surprised to see that it was cute, comfortable and fashionable.

I can’t recommend Motel L highly enough–the staff were very accommodating for a relatively budget hotel, the rooms were stylish, clean and very quiet. It was a little bit out of the city center, but public transportation made it an easy connection to get just about anywhere. Breakfast wasn’t included in our stay, but we could pay 90 SEK (about $9, typical in Stockholm) to get essentially an all-you-can-eat deal, which was well worth the money every time. I didn’t expect much from the breakfast based on the Tripadvisor reviews but personally found it to be exceptional; I was able to get gluten free bread and mini-pastries in abundance (the standard serving came with two rolls and either two slices of bread or two pastries depending on the day), which was more than enough to feed me (and probably a few other people, too).

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They also had a huge array of meats, a few cheeses, a selection of yogurts, granolas and cereals, fresh fruit and lots of different milk items, including oat milk (unexpectedly amazing), soymilk, lactose free milk and normal milk. There weren’t really any hot items, but I don’t see why you’d need a hot breakfast with choice like that!

We obviously didn’t arrive in time for breakfast on the first day, so we sought out a few local bites after freshening up and then headed to Old Town. It was a gloriously sunny day and we decided we’d spend it getting comfortably lost and wandering the streets. I was worried that Old Town would be insanely touristy, and in a lot of places it was–there was no lack of kitschy tourist shops selling standard tacky souvenirs– but we were shocked by how un-crowded it was.

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There were tons and tons of hidden gems in Old Town, including a few fantastic Swedish design shops (my personal favorite was Designfirman, pictured below), gorgeous old buildings and cobbled streets, a handful of trendy but moderately expensive gastropubs and restaurants and a few points of interest, including the German Church and the Riddarholmen Church, which is the oldest surviving building in Stockholm.

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13,000 steps later we were growing peckish and ready to sit down, but we were too early for the dinner reservation we’d tentatively made at the Flying Elk restaurant. We stopped into a cute, rustic looking spot called the Corner Club and were greeted by Oskar, a friendly barman who sat down with us and walked us through their cocktail menu. We ended up ordering three different types of cocktails between the two of us–the Milkman, Oh Canada, and Honey Dew You Know (all very cleverly named). The first drink we had was the Milkman, which was incredibly strong but had a very pleasant aftertaste.

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We decided to get some food in the pub instead of at the restaurant and were pleased to find that they actually shared a kitchen. I ordered the cheeseburger and fries and was excited to learn that it could be made with a gluten free bun even though it wasn’t noted on the menu. It was hands down the best burger I’ve ever eaten, even if it did come in at 204 SEK (about $20). Food in Stockholm is generally expensive (even by New York City standards), but every single expensive meal that we had was totally worth the price. I was worried about how well I’d be able to eat in the city with dietary restrictions, but I can happily report that there was no need to worry: the Swedish are very accommodating and gluten free substitutions usually come at no additional charge.

One of the other bartenders noted that she was also gluten free, so we shamelessly asked her for a list of restaurants she’d recommend that had gluten free options. Between herself and Oskar we were given a list of probably 10 places, including our definitive favorite restaurant in Sweden, Matkonsulatet, which I’ll write about in detail in my upcoming gluten free guide to eats and sleeps in Stockholm and also in my post about our day 2 adventures (link coming soon). We ended up not leaving Matkonsulatet until about 10:45 PM and were exhausted after our early morning flight and extensive wanderings, so we headed back to the hotel and cozied down into bed for an early-ish night.

Come back soon to:

Check out what we did on day 2 of our Stockholm adventure! Spoiler alert: it involves lemurs!

Coming soon: Can’t get enough of Stockholm? Click here to read about our day trip to the fabulous Drottningholm Palace!

Coming soon: Dietary restrictions? Take a look at my cohesive guide to gluten free eats and sleeps in Stockholm! (You won’t regret it!)

 

The British Bucket List: High Tea at The Savoy


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Going back to the U.K. has always felt a little bit like going home to me. I’ve been fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to live here a few years ago, and have since returned on an annual basis to visit friends and continue to build and reinforce my network of people in the area. Even though I find the U.K. incredibly comfortable, I always try and push myself to see or do one new thing that I haven’t done in the past.

This year’s trip saw me booking high tea at the very luxurious Savoy hotel with a good friend. High tea costs approximately £50-£53 per person without alcohol, and boy was it worth it! We arrived to London from Canterbury by train and got in a good deal earlier than our reservation, which was set for 1:15 PM. This gave us plenty of time to explore the beautiful Victoria Embankment Gardens while we waited, basking in the (rare) British summer sun.

When it came time for our reservation we entered the lavishly decorated building, which was incredibly ornately decorated. Fresh flowers, attentive staff and impeccable interior design completed the image of sophistication, and it was an immediately calming atmosphere. We were able to really sit down and enjoy ourselves, mulling over the tea menu (boasting more than 30 flavors of tea) while deciding on whether we preferred a savory service to a pastry service. Our waiter was attentive but reserved, which was the perfect combination.

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Photo Credit: Kiwi Collection

When booking the tea I’d requested a gluten free tea service, and was informed upon arrival that my food had been prepared in advance and would be ready whenever I wanted it. I believe that those who didn’t request a gluten free service can still get one, but that the gluten free option will typically take longer to come out than the standard option if it hasn’t been pre-ordered.

I ordered the rose and peony white tea before choosing the Afternoon Tea option, which included finger sandwiches, fresh scones, a course of pastries and then a dessert option. Emily ordered the alternative menu, which substituted pastries for an asparagus, crayfish and egg dish. Our first course came out quickly and Emily, being my guide for all things British for the day, politely informed me that it was customary to taste each sandwich so as to avoid being rude. I was only too happy to oblige, and eagerly enjoyed the ham and cheese, the coronation chicken, the egg and mayonnaise and the tomato sandwich. Apprehensively I tried the smoked salmon–I’ve never been big on fish–but it was absolutely lovely as well, and I ended up eating the whole thing.

The courses rolled out as we requested them and each one was better than the last. By the time we were finished we were uncomfortably full but incredibly satisfied, and spent a pleasant half hour chit-chatting in the beautifully adorned tea room. We settled the check promptly before venturing out to explore the little shop just outside the tea room, where Emily purchased a packet of the tea that she’d enjoyed during our meal. Taking our afternoon tea at the Savoy was an absolute treat, and one I’d recommend for anyone looking for a taste of British culture and refinement at it’s very best.

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Photo Credit: Visit London

Bucket List Traveler Info:

Activity Type: Food & Beverage

Price: $50-53 without alcohol

Value for Money: Variable/high: I personally felt like this was incredibly worthwhile, but for people who are less interested in food/beverage and prefer something a little more active and a little less refined it may be less enjoyable. 

Suitable for: Everyone! May not be great for young kids.

Recommend: 100%! I loved the tea service here and it was a great experience. I’d love to come back for another special occasion.

Extras: Photography is mildly frowned upon, so most of my photos came from a stock source.

 

 

Northern Europe!


Hi guys!

After a long hiatus involving a move to NYC and a bit of an adjustment period after, I finally have a new trip coming up! I’ll be crossing more items off my bucket list in the UK, Sweden, Denmark and Iceland, and I can’t wait to tell you guys all about it. I’ll be expanding some of my content into the territory of restaurant reviews and will hopefully be getting a few new city guides together, so be on the lookout for those! I can’t wait to tell (and show!) you guys all about it!

-Natalie

Topping the Bucket List: Doing the Harry Potter Studio Tour in London!


Hey, everyone! My apologies in advance–this post is going to be super photo-heavy, so get ready! The photos were all taken on my Iphone, so they’re a little less high quality than normal, but they’re good enough! In spite of having spent an entire year living in the UK, somehow I never managed to find the time to do two things that I’ve been absolutely dying to do: see Stonehenge and take the Harry Potter Studio Tour in London. I still haven’t managed to see Stonehenge, but I have finally got to take the Harry Potter Studio Tour, which was even more amazing than I ever could have imagined.

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The tour is about £30 (roughly $45 USD) for an adult ticket, not including food or drink while you’re there. Getting to the tour is the tricky part, though; from London, you have to take a train to Watford Junction, some of which are far less direct than others. There’s one train that takes approximately 15 minutes (definitely the train you’ll want to take), which lists Watford Junction as a waypoint rather than a destination. I made the mistake of taking the train that ends in Watford Junction, which takes closer to an hour–not great when you’re trying to make your allotted tour time on your ticket!

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A bus runs from Watford Junction Train Station to the tour approximately every 20 minutes, but thankfully I had my friend and favorite travel buddy Cheyenne to come pick me up at the train station. We got onto the last tour of the day, which gave us plenty of time to explore the exhibits on our own.

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We were first guided into a small room by one of the tour leaders, who then explained how the tour was going to work. The tour is self-guided, and though I believe audioguides are available, I found it fun enough to simply wander around on my own and admire the sets. The second stop on the tour is a theatre, which provides a brief video with cameos from actors Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint, after which we’re led into the great hall. At this point we still have a guide with us, who told us more about the sets and then let us wander off to take our ten thousand selfies.

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After that we were left to explore the sets at our leisure, which included the boy’s dormitory, the potions room, the Ministry of Magic, the Weasley’s house, and Professor Umbridge’s office. Halfway through, we got our first taste of Butterbeer (which I loved, Cheyenne not so much–its kind of like a cream soda float, if you’re American!), then got to go explore some of the outdoor built sets, including the Knight Bus, Privet Drive, the Hogwarts Bridge (I’m sure that has a more official name, I just don’t remember what it is),  and Hagrid’s Motorcycle.

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My personal favorite part of the tour came next (after Butterbeer tasting, of course)– getting to see Diagon Alley. Diagon Alley was incredibly elaborate, and it was super fun to explore! We probably spent way longer than we should have looking into all the shops and searching for the perfect photo op, but that’s half the fun of the tour–getting to really get to know the set and pretend you’ve finally gotten your letter of acceptance to Hogwarts. 

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The concluding parts of the tour included a walk-through of some of the artistry and photography that went into the making of the films, and finally into the to-scale model of Hogwarts, which was huge, even in its small-scale size! After that we were ushered into the gift shop, and tempted as I was to get a chocolate frog, I just wasn’t all that ready to cough up £7 ($11USD) for one, so I took a pass and remained content with the memory of my Butterbeer. All in all it was an absolutely amazing evening, and I’d probably even do it again if I got the chance!

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Bucket List Traveler Info:

Activity Type: Self-guided tour.

Price: £30 ($45 USD). 

Value for Money: Above average! The tour lasts about three hours and is full of things to do, so I didn’t feel ripped off. 

Suitable for: Everyone! This would be super fun to do with kids or friends, as a couple or as a family, as long as your into Harry Potter or filmography.

Recommend: Absolutely, if you’re into Harry Potter. I loved it an had a great time. 

Pack With Me! Carry-on Edition


Hello friends!

I know its been a while since I’ve posted anything, but its been a really busy couple of months, what with the holidays and getting settled into my new job. Anyway, I forgot to share with you guys that I’ve booked a trip back to my beloved second home, the United Kingdom, for two and a half weeks! My dream is to expatriate the the UK entirely, but in the meantime I’m taking baby steps, exploring graduate school options and using the resources at my former university to see if they can help me out any.

I’ve got about two and a half weeks in the UK, though, and not all of its going to be hard work! I’m so excited to revisit some of my favorite sites and people, in addition to hopefully meeting some fantastic new people and seeing some amazing places I haven’t been yet! On this trip I am absolutely determined to do the Harry Potter Studio Tour and see Stonehenge, so prepare yourselves for posts about these two legendary attractions! I’d also like to do a few review posts about places I’ve eaten and visited and the like, so I’ll keep you posted on that.

In the meantime, though, I’m currently knee deep in packing, so I figured I’d write up a quick post to show you guys exactly how I pack! Unfortunately I didn’t think about this before I started packing my primary bag, which in my opinion is a bit boring anyway, so I’m going to do an upgraded-fun version: the carry on. This is only a quick trip, so I’ve invested in a lovely black faux leather day bag from H&M, which you can find on their website HERE. So far it looks great; it closes with a drawstring and a snap, is big enough to hold my laptop and all the other goodies I’ll put inside of it. Added bonus: it doesn’t look like its going to fall apart immediately, which is, of course, probably the most important part.

So what do I keep on me for an overseas flight? First and foremost I bring my laptop, pre-loaded with work I optimistically want to get done during my flight. My laptop is definitely the foundation of the bag and always goes in first, as it’s pretty difficult to squeeze it in there with all my other things in the way.

I sort out my cosmetics or body products into two piles before I go: dry products and liquids. Although I know its best for my skin to go naked during flights (face only, thanks, I’m not the resident inappropriately dressed person sat next to you on the plane), but oftentimes I’ll want to have at least a halfway decent looking face on during my time in the airport and during layovers, so I keep my look super simple and skin refreshing. Currently, I’m going to be using my daily skin-clearing products, which will have their own little bag, then build with a non-comedogenic facial moisturizer, the Laura Mercier Tinted Moisturizer (added benefit of being SPF 20!) in Nude, the Laura Mercier Secret Concealer in .05, a spot of blush (Covergirl, nothing exciting!), a swipe of the Bareminerals eyeshadow in a light color that suits my skin tone,  and the Covergirl Clump Crusher Mascara. Nearly all of those products are clickable, so if you want to learn more about a product feel free to click the link and check it out! I’ll write a related post about my airport and in-flight look, so keep an eye out for that!

I like to separate out all my skincare products beforehand, sorting them into wet and dry. In addition to the makeup I have on my face (and extras for pre-landing reapplication!), I also keep makeup removing/skin refreshing wipes, Estee Lauder Perfectly Clean Toner, some Q-Tips and cotton balls and a travel size of baby powder, to keep my hair from getting too greasy during my flight. I also keep a little gaggle of bobby pins, a bun shaper (for a quick, sleek look!), a clip, a few hair elastics and a brush in a little bag with me. I never wear perfume on a flight because yuck, no one wants to smell you for that long! But I do always keep some deodorant on me to stay fresh. I also like to keep a toothbrush and toothpaste mini, in addition to a mouthguard because I always fall asleep! Keeping a super-hydrating lip balm on hand is my favorite personal bonus!

I always find flights to be crazy cold, so I like to layer up! In the bottom of my bag I always keep an extra sweater and a pair of super-cozy socks, fluffy or wool. A scarf is imperative, and eye-shades are definitely an added bonus. I dont take a neck pillow with me because I think they’re bulky, dumb and they help me approximately zero with regards to comfort, so that saves me a lot of space and hassle!

The most important part of packing my carry on, though, definitely has to be snacks. As most of you know I’m gluten-free, but I always forget to book my gluten free meal (one day I’ll learn. Maybe). So bringing snacks is crazy important to me. I like to make sure I have enough to keep me going throughout the flight, which honestly means bringing a lot of everything and making sure I have something for breakfast the next morning. I’ve been on a massive dates kick lately, so they’re a new addition to the team. Other things in my little lunch bag include caffeine free/herbal tea, green tea, multivitamins/fish oil to keep up my immune system, melatonin if I need to get adjusted to the timezone and fear I won’t be able to sleep, two Kind granola bars, three Trader Joes Organic String Cheeses, a packet of dates, carrots, two pressed fruit bars, some mints and an empty water bottle. Its mega important to stay hydrated on a flight, so I always bring a big one and top it up just before my flight.

Pro tip: Make sure you always bring your daily medications in your carry on with you; you never know if you’ll lose a bag or get massively delayed, and being without your medication can be a huge pain. I personally also bring my glasses in my carry on, in addition to an empty contacts case, some solution and a spare pack of contacts.

As far as technology goes, I’ve already mentioned my laptop. I also make sure that I bring my charger and adaptor with me, and if I’m going on a really long trip I’ll bring an external hard drive, which can be great for storing TV shows and movies on! I also make sure I bring my phone and headphones, ensuring that my handy dandy Iphone is updated with great new music and some relaxed playlists for the flight. I also remember to bring a charger and a top-up battery stick, when I’ve got one! A recent addition to my technology regimen is my Fitbit Flex, although I’d really, really love a Charge or a One with a cute little carrying case! I find the wristband to be increasingly irritating, so I’d love to have some better way of carrying it around. If you know anything please give a shout in the comments! I’d love to hear tips or your favorite products.

Last but not least I bring my passport, even if its a domestic flight (you never know what could happen!), my flight documents if necessary, and my wallet, equipped with cash card, credit card and backup credit and cash cards, if I’ve got them. Doubling up on your cards can be an absolute lifesaver, so I’d highly recommend it!

So yeah! That’s everything I keep in my bag with me. I might be a bit of an over-packer, but I’m rarely uncomfortable on a flight and always make sure I have my basics down. What’s in your bag? Tell me your personal favorite, cant-fly-without products or items in the comments below!

My Favorite Things: The Bucket List Traveller’s Top 6 Teashops around the World


“Each cup of tea represents an imaginary voyage…” 

-Catherine Douzel

…and every real voyage deserves a good cup of tea. Tea is one of the few things that is commonly found in all corners of the world, from Yerba Mate in Argentina to English Breakfast in England, from Darjeeling in India to simple yet invigorating green teas in China. In Turkey everyone comes together over tiny shot-sized cups of sweet apple tea or a pure black tea, from ice cream vendors to restauranteurs to shop keepers, uniting locals and tourists alike. Discovering a new teahouse or shop is, for me, a goldmine when traveling. I’ve rarely found a tea shop that I haven’t enjoyed, but some certainly stand out more than others. Here’s a list of my top six tea spots around the world, plus a bonus destination at the end!

#1: The Covent Garden Tea House, Covent Garden, London, England

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The Covent Garden Tea House is located on Neal Street right in the heart of Covent Garden, a minutes’ walk from the Covent Garden tube stop. The shopfront is a myriad display of teapots arranged in cubic rows on a backdrop of white and bright red, broken up by a lattice of painted black wooden window frames. Inside, the shop is quaint and full of aromatic goodies, with teas and tea-steeping paraphernalia located on the first floor, tea tins lining the front wall of the staircase and an extensive collection of teapots and mugs flanking the stairs, leading up to an attic that, unsurprisingly, is packed to the brim with more teapots.

The teas on the first floor are arranged by type, with greens typically at the front and blacks typically at the back. The store boasts an impressive collection of herbal infusions as well, including flaky nettles and tiny, beautiful dried rose hips. Unfortunately, teas here can’t be sampled, but they do have small portions available for the customer to sniff before making their ultimate decision.

My personal favorite teas from the Covent Garden Tea House include the Green Chai Sencha, Gunpowder Mint Green Tea, Caramel Black Tea, Vanilla Black Tea and the seasonal Christmas Tea. I also almost always buy at least one small packet of the flowering tea balls located at the checkout counter.

#2: Het Brugge Teehuis, Brugges, Belgium

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Another distribution-only tea shop, Het Brugges Teehuis is a small, two-room shop that boasts large tins of unique, flavorful teas. In the back room you can find any manner of tea paraphernalia, from tea towels to teapots, teacups, tea cozies, teaspoons and the like. They have a number of unique designs and an extensive collection of animal-themed pots and cups. The owner is very friendly and helpful, too!

One of my favorite teas ever, a green tea flavored with chunks of real Belgian chocolate, comes exclusively from Het Brugges Teahuis and is highly recommended.

#3: Argo Tea, Chicago, Illinois, USA

Image credit: C Y N 8 N Y C, click for through-link
Image credit: C Y N 8 N Y C, click for through-link

One of my favorite tea distributors and tearooms, Argo Tea, originated in my home city of Chicago, Illinois. Since then, it’s expanded to include locations in many cities across the United States, including Boston, New York, North Carolina and Washington DC. Modern, chic and stylish, Argo Tea not only delivers a consistently high-quality product, but also offers a comfortable and attractive sitting room where you can sip your tea and read the newspaper, work on your computer or chat quietly with a friend or colleague.

In addition to serving teas, they also sell teas both in bulk and in small quantities. Their pre-packaged teas come in cute containers and make for great gifts for any tea-loving friends on your Christmas list! Their teapots are also to die for, offering bright colored traditional-styled pots (which include a removable mesh strainer for all your loose-leaf needs) as well as sleek glass pots, including their new Mono Teapots.

My favorite flavors from Argo Tea include a blueberry white tea, a white peach tea and an Armenian mint tea.

#4: The Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse, Boulder, Colorado, USA

Photo Credit: USA Today
Photo Credit: USA Today

The Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse looks like a work of art from the inside out, decorated intricately with tile work, hailing from as far as Tajikistan. The ceiling is painted and carved, and the entire atmosphere is reminiscent of a sultan’s palace. The Boulder Teahouse is not only a beautiful, atmospheric tea room, but also serves tasty meals and high tea. They also offer teas for sale, all of which you can sample with a meal, over dessert or simply on their own.

Some of my favorite teas include the Boulder Breakfast and the Huckleberry Lime tea.

#5: Dobra Tea, Burlington, Vermont

Photo courtesy of Yelp.
Photo courtesy of Yelp.

A small-scale chain teahouse, Dobra won my heart for being a relaxing, if a little bit hippie-esque, place to have a nice cup of tea and some really, really tasty food. They have gluten free and vegan food items that from appetizers to desserts. Their teas are out of this world, and are served in teapots or cups that reflect the traditional consumption methods from the tea’s country or region of origin. Seating is varied; there’s a handful of tiny tables, but most people choose to sit in the private-ish sections, which boast larger tables that sit only a foot or so off the ground. Pillows and bean bags are the primary places for sitting, and its easy to lose whole afternoons here.

My #1 favorite and most highly recommended tea here is their Masala Chai, which is served with milk and honey. Their hummus plates are also fantastic!

#6: Demmers Teahaus, Europe (Budapest, Warsaw)

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Originally an Austrian operation, Demmers Teahaus now functions as a chain that stretches throughout Eastern Europe. The location I visited was in Budapest, on the way from the Parliament Building to the City Center. They had an impressive tea menu, which made it really difficult to choose just one! I had an green tea flavored with orange, which I would highly recommend, and my mom had a basic breakfast tea, which she liked very much as well.

Bonus: The Best Hot Chocolate I’ve Ever Had:

Image Credit: Hernhill Forum
Image Credit: Hernhill Forum

I know it isn’t exactly tea, but if I’m giving shout-outs for my favorite beverage destinations, I cannot ignore the Chocolate Cafe in Canterbury, Kent (UK). Their hot chocolate is thick, rich and creamy, but not suffocatingly sweet or too dense. There are great views of the Canterbury Cathedral upstairs, and quaint views of the medieval streets from the ground floor. This is my absolute favorite destination in the entire city of Canterbury, so make sure you don’t miss it on your next trip!

Do you have a personal favorite tea spot that I haven’t mentioned here? Let us know in the comments!

City Guide: Prague


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Location & Atmosphere

A pleasant mixture between modern and medieval, Prague is full of old-world sites, packed to the brim with cultural landmarks and experiences, and home to many, many gastronomical delights, including their famous dumplings and beer, which are always best when consumed together. The atmosphere is relaxed and candid, and there’s plenty of things to do!

What to do:

Whenever I visit a new city, my favorite thing to do is just to walk around and get a feel for the layout and the landmarks in the area. One of my favorite loops circles around the city center, starting at the Astronomical Clock in the Old Town Square, passing through the square and up through the Jewish District, across the river to look at the Charles Bridge, through the park that lines the river and then back across the Charles Bridge and back to the Astronomical Clock.

Attractions:

Old Town Square: The Old Town Square holds such attractions as the Astronomical Clock, the Old Town Hall, the St. Nicholas’ Church, the Tyn Church, Kinsky Palace and the Jan Hus Monument. You can go into some buildings for a fee, but I prefer the views from the ground. Every hour a large crowd gathers around the Astronomical Clock to see the old figurines of the Twelve Apostles on a slow, rotating display.

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Prague Castle: The Castle Hill offers great views, but the actual layout of the castle can be a little bit confusing. Make sure you get in line for an audio guide and ticket instead of just a standard ticket, otherwise you might get lost and miss something great! The cathedral is the most glamorous building in the compound and well worth a look.

Jewish District: The Jewish District of Prague is located close to the Old Town Square, and can be reached within five minutes on foot.  The district was beautifully maintained during WWII by Hitler, who intended to turn the entire area into a “museum of an extinct race.” The buildings here are classic and very well-kept, and currently house a variety of luxury brands, if you’re interested in doing some shopping. There are a number of old synagogues in the area, which have all been turned into museums commemorating Jewish life, culture, the Jewish experience under Naziism, and the persistent memory of all those who lost their lives during the Holocaust at the hands of the Germans and the Czechs. Far and away one of the most meaningful and memorable things to do in Prague.

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Botanic Garden: Small but free of charge, its nice to get a break from the city while staying within the city. Full of big trees, winding paths and gardens, its a nice way to kill a few hours. There are also a number of greenhouses on site, some of which hold paid exhibitions.

Charles Bridge: Dating back from the 13th Century, the Charles Bridge has long been a part of Czech History and the landscape of Prague. I would recommend walking it twice; once during the daytime and once at night. Its full of art, buskers, statues and beautiful views, but beware: its also full of beggars, tourists and pickpockets. Keep an eye on your belongings while you’re here and you won’t have any problems, but it can be quite congested, day or night!

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Visit a local brewery: Prague is home to hundreds, if not thousands, of little breweries, and the beer that comes from them is cheap, interesting and delicious! Pivovarsky Dum, a restaurant that I’ve recommended in my “where to eat” section, has a 12-beer sampler set, with interesting beers such as nettle and cherry flavored. Unfortunately I’m gluten-free and couldn’t sample any of them, I have it on good authority that they’re worth a try!

Day Trips:

Karlstejn Castle: A quick 45-minute train ride out of the city, a day trip to Karlstejn Castle will transport you to the countryside of the Czech Republic. The town itself can be a little kitschy, but is full of restaurants and some cool little shops, selling a variety of things, from local foods and produce to marionettes and war memorabilia. The castle is beautiful and looks strikingly different from most other castles I’ve seen before. They only do guided tours of the castles, which are offered in several different languages so that everyone can enjoy them. I loved the aesthetics of Karlstejn Castle, and would highly recommend it for a day trip.

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Cesky Krumlov: A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Cesky Krumlov is a 13th century town and castle complex. The castle is remarkable for its size in comparison to the town it stands over, with the majority of its architectural structures dating from the 14th to the 17th centuries. It is one of the most popular day trips from Prague, though you have to leave the city early and prepare to return late-ish, as it’s 2.5 hours away form Prague by train.

Kutna Hora: Kutna Hora is famous for its Bone Church, another UNESCO World Heritage Site. Located only an hour away from the city, its easily accessed by train. The town is small and scenic, and a pleasant place to explore away from the crowds of Prague. The bone church is referred to as the Sedlec Ossuary, and from the outside looks more or less unremarkable, though when you get inside its a whole different story! Its small, but the interior is packed to the brim with bones, all artistically placed and serving as the primary means of decoration of the church.

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Where I stay:

For backpackers: I stayed at the St. Christopher’s Prague hostel last time I was in Prague, and it was a pretty stellar place to be. The room I had was big and held a lot of people, but had a beautiful, newly-done ensuite bathroom that made it feel more like a hotel than a hostel. The bar upstairs can be a little noisy, but I found that it didn’t bother me too much. Also, the bar upstairs is a pretty cheap place to get some drinks and food, so have at it!

For non-backpackers: Hotel 16 is an absolute gem. The location is a short walk out of the city center, which I personally enjoyed, and the staff really make the place what it is. They are friendly, eager to chat, like to offer help and will answer any and every question you might have. The included breakfast is out of this world, too! Try a ham and cheese omelette, cooked to order, or any of the a la carte buffet-style options, including a variety of meats, cheeses, breads and yogurts.

Where I eat:

U Kroka:

A casual, comfy restaurant, U Kroka offers amazing food at pretty cheap prices. After eating heavy Czech food for a few days, the opportunity to have salads and lighter fares was a welcome break. I personally loved the warm goat cheese and walnut salad, and my parents were fond of the chicken schnitzel and the duck with cherry glaze and mashed potatoes. Everything was great, and we went back more than once! They’re almost always fully booked, though, so be sure to make a reservation before you go.

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M Emy Destinnove

This was one of the best restaurants located within short walking distance of our hotel, and we ate there twice. Owned by an American chef, the restaurant offers both Czech and other international cuisines. Their wild boar tenderloin is to die for! The prices are a little steeper than other places, but not as expensive as prices are in the city center.

Lokal:

Located near the Charles Bridge, Lokal is a small restaurant with a focus on healthy, sustainable and local ingredients. The food was primarily Czech, and heavy on meat and potatoes. All and all made for a very satisfying lunch.

Pork belly at Lokal
Pork belly at Lokal

Pivovarsky Dum

Also located in the vicinity of our hotel, Pivovarsky Dum offers Czech foods almost exclusively. They’re also a brewery, and offer some great local beers! They also have a beer tasting tray, which includes interesting brews that include nettle and fruity beers.

Getting around:

Taking the trams and the metros is the easiest way to get around Prague. Our hotel had tickets available for purchase and that could be sold back if they weren’t used, which meant that we were never without one when we needed them. You can also buy tickets at the metro stations.

You can also take taxis if you need to, but taxi drivers will usually try and rip you off. Generally speaking, a taxi trip should not cost you more than 170-200 koruna, though most drivers will tell you its 300-500, especially if you’re near a train station. Don’t be afraid to haggle, but know that some drivers will not be talked down. Your best bet is to have someone call a cab for you, as they’ll usually give you a fair price, or to hail a cab that’s driving around looking for customers instead of parked near an attraction.

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Prague is a great introduction to Eastern Europe, full of medieval wonders, beautiful architecture, a lovely city center and close in proximity to numerous interesting and rewarding day trips. Be sure to leave yourself enough time to explore and enjoy all that Prague and its surroundings has to offer, as the best parts are often located off the beaten path.

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