Favorites. They’re a motif that everybody wants to know. Favorites are a crucial component when meeting someone for the first time and can make or break a friendship. If you’re like me, it can be very difficult to establish a certain “favorite” of anything. Favorite movie? I have seven. Favorite song? Let me write a book of how many I have. Favorite cities? I’ve managed to narrow it down to my top four.
Ah, Berlin. Berlin was the first of these cities that I traveled to. My first trip there was in the summer of 2014 and I immediately fell in love despite the fact that I hadn’t slept in 24 hours. Ever since I was born my mother had told me stories about when she visited Berlin during the Cold War. She had always wanted to walk underneath the Brandenburg Gate but it was impossible at the time. During our trip there she wanted to make her 30-year-old dream come true but the Gate was blocked off due to the World Cup. I returned to the city two more times on my own while living in Germany and it wasn’t until my third visit that I was finally able to walk underneath the Brandenburg Gate myself.
Regardless of my obsession with the Brandenburg Gate, Berlin is one of the most extraordinary cities in Europe. History courses throughout every building in this city and stands as an example of the German ability to recover from one of the worst eras in human history. You can marvel at the history alongside modern architecture. There is no limit to what Berlin offers. Here are some of my favorites.
The Brandenburg Gate
Obviously, this iconic landmark is my favorite thing in the city. It is the only one of Berlin’s original gates that is still standing and is a symbol of the divide between the east and the west for years. Today, the area in front of the gate is filled with tourists and selfie sticks but it is definitely a must-visit while in Berlin.
The Berlin Cathedral
A stunning piece of architecture, the Berlin Cathedral cannot be overlooked. Whether you go inside or simply admire it from the outside, it is beautiful. Nearby is the famous Museum Island where you can see many famous exhibits.
East Side Gallery
This outdoor art gallery is the largest still-standing portion of the Berlin Wall. It features famous paintings such as the Kiss of Death. The easiest way to access the gallery is by taking the S-Bahn. I really enjoy walking the length of the wall and taking my time, but you should be prepared to put up with lots of tourists!
I learned about this jewel on my second trip to Berlin. Laura and I heard that this café had some of the best food in the city so we had to check it out. We both ordered Eggs Benedict, unaware that our lives were about to change forever. Their Eggs Benedict are the best thing I have ever eaten in my life and I don’t say that lightly. This cute little café is located on Unter den Linden across from the Aeroflot building. It is fairly reasonably priced but be aware that there will likely be a line to get in on a weekend. Do me a favor and order the Eggs Benedict. You will thank me.
No trip to Berlin is complete without seeing the Reichstag. This building is the seat of power for the German Republic and is full of history. It is free to enter but you must make reservations well in advance. I have unfortunately never been able to go inside but the outside is stunning to look at as well.
After spending any time at all in Germany, you will quickly realize that this country loves their Rittersport. Everywhere you go there will always be Rittersport available and let me tell you, it is delicious. Right by the opera house in Berlin is the most wonderful place in the city – the home of the Rittersport Chocolate. If you have a child with you, they can even create their own chocolate in a very hands-on workshop. For us adults out there, we can make our own but have it assembled by the very talented chocolatier team. Unlike most American candy brands (M&M, Hershey), the merchandise at Rittersport is very cheap and makes wonderful souvenirs!
This was once the most well-known gateway between east and west Berlin. For decades it was a formidable outpost before entering “No Man’s Land”. Today, it is a popular tourist destination and does not necessarily the most authentic of experiences. Regardless, it is something you should see. There are soldiers with American flags who you can pose with for a photo. Touristy, yet cute. An added bonus is that for 10 Euros, you can have your passport stamped with 15 stamps from the Cold War era. As somebody who obsesses over passport stamps, that alone makes the trip to Checkpoint Charlie worth it.
I could write an entire book on things to do in Berlin but these are among some of my favorites that I believe are a must-do, especially if your time is limited in the capitol city. In fact, I managed to do everything on this list in just one afternoon! It can be done!
The mention of Amsterdam is synonymous with weed, prostitution, and canals. That isn’t far off from the truth but there is so much more to the city. When I lived in Germany, I made it a point to travel to Amsterdam as much as possible. I would even fly in to Amsterdam just so I could soak up the Dutch atmosphere and eat some delicious food. Yes, most of my decisions in life are based off of food.
Anne Frank House
Anne Frank was one of Amsterdam’s most well known residents. Her family lived in the secret annex of a tiny Amsterdam canal house for two years until they were arrested by police and sent to concentration camps. Now, her home has been transformed into a museum that is beneficial to visitors of all ages. My best recommendation is to buy your tickets in advance. Otherwise, you will have to wait in line for at least two hours to get tickets. So reserve in advance so you can walk right on in!
A great Instagram photo opportunity, these iconic signs can be found at the Rijksmuseum and Schiphol airport. I suggest going to the one at the airport if you have a choice. There are fewer tourists there and you can likely take a better picture!
The Dam Square is the beating heart of Amsterdam. It houses the Royal Palace, Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky, and Nieuwe Kerk. Additionally, there are lots of cafes and pubs around the area that are perfect for people watching. A street over from Dam Square is Albert Heijn, a well-known Dutch supermarket. My favorite thing to do is get some lunch from the supermarket and sit out on a bench in Dam Square and watch everybody go by. It is very relaxing and a much cheaper alternative to some restaurants.
Here I go once again with my food. If you’re looking for a way to eat some cheap and delicious food while in Amsterdam, krokets are the way to go. They are under 2 Euros and are ready and available throughout the city. One of the neatest things about them is that you can buy them from these little machines. Just put in your Euros, open the little door, and out pops a fresh kroket. Efficiency at its finest. Krokets are difficult to describe, but they are almost like deep-fried gravy with meat and a ton of delicious spices. It might not sound extremely appetizing but it tastes better than anything else. I love them so much that I bought a frozen pack of krokets and brought them home to America so I could continue to eat their deliciousness. I’m serious. They’re that good.
Since I’m on the topic of delicious food, Stroopwafels are a Dutch staple. If you can, buy a fresh one from a street vendor. They are melted caramel sandwiched between two wafers and are guaranteed to make your day better. Eat lots of them and even buy some to bring home with you.
Red Light District
When I first told my grandmother that I was going to Amsterdam’s Red Light District alone, she was understandably very concerned. But believe it or not, the Red Light District is one of the safest places in Amsterdam. I have never felt unsafe walking through the Red Light District, even at night! It does get much more crowded at night but everything is so well regulated there that there is no need to be worried. Do not take pictures of the women, though. There are people watching to make sure you don’t try to photograph one of them and you do not want to be on the wrong side of the law in this case.
So even though most people immediately think of weed and prostitution when they think of Amsterdam, this city has so much more to offer than that. The nation of the Netherlands is fairly small, which makes day trips from Amsterdam very easy and efficient. If I ever run away in life, come looking for me in the Dutch countryside!
I was fortunate enough to spend a week here when I lived in Germany. Some of my best friends also traveled with me, which made for a very fun atmosphere. Dublin is a fairly small and walk-able city. There is public transportation but I personally prefer to just walk.
Trinity College was founded in 1592 by Queen Elizabeth I and is home to the famous Book of Kells. The library costs 9 Euros to visit but the inside is stunning and well worth it. It even houses the original harp that Guinness based their famous logo on.
Alcohol-lovers rejoice! If you are looking for an abundance of alcohol-related things to do, Dublin is the place for you. Starting at the Guinness Storehouse and working back towards downtown is a way to ensure that by the time you’re drunk, you’re already downtown and ready to hit up the bars! It costs 16 Euros to go into the storehouse but you do receive a complimentary pint of Guinness at the end of the tour. Don’t be confused, because the storehouse is simply a museum and not actually a working factory. I was disappointed to learn this but it is still worth it. The best part is you can pour your own pint! Not to mention the views from the top of the storehouse are beautiful!
St. Patrick’s Cathedral
This cathedral is the largest in Ireland and stands on the outskirts of the downtown. It only costs 5 Euros for students to enter and is definitely worth it. The stained glass is beautiful and overall worth the entry fee. If you are on a budget then you can forgo visiting the inside and just admire it from the outside.
Irish Whiskey Museum
One of the hidden gems of Ireland is the Irish Whiskey Museum. My friends and I stumbled upon it by accident and it was one of the best decisions we made. Located across the street from Trinity College, it opened only a few years ago and is a whiskey experience unlike any other. It features a very modern tour and includes an actual history of whiskey as well as documenting how it is made. If you pay 16 Euros for the VIP experience, then you receive an extra taste of whiskey in addition to a souvenir whiskey glass. It is a great experience!
There are few bars as iconic as Dublin’s Temple Bar. Despite being the most well known, it is not the oldest pub in Dublin. It can become very, very crowded because it is a touristy location but you should definitely stop by. Visiting early in the morning means you don’t have any crowds and if you stop by in the afternoon, you can beat the night rush and even get a drink inside.
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
As I have visited each of the above cities, I fell in love with each city more than the last. I knew for certain that I couldn’t love any cities more than the above three.
Then I visited Dubai.
I traveled to Dubai for a weekend with my mom, who had already been there once before. It was the trip of a lifetime and I am not content sitting in California – I need to go back!! Our weekend was full of action and experiences and Dubai is a place unlike any other. The grandeur was spectacular and the modern mixed with the ancient is unlike any other place I have ever visited.
The Burj is the tallest building in the world. Nothing can prepare you for seeing it with your own eyes. It towers over the surrounding skyscrapers and the view from the top is unbeatable. The Burj Khalifa Fountains are the largest in the world and are beautiful to watch, especially at night!
The Dubai Mall
This mall is the largest one in the world and even has an aquarium!! There are lots of shops to spend money at and it’s a great way to experience Dubai without going outside to the sweltering heat. It is also located right next to the Burj Khalifa, which makes it easy to visit both at once.
Mall of the Emirates
Not to be confused with the Dubai Mall, the Mall of the Emirates is another spectacular mall. This one holds the world’s largest indoor ski resort… in the middle of the desert! It’s mind-boggling and something you don’t want to miss.
The souks are a great example of the Dubai that isn’t full of Lamborghinis and Louis Vuitton. It’s easy to get lost as you wander around the souks. I love seeing all of the beautiful things for sale, especially in the gold souk. You can cross the Dubai Creek on one of the boats that cost us 1 dirham round trip. It’s not a ride for the faint of heart because you’re almost guaranteed to run into another boat. But it’s all worth the experience!
So there you have it! My four favorite cities in the world! Each one of them is very unique but they each hold a very special place in my heart.
What are some of your favorite cities?