El Nido: Island Hopping & Endless Adventure


El Nido translates to ‘The Nest’. It gets its name the edible nests of the Swiftlet which are plentiful amongst the limestone cliffs of Bacuit Bay. Harvesting these nests was originally one of the primary sources of revenue for the area, alongside fishing.

Things are obviously different now, as El Nido has become world-renowned for its incredible natural beauty. Tourism is now the major driving force behind the region's economy, and the area boasts a huge amount of activities that will please any type of traveller.

From adventure to relaxation, El Nido ticks all the boxes. We spent 5 days here, but another week would have been very easy to do.

Jump to a section below:

Glamping on Marimegmeg Beach

The view from our tent at The Birdhouse

To get to El Nido, we had caught a shared van from Port Barton. A trip that has improved exponentially in the last few years thanks to a new road. The trip was a little under 3 hours long.

The towering limestone cliffs that surround the town are spectacular, and catching glimpses of the bay as we drove in built up our excitement to extreme levels!

From the bus station, we caught a tricycle to Marimegmeg Beach where our accommodation was.

We were staying in The Birdhouse, a boutique glamping resort that offered stunning views over the bay. The property also offers yoga classes each evening and has an incredible restaurant which served some of the best food we had whilst in El Nido.

Marimegmeg Beach

Sunset at Marimegmeg Beach

The beach has a few bars and restaurants along it, but not much else. The perfect place to relax and unwind. We got a Bali vibe from the bars that were pumping chill out house music and offering happy hour cocktail deals.

This beach is also known as Las Cabanas beach. This is due to one of the first high-end resorts to be opened in El Nido being named this, so the name stuck around.

What to know about Island Hopping in El Nido

Viewpoint on Matinloc Island

This is the reason you come to El Nido. Everything you see in the pictures is out in Bacuit Bay and you need a boat to reach them. The 4 most famous tours are named Tour A, B, C & D. They’re all offered as group tours and government regulation sets the prices that agencies offer.

There are also other tours available with unique offerings such as better boats or “secret” destinations but the original 4 are the classics that made the destination famous.

El Nido Paradise has excellent write-ups on each of the tours and offers services of their own. They also allow you to combine certain tours and can help organise private tours. We had no problem organising these through our guesthouses, however.

Private Tours

To put this in simple terms: If you can afford to pay for a private tour, go for it. Especially if you are travelling in a group. Aside from the obvious benefits of having the boat to yourself, you will also be able to:

  1. Start the tour at whatever time you wish.
  2. Be able to tailor the stops to your liking
  3. Ask your crew to avoid stops when they are most busy

We paid between 6000 and 7000 php for the two of us. If you shop around you can surely pay a bit less.

Tour C (and some stops from Tour A)

The shrine on Matinloc Island

A lot of guides we’d read online said Tour A and C are the best ones. Our idea was to combine the 2 and see if we came out winning.

We didn’t learn until a few days later that recent government restrictions had put a ban on combining tours. Tour agencies could face large fines if they were caught doing it. It wasn’t until we checked around town and online when we realised they weren’t allowed. There didn’t seem to be any issue when organising it through The Birdhouse.

What we managed to organise involved all the stops of Tour A and C, minus the Big and Small lagoons.

Our full write-up is coming soon.

A coconut stand on Papaya Island

The tours had a nice mix of relaxing beaches and more adventurous stops. The Secret Beach, Hidden Beach and Hidden Lagoon (I assure you that none of these are hidden or secret in the slightest) all involved careful manoeuvring through rocky waters and cave-like entrances to see.

Another interesting stop was Matinloc Island which has an eery shrine and a packed viewpoint. Be careful walking up to the viewpoint, it gets overcrowded and one misstep would lead to a very painful fall.

Taking a dip at ‘Hidden’ Beach

If you do decide on Tour C we recommend renting a pair of aqua shoes. We didn’t, and it made every stop much more difficult.

Despite being ahead of the main crowd, we found most sites to be crowded. Especially the Hidden Lagoon towards the end, where we waited over 15 minutes waiting for other tour groups to exit. The entrance and exit are the same. Just a small hole that you need to climb through

However, everything was still manageable and we had a great day. Hidden Beach was the highlight for us.

Tour D: The Unpopular One

Tour D’s Cadlao Lagoon

Tour D, the next tour we went on, seems to be well and truly flying under the radar. It has sites that are just as impressive as A and C with a fraction of the crowds. It focuses on Cadlao Island which is the closest island to the main town of El Nido. It’s possible to kayak here from the town, but it’s quite far.

Our full write-up is coming soon.

The main draw of Tour D is Cadlao Lagoon. We’d read a few sources that suggested it was the most stunning of all the famous lagoons around El Nido. Big Lagoon and Small lagoon, both stops on Tour A, are the most famous. We wanted to see them, but on the day before our tour we had heard that all Tour A’s were only going to stop at one of the lagoons due to congestion.

Generally, no matter how beautiful a piece of natural scenery may be, being surrounded by loud groups and selfie sticks will severely reduce the experience.

So from that, the choice to do Tour D was sealed. The only caveat was that we had to go private. We shopped around but no agencies were offering Tour D as a group tour.

Early morning at Cadlao Lagoon

Cadlao Lagoon, our first stop, was truly beautiful. We spent an hour here swimming and exploring and enjoying the early morning peace and quiet.

Natnat Beach

The rest of the tour consisted off hidden away beaches with perfect sand. This tour is perfect for chilling out and soaking in the sun. The beaches we stopped at here were our favourite of the Philippines.

Exploring the Mainland

The port at El Nido Town

There is still plenty to do in El Nido apart from Island Hopping tours such as cooking classes, day trips to other beaches on the mainland and relaxing activities.

El Nido Town

School children on their break with limestone karsts towering above them

The main town of El Nido boasts plenty of restaurants, bars and travel agencies. In terms of convenience and cost, it’s the best place to stay. We spent our last couple of nights in El Nido here and enjoyed having all these options, but did miss the calming sunsets and evenings at Marimegmeg Beach.

As far as food goes, Altrove serves up some of the finest pizza’s we’ve ever had. We shamefully came here more than once thanks to its central location and delicious food. Unfortunately, we found the quality of food in El Nido to be lacking, not to mention overpriced, so we tended to stick with what we knew.

Tamboks is another excellent restaurant offering Filipino dishes. Its a few kilometres outside of town so you need to rent a scooter or get a tricycle, but it’s worth it. By far the best Filipino food you will find near El Nido town.

The beach near town itself is fun for a quick stroll. We wouldn’t recommend swimming in it though. In the evenings it’s full of boats, so we don’t think the water is the cleanest.

Nacpan Beach

An idle boat at Nacpan Beach

An extremely popular day trip is to head out to Nacpan Beach. It’s about a 1-hour ride from town or you can get a shuttle bus. We’ve heard that it’s a bumpy and uncomfortable ride on a bike, so best to take the shuttle if you can. If you take the shuttle, you will be dropped off at Sunmai Bar which is just near the “I Love Nacpan” sign on the beach.

The beach itself has become much more touristy these days as opposed to when we first heard about it. But being voted in top-beach-in-the-world lists will do that.

Despite that, walk away from Sunmai Bar, past the Mad Monkey Hostel and you’ll easily be able to find a stretch of sand you can have all to yourself.

A boat ashore at Nacpan Beach

For the more adventurous (or for those with more time), Duli Beach is meant to be excellent and possibly what Nacpan Beach was like a few years ago.

Red Horse and sunsets on Nacpan Beach

Last Thoughts

Assuming the weather holds up and you aren’t expecting world-class cuisine, El Nido will give you an unforgettable, magical experience as you look upon some of the most spectacular natural scenery the world has to offer.

On each of our island-hopping days, we were constantly in amazement of the pure beauty on display.

5 days was a good amount of time to spend here. A few more certainly wouldn’t be wasted. There is so much to discover here, and once you move away from the popular sights you will start to truly feel lost amongst an island paradise.

What we would have done differently

  • Planned our island tours more efficiently and tried to take better advantage of early starts and beating the crowds
  • Sought out more Filipino cuisine, even if it meant going out of the main towns more often. The options in town were generally disappointing
  • Worn aqua shoes for Tour C. The stress of walking along the rocky shores in bare feet or thongs would have been relieved with a pair of these

More from Philippines

Milos: 3 Days in the Untouched Greek Island


Milos, one of the lesser known Greek islands, has a lot to offer for all travellers. Unique beaches, coastal adventures, welcoming villages and a surprisingly rich history are some aspects that make Milos the perfect active and relaxed travel destination.

We caught a morning flight from Athens to Milos, hopped into a taxi upon arrival and made our way to Pollonia. Unfortunately we arrived at the beginning of a very windy week but weren’t disappointed with Milos’ natural beauty unfolding before our eyes at every turn. Milos has an intriguing charm with plenty of surprises waiting to be discovered.

View Our Summary

Day 1

  • Checking in to Niki Savvas & renting car
  • Exploring Pollonia

Day 2

  • Quick stop at Papafragas Cave 
  • Visit to Adamas town
  • Exploring Sarakiniko Beach

Day 3

  • Visiting Klima, the fishing village
  • Trek to Tripiti via Ancient Theatre & Catacombs
  • Exploring Plaka and the Plaka Castle

Day 1: Arriving in Pollonia

View from the coastline near Niki Savas, quiet streets in Pollonia and typical blue and white decor

We stayed at Niki Savvas in Pollonia, which provided great accommodation in terms of location and comfort. Our host, like most of the local people we met in Milos, was warm and friendly. She helped us organise a rental car, which we believe is the best way to get around this little remote island (especially if you’re planning on staying in this area).

Our car wasn’t expected to arrive until the next day so we spent the rest of our afternoon exploring the quiet town. Our excitement kicked off as we walked along the sea shore, watching locals play basketball on a simple court with an endless view of the sea behind them. We stopped for lunch at Alkis, where we had delicious gyros, feta and chips. Alkis is more laid back than other restaurants in the area, which kept us coming back especially when we wanted something quick and easy.

Our daily sunset view

We stayed at Niki Savvas in Pollonia, which provided great accommodation in terms of location and comfort. Our host, like most of the local people we met in Milos, was warm and friendly. She helped us organise a rental car, which we believe is the best way to get around this little remote island (especially if you’re planning on staying in this area).

Our car wasn’t expected to arrive until the next day so we spent the rest of our afternoon exploring the quiet town. Our excitement kicked off as we walked along the sea shore, watching locals play basketball on a simple court with an endless view of the sea behind them. We stopped for lunch at Alkis, where we had delicious gyros, feta and chips. Alkis is more laid back than other restaurants in the area, which kept us coming back especially when we wanted something quick and easy.

Day 2: Papafragas Cave, Adamas & Sarakaniko Beach

Waves crashing against the coastline near Papafragas Cave

Our plan today was centred around visiting Sarakiniko Beach. We decided to visit Adamas, the busier town in Milos, to have some lunch beforehand.

On the way, we made a quick stop at Papafragas Cave. Unfortunately, the wind was still incredibly strong so we weren’t able to venture too far or do any cliff diving as it would have been far too dangerous.

However, the views of the coastline were beautiful and made the stop worthwhile.

Adamas Town

We only visited Adamas briefly. We found this town to be lacking in terms of atmosphere, but it may have been due to the early hour of the day.

We stopped for some pastries, ate some gelato and had a quick browse through a grocery store (picking up some red wine for later) before moving on to Sarakiniko Beach.

Sarakiniko Beach

The stunning rock formations of Sarakiniko Beach

Sarakiniko Beach is the main attraction for most travellers visiting Milos. It’s known for its unique moon-like surface with white volcanic ash formations and caves.

The beach is like an adult playground with a lot to explore. We enjoyed walking along the rock formations and seeing different views of the beach. This beach is the perfect place for all you photographers, as you will notice the other-worldly views and crisp environmental textures.

For those who like cliff jumping, there is a cliff on an incline that you can jump off into the deep blue. As you head to the bottom you can swim in the emerald green water, explore sea caves and find man-made caves. The unique features of this beach truly makes it magical and worth the visit.

The contrast between the white rock and turquoise sea

We visited in the morning and found a spot in the car park easily. Our experience in the morning was pleasant as there weren’t many people around. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the chance to watch the sunset here which we heard is a must-do experience. As the sun goes down, the sun reflects off the white rocks and blue sea and lights up the sky with shades of purple and pink.

The drive to Sarakiniko Beach was safe, particularly on the main road. However we had a problem when we started to drive off onto dirt road and towards a narrow path. We recommend that you follow the local map rather than Google Maps to avoid a similar situation.

Day 3: Exploring Klima, Tripiti and Plaka

A painted basketball backboard, the fishing village of Klima and a street in Tripiti

Klima, the fishing village

The colourful seaside fishing village of Klima is another must-see on the itinerary. The village, which is known for its long strip of multi-coloured balconies and doors, is located near Tripiti. There is not much to do in Klima besides walk along the bay while taking in the picturesque view of the traditional fishermen houses, also known as syrmatas. 

The fishing village of Klima

However the scenic view, friendly locals and peaceful atmosphere were enough to make this day trip one of the most memorable from our travels to Greece.


The town of Tripiti high above the sea level

If you’re interested in the history of the ancient city of Melos, we recommend you stop at the Ancient Roman Theatre and the Christian Catacombs. To get there you can hike up the path from the fishing village and stop to check out the views from above Klima. Both attractions are situated on the slopes below Tripiti.

We drove to Tripiti and parked at the first parking spot we found to avoid narrow roads (as this is common in Milos so plan accordingly). It took us approximately 45 minutes to hike down the winding dirt road and reach Klima at the bottom. It is probably best to ask a local for directions (which we did) to the Ancient Theatre and the Catacombs, as there weren’t any visible signage from the fishing village. The hiking trail back up involved steep inclines and uneven surfaces so we recommend wearing appropriate footwear and taking caution.

Barbecued meats and pita bread at Glaronisia

By midday, we built up an appetite after the trek and enjoyed a delicious Greek meal of assorted meats and pita. This was at Glaronisia in Tripiti, which we highly recommend.


The Greek flag on top of Plaka Castle, the view from above and a quiet street in Plaka

Re-energised from our big serving of lunch, we then decided to explore Plaka by foot. It must have been siesta period when we wandered around the quiet town, as there weren’t many people nearby and most restaurants/shops were closed. 

Our main reason to visit Plaka was to see the Venetian Castle of Milos, also known as the Plaka Castle. As we made our way up the hill, we enjoyed the walk through the narrow streets and sights of Cycladic style houses. Plaka is known for being the most characteristic town on this island and we can agree there is a beautiful charm about this village. 

A Greek church and the steps going back down from Plaka Castle

Plaka Castle is situated at the top of the hill overlooking Milos. Once we reached the Castle, we took our time taking in the incredible panoramic view of the north-western part of the island.

Last thoughts

In some ways, Milos felt like taking a step back in time. There is so much to see and do here without hordes of tourists at every spot. 

It was calming, with incredible natural scenery and charming, distinctive towns.

We just wish we got lucky with the weather, giving us the opportunity to explore the island more.

What we would have done differently

  • Go on a sailing tour. Due to the strong wind conditions, sailing tours were cancelled the week we were in Milos. This would have been a great opportunity to get a closer look around different areas of the island.


More from Greece

Athens: A Short Stay in the Ancient Capital


Before we set off to the Greek Islands for 8 days, we had 2 full days to explore Athens, the ancient capitol of Greece.

View Our Summary

Day 1

Day 2

  • Food excursion in Monastiriki and surrounding areas
  • The Acropolis
  • Watched a film at Thision Open Air Cinema

Plaka: Where we based ourself

We stayed in an Airbnb in Plaka near the Akropoli metro station less than a 5-minute walk to the south entrance of the Acropolis itself. From here, we could get everywhere in the city centre in less than 20 minutes of walking. The centre itself is dense and full of incredible restaurants, historic sights, museums and shops.

Our host, Giannas, welcomed us to Greece with a shot of Ouzo and some recommendations on what to do in the area. We soon learned that Plaka itself is very much catered to tourists. Whilst very beautiful to explore, we couldn’t help but feel it was all just a big show for tourists. Giannas recommended the Monastiraki area for restaurants and nightlife. Our walking tour guide, Michael, echoed these same thoughts, claiming that no Greek people eat food in Plaka!

Good to know in retrospect, and painfully obvious when strolling through and all you see is touristy shops and restaurants. Although the proximity to the Acropolis was excellent and the area was quiet in the evenings. Everything being in walking distance meant it never became an issue.

Day 1: Walking Tour, Central Market, Acropolis Museum and a Wine Bar

Byzantine churches, modern architecture and the Ancient Agora of Athens

Athens Free Walking Tour

We started the day bright and early with a walking tour with Athens Free Walking Tour. When travelling to a big city like Athens, a great way to get a feel for the layout, vibe and culture is to take a walking tour. Across Europe there are walking tours for all budgets. Based on experience, the free ones I have done have all been incredibly useful. Nowadays, they’re an essential part of visiting a new city for us.

Modern Athens

Before setting on our way we grabbed a couple of macchiatos from the Coffee Island that was nearby.

We want to avoid spoiling all of the surprises of the tour and just give an idea of what you will be doing and seeing:

  1. You’ll hear historical facts and modern insights about Athens
  2. You’ll get great food and nightlife recommendations
  3. You’ll get ideas on what to see and do for the rest of your time
  4. You’ll have the opportunity to ask your guide about anything

Our guide, Michael, was very well educated in ancient history and has a deep knowledge and understanding of Athens.

The tour lasted a little under 3 hours and finished in Monastiraki. We took one of Michael’s food recommendations and had an incredible lunch at O Thanasis. The moussaka we had there was the best we had during our time in Greece.

Sellers at the Central Market

Central Market

The Central Market is a noisy and bustling fresh produce market. The main hall sells meat and seafood whilst the surrounding area sells vegetables, herbs and spices.

We arrived in the early afternoon. There was still a lot of activity with plenty of sellers around. The seller’s area feels like a relic of the past and not the kind of thing you’ll see in a central part of a modern city. This authentic and local feel really adds to its charm.

Even if you’re not buying, wandering through the market is an experience for the eyes and nose. Although, if you’re a vegetarian or turned off by the smell of meat you may want to skip this place.

Interior of the Acropolis Museum with the Acropolis viewable in the distance

Acropolis Museum

The Acropolis Museum is dedicated to the archaeological discoveries from the Acropolis. It can be a good idea to visit here first before going to the Acropolis itself. But either order works.

This sleek, modern building first opened in 2009 and was a welcome respite for us by the blaring summer heat. Close to 4,000 objects are on display here and there are great views of the city from the restaurant terrace.

Entrance only costs €5 and is a great stop for a couple of hours. If you can, hire a guide and you will get so much more out of it!

Wine list at Cinque

Restaurant: Dinner and wine tasting at Cinque

After some much needed afternoon rest from a packed day of sight-seeing we headed out to Cinque. This is a place to bring your loved one, sip on some divine wine and talk about your experiences of the day.

We sampled a bunch of different wines and shared a meat platter together. The owner explained the origins and optimal tasting experience of each wine we tried. We aren’t serious wine drinkers but I imagine a wine fanatic would get a lot out of this place!

The staff were cheery and helpful, and our names were printed out and placed in a frame for our table when we arrived. These little details are what makes a night at Cinque an unforgettable experience.

We recommend booking beforehand as it’s a very popular place. We got lucky and managed to secure a booking on the day.


Day 2: Food Excursion, The Acropolis and an Open Air Cinema

Views from The Acropolis

Food excursion

Our day was planned around visiting the Acropolis in the afternoon. This was to avoid the mass of crowds and hot weather. We also didn’t want to get burnt out on ancient sites and monuments beforehand.

We both love Greek food and wanted to sample as much of the local food as possible. What better place to do that than Athens? We hastily researched where we should eat and put together a list.

O Kostas

First stop was O Kostas to try the best souvlaki in Athens. Or so they claim. O Kostas is a family run business that has been around for over 65 years. They serve a simple, old fashioned style of souvlaki for €2 each. An absolute bargain.

We both went for pork and devoured it quickly. It was delicious. We could have easily had several more! We had to leave some room for the other food stops though so it was off to get some coffee next.

Pork souvlaki from O Kostas and the entrance to TAF_theartfoundation


The unusual name of this cafe stood out to us and good things happen when you combine art and coffee. This stylish spot was full of Greek people of all ages enjoying a chat and coffee. We ordered a couple of iced coffees from here as that seemed to be what was popular.

The coffees were fine. The space itself, however, seems to be the main draw. It feels hidden away and makes a great escape from the chaos outside.

Bougatsadiko Thessaloniki

Next up was sampling some Greek style pastries at Bougatsadiko Thessaloniki. The pastries are known locally as Bougatsa. We tried spinach and feta cheese and minced meat. Both were amazing and started our love affair with these pastries.

They’re a common breakfast meal and we had them often during our stay in Greece.

Gondolas along the pier at Doge’s Palace

Acropolis of Athens

To put it simply, visiting The Acropolis is an absolute must-do whilst in Athens. In the summer months it can get extremely busy, like most of the big ticket sites across Europe. We were advised to visit in the early afternoon, as the mornings tend to be busier and by then the big crowds have finished up and left to eat lunch.

Another tip we came across was entering via the south entrance, which is closer to the Akropoli metro station and Acropolis Museum. This entrance tends to be much quieter than the main one. We lined up for less than 5 minutes to get our tickets here.

One of the best parts about visiting are the smaller temples and sites you can explore as you ascend to the top, where the visually iconic Parthenon rests. You also get great views of the city.

Thision Open Air Cinema

Our last stop for the day was the Thision Open Air Cinema. Located near the Acropolis, this retro cinema has a lot of charm and ended up being one of our fondest memories of Athens. It was the perfect place to unwind after a long day of exploring.

Tickets are well priced and so is the popcorn (and other snacks) and alcohol. There is an intermission during the middle of the film where you can stock up again also. All of this while you sit under the stars with the Acropolis in the background.

Visiting in the evening is essential, and we imagine it would get quite chilly outside the summer months.

After the movie we went back to our Airbnb for some much needed rest. We had an 8am flight the next morning to head south towards Milos, a beautiful island famous for its rocky landscape.

What would we have done differently?

  • Stayed in Monastiraki. We found ourselves walking in and out of that area a lot. We could have saved some time and been closer to all the great restaurants and bars.
  • Hired a guide for the Acropolis and Acropolis Museum. Whilst we still had a great time exploring, the copy on the info boards can’t tell a story the way a historian can.
  • Spend at least another day to try more of the local cuisine or even go on a food tour. The food in Milos and Santorini (our next stops in Greece) never quite matched what we had in Athens.

More from Greece

Venice: A Short Stay ft. Canals & Cichetti


Venice would be our first stop during a 2 week trip to Italy and our expectations were high. Venice is, after all, one of the most romantic cities in the world. It has a fascinating history and beautiful architecture, all sitting on top of a unique city map of winding, maze-like canals that is, unfortunately, in the process of sinking thanks to mass tourism and climate change.

We arrived at 3 am after a delayed flight from Santorini. With no time to make our way into the main part of the city, known as the Sestiere (The part that Venice is famous for).

We spent the night at a nearby guesthouse and hopped on a bus in the morning that would drop us off close to St Lucia Train Station. This station is how most people arrive in Venice. It sits alongside the Grand Canal and where you will easily be able to arrange onward travel.

View Our Summary

Day 1

Day 2

  • Exploring Dorsoduoro — Venice’s University district
  • Cicchetti and gelato excursion throughout town
  • Dinner at La Zucca

Day 3

  • Early morning walk to San Marco and Rialto Market
  • Departure by train to Florence


Day 1: Our first glimpse of Venice

A typical view in Venice

It’s hard to put into words the energy and wonder that surges through you as you look over the Grand Canal for the first time. It’s quite surreal. ‘This is it! This is what you have seen in the photos! And its right in front of you!’ is more or less how my train of thought went.

However, before long you’re zapped back into reality as you notice absurd amounts of tourists pulling along their suitcases and taking photos with their selfie sticks.

One thing that's certain is that everyone is excited to be here. There is a mystical sense in the air of this strange and beautiful city.

Our Bed & Breakfast

Our guesthouse was located a 10-minute walk away (from where we were dropped off) in Cannaregio, in the north-east part of the main town.

Upon arrival at Venice BB Venezia, we were greeted by our incredible host Alessandro. He was quick to offer us some bits and pieces to eat and some beer to drink as we settled in. We were treated to some delicious cheeses and the best bruschetta we have ever eaten (Still to this day, in fact).

Alessandro gave us a map and marked out his recommendations for cafes and restaurants in the area.

Looking back on our stay in Venice we can say with certainty that Alessandro elevated it greatly. Have a look through his reviews on Trip Advisor and you will see that he’s left that impression on a lot of people.

Walking Tour & Tourist Chaos

People, architecture and sculpture work throughout Venice

We had a walking tour booked in with Venice Free Walking Tour (creative name, right?) that afternoon, so after a brief rest, we made our way towards the meeting point in San Marco.

San Marco is the busiest and most touristic area in Venice, being home to the San Marco Basilica and Doge’s Palace. As we crossed the oldest bridge in Venice, The Rialto Bridge, into the area we felt the true impact of mass tourism here. The general area itself is beautiful and not to be missed but we recommend visiting early in the morning to avoid the crowds. This is what we ended up doing on our last morning, as the crowds on this day were unbearable.

We made our way to Campo Della Fava, the meeting point, to begin the tour. In expert fashion, our guide took us through backstreets, shortcuts and around the crowds to hidden gems with excellent historic backstory on each place we visited. As usual, we don’t want to spoil too much on what you will uncover throughout but there was one moment in particular where we audibly gasped as a certain structure was revealed.

Bars and Restaurants along a canal in Cannaregio

The tour ended in the Jewish Ghetto. The word ‘Ghetto’ derives its origin from this place. It’s still culturally active as a Jewish centre in Venice, although a lot of the Jewish community live away from this area.

There is an excellent buzz along the main canal in Cannaregio nearby, where you can enjoy cheap cicchetti and spritz with the locals and do some people watching.

Evening boat ride down Grand Canal

Approaching the Rialto Bridge from Alessandros boat

The evening of our first night we got very lucky and were offered a boat ride through the canals by our host Alessandro. A truly unforgettable experience that took us through the Grand Canal and through some quieter canals to his main home.

We stopped in his neighbourhood, hopped off the boat and climbed through his window. He gave us a quick tour of his charming home. His bedroom window sat just a few feet above the canals. He told us stories of his home flooding and that it was a common occurrence. An unfortunate reality of what may become permanent in the upcoming years.

We thanked him and shared a Campari Spritz together at Majer Venezia. He suggested some cicchetti to try and was on his way. Cicchetti are similar to tapas. Essentially small side dishes typically served in bars. We couldn’t have been more thankful and chuffed with what we got to experience thanks to him!

The remainder of our evening consisted of snacking, drinking and strolling towards our guesthouse. The city transforms at night and takes on a slightly eerie feel. It’s delightfully atmospheric and there are no cars or bicycles around. The only sounds you hear are the gentle stream of the canals, laughter as you pass osterias and trattorias and the shuffling footsteps that echo throughout the alleyways.

Day 2: Exploring Dorsoduro — Venice’s University District


We didn’t have much planned (apart from a dinner reservation at La Zucca) for our second day outside of exploring and immersing ourselves in Venice.

We started by heading south towards the Dorsoduro neighbourhood. A quieter area that also serves as the university district. The area is more laid back, offering relaxed and unpretentious bars, cafes and restaurants. Like all of Venice, the architecture is gorgeous and there is rarely a dull moment whilst simply walking.

Aside from getting lost down alleyways numerous times, we managed to make a stop at Cantine del Vino Schiavi, a legendary tavern famous for their offering of cicchetti. The venue was relaxed with locals and tourists alike enjoying their snacks and spritz in the sun. The inside was filled but there was plenty of space outside along the water.

After we made our order we joined the people outside, oblivious to the valuable lesson we were soon to learn. Mere seconds after we put our plate of delicious looking cicchetti alongside the canal a seagull swooped down and consumed an entire one. We were more protective after that.

Overall, we enjoyed the more laid back nature of this student area and would certainly return if we ever came back to Venice, preferably at night time.

More Drinks, Cicchetti and Gelato

Spirits for sale outside Cantine del Vino Schiavi, gelato at Gelateria Alaska and ciccheti at Cantine Do Mori

What we really loved about Venice is how you can just walk everywhere. There are so many different paths to take and places to discover along the way. We made a couple more stops en route back to our guesthouse.

The first one being Cantine Do Mori. This place had a slightly more upmarket feel to it than the previous one. Maybe due to its location as being closer to the main tourist areas. Cantine Do Mori has supposedly been around since 1462, which is mind-blowing to consider that an establishment like this has been providing food and comfort to people for over 550 years. Despite that, it still feels modern.

Next up was Gelateria Alaska, an unassuming gelato shop offering a wide range of interesting flavours. According to the reviews, the quality has seemed to drop off recently, but this was once known as being the best that Venice had to offer in this space. Regardless, we loved it!

Evening Drinks and Dinner at La Zucca

We had made a reservation on our first day at La Zucca. More inclined to snack our way throughout town than jump between fancy osterias, we only planned on doing one whilst here. Our bank accounts would also be thankful for this.

The setting was perfect. A charming establishment sitting alongside a street corner, a small bridge nearby with water flowing below and candlelit tables outside. There was a rather intense man dealing with reservations outside. It was quite a busy night at La Zucca.

Upon sitting down we realised the menu was in Italian. With some help from Google Translate, we managed to find our desired dishes and enjoy a delicious and satisfying meal. Our first proper osteria experience in Italy was a success!

Day 3: Early morning walk to San Marco and Rialto Market

A fisherman in the Rialto Market, the distinct arches of Doge’s Palace and a charming seagull

We had a train reservation at 12:25 pm to take us to Florence. We woke up extra early this morning so we could have a proper walk through San Marco without the crowds.

We highly recommend doing this as the city's beauty truly transcends without the hordes of tourists and selfie sticks. The early morning mist adds another layer of atmosphere and you start to feel like you’re exploring the real Venice.

Gondolas along the pier at Doge’s Palace

We made our way to the San Marco Basilica and Doge’s Palace. There isn’t much to be said regarding the architecture that hasn't been articulated far more effectively in the past, so all we’ll say on that is that they are wonderful and not to be missed.

The Bridge of Sighs is also nearby, and with such an evocative name, we couldn’t miss seeing that either.

In the end, for us, the highlights were the surrounding streets and views of the city from across the Grand Canal. With this last outing, we wrapped up our trip to Venice and gave it one last ‘Ciao!’ before moving onto Florence.

A quiet moment overlooking The Bridge of Sighs

Last thoughts

Overall, we were very satisfied with how we approached Venice. We felt that 2 full days was the perfect amount of time to get a taste of what it has to offer.

The city rests in our minds as a mysterious place that we would love to visit again one day, many years from now. Hopefully, environmental issues don’t cause this beautiful city to vanish forever.

More from Italy

Santorini: 5 Days in the Most Famous Greek Island


Is Santorini overrated?

We knew that the stunning landscapes and gorgeous sunsets would be lovely, but would we be surrounded by a Disneyfied version of Greek culture and unbearable hordes of tourists?

Santorini is one of the most famous holiday destinations in the world so it’s natural to have these fears. What we found was fakeness existed in certain areas, but authenticity and kindness always surrounded it.

View Our Summary

Day 1

  • Exploring Finikia
  • Watching the sunset in Oia

Day 2

  • Exploring Oia and Amoudi Bay
  • Dinner at Lefkes

Day 3

  • Trek between Oia and Fira

Day 4

Day 5

  • Boat tour to the Volcano, hot springs and Thirassia
  • Evening flight to Venice

Day 1: Catching our first glimpse of Santorini

Arriving at Athinios, walking through Oia and a colourful donkey outside Maria’s Place

We travelled to Santorini by Ferry from Milos and arrived in the early afternoon. Our Ferry stopped in Athinios, the new port. Along with thousands of other people, we were shuffled into vans to be taken to our accommodations. We were treated to beautiful views as we drove the winding road from Athinios to the main stretch of land, 260m above sea level.

Our destination was Finikia, a small town just outside Oia, known for having a local and authentic feel but within walking distance to the big draws of Oia.

Maria’s Place and Finikia

We stayed at Maria’s Place. A mid-range option that wouldn’t break the bank. We sacrificed luxury for location and customer service which is a good option in expensive places like this.

Maria, the guesthouse owner herself, was full of character. When we checked in she gave us tips on where to go in Oia, local restaurants and what to do around the island.

We went out for a short walk through Finikia and stopped for lunch at Meze Meze before getting ready to head out that evening.

Watching the sunset in Oia

The last rays of sunlight slowly fading away over Oia

That evening, we walked to Oia to witness one of the most famous sunsets in the world. This is one of the most romantic settings in all of Europe and there is a sense of cautious anticipation in the air. A lot of people are visiting Santorini on their honeymoons. You don’t want the place you’ve dreamed of visiting for years be disappointing, right?

It seemed like everyone on the island of Santorini had made their way out on this night to enjoy the sunset as well. There was a stark contrast between ourselves and other travellers to the glamour of these high-end restaurants and bars.

We foolishly made our way to the Byzantine Castle Ruins, the most famous place to watch the sunset from, to find a spot. That proved impossible.

After some time we found a quiet spot on top of a brick railing (with only a dozen or so others) to enjoy the beautiful view.

We’d have rated it a 10/10 if we had the view to ourselves.

Day 2: Oia & Amoudi Bay

Iconic Santorini windmill against the sunset, bells atop a church and view from the Byzantine Castle Ruins

The following morning we walked back to Oia to explore the area without the heavy crowd and to grab a cheap bite for breakfast. Not the easiest task in this part of the island but we eventually stumbled upon traditional Greek bakery To Fourni, located near the bus stop and main parking area. After devouring a couple of cheese-filled pastries we headed into the glamorous heart of Oia.

The majority of walls and surfaces in town are painted white. They’re painted from a range of soft, pastel shades to stunning, bright pops of blue. This creates that iconic look that the Greek Islands are famous for. The consistency of this look is remarkable.

The distinctive architecture and colour palette of Santorini

There are beautiful old churches to admire and the town is full of winding pathways and platforms to walk or climb up onto. All of these offering different views of the surrounding areas. It’s quite easy to find a spot here to be on your own.

You’ll catch glimpses into some of the ultra-luxurious villas and suites scattered around also. The vertical layout of town takes away some privacy.

We went back to the Byzantine Castle Ruins for a sweeping view of Oia. The area is surprisingly open and without too many fences to stop people from exploring. We saw some people taking full advantage of this and taking some incredibly risky selfies.

Exploring Amoudi Bay

Cliff jumping rock in the distance, views from the walk down and a Santorini donkey

Amoudi Bay can be accessed fairly easily from Oia. All that it requires is a 15–20-minute walk down 300 or so steps. The steps themselves, particularly at the top, have been polished to comical levels like much of the surface in Oia, causing people to often slip at the beginning. Something to keep in mind!

The walk down treats you to views of Amoudi Bay and the surrounding calderas. There are donkeys along the way which you can pay to take you up and down the steps. We politely refused that proposition.

When you reach the bottom you’ll see seafood restaurants, a dive shop and a pick-up and drop-off spot for some boat tours. There is also a ferry that can take you to Thirassia from here a few times a day. A cheaper option if you wish to explore that island than going on a boat tour.

Continuing past the seafood restaurants you will reach a rocky pathway. Making your way through here will lead you to a swimming spot where you can swim out to rock nearby for cliff jumping.

Dinner at Lefkes

Lena enjoying wine during golden hour at Lefkes

Lefkes, located in Finikia, offers traditional food in a contemporary, ambient setting overlooking the small town towards the sea.

The food is delicious and the staff are casual and friendly. It was a short walk from Maria’s Place but still within walking distance from Oia. We would recommend trying this restaurant, especially if you are looking to escape the crowds in Oia and want some delicious, modern greek food. Bookings essential.

Day 3: Trek from Oia to Fira

Overlooking an old, seemingly abandoned church, Imerovigli and Alex trying his best balancing act

The following morning we walked back to Oia to explore the area without the heavy crowd and to grab a cheap bite for breakfast. Not the easiest task in this part of the island but we eventually stumbled upon traditional Greek bakery To Fourni, located near the bus stop and main parking area. After devouring a couple of cheese-filled pastries we headed into the glamorous heart of Oia.

The majority of walls and surfaces in town are painted white. They’re painted from a range of soft, pastel shades to stunning, bright pops of blue. This creates that iconic look that the Greek Islands are famous for. The consistency of this look is remarkable.

A rooftop with a perfect view in Imerovigli

Given that we were staying in Oia, we started from the Oia side and made our way to Fira. I personally feel the trek would be better the other way around. Starting in Fira and finishing in Oia allows for you to start in a busier area where you can grab coffee and breakfast and then finish in more natural, quieter surroundings.

The walk takes you through Oia, Finikia, Imerovigli and Fira and has a constant view of the coastline and sea. Part of the enjoyment is that it's not heavily signposted. Although, at one point we followed a trail around a caldera that turned to a steep drop down at the end. Be wary of this and exercise caution. It may mean you have to follow a road for a while.

When you finish in Fira, there are a lot of options for brunch or lunch and plenty to see in the area too. Being the islands primary commercial hub too, you will easily be able to catch a bus to wherever you are staying on the island.

We were exhausted after the walk and only spent an hour so exploring Fira before heading back to Oia.

Day 4: Day Trip to Megalochori and Pyrgos

Around the town of Megalochori

Megalochori and Pyrgos are smallish towns located south of Fira. They are famous for their quiet, laid back nature and for the wineries that are nearby. Pyrgos was once Santorini’s capital city and both towns maintain a traditional and local charm.

The towns receive their fair share of tour groups during the day, however, so they are by no means untouched. They both maintain the distinct Santorini look and if you veer off the main roads in town you will be by yourself, free to explore and wander as you please. Be careful with that though, it’s easy to end up in someone's backyard The open and cascading nature of their town layouts make this an easy mistake to make.

Flowers in Megalochori

To reach these towns, we caught a bus to Fira and changed at the main bus terminal there. It’s fine to stop at either town and walk to the next one once you are finished as they are very close to one another.

Venetsanos Winery

An incredible view from Venetsanos Winery but a little windy

Venetsanos Winery was easily our favourite drinking establishment we visited during our trip to Greece. The decor is rustic and the layout is open, winding down several levels.

It’s possible to tour the winery itself but we didn’t have time. We ordered from the tasting menu and tried a few reds and a rosé. Keep in mind we aren’t wine connoisseurs, but I can safely say they were all amazing.

Our sommelier was a young, friendly guy from Athens who told us stories about his parties in Santorini and then invited us to a beach party later that night. We took a raincheck on that one but enjoyed his energy.

We also ordered a side of the tastiest vine leaves we’ll likely ever eat in our lives. They aren’t to be missed.

Santo Wines Winery

Wine tasting at Venetsanos Winery, The main balcony at Santo Wines Winery and the sunset view

To finish the day we headed to the nearby Santo Wines Winery for some more wine tasting and to watch the sunset, seemingly, once again, with most of the tourists on the island.

This is the more popular of the 2 big wineries in the area but we enjoyed Venetsanos Winery more. This place seemed to lack character. If it wasn’t for its location there wouldn’t be much to be said about it at all.

In front of where we sitting were a couple of aspiring influencers. For the entire hour we were there they recorded Instagram stories, took selfies, and asked staff members to take photos of them. We (and everyone around us) sat in awkward discomfort as we tried to enjoy the view of the sunset which was beyond them.

Too drunk to handle reading the bus schedule we arranged for a minivan to take us home to Finikia.

Day 5: Boat trip to the Volcano and Thirassia

Our evening flight wasn’t until midnight so we wanted to use our last day to see a different side of the region.

We took a budget-friendly tour out to trek the volcanic island of Nea Kameni, sail past a sulfuric hot spring and spend the afternoon in Thirasia.

We paid 45 euros each for our tour and you can pay a bit more to see the sunset in Oia afterwards. There are plenty of higher-end tours you can go on as well if you’re willing to splurge.

Trekking on the volcanic island of Nea Kameni

Views of the Sanorini skyline from Nea Kameni

There is a slight sulfuric smell in the air that lends credibility to what you’re about to embark on. The trek from the port to the top of the volcanic hill is quite flat and easy and should take around 45 minutes.

The highlights are the views across the sea towards Santorini. The turquoise waters contrasting beautifully against the volcanic rocks, luxury cruise liners and island of Santorini.

Our guide was very well informed on the area, although we, unfortunately, missed out on most of what she was saying as we were away from the group exploring on our own.

Exploring Thirasia

Rundown building in Thirasia and view of the bay from high above

The last stop is a portside town on the quiet island of Thirasia. There isn’t much to do here but there is a steep walk up the caldera that will treat you to some beautiful views, once again.

There are also some seemingly abandoned buildings at the top. Relics of a past attempt at turning this area into a tourist haven? Who knows. Its a mystery to us, for now.

There are places to stop for tea, coffee and lunch at the top. We finished the tour after this stop, getting off at a port near Finikia as the rest of the tour boat went off to watch the sunset in Oia (old news for us at that point).

Our next stop was Venice! Read about it here.

Last thoughts

Santorini was truly magical. We loved our time here and feel that there is something for everyone. It wasn’t the overrated tourist trap we feared it would be.

Being here felt like you were part of something too. There is a definite excitement in the air when you visit places of this magnitude as we mentioned earlier, and you’ll feel it during your entire stay.

Combine Santorini with one of the lesser-known Greek Islands, like Milos, and you’ll get a great sense of what they have to offer.

What we would have done differently

  • We didn’t end up going to any ‘typical’ beaches during our trip to the Greek Islands. Perhaps we should have dedicated a day here to do that?
  • Visited Thirasia on a day trip from the local port and had more time to explore. I feel there was more to this island that we missed due to our short timeframe that our tour had stopped here for.


More from Greece

The Gili Islands: What to do with 4 days on Gili T


Getting there

There are several ways to get from Bali to the Gili Islands. After spending quite a bit of time doing the research, we believe the fastest and easiest way by far is by a fast ferry, of which there are many operators in a competitive market.

Some companies have better reputations than others and those that do charge higher prices. Safety is the big factor in all of this. There have been several ferries that have sunk over the years, and reading up on Trip Advisor about the safety is a good way of scaring yourself out of going altogether.

For this reason, we booked 2 return tickets with Bluewater Express. Overall, we were very happy with our choice and the service from start to finish was convenient and professional.

We booked tickets through their website and could select which harbour we wished to depart by and arrive to. This was very convenient for us as we were staying in Ubud when we left, so Padang Bai was the best harbour for us to leave from. Uluwatu was where we were going to be staying when we got back, so Serangan was the best harbour to arrive back to.

You can fly from Densapar to Lombok, skipping the Lombok Strait but having a long drive to the harbour from the airport to make up for it. This is worth doing if the thought of the fast ferry scares you, but will definitely end up costing more. It can also take longer depending on where you are staying.

Why Gili T?

Our balcony at the Kaleydo Villas, a cyclist asks for directions in the town centre and a colourful local street

Gili T is the largest and most developed of the Gili Islands. Lonely Planet has a good write up on the 3 main islands and their differences. Despite its reputation as the “party island”, we found that this meant it offered more variety as far as bars, restaurants and accommodation go. March is considered the low season in Bali too, and we wanted to be somewhere with people around.

Gili T offers makes a great base to explore the other islands if you are so inclined. The central east area of the island acts as the town centre and is where you will find all the tour agencies, restaurants, convenience stores and all ranges of accommodation.

The other islands lack this level of convenience and offer more of that “desert island feel”. However, if you are willing walk or cycle to some of the areas on the western and north eastern parts of the islands you will feel a world away from the hustle and bustle of the town centre.

Where to stay

This plays into where you will want to stay on the island too. We chose the Kaleydo Villas and couldn’t have been happier without choice. The property is located a 5-minute walk from a stretch of sand on the northeast. The staff were brilliant, friendly and very helpful. They helped to create a “home away from home” feeling. There are some great places to eat nearby too, but a walk into town only takes 15 minutes anyway (or a 5-minute cycle).

So it’s important to determine what matters most to you. For us, it was the combination of convenience and easy access.

Life on Gili T

Coffee options at Seniman Coffee Studio, view from Cafe Pomegranate and purple skies over rice terraces at sunset

One of the most charming characteristics of Gili T is the complete lack of motorised vehicles. When you hop off the ferry you will see horse-drawn carriages being used in place of taxis and locals and tourists alike getting around by bike or just simply walking.

You can walk around the entire island in 2 hours so getting around is easy. It’s great to have no reliance on transportation and sharing roads with horse and carriages becomes something you adapt to quite quickly.

Renting a bike is a popular thing to do and makes getting around the island quick and easy, although the roads after a night of rain will be wet, muddy and the potholes act as mini brown swimming pools.

There is a mosque on the island, and you’ll often hear the prayers early in the morning which can cause you to wake up early. Bring sleeping plugs if you are worried about this, we were woken up more often by this than pounding nightclub music, oddly enough.

Restaraunts & Bars

We didn’t expect world-class dining on this small tropical island but some of the restaurants we tried in Gili T were amazing, with lot’s of options too. Some of the highlights include:

Pituq Cafe: A vegan cafe serving up some seriously delicious dishes. The staff are lovely and the menu has a lot of variety (Try the laksa and tempeh curry dish!). We ate here twice but could have happily eaten here every day.

Pizzeria Regina: We didn’t expect to try one of the best pizza’s we have ever eaten on Gili T, but here we are. Check it out, they know what they are doing.

Jali Kitchen: Excellent Indonesian food. A bit pricier than what you’ll usually pay, but worth every rupiah.

Danima Restaurant: Affordable Italian cuisine and seafood on the beach by candlelight. Enough said. Try the oysters.

The bars themselves don’t disappoint either, although you’d expect nothing less from the party capital of the Gili Islands. There are plenty of bars along the main strip in the town centre where it seems like the party keeps going all night such as the Sam Sama Reggae Bar.

Every night of the week a different bar hosts the “nightly party” which keeps things fresh. This type of thing isn’t really our scene, but The Drinking Traveller has a great blog post on it that details a lot of the specifics.

We tended to gravitate more to the beach clubs and “beanbags-on-the-beach” type setups. These places were the definition of chilled out. Every evening for us was spent on the west side of the island in one of these places watching the sunsets that the Gili Islands are famous for. There are plenty of bars around, so pick one that looks fun and enjoy the views.

Despite being the low season, there was still a good amount of people visiting the island and you could always find places to chill with good energy. I’ve heard that even during the high season the island never feels too full, and with there being so many bars and restaurants around it seems you will always be able to find a place to relax and hang out with a shake, cocktail or Bintang.

The beaches

Goats relaxing on the beach

The beaches in Gili T are stunning, and you’ll have no trouble at all finding your own private spot to soak up the sun. The beaches on the west side of the island are the quietest and are great to relax. We were advised not to swim on this side of the island, and the waves did indeed look a little choppy when we were out there. Unfortunately, Gili T isn’t the best island when it comes to swimming in the ocean, something that we were looking forward to doing.

The best swimming can be found in the northeast party of the island, although you will have to step on some sharp rocks and coral whilst getting into the water. A fun thing to do is grab some snorkelling gear and swim out around this part, there is plenty of sea life to look out for.

Gili T is famous for its turtles, although we weren’t lucky enough to spot one during our snorkelling missions.

For the best snorkelling, take a day trip out on a boat. There are plenty of tour agencies offering day trips where they will take you around to different spots. Gili T is also known as an affordable and safe place to get a PADI diving licence.

Final thoughts

Beach bonfires, a sea swing at sunset and inland homes

A great place to chill out for a few days. There is something for everyone here and is an excellent place to eat and party. The days will blur together and you won’t know where the time went, but you will come back feeling relaxed and recharged. Unless you’re nursing a viciously strong hangover.

Our next stop was South Bali. Uluwatu in particular, known for its amazing surf and hidden beaches.

More from Indonesia