48 hours in Florence

The birthplace of the Renaissance and home to famous art, architecture, and some of the world’s most delicious food and drink, Florence is a living, breathing masterpiece. Sure, 48 hours will never truly be enough, but here’s the best of where to go and what to do (and eat!) while you’re there. DAY ONE 9:00 […]

10 things you didn’t know about the Colosseum

No trip to Rome is complete without marveling at the Colosseum. But just getting close to this wonder of the world is not enough for those who want to hear its stories and secrets. To help quench your thirst for knowledge, here are 10 things you (probably) didn’t know about Italy’s iconic amphitheater. 1- It’s […]

8 amazing ‘second cities’ in Europe

Often overlooked but never underwhelming, these 8 so-called second cities give their bigger, more famous compatriots a run for their money.  What second cities lack in size, they make up for with amazing things to do, see, taste, and snap. So if you’re planning a European city break, why not look beyond the well-worn streets […]

8 megacities you have to visit

The thrill of speeding traffic, the buzz of thousands of voices, and the electricity of a skyline at night: there’s a lot to be said for visiting a new city. But let’s take things up a notch. Experience the megalopolis — worlds unto themselves, these giant cities amass some of the most exciting attractions to […]

48 hours in Florence

The birthplace of the Renaissance and home to famous art, architecture, and some of the world’s most delicious food and drink, Florence is a living, breathing masterpiece. Sure, 48 hours will never truly be enough, but here’s the best of where to go and what to do (and eat!) while you’re there.

DAY ONE

9:00 AM
Buongiorno, sunshine. Start your day at an authentic Italian bar (no, not for a Campari soda — for caffè). Follow your nose through the streets until you’ve sidled up to the right counter. Then, order your coffee of choice — but make it a milky one. Drinking cappuccino and latte macchiato after breakfast is non va bene. Pair your steaming caffè with a flaky cornetto or a jam and cream-filled bombolone and enjoy your meal while standing.

10:00 AM
After you’ve dusted off stray pastry crumbs, it’s time to explore the city. Head to the historic center and marvel at the Florence Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage site that took two centuries to complete. Most famous for the magnificent Duomo, a visit to Florence wouldn’t be complete without a climb to the top. However, major sites often leave you struggling for elbow room. Your best bet? Booking a tour in advance. It saves time, energy, and ensures you’ll have the best possible experience. Beat the crowds with priority entrance to the cupola and soak in a panoramic view of the city as you sip on complimentary water. Picture-perfect all year long, now is the time for shameless selfies and fun group photos. After you’ve gotten the perfect picture, head down to admire the rest of the cathedral.

1:00 PM
No self-respecting Italian is going to sit down to lunch before 1:00, which means you shouldn’t either. While most restaurants close between lunch and dinner for riposo (afternoon break), plenty of places will still be open (orario continuato) if you stay close to the city center. Sit down at a trattoria and dine on panino con lampredotto, a famed Florentine sandwich, or tortelli di patate (potato-stuffed pasta). If you’re feeling up to it, now would also be the perfect time for a gelato.

 

3:00 PM
Stick around the historic center and get to know the city’s origins on a walking tour. Learn about more than 2,000 years of history in the city of Dante, Leonardo da Vinci, and Michelangelo. Discover Florence’s Roman roots at the Piazza della Repubblica and pause for a picture or two at the famed Ponte Vecchio. Traditionally topped with clusters of buildings since its construction in 1345, the bridge is lined by jewellers.

4:00 PM – 8:00 PM
All that walking is enough to make anyone hungry. Learn to cook a true Tuscan meal in a four-hour course. Head to the tree-lined Piazza D’Azeglio in Sant’Ambrogio and prepare a meal of your choosing from fresh ingredients. Top it all off with perfectly paired wine — salute!

DAY TWO

9:00 AM
Sample another Italian classic for breakfast today. Order a milky coffee and munch on fette biscottate (tiny, slightly sweet toast). Do not order an espresso: this is a technical term in Italian, not an everyday one. Instead, ask for un caffè.

10:00 AM
Yesterday was all about architecture and views. Today, you’ll get up close and personal with artwork at the Uffizi Gallery, one of the oldest art museums in the world. With fame comes the masses — the lines can get pretty long here. Not to worry: priority entrance and a guided tour through the galleries will make the experience seamless. Once you’ve climbed to the top, head back down to see the highlights: Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus,” Caravaggio’s “Medusa,” and the only painting made on wood by Michelangelo.

 

12:00 PM
After you’ve gotten your masterpiece fix, head up to the Piazzale Michelangelo in the Oltrarno district. The most famous square in Florence, you’ll be surprised to find you’re familiar with the view — after all, it’s on dozens of postcards and insanely ‘grammable.

13:00 PM
Stay in Oltrarno and enjoy a sit-down meal of bistecca alla fiorentina (Florence’s famous steak dish) or grab a calzone and eat as you explore back alleys and winding streets. Next, head to the Boboli Gardens and learn about the powerful Medici family as well as some of the greatest patrons of the Renaissance. Once you reach the Pitti Palace, be sure to admire paintings by Caravaggio, Rubens, Tiziano, and Raffaello.

5:00 PM
If you’re feeling a bit peckish, it might be time for merenda, a traditional afternoon snack. Sit down at a cafe and enjoy fresh bread, cheese, tomatoes, and ham alongside a generous glass of red wine. Make sure you eat your fill because dinner is still a few hours away.

 

 

8:00 PM
Hopefully, you’ve indulged in a gelato (or two) during the afternoon, so Italian dinnertime doesn’t have you too hungry. Instead of heading back to the city center, swing by Piazza Santo Spirito. Full of markets and students by day, the square comes to life in the evening, filling up with locals and visitors. Sit down in the first place that catches your eye and settle in — you’ve just found the perfect place to wine, dine, and plan your next trip to Florence.

10 things you didn’t know about the Colosseum

No trip to Rome is complete without marveling at the Colosseum. But just getting close to this wonder of the world is not enough for those who want to hear its stories and secrets. To help quench your thirst for knowledge, here are 10 things you (probably) didn’t know about Italy’s iconic amphitheater.

1- It’s practically a new-build
We all know the Colosseum is very old, but how old is very old? Well, its foundations were laid way back in 72 AD, and the construction was completed in just eight years under the watchful gaze of emperors Vespasian and Titus. While the Colosseum may date back some 1950 years, it’s practically a new-build compared to the Pyramids of Giza, which are over twice as old, while Stonehenge is thought to have been built some 5000 years ago.

2- It wouldn’t look good on a fridge magnet
There are certain things you can’t imagine having another name, and the Colosseum is definitely one of them. Believe it or not, Italy’s icon was originally called the Flavian Amphitheater. This not-so-catchy-name (that, let’s face it, wouldn’t look as good on a fridge magnet) comes from the all-powerful Flavian dynasty who ruled the empire from 69 AD to 96 AD. Historians believe the current name originates from ‘The Colossus of Nero,’ a 35-meter tall bronze statue that stood outside the amphitheater.

3- The infamous Emperor never set foot inside the arena
When you think of the Roman Empire, one man’s name springs to mind: Julius Caesar. You can almost imagine him watching gladiatorial battles in the Colosseum while enjoying a glass of wine or two. Yet while the Colosseum and Julius Caesar are two icons of Rome, the infamous Emperor never set foot inside the great arena. As you now know, the Colosseum was finished in 80 AD while Julius Caesar was assassinated almost 125 years before the first games even happened. It was, in fact, Emperor Vespasian who commissioned the Colosseum while his son, Emperor Titus, oversaw the final stages of construction after his father’s death.

4- Woe betide any slave who struck the emperor
The majority of gladiators, who were called the Kings of Entertainment, were slaves or former prisoners. It was somewhat unusual (putting it mildly!) when Emperor Commodus decided to take his obsession with the sport from the stand to the arena floor. As you can probably imagine, his fights were far from fair. His opponents would use wooden swords and woe betide any slave who struck the emperor. While his fights wouldn’t draw much blood for the baying crowd, his ego-boosting act of slaying animals sure did.

5- Mock naval battles sound pretty far-fetched
Flooding the Colosseum to hold mock naval battles sounds pretty far-fetched, but the Romans do have previous. Julius Caesar was famous for holding small (but incredibly expensive) ‘naval battles’ on man-made islands in Rome. There were plans to hold an event of this like in the Colosseum, but historians still debate if one ever took place in Rome’s iconic amphitheater

6- It’s in pretty good shape — but not immaculate
For an almost 2000 years old building, the Colosseum is in pretty good shape – but not immaculate. That’s because several earthquakes have shaken the famous site, causing damage mainly to the south side. The rubble was quickly used to build churches and palaces found across Rome.

7- The “Gate of Death” was located to the West
Of the Colosseum’s 80 entrances, 76 were used for the general public while the other four were built to the cardinal points. Important dignitaries used the south and north entrances. The two remaining gates were for the gladiators – but they served two very different purposes. The ‘Gate of Life’ was found to the east. This is where gladiators would enter before the spectacle began. The ‘Gate of Death’ was located to the west. This is where dead gladiators were carried out. It’s estimated that around 500,000 people and over a million animals were killed in the Colosseum.

8- Entry to the games were free
If you were short of cash but enjoyed the blood and thunder of the Colosseum, you were in luck – provided you were Roman, that is. Emperors used the arena to promote their political policies, so entry to the games was free to all Romans. Foreigners were of no political use to the leaders, so they had to shell out a coin or two to watch the spectacle.

9- The Colosseum didn’t look impressive enough
For the Hollywood movie Gladiator, director Ridley Scott actually got permission to film inside the most famous amphitheater in the world. Imagine the bureaucracy. However, Scott later decided the Colosseum didn’t look impressive enough so took the film to Malta, where he built his own ‘Colosseum’ to film the movie.

10- It’s massive. Absolutely massive.
It’s massive. Absolutely massive. It could sit an incredible 87,000 spectators, making it the largest amphitheater in the world, according to the Guinness World Records. In comparison, London’s ultra-modern Wembley Stadium can seat just a couple thousand more. While today’s stadiums share many of the same characteristics of the Colosseum, there are, as you would imagine, some distinct differences – but not always for the better. As well as enjoying free entry, the stadium could empty in just 10 minutes. Think of that next time you’re waiting for an Uber after a concert!

Learn more about the Colosseum with our in-depth, 3-hour guided tour. Read more here.

8 amazing ‘second cities’ in Europe

Often overlooked but never underwhelming, these 8 so-called second cities give their bigger, more famous compatriots a run for their money.  What second cities lack in size, they make up for with amazing things to do, see, taste, and snap. So if you’re planning a European city break, why not look beyond the well-worn streets of the continent’s capitals and head to these underrated destinations?

1- St. Petersburg, Russia
If world-class museums and galleries, magnificent churches, and impressive theaters sound like something you’d enjoy, St. Petersburg is the place for you. Start by exploring the renowned Hermitage Museum. With over 1500 rooms, including a section in the Winter Palace, you could spend a lifetime wandering its opulent hallways. If you manage to pull yourself away from the Hermitage, take a stroll through the city, passing the picture-book Church of the Savior of Spilled Blood as well as crossing several quaint bridges that loop over canals. Just 30 km south of St. Petersburg lies the unmissable Catherine Palace. Once the summer residence of Russian Tsars, the beautiful palace is now a firm favorite of day trippers – and it’s easy to see why.

2- Porto, Portugal
Wine and dine until you drop in this gorgeous Portuguese city, which is one of the highlights of any trip to this picture-perfect country. Take the small funicular up Muralha Fernandina, an old city wall, and you’ll be rewarded with unbeatable views of port cellars, tiled houses, and the striking Dom Luís I bridge. Explore the hilly city center, snapping the colorful facades as you go, before sampling a glass or two of the wine that Porto is synonymous with. For the wine lovers among you, a trip to the vineyards of Douro Valley is an absolute must.

3- Hamburg, Germany
Hamburg will steal your heart in the blink of an eye, especially at night when the lights come on and the harbor twinkles in the darkness.  Wake up early on Sunday (or just head straight there from the nightlife hotspot of Reeperbahn) to check out St. Pauli fish market. As well as mingling with local traders, who jockey for the freshest fish at the best prices, you can pick up a tasty treat at the street food stalls that call the market home. No visit to Hamburg is complete without visiting the Elbphilharmonie, perhaps Germany’s (maybe even Europe’s) most striking piece of modern architecture. From the concert hall, you’re just a short walk from the Instagram-worthy canals and warehouses of Speicherstadt, Hamburg’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site.

4- Cork, Republic of Ireland
Cork encapsulates everything that’s great about Ireland: fine food, friendly folks, and fantastic scenery. Sample the best of Ireland’s second city by taking a walk along St. Patrick’s Street, stopping by the English Market to pick up picnic necessities that can be enjoyed in Fitzgerald’s Park. Cork is also perfectly situated to explore the Emerald Isle’s wild coastline: Head west to the Cliffs of Moher or south to visit Mizen Head, Ireland’s southernmost point.

5- Graz, Austria
Austria is a great place for food lovers, and Graz is no exception. For cake-hunters like myself, there’s nothing quite like sitting in a cute café with a fresh Kaiserschmarrn in front of you just waiting to be eaten. Burn off such creamy delights by walking up Schlossberg and enjoying marvelous views of the city. Schlossberg’s clocktower dates back to the 13th century and provides amazing photo opportunities. Before you leave, make sure to have a drink on the Murinsel – a futuristic structure that was built on the Mur River to celebrate Graz being named Europe’s capital of culture in 2003.

6- Split, Croatia
It’s not every day you can sip a coffee while marveling at 2000-year-old architecture, but that’s exactly what awaits you in Split, Croatia’s charming second city. Head to Diocletian’s Palace and the Cathedral of Saint Domnius to gaze upon two of Split’s most famous ancient architectural beauties. As you stroll along the winding, narrow streets of the old town, you can’t fail to miss the warm sea breeze that calls locals and visitors alike to the sparkling Adriatic Sea. Once you’ve topped up your tan on the nearby beaches, take a day trip the fairytale-like Plitvice Lakes. The waterfalls and lakes on display at the national park will likely be the highlight of your trip.

7- Thessaloniki, Greece
Anyone with a fascination with history will want to pay a visit to Greece’s second biggest city. First up, head to the harbor to check out the White Tower, Thessaloniki’s most famous sight. Standing at 34m tall, the one-time prison now houses exhibitions as well providing stunning vistas from its viewing platform. The tower’s main entrance gate, Arch of Galerius, dates back to 298 AD and is well worth snapping during a stroll of the old town. Continue your journey back in time with a day trip to the cliff-hugging monasteries of Meteora.

8- Bergen, Norway
Even though it’s deemed one of the wettest cities in Europe, Bergen has so many incredible things to offer that you won’t mind a little rain. This charming Norwegian city stuns with fresh seafood (check out Fish Me at Bergen’s fish market), more museums than you can count, and picturesque fjords waiting to be explored. Catch the funicular up Mt. Floyen to see Bergen from above. There’s nothing quite like watching the sun go down from up there.

8 megacities you have to visit

The thrill of speeding traffic, the buzz of thousands of voices, and the electricity of a skyline at night: there’s a lot to be said for visiting a new city. But let’s take things up a notch. Experience the megalopolis — worlds unto themselves, these giant cities amass some of the most exciting attractions to be seen. From ancient wonders to modern skyscrapers, these expanding urban centers are as exhilarating as they are exhausting, so make sure you’re well prepared when setting out for the adventure of a lifetime.

1- Tokyo, Japan
A bewildering array of neon lights, swarms of people, and speeding bullet trains: Tokyo is the epitome of cities that never sleep. Full to the brim with sophisticated hotels and enticing cuisine, Tokyo attracts travelers looking for futuristic fun. From peering at the city from the world’s tallest freestanding tower to exploring centuries-old temple grounds and classical gardens, Tokyo has something for everyone. Once a fishing village, Tokyo has grown into one of the largest cities in the world and is a hub of Japanese culture.

2- Jakarta, Indonesia
A crowded and chaotic cosmopolitan city, Indonesia’s capital features culture, food, shopping, and electric nightlife. Oh, and some of the craziest traffic in the world. From one neighborhood to the next, Jakarta is a city of contrasts with sleek skyscrapers bordering age-old mosques and markets. Get a feel for the city by exploring bohemian bars and modern clubs or just stroll around while rubbing shoulders with the variety of people the city attracts; from artists to accountants, Jakarta brings people from all walks of life to its streets.

3- São Paulo, Brazil
The beauty of Brazil is only heightened by the casual sophistication of São Paulo. The third-largest metropolis in the world, São Paulo is a capital of cool boasting a dizzying array of things to do. From first-rate museums and art-house cinemas to experimental theatres and over 15,000 bars, São Paulo has it all. Take on the city by night with a local and satisfy your inner foodie at gourmet bistros that would impress even the most zealous of hipsters.

4- Seoul, South Korea
Forward-thinking when it comes to fashion and technology but also deeply traditional, Seoul is the perfect blend of old and new. Mixing modern architecture with ancient pagodas, the city center features serene spaces like a Buddhist temple and the country’s oldest palace. An appealing urban ideal of parks, culture, and design, Seoul is easily navigated thanks to its world-famous subway system, which runs round the clock. Bop along to a K-Pop soundtrack while exploring one of the most vibrant cities in the world — you’ll fit right in.

5- Moscow, Russia
Revered for its grandiose architecture, Moscow is Russia’s majestic crown jewel. An engaging mix of old and shockingly modern, you’ll feel the weight of years passed as you wander towards the heart of the city. Be sure to see the Kremlin and Red Square — the most significant symbol of the Russian Empire. Afterwards, it’s only a short walk to St. Basil’s Cathedral. Whether you appreciate the classics or prefer the contemporary, Russia’s capital is sure to impress. For an extra dose of the country’s culture, head to the ballet at the Bolshoi Theatre or listen to world-class symphonies play Tchaikovsky.

6- Mexico City, Mexico
Things are heating up south of the border as Mexico City joins the ranks of megacities catching the eye of savvy world travelers. Long overlooked, the bustling city is thriving with design-forward hotels and restaurants, as well as galleries exhibiting some of the finest emerging contemporary artists in neighbourhoods like Condesa and Roma. A city where the lowbrow and highbrow are equally enjoyed and respected, fill your day with the unique cultural experience. Head to a Mexican wrestling match known as Lucha Libre and afterwards, enjoy the flavors of a fine dining experience topped off with sips of locally sourced mezcal. Party with Mexico City residents — Chilangos— and live la vida local while taking in the sights of a warm and inviting skyline.

7- Shanghai, China
Shanghai, a city of 24 million people, was once a tiny fishing village. Today, it expands to incorporate an endless vista of skyscrapers as well as zen-style gardens. In Shanghai, centuries past meet the cultural developments of the present. Experience a world of fast-paced modernity, riveting arts and culture, and small neighbourhoods chock-full of cozy comfort foods and sprawling green space. Shanghai is a city that revolves around cuisine and shared experiences, whether at a Michelin Star restaurant or a hole in the wall, the food culture speaks to the spirit of the city itself. Discover this rich and diverse urban space that offers up an endless menu of sights, sounds, skylines, and unforgettable experiences.

8- Delhi, India
Delhi is a city where time has stood still, and yet just around the corner, you can’t help feel but accelerated into the future, traveling forward in time towards the modern day. Begin your trip in Old Delhi, where you can explore a world of colorful spices being hauled in huge sacks by local workers. Then, hop on the modern metro to New Delhi, where you can marvel at colonial-era architecture and sip refreshing beverages to beat the heat. One of the world’s busiest cities, Delhi has a larger population than the continent of Australia, and while this also means a great deal of pollution, this megapolis is a complex weave of cultures, cuisine, and colonial history.