Intro: Florence offers a number of spectacular views over the city from above and lovely views of architecture from ground level. If you're like me and love to take photos in the best light, or simply you love a good view to enjoy the end of the day the below tips should give you plenty of exciting options. Let me know what you think at the comment section at the bottom of the page!
Piazzale Michelangelo is a square with a panoramic view over Florence and was probably my highlight from my fews days there. Its the most perfect place to grab a drink and watch the sunset a top a hill with the most spectacular views over Florence.
The view captures the heart of Florence from Forte Belvedere to Santa Croce, across the lungarni and the bridges crossing the Arno, including the Ponte Vecchio, the Duomo, Palazzo Vecchio, the Bargello and the octagonal bell tower of the Badia Fiorentina. Beyond the city are the hills of Settignano and Fiesole and if you visit at sunset you should be treated to beautiful silhouettes of the famous high trees of Florence in the distance.
Giardino Bardini. The baby of the Boboli Gardens this place often left out or missed simply due to its position hidden by the larger Boboli Gardens. Bordini is basically a beautiful Italian Renaissance garden filled with statues, colourful flowers and a perfect view over the Duomo.
Ponte Santa Trinita (Bridge). For the best view of the famous Ponte Vecchio bridge is from the bridge just a short walk away - the Ponte Santa Trinita. Being on this side of the Ponte Vecchio means that as the sun sets to the West the golden light will fall and glow on the side facing you. From the other side the bridge, although still looking fabulous, is in the shade.
The Westin Excelsior. Is a five star hotel in the centre of historic Florence. I went up to the very popular Belvedere terrace for a sunset cocktail. Here you have views along the Arno river and a nice side able of the Duomo. The staff know how to make you feel welcome and you’ll feel like you are being treated well - make the most of it!
Many people were flooding here for the evening $20 buffet. I arrived at 15 minutes early and just grabbed a cocktail (this was still $8) and there is a minimum charge 7pm-9pm - so be warned. However the buffet did look pretty great and you could get as much food as you desired.
La Terrazza Lounge Bar (https://www.lungarnocollection.com/la-terrazza-lounge-bar)
a cocktail bar at the top floor of the medieval Consorti tower of the fashionable Hotel Continentale. Surrounded by the most impeccable views of the Arno, Brunelleschi's Dome, San Miniato, Palazzo Vecchio and Forte Belvedere.
Grand Hotel Baglioni. - Panoramic Restaurant (https://www.hotelbaglioni.it/en/bars-restaurants/the-panoramic-restaurant) On the fifth floor of the Grand Hotel Baglioni you can find our restaurant, a special place where you can enjoy haute cuisine whilst enjoying a spectacular panoramic view of Florence's skyline.
The Eden Experience
I was thrilled to be invited by Celebrity Cruises UK to an exclusive and experiential event in the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens in New York. The event was set up to celebrate the upcoming launch of Eden a “delightfully unexpected, multi-sensory fusion, one-of-a-kind experience” on board their new ship Edge.
To keep excitement high and create intrigue the specific event details were kept top secret and under wraps with only teasers on information released. I was lucky enough to be there to have the chance to take part and document the experience.
This really was one of the most unique evenings I’d ever taken part in and it left me on such a high. There were so many well executed surprises. If what I took part in was just a glimpse into the world of Eden I truly am confident that the revolutionary experience on board the ship will take it to another level and be something to never forget. Read on to witness what I encountered!
After we’d checked in for the evening and we meandered deeper into the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens we were introduced to the first characters of the evening - elf and fairy like creatures - that lured and enticed us in the direction of the event.
This was a little taster of what's to come.
A flower girl called me over and fed me some kind of appetiser in the form of a seed wrapped in dedicated leaves. I wasn't quite sure what I was eating but I couldn't refuse and almost fell into my own role character as I accepted the treat.
In the distance a Scottish highland band could be heard playing. The chorus of bagpipes the last stop before getting to the bar for the first cocktail of the evening.
The night begins:
As we entered the main room, a huge tall glass room adorned with greenery and grand wooden tables, the dj played upbeat music as we searched for our table numbers - we took a moment to gather around a performance artists doing a mesmerising dance all in tune to the beat. I got the feeling that there would be more of this to come during the meal ahead.
I thought dinner would begin but before I'd had a chance to sit a highlight of the night kicked off.
My ears perked up as I heard the intro to Arcade Fire’s orchestral rock Wake Up. A multitude of characters filled the room as the rock symphony picked up speed.
This track, by one of my favourite bands in the world, really can’t help but lift the mood and add energy to the room. I couldn't help but feel impressed that a modern song had been chosen here. I’d always pictured cruise ships strictly playing cabaret and having camp and over the top “am-dram” performances so this was a more than pleasant surprise. Kudos points here!
It's worth noting that the live vocals of the lead singer were exceptional and pretty much flawless. I'm sure an extensive and skilled casting and the appeal of such a unique event played a big part in securing this talented girl.
The most edgy performance was saved for a space between courses. On paper this may not sound like the top attraction but it was just so gripping, something I’d not seen before and impressive. With a sitar player playing softly in the background the performance was given added tension with the sound of the performers concentrated and slow but heavy breathing. This made you appreciate more than anything else how much effort, concentration and skill was needed by the artist in front of us - see below image or my latest IG post with video to get a better idea.
The dramatic finale kicked off where the Arcade Fire performance began. The golden empress had returned! This time she sang Coldplay’s Paradise (Over 250’000’000 plays on Spotify hints at the huge popularity of this track - play here - link to song). I remember this track sticking with me and having an impact as it was played at the opening ceremony of the London Paralympics 2012, it was in my head for weeks and weeks. I mentioned this to another guest and she gleefully remarked “thats it, that's it, I knew I knew it from somewhere!”. What an ending. Happy vibes all round.
The great thing about the entertainment was that they'd only interact with you as much as you let them. If it's not your thing, perhaps you're shy (have a few more cocktails!), then you can sit back and enjoy watching them interact with others. Want to play a role? Give them eye contact and react to their gestures and I'm sure they’ll give you a personal one on one performance.
We left the dinner to beat boxers and entertainers (some swinging on swings, or passing drinks around) as we headed to the bar for a nightcap and to take a moment, whilst still on a buzz, to discuss the event we'd just had.
FOOD & DRINK
PRE DINNER DELIGHTS:
The first thing that hit me with the pre-dinner snacks and appetisers was the presentation and the vivid colour. They were certainly very eye-catching; with each dish I couldn't help but either ask multiple questions about the ingredients or ask how they should be consumed… or I just went in for the kill and grabbed one!
The drinks were equally fascinating and brightly coloured. Drinks were served in novel ways; with pipettes to add further liquid ingredients, added inside interesting objects such as light bulbs or had decorative green herbs pinned to them.
Dinner IS SERVED:
I started with what sounded like the most “different” as I love the try something new. The Descending Frost was the name. Key ingredient being Sea Urchin, fluke, shiso leaf and melon --- see my latest IG post to see the video of how the waiter grated a sea mist over the dish!
Other novel ways to serve included a salt rock candle which came with a long crater beside it and a “herb garden” plant pot with mini gardening sheers. They were going for the extraordinary here - the food was interactive, playful and had a “wow” factor.
The SPECIAL Dessert:
This is the course. This was the course that the team were most excited about and would smile about whenever discussing it - it's the grand finale of the three course food show! To be honest after such an entertaining dinner I wasn't sure how it could be topped. I totally understood why once I saw the dessert in action. I think the video speaks for itself!
OUTRO & HOW TO BOOK
Thank you, thank you, thank you Celebrity Cruises UK for a wonderful night. I can genuinely say I have been taken aback and left fascinated by what is to come. What is on offer on Eden really is going to be groundbreaking, shatter the "norm" of what is expected on cruises and change many perceptions of what is possible. I look forward to the launch!
If you wish to experience Eden at first hand, Celebrity Edge with homeport in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, making her first sailing on 16th December 2018. Bookings are open at https://www.celebritycruises.co.uk.
Growing a following on Instagram is not an easy task and over the years Instagram has evolved and changed so it can be hard to keep up with the latest strategies on how to grow your followers. Are you interested in learning ways to increase your following for free? Well, read on!
I hope by sharing some advice I can help part with some knowledge I have gained over the years. It is of course just based on my own opinions but hopefully here I carry some credibility here. If you have come across this post and don't know who I am. Here is a bit of information about me. Otherwise feel free to scroll down to the start of the list!
- I've been using Instagram for 5+ years
- I've worked on 10s of Instagram based campaigns and even begun to do some consulting for some well known brands
- I gained a BA(hons) degree in Marketing and then worked in Digital Marketing for 6 years before becoming a "full time Instagrammer"
- I have a decent and organic engagement ratio on Instagram and have gained over 165k+ followers over the years
- I've not cheated or use "bots" ;)
So here goes... 3... 2.. 1...
30 FREE WAYS TO HELP GROW YOUR INSTAGRAM FOLLOWERS:-
1) Engage engage engage! Growing your Instagram following is not an easy task. Its a full time job in itself. You have to be prepared to be active and comment and like often.
2) Think about the relevancy of a person you are engaging with. Engage with people who's content you have a genuine interest in and ones with similar interests to you. For example if you take nature photos you're more likely to be followed by other people who take an interest in that area.
3) Try to reply to everyone that comments on your picture. Even if its just a little thank you. It doesn't take long and it will be appreciated and that person is more likely to form a bong with you and again.
4) Press the "heart button" that sits next to each comment. I do this to every single comment as a minimum. It's a way of tracking who I have replied too and of course you may not feel the need to make a full reply to someone who just leaves you an emoji type comment - at least with this feature you can still show some form of gratitude.
5) Make the effort to go to a users personal page and like and comment some of their photos. I try to do this at least for every person that has themselves been kind enough and made the effort to of left a comment on one of my own photos.
6) Think about writing thoughtful comments on peoples photos. It has become more rare these days that you get comments of such nature so you will stand out from the crowd if you show you're being observant to the picture or the picture text.
7) When you post a photo think about asking questions and give call to actions inviting people to leave a comment.
8) Think about the time that you post. For me the best time is around 2pm GMT as most of my audience is Europe and USA based and by this time West Coast USA has just woken up.
Now that algorithms are in place I find if I post first thing in the morning (9a.m. GMT) that works well too. If the post is a decent one I still find that within the first 24 hours the post gets decent traction.
I also never post on a Friday afternoon. This is the worst time for me. Most of Europe is gearing up for the weekend, they're finally away from their desks, they've put their phones down and they're winding down after a long working week.
9) Use (relevant) hashtags. The great thing with the new explore page on Instagram is that your photo can appear in the "top nine" and be shown to anyone who searches for that tag over the next 12-72 hours (depending on how popular hashtag is and how well your photo is performing)
Don't forget you also only get a set number of hashtags so you should use your choices wisely! Using a popular hashtag such as #wow may get you a couple of additional eyeballs to your page but it will be minimal as the your photo will get pushed down the hashtag search page and out of sight very quickly.
I suggest relevancy as you want your hashtag to target accounts who take an interest in the content you are sharing.
10) Think about using less popular tags using long tail keywords. This could be effective for small and medium accounts who cannot compete with people using the popular hashtags.
11) Target the huge "conglomerate" accounts. The accounts that don't share unique content but share other peoples photo. Accounts such as @beautifuldesitinations who now have over 8 million followers. If these guys share your photos its an incredible way to get your photo and account shown to a huge audience.
Once one of these big accounts shares your photo other "conglomerate" accounts will be made aware of your content and its highly like these accounts will share your photo and give you credit. Its such a great way to get traffic and eyeballs onto your account.
12) Think about your bio, or your story. You don't get many words here so use them wisely but these words will be one of the first things people see when they land on your page. This is your chance to stand out from the competition or to add that added bit of intrigue that will give people a reason to follow you.
I will always remember landing on @zachpassport's page and really falling for his story:- "I am the son of a wanderlust mother & a travel-writing father who met on a bus in Guatemala". I landed on his page whilst he was in the process of exploring the world himself and it helped me to get excited about following his own adventures.
13) Think about having a decent profile picture or even logo. This could make you look more professional, distinguishable or it could portray a part of your personality that would make someone want to follow you.
Be consistent with your photo across all social media accounts. This will help with people who may have stumbled across your work, maybe even a few times, on other social platforms to recognise you when they land on your Instagram page.
14) Quality vs. quantity. That good old argument that you've heard before. The higher the quality of your work the better engagement the piece will get.
15) That leads me on to saying that you should think about your feed layout. Once someone lands on your page you may only get one chance to get them to follow before they leave. Your last 9 photos, the photos people see before scrolling down, are important. "You're only as good as your last photo", or something like that. In short a beautifully layout and designed feed can really help entice someone in!
I know one mega Instagram star who follows this rule religiously and her attention to detail on this has meant that her whole feed layout looks stunning no matter how far you scroll down. It looks so good you don't even feel the need to click on individual image thumbnails to make a judgement or not on whether you'd like to follow her.
16) Set up a photo album on your iPhone and replicate your feed layout. This way you can see how future posts will look. Its possible to press on a photo and move it around and change the order.
17) Posting often vs just posting one per day. I personally just post one photo per day. Due to the new algorithms this photo has a chance to be shown to a wide audience. However if I post another I find there is a chance one photo would be given priority over the other.
However I know a couple of big accounts who post three to four per day and they have seen phenomenal growth. There account is getting so much engagement. Here though I would state that these guys are at the top of their game and the quality of their work is pretty great.
18) Be consistent with content. Consider using apps such vsco to use a similar edit or filter to each post.
19) Geotag your pictures. This will mean your photo can be found when other people search or click through to a particular tag. Just like with normal hash tagging there is a chance to be placed in the top nine of the search grid.
I recommend thinking about when to post using popular hashtags vs. niche ones. For example when I am at a tourist site in London I may want to tag the photo London rather than using the site itself. The London hashtag is more popular so I have more of a chance to be discovered.
20) Promote your Instagram posts on your other social channels such as Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. Use your other channels to and funnel traffic into your Instagram.
One of my Jordan photos on Pinterest also gained over 10'000 "re-pins" and was on the first page for any search related to Petra.
21) Consider having your Instagram url as your main address used on your other social channels. You only get one link on your Twitter and Pinterest profile and I decided to priorities showing my Instagram link rather than my website. Instagram is my main channel of focus and due to the following I have its the most credible and a place I also want brands and potential future employers to see.
22) Tag other Instagram accounts/friends. This photo will show up in their "photos of" section. If tagging a brand it will be an extra way to draw attention to the photo and they may end up sharing it for you.
23) Get tagged in someone else's photo/Instagram Stories. This is a pretty old school way of getting your account some publicity. I like to think its all part of #communityfirst to tag people that are in your photo and to tag people, even if they are not within the shot, that were part of a particular adventure.
24) Enter Instagrams Weekend Hashtag Project. If Instagram pics one of your pictures it is being promoted to over 200 million people. That kind of "free media" is priceless. I think over the years of all the "shout outs" I have got the biggest influx of followers I gained was from being selected for the hashtag project.
25) Use Instagram Stories. Instagram now shows Instagram Stories of people you are not following on the explore page. So simply by using Stories you have a great chance to be shown to a new audience.
Also Stories is a great way to get personality across and to increase loyalty as people begin to feel like they are getting to know you better. I have been so pleasantly surprised, and thrilled, with the engagement from followers after I have shared that extra insight and behind the scenes footage.
26) Reply to peoples Stories posts. Getting a message from someone in your direct mailbox feels so much more personal. I always check out the page of someone who has written a nice reply to one of my stories. Even if I don't follow that person back its likely I will engage in their photos in one way or another.
27) Create and share video content. It feels as those videos don't get the same amount of likes as a photo but I am under the impression Instragram will more likely promote your post on the explore page if you post an interesting video. I've come across small accounts where one of their videos has over a million views - when normally they get 100 or so - all because Instagram picked their video to be put out there on the explore pages of millions of people.
Also most videos on the explore page are the size of 6 photos so it really helps for it to stand out.
28) On that note use the explore page to find new users and accounts that share the same interests that you do. Remember that phase were Instagram only showed pictures based on popularity (which were mainly Celebrity accounts) well those days are over! The explore page is sophisticated and always getting better.
29) Practice photography and have fun. Instagram is an image based platform and your popularity can be based on the quality of your work. The more you practice the better you will get. Don't be afraid to make mistakes and have fun. (I will make a post on photography tips shortly - subscribe to my mailing list below to be ready to read once it goes live!)
Instagram might be very competitive right now but if you have a creative and unique talent there is a chance you can grow quickly. I know accounts that a year ago had 50k followers, and less than myself, but they are now sitting with a following of 350k. This is not possibly by everyone but if you've something special there is a chance you will go far if you work hard.
30) Consider running Instagram competitions and contests. This could be away to get followers to make posts promoting your account or by getting your followers to tag their followers on your photos.
If you'd like to hear more about social media strategies like the below please do sign up to my mailing list here! I'll be trying to get at least one social media strategy post out per month.
Have you dreamed all your life of going to Jordan? I had, for a long time too. I felt so very lucky and privileged to be invited there last year along with a handful of other "Instagrammers" by the national tourism board. Well, its about time I documented my experience and hopefully inspire you to come to the decision to finally go there. First up my top five tips for Jordan, a kind of photo essay with some tips shared along the way. I am going to work on a more comprehensive plan and share it on the blog soon. Hold tight!
First up. Jaw dropping, mind boggling, ancient wonder... Petra, the "rose city". How could this not be number one, right?!
Petra will not disappoint. Go go go. Its one of the 7 new wonders of the world.
Established possibly as early as 312 BC the site remained unknown to the western world until 1812. Sadly due to what is going on in the Middle East Petra's tourism is very low. One benefit then would be that you can avoid crowds and feel like you are *the* explorer in 1812 that came across this site.
I could give a 101 hint and tips on Petra. That will come soon however my TOP TIPS would be:-
- Arrive at Petra early, say 6am, if you REALLY want to be the first here. We found most tourists didn't start arriving until 9am.
- See "Petra by Night" for a truly unique experience of sitting in front of 100 candles glowing and lighting up the Treasury.
- Hire a donkey and guide to get up to the Monastery. This was they most hilarious and energy saving $5 I have ever spent.
2) WADI MUJIB
Want to try something different? Are you adventurous. Do some hiking and canyoning here!
Canyoning is one of the most fun things I have done over the last few years. It's is a must try experience here. One of the best experienced I had on the trip. The scenery left our jaws agape most of the way.
This is the only canyon generally known to newcomers to Jordan. It is under the authority of the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature who organises regular visits there, which are supposedly strictly controlled and supervised - I say this as we just turned up and did the basic hour long hike on our own. So it is possible, with a little fee of course. It is a strenuous trek, with black cliffs 200 meters high, waterfalls and rock pools.
This activity requires a certain level of fitness but you can get a guide. There are climb ropes along the way and you can chill in a waterfall at the end if you need a rest. The way back is super fun as you can slide down certain waterfalls, its super fun!
TOP TIP: Make sure you wear shoes - or you will certianly cut yourself. Also be careful with ALL valuables and consider taking a "wet bag" to place your things in so you can take them along with you.
I'd also recommend starting early and definitely before 3pm so you can make it quite far in, and out again, before it gets dark.
A huge ancient site. Perfect place for taking pretty pictures.
Jerash, a city in northern Jordan, is famous for its stunning and golden Roman ruins.
Jaresh entrance, which includes the museum fee, cost just 10JOD/14USD (see costs of all sites in Jordan here or read the bottom of the ariticle for info on the "Jordan Pass") and opening times vary depending on season but its going to be around 8am to 5pm.
4) WADI RUM DESERT
You've seen the film The Martian, right? Its set here. Along with many other classic films. The whole landscape is otherworldly.
To get a better understanding though this area of Jordan is quite isolated and largely inhospitable to settled life. The only permanent inhabitants are several thousand Bedouin nomads and villagers. There is no real infrastructure, leaving the area quite unspoilt. This really adds to the appeal to me.
Here we took a camel ride, a one hour balloon ride and camped in the most gorgeous and luxury black and white tented bedouin camp or you could call it "glamping in Jordan". Here the sky is so clear that you are almost certain to see the Milky Way in the sky at night. Getting around in a 4x4 would be my top tip too.
Loads more details on how to get there etc. on wikitravel.
5) THE DEAD SEA
Float elegantly on top of a lake, perhaps read a paper whilst your at it. Enjoy stunning pastel tones at sunset and take a mud bath.
I tell all my friends that floating in the Dead Sea is one of those things you just have to try to believe. Its the most surreal of experiences. Its simply impossible not to sink. It's really kind of weird.
I recommend going to the edge and covering yourself in mud too. Once it sets you go into the Dead Sea and wash it all off. Your skin will feel 10 years younger because of it. And its a laugh. Although I was the only one in the group who was a "good sport" and did this.
My last helpful hint... If think you will want to see all these sites and more - seriously think about getting the JORDAN PASS. It will save you time, hassle and money (its around 70USD for entrance to most sites across Jordan).
And don't forget you can see the individual costs of all sites in Jordan here. Have fun!
THANKS FOR READING GUYS. WOULD IT BE HELPFUL FOR ME TO ADD MORE DETAILED INfO? LET ME KNOW BELOW.
MY STAY AT The Sir Adam DESIGN hotel IN Amsterdam.
Are you searching for a luxury but cool hotel in Amsterdam? A cosy hotel for a weekend getaway or perhaps something with style if you're away on business for a few days? This place could be your answer.
I was lucky enough to be invited to the opening of the Sir Adam Hotel a new design hotel in Amsterdam. Sir Adam is part of the expanding and hip Sir Hotels group who already had set up and gained a great reputation in Hamberg, Berlin and another Amsterdam location. I instantly liked the look and feel and branding of these hotels, in particular their use of photography and interior design choices. They also team up with some great local food and coffee brands. Big bonus points from me on that point!
The Sir Adam hotel is bight and airy. It has masucline feel. It consists of lots of concrete and dark and contrast colours. It feels very "Rock and Roll". It has a fantastic view over Amsterdam. This is something not to be taken for granted. Its also an incredibly comfy hotel. I spent a hell of a lot of time in that bed!
The interior of the rooms are beautifully designed by ICRAVE, the renowned New York-based design studio. They really have thought about every little detail to make sure when you arrive you instantly have that feeling that you want to explore every inch.
The comfy hotel bedroom is filled with colourful contemporary art peices and there are fun quirky discoveries such as a Gibson guitar hanging on the wall and a Crosly record player on a desk beside beers and chocolates. Each room is stocked with at least five records and there is a "record store" downstairs where you can go and help yourself. I was blessed with an awesome Depeche Mode album that I played immediately!
I have to admit before I arrived I thought the record player was going to be a total gimmick but NO WAY it was actually a highlight. I became addicted to playing records and made sure I got a new album each time I came up the elevator.
Food and Drink @ The Sir Adam.
The are an abundance of food and drink options in Amsterdam itself but the Sir Adam does offer such tasty options that you will certainly be tempted to eat in. You can rest assure that breakfast is going to be a good one. I recommend the poached eggs and avocado. The standard is up there with something I had become accustomed to during my time in London. You and your stomach won't be disappointed here!
For the main downstairs restaurant The Sir Adam have team up with the trendy and locally known The Butcher (my friends from Berlin were well aware with this popular brand) which is famous not only for its beef burgers but also for its cocktails. In the summer on the second floor the hotel beer garden will be open and if you want "one of the best views of Amsterdam" do go and check out the Lookout. For only $5 you can test your nerve and go on the swing that will dangle you high and over the edge!
We also ate upstairs for dinner one evening - perfect place for sunset and evening dining. The view is incredible and there is a 2 metre wide glass square in the ground that looks straight down onto the floor below. Scary. Great for a snapchat post!
Speciality coffee at the hotel is provided by Bocca my absolutely favourite coffee place in Amsterdam, if not Europe. In terms of pure taste alone at least. I am not "just saying this" and all my social check-in's would prove I'd been going here for years!.... and I always advise friends check out their main cafe when they're in Amsterdam. It also is rated super high on Foursquare and gets a five star rating on Trip Advisor just in case you didn't believe me anyway :)
How DO I get to the SIR ADAM hotel?
At first you may look at the map and think that the hotel is not in the centre but do not let this or the river intimidate you. The free ferry runs very regularly from the Central Station over to the hotel - just come out of the station and take a left and look out for the ferry with the sign stating Buiksloterweg and you will be there at the hotel entrance just 5 or so minutes from once it leaves the mainland. This particular ferry runs 24 hours a day.
To get to the central station from the Amsterdam International Airport its only a 20-30min ride and simply cost $5.
HOW TO BOOK THE HOTEL?
If you want to book for yourself you can go book via Design Hotels here, or simply go directly to their site.
THANKS FOR READING. LET ME KNOW IN THE COMMENTS IF YOU PLAN TO STAY!
Tampa is an "outdoor city", it's got a great young cultural buzz and it has a super interesting and multicultural history that's worth learning more about. It's very dynamic. If you like sunshine, speciality coffee, good food and cigars (!), all set within a youthful liberal buzz Tampa could be the place for you. Read on to find out more and I hope I can help you to plan part of your own Tampa experience.
THINGS TO DO AND SEE IN TAMPA
Gasparilla Festival:- Once a year Tampa host the United States third biggest street parade; Gasparilla. This is a celebration of the legend of Jose Gaspar a mythical Spanish pirate who supposedly operated in Southwest Florida in the early 1800's. To say it was a wild affair would probably be an understatement. Dressed in themed attire and armed with a few cocktails I felt lucky to experience such a unique yet huge event.
Museums:- Before I headed to Tampa I did not know so much about the art scene here so it was a pleasure to come across the fantastic Tampa Museum of Art. This building is beautifully lit in the evening and sits next to creatively multi-coloured palm trees.... so it's well worth checking out this area by night.
We also took the short ferry (with dolphins jumping elegantly beside us) over to the stunning Dali Museum, already getting a decent reputation for its great curation (that's an unintentional tongue twister!), and then popped next door to see the Chihuly Collection. It's worth going to the former for the architecture alone!
Historical Ybor City and Guided Tour:- Start the day by taking the yellow tram to Ybor City if you want to start the visit to Ybor in a vintage, leisurely and classy style.
Ybor City is fascinating. Founded in the 1880s by Vicente Martinez-Ybor and other cigar manufacturers and was populated by thousands of immigrants, mainly from Cuba, Spain, and Italy. For the next 50 years, workers in Ybor City's cigar factories rolled hundreds of millions of cigars annually. Make sure to pop your head into one of the cigar making stores, it smells amazing and is rather mesmerising to watch.
Whilst here we went to the Ybor City Museum and met up with the super adorable and knowledgeable local historian, Wally Reyes. Even if you thought tours were not your thing please do get in touch with the museum just to see if Wally is available. I am certainly gutted I didn't get a video or portrait of him so you'd get an idea of how charming he is!
Kayaking within nature:- I drove to the outskirts of Tampa to immerse myself into some backwaters by canoe. I was accompanied by a very lovely and knowledgeable guide at Canoe Escape. Abundant wildlife, including crocodiles and sunbathing turtles, led me to attempt some nature shots, such as the below, whilst ambling along and enjoying moving at a little slower pace and enjoying the fresh air.
Skydiving and an exciting new Golf concept:- Just a short drive along the highway one evening I took a super thrilling indoor skydiving class at iFly and had a great laugh playing the novel new kind of driving range style golf at Top Golf - both on the same site. Top Golf is a new craze taking over America where you hit electronically tagged balls into lit targets on a driving range field. Super unique. The food and beer here was on par with a decent American diner.
Beaches, Sunset and Picnic Spots:- This is Florida. This is the Sunshine State. The super Sunshine State! So I guess like me you're going to want to know a little about the beaches and spots to get beautiful sunset photos. The great thing with Tampa is that you get the benefits of city life but within 15 or so minutes you can take yourself to stunning spots to relax and watch the sunset.
First up I recommend Ben Davies Beach, just by Whiskey Joes (a great place to watch the sunset and have a cocktail). This is the location of the well "Instagrammed" three clustered palm tree spot too, so you can walk away with a photo that is bound to get a good response from your friends back home!
The most secluded spot, and well worth the small drive south, is called Picnic Point Park. There is also Cypress Point Park if you wanted somewhere more on the north side, and closer to the highways, part of Tampa.
If you are a sunrise fanatic like me, you need to head to Ballast Point Park. Here you can get a view of the whole of Downtown Tampa. If the season is right (around summertime) the sun will rise directly behind the impressive sky rises across the water.
Florida Aquarium. The last tip for things do to would be to check out the Florida Aquarium when you're looking to escape the sunshine. There is an interesting array of local fish and birds and there are affordable options to swim in the huge shark tanks - if you wanted to be extra daring!
EATING IN TAMPA.
The Oxford Exchange is a restaurant, bookstore, lifestyle gift store, co-working space, design studio and event venue in Tampa, Florida. Its simply stunning. I couldn't get enough of this place. I ate here for brunch and went back twice for coffee and twice to visit the Warby Parker store to choose some glasses and each time I swung by Aesop, just to take in some smells. I said to my American host how Aesop had taken over London and Berlin and that setting up shop in the Oxford Exchange speaks volumes for the type of cool (read: uber hipster!) this place must be.
Ulele was the early food highlight for me. The food was exquisite and the interior space and busy and upbeat atmosphere made it my top tip for the downtown Tampa area. The restaurant and brewery serves native-inspired food and spirits from a rich variety of multicultural influences, so you are bound to find something unique here.
For starters you simply have to try the Alligator Hush Puppies. You. Will. Not. Regret. This! I am not joking but I popped in to get these for take-away on a second day. The sauces are mouth watering!
Columbia Restaurant is something different but a long standing classic (it's been owned and operated by 5 generations over 110 years!) and you sit within what feels like a grand Cuban hotel from the 1960's. The queue, even mid-week was long, and that simply showed how popular and worth a visit it was.
If I could give you one tip it would be to try the Columbia Original "1905" Salad to go along with your choice of mains.
Elevage. Just take a look at this menu! We had Lobster Gnocchi and BBQ Oysters to start. These both totally blew my mind. The flavours were out of this world. This place is worth the treat.
For mains we had Blackened Grouper with Crispy Brussel Sprouts and Grits for sides. The dinner for two options come highly recommend.
Bern's Steak House. Opposite the Epicurean and Elevate is one of the most famous steak houses in the USA, Bern's Steak House. It may be pricey and busy but it will be a once in a lifetime type steak experience. If you come to Tampa do consider to check this place out and book ahead if you want to go!
Mini Doughnut Factory. I have focused a lot on dinners here but one morning we ate something of a new trend - "mini-doughnuts" from Mini Doughnut Factory. These may be small but they were voted Tampa's tastiest doughnuts and the benefit of mini doughnuts is that you will get to try at least... four flavours! ;)
Alternatively you could try out Dough for normal sized doughnuts. I didnt go here but this place is highly rated on Foursquare and Facebook.
DRINKING IN TAMPA
Beer, Beer, Beer!
Taste multiple beers with Brew Bus "the ultimate craft beer experience". For me Sunday was the best time to make the most of this opportunity as locals and tourists alike will keep the atmosphere lively but take a look at the different tour options here to see whats right for you.
Coffee, Coffee, Coffee!
I'm a bit of a coffee addict, maybe you could call me a snob! Tampa has a thriving coffee scene and during my time there I've been to and can recommend Buddy Brew (there are three! but the Hyde Park branch was favourite and if the seats outside are free in the morning I'd go for them as they're facing the morning sun), Foundation, Caffeine and The Lab. I didn't get the chance to try this one, due to the name, which would probably suit me most; Ginger Beard Coffee. I'm listing all these as I did a fair bit of research and digging to discover them - hopefully saving you some time but giving you faith that you can go to Tampa and have a high standard third-wave coffee! All, mostly, served by friendly and chatty baristas. This hospitality in the service industry is a reason why I love travelling to the States.
Epicurean was the standout place and coolest and most hip spot for me. An upscale boutique hotel especially good for the foodies out there. There is a culinary theater, restaurant, wine shop, patisserie, spa and lovely rooftop bar all within the locations.
THAK YOU FOR READING.
STAY IN TOUCH?
JUST PRESS A SOCIAL BUTTON BELOW!
Are you flying Naples to head to the Amalfi coast this summer? Have you considered making a stop off in Naples en route? Well last week I spent a few days exploring Naples on a photography type press trip and I hope my insights here can give you some inspiration and encouragement to make a stop off in this wonderful and charismatic Italian city.
THINGS DO and see IN NAPLES. Museums, Churches and A Banksy.
A highlight for me, as ever on these kinds of trips, is simply wandering around the old towns, finding small decaying streets to get lost in, soaking up the atmosphere and eating and drinking as much as I can. For this the Historic part of Naples is perfect for that kind of activity and will give you plenty of inspiration to whip out the camera and take a lot of pictures. Here are things you can do and visit whilst out and about touring the streets.
Churches:- Naples is a city filled with churches, 500 of them in fact, and if you go to just one then you simply have to make a stop off at the main "Duomo". Its a lavish cathedral with gorgeous neo-Gothic facade & art-filled chapels, plus 4th-century mosaics & relics.
We also visited the beautiful, serene and walled courtyard of Santa Chiara, one of Naples most beloved churches. I found it a great place to find your zen and get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Inside Santa Chiara you will also find fascinating tombs, ancient bath and an archeological museum.
Gallery Borbonica. For a super unique and somewhat eery experience that you probably won't find anywhere else I highly recommend going deep underneath Naples by visiting the underground caverns and "bourbon tunnels" at gallery Borbonica. You'll be blown away by the sheer size of this place and they've a number of fantastic tours if you want to be guided through each cavern. Also when the tunnels were re-discovered several vehicles and motorcycles of the 40s, 50s and 60s as well as statues and remnants of World War II were left to rust and the gallery allows you to get up close so you can inspect for yourself. It also only cost 10 euros to get in (a total bargain!) and is currently sitting at number 2 on Trip Advisor for "Things to do in Naples" so you really don't want to miss out.
Its worth noting that for the 'Standard tour" there isn't even a need to book in advance and you can start the visit every Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 10.00 12.00 15.30 17.30 starting from either of the entrances.
Parco Sommerso di Gaiola Area Marina. An hour long hike which includes trekking through a fascinating tunnel, which was used to shelter people during World War ll, takes you to a peaceful coastal park. If the weather is right I hear its a great place to relax, kayak and with snorkelling that allows you to see ancient ruins.
City Bus Sightseeing. Without trying to state the obvious but this is an open top bus that tours Naples, provides historical information on each site and allows you to hop on and hop off at your own pace, and all for about £18 for 24hr. We did this and it took us to some great photogenic vies of the city and surrounding volcanoes. Its starting point for us was near the Gaiola Area Marina and Gallery Barbonica so it was another way of getting us transported back into the historic centre.
Graffiti and street art fans would love getting lost whilst wandering around central Naples thin alleyways. This place has some seriously interesting street art. The highlight for me was the Banksy. A piece of his called the Holy Virgin is, I believe, his only work in Italy.
If you want to cheat feel free to check my map which shows the exact-ish location of the Naples Banksy.
Eating and drinking in the Centre of Naples
If you live like me and think PIZZA IS EVERYTHING then let this be the main reason you make a stop in Naples. I can say without a doubt I ate the best pizza in my life over at Sorbillo. The foodies from London that have witnessed the rise of Franco Manca will have already been lucky enough to of had a taster of what Napoleon soft sourdough pizza has to offer and how it can bring pure happiness. This place is like there but with 10 times more flavour.
It also only costs around £3 for a margarita and £5 for something slightly more fancy. Unbelievable really when you think about it. Such value for money.
For dessert, after dinner, we went over the road to a super local cafe called Mazz (Via dei Tribunali 359) and had coffee and cake. I had the Sfogliatella a shell-shaped filled Italian pastry native to Naples and Campania. Sfogliatella means "small, thin leaf/layer", as the pastry's texture resembles stacked leaves. Be warned. Crumbs will go everywhere! If you want a softer, easier to eat, dessert go for the rum baba. The alcohol in this one really making it a perfect post dinner treat! (or have both like I did, ha)
And what about in the evening? Its Saturday night and you want a bit of fun? Well after a bit of aimless wandering and asking the locals we found out that Piazza Bellini was the place to be. Its super lively and even though there was a drizzle coming from overhanging clouds many people were still out on the streets enjoying a drink or two. We opted for a rather random but nice and busy bar in the square and had reasonably priced cocktail (£4-£6ish).... I of course, like always when Italy, had a the classic Aperol Spirtz!
The coolest and most quirky bar in town appeared to be a bookstore, Libreria Berisio, that turned into a bar at night with an intimate stage where a very decent live band was playing. Its not the biggest place but that just makes it feel a whole lot more cozy. If you don't believe me it's been voted the 2nd best place for nightlight on Trip Advisor.
Accommodation options in Naples
If you only have a weekend in Naples then its 100% best to stay in the centre and within walking distance to the Historic Centre and a short ride to the port.
We stayed in the rather glamorous 4 star Marriott owned Renaissance Naples Hotel Mediterranean. Prices for a double or twin start at around £97. And the key highlights for me were the breakfast views over the city and port, the option for a rooftop hot tub and Its very close to the Toledo metro station stop (worth in itself exploring due to the unique modern design!). Its only 2.5km from the train station too and 5.9km from the airport. See more helpful reviews on Trip Advisor.
Looking for cheaper accommodation in Naples? Well on Airbnb there are some great options for hiring a room for around £24 to £35 and you can get your own place or penthouse with wonderful sea views for around £65 per night.
Transportation into and around central Naples
All the connection from airport to the city centre by bus are managed by the society Alibus. The bus does three stops connecting Airport - Train Station - Port . Routes every 20 minutes and the ticket is just 3 euros. Its all pretty simple stuff.
By Taxi It only costs around £12 to get into the Historic Centre or the main train station from the airport. Here you find all the taxi costs and more helpful info: http://www.aeroportodinapoli.it/taxi/#english
Within Naples itself there is also an easy to use underground network. Click here for a helpful Naples metro map. It appears that the metro runs from 6am to anything from 10.30pm to 12.30am depending on the line. The PDF provided has more details.
AND THATs it FOLks, do let me know what you think in the comment section below!
This is my first blog post on the new blog so any feedback will be so greatly appreciated.