Hey friends, we recently came back from our first ever big trip to Europe. We wanted to share our itinerary as well as our hearts on why this trip was special for us. We honestly didn’t find a whole lot of information while planning our trip, so we figured we’d share. If you’re thinking about taking this trip or have a similar trip booked in the near future, we hope our post is helpful in guiding you.
We flew directly to Barcelona from Miami, FL and it took almost 9 hours travel time - we departed in the afternoon and arrived to Barcelona at 9am. Spain was 6 hours ahead our time so when we arrived it was really the middle of the night for us so we were exhausted.
Warning: Most of the hotels in Barcelona have a 3pm check in time and 95% of the time they do NOT have your room available earlier. If you can avoid arriving in the morning I highly suggest it. Although we knew we couldn’t take a nap because we had to adjust to the time, we really wanted to freshen up and change before going out to explore after such a long day traveling. That being said, the hotel let us to drop off our luggage and asked us to return at 3pm so we set out on the city to explore.
Barcelona is not too big and their public transportation is amazing, it’s easy to make your way around the city.
Checked into Leonardo Hotel Las Ramblas
Las Ramblas (Shops, restaurants, cafes, and street entertainers in the center of Barcelona)
We had coffee and a sandwich in Artisa, a coffee shop on Las Ramblas. Highly recommend though the servers really don’t speak much english, so be prepared to be patient when ordering or ask someone to help you translate.
Cuidad Gotico (Gothic city, known for it’s architecture and gothic style design elements). There’s nothing special here but it’s a different area to walk through and was fun to see.
La Sagrada Familia (Famous cathedral in Barcelona)
Sat in the park across the street and shared some natural fruit bars being sold at a kiosk
We didn’t tour this cathedral due to time constraints, but honestly just seeing it from the outside is SO impressive. I don’t usually care to see cathedrals because Europe has so many of them and they all start looking the same
Arc of Triumph
We had dinner at a tapas bar off Las Ramblas called Tabarlot. Highly recommend, their croquettes and mango crusted chicken were amazing. They also carry local beer and serve a mean Sangria. The servers are friendly and were more than willing to explain the menu items
On the second day we visited Montserrat. Montserrat is a monastery located on the outskirts of the city. It sits on a mountain and you’re able to hike and visit different parts of the mountain (including the mountain peak).
Honestly, if you don’t have much time on your trip - Make time for this. It’s breathtaking and overall just an amazing experience. Here are the details:
To arrive to Montserrat, take the red R line towards Manresa. The ride will be about 35-45 minutes depending on crowd traffic. Although we had a pretty full train ride, it wasn’t overwhelmingly packed and the train moved pretty quickly. Half of the trip is scenic, so be sure to have your camera on hand for some beautiful views of the mountain before you arrive. Keep in mind, the cost of everything is seperate. We got on the Manresa train using our metro rail pass that we had purchased already (In spain they call the train system AVE). There is a Montserrat stop that allows you to make it to the monastery by two different forms of transportation:
15 minute seated train ride with obstructed/minimal views
5 minute standing cable car funicular with great views (We took the funicular up and the views did not disappoint, it just depends on your needs).
If you make the trip to Montserrat, make sure to make it there by noon. Starting daily at 1pm there’s a choir performance in the Basilica. Between the short trek up to the monastery and getting a good seat or standing spot in the basilica, you’ll need the extra hour. It’s so beautiful and worth it, we’re so glad we walked in 20 minutes earlier because it got packed and fast.
There are also a couple food options if you’re going to spend the day. There’s a buffet cafeteria with soups, sandwiches, plated food, some fried foods and desserts. There’s also a hostel next to the monastery that opens at 2pm and has a sit down restaurant with typical food of the area.
When you’re at the actual monastery, there’s plenty to see but you can also take 2 other additional funiculars at this point. One funicular will take you to a 30 minute moderate hiking trail to the mountain peak, and the other will take you to a small chapel with a statue. We didn’t care for the statue and each funicular has an additional cost, so we took only the funicular to Sant Joan and hiked which gives you some amazing views of the mountain.
When we returned back to Barcelona, we had a Spanish dinner in a street side cafe and then when to a coffee shop called “Cappuccino” right off Las Ramblas where we had these AMAZING baileys coffees with an almond chocolate croissant. It was heaven and I think the servers we met here might have been the nicest people we met in Spain. This coffee spot as well as Artisa became our go-to coffee shops during our stay in Barcelona.
Bottom line, if you’re in or by Barcelona - Get your butt to Montserrat. After a 10 day trip this was still one of our favorite experiences and we highly recommend it.
On the third day, we were supposed to take another day trip out of the city. I’m sure you’ve heard of all the protests going on in Barcelona and as a result we really wanted to spend as much time out of the city as we could. Although we didn’t actually encounter a protest until day 3, we had zero interest in getting caught in the middle of all that. Protests are intended to be peaceful but they can turn violent very quickly and when the police shows up to diffuse the situation they will not take the time to distinguish between protestor and observer.
That being said, we had planned to visit Girona - A neighboring town known for their jewish quarter and also for having a few Game of Thrones filming locations. When we started looking into Girona, we realized that it wasn’t as close as we thought it was and it was going to take a lot of time to get there and back.
During our time visiting the arc of triumph on Day 1, I noticed an ad for a Game of Thrones touring exhibition. I assumed it was happening later and not while we were in Barcelona so we initially disregarded. When we realized Girona was not going to happen and knowing that it was going to be a protest heavy day, we decided to look into it and were shocked to find out it was opening that day. We didn’t have too much information about what it included but it was 18 euro, it was only going to be open for a limited time, and it was only going to be touring in Europe.
Guys. This exhibition was crazy amazing. It was so surprising how much content they had available for you to see and it was interactive and fun. They only had afternoon tickets available so I bought us 2pm tickets and we knew we had to stick around in the morning. Right next to the exhibition was a maritime museum that had some pretty good ratings.
I don’t normally care for ships or anything related to marina, but it was honestly one of the best museums I’ve been to. The museum itself is an old shipyard and they have tons of historical artifacts and interactive games throughout the museum. The best part is that they have an original ship sitting on a platform in the original working room of the shipyard. You can touch it, see some projected scenes inside. It’s breath taking history at its finest.
After we saw this museum, we had a coffee and snack in their outdoor cafe and then headed to the game of thrones exhibition which was right next door. The exhibition had original costumes, props, set pieces, and more. There was a lot of people but it was so worth it, we enjoyed it more than we thought we were going to. There’s photo spots, interactive displays, amazing and details stage displays, and a gift shop at the end with all sorts of goodies. The people running the exhibition genuinely love the series and make the experience all the more exciting. I’m not sure how long this will be running for, but if you have the chance to go see it we highly encourage it.
After we were done drooling over the Game of Thrones touring exhibition, we walked around the city for a bit and ran into a protest. We didn’t care to stick around for it, and so we want to the hotel and relaxed for a bit. When it was time to eat dinner, we stumbled upon a Chilean restaurant right next door to our hotel. What are the odds?! It was perfect because we wanted to stay away from Las Ramblas, and comfort food that reminded me of home seemed like the perfect idea.
This gem is called “Braseria Chilena Carniball”, and every single person working there is from Chile down to the cook. We really enjoyed the familiar company and amazing food, we highly recommend this quaint place. You can’t miss it, there’s Chilean flags all over the outside LOL.
We had typical Chilean menu items: Empanadas de queso (they’re fried cheese empanadas and so good), bistec a lo pobre (A steak with French fries, white rice, and a fried egg), and Pastel de Choclo (Similar to shepards pie but with a corn soufflé on top instead of mashed potatoes). I can tell you the food is definitely authentic and crazy delicious.
After we had dinner we walked to our favorite coffee shop right off Las Ramblas, “Artisa” and had the famous churros con chocolate you see all over Barcelona. They literally give you a bag of sugar coated churros and a small cup of very thick hot chocolate to dip and eat. I don’t know why I never thought of this before, but it made my heart so happy. Artisa once again did not disappoint, and we’re from Miami-We know good coffee and sweets.
Day 4 & 5
The next two days we boarded the Norwegian Epic and then spent a day at sea. I have to say, we were not too impressed with the ship. The service was amazing and we are not the kind of people that spend a week lavishing the ship amenities, but I can tell you it wasn’t the greatest. The layout of the ship was very confusing and there was no central lobby. It also looked outdated with an overwhelming amount of color crystal lighting and CHROME, CHROME, CHROME. When we initially went to our room after the announcement was made that the staterooms were ready, the room was filthy and that just didn’t leave us with the best first impression. Aside from our opinion, here’s what I can remember the ship had:
Casino with slot machines, black jack, and more (We won $50 on the slot machines!)
An arcade (It was a tiny one room arcade located next to the teen club but Adam and I spent some time here playing car racing games. They charge you for every game you swipe your key card to play, and I feel like this should have been included).
A spa with massage treatments, nail service, etc (I got a bamboo massage and although it was pretty good I had SO much pain the following day and I felt it was overpriced for a massage under an hour)
Fitness Center (Adam was so impressed with the gym and I can see why. They have all the latest equipment, training classes, etc. You can also see the open ocean and port stops while walking on the treadmill which is pretty amazing).
Salon/Barbershop –Did not use
Trade winds store- A lot of the items were overpriced and they had a huge jewelry selection but I found it to be such tacky jewelry. They also breathe down your neck the entire time you’re walking around, I suspect they probably get a lot of people trying to shoplift.
Ice bar (It was $25 per person so I just didn’t feel it was worth it but it looked fun)
Water slides/pools – didn’t use, it was too cold out
Rockclimbing and a sports complex with a basketball court
The Detroit Soul Brothers– This was a trio singing group that sang motown songs with a backing track for an hour. It felt very cheap but honestly they were so talented that I didn’t mind, we enjoyed this show a lot.
Circus Escape Room– I heard this show was OK but I didn’t like the escape room idea. I wanted to go to shows to relax and decompress, not sit there and work through an escape plan with strangers lol.
Priscilla Broadway Show – I also didn’t care to see this because it was pretty much a drag show. Not sure if this was any good either
Burn the Floor – This was my favorite show on the ship but I found it pretty sexual. I found it weird that they didn’t give any discretion, there was a lot of kids present and most of the show is very revealing and sexual. Either way though, there’s no doubting these folks are talented. It was like watching a real life episode of Dancing with the Stars
Basilio Tabacchi Magic/Comedy Show- This guy was entertaining. Not the best magician, his strength comes more from physical comedy which at times was a little over the top – but we enjoyed it.
Food – I can tell you that we mostly ate at the Garden café, and each night it was a different cuisine- Italian, Mediterranean, grill, Asian, etc. Cruise food is cruise food. Don’t splurge on the ship, instead save it for the meals on the excursions. We did try all the complimentary options though and I think my favorite had to be the noodle bar, the food just tasted higher quality and I love noodles.
Garden Café (Buffet)
Taste Dining Room (plated food)
Manhattan Dining Room (plated food)
Shanghai Noodle Bar (either plated food or noodle bar)
O’Sheehans (Irish pub)
Now that we’ve gone over basic ship amenities, let’s jump into the best part – Port stops and excursions!
Port stop: Napoli (Naples), Italy
Took a coach bus to Sorrento
Tour guide: Connie
Stopped at a Limoncello factory on the way to Sorrento for a tasting
Stopped at Sorrento for a walking tour and free time
Walked into a funeral
Saw a great cliff view
Had lunch at Ristorante Aurora
Met some Canadian friends, Barbara and Ross
Ate: Canneloni, Chicken/Veggies, tiramisu, coffee
Took a small rocky boat ride along the bay of Naples – AMAZING views!
Had a pizza in the plaza by the water
Walked around and shopped
Returned to the ship and had dinner at Taste with some friends of ours from Miami
Takeaway: Amalfi was our absolute favorite part of the entire trip. If you don’t have too much time for anything else on the bay of naples, go to Amalfi. It is seriously something out of a postcard and the feeling there is just so nice. Also, get yourself a pizza with Iberian ham on it. SO good.
Port stop: Rome, Italy
Took a coach bus
Tour guide: Daniela and Angelica
Pope Summer Residence
Had gelato – yum!
Amazing lake views
Went to a farmhouse in Marino
Learned how to make Italian pasta by an 84 year old “nonna” named Lidia who didn’t speak any English. She was so cute and so good at what she does!
After our lesson, we had a great meal made in this family owned farmhouse. Homemade bread with olive oil, lasagna, tiramisu, and coffee. If you know me at all, you know my obsession with pasta. I was in Italian heaven.
Rome Overview (It was All Saints Day so many areas were closed and the city was really congested. We still had a chance to see most of the big spots and had an hour to ROAM around ROME). Here’s what we saw:
Theatre of Pompey
St. Peters Church
Takeaway: We chose to spend most of our day in the countryside because we really wanted to experience the culinary wonders of Italy. I don’t regret it at all because we didn’t even know it was a national holiday, I would’ve hated to have been in Rome all day without being able to see much. I definitely do want to go back to Rome and see it really well though, there’s so many historical sites to take in you really need to take a whole trip just for Rome.
Port stop: Livorno, Italy
First excursion – Jeep tour & Marble Quarries
Took a small van to the mountains in Carrara where the marble quarries are located
Jumped into a land rover with hard hats on and trekked up the mountain to the very top to get a view of the marble quarries (So fun and thrilling!)
Had a tasting of typical food in the area
Returned to the ship for 2nd excursion
Second excursion – Countryside and Wine Tasting
Drove through Crespina Lovenzana which is between Florence and Pisa to the Pitti and Friends villa
Had a private tour of the cellar
Wine Tasting (2 whites, 2 reds, and one dessert wine with different cheeses, salamis, bread, and biscotti)
Takeaway: There was literally 5 people (including us) on the jeep tour of the marble quarries, and it was such a fun experience and so interesting! I highly recommend. I actually did not like our second tour. I was expecting to see Tuscany in all its glory- the valleys and the beautiful villas and high trees. Instead, we saw 5 minutes of warehouses, bushes, and then we were taken to an old villa that was not well taken care of or on a nice piece of land. The wine was great though! However, don’t expect to see the beautiful Tuscany you see in the movies, at least not on this excursion.
Port stop: Cannes, France
Spent the morning on the boat and had a massage/gym time
Afternoon excursion: Tour of St. Raphael Corniche.
Tour guide: Paola
Stopped at Cannes for about an hour to shop and enjoy, had a coffee and Croque Monsieur right by the water
Drove a coach bus to St. Raphael which is full of estates from celebrities/wealthy people and great views of meditteranean.
Took the “Golden road” (Corniche) back to Cannes with was a beautiful scenic route.
Stopped along the red rock mountains along the coast to take pictures and enjoy the view
Takeaway: St. Raphael was such a nice surprise! Everyone goes to Cannes but St. Raphael has just as many nice views and it’s not nearly as congested. I was shocked to see red rock mountains, I felt like we were in Arizona. Also, beware of the restaurants along the coast in Cannes. We had no trouble but a few other Americans on our bus were refused service and told to go to Subway. ☹
Port stop: Palma de Mallorca, Spain
Spent the morning on the boat packing and enjoying the last day
Afternoon excursion: Palma in Depth
Tour Guide: Tony (Antonio)
Went on a walking tour through Palma. We saw the Catedral de Mallorca, had a chance to shop in the gift shop, shared a pastry and some coffee, bought souvenirs, and saw the rest of the city before getting back on the boat.
Takeaway: I’m not too big on Cathedrals because I feel they all begin looking the same, but this cathedral was so beautiful and I really enjoyed seeing it. Our tour guide was not the warm and fuzzies, but he was SO knowledgeable and I can tell he loves Palma. He shared a lot of fun details that were really interesting. The city feels small and quaint and I loved the people here, they were all very friendly and accepting.
So friends, that was our amazing trip. We've both been so blessed to have traveled plenty throughout our lives, but this had to have been my favorite trip so far. I've never worked so hard to go on a vacation in my life. We had a lot of people see us taking such a big trip and assume that we're either suddenly swimming in money or we're being reckless. I have to say, this was the first time Adam and I planned a trip and didn't put it on a credit card. We planned ahead, budgeted, and paid it off overtime. We went on this trip knowing it was already paid for over the previous 8 months, and we relished every second knowing we'd be going home with no debt from the trip. Our situation hasn't changed, but God has kept providing and we've been extremely frugal and disciplined. Because of the season we've been in, we really took time during this trip to reflect on how blessed we are. We were very emotional throughout the whole trip and just proclaiming our thanks to God every chance we had a new experience together. I'll be sharing more on here soon about what came of those conversations we had during our trip. We're so excited for what's to come!
Love you guys.
Adam and Kristine