Tag

Activities

Browsing

There are so many things to do in Krakow, it can be hard to decide what to put on your itinerary when you’re there. The right answer: all of them, of course! Krakow is one of my favorite cities in the world, and I’ve stayed there three times now, each time finding new adventures and gems around the city. Here are my recommendations for what to do when you visit yourself.

Explore the Old Town

Krakow is a fascinating city with a history that dates back to the 7th century. It was the capital of Poland until 1596 and became the first UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978. While the city has been modernized quite a bit in the past few decades, it still holds its medieval charm, which is most apparent in the city’s Old Town.

Krakow’s Old Town accounts for only 0.5% of the total size of the city; rather small compared to the whole city which has a population of 750,000 – the second largest in Poland. Despite the small size of the old town, there’s still plenty to see and do there.

The Old Town was once surrounded by a defensive wall 1.9 miles long with 46 towers and 7 gates until the 19th century when most of the fortifications were torn down and replaced with a park. You can visit the Kraków Barbican on the north end of the Old Town to see the last remnants of the defensive network.

Old Barbican in Krakow

Rynek Główny, or Main Market, is the Big Market Square which dominates the center of the Old Town. This square, measuring nearly 10 acres, is the largest medieval town square in Europe. The massive Cloth Hall sits in the center of the square. It was rebuilt in 1555 in the renaissance style, although nowadays it mostly sells overpriced souvenirs and jewelry.

Cloth Hall in Krakow Old Town

Under the north end of the square is the city’s history museum, which is well worth a visit! Tickets to the museum are only about $6. It’s interesting to note that the museum is actually at the old level of the city. Over the centuries, the ground level rose several feet due to the refuse that piled up. You can also see this at the Church of St. Wojciech in the square, where you can clearly see the original street level around the church.

Krakow Old Town Walking Street

 

Delve into the Wieliczka Salt Mines

Although it’s outside the city limits, one of the two main things to do in Krakow is to visit the Wieliczka Salt Mines. They’re located about 10 miles southeast of Krakow, and there are usually dozens of tours going there every day from the city center.

The mines date back over 700 years and were in operation as recently as 1996. The deepest part of the mines is 1078 feet below the surface, deeper than the Eiffel Tower is tall, but the truly impressive figure is the 178 miles of tunnels. Be prepared to climb up and down over 800 stairs on your tour. You can take the local train down to Wieliczka for just under $1 or the 304 bus for just over $1. Admission to the mines is about $25. If you want to buy a tour from the city center, they start around $35.

Wieliczka Salt Mine Chapel

If you want to get a bit more extravagant, there is a health retreat deep in the bowels of the mine. The salt-laden air is said to have rejuvenation properties. For as little as $40 a night, you can spend some time down there to see if the claims are true. If that’s not your thing, I’d still highly recommend a tour. The mines are absolutely fascinating, especially since nearly every object in them is made from salt. That even includes the chandeliers in the four chapels, one of which is stunning. One of the caverns is even big enough for hot air balloons! The mines were also on the list of the original UNESCO World Heritage Sites back in 1978.

Wieliczka Salt Mine Chandelier

Be Humbled By Auschwitz

The second popular attraction which isn’t actually in Krakow is the Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp. I’ll start this one off by saying it’s one of the most humbling experiences I’ve had in all my travels, and not just because my grandfather barely escaped capture in Rotterdam as a Jew during World War II.

Auschwitz Barbed Wire

Most people don’t have a concept of how extensive Auschwitz was as a concentration camp. Auschwitz was divided into three camps – Auschwitz I, Auschwitz II (Birkenau) and Auschwitz III (Monowitz). The Germans obliterated Monowitz and most of Birkenau before they pulled out at the end of the war. The current memorial site covers 472 acres, although the original camp size spanned nearly 10,000 acres!

Auschwitz Entrance

Auschwitz I is fairly well preserved. Located nearly 40 miles west of Krakow, you can get there by bus, train or tour. The bus and train both cost under $5 each way. Entrance to the memorial is free, but I’d recommend pre-booking a guided tour for $10. If you want a full tour from Krakow, it will cost between $20 and $40. There is a free shuttle between Auschwitz I and Birkenau, where you can see the ruins of 174 barracks, as well as the railway tracks.

Birkenau Fields

Some things to note – there’s no cafe in the parks, so go well fed or bring a bit of food. You’re allowed to bring a very small bag into the memorial with you (think purse or fanny pack size), or you can check your bag into the storage hut for a small fee. Plan to spend a full day for this attraction. I would recommend going on your own (not as part of a tour) so you can go at your own pace. Get there early enough to take the guided tour provided by the memorial, and then go through again for photos and further information.

Auschwitz Crematorium

Take a Food Tour

Now that we have the gloomiest thing to do in Krakow out of the way, it’s time to boost your spirits, and how better to do that than with an amazing food tour?

There are two food tours I have to recommend in Krakow, both fantastic in their own right. The first tour is with Krakow Urban Adventures and is organized like a four-course meal spread over four different restaurants. First, you’ll get appetizers and beer at a secret haunt near Krakow’s Little Square where the tour starts(not far from the Big Square mentioned above). From there, you’ll head across the Old Town to get your soup course. Poland makes some of the best soups in the world that I’ve tried, and you’ll get to sample more than one. Then it’s on to the Jewish Quarter for the main course – pierogi. They’re basically Polish dumplings, but don’t let the locals you call them that. The tour ends by one of Krakow’s liveliest squares for some dessert and bison vodka.

Urban Adventures Krakow Food By Foot Tour

The Urban Adventures Krakow Food by Foot Tour costs $80 and lasts about 3 hours. It leaves every day from Little Square at noon and 6 p.m. I’d recommend the evening tour.

The second food tour in Krakow is organized by Secret Food Tours. This tour covers far more dishes, but smaller portions of each. As the name of the tour implies, they like to keep the restaurants on the tour secret, which is partially due to them sometimes changing up which restaurants they visit. My tour might have also been special as we tried two dishes not listed on their itinerary page. This tour starts at the Old Barbican and sticks to the Old Town, visiting half a dozen restaurants, and lasts up to 3.5 hours. The price of this tour is $65.

Both of these tours are amazing, and if you have the time and money, I’d recommend taking both (but maybe not on the same trip). Whichever tour you choose, I’m willing to bet you’ll fall in love with the Polish cuisine as much as I did.

Learn How to Cook Pierogi

If you loved the pierogi from the food tour, why not learn how to cook it yourself? Also presented by Krakow Urban Adventures, the Home Cooked Krakow Tour will teach you how to cook one of Poland’s top dishes. And you’ll do it in the best setting too – at the home of the tour guide or perhaps even their mother.

I loved this tour, I took it twice myself. Once, the tour guide brought us to her apartment where we all took turns in the cooking process before devouring the fruits of our labor. The other time, we were brought to the tour manager’s mother’s home. She imparted her decades of cooking experience to us, and we even got to use the special cup her family had been using for ages to cut the pierogi circles.

Pierogi Cooking Class with Krakow Urban Advnetures

The tour is more than just the cooking class. You’ll be brought to Krakow’s oldest farmers market – Stary Kleparz – where you’ll be taught enough Polish to purchase the necessary ingredients for Pierogi. The guide will also pick up a dessert to enjoy after your meal – possibly one that was enjoyed by the Pope himself.

The tour meets every day (except Sunday) at 10 a.m. by the bookshop “Pod Globusem”. The length of the tour is 3.5 hours, although this might run a bit longer. The price of the tour is $71.

Homemade Pierogi in Krakow

Take a Bike Tour

Now that you’ve filled your belly, it’s time to work off some of those calories! As Krakow is a very flat city and most of the attractions are within a few square miles, taking a bike tour is a great opinion. My tour was delivered by Cruising Krakow Bike and Segway Tours.

My tour lasted four hours, starting from the center of the Old Town and winding all around the nearby neighborhoods on both sides of the river. It was a very thorough tour, covering nearly all the points of interest, but the best thing about the tour was the guide – Brian. When he started giving tours over 15 years ago, he was required to take a grueling training class by the government which made him a tourism expert in every aspect regarding Krakow – even able to give private, knowledgable tours of the castle. Although he’s Canadian, I can guarantee that you’ll have a massive understanding of Krakow’s culture and history by the end of the tour.

Krakow Bike Tour

The cost of the tour is $25. You can also rent bikes from Cruising Krakow, but then you won’t get Brian and all the information he imparts. Between a food tour and a bike tour, you’ll have covered most of Krakow.

Visit the Wawel Royal Castle and Cathedral

Although both the food and bike tours will take you past Wawel Castle, it’s worth returning to explore them in detail. First of all, I should point out that the W in the Polish language sounds like a V, so Wawel is pronounced Vavel, just like Krakow is pronounced Krakov.

Wawel Castle dates back to the 14th century when Krakow was the capital of Poland. The large complex sits atop a hill overlooking the Vistula River. There’s a lot to see here including the cathedral, an extensive museum and the remains of ancient buildings on the center of the hill, not to mention the castle itself and a nice cafe.

Wawel Castle and Cathedral

There are several attractions around the hill, most of which you have to pay for, although they’re not that expensive. Among the exhibits in and about the castle are the State Rooms, the Royal Private Apartments, the Crown Treasury and Armory, an Oriental Art exhibit, the Royal Gardens, Dragon’s Den, and Sandomierska Tower. Each is priced separately and they range from $1.25 to $7.50. Admission to the cathedral is free, or you can pay $3.50 to visit the Sigismund Bell, Royal Tombs, and Cathedral Museum. If you really want to see everything on Wawel Hill, it will take you the better part of a day.

Listen to the Trumpeter of Krakow

My first introduction to Krakow was from the book The Trumpeter of Krakow, which I read as a child. The story wasn’t actually about the legendary trumpeter who saved the city from the invading Mongol hordes in 1241, but about alchemy. Then again, I didn’t even understand where Krakow or even Poland was until years later.

To carry on the tradition of protecting Krakow, the hejnał mariacki, or St. Mary’s Trumpet Call, is played on the bugle every hour on the hour from the highest tower of St. Mary’s Basilica. It’s a little faint, but it still draws a crowd in the main square. As to why the towers of the church are a different height, well, you’ll just have to take one of the tours to find out about that.

St Mary's Basilica in Krakow Old Town

Learn How to Make Candy

This next attraction is an interesting one. If you have a sweet tooth, you’ll feel right at home in Krakow where the lines for the ice cream parlors routinely extend hundreds of people long in the summer. Along the main street in the Old Town are several confectioneries and chocolatiers where you can indulge your sweet tooth.

At Ciuciu Sugar Artist, they deliver a candy-making class every hour. They make rock candy of nearly every flavor and shape, and they’ll show you the whole process and might even let you make a shape of your own. It’s a unique attraction and free, although you’ll probably want to buy some more candy before you leave.

Ciuciu Sugar Artist Candy Class

Indulge on Zapiekanka

On the subject of food, I should probably mention zapiekanka, a product you’ll be hard-pressed to find outside Krakow. Built around the circular Okrąglak market in the Kazimierz quarter are several kapiekanka stands, all serving basically the same item at a similar quality and price. Zapiekanka is essentially half a long baguette topped with sauteed white mushrooms, melted cheese and ketchup, plus any additional toppings you want.

Zapiekanka in Krakow

Although I’m not a big drinker, I’ve been told these are the perfect late-night snack after a few pints or shots of vodka. Thus, it’s not surprising that the square is ringed by some of the liveliest bars in Krakow. Best of all, the sandwiches start around $2, and a fully loaded one will only set you back about $4. Of course, if you don’t like mushrooms, you’ll have to pass this one up as the cheese and mushrooms come standard.

Zapiekanka Stands in Krakow

Explore the Street Food Markets

If you love street food as much as I do, head to one of the lots where you’ll find numerous food trucks selling a wide range of international dishes. The biggest and best is about three streets southeast of Okrąglak market, simply named the “Street Food Market” on Google Maps. Here you’ll find real Belgian fries (double deep-fried), German wurst sausages, Japanese ramen and sushi, hamburgers and, of course, ice cream. Prices are far cheaper than what you’ll find in the Old Town.

Street Food Market in Krakow

Just around the corner to the east is another small collection of food trucks serving mostly Polish dishes (but a few other cuisines too), and for even cheaper prices. Personally, I loved the food at Mr. Tortilla’s Spanish food truck, where the most expensive meal is $5.

Learn Jewish History in the Kazimierz Quarter

While you’re in the Kazimierz quarter, you might as well learn some of the history. It’s best to take a walking tour to get all the information (although it’s also covered on the bike tour). You’d never guess it looking at a current map, but Kazimierz was once an island in the Vistula River and settlements there date back to the early medieval days. The Jewish starting arriving in the 13th century and remained until World War II when the Nazi soldiers relocated them into the Krakow Ghetto on the south side of the river. When Spielberg filmed Schindler’s List, he used locations in Kazimierz, even though most of the events didn’t take place in this district. Despite this, Kazimierz became a tourist destination and the Jewish have been moving back and building it up in recent years.

Schindler's List Stairs in Kazimierz

Remuh Synagogue is one of the oldest synagogues, dating back to the 16th century. It was remarkably well preserved during the war, as was the cemetery behind it. Down the street is the Old Synagogue, now the Museum of Krakow Jewish Culture & History. The two synagogues are on a square where you’ll find several busy Jewish restaurants, in case you have a hankering for their cuisine.

Kazimierz Jewish Quarter in Krakow

There are several attractions around the neighborhood, like the alleyway where they filmed the famous scene in Schindler’s List of the girl hiding under the stairs. Jump on a tour to find them all, such as a free walking tour with Krakow’s Free Walking Tours.

Cross the River into Podgórze

Podgórze is the district on the south side of the Vistula River where the Krakow Ghetto was located. Covering more land than the Old Town and Kazimierz combined, there are plenty of more attractions here.

Crossing Father Bernatek’s Bridge over the river is beautiful. Aside from the hundreds of love locks on the wire walls (which really don’t help the structural integrity of the bridge), there are nine sculptures hanging from the cables. What’s fascinating is that the sculptures aren’t secured to the bridge, but rather balance in poses despite the elements.

Bridge Sculpture in Krakow

Aside from the remains of the Ghetto, you’ll also see the beautiful Église Saint-Joseph church, Schindler’s Factory, and Ghetto Heroes Square filled with chair sculptures. This is also where you’ll find some of Krakow’s best street art.

Square of Chairs in Krakow

Take a Tour of Schindler’s Factory

For the best information on Schindler, you need to visit his factory in Podgórze. The factory is now a museum where you can take a self-guided tour to see relics of the war and read the extensive information panels. Whether Schindler’s actions were done for the good of the Jews or his own self-preservation is for you to decide, but there’s no doubt that he helped save the lives of over a thousand Jews. Admission to the museum is $6.50, or free on Monday. I wouldn’t recommend spending money on a guided tour, as the information panels are pretty self-explanatory and most of the tours don’t include the cost of the museum, but if prefer to have a guide, go for one.

Schindler's Factory in Krakow

Practice Your Archery Skills

I have to give a shoutout to Old Town Archery. It’s an activity not related directly to Krakow, but it’s still super fun. Located on the hillside beneath the castle, you can fire off a few arrows at the targets in a controlled environment. They’re open during the summer, and a dozen shots are only a few dollars. I originally found the company in Riga, Latvia, and I was glad to see they opened up other locations around Europe. I loved archery as a kid, and it’s nice to get to practice now and then.

Old Town Archery in Krakow

See the Fire-Breathing Dragon

Although you’ve probably already seen it on a tour, you can’t leave Krakow without witnessing the fire-breathing dragon. The legend of the Wawel Dragon goes back to the 12th century when a dragon was said to be eating cattle and kids from the countryside. It was either defeated by the sons of the king or a cobbler, depending on the account.

Beneath the castle on the bank of the river is a metal dragon statue in tribute to the legend. Every 10 minutes, the dragon spits out a breath of fire. You can also visit the Dragon’s Den from the top of Wawel Hill for $1.75. It might be slightly overrated, but it’s still fun for the kids.

Selfie with Wawel Dragon

Visit Krakow in the Winter for Their Christmas Markets

You don’t have to visit Krakow in the summer to enjoy the city. Last year, I went in December to see the Christmas markets. After traveling through Luxembourg and different cities in Germany, I have to say the Christmas market in Krakow was one of my favorites.

Kielbasa Sausages in Krakow

While Germany has bratwurst and mettwurst sausages, Poland has kielbasa sausages. Trying to say which ones are the best is impossible – they’re all fantastic in their own right. But kielbasa isn’t the only thing you can get at the markets. My personal favorite is the farm-fresh oscypek cheese topped with cranberries. There also several stalls with over a dozen Polish soups available, stalls with chocolate-covered fruits, and, obviously, stalls selling the best Polish alcoholic beverages.

Oscypek Cheese Topped with Cranberries

Krakow’s Christmas market starts at the end of November and continues usually until December 26. The stalls cover the Large Market Square in the center of the Old Town, and there are more stalls and an ice rink in front of the Krakow Galeria. If you’re on a budget, you’ll be happy to know that Polish markets are quite a bit cheaper than their German counterparts.

Krakow Christmas Market

Attend the Dachshund Parade

The one activity in Krakow I’ve yet to see for myself that I’ve had on my bucket list since I first heard about it is the Dachshund parade. Since 1994, hundreds of the wiener dogs have marched down the street from the Barbican to the Market Square. The event takes place on a Sunday in September…just a few days after I left on my first trip to Krakow. I’m just going to have to make sure my fourth visit there is in September.

Stumble Upon the Pierogi Festival

When I first arrived in Krakow in 2015, I was incredibly lucky to accidentally stumble into the annual pierogi festival. Held every year in the Small Market Square behind St. Mary’s Basilica, several stalls were set up to see who’s pierogi was best, just like chili cook-offs in California.

There are common flavors of pierogi, the most traditional being potatoes, onions and cheese – known as ruskie pierogi. Each of the two dozen or so stands had their own favors, which means there were more than a hundred different pierogi dishes available at the festival, both savory and sweet! Believe me, by the end of the evening, I was absolutely stuffed, and only a few dollars lighter in the pocket.

Pierogi in Krakow

Things to Do in Krakow Within 48 Hours

Fitting all the above activities into two days is impossible. Auschwitz and the Salt Mines each take a full day to explore. Some of the activities are seasonal, although none of them (except perhaps the archery) are weather-dependent. If I were to recommend a 48-hour itinerary for Krakow, I’d say to get up early on the first morning to explore the Old Town when the crowds are light and listen to the bugler perform at St Mary’s Basilica. Then head off to spend the day at Auschwitz. Be back in town by 6 p.m. for the food tour. At the end of the night, you can either take a walk along the banks of the river or go to the bars, whichever you prefer (I’d certainly go for the walk!).

Krakow Love Locks on Bridge

 

On the second day, you’ll have to decide if you want to see the salt mines or not. If you do, you’ll sacrifice a lot of the other activities, which is a hard choice as I’d highly recommend going to Wieliczka. If you’re not interested, then you should be able to squeeze in most of the other activities. Take the pierogi cooking class in the morning (it starts at 10 a.m.), then go on the bike tour. Afterward, make your way back to Schindler’s Factory for the tour there, and then spend your evening in Kazimierz learning the history and indulging on street food and zapiekanka.

Crude Statue Near St. Mary's Basilica in Krakow

Where to Stay in Krakow

Unless you’re a party animal, I’d recommend staying outside the Old Town. The first time I visited Krakow, I stayed at the Pink Panther Hostel on the north end of the Old Town. The hostel is sadly closed down, but it was a little difficult to sleep there with all the noise and the drunks and bachelor party boys coming in at all hours from the night.

The second time I visited Krakow, I stayed at the Galaxy Hotel by the Kazimierz Galeria along the waterfront. My room was super comfortable and the breakfasts there were amazing. It was a few minutes to walk to the Old Town, but you can always take the tram which is very cheap.

Galaxy Hotel Breakfast

The last time I went to Krakow, I stayed at an AirB&B just outside the Old Town. It couldn’t have been better. My host was very accommodating, and it also allowed me to cook my own meals at home (not that I did, since the Polish cuisine is so delicious and meals in Krakow are budget-friendly). As the most popular city in Poland to visit, there are hundreds of options available when it comes to accommodations.

Click to Pin It

Things to Do in Krakow Pin

Further Reading

Krakow is one of my favorite cities I’ve visited in my travels. Here are some other activities and guides to help you out when you arrive there yourself.

Here’s some extra reading to save hundreds on your next vacation or stage of your journey.

If you’re planning to spend 48 or 72 hours in Bordeaux, there are several reasons you should get the Bordeaux CityPass. Sometimes there’s a question of whether a city card is a good value. Of all the cards I’ve used around the world, Bordeaux has one of the best.

Why Bordeaux

Bordeaux is one of the bigger cities in France, but still only has a population of 250,000. The metropolitan district of Bordeaux has closer to a million, but the city doesn’t feel crowded at all. Unlike other European cities designed in the medieval ages, Bordeaux is laid out with very wide streets. The history of Bordeaux goes back 2,800 years to a huge Roman settlement. Several parts of the city have been razed and redeveloped, but that’s a whole story (or book) in itself, which you can certainly learn more about during your visit.

Fine Arts Museum Garden

In 2007, Bordeaux was given UNESCO World Heritage status, protecting the old town. Because of its crescent shape, Bordeaux has been nicknamed Port of the Moon. The city is primarily known for its wine, but there are so many more amazing features in this French gem.

What You Get with the Bordeaux CityPass

The Bordeaux CityPass is available with 24, 48 and 72-hour options. All three cards come with the following benefits:

  • Free public transportation on all trams, buses and the river shuttle
  • Free access to 7 museums and 2 monuments
  • A free visit to Cité du Vin – the Wine Museum
  • One free tour of Bordeaux
  • Discounts on wine tours, cruises and more

The 72-hour card includes two additional free tours and a discounted tour:

  • Guided Tour of Underground Saint-Emilion
  • Guided Tour of the Citadel of Blaye
  • Boating Around on the Bird Island (discounted)

The three cards are €29, €39 and €43 for the 24, 48 and 72-hours options respectively ($32, $43 and $47.50). Considering the Cite du Vin Wine Museum alone costs €20 ($22), the Bordeaux CityPass is a great option.

Free Public Transportation

Transportation ticket prices in Bordeaux are moderate. A 1-hour ticket is €1.70 ($1.90), two tickets are €3 ($3.30) and a 24-hour ticket is €5 ($5.50). Tickets are valid on all buses, trams and the water shuttle on the river. You can also get Bus 1 from the airport on the same ticket.

With the CityPass, all public transport is free. Because you have to pick up your card in town, you still have to get the bus from the airport. After that, you can save up to €10 ($11) in two days with the 48-hour CityPass.

Tram in Bordeaux

Free Tour of Bordeaux

WIth your Bordeaux CityPass, you get a free tour of the city. There are several options to choose from: touristic train, imperial bus, or guided tour by coach or walking. The Touristic Train Tour isn’t a real train; it has wheels and goes around the city visiting the historic sites from the Gallo-Roman period up to 18th-century developments. The Imperial Bus Tour is the usual Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus Tour available in cities around the world, offering an audio guide and the ability to get on and off the tour over a 24 hour period. The Imperial Bus isn’t available in January and early February, which is when I went.

I always say a walking tour should be your first activity in a new city. Thus, I opted for the Guided Walking Tour. I met a local lady at the tourism office at 10 a.m. who took me around the city for over two hours. I was one of the only English-speakers in the group, and I was amazed that she flawlessly delivered the tour in both English and French. We didn’t go far, staying in the Old Town. All told, it was less than two miles of walking but covered many of the key attractions within the Old Town. While I could write a whole article on the tour, I don’t want to spoil it for your own visit. I will say that my favorite part of the tour was a visit to the Cailhau Gate, which I’ll talk about below.

Rue Sainte-Catherine

Cité du Vin

The highlight of the Bordeaux CityPass (and the city, for that matter) is the Cité du Vin Wine Museum. To say this is a state-of-the-art museum would be an understatement. The amount of information given is massive, from the history of winemaking to the different crops all over the world. Some of the displays are interactive, such as where you can smell the different scents of wine. Your entrance ticket also comes with a free wine tasting on the top floor where you’ll have a beautiful panoramic view of Bordeaux.

Cite Du Vin Wine Museum

The hardest part of the museum is fitting it into your schedule. We spent two hours there and barely saw half the displays. If you really want to study all the displays, watch all the videos and learn as much as you can, you could easily spend the entire day there. Just know that you have to go before noon if you want to get free entry with your Bordeaux CityPass. If you don’t have the card, admission with the wine tasting is €20 ($22).

Museums

Aside from Cité du Vin, there are a dozen other museums available in Bordeaux, eight of which are free with the Bordeaux CityPass, and you get discounted tickets with the other four. We made it to three of the eight within our 48 hours. Please note that most of the museums and attractions are closed on Mondays, except for the Fine Arts Museum and Museum of Decorative Art and Design, which are closed every Tuesday instead of Monday.

Fine Arts Museum

This is the Bordeaux Gallery with two large buildings full of portraits and paintings. One building houses masters such as Matisse, Picasso, Renoir and Rubens, while the other building showcases local artists such as André Lhote and Odilon Redon. If you’re a fan of fine arts, both Renaissance and modern styles, you’ll love this museum. The entrance fee is free with the Bordeaux CityPass, or €5 ($5.50) without it.

Laura at the Fine Arts Museum

CAPC Contemporary Art Museum

Even though I’m not always a fan of modern art, I loved this museum. First of all, the building itself is a work of art. It’s an old warehouse for colonial goods. The central atrium is available for temporary exhibits, and the second and third floors have different permanent exhibits. The temporary exhibit we got to see was by Lubaina Himid called “Naming the Money”. There’s a nice cafe up on the roof too. This museum is also free with the Bordeaux CityPass, or €7 ($7.70) without it. Please note that not all the exhibits are child-friendly.

Lubaina Himid Naming the Money Exhibit at the CAPC Museum n Bordeaux

Museum of Decorative Art and Design

This museum was once an 18th-century mansion in the center of the city. The rooms are preserved with the original furniture, furnishings and decorations. Of all the museums we visited, this one was the smallest, but I always like to see the detail of craftsmanship from hundreds of years ago, especially when it comes to glass carvings. It took about an hour to see everything here at a comfortable pace. The entrance fee is €5 ($5.50) without the CityPass.

Museum of Decorative Art and Design

City Highlights

I’m actually surprised that Bordeaux never really came up as a key destination for me to visit in France. While visiting, I completely fell in love with the city and would have a hard time believing that another French city is better. Granted, I haven’t been to Paris yet, but I’m turned off by how much I’ve been told everything costs there.

In Bordeaux, many of the attractions are free, such as the beautiful Jardin Public (Public Garden), Rue Sainte-Catherine (the famous walking street in the same location as the original Roman road), Monument aux Girondins (the site of the former fortress), the Bordeaux Cathedral, the Basilica of Saint Michael, the beautiful waterfront, and (my personal favorite) Palais Gallien – the remains of the Roman amphitheater.

Palais Gallien

Other than the museums and stores, basically all the attractions are free. The three exceptions are the Pey Berland Tower, Cailhau Gate and the Great Synagogue of Bordeaux. The first two of these are free with the Bordeaux CityPass, and you can visit the synagogue for €4 ($4.40) with the CityPass (€5 without).

Pey Berland Tower

I always like to get to the highest spot in town for some of the best photographs. In Bordeaux, that’s the Pey Berland Tower next door to the Bordeaux Cathedral. The tower was built in the 15th century, and the monumental statue of Our Lady of Aquitaine was placed on the top in 1863. You can climb to the top if you don’t mind the 231 stairs. It’s a tight wind up the stairs and it can be tricky when someone is coming the other way, but the view is more than worth it! Without the Bordeaux CityPass, the fee is €6 ($6.60).

View from the Pey Berland Tower

Cailhau Gate

The other attraction you get for free with the CityPass is the Cailhau Gate. Also built in the 15th century on the ruins of an older defensive gate, it was a monument to honor King Charles VIII’s conquest of the Kingdom of Naples. While the gate is just gorgeous, it’s the video inside which was one of my favorite parts of my stay in Bordeaux. It covers the past millennium of Bordeaux’s history. For the first time, I feel like I understand it, including the connection and dissension with England and the 100-year war.

The Gate and video were part of our walking tour, although the tour didn’t actually take us up to the top of the gate for a view of the river. I meant to go back and do that later, and then forgot all about it. The entrance fee here is also €5 ($5.50) without the CityPass.

Cailhau Gate

How to Use the Bordeaux CityPass in 48 Hours

If you’re only planning to be in Bordeaux for two days, you’ll have to work to squeeze everything in. One of the days will probably be spent entirely at the Cité du Vin, or at least the better part of the day. You might be able to squeeze in one more museum afterward. Then you can spend the evening strolling the streets and devouring some divine French food. I’d recommend taking your free tour on the morning of the first day, going to Cité du Vin on the second day, and then getting to as many museums as you can after the tour, as well as the Pey Berland Tower.

Basilica of Saint Michael

There’s a way you can “cheat” a little with the Bordeaux CityPass if you have three days to spend in Bordeaux but don’t want to get the 72-hour card. As the card is valid for 48 hours, activate the card after 10 a.m. and before noon on the first day. Then on the third day, get to Cité du Vin before the time you activated your card on the first day. You can then spend as long as you want there (probably all day). That gives you the whole second day to spend at the rest of the museums.

With all the museums and attractions that I visited, plus public transportation, I would have spent €63 ($69.30), and that’s not including the guided tour. Thus, the card for €39 is a great deal. Had I timed it right (not on a Monday when most of the museums were closed), I probably could have seen a couple more of the museums. I’m also looking forward to going back in the near future to see the rest of the Bordeaux region and tour the chateaux and vineyards. Yep, Bordeaux really stole my heart!

Upgrading the Bordeaux CityPass to 72 Hours

If you’re planning to spend four days or more in Bordeaux, I’d recommend getting the 72-hour card for only another €4 ($4.40), which is less than public transportation would cost for that day. This card comes with everything the 48-hour card does, plus a free tour of either Saint-Emilion or the Citadel of Blaye. Either tour is a day in itself. You can use the same trick mentioned above to activate your card in the morning on the first day between 10 a.m. and noon, and then visit Cité du Vin on the fourth day to maximize how much you can get out of the card.

Buy Your Bordeaux CityPass Today

You can purchase your Bordeaux CityPass ahead of time or at any of the Bordeaux Tourism Boards around the city, except the one at Cite Du Vin. The main tourism office is located next to the Grand Theater in the center of town. All the tram lines pass by the office.

Click to Pin It

Bordeaux CityPass Pin

Further Reading

If you have more time in Bordeaux and like wine (or perhaps even if you don’t), you definitely have to take a Bordeaux Wine Workshop!

Here’s some extra reading to save hundreds on your next vacation or stage of your journey.

I don’t know how anyone who loves chocolate as much as I do could visit Hamburg and not go to the Chocoversum unless they just didn’t know about it. I didn’t know about it myself until planning my trip there, Now that I’ve been, I can say it’s one of my favorite activities in all of my travels around the world.

What is the Chocoversum

The average German consumes 22 pounds of chocolate a year – the equivalent of 91 chocolate bars. Most of this chocolate arrives from the tropics into Hamburg’s port. To educate people on Hamburg’s role in chocolate, the Chocoversum Chocolate Museum opened its doors in 2011. Since then, it’s been fattening, I mean fascinating visitors with everything chocolate related.

Of all the museums I’ve been to, this is one of the best. Maybe that’s just because I love chocolate so much, but I also loved how interactive it was. I mean, I don’t think five minutes went by without getting another mouthful of some form of chocolate.

Selfie at Chocoversum with Chocolate Wafers

The English Guided Tour

There are up to five guided tours a day in English, ranging from about $13 to $19 depending on the day and how far in advance you book. I booked a tour during my two days in Hamburg. It wasn’t easy to squeeze it in considering how many activities there are within Hamburg, especially during the Christmas season, but thank god I did! If you were only in the city for a day, I’d still recommend this museum, along with Miniatur Wunderland.

Chocoversum Tour Types of Chocolate

The tour went through every step of the chocolate process, starting with the trees in South America and Africa. I was shown the cocoa pods harvested from the trees and the beans inside. I was one of the three lucky guests who got to try the raw bean. It was fleshy and bitter, somewhat similar to a lychee nut. I couldn’t detect any trace of chocolate in the bean, and I honestly don’t know how someone discovered the process to get chocolate from the pod.

Selfie at Chocoversum Getting Cocoa Bean

The tour went on to show how shipments were made, including inspections for mold and insects, classifying the quality of the beans, etc. I loved how the museum set up the display like an actual dock with a shipping container and provides the instruments used by shipment inspectors.

Chocoversum Tour

The next step of the process is the roasting, which starts to bring out the chocolate flavor. This creates what we know of as 100% cacao since no sugar or fat has been added to the mixture yet. We all had a chance to try some of this too, but I was probably the only one who really enjoyed it. It reminded me of chocolate-covered espresso beans.

Chocoversum Tour Roasted Chocolate Samples

Finally, we came to the machines that churn the chocolate into its final state. The first machine grinds it down into a thick, crunchy paste, kinda like crunchy peanut butter. This is the phase in which they add sugar and various flavors. The ratio of various ingredients is a trade secret of each chocolate company. This is also where most of the cocoa butter is pressed out of the chocolate, to be used later in the process. Of course, we got to taste this too.

Chocoversum Tour Grinder

The second machine grinds the chocolate down between steel rollers to an astounding 30 microns (about 0.001 inches). This powder is quite surprising when you eat it, as it basically converts into natural chocolate in your mouth with its remaining small content of cocoa butter. Most chocolate will melt at body temperature, so in your mouth, the powder is just like a good quality chocolate bar after a couple chews.

Chocoversum Tour Fine Grinding

The last machine does a process called conching and kneads the chocolate with milk, sugar, cocoa butter and all the other ingredients into the final product, whether milk or dark chocolate. The machine was invented by the creator of the Swiss chocolate company Lindt and is how the various European brands (and perhaps a few others around the world) produce such high-quality products.

Chocoversum Tour Samples

Making Our Own Chocolate Bar

Perhaps the best part of the tour was the laboratory. Toward the beginning of the tour route, we entered a preparation room where we were each given a chocolate bar mold. We got to choose between milk and dark chocolate, and then had 21 different toppings to add to our bars. Some people got really creative with their flavors. Personally, I went for a two-tone. One side of my dark chocolate bar had espresso beans and crushed amaretti biscuits, while the other side was candied ginger and coconut flakes.

Selfie at Chocoversum Making Chocolate Bar

I left my creation in a fridge to cool while the tour continued. The bar was then brought to me at the end of the tour to package up and take home. As much as I love chocolate, it took me several weeks to finish my bar.

Selfie at Chocoversum with Chocolate Bar

Visiting the Chocoversum

You can tour the Chocoversum Chocolate Museum most days of the year. The times vary each day, so you just have to check the website for the day you want to go. The regular tour lasts for 90 minutes, although there’s also a 60-minute tour if you’re short on time, or a longer tour which includes a meal if you’re feeling fancy. If you have the Hamburg CARD, you get a 20% discount on your tickets. I’d definitely recommend getting that card, as it will give you free transport around town too. Also, wearing some clothing you don’t mind dripping chocolate onto…just in case.

Selfie at Chocoversum Getting Chocolate

[button color=”red” size=”big” link=”https://www.getyourguide.com/hamburg-l23/hamburg-15-hour-tour-of-the-chocoversum-t55843/?partner_id=75OE3DN&utm_medium=online_publisher&utm_source=skye%40skyetravels.com&placement=content-middle&cmp=Hamburg” icon=”” target=”true”]Click to Book Your Tour[/button]

Click to Pin It!

Chocoversum Pin

Further Reading

Here’s some extra reading to save hundreds on your next vacation or stage of your journey.

Disclaimer: I was given a complimentary ticket to the Chocoversum on behalf of Visit Hamburg and the Chocoversum Chocolate Museum. As always, all views and opinions are my own. I am not responsible for any obsessions, obesity or overdosing as a result of consuming too much chocolate at the Chocoversum.

I love animals, so I can’t figure out why it took me so long to get to the zoo in Edinburgh. The Royal Zoological Society and Botanical Societies of Scotland are on the leading edge of conservation for the plants and animals of our planet, such as their work with the pandas at the Edinburgh Zoo.

Visiting the Edinburgh Zoo with My Dad

I have some very pleasant memories as a child of riding on my dad’s shoulders around the Los Angeles Zoo. Thus it couldn’t have been more fortuitous that I was invited to the Edinburgh Zoo on my birthday, coincident to my dad coming down to visit. I managed to keep it a secret from him until the moment we arrived at the entrance. The wonderful grin he had when he saw where I’d taken him was the perfect birthday present.

Dad at the Edinburgh Zoo

The zoo is built on Corstorphine Hill, which could have ended our activity before it even began considering it’s almost impossible for my dad to go up inclines at his age. However, upon our arrival and before I could even request it, the zoo staff offered us the mobility vehicle. At several points in the zoo, you can call a number and have the van come pick you up and take you to any of the other points. Since the zoo is on a hill, we were brought to the top so we could walk downhill for the rest of the day.

On the way up, our guide gave us all kinds of information about the zoo, including the names of the animals, different upgrades the zoo is doing and his recommendation for where to eat. We even had a treat of getting driven through an otherwise closed-off section of the zoo, which is where they’re building the new giraffe exhibit. Giraffes were introduced into the Edinburgh Zoo back in the 30s but left a little over 15 years ago. Now they’re constructing a much larger exhibit complete with a viewing platform where the giraffes will be able to interact with the viewers.

One thing that was made really clear to me is how the zoo is not just an exhibit but a wildlife sanctuary, a series of conservation programs and a breeding center for endangered species. The Edinburgh Zoo is the only zoo in the UK with a royal charter and employs up to around 400 zoologists. They also have dozens of conservation programs they’re working on all around the world to help with endangered species and other zoological researches.

A New Home for the Pandas at the Edinburgh Zoo

One of the biggest projects the Edinburgh Zoo is working on is a breeding program for pandas. Currently there are only 27 zoos around the world that have panda bears; the Edinburgh Zoo has two. It received its pandas from China on a 10-year contract in 2011 with the intention of breeding them. So far, they have failed to produce a cub, but efforts are still being made.

Just a few weeks ago, a new enclosure for the pandas opened up. Well, not just an enclosure – it’s two identical but isolated areas for both pandas. They would never interact with each other in the wild outside breeding season, so the zoo caters to this. The pandas have their own indoor facility with different rooms, one of which has a private pool. Only one room is visible to the public, so the pandas can choose to be on display or not. In fact, there are a lot of people who have visited the zoo and never had a chance to see either panda. I was lucky enough to see the male, although he was just sleeping on a perch in his room.

Pandas at the Edinburgh Zoo

Pandas sleep at least 16 hours a day, but you just might get the chance to see them munching on some bamboo (almost the entirety of their diet) or possibly even playing in their large outdoor areas which have trees and other climbing apparatus for them to use.

March of the Penguins

The Edinburgh Zoo was originally opened in 1913. Not only was it the first zoo in the world to house and breed penguins, but it was also the first time penguins were seen outside the South Atlantic! The Edinburgh Zoo currently has three different penguin species – gentoo, king, and rockhopper. The kings are the big ones and the rockhoppers have that little tuft of yellow hair on their head.

In 1952, the gatekeeper of the penguin pool left the door open and several penguins followed him out. He quickly turned it into an exhibition, walking around the zoo with the penguins tailing along behind him. Thus the penguin parade tradition was born. Every day since then, the penguins are given a chance to leave the pool for a few minutes (under close supervision) and parade in front of a crowd before going back to the pool. It’s a completely voluntary activity for the penguins and sometimes only one comes out, but often it’s many more. They can have up to 25 on parade, depending on how many zookeepers are on hand to help out. The day I went, we got to see a dozen penguins waddling by.

You don’t have to wait for the penguin parade at 2:15 p.m. to enjoy them. The zoo has 130 penguins and they are a lively bunch. At Penguins’ Rock, you can get right up to them and watch them waddle about, leap out of the water and squawk for food. I think this was actually my favorite part of the zoo. I certainly spent the most amount of time there watching them all play about.

Penguins Playing at the Edinburgh Zoo

The Conservation Works of the Edinburgh Zoo

Despite the Edinburgh Zoo being a top city attraction, I didn’t get the sense that it was just a place for the animals to be on display. Every animal is at the zoo for breeding or research purposes, and they’re looked after very well. For example, the lioness recently gave birth to three cubs. Instead of putting them immediately on display, as many places would have done, the zoo closed off her enclosure to the public so she could have privacy while nurturing her young.

Another huge project of the zoo is the Budongo Trail, named after the Budongo Forest in Uganda. The Budongo Trail is the world’s premier chimpanzee research facility. Able to house up to 40 chimpanzees at a time, the huge indoor and outdoor facility provides some of the best living conditions in the world for these primates, especially considering the number of dangers they face in their homeland. The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) also works closely with the Budongo conservation efforts in Uganda.

Budongo Trail at the Edinburgh Zoo

As the zoo is primarily a research and conservation facility, the animals aren’t always on display or active. I got to see some activity with the rhinos, meerkats, zebras and a few others. On the other hand, the tiger, chimpanzees, hippos, koalas and others were sleeping, while some of the cages like the Monkey House appeared to be empty. Many of these animals naturally sleep for a good portion of the day, so you might want to visit more than once if you’re interested in seeing them all in action.

Returning for More

I certainly want to visit again myself so I can see the animals when they’re not sleeping. Hopefully I can even catch the pandas at the Edinburgh Zoo playing in their outdoor activity center. As I was with my dad, we moved a bit slowly and I missed most of the shows and talks, except for the penguin parade. I intend to see those too someday. Besides, Corstorphine Hill is just a really nice setting and a good place to wander around, even without all the animals about.

For anyone who’s in Edinburgh for a full year at a time, I’d definitely recommend the annual zoo pass. I might even consider getting it myself, even though I’m out of town most of the time.

The RZSS also operates the Highland Wildlife Park in the Cairngorm National Park. They have another 22 animals, plus a main reserve you can drive through to see some of the animals up close. I plan to get up there in the next few weeks before the Scottish weather gets too wet.

Quick Facts

  • Location: 134 Corstorphine Rd, Edinburgh EH12 6TS
  • Hours: Apr-Sept – 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Oct & Mar – 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Nov-Feb – 10 a.m. to 4 p.m
  • Price: Adult – £19.95 ($24.50); Child – £9.95 ($12.25) Save 10% when booking online!
  • Website: Edinburgh Zoo
  • What to bring: Walking shoes, a poncho if it’s raining, and your camera.

Click to Pin It!

Pandas at the Edinburgh Zoo Pin

Further Reading

Don’t fancy going to the zoo? Here are some other places to eat at, and activities to partake in around Edinburgh.

Here’s some extra reading to save hundreds on your next vacation or stage of your journey.

My expectations for the Blue Lagoon in Laos might have been a little high, considering I was thinking of the attraction in Iceland with the same name. There are actually three lagoons in Vang Vieng, Laos which are (sometimes…kinda…not really) blue, but the similarities end there.

A Short History of Vang Vieng

I’d never heard of Vang Vieng before two years ago. My first introduction was on the slow boat down the Mekong River. A group of backpackers told me about the famous town in Laos where you can get on an inner tube, grab a bucket of alcohol (possibly with some drugs mixed in) and float down the river…to the next bar where you’d get your bucket refilled.

As you probably know, I’m quite opposed to drugs. I’ve never done a drug in my life (except for a bit of alcohol and caffeine) and I’ve never had a puff of anything. So the idea of a place where everyone went to get stoned or high or baked or whatever you call it didn’t really appeal to me.

Except that it was actually far worse…and now it’s better.

Vang Vieng only really went onto the map about half a century ago when the US plopped down the Lima Site 6 airstrip right in the center of town. The so-called Secret War of Laos lasted for nine years, during which the US dropped four billion pounds of bombs on the country (which you can learn about at the UXO Museum).

Apparently, it wasn’t until around 1996 when a local landowner known as Mr. T allowed his hired help to float down the river in tractor tires after a hard day’s work. The trend quickly caught on with Westerners flocking in to park take in their favorite rice in this communistic village.

The idea was that you could rent an inner tube on the river, get a bucket of alcohol (and perhaps some drugs mixed in) and float down the river, to the next bar, where you could get a refill for your bucket. This would continue all afternoon. But not everyone was so lucky. Some people would overdose from the heavy drugs and fall off the inner tube to drown in the river. The death toll was high, with people dying nearly every day.

Nam Song River in Vang Vieng

Finally, just before an international conference held in Laos in 2012, the government pulled the plug on the hedonistic revelries. Most of the places where you could get drugs closed down, although buckets of vodka are still a fad.

While the vice of the town might have been mitigated, the tourism in Vang Vieng continues to flourish. Similar to places like Krabi in Thailand, it seems that every second building is a tour operator…although they all sell basically the same tours (with the same tour guide). All told, there are about twenty main activities. I only did two of them, both for lack of time and a tight budget.

Visiting the Blue Lagoon in Laos

Of all the attractions in Vang Vieng, I chose to visit the Blue Lagoon. Specifically, Blue Lagoon One, as there are actually three! My guesthouse directed me to a cheap scooter rental down the street. I paid 70,000 Laotian kip for a 24-hour rental, which is about $8. Chiang Mai is cheaper for scooter rentals, but not by much.

Vang Vieng is on the Nam Song River. There are two bridges spanning the river. One is a rickety metal toll bridge. The toll is 4,000 kip ($0.50) for a round trip as a pedestrian. A bicycle costs 6,000 kip, a scooter is 8,000 and a dune buggy is 15,000. About half a mile up from the river, there’s an alternative, free way to cross. It’s a bamboo walking bridge! This bridge is unusable during the rainy season when the water level is higher; I was there in April. Although it’s a walking bridge, you can actually take your scooter across! Then ride down the river bank on the other side and connect up with the road that has the toll bridge.

Toll Bridge Across the Nam Song River

The Blue Lagoon is about 20 minutes from the town center. Other than by scooter, you can also rent a dune buggy (for considerably more money) or jump on one of the dozens of tours.

At the lagoon, there’s a large parking lot that’s free to use. The scooter parking has a covered area and a couple of attendants who will give you a token to use to get your bike back. I left a few things in the seat of my scooter (which is unusual for me) and found everything there when I got back.

I arrived at the Blue Lagoon about half an hour before noon. The entrance fee was 10,000 kip ($1.25). The temperature was getting up around 100°F, but for some reason I figured it would be better to explore the cave before getting into the water.

Phu Kham Cave

I’ve been to a lot of caves in Thailand. And I know there are hundreds (or thousands) more throughout the region. The largest cave in the world is down in Vietnam. That cave, Hang Son Doong, is over 3 miles long and has its own river, jungle and climate! Part of the Blue Lagoon in Laos is the Phu Kham Cave, located not far up the mountain. The entrance fee to the lagoon includes the cave. There are flashlights you can rent at the entrance, but I figured the flashlight on my phone would be sufficient.

It’s a bit of a climb up to the entrance of the cave. It’s not far, but it’s really steep and you only have a rickety bamboo railing to help you up. I think it took me about 10 minutes of climbing with sweat pouring off of me to reach the top, and I climb fast.

The Climb to Phu Kham Cave

As with most caves in SE Asia, the opening to Phu Kham Cave is really small. Not so small that you have to crawl in, but I still wonder how people find these places. After all, new caves are being discovered all the time.

Entrance to Phu Kham Cave

Inside the cave, it’s not much of a challenge to move around. There’s a trail that wraps around a massive column in the center down to a lower cavern where there’s a small shrine built up. There are very few caves I’ve found in Asia that don’t have a temple or shrine in them…or several. The Batu Caves in Malaysia have a couple large temples, and Mueang On Cave in Thailand has a massive reclining Buddha among several other shrines.

Shrine in Phu Kham Cave

To the left of the statue is a deep pit with a danger sign next to it. To the right is a deeper chasm in the rocks. I made my way slowly into the darkness, taking care not to slip on the wet rocks and using my phone to light my way. There is a fairly simple trail into the cave with only a few points where I had to maneuver between boulders. There are also several more deep holes along the path with red x’s on rocks next to them. I suppose you could fall into them if you’re not watching where you’re going, but otherwise the path is quite safe.

Hole in Phu Kham Cave

I climbed through the dark, using my phone as a flashlight, for a good half an hour. The air was thick. It was one of the deepest and darkest caves I’d ever been in. It felt like I could feel the whole weight of the mountain above me, even though the cave was quite large. In places, the roof was probably a good 50 feet above my head. I’ve been in deeper and tighter caves, but this one was different. I loved it!

Finally, I came to a wall covered in handprints. Apparently this was the terminus of the cave. Around this cavern were several dozen massive stalactites, stalagmites and pillars. Turning off my light for a moment, I got to experience completely, absolute blackness and quiet. It was wonderful…and it scared the crap out of my hiking partner.

Selfie in Phu Kham Cave

Walking along the wall, I found another cavern leading deeper into the hill. The path was a lot smoother. Before long, I saw an opening back out into the jungle. I climbed down a slope of boulders…and found the shrine in the cavern where I had started. I still can’t figure out where I got turned around, or if the cave was really just shaped like a big doughnut!

I went back out into the heat (it had been a bit cooler in the cave) and down to the lagoon. By this time it was 1 p.m. and I was starving. After getting a few videos of some other tourists jumping into the lagoon, I went off in search of a good place to eat lunch.

Lunch at Cafe Parisien

There are a couple different local restaurants around the lagoon serving staple Laotian food – fried rice, sandwiches and bowls of noodles, but Vang Vieng is known for its foreign establishments. I went to Cafe Parisien outside the entrance by the parking lot. They were a bit more expensive but had the Western food I was craving. I’d heard that Laos served really good pizzas so I ordered the meat feast – pepperoni, ham, two types of sausage, mushrooms and black olives. The pizza base was actually better than it is in Thailand, and it was big enough to really fill me up. Probably not the smartest thing to do before going swimming.

Pizza at Cafe Parizien by the Blue Lagoon in Laos

Swimming in the Blue Lagoon

I showed my receipt to get back into the lagoon. Choosing a spot a little ways away from the crowd, I didn’t hesitate to shuck off my shirt and sandals and dove right in. The water was deliciously cold. It surprised me. I love swimming in cold water, but I honestly expected it to be quite warm. For one thing, I had the silly impression that the water was from a hot spring. Furthermore, the water doesn’t move that fast and I’m surprised that the sun didn’t warm it up more. But I certainly couldn’t complain.

Just like the Blue Lagoon in Iceland, there isn’t a lot to do other than relax and enjoy the water. A few swings are hanging from the trees in the water (yeah, they’re more seats than swings). The main attraction is a tree that’s grown out over the water. On two of the massive branches, platforms you can jump from have been built. They’re not really that high – perhaps five and fifteen feet – but it’s still fun. There’s also a rope you can use to swing out into the water, but you have to avoid the tree jumpers.

Jumping into the Blue Lagoon in Laos

Somewhere up in the trees, there’s also a zipline you can ride. I don’t know what the price was and since I’ve been on some pretty epic ziplines around the world, I chose to skip this one and spent my time in the water instead.

To be honest, the lagoon is quite small and there isn’t a lot to do. I liked the cave and getting to swim, but I kinda wish there had been more activities. Then again, it was well worth the $1.25 entry fee. I realize now that the Blue Lagoon in Laos is just one of many stops the tours take their passengers to, and I’m guessing they only spend an hour or so there (which isn’t even enough time to fully explore the cave).

If you’re trying to decide which tour to take in Vang Vieng, I’d recommend one that includes the Blue Lagoon. If you’re planning to go there on your own, bring a book to read on the grass perhaps, or just plan to spend a couple hours there and then move on.

Click to Pin It

The Blue Lagoon in Laos is Nothing Like the One in Iceland 1

Further Reading

Planning to visit Laos? Here are my other stories on what to do there, and some of my personal adventures.

Here’s some extra reading to save hundreds on your next vacation or stage of your journey.