If you’ve been following my instagram, you already know how much I love exploring coastlines. The truth is, the United Kingdom coastline is so beautiful, and filled with amazing cliffs and animal life. Every time I explore a new area of England, I’m simply amazed. This country is so beautiful and has so much to offer. Most people just think of London when they think of England, but it is so much more than that! To truly experience England, you need to explore the countryside and the coast. The rocky, jagged coastline is simply stunning, with beautiful waters of the North Atlantic, and also home to a variety of wildlife. When I found out you could see puffins in ENGLAND, I was so excited! I had no clue they came this far south in the summer and just assumed they stayed closer to the Arctic! We missed seeing the puffins in Iceland because we went in winter, so I was pumped to learn I could drive about 3 hours and see them. Once I realized that Bempton Cliffs is located near York, a weekend trip was planned! This was the perfect June getaway weekend for us, and on the plus side, we were able to drive there.
Bempton Cliffs is located in Bridlington. The Nature Reserve is an amazing place to take a walk and enjoy all the wildlife and stunning views the area has to offer. Every year between March and October, over half a million seabirds make their homes on the chalky cliffs to raise their young. The result is a spectacular scene including puffins, gannets, guillemots, and other birds. The cliffs themselves are also an attraction, along the beautiful coast. There are walking paths, as well as viewing platforms with information about the wildlife. The RSPB (Royal Society for Preservation of Birds) puts on events throughout the year and has a cafe and gift shop on site as well. Definitely check out the website to help plan your trip! Also, be sure to bring your camera and binoculars for up close views!
My main reason for going was to see the puffins. While I’m a huge animal lover, I don’t usually have any interest in birds. However, there is something about puffins that is so freaking cute! I don’t know what it is, but I find them adorable. Go ahead and google them and tell me they aren’t the cutest! My husband thinks I’m crazy, but I’m obsessed with them and I can’t explain it. Anyhow, puffins are seabirds that live on rocky cliffs and dive into the water to get their food. Their beaks are brightly colored during mating season. Atlantic Puffins are found on the coasts of Northern Europe in the British Isle, Faroe Islands, Iceland, Greenland, Norway, and Canada. In the winters they travel as far south as Morocco. The come ashore in the United Kingdom during spring and summer, their mating season. I was fortunate enough to see several of them on Bempton Cliffs!
After exploring the cliffs and walking along to see views of the coast, we headed to Bridlington Harbour, where we had a three hour seabird cruise booked. Despite the cold, and spots of rain, the cruise was phenomenal! It left from Bridlington, and cruised along the coast up to Bempton Cliffs. We marveled at the gannets, puffins, and other seabirds, and enjoyed spectacular views of the cliffs from the water. Puffins are better swimmers than they are flyers, and they flap their wings extremely fast to stay in the air. They aren’t quite as graceful as others birds when they land, and this makes them easier to spot in the air. We also pulled in close to some rocky cliffs and little caves, allowing us to view the birds up close in their nests. If you are interested in seabirds or fascinated with the brightly colored puffins like I am, this trip is for you!
This was definitely an unforgettable experience, and I highly recommend it. Bridlington Harbor is less than an hour from the charming, Medieval city of York, so put this on your list of things to do in summer in England! You will not be disappointed.
Living in England, I’m trying to visit as many European countries as possible. Surprisingly, after almost two years, I realized I hadn’t yet made it to Ireland OR Northern Ireland! There are so many places to visit, and so little time. Ireland and Belfast was somewhere my mom was interested in visiting as well, so we went during her visit. I’ll start by saying I didn’t love Dublin. But that’s okay because this post isn’t about Dublin, it’s about Belfast and Northern Ireland. My reason for bringing up Dublin is because we visited Dublin and Belfast on the same trip, and we all loved Belfast and the Giant’s Causeway much more than Dublin! I will say, the weather could have been partially to blame – cold, rainy, and windy isn’t the best way to see a city.
Since we wanted to hit to Ireland and Northern Ireland in the same trip, we flew Ryanair from London Stansted to Dublin, and then rented a car to drive to Belfast. We actually drove to Belfast as soon as we landed, and visited Dublin second (which I will talk about in a separate post). It was an easy and beautiful two hour drive to Belfast. The Irish countryside is so stunning, and truly made of every shade of green! The drive was enjoyable because of the views, and of course the sheep. I absolutely love all the sheep in the United Kingdom. We stayed at the Holiday Inn Belfast City Centre. Since we had a rental car, we required a hotel with adequate parking nearby. The Holiday Inn was nice and perfect for our needs; it was in walking distance to sites in the city and also had a good breakfast. It’s pretty much your typical Holiday Inn. I would stay here again if I went back to Belfast.
We arrived in Belfast in the early afternoon. After checking in, the first thing we did was head straight to the market. We knew we wouldn’t have another opportunity to do so, and wanted to make sure we got there before it closed. The market is only open on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. St. George’s Market is an award winning market that has been around since the 1890s! There are a plethora of vendors, and many amazing places to eat. It’s a great place to go for lunch, as there are so many choices – everything from pasta, falafels, burgers, paella, sweet treats, and much more! We ate a late lunch there, and browsed the stalls. It’s definitely a must do when in Belfast; you won’t be disappointed. And you won’t leave hungry. I opted for a falafel wrap, as I often do in the markets, and it was so fresh and delicious! My mom and husband had a pasta dish that involved rolling the fresh pasta in a wheel of cheese; it was also incredible.
We spent the afternoon walking around Belfast and browsing shops. Belfast is a smaller European city, but there are a lot of shops, particularly if you are looking for souvenirs. It was quite common to see whiskey themed gifts, as well as jewellery with Celtic knots, and other “Green” and Irish gifts. We knew that Monday would be a full day with our drive along the coast to the Giant’s Causeway, so we tried to visit a few places even though we were tired from traveling. We stopped by Belfast Cathedral, also known as St. Anne’s Cathedral. It is beautiful both outside and inside, and much more modern than most cathedrals I’ve seen. After the Cathedral, we spent some time wandering around shops and enjoying the city. One thing we learned – be sure to book for dinner. We had found some great places online that we wanted to try, but they were fully booked and we wished we had planned ahead to make a reservation.
Our next day was a full day spent traveling along the Northern Irish Coastline. The beauty of the coastline was one of the top reasons we decided to go to Belfast. Since we rented a car, we were on our own timeline, and able to stop whenever we wanted. There are several tour buses that do day trips from Belfast. Those are worth looking into if you are traveling solo or afraid of driving on the left side of the road. Since we live in England, that’s not a problem for us. Our first stop of the day was a village called Carrickfergus to visit Carrickfergus Castle. The castle is smaller than some we’ve seen in Europe, but it’s inexpensive and it was fun to visit and walk around. In hindsight, I would’ve saved it for the trip back to town, and would’ve headed straight to the Giant’s Causeway to get there before the crowds.
From Carrickfergus Castle we drove along the coast, stopping several times to see sheep. One of my favorite things about the United Kingdom is all the sheep! They are so freaking cute, and it was lambing season so there were so many precious baby lambs. I swear there is nothing better than see them and hearing their cute noises. Ireland is literally so green, and then you see these adorable dots of white fluff amongst the green grass. It’s perfect. If you love sheep, Ireland is the best place for you. And so is England. Aside from the endless farms of sheep, the drive offered spectacular views of the coast. There were several places to stop and we took our time exploring. Again, in hindsight, I would’ve headed STRAIGHT to the Giant’s Causeway, and done all the stopping on the way back. Usually when we drive, it’s a game to see if we can beat the GPS, but with all the winding roads, turns, and coastline views, it was hard to speed up the journey. Definitely allow yourself plenty of time, and consider the amount of daylight available if you’re not going in spring or summer.
We decided to stop at Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge before heading to the Giant’s Causeway. The bridge connects the mainland to a tiny island, and was first built by salmon fishermen in 1775. They used to cast their nets off the bridge. The bridge is currently operated by the National Trust, so if you’re members, it is free! Of course our National Trust membership expired a few months prior, but it’s still definitely worth it to pay for admission. If you aren’t a member it’s 9 pound for adults and 4.50 for children. Definitely worth it; the property is spectacular with gorgeous views of the cliffs, and of course crossing the bridge is great fun (and totally safe!). They make sure only one person crosses at a time, and the bridge is steady when you cross. Just don’t look down if you’re afraid of heights. It seems silly to pay money so you can stand in line just to cross a bridge that basically leads to nothing, but it is fun and on the way to the Giant’s Causeway. If you’re really pressed for time, you can skip this, but I’d recommend going if you are able.
After the rope bridge experience, we headed to the main event! The Giant’s Causeway was one of the primary reasons I wanted to visit Northern Ireland. To be honest, as spectacular as it was, I wish I had gone a little later in the season so it would have been warmer and perhaps sunnier – but alas, this is the United Kingdom, and it’s not known for sunshine. Despite the cold winds, and on and off misting rain, it was still a great day for hiking along the coast. Definitely wear layers and bring warm clothes, because the weather in Northern Ireland literally changes as you round the corner. I was glad I had my winter hat and gloves (though the gloves made taking pictures more difficult). The Giant’s Causeway is also run by the National Trust (again, if we only had our membership still!). There is a large car park, and then a building where you get tickets. If you aren’t a member it is 12.50 for adults and 6.25 for kids. The admission price includes an audio guide, which was actually interesting. I hung with the audio guide for most of the tour until my ears got cold and the wind made it hard to hear. Besides, there is only so much you can learn about volcanoes and rocks. I reached my limit and just wanted to take pictures. Supposedly, you can walk to the rocks for free, but you can’t park in their car park unless you pay. I’m not really sure how that works, but it’s worth looking into if you’re on a budget. We walked down, stopping at certain points for the audio guide, but then took the bus back up because it was cold, and we were DONE.
Here’s a little that I learned about the Giant’s Causeway. I’m in no way a geologist or any kind of scientist, so fact check this yourself if you truly came here to learn. The Giant’s Causeway is a result of ancient volcanic fissure, and consists of 40,000 interlocking basalt columns. It’s pretty cool how they fit together and are different heights. The Irish have a legend that the causeway was created by a giant named Finn MacCool (thus the name), but I’m fairly certain it was science that created it. You can google it if you’re undecided. Regardless, the columns are impressive, and a must do if you’re traveling to Belfast. You can also hike on the cliffs above; if we had more time, we would’ve done it but it was a long day and the weather just wasn’t cooperating.
There are a couple other attractions in the area. You can go hiking or walking along the cliffs for more spectacular views. There is also an area called Portcoon Jetty that is supposed to be beautiful. If you like castles, Dunluce Castle is nearby. And if you like whiskey, the Bush Mills Distillery is also close by. All these options sounded wonderful, but we lost track of time and it was too late to do anything else. We opted for an early dinner nearby at the Smuggler’s Inn and it was quite tasty! I’d definitely recommend this place if you’re hungry after exploring. It was an uneventful drive back to Belfast, and an early evening for us before exploring more of Belfast the next day.
If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ll probably have come to the conclusion that I’m a nerd. A well traveled nerd, but a nerd none the less. I’d say you’re correct in your assumptions, and I can prove it. The author C.S. Lewis is from Belfast. He is most known for the Chronicles of Narnia series. So first thing in the morning, I took my husband and mother on a wild goose chase through Belfast, looking for C.S. Lewis Square. There were a couple wrong turns and some confusion as to where to park, but we did eventually find it. Of course I took pictures of all the statues! If you’re a fan of the books, don’t miss this in Belfast.
After stalking the various statues from C.S. Lewis’s books, I took my dorkiness to a more socially acceptable level and visited the Titanic Museum. I feel like most of you are fascinated by the Titanic disaster, and who didn’t love seeing Leo and Kate on the big screen? You know you’ve seen that movie; in fact you hear Celine Dion singing right now, and you’re reminded of the fact that there was totally room for two people on that door, Rose! Anyhow, back to the museum. Shipbuilding was (and remains) a major industry in Belfast. The city had some hard times, as did most of Ireland. The museum tells the story of the city of Belfast, it’s shipbuilding roots, and how the Titanic was built. It also shares what happened on that fateful night, minus the Hollywood drama. The museum is a bit pricier – 19 pounds a person, but it was very interesting and held our attention for a couple hours. They have a discounted price if you arrive an hour before close. I’d say it’s worth doing when you go to Belfast.
Belfast is a wonderful city to visit, and a popular alternative to Dublin. Northern Ireland has so much to offer, especially if you love nature and the outdoors. It is definitely a country that needs to be on your bucket list! I hope to get the chance to head back someday to do some hiking, visit the Gobbins, and see the Peace Wall. We were limited on time, but did check off most of the major attractions.
Before I moved to England, I thought the United Kingdom was entirely synonymous with England. I guess I just thought Wales (and Scotland) were their own separate countries. Wales is definitely in driving distance (around 5 hours) from where we live, and the thought of driving to another country is just so cool! Especially when you don’t have to go through customs. I honestly didn’t know much about Wales, but was intrigued about the other side of the island. Before booking our weekend adventure, I just knew I wanted to see the coast, ride my bike, do some hiking, and see castles. The last bit is super easy; Wales is known for castles! Wales is a rather small country, but there are 600 castles (though some are ruins). Lucky for me, I was able to check everything off of my list during our short trip to Wales!
Pembrokeshire, Wales is a gorgeous area! There is a lot to do an see there, and traveling by car is almost essential. It’s the type of place where you stop and enjoy the view and see a few sites as you drive along the coast, or drive to your destination. We tried to plan it out as best we could, but we were still in the car a lot, and heading in every direction trying to see everything. Pembrokeshire boasts 186 miles of coastline and 50 beaches, so we were in for quite a treat. The beaches and coastal formations in the United Kingdom are incredible; you don’t really think of blue-green water and beaches when you think of England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, but they truly are fabulous! The Pembrokeshire region definitely has some great ones.
We headed out on a Saturday morning, and our drive was pretty uneventful. We hit the usual traffic around London, but nothing major. As we were getting closer to Wales, we saw signs for heavy traffic; it looked like the traffic was heading towards Cornwall and thankfully not where we were going. That said, maybe Bank Holidays aren’t the best travel days in England? Next time we will get up a little earlier to avoid the rush and give us more time at our destination. Our first stop of the day was Pembroke Castle, in the town of Pembroke. Wales is known for it’s castles and this one was definitely a treat! Pembroke Castle is the largest privately owned castle in Wales. So often we will visit castles and they are more like ruins, and not very elaborate. Pembroke Castle was rather incredible and looks like a real castle. The first castle on the site was built in 1093 during the Norman Invasion of Wales. The castle we see today was built in the 12th century. In 1457, Harri Tudor was born in one of the castle towers. He later became Henry VII of the Tudor line of Monarchs.
Our next stop was the coastline for some walking and spectacular views. The main attraction was the Green Bridge of Wales and Stack Rocks. I will say, our GPS led us astray in getting here. While the postcode is helpful, make sure you follow the signs. The post code we used for the Green Bridge of Wales and Stack Rocks is It does look like your driving through an Army Base, and you are, but it’s part of the route. The Green Bridge of Wales (and Stack Rocks) is located beyond the Castlemartin military training area. The road in is narrow and bumpy (welcome to Wales!) so be prepared for that. Once parked, you can walk along the coast as there are some trails. You do need to stay off the military property though.
I first discovered the Green Bridge of Wales when searching for hikes and things to do in Pembrokeshire. I was immediately captivated by the photos I saw, and knew we were making the right choice in exploring this area of the coast. While similar to my recent post about Durdle Door, the Green Bridge of Wales is also a limestone arch. The geology of the area contains carboniferious limestone, and over time the arch has eroded from rock and wind, along with chemical erosion. The Green Bridge is aptly named, as vegetation grows near and on the rock formation. It is found on the Pembrokeshire Coast Path, and if we had more time, we would’ve walked much further along the path. Prior to our visit, in 2017, the formation lost a lot of rocks due to Storm Ophelia, which I remember creating havoc in the United Kingdom, particularly Wales. The Pembrokeshire Coastline is absolutely stunning, and a must do if you like to hike!
It started getting pretty windy and rainy, so after exploring a little more of the coast, we headed to our hotel to check in. If you’ve never driven in Wales, particularly the countryside, there’s no way for me to fully explain the narrow, curving, backroads we took to get there. Roads that can barely fit one car, are actually two lane roads with a 60mph speed limit! We had a brush with death every time we took a turn, and many times we just honked and hoped for the best. We didn’t crash, or get a flat tire, so we called it a success! After an hour or so of being a panicked passenger trying not to toss my cookies, we arrived in St. David’s, the small city we stayed in.
We stayed at the City Inn in St. David’s. I’ll be honest and say we didn’t love our hotel. It was loud, smokey (it seemed to seep in through the windows even though it was supposedly non-smoking), and there was only a tub with no shower attachment. On the plus side, it had a delicious breakfast, pub downstairs, and was convenient to town. The parking lot was also a plus since we drove to Wales.
When we arrived, we headed out for a short evening hike. Once heading out of town, we found a path along the campsites. The Pembrokeshire Coast has a plethora of campsites for those who like to camp, either in a camper or a tent. This appeared to be a very popular location for camping. We tossed around the idea of going back and camping, but who knows if we will; after all, I like a comfy bed and pillows! We arrived at the coast during “golden hour” and it was beautiful. We headed down a trail that took us to the beach and dipped our toes in. Despite the cold water, several people were swimming. As former triathletes, we would describe the water as “wetsuit legal”. We decided to head back up the steps to walk around on top of the cliffs. We ambled along for an hour or so, and the views were incredible. We knew in that moment we made the right decision to come hiking and biking in Wales instead of heading to a city.
The next morning, after a delicious full English breakfast, we headed out on our bicycles. We are former triathletes in our past lives, so we brought our tri bikes with us. In the past, we would train for Ironman races, and would ride on the road for 80-100 miles. While our bodies aren’t capable of that any more, we are still able to go for 20-30 mile rides! We thought we’d seen it all during those days, but nothing prepares you for biking on the narrow, hilly, windy roads in Wales, as cars go by! All in all, it was a great ride through little villages, complete with views of the sea. We are flatlanders, so the rolling hills were a nice change of pace. Despite the on and off rain, we enjoyed ourselves and even got close up and personal with some sweet lambs!
After our bike ride, we headed back to the hotel to change for our hike! We wanted to make the most of the short weekend in Wales, and the coastline is just so stunning that we had to explore. There are so many places to hike along the Pembrokeshire Coastline, you really can’t go wrong. We parked near a campsite again, and just went on our merry way! We hiked from St. Justinians along the coast to Whitesands Bay. One of the best parts of the hike, aside from the ocean views, was seeing all the wild horses on the trail.
That evening, after being exhausted from hiking and biking, we decided to venture to a small harbor town called Porthgain. We had read about supposedly “the best fish and chips shop in Wales”. The line was out the door and wrapped around the corner, so we decided to wander around. We stumbled into a pub called The Sloop Inn, and had a delicious seafood dinner. The atmosphere and service was good, and I would recommend it.
We headed back to the hotel early, and intended to get some sleep. However, it was so loud from the pub downstairs, that we decided to just go have another beer. The next morning, we did some wandering around St. David’s, and visited St. David’s Cathedral. Here’s an interesting story — St. David’s in the smallest city in all of the United Kingdom. In fact, it’s smaller than some towns and villages, but it’s still considered a city because it has a Cathedral. In order to be granted “city status” in the United Kingdom, you must have a Cathedral, not just a Church. St. David’s Cathedral is absolutely beautiful, and it’s worth checking out. Construction began on the current cathedral in 1180, but there has been a church on that site since the year 600. It has been a pilgrimmage site for 4,000 years, as St. David is said to have born nearby. There are ruins of St. David’s Palace on the property as well, which are fun to explore.
After exploring St. David’s and the Cathedral, we headed towards the coastline again. We had a boat trip around Ramsey Island booked. We arrived early, and of course did an easy hike in the area surrounding the harbor. Our boat trip was around the island, on a RHIB boat. The island is home to lots of wildlife, particularly birds. Later in the season it is common to see puffins. We did see one fly by very quickly, but didn’t get a good glimpse. The tour was incredible, with our guide who was full of knowledge about the area. One word of caution – the temperature dropped from about 70F and sunny, to about 45F and foggy once we left the shore, so dress accordingly! We were able to marvel at the beautiful cliffs and formations around the island. I did my best to take pictures but it was hard on a small, moving boat, and the last thing I wanted was for my camera to end up in the water! We really enjoyed this tour, and highly recommend it as it gives you an opportunity to learn about and see some of the birds on Ramsey Island.
We were so glad we made the drive to Wales for the weekend! We’ve talked about going back, perhaps to Northern Wales and Snowdonia. Any recommendations??
I kept hearing about the Jurassic Coast and how it was so beautiful, but I never really knew WHAT it is was. I just knew England has impressive coastlines. A quick google search, and it immediately went on my list of “must see” places in England! Living in England, we have access to many discount airlines such as Ryanair and Easyjet, out of London Stansted airport. It can be so simple to find a cheap (50 pounds or less roundtrip) flight to the mainland of Europe. Since moving here, we’ve been to over 20 European countries! One regret I do not want to have, is to live in England, without actually SEEING anything more than our town and London. So a weekend trip to the Jurassic Coast was a must for us, and should be for you as well! I can honestly say we’ll be back to explore areas farther west on the coast.
What is the Jurassic Coast you ask and does it have anything to do with dinosaurs??? The Jurassic Coast is a World Heritage Site; it spans 95 miles of coastline in Southern England, stretching from Dorset (the area we visited) to Devon. The stunning coastline features a variety of rocks and cliffs from the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous Periods. This area brags 185 years of geological history, all in one place! As the cliffs erode, they expose more and more of the past. The study of the rocks, and evidence of fossils prove how the area has changed over millions and millions of years. During the Triassic Period (around 250 million years ago) the Jurassic Coastline was a desert. The region was covered by a tropical sea during the Jurassic Period, and then a swamp during the Cretaceous Period. I guess a lot can change in 250 million years! As one might predict, fossils are found in abundance in this area, allowing us to learn so much. Most of the fossils found have been marine animals such as mollusks, clams, starfish, sea urchins, and even nautilus. Interestingly enough, there was indeed a dinosaur fossil discovered on the Jurassic Coast. In 2000, the remains of an armored dinosaur, Scelidosaurus, was found. (Please don’t ask me to pronounce that). The fossil was determined to be 195 million years old! Sheesh. And I feel bad about turning 42 this fall. Compared to that guy, I got a lot of life left in me.
The area itself is full of idyllic views, each with their own unique look and history. There is SO much to see in the area, and 48 hours is obviously not enough time to explore all 95 miles of nature’s splendor (especially since you have to drive back roads to get to everything), but it does make the perfect weekend getaway for exploring PART of the coast! There are so many options and things to see. To be honest, we tried to make it a relaxing weekend and didn’t have a jam packed agenda; there is definitely potential to pack in much more than we did. Given that we wanted to relax, and the fact that it rained on and off on Sunday, we moved at a slower pace. The decision has already been made to return to the Jurassic Coast, but instead of staying in Dorset, explore the Devon area. However, my husband is not eager to drive the M roads around London anytime soon, so it may be a while….
We drove to the Jurassic Coast, as we thought it would only be a 3.5 hour drive, and it would be nice to have a car once there. However, nothing is ever easy with the M11 and getting around London. We made the mistake of traveling on the last weekend of half term, which also turned out to be a beautiful. Cue lots of cursing and frustration as our trip turned out to 5.5 hours! After an agonizing drive, we arrived in Weymouth, our “home base” for the next 45 hours or so. We stayed at the Kelston Guest Home, a charming B and B in a row house. Everything was perfect about our stay, except the parking situation. Traffic had delayed us, so by the time we arrived, there was no parking to be found. Pretty much all of the BnBs in the area offer a limited number of parking passes, but it is applicable for street parking, which is limited. We drove around the streets of Weymouth for almost 40 minutes until we gave up and went back to our guest house. The owner was kind enough to give us her spot, and then took off searching for parking (which presumably she knows the ins and outs of the area, because she found parking rather quickly). It appears that parking is an issue for all visitors (except those who take the train to Weymouth, so if that is an affordable option for you, I’d strongly consider it). The owners at Kelston Guest House were amazing and so accommodating; they also cooked the most delicious full English breakfast with incredible sausages and French pressed coffee! They also gave us information about the area and were super friendly. Our room was cozy and quiet, and the location was perfect for us – gave us easy access to the boardwalk and restaurants. We loved our visit, and would definitely stay there again. However, the owners told us not to book their place on hotels.com in the future; they shared that the best rates are found on their actual website. Good to know for next time, as we’d certainly love to come back!
After the great parking dilemma, we put our luggage in our room and set out to explore and find dinner. As I mentioned, the location of our guest house was ideal for walking the beach and boardwalk. It was a bit brisk that evening, but we enjoyed our walk past the houses and guest houses that lined the beach. Determined to find a good meal, we stopped and browsed menus until we decided on Enzos. I can always eat Italian food, especially when there is gnocchi on the menu! We had an enjoyable dinner and then had a leisurely stroll along the boardwalk, back to our guest house. Exhausted from our drive, we set our alarms for the latest time possible that would still allow us to get to breakfast and get our day started.
Our Saturday started with the aroma of rashers (British bacon; it’s different, but so much better than American bacon, believe it or not!) and we quickly got ready and headed to the dining room for breakfast, where we had an assigned seat. Here’s a random fact; prior to moving to the United Kingdom, my husband and I lived in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia, just next to Virginia Beach. Due to the time change, we didn’t find out until that morning that a mass shooting had taken place the evening before, in which 12 people were fatally shot. The events were unfolding on BBC as we ate our breakfast. It was so surreal for this to have happened in our town! You never think it could happen where you live, but it can. I also wondered what the other guests thought of us, specifically the gun violence problem in America. I wonder how many of them were surprised by the news, since mass shootings appear to now be a daily part of American. Honestly, seeing those images on the news and coming to the realization that this was the place I used to live, was just so crazy and will forever be a memory when I think of the Jurassic Coast.
After breakfast we had to give up our coveted parking spot, unfortunately. We really wanted to leave our car there to avoid another dramatic evening circling around the same streets, looking for somewhere to park. But, none of the places we were going were in walking distance. However, we did decide to be back by early evening so we could find a spot more easily. Or so we hoped. Our first stop of the day was to a site I’d been excited to see, and probably the whole reason I planned a trip to the Jurassic Coast.
Durdle Door was our first stop of the day, and it did not disappoint! I’d been wanting to see it since a friend showed me pictures of her trip. Durdle Door in Southern Dorset, is one of the most photographed (instagrammed?) features on the Jurassic Coast, and possibly all of England! It’s not hard to see why, with it’s stunning formation, and blue green water. Seriously…. who knew we had water like this in the United Kingdom?? Durdle Door is a limestone arch that has been eroded over time. It was formed 140 million years ago, and one day, the top will be eroded away as well, leaving just two stacks sticking out of the water. It’s truly an incredible site to see, and worth the short, hilly, hike from the parking lot. (Yes, there is a plethora of parking there but you do pay a small fee). You can walk the path further along the coast, for different views of Durdle Door. It was truly amazing to marvel at the beautiful colors of the English Coast. Durdle Door is definitely the highlight of any Dorset trip, so don’t miss it!
After wandering around for a bit at Durdle Door, we set out for Lulworth Cove. The parking that we paid for also included Lulworth Cove, so that was a nice bonus, and the two sites are somewhat close to each other. There is a way to hike from Durdle Door down to Lulworth Cove, but we had a jam packed day and I wasn’t feeling well, so it was better to drive. I definitely would like to make the trip back to the coast to do some hiking. If I haven’t mentioned it yet, the views are spectacular! Lulworth has a slightly touristy vibe to it, with gift shops, many ice cream carts (of course we had some!) and ads for homes to let. The area gets pretty crowded, but I’m still glad we went. The cove and white pebble beach is beautiful, even more so from above. There are hiking trails all around, and the area is a great place for families, especially since the swimming area is protected and calm. The Fossil Forest is also right near Lulworth Cove, something we will be going back to do! The Fossil Forest is from the Jurassic Period, and many fossils are found in the petrified remains of a former swamp.
I wish we could’ve spent more time and done some hiking around Lulworth Cove, but we had to make the most of the sunshine! We were spending less than 48 hours on the Jurassic Coast, and Sunday the forecast was for rain all day, so we did our best to squeeze in a lot on Saturday. Our next stop after Lulworth Cove, was a boat tour of the Jurassic Coast, to see the stunning cliffs from the sea. We booked a 2.5 hour return boat trip from Poole to Swanage and back, on Poole City Cruises. The main reason for wanting to book the tour was to see views of the spectacular Old Harry Rocks. I had seen so many pictures on instagram, many of them drone pics, and knew I wanted to see it up close. The boat tour was pretty easy to book and you have the option of getting off in Swanage and returning on a later boat, but we didn’t. The weather was perfect for the tour, and we even received free entertainment from the dolphins that caught a free ride in the current next to the boat. The views of the Jurassic Coast from sea are phenomenal, and I highly recommend this tour for a relaxing afternoon. My pictures from the moving boat do not do the area justice.
After our boat trip, we wanted to explore Poole, but didn’t….. Ugh, the whole parking situation in Weymouth is seriously insane and annoying. We felt like we had to be back around 5-5:30pm in order to find a spot. While we loved our guest house, it’s so worth it to find one that has it’s own lot instead of just parking passes. After returning to the guest house, we relaxed and took a nap before heading out to dinner. Side note: my pet peeve about England is the lack of good burgers. You can go to a nice restaurant or a charming pub, and if you order a burger it always comes back well done and like a charcoal briquette with no flavor. It’s constant disappointment with burgers in England. They just don’t make them like we are used to in the United States! So naturally, we were in the mood to complain, so we tried Dorset Burger Company. OMGGGGG. This place is the real deal! We FINALLY found a good burger in England! The ambiance is great as well; you must try this place if you stay in Weymouth and like burgers. I know we will be back!
We woke up Sunday morning to the sound of rain, and overcast skies. After a delicious breakfast at Kelston Guest House, we checked out early, and re-evaluated our plans for the day. We opted for a steam train experience, leaving from the small town of Norden and going to Corfe Castle and Swanage. The Swanage Railway makes for a fun afternoon, riding in historic steam and diesel trains to different tourist attractions. You pass through beautiful countryside along the coast, with tons of sheep (which we love). Since we bought a return ticket, we decided to ride straight to the last stop, Swanage, and walk around. We had been to Swanage on our Jurassic Coast boat tour, but never actually got off the boat. We browsed some shops, and meandered the streets until we arrived at a hilltop overlooking the city. Swanage seems like a cool town to explore, but we wanted to make the next train so we only stayed an hour.
After wandering around Swanage, we headed back to the train to catch a ride to Corfe Castle. Corfe Castle is both a village and the ruins of a castle. We loved this stop; it was so adorable! The sun even peeked out for a tiny bit, so we could enjoy this charming village, with it’s stone buildings and iconic uniformity. We spent some time admiring the cottages and visiting the shops; in particular we enjoyed some fudge from a local store. You can enter the castle grounds but we opted against it as our National Trust membership had run out, and we would have to pay to enter. It’s a great deal (free!) if you are a member, so definitely take advantage of that. If you’re not a National Trust member or haven’t heard it, definitely check it out. We will be joining again after our English Heritage runs out. After wandering, we stopped at a pub for a delicious Sunday Roast and a pint of cider, and sat in the back garden with views of the castle ruins. It was the perfect afternoon!
Thinking we were having luck with the weather, we thought we’d make one more outdoor stop for siteseeing before leaving, but as soon as we arrived, it started pouring. We opted to get an early start on the drive home, thinking we’d be home in time for a late dinner. But guess what? That damn London traffic turned it into a 5 hour drive again! I guess the moral of the story is to take the train! We definitely were thrilled with our time in Dorset, and would like to return again soon to see more of the coast. I hope you are convinced to go as well!
I booked our trip to Malta without fully researching what to do and how long to stay. I was shocked to learn there was so much to do, and more than one island! Most of our trips, with the exception of summer and winter holiday, are short 2-3 day trips, so I was originally worried 4 days in Malta would be too long. It turned out to be quite the opposite! I personally wanted to stay on the mainland and wasn’t sure if we would venture elsewhere. The idea of switching hotels after two days didn’t appeal to me, so I just assumed we’d stay on the mainland. However, the Islands of Gozo and Comino looked beautiful and intriguing, and once I learned they are easily accessible by the ferry system, I decided to book day trips. This allowed us to keep one “home base” and still see multiple places in Malta. We booked both of our tours through Viator, and would recommend them as they were excellent and exactly what we were looking for! We choose to stay in Sliema due to it’s access to restaurants and the ferry to Valletta (plus, lots of hotels with air conditioning!).
The first day trip was to the island of Gozo, where we went on a Tuk-Tuk tour of the entire island, seeing many sites. Gozo is one of 21 of the Maltese Islands. The island of Gozo is rural, but still boasts an incredible coastline, and beautiful churches and cathedrals. The tour began with being picked up by a van in front of our hotel. The van picked up a few other passengers before heading to the ferry terminal at Cirkewwa, on the other end of the island. The ferry was large and we enjoyed views of the stunning Maltese coastline along the way. It was an easy process, as our guide and Tuk-Tuk were both waiting for us at the ferry terminal. The groups were split according to language spoken. On this particular day, it was just us and one other couple who spoke English, so we lucked out with a smaller group.
After leaving the ferry port, it wasn’t long until we were in a more rural area. The island is hilly and green, and it was a beautiful ride. Our guide stopped often to point out landmarks and share information about the island. We did stop to view some churches briefly, but he explained that there were a ton on the island and we couldn’t possibly see them all. We did stop to take a quick picture of a cathedral in the distance before winding along to the coast. At the coastline, we were greeted with views of the stunning Sanap Cliffs. The limestone cliffs are beautiful, and accented by the gorgeous hues of the water. While walking around the cliffs, our guide pointed out the wild capers — it turns out, capers are plentiful on Malta, which makes sense as they were in several dishes we ordered.
After seeing the cliffs, we explored more of the Maltese Coastline, stopping for to take in the sights and snap a few photos. Our tour continued to Xlendi Bay, which is a popular beach spot for the locals. Following that, we headed into town and stopped a store where we had the opportunity to sample local products such as nougat candies, jellies, liquors, and more. As we drove through the center of town, preparations were underway for the Feast of St. George taking place that weekend. The decorations were quite elaborate and spanned several blocks; it definitely looked like a giant street party would be taking place! We arrived in a town on a harbor, and had a delicious 3 course meal for lunch served outside. I find Maltese food to similar to Italian cooking, but with it’s own flare.
After lunch, our journey continued along the coast, where we continued to feel the breeze (open air Tuk-Tuk ride) as we marveled at the island’s beauty. We stopped by some salt pans along the sea, before heading to a modern Cathedral, called The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Blessed Virgin of Ta Pinu (or Ta Pinu, for short). The Cathedral is a Roman Catholic minor Basilica and shrine, set in the countryside where visitors are treated to views of the island. As far as impressive Cathedrals in Europe go, Ta Pinu is relatively new. The groundbreaking was in 1920, not too long ago considering many churches are 1,000 years old. Built with Maltese stone, the Cathedral is beautiful both on the outside and inside. It is definitely worth a visit when on Gozo.
You may notice that Maltese architecture has some uniformity; the lightly colored stone buildings are all constructed of limestone. Why is that, you ask? Sure light colored buildings keep things cool in the heat, but more importantly is the access to limestone. Limestone is abundant on Malta, and being an island nation, they use what they have. Our tour took us past one of the limestone quarries. The sheer size was incredible, and it was so interesting to see how the limestone is mined (not that I completely understand how it works, but it does look pretty fascinating). The Maltese certainly import some products, but they are also very self sufficient as well, not only with utilizing limestone, but also growing crops, making their own (delicious) wine, etc.
Following our stop at the quarry, we headed to the Blue Grotto. We stopped at a tiny swimming hole where locals and tourists gather to enjoy the clear water. For a few euros, you have the option of hopping in a rowboat to go through the cave and see the grotto up close. We were so glad we did this, because the colors are indescribable! The purple hues of the submerged flora are also reflected against the caves, making it even more incredible. Fun fact, the Blue Grotto was in the movie Troy, with Brad Pitt. Definitely check this out if you have the opportunity; I’ve never seen water so vibrant and blue.
Our last stop on our wonderful day tour of Gozo, was the Citadel. The tour actually gave us an entire hour there. It wasn’t enough time to see everything there, but we were satisfied, and we also saw incredible views from Citadel, or Castello. The Citadel of Victoria is in walking distance to the center of town. The ancient Citadel was first fortified by the Bronze Age people, around 1500 BC. Inside the Citadel complex is the baroque Cathedral of Santa Maria. Like much of Malta, the history of the Citadel is complex and reflects all the changes and inhabitants of Malta over the course of history. The sweeping views are worth the stairs and hilly climb.
Again, we wanted to see as much of Malta as possible while maintaining our “base” in Sliema. We also didn’t want to deal with renting a car. We live in England, so we are well aware of how to drive on the left side of the road; we just didn’t know how easy it would be to finding parking. Soooooo…. another day trip! This time we wanted to see the small, mostly uninhabited island of Comino. Or simply put, we wanted to SWIM in the waters off the coast of Comino and enjoy a relaxing day. A day trip on a catamaran accomplished all of this! This trip was relatively cheap, around $30 a person. It did NOT include transportation from Sliema. However, public transportation can take you to Bugibba, where the trip departed. We opted for a cab, and while I can’t recall an exact price, I want to say it was around 25 euros. All of the cab fares in Malta are set price.
While we enjoyed this trip, and loved that we could swim and snorkel for hours, the boat was a bit crowded and large. It was worth it, and the price was right. Definitely try and find a more secluded spot on the catamaran. We went straight upstairs to front, where there were two seats together. The tour also offered people the opportunity to go to Gozo, which we passed on because we had been the day before. However, if you are short on time, you might consider doing both in one day.
The day began with sailing along the Maltese coastline on the way to Comino. The first point of interest was called St. Paul’s Island. It is said that St. Paul was shipwrecked here around 60 AD, while on his way to Rome to face charges. He was rescued by the locals and remained on Malta for some time. The boat also sailed past beautiful cliffs and came in close to some coves, to feast on the splendor of the sparkling blue water. We continued onward to the main attraction for us, the Blue Lagoon. This particular tour brings you to the Blue Lagoon in the morning, BEFORE it becomes extremely crowded. The boat moors for about 90 minutes before making a quick trip to Gozo to drop off those who elected to see both islands in one day. It then returns to Comino, but as the day progresses, the spot becomes crowded. We loved using the water slide in the Blue Lagoon, and also brought our snorkels; it’s amazing how far down you can see!
The island of Comino is uninhabited. You are able to get off the boat or out of the water to walk around. There are also many vendors selling food and drink on the island, and the boat sells food as well. I was glad we had the catamaran as our “base” despite how crowded it was, because the small beach at the Blue Lagoon was completely packed with people on every inch of the sand. We basically only ventured on the island to grab some lunch and take some pictures; it was way to crowded for us. We spent most of our time in the refreshing water. In the afternoon, the boat made a swimming stop at the Crystal Lagoon, which is close to the Blue Lagoon, but with less people. We actually enjoyed this spot the best. Not only was it beautiful, but you could also swim through caves! The boat returned to Malta in the early evening. I’d say this day was a win; if you like swimming, this is the trip for you! Oh and the bartenders make a great frozen drink, aptly named “the Blue Lagoon”.
If you are spending more than a day or two on Malta, definitely consider visiting the islands of Gozo and Comino. If you don’t like crowds, skip the Blue Lagoon in the summer! Gozo is definitely an island I would like to see more of, particularly Victoria, if we ever return to Malta.