Author Archives: Gemma

Austin Christmas Events: 32 Things to do during Winter

Guitars lit up in dark

Come winter, Austin is alive with Christmas spirit and the spirits that fill your glass! This guide to Austin Christmas events details the best things to do in the city during the festive period including music, parades, shows, lights and bar events.

Don’t miss this extensive list of what to do in Austin all year round too!

Things to do in Austin in December

Gliding, singing, and slugging; whatever your favorite festive pastime, you can do it in The Live Music Capital of the World this winter.

Austin Holiday Lights, Parades and Winter Activities

1. Ice Skating at Whole Foods (on the Roof!) 

Although it may be 80 degrees outside, you can always count on the Whole Foods corporate world headquarters (525 N Lamar Blvd) to crank down the AC and host their seasonal rooftop skating rink.  

→ Pro tip: Grab a snack or a bottle of wine from the store to enjoy on the roof apres skate! 

2. Zilker Trail of Lights and Tree 

After you’ve seen the Trail of Lights in Zilker Park, check out the Zilker Holiday Tree.

Perfect for photo ops and sinful snacks!

This 155 ft string of lights shaped tree is free to visit. There is sometimes music and there is always scalding hot chocolate and kettle corn.

Austin Christmas Trail of Lights

3. Minor Mishaps Winter Solstice Lantern Parade

‘Bourbon Street meets Budapest’! 

Join this 25 piece renegade brass band as they put on a fun mobile brass band show along the banks of Austin’s Lady Bird Lake (where I married Gemma and Craig, Two Scots Abroad!)

Guests of the Minor Mishaps Marching Band are encouraged to bring lanterns…. And to rock out! It’s free but you need to RSVP.

4. KRAMPUS – Dead Music Capitol Marching Band  

Austin at Christmas is all about the marching bands, it is the town that hosts HONK! Festival after all! 

KRAMPUS are like the naughty step-sister band of Minor Mishap who also host a holiday parade on the streets of Austin, goth-tastic no less!

5. Chuy’s Holiday Parade Downtown

Chuy’s Holiday Parade harkens back to America’s traditional small town celebrations: lots of school marching bands, veterans, etc, giving it that warm and fuzzy old school feel.

Pro tip: The best vantage point is from above.

Head to the balcony of Stephen F. Austin Hotel Bar and enjoy a drink and some truffle oil popcorn while you watch. 

Chuy’s Tex Mex features in this guide on where to eat in Austin.

6. 37th Street Lights 

After a few years of being closed, Austin’s favorite holiday neighborhood is back! 

Crank up your tunes, roll down your windows, and soak up some genuine “old Austin” holiday spirit on 37th Street

7. Boat Trail of Lights 

Prefer to see some lights on water?

No problem! Check out the Boat Trail of Lights on Lake Austin.

This is where locals decorate their own boats and sail down the lake.

If you don’t have a boat, you can book a spot on Austin’s Party Barge, or a table at Lakeway Resort and Spa.

8. German Christmas Market

The German-Texan Heritage Society hosts a Christmas market (507 East 10th St) in Austin featuring decorations as they are imported from the Erzgebirge, an East-German region which known for it’s Christmas customs.

Glühwein and a visit from St Nick is also on the schedule!

9. Christmas Light Show at Mozarts 

Mozart’s Coffee has been in action since the 90s and its light show has become quite an institution.

Expect piano playing on the lit up piano, choirs and of course, coffee!

10. Peppermint Parkway

Drive through millions of lights of the Peppermint Parkways, Circuit of Americas (9201 Circuit of the Americas Blvd).

Share some love at the kissing booth, hop aboard the Peppermint Express at Peppermint Plaza, and pick a fresh Christmas tree from the Winter Woods at this lit Austin Christmas event.

Music in Austin at Christmas 

Austin is the music capital of the world and this title doesn’t drop just because Santa is coming to town.

11. Austonettes

The Austonettes play a cappella holiday show every winter where they cover holiday tunes.

Their tribute to the film “Love, Actually” is especially adorable.

12. Kelly Willis & Bruce Robinson Annual Christmas Show at Paramount

Kelly & Bruce are Austin music royalty.

Every year they host a sold out holiday show at the historic Austin Theatre.

Get in the spirit with some Twang Time! 

13. Bob Schneider & the Moonlight Orchestra Annual Holiday Show  

Bob Schneider can be found with his “Lonelyland” residency every Monday at the iconic Saxon Pub in South Austin.  

However, every winter, he cleans up and plays with the Moonlight Orchestra for this festive holiday show.

14. Music FREE WEEK in January 

Does what it says on the tin! Free bands all week in January. Perfect, since everyone is feeling the festive pinch! 

Love music? Check out our guide on how to SXSW for free  + where to stay

Austin at Christmas skyline while dark

Festive Restaurants and Christmas Bars in Austin

15. Justine’s Winter Tents 

The coolest place to warm up!

Justine’s creates elaborate “winter tents” which more than double the space of this super hip French restaurant.

They also host awesome parties and theme nights.

Open late with mouthwatering steak frites, Justine’s is the place to be seen this Christmas in Austin!

16. Fonda San Miguel 

Fonda San Miguel is like visiting a Mexican hacienda – right in central Austin!  

It’s super festive and always delicious. Serving excellent margaritas, Fonda San Miguel is a true Texas Holiday tradition. → Pro tip: Try the traditional corn soup.

Christmas cocktail Fonda San Miguel

17. LaLa’s Little Nugget 

It’s *always* Christmas at this legendary Austin dive-bar, LaLa’s Little Nugget (2207 Justin Ln).  

Also features an an old-school jukebox and games.

18. Donn’s Depot Honky Tonk Christmas

Nothing says Texas like Honky Tonk so why not visit Donn’s Depot (1600 W 5th St) for a tradition and Christmas fusion?

Established in 1978, this piano bar has two dance floors, and is located in old rail cars and a former depot.

Hot and cold festive cocktail menu available every year!

19. S’mores at Halcyon 

Fancy a treat?  

Halcyon (218 West 4th St) will let you fire up a bunsen burner and roast your own marshmallows from the comfort of your own sofa!  

Just watch the flame near the throw pillows!  

20. Christmas Tree at the Driskill Hotel  

Don’t let the ghost scare you away!  

Enjoy a photo with the famous tree at the Driskill Hotel (604 Brazos St) and a cocktail with a friend in the fun Cattleman’s hotel bar.

21. Snow At Edge Rooftop

Snow falls every hour on the hour in winter at JW Marriott Austin’s Edge Rooftop (110 E 2nd St).

Melt marshmallows over an open fire, watch the city turn from day to night, and get tipsy on the  hot buttered rum cocoa at this stunning rooftop Christmas bar.

22. Gibson Wonderland

Gibson Street Bar (1109 South Lamar) loves a holiday and is known for its Nightmare on Gibson and Gibson Wonderland decor.

Sip on a spiked hot coco under the magical Christmas interior.

23. The South Pole at Geraldine’s

Grab your closest pals at hideaway at Geraldine’s (605 Davis St) igloos.

Order a Christmas cocktail and soak it up with Southern comfort food.

24. Miracle on 5th Street Christmas Bar 

This pop up bar (307 W 5th St) in downtown Austin is festive and fab.  

Speciality Christmas cocktails in Santa mugs are on the menu.

→  Pro tip: It’s usually packed, so plan ahead!

Christmas mugs at The Eleanor Miracle on 5th St Austin

Christmas Shopping in Austin

25. Thrift Tour & Reuse Immersion with Bernadette Noll 

Want a totally unique shopping experience?  

Lookout for Bernadette Noll of Austin Creative Reuse take you on a guided tour of her favorite thrift shops, vintage shops & reuse centers.  

Upcycle, baby! 

You may also like our free things to do in Austin guide.

26. South Congress

This stretch of street hosts some of the most fun shops in Austin.

Lucy in Disguise, Yard Dog, Tesoros Import Store, Big Top Candy Shop, Allen’s Boots…

You’ll have a blast strolling around and you can even pick up a taco and catch some music in the beer garden at Guero’s Taco Bar!

South Congress is where many of Austin’s IG spots are located.

Allens Boots red sign with blue skies South Congress Austin

27. Fairs for Holiday Shopping

Looking for something local and crafty to purchase? 

Look no further than the following three markets.

Cherrywood Art Fair for an art filled two-day event with local artists, live music, kids activities and food.

Blue Genie Art Bazaar is an online and in-person shopping experience that offers personal shopping too.

Hotel San Jose Holiday Market hosts local makers, food and drink specials, and live music so you can bop while you shop.

Christmas Theatre, Film and Art

28. Austin Swing Syndicate Swing Dance Lessons

Now that you are here in Texas, you need to learn to dance like you are from here!  

Austin Swing Syndicate offers weekly dance lessons at the beautiful Texas Federation of Women’s Club.  

Don’t be shy! 

29. December Specialty Screenings at the Alamo Ritz 

The Alamo Ritz is always a fun time.

This retro theater has food and drink and always a surprising lineup of films during the holidays.

30. Make Art at Smudge Studios 

Want to make art?  

Try Smudge Studios for a super fun and creative art studio with its own self contained splatter paint room.

→ Bonus: They have a great gift shop!

31. Creek Show Art Installation 

The annual Creek Show art installation on Waller Creek is the coolest thing in town.

Catch it while you can because it’s only up briefly.

Christmas Races in Austin

Work of the calories in time for the turkey!

32. Fun Runs and 5Ks

Trail of Lights Fun Run is an annual route that runs through the festive Austin Trail of Lights!

Turkey Trot has been running (boom boom) since the 90s and includes 5-mile run, 1-mile walk, Stepping Stone School Kids-K.

Real Ale Brewing 5K is a popular running, and drinking, event an hour from the city in Blanco.

Where to Stay

Have you even been to Austin if you’ve not stayed in an airstream? We did this back in 2015 and it was cool overnight stay. Click here for full details.

If you prefer an apartment, this modern one has a heated swimming pool is in walking distance to the hip SoCo. Want more? Here’s our list.

Pin to your Austin board for future reference

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Final Words

Christmas in Austin is a fun time for locals and visitors alike. There are lots of festivities and festivals going on in the streets, parks, bars and restaurants. It’s a great time to support local businesses too. So whether you are looking for live music, Christmas cocktails or light festivals there’s something for everyone in this things to do in Austin in winter guide. Looking for somewhere hotter in the US this December? Here’s our guide to the best places to visit in winter.

About the author Sarah Greene Reed wasn’t born in Texas, but she got there as soon as she could. The host of the infamous “Cheetos, Tito’s & Speedos Party”, this artist/mom/venue owner can’t sit still and is usually dreaming up her next adventure. You’ll most likely find her with big hair, a cold drink, and a belly laugh.

Sarah Greene Reed

14 Ways to Get to Machu Picchu [2023] Entrance Fees, Rules + Routes

How to get to Machu Picchu in Peru_

Machu Picchu in Peru features high on many traveller’s bucket lists and rightfully so. One of the new seven wonders of the world, Machu Picchu is hailed as an archaeologist’s dream.

Believed to be built in the 15th century by Peru’s Inca civilisation (by hand!) this South American icon is hard to miss although often mistakenly referred to as the ‘Lost City of the Incas’ (which is really Vilcabamba).

The gateway to this mesmerising abandoned city in the south-eastern city of Cusco/Cuzco and there are many ways to get to Machu Picchu from there.

So whether you are looking to go independently or via Machu Picchu tours, have ample time or are restricted, have holiday cash to burn or are on a tight budget; this guide will advise you how to get to Machu Picchu in 14 different ways.

Planning a trip to Machu Picchu just got easier! We’ll also discuss the new rules and Machu Picchu prices for 2023.

» You may also like: 2 weeks in Peru itinerary – transport, tips + tours

Machu Picchu Rules 2023

Due to the bizarre desire for tourists to get their chebs out and the mass demand to see this wonder, visiting Machu Picchu is now restricted by the Peruvian government. Changes will be implemented from 2017 and they are pretty strict.

Firstly, rules state you can not visit the Inca Citadel without an official guide but the goods news is that you can hire a guide at the gates.

Our friends did bypass having a guide so it is not impossible.

Please tell us what the situation is for you in the comments below.

Secondly, there will be increased set routes for you to follow.

Finally, time limits may be set at certain points to help with the flow of traffic which is probably a benefit to all.

There are also changes to the opening times which I will explain below. Your ticket will have your time on it.

From 2020, the number of entrants per day has been further cut to ensure the safety of visitors. You will also be asked to wear a mask and keep a safe distance from others.

2022 tickets are available through GetYourGuide, see table, for most options in 2023. Let’s take a look at the Machu Picchu prices.

Machu Picchu Entrance Fees 2023

The following Machu Picchu price list is the official fees for 2022. There are several options, some of which you can choose a time slot.

Machu Picchu (only) 6am-12pm: 152 soles/$45 USD – ADVANCE – BOOK NOW $65

Machu Picchu (only) 12-5:30 pm: 152 soles/$45 USD – ADVANCE – BOOK NOW $65

Machu Picchu + Huayna Picchu hike 7-8 am (1G/G1): 200 soles/$59 USD – ADVANCE $85

Machu Picchu + Huayna Picchu hike 10-11 am (2G/G2): 200 soles/$59 USD – ADVANCE $85

Machu Picchu + Montana 7-8 a.m (2G/G2): 200 soles/$59 USD – INSTANT  BOOK NOW $85

Machu Picchu + Montana 10-11 a.m: 200 soles/$59 USD – INSTANT BOOK NOW $85

Machupicchu + Horario Vespertino: 1-5pm for those with mountain hike ticket (doesn’t appear to be available on site)

*Warning: some online services advertise the advanced online ticket for cheaper but when you click through the ticket is for the Andean community nations, not foreigners.

How to get to Machu Picchu 

Inca Trail

The highlight of any backpacking trip across South America is the hike to Machu Picchu.

There are many ways to get to the site – rightly accounted as one of the most amazing archaeological sites in the world.

Most people opt for the classic way to Machu Picchu: train ride until Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu Pueblo) and then an early morning bus all the way to the entrance.

Others, though, dream of actually walking along the sacred way of the Incas and thus seeing the sunrise over Machu Picchu.

The only way that guarantees this – regardless of the season and the sunrise time – is via the official Inca Trail.

All other hikes finish in Aguas Calientes, and then require to either walk or take the bus to the entrance of the site, which opens at 6:00, and – provided the sun hasn’t risen already – rush all the way to the Inti Punku sun gate. This is not necessary with the traditional Inca Trail trek.

However, the Inca Trail has to be booked well in advance so your visit to Machu Picchu has to be planned well.

The Peruvian government issues the passes/permits (only 180-200 persons per day are allowed on the trail) at the beginning of January and they are usually sold out for the year within a couple of weeks.

Hiking the Inca Trail is an incredible, exhilarating and exhausting experience.

During the hike, it is possible to visit some otherwise inaccessible sites. The trek’s landscape is breath-taking – and not just caused by the altitude (make sure you are properly insured, see below for what we mean by ‘properly’!)

The trekking consists of long hikes, cold temperatures during the night, rain during the day, and meals in the kitchen tent.

The companionship with the rest of the group, the disgusting toilets in the base camps, the fact that it is virtually impossible to shower for the 4 days of the hike all add to this unforgettable experience.

And then, the cherry on the cake: a 3:00 wake up call to start walking in the dark and reach the Inti Punku in time for sunrise.

At that stage of the night, there is still the uncertainty that the day’s weather will have mercy on you and that the sun shows up, but then it happens, it’s there; Machu Picchu in all its glory.

  • Walking Distance: 43km/26 miles
  • Duration:  4 days/3 nights
  • Highlights: Machu Picchu Inca Trail is the most famous Peruvian trail
  • Downside: : Pre-book 6 months in advance / restricted numbers / expense
  • Tip: The Inca Trail closes for the month of February
  • Recommendation: by Claudia from My Adventures Across the World

Machu Picchu llama lying down

One-Day Inca Trail / KM 104 Trail / Short Inca

Getting to Machu Picchu via the one-day Inca Trail consists for a beautiful train journey. To access the one-day Inca Trail hike, you take the Peru Rail Vistadome train (see below) from Cusco heading towards Aguas Calientes, the town that Machu Picchu is located in.

However, you will disembark the train around 30 minutes before Aguas Calientes at what will appear to be the middle of nowhere, the stop KM 104. 

The Vistadome train has windows that scale to the roof of the train, allowing you to fully absorb the beauty of it curving through the crevices of the Andes Mountains. Don’t get too lost in the beauty of the landscape as you’ll have to hop off of the train at this no man’s land, KM 104.

From KM 104, the hike will take you into the Andes Mountains and scale you up, down, and around this mind-blowing mountain range. It is an intermediate hike that can take anywhere from 5-8 hours. There are plenty of steep climbs and tight curves, but they are all worth the stunning views from the top of the world in Peru.

Make sure to take at least 2 litres of water per person for this hike and plenty of snacks. There will be a few overhangs and places to stop and enjoy a rest and refuel. Also, make sure to pack a poncho in case you encounter rain on the trail.

Once you’ve finished the hike and explored the magnificent Machu Picchu, you can take the bus down to Aguas Calientes town where you can spend the night or take the Peru Rail train back to Cusco.

  • Walking Distance: 15km / 9 miles
  • Duration: 1 or 2 days (2 days more realistic)
  • Train from Sacred Valley: 1.5 hours/Train from Cusco: 3 hours
  • Trek: 5-8 hours
  • Tip: 1-day hike – take the earliest train (before 9am) as the gates close at stages
  • Tip: The Inca Trail closes for the month of February
  • Highlights: Train views, quick
  • Downside: Inca Trail requires a pre-booked permit (6 months in advance)
  • Recommendation: by Scott & Collette from Roamaroo

Although the most sought after, do not stress if you cannot plan as far ahead as the Inca Trail dictates. There are other options.

Here’s How to Reach Machu Picchu Without the Inca Trail

Machu Picchu by Train

The easiest and quickest way to get from Cusco to Aguas Calientes, the town at the foot of the Machu Picchu is by taking the Machu Picchu train.

There are three types of train services which reach Aguas Calientes; Expedition, Vistadom, and Belmond Hiram Bingham.

The journey takes about 3.5 hours and the price varies throughout the year for each option.

The Expedition train is for budget travellers.

As this is the most affordable option, you have to book way in advance. It sells out.

The Vistadom train, which is a more expensive panoramic train, offers magnificent views of the surrounding mountains. You can see birds flying above the train through the large windows on the ceiling.

This experience allows visitors to connect with nature.

It is an air-conditioned train with comfortable chairs. It costs only a bit more than the cheaper Expedition train ($105+ one way) and it is worth the money.

The Belmond Hiram Bingham is the most luxurious option (images below).

These trains are painted blue and inside they are decorated in the style of the 1920’s Pullman trains.

If you want to feel like you are on the Orient Express, try this transport option to the Machu Picchu.

This price includes dinner and a tour of Machu Picchu.

If you want to continue with luxury check out this review of Belmond Sanctuary Review.

  • Booking Information: Book via Perurail
  • Duration: 3.5-4 hours
  • Highlights: Budget-friendly option, quick, no hike, good views
  • Downside: No hike, lower-class train envy
  • Recommendation: by Barbara from Jet Settera
  • Images via Belmond Hiram Bingham

» » You can book a bus, train and guided tour of Machu Picchu before you go. Click here to find out more with GetYourGuide

Belmond Hiram Bingham Train | How to get to Machu Picchu by train

Lares Trek

The Inca Trail is closed but I want to hike to Machu Picchu!

Don’t panic!

The Lares Trek to Machu Picchu is a 4 day/3 night trek which involves camping for 2 nights and a hotel stay on the night before Machu Picchu. The Lares Trek starts with a bus journey then breakfast at Lares Hot Springs where you can take a dip in the warm waters.

The day 1 hike ends at Cuncani where hikers meet with local children before dining then an early bedtime.

Day 2 kicks off with a 5:00 wake up call, breakfast then a day of hiking.

This is the hardest day as the trek involves a climb to 4650m (15255ft) above sea level at Condor’s Pass.

Day 3 is relatively easy, hiking to Pumahuacuanca for lunch, a bus ride to Ollantaytambo then the train to Machu Picchu Pueblo (also called Aguas Calientes).

Dinner is in a restaurant tonight and hikers have the chance to shower and sleep in a hotel bed.

Day 4 is another early rise for Machu Picchu day, remember your passport or you will not gain entry.

Buses leave from Aguas Calientes all day (see below for more details), the earlier you can take the bus the better to avoid the crowds at Machu Picchu.

Be warned, there are hidden costs of trekking to Machu Picchu – the tips.

This will differ depending on who is in the trek team but averages out at around 65 soles (£14) per person.

We trekked to Machu Picchu with Alpaca Expeditions which is regarded as the best Machu Picchu company online and by word of mouth, hence the expense of the trip.

They promote ethical working conditions for their staff which is an important factor of sustainable travel (many companies say they do this but do not). Choose your company wisely.

  • Walking Distance: 33 km/20.5miles
  • Duration: 4 days/3 nights
  • Highlights: Hike, meet locals, camp + hotel, no 6-month pre-booking required
  • Downside: Early rises, camping, very high altitude
  • Recommendation: by us, Gemma and Craig from Two Scots Abroad
  • More details: Lares Trek to Machu Picchu

» Check competitive prices and reviews of Lares Trek here «

Lares Trail Peru

Inca Jungle Trek

From all of the possible ways to get to Machu Picchu in Peru, the most adventurous option is the Inca Jungle Trek, which includes a big variety of different adrenaline-filled activities.

The most usual form of the Inca Jungle Trek has a 4 day/3 night itinerary, but it is also possible to do so in this shorter version, which takes only 3 days/2 nights.

During these 4 days, travellers have the chance to test themselves in downhill mountain biking, river rafting, and even zip-lining.

Hostels are the main form of accommodation used during the Inca Jungle Trek but like the Lares Trek, the last night before the visit to Machu Picchu you stay in a hotel in Aguas Calientes.

On day 1 the trek starts with a 3-hour drive to Abra Malaga Pass at 4,316 m altitude from where you will descend by bicycle to 1,196m in less than 60 km.

The downhill is very steep at certain points, so you have to be careful. In the afternoon there is optional rafting in Santa Maria (grade 3 and 4). On day 2 it is time for hiking in the jungle from Santa Maria to Santa Teresa.

The trek takes around 7 hours and you will have the chance to enjoy the beauties of the jungle in the Cusco region.

On day 3, those who are not tired of adventure can try the tallest zip-lining in South America, and the day is finished with a 3-hour trek from “Hidroelectrica” to Aguas Calientes. Day 4 is fully dedicated to visiting Machu Picchu.

  • Duration: 3 days/2 nights or 4 days/3 nights
  • Highlights: Adrenaline rush/hostels, no 6-month pre-booking required
  • Downside: Not for the faint-hearted or unfit
  • Recommendation: by Rachele and Gábor from Surfing the Planet

» » Check availability for Jungle Treks by clicking here

Salkantay Trek

Trek for 3, 4, or 5 days through remote mountain passes and verdant tropical Andean forest.

Optional activities along the Salkantay Trek include hot springs (pack mosquito repellent), zip-lining, a train ride, and horseback riding up to the steepest point of the trek. On the final day, you visit Machu Picchu. The amazing Salkantay Trek is a lifetime experience.

  • Walking Distance: 60km/37 miles
  • Duration: 5 days
  • Highlights: No six-month pre-booking required, excellent scenery
  • Downside: Altitude, long hike
  • Recommendation: by Jessica from Longest Bus Ride

» » Check availability and rates of Salkantay here

Choquequirao Trek

The Choquequirao Trek to Machu Picchu is an adventure in the truest sense. While the end goal of this 8-9 day trek may be Machu Picchu, the true highlight is hiking in solitude and passing through the expansive-yet-vacant Choquequirao ruins along the way.

The Incan complex of Choquequirao may very well be the next Machu Picchu sprawling more than 18km. Now is really the chance to go before they build a teleferico lift.

The Choquequirao Trek begins from just outside of Cachora. Days 1-2 are tough, as hikers make a steep descent into the Apurimac Canyon and an even sharper ascent up the other side.

The difficult dip is worth all the effort as the Choquequirao ruins soon come into view! Days 3-5 are spent passing over high altitude ridges, retired Inca Trails, and challenging switchbacks in near isolation.

Finally, on day 6-8, hikers will join up with the better travelled Salkantay Trail and finish on their way to Hydroelectrica.

From there, it’s just a train ride to Aguas Calientes and a bus up to the ruins of Machu Picchu.

 The Choquequirao trek is rugged and tough at times, but truly worth the experience.

  • Distance:  64 km / 40 miles
  • Duration: 8-9 days
  • Highlights: Choquequirao ruins, satisfaction
  • Downside: Intense hike, high altitude
  • Recommendation: by Taylor and Daniel from Travel Outlandish

Lares Trek Machu Picchu Peru I Three Weeks in Peru Itinerary

Lesser-Known Treks to Machu Picchu

Vilcabamba Trail/Trek

Vilcabamba Trail/Trek is very much one of the lesser-known hikes to Machu Picchu. It is common for hikers not to see any other tourists until they reach Santa Theresa. The route takes you along the royal roads that the Incas used and past snow-capped mountains. It is very remote.

  • Distance: 48 km/30 miles
  • Duration: 5 days/4 nights (8-hour bus journey to start)
  • Highlights: Remote
  • Downside: Physically hard / not available December to March

The Lodge Trek

Hey, flashpackers! The Lodge Trek to Machu Picchu is for you. Like some high-class monkey swinging from tree to tree, you bounce from hotel to hotel each night taking in the highlights of the journey to Machu Picchu, including a trip to the Sacred Valley (below), without having to touch a sleeping bag. The Lodge Trek does include short hikes (3-4 hours) but often ends the day at the Jacuzzi!

  • Duration: 9 days/8 nights (Cusco included)
  • Highlights: Luxury
  • Downside: Expensive / Length

The Chaski (or Cachicata) Trail

One of the newest treks to hit the Peru scene is the Chaski Trail which is also known as the Cachicata Trail. It is less demanding than other treks so an ideal trail for less experienced trekkers.

The bus from Cusco takes you through the Sacred Valley to the town of Socma (near Ollantaytambo, below) where you hike past waterfalls and meet with the local community to learn about traditional Andean life. The second day is the longest hike which lasts around four hours and ends at Cachicata.

Day 3 the group makes their way to Ollantaytambo to take the Machu Picchu train to Aguas Calientes. Like the Lares Trek, day four is spent at Machu Picchu.

  • Walking Distance: 25 km / 15.5 miles
  • Duration: 4 days/3 nights
  • Highlights: Perfect for new hikers
  • Downside: Fewer companies offer this new trek

Huchuy Qosqo (Small/Little Cusco) Trek

The shortest of all the treks, Huchuy Qosqo Trek is a mere 3 day/2 night trip which involves camping for one night and a stay at a hotel in Aguas Calientes (below) the night before visiting Machu Picchu.

The hike, which can be completed without a tour of Machu Picchu too, starts just 15 minutes outside of Cusco which keeps costs down.

  • Walking Distance: 18km/11 miles
  • Duration:  2 days/1 night or 3 days/2 night (with Machu Picchu extension)
  • Highlights: Budget-friendly / starts close to Cusco
  • Downside: Fewer companies offer this trek

How to see Machu Picchu on the Cheap

Warning, these two options are not for everyone and may involve skill to avoid walking into the train guards around Ollantaytambo (at the start follow the tracks but not on the tracks) and/or lying (say you have lost your hiking group) to execute. Intrigued? You should be…

DIY Machu Picchu Trek

If you want to spend less but get the same experience, you don’t have to sign up with a tour agency to get to Machu Picchu.

Here’s how you can do-it-yourself.

From Cusco, take a shared Colectivo found at Plaza de Armas to Ollantaytambo.

You will also have the opportunity to stay in this town for a while, take some pictures and enjoy the view.

From Ollantaytambo, hop in another shared taxi/van ride to KM 82.

Nope, you are not going to take the $80 train ride but you will be walking its tracks to go up.

Depending on your speed, the 28km walk duration is 7-8 hours.

I was with a group of Argentines who walked really fast so we did it for 5 hours but I was dead by the time we reached Aguas Calientes!

It was so hard to keep up with a fast group so make sure you are physically fit if you are to do this.

You will probably have to spend the night in Aguas Calientes to prepare for the hike the following day.

There are numerous hostels in this town but please do not expect for a super good one as this is a ‘come and go’ area where people only sleep and carry on the hike.

The next day, start the hike up around 3:30 to see the sunrise.

If you do not want to wake up early or are too tired to hike up, you can buy a bus ticket for $9.50/£7.65 that will take you all the way up to Machu Picchu.

  • Walking Distance: 28km + 390 metres/1280 feet
  • Duration:  2 days
  • Highlights: Budget-friendly, cheapest way to Machu Picchu
  • Downside: Level of fitness required / safety / have to avoid train guards
  • Recommendation: by Trisha at P.S I’m On My Way

Warning, this following option is not for everyone and may involve skill to avoid walking into the train guards around Ollantaytambo (at the start follow the tracks but not on the tracks) and/or lying (say you have lost your hiking group) to execute. Intrigued? You should be…

Walking from Ollantaytambo

To travel to Machu Picchu on a tight budget, take a local bus (from Plaza de Armas) hitchhike from Cusco then take a minivan taxi to Ollantaytambo.

This should be a two-hour trip.

At Ollantaytambo, you can visit ruins and then the market which is a good place to buy some snacks for the trip.

From Ollantaytambo walk to Aguas Calientes by the railway path area (being mindful of the train guards).

The walk is 32km and well signposted.

It is very easy to navigate!

Locals and other tourists can be seen walking the railway path too.

This walk can be a little hardcore, 7 hours in total.

Part of the route is an amazing walk next to the river where you can hear the sounds of the river flowing, with a picturesque view.

Be aware of your surroundings; sometimes there is a need to move away from the noisy yet slow oncoming trains.

This walk is one of the cheapest ways to go to Machu Picchu and one of the best, especially for those who love trekking and hiking.

It is highly recommended to take food and water, a flashlight for when it starts to get dark and to wear decent trekking shoes. From here, hike to Machu Picchu (see above) or take the bus (see below).

This route can be hiked to Aguas Calientes and back to Ollantaytambo.

  • Walking Distance: 32km
  • Duration: 9-10 hours one-way
  • Highlights: Hike, meet locals, budget-friendly, cheapest way to Machu Picchu
  • Downside: Hitchhiking, intense hike, safety / have to avoid train guards
  • Recommendation: by Ruben from Gamin Travel

Machu Picchu Escorted Tours

There are many companies who will create tailor-made tours to Machu Picchu and of course that comes with a heftier price tag than organising a trip independently.

However, you have the satisfaction that all aspects of the trip to Machu Picchu will be covered from transports to entrance fees with the added bonus of knowledgeable tour guides who can discuss Machu Picchu history with you.

Hikes at Machu Picchu
Huayna Picchu/Wayna Picchu

Due to popularity, only 250 climbers per day allocated slot are allowed to climb Wayna Picchu ‘Young Mountain’ (Huayna Picchu).

The ascent takes around one hour and involves some scrambling using hands and feet.

The path may be wet to hike, carefully creating a good distance from the climbers in front is recommended.

The first gate opens at 7-8am but the morning fog usually lies until 10-11am.

The descent should take around 45 minutes. The second entrance time is 10-11am. Climbers should exit by 1pm.

  • Duration:  1 hour 45 mins (although some sites claim 3-4 hours)/ final ascent 2 hours before closing time
  • Highlights: Views of the Citadel
  • Downside: Steep but no technical ability required

» Read more: Where to stay in Cusco before/after your tour

Machu Picchu Mountain

Machu Picchu Mountain (Cerro Machu Picchu) Peru’s ‘Old Mountain’ is less touched by tourists so easier to buy tickets for.

The mountain trek is open from 7-8am and then 9-10am but an early start is advisable to avoid the midday heat.

This may mean that you are tackling the thousands of steps through the morning mist but appears to be worth it to watch the Machu Picchu ruins appear through the clouds. 

Climbers must exit by 3pm.

  • Duration: 1.5-2.5 hours (although some sites say the average is 4 hours)
  • Maximum 400 climbers per day
  • Highlights: Seeing Machu Picchu ruins from another angle
  • Downside: Often misty first thing

Overall Tips – Machu Picchu Information

Machu Picchu Tickets 2023

You must pre-pay for your tickets to Machu Picchu before you arrive and you must take your passport with you to Machu Picchu do not do as Craig did and leave it in the hotel!

Remember to collect your cool Machu Picchu stamp at the entrance.

Booking Machu Picchu tickets (and above hikes) can be done online at the official government website (price quoted in Peruvian Sol). It is not the most straightforward though so please read the next paragraph.

Machu Picchu Entrance Fees 2023

The following Machu Picchu price list is the official fees for 2022. There are several options, some of which you can choose a time slot.

Machu Picchu (only) 6am-12pm: 152 soles/$45 USD – ADVANCE – BOOK NOW $65

Machu Picchu (only) 12-5:30 pm: 152 soles/$45 USD – ADVANCE – BOOK NOW $65

Machu Picchu + Huayna Picchu hike 7-8 am (1G/G1): 200 soles/$59 USD – ADVANCE $85

Machu Picchu + Huayna Picchu hike 10-11 am (2G/G2): 200 soles/$59 USD – ADVANCE $85

Machu Picchu + Montana 7-8 a.m (2G/G2): 200 soles/$59 USD – INSTANT  BOOK NOW $85

Machu Picchu + Montana 10-11 a.m: 200 soles/$59 USD – INSTANT BOOK NOW $85

Machupicchu + Horario Vespertino: 1-5pm for those with mountain hike ticket (doesn’t appear to be available on-site)

*Warning: some online services advertise the advanced online ticket for cheaper but when you click through the ticket is for the Andean community nations, not foreigners.

Machu Picchu Opening Times

The new opening times for Machu Picchu come in two entrance slots.

The morning opening times are 6am-12pm then for an afternoon visit you have from 12-5:30pm

Aguas Caliente to Machu Picchu

Buses from Aguas Caliente start from 5am and run every 10-20 minutes until 15:30 (last entry for Machu Picchu is 16:00).

The bus takes around 30 minutes and can be purchased on the day or pre-booked in Aguas Caliente or in Cusco at the Consettur Machupicchu SAC office (Avenida Pardo) the day before.

We took the bus from Aguas Caliente then walked back after the morning at Machu Picchu. The well-signposted walk took around 1 hour and was relatively easy.

There are frequent buses from Machu Picchu to Aguas Caliente directly outside of the entrance.

Aguas Calientes Accommodation

Aguas Calientes Hotels

There are over 100 hotels in Aguas Calientes so you are not stumped for choice! All cater to visitors getting up early and/or arriving late. Hotels start at around $30-$2000.

The Belmond Luxury Lodge is the most sought-after luxury accommodation in Machu Picchu.

The lodge has stunning views of  Huayna Picchu Mountain and located in a serene setting. Rooms are fully equipped and some have private patios. The Tampu Restaurant boasts panoramic views of the jungle. Rooms start at £900 but sell out very fast.

» » Check the best deals on Machu Picchu hotels here

Aguas Calientes | Ways to Machu Picchu Peru

Altitude Sickness

Altitude sickness is a thing and it can hit anyone hard.

You must acclimatise before setting off on your desired Machu Picchu hike or trip. Spend a couple of days in Cusco, especially if you are arriving straight from the capital, Lima.

Craig and I were both OK after spending 1.5 weeks travelling from Lima via the hop-on/off bus, Peru Hop experiencing many of Peru’s tourist attractions such as sandboarding at Huachachina and a boat ride at Isla Ballestas.

However, two members of our trek were hit badly by the altitude.

One rode by donkey for most the trek and the other required gas. It is also worth purchasing coca leaves before your trek.

This local energy boost remedy is placed inside the cheeks and sucked. Make sure you have acceptable travel insurance coverage. What do you mean by acceptable?

Check if your insurer covers you at high altitudes like ours, True Traveller, does.

I shopped around extensively and many do not cover you at this height.

Two members of our party were very sick, take your health seriously before you fly. Check out if True Traveller is right for you by clicking here.

North American readers should look into the most popular travel insurer, World Nomads.

Couple ponchos Peru hike

Best Time to visit Machu Picchu

May through to September, Peruvian winter (dry season) is the best time to visit Machu Picchu with May being held as the optimum month.

However, we hiked in April and were told that our weather (drizzle) was not ‘normal’ for that time of year with El Niño being blamed by locals in Cusco.

October to April is the wet season. February is the rainiest month and also when the Inca trail is closed so consider one of the other Machu Picchu tours (or Machu Picchu tour packages) during this month.

How to Get to Machu Picchu from Lima

So now that you have all of the Machu Picchu information that you need and you are buzzing about your trip to one of South America’s most popular tourist attractions you probably should work out how to get from Peru’s capital to Lima to the Cusco/Cuzco.

The most efficient yet expensive way is by internal flight.

There are several airlines such as Star Peru and Aviana, which make this trip and prices start around $157/£127 (return) for the 1.5-hour journey.

Lima to Machu Picchu is a common journey but please read or guidance on altitude sickness before you book the trip.

Many backpackers who are travelling around Peru use the safe and fun hop on/off bus service, Peru Hop.

This was how we backpacked around Peru, you can read our honest review of the tour.

We loved it so much we used the sister company, Bolivia Hop to get us out of Peru and over to La Paz.

The alternative is to use public buses from Lima to Cusco which is the cheapest option but is also a long at 20+ hour journey.

I’d recommend splitting up the journey by stopping at Arequipa or one of the other smaller towns mentioned above on the way.

Lares trek to Machu Picchu

Inca Trail Packing List (+ Other hikes)

Trekking to Machu Picchu can mean hiking in all four seasons. We experienced rain, shine, and even snow!

The number one priority for your Machu Picchu packing list must by footwear.

It is recommended that you have well-worn in trekking boots or shoes as well as a good raincoat or strong poncho (the latter often provided by the trekking company).

Your Machu Picchu trek company will most likely provide a small bag for you to store clothes and toiletries in which is carried by the porters and donkeys who trek with you (leaving your rucksack stored in your Cusco hostel, this is common).

Your Machu Picchu day pack should include a poncho or raincoat, suntan lotion, money, water, a camera and of course your passport <— do not forget this!

Whether you decide to train, hike or bike there is an option for every type of traveller who wants to visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Machu Picchu.

Nearly one million people see this Inca wonder, the big question so is how will you get there?!

Heading to Peru? Don’t miss our itinerary packed full of tips on where to go, what to see, and how to stay alive.

Oh and don’t forget that travel insurance for a tranquilo trip.

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Peru Travel Guides
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» Backpacking in Peru advice
» Two weeks in Peru itinerary
» Colca Canyon hike – highly recommend
» Learn Spanish in Peru


Paris in December: 34 Reasons To Visit in Winter

Paris in December Winter Christmas_

They say Paris is always a good idea but is Paris in December really worth it? If you like crisp mornings, fewer crowds at attractions and a cup of warm vin chaud with your Christmas shopping then yes, Paris in winter is highly recommended. Locals, keep reading for festive advice, visitors here are the best things to do in Paris in December.

I’ve (Gemma) been to Paris three times, once in January, the second time during a glorious May weekend and most recently in December and I have to say, December gets my vote.

Speaking of democratic rights, I was in Paris during a strike! You can read more about my tips on how to navigate the city when it is protesting here.

Let’s take a look at the reasons for visiting Paris during Noël and things to do there. I’m really excited about writing this guide. I have to be honest, it has taken me years to warm to Paris and ironically I melted the freeze during my coldest visit and I can’t wait to go back!

» You may also like | How to spend 24 hours in Paris or 48 hours

Paris Eiffel Tower Merry Go Round_

Reasons to Visit Paris in December

1. Christmas Markets in Paris 

While Paris is no Berlin when it comes to Christmas markets there is a handful located around the city worth spending a penny for a Chocolat chaud or crêpe with Nutella. 

As to be expected as this is France, vin chaud (mulled spiced wine) is served at each market too. While the markets are open in the afternoon, they are at their best when night falls and lights fire up. 

A cup of mulled wine ranges from 3 to 5 euros and simple crepes are around 3 euros. 

Fairground Ride Christmas Market Paris_

2. Jardin Des Tuileries Christmas Market

The Tuileries Garden is one of Paris’s most famous public gardens sandwiched between the Louvre and Place de la Concorde in the 1st arrondissement (area/district).

Note: If this is your first time visiting Paris, read the full guide for advice on how the city is laid out. During summer, these gardens are awash with locals sunbathing and the flowers, plants and trees in bloom.

Come winter, trees are leafless and lifeless and most of the park is quieter bar one section, the Christmas market.

Jardin des Tuileries Christmas Market Vin Chaud mulled wine

Jardin Des Tuileries Christmas Market is Paris’s biggest market and the one that most resembles the likes of Vienna Christmas World on Rathausplatz.

The sweet smell of friend sugar leads you to food trucks and chalets selling Nutella waffles (5 euros) while stalls with hanging meat and cheese entice you in.

If you want more than fairground-style snacks, there’s a covered bar and restaurant for proper sit-down meals.

Here, vin chaud is boiled in batches served by the ladle to individual reusable cups. Locals gather around tables, chatting and laughing, while faces turn rosy with the cold and alcohol.

Prefer the finer things in life? Check out the festive Champagne bar.

For kids, there is a loud fairground with flashing lights and a large ice rink.

Chalet stalls sell crafts, jewellery and souvenirs under strings for fairy lights. I would guess there are around 100 huts at Jardin Des Tuileries.

  • Metro: Tuileries
Jardin des Tuileries Christmas Market Paris

3. Le Village de Noël at Les Halles Xmas

Le Village de Noël at Les Halles Xmas’s huts are mostly tucked under the canopy of the shopping mall at the top of the escalator. Ideal if it is raining. 

There are a handful outside too.

The shopping mall also has a tall tree with classy decor.

This is a quiet market with no social areas.

  • Metro: Les Halles 
Le Village de Noel at Les Halles Xmas

4. Square de la Tour Saint-Jacques Christmas Market 

Rows of huts are erected under the watchful eye of St Jacque’s statue.

This is a flyby festive market with no seating area. Ideal for those swinging by on the way to Sebastopol or Marais.

Chaud vin is obviously sold at one of the stalls.

Combine with a trip to Centre Pompidou for modern art, independent shop crawl or pick up a falafel in Marais.

Square de la Tour Saint-Jacques Christmas Market 

5. Abbesses Christmas Market at Montmartre

The Montmartre Christmas Market is a neighbourhood affair set up in the square across from the Church of Eglise Saint-Jean I’Evangeliste (21 Rue, which means street, des Abbesses, 75018).

Chocolat chaud (hot chocolate) and a mushroom dish are popular here.

There is a small seating area and kids’ ride in the square.

Check out the cute mural made of tiles with lots of languages at Square Jehan-Ritus behind the market then spend a few hours getting lost in Montmartre. 

  • Arrive by Abbesses metro.
Abbesses Christmas Market at Montmartre

6. Marché de Noël at Saint Germain des Prés Xmas

A series of Christmas huts draped in fairy lights sell tree decorations, pastries and mulled wine along the busy Boulevard Sant Germain

If you make it to this market, take a detour to Aux Merveilleux meringue shop. Nothing festive about it, just sugar heaven. I dare you to try to walk past it without being sucked in by the smell.

Wander down to Shakespeare & Co and over the River Seine to the Louvre. 

Metro: Sant Germain-des-Pres

You may also like | The best cities for Christmas markets in Europe

Saint Germain Christmas Market Paris_

7. Catch the Christmas Decorations in Paris 

Paris does decorations in a big way. You can even take a night tour on an open-top bus to see them. 

Each neighbourhood has its own set of lights hanging in the air and a sign lit up to say where you are which is really handy for tourists like me.

Public Christmas trees wear cute metallic bows in different colours around the city and some of the street lights even get a festive makeover!

It’s not just the public land that takes lights seriously, private shops compete for attention too. 

Check out Louis Vuitton’s eye-catching display on Rue Saint-Honore (1st) and Vrai Paris in Montramarte looks stylish with its baubles.

The talked about department store, Galeries Lafayette has been animating its storefront religiously every November since the 1920s. 

But it’s not just about the outside, you have to go in to see the star of the show…

Christmas decorations in Paris lights

8. Photograph the Galeries Lafayette Haussmann Christmas Tree

Galeries Lafayette is packed with shoppers and Christmas fans as this is where Paris’s prettiest tree is on show.

Instagram users will be familiar with the remarkable tree draped in individually designed decor under the glorious art nouveau dome of Lafayette.

Every year a new designer is invited to decorate the tree with notable previous artists such as the designer Vivienne Westwood and the extravagant singer-songwriter, Beth Ditto.

This tree is a Christmas tradition in Paris and visitors from all over the world come to take a photo at the 16 metres high Glasswalk bridge on the third floor.

Galeries Lafayette Haussmann Christmas Tree

9. Head up to Galeries Lafayette Rooftop Terrace

The third floor isn’t the only reason for visiting this department store.

The rooftop usually features on Paris itineraries for its free views of the city but at Christmas time there’s a little sparkle added for the kids in the form of an outdoor ice rink.

Feeling peckish? There’s a cafe selling hot food, coffee and cakes with nice views just below the rooftop.

  • Address: 40 Boulevard Haussmann, 75009
Galeries Lafayette Haussmann Rooftop Terrace Christmas_

10. Shop at Printemps Department Store

Giving Lafayette a run for its money, Printemps also has a popular rooftop terrace with views of the Eiffel Tower.

Don’t just go up, look around. Do the Christmas tree hunt around the store to see how many you can find.

As you leave, check out the Printemps window display which changes each November.

  • Address: 64, Boulevard Haussmann 75009 (not the Louvre store)
Printemps Tree

11. Place Vendôme

In summer this is simply a square with high-end fashion stores, come winter it becomes the backdrop of many selfies! The attraction? Its numerous very tall Christmas trees.

Place Vendôme Christmas Trees Paris

12. Hot Drinks in Traditional Tabacs

It’s Paris and a huge part of the Parisian culture is the cafe scene.

Step into a traditional Tabac cafe and order a coffee with milk in the morning (café crème) and a coffee without milk (café/espresso) in the afternoon.

Asking for milky coffee after 12pm is a no-no apparently.

Stand at the bar like a local (cheaper) or grab an outside seat to watch the locals. What time of day can we order hot chocolate? 

Tabac Cafe in Paris

13. Chat, With Wine, Under Heaters

One of the best things to do in Paris at night is huddle under a heater at one of the many cafes and drink wine until the wee hours of the morning, stopping conversation only to people watch.

Rue Montorgueil is the perfect street to do this on.

Montorgueil Paris

14. Louvre Museum

If you are interested in architecture and seeing the Mona Lisa, visit the Louvre (Rue de Rivoli, 75001), twice.

Once during the day to see the small masterpiece with the big following by Leonardo da Vinci and again at night to see the pyramid lit up against the midnight blue sky.

Mona Lisa Line Louvre Paris_

Photography fans, a great frame can be found at the arch to the right of the museum if facing away from the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel.

The water doesn’t flow outside of the Louvre in winter so don’t be surprised on arrival.

Skip the entrance line by buying a timed entry ticket.

You will still have to wait in line if you want a picture of the Mona Lisa though. She’s one popular bird!

  • Metro: Louvre Rivoli
Night Louvre

15. An Empty Les Deux Plateaux

Usually, a popular photography spot in summer, the black and white art installation was empty when I visited on a rainy day in December.

Does Les Deux Plateaux (2 Rue de Montpensier, 75001), also known as Colonnes de Bure, remind anyone else of sticks of rock or is it just me?

This modern art piece belongs to the 17th-century Palais Royal.

  • Metro: Palais Royal Musée du Louvre or within walking distance from Louvre
Les Deux Plateaux in Paris

16. Dine Among The Pine Needles At Le Nemours

Try a plate of dense French quiche and an espresso at the cafe next to Palais-Royale (2 à 7 Galerie de Nemours, 2 Place Colette, 75001).

Le Nemours Paris

I always suspect that eateries next to touristy sites are just for visitors but I sat next to a local who was reading her newspaper and she conversed with another native in front of us. We had a pleasant lunch talking together. Every Parisian I met was truly friendly.

A female local even walked me to my hotel when I couldn’t get a taxi late at night and I couldn’t get my bearings.

I know what you are thinking, Parisians are not renowned for their softer side but honestly, this trip has changed my perception.

That’s what travel is all about.

At Le Nemours, expect crammed tables and coats on stands.

A really charming cultural experience.

For a winter experience, dine outside next to the trees, under the heater.

  • Metro: The bejazzled, Palais-Royale metro
Palais-Royale metro

17. Enjoy Montmartre, To Yourself

Avoid elbowing the Instagram crew on the pretty streets of Montmartre, which you will inevitably have to do during high season. 

Have the winding streets from the Sacré-Cœur Basilica to Le Refuge bar to yourself. 

La Refuge Paris_

Remember to start at the small Christmas market to fuel up on hot chocolate before tackling the hills and I can personally recommend the crepe shop next to the Sacré-Cœur if you are looking for a sugar fix.

Wait, did you have a hot chocolate or rum-infused mulled wine at the market because this building looks drunk?!

It’s just an illusion of course!

Unravel the trickery. Walk to the bottom of the Sacré-Cœur stairs, face back at the basilica and then look to your right.

See the peach house?

Now take the same image and trick your pals by moving your camera at an angle. Get the grass in line and leave out, or crop out using edit, any trees for the perfect photography lie.

Look at the walls for the subtle and not-so-subtle street art around Montmartre.

Expect to see murals, stickers and a man trying to escape a wall! 

Stick around until it is dark so you can see the Montmartre Village decorations but more importantly, the Moulin Rogue flashing in all of her glory. 

Drunken House Paris Montmartre

18. Visit Sacre-Coeur at Christmas

On Christmas Day, there are a number of masses at the Sacre-Coeur (35 Rue du Chevalier de la Barre, 75018) in Montmartre and Christmas Eve enjoys an organ show and midnight mass.

Not into mass? You can visit any other day for incredible views of the city, a glimpse of the inside, underneath in the crypt and for an additional fee, up on the roof. 

A cable car, which looks more like a train, connects Montmartre with the Sacre-Coeur.

  • Metro: there are many. Jules Joffrin or Abbesses + cable car as an example
Sacre Coeur Paris

19. Church of Saint-Pierre de Montmartre

A simple nativity scene at 2 Rue du Mont-Cenis, protected from the elements, can be found at one of the longest standing churches in Paris.

Church of Saint-Pierre de Montmartre

20. Warm Up With French Onion Soup 

Pile into Le Pain Quotidien (31 Rue Lepic, 75018) for a hot bowl of traditional onion soup topped with thick garlic bread. 

French Onion Soup Bowl Paris

21. Attend a Moulin Rouge Show

Lights, feathers, action! The Moulin Rouge Christmas show (82 Boulevard de Clichy, 75018) serves up a course of seasonal meals, Christmas Yule log and lots of bubbles. 

Reserve your seat for the show and dinner here.

  • Metro: Blanche
Moulin Rogue in Paris_

22. See Sainte-Chapelle

Whether you celebrate the birth of Jesus or not at Christmas time, you can appreciate the beauty of the royal chapel, Sainte-Chapelle (8 Boulevard du Palais, 75001).

Don’t be fooled by the first-floor entry. While the deep blue arches with gold stars are dazzling, the real deal is yet to be seen.

Walk up the tiny winding stairs to the stain-glassed Gothic wonder.

I struggled to find the entrance, walk past the Ordre des Avocats à la Cour de Paris gates to the long line of tourists. That’s the Sainte-Chapelle line, even in winter.

I managed to sneakily buy a skip in the line ticket while waiting then smugly walked past the suckers!

This was the only attraction that wasn’t sold out the day before on GetYourGuide.

While December is definitely quieter, the top sightseeing spots in Paris are still popular.

  • Metro: Cité
Sainte-Chapelle in Paris_

23. Attend Paris Concert in December 

In the month of December, the Saint-Chapelle opens its doors for a night of classical music.

While I’ve not done this myself, reviews say it was the highlight of their trip to Paris in December! 

The show lasts for 55 minutes and guests are asked to arrive 45 minutes before. A lovely festive thing to do a night in Paris for music fans, religious or not.

Sainte-Chapelle Paris_

24. Shakespeare & Company

Buy local at Shakespeare & Company (37 Rue de la Bucherie), which is not only a bookshop, it is also a museum!

The bi-level shop and cafe next door is located in the 5th arrondissement near the Notre Dame.

Make your way up the steps to the second floor to read about its relationship with literary giants such as Hemingway and Fitzgerald who were close to the owner, Sylvia Beach. 

These celebs moved in the same circles in Paris, drinking heavily and pushing boundaries in literature.

I was reading a book called The Paris Wife, which is a fictional account of Hemingway’s first marriage, while I was roaming the streets of Paris.

I recommend doing the same as there is something special about seeing the buildings and streets described on the pages in real life. 

The store has also featured in many movies set in Paris such as the classic Before Sunset.

A lovely movie I urge you to watch, along with Before Sunrise, during your Paris planning.

When visiting, watch you don’t sit on the sleeping cat!

  • Metro: Saint-Michel, Cluny – La Sorbonne, close to the Notre Dame
Shakespeare and Co Bookshop Paris_

25. The Centre Pompidou

Another unusual place to pick up a gift is the home of modern art in Paris (Square de la Tour Saint-Jacques, 75004).

You can’t miss the industrial-looking monstrosity which looks like it has swimming pool flumes/chutes dangling from it.

Don’t be put off by the outside, this is my favourite museum in Pari. 

Two floors of photography, sculptures, murals and paintings from renowned and new modern artists. 

Bonus, first Sunday of the month is free and there are gorgeous views of the city from the terrace (with a restaurant and bar). 

  • Metro: Châtelet
Pompidou Museum_

26. Eiffel Tower and Illuminations 

Arrive at sunrise to have winter views of the Eiffel Tower from the popular terrace, Trocadéro, to yourself.

Return for dusk to see the sunset, the famous carousel spin and the tower sparkle on the hour, every hour. 

Trocadéro is one of the stops on the Paris open-top bus. I used it to get back to the centre at night. 

Eiffel Tower at Night

27. Escape the Cold on Paris Open-Top Bus

Paris is a perfect city to use the hop-on/off tour bus service as some of the things to see are quite far away from the likes of the Louvre. 

For example, it would take 50 minutes to walk from the Louvre to the Arc de Triomphe.

Then you’ve got to climb those stairs I will warn you about in the Arc de Triomphe section (plus photograph).

The distance between some of the main tourist spots in Paris was the main factor I struggled with when the metro staff were on strike!

The solution? Purchase an open-top bus tour electronic ticket and hop on at any of the popular stops on the three lines/routes.

I did this from afternoon into the night. I was pretty much underneath the Eiffel Tower when it was sparkling, in the comfort of the top deck of the bus!

You also pass some of the Christmas tree decorations while on the bus, with panoramic views.

The buses are tours too so you can listen to audio guides as you pass Paris’s points of interest. Nifty eh?

A good way to speed things up in winter to avoid the cold or save your sweat in summer. 

Sure, you can normally use the metro but you’ll miss on the sights and the audio guide along the way.

You can see the three routes and reserve either one, two or three-day bus tour here.

» You may also like | Gift guide for Paris lovers

Open Top Bus Paris_

28. Marche Montorgueil

Christmas is about spoiling yourself right? 

Well, if you like cakes? You’ll love Rue Montorgueil. 

With patisseries on both sides of the street you are literally sandwiched by desserts. 

Check out Stohrer, the oldest patisserie in Paris, open since 1730 for classic cakes, moose and macaroons. Cakes come in fancy boxes, naturally. 

There’s plenty of choice for dining and drinking under the festive lights in this pedestrianised area.

Montorgueil Paris all lit up for Christmas

29. Champs-Élysées Christmas Lights

Visit the famous shopping street the Champs-Élysées to see its Christmas lights shine from November until January.

With shops such as Sephora and Zara on either side, the lights lead the way to the Arc de Triomphe, one of the most visited spots in Paris.

30. Arc de Triomphe

See one of Paris’s top attractions with fewer people, the Arc de Triomphe (Place Charles de Gaulle, 75008) offers some of the best 360 views of the city for a small fee. 

Arch de Triumph Paris_

While the crowds are not as busy as those in June to September, I still bought a line skip ticket online before I arrived and I’m glad I did because there was a long line to buy on the spot before going through security.

You have to go through security at every popular attraction in Paris for safety reasons. Water bottles are accepted. 

Don’t eat cake before visiting, as I did, the spiral stairs are quite the challenge!

Arch de Triumph Stairs

31. Disneyland Paris in December

Kick-off Christmas at the happiest place on earth.

Fake snow, Mickey’s Christmas Big Band and mulled wine. Yes, Disneyland Paris in winter is a fun trip for adults as well as kids.

Ride Big Thunder Mountain, experience the 4D Ratatouille and lose your stomach at the Tower of Terror, without the need of the FastPass.

Fewer crowds mean more time for rides!  You can get around two parks in one day at Disney in December.

No need to spend money on a FastPass if you don’t mind doing single rider.

Good luck trying to get an Insta-shot at Sleeping Beauty Castle though!

Save money, pack your own lunch and buy your Minnie ears before you arrive. 

Get there: RER A Paris train to Marne-la-Vallée/Chessy station (35 mins) or the Disney shuttle bus from Paris.

It’s really easy!

Minnie Mouse Disneyland Paris Christmas Parade_

32. Christmas Shopping in Paris 

Paris is a shopper’s delight.

Two of the main department stores are Galeries Lafayette Haussmann and Printemps which offer floors upon floors of shopping options from clothes to homeware.

Bon Marche is another popular store.

Westfield Forum des Halles is a modern mall with European high street names such as Aldo and Esprit. You will also find international brands like Calvin Klein and Gap. 

Les Halles Xmas Tree in Paris

This mall also has a cinema and restaurants. There are many fun streets around the centre too for drinking and dining. 

Rue de Rivoli (4th), close to the Louvre, predominantly offers souvenir shops, cheaper than Champs-Élysées.  

BHV Marais is an affordable department store selling French lines across from Hôtel de Ville. 

If on Rue de Rivoli, look out for the unique 59 Rivoli street art.

Once an abandoned building, now an art space with an unusual storefront. 

Marais is a great district with tasty falafel, crammed full of cool independent shops and European stores like Cos.

Look out for the phallic-shaped cookies at Legay Choc bakery for a humorous souvenir to take home.

Penis Cookie Legay Choc Bakery

Luxury brands such as Alexander McQueen and Louis Vuitton can be found around Rue Saint-Honore (1st) close to the impressive Christmas trees at Place Vendôme.  

Eataly Marais

33. Vintage Photobooth

Visiting Paris in December with your partner? It is the city of love after all.

Or have you watched the movie, Amelie? If so, you’ll know that photo booths are quite the thing in Paris.

Scattered over the city there are vintage-style booths that let you take four different photos.

A lovely souvenir of your festive break.

This booth is located at The Tuileries Garden Xmas market but there is a permanent Foto-Automat at Palais de Tokyo and 53 rue des Trois Frères, Paris 18e.

I want to see your pic! Tag me @twoscotsabroad

Jardin des Tuileries Christmas Market Photobooth

34. And if it Snows in Paris… Buttes Chaumont

Buttes Chaumont (1 Rue Botzaris, 75019) is a large park in the northeast of Paris and a popular spot when there is snow in the city.

As it has steep hills, locals go to sled and even ski! 

What to do in Paris in December: 4 Day Itinerary

Day 1

  • Open-top bus to get your bearings
  • Louvre museum
  • Les Deux Plateaux
  • Rue de Rivoli for souvenirs
  • Shakespeare & Co
  • Sainte-Chapelle
  • Marché de Noel at Saint Germain des Prés Xmas Market
Louvre Museum Paris _

Day 2

  • Eiffel Tower from Trocadéro
  • Champs-Élysées
  • Arc de Triomphe
  • A museum such as d’Orsay on the River Seine Or
  • Shopping at Galeries Lafayette Haussmann
  • Jardin Des Tuileries Christmas Market
  • Eiffel Tower from Trocadéro for illuminations
Gemma Eiffel Tower tartan cape

Day 3

  • Marais district
  • The Centre Pompidou
  • Abbesses Christmas Market at Montmartre
  • Step back in time at Montmartre (image below)
  • Sacré-Cœur 
  • Moulin Rouge
Rue De L’abreuvoir Paris-_

Day 4

  • Shopping at Galeries Lafayette Haussmann or Printemps
  • Le Village de Noël at Les Halles shopping and Xmas market
  • Rue Montorgueil food, drinks, cakes and people watching Or
  • Square de la Tour Saint-Jacques Christmas Market Or
  • Open-top bus at night

Alternative Day 4

  • Day trip to Disneyland Paris 

Book your ticket for the Disneyland Paris Express leaving from four meeting points here.

» Read next | Europe’s most romantic cities

Cinderella's Castle Disneyland Paris Christmas_

Paris Travel Planning Advice

Where to Stay in Paris

Paris Hotels

  • Le 123 Sébastopol: I stayed here. Excellent location close to Rue Montorgueil and Les Halles. Fast WiFi, free movies, outstanding hot and cold buffet breakfast. Highly recommend.
  • Hôtel Emile:  In March, I plan to stay in the hip Marais District, this is an affordable option.
  • Pratic Hotel: Budget option in an ideal location, clean rooms, great reviews.

Paris Hostels

What to Wear in Paris in December

  • Layers such as cardigans and pullover sweaters or jumpers as we call them in Scotland
  • Tights with skirts/dresses and under pants if out all day and temperatures are low
  • I also wore socks over tights
  • Avoid denim if you can as it’s not pleasant when wet and takes an age to dry
  • Waterproof coat/jacket and a padded warm coat
  • Waterproof shoes or boots and trainers without air holes (wet weather)
  • Hats, gloves and scarf
  • Umbrellas are just a nuisance when hopping in and out of places/it gets windy
  • Refillable water bottle – you can drink the water here
  • Tote bags for shopping
  • Camera!
  • Anker battery packs for an extra charge on phones US / UK
  • Hydration tablets for hangovers US / UK

Don’t forget your travel insurance – See True Traveller or World Nomads

Sacre-Coeur Montmartre

Paris Weather in December

The weather in Paris in December can be unpredictable.

Prepare for a mix of rainy and dry days with lows of 3°C (37.4°F) and highs of 8°C (46.4°F). It can hit minus temperatures. 

Sunset is around 17:00-17:30 making day shorter than summer. Consider this during your Paris planning, it’s great for seeing the city of lights!

The temperature drops at night so wrap up for the Christmas markets.

You will need a warm coat, layers and a waterproof outer gear to stay snug and dry.

Arc de Triomphe Viewing Platform Eiffel Tower

Does it Snow in Paris in December?

Paris can get a sprinkling of snow but mostly in January and February. 

When it does, expect transport disruptions and join the locals at Buttes Chaumont for sledging! 

However, my good friend Mhairi, and ex-pat in Paris, was stranded in Paris in December 2010.

As the public transport shut down, she was left dragging her suitcase along a snowy Champs Élysée all the way to Pont Neuf trying to get to her accommodation.

The saving grace? A Scottish bar called The Highlander which her brother worked at.

They say ‘a bad day in Paris is still better than a good day anywhere else’…

Don’t be put off! Snowfall is so infrequent it is normally celebrated. Just be prepared by watching the weather app and speaking to your accommodation. 


France uses the Euro. You can check up to date rates here

Most hotels, restaurants and shops accept all major debit and credit cards. You can tap the card machine or use chip and pin. 

Some shops have strange cash tills which spit out coins like a vending machine. It means the server doesn’t have to touch dirty money! Genius. 

Euro in front of Louvre Paris

Tourist Information

There are a number of tourism offices in Paris. The main point is at 29, rue de Rivoli Paris 4e. For the full list, see here.

Best Tours + Line Skips For Paris in Winter

I was thankful to have GetYourGuide tickets while in Paris during Christmas. The 24-hour cancellation option meant I could postpone visits to attractions which were affected by the strike. 

I also hate waiting in lines, regardless of the time of year, so the timed entrance and line skips are ideal for my kind of travel. 

Louvre Paris Lines

Expect to go through airport-style security at every attraction. To save time have your bag ready. You can take water bottles through so pack one to reduce waste.

Things to do in Paris at Christmas

Christmas Day in Paris 

The 25th (Christmas) of December and 1st (New Year’s Day) are official public holidays in Paris which means there will be reduced activity around the city.

On Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, the metro, RER and public buses run on a reduced timetable. 

On Christmas Day and New Year’s Day the main things that are open will be:

  • Hotels that serve Christmas lunch/dinner – reserve while booking stay 
  • Ethnic restaurants who do not celebrate Christmas 
  • Local convenience stores who do not celebrate Christmas
  • Paris attractions such as Eiffel Tower, Moulin Rouge, Sacre-Coeur for mass, Seine cruises.

Closed on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day 

  • Louvre 
  • Sainte-Chapelle
  • Arc de Triomphe

If staying in an apartment, get your grocery shopping done before Christmas Day and enjoy the city to yourself!

New Year’s Eve 

So now Paris at Christmas time is over, let’s look at the next big celebration, 31st of December.

On the water, up the tower, at the church, in a bar, how will you spend New Year’s Eve in Paris?

The official New Year’s party explodes around the Arc de Triomphe, with a family-friendly animation and firework display.

Naturally, restaurants should be booked in advance and club nights will have an additional charge. 

Getting to Paris

There are two airports in Paris, Charles-de-Gaulle (CDG) and Orly (ORY).

Both have public transport links connecting them to the city. 

The frequent RER B train goes from CDG to central city stations in 30-40 minutes for under 11 euro.

There is no direct train from Orly to Paris. Visitors use the OrlyVal train to the RER station at Antony. This journey takes around 40 minutes.

It is likely you will then use the Metro to get to your accommodation. 

Marais Street Art Paris

Getting Around

Paris’s areas are called arrondissements which just means neighbourhoods or districts.

1st arrondissement is in the middle then the next arrondissements wind round forming the shape of an animal the French like to eat. A snail!

1st arrondissement for the Louvre, Palais Royal, Tuileries Gardin.

2nd arrondissement is where you will find my favourite street, Rue Montorgueil and its bars.

4th arrondissement is home to jumping Marais with its falafel, shops and LBGT+ scene.

5th arrondissement aka the Latin Quarter is where you will find Shakespeare & Company.

6th arrondissement is home to Hemingway and Boulevard Saint-Germain.

7th arrondissement is where you will find the Eiffel Tower and Rue Cler (foodie street, on my list for next time).

8th arrondissement for Arc de Triomphe.

9th arrondissement awaits the shoppers at Galeries Lafayette and Printemps department stores.

14th arrondissement for Montparnasse and Paris Catacombs.

18th arrondissement for the gorgeous Montmartre and Sacré-Cœur.

Paris Arrondissement Map Districts in Paris

Paris has a well connected public transport system utilising the metro, RER trains, trams, buses, taxis, Uber (more expensive), e-scooter and boat tour rides on the Seine!

Passlib is the official tourism pass which lets you access public transport, a Seine cruise and Paris museums. You can choose your preferred number of days here.

Metro tickets can be bought in packs of ten (un carnet).

Le Moulin Blute-Fin Windmill Paris-

Things to do in Paris in Winter Map

Here’s a free map of Paris which includes pins to the activities and locations discussed in this guide.

Pin to your Paris planning board Any questions or comments? Leave them below. 

Tag us @twoscotsabroad in your photos

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Final Words

A city so easy on the eye, like Paris, is a good idea any time of year. Whether you are visiting Paris for a vin chaud or choosing the city as your annual December trip, there are so many things to do during the Paris winter festival.

Tell us what you get up to in the comments below.

Still undecided if Paris is for you? Here’s our guide to Europe’s best winter breaks.

Portland Itinerary: What do in 3 days (Oregon)

Portland Sign lit up at dusk

‘Portland – where young people go to retire!’ This quote has been doing the rounds on the old viral trail ever since the ‘marmite’ (love it or hate it) TV show, Portlandia, coined it. 

Discuss a Portland itinerary with anyone from this Pacific Northwest city and the response will be something along the lines of beer, bikes, noms, and nature.

By the end of this article, we hope that you agree that Portland certainly is a very liveable and loveable city in Oregon, USA.

Here’s our guide on what to do in 3 days in Portland also known as the city of roses and PDX.

You may also like our guide to coastal towns in Oregon and our Portland in winter guide.

Portland Itinerary: 3 Days in Portland

Day 1 – Morning – Downtown Portland 

When you first arrive you definitely want to check out the Portland points of interest in the centre of the city and the waterfront.

Take in the unusual looking buildings, the cherry blossoms at Waterfront Park (Spring, approx March/April), how many bridges can count over the Willamette (rhymes with ‘dammit’)? There are 12 in total.

Pioneer Courthouse Square is home to the weekly farmers’ market (Mondays in Summer) and holiday-tree lighting party if you are visiting Portland for the Christmas holidays.

If you are keen on art, or if it is raining (it does that come Autumn/Fall, a lot), you might want to swing by Portland Art Museum (1219 SW Park Ave) or the Oregon Historical Society (1200 S.W. Park Ave) to see local and historical artifacts.

You will also find the very instagrammable 65 foot Portland sign ‘the Schnitz’ in Downtown Portland, outside of Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. 

Looking for a tour with a local?

Check out this 2-hour walking tour of Downtown Portland.

Look out for the Benson Bubblers water fountains.

Not to be confused with old-school candelabras, there are 52 bronze fountains dotted around the city named after the businessman Simon Benson who donated money to the project.

Benson Bubbles Downtown Portland

For elevenses, grab a Frankenstein style pastry from the original Voodoo Doughnut store (22 SW 3rd Ave). Expect anything and everything from marshmallows to bacon!

Strange story but…

I was using my Travel Portland tote bag on an island in Nicaragua (Ometepe) and a rad (or radge as we would say in Scotland) looking guy was like ‘hey, are you from Portland?’ as he sipped a drink on the wall of a restaurant. We started chatting and it turns out that this rad was actually the owner of Voodoo Doughnut.

Mind is blown.

An island in Nicaragua.

What are the odds I’d be using the tote bag and he would notice?

Anyway, we took a celebratory photo of me holding my phone displaying a picture of me eating a Voodoo doughnut in Portland.

I love travelling. Any strange travel stories to share?

Tell me in the comments below.

Voodoo Donughts Portland

Can’t agree on what to eat for lunch? 

That really is not an issue in Portland because this city is home to food carts. 

Alder Street Food Cart Pod (S.W. 10th Ave. & Alder St) is the biggest selection of food carts in downtown Portland and offers Thai, Indian, Mexican, yup pretty much every food genre is covered.

This works a treat for us because we are not food compatible.

Portland Food Truck with red front

Day 1 – Afternoon – Pearl/River District

This is one of the ‘most hipster neighbourhoods in the world’ Head to ‘City of Book’s aka Powell’s Bookstore to see the world’s largest independent bookstore to kick off the feel of Portland.

There are five stores in Portland, 1005 W Burnside S is the flagship store.

Powell’s Bookstores boasts of over 500 author events per year.

Small businesses and free-from chain store status is definitely the vibe of this city.

If you visit during the weekend, be sure to check out the Portland Saturday Market to pick up food, crafts, art and jewellery (Saturday/Sunday, March-Christmas Eve).

Visiting midweek?

You don’t have to miss out, browse and purchase local Oregon gear at Made Here PDX (40 NW 10th Ave).

Next, for an afternoon pick me up, pop into Stumptown Coffee Roasters for a brew – they’ve been taking coffee very seriously from source to sip since the lates 90s.

This fair trade coffee shop (five stores across the city) offers a variety of coffees, hot or cold and also teas.

If it is a dry day, take out and drink while people watching and totem pole exploring at Jamieson Square.

See what the Elizabeth Leach Gallery (Tuesday – Saturday/417 NW 9th Ave) and the photography gallery Blue Sky (Tuesday – Sunday122 NW 8th Ave) are exhibiting.

Catch a show at the Portland Center Stage at The Armory which is known as the “crown jewel” of the Brewery Blocks redevelopment.

Alternatively, if you are here for the hard brew, book into the Beer and Bikes Tour.

This 2.5-hour guided tour covers multiple breweries, but don’t worry, the largest part of the cycle is done while sober. 

Powells Books Portland

Day 1 – Evening – Pearl/River District

Take the alcohol bus on a quick detour around to 350 W Burnside St and snap a selfie with the Keep Portland Weird mural, who said it first – Austin or Portland?

End the night at 70 NW Couch (cooch not couch) – the famous Portland, Oregon sign.

Like the city itself, the sign has gone through many changes at the hands of whoever owned the building. Initially, it advertised White Satin Sugar, then White Stag Sportswear.

Most recently The City of Portland took over the rights.

The sign you see today will be the final version as, like many of Portland’s old houses, it is protected.

This pleases Portlanders as the red nose, which is put on the stag at Christmas, is a bit of an institution in itself! Definitely make a visit to the sign one of the things to do in Portland at night. 

Have your wits about you here in the dark, people are friendly but it is a city.

We stayed at The Society Hotel, a really cool new boutique hotel which has kept its roots. It’s basically a modern-looking time capsule!

Check out our review here.

The Stag Portland

Day 2 – Morning – Downtown

There are two options for this morning depending on your city travel style.

Option one, do as Portlanders and bike! Join a bike tour around the city to stretch the legs and to explore what is on the other side of those bridges (we did this with Cycle Portland Bike Tours in January and it was very pleasant weather wise)!

Biking is big and it’s not just one of the many hipster things to do in Portland!

There are cycle paths, bike traffic lights, and left-hand turns (although some are blighted by the tram tracks – don’t get stuck in them)!

7.2% of people commute by bike in Portland. To put this in perspective, the national average is a mere 0.5%. Cyclists have the same rights as cars when it comes to lanes.

Although the passion for the pedal is respected by most, Portlanders still like to show that they are vulnerable by staging a naked cycle protest once a year! Being naked in public is actually lawful, it falls under artistic license – keeping Portland weird.

Option two, make your way to Washington Park to discover over 650 rose varieties in 4.5 acres (1.8 hectares) of parkland at the Rose International Test Garden.

Bushes at the International Rose Test Garden in Washington Park in Portland,

This feels like Alice in Wonderland territory.

If you only had 2 days in Portland I would suggest doing a tour a day one (I like to get my bearings through tours) as this will most likely cover downtown and the riverfront then visit Washington Park in the morning of the second day and Nob Hill in the afternoon/evening.

We also featured more activities in downtown Portland in our guide to free things to do in Portland, Oregon.

Portland waterfront

Day 2 – Afternoon – Self-Guided Food Tour or Nob Hill

If you are a foodie you’ll want to sample the food trucks in Portland.

There are approximately 848 food units in the city, with clusters around 3rd and 5th Avenue.

Alternatively, head to the city’s first food market, Pine Street Market (126 SW 2nd Ave) which is located in the cool historic Carriage and Baggage Building (every day).

If you like Korean food, check out Kim Jong Smokehouse, we tried one of the chef collective’s food from at the Kim Jong Grillin’ food truck.

Tasty and photogenic.

Kim Jong Grillin Portland

Another option is to make your way to the Nob Hill neighbourhood.

Nob Hill is the area Northwest of the Portland and is affectionately known as ‘The Alphabet District’ because of its naming of the streets in alphabetical order.

This is the more affluent neighbourhood in the city and you can expect upmarket shopping and eateries. There are cultural activities too though, for example, Pittock Mansion, an impressive 100-year old family home which is situated 1,000 feet above the city.

Yes, that means spectacular views of the Portland and Mount Hood.

Forest Park can be found in the Nob Hill area too.

There are 70 miles of trails which are enjoyed by visitors and locals alike. An easy access point can be found adjacent to Macleay Park (Lower Macleay Trail).

Starting to feel like Portland has gone all normal on you at Nob Hill?

Think again with Freakybuttrue (spell it out) Peculiarium, museum/gallery/interactive weird sh*t with ice cream as the cherry on top.

Lawn and building of Pittock Mansion museum in Portland

Day 2 – Evening – Nob Hill

After dinner at one of the many Nob Hill restaurants (American, Italian, Steakhouses, Spanish, Korean) it is time to ‘brew ‘n’ view’ at one of Nob Hill’s cinemas (Cinema 21).

Look out for film festivals and sing-alongs or McMenamins Mission Theater – showing throwbacks like Clueless and The Craft, dining options available), which serve local craft beers. 

Don’t go wild tonight because tomorrow you are day tripping but I do have to add, Nob Hill has karaoke rooms at Voicebox Karaoke Lounge.

Many of the cool places in Portland can be found at the upper-market Nob Hill area.

Day 3 – Portland Day Trips

Nature in Portland

One of the things to do near Portland (Oregon) is visit Multnomah Falls (45 min drive) which is Oregon’s tallest waterfall.

Visiting the fall isn’t just a Summer activity, we went in January when there was a bit of frost and it was just lovely, making it one of the best day trips from Portland. 

On a clear day, you can see Mount Hood in the background during the journey.

The hike can be as easy or intermediate as you like. We saw families there so a safe bet for things to do in Portland with kids.

If you don’t have a car you can join this 4 hour guided tour which picks you up from your hotel and takes you not only to Multnomah Falls but also Wahkeena Falls and Horse Tail Falls as part of its Columbia River Highway tour.

If you like wine and want to make a day of it, this 8-hour day trip from Portland offers the above plus lunch in Hood River with wine sampling options.

Multnomah Falls Portland Day Trips

Transport in Portland

Nate explained Portland’s transport system into four T’s – trail, tram, trolley, and train!

Like Seattle and Vancouver, TriMet tickets are valid for 90 minutes which means you can commute between two, three modes of transport.

Uniquely, Portland has an aerial tram! It was purpose built for students to get between campuses but tourists can also try it out.

Portland, Weather

Yes, it rains in Portland hence the lushness of its surroundings. Portlanders are cool with it, they’ve even named it the cute ‘Portland mist’.

However, Portland doesn’t even make it into American’s top 10 rainiest cities for rainfall so don’t fret! If you don’t like rain then the best times to visit are summer, July, August and often September.

May and June are drier than April and March. Mid October sees the rain appear again.

Things to do in Portland When it Rains

There are heaps of things to in Portland when it rains. There are a variety of museums to suit every interest from Portland’s Shanghai Tunnels to the Art Museum.

Portland has lots of brewery tours where companies take you on a sampling trip by foot, bike, or bus.

Obviously, there are lots of shopping opportunities in Portland when ducking from the mist, the city has mainstream big named shops, small businesses, Portland’s Saturday market and the institution itself, Powell’s Book Shop.

Rainy day outside ofThe Society Hotel Portland | Boutique Hotels

Christmas in Portland

North America really knows how to make Christmas sparkle and one of the benefits of visiting Portland, Oregon in December is that the weather is not as harsh as the East Coast (sorry, New York!)

Here’s a list of festive activities that make Portland a well-worth Christmas trip.

  • Christmas tree lighting (Pioneer Courthouse Square)
  • Christmas Ship Parade (50 boats cruising)
  • Santa pub crawl (he’s merry!)
  • Christmas at Pittock Mansion
  • ZooLights (1.5 million LED lights to transform the Oregon Zoo)
  • PDX Pop-Up Shops (local makers at Pioneers Place)
  • Holiday Ale Festival (5o festive ales to try)
  • Heaps of choir and stage action
  • Red nose goes on ‘White Stag’ sign
  • Hood River train ride

Find out more in our Portland in winter travel guide!

Colorful lights seen through a tent

Watch Our Video Guide to Portland (+ Seattle)

Portland Frequently Asked Questions

What is Portland known for?

On one of Portland’s slogans is ‘keep Portland weird’ and the mantra of being a little out of the ordinary is definitely evident in this Oregon city.

Portlanders are proud of their culinary scene which covers lots of regions (we were told there is even a Frying Scotsman food truck!)

The craft beer scene here is strong as is the wine. Portland is also known for supporting local businesses.

Can I visit Portland and other places?

Definitely! We teamed up a trip to Portland with the city of Seattle in the neighbouring state of Washington (coming from Vancouver in Canada).

Check out this guide to Oregon beach towns and this guide for Washing’s beach towns.

The Pacific Northwest road trip is a popular driving route which can extend is predominantly the warmer south, California but you could extend up if you wish.

Check out our San Fransisco itinerary here.

Keep Portland Weird sign with cars

When is the best time to visit Portland?

The cherry blossoms at start blooming at Waterfront Park in Spring (March/April) and the drier seasons kick off around May/June and the warmer months are July-September.

The rain reappears around October time. However, we visited in January after a freak snowstorm and still fell in love with the city.

Portland features in our post – the best US destinations to travel to in January. Lots of the activities we recommend are indoors (especially all the food and drink!) so there is always something to do.

What’s a good itinerary for 1 week in Seattle and Portland?

I would follow our guide for things to do in Portland then check out Seattle’s Pike Place Market food tour, Museum of Pop Culture and of course, the views of the city from the Space Needle. Check out our Seattle itinerary too.

Portland Oregon sign at night

Final words

Portland is Happening Now

This Portland 3 day itinerary only touches upon some of the factors which I feel back up that Portland is happening now.

I know I’m not alone in my views because according to the census, in terms of population growth, Portland was the 15th fastest among America’s fifty largest metro areas.

Unfortunately with popularity comes competition and many young people can’t afford the property.

The solution?

Tiny houses!

Hover over image to pin to your Portland inspiration board

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Disclaimer:  With thanks to Travel Portland, Cycle Portland Bike Tours, Kim Jong Grillin’ for hosting us and our family – Erin and Ian for letting us do a wash! I really did love this city, check out more cool things to do in Portland via our fellow blogger, Taylor.

Have you been to Portland?

22 Unique Things to do in Austin Today

Man on horse South Congress buildings

When I say Texas you think of cowboys and Conservatives, right? Wrong! Say hello to Austin – the hipster Texas city in The Lone Star State.

Just over 950, 000 people reside in Austin and during our three visits, we’ve met around 30 of them and one even married us. Yes, you heard that right.

We love this city so much we got hitched by Lady Bird Lake on Lou Neff Point.

Here’s our guide to unique things to do in Austin today, which are awesome!

Visiting for Christmas? Here’s our festive guide too.

Get Your Bearings 

The main areas you are most likely to spend time in during your trip to Austin are the Downtown, Red River, Sixth Street, Rainey Street, East 6th, South Congress and Zilker. 

While some of these Austin activities are not unique in Austin they are definitely unique to Austin.

Where else in the world can you eat Tex Mex and drink craft beer while listening to any genre of music possible?

Unusual Things to do in Austin

1. Eat Breakfast at Juan in a Million

The first thing to do in Austin is to grab a Tex Mex breakfast and Juan in a Million (2300 E Cesar Chavez St) is the legend you get to meet.

Not only does the ex-high school teacher, Juan Meza’s sell no frills, great homemade food, he also greets every single customer at the door with his signature handshake! Now that is a personal welcome.

Juan in a Million | Cool things to do in Austin

Our taxi driver said one day he drove past and couldn’t believe the size of the line, Juan had just made it to the big screen.

Casey Webb from the notorious hit TV show Man v Food had taken on the challenge to eat eight Don Juan tacos stuffed full of eggs, potatoes, bacon and cheese.

Don Juan El Taco Grande Juan in a Million | Austin all day breakfast

Think you can make it on the ‘Juan of Fame’? Webb managed four and a quarter…

Tell us how many you manage in the comments below!


2. Mimosas + Tacos at Ciscos

You are not hard-pressed to find breakfast tacos in Austin but Cisco’s (1511 E 6th St) is an iconic diner on East 6th Street.

As soon as you sit down next to the cute tiled wall, a friendly server will hit your table with glasses of water, salsa and delicious taco chips.

Ciscos Chips Austin Texas

Breakfast tacos with eggs, cheese and meat for under $5 and a liquor licence are just what to the doctor ordered after a night of partying in Austin.

Lots of visitors also hit up the popular chain, Torchy’s Tacos. Check out Torchy’s secret menu recipe.

Guys! You can buy my t-shirt (below) here. ‘Guid’ means good in Scottish.

Food Austin Cisco Cafe East 6th Street_

3. Stroll Along Lady Bird Lake

Austin’s hike and bike trail is bustling come spring/summer.

What better way to blow the city cobwebs away than to hire a bike and pedal along the Colorado River?

This 2-hour sightseeing tour is done via bike and includes a ride along Lady Bird Lake.

Even better, why not hire a paddle board and get in?

During our first and third trip to Austin, we stayed at the HI Hostel (private room) which was an absolute steal during Austin’s South by Southwest festival.

Those who are familiar with the festival will know that accommodation prices triple during the 10-day tech, digital and music festival.

Since the hostel is located by the lake, we walked along the designated path cooing at the cute dogs and dodging the runners to get to the parties in the city.

The lake itself is dominated by kayaks, boats, river bikes, birds and turtles.

A stroll by the lake with the sun on your face is one of the more romantic things to do in Austin so much so, we returned in 2016 to say ‘I do’ with the lake as our backdrop.

We eloped to Austin! Read our wedding story here.

Lady Bird Lake Austin Texas attractions

4. Make a Splash at Barton Springs

Barton Springs (2201 Barton Springs Rd) is a natural spring for the public to sunbathe around, kayak, and swim in. Or sunbathe on your kayak as I saw some girls do.

Located in Zilker Park, there are two options for the pool. The first is to pay to use the swimming pool style spring which has a nice grassy hill to sunbathe on. The sun can get pretty powerful so remember your factor 30.

Love the water? Check out our guide to the best beach towns Texas has to offer.

Barton Springs Austin | Ten Cool Things to do in Awesome Austin

The second option is to use the area next door (there is only one fence that separates the two) for free.

Don’t make the mistake we did – take the turning before the bridge and use the concrete hill for sunbathing. We were stuck on the muddy and stony ground which was fine with a towel.

The locals will laugh and ask if you went into the water…

We walked there from the HI Hostel which took around 50 minutes and then cycled back. Save some cash a pack a picnic.

Barton Springs | Ten Cool Things to do in Awesome Austin

5. Cool Off at High Heights

The Azul Rooftop Bar and Lounge (310 E 5th St) at the Westin Hotel allows non-members to use their rooftop swimming pool free of charge (as well as towels).

However, do expect to pay skyrocket prices for drinks.

Personally, I think it is worth the hit on your purse as the cold slush cocktails and summer vibes music was just what we needed to chill out after the madness of South By.

Azul features in our most Instragrammable places in Austin guide.

Azul Rooftop Pool and Bar Austin Westin Hotel_

6. Beat the Hook!

One of our recommended downtown bars, HandleBar (121 E 5th St), has a cool rooftop which is ideal for hot nights and it really is set up to provide a lot of fun.

There is one game which simply consists of a hoop on a string. The aim is to swing the hoop onto the hook.

It sounds pathetic but honestly, friends have fallen out over this game.

Next door is the Speakeasy, Floppy Disc Repair. The door staff are total douchebags and we’re not the first to say so. Read the reviews.

7. Get Crafty

There is now an explosion of craft beer breweries in Austin, to Craig’s delight.

One of his most recommended is Lazarus Brewery on East 6th Street.

Expect an audience of all ages, drinking flights and wine while listening to live music play outside on the bandstand. Furry friends welcome.

Beer Flight Lazarus Austin Craft Beer Brewery_

8. Catch a Band

Across the road from Lazarus is Zilker Brewing Company which also puts on shows.

In fact, these two craft breweries are just two of the over two hundred live gig venues in Austin.

Some say that Austin is the musical capital of the world. You can see a show any night of week at different areas around the city.

There is always something going down on Dirty 6th but please be warned, that street gets messy at the weekends.

Other notable venues include:

  • Mohawk.
  • HandleBar.
  • Cheer Up Charlies.
  • Hotel Vegas.
  • Emo’s.
  • Latitude 64 (which becomes the BBC Music Embassy during SXSW).
  • The North Door.
  • Stubb’s Bar-B-Q.

Want more music? This three-hour music tour led by a musician sells out fast

9. Be Cute at Austin’s Rainbow House

I’ve died and woke up in social media photography heaven.

Cute Nail Studio (1211 E 7th St) actively encourages you to come to see their bright and awesome salon!

This unique rainbow building just off East 6th is a wonder to behold.

Clever marketing by the Cute team and they are kick ass on Insta too.

If you’re quite into unique architecture, check out our guide on treehouses in Texas you can book!

Cute Nail Studie Austin

10. Up For Swinging?

There are two spots that you can climb into a hammock while you drink an alcoholic beverage or coffee (hot not recommended).

First up is the area outside of Revival Coffee Shop (1405 E 7th St) which is shared with a food truck.

The next hammock stop can be found at the food trucks on East 6th, across from 1660 food trucks.

Revival Coffee Shop Austin Hammocks

11. Food Trucks

You can’t go to Austin and not eat from a food truck.

What do you want? Colombian? Brazilian? Tacos? Burgers? Pizza? Poke Bowls?

You name it, there’s a truck that does it.

We even saw Peruvian desserts being sold near Barton Springs.

Now that’s niche!

12. Sinful Desserts by Nuhas

The seven deadly sins definitely result in diabetes at this food truck located next to Terry Black’s BBQ on Barton Springs Rd.

The brownie is to die for.

Nuhas Sinful Desserts Austin Texas

13. BBQ, Austin Texas Style!

Do it as Texans do! Some of the most popular Austin attractions are the BBQ houses.

Franklin BBQ, on the east side, is the most talked about BBQ joint. Therefore, you have to get there fast (11 am opening) and expect to wait in line. It closes when the food is gone.

During our trip, a taxi driver recommended Blacks (Guadalupe St), on our way there, we stopped for directions and a local pointed out Green Mesquite so we settled for there.

No need to settle, Green Mesquite serves up a decent plate of two types of meat and two sides! This Austin restaurant is very close to Barton Springs so you can bathe and then BBQ, just don’t burn baby.

We’ve now dined at Blacks and the Copper Pit and have to say that we prefer Mesquite.

We’re not really a fan of cold food and by the time you wait in line to choose your sides, your meat and then pay your food, your plate cold.

I also hate the amount of single-use plastic. There’s no need at a sit-down restaurant.

Do your bit of the environment, purchase Bamboo cutlery set US / UK. Super cheap at under $10 and helps save the plastic tide while you dine.

If you have time, head out to Lockhart to try Kreuz BBQ. Best green beans I’ve tasted.

Find out more in our road trip guide.

Green Mesquite BBQ | Ten Cool Things to do in Awesome Austin

14. Wander Along South Congress (SoCo)

Dirty 6th is a cool, messy street full of filthy bars and definitely one of your first stops for things to in Austin at night but if you are looking for a street that is laden with seriously gorgeous looking people (everyone has fully committed tattoos, even saw a girl with a leg sleeve), see SoCo.

South Congress is lined with lots of vintage shops and delicious eateries.

On Saturdays, a pop-up market sells artwork and jewellery. Look out for the topless cowboy on a horse. Yes, that happens.

You may also like our guide to free things to do in Austin.

South Congress | Ten Cool Things to do in Awesome Austin

15. Biscuits at South Congress Cafe

Can’t say much for the front of house service. I’m assuming the chick who served us our drinks was hungover.

Positively, the waiting servers were super friendly and the biscuits melt in your mouth.

South Congress Cafe (1600 S Congress Ave) made it to our best restaurants post. Find out who else managed to take a spot on our Austin foodie bucket list.

16. Shop for Treats at Big Top Candy Shop

Aka heaven for me! This circus-themed candy shop also sells ice cream and floats on South Congress (yes, I adore this area).

Not just one of the things to do in Austin with kids, it’s for big kids too right? Their stock will fill you with nostalgia as well as sugar.

You can even buy seasoned bugs! We took some home for my eleven-year-old cousin to try.

Big Top Candy Shop So Co | Ten Cool Things to do in Awesome Austin

17. Get Snap Happy – Street Art in Austin

There is a lot of street art in Austin but unfortunately, much of it is spread quite far apart. Close to downtown, you can catch:

  • The I Love You So Much Wall on So Co (see below).
  • I Hate You So Much Wall on Rainy Street (see below).
  • Let’s Band Together heart on East 6th Street.
  • Historic 6th Mural at 5582 N Interstate 35 Frontage Rd, 78701.
  • Ninja Style graffiti on Lamar Boulevard Bridge.
  • Pop Art Girl at Colorado St. and W 5th Street (is she still there, didn’t see her this year)?
  • Tau Ceti triangle at Brazos and Second.

A little further afield is the famous:

  • Jeremiah the Innocent at 21st and Guadalupe.
  • You’re My Butter Half at 2000 E Martin Luther King Jr Blvd (Alamo St.)

We were really disappointed to see that Hope Outdoor Gallery at Castle Hill has now be closed down. This is where we got our wedding photos taken.

Rumour has it that Hope will be reopening at a spot near the airport. If you like street art why not visit us in Fife, Scotland! This lesser-known area of our home country has an emerging scene worth checking out.

We never made it to the Cathedral of Junk but if you like art and trash it might be worth a quick visit if passing by (it’s smaller than most people imagine).

Some of the murals are quite spaced out so this electric bike tour can cover more grounds than by foot.

An Austin Elopement - Capitol Hill, Austin Texas - Corey Mendez Photography

Back at South Congress, you’ll see a large gathering at the end of a shop – this is the ‘I Love You So Much’ wall.

As the story goes, the artist spray painted the message, I love you so much, on her girlfriend’s shop wall after they broke up.

I Love You So Much Wall | Ten Cool Things to do in Awesome Austin

Not up for all that smooshy love crap? Well, Austin has something for everyone.

There is an alternative message, the ‘I hate you so much.’ Not a direct response from the shop owning girlfriend thankfully!

The message was ruined but you can see a third version (the second was put on wood but warped) on the wall in Bungalow (bar) on Rainey Street.

  • I love you so much wall: 1300 S Congress Ave, Austin, TX 78704.
  • I hate you so much wall (3rd version): Bungalow 92 Rainey St, Austin, TX 78701.
I Hate You So Much Wall | Ten Cool Things to do in Awesome Austin

18. Rainey Street

If you are looking for things to do in Austin at night head to Rainey Street.

We ate curry at G’raj Mahal Cafe which is a typical (for the area) wooden house style restaurant decked out in not so typical bike wheels and umbrellas.

A starter samosa, two curries and two naans came to $44.59.

If you are having a few beers, remember it gets hot come March (check out how sweaty we are!)

Stay hydrated and consider packing these hydration tablets US / UK for the next day, there’s nothing worse than a hangover in the heat.

A British doctor in Cuba recommended them as a hangover cure, I don’t travel without them now.

PS – this area has exploded! You heard it here first. Rainey Street is now packed with places to eat in Austin.

It’s also a go-to area if you are seeking out the free South by Southwest music events.

Rainey Street | Ten Cool Things to do in Awesome Austin

19. Hire a Bike or Scooter

Be like a local and hire an electronic scooters or bike to get around town.

Companies such as Uber, Lyft and Lime have dumped e-scooters by the side of the road and you just use an app to activate and then scoot.

Be cautious of cars and don’t drink and drive.

20. Stay in an Airstream

A what?! All over Austin you will see silver food trucks in little clusters like outdoor food courts or standing proud individually.

Well, some homeowners take these food trucks, remove the cooking equipment and kit it out with kitsch home stuff and let you stay in them!

Airstream | Ten Cool Things to do in Awesome Austin

21. Attend South by Southwest

Honestly, it is a fun ten days full of free parties, gigs and swag.

Catch intimate music shows with big artists, watch movies in Austin’s cute theaters and get lost in the madness.

You will need a holiday after this festival!

22. Head to Big Bend 

If you can find enough time to build an Austin to Big Bend National Park road trip into your visit I highly recommend it. 

We did this 11 stop West Texas itinerary over four nights and ate the best BBQ, saw art installations, stargazed and hiked in Big Band among the dusty roads and bluebonnets. 

Prada Marfa Post Shop Art Texas


Craig and I loved Austin Texas’ points of interest SO MUCH  we went back the following year and eloped!

We headed back to the lake and married at Lou Neff Point, took photos around the city, ate Italian, and then partied to Junior Boys at Mohawk.

Read our wedding story.

Capitol Hill, Austin, Street Art in An Austin Elopement - Corey Mendez Photography

Accommodation in Austin

We’ve stayed in seven different areas of Austin over the fours years. Our preferred choice has to be the HI Hostel at Lady Bird Lake if on a tight budget and happy to walk.

Best Austin Tours

Austin Packing List

You can’t survive a trip to Austin without:

  • Warm layers, it was freezing when we arrived in March and didn’t heat up until a few days into SXSW
  • A waterproof coat like this Marmot Precip US / UK
  • Comfortable walking shoes and hiking boots – I swear by Salomon Ellipse trek shoes US / UK
  • Sunglasses for the sun and hiding behind.
  • Tattoos, you won’t fit in without one.
  • Camera and battery
  • Battery pack for your phone – I vouch for Anker’s range US / UK
  • Osprey bag cover US / UK
  • Eco water bottle as there are heaps of places to fill up for free – the practical Tree Tribe US / UK
  • Filter and purifying water bottle like Water To Go [quote TSA15 at checkout for 15% off]
  • Bamboo cutlery set US / UK – So annoyed at the use of plastic at the BBQ joints.
  • Skross universal travel adaptor with USB slots US / UK
  • Pacsafe safety net US / UK
  • Hydration tablets US / UK if participating in some Austin boozing!

You May Also Like Our Other Austin Guides

Final Words

I know what you are thinking – where are the bats?

We’ve never actually managed to experience over a million bats flying from Congress Avenue Bridge.

Have you?

Needless to say, we’re still happy with what we’ve accomplished in Austin, the city that will always have a special place in our heart!