Wednesday, June 28, 2017

12 Things to Do in Seattle

Seattle is one of my all-time favorite cities. You can't go wrong with all the green (all that rain really does make the city beautiful), and the amazing views of the surrounding water and mountains. And because it is only a 2 hour flight away from San Francisco, I find myself coming back over and over again - 7 times in 6 years, in fact.

Seattle often gets overlooked because of its reputation as a grey, rainy, and muted city, but I think there is something for everyone to love there. Here are the top 12 things to do in the Emerald City:

1. Eat your way through Pike Place Market
Pike Place Market is one of the oldest continuously operating Farmers' Markets in the United States and is an absolute foodie haven. You can find hundreds of produce stands, butchers, bakeries, seafood markets, flower vendors, craftspeople, and specialty food stores in this 9 acre historical district.

It is also home to the original Starbucks location, as well as 80 restaurants. Bring your stomach - there is so much to feast upon here.

2. Go up the Space Needle
Originally built for the 1962 World's Fair, the iconic Space Needle is considered a symbol of Seattle today. Enjoy sweeping views of the downtown Seattle, Puget Sound, Lake Union, the surrounding islands, and the Olympic and Cascade mountains. On a clear day, you can see Mt. Rainier, looking as majestic as ever.

Pro tip: You can buy a day/night ticket to see the views both in light and dark. I discovered (on accident) that the best time to go, is right before sunset - then you get both daytime and nighttime views, even with general admission.

3. Admire the glass art at Chihuly Garden and Glass
You may recognize Seattle area native Dale Chihuly's renowned glass sculptures - one of his most famous works is in the lobby of the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas. At Chihuly Garden and Glass, you can admire Chihuly's works in all its glory. The long-term exhibition at the Seattle Center features a gallery, a garden, and a glasshouse, featuring an incredible 100-foot ceiling sculpture that creates a unique view of the neighboring Space Needle.

4. Spend time on the water
Seattle is surrounded by water, and some of the best ways to see the city are from a boat. You can go about this in several ways. One option is to rent a boat or kayak. Another is to take a ferry to one of the surrounding islands. Bainbridge Island, Vashon, and Bremerton are great options for a day trip to get away from the city, and spend some time on the water. You can also take a water taxi to beachy West Seattle.

There are also several companies offering boat tours around Elliott Bay, for spectacular views of the Seattle waterfront, and skyline, and the bay. Another option for is a cruise around Lake Union and Portage Bay, also offering sweeping views of the skyline, and a look into Seattle's unique floating homes community.

5. Snap a photo of the view from Kerry Park
Ever wonder where to get that postcard shot of the Seattle skyline with the Space Needle in the foreground from? This is the spot. Grab your camera, admire the view, and snap a bunch of photos. On a clear day, you can also see Mt. Rainier peek through, making the view even more perfect.

6. Say hi to the Fremont Troll
Located under the Aurora Bridge in Fremont, the Fremont Troll is a public art piece that was built in 1990 as the winner of a competition to rehabilitate the area under the bridge. The piece has its roots in Scandinavian folklore. He's a bit strange, but he's also cool (and HUGE), and you should definitely go say hi to him!
7. Hang out at Gas Works Park
Gas Works Park is built on the site of an old coal gasification plant of the Seattle Gas Light company. It houses numerous remnants of the plant, which provided gas for energy to the city of Seattle for 50 years, and is the sole remaining coal gasification plant in the United States.

It also has lots of grass hills and incredible views of Lake Union and the Seattle skyline. It also hosts various events and festivals, and you can find lots of people picnicking and flying kites here on a sunny day. Definitely a cool, unique park to check out.

8. Spend some time at the library
The Central Library location of the Seattle Public Library is an architectural spectacle that is definitely worth a visit. The 11-story steel and glass buildings have won numerous awards. Take a self-guided tour around the facility, sit and read some books (there are several reading rooms), or just stop by to enjoy the view from the 10th floor viewpoint - whatever you do, you can't miss the unique architecture here.

9. Take a walk at Olympic Sculpture Park
The Olympic Sculpture Park is a 9-acre sculpture museum and park owned and operated Seattle Art Museum. It features both permanent and visiting installations, and offers gorgeous views of the surrounding water and mountains. Perfect for a leisurely walk, and for experiencing the unique art and natural landscape of the area.

10. Admire the views on the waterfront
Okay, so the Seattle waterfront may be overrun with tourists and full of kitschy souvenir shops and mediocre restaurants - but you can't beat those city and bay views from here. My personal favorite viewpoint is from Pier 69 (pictured above).

From there, keep walking south on Alaskan Way. You can also go for a ride around the Seattle Great Wheel, which is the tallest Ferris Wheel on the west coast and offers panoramic views of the city and Elliott Bay.

11. Take a photo in front of the gum wall
The gum wall is located in front of the theater in Post Alley in Pike Place. It is one of two such walls in the United States (the other one is in San Luis Obispo, CA), and considered to be the second germiest attraction in the world. It started when theater patrons started sticking their gum to the wall; no matter how many times it was cleaned off, the tradition seemed to stick (pun intended, haha). In 1999, it was declared a tourist attraction, and all efforts to clean off the gum stopped...that is until November 2015, when over 2000 pounds of gum were scraped off.

12. Check out the locks in Ballard
Also known as the Hiram M. Chittaden Locks, this series of locks lowers the water levels of the freshwater Lake Union and Lake Washington, and reverses the river flow, and levels it off with the water levels of the sea water of Elliott Bay. It handles the most boat traffic out of any lock in the United States, and is one of the most visited tourist attractions in Seattle. You can watch the boats pass through, watch the fish go up the fish ladder, or explore the surround park and gardens. Or, for a unique experience, you can take a boat tour that actually goes through the locks.

Have you been to Seattle? What are your favorite things to do there?

Thursday, June 15, 2017

5 Must-Have Experiences in Stockholm

I recently came across a super cheap flight to Stockholm, and although I had never really considered visiting, I couldn't resist! With its fairytale-like architecture, charming cobblestone streets perfect for roaming, and picturesque waterfront views, it was easy for me to fall in love with Stockholm.

There is so much that this city offers, that I there was never a dull moment! Here are some must-have experiences in this beautiful city:

1. Explore Gamla Stan
Gamla Stan was the first viking settlement and where Stockholm was founded in 1252. It is one of the largest and best preserved medieval city centers in Europe. Today, it is one of the most popular districts in the city, and full of lively cobblestone streets, restaurants, cafes, bars, and museums. It is the perfect spot for wandering and people watching.

Some of the most popular attractions there are Stortorget, which used to be one of the largest town squares in northern Europe and known for the iconic colorful gingerbread-like buildings; and the Royal Palace, which is still one of the largest palaces in the world, and home of the offices of the royal family.

2. Spend some time on a boat
Stockholm is a city built on 14 island and has more than 50 bridges, so in my opinion, the best way to see it is from the water. There are many boat tours that allow you to get a unique perspective of the city, while letting you relax and rest your feet. You can also sign up for an excursion that takes you outside of the city while you enjoy the views from the water. A perfect way to see the city, especially in those warm summer months, but there is also a winter boat tour available.

3. Enjoy fika!
Fika is essentially a Swedish coffee break, often accompanied by a sweet treat, and enjoyed with friends. It is a reminder to slow down and enjoy the simple things in life - something we can all strive to do more in life. And in my book, any excuse to enjoy coffee and a sweet treat is a good thing! There are lots of excellent bakeries in the city, but I especially enjoyed the cakes from Vete-katten, and the cardamom buns from Fabrique.

4. Check out the subway art
At 110km, Stockholm's subway system is said to be the longest art exhibit in the world. Over 90 of the 100 stations have been decorated in some way, featuring the works of more than 150 artists. Most of these are done on a smaller scale, but some of the stations are truly breathtaking and unique works of art.

Some of the most notable stations include: Solna Centrum, Kungstragarden, T-Centralen, and Stadion.

5. Explore the archipelago
Did you know that Stockholm is also home to the second largest archipelago on the Baltic Sea, which consists of over 30,000 islands, rocks, and skerries? These islands range from uninhibited wilderness to charming little seaside towns any of the locals escape to them in the summer. Many are easily accessible by ferry, and are perfect for a little day trip.

I trekked out to Fjaderholmarna, which is closest to the city and only a 25 minute boat ride away. But other options include Vaxholm, which features a 16th century fortress; Varmdo, which is home to the international art center Artipelag; or a 3-hour archipelago tour. These are all included in the price of a Stockholm pass (more on that in a future post).

Have you ever been to Stockholm? What do you think are some must-have experiences there?