Weekend in Seoul

My husband and I had a chance to spend a weekend in Seoul before our 10 days in Japan (more on that later!). Thankfully, we had a wonderful guide as an old friend currently lives there — which made getting around and communicating so much easier!

Seoul is a MASSIVE city so definitely plan well if you’ll only be stopping through for a weekend. You definitely won’t see everything but, hey, it’s a great excuse to come back! Here were some highlights of things to do if you’re in Seoul for a weekend and my recommendation for how to split it up between two days.

Cool plant wall at Incheon Airport!

Day 1: Gyeongbokgung Royal Palace (the royal palace of Joseon Dynasty), Cheonggyecheon Stream (a quiet walking area along a stream), Gwangjang Traditional Market (the coolest food market full of locals!), Insadong Shopping Street (artsier little shops and vendors), Myeongdong Shopping Street (this is where to get your shopping done and stock up on all your Korean skincare products). You’ll find places to eat everywhere in these areas.

Gyeongbokgung Royal Palace. You could definitely spend hours here but I recommend limiting your time to 2 hours tops so you can explore more of the city!
Cheonggyecheon Stream. Lovely place to take a peaceful walk and escape the bustle of the streets above.

Day 2: Morning hike in Bukhansan National Park, afternoon in Hongdae area, dinner in Gangnam.

Temple found while hiking in Bukhansan National Park. You could spend all day hiking here but I’d recommend getting there early before the trails gets crowded.
THANKS, OAT in the adorable Hongdae neighborhood. This area is a university area and is full of hipster vibes. On a Saturday afternoon, there were so many families and students out picnicking. Definitely one of my favorite neighborhoods.

If we had more time, I would’ve loved to spend more time in Hongdae and check out a Korean spa!

Some tips:
– Seoul is HUGE. And getting from one place to another will take more time than you think (even with the subway). Spend your time accordingly and group activities/sites in a certain area together.
– Google Maps does not work well in South Korea, especially for walking directions. We used KakaoMap and were able to navigate pretty well.
– Google Translate also doesn’t do well with Korean so get used to doing a lot of guessing and pointing. Also, learn a few phrases like “hello” and “thank you.” It makes a big difference.
– We had no problem using our credit card everywhere (whereas Japan has a bit more cash only joints).
– I had great cell phone service with my Sprint phone in Korea.
– Trash wise: it’s really hard not to find things not wrapped in plastic. Or recycle bins out in public. The best we could do was save any trash in our backpack and dispose of them at the hotel.
– Eat all the food. It’s magnificent. Note that “breakfast” isn’t as much of a thing. So pop into one of the million 24/7 convenience stores and stock up on coffee, tea, yogurts, and snacks!

Mini Ireland Travel Guide

We got back from wonderful Ireland 2 weeks ago after a lovely 9 days exploring the country (as well as Northern Ireland!). While we were warned about the rain, the weather overall was really nice and there were only 2 or so rainy days (and it wasn’t a wash out). Also — I was super impressed with some of the “zero-waste-ness” going on!

Exhibit A: this window of a coffee shop in Dublin.

I frequently saw people walking around with KeepCups on their coffee runs and even went to a pizza restaurant in Galway that had all compostable utensils.

ANYWAYS. Here are some highlights from our trip. As soon as we landed in Dublin, we rented a car and drove over to the Galway area for a few days.

Galway Area

We stayed at the Forster Court Hotel which had the amazing Hyde Bar and Gin Parlour downstairs. Even if you aren’t staying here, I highly recommend getting a gin drink at the bar! (And check out the beautiful decor!)

Cliffs of Moher
About an hour and a half away from Galway is the Cliffs of Moher. We lucked out with this incredible sunny day. I recommend spending a few hours just walking along the cliffs and taking it all in.

Kylemore Abbey + Connemara National Park
On one of the rainy days we had in Galway, we drove through nearby Connemara National Park to get to Kylemore Abbey. The abbey is so atmospheric in this kind of weather! There’s also a Victorian walled garden and some trails you can walk through. It was a lovely way to spend a rainy afternoon.

Dublin Area

Wicklow Mountain National Park + Sheepdog Demonstration
On our drive back from Galway to Dublin, we drove through Wicklow Mountain National Park (where some of P.S. I Love You was filmed!) and had a private sheepdog demonstration with Michael from Irish Working Sheepdogs! This was such a  highlight to learn about sheepdogs and see how they work. And Michael is hilarious and amazing. HIGHLY recommend giving him a call and setting something up if you’re in the area!

In Dublin, we did all the usual tourist hot spots.
– Trinity College to see the Books of Kells and the library
– Bog bodies at the National Museum
– Guinness storehouse
– Dublin Castle
– St. Stephen’s Green
– Ha’penny Bridge
– The Little Museum of Dublin
– Temple Bar

Overall, I found Dublin to be super chill and just a great city to wander around in. Next time we go back, I’d love to see some Irish dancing and check out Kilmainham Gaol (the prison museum which is very highly recommended).

Northern Ireland
We also took a one day tour of Northern Ireland from Dublin, which I highly recommend. However, if I were to do it again, I would’ve liked to keep our rental car and do the tour on our own as it ended up being a massively long day in a very cramped bus. However, the tour allowed us to learn a lot about Northern Ireland’s fascinating history.

In Belfast, we spent a few hours at the Titanic Museum (since Belfast is where the Titanic was built) and then some time wandering the streets. The museum was beautiful, however, I’ve been to the Titanic Artifact Exhibition in Vegas which I found to be more interesting since you can see actual artifacts from the Titanic. The Titanic Museum was a bit more informational and had a lot about the industries in Belfast during the early 1900s.

Dark Hedges
Recognize this? Yep, it’s a Game of Thrones filming location! The Dark Hedges stood in for parts of the Kingsroad. Very cool. (You can also take a full on Game of Thrones tour through Northern Ireland if that’s your thing!)

Giant’s Causeway
Finally, another highlight of the trip… Giant’s Causeway! 40K interlocking basalt columns on the sea. We could’ve spent hours here… 2 hours wasn’t enough as there are a handful of small hikes/walks that can be done in the area. But I absolutely recommend coming here even if you do nothing else in Northern Ireland!

New Zealand Travel Guide (with LOTR stops!)

I am a massive Lord of the Rings fan AND a travel lover… so, of course, New Zealand was a bucket list trip for me. This February, my husband and I took a 10 day trip to New Zealand so I wanted to share some highlights (with some LOTR stops included) in case it would be of assistance to anyone!

For this trip, we decided to focus mostly on the South Island (as our travel preference leans towards the nature/hiking/scenery side of things + a good chunk of LOTR sites are in the South Island). But we did spend 2 days in Auckland so we could go on the Hobbiton tour. More on that later… And, yes, New Zealand is truly as beautiful as you think it is — a completely magical land.

FYI: We rented a car on the South Island (highly, highly recommend) and drove to sites that were easily accessible + not dangerous. Google Maps is your friend and we didn’t have much issue with service/reception.

(i.e. places to go from Auckland)

Waiheke Island

We landed in Auckland early in the morning and took a cab in to the city. Left our luggage at the hotel and hit the ground running since we’d only be here for 2 days. First stop was breakfast at Chuffed, an adorable coffee shop/cafe with beautiful food! Afterwards, we went straight to the Ferry Terminal to hop on a ferry to Waiheke Island, a popular holiday spot with lots of wineries and beaches. (We did not purchase tickets beforehand… just showed up, bought tickets, and got in line to get on the ferry.)

The 40 minute ferry ride itself was beautiful (and actually a lot of fun!). Once we reached Waiheke Island, we took a taxi to the picturesque Mudbrick Vineyard.

I mean… that view! We tasted some wines, got a cheeseboard, and just lounged while taking in the beautiful scenery. After a few hours, we decided to walk the 30-ish minutes back to Waiheke Island’s ferry terminal to go back to Auckland.

As you can see, the walk itself was so, so idyllic. We took the ferry back to Auckland, finally checked into our hotel room, and crashed for the night!

Hobbiton Tour *LOTR stop

On day 2, we woke up early for… the Hobbiton Tour! (I booked our tour on Viator.) Our guide picked us up at the hotel and we were on our way! Once we got out of the city, we were able to stop and take pictures at some scenic points.

And then… we arrived! And, boy, it did not disappoint.  It was truly beyond what I imagined… I mean, the level of detail!

South Island

Mount Sunday *LOTR stop

This was absolutely the highlight of the trip. After our quick stop in to Auckland, we took a short flight down to Christchurch and rented a car to drive through Mount Sunday, and ultimately, get to our South Island base of Queenstown (yes, it was a long day with LOTS of driving but so worth it!). Lord of the Rings fans will recognize Mount Sunday as where the Edoras set was built for The Two Towers. But even if you aren’t a LOTR fan, I highly recommend checking this area out. I’ve never seen a place like it AND due to it’s somewhat remote location, it was uncrowded and peaceful. I can’t even describe the moment when we rounded the curve and saw Mount Sunday, a hill nestled between mountains and countryside.

Once parked at the base of Mount Sunday, it’s a short hike up to the top where you are treated to even more glorious views. On the walk up, you’ll definitely recognize filming spots from The Two Towers!

Lake Pukaki *LOTR stop

As we continued our drive down from Mount Sunday to Queenstown, we stumbled upon this magnificent lake… which turned out to be another filming location (but from The Hobbit movies). This beautiful, ridiculously blue lake was used as the setting for Lake-town.

Right next to this lake is the town of Twizel aka Gondor. Just driving through this area will give you a feel of Return of the King!

Queenstown + Onsen Hot Pools

What a wonderful base for exploring more of the South Island. Delicious food and amazing views. We couldn’t ask for better. After our massive driving day spent exploring from Christchurch down to Queenstown, we stayed put in Queenstown and used it as home base for the rest of our trip.

A quick drive from Queenstown is the Onsen Hot Pools, also another highlight. Spend an hour relaxing in privacy and take in the views. Glorious. This picture was taken at 9 PM so if you want some stargazing, make a reservation for the latest time slot they have! (But it did get dark pretty quick after this was taken.)

Twelve Mile Delta *LOTR stop

Also outside Queenstown, on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, is Twelve Mile Delta, where a short hike will lead you to the exact spot that Frodo and Sam see the oliphants!

Glenorchy + Paradise *LOTR stop

We drove out to Glenorchy to visit Glenorchy Animal Experience, a farm full of adorable animals that you can pet, feed, and just hang out with. We had a lovely afternoon there.

And just up the road is… Paradise. AKA, the filming location for Isengard!

Chard Farm Winery + Kawarau Gorge *LOTR stop

On the road to Chard Farm Winery, a charming winery with yummy wine and friendly staff, is a view of Kawarau Gorge AKA the Anduin River from Fellowship of the Ring.

Milford Sound

A must-do as everyone says. We drove ourselves down to Milford Sound and took a 2 hour boat tour of the sound (and saw lots of seals!).

Except for the one long driving day, seeing all of these spots in 10 days was completely doable and also left a lot of time for just exploring Queenstown and soaking it all in. Next time, I’m hoping to explore Wellington and more of the North Island!