Merry Christmas and happy new year to you and your family! Apologies for this being long overdue, but please find our review below.
Our flights were excellent. In particular KLM, which never disappoints and Delta which in my opinion is always best when traveling internationally rather than domestic. Full meals were served on these airlines.
Vueling on the other hand is a budget airline, so as to be expected it ran with a 2.5 hour delay while we waited on the tarmac. I’ve used Vueling in the past and it’s definitely an airline that’s convenient as long as you don’t expect the comforts of other “big name” airlines.
Airport transfers were extremely convenient. Although we opted for the ‘shared shuttle’ on two occasions we were the only passengers in the car (departure in Paris and departure in Barcelona). All in all we were very pleased with these except for the departure transfer in Paris as we were woken up at 4:30am (when our reservation said 6:30am) and followed by the driver blasting rap music during our ride. When we asked him to turn it down, he was hostile and although we are unsure if he had a hearing problem, he kept yelling when asking us questions (“where we are from” “where we are going” etc). I must admit this car ride was scary and a little unsettling. Being that we were picked up 2-hours ahead of schedule, upon arrival at the airport we couldn’t check in to our flight to Barcelona and had to wait for a little over an hour until we can check in and go to our gate/get something to eat.
Our hotels were fantastic!! I can’t say enough great things about Hotel Arena in Amsterdam. The grounds are gorgeous and the hotel itself is modern with a historic twist still intact.
The room was comfortable (perfect for 2 adults) and had a big bathroom, compared to other European hotels! The staff was friendly and helpful, for Dutch standards, and then of course the location is super convenient. It is still within the canal ring, but a little removed from the center. You feel like a local staying in this hotel. It’s a perfect way to see Amsterdam from every angle. We will definitely be staying there again on our next trip to Amsterdam!
Another way to see the canals is if you opt for the Wine and Cheese Canal tour. We took this 2.5 hour tour (only offered at night) and it came with a variety of Dutch cheese to sample and (unlimited) wine! It was great to see the city from this viewpoint.
The hotel in Paris was also fantastic! Great location, conveniently located near the Champs Elysses and many train lines just around the corner. The staff was friendly (for the most part) and our room (post-upgrade!) had a Juliet balcony with large windows and beautiful view of the street. This hotel is perfect for anyone looking for a little more luxury while also maintaining a budget.
We will definitely recommend this hotel to anyone visiting Paris!
The Ibis Styles Barcelona Hotel was conveniently located and offered a great assortment of food for breakfast. It’s more of a ‘budget’ hotel, but the amenities were clean, our room was fairly big and had everything you need at your fingertips. The hotel was a short walk to Pasai de Gracia which leads to Las Ramblas and if you feel up for it, you could also make it to the beach!
We took the bus (across the street from our hotel) and we made it to Barceloneta beach in about 15 mins.
We were definitely pleased with this stay and will recommend to anyone.
We spent a lot of time exploring on our own in each city except for the couple of ticketed events we had planned.
The VIP Heineken Experience was hands down worth every minute! We had a fantastic tour guide “Abdi” who took us and 2 other couples around the facilities while also giving us some insights into the family and company. Then we were treated to a 5-beer ‘tasting’ (full glasses of beer!) paired with Dutch cheese in a private bar! We spent about an hour or so just hanging out and chatting while we tried some delicious beer and cheese. **Spoiler Alert!! At the end we were even given personalized Heineken bottles to bring back!
The Rijksmuseum is a must! I had been there before, pre-renovation, but it was great to see it in all its glory now! We went there right when it opened and had breakfast at their cafe followed by a couple of hours of exploring the museum. We recommend anyone going there to go on the earlier side as it was very busy when we left mid-afternoon.
If you want to feel like a local in Amsterdam, definitely pay a visit to T’Arendenst beer bar— a place offering numerous different types of beer from the Netherlands (like 400 different!) great snacks and pleasant conversation. We were there more than once 🙂
The Bruges Day trip was a convenient way to see a different county in 1 day and without having to figure out your way around. You pick up the bus from it’s pick up point in the center of Amsterdam and then a tour guide gives you brief commentary at the beginning of the trip and then also once in Bruge you do a short walking tour followed by time on your own.
We had delicious mussels and fries and the ‘best’ lamb chops at a cute little restaurant called Bistro T’Lammetje.
In Paris; the tour of Notre Dame was a good way to see the towers and get to know a little bit of the history. Only hiccup occurred when the tour guide did not have our names on the roster for that day. After making a few calls, she was willing to take us even though she said we were not on her list 🙁 this minor disruption caused our group to be slightly delayed going up, but once there it was well worth it!
The Skip the line tickets for the Louvre was def worth it. We made it right in with minimal wait. The Louvre is a magnificent place, but definitely know what you want to see and map it out before you get there as it can be a very overwhelming experience otherwise.
In Barcelona, the Sagrada Familia tour was great. We got to learn about the genius of Gaudí and experience the towers in all their glory. It was also good that we were able to skip lines and not have to wait around much.
Similarly, the audio tour and ‘skip the line’ tickets for Casa Batló was convenient as we didn’t wait in line at all (there was a long line) and went right through to experience the magnificence of this architectural gem!
Our wine and cava tour in Barcelona was one of our favorite days! Our tour guide was magnificent and we fell in love with the wineries and picturesque Catalan landscapes. We got to taste different types of wine and cava and our lunch consisted of a delicious selection of jamón and cheese, bread and olive oil (made on premise) a cold gazpacho soup and of course the Pastel de patatas! This trip was well worth it and we’d recommend this to anyone.. we definitely want to go back!
Last but not least, anyone visiting Barcelona must make a lunch stop at the Mercat de la Boqueria (Boqueria Market) where you will get to taste jamón y queso in a cone, various fruit smoothies and fresh fruits, an abundance of seafood and paella dishes among many other mouth-watering selections. We had a great paella dish at Bar Central when we were there. It’s a cute little stand with seats by the bar/kitchen. Go hungry and leave happy!
Thanks again for all your help with planning and recommendations!! We had the most unbelievable time!!
Marc & Maria