2017, despite what people say was a great year. Last year, it seemed global media picked up on all of the problems in the world and none of the solutions. Yet, despite all of the negativity in the air, we had a pretty good time these past twelve months.
We started 2017 in our snowy mountain home of Whistler, took a bucket list trip to Cuba for my 30th in February, then in May we waved goodbye to said snowy home forever and moved onto a backpacking trip of Europe including UK, Spain, Netherlands, Greece & Ireland before packing all of our belongings again to move to our current address of Bay of Islands, New Zealand. Isn’t it crazy how much you can fit into one year?
Anyway back to the point, here’s a list of 17 places we fell in love with in 2017:
17. Athens, Greece
Walking through ancient Athens is like being in a history book, there is so much to do here that you will never see it all unless you’re here for a long time. A must-see is the Acropolis (visit here as soon as it opens to avoid the crowds), we also highly recommend The National Archaeological Museum.
You can purchase a ‘Multi Ticket’ which gives you access to most of the ancient sights (including the Acropolis) for about €30. We stayed very close to the Acropolis and we highly recommend staying near the Acropolis or Monastaraki Metro stations, Athens is a big city and you don’t want to be too far out from all the major sights.
We also recommend NOT to go in July and August as the crowds are at their biggest and the weather is at its hottest, it was 40°C when we were there.
16. Eindhoven, Netherlands
We stopped here for a very quick stopover en-route to Corfu. I’m all about stopovers, I think if you’re stopping there anyway why not make the most of it. FYI – a lot of airlines now offer free stopovers. Not knowing much about Eindhoven, we didn’t expect a whole lot from the city. But, to be honest, after just 36 hours in the city we were won over. It’s well worth a visit. Very clean, it’s almost too perfectly clean and functioning. I found myself likening it to a city in the Sims.
Eindhoven has lots of great restaurants (we went to a Ribs restaurant that was phenomenal), it’s also filled with lots of cool Student-type bar with a focus on in-house brewing, oh, and lots of stag parties. Everyone cycles here, so you have to be mindful of cyclist lanes everywhere.
But it can be an expensive city. Id forgotten how expensive some European cities can be. €100 per person is a safe bet for eating out. Our top recommendations for Eindhoven are the Van Abbemuseum and St Catherines Church.
15. Ballyhoura, Ireland
On a sunny Summer’s day in July, driving the narrow, winding road from Ballyhea to Kilfinane I thought to myself ‘this is the Ireland I came home to see’. I know that’s cheesy, but it’s the truth.
We had a jam-packed three days in Ballyhoura including horse-riding, an aqua park, mountain-biking and a traditional Irish music festival. And so when it was over, we drove on down those country roads full of melancholy having tasted the best of Ballyhoura. Read more about beautiful Ballyhoura here
14. Seattle, USA
Did you know Seattle is only a 3 hour drive from Vancouver? Well, as you know we lived in the Vancouver area for 2 years and finally made a trip to the Emerald City. A lot of friends who’d visited warned us of the homeless problem in the city, so we were expecting the worst but it’s no worse than Vancouver or San Francisco, in fact it’s probably better than both those cities.
Anyway, we stayed at the Fairmont Olympic Hotel (I was working for the Fairmont chain at the time and so we got a significant discount – lucky us). The hotel is luxurious, cosy & historic and very central so we walked everywhere. Some fun things we did whilst in Seattle included the Space Needle, Bruce Lee’s grave, Harbor Marina. We walked for hours around the city’s surrounding areas and got a great gut- feeling about this cool city. I would honestly live here.
Most importantly we got plenty of sleep each night (get it – Sleepless in Seattle)!
13. Vancouver, Canada
You may not know this but we lived in Vancouver for 6 months before making the move to Whistler. It’s a stunning city, surrounded on almost all sides by great big looming mountains. Vancouver known as a city where the beach and the mountains meet. Everything good to do and see here involves “the great outdoors” – Stanley Park, Capilano Suspension Bridge, the Seawall. God, I’m missing it massively now thinking of all this.
There’s so may great coffee shops that you’d struggle to visit them all in a year. If you like Korean/ Vietnamese food this is the city for you. It’s a great city to walk around with no definite plan.
Vancouver is undoubtedly one of the worlds most beautiful cities.
12. Corfu, Greece
I’m sure most of you are familiar with Corfu, it is what it says on the tin, a holiday-makers paradise with lush green scenery and turquoise-water beaches, we spent five days here in total.
It’s one of the cheaper Greek islands and public transport on the island is incredibly efficient, so it’s easy to see the whole island in a short period. A top recommendation from us would be to visit Corfu town, it’s a lot bigger than you’d expect with lots of quirky cobblestoned back streets that you can spend hours getting lost in.
11. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Malaysia is the perfect country for a quick stop-over & it’s cheap too. Kuala Lumpur is a vibrant city, a little similar to Bangkok. It’s all hustle & bustle, so many people squashed onto its narrow footpaths and everyone going a different direction. Streetfood stalls, that hot humid air smell, honking horns.
You can eat and drink like a King here for next to nothing. There’s so much choice from Balinese, Japanese, Indian even Irish restaurants.
My top top recommendation for here would be to have a drink at Heli Lounge Bar at sunset, just get here before 6pm to get a good seat. Obviously, a visit to the Petronas Towers is a must, Jalan Alor (a long street filled with food stalls) for the atmosphere and Central Market for shopping.
We also visited the UNESCO heritage town of Melaka which was unique and less tourist-heavy making it a more authentic experience.
10. Santorini, Greece
What can I say about Santorini that hasn’t already been said, it’s top of a lot of people’s ‘Bucket List’ for good reason. Sure, the crowds can be manic, it’s expensive and it’s a little pretentious BUT its sunsets are beyond outstanding, its local people surprisingly friendly and what other place in the world can you find hotels built into the side of a cliff?
It’s a photographer’s dream here, the way the light falls onto the quirky ‘cave houses’ is magnificent any time of the day. Most of the hotels here have a pool, but there is also a black sand beach in Perissa if that tickles your fancy.
Our top tip for here is NOT to stay in Oia or Fira (the crowds here are crazy) instead opt for Imerovigli or Pyrgos which offer the same views with less crowds.
9. Kinsale, Ireland
Kinsale is possibly my favourite place in all of Ireland. I’ve always said that when I settle in Ireland it will be in Kinsale. Kinsale is quirky, full of colour and traditional Irish music. It is the ‘foodie’ capital of Ireland with most of the best restaurants in the country hidden down its winding narrow streets.
Kinsale holds a lot of nostalgia for me, as it is where I spent every Summer of my childhood. We left our home in Blarney on the last day of the school term and didn’t return ‘home’ again until the day before school. So, Kinsale for me is entire days spent on the beach, ice-cream from a beat-up ice-cream van and hot chips from a paper bag on a sea wall. When I am home from my travels I always take a trip to Kinsale. It is for me one of the best places in the world.
8. Brighton, UK
Paul’s hometown. If someone can buy us a seafront house here, we may just stop travelling (for a while). Spare $2million anyone?!
It’s very difficult to describe Brighton, it’s a city of extremes from its crowded stony beach, to the tourist trap that is Brighton Pier to the quirky hipster-filled North Lanes. On first look, it may seem like a typical English city but it’s filled with the weirdest characters. People you wouldn’t see anywhere else in the world. But that’s why we love it. People don’t give a f**k here, they are who they are and Brighton embraces it.
The restaurants are cool, the bars are cool (even the ‘old man’ bars are cool),the coffee shops are cool. Cool. We’d live there in a heartbeat.
When I first met Paul, my mom asked what part of England he was from and when I told her Brighton her reply was “ah that’s a grand place, he’ll do”. Being from Brighton = instant approval from an Irish mammy.
Brighton, it’s a grand place alright.
7. Alicante, Spain
Another favourite of mine is Alicante, Spain. It holds a special place in my heart because my parents have had a summer home here for 20 years. It’s a second home, a familiar place to escape. And that’s why I love it.
Where my parents house is an expat-heavy area, our next-door neighbours are from London and Scotland respectively and less than a 10 minute walk away is Cabo Roig strip which is lined with Irish bars. On the other hand, Alicante itself is a quintissentially ‘Spanish’ city. The Castillo de Santa Barbara is beautiful, the harbour area very sophisticated with cool bars and restaurants. But the best part are the quirky flower-filled streets underneath the “Castillo”.
6. Naxos, Greece
Naxos is ‘in the middle’ both in terms of its geographic location between Athens and Santorini and its popularity with holiday-makers. It is more touristy than Syros, but less so than its neighbour Santorini. It is very popular with Dutch and Scandinavian tourists and it is indeed very beautiful.
We stayed next to probably the prettiest beach on the whole island – Prykopios, it has some of the clearest water we’ve ever seen and honestly gives the Carribean waters of Cuba a run for its money. A lot of the restaurants here are on the beach, so it makes for a unique dining experience especially because you can watch the sunset from your table.
Our top recommendation would be to spend an evening in the islands capital town – Chora. The white-washed streets here are very similar to the famed streets of Mykonos.
5. Syros, Greece
Syros is one of the first stops on the ferry from Athens to Santorini. It is in the Cyclades region famous for its sunsets and white-washed houses.
It’s one of the least-visited islands in this region and so it was a pleasant change for us after the crowds in Athens. We stayed literally next to the beach in a region called Galissas, a sort of sleepy beachside resort, populated mostly with Greek holidaymakers. The village of Galissas has no more than five restaurants, all very good mind you. And every night we climbed the steps of the little white church on the hill, sat on its wall and watched the sun set into the ocean with a beer in hand. Heaven. Read more about our Greek adventures here
4. Bay of Islands, New Zealand
This September, myself and Paul packed our bags (again) for a move far far away to the land of looming green mountains and crystal clear lakes. New Zealand.
We now live in the Bay of Islands, in the far North of the North island. Life here is slow, and I feel more at home here than “city boy” Paul. We have a little house in the town with a wraparound deck and a garden filled with orange and lemon trees. We can drive 10 minutes to the beach or walk to the rivers and waterfall in town. It’s different for sure, especially since our last home was in the adrenalin-packed Whistler, but it’s good different. We are saving money (rent is cheap here) and earning decent wages and so we’re already planning lots of travel. Fiji, Samoa, Tonga & Hawaii have all been added to the list and all are a reasonable and short flight from here.
For anyone thinking of making the move to New Zealand – I say DO IT (x100). The visa is easy and quick to obtain, the country is beyond stunning (and we’ve only seen a tiny snippet of the country so far), the people are so warm & welcoming and a little similar to the Irish if I’m honest.
You can read more about our move to New Zealand here
3. Meteora, Greece
Now I’m sure most of you have never heard of Meteora, it’s in the middle of mainland Greece and is famous for its Monasteries which sit atop massive rocks in the valley.
It was a unique experience and one of our favourite stops on the trip, we spent our days here hiking to the Monasteries (there are six active Monasteries in total), the photo opportunities when you get to these Monasteries are incredible.
To get to Meteora you catch a train straight from Athens. Two top recommendations from us would be to book a hotel with a view of the Monasteries (there aren’t many so book in advance) and to book a sunset tour to see the valley bathed in a magnificent pink.
2. Whistler, Canada
Whistler has to be one of our favourite places of 2017. Our former snowy mountain home is pure magic, mad but magic. The place is filled to the brim with drunken Aussies, hippie-types living in their beat-up vans, ski-bums and every other stereotype imaginable for a party-centric Ski town. Whistler is a bubble, it’s Neverland, you come here and the place refuses to let you grow up. In Whistler, you get up early and Ski all day, you work in the evening, you party all night, then do it all over again the next day.
Whistler was our home for close to two years and even though the place stressed us out to the max. Especially during the busy Winter months, then the town is manic, every hotel is booked and weekend lift lines to go up the mountain wind like a snake through the village. But, when the stresses of the town get to you, all you have to do is look up at the looming white mountains surrounding you and realise how insanely lucky you are to live here. To experience Whistler’s unique madness.
In short, Whistler is unbelievably beautiful, frustratingly crazy but one of the best experiences of our lives to date.
1. Havana, Cuba
Have you ever been somewhere and for some reason, you don’t understand why, but it just feels right. That place for me was Havana. Okay, I’ve been a tad obsessed with the city since I watched Dirty Dancing 2: Havana Nights about 15 years ago. And since then, I promised myself I’d celebrate a milestone event in Havana, so, in February I visited Havana for the first time to celebrate my 30th birthday. I struggled to get time off work, I was working in a hotel in Whistler and February is smack-bang in the middle of their busy season. But, I was beyond determined and before I knew it me and Paul were jetted off for 2 weeks to my dream destination.
Anyway, back to Havana’s magic. Havana’s not perfect, in fact its kind of dirty and gritty, the buildings are grand but crumbling and the light here is epic it’s honestly like walking through a very pretty Instagram feed. The Cubans leave their doors wide open, they sit on their front step chatting to their neighbours, their kids run barefoot on the street. The Malecon at dusk is the best place in the world. There’s a passion, a resilience about the city kind of like an eff you to the non-believers. Yes our buildings are crumbling our streets are dusty but we’re here and we’re dancing in the streets. I’ve thought about Havana every day since I’ve returned. Read more about Cuba here