This page includes recommendations, reviews, and links to some of my favorite places around the world. Food, accommodations, and fun must-do experiences will feature here. If you have any recs for me, feel free to send them in!
Still under construction.
A gorgeous, multi-faceted and increasingly diverse country in central Europe. Germans are typically friendly people who will show you around and answer your questions, and they aren’t afraid to ask you tough cultural questions in turn. While traditional German cuisine in the south involves a lot of meat, Germans as a group are enthusiastic about healthy food, and there are organic and vegetarian options almost everywhere (gluten-free, not so much). Germany is going through a cultural wave as the country becomes more multicultural and globalized, and this means that you’ll see many different people interacting in German or English or both and also have tons of cool multicultural options for a night out.
- I love this town with all of my heart. It is my absolute favorite place on earth.
- What to do: enjoy being alive. No city can make you feel quite at peace and happy to exist like Heidelberg. The Altstadt has plenty of places to eat, shop, or people-watch. The Heiligengeistkirche is a large attraction on the way to the crown jewel of Heidelberg, the Schloss. You can walk up to the castle or take the railcar (a ticket for that also includes entry to the castle courtyard). Take a tour a the castle to hear some of the old stories about it as well as the rich history (who doesn’t like stories about MASSIVE wine barrels and medieval* wars?). Enjoy the view afterwards–you can see the whole city. Speaking of seeing the whole city, take a hike up to Thingstätte, the amphitheater on the side of the mountain across from the castle. Double-check that you have the right path to get there quickly, but if you get lost, just keep going up and you’ll get there soon enough. It was originally Celtic ruins, re-purposed by the Nazis, and now an unexpected and eerie place to rest with a Radler and sandwich after the hike up. Behind it are some old monastery ruins. There are also a few monasteries a few minutes away from the old town that welcome visitors (and one or two brew their own beer!). Heidelberg has a small club scene, with most of the party to be found in the Unteregasse–it will be full of students on weekends. Heidelberg’s cultural scene is also vibrant–all you need to do is pick a poster or two advertising events and you can have something to do every evening (the theatre options as well as readings by authors or academic lectures are great if you speak German). Stop into the little chocolate store around the corner from Cafe Knösel for some classic Heidelberger Studentenküsse. The Studentenkarzer, „jail“ for students back in the early days of the university, is worth a visit to see the art the inmates left behind. Heidelberg has something for you–go to it.
- Where to eat: Lokanta in the Plöck for vegan Turkish-style food. Ask for a dürum. MoschMosch in the Hauptstrasse, Asian-style fusion. Die Kuh die Lacht or Hans im Glück, both in the Haupstrasse, the best burgers in Germany (that I’ve found!). Sahara and Kepab Haus or Yufka’s, all in the Hauptstrasse, for the best schwarma and Döner kepab. Perkeo, also in the Haupstrasse, for traditional German food (very good). Thai Phuket on the Old Bridge, excellent authentic Thai food. Also on the Old Bridge is the bar Vetter, famous for their dark beer, the cafe La Boheme for brunch or relaxing, and the traditional restaurant Hackteufel (also very good). The best crepes in Heidelberg are to be found near the Old Bridge, sold by a man who runs his own hours and serves out of a funny little window on the side of the Heiligengeistkirche. The best gelato is in the Hauptstrasse, direction Bismarckplatz, from GelatoGo (there is almost always a line). Decent sushi can be found at Sakura in the big street off of Bismarckplatz.
- Basically, if you have questions about Heidelberg, get in contact with me. I’ll set you up.
A land full of history and culture of many peoples. A beautiful land of kind, welcoming people that unfortunately is often in strife. If you go, you’ll see more stunning things–both positive and shocking–than you could imagine.
- Where to stay: Habibi Hostel is a newer hostel chain started by a friend of mine. They also have a location in Ramallah (see below). The staff are sure to be personable and the premises clean and comfortable with plenty of tea to go around. Although a little ways away from the main bus stop in Bethlehem, the location is secluded enough to be relaxing while near enough to attractions to keep taxi fares low.
- What to do: Not to sound like every tourist site you’ll see for Haifa, but please do go to the Bahai Gardens. They are absolutely stunning. Make sure to pay attention to the tour times, and also to the varied opening times–the shrine itself is only open for visitors during very specific, often-changing hours, so if you want to go inside, you have to be there during those times. Still, if you miss the shrine, it’s worth getting up there just to take in the stunning view.
- Beach it up. The cabbies in Haifa were notorious and overcharged us nearly every time, but if you can get a hotel or business to help you call one and set a price, ask them to take you to the hotel beaches. These beaches are mostly open to the public and they are the nicest ones.
- Where to eat: Hit up Kabareet bar. Small but with a lively music scene, full bar, and great burgers and ZAATAR FRIES (mmmmm). Slightly hard to find, don’t rely on the cabbies–get a map.
- What to do: Just…take a tour with a Palestinian tour guide. There are very few words for Hebron, and you’ll have to go see for yourself. If you want to find a tour guide but are unsure of where to look, contact the good folks at Area D hostel in Ramallah and they will be able to assist. Go, see, and be careful. On a lighthearted note, the old ceramics factory and keffiyeh factories welcome visitors, and it’s a colorful slice of Palestinian historical craftsmanship.
- Where to stay: AubergInn Hostel was truly a delight to visit. Jericho itself is spread out for such a small city, so the hostel is a bit of walk (20ish minutes) from the center of town, but makes up for that with its offers of donkey rides to various locations, private fruit grove, AIR CONDITIONING, and small pool in the back. The villa it’s housed in is also just gorgeous. Breakfast is wonderful here, and there’s always iced water in the fridge.
- What to do: visit the ancient monastary on the mountain face, take a donkey ride somewhere, visit old-as-time ruins, or visit the Dead Sea (those beaches are expensive, beware). Jericho is stiflingly hot in the summer but for a small, somewhat cut-off town, it’s still the Oldest City in the World and has lots to discover.
- Where to stay: The Austrian Hospice, although often limited in how many beds they have available, is literally in the heart of the old town and bare minutes away from most major sites. Contact them beforehand if you’re interested in a room. Abraham Hostel is a few tram stops away from Damascus Gate. In the uptown part of Jerusalem, it’s a multicultural hotspot with a good bar and plenty of events for visitors. They offer a mostly-unbiased space to meet people of all backgrounds, including Israelis and Palestinians in the mix. Citadel Hostel might be harder to find, but if you enter the old town by the Tower of David, it’s only a few minutes through the alleys of the market. Unique, with the most stunning view over the roofs of the old town, and run by Armenians, Citadel is a very interesting place to rest.
- What to do: Oh man…what to do in Al-Quds, Jerusalem, the most holy and also hotly-contested city on earth. I won’t even make a dent in all of the possibilities, but start with this: the majority of the religious sites are free and open to all to visit. The Wailing Wall (kotel) and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher are unbelievable portals to the beginning of the modern era. The Dome of the Rock may or may not be open to tourists, depending on prayer times. Make sure to go in through the tourist entrance and dress properly to be respectful of worshipers. Do go if you have the option–it is breathtakingly beautiful and serene in its holiness. Going to the Mount of Olives requires a little more planning for the opening times, but is also very cool with a great view around it. The labyrinth that is the Jerusalem old town market has more spices, soaps, ceramics, clothing, and holy knick-knacks than you could imagine, and also has the best falafel I’ve ever had. If you have time for more than just the old city (and I barely scratched the surface with that list, there’s SOOOO MUCH to do and see and experience!!!), visit the uptown area for the bustling new market and hip places to eat. Speaking of food, there’s a humble-looking Palestinian restaurant, Al Ayed, directly across from the Damascus Gate, and it’s actually fantastic (schwarma, falafel, and sit-down food). If you want something a little less…well-known, let’s say, visit The Educational Bookstore for a coffee and to peruse the selections, books you likely won’t find in other places nearby.
- Basically, Jerusalem is surreal, in good times and bad. You could spend your whole life there and never run out of things to see, feel, and learn.
- A small Palestinian town on the Israeli side of the wall, KQ is mostly a hometown. For anyone learning some history, it was the sight of a massacre, when Israeli police killed almost 50 villagers for being out past curfew. This residential area is full of kind people who will invite you in for tea or snacks and not far from other cities and villages.
- What to do: Don’t go to Nabi Saleh alone. Have a Palestinian guide, preferably a local. The village is in „Area B“ and has a history of clashes with the IDF and nearby settlers. Every house in Nabi Saleh is decorated with empty tear-gas grenades that the villagers collected after clashes. If you want to see a clear image of what Palestinian resistance against occupation looks like, this is the place to go. The surrounding hills are stunning, and if you go with the right person, you can take a short hike to a long-abandoned, nearly-complete villa on one of the hills. There’s no truly good description for Nabi Saleh–ask the folks at Area D hostel in Ramallah to set you up with a local as a guide and go for a few hours. You’ll feel different than you did before.
- What to do: Visit the old market and take it all in. There are delicious, Nablus-spefific treats to be eaten as well (small, fried sweet things, I wish I knew the name!). Eat knafeh, duh–Nablus is the home of the best dessert ever. On a tour, make sure to visit the old soap factories, some of which Palestinians were running since the Roman times. If you have time, try to visit the Samaritan communities in the area–these ultra-conservative, old-style Jewish communities are unique. The Samaritans consider themselves Palestinians and the „oldest“ Jewish communities. Check for specific details of when/how to visit.
- Where to stay: Area D is the biggest hostel in Ramallah. Located on the 5th floor of a commercial building next to the Jamal Abdel Nasser mosque, Area D is minutes from the center of downtown and around the corner from two important bus stations (one to Jerusalem and the other to Hebron, Nablus, Bethlehem…). Rooms range in size, there is always someone at the desk, and you can often find visitors and staff relaxing and having fun in the full kitchen or smoking room with its big windows. The hostel organizes all kinds of tours, both for fun and „political“ tours. The staff are passionate and knowledgeable and are eager to show their visitors what life in Ramallah and Palestine are like. Two friends of mine work there and will answer any questions you have with full frontal honesty. They’re also up for any tour or adventure you might be curious about.
- Habibi Hostel’s original location is five minutes walk from the city center, in a more relaxed street to the side. The hostel has multiple rooms as well as an outdoor room for guests in the summer and spring. There is almost always a fun gathering happening at Habibi, complete with music, grilling, and drinks. My friend and his wife run the place and do a great job of it.
- What to do: What isn’t there to do in Ramallah…hit the bar and restaurant scene (Snowbar, Radio, Orjuan, Garage), see the memorials (including the shrine and museum of Mahmood Darweesh), explore the fruit and veggie bazaar, or get out of the city a little bit to enjoy the stunning rolling hills and olive trees as far as the eye can see. Ramallah never sleeps, so you’ll always have something to do.
- Where to stay: Art Hole Hostel had great staff and accomodations and was very close to everything you would want to see in Prague. When I stayed a few years ago, they only took cash as payment, so you will need cash or a card to use at the ATMs. They had good wifi and breakfast and very helpful staff who literally picked me up at the metro when I got lost.
- What to do: Prague is a well-documented city. Take the free tour, enjoy the bread bowls, soup, and beer. It costs a few bucks to go to the top of the double towers, but is probably the most fun thing to do in the city center. The old Jewish graveyards and synagoges are also super interesting. Although I didn’t get the chance, I was told to see a black light show the next time I’m there–it’s a special performance art local to the CR and Prague.
- Where to stay: Wombat Hostel is part of a chain of hostels. The facilities were sparklingly clean, with strong wifi and good security. My only complaint was that it was clearly also a partier’s destination and the hallways were occasionally loud late at night. Overall it was a great place to stay, very central and well-connected and comfortable.
- What to do: Saunas! Stunning monuments and public art! A bajillion museums! The bazaar! EAT A KURTOS! EAT A LANGOS! The city is alive with history and also very powerfully part of the modern day. I only had three days in Budapest, but there’s enough to do to fill every second. If you have a group, hit the „ruin bar“ scene. Take a walk along the Danube, stare in awe at the parliament building, relax in lovely cafes of all types. I did the city on foot, but the metro is also an easy way to get around the city. (If you care, stop by and say hello to McDaniel College Europe, a satellite campus of my school–they won’t know who I am, but the campus is housed in a former Jewish school, and they’ll probably give you a tour if you ask nicely).
- Where to stay: Mansour Hotel is a cheap backpacker’s destination, smack in the middle of the busiest and most connected part of the city on King Faisal Street. Definitely pack earplugs for the night and don’t expect it to be too posh–the building was an old religious school that now serves as a hostel. The cheap prices mean it’s not the prettiest place, but the hot water works, the extra blankets are free, and the front desk man, Loay, is fantastic and will take great care of you. You won’t get a better price for location–barely ten minutes walk from several Amman attractions like the mosques, market, amphitheater and ruins–and to top it off, they’ll arrange your pickup/drop off at the airport if you ask.
- What to do: Everything. Literally everything. Mansour Hotel is minutes walk from both the beautiful mosques and the old amphitheater ruins. Rainbow Street, while somewhat more expensive than other places in town, has some good views and lively bars and restaurants. Amman is near at least two Wadis, and providing they’re open for the season, taking a few nights to stay in one or even just a day trip is more than worth it and probably the most beautiful nature in Jordan. Buses go multiple times a day from Amman to Petra, the pink ruins of fame. It’s a three hour bus ride, so if you intend to go all the way to the end of the ruins, you will need to stay in the town of Petra overnight. If you are in need of a reliable driver, ask the front desk of your hotel (Mansour has great drivers on hand) and try to stick with that driver if you want to go on longer rides–they’ll charge you fairly and they like having reliable customers.
- Where to stay: Bada Bing Hostel is probably, without exaggeration, the best hostel experience I’ve had to date. It was freshly renovated when I stayed with friends in 2014: the rooms and bathrooms are modern but comfortable and clean. The hot water works and there are multiple showers. Breakfast and wifi are free and the front desk man at the time, Volkan, was AMAZING–he gave us tons of advice and made awesome tea, coffee, and conversation and would direct taxi drivers back to the hostel if they got „lost.“ Truly a great hostel to stay in, for wicked low prices, especially considering its useful location near the city center and tram line.
- What to do: I adore Istanbul. I can’t think of any other city so fascinating, so alive and diverse as Istanbul. Do everything you can–see the aqueduct, the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque (stunning), a dervish show, THE HAMAMS, a shisha place (make sure to ask for a good one), but whatever else you do, definitely get on the ferry and visit the Asian side of the city for a few hours. It’s like a totally different city, separated from the rush and noise of the European side but with just as much character. I have no idea what it’s called, but there’s a fantastic restaurant that looks like a light house on one of the piers on the Asian side. Give it a try, see something new.
- Where to stay: The Yard Hostel is literally in the middle of the most important street in town. While there were only two bathrooms, the good prices, central location, 24 desk staff, locker security, as well as the cafe on the main floor make this a nice place to stay (just make sure you get up early enough to beat the line to the shower).