My 12 Favourite Hostels in Europe

EUROPE

PREIKESTOLEN FJELLSTUE: NORWAY

I’m writing about the Pulpit Rock hike in Norway again?! Seriously Bethany, shut up about it already.

Anyway, in my post all about the hike I talked a little bit about where I stayed, but it’s just amazing. Sitting in the lounge, watching the sun set (which didn’t happen until around 10:30PM) and journalling about my delightful hike was worth the absurdly overpriced food.

You could use the word run-down to describe the youth hostel portion of the facility, but I prefer to use the words rustic and charming.

YOHO INTERNATIONAL YOUTH HOSTEL: SALZBURG, AUSTRIA

They play the Sound of Music every night. In Salzburg.

Enough said.

Read a little more about Salzburg here

HOSTEL ANDROMEDA: GHENT, BELGIUM

I stayed at this hostel on what is objectively the worst trip of my life – I got norovirus, I had the worst sore throat of all time, I hit my head, I broke my phone and I hurt my back. However, the trip still has so many great memories, and one of the coolest places I stayed was in Ghent, Belgium – my favourite city in Belgium!

When I saw that sleeping on a houseboat was an option on Hostelworld, I couldn’t pass it up. It was so cool to actually stay on one of the canals, and Hostel Andromeda has so many ecological initiatives that make it even better. I’ll admit the place was kind of creepy when I stayed there because it was the middle of off-season, but at least I got a whole dorm to myself! 10/10 for experience.

Read more about Ghent here

MOSAIC HOUSE: PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC

Another highlight from the trip of mishaps. Honestly, I spent most of my time in this hostel’s bathroom (thanks norovirus) but let me tell you, it was the nicest hostel bathroom I’ve ever seen. Mosaic House is a dirt cheap hostel, but with the design savvy of a boutique hotel and a really nice bar that I didn’t get to experience. The staff here were so great – my mom emailed them to ask if they could see whether I was alive, and one of them very kindly did so – and I’d love to go back here and actually enjoy the facilities.

The entirety of the Charles Bridge at your feet

Read more about Prague here and here

PERUGIA FARMHOUSE: PERUGIA, ITALY

I’m currently writing an entire post about Perugia, which involves such dramas as being robbed. Most of it centres around the hostel I stayed at, which had the most amazing community feel and farm animals. The word paradise has never been so applicable, and every time I’m talking to someone who is travelling to Italy, I urge them to go to Perugia with the sole purpose of staying at this hostel.

Read more about Perugia here

VILLA FRANCESCATTI: VERONA, ITALY

Verona was a completely unexpected  highlight of my summer in Italy. I went to see an outdoor opera (it was amazing) but was blown away by everything else that I discovered. I even fell in love with all of the Romeo and Juliet-themed attractions. One of the best parts, though, is the fact that I got to stay in a sixteenth century villa.

The gardens are beautiful and authentic and the villa itself feels magical, so I spent most of my time in the hostel exploring and muttering to myself in Italian about how pretty it was, and probably seeming crazy to my fellow guests.

HOSTELSUN B&B: BRUNICO, ITALY

I went to this place because I saw a lake, Lago di Braies on Instagram, and knew I had to go. An au pair friend went before me and recommended this hostel for the friendly and outgoing owner, who had dogs. Obviously I booked it immediately.

I had been sweltering hot for my entire time in Italy, and getting into the mountains was the greatest relief I’ve ever felt. It was so perfect and quiet here and I sat on my private balcony drinking Hugo, my favourite Italian alcohol and looking out at the view. So peaceful, and that wasn’t even the best part – that was Lago di Braies! Highly recommend making your way up to the very unexplored Italian Dolomites.

LAKE COMO HOSTEL: MENAGGIO, ITALY

I booked this hostel because it was basically my only option. It was way above and  beyond what I expected! In my post about Lake Como I described what an incredible and luxurious time I had in this place. The view was more than I could ask for and everything about my weekend here was just impeccable. If you want to feel rich but still stay in a cheap hostel, look no further.

Read more about Lake Como here

CHEERS HOSTEL: ISTANBUL, TURKEY

Me and my sister fell in love with this place immediately and talk about it constantly. Obviously, the highlight is the fact that the sweetest golden retriever ever lives there – his name is Zaman and he has his own Instagram account (@cheerszaman). But the terrace with a view of the Blue Mosque, the wonderfully kind staff whose names I still remember (a rarity considering how many hostels I’ve stayed in), and the unbelievably central location are what really took this place over the top. We could have stayed for weeks!

Read more about Istanbul and this hostel here

GOODMORNING HOSTEL: LISBON, PORTUGAL

When my friend Erika and I got to Lisbon, we were tired. So to be honest, not much sightseeing happened here. We did a hop-on hop-off bus tour (#tourists), went out to the beach at Cascais, and walked around a little bit, but otherwise…a lot of lounging occurred. We were overjoyed to learn that the hostel had an extraordinarily comfortable movie room with tons of DVDs to choose from – we watched Juno one night and it was lovely to take a break.

The breakfast is what stands out most in my mind – I ate Nutella waffles every morning and we had spirited discussions about politics and life and travel with the staff and fellow guests.

KISMET DAO HOSTEL: BRASOV, ROMANIA

As another illustration that yes, I do have a problem, this hostel is on here because I liked the dog that lived here. Her name was Zara and we spent a lovely morning hiking up Mount Tampa. By spent a lovely morning I mean I was dragged up the mountain by a dog who didn’t speak my language or care to listen to me. But anyway, it made me feel very local to walk my dog up a mountain, enjoying the first sunshine in days.

Also, at this hostel you get a free beer every night – more if you walk the dog. The greatest hostel feature I’ve ever encountered.

Read more about Brasov here

PURA VIDA SKY BAR & HOSTEL: BUCHAREST, ROMANIA

I feel like a lot of these hostels are on here because of one thing, while the rest of the facilities were just adequate. Note to self: if I ever open a hostel, it needs some  sort of fancy thing that people will remember and talk about. At Pura Vida, it was the Sky Bar – a rooftop bar with one of the most incredible views I’ve ever seen. I don’t have any pictures, because I’m an idiot, but here is one from the hostel website.

They had killer mojitos and the Australian girl from my dorm room who I forced to be my friend was great company. A rooftop terrace always seems to make a place stick in my mind.

Read more about Bucharest here

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The Best of 2016

In my mind, 2016 is kind of broken into three completely separate parts. From January to April I was at university for the last semester, working at a cafe and hanging out with friends constantly. In May and June I went on an incredible whirlwind trip to eleven countries. In July I moved to Toronto and now I have a grownup job and sit in an office staring wistfully at my world map all day.

However, a surprising number of these 20 highlights happened in the school or the work part of 2016. Be forewarned that this is a very long post.

Going on a camping safari in Tanzania

I think in 80 years, my safari in Tanzania will still be the number one coolest thing I have ever done in my life. Sure, there were tsetse flies and both extreme cold and extreme heat, and a lot of time in a car, but thinking back on my 6 nights camping in the wilds of Africa none of that matters.

I watched thousands upon thousands of wildebeest make their way across the savannah, sitting on top of the Jeep and marvelling at how far I could see. I darted back into my tent in the middle of the night after seeing glowing eyes staring at me from the grass. I woke up to the most incredible sunset straight from my tent, and felt at peace.

Overcoming my fear of water by scuba diving in Zanzibar

Every time I think about the fact that I went scuba diving, I am in awe of my bravery. That may sound dramatic, but until literally last year I held my dad’s hand the whole time we snorkeled and sometimes cried into my mask because I was so irrationally afraid of the water. In Zanzibar, I saw a dive shop, marched myself over to sign up for a one day discovery course and then sat on the beach contemplating how afraid I was. I got in the boat, thought about all the ways I could die, and then threw myself backwards into the Indian Ocean with my heart in my throat.

And it was pure magic.

Taking the Sound of Music bike tour in Salzburg, Austria

Despite the fact that I only spent four days in Austria, three of the things on this list happened here. I think I need to go back to Austria…

Since the moment this tour began, I’ve been trying to figure out how to do it again and take my mom with me. We LOVE the Sound of Music and the only reason that this tour wasn’t perfect is that my mom wasn’t there to experience it with me. My morning of riding out into the Austrian countryside, singing along to Do Re Mi and dancing around filming locations pretending to be Liesl will always be one of my fondest memories.

Hiking Pulpit Rock in Norway

Have I annoyed you all yet by continuing to rave about Pulpit Rock? Yes? Oh well, I’m going to keep doing it. You may notice that five of the items on this list are hikes; 2016 was the year I discovered that I actually do like hiking and now the first thing I do when planning a trip is check whether I can hike there. Anyway, I already wrote a whole post about this hike and I even used the word magical in the title (so dramatic) – here it is.

Hiking Ben Vrackie in Scotland

Another hike you say? Yep…I started my two month trip this summer with this hike, and it couldn’t have been a better kickoff. This random, not very well-known hike in Scotland was absolutely breathtaking and all it made me want to do was hike all over Scotland. My sister did a 10 day Scotland trip in August and did basically all the things I wanted to, and now we are seriously discussing opening a hostel in the Scottish countryside or trekking the West Highland Way together.

Scooting around Cappadocia

Oddly, my hot air balloon ride was not the highlight of my Cappadocia trip. It was incredible, but the day where my American friend Julie and I rented a scooter and drove wherever the wind took us stands out more in my mind. I was lonely in Cappadocia, the sole backpacker in my cave hotel’s dorm and shocked by the sharp downturn in tourism in Turkey.

When Julie arrived in the dorm I literally walked over and said, “Oh my god I’ve been so lonely, will you be my friend?” Somehow that worked, and we spent the rest of our time together. We climbed castles, feasted on Turkish food, got lost, and later went on the weirdest double date of my life with these two creepy Turkish guys. We also spent an amazing night dancing in a local bar, this time with less creepy Turkish guys.

I often say that Turkey is my favourite country, and I am heartbroken for what has been happening  there. It’s a magical place.

Visiting Anne Frank House in Amsterdam

I had a weird obsession with the Holocaust as a child, and I’ve read Anne Frank’s diary a million times and cried every single time. I managed to find a last-minute ticket through sheer luck (if you’re going, try to get one in advance) and on my last rainy day in Amsterdam I went and cried for a few hours. It’s impossible to describe how impactful this place was; they have set up the exhibits and memorials incredibly well and I believe everyone should know the story of this incredibly inspiring girl.

Spending the evening with the orchestra at Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna

It’s no coincidence that two of these favourites happened with the same people. I met two girls from Chicago on my Sound of Music Tour (see above) and we traveled to Vienna together. I told them about a free concert by the Vienna Philharmonic happening at the Schonbrunn Palace, we picked up a French boy from their hostel, and off we went for one of the most special nights ever.

After an epic quest to find the only store in Vienna that was open (I think it was a public holiday) we bought a crap-ton of wine, bread, and cheese and made our way to one of the most beautiful palaces in Vienna. Obviously, it was packed, so we made our way to a hill behind the actual orchestra, ignoring signs that said we wouldn’t be able to hear.

The signs were in fact correct, but it didn’t matter. We got tipsy, talked about our favourite international misadventures, chatted to random strangers around us, and I kept having those moments of perfection where I stopped to take it all in.

Near the end of the concert, we decided to leave and avoid the rush. We ended up walking by the orchestra at the perfect time to hear AND see the final flourish – that’s right, there were fireworks.

Amazing.

Hiking Lion Rock in Hong Kong

If you had asked me during this hike if it would ever make it to a highlight list, the answer would be a firm no. This hike was REALLY HARD and I thought I was going to die. I actually hiked to Amah Rock first, which was a waste of time, then up to Lion Rock, and it was so hot. I’m much better at handling cold than heat (thanks Canada) and I have never sweat so much in my entire life. I considered giving up about 7 times but when I made it to the view, it was all worth it.

Hong Kong itself was a highlight, just like I expected it to be – it’s an unbelievably cool city with so much to do and see, and the cute Swedish boy I met certainly didn’t hurt.

Hiking Daimonji Yama in Kyoto

Japanese temples and shrines are gorgeous, but I find when I travel solo, going to these kinds of places means walking through in half an hour and leaving. In Kyoto I felt kind of listless after hitting the major highlights in a day, so I googled ‘hiking in Kyoto’ and found this gem. It was extremely confusing to find because there were no English signs, but if you use these directions you’ll be set.

The hike isn’t too hard, especially compared to some of the others on this list. At the top, there’s a very convenient area to picnic, chat, or read and journal – I did all of the above. I was the only foreigner for most of the time, and tons of Japanese families and groups were there. The atmosphere was great and the view was just incredible.

Hiking Mount Tampa in Brasov, Romania

When I arrived in Brasov, it was raining. When I left three days later, it was still raining. I napped and hung out in the hostel lounge much more than I would care to admit, because I couldn’t motivate myself to get out and do anything.  Luckily, the one time I dragged myself out of bed was great enough to make it to this list.

I booked my hostel (Kismet Dao) solely because a dog lived there, and when I got there I learned that if you walked the dog you got free beer. Um, win-win situation much!? I put on my sneakers and leashed up Zara for what I expected to be a light stroll around town. However, Zara had a mind of her own and since all I knew in Romanian was  thank you and no, controlling her was a challenge. She led me to what appeared to be her favourite path and we ended up climbing a mountain.

Going on a pub crawl in Edinburgh

I loved Edinburgh in general, but one of the highlights was the pub crawl I went on. I may not have thought so the next morning, but the girls I met were so fun and the pub scene so buzzing that the hangover was totally worth it. The hostel employee running the pub crawl was also a riot, with the most Scottish accent ever and the most Scottish beard ever.

Strangely, one of the highlights of the pub crawl did not happen in a pub. I only took one piece of photo ID with me because I didn’t want to lose my passport three days into my trip. At one spot the guy refused to let me in without another piece, which made me sad because the drinking age in Scotland is 18, and I was 20. I look sixteen.

Anyway, I had to run back to the hostel to grab my passport and the walk took me down the most charming little alleyways and streets I’ve ever seen – and the fact that I was already a pint of beer in just made me more pleased with my surroundings. It was strangely lovely and I will never forget how happy I was in that moment!

Visiting Iceland

The only country which is itself a highlight on this list. Iceland was the last destination on my insanely packed 2 month trip so I was worried that I’d be so tired (and maybe even jaded) that it wouldn’t impress me. Not so. Yes, I was exhausted, but Iceland is so COOL. I wrote about the logistics of planning a trip to Iceland already, and still need to sit down and try to remember the details of both tours I took.

But suffice it to say that there is a reason everybody gushes so much about Iceland. The sights are beautiful, the people are beautiful, the prices are horrifying, and you will never forget your time here.

Touring the Human Rights Museum in Winnipeg

Totally never thought something in Winnipeg would be on this list. My sister moved to this fairly remote Canadian city for work. I had visited on a layover just to be able to say I’d visited all ten Canadian provinces, but hadn’t explored the city in depth. We found a cheap flight, split the cost and I was off to visit on a packed weekend.

Most of the time was spent snuggling doggies and eating junk food, because dogs and junk food are two of our favourite things, but we also made time for some sightseeing. The only must-see on my list was the Human Rights Museum, which I’ve heard only amazing things about.

It lived up to my expectations: the design, exhibits and educational value of the museum is stunning. I learned a ton. I was very moved to see Malala Yousafzai’s bloody school uniform on display; I have so much admiration for Malala and loved her book.

Wondering at the Austrian National Library in Vienna

I am SO obsessed with libraries. Many of my fondest childhood memories occurred in our local library and I read a lot, so anywhere with books is a draw. When a library is historic and stunning, I can’t resist but to stop by. That’s why in Vienna, my very first stop was the Austrian National Library – I saw it on Instagram and immediately knew I had to go.

Did I wander the library pretending to be a Hapsburg princess? Perhaps. I was totally captivated by the amazing room, the exhibits on Hapsburg royalty, and even the smell of old books. I could have spent hours here.

Spending a solo Thanksgiving at the Stratford Theatre Festival in Ontario

I love plays and solo travel. I couldn’t afford to fly home for Thanksgiving, and it’s never been a huge deal in my family anyway, so I decided to take a weekend trip in my new province. When I realized that I could get youth discounts on tickets to shows at the Stratford Theatre Festival, I was sold!

I stayed in the weirdest hostel ever (it was attached to a hospital and I was the only one staying there) but at least it was cheap. I saw incredible productions of Shakespeare in Love, MacBeth and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe!

My emotions were all out of whack in October; the three-month mark was one of the toughest adjustments in moving and starting a new job. Solo travel always centres me, and this quick trip was exactly what I needed.

Pretending to be rich in Muskoka – Ontario’s cottage country

One of my best friends, Nicole, was working at a swanky resort (the JW Marriott) in Muskoka, which is the gorgeous lake country 2-3 hours north of Toronto. I headed up to visit her and see if I could take advantage of the resort facilities without staying there. The answer – yes. During Nicole’s shifts I walked in like I owned the place, plopped myself down by the pool and tried to put on my best snooty rich person face.

It was so relaxing to pretend to be rich for a day, and having my every whim catered to was just delightful. Top it off with the chance to see one of my best friends and the gorgeous surroundings of the resort and it was the recipe for a much-needed escape from the blistering heat of Toronto.

Visiting New York for the fourth time

It never gets old. My friend Emma was in Toronto, so of course we decided to travel a 10 hour bus ride south to NYC and spend like 36 hours there. Because we took Greyhound and Greyhound is the worst company in the history of capitalism, our bus was delayed almost five hours and we were stuck in Scranton, Pennslyvania for EVER. We did make it, though, and once we made it we had a blast.

Our hostel had the comfiest beds known to man and we took in two shows: Fiddler on the Roof and An American in Paris. I literally go to New York just to see Broadway shows…no regrets. It was HOT and EXPENSIVE and TIRING but would I do it again? In a heartbeat.

Graduating university!

Somehow, this milestone pales in comparison to all the other amazing things I did in 2016. While during my third year of university I travelled more than I went to school, in my fourth year I think I only left the province twice, and it was all job interview-related. Despite this, I had the most incredible time during my last semester of school.

I worked at an Italian espresso bar, finally falling in love with the community vibe of my small university town. I finally made the close groups of friends I’d been searching for, spending my free time with so many people I absolutely love. Since I was also finally legal drinking age for the whole school year, I took advantage of that a bit as well..and by a bit I mean all the time.

I also barely had to put any time into school because I had completed most of my courses. I may have skipped classes every now and then (or all the time), but by fourth year I had mastered the art of getting good grades while putting in very little work.

I never understood why people say your university years are the best years of your life, but now I get it. I will remember how happy and free I was during my last semester of university forever.

Extending a work trip to Boston

My second week at my new full time job in Toronto, I flew off to Boston for a work trip. I felt very glamorous and everything about it was very exciting to me. I think it’s funny that my superiors, who travel all the time for work, are so jaded about it while the hotel bed is enough to make me clap with glee. I guess that’s what happens when you have a spouse and children to come home to!

Anyway, I wanted to extend the trip for a weekend and managed to get my way. I stayed in a lovely Cambridge Airbnb and powered through the Boston heat to sightsee. A highlight was ordering a cocktail at the Cheesecake Factory and not getting ID’d (I was 20). After my whirlwind weekend I was off to a paid-for Marriott and a packed week of meetings and orientations, which at the time was fun and exciting!

I completely adored Boston, but the highlight here was the fact that my flights were free 🙂

It has been the most incredible year and it has felt like an entire lifetime of experiences. I can’t wait to see what 2017 brings – in the first two months, I already have trips to Boston, London and Colombia booked!

Confession: I didn’t like Barcelona, Oslo, or Venice

On this blog, I’ve probably used the phrases “prettiest place ever”, “the most beautiful place I’ve ever been” and “my new favourite city” a kajillion times. Evidently, this cannot be true of every place I describe. I fall in love with so many cities and destinations that I can’t help but to use a ridiculous amount of hyperbole. However, there are some places that just fall flat. It’s always disappointing when you arrive somewhere using some of your valuable trip time, hoping to fall in love, and you just feel so meh. Especially when it’s a place that literally everybody has promised you’ll adore, it’s really frustrating to walk around a city you’ve paid money to visit and wonder why you’re actually there.

Three cities stand out in my mind as places that really disappointed me, but for no real reason. In every case there’s something I could have done differently to make the trip better (or just different), and here’s the breakdown on places I just didn’t like:

OSLO

Now, Norway overall? I LOVED. It rocketed its way to my ‘list of favourite countries’ immediately after I hiked to Pulpit Rock. Oslo, though…the only word that comes to mind is “livable”. Which, yes, is a great word, but not really what you’re looking for in a two day visit to a city. I stayed in a lovely Airbnb in a cool and kind of gritty part of town – as gritty as Oslo can be – with a family that had the cutest daughters ever. I would have loved to live in that apartment. I visited Frogner Park, a place that I would have loved to visit for a post-work evening stroll. I ate at local Indian joints (because they were the only thing I could afford) that I could see becoming my go-to dinner when I’m too lazy to cook.
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Which is all great. But I just never felt that spark I feel in cities like Prague, Istanbul, Vienna….the whole time, all I could think was meh. The opera house was cool, and I really did enjoy the Fram and Kon-tiki Museums on the Bygdøy Peninsula. But I went on a walking tour that was the worst I’ve ever taken, I didn’t totally fall in love with the architecture, and Norwegian food is not this vegetarian’s cup of tea.
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So overall, I think back to a few great moments in my time here, but also a lot of moments where I was just trying to motivate myself to enjoy the city, but couldn’t figure out how. I think I’d like living here (so much weekend trip potential and so many beautiful people to meet), but if you’re planning a trip to Norway, I wouldn’t allot much (or any) time to Oslo.
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VENICE

(2023 note – I visited Venice again with more money and more freedom and LOVED it!!)

One of my most prevalent memories of Venice is waking up in my tent about 30 minutes outside of town, literally covered in sweat and thinking I might die of suffocation. Another is the great morning me and my university friend, Brooke, spent basking in the beautiful pool at our accommodation. You will note that neither of these have anything to do with Venice specifically.
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The combination of the insane heat, the commute from the only accommodation we could afford, and the unbelievable amount of tourists wandering the canals meant we spent more time in the pool than we probably should have – literally the only place we could forget about the heat for a moment. When I tell other people how I felt about Venice, what I say is that ‘it felt built for tourists’. I know it’s not, obviously, and the history of the Venetian City-State is absolutely fascinating, but it’s really hard to understand that when you’re getting whacked in the head with umbrella and selfie sticks everywhere you turn.
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Now, I have loved places that are packed with tourists, even in Italy – Rome and Florence come to mind. But for some reason, Venice I just couldn’t handle.
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I have decided I must go back to Venice and right the wrong of my first trip. It will 100% be in the winter, when tourist numbers are WAY lower. Despite the rainy, overcast weather, I think Venice might be kind of magical in the gloom. And I’d stay in the city, even if I had to go over budget. Any recommendations?

BARCELONA

This may be the one that is met with the most shock: when I tell people I didn’t like Barcelona, they are appalled. SO AM I. This one, I just can’t figure out. Why didn’t I like this city? I mean look at these pictures. It’s beautiful!

Casa Batillo - photo courtesy of Gallivanting Bean

Casa Batillo – photo courtesy of Gallivanting Bean

Maybe I didn’t spend enough time here. It was only two days, and that was broken up by a conference up the coast, but I’ve fallen in love with plenty of places in less time than that.

Maybe it was the number of other tourists? But none of my memories jump out at me as being way too crowded…

Maybe I didn’t do the right things! I did really enjoy Parc Guell, but we literally walked to the Sagrada Familia just because we felt like we should look at it, with no actual interest in the church. (Sacrilegious in so many ways, I know). I probably should have experienced the famous nightlife, but I was too hungover….thanks to that aforementioned conference up the coast.

La Sagrada Familia - photo courtesy of Gallivanting Bean

La Sagrada Familia – photo courtesy of Gallivanting Bean

If anyone can help me understand why I didn’t like Barcelona, and what I should do next time…please leave a comment! I loved other parts of Spain and I definitely want to go back and give Barcelona another chance.

The view from Parc Guell - photo courtesy of Gallivanting Bean

The view from Parc Guell – photo courtesy of Gallivanting Bean

Has there been anywhere you’ve visited that just hasn’t clicked? I would love to hear!

My Magical Experience Hiking Pulpit Rock in Norway

Sometimes, when I’m travelling and doing something particularly cool, I pause for a moment and realize that I feel like I’m in a movie scene. It’s an overwhelming feeling of awe that my life can be so amazing, gratitude that I get to live this way, and shock that the world is so beautiful. The best of these moments came during my magical experience hiking Pulpit Rock in Norway, which is an incredible cliff overhanging the Lysefjord.

I have tried to write this post so many times, and I am having trouble putting into words how amazing this hike was and what it meant to me. The amazing thing is that other hikes in Norway (Trolltunga, Kjerag, and so many less-known ones) look even more incredible – if Pulpit Rock had such an effect on me, I can’t even imagine what others would be like.

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About halfway up the hike, I had climbed enough steps that I could see over the trees and I was already awestruck. If the halfway point had been the entire purpose of the hike, I still would have been blown away – even the scenery along the way in the ‘boring’ parts was magical. I was wide awake despite my early start, blown away that just over a week ago I had been in Canada living my totally regular life and working at a cafe. Now I was here, hiking in a Norwegian fjord all on my own. Moments of realization like that are some of my favourite parts of travel; I’ll be going about my business and suddenly just pause to take in what a wonderful life I lead.

As I realized I was about to reach Preikestolen (the Norwegian name for Pulpit Rock), my favourite song from the Secret Life of Walter Mitty soundtrack, Step Out started blasting through my earphones. If you’ve never seen that movie or heard the soundtrack, check it out; it’s inspiring to the max. The song always seems to be building to a crescendo just when I’m about to reach one of the most amazing moments of my life – the summit of Ben Vrackie in Scotland, Pulpit Rock, a view through the fog on a mountain in Austria..if you have a travel playlist, put it on there.

Invigorated by the tone of the song and the realization that I was about to get that iconic Norwegian view, I sped up despite the exhaustion coursing through my out-of-shape body. It was unseasonably warm and there was hardly a cloud in the sky; walking across the moors to get to that last part I felt as though nothing in the world could be more perfect. I climbed those last few stops and I think I literally gasped. I’ve heard people describe the Grand Canyon in Arizona as so surreal and massive that it looks like a painting. I felt exactly the same about Preikestolen. The fjords were so perfect that I didn’t think there was any way they could be real. The fact that something this amazing is on our earth and it doesn’t require an insane trek to get to (logistical details at the end of this post) is just mindblowing. When I think about all the other things on our planet that are just as gorgeous or MORE gorgeous than Pulpit Rock, I am overwhelmed by all there is to see and how lucky we are to have all of this to want to see.

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People have complained that Pulpit Rock is becoming overtouristed and is way too crowded to feel peaceful. I only saw two other people on my hike up, and there were probably 5 or 6 people at the actual rock at any given time. When I was headed down, however, I started to see evidence of some crowding – stay at the base of the trail and get started as early as you can, like I did, and you hopefully won’t hit the crowds.

My favourite thing about this hike was how uncommercial they’ve left it. There are just the right amount of signs to keep you on track and let you know the length of the trail, but they are not distracting. Best of all, at the top there are no fences, no signs, nothing. You can pretend you are an explorer, discovering this place for the first time, independently…and isn’t being an intrepid explorer everyone’s childhood dream?

I’ve never been scared of heights, but even I was a little freaked out at the edge of the rock. I strongly considered taking one of those iconic pictures I’ve seen on Instagram with my legs hanging over the edge, but a slight wind and the comments I knew my mother would make managed to deter me. I did, however, talk to a lovely Dutch woman and convince her to  take some pictures of me which I’m totally in love with. Solo traveler tip: most places it’s pretty easy to prop your camera somewhere and set up a self timer, but here that may not work if you want that particular view. You’d have to set your camera somewhere precarious and set a self timer of over a minute before sprinting back up to the rock. Asking someone to take a shot is kind of a large request since they have to wait for you to get out there, but even if they’re annoyed the pictures are so worth it – I will treasure these forever.

I stayed on Preikestolen until I decided I needed lunch, but I could have stayed all day. I even considered hiking it again the next day, and I kind of wish I had. However, I was beyond sore from a) the hike and b) deciding it would be a good idea to go kayaking after I arrived back at my hostel.

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Now, more on my hostel – a place I totally recommend you stay. Nowhere will get you closer to the starting point of the hike, and therefore help you avoid the crowds as effectively. From Stavanger, a Norwegian city with a major airport and lots of rail connections (I flew in from London for about 85 USD), take a ferry to Tau and then hop on the bus that connects with each ferry to get to the hostel. I’m still unclear on how the bus system works, but I was the only one taking my bus and the woman driving was very kind. She basically just gave me what I needed and told me where to get off, so it all worked out. You check into the hostel at a gorgeous and luxurious mountain lodge at the top of the hill (if you can afford it, stay there!!) but the actual hostel building is closer to the water. The complex is on a lake and at every single hour of the day, the view was incredible.

I was actually the only traveller staying in the hostel, but the first night there were some Sherpas from Nepal there to work on improving the Preikestolen Trail – pretty cool to hear their stories! There is a kitchen facility in the hostel, and I would 100000% recommend buying groceries in Stavanger before you get on the ferry. Food in Norway is unbelievably expensive and even through buying groceries still hurt my wallet, it’s cheaper than eating out. The only restaurant you can access from the hostel is in the lodge, and I paid over $40 for a falafel salad the one time I let myself eat there. Yup. I brought pesto, pasta, broccoli and couscous, and while my diet was very bland during my stay at least I didn’t blow my whole Norway  budget on two days of eating.