Best views and tips for Neuschwanstein Castle

Neuschwanstein Castle

At the latest, Disney made Neuschwanstein Castle world known. Read all about how to get a ticket, what to expect from a tour and find the best viewing points to see the castle in all its beauty.

Neuschwanstein Castle is the most famous castle in Germany and probably also one of the most known in Europe. The castle was also used by Disney as an inspiration for Cinderella’s castle and can be found on the well-known logo of the company itself.

Last summer, I decided that it was finally time to visit the famous castle on my small trip through Bavaria and therefore to cross one of my must-sees from my travel bucket list. I found the perfect viewpoint and will share all my tips with you in this blog post.

đź’ˇ Facts about Neuschwanstein Castle

The construction work of Neuschwanstein started in the summer of 1868. The castle was built for the Bavarian king Ludwig II. and was designed as the ideal knight’s castle from medieval times. Nevertheless, the latest technic was used outside as well as inside for the construction work. The castle was even fitted with hot air central heating, running water and an automatic flushing system. The king actually also had a telephone available. If I remember it right he could only call the post with it.  

The king only lived a few months inside the castle because he died in 1886 before the castle was completed. Therefore the construction work was never finished.

Tips for booking tickets

If you want to visit the castle from inside you should book your tickets already beforehand online to make sure you will be able to visit the palace. The tickets are often sold out days before, in summer even weeks before, especially if you plan on going on weekends or holidays. One ticket costs 17.50 EUR (18.60 US$) for adults and one Euro less for students, pensioners, and disabled persons as well as if you have the Gästekarte (you will get the Gästekarte in most hotels if you stay overnight, I even got it on my camping spot). If you want to bring your children make sure to also buy tickets for them, every child – even babies – need their own tickets. Tickets for children from 0 to 17 years cost 2.50 EUR (2.60 US$). The tours are available in English or German but you can also book a time frame to use an audio guide which is available in 19 different languages.

Castle Hohenschwangau

You can also combine the ticket to visit Hohenschwangau Castle and/or the Museum of the Bavarian Kings which you can find right around the corner just a few metres further at lake Alpsee. In case all tickets are already sold out during your stay, you should take a look at the online shop at eight o’clock in the morning. Sometimes you can be lucky and more tickets will be unlocked for the day. You can buy your tickets online in the official shop of

In case you missed buying tickets online and you want to check the ticket centre, you can find it next to the parking slots. There is no possibility to buy any tickets at the castle. So do not make the mistake to go all the way up to the castle first.

You should plan around 45 minutes of walking from the parking slot and bus stop up to Neuschwanstein Castle. There is also the possibility to take a bus or a horse-drawn carriage but from both stops, you will need to walk a bit further to reach the entrance.

What to expect from the castle tour

Neuschwanstein Castle was opened to the public only seven weeks after the death of King Ludwig II in 1886. This is a bit ironic since it was once planned as the retreat of the king. Until today more than 1.5 million people visit the rooms of the castle every year.

The inside of Neuschwanstein Castle can be only visited with a tour. The tour itself is actually quite short. I chose a guided tour which took not even 30 minutes in total. The reason is that only 14 rooms were completed before the death of King Ludwig II. Therefore the rooms on the second floor were never finished. Anyways, the rooms which were actually finished are worth a visit.

The view from the balcony of the castle

The picture cycles on the walls are inspired by the operas of Richard Wagner. You will find his different works and the medieval legends, they are based on, in all rooms of the castle. Another recurrent theme is the swan which is shown in different statues and paintings. The swan is also part of the name of the castle itself. Neuschwanstein means literally translated “New Swan Stone” –  the German word “Schwan” is the animal swan. Also the town Schwangau itself in where you can find the palace has the animal in its name. The swan is used as a Christian symbol of purity.

I was most blown away by the Singers’ Hall and of course the grotto. The king let built his own artificial dripstone cave in his castle. It was designed by August Dirigl and had originally coloured lights and even a waterfall. The Singer’s Hall occupies the whole fourth floor in the eastern section of the palace. It was planned as a stage for theatre and musical performances but was never used in this way.  

It is not allowed to take pictures inside the castle but you can see photos of all the rooms on the official page of Neuschwanstein.

Best viewing points around

📍 Behind the castle: If you visit the Neuschwanstein make sure to also follow the path behind the castle. It is really not an insider’s tip but you will have a really nice view of the backside of the castle as well as of lake Alpsee and Hohenschwangau castle.

📍 Marienbrücke (Mary’s bridge): Marienbrücke is only a 15-minute walk from Neuschwanstein Castle. There is also a bus you can take from the parking slot to go up. The bridge itself is very popular and often crowded. It can happen that you have to wait around 30-45 minutes to visit it if you come during the high season. If you want to avoid the crowds come in the morning before or in the evening after the opening hours. I visited the bridge around 6 pm in the summer. It was way less full and in the end, I had the bridge almost to myself. The view is just perfect. You stand right upon the Pöllat gorge with the castle right in front of you.

The bridge can be closed during winter because of bad weather conditions such as ice and snow. You can check it beforehand online on the page

đź“Ť Close to MarienbrĂĽcke: Also MarienbrĂĽcke itself is a beautiful photo motive. If you follow the middle path from the bus stop you will have a quite nice view to see MarienbrĂĽcke and the castle without too many people around. There is even a sign that shows you the way.

📍 Your own personal spot: If you want to have a stunning view of the castle without tourists, you should just follow the way up the mountains and use them for a beautiful view down. When I visited Neuschwanstein Castle at midday in summer, the line of people visiting Marienbrücke was endlessly long so I hiked further uphill. There I had the view just for my own. The spot is not really a secret since you can find it on google maps but since you need to walk around 20 minutes upward you won’t see too many people. Follow the spot on google maps and enjoy your own beautiful view. But please take care to not go too close to the edge. Safety always comes first and should be more important than any nice view and photo.

🚌 How to reach the castles by public transport
If you want to travel by public transport you can use a train to FĂĽssen (for example from Munich central station) and from there a bus (bus number 9606 or 78) which brings you to the parking spot and ticket centre of the castles. The bus stop is called Hohenschwangau Neuschwanstein Castles, Schwangau. You can find all connections and buy tickets on

You have read the blog post Best views and tips for Neuschwanstein Castle on My Travel Journal-Blog.

Schwerin – a day trip from Berlin

The castle of Schwerin

Only 2.5 hours takes the train ride from Berlin to the state capital of Mecklenburg-West Pomerania. A town that is often forgotten and somewhat underestimated. Schwerin convinces with its charm and its architecture, such as its famous castle, its old town, and its proximity to the Baltic Sea.

Schwerin is one of these cities which turn out to be a nice surprise when you visit it. We did not really expect too much when we planned our visit but in the end, it convinced us with its charm and beauty. It has a really pretty old town and of course, its wonderful castle which characterizes the cityscape. You can find the palace in almost every picture if you google Schwerin. Palace Schwerin is located on an island surrounded by the same named lake. Therefore you can explore it eighter way from the water by renting a boat or taking a long walk around.

đź’ˇ Facts about Schwerin

Schwerin is the state capital and second biggest city (behind Rostock) of Mecklenburg-West Pomerania (in German: Mecklenburg-Vorpommern). It is located in Northern East Germany, approximately 225 km (140 miles) from Berlin. In the other direction, the seaside is not far. Schwerin is only around 30 km ( 19 miles) away from Wismar, a city directly located to the Baltic Sea. Therefore it is a perfect destination for a weekend or even a day trip.

Strolling through Schwerin
Schwerin Cathedral of the Old Town

You do not need a map, Schwerin is small and can be easily discovered on foot. The city also offers signposts to help you to orientate yourself. One other clue is the conspicuous tower of the Schwerin Cathedral which rises 117.5 metres (128 yards) above the old town.

Visit Castle Schwerin

The Palace Schwerin was the seat of the dukes and grand dukes of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. Nowadays the palace is not only a historian but also a political place. Since 1990 it has been used as the home of the parliament of the state of Mecklenburg-West Pomerania. The other side of the castle is a museum and can be visited by tourists. The entrance fee is 8.50 € (8.25 USD) but also offers a discount. Children (under the age of 18 years) have free admission. The park and gardens are also open to the public and can be visited for free. I would definitely recommend taking a walk around the castle.

🚌 How to reach Schwerin from Berlin by public transport
Schwerin is easily reachable by (regional) train or bus.

From Berlin, you can take RE2 in the direction of Wismar, it takes approximately 2:30 hours. The trains leave from many stations, including Berlin-Spandau, Zoologischer Garten, Berlin Hauptbahnhof (Hbf), FriedrichstraĂźe, Alexanderplatz, Ostbahnhof and Ostkreuz. You can find all connections on the official page

If you want to go by bus, you can use for example the bus company Flixbus. They usually offer one direct ride a day which takes around 2:45 hours. Typically the bus is leaving from Berlin ZOB (close to Messe Nord/ICC).

Click here to find more blog posts about other weekend and day trips in and around Berlin.

You have read the blog post Schwerin – a daytrip from Berlin on My Travel Journal-Blog.

Little Stories of Spain  – Short stories, curiosities, and trivia

The pillows of Händlerlogo Palau de la Música Catalana

 Little Stories is a category I started on my Instagram channel and where I post short stories, curiosities or trivia. Here you can find all posts about Spain. #littlestories

#8 What is the best view of Barcelona and its story

Almost every city offers a good chance to see the skyline eighter way from a sightseeing spot, a rooftop bar or a hill. Especially Barcelona has a really nice opportunity to see the city from different angles from above (without paying for it). To me, the nicest and closest one is directly behind Park GĂĽell. Use the serpentines and escalators of the city to arrive at the TurĂł del Carmel and the TurĂł de la Rovira (les bĂşnkers del Carmel).
Turó del Carmel is the hill right behind Park Güell. There is a good visited viewing point Mirador de Joan Sales which is very close to Gaudí’s park and therefore a bit crowded. So follow the path upstairs to the peak of the hill to leave most people behind you – this at least worked for us. We found ourselves with a beautiful 360-degree view and meadows full of wildflowers.
Turó de la Rovira is a 262 metres (287 yard) high hill especially known for the bunkers on top. They are the remains of the anti-aircraft guns and were built in the 1930s during die Spanish Civil War to protect Barcelona. It was 2011 renovated and belongs to the MUHBA (Museu D’Història de Barcelona) Heritage Site.
The sites are part of the so-called Balcony of Barcelona and together with Turó de la Creueta del Coll part of Els Tres Turons – The three hills.

Another viewing point is on the other side of Barcelona, Telefèric de Montjuïc directly on the seaside. From there you have the city on one side and the sea on the other. You can also take the cable cars to go on top or just walk the 84 metres (92 yard). In my opinion, the view itself is less spectacular but offers another angle plus the parks on top are nice to visit.
Another famous viewing point is a bit further outside: Tibidabo. The little mountain is 512 metres high and famous for its beautiful church Temple Expiatori del Sagrat Cor on the one and the theme park of Tibidabo on the other side.

Follow me on Instagram so you don’t miss any more #littlestories:

You have read the blog post Little Stories of Spain  â€“ Short stories, curiosities, and trivia on My Travel Journal-Blog.

Visiting GaudĂ­’s most popular architecture – is it worth it?

Park GĂĽell

Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926) is one of Barcelona’s most formative architectures and is known as the greatest exponent of Catalan Modernism. He designed more than ten buildings in and around the capital of Catalonia of which seven are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. I visited four of them. Was it worth it?

The staircase of Casa BattlĂł

Back in 2014, I visited Barcelona for the first time. It was love at first sight. Almost no other city offers so much incredible architecture, art, culture and beautiful buildings. A huge credit for this goes to GaudĂ­. But also back then the entrance fees for its architecture were really pricey and for us as students just too much to pay. We only visited a part of Park GĂĽell which was back then still for free (only the smaller part with its colourful benches and houses had an entrance fee). But I always wanted to come back to take a closer look at GaudĂ­s work, and this year I did.

Park GĂĽell, Palau GĂĽell, Casa MilĂ , Casa Vicens, Sagrada FamĂ­lia, Casa BatllĂł, and Cripta GĂĽell are the seven works of Antoni GaudĂ­ which are nowadays part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. I visited four of them. In general, I loved all of my visits and do not regret spending any of the money on them. But in my opinion, two are more worth their money and two you can also skip.

I visited four of the most famous works of Antoni Gaudi: Casa BatllĂł, Sagrada FamĂ­lia, Casa Vicens, and Park GĂĽell.

Casa BatllĂł (1904-1906)

Entrance fee: from 35 Euros

Casa Battló is in the city centre of Barcelona and is one of Gaudí’s more famous works. The house itself was already built in 1877 by Emilio Sala Cortés but later Josep Batlló put Antoni Gaudí in charge to rebuild it. Gaudí fully remodelled the house by changing the façade but also the interior. Casa Batlló is neighboured by beautiful other buildings that were renewed in the same time period by other prominent architects. This specific period is called the Bone of Contention.
From the 1950s on Casa BatllĂł was no longer owned by the family BattlĂł and in 1995 it was opened to the public. According to the official page, every year 1 million people visit Casa BatllĂł.  

My first impression
The ceiling in a pattern of a giraffe inside of Casa BattlĂł

As in all architecture of Gaudí, I was very impressed by the construction technology. Already the façade of the building is stunning even when I always see skulls on the balconies (I was never sure if it was actually meant to be). Gaudí really knows how to form buildings and use the natural elements, light, and air in favour of his work. The design of his rooms is incredibly well thought out I was really amazed by his sophistication behind the composition and presentation of the house. In case you decide to visit Casa Battló you should make sure to listen to the audio guide. It will tell you much about Gaudís thoughts and plans for creating the different rooms. The house still appears modern nowadays and shows Gaudí as a genius who understood his work. My favourite room was probably one of the first ones with the ceiling in a pattern of a giraffe. But of course, also the whole staircase including its wavy glass front and the roof terrace was beautiful to see. I spent around two hours in Casa Batlló to have the full experience.

On the rooftop of Casa BattlĂł
Is it worth it?

This is probably the visit I have to be most critical with. I visited Casa BattlĂł right before Easter, therefore it was very busy. But to me, there were just too many people. At some point, I realised that I got increasingly exhausted and annoyed by being pushed around by other people, having not one silent minute to actually enjoy the architecture. I was highly disappointed about the organisation and that the employees did not take care that not too many people at the same time can enter. I felt the main goal was not about showing GaudĂ­s incredible architecture and art but just getting as many people as fast as possible inside to make as much money as possible. And this is combined with the extraordinary high entrance fees. Casa BattlĂł was nice to see but way too overpriced.

If you still want to go, choose the mornings, to make sure not too many people visit at the same time. But be aware that you have to pay another 10 Euros extra. The ticket gets also more expensive when you will buy them directly at the cash point so make sure to order them beforehand

GaudĂ­ Dome

There are three different tickets, the blue one, the silver, and the golden ticket. I actually bought the golden ticket because I wanted to have the full experience but honestly, I just really overpaid the whole visit. In my opinion, the Gaudí Dome which is only included in the silver and golden ticket is nice but not worth the extra money you have to pay. The same is with the tablet you get for your visit, the normal audio guide will be more than enough. The original Concierge room is also visible from the normal entrance you just cross it faster but it is also not worth the extra money. All in all, it depends on your wallet and your interest. If you always wanted to do it – go for it. If you are on a budget, honestly skip it since it is the most expensive one.

Sagrada FamĂ­lia (1882-today; GaudĂ­: 1883-1926)

Entrance fee: from 26 Euros

The basilica de la Sagrada FamĂ­lia is probably Gaudí’s most famous work and is used very often as a motive on postcards. The project started in 1882 and was taken over by GaudĂ­ one year later in 1883. He designed the basilica and worked on it until the year he died, well knowing that he will never see the result of the completed church. Actually, when GaudĂ­ died in 1962 less than a quarter of the Sagrada FamĂ­lia was completed. Until today a lot of different architects worked on Sagrada FamĂ­lia, the completion was estimated for 2026 – on the 100th anniversary of GaudĂ­s death. But because of several obstacles, like the Spanish Civil War but also Corona, the date cannot be met.  According to the foundation, the construction work won’t be finished before 2030-2040.  

The colourful windows of Sagrada FamĂ­lia
My first impression
The facade shows the crucifixion of Jesus.

To me, the visit to Sagrada FamĂ­lia was one of the highlights of my trip to Barcelona. It was stunning to visit such a huge basilica which is built for centuries and is still a changing architecture. You should download the app with the audio guide before your visit because it gives you a lot of information about GaudĂ­s work. It explains for example the two different facades of the basilica. The difference exists between the soft outlines of the scene of Jesus’ birth from where your visit starts to the hard and angular one on the other side which shows the crucifixion. I love the play of colours of the windows which gave the church a really welcoming touch and the columns inside of the building which symbolises a forest. All in all, I spent 1.5 hours inside Sagrada FamĂ­lia and it was kind of hard to finally leave it.

Is it worth it?

To make it short, I would say yes. Sagrada FamĂ­lia was my favourite work of GaudĂ­ from the four I saw. Even though I visited the BasĂ­lica right before Easter, different from Casa BatllĂł the church never felt too full. No doubt, there were many people, but I felt it was not too crowded. Sagrada FamĂ­lia itself is really big and offers a lot of space. This time I was really able to take the time to look around. Since most of the architecture is on the walls and windows above you, the other visitors are not really in the way of seeing something. Other than in the other buildings, I did not have to wait to see the architecture or take a photo. The church also offers an associated museum that explains the history, technic, art, and symbolic aspects behind the basilica.  

To me Sagrada FamĂ­lia had a better price-performance ratio than Casa Vicens and Casa BatllĂł. The entrance fees are still really high though but they will be used for the construction work of the basilica. If you are on a budget you can use the church service to visit Sagrada FamĂ­lia for free. But then you should really respect the other worshippers, stay for the whole ceremony, and do not take photos during that time. Also, make sure to come early since the church has a limited capacity.  

Casa Vicens (1883-1885)

Entrance fee: 18 Euros

Casa Vicens was GaudĂ­’s first project that he designed and built. It was finished in 1885 and built as a summer house for the family of Manuel Vicens. Later the house was expanded among others by Joan Baptista Serra de MartĂ­nez which extension followed Gaudí’s original style. Casa Vicens is located in the neighbourhood of GrĂ cia. In order to open Gaudí’s house to the public, the museum installed a modern staircase in place of the original one to connect the spaces with each other. If you visit Casa Vicens, you can first explore the first two floors with the rooms in their original design by GaudĂ­ before you will learn more about the different other works on the third floor.

The terrace of Casa Vicens
My first impression
The smoking room of Casa Vicens

The house is just really beautiful with its colours and its numerous ornaments. Especially the first floor was wonderful to explore. I love the ceilings which were mostly covered in different flowers. The terrace and the smoking room were my favourite ones. The whole visit including taking photos, listening to the audio guide and watching a video about the house took around 1.5 hours.    

Is it worth it?
The ceiling of the lady’s room

To be honest, the entrance price was rather high. The house is also nice to see from the inside though, but after I have already been to Casa Batlló, it was just less spectacular. I do not regret visiting it at all, especially the garden, but also the entrance hall, the terrace, the smoking room, and the lady’s room waited with beautiful architecture and a lot of details. But honestly, if you are on a low budget or just come with little time you can probably skip this one as well since it was the less spectacular.

Park GĂĽell (1900-1914)

Entrance fee: 10 Euros

In 1900 Eusebi GĂĽell assigned GaudĂ­ with the design of Park GĂĽell. The park was officially opened as a public park in 1926. The park is more than 17 hectares big, and therefore one of the largest green spaces in Barcelona. It is divided into two areas, the monumental and the woodland zone. The park also contains the house from GaudĂ­ in which he lived from 1906 till 1925, so until one year before he died. Nowadays his former residential building is a museum. In GaudĂ­s Casa, tourists can see personal belongings and the self-made furniture of the architect. The museum’s entrance fee is not included in the park and therefore has to be paid separately.  

My first impression
On the benches in Park GĂĽell

Park GĂĽell is probably the place I spent most of the time at. More than 3 hours until sundown we walked through the large park to discover every corner. The park itself offers a great view over Barcelona (but you have actually an even better view from the hills behind the park) and a lot of beautiful architecture as the two houses with roofs which look like made out of sugar icing. The most famous is probably the dragon on the stairs and of course, the benches covered in colourful mosaics.

The famous dragon of Park GĂĽell
Is it worth it?

In my opinion, the visit is worth it. Even though a few years ago, the whole park and later at least a part of the park was for free. Because of the many tourists, the city decided to charge money since October 2013. Nowadays, tourists have to pay an entrance fee if they want to enter park GĂĽell. But the fee is with 10 Euros really okay and for the preservation of the park and the architecture. There is no time limit on how long you are allowed to stay in the park with your ticket but you can not reenter if you once left it. You should already buy the tickets beforehand because it comes that it is fast sold out, especially on weekends and holidays. 

The tickets have a time frame but the staff told us that we do not need to come at the time our tickets say, just the right day is important (but the official page says you have to enter within 30 minutes after your time is marked). They recommended that we come after 6:30 pm because then there are fewer people in the park. However, this tip was in April, when the sundown was already around 8:30 pm.

The park is open from 7 am till 10 pm but the tickets are, adapted to the season from 9:00 am till latest 7:30 pm. Before and after 8 pm the park is officially only allowed to be visited by local residents but not by tourists. But the park has no artificial lighting anyway and should therefore not only be visited at night since you will miss the beautiful details of Gaudí’s art. By the way, local residents located in the neighbourhood adjacent to Park Güell are allowed to enter the park every time during the opening hours at no cost. I still think it is really odd that not every citizen of Barcelona can visit the park for free though.

Last but not least,  one tip is to always buy the tickets in advance to make sure you can enter them in any case and also take advantage of a faster entrance. All sights have a special price for students but the difference is really low. Visiting GaudĂ­’s architecture is for most people probably a one-time only thing because the entrance fees are really high – therefore you have to decide on your own how much money the visits seem worth to you.

What about you? Did you already visit GaudĂ­’s architecture? Tell me in the comments if you share my opinion or if you feel differently.

You have read the blog post Visiting Gaudí’s most popular architecture – is it worth it? on My Travel Journal-Blog.

Chasing the Northern lights

Northern Lights in Tromso

The Polar lights are one of the oldest secrets of nature and probably on almost every travel bucket list. This guide gives you all information about the Northern lights you need. Also, I will share my experience with you and answer the question if a Northern light tour is worth its money.

Northern Lights in Tromso

Seeing the Northern Lights was forever on my travel bucket list. In March 2022, I finally had enough money saved to book a flight to Tromsø, one of the most Northern cities in Norway. Tromsø is basically on every top 10 list for the best places to see the Northern lights in the world.

đź’ˇ Information about the Northern Lights
The Northern lights are part of different legends, myths, and sayings. In the past, people interpreted them as signs of god or deceased persons. Mostly they were a bad prediction and therefore were totally different seen than today.
The polar lights are a natural light in the sky caused by a disturbance in the magnetosphere released by the solar wind. They exist on both poles of the earth. The ones in the North are called Northern lights or aurora borealis. The lights in the South are called Southern lights or aurora australis. The Northern lights are more famous because they are easier to reach since most regions in the North are still inhabited. The lights can have different colours, the most common ones are the green lights. But they can be also red, violet, and blue.

Where can you see the Northern lights?

Usually, you can see the Northern lights from the sixtieth degree of latitude. Rarely do they appear even on a lower degree of latitude till middle Europe. This can happen if there was a really strong solar flare in combination with the right weather conditions (winter and clear nights). But obviously, your chances get higher with travelling more to the North. Besides North Norway (including Svalbard), they can be also seen in Northern Canada, Alaska, Greenland, Iceland, the North of Finland, Sweden, and Siberia. The Southern lights are best seen from the Antarctic.

When is the best time to see the Northern lights?

Northern lights are usually best seen from September to March every year (the Southern lights can be seen in the reverse time from March to September). After this time, the days get too long and the sky too bright. During summer the sun does not set, it is called the midnight sun. In winter it is the complete difference. Especially from November till January, the days are dark (almost) all day long. Some days the sun does not rise at all and the whole day is more in the dawn. During these three months, the hours of the sun lie between 0.1 and 3 hours of light. But without light, it is also difficult to explore Norway.
The Northern lights are usually the strongest at the beginning and end of their season, therefore in September and late March.

I was very exciting seeing the Northern lights for the first time.

❗️ 5 Tips for your own travel
1) Bring enough time
First of all, plan enough time to actually see the polar lights. Not only good weather conditions are important but you will also need some luck. We stayed around one week in Tromsø to have several nights the chance to see the magical lights. In one night we were actually lucky enough.
2) Check the weather and the moon calendar
Looking for the weather forecast is a bit of nice but mostly useless advice since most of you probably book the flights way beforehand when the weather forecast is still more of gambling. Nonetheless, you can check the usual weather prediction of the destination in the particular month beforehand. Has one month more rain days than another? How many hours of sunlight do you have per day?
While weather forecast is harder to predict, this does not apply to the moon calendar. You can already check in advance in which moon phase the moon will be during your stay. Since the Northern lights are best visible in a dark sky you should choose new moon for your travels.
3) Install an aurora app
You will find many different aurora apps in the app stores. They usually show you a KP index (as higher all the more Southern you can see them, the maximum value is 9 and also describes the strength of the geomagnetic activity), how cloudy the sky will be (of course here less is more), and a percentage which calculates how good your chances are to see the Northern lights in the next minutes, hours, days, or even weeks. It usually also has an alert to tell you that you could see the lights in the next minutes at your live destination.
For Norway, you can also use this page from the official page of Norway:
4) Be mobile
The Northern lights are like stars best visible if the surroundings are dark. Therefore, you should make sure to be mobile and leave the city and its lights behind. You should choose a wide and flat area. The direct emergence of the Northern Lights usually is very hard to predict. If you rent a vehicle, it will be easier to reach the (mostly isolated) places to have the best view of the Polar lights. 
5) Be prepared
Waiting for Northern lights can be an ordeal. Make sure you are prepared with warm clothes, some hot drinks, and maybe even some food. In case, you want to take photos, make sure to bring the right equipment such as a tripod and spare charged batteries (the camera loses a lot of energy in the cold). Put the camera already in the right settings. Turn off your autofocus, and choose a low exposure time. Sometimes the Northern lights just appear for a few minutes and start fading fast, in that case, you should already be ready.

How do the Northern lights look like?

I once read everyone sees the Northern lights a bit different. I think, it is important to know, that the polar lights are not as strong with the naked eye as in the photos you know. It is way easier to see them on the screen of your digital camera. It was the same for me. I first saw the lights on my camera. But with time they got stronger. To me, the green intensity was less strong in reality than in the photo, but it was still visible as a glamorous shine, which looked like it was dancing over the sky. It was really magical to see them for the first time.  

The first photo of polar lights was taken in 1892 by the German astronomers Martin Brendel and Otto Baschin.

What can you expect from a Northern lights tour?

You will find a lot of different tour offers with a huge price range. Usually, the tour costs around 100 to 150 US$. The cheapest ones are usually large groups with up to 40 people. Take a look that the size of your group is not too big. In my opinion, this offers you a better experience. Choose a small bus with a maximum of 8 to 10 people and a guide who offers you some information about the Polar lights. Most guides will also help you with your (cellphone) camera settings in order to get the best photos. The tours usually also offer some different extras such as snowsuits, tripods, hot chocolate, some cookies, or even a whole meal. And usually, they also offer you their own professional photo material of the night so you can concentrate more on the actual event instead of trying to get the best photo of your camera.

Depending on the weather conditions and chances to see the Northern lights in different areas, the tour can take a different amount of time. The guide I chose told us that he calculates the chances in the different areas for the same day and therefore decides just a few hours before the trip where he actually goes. Sometimes he drives up to 2.5 hours to the borderline of Finland. Therefore, the tour can also take time from 2 to 9 hours, depending on how far the guide has to drive and at which times the Northern lights show themselves.

Northern Lights tour in Tromso, with a bonfire

Is a Northern light tour its money worth?

Altogether, I would recommend booking a tour but it certainly depends on how lucky you are with the weather on site. Sometimes the Northern light can even be seen directly over the city. However, most of the time, your chances will increase if you rent a car and take a look where the chances of seeing the Northern lights is highest that night. Especially if you are on your own and not particularly familiar with the area a tour can help you to release the stress of the previous planning. In addition, you will not need to be afraid of long journeys and tiredness on the returning ride. If it is your first encounter with the Northern lights the professional tour guide will help you to spot them faster. Because this is actually not as easy at first when the lights are only faint.

Most smaller guides are usually connected with each other in order to find the best spots of Northern lights. I had a really good experience with my guide since he was still totally hooked on the view of the Northern lights and wanted to share his passion as well as this unique experience with us.

A few final booking tips …

If you are thinking about booking a Northern lights tour now, here is a little tip for you: Schedule the tour at the beginning of your vacation. I understand the feeling of saving the best for the end but since you need some luck and good weather conditions putting it at the beginning of your travels will do you a favour. Because if necessary you will be able to postpone your trip. At least in Tromsø, there were so many tours offered that you could easily book one on the same day.
Ensure that your tour guide cancels a tour in case of bad (weather) conditions. Some tours have in their fine-written that they only cancel if it is too dangerous to drive around but not if in general the chance of seeing the lights is low (for example because it is too cloudy). This is especially important because you usually do not get any money back even If you were unlucky and did not see the lights. Some tours offer a second tour at half price if you were unlucky the first time.

❗️ Tip: For a cheap car in Norway
If you decide to chase the Northern lights yourself, in most regions you will be in need of a car to be more flexible and able to leave the city lights behind you. We rented the car from a car-sharing company which was in our case almost 60 % cheaper than the car rental places. We used Book a Wreck which is located at the airport of Tromsø. But you can find them also in other cities.

No matter what you decide, I wish you the best of luck and of course a lot of fun watching the Northern lights.

You have read the blog post Chasing the Northern Lights on My Travel Journal-Blog.

Little Stories of Italy  – Short stories, curiosities, and trivia

Procida in Italy

 Little Stories is a category I started on my Instagram channel and where I post short stories, curiosities or trivia. Here you can find all posts about Italy. #littlestories

#4 The biting mouth of stone

Did you ever get bitten by a stone?

Today’s #littlestory brings us to Italy’s capital Rome. La Bocca della verità (Mouth of Truth) is made out of marble and got famous through the movie Roman Holiday with Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn in 1953.

The history and the original use behind the stoned mouth are not completely clear till today. Some say it’s a former relict from an altar of Hercules and was used as a drain cover. Others believe it symbolises the Titan Oceanus from Greek mythology. Another theory is that the opening of the mouth was used to drain the blood of cattle that were sacrificed for Hercules.

The most common myth says that the mouth can uncover lies. When people put their hand in the opening of the mouth and lie, the stone will bite the hand off as a punishment. (If they tell the truth nothing will happen.) I read that it was even used by the law in medieval. If the judges were “sure” that the offender lied they instructed their helper to cut off the hand from the other side.

Nowadays, it is a famous tourist attraction and many tourists come to put their hands inside the stone mouth (to be fair, we did it as well – I am happy to tell you that I still have both of my hands).
I even remember that when we were on holiday in Croatia, there was a similar‑looking machine which was labelled as a fortune teller one – like reading out of one’s hand. I read that a few of these machines exist around the globe.

If you visit Rome, you can find the Mouth of Truth in front of the church Santa Maria in Cosmedin at Piazza della Bocca della VeritĂ . The disk was transferred to the church in the middle of the 17. Century.

Follow me on Instagram to read more #littlestories:

You have read the blog post Little Stories of Italy  â€“ Short stories, curiosities, and trivia on My Travel Journal-Blog.

My personal highlights and tips for Sintra

Palace of Pena

Ceilings of bird paintings, feeling like Alice and falling in love with palaces covered in sugar icing. This totally sounds like Sintra. If you also love palaces, castles, and mysterious gardens, Sintra is just perfect for you. Read about my personal highlights and get some tips for your own trip.

Sintra is around 25 km (15.5 miles) away from Lisbon, Portugal’s capital and therefore a perfect choice for a day or even a weekend trip. The beautiful town is full of palaces, gardens, parks and castles. I only had a day in Sintra and chose to visit the Portuguese renaissance Palácio Nacional de Sintra (Sintra National Palace), the gardens of Quinta da Regaleira and the romanticist Palácio Nacional da Pena (Pena National Palace).

đź’ˇ Information about Sintra
Sintra is a small town with a bit less than 30,000 inhabitants (status 2011) and full of colourful palaces, intricate gardens, and ostentatious mansions. It is part of the Greater Lisbon region and is located on the Portuguese Riviera. The town also belongs to the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Since it is located in the hills and mountains of Serra de Sintra, the weather is more pleasant in summer. This fact determined the nobility of different centuries to build their summer residences in Sintra. But the town was also a popular travel destination for wealthy artists in the 19th century who built expensive villas in the town.

❗️ Tip: How to buy tickets
Of course, every sight has also its own ticket office. If you visit Sintra in the high season, it can be also worth it to buy your tickets beforehand online or at the ticket machine in front of the tourist information, next to the train station. There are different entrance fees for adults and children plus most attractions also offer an extra family ticket

Palácio Nacional de Sintra – The royal summer residence
Palácio Nacional de Sintra

The Sintra National Palace is not only directly located in the historic city centre but also counts as the town’s landmark. Especially prominent are its two white towers. It is the best-preserved medieval residence and was used as a royal summer residence from the early 15th till the late 19th century.
I especially loved the colourful walls with the typical Portuguese tiles (called Azulejos) and wild patterns of animals, as well as the ceilings covered in golden ornaments, decorated with birds such as swans and magpies. The rooms are beautifully arranged and give a nice feeling of the life of the royal families of Portugal. The palace shows a lot of different artistic influences such as Gothic, Renaissance, plus Portuguese tiles as their own artistic styles which were affected by the Mudéjar art, an Islamic artistic influence. The entrance cost me 10 € (10.60 US$).

Quinta da Regaleira – The mysterious garden
Quinta da Regaleira
The Initiation Well

Quinta da Regaleira is a big property with a palace, a chapel, and a huge garden around with different wells, fountains, grottoes, small lakes, and towers. I felt a bit like Alice in Wonderland, exploring the park with its labyrinthine ways which are in between even under the earth. Of course, gardeners take care of the park but it still felt a bit feral (in a positive way) with all of the strong colours of the plants and trees. I absolutely loved it. To me, this place was truly magical. Already the palace or I would maybe call it a villa is a bit extraordinary. It was built in Gothic style and decorated with many ornaments, pinnacles, and gargoyles. Also, the rooms inside are extensively decorated, I especially liked the wooden ceilings.
Another highlight was to see the Initiation well, which is located in the middle of the park. If you go down the stairs you will find a tunnel you can follow to also find the Unfinished well. Both of them never served water sources but were actually used for rites. I paid 10 € (10.60 US$) to visit the whole garden including the palace.

Palácio Nacional da Pena – The colourful palace
Palácio Nacional da Pena

Pena National Palace is probably Sintra’s most visited site and part of the Seven Wonders of Portugal, voted by its inhabitants a few years ago. To me, it looked made out of sugar icing with its gaudy and popping colours. The palace itself is influenced by many different styles mainly Romanticism, but also Gothic, Manueline, Islamic, and Renaissance. The palace is surrounded by a huge park which takes some time to explore. Pena Nacional Palace is located in the Serra de Sintra and offers, therefore, a beautiful view over the town and to the Castelo dos Mouros (Moorish Castle). I was lucky enough to see a stunning sundown at the castle which brought even a bigger facet of lights.
You can also visit the rooms of the palace which offer as well colourful patterns, and tiles combined with wooden furniture. I paid a 14 € (15 US$) entrance fee including visiting the inside of the palace. If you only buy a ticket for outside it will be almost 50% cheaper, the ticket costs 7.5 € (8 US$).