5 Things to Know about Visiting the Grand Canyon in the Winter

The Grand Canyon is a breathtaking natural wonder any time of year, but visiting in the winter months can be very different from the peak summer season. When we visited last winter here are the five things we wish we would have known before visiting the Grand Canyon in December:

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  1. The North Rim is closed

The Grand Canyon’s North Rim has view and trails to trek similar to the South Rim however it is more difficult to visit as it is far from the freeway and doesn’t have close airport options. Generally the North Rim is less crowded but it is not open to visitors in the winter months. If you are planning to visit, the North Rim is open from May 15th to October 15th each year.

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  1. Its gets cold!

The Grand Canyon is at an elevation of 7,000 ft above sea level so although it is a desert it is still pretty cold in the winter time during the day. For us it got up to around 50 degrees Fahrenheit during the height of the day but if you are hoping to see the sunrise bundle up! When we watched the sunrise it was around 10-15 degrees Fahrenheit. We also saw some ice on the trails so be careful when hiking and be sure to wear plenty of light layers!

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  1. Daylight hours are short

While it makes it easier to view the sunrise (~7:30am) and the sunset (~5:15pm), there are a lot less hours in the day to enjoy the canyon. The main way this affected us was when we hiked part of the Bright Angel Trail down into the Grand Canyon. We were wary about leaving plenty of time to make it back up the canyon so we wouldn’t be on the trail in the dark.

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  1. Not all the buses are running

We never ended up using the shuttles since it was more convenient to have a car in the winter. Only two of the shuttle bus routes are running and this did not include the one that could bring us to the park from our hotel or the route along Hermit Road stopping at many beautiful overlooks including Hermit’s Rest. If you are there in the winter it will be helpful to have a car to drive to the different areas you want rather than relying on the shuttle bus services.

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  1. During holiday weeks it is extremely crowded but other times it is not crowded at all

If you are traveling to the Grand Canyon in the winter be sure to avoid Thanksgiving week and the week between Christmas and New Years if at all possible. During the holiday weeks the Grand Canyon National park is jam packed. However, when we were there in mid December there were many times we had places to ourselves.

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Visiting during the winter months definitely has it’s advantages, the main one being very few fellow tourists, but we weren’t quite sure what to expect. Hopefully these tips will help you plan you winter vacation!

3 Parks to Visit in Copenhagen, Denmark

When you visit a bustling city center you wouldn’t be surprised to see busy shopping streets, and skyscrapers,  but it’s not a guarantee that there will be a quiet place to relax. During my week in Copenhagen, Denmark I found three outdoor spaces to explore all within walking distance from the city center and they were free! If you have the need to get away from the hustle and bustle, check out one of these three parks!

The King’s Garden:

Situated around Rosenborg Castle, the King’s Garden is Denmark’s oldest national palace garden. In 1606, King Christian IV designed the Renaissance style garden while the castle was being constructed. There are multiple areas to walk through including a rose garden, a fountain area, and a children’s play area.

 

The Botanical Garden:

Just a block away from the King’s Garden, the Botanical Garden is a part of Denmark’s Natural History Museum. The Botanical Garden is arranged in different sections each with a different type of plant. My favorite area was the rock garden where you could climb winding paths up a small hill displaying plants from mountainous regions. Overall there are over 13,000 species of plants in the garden. There are also greenhouses to explore but unfortunately they are closed on Mondays in the winter months.

 

Kastellet:

The last Copenhagen getaway is a well preserved star-shaped fortress commissioned back in 1662. Just around the corner from Copenhagen’s famous The Little Mermaid statue, Kastellet or “The Citadel” allows visitors to walk along its ramparts enjoying views of the city. There’s even a historic windmill up there! On ground level along cobblestone streets, there are picturesque 18th century barracks to wander through.

 

If you are looking for a way to escape the city life within walking distance, head to one of these parks!

3 Day Trips Less than an Hour from Copenhagen, Denmark

While there are plenty of things to do walking distance from Copenhagen’s city center, there are also a few gems just a train ride away. If you are looking for more to do in your time in Copenhagen, consider one of these three day trips:

1) Frederiksborg Castle in Hillerod (45 minutes by train from the city center)

Built in the 1500s under King Christian IV, Frederiksborg Castle now houses the Museum of National History. The 85 rooms in the castle show a chronological history of Denmark starting in the 1500s up until present day. Another feature of Frederiksborg Castle is the grounds. The baroque style gardens are beautiful and easy to walk through providing amazing views of the castle. Once you’ve explored the gardens there are trails through the woods to find the Bath House Palace, the King’s Spring and Christian IV’s stone.

2) Roskilde  (25 minutes by train from the city center)

Grab a map at the tourist center then take the short hike to the Viking Museum on the waters edge. The museum houses five 800 year old Viking ships. During the warmer months you can sail out on replicas on the salvaged ships. There are tours and demonstrations throughout the day to learn the tools the Vikings used to create their vessels.

Also in Roskilde is the UNESCO World Heritage site the Roskilde Cathedral. For over 1000 years there has been a church on the site of the current cathedral. It holds the world record for most royals buried in a church with 39 Danish Kings and Queens calling Roskilde Cathedral their final resting place.

 

3) Kronborg Castle in Helsinger and the Louisiana in Humlebaek (45 minutes by train)

Kronborg Castle, also known as “Hamlet’s Castle” is the setting for Shakespeare’s famous play, Hamlet. Shakespeare was allegedly inspired by the lavish banquets Frederik II held at the castle in the 1600s. When I visited the Renaissance Fair was going on on the grounds for their autumn break from school, you can read all about it here! On a regular day you can tour the interior of the castle to see Frederik II and Queen Sophie’s bed chambers , the King’s intricately woven tapestries and the underground tunnels called the Casemates.

Just a few train stations away from Helsinger heading back towards Central Copenhagen, is the Louisiana Modern Art Museum in Humlebaek. The museum features both an outdoor sculpture garden and indoor exhibits. Just note it is a modern art museum, so nudity was a part of many art pieces.

While there is so much to see in Copenhagen’s city center, these jam packed day trips were well worth the trip!

Visiting Frederiksborg Castle: a Day Trip from Copenhagen, Denmark

To start off my weeklong trip in Copenhagen, I hopped on a 40 minute train ride to the city of Hillerod to see Frederiksborg Castle. The castle was built in the early 17th century by the Danish King Christian IV, and you can see it from all angles walking around the surrounding lake. The castle grounds include a large baroque style gardens, big enough that I was able to explore and take pictures for an hour! There were so many places to get a good view of the castle.

 

A devastating fire in 1859 destroyed much of the original castle but after the restoration headed by J.C. Jacobson the owner of Carlsberg Breweries, the interior was transformed into the Danish National History Museum.  Eighty-five different rooms chronologically display Denmark’s history through portraits and historical paintings from the time periods. The museum catalogs history starting in the 1500s up until present day!

Entrance to the museum costs 75DKK (~12 USD or 60 DKK, ~10 USD if you have a student ID!). One of the first rooms you enter is the chapel, which was celebrating its 400th anniversary. This is one of the only rooms spared from the fire and all the furnishings are original. During the years Denmark had an absolute monarchy (1660-1849) this chapel was used for royal coronations. Every room in the castle was dedicated to a specific time period in Danish history with portraits and pieces of art from the time period. Luckily most rooms also had a laminated informational papers to peruse, providing insight into what happened during the time periods.

After touring the castle, I decided to explore the grounds a bit more. When looking at a map I noticed something marked “Christian IV’s stone” and my curiosity won out. After a few wrong turns I stumpled upon the Bath House Palace, which is occasionally used by the royal family for hunt lunches according to the Visit Copenhagen website. I reoriented myself then finally found the trail to the stone. What I found was a stone that looked like a throne, so naturally I sat in it and took way too many pictures!

With my exploring complete I headed back around the lake via Hunter’s Hill for one last view of the castle. I found a picnic table, the perfect place to have a snack with a view before the train ride back into the city. This was the first of three great day trips out of the city and I was able to save some money by getting a 24 tourist train pass which I used early the next morning to head out to Roskilde!

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Tivoli Revisted: Halloween Edition

In honor of Halloween today, it is only fitting that we post about my recent trip to Tivoli! A few years ago on a family vacation we took a cruise around the Baltics with a stop in Copenhagen, Denmark. Even though we only had one day, we knew a stop at Tivoli, the most visited amusement park in the world, was a must! We loved the rides and the atmospheres of all the different parts of the world. This year I got the amazing opportunity to visit Tivoli again, but this time it was completely decked out for Halloween!

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Tivoli closes down to redecorate twice during the year, once for Halloween and then again for Christmas. Walking down the street, the transformation was obvious. The entrance had a giant pumpkin dangling in it and the walkway inside was lined with jack-o-lanterns high in the air. Walking around, you couldn’t miss the essence of Halloween in the air. There were pumpkins everywhere!

We walked around for a while enjoying the sites and trying to decide what area of the world we wanted food from. Missing the food from my recent Italy trip, we opted for pizza and wine. The food was absolutely delicious!

After dinner we decided to ride a couple rides. First the Flying Trunk, an ode to fairy tale writer Hans Christian Anderson. We had visited the Hans Christian Anderson Museum earlier that day, so it seemed fitting to ride around in a flying trunk seeing scenes from many of his fairy tales! Next we wanted to get a view from above so we decided to ride the ferris wheel. We got night time views of Tivoli and parts of downtown Copenhagen as well!

Although I’ve visited Tivoli before, it felt like an entirely different magical place in October. Tivoli went all out with their decorations, truly transforming Tivoli into a new world. I just hope someday I can visit for Christmas!

An Afternoon in Siena, Italy

After our first leisurely morning of the trip in Montecatini, we only had half the day to spend visiting Siena. After an hour and a half drive we arrived in Siena and found a parking garage just out side the city. The entire city is on a hill with the main tourist attractions at the top. Luckily the city graciously installed a series of escalators to get weary travelers like ourselves to the top of the city!

There is one main ticket office just outside of the Duomo selling various options of ticket passes for the main attractions Siena has to offer. With our pass in hand we headed first to the Museum dell Opera. The first thing you will notice is the large stained glass window in the hall. It originally hung in the cathedral made between 1287 and 1290. On the first floor you’ll find the altarpiece known as Maestra of Duccilli di Buoninsegna, considered a masterpiece of early 14th century Italian art. Other parts of the museum include a Tresury with over two hundred sacred objects, statues of the apostles and blueprints of the patterns on the Cathedral’s pristine marble floors.

On one of the upper floors of the Museum there is a chance to go out onto the rooftop for a panoramic view of the city. After a short line we climbed up to a small space on the roof for breathtaking views of the city. You don’t have unlimited time to take it all in so be sure to get any pictures you want before being ushered back down to make room for the next group.

Our next stop was at the Baptistry of San Giovanni, an ornate building built in the 1310s with art all along the walls and bronze plaques all around the baptismal font. Just around the corner we visited the Crypt which lies underneath the Duomo. Although it is called a Crypt, it was never used for burials. It is known for its 13th century frescoes that line the walls showing the Passion of the Christ.

Our next stop was the Duomo, while the entirety of the Duomo is beautiful, what makes it unique from the others we’ve seen is its marble mosaic floor. It was crafted by about 40 artists and the project took six centuries to complete! The floors are only uncovered around 2 months a year from June 29 to July 31 and from August 18 to October 26 because although it is beautiful it is also fragile. To prevent wear and tear of tourists shoes, the rest of the year it is covered with sheets.

One add on with our ticket was the Porta de Cielo or the Gate of Heaven. On this tour we climbed into the rafters and were able to see the Cathedral floors from above through some open stained glass windows. We went outside around the dome at the top of the Duomo for views of the city before crossing a bridge over through the sanctuary. This tour gave us views of the church interior and the surrounding landscapes that made it well worth the extra cost!

To round out our time in Siena we stopped for a late lunch of pizza and calzones. With a view of the Baptistry, we ate outside on the plaza. After some last minute souvenir shopping, we headed back down the escalators towards our car to begin our journey to San Gimignano.

An Evening Visit to Montecatini Alto

Throughout our week in Tuscany, the city of Montecatini served as our home base. After our drive from Milan, we dropped off our bags at our hotel in Montecatini Terme located in the valley of Montecatini and headed out to explore. Just down the street we found the Funicolare to take us up to the hilltop medieval city of Montecatini Alto. Once at the top we paused for a photo op of Montecatini Terme below.

After taking in the view, we began to wander the cobblestone streets until we found the Tower of the Carmine, one of the six standing towers that remain of the original twenty-five towers that existed during medieval times. It is unknown when exactly this tower was built but it predates the seige of Montecatini Alto by the Florentine troops under Grand Duke Cosimo dei Medici in 1554.

After a little more exploring we found two churches very close together: Chiesa dei Santi Jacopo e Filippo and Chiesa di San Pietro. Chiesa dei Santi Jacopo e Filippo was originally built in 1296, however it was almost completely rebuilt in the baroque style in 1764. Chiesa di San Pietro dates back to the 11th century and underwent multiple renovations to become what you can see today.

We headed to the main square for some souvenir shopping and a dinner break. Not surprisingly, we had another round of pizza and pasta accompanying it with our new Italian drink of choice, Aperol Spritz! Spritz is a mixture of Aperol, an Italian apéritif, Prosecco white wine and soda water. Rounding out our meal we headed to the gelateria on the opposite end of the square.

After dinner we headed back towards the Funicolare, stopping for one last view of the lit up city below. For two different views of the city we went up when the sun was still shining then headed back down the mountain after the sun set and I definitely recommend timing your visit this way too! Overall a visit to Montecatini Alto was a leisurely way to unwind to start off our Tuscan adventure. We headed back to our hotel to rest up before heading to Pisa in the morning!