5 Ideas for Layover City Day Trips

The next time you’re booking a flight for vacation or business, consider scheduling a longer layover so you have time to explore a new or old favorite city on a day trip. Layover day trips can be an easy, inexpensive way to break up a long flight, see a friend living there, or discover a place you’ve always wanted to visit. The perfect day trip itinerary in our opinion? Walking, visiting one or two touristic sites, trying some good food, and doing a little shopping. Here are 5 ideas for common layover city day trips!

Tokyo

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If you have at least a five-hour layover, consider leaving the Tokyo Narita International Airport and taking a quick day trip to darling Narita. It’s only 10-15 minutes away by train and boasts a pedestrian-only shopping street, Narita-san Omotesando, great restaurants, and the sprawling Narita-san Shinsho-ji Temple complex to explore. Narita is a charming little taste of Japanese culture. If you happen to land in the morning, the airport offers a free tour guide program if you want to be shown around. Have more time on your Tokyo layover? We also love Sensō-ji temple in Asakusa and going to a traditional Japanese tea ceremony.

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Stephanie grew up road-tripping across the U.S., but her first flight was to Australia, and she’s been hooked ever since. She lived abroad in Thailand, where she met Meagan, and in Ghana with Peace Corps and has been to over 30 countries on 6 continents. She travels for the adventure, the stories, and nature.

The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi

If you find yourself in the United Arab Emirates, I highly recommend a visit to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. Even if you’re staying in Dubai, the capital Abu Dhabi can easily be visited as a day trip since it’s only an hour and a half away from the skyscraper-filled city.

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque - Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque - Abu Dhabi, United Arab EmiratesThis stunning view that greets you after going through security. Your eyes try to take in the purity of the white marble while at the same time noticing all the architectural details.

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Stephanie grew up road-tripping across the U.S., but her first flight was to Australia, and she’s been hooked ever since. She lived abroad in Thailand, where she met Meagan, and in Ghana with Peace Corps and has been to over 30 countries on 6 continents. She travels for the adventure, the stories, and nature.

The Top 5 Sights in Istanbul

Bosphorous- The Top 5 Sights in Istanbul- www.afriendafar.com #istanbul #bosphorous

There’s so much to see and do in Istanbul but if you find yourself with limited on time in this magical city like I was, it’s helpful to narrow your focus to the top sites you must see. Then, anything additional you see is an added bonus! Here are the top 5 sights in Istanbul:

Hagia Sofia

1. The Aya Sofya (or Hagia Sophia in Greek) is one of the most important buildings and fascinating places in Istanbul. It’s history is so interesting! Originally it was a church and stayed as such for 916 years. Then, after Sultan Mehmed conquered Istanbul in 1453 it became a mosque. Finally it became a museum in 1934 and that’s what it still is today. I’d allow for at least two hours to spend here as there’s a lot to see and it’s nice to have time to marvel at its beauty. Make sure you bring a good guidebook, rent the audio guide, or hire a guide if you prefer so you understand the richness of the structure, its amazing art & architecture. I left the Aya Sofya with a sense of hope in my heart. If this building could survive with both Christian and Islamic symbols intact from so long ago, perhaps humanity today can be tolerant, loving and learn from one another.

The Top 5 Sights in Istanbul- www.afriendafar.com #istanbul

On a lighter note, after you finish your intense museum time, buy some delicious boiled or roasted corn and some fresh-squeezed juice as a snack. Then, rest your weary feet at Sultan Ahmed Park and take in Aya Sofya from the outside along with the fountain show before heading across the park to…

Blue Mosque- The Top 5 Sights of Istanbul- www.afriendafar.com #istanbul #bluemosque

 

2. The Blue (or Sultan Ahmed) Mosque is perhaps the most famous building in Istanbul because its so darn photogenic. It also has six minarets, which is unique because most mosques only have four.
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Its name comes from the blue tile that decorates in the inside of the building.
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It is a functioning mosque so take prayer time into consideration when visiting since the mosque is closed to visitors during those times. Also, ladies will need to cover their heads so either bring your own scarf or one will be issued to you. You’ll also need to remove your shoes and will be given a plastic bag to put them in.

Bosphorous- The Top 5 Sights in Istanbul- www.afriendafar.com #istanbul #bosphorous

 

3. Imagine you can take a ferry ride where on one side there’s Europe and the other side there’s Asia. You can in Istanbul and I highly recommend a Bosphorous ferry ride. It was one of the highlights of my stay. There are a few different options- you can take a full day tour (with one stop on the Asian side), hop-on/hop-off ferry, commuter ferry, or a short tour (with no stops). I opted to do the 90-minute short tour since I didn’t have a ton of time and arrived at the Eminönü pier in the afternoon just in time to catch a sunset ferry ride.
Bosphorous- A Top 5 Sights of Istanbul- www.afriendafar.com #istanbul #bosphorous
On the way up the Bosphorous Strait, our ferry stayed closer to the European coastline so I also kept to that side of the boat. We passed some pretty impressive structures, including the grand Dolmabahçe Palace, the Ortaköy Mosque, and the huge Bosphorous Bridge.

Our ferry turned around just as we approached the Faith Bridge, which is the narrowest point on the Bosphorous. On the way back to the pier, we were closer to the Asian coastline and saw impressive yalıs (waterside mansions), an ornate hunting lodge and the Beylerbeyi Palace. The ferry ride ended with a perfect sunset as we returned to the pier near Galata Bridge.
Topkapi Palace- The Top 5 Sights in Istanbul- www.afriendafar.com #istanbul #topkapipalace
4. Topkapi Palace was my final stop in Istanbul and is a huge complex where you can easily spend a half day taking in all the various rooms. I’d recommend buying your ticket from the kiosk if possible since it’s a popular sight. It gives visitors interesting insight into the opulent lifestyle of the Ottoman sultans who lived here with their families during the 15th to 19th centuries. Don’t miss the beautiful courtyards, fascinating chambers and other rooms!

Topkapi Palace- The Top 5 Sights in Istanbul- www.afriendafar.com #istanbul #topkapipalace

My favorite part was visiting the harem. A separate ticket with an additional fee is required to enter this part of the complex and therefore it’s less crowded. I felt like I had the place to myself most of the time. The harem houses the private chambers, rooms, hamams, and courtyards where sultans lived with their families. The Imperial Hall is one of the highlights with its stunning chandelier and the throne of the sultan.

Topkapi Palace- The Top 5 Sights in Istanbul- www.afriendafar.com #istanbul #topkapipalace


If you need to take a break and rest your feet, the Konyali Restaurant is a perfect place to order apple tea and take in the view of the boats below. The food was rather pricey but I did lunch on lentil soup (a must try while in Istanbul) that was affordable and delicious!

5. The Grand Bazaar was one of my top places I knew I had to visit. It’s a unique experience and is popular with tourists and locals alike, which I always appreciate. I loved it so much I just had to write a dedicated post on it!

Grand Bazaar- The Top 5 Sights in Istanbul- www.afriendafar #istanbul #grandbazaar

I also had the chance to explore a couple of places that weren’t on my top 5 list. I’ll be posting more on those later. Which one was or is on the top of your Istanbul list?

We’ve linked up with #WeekendWanderlust! Join us!

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Stephanie grew up road-tripping across the U.S., but her first flight was to Australia, and she’s been hooked ever since. She lived abroad in Thailand, where she met Meagan, and in Ghana with Peace Corps and has been to over 30 countries on 6 continents. She travels for the adventure, the stories, and nature.
Movenpick Pool- Dead Sea- www.afriendafar.com #deadsea #jordan

A Day at the Dead Sea

I had one free day in Jordan on a work trip  to see a bit of the country. Though Amman has lots to explore and Petra looks amazing to visit, I decided to spend a relaxing day at the Dead Sea. It proved to be the perfect way to combat jet lag and was the perfect day trip from Amman. Plus, the Dead Sea is consistently on lists of places in the world that are disappearing, and I wanted to see and experience it before that happens!

22380390124_890f7d2580_oWhen I left Amman, it was 15 degrees Celsius. On the taxi ride to the Movenpick Resort, I watched the thermometer steadily rise as we coasted down the road. By the time I arrived at the Dead Sea, the temperature was 25 degrees Celsius! The weather was just warm enough to want to change into my swimsuit and walk down to the beach.

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My first stop was floating in the Dead Sea, of course! Even though I knew the high salt concentration causes you to float, it was still amazing to get in the sea and stay buoyed without any effort. It was surreal to lay back, relax and just float and also entertaining to bob about by trying to submerge yourself.

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While floating, I noticed fellow bathers covering their bodies with mud from the sea stored in a clay pot.

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Once the salty sea started burning my skin, I moved on to the mud part of my wellness treatment. Because the mud is from the sea, it has a ton of minerals in it and is so good for your skin; plus, it’s said to have healing properties!

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I just had to take a photo with the sign. Evidence of being at the lowest point on earth!

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Once I was done with my sea salt and mud treatments, I lounged by the infinity pool overlooking the sea. A poolside bar served drinks (including fresh, delicious mango juice) and food. I loved looking out at the glassy sea and taking in the view of Israel from across the sea.

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Next I moved onto another pool that was heated. Swimming in November is a treat so I stayed in until I was all shriveled. Once the sun started setting, I enjoyed watching the sky change will all the colors. I also made friends with an orange kitty.

23032938401_68a96f4c7f_oThe colors just kept getting better and better as the sun continued setting. The reflection on the water was stunning!

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This was my final view of the Dead Sea- what a perfect way to end the day!

Travel Notes & BeyondWeekend Wanderlust
Stephanie grew up road-tripping across the U.S., but her first flight was to Australia, and she’s been hooked ever since. She lived abroad in Thailand, where she met Meagan, and in Ghana with Peace Corps and has been to over 30 countries on 6 continents. She travels for the adventure, the stories, and nature.

Dreaming of Japan: Tokyo Day Trips

Tokyo was one of my first true loves. I could cross a crowded crosswalk with hundreds of strangers in glowing, flashing, technology-infused chaos, or I could turn down a side street and pass traditional wooden architecture and painted signs as I dipped into a restaurant serving steaming bowls of ramen. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen before, and yet, instead of feeling isolated by language and cultural barriers, I was drawn to the unfamiliar. Instead of feeling claustrophobic or hopelessly lost in a city many times larger and more crowded than my own, I sought out the quiet gardens and temples, and I zeroed in on the details. Ok, I definitely felt claustrophobic on the subway, but who wouldn’t?

I studied Japanese in college, and after spending the majority of a summer study abroad in the hot springs town of Beppu in the south, my classmates and I headed to Tokyo. It was my second time in the city, and I loved every bit of it. (OK, Akihabara isn’t really my cup of matcha.) My mom, one of my favorite travel companions, joined me for a week after my semester was over, and I was ready for the opportunity to escape the city again by then. Most people go to Kyoto, which is a longer and more expensive trip, but we stuck close to our home base of Ginza for a few day trips. Here are my favorite spots that you can visit outside of Tokyo. Thank goodness for the shinkansen (bullet) trains!

Our favorite Tokyo Day Trips: To Hakone for Mt. Fuji

It was a fast and affordable ride to Hakone on the shinkansen, and since we love train travel, it was an hour of pure excitement! Once we arrived in Gora, we took the funicular railroad up to Souzan and the Hakone Ropeway cable car to a lookout station and restaurant. Now seems like a good time to mention that even though we planned this trip entirely on the weather forecast, the rain came sooner than expected, and Fuji-san was completely covered in clouds. Yes, this was the view of Mt. Fuji from our “scenic view” cable car. Figures.

Tokyo Day Trips - www.AFriendAfar.com

It’s out there somewhere!

You can’t bring us down, though! After eating lunch at the restaurant with the panoramic views of Mt. Fuji and laughing at our bad luck, we did what we do best. We hit the nearest onsen for a day at the spa!

Onsen are the hot spring baths in Japan. They are very, very affordable, even the fanciest ones with beautifully landscaped ponds and saunas. Since we don’t have these in the states, I considered them to be a wonderfully inexpensive spa – minus the massages.

Onsen Photo Courtest of Hotel Green Plaza Hakone

Onsen Photo courtesy of Hotel Green Plaza Hakone. I couldn’t take pictures inside the onsen, of course!

Have you been to an onsen before? If not, your first visit will come as quite the surprise. Since onsen are traditional public bath houses, you won’t be wearing a bathing suit. That tends to make tourists very uncomfortable at first, but after a little bit of relaxing in the soothing hot springs, you won’t want to leave! We visited one of the more elaborate onsen in the area, and spent our afternoon hopping between saunas, hot springs, bubbling jacuzzis, and pools. Some of the pools were outside, lined with plants and filled by waterfalls, and others were inside and surrounded by beautiful rock walls and tiles. After a morning in the rain and fog, this was the perfect way to warm up and relax. What a treat!

Don’t feel too bad about our missed Mt. Fuji sighting. If you’re in Tokyo on a clear day, you can see the iconic beauty from the top floors of the Metropolitan Government Buildings in Shinjuku, Tokyo. We’re stubborn, so we sat up there all afternoon on our last day until its silhouette appeared through the clouds. It wasn’t picture perfect, but it still took our breath away.

Our favorite Tokyo Day Trips: Kamakura and the Great Buddha

You know which day trip wasn’t a total bust? Kamakura! Once again, we boarded the train and headed out of town. We set out to visit The Great Buddha, or Daibutsu, and since we had learned about multiple very old temples along a path nearby, we had a full day planned.

Tokyo Day Trips - www.AFriendAfar.com

The Great Buddha is a massive bronze statue dating back to 1252. The temple housing the statue was washed away by a tsunami in 1498, and since then, the Buddha has stood in the open air courtyard.

Not only did the weather hold out for us on that day, so did the crowds. It didn’t take long for the only tour bus at The Great Buddha to head out, and after capturing this shot of siblings peeking through a lantern, we were able to take pictures of this important piece of Japanese history with no other visitors in the frame. Even so, these two children are still my favorite.

Tokyo Day Trips - www.AFriendAfar.com

After visiting the Great Buddha at the Kotoku-In temple, we headed to Kenchoji. We had read that it is the oldest Zen training monastery in Japan, so we were prepared for a different sort of temple from those that we visited in Tokyo.

I loved the beautiful wooden buildings that were ornately carved but lacked the vivid red paint that covered all of the temples we had visited before. You could really see the temple’s age. The temple was founded in 1246 and completed in 1253. The gardens were beautiful as well, and we had the opportunity to take off our shoes and tour some of the tatami-floored rooms.

Tokyo Day Trips - www.AFriendAfar.com

Tokyo is a fascinating city with so much to see and do, but getting out of town and heading for the countryside and Mt. Fuji are amazing experiences. If you’re headed to Tokyo, be sure to schedule in a day or two for Mt. Fuji and Kamakura. You won’t be sorry!

Have you been to Japan? Tell us about your favorite places in and around Tokyo in the comments! We love hearing from you!

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Meagan grew up in the North Georgia Mountains and spent her first trip abroad in Italy. She’s been traveling all over the world ever since, learning Spanish, Japanese, and Thai. She travels for the food, the culture, and the history.
Bangkok Feature

Bangkok Boutique Hotel Review: Phranakorn Nornlen

While planning our trip to Thailand in January, I was excited to stay in a hotel in Bangkok. As Meagan has mentioned before, we met as roommates in Thailand and lived about an hour north of Bangkok. Because of that fact, I’d never stayed in Bangkok overnight. After getting a few ideas from guidebooks, I also looked on TripAdvisor to see what was ranked highly. I was pleasantly surprised to see a charming, small hotel near the top. I immediately looked into it and then booked it. It’s called Phranakorn Nornlen, and it’s one of the most adorable places I’ve ever stayed! Read ahead for my Bangkok Hotel Review:

Bangkok Boutique Hotel www.afriendafar.com #bangkok #thailand #phranakorn-nornlen

Phranakorn Nornlen is located in the heart of Old Bangkok and is truly an oasis in the middle of a hectic city. Their motto is about embracing “slow life,” and it’s certainly easy to do when you’re in the compound. The building itself is a beautiful, old teak mansion, and there’s plenty of space for lounging on pillows in the open air first floor. The surrounding area is not touristy so you get a taste of authenticity in how people live in communities in Bangkok. But it is within walking distance to the Thewet Pier river shuttle stop where you can take a leisurely boat ride to get to the Grand Palace and the Reclining Buddha. It’s also just a taxi or scary tuktuk ride away from the BTS Skytrain.

Bangkok Boutique Food www.afriendafar.com #bangkok #thailand #phranakorn-nornlen

The hotel has a rooftop restaurant that serves basic Thai dishes, including pineapple fried rice. We ate there upon arrival because we’d been traveling that day and were famished. Breakfast is included in the room rate and is quite the spread. There’s also a tea service during the day if you’re in your room and want afternoon tea. What more do you need in life?

Bangkok Boutique Art www.afriendafar.com #bangkok #thailand #phranakorn-nornlen

The décor of the hotel matches the antique building it’s housed in. There are cute, vintage displays everywhere you turn. Plus, there’s amazing art from a local artist painted on the walls. The style of the rooms are consistent with the rest of the hotel. The bedding uses batik cloth that you can find in the market and… If you like the style of the décor, they have a shop on the first floor where you can buy similar goods.

Bangkok Boutique Room www.afriendafar.com #bangkok #thailand #phranakorn-nornlen

If you’re not already sold on booking the Phranakorn Nornlen while in Bangkok, we found the extra services the hotel made available extremely thoughtful and useful. For example, we had a late flight out so were able to store our luggage in the baggage deposit for free while exploring Chatuchak Weekend Market for last minute shopping. Additionally, showers on the first floor were available for use to freshen up before heading to the airport even though we’d checked out in the morning. There’s also a service to help with transportation needs, such as calling us a taxi to airport. The staff also went above and beyond. Our final memory of leaving Phranakorn Nornlen is that four staff members were leaving at the same time so they helped us with our luggage and saw us off in our taxi.

Hope you’ll consider staying in this lovely guesthouse if you’re traveling to Bangkok soon! What’s one of your favorite accommodations ever and why?

Stephanie grew up road-tripping across the U.S., but her first flight was to Australia, and she’s been hooked ever since. She lived abroad in Thailand, where she met Meagan, and in Ghana with Peace Corps and has been to over 30 countries on 6 continents. She travels for the adventure, the stories, and nature.
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Everything You Need to Know about Chatuchak Market in Bangkok

JJ FindsIf you find yourself in Bangkok on a weekend, Chatuchak  Market (or Jatujak or JJ) is a must! It’s Thai shopping at its finest, which means it can be crazy, overwhelming, and exhilarating. Crazy because it’s only open Saturdays and Sundays, and it’s popular with both locals and tourists so it’s always packed. Overwhelming because it’s one of the largest markets in the world and the largest in Asia, and you truly can buy anything here. And it’s exhilarating because you can find some absolutely stellar finds for a bargain! Some of my favorite “sections” of the market include antiques, home decor, and handicrafts, but there are also books, clothes and pets.

 

Here are a few tips to help you have an amazing experience!

Hours

Depending on the season and your schedule, go early to beat the crowds and the heat. The market opens at 9am and closes at 6pm, but sometimes vendors pack up early, so keep that in mind as well.

Getting Around

If you want to be more strategic with your shopping, plan ahead of time using Nancy Chandler’s map of Bangkok, which includes a color coded map and guide of the market. The map can be purchased on the Nancy Chandler website, but it’s also available in bookstores and news agents in Thailand. It’s also extremely valuable when exploring other parts of Bangkok. As a bonus, the beautifully illustrated map can be framed and used as home décor.  Even with a map, make sure you let yourself get wonderfully lost since you never know what treasure you might stumble upon. (Note: This is not a sponsored post. We’ve owned a few copies of the map between the two of us, and we think it’s so very helpful.)

Take Breaks

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Take a break from shopping to enjoy a treat, such as mango ice cream

There’s a ton of delicious food and sweet treats to devour, so grab something and find a place to rest your weary feet. Also, make sure you stay hydrated especially if it’s a hot day.

Just Get It

If you see something you want, buy it! Don’t make the mistake of assuming you’ll see the item and regret not getting it. The last time I shopped at JJ, I wanted to get sticky rice baskets and saw some but passed them by. And of course I didn’t see them again and kicked myself for not buying them in the first place.

Speak Thai & Use Cash

Learn some basic Thai shopping phrases to use to bargain but also to be polite. Many people do speak English, but you can get a better price sometimes by speaking Thai. Also, though credit cards are accepted by some vendors, cash is preferred and will usually guarantee a better deal.

Here’s a little inspiration for you as you contemplate whether make Chatuchak part of your Bangkok experience:

Stephanie grew up road-tripping across the U.S., but her first flight was to Australia, and she’s been hooked ever since. She lived abroad in Thailand, where she met Meagan, and in Ghana with Peace Corps and has been to over 30 countries on 6 continents. She travels for the adventure, the stories, and nature.
Japanese Gardens in Kamakura - www.AFriendAfar.com

Shot of the Week

Great Buddha of Kamakura - Shot of the Week - www.AFriendAfar.com

While I was studying in Tokyo, my mother came to visit for a week. During her stay, we took the train out to Kamakura to see the Daibutsu, or Great Buddha, a 44ft tall bronze monument dating back to the middle of the 13th century. The crowds were heading back to their tour buses as we arrived, so we were lucky to get lots of pictures with no one else in them. Even so, this picture of a young brother and sister peeking through the lantern is my favorite. -Meagan

Meagan grew up in the North Georgia Mountains and spent her first trip abroad in Italy. She’s been traveling all over the world ever since, learning Spanish, Japanese, and Thai. She travels for the food, the culture, and the history.