As 2019 is coming to an end, it’s time for our traditional roundup of the most fun and memorable travel experiences of the year.
2019 has been a year with the most travel ever. It might look like nothing to the most avid travelers among us, but for us, 12 trips (from 4 to 17 days) in one year is a lot… Here’s how our travel year looked like:
- Thailand island hopping in December-January
- Jungfraujoch Region in Switzerland in March
- Croatia road trip in April
- London in April
- Lithuania in July
- Greenland in July
- Grindelwald, Wengen and Interlaken in Switzerland in August
- Iceland in August
- Emilia Romagna Region in Italy and San Marino in September
- Barcelona in October
- Mauritius in November
- Vilnius Christmas market in Lithuania in December
According to Google (that seems to know more about me than I do), I have traveled around the world 1.8 times this year. Taking into account that most trips were in Europe, it says a lot.
To tell you the truth, there were moments when it felt like it was a bit too much (as much as I love to travel, it’s nice to be home too). At the same time, I wouldn’t have wanted to skip any of those trips. Each destination was very different, each amazing, and we have made so many great memories again.
From the beaches of Mauritius in the south to the icebergs of Greenland in the north, and from cities like London or Barcelona to the most remote locations in the Icelandic highlands, these are some of the best moments from 2019.
I hope that you’ll enjoy reading this, and who knows, maybe you’ll find some travel inspiration for your trips next year!
These are some of the most unforgettable travel moments of 2019:
There is no better way to start a new year than with an incredible sunrise and a morning swim… That’s how our first days of 2019 looked like…
Being a real owl, I hardly ever make an effort to wake up for sunrise. However, the sounds of the jungle of Khao Sok National Park in Thailand woke me up anyway, so I decided to take a look outside…
When I peeked outside our glamping tent and saw this incredible sunrise above the Cheow Lan Lake, there was no power that would keep me in bed.
Sitting on the terrace of our floating tent, listening to the sounds of the jungle, and admiring this view… life really doesn’t get much better than that. We even jumped into the lake for a refreshing morning swim. Who needs a shower when there is a lake like this… Unforgettable!
LEARN MORE: Elephant Hills in Khao Sok NP, Thailand
‘Pinch Me’ Moment
Greenland has been on my bucket list for a long time. This summer, the dream finally came true and I can only say that it exceeded all my expectations.
From the first moment when we saw an enormous ice cap and floating icebergs from the window of our airplane, we were hooked. But a real ‘pinch me’ moment was when we went for a short walk on the first day of our trip and saw these enormous icebergs and a group of whales swimming around them.
We just sat there watching this incredible spectacle and couldn’t believe how extremely fortunate we were to be able to experience this…
Later on, we would see whales everywhere: through our hotel window, on a hike where we ended up having a picnic and watching whales at the same time, from a little beach close to our hotel on Disko Island…
And the icebergs… the icebergs are just incredible too. Constantly moving, they can change the landscape entirely in a matter of minutes. You can go back to the same place again and again, and it will always look different…
LEARN MORE: Ilulissat Icefjord
Best Family Trip
When I asked my kids which were the best travel moments of 2019, they started mentioning so many things from Thailand that in the end, we all came to the conclusion that Thailand island hopping was the best family trip of the year.
They loved our beachfront villa with a private pool and the huge pools with water slides at the Village Coconut Island Beach Resort in Thailand. They couldn’t stop talking about the Elephant Hills Resort where we got to feed and wash elephants, kayak in the jungle, swim between enormous fish in the lake, and sleep inside luxurious tents that were floating on the lake…
There was also snorkeling, even more pool time, even more kayaking, lots of fresh fruit and smoothies every day, and delicious Thai food (although, for our twins that meant fries and pizza most of the time…:)).
To my big surprise, our twins said that they want to go back to Thailand. Because we are so used to always traveling to new destinations, it’s very rare that kids would ask to go back somewhere we already visited. (Skiing in Switzerland is an exception and they can’t imagine a winter without that…)
Best Road Trip
I just love a good road trip. Our trip through northwest Iceland was the best road trip in a long time. Incredible scenery and almost no people around.
LEARN MORE: Iceland Travel Guide
Best Work Trip
When you get invited to speak at a conference in paradise, you just can’t say no, can you? Big thanks to the iambassador team for this amazing opportunity and trust. Just look at the picture of our conference venue!
Mauritius is a beautiful island, but I never knew that it has so much more to offer than just its world-famous beach resorts. If you also think that Mauritius is only a beach destination, make sure to read our article that highlights some of the most amazing places to see and things to do in Mauritius. You’ll be surprised!
LEARN MORE: Best Things to Do in Mauritius
Best City Trip
If you follow our blog, you know that we hardly ever visit cities. But when we do, we go for the very best ones. This year, it was London and Barcelona, and I think that they both deserve a mention in this roundup.
In April, I re-visited London and discovered a whole different side of it in search of the hidden gems of London. It was A M A Z I N G ! If you want to re-discover London without the crowds, this is the way to do it!
Our second city trip was a family trip to Barcelona. We all fell in love. Mind you, we might have felt differently if we came here in summer, but at the end of October, Barcelona was simply magical. If you are looking for a short city break in Europe, in this guide you can find plenty of inspiration for a long weekend in Barcelona.
The coolest (literally and figuratively) place we visited this year, must be Jungfraujoch, Top of Europe. It’s one of the must-see destinations in Switzerland!
Summer or winter, there is always snow here and you can walk inside an ice tunnel under the glacier. There is so much more to see and do here and you can read all about it in our guide to visiting Jungfraujoch. And, admit it, how cool is it to be able to say that you visited the Top of Europe!
LEARN MORE: Jungfraujoch
Most Nostalgic Place
This summer, I finally took my kids to Nida in Lithuania. It’s a resort town where I spent so many summer holidays as a kid. We visited Nida when I first took my husband to Lithuania years ago, but somehow we had never been back there with kids. So it was time to set it right.
Exploring all the familiar places with my family was one of the best travel experiences for me this year. No rush, no set itinerary, just lots of quality time in one of the most beautiful little corners of Lithuania.
If you didn’t know, the Curonian Spit where Nida is located is famous for its high sand dunes. The featured image of this article is taken in Nida as well.
LEARN MORE: Nida
Most Beautiful Place
You’d think that seeing so many beautiful places it would be tough to pick just one that tops all the rest… This year it was easier than ever.
La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona is, without a doubt, the most beautiful place we visited in 2019. No matter how many pictures you saw, the reality is a thousand times better. It’s incredible, astonishing, breathtaking… It’s like nothing else in the world. Just WOW.
If you are still looking for an excuse to visit Barcelona, well, this is it!
Good to know: If and when you go, make sure to visit La Sagrada Familia with a guide. Going on your own, you’ll miss all the incredible details and symbolism that just proves that Gaudi was a real genius.
Never Thought I’d Dare…
The things one wouldn’t do for their children…
When our kids saw a brochure of the First Glider in Switzerland, there was no way of stopping them. We just had to do it!
You have no idea how anxious I was about this, but it was pure bliss and I enjoyed every single second of this short ride. Not to mention that the boys were absolutely ecstatic!
Flying over the most amazing scenery of the Swiss mountains is an incredible feeling. With the speed of 70-80km/h, it was a thrilling ride, yet one that I would do again and again.
LEARN MORE: Best Things to Do in Grindelwald-First
Most Surreal Experience
It’s not every day that you can go dog sledding. But dog sledding in the middle of summer is even more surreal.
Lyngmark Glacier is the only place where this is possible in Greenland. Unfortunately, due to climate change and the melting glacier, this unique activity might not be available very long anymore…
Sitting on an old-fashioned wooden Inuit sled covered with real fur and being pulled by a bunch of huskies was one of the most authentic things we did in Greenland. That’s how people there used to travel to places in the past and that’s also how many Greenlanders still get around in winter.
LEARN MORE: Best Things to Do in Qeqertarsuaq, Disko Island
Best Swimming Pools
No country in the world does swimming pools better than Iceland. The reason is quite simple – they get hot water straight from the ground.
Swimming pools and natural hot tubs can be found all over the country and there is no better way to end a long day of sightseeing and hiking than taking a long soak in the warm geothermal waters… Our kids are not that keen on long drives these days, but Icelandic swimming pools turned this trip into one of their favorite road trips ever.
Below, you can see pictures of two of our favorite swimming pools in Iceland. Can you believe that these are public pools that hardly cost a few euros, have the most amazing views and no crowds at all?! Oh, take me back there…
Our travels always involve so much road-tripping and sightseeing that I sometimes feel guilty our kids don’t enjoy it just as much as we do. So once in a while, we take a trip filled with fun activities that the whole family can enjoy.
Our winter trip to the Jungfrau Region in Switzerland was just like that – with skiing, sledding, ice skating, winter walks, and even curling on the agenda.
If you’ve never tried sledding in the mountains, give it a go. It’s so much fun and is incomparable to any of the short sled rides we used to do as kids. With kilometers-long sledding tracks, Wengen in Switzerland is a great place to do it!
LEARN MORE: Skiing in Wengen
Best Unexpected Discovery
There were quite some amazing places we visited this year, and so this is also a tough choice. I loved the Palau de la Música Catalana and the Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau in Barcelona, the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania in Vilnius, the Painted Hall and the Tulip Stairs in London, and the incredible mosaics of Ravenna…
But the place that surprised me the most was Rimini in Italy. I had no idea this popular beach resort had so much more than its beaches!
From Roman architecture to the most beautiful theater and cinema halls I have ever seen to a quirky fishermen’s district that looks like an outdoor art gallery… Rimini is a real hidden gem of Italy just waiting to be discovered!
LEARN MORE: Emilia Romagna Itinerary
We visited quite a few museums this year and Perlan in Reykjavik Iceland tops all of them. Where else can you find a museum where you can walk inside a real ice tunnel, see the incredible Northern Lights display, and learn about volcanos and glaciers?
If you ever find yourself in Reykjavik, don’t miss!
LEARN MORE: Perlan Museum
The Lyngmark Glacier in Greenland lies on the high mountain on Disko Island. With an elevation gain of approx. 800 m (2,600 ft) and lots of loose stones along the way, this is one of the toughest hikes we did in a long time. 3,5 hours to get to the glacier and just as much time to get back…
Luckily, it was an amazing hike with very diverse scenery along the way and a warm lunch and summer husky sledding was waiting for us at the glacier. A very tiring but unforgettable day!
Most Beautiful Hike
This is another really tough choice, but if I have to pick just one, I want to highlight the beautiful Schynige Platte area in Switzerland. The newly opened Panorama Route here is simply breathtaking.
With the most beautiful mountains such as Jungfrau and Eiger on one side to the incredible scenery of the azure-blue lakes of Interlaken on the other side, this is a family-friendly medium-difficulty hike that offers some of the most phenomenal views in Switzerland.
LEARN MORE: Hiking at Schynige Platte
Toughest Travel Day
Last year, I visited the Icelandic highlands and I was hooked. So when we went back to Iceland with kids this summer, I absolutely wanted to show my family one of my favorite places in Iceland, Kerlingarfjöll.
Kerlingarfjöll is located far from the paved roads and so it requires quite some effort to get there. The last 6km stretch of the road is a steep 4×4 track with huge holes and lots of big stones. We had a 4WD, so not the best car to drive a road like this. Furthermore, it was raining, temperatures were just above freezing, and the wind was so strong that it was literally blowing us off our feet…
When we finally made it to Kerlingarfjöll, it was so cold and windy that we couldn’t get out of the car. Inside, we gathered all our warm sweaters and rain gear, tucked ourselves in, and then finally dared to leave the car. One of our younger kids refused to go and so he stayed warmly inside the car reading his book while we braved the horizontal rain…
If I wouldn’t have known how incredibly beautiful this area is, I don’t think we would have done all the trouble in order to see it. But it was amazing and it was worth it even in these incredibly tough conditions.
Best Travel Day
If there is one travel day that I’ll always remember from this year, it’s the day of my birthday. I was on a working trip in the Emilia Romagna region in Italy and I thought that working is pretty much the worst thing to do on your birthday… However, it turned out into the most incredible day…
We started the day with a sunrise walk through the empty streets of Rimini. We then had a tour of this incredible little town that exceeded all my expectations. Then someone told everyone that it was my birthday and so they sang ‘Happy Birthday’ for me the Cinema Fulgor… All this was followed by a bike ride and a fantastic champagne lunch at one of the most luxurious hotels in town…
We then took an e-bike ride through the countryside and visited a beautiful little village… And finally, in the evening, we had dinner on a catamaran.
It’s a birthday that is going to be tough to match…
Once in a while, things don’t go as planned. One of the activities we were so looking forward to in Greenland was kayaking between icebergs. However, we had only one day when we could do it and it was also the only rainy day in at least six weeks period. In fact, it didn’t rain the whole day and only started when we set to kayak.
And so we kayaked between the icebergs in the pouring rain. You have to do it, right? Nevertheless, it was an incredible experience. I just keep on thinking how even more special it would have been if we could kayak under the midnight sun, as expected…
Oh well, here is a good reason to go back, right? 😉
More Bad Luck…
Can you believe that in almost 20 years of road-tripping we never had to change a tire?! And yes, this includes a 4-week trip in Namibia and a trip through the Australian outback…
Well, 2019 brought a change to this and we got our first flat tire ever. Of course, these things always happen in the most impossible and rural places. In this case, we were touring Iceland’s Westfjords where most roads are gravel and there are just a couple of tiny villages and no garages in sight…
Luckily, there was a very detailed manual in the car and a good spare tire. And we also got some help from a French family, because two men were needed to loosen those bolts…
In the end, it all ended well. Thankfully, we had full travel insurance and so as soon as we could find a garage, we also bought a new tire. With another week of touring through rural Iceland, we just couldn’t risk not having a spare…
Even More Bad Luck…
When you travel so much, it’s inevitable that things go wrong once in a while. Also this year, we had our share of bad luck. But all is well that ends well.
We started the year running away from one of the strongest tropical storms that hit Thailand in a long time, Storm Pabuk.
In Switzerland, all the ski lifts were closed on the day of arrival because of heavy snow and we could hardly get to our hotel…
In Croatia, a big part of Plitvice Lakes NP was closed for maintenance just on the day when we visited…
In Greenland, we had to change all our travel plans when our boat turned around and brought us back to the starting point due to the extremely high waves at our destination. We finally got there a day later and we were extremely lucky to get the very last available hotel room in town for the night.
We got stuck for an extra day in Iceland because our flight was canceled due to problems at Amsterdam airport. We ended up taking a flight to Brussels the next day. From there, I took a train to Amsterdam airport to pick up our car and bring it back home to Belgium.
It was 40°C in Europe that day and we were wearing our warm clothes and heavy hiking boots because we were coming back from Greenland where it was just 6°C… To make things worse, the train stopped in the middle of nowhere due to the heat and for a while, it looked like we would be stuck there…. Luckily, I was on the very last train of the day that eventually made it to Amsterdam… All the others after that got stranded…
Some Good Luck (& A Place I Never Thought I’d Visit)
Being stuck in Iceland for an extra day meant that I could catch up with a friend who lived there. As we were driving to his home for a BBQ, he turned off at the house of the President of Iceland and said ‘let’s go visit’.
Well, here is a place I never thought I’d visit… the house of a president… I guess these things are only possible in Iceland…
Anyway, the President was on his annual family vacation and we could indeed visit his house (and no, it’s normally not open to the public). It was incredible to see all the State Rooms and the souvenirs that have been brought by the foreign guests, including Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev…
More Good Luck
Croatia was high on our travel list for a while now, but we were reluctant to travel because of all the horror stories of how crazy busy it can get. But because we traveled in April, we actually had some of the most incredible places all to ourselves.
One such place that is otherwise overrun by tourists was Dubrovnik. Can you believe that we had the famous Dubrovnik city walls just for us!
Traveling off-season has its limitations (and we encountered plenty of them in Croatia in April), but it sure has its benefits as well…
LEARN MORE: Croatia Itinerary
Even More Good Luck
That feeling when you have one of the most-visited places in one of the most-visited cities in the world all to yourself…
We took a great Gaudi tour in Barcelona and it allowed us to visit one of Gaudi’s most famous buildings Casa Battlo before it opened to the public. It was just a couple of minutes, but wow, what a feeling and a privilege to be able to experience this.
LEARN MORE: Gaudi Tour in Barcelona
I have to say that the competition in this category was really tough this year. From the best curry and coconut donuts in Thailand to fresh fish in Croatia, reindeer meat in Greenland or lam in Iceland… to my favorite traditional dishes in Lithuania and tapas in Barcelona… The winner is – the incredible food of the Emilia Romagna region in Italy.
Nobody does food better than Italians. And if you want to taste some really good authentic Italian food, then there really is no better place than the Emilia Romagna region that is known as the place for the best food in Italy.
Every single meal at every restaurant is delicious. Even the most simple-looking pasta is absolutely divine. Add to that some of the best Italian wines and you’ll never want to leave your table…
Some of the best Italian food we had was at Casa Artusi – home of the father of the Italian kitchen, Pellegrino Artusi. We attended the best cooking class ever here and afterwards ate all the delicious pasta we made (and that was turned into a masterpiece by these wonderful ladies in the picture below).
It pays to do some research before your trips. We read about this special cafe close to Akureyri in Iceland in the Lonely Planet travel guide and decided to check it out.
Kaffi Kú is located above a cowshed, with tables set right above the cows. You can get a free shot of fresh milk and if you want to, you can pay a visit to the cows as well. (Which, of course, we did).
This has to be the most unique café ever! If your travels bring you to the Akureyri area in north Iceland, don’t miss this.
Best Christmas Market
There are so many amazing Christmas markets in Europe! This year, we visited two really nice Christmas markets – one in Brussels, Belgium and one in Vilnius, Lithuania. I want to highlight both of them because they are both well worth it.
Brussels Christmas Market is huge and it has everything you may wish for, including the most incredible music and light show on the beautiful buildings of the main town square.
Vilnius Christmas Market is much smaller and cozier and thus somehow feels more authentic. Vilnius also has the most incredible Christmas trees every year and this year was no exception. Just look at this ‘Chess Queen’ below.
LEARN MORE: Best Christmas Markets in Belgium
I started this overview with a sunrise, so let’s end it with a sunset…
Who doesn’t love sunsets, right? But when you can experience the most beautiful sunset at the most magical, fairytale-like location that you have all to yourself, it just doesn’t get much better than that.
Exploring the beautiful medieval San Marino castles at sunset was one of the most magical moments of the year for me. Simply WOW.
If you want to learn more about this tiny European country surrounded by Italy, make sure to read our guide to visiting San Marino.
LEARN MORE: San Marino
So, this is our travel year review – the best of travel 2019.
In the past, we have published similar round-ups filled with travel inspiration. Here you can read about our travel experiences of 2018, here – most memorable travel experiences of 2017, and here – the round-up post that started it all and was featured on the Lonely Planet travel blog – the best of travel 2016.
Hope that you enjoyed reading this and found some inspiration for your own trips. In that case, don’t forget to bookmark this post. Are you on Pinterest? Pin this image!