ultimate travel experience


Europe Bucket List – My Top 20 Travel Experiences in Europe

Europe bucket list - best travel experiences in Europe

From hot air balloon rides to wine tasting trips, glass igloos to overwater bungalows, I’ve got 20 top travel experiences to add to your Europe bucket list.

The days of waiting for a special occasion to treat ourselves are long gone! We are all craving new experiences to make up for lost time, and if the last few years have taught us anything, it’s that life is for living! Thankfully low cost airfares have made it easier to travel within Europe, so I thought I would create a Europe bucket list to give you inspiration for your next trip overseas.


I have some luxury hotels, unique experiences, as well as some top class adventures that I think you will love! I hope it inspires you to travel overseas soon. And, if you are looking to travel further afield, this post might be of interest:

Read: 25 Bucket list holidays around the world



1. Stay in a Glass Igloo at Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort, Finland

Glass Igloo at Kakslauttanen with the Northern Lights.

A stay in the iconic glass igloos at Kakslauttanen Arctic is sure to tick more than one item off your Europe bucket list. Its location places you in a prime position for viewing the Aurora Borealis.

Although this natural phenomenon can never be guaranteed, the location of Kakslauttanen, 250km north of the Arctic Circle in Finland’s Lapland, means the odds are certainly in your favour.


The Glass Igloos offer a memorable opportunity to watch the magic come to life through the thermal glass. But if you’re staying for a few nights, I would recommend having a look at the Kelo-Glass Igloos which combine the cosy amenities of a log cabin, including private sauna and fireplace, with the spectacular glass roof above the bedroom.

The Glass Igloos at Kakslauttanen are on every Europe bucket list

The best time for viewing the northern lights is from September to March, and the winter months offer an array of exciting snow activities such as husky safari, cross country skiing, ice fishing and snowmobiling. A short stay in an igloo in Lapland is sure to leave you with a lifetime of memories.

Read: How to see the Northern Lights through your own glass igloo



How to get there:

Ryanair fly direct to Rovaneimi (Lapland) during the winter but it is a 246km (3 hour drive) to Kakslauttanen Resort. Alternatively you can fly via Helsinki to Ivalo Airport, which is 38km from the resort and can be reached either by taxi or car.

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2. Enjoy an Overwater Bungalow in Crete, Greece

overwater bungalows in Crete

The idyllic dream of an overwater bungalow is not confined to the Indian Ocean. Closer to home, I have a stunning resort in Greece offering overwater bungalows, some of which also boast an outdoor jacuzzi.

At Stella Island Luxury Resort & Spa, spend your days lounging on your hammock or luxury lounger, before diving directly into the pool from your deck to cool off.


This five-star adult only resort offers B&B, Half board, or All-Inclusive options, with a choice of five onsite restaurants. Aside from the accommodation, the spa is one of the main talking points at Stella Island, where there is no shortage of pampering options, including their must-do couples spa retreat which is the top choice for honeymoon couples.


If all this lazing around in paradise gets too much, the hotel can arrange a selection of activities on the island such as water sports, diving, horse riding and mountain biking. Although, I’d place a bet that once you check-in to Stella Island, you won’t want to leave.



How to get there:

Fly direct to Heraklion airport with TUI Holidays and book hotel separately. Alternatively fly to Chania Airport with Ryanair but transfer time will be longer. 

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3. Treat Yourself to The Retreat at Blue Lagoon, Iceland

The Retreat at the Blue Lagoon in Iceland is on my Europe bucket list

Iceland is probably already on your Europe bucket list, but if you want to make your trip even more memorable, have a look at including a couple of nights at The Retreat at Blue Lagoon. This exclusive suite hotel is nestled into the stark volcanic landscape and encircled by the mineral rich waters of Iceland’s famous Blue Lagoon.


During your stay you can gain unlimited access to the Retreat Spa, the Retreat Lagoon, the Blue Lagoon, and Blue Lagoon Ritual. Enjoy unique spa experiences such as an in-water massage, the steam cave, or beauty treatments using the Mineral-rich geothermal Blue Lagoon water.


The views through the large glass windows in each of the suites offers a dramatic scene of moss-covered lava fields, and the interior décor compliments the outside beautifully.

The time of year you visit will also determine the dramatically changing landscape, and who knows, if you’re lucky enough, you might even be treated to a display of the Northern Lights.

Read: Top things to do in Iceland



How to get there

Fly direct to Reykjavik airport. The Blue Lagoon Retreat is located 37km from the airport and can be reached either by taxi or car rental.

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4. Explore the Cinque Terre, Italy

Cinque Terre, Italy

Along the northwest coast of Italy lies the five towns that make up the extraordinary coastal area of Cinque Terre. Each of the five villages – Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Varnazza and Monterosso, dramatically hug the cliffs along this stunning stretch of the Italian coastline.


Access between the villages by car is not so easy, but it really is a walker’s paradise. There are over 120km of trails in the area, which is now a National Park and UNESCO World Heritage site, with many of the most popular routes averaging 4km.

Ideally spend three or four days discovering the charm and character of each village, and include a boat trip along the coast for the ultimate Europe bucket list moment.


The best time to visit is May and September as the temperatures are cooler and the villages are less busy than the peak summer months. No matter where you base yourself, you will be a stones throw from those stunning views, but you can’t get much closer than staying at La Casa Del Doganiere.

This a one-of-a-kind property almost hangs off the cliff edge in Monterosso village and has an excellent 9.7 rating on Booking.com.

How to get there:

Fly to Pisa Airport and take a train via Pisa Central Station. Journey time is approx. 1 ½ – 2 hours

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5. Stay in a cave in Santorini, Greece

a cave stay in Santorini is on every Europe bucket list

The popularity of Santorini was taken up a notch over the last year with the introduction of direct flights from Dublin. It’s not difficult to describe the perfect checklist for your Europe bucket list experience in Santorini.

It would generally include a room built into the caves which leads out to a private jacuzzi, where you can enjoy the stunning sunsets and Caldera views.


The Aliko Luxury Suites tick all these boxes and more. Aliko Suites have luxury written all over them, from the beautifully furnished domed area to the large private terrace with comfortable loungers. They also offer a pillow menu, bathrobe, slippers and a fully stocked mini bar.


If you can tear yourself away, the town of Fira is 2km from the hotel where you’ll find a great choice of Greek Taverns and bars. However, if you prefer a self catering option, I have some gorgeous Airbnbs in this post:

Read 10 amazing Airbnbs in Santorini – caves, windmills and private pools

How to get there:

Fly directly to Santorini with Aer Lingus or Ryanair and take taxi or transfer to your hotel.

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6. Enjoy a Spa Break in Budapest, Hungary

a spa break in Budapest is one of Europes best travel experiences

The famous Szechenyi Bath is the most visited attraction in Budapest. Set in City Park, Szechenyi Baths are the largest thermal baths in Europe.

The medicinal benefits of the mineral rich thermal waters include providing relief from arthritis and respiratory issues, in addition to soothing muscle aches and improving circulation. This is one of the best travel experiences in Europe for spa lovers.


As well as the large outdoor swimming pool and two thermal pools, Szechenyi also boasts a further 15 indoor pools with varying characteristics, temperatures, jets, and shape. Inside the huge palace building you will also find a maze of corridors leading to steam rooms, saunas, and massage rooms.

The Saturday night summer spa parties are hugely popular, with live music, laser shows and cocktails for the ultimate pool party.


Accommodation in Budapest is very reasonable, and it certainly won’t break the bank to treat yourself to a five-star stay. A super option is the elegantly designed Corinthia Budapest Hotel in the heart of the city.

The architecture of this impressive hotel dates back to 1800, and the grandeur continues through the suites, restaurants and Royal Spa.

How to get there:

Fly directly to Budapest with Aer Lingus or Ryanair and take taxi or transfer to your hotel.

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7. Take a Hot Air Balloon Ride in Cappadocia, Turkey

a hot air balloon ride over Cappadocia is one of the worlds best travel experiences

There’s a good chance you will recognise this unique scenery from Cappadocia, where the hot air balloons majestically float above the cave dwellings, rock formations and ‘fairy chimneys’. This historic region is located in the heart of Turkey, and the most popular town for tourists to stay when visiting the area is Göreme.


It is from here that you can take one of the famous hot air balloon rides at sunrise to get an aerial view of the spectacular landscape below. The memorable experience is finished off with a celebratory champagne breakfast.

This not only deserves a place on my Europe bucket list, but it is probably one of the world’s best travel experiences. Some of the other popular activities in the region include ATV Tours and Horseback riding.


The Goreme Open Air Museum on the edge of the town is a must see and is part of a vast area that has earned UNESCO World Heritage site status. A 20-minute, uphill walk from the centre of town you’ll find the museum which houses cave churches dating back to 10th and 11th century.

This is a fascinating destination, off the beaten track and easily combined on a two-centre holiday with the vibrant city of Istanbul. 


One of the most popular hotels is 4-star Doors of Cappadocia for location, character, and stunning views from the outdoor pool. It receives consistently excellent reviews on TripAdvisor. See lots more places to stay as well as the top things to do in Cappadocia and lots more information here:

Read: Top things to do in Cappadocia, Where to Stay – Cappadocia Travel Guide



How to get there:

Fly from Dublin via Istanbul with Turkish Airlines to Nevsehir Airport. Goreme can be reached by transfer in 45 minutes. Hot air balloon rides are available from €97.

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8. Party at Oktoberfest Munich, Germany

Oktoberfest in Munich, Europe travel experiences

Running over 2 weeks from the end of September annually, Oktoberfest has previously attracted over six million visitors from all over the world. Although the festival is cancelled for 2021, it is definitely one to add to the calendar for 2022.

What began as a festival to celebrate the marriage of Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese in 1810, has now developed in the largest beer festival in the world.


There are 14 main tents at Oktoberfest, with a capacity to fit between 5000 – 11000 people and each with a different characteristic ranging from the music, entertainment, culinary specialities, and family friendliness. The one common denominator however is the beer – an average of over 7 million litres is consumed each year!


If you need a break from the beer, there is plenty of activities to choose from. The fairground is packed with rides, stalls and performers, and weather permitting there is an open-air concert on the second Sunday of the festival.


The two properties I’ll mention, both within a 5-minute walk of Theresienwiese (the venue for Oktoberfest) are 3-star Bold Hotel München Zentrum, or an ideal option for a group travelling is 4-star Vier Zimmer which offers a beautiful four-bedroom apartment with terrace.

How to get there:

Fly direct to Munich with Lufthansa, Ryanair or Aer Lingus and get a taxi or transfer to your hotel.

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9. Drive the Amalfi Coast & Visit Capri, Italy

driving the Amalfi Coast is one of Europes best travel experiences

When we think of the world’s best road trips, we usually think of far flung destinations like California, Melbourne or South Africa. However, sometimes what we are looking for is right on our doorstep.

The Amalfi Coast is one of Europe’s most stunning coastlines. Each resort is nicer than the next and the views across the Bay of Naples are breathtaking.


Sorrento is the liveliest of the resorts, and also less expensive than some of its neighbours. However, for the ultimate bucket list holiday in Europe choose Positano or Ravello. And if budget is not a concern, stay in the Caruso Hotel, Ravello or the Il San Pietro de Positano. Alternatively combine it with a few days on the Isle of Capri. 

Read: The ultimate guide to the Amalfi Coast, and where to stay 

Read: The 10 best movies to showcase Italy



How to get there:

Fly direct to Naples with Ryanair or Aer Lingus. Transfer times vary depending on the resort you choose, but the Amalfi Coast is one of the world’s best scenic drives, so scratch one off your Europe bucket list and hire a car instead!

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10. Take the Orient Express from London to Venice

orient express bucket list holidays

The legendary Venice Simplon-Orient-Express is the most famous train journey in the world. Step back in time to the 1920’s and enjoy top quality dining and superb service in a unique setting.

London to Venice is the most iconic journey, and what better way to complete this Europe bucket list holiday than a stay at the famous Cipriani Hotel Venice, with a Gondola ride thrown in for good measure.

Read: The top things to do in Venice and where to stay

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11. Take a food tour in San Sebastian, Spain


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Spain offers many bucket list experiences, but one of my most memorable experiences was a food tour in the seaside city of San Sebastian. Not only is San Sebastian a gorgeous city in its own right, but it is the ultimate escape for food lovers.

Although home to 11 Michelin starred restaurants, it is the 200 Pintxos bars that get most of the attention.


Pintxos (pronounced ‘Pintoes’) are a tradition in San Sebastian – they are small bite size food portions, traditionally served with local wine or cider, or to put it another way – the Basque country’s version of tapas. In the old town there were dozens of Pintxos Bars to choose from.

We took a food tour with, Eskerne Falcon, from Discover San Sebastián. Her bubbly personality won us over, even before we tasted the food.  

Sebastian is chic and stylish, with a delightful old town, a fabulous beach, and amazing food – put it on your Europe bucket list!

Read: A short break in San Sebastian



How to get there:

Fly direct to Biarritz with Ryanair, or to Bilbao Aer Lingus. Transfer time from Biarritz is 40 minutes, Bilbao is approximately an hour. Car hire is ideal if you wish to explore Rioja and Bilbao, but be careful if flying into Biarritz and home from Bilbao as one-way drop off charges are excessive.

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12. See the Eiffel Tower from your hotel room in Paris, France

Eiffel Tower Room at Le Walt Hotel, Paris

With numerous daily flights and inexpensive airfares, Paris is one of those cities that you can fly off to at a moment’s notice! Take a cruise on the Seine, stroll around the pretty streets of Montmartre, and shop till you drop at Galeries Lafayette.

However, for the ultimate travel experience in Paris, why not book an Eiffel Tower room at Le Walt, or if money is no object, book a suite at the Shangri-La!

Read: My Paris travel guide, the top things to do in Paris and where to stay

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13. Get lost in Matera, Italy


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Matera is not only visually stunning, but it has a remarkable story too. Once the shame of Italy, it is now one of its most beautiful cities. I would highly recommend staying inside the old city or Sassi – it was one of my favourite travel experiences in Europe. We combined it with a stay in Puglia and it was the perfect combination.

Find out the best places to stay, how to get there and why I think it deserves a place on this Europe bucket list, in this post:

Read: A magical weekend in Matera – Italy’s best kept secret



14. Go Skiing in Austria


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One man’s pleasure is another man’s pain! While skiing might not be everyone’s idea of a bucket list experience, it surely is one of mine. I love skiing, I find it exhilarating. The sense of achievement when I ski from the top of a mountain is so rewarding.

Skiing is the only time when I completely switch off from everyday life – its quite difficult to check your emails from the top of a mountain…


There are many different ski resorts to choose from, but there is something magical about skiing in Austria. Most villages were once farming or market towns, so you won’t find purpose built ski resorts. Instead, you can expect picture postcard towns that are brimming with character and charm, with all the winter wonderland feels you would wish for. 

Read: Skiing in Soll – all you need to know and why you should go



15. Go Wine Tasting in Saint-Emilion, France

Saint-Emilion, France

When it comes to wine tasting in France, there are several trails to choose from. The Alsace and Loire Valley trails are probably the most famous, but the picturesque villages and charming Châteaux on the Bordeaux trail took my breath away.

We stayed near the UNESCO World Heritage village of Saint-Emilion many years ago and loved it. The home of Pomerol, Margaux, as well as countless lesser known vineyards, this region is a little piece of heaven.


For a Château experience the Château Hôtel Grand Barrail is surprisingly good value, but for the ultimate bucket list experience check out the Hôtel de Pavie. Located in the heart of the village, this old stone building is steeped in history and boasts a 2 Michelin-starred restaurant. This hotel high on my Europe bucket list and I can’t wait to stay there one day.



How to get there:

Fly direct to Bordeaux with Aer Lingus or Ryanair, or better still take the ferry so you can bring some wine back with you! Brittany Ferries sail from Rosslare and Cork to Cherbourg and Roscoff respectively, while Irish Ferries sail from Dublin to Cherbourg.

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16. Go island hopping in Croatia

Brac Island, Croatia

The entire western coastline of Croatia, stretching for 1,800km, is hugged by the Adriatic Sea and contains an impressive 1,246 islands. I love the walled city of Dubrovnik and it’s neighbouring towns, as well as the idyllic villages of Istria.

It is difficult to recommend just one place in Croatia so I think island hopping is the ultimate way to explore this captivating country. Find out my top recommendations on where to stay, and how to get there in this post:

Read: The best places to stay in Croatia, Dubrovnik, Central Croatia, Istria and the Islands 



17. Experience An Opera in Vienna

An opera in Vienna is one of my Europe bucket list experiences

It’s easy to see why Vienna is known as the city of music, with more famous composers calling the city home than any other. Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert, and Brahms, to name just a few, each lived and worked in Vienna.

There are three opera houses in the city including Vienna State Opera House, which is considered one of the best opera houses in the world.


The State Opera House offers a daily programme and regularly features popular performances including La Traviata, Tosca and the Marriage of Figaro. Tickets are available to purchase here.

Vienna, which was also the birthplace of the Waltz, is rich in culture and historic architecture. To experience it first-hand, I would suggest having a look at the stunning Grand Hotel Wien, just a few minutes stroll to the State Opera House, for a luxury stay in a beautiful setting.

How to get there:

Fly direct to Vienna with Aer Lingus or Ryanair and take a taxi or transfer to your hotel.

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18. Explore the Lisbon Coast


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Lisbon is one of Europe’s most beautiful cities, but the added bonus of having a gorgeous coastline on its doorstep, makes it deserve a place on my Europe bucket list.  Ride the trams, dine at Time Out Mercado da Ribeira – one of Europe’s best food markets, and wonder at the Torre de Belém.


However the beauty of a trip to Lisbon also lies with how much there is to do outside the city. The Lisbon coast is brimming with gorgeous beaches, picturesque towns such as Cascais, as well as the UNESCO World Heritage site of Sintra. We visited Lisbon and Cascais twice now and love it.

Read: Top 10 things to do in Lisbon

Read: Where to stay in Lisbon, my top 10 Lisbon hotels



19. Enjoy Adrenaline Experiences in Switzerland

adrenaline experiences in Switzerland

If the past year couple of years has left you craving extreme adventure and an adrenaline rush, Interlaken in Switzerland won’t leave you wanting. Combine the range of activities with one of the most naturally beautiful settings in Europe, and you’re onto a winner.


Interlaken is a traditional Swiss town located in a narrow valley between the sparkling waters of Lake Thun and Lake Brienz. The picturesque town is surrounded by mountains, glaciers, dense forest, and the lakes which lend themselves to a huge array of outdoor adrenaline inducing activities.


Get an aerial view of the surroundings on a Tandem Paragliding Experience or brave the thrilling zipline ride and suspension bridge at Grindelwald. There is also the opportunity for skydiving, canyoning, white water rafting, bungee jumping and canoeing – always with the backdrop of those breath-taking views. Details of many of these activities can be found here.


For a great value hotel, take a look at Hotel Brienzersee, located on the shores of Lake Brienz on the outskirts of Interlaken.

How to get there:

Fly to Zurich Airport with Aer Lingus. Interlaken can be reached by transfer, car or train in approx. 2 hours.

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20. Christmas market break in Germany

A Christmas market break should be on your Europe bucket list.

Pottering around wooden market stalls, listening to carol singing and sipping mulled wine in crisp December air – visiting Christmas markets is a great way to kick off the festive season and deserves a place on your Europe bucket list. 


Cologne and Strasbourg are two of the most popular cities for Christmas market breaks, however a visit to Berlin would enable you to take in the city’s highlights too. Or better still, chose Munich and explore the captivating Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria.

Read: Europe’s top 10 Christmas markets

Read: The best Christmas markets in Munich and where to stay


I hope you like my Europe bucket list and it will inspire you to get planning your next big trip! Let me know if there are any destinations that you think I should include, by commenting below.


Note facilities and activities are subject to change, please check with individual hotels and organisers for more details. Some of the links in this post contain affiliate links where I receive a small commission if a booking is made, but at no additional cost to you.



DestinationsLong HaulRest of the World

A Luxury Safari at Amakhala Game Reserve, South Africa – The Ultimate Travel Experience

amakhala lion jeep

A three night luxury safari at Amakhala Game Reserve – what a way to finish off our South African adventure! We stayed in a five star tent, saw countless animals and had the ultimate travel experience.

Nothing can compare to spending the night in a tented camp when you know there are wild animals wandering around outside. The excitement as you hear the sound of a tree rustling or the cry of an animal, as you scour the landscape hoping to spot one of the ‘Big 5’. Spending days in the African Savannah with no other cars, shops or electronic devices; a safari holiday is, to quote the cliché, ‘a travel experience’ and is world’s apart from everyday life.


I have always been a bit of an animal lover and twenty years ago I went on my first safari in South Africa. I loved it so much I booked a holiday to Tanzania the following year.

My ten year son, Luke, didn’t scrape it off the ground, he has been an animal fanatic since he was a toddler. In fact when Luke was a year old, he could name all the main farm animals, and this was before he could say ‘Mama’! I had annual passes for Dublin Zoo for seven years and we went constantly – we also visited Fota Wildlife Park, twice. Luke watches re-runs of Deadly 60, National Geographic and Planet Earth over and over and keeps pestering me to get a pet – something I still haven’t given in to yet. I did however strike a compromise and promised to bring him on safari in Africa once he was old enough. Sure enough his 10th birthday came around and he asked me when we were going!

We decided to book a holiday to South Africa so we could combine a city break with some beach time and of course, the all important safari experience. We flew into Cape Town and then drove the Garden Route to Amakhala Game Reserve. You can read my top tips on how to plan the perfect South African road trip here.

I chose Amakhala Game Reserve because I had heard it was particularly suitable if travelling with children. I also wanted somewhere that was malaria free, and where we were guaranteed to see lots of game through an authentic safari experience.

Amakhala is a massive 18,000 acre game reserve and has a wide variety of 3, 4 and 5 star accommodation, ranging from restored country houses to tented camps. We decided to treat ourselves as the safari was the main reason for our trip and we really wanted the wow factor. We were recommended Bush Lodge in Amakhala for a luxurious safari experience. 


After a leisurely 90-minute drive from Cape St Francis Resort, where we stayed for two nights, we arrived at Reed Valley Inn, Amakhala’s reception, which looked more like a colonial house than a safari lodge. We were immediately greeted by Penny, a friendly staff member who introduced the kids to the house pets as we were checking in.

She told us to leave the car at the house and she would take us to Bush lodge. We would not see our car again for three days – it was almost symbolic, we were venturing into the African bush and no longer needed modern accoutrements.


We arrived at the main lodge and I knew instantly we were going to love it here. The comfy leather couches and massive wooden dining table immediately caught my eye, as did the expansive outdoor viewing deck, that happened to overlook a watering hole.

I imagined us sitting around the large open firepit at night time, watching the animals at the watering hole and the stars in the night sky. The wow factor had kicked in already and we hadn’t even seen our tent yet.


There are eight tents at Bush Lodge, all located close to the main lodge and within minutes we were standing outside ours. The excitement was palpable. When I say a tent, this doesn’t adequately describe what we were staying in. We opened the door to see a massive room with a thatched roof, tented walls and a wooden floor. There was a king size bed, free standing bath, a fireplace, an outdoor shower, plunge pool and a separate bedroom for the kids – to say it was everything we had hoped for is an understatement. It was spectacular.

All of the Bush Lodge tents overlook a watering hole and it wasn’t long before our first visitor arrived. A giraffe walked majestically towards the watering hole and Luke was mesmerised. He was so excited and it is one of those proud parent moments, and once I will never forget.

It was a bit of a struggle, but we finally managed to tear ourselves away from our verandah and made it to dinner.


Dinner is served at the massive dining table in the main lodge, where all guests dine together. There was a great mix of people and nationalities staying at Amakhala, including an American family with kids similar ages to ours. Despite this, my two chatted incessantly to newlyweds from Wexford!

Traditionally people tend to book the safari at the end of their holiday and this was the case with most of the guests. We all enjoyed talking about where we stayed in South Africa and comparing the various stops along the Garden Route. Some of the guests had arrived the previous day so we listened intently to thrilling stories of animal sightings and hoped our first game drive the following day would be as exciting.


We enjoyed an à la carte dinner and there was a good mix of European style food, chicken, pasta etc, as well as local dishes. My husband tried the Kudu steak and it was delicious. There was no separate kids menu but each day after lunch we were shown the menu and if the kids didn’t like the choices available, they were offered alternative child friendly options.

After copious amounts of delicious South African red wine (at only 70 cent per glass!), we made our way to our tent and anxiously awaited our 6am wake up call, for our 6.30 game drive.

TOP TIP: Unlike many hotels, Amakhala encourage you to check in early. Try to arrive in time for lunch (all meals are included in the cost of your stay) and then you will be able to take the afternoon game drive.


I don’t think we were ever so happy to hear our alarm go off at 6am. We jumped out of bed, had a quick shower outside, (which was roasting by the way) and went straight to the lodge for coffee and croissants.

We met Melissa for the first time and she told us that she was going to be our ranger for our entire stay. We immediately warmed to her soft South African accent and overall pleasant manner.

We boarded a large Landrover Defender that was parked outside and off we went. I was surprised to see no other guests in our vehicle but this varies depending on the time of year, the maximum number of guests in a jeep is nine, although we never had any more than seven at any time.


It was quite cold when we set off, which we found strange considering it was 32 degrees at midday. Luckily there were warm blankets on the jeep so we were able to wrap these around us until the sun came up.

Within minutes we spotted giraffe, wart hogs and impala. In the midst of all of this, Melissa stopped the jeep when she spotted a giant African land snail in the middle of the path. She immediately moved it off the path out of harms way. It was wonderful to see her love of all animals straight away and her enthusiasm was infectious.


The sun started to rise in the sky when we spotted a tower of giraffe and a herd of zebra – two animals that are iconic to Africa, it was a good start! It was one of those ‘pinch-me’ moments as the giraffes stopped right beside the jeep and grazed over the tall trees. We could hear them clearly munching leaves, it was incredible.

Melissa explained to us how giraffes walk with two legs on the same side which is something I never noticed before, it is the opposite to cats and dogs and most animals. It was also fascinating to see how different the zebras stripes were, every zebra is has unique markings. It was facts like this which Melissa pointed out constantly, that kept us intrigued at every animal sighting. Reluctantly we had to move on, but on we went in search of more game.

We came across impala and many wart hogs before stopping for coffee, tea and muffins at a panoramic viewing point. It was only then I realised the true size of Amakhala game reserve. It has 18,000 acres, with a river running through it, and extremely diverse landscapes. In fact if it wasn’t for the water shortage in South Africa we could have opted for a river safari – something guests can experience on a three day visit.


After our three hour game drive we were warmly welcomed at Bush Lodge with hot towels and friendly faces. We went straight in for breakfast which was an amazing buffet display of fruits, breads and cereals as well as the option to order hot food à la carte, which we duly enjoyed!

breakfast at amakhala

After breakfast we enjoyed some chill time in our tent. Ideally we should have had a snooze but the excitement was too much and sleep just wasn’t going to happen. Instead the kids spent hours with their binoculars gazing at the watering hole, amidst the odd paddle in the plunge pool.

I decided to relax on a sun lounger and enjoy the views. I attempted a swim but water was freezing, I realised the reason it was called a plunge pool.

After an à la carte lunch we ventured out on our next game drive. We saw giraffes, various antelope and wart hogs before I heard Luke roar ‘Lion’! Melissa wasn’t sure at first but lo and behold there was a large male lion walking towards us in the distance. Melissa immediately drove towards it and much to our surprise she stopped right behind him.

lion at amakhala

I couldn’t believe how close we got, my daughter Alex (7) was actually a little scared and couldn’t understand why we were going so close, or following it for that matter! For the rest of us, it was thrilling. I thought Luke was going to combust he was so excited!

We spent about thirty minutes with this magnificent animal but had to move on eventually to allow other guests to see him. Amakhala have a strict policy that no more than three jeeps can be close to one of the ‘BIG 5, (lion, buffalo, rhino, leopard, elephant) at any time. As much as we didn’t want to leave him, I was happy with the reason why.


Just as we thought the day couldn’t get any better we spotted a massive herd of elephants, including a tiny baby elephant that was only a few weeks old. They crossed right in front of the jeep, it was an amazing end to our first day!

We arrived back at Bush Lodge to a delicious meal surrounded by equally enthusiastic guests. We recounted our day to each other, listening to exciting stories about the various game that was seen that day and showing off our impressive photographs.


Our second day of game drives was equally impressive. In the morning we saw two elusive rhino. Melissa reminded us of the serious problem that has arisen with poachers and that there was an anti-poaching team on site 24/7 watching their rhino. A scary reminder of the world we live in.

We also saw a cheetah, relaxing at the side of the road. It was bizarre, she almost looked comfortable with us watching her. She sat still for about twenty minutes, only moving her head slightly.

cheetah at amakhala

Our afternoon drive was another incredible experience. We saw a large male elephant walk towards a watering hole to take a bath in the blistering heat. He happened to be surrounded by a herd of buffalo and he spent ages enjoying the cool water. It was an another pinch-me moment. I felt like I was David Attenborough witnessing something extremely rare.

elephant taking a bath at amakhala

To complete the safari experience, Melissa took us to another magnificent viewing point and proceeded to take out some refreshments. I couldn’t help but notice she brought the red wine that we had enjoyed so much the night before. She also brought juice and crisps for the kids. Sundowners in the open plains, with wine, beef jerky and light snacks – what a perfect end to a perfect day!

sundowners at amakhala

We took another game drive on our last morning as our flight wasn’t leaving until the afternoon.  I would encourage anyone visiting to try to coordinate your check-in and departure times to allow for as many game drives as possible. We were so glad we took this final drive as we came across a group of lionesses playing together.

Melissa knew it was our last morning and that we hadn’t seen them. She really went out of her way to find them for us and was constantly on the radio with her colleagues to find out if they had been seen. Throughout our visit she was so attentive to Luke and Alex and I really felt that our experience mattered so much to her.


Like a dog with a bone, Melissa eventually found the pride of lions and once again drove up close to them. I had mixed emotions of fear and excitement. We watched closely, you could hear a pin drop, as one of the lionesses walked towards us while another used our jeep as cover when she spotted a wildebeest in the distance.

We thought she may go in for the kill but alas this didn’t happen. However, what did was another amazing experience. Three lionesses played together in the wild – it was magical. At one point the sun was behind them, it was straight out of a National Geographic magazine. We watched them for about a half hour but I could have watched them all day.


It is so difficult to describe the difference between seeing lions playing together in the wild and watching them in a closed environment, like a zoo or wildlife park. I suppose it’s like watching your favourite movie star on TV and then meeting him in the flesh – it’s a completely different experience.

It was only a matter of time before the other jeeps arrived to witness this incredible sight and unfortunately it was time for us to take our leave.

amakhala lion

We drove back to the lodge feeling we had witnessed something special, and it was not just the lionesses playing. Over three days we had followed a male lion, seen a massive elephant taking a long bath, watched as a cheetah looked majestically at us and enjoyed a tower of giraffe grazing at sunrise.

However, as great as all of these individual experiences were, it is not just these that made our three nights in Amakhala magical. The beauty was in the whole experience. The magnificent tent you sleep in and the noise from the animals outside, the wonder in seeing a giant African land snail or a female warthog staring at you as it protects its baby.

A few days in Amakhala was like being transcended to another world, we completely switched off from everyday life. We have been on many family holidays where typically I sunbathe and spend too much time on my phone, the kids go to to the swimming pool and Cormac, my husband, finds an umbrella to hide under and read his book.

On this holiday we spent our few days in Amakhala together, enjoying the same activities. There were no TV’s, no time for trawling through social media pages, no large swimming pool to lay beside. It was every bit as magical as we could have wished for and it has convinced me to bring the kids on more adventurous holidays in the future. Namibia watch out…

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Planning a trip to South Africa? Check out my video from our stay at Amakhala and all my posts from our South Africa adventures below.

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