Travelooney’s Best of 2020

Travelooney in Lisbon, Portugal / Photo:

It has been far from a normal year of travel for us all, and being a travel writer has been more challenging than ever. But despite lockdowns and severe travel restrictions almost everywhere, I have been lucky to be able to do some (safe) exploring in 2020 after all.

My partner and I had just completed a road/work trip through Portugal back in March right before the pandemic hit Europe hard and we got trapped in our apartment in Madrid. Later in the summer, I made it home to Denmark where I did some domestic exploration of my home country as well as a short day trip across the border to Germany.

Once I returned to Spain, we went on a couple of safe road trips north and east. So despite being in total lockdown for about two months in the spring, I really can’t complain.

With the restrictions in mind, this year’s Travelooney’s Best is heavily based on a few countries, but I did get to see some really exciting places this year, so you might get a few tips on where to travel once it’s easier and safer, hopefully in 2021.

Welcome to Travelooney’s random travel awards 2020…

Street art my Bordalo II in Lisbon, Portugal / Photo:

Most Impressive Street Art:
Fox by Bordalo II, Lisbon, Portugal

If you follow my blog, you will know that I’m a big fan of street art. I even have a section dedicated to it HERE. Whenever I visit or re-visit a city, I always try to make time for some street art hunting or even a guided street art tour. This year, my most impressive catch was without a doubt this awesome fox by the Portuguese artist Bordalo II, an artist known for his big-scale 3D-like murals made of scrap and recycled materials. This fox came to life in Lisbon in 2017 and what a piece it is!

Playa del Selencio in Asturias, Spain / Photo:

Most Stunning Beach:
Playa del Silencio, Asturias, Spain

I did get to visit a bunch of beaches this summer in Denmark, Portugal and Spain, and it was while exploring the coast of Asturias in Northern Spain, that I came across Playa de Silencio – The Beach of Silence. Although it was just a quick photo-stop with no time for diving in, I can definitely recommend this crescent-shaped beach, if you ever find yourself exploring Asturias.

The harbour of Stryhnø in Denmark / Photo:

Most Idyllic Spot:
Strynø, Denmark

The South Funen Archipelago in Denmark is an exciting yet peaceful place to go island-hopping in the Scandinavian summer. And while islands like Ærø and Langeland bring in most tourists, you will find more peace on a tiny island like Strynø. With just about 200 inhabitants, you will get a distinctly local feel here. Even the crossing from Langeland on the tiny ferry is an experience in itself. Enjoy a hike and don’t miss the visitor centre and its café near the harbour.

SEE ALSO: 15 things to do when you visit Ærø

Friedrichstadt in Germany / Photo:

Biggest Surprise:
Friedrichstadt, Germany

I continue to get surprised by destinations near my hometown in Denmark. Well, this one takes a few hours of driving to reach across the border in Germany, but I had never heard about Friedrichstadt before I got to visit on a day trip this summer. It’s a highly charming canal town that reminds me of the more famous Bruges in Belgium. Here, you can easily spend the day just strolling around or taking it all in from boat on the canals.

Colourful facades in Villajoyosa, Spain / Photo:

Most Colourful Town:
Villajoyosa, Spain

Despite re-visiting the Danish island of Ærø and several colourful towns of the northern coast of Spain, this one has to go to Villajoyosa in the Spanish province of Alicante. Set on Costa Blanca (The White Coast), it’s kind of ironic that Villajoyosa is such a burst of bright-coloured facades that line the town’s sandy beach at the Mediterranean Sea. A peaceful alternative between the provincial capital of Alicante and the mass-tourism-magnet of Benidorm. Also, it’s home to the famous chocolate factory of Valor.

SEE ALSO: 7 of the best things to do in Villajoyosa on Costa Blanca

The Pena Palace in Sintra, Portugal / Photo:

Best UNESCO Attraction:
Sintra, Portugal

I had high expectations when I went to visit Sintra in Portugal. Even so, I didn’t get disappointed. Among several historic attractions, the Pena Palace was a sight to remember. An eye-catching fairytale-like palace perched on a mountaintop high above the town’s heart. Despite being a major tourist-magnet, It’s a place not to miss. And it’s no wonder the entire town of Sintra as is protected by UNESCO.

Pastéis de Belém in Lisbon, Portugal / Photo:

Most Irresistible Bite:
Pastéis de Belém, Lisbon, Portugal

Let me be honest, I’m not the biggest fan of cakes and pastries as I’m more drawn to savoury things. That said, even I can’t resist the crispy and creamy Pastéis de Belém in Lisbon. These custard-filled little “pies” (also known as natas) are said to originate from the capital’s Belém neighbourhood (hence their name), and the original bakery draws long queues out on the street. Go for a seat inside, it’s worth it!

SEE ALSO: Take tram 28 to visit the cemetery cats in Lisbon

Sunset at Lakolk beach at Rømø in Denmark / Photo:

Most Memorable Sunset:
Rømø, Denmark

While Denmark stayed relatively clear of the pandemic’s restrictions over the summer, my partner and I managed to enjoy a three-day camping trip on the small island of Rømø. It’s one of three beautiful Watten Sea islands on the Danish west coast and the beach at Lakolk is so firm and wide that people can drive their cars out there. So did we, and we got to enjoy this incredible sunset one evening.

Downtown Oviedo in Asturias, Spain / Photo:

Best New City Discovery:
Oviedo, Asturias, Spain

I didn’t get to visit many big cities this year, but Ovideo in Northern Spain really caught my eye. Despite just staying for one night, I fell for this elegant yet cosy city that is full of atmospheric streets and squares, lush parks and plenty of public art. An exciting city to simply walk around. I definitely want to go back.

In Bocca Al Lupo in Altea, Spain / Photo:

Best Restaurant Experience:
In Bocca Al Lupo, Altea, Spain

On a day trip to Altea on Spain’s coast of Costa Blanca, my partner and I randomly ended up booking a table at In Bocca Al Lupo – “In the mouth of the wolf’. It’s a heaven for pizza-lovers who can indulge in unique flavours and enjoy a beautiful venue with stunning views to nearby mountains and to the sky through the retractable roof. Incredible yet very affordable.

The University of Coimbra in Portugal / Photo:

Best Historic Site:
University of Coimbra, Portugal

I hadn’t heard of Coimbra before I started researching our road trip through Central Portugal, and I’m certainly glad we included this vibrant university city. In fact, the university plays a big role in the city’s lively atmosphere and it’s literally the top attraction as it’s perched above the historic city centre. It is one of the oldest universities in the world in continuous operation and not surprisingly protected by UNESCO.

Streets of Óbidos in Portugal / Photo:

Best Old Town:
Óbidos, Portugal

The white-washed, blue and yellow trimmed town of Óbidos is a must when touring Central Portugal. A Medieval maze of cobbled streets with atmospheric bookshops, galleries and tempting souvenir shops. Among several old towns I got to visit this year, Óbidos takes the price as the most memorable.

Posada del Alba in Asturias, Spain / Photo:

Most Memorable Accommodation:
Posada del Alba, Asturias, Spain

For me, great accommodation is not about luxury but more about atmosphere and passion. I found both in the mountains of Asturias in Northern Spain this summer – far away from pandemic-restricted big cities at the time. Posada del Alba is oozing cosiness in peaceful surroundings that tempt guests to hike through mountainous woodlands and past fields with grazing cows. Pure bliss!

SEE ALSO: Unique Accommodation around Europe

Primero Café in Gijón, Spain / Photo:

Best Café Experience:
Primero Café, Gijón, Spain

I love to discover cool cafés and quality coffee when I travel and I came across a few nice cafés this year. But the winner has to be the aptly named Primero Café in the Asturian city of Gijón. Delicious coffee accompanied by a nice breakfast and a welcoming service. What’s not to like. Don’t miss it, if you find yourself visiting Gijón in the future.

SEE ALSO: 5 ways to enjoy Gijón on the coast of Asturias in Spain

El Palentino in Madrid, Spain / Photo:

Best Bar Experience:
El Palentino, Madrid, Spain

I just recently “discovered” this iconic corner bar in Madrid’s atmospheric Malasaña neighbourhood. I never got to experience its original interior or the bars legendary owner, but their homemade liquorice/mango-flavoured vermut (vermouth) blew me away and it’s now my favourite tipple in town! Don’t miss it, if you’re a liquorice lover like me.

SEE ALSO: More posts from Madrid

MS Helge at the harbour of Svendborg in Denmark / Photo:

Best Boat Trip:
MS Helge, Svendborg, Denmark

I like a good boat trip, and this year I didn’t have to go far for a nice little adventure on the seas. In fact, the historic MS Helge sets out from Svendborg on my Danish home island of Funen from where it takes passengers to several idyllic stops around the South Funen Archipelago like a mini island-hopping tour.I got to enjoy this trip with my beloved grandparents, which just made it even more memorable.

A break in Central Portugal / Photo:

Best Road Trip:
Central Portugal

I got to enjoy two major road trips this year and it’s difficult to choose a “winner”, but “forced to”, I go with Portugal. It was an adventurous and diverse trip that took my partner and me from Madrid to Lisbon and north through Central Portugal. On our way, we got to visit Sintra, Mafra, Óbidos, Peniche, Batalha, Tomar, Coimbra and Aveiro, before crossing the border to Spain near Chaves. What a ride and what a great mix of cities and natural scenery.

The now closed café La Ciudad Invisible in Madrid, Spain / Photo:

Most Heartbreaking Closure:
La Ciudad Invisible, Madrid, Spain

The pandemic has wreaked havoc on tons of projects and businesses across the world, and so is the case in Madrid where many beloved cafés, bars and restaurants have had to give up the fight. Unfortunately, one of those was one of my favourite spots in the city. La Ciudad Invisible was a lovely travel-themed and eco-friendly café run by passionate people. A truly heartbreaking closure.

Did you get to travel in 2020 – and if yes, what was your best memory?
Please share in the comments below…


By Brian Schæfer Dreyer