Bored by Berlin? Tired of Tuscany ? Paris? We’ve all been there. If you’re serious about your European destinations, these are the places to head for…
1. Reykjavik, Iceland
Reykjavik may boast a remarkable history – it is the site of the world’s first parliament, thought to have been established in 930 AD – but the city today holds its past and future in even balance. Its modernism is striking, from the clean lines of its buildings to its experimental music scene to its status as one of the most environmentally conscious cities in the world.
Reykjavik’s compact size (it has only 120,000 inhabitants – positively titchy for a European capital) makes it ideal for a casual wander. If you want to get your bearings, start by taking a trip in the elevator to the top of Hallgrimskirkja, Iceland’s largest church, which resembles the helm of a Viking ship. Culture vultures should then flock to the cultural hub of Harpa, while nature lovers can opt for whale-watching at the harbour or hikes along the coastline. And whatever your predilections, a dip in one of the city’s famous hot pools makes for a perfect cap to a day of ambling. You won’t want to leave.
2. Gozo, Malta
The Maltese archipelago has more to offer than just the island from which it takes its name. A mere 25 minutes by ferry from Malta, tiny Gozo is a destination in its own right, boasting a distinct history, culture and character. The Maltese flock here to enjoy the verdant scenery, superior food and relaxed pace of life. And it isn’t just the locals that love it: none other than Brangelina chose it as their honeymoon destination.
Most roads in Gozo lead to the capital, Victoria, an attractive jumble of markets, restaurants, quaint British gardens and diverting museums. Its high point – quite literally – is the ancient fortified Cittadella, with its magnificent 360-degree view of the island. Spread out below you are the island’s chief sights: the scenic beach resort of Marsalforn, the world-famous Neolithic temples of Ggantija, and the legendary Calypso’s Cave, where Odysseus may or may not have taken a break during his travels. Believe us: come to Gozo, and you’ll want to stay for more than just a pit stop.
3. Riga, Latvia
The capital of Latvia and the largest city in the Baltic States, Riga is rich in history and heritage. The medieval wonders of the old town of Vecriga and its beautiful early-20th-century art nouveau districts to the north point to the city’s importance and prosperity over the centuries. But Riga is much more than a beautiful relic. The city is booming – its selection as the European Capital of Culture for 2014 attests to its meteoric rise in the last few decades – and the years of suffocating Soviet rule are rapidly becoming a distant memory.
The economic regeneration is matched by a burgeoning tourist trade and a vibrant (some would say riotous) nightlife, which often carries on until dawn; Riga is understandably popular with stag and hen parties at the weekends. If it all gets too much, then beyond the city lies the beautiful Baltic coast. The resort town of Jurmala is 30 minutes by train west of Riga and was once a popular retreat for the Russian royal family and Communist Party bigwigs. It still draws the crowds in summer with its outstanding natural beauty and excellent health spas.
4. Split, Croatia
Split is no longer a mere hop-off point on the way to the nearby destination islands of Brač, Hvar and Vis. Today the de facto capital of Dalmatia, built around a living Roman ruin, has everything you could want from a holiday and then some. A rash of new four- and five-star hotels, galleries filled with works by Ivan Meštrović, Croatia’s most celebrated sculptor, and the best bar crawl on the Adriatic coast – not to mention beach parties and a major music festival – all make for a perfect summer getaway.
But Split also provides a great year-round city break, not least due to the recent phenomenon of quality bistro openings. Venues such as Uje, NoStress and Bokeria form a part of this new culinary wave, making the best use of fresh, organic regional produce and the bounty of the Adriatic. And, unlike the more glamorous Dubrovnik, Split is also eminently affordable.
5. Copenhagen, Denmark and Malmö, Sweden
Copenhagen’s visitor appeal has exploded over the past few years, with people from all around the world flocking to Scandinavia’s most avant-garde city to enjoy its innovative restaurants, enviable bike culture and strong arts scene. The city exudes a fairytale charm through its royal palaces, Tivoli theme park and colourful historic buildings. Meanwhile, its much-hyped New Nordic restaurants continue to draw the foodies, with a whole host of internationally acclaimed chefs following in the footsteps of Noma’s René Redzepi in their quest to reinterpret traditional Scandinavian cooking.
Anyone who’s ever tuned into another successful local export, TV crime drama ‘The Bridge’, will know that a no less scintillating city awaits a half hour’s drive away. It happens to be in another country and across a sea, but Malmö – Sweden’s third-largest city – is worth the short trip via the Øresund Bridge. Its unusually cosmopolitan population includes some 15,000 university students, who give the city a vibrant energy. The place is particularly appealing during the summer, when its long sandy beach and beautiful parks really come into their own, and when its historic heart, centred around the lovely cobbled square of Lilla Torg, comes alive – especially at night.
6. Tbilisi, Georgia
Straddling the border between historical empires, Georgia’s capital is an alluring hybrid of architecture, customs and traditions, whose enduring anonymity on the tourism scene makes it all the more special for those who do visit.
Georgia may not technically be in Europe (though that doesn’t stop it from competing in Eurovision, as Australians are well aware) – but you wouldn’t know it from a stroll through Tbilisi’s Old Town, whose quaint Orthodox churches and dusty Art Deco edifices speak to the city’s Christian heritage and Western orientation. On its fringes, on-trend bars and cafés sprout like hairs in a hipster’s beard, drawing in the city’s burgeoning student population. Then you turn a corner, and another world intrudes: a Zoroastrian temple founded millennia ago by Persians, or a complex of sulphuric baths framed by minarets.
As Tbilisi sloughs off its Soviet veneer and reopens itself to the West, its cultural riches are once again becoming accessible to the adventurous traveller. There’s never been a better time to go.
7. Kraków, Poland
By now many of you will know Kraków, the former Polish capital and seat of learning with the pristine Old Town. Those on a return visit may have spent more time exploring the Jewish quarter of Kazimierz – its empty synagogues and crumbling cemeteries, where Spielberg filmed ‘Schindler’s List’. Few, though, will have made it across to Podgórze, the grey area immediately over the river. But on your next visit, make sure you go – for Podgórze is where the scene is heading.
At the foot of the crisscross cast-iron bridge stands the Drukarnia, perhaps the best bar in the city. Regular live jazz acts and DJs provide entertainment amid the lively banter. Nearby, Peruvian, Hawaiian and Indian coffees are purveyed at the bohemian Rekawka Café.
After doing the street-level stroll, you can observe this compact quarter from the comfort of the rooftop pool atop the Qubus spa and business hotel. Seven storeys high, with a quality restaurant, jazz club and piano bar, it’s the most impressive of its genre in Poland’s most dynamic and affluent city.
8. Costa Brava, Spain
This region is the apple of Catalonia’s eye, and not only because of its gorgeous beaches, its peaceful coves and fishing villages, or its festivals and trendy clubs. It’s the friendly locals, the beauty of the landscape and the cultural traditions – everything comes together to create a marvellous whole. And since you can’t really get to know an area without tasting its food and drinking its wine, the region’s restaurants are another big draw, serving feasts of fresh seafood, perfectly cooked meats and fantastic local vintages to diners sitting outdoors – or even inside a castle.
If somehow you’re still not convinced, perhaps some celebrity endorsements will do the trick. Salvador Dalí was greatly inspired by the views from his Cadaqués home (now a public museum), Ava Gardner and Frank Sinatra spent time in Tossa del Mar (she was filming, he was racing to her side in a fit of jealousy), and Truman Capote wrote part of his masterpiece ‘In Cold Blood’ while staying in Palamós. All this and more, a mere jaunt from Barcelona.
9. Stuttgart, Germany
Germany’s sixth-largest city is best known for being the home of the automobile. Porsche and Mercedes-Benz continue to be made there today, with both legendary marques offering factory tours and museums devoted to the history of their iconic jalopies over the years.
Yet there’s much more to discover here than merely a petrolhead’s paradise. The city is ringed by walkable hills, valleys, woodlands, lakes, acres of rolling parkland and vineyards – yep, there’s a rich and lustily celebrated ancient winemaking history here which can be enjoyed on the picturesque ‘Weinwanderweg’ wine-walking (staggering?) trail. And after all that walking (and indeed, wine-tasting) you’ll be relieved to discover you’re in one of the most mineral-rich areas in Europe, which means lots of healthy spas, springs and inviting natural pools throughout the area.
There’s no shortage of cultural pursuits here either – the State Gallery is duly magnificent, whilst the conveniently compact cultural quarter at Palace Square houses the New and Old Palaces, the Königsbau Arcade and the Museum of Art. Despite its low-key reputation, there’s enough to see and do here to get a feel for this likeable and friendly little city in the green – you’ll be enchanted by it.
10. Lisbon, Portugal
There’s always been an infinite number of reasons to visit Europe’s most westerly capital. Boasting word-class restaurants (which excel in seafood), a reputation for style and a long artistic pedigree, Portugal’s first city continues to draw in punters with its cultural and culinary charms. But as of 2015 there are infinite plus one reasons, thanks to a new gastronomic venture spearheaded by Time Out – if we do say so ourselves.
Mercado da Ribeira has had many guises: its roots can be traced back to the 13th century, and it was once one of the most famous fish markets in Europe. Many of its traders have been selling fruit, vegetables, meat, fish and flowers there for decades. When we learned that the city council was seeking bids for the chance to manage a large part of the iconic attraction, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity.
Talk about a revival. Ireland has completely turned its fortunes around, with its economy the fastest-growing in the EU in 2015. Dublin is a city on its uppers, buzzing along in a permanent state of celebration – and this year there is a lot to celebrate, with €22m to blow on the party of the century in March 2016 for the centenary of the Irish Republic.
‘It’s a sure sign that things are back on track when there are people in the pubs mid-week again (it went a bit tumbleweedy for a while),’ say Deputy Chief Sub-Editor Grainne McBride. ‘Dublin has reinvented itself as a youthful tech hub, with all the blue-sky, San Francisco-esque creative thinking that Google and the gang have brought to town, and the food scene is more exciting than ever. And the lovely town of Galway chalked down its second Michelin-starred restaurant in September, making the West Coast a serious rival to the East in terms of foodie credentials.’
The whole country has been working on that traditional Irish welcome, and making it easier for travellers to explore. First, by train. Glorious, old-fashioned, tartan-and-polished-wood train: Ireland is getting its very own Orient-Express. The new Belmond Grand Hibernian makes its inaugural journey this August, a grand tour of Ireland in five-star style, complete with an observation car for the best views of the rolling landscapes.
For road-trippers, the Wild Atlantic Way opened last year – all 2,500km of it, more country lane than highway, meandering down the West Coast from Derry to Kinsale, with the most dramatic rocky coastline dropping away to one side; and, cropping up all along it, photo-opp stop-offs at its most instagrammable points, such as Skellig Michael in County Kerry – call it ‘the Kingdom of Kerry’, which has just played a starring role in the new Star Wars film and in The Lobster, and has a new 216km-long cycle route opening in 2016. Not to be outdone, the eastern regions have gathered together their most captivating experiences and created Ireland’s Ancient East, a journey through 5,000 years of rich history; while in Northern Ireland 2016 is the year of food and drink.
Among the new places to stay en route, apart from the country’s most romantic castles, we’re looking forward to stargazing from a four-poster bed in a bubble-like forest dome at Finn Lough Resort in Enniskillen, also opening in 2016.
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This tiny little jewel of an island is the chilled-out alternative to a beach holiday on Palawan or one of the Philippines’ bigger islands – but it’s also got a great barefoot-dancing-in-the-sand nightlife. For better or worse, Boracay got its own airport this year, which means it is quicker and easier to get to – but it won’t remain our secret for much longer.
White Beach is the big tourist draw – and it is quite sensational, those 4km of gorgeous, blindingly white sand; and Punta Bunga Beach and Puka Shell Beach, next to five-star Shangri-La’s Boracay Resort & Spa, are both beautiful. Hot for 2016 is Aqua Boracay by Yoo, a brand new design hotel by Philippe Starck and John Hitchcox, set on Bulabog Beach on the island’s north coast, where kitesurfers zip up and down offshore.
‘Surfers have been hanging out on Bulabog Beach, drinking coconut-water cocktails in bamboo shacks, for years,’ says Hazel Lubbock, online deputy editor. ‘And where the surfers go, the rest of us follow – now staying in the white-washed comfort of the striking new Aqua Boracay by Yoo. The island’s new airport means that, from Manila, you can be catching waves on Bulabog in less than an hour.’
Traveling by train around Europe, visiting the Continent’s greatest cities and most charming towns, can be the adventure of a lifetime — and using a rail pass is one of the most affordable ways to make the adventure happen. But how can you get the most out of your rail pass? Read on for our top tips on traveling around Europe by train.
For help deciding which pass to choose, check out our stories on Eurail passes and European country rail passes.
1. Shop around before you purchase your rail pass. Many agents offer discounts and specials on Europe rail passes; check our train deals for the latest special offers.
2. Plan your itinerary carefully before you purchase your pass. Flexipass holders may save money and travel days by purchasing separate tickets for shorter trips. For example, say you’ve purchased a Eurail Italy Pass, valid for seven days of travel in a two-month period. At $374 for a second-class pass, your average cost per travel day is about $53. Instead of wasting a travel day for a trip from Florence to Pisa — which costs just $12 each way — you can buy an individual ticket for that trip and save the travel day on your rail pass for a night train or longer journey.
3. You will need to validate your rail pass at a railway ticket office before you use it for the first time. (Be sure you arrive early enough before your train’s departure time to stand in line for this service.)
4. Be aware that your rail pass will allow you to board any train, but it does not guarantee you a seat, couchette or sleeper berth. In addition, high-speed trains may require a supplement. If you are not sure, check with the ticket agent before you board the train.
5. Eurail Flexi Pass holders must enter that day’s travel date in ink before boarding the train. For an overnight train departing after 7 p.m. and arriving at 4 a.m. or later, enter the next day’s date; you will only have to use one of your travel days. However, if you change trains during your overnight journey, or if your train arrives before 4 a.m., you must use two days.
6. You may be required to give your passport and rail pass to the conductor when boarding a night train. He or she will take care of dealing with customs officials for you as you pass through each country on your route.
7. Be aware of your route before you travel. If you are traveling through a country that is not listed on your rail pass, you will have to pay the full fare for that portion of the trip. You may purchase this in advance to avoid a fine; simply tell the ticket agent your destination and he or she will issue you a ticket to cover the journey.
8. Safeguard your rail pass; it is not replaceable if stolen. However, you may be entitled to a refund if you purchase pass insurance (such as Rail Europe’s Rail Protection Plan). Rail pass insurance will not replace your pass while traveling; it only entitles you to a refund for the unused portion (or the cost of a replacement, if less) after you return. If you lose your pass, contact the local police immediately. You will be required to submit a copy of the police report with your lost pass claim.
9. Be sure to read the inside of your ticket jacket for important information regarding reservations, services and bonuses. Some rail passes entitle you to free museum admission, reduced ferry fares or other perks around Europe.
10. Make reservations for sleepers or couchettes in advance. This can be done at the train station and in most travel agencies. Sleepers should be reserved as far in advance as possible, as they tend to fill up quickly. Couchettes can generally be booked the day of travel. You may have to pay an additional fee for a couchette or a sleeper.
11. If you’re planning to travel on a Friday night you may need to make a reservation, as many people will be making weekend trips and the trains fill up quickly. Get to the station early and check with the ticket agent before you board.
12. Don’t leave luggage unguarded on the train or in the station.
13. On night trains, secure baggage to the rack with a small bicycle lock.
14. Keep your valuables in a concealed money belt when sleeping on trains.
15. Many train stations have secure lockers or “left luggage” counters where you can deposit your luggage for the day for a small fee. Carry change in the currency of the country you are in, as most lockers do not accept bills.
16. Earplugs can be purchased at any pharmacy and will be invaluable in helping you get a good night’s sleep on an overnight train.
Best Vantage on Vintage France
With vineyards first planted by ancient Romans, the Côte d’Or—the most revered winemaking area in Burgundy (Bourgogne)—draws wine pilgrims from around the globe. Natives here insist there’s no place in France with wine traditions more deeply rooted, more consciously cherished. They have something else to be proud of: In July 2015, UNESCO inscribed the region on its World Heritage List. Plans for a new wine center, the Cité des Vins de Bourgogne, will further celebrate this hallowed terroir.
A far cry from Bordeaux’s flat landscape, historically dominated by aristocratic families, the fabled chalk slopes of the Côte d’Or form a snaking ribbon of land in some places no more than a third of a mile wide. This labyrinthine wine terrain about three hours’ drive southeast of Paris is owned by hundreds of farmers, many of them descendants of peasant families and some with just three rows of vines in a field the size of a bowling alley.
Rent a bicycle to taste your way along the Route des Grands Crus, which includes oenophile-magnet vineyards in Puligny-Montrachet. At neighborhood haunt La Grilladine, in the medieval town of Beaune, pair the beef bourguignonne with one of the local vieilles vignes (wine from old vines). End the day at Hôtel Le Cep, in Beaune’s historic heart. Third-generation family owner Jean-Claude Bernard sets the tone, worldly yet down-to-earth. Which is to say, Burgundian to the core. —Liz Beatty
When to Go: July for the Beaune International Festival of Baroque Opera; October and November for harvest festivals and fall foliage
How to Get Around: From Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG) airport, take a direct TGV high-speed train to Dijon or to Beaune (summer only). From Dijon, you can take a walk lasting several days (depending on the amount of wine consumed) or rent a car to follow the 37-mile Route des Grands Crus south to Santenay. In Beaune, the better option is renting a bike (March through November) to pedal the Voie des Vignes (Vineyard Way) vélo (bike) route to Santenay.
Where to Stay: After touring the vineyards, relax by the heated outdoor pool or in the sauna at Le Clos de la Challangette in Beaune. The unconventional property has two guesthouses with five rooms, two apartments, and two replica wooden Gypsy caravans with curved ceilings, a bedroom, and a bathroom.
What to Eat or Drink: In Gevrey-Chambertin, world-famous for its Grand Cru vineyards, stop for lunch or dinner at cozy Bistrot Lucien in the hotel La Rôtisserie du Chambertin. Pair an earthy village Pinot Noir with a traditional dish such as the jambon persillé (ham, parsley, and jelly) terrine, snails, or beef bourguignonne.
What to Buy: Fromagerie Gaugry in Brochon is one of the only dairies still producing authentic raw milk Époisses cheese. The washed-rind soft cheese originated in Burgundy in the 16th century and is available to sample and buy in the dairy’s shop. Other Gaugry cheeses are sold in the shop, along with regional products such as Dijon mustard and gingerbread. While at the dairy, watch the cheesemakers at work. Closed Sundays.
What to Watch Before You Go: The award-winning documentary A Year in Burgundy (Kino Lorber films, 2013) is a season-by-season look at the lives of seven Burgundian winemaking families.
Cultural Tip: Basic French dining etiquette includes keeping both wrists on the table, speaking softly in restaurants, and not taking a second helping from the cheese platter.
Fun Fact: The iconic U.S. car brand Chevrolet has roots in the Côte d’Or. Louis Joseph Chevrolet, the race-car driver who designed the first Chevrolet for General Motors, moved to Beaune as a child. During his teen years in Burgundy, he worked as a wine-cellar guide, and built, sold, repaired, and raced bicycles.
So you’ve chosen your hotel. You’ve made sure it has all the practical amenities you require; it’s in the ideal location; it has ambience and flair at just the right price. And you’ve done your homework — surfed the Web for the best rates, maybe gotten an online discount or a weekend special, even picked up the phone and called the hotel yourself to make sure it offers what you need.
Now, you may think you’re done, but there is one final step that is essential in ensuring that your stay is a pleasant one: you must get the best room in the joint.
Nothing is foolproof, but here are a few tips for landing the best available hotel room on your next trip.
Plan Ahead, Arrive Prepared
There are ways to get upgrades and preferential treatment at a hotel just for being you. Join the hotel’s rewards program and get credit for each of your stays; this is an easy way to earn upgrades, discounts and even free nights. You can also get these types of perks through your airline’s mileage program, so ask which hotels participate.
Join a travel club for discounts, and seek out deals that could help you afford a better room than you might ordinarily choose. Try the Entertainment Book, which comes with a card that can save you money not only on hotels but also on dining, airfare and other travel-related benefits. AAA membership is also good for hotel discounts. And don’t forget to check out our discount hotel deals for discounts on accommodations around the world. Save a few pennies on the front end and use the savings to upgrade yourself to a better room!
Do your research. Sites like TripAdvisor offer honest hotel reviews from real travelers, many of whom include details on what their individual rooms were like. Read travel guides, scan ads in newspapers and magazines, join frequent anything clubs, talk to anyone who has been where you are going and keep notes about everything you find out.
You should also visit the hotel’s Web site before you go. Often there will be photo galleries or even floor plans that will give you an idea of what the rooms look like and which ones might suit you best. Hotel Web sites also will occasionally have upgrade or discount coupons that you can print out and take along. Consider checking out Room77.com, a site that searches hundreds of others to find the best deal on a hotel room. You can specify preferences in the search, such as value, noise level, size or view. On certain properties, Room77.com even offers detailed floor plans, virtual views from the rooms and interior photos.
Hotel Room Views: Do They Really Matter?
When staying at a resort that has multiple buildings, you may want to ask the resort to e-mail or fax you a plan of the property. Google Earth can give you the lay of the land, even revealing how close the buildings really are to the beach — or the highway. Then give the property a call to describe what you are looking for (best view, proximity to beach, etc.) and ask for their recommendation as to the room or suite that will best meet your interests. While discussing the options, you can refer to the property plan and the Google Earth map to determine whether to take their recommendations or select another option of your own.
You may also want to obtain and bring along with you a brochure or a print-out from the hotel Web site when you go to check in. If you don’t get a satisfactory room, explain that you expected the type of room represented in the photo/description when you made your reservation (or at least something similar).
Remember to be realistic in your expectations. If you’re traveling to a chain motel where most of the rooms are pretty much the same size and configuration, there may not be much of an upgrade available — though there may be a better view on one side of the building or the other. And keep in mind that availability may be limited if you’re visiting at a busy time of year when the hotel is sold out, or if you’re staying at a bed and breakfast where rooms are booked on an individual basis. However, it never hurts to ask!
How to Get the Best Hotel Rate
At the Front Desk
Presumably, at this point you’re prepared. You know what type of room you want, and you’ve presented your frequent stay card and your free upgrade coupon. Even so, make it painstakingly clear what you expect. Be firm but polite when making your requests; employees will be much more willing to help you, even bend over backwards for you, if you treat them kindly.
Consider the noise factor; look out for the locations of restaurants, parking lots and pools. Upper floors are generally quieter. You should also ask which side of the building has better views, particularly if you’re facing the beach, mountains or a city skyline.
Tell the front desk that you want to see the room prior to checking in, and before moving your luggage. Be sure to address any concerns immediately before you get settled in.
Also, if it’s any kind of a special occasion and you haven’t mentioned it, this is the time to do so. Don’t feel foolish telling them it’s your anniversary, birthday, baptism — whatever!
What Not to Do at Your Hotel
Traveling with Kids?
When traveling with children, make sure to select hotels that offer amenities for them such as play areas, nearby parks, pools and (most importantly) free meals. And for longer stays, you may want to consider booking a room with a kitchenette — it will make your life easier and can save you money, even if you just use it for snacks or reheating leftovers.
A lot of hotels have suites for just a few dollars more. Think about that if you are traveling with several people, as most hotels offer suites with two full beds and a fold-out sofa. Another alternative to paying full price for two adjoining rooms would be to ask about a “junior room.” These are smaller rooms that are usually priced much less. This is a great idea if you are traveling with older children.