Travel tips to help you make the most of your European trips. Tips on the best things to see, places to stay and eat in European destinations.. The lowdown from locals and experienced European travellers to help you plan your travels.
On my most recent trip to London, I decided to look for some cheap theatre tickets. A lot of the lower priced tickets, starting at £10 for a midweek evening performance, were for shows which didn’t receive the greatest of reviews.
When I found a ticket for ‘War Horse‘, which gets rave reviews, priced at £17.50 for a restricted view seat on lastminute.com, I thought it was a good deal. I also thought it appropriate to see a show based on the First World War, as it’s the centenary of the beginning of WWI this year.
Although I’d read about the wonderful life size horse puppets, they were absolutely amazing. The ‘horses’ movements and behaviour, e.g. their ears pricking up and changing direction, their play fighting and breathing, was so realistic.
I did wonder what the view of the stage would be like from my cheap seat. I didn’t know my seat number until I picked up my ticket at the box office just before the performance. I was in the first row of seats in the balcony, with a a side view of the stage. The restricted view was because of the safety rail on the balcony. However, by leaning forward slightly, my view was uninterupted. You can pay up to £90 for a seat right in front of the stage.
So if you’re visiting London, go to see ‘War Horse’; it’s an outstanding show.
If you’re after a slightly more purse-friendly holiday this year, or simply just want something a little closer to home, there are loads of places you can go in the UK that certainly won’t disappoint when it comes to keeping the whole family happy.
If you’re looking specifically for great things to do with the kids without the 9 hour flight to Disney Land Florida, or without having to update the passports, we’ve handpicked some of our favourite family activities and adventures the UK has to offer.
Depending on what you class as a museum, there are over 2,500 museums in the UK alone. Therefore you’d not exactly spoilt for choice when it comes to choosing one that will keep your family entertained. From interactive discovery museums such as W5 in Belfast and Eureka! in Halifax, to more traditional and classic museums to inspire, such as the Museum of Childhood in London (pictured below), there’s something for all kids, no matter how big or small! Help your child channel their inner artist too, in one of the many art galleries across Britain.
If your family thrives off adrenaline and excitement, a theme park holiday, or at least a day dedicated to thrills and rides is sure to get their heart’s racing. Some of our favourites include Alton Towers in Staffordshire, LEGOLAND in Windsor, Thorpe Park in Surrey and Blackgang Chine on the Isle of Wight.
Zoos and Aquariums
The UK is great for animal lovers, with loads of different zoos, aquariums and safari parks to show your little ones some of the wonders of our animal world. Edinburgh Zoo is one of the best stops in Scotland as it is the largest wildlife attraction in the country. As for England, Chester Zoo and Twycross Zoo in Leicestershire are some of the best ones. For a completely different wildlife experience, The Magic of Life Butterfly House in Aberystwyth is a great choice.
If you want a beach whilst on your holiday, who said you had to travel far?! The UK is home to thousands of beaches, and whilst we can’t promise 40 degree heat, if you time it right you’ll definitely enjoy some sun and without the pain of a flight. The kids will no doubt love a few nights away in a lovely little bed and breakfast as you all head out with your buckets and spades. With companies like UK Breakaways, you can even opt for a hotel located right next to one of the beaches for a truly relaxing short break. Some of our favourite beach locations include Cornwall, Great Yarmouth and Dorset.
…and for something completely different
If your kids really love something completely different to what usual holidays consist of, amaze them at some of the attractions the UK has to offer that vary from the norm. From play centres to cave tours, wax work museums and roller rinks, adventure playgrounds (such as the Diana Memorial Playground in Kensington Gardens pictured below) and treasure hunts, you’re never far away from something to put a smile on their faces.
Most people feel that they don’t have enough paid holidays from work. The legal minimum paid holiday entitlement for full-time workers in the UK is 5.6 weeks, which is 28 days. So how do you make the most of that annual leave? Do you go for more short breaks or reserve it for a couple of longer trips?
Personally, I’m not keen on trips when I’ll be abroad for fewer than three nights. At least with this length of trip, I’ll be in my destination for longer than I’ll be travelling. Even for a UK short break, I prefer a minimum of two nights.
Although it gives you another night without using up annual leave, going away over bank holiday weekends is likely to be expensive. Some employers may insist that you take bank holidays off, which gives you less flexibility in your trip planning. One of our son’s employers ignores bank holidays, which suits him.
If your employer offers flexi-time you may be able to tag on an extra day to your time off. Even taking a half day off could mean that you don’t have to be in at work until lunchtime if you have a late inbound flight on your return.
Short trips abroad are more doable with direct flights. Whereas, if you have to leave enough time for flight connections, especially with the budget airlines who won’t put you on a later flight free of charge if your first flight is delayed, this eats into too much of your trip. The flight timings also impact a lot on short trips. For example, if you’re going to have to get up at 3am to catch an early morning flight, you might not feel like doing much when you arrive at your destination.
Frequent short breaks can be more expensive, as you’ll be paying more in transport costs.
Going to a long haul destination isn’t going to be so viable on a short break, as the flight will be longer and more expensive. If I went somewhere like Australia, I’d like to go for 3 or 4 weeks but then some employers aren’t keen to give you more than two consecutive weeks off work.
You may have the option to buy extra holiday time. Our other son can exchange up to three weeks pay for holiday. Last year, he took two weeks extra off work. However this year he reduced that to one week extra holiday, as he didn’t get a pay rise.
While one of the advantages of self employment means you have no restrictions on how much time you take off work, the disadvantage is that time off isn’t paid.
How to you approach trip planning? Do you prefer a lot of short breaks, fewer longer holidays or a mixture?
If you’re keen to travel more, then you need to find ways to save up the cash to pay for your trip(s). You’ll either need to spend less or earn more. If you can manage both, all the better. Below are my tips to help you save money for travel.
Set a Target
You need to have a financial target; whether you plan to take more frequent tips from our home base or a longer trip. Do some research on the cost of your proposed trip(s) to give you an idea of how much you’ll need to save.
Cut down on takeaways; buy ready-made meals to heat up at home or cook from scratch.
Have fewer drinks when you’re out. Have a glass of tap water between drinks, or make your drink last longer.
Shop around for the best deals; use price comparison sites to find the best deals for insurance, gas and electricity.
Shop more at discount supermarkets like Aldi and Lidl. I find that Home Bargains are great for cheap brand name food and household items.
Look at creative ways to save money such as getting to grips with DIY,. thereby saving money on tradesman, learning to sew.and hosting a swishing (clothes swapping) party.
Draw up a monthly budget to see how much you can afford to put into your travel find every month after covering your living expenses.
Get the Highest Rate of Interest on Your Savings
Open a savings account specifically for your travel fund. Set up a standing order from your current account for that monthly sum to be automatically transferred into the savings account. Find the savings account with the highest possible rate of interest. If your trip takes place in more than a year, you could get a guaranteed rate of interest in a fixed rate savings account. The highest rate I could find for on a one year fixed rate account was 2.0% from BM Savings. You can get some good rates of interest are in regular savings account; the Nationwide pay 2.5% if you deposit between £500- £1,000 a month. The Santander 123 Current Account pays 3% interest if your balance is between £3,000 – £20,000. There is a £2 a month fee but I more that cover this by cashback earned on household bills paid by direct debit. You need to stay in credit for this account to be worthwhile.
Use Your Cash ISA Allowance
In the current tax year you can put up to £5,760 in a tax-free Cash ISA. If you don’t have to pay tax on your savings, they will grow more quickly. Virgin Bank is offering 1.75% on their instant access Cash ISA. If you hold a main current account with the Nationwide, their Flexclusive ISA Issue 5 is paying 2%.
Save Up Credit Card Cashback
I get 3% cashback on my Aqua Rewards Credit Card on a spend of up to £3,330 per year and 1% cashbacl on my Barclaycard Mastercard. As long as you are buying things that you’d buy anyway and you pay back your credit card in full every month, it’s free money which can bolster your travel fund.
Increase Your Income
Take on a second job; not only will you earn more money but you’ll have less free time in which to spend your cash. You may be able to find a temporary job in a store in the run up to Christmas or find some bar work. You could also make money online by setting up a site or blog. Don’t think that you can just throw up a site, add some affiliate links and the money will pour in. Choose a topic in which you’re interested and knowledgeable. The advantage of this is that you fit in the work when it suits you from home.
It’s all to easy to get fed up with trying to spend less and save money and be tempted into a spending spree. You need to stay focused on your trip and how much your enjoy your travels.
With air travel sometimes being more of a hassle than a pleasure, the ‘Smarter Way to Travel’ game highlights the benefits of travelling by DFDS Seaways. The game emphasises that although ferry may not be the fastest way to travel, it’s out ahead on entertainment and relaxation per mile. There are four different European travel scenarios for playing; as family, solo traveller, couple or group.
I tried out the ‘Smarter Way to Travel’ for couples. I certainly agree that it’d be almost impossible to have a romantic meal on a plane. For a start, you can hardly move your arms to cut up your food with being in danger of either getting a bash from a passenger or a member of staff passing in the aisle or the passenger sitting next to you getting pretty narked as you elbow them for the umpteenth time.
One of the things that I like best about travelling by ferry is the ability to move around freely. I hate having to mainly stay in my seat for a few hours when flying. Weather permitting, you can go for a walk around the deck on a ferry to get some fresh air. I don’t like being a in a pressurised cabin for hours.
We don’t have any pets, but I can see that being able to take your pet on the ferry, which costs from £19 per crossing, would be an advantage. It would also save on kennel or cattery charges. You wouldn’t be worried about how well your pet was being cared for in your absence . Your pet would need to have an EU Pet Passport to travel on a ferry. It was quite funny that ferrets were specifically mentioned when I read the terms and conditions for pet travel. Do you know anyone who takes their ferret on holiday with them?
We did the DFDS Portsmouth to Le Havre crossing as a family with our sons when going on a holiday to a caravan park near Deauville in Normandy. We took the overnight crossing from Portsmouth paying for a four berth cabin, so that we could get some sleep. I doubt if I’d have slept at all on a reclining seat on the ferry. It cost approximately £60 extra for the cabin. That was around what we would’ve paid for a hotel for the night, but the advantage was that we were doing part of the journey while comfy in bed.
The big advantage of being able to take our own car was that we could take lots of luggage. Also, it was much cheaper to have own car compared to paying for car hire for our ten days in France. Our motor insurance covered us for trips of up to 30 days in Europe and European breakdown cover was included in our car insurance However, when we had a flat tyre on the drive back to the ferry, it was quicker for my husband to change it. than to wait for the breakdown patrol to arrive. The worst aspect was taking all our luggage out of the boot to reach the spare wheel.
As a travel writer and online publisher, I’ve visited a good number of European destinations, but there are still plenty left on my wish list. Here are five of places in Europe I’d love to visit.
I’ve been to Copenhagen, the Danish capital, and was struck by the warm, friendly and helpful locals. Aarhus is the second largest city in Denmark. I’d like to visit during the Aarhus Festuge (Festival), which has been running since 1965, in late August/early September. The festival theme for 2014 is ‘Same, but Different’.
My husband attended a conference on the French island of Corisca two decades ago and thought it was beautiful. The water in the photo below looks so clear and calm; ideal for not too proficient swimmers like me. It’d be lovely to take the Trinighellu (little train) from Ajaccio to Calvi; the route traverses the interior of the island as well as a coastal strip.
I’ve been to Sweden once, to Gothenburg on the west coast. I’d read a lot about Stockholm, as a former Europe a la Carte writer lived in the city. I’d probably visit in the Summer to make the most of the light nights. I’d take a ferry out to the Archipelago, which has 30,000 islands and islets, to watch the sunset.
The highlight of a trip to Budapest would be enjoying the Gellert Baths and Spa. The interior baths, which opened in 1918, are likened to a cathedral because of the Roman style columns.The outdoor pools were a later addition. I’d plan my visit to coincide with the Sziget Music Festival, which takes place in August on Old Buda island in the River Danube.
I’ve seen a lot of the Italian mainland including Bergamo, Venice, Trieste, Tuscany, Umbria, Le Marche and Puglia, but I’d love to see the island of Sicily. I’d take the cable car which goes part of the way up Mount Etna. I’d also visit Agrigento, on the island’s southern coast, originally known as Akragas, one of the best preserved Greek archaeological sites outside Greece.
The island of Vis, once the hideout of president Tito, only opened up to foreigners in 1989. It’s the Croatian island furthest from the mainland, reached by ferry from Split. The beaches, local seafood and wine are all said to be top-notch.
I’ve been to London several times since we published the ‘Best of Things to Do in London‘ on Europe a la Carte. Here are some more London tips, to help you plan your next trip.
Ride the Emirates Air Line Cable Car
I enjoyed my ride on the Emirates Air Line cable car from Royal Victoria Dock to North Greenwich.
Emirates Air Line cable car
Walk the Regent’s Canal from Mile End to Victoria Park
I walked along Regent’s Canal from Mile End to Victoria Park. There’s a beautiful lily pond outside the Ecology Centre and lots of sculpltures alongside the path.
Lily pond at Terraced Gardens by Regent’s Canal near Mile End
I spent most of my time in Brixton in Brixton Village, which has a mix of shops, stalls, cafes and restaurants. It was really hard to decide where to eat, but in the end I plumped for a Mexican restaurant.
As soon as you leave home you can run into problems when you need to pee. Whether that be lack of toilets e.g. in the countryside, not knowing where the toilets are in a strange city, or being stuck in a traffic jam. Even if you do manage to find a toilet, some can be distinctly unsavoury. The Shewee portable urination device can help with some of these issues, as it enables women to pee without removing clothes and standing up.
Shewee portable female urination device
I decided to buy the Shewee Extreme which comprises of a Shewee, an extension tube and a carry case. The downside is the case is too large to fit in a small handbag and would use up quite a bit of precious space if you travel light with only one carry-on bag.
The extension is advertised as being useful when you are wearing bulky outdoor clothing but I thought it would make it easier to direct urine into a container.
Shewee with extension
The first time I tried the Shewee to pee standing at the toilet, to my surprise, and relief, it worked fine. I then tried it with the extension tube in a bottle, which all went smoothly. The Shewee is constructed of water repellant material and you just need to shake it for it to dry.
If you need to pee when you’re in the countryside having a Shewee means that you can don’t have to exposure you bottom to hazards such as nettles when you crouch down. If you would rather not sit on the toilet seat, you can avoid hovering above the seat.
Have you used a Shewee, how did you find it?
I will receive a commission if you purchase a Shewee through the links in this post.
If Stirling Castle is closed or you don’t want to pay the entrance fee, you can still have a very interesting and scenic walk. You’ll find the steps down to Back Walk at the top left corner of the castle car park. Back Walk is the oldest publicly maintained road in Scotland, following the perimeter of the Old Town walls.
If you want to have a multi-destination trip in Europe, travelling by coach can be a flexible, comfortable and low cost option. I checked out some coach trips on the iDBUS site, which was launched in July 2012 as part of the French National Railway group of companies.
I priced a trip; London (UK) – Lille (France) - Brussels (Belgium) – Paris (France) – Lyon (France) – Turin (Italy) with iDBUS. The total cost for these journeys was under 150 Euro (around £130).
An iDBUS coach
If you want to change your plans, you can re-book your ticket upon payment of a £5 admin fee, as long as you do so 12 hours before your departure time and there is availability of seats on the route. If the ticket price is higher, you’ll need to pay the difference.
One big advantage is that the coaches offer free WiFi, so you can stay online without having to pay any roaming charges when travelling outside the UK. The coaches offer electrical sockets and an on-board toilet. Some routes have an overnight travel option, so that would save you money on accommodation.
Here are my tips for things to do in each of the stops on my itinerary.
Vieux Lillie, the old town, has a good selection of boutique and independent shops. The five sided Citadel de Lille was built as a fortress on the town walls. The former municipal 1920s Art Deco swimming pool building is now home of the Robaix-Lapiscine Museum. Lillie’s Palais de Beaux-Arts is considered to be one of the best museums in France with a vast collection of 19th century European paintings.
I’m a big fan of Brussels. I was there in December, when there was an impressive light show every evening in the Grand Place. Although I’m not much of an art buff, I really enjoyed the Magritte Museum with its surrealist pieces. Brussels has lots of Art Nouveau buildings including the Museum of Musical Instruments. The food in Brussels is really good; I had my first taste of Brazilian food there.
Grand Place in Brussels
Paris is one of my favourite European cities. Europe a la Carte Paris favourites include the Pere Lachasie Cemetery, the towers at Notre Dame, a walk around movie locations and some Paris museums including Musee Rodin and Musee d’Orsay. Our son made use of the Velib city bicycle hire when he visited; I’m a bit too chicken for that. It’s free to use a bike for the first 30 minutes. Don’t believe the nonsense about the Parisians being unfriendly and rude. I do try to speak some French (very badly) and usually receive a reply in English.
The Louvre in Paris
Lyon, in the south east of France, is the second largest city in France. It was an important city during the Roman Empire, as it was on one of the main routes to northern and western Europe. The Roman amphitheatre is pretty well preserved. Lyon was known as the “Capital of the Resistance” during WW2. The Museum of the Resistance relates the fight against the Nazi occupation.
Turin was the capital of Italy for four years between 1860 – 1864. Mole Antonelliana was built as a Jewish synagogue during this period. Since 2000 it’s been home to The National Museum of Cinema. The Shroud of Turin, claimed to have been used as Jesus’ burial cloth after his crucifixion, is stored in a climate controlled environment in the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist in Turin. You can see a replica in the Museum of the Shroud. However, you can occasionally see the original shroud; it was last on public display in 2010. If you want to spend some time outdoors, Parco del Valentino is located along the western bank of the River Po. It was Italy’s first public garden when it opened in 1856.
There are lots of possible itineraries to explore Europe by coach on the iDBUS network. Keep an eye out for iDBUS promotions; they recently ran a two for one ticket offer for passengers aged 55 and over.