Amsterdam canals and bikes

Top Tips for Trips to Amsterdam

Amsterdam canals and bikes

Heading off to Amsterdam soon? Then make sure you don’t miss out by ticking off some of the attractions presented here.

 Get Arty

You just can’t come to Amsterdam and not go visit the Van Gogh Museum, here you’ll find not just paintings but also letters from the troubled master in what is the world’s largest collection of his work. Oh, and you’ll also find paintings by Monet, Gauguin and Pissarro…

The Rijksmuseum is home to famous works by Rembrandt and Vermeer. It also houses an amazing collection of prints, drawings and sculpture to help you piece together the last 500 years of Dutch life.

Modern art fans can spend a happy hour or two roaming around the Stedelijk Museum where they’ll also – as if there weren’t enough famous paintings in Amsterdam – come across Monet, Van Gogh Picasso and Chagall legacies.

 Shopping

Lovers of conceptual design and those who just like to show off MUST go to the Droog store in Amersterdam’s Staalstraat area. The company is so trendy it also has offices in New York.

The Nine Streets area (so called because it connects the famous canals) dates back to the 17th Century. Here you’ll find one-off designer boutiques, popular labels and vintage clothing. It’s also a great place to pick up gifts.

The two main shopping streets in the city centre are the Leidestraat where you’ll find designer labels aplenty, and the Kalverstraat for high street fashion.

Art and antiques lovers should head for the Spiegelkwartier where time will prove of no consequence to them.

 Getting Around

Well, let’s face it – you have to take a canal boat. And why not? It’s a very pleasant way to travel.

The Floating Dutchman is a cross between a bus and a boat. It first hit the water in July this year. The ‘bus’ departs from Schiphol Airport three times a day into Amsterdam city centre where it turns into a ‘boat’ and hits the canals for a 45 minute cruise. This is not to be missed!

Cycling is huge in Amsterdam and a very efficient method of getting around. There are bike rental shops everywhere in the city and the centre is dotted with cycle lanes. Look out for the tram rails though – it’s easy to get your wheels stuck in them.

 Accommodation

The range of hotels and B&Bs is vast from basic to luxury and everything in between. Of course it depends on your purpose too. Those combining a sightseeing with a working trip (and many do) would be best advised to book somewhere where they’ll find all the necessary facilities at their disposal.

If it’s luxury you’re looking for then get your driver to take you to the Seven One Seven canal house mansion. Be prepared to pay at least £350 a night per room for the pleasure though.

For basic accommodation the 17th century artisan’s cottage now a B&B called The Blue Sheep comes very highly rated.

 Amsterdam’s Night Life

The Red Light Area at the back of Dam Square is certainly worth a look – even if just to say you’ve been.

Amsterdam has a reputation as a party city and there’s nowhere more raucous than Rembrantplein. But if it’s beautiful people and VIPs you’re looking for then head to Jimmy Woo near Leidseplein.

Jazz lovers can chill out at the famous Café Casablanca – an Amsterdam post WW2 musical landmark while those who prefer the coffee shops (most of which are open until midnight) are dotted throughout the city and are open to adults only.

The above is only a taster of life in Amsterdam but we hope it’ll give you a head start to exploring this fantastic city.

Edingburgh's famous castle in the skyline

5 Fun Travel Facts about Edinburgh

Edingburgh's famous castle in the skyline

 

Edinburgh city is a fantastic place to visit for all ages. There is period architecture, plenty of history, guided tours, a Military Tattoo and of course a castle so, along with many other things to do, there are lots of fun travel facts about Edinburgh.

Here we’ve listed our top 5 fun travel facts about the 2nd most visited city in the United Kingdom:

 

1. The Edinburgh Dungeon

If you want to visit somewhere that offers fun, excitement and a bit of horrible scariness then the Edinburgh Dungeon is a great place to go. Visit in groups, as a family or on your own and you will experience a frightening fast drop ride, regular shows, a torture chamber and much more. A great day out for the family and wonderfully un-scary food to delight everybody in the Hard Rock Cafe.

The Edinburgh Dungeon is situated next to Waverley Station on Market Street. Online discounts are available when planning your day in advance.

 

 

2. The Edinburgh Experience

Situated in the City Observatory, the Edinburgh Experience showcases vibrant images of the city, has a 3D film of the city and its attractions – a multi-media show spectacular, and takes visitors on a journey through Edinburgh’s history from its origins. A fun way to take an hour two to explore history, architecture and experience the city from within the Observatory. Find the building next to Caltron Hill. Entrance is around £1.20

 

3. The Jelly Club

For families that prefer to have an afternoon or morning off sightseeing, The Jelly Club is a fabulously fun indoor activity centre which is great for those rainy days, or simply for the adults to take time out while the little ones wear themselves out.

A toy village, climbing wall and inflatable assault course – there’s nothing more the parents need after a busy sightseeing day than to relax with a coffee whilst the kids have fun and frolics in a safe environment. Find it on Peffermill Road.

 

4. Bus & Boat Tours

Explore Edinburghs historical streets and discover its majestic buildings and cobbled streets with a guided tour. Usually humorous and interesting, the tours will take you around the Royal Mile, through the new town and across to see the Forth Bridges.

Lasting from an hour to a half day, the tours are a great way to spend time learning about the historic city.

 

5. Fun and Free

Loads to do for free – save your pennies to spend in one of Edinburghs fantastic restaurants. Take a climb up to Arthurs seat (in Holyrood Park), visit the Museum of Childhood or go and find the sculpture of Greyfriars Bobby – sweet, and you can tell the kids his history and why he’s so famous.

Delicious fresh olives

Great Restaurants in Barcelona

Delicious fresh olivesBarcelona is recognised as one of the great food cities of the world. Mediterranean cuisine is famous the world over; and with good reason. Fresh ingredients served up tapas style is a tradition that has been leaked out and enjoyed by people the world over. When travelling abroad, it can be difficult to know where to dine out. Unless you’re familiar with an area, eating out is generally potluck (this is not necessarily a bad thing on holidays in Spain!). That’s why we’ve put together a simple guide to Barcelona’s top eateries.

Cal Pep

The reputation of Cal Pep reaches far beyond the city walls and you’ll see why if you’re lucky enough to eat here. Here you’ll fid an up-tempo, traditional tapas restaurant with a fun and fresh tapas menu to choose from. The fish is famously good, fresh from the market, and there is an extensive list of local wines. Remember to book. Cal Pep can be extremely busy, but if you don’t mind waiting you can queue for a seat at the bar and do tapas the traditional way.

Moo

Moo is one of Barcelona’s more contemporary restaurants located on the ground floor of the Omm Hotel. Head Chef Felip Llufriu applies a fresh approach to Spanish cuisine. Taking traditional recipes and adding a modern twist, Moo has become renowned as one of the better up-market restaurants. Prices are reasonable considering the luxurious décor and first class service. The extensive list of cocktails comes highly recommended.

Vinya Roel

For a traditional taste of Catalan cuisine, recommend Vinya Roel. The traditionally Mediterranean décor sets the perfect ambience to enjoy a diverse range of Spanish culinary excellence. Popular dishes include the liver stuffed cannelonis and the black rice fideus. Book early as the diary does tend to fill quickly.

El Quim

This family run restaurant is located on La Rambla and offers guests a traditional tapas dining experience. Take your seat at the bar and choose from the exciting tapas menu. For a more relaxed experience, tables are available, but we recommend a seat at the bar to chat to local regulars to find out more about the food. There is a great atmosphere at El Quim due to its location in the heart of the Boqueria market.

This is but a handful of the many excellent restaurants to be found in and around Barcelona. Sampling the food is one of a range of fantastic things to do in Barcelona If in doubt, talk to the locals and find out where’s good to eat. If you want to get the most out of Spanish cuisine, Barcelona is certainly the place to be.

Designer shops along a street in Lisbon, Portugal

Shopping In Lisbon

Designer shops along a street in Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon is famous for its fantastic shopping opportunities. The city centre is host to an array of different shops, from low-cost clothing options to vintage shops, but better known are Lisbon’s designer boutiques.  But begin your holiday first by finding a great Lisbon apartment.

The city is renowned for offering tourists streets of globally-recognised designer labels. Travellers can find this high-end shopping experience scattered throughout the city, but in particular Avenida Da Liberdade offers tourists Louis Vuitton, Dolce and Gabbana, Armani, Escada and Prada. Alternatively, Rua Garrett offers Hugo Boss and Hermes as well as many more.

Designer Ana Salazar

While this fantastic European city offers globally recognised designer labels, it also offers designer creations from traditional Portuguese designers such as Ana Salazar, who is one of Portugal’s leading designers creating elegant and stylish designs for both men and women. Salazar has three boutiques in Lisbon including a shop on Rua do Carmo that offers tourists the opportunity to purchase one of her famous original designs.

Other designer shops within the city’s centre can be found in Bairro Alto’s Rua Do Norte, this area of the city offers tourists high quality alternative pieces, for example Sneakers Delight offers an array of colourful sneakers which cannot be purchased in any other city. Lisbon has nothing to envy Milan when it comes to designer labels it seems.

Traditional shops

More impressive however are the traditional shops located around the city centre which offer unique and specialist items which you would not be able to find anywhere else. In particular Lisbon’s Chapelaria Azevedo Rua was founded over 120 years ago and continues to produce some of the finest manufactured hats. Tourists can personalise and treasure these classic items as they will quickly become an invest. Travellers can also enjoy purchasing a pair of gloves created by the established Luvaria Ulissess Company. Located on Rua do Carmo Luvaria Ulissess was founded in 1925 and remains a leading Portuguese glove designer.

There is no doubt that Lisbon is a shopper’s dream. The city centre hosts a variety of different shops, from globally-renowned designers to local, traditional companies offering quality products which cannot be found elsewhere. There are very few other cities in the world that compare favourably to Lisbon’s eclectic assortment of shops.

Cycling in cities

6 reasons to cycle in big cities

Cycling in cities

Cycling in big cities may seem at first glance to be intimidating due to the volume of traffic. The roads are packed full with motor vehicles all trying to squeeze past you. And who wants to suffocate in the exhaust fumes and noise while one could be leisurely cycling down a countryside lane admiring the scenery? Nevertheless, you’ll still find cyclists in city centres. Here’s why.

1. Slow traffic

Certainly, city centres are congested and because of that very fact, the high volume of traffic can only move slowly. As a cyclist, you’ll be able to overtake stationary vehicles easily and they will have plenty of time to see you and stop or slow down. Slow-moving vehicles are much less of a danger than a car squeezing past you at high speed down a narrow country lane. The speed limit of course is also much lower in build-up areas.

2. Park anywhere

Who hasn’t had a problem finding a parking space in town, especially for big SUVs vehicles? If you haven’t then it’s because you probably have deep enough pockets to go for the most expensive car parks. Most parking spaces in towns are not free and they are for a fixed duration only, meaning you have to watch time and rush back if necessary. Sometimes, you might even have to park far away and walk quite a distance simply because there is no parking nearby. For bicycles, there are plenty of stands provided all over the place to lock them. If there are no dedicated bicycle stands nearby against which to lock your bike, or if they are all taken, you can always lock it to a sturdy post. There are posts on every street, from a lamp post to a stop sign. Just find a place that is out of the way and will not get in pedestrians’ way. Where would you find these stands in countryside? Not that you really need them though!

3. Close destinations

Another good thing in the city is that you have good chances of finding a bike shop should you encounter a mechanical problem with your bike. And in London, you can always take your bike with you on the Tube on certain lines. It’s not just a bike shop you might want but any shop, whether you’re going for food shopping, clothes or just out and about in town. Cities are compact and you can do and find many things, whether going out for a drink, to the cinema and so on. As they are not far from each other, they are easily accessible by bike. And of course, you’ll be able to lock your bike just in front.

4. Commuting

This leads us to one of the most popular reason to cycle: beat the rush hour. Have you taken the metro in Paris at peak time? Have you tried to drive on the road? It’s rush hour there throughout the day. By jumping on a bike, you avoid the crushing crowd in the train, overcrowded platforms and delayed trains. The bike is your freedom to go where you want, when you want. You really have to try it to experience and enjoy that freedom. The slow traffic and availability of locking your bike anywhere are two more reasons why commuting by bicycle is so much better.

Oh, and did we say it’s free? Do you still want to pay the train companies for the privilege of being late?

5. Roads

Roads in towns and cities are usually better maintained and in better condition. You will rarely have flooding or deep pockets of muds across the tarmac and there are fewer potholes. The streets tend to be wider and have wide pavements on each side. Narrow streets are usually turned into one ways or have speed breakers placed to slow down vehicles.

At night, even though you are recommended to have a light, the street lighting is bright enough that you see everything clearly. And at that time, the lack of traffic makes it a real pleasure to slide down the tarmac smoothly on two wheels. You own the road then!

6. Lost your way?

This one-way system tends to make roads a maze to navigate through and if you don’t know the Bike traffic signarea, you can get lost easily or take a wrong turn and be unable to come back to your steps. The sheer number of roads, avenues, alleys, streets and boulevards just make it more complicated to find your way around, let alone the traffic lights and road markings that dictate you take the correct lane early on before you make a turn or go straight ahead.

Well, all this applies with motor vehicles. If you are on a bike and feel lost, confused or overwhelmed, just jump off your bike, go onto the pavement and turn around if you need to. You might still have the same difficulty finding your way but if you took the wrong turn or find yourself down a 1-way, it’s easy to come back. Wide pavements make you turn into a pedestrian at any time. Just be careful not to hit pedestrians with your pedals and handlebar!

Sometimes, you may not have a choice about cycling in the busy towns and cities. Rain, traffic, noise and pollution tend to make it unenjoyable compared to the tranquil scenery of rural areas. But there are always two sides to a coin so learn to appreciate what’s there. Paris and London have bikes for hire and they have already proved to be hugely popular.

Geographical London

The great city of London is often divided into the 4 cardinal points and each described, correctly or by assumption, in various ways. If you plan to visit London, it pays to know how Londoners describe their city.

East London

Historically known as the poor side of London, it is only barely changing nowadays, and much of that is due to the upcoming 2012 London Olympics which will take place in and around Stratford. In fact, the poverty of the area was one of the main factors for having the games there, the other being of course availability of space – this is provided by the previously neglected Lee Valley, now turned into a busy building site near completion where the stadium will be. Before the Olympic Games came to town, the only other prosperous area was part of Tower Hamlets, one of the most run-down area of London. This sounds contradictory but part of this borough is home to designers and artists, this is where Pete Doherty lives. If his drug habits are anything to go by, the rest of the borough is not much better!

The City of London is geographically on the east side. It is also known as the financial district and as its name describes, home to the head office of many high street banks, investment banks and other financial institutions such as Lloyds of London. This used to be the historical heart of London, where money changed hands, merchants prospered more often than not and business was made. The area is about 1 square mile in size but it is very compact and dense. The names of the streets themselves are historical, such as Threadneedle Street and just outside, Whitechapel Road where Jack the Ripper used to roam. St Paul’s Cathedral lies in the City of London and its roof, designed by Sir Christopher Wren in its modern form, is a feature of the rooftops of the city.

West London

Over to the other side, this is where the news are made. At the heart of West London is Westminster Parliament overlooked by this worldwide icon of London, the Big Ben. If you want to visit this area, the quickest way to reach it from the suburbs of London is by tube – get off at Westminster Station which is next to the Thames. Next to the Parliament building is Westminster Abbey. The abbey is over a thousand years old and is traditionally the venue where new royalty is crowned. The king is dead, long live the king! Sir Isaac Newton is buried there, with a globe on his tomb to symbolise his theory of gravity.

If money is made on the east side in the financial district, there is but a short distance for it to cover to get quickly spent on the west side, namely in the West End, the place where night never sets. This is because the place is crammed with theatres, night clubs, pubs and shops. It’s a hot spot for tourists and Oxford Street the mecca for shopaholics.

But the west is not all glimmer; parts of it are decaying as much as the east side. Further out west is Harrow, a place well-known for its multi-ethnicity and Indian food. It is rivalled in terms of ethnicity on the east side by the borough of Newham where the white British form in fact a small minority and the ethnic minorities are the majority. What contradictory terms.

Here flows a river

While the divide between east and west is not clear geographically, north and south of London are clearly separated by the largest river in the UK: the Thames. Famous bridges span this river such as Chelsea Bridge, London Bridge and Tower Bridge, another icon of London. Many hundred years ago, when the city was still weak and subject to attack from the mighty Vikings, the bridges were made of wood. The Vikings would tie their ships to the bridge and row furiously down river to bring the whole structure down. They didn’t earn their fearsome name for nothing!

North London

North London is neither rich nor poor yet houses both. The Islington area is now priced out for many people, this is where Tony Blair used to live before he became Prime Minister. The area around Hampstead Heath is a favourite among celebrities. Perhaps drugaddict George Micahel brings the area into disrepute but if you are a fan of his, you may find him there slumped at the wheel of a vehicle in the early hours of the morning. Camden town and its market is popular for its clothes and gothic shops. Beware the pickpockets operating on Sundays though.

South London

If you can forget about Lewisham and especially Brixton, a crime spot to rival America, then south of the river is a very pleasant place to be. The further west you travel, the brighter and more open it gets. As the east side of London used to be a port, it was crowded with people and buildings. The port eventually moved to Tilbury and factories moved up north where land was cheaper but the high density of buildings didn’t change much. Thus as you move from Greenwich and Lewisham, jumping over Elephant & Castle in the centre over to Streatham and then Wandsworth, Wimbledon and Richmond, streets open up and trees pop up either sides. Greenwich is famous for its observatory on top of the hill in the park of the same name. You will have an excellent view of London, canary Wharf and the Gerkin from there. Be sure to visit the observatory, it’s free. Down the hill is the Royal Maritime Museum, if you are into replicas of ships. And if you enjoy nature, Wimbledon Common, Richmond Park and its deers and of course Kew Gardens are all on the south side of the Thames.

Each quadrant of London cannot really be defined distinctively from its neighbours but Londoners living in their respective area love to set themselves apart from others – thus the north-south and the east-west divides. Now you can take part in that too.