Great travel apps to help you plan your holiday

Here are three lesser-known apps that will help you plan your next trip, from finding the cheapest and fastest transport and organising your suitcase, to communicating in different languages.

Packpoint – Your packing assistant
If you always realise that you forgot your pyjamas or toothbrush when you arrive at the destination, this app will help you remember everything you need to take.

There are various apps to help with packing for your holiday, but we chose this one because of its multiple options. PackPoint is like your butler: you indicate whether you are male or female, where you are going, days of stay, whether it is a business or pleasure trip, and what activities you want, and the app gives you a listing of things to pack.

Once the list of luggage is created and organised, you can share it with family, friends or colleagues so that they can also help.

PackPoint is available for download for free for both iPhone and Android devices through the official stores.

Duolingo – Quickly learn the basics of a new language
There are many reasons why Duolingo is one of the most widely-used applications for learning languages. Duolingo is 100% free, well-designed, with no extra charges, no subscriptions, no commercials, and offers a high-quality education at no cost.

Each lesson includes different exercises for speaking, listening, and translating, and feels like you are playing, which makes learning fun. The application divides the languages into different themes, from food to business, so you can practice the type of language you need most. You can also choose to improve grammar using the adverbs and pronouns option.

The method is based on developing a knowledge tree in which the user goes from one challenge to the next. This app has won thousands of fans because the strategy used for learning is not memorising but practice. This makes it easier to learn a language.

In addition, this application adds a social component which can help you compete with your friends to see who advances more.

Duolingo works for both Apple iOS and Android and you can also use it from your computer.

Currently, you can learn English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Dutch, Irish, Danish, Swedish, Russian, Esperanto, Polish and Turkish, and can also learn pronunciation. This makes Duolingo a great app to get a basic grasp of a new language quickly if you are travelling to a foreign country.

Duolingo is available for download for free for both iPhone and Android devices through the official stores.

GoEuro – Easily find the cheapest and fastest means to travel in Europe
Traveling Europe from end to end, either by train, bus, or plane, is quite possible but not always easy to figure out.

GoEuro is an app that helps you travel in Europe in the fastest and cheapest way, not only from the airport to the city and back, but also to cities and towns that can only be reached by trains or buses. This is what makes it different from other search engines and travel comparison apps.

When you want to use the GoEuro search engine, you have buses, trains, and flights in a single search, so you only have to enter your intended start and end locations. You can filter the results by your schedule, and order them by the fastest and cheapest options.

Not only will this app allow you to see the prices offered by different companies and different means of transport, but also book directly without leaving the app. This means you will no longer have to pay attention to the different websites of many transport companies, but in just a few clicks, you will have everything planned and booked.

GoEuro is available for download for free for both iPhone and Android devices through the official stores.

Fitting in with the locals in Poland, Hungary, and Romania

If you are looking for a city break with a difference, there are plenty of places to choose from in Europe.

From Warsaw, Kraków and Gdańsk in Poland, to Budapest in Hungary, and on to Bucharest in Romania, these countries are rich in history, architecture, and culture. If you get away from the beaten track, away from the cities, you will find some truly unique places, full of charm.

These countries that have something very important in common: a recent history with the Soviet Union, which has had a substantial impact on their cultures.

Although there are differences, and just like a French person would not like France to be thrown into the same bag as England as just being “Western European countries”, there are similarities too.

If we choose to go on holiday to these countries, many of us from Britain would be visiting for the first time, and it’s useful to know a little of what you might expect, and how to best fit in.

So for something a little bit different this month, we asked Agness and Cez from etramping.com, a popular travel blog, to give us their expert opinion on what you should – and shouldn’t – do when you are on holiday in these exciting places.

Not only have they travelled most of the region, but since they’re from Poland they have first-hand experience on the subject!

Here’s their advice for us:

Do: Enjoy the exchange rate, which is still reasonable
There’s no need to pinch your pennies while visiting this part of the continent. A thousand pounds will still get you a modestly lavish holiday here.

Remember that although Poland, Hungary, and Romania are all members of the European Union, they each have their own currency.

Do: Enjoy some unique sights
Are you passionate about folk tales and architecture? Take a trip to the Bran Castle (also known as “Dracula’s Castle”) in Transylvania, Romania.

Budapest in Hungary is also a nice place for some sight-seeing. Enjoy a ferry ride on the Danube and take some splendid photographs of the Parliament buildings along the way. A relaxing walk along the promenades will be just as satisfying though, if not more so.

Of course, you also have the opportunity to soak up the sun or have a swim. The Balaton Lake in Hungary is especially suited for that purpose. Otherwise, you can delight in a long walk on the Sopot Beach in Poland. If you’re in the area, you can’t miss the fantastic city of Gdansk.

Do: Benefit from the hospitality and cuisine
If you plan on visiting the countryside, you’re in for a treat. People there are fascinated by people from other countries, so you can definitely indulge in the traditional culture.

Prepare your taste buds for some traditional cuisine, as well. Cabbage rolls are a must-try, whether it’s “gołąbki” in Poland, “sarmale” in Romania, or “töltött káposzta” in Hungary. That last one is quite a mouthful! Goulash is also a favourite of the locals. Although it originates in Hungary, you can find it on the menu in almost all of Eastern – and even Central – Europe.

Don’t: Push into a queue, and don’t take offence
Our people are hospitable, but we are also very forward and honest. We will not hesitate to draw your attention if you push into a queue for whatever reason. (Of course, being British, you would never do this!). Having lived under the Communist regime, our population still remembers the dreary days of food lines.

One other thing to note when it comes to our honesty: don’t take offence to seemingly “rude” comments. 99% of the time they don’t come from a place of malice. If you have something on your face, or stuck between your teeth, we will tell you! So if somebody says this to you, thank them for their time, and move on!

And last, but not least…

Do: Act modestly
Many of our people appreciate kindness, modesty, and respectfulness above all else. Most will treat you in this manner, so you should do the same in return. Of course, there are some bad apples (as with anywhere else, for that matter). You can generally avoid those people if you don’t flaunt your wealth around.

One last thing: if you can, avoid political subjects – not because they’re taboo, but because you will never hear the end of it!

Pleasant holidays!

Stunning European destinations you can have to yourself this Easter

The sun may just be starting to emerge from the clouds in the UK, but in the sunny south of Europe, spring is well on its way. With the Easter holidays fast approaching, it’s time to start making those winter daydreams of lying on the beach, drink in hand, a reality.

We can imagine your holiday fantasy didn’t include hundreds of other sunbathers occupying the same stretch of beach as you, so we’ve put together a list of some more off-the-beaten track destinations for a truly serene holiday.

Whether you’re taking part in the traditional Holy Week celebrations of Sardinia’s eastern province, shopping in the markets of a sleepy Portuguese town, or enjoying an island to yourself in Corsica, these holiday destinations are sure to send you home truly relaxed and rejuvenated.

Ogliastra, Sardinia’s Undiscovered Gem
While the Italian island of Sardinia has long been known as a luxurious and beautiful holiday destination among Italians and foreigners alike, most visitors usually concentrate on the north of the island. However, Sardinia’s eastern province, Ogliastra, has all the striking scenery that makes the island so popular, but with less of the development and throngs of tourists.

Spend your days swimming in the province’s crystalline waters at the beaches of Cala Mariolu or Cala Goloritze. For the more adventurous, head deep into the caves and grottos of Grotta del Fico, only accessible by boat, or the nearby Grotte Su Marmuri. To get the most from your visit, ask one of the guides to lead you around the winding corridors of these caves while you learn about the millions of years of evolution that made them possible.

Ogliastra has plenty of options when it comes to accommodation, from five-star resorts averaging around £500 per night, to hotels for around £100 per night, to more modest B&Bs, and even a multitude of campsites around the province.

Easter is an especially good time to see all that Ogliastra has to offer, as the Holy Week celebrations fill the streets of the villages with processions, music, and locals in the unique traditional dress of their village. Weather on the island at this time of year is also ideal, with temperatures averaging at about 18C (65F) on Easter Sunday and gradually climbing up to 25C (77F) as we inch closer to summer.

Sand and Surf in the South of Portugal
Head to the far southwest of Portugal’s Algarve region and you’ll find yourself in the village of Odeceixe. With its homes seemingly tumbling down the hillside to the beaches below, and a quaint windmill perched high above the village, Odeceixe’s old-world charm seems a million miles away from the golf-course, resort-filled land of the rest of the Algarve region. Long hailed as a haven for surfers and sunbathers alike, Odeceixe has plenty to offer newcomers, especially around the Easter season.

The area has plenty of opportunities to try your hand at surfing, but if you’d rather watch the waves than ride them, the town is filled with charming cliff-top bars and cafes, like the local favourite, Cafe Dorita, where you can watch from afar. There are also ruins of Moorish castles to explore, and beautiful coastal paths to walk along. On Easter Weekend, there is also the Folar Fair, which celebrates all things sweet and delicious, with lots of cakes, pastries, and traditional crafts to see and sample.

You can expect temperatures at Easter to be around 18C (65F), sometimes reaching as high as 23C (73F). While there isn’t a huge selection of accommodation in the area, places are reasonably priced, with the top hotel costing around £100 per night.

Corsica: An island to yourself
The French Island of Corsica is popular in the high summer months of June and July, when boats fill its ports and holidaymakers squeeze into every room of its hotels. But for those on Easter breaks, or travelling in the late spring to early summer, Corsica has a calm lull to it: a distinct breath of fresh air before the onslaught of the summer tourists.

This is a time to see Corsica as it truly is, as the locals experience it every day. Base your island holiday in the medieval town of Sartène and bear witness to one of the most famous Easter processions on the island. On Good Friday, candles in all the windows of the town are lit as they illuminate the path up to the church in the town square.

The doors of the church open and a man in a hooded robe with heavy chains around his feet and carrying a heavy cross emerges. He carries the cross for over a mile, falling three times, just as Christ did. This ancient tradition is a sight to behold, and is not to be missed if you’re anywhere in southwest Corsica over Easter.

Sartène is also a wonderful starting point for seeing many of the island’s prehistoric sites and exploring the rest of beautiful southwest Corsica. The sun constantly shines at this time of year, and the weather plays its part in helping you enjoy your holiday, remaining at a pleasant 16C (61F) to 17C (63F) during the day.

Make your smartphone a travel force to be reckoned with!

Whether you’re a late adopter of 21st-century tech or a keen lover of the latest apps, your smartphone is one tool you don’t want to leave at home on vacation. Harness its power with the sleekest and most practical travel apps to make your next trip run smoothly.

We’ve covered a lot of apps over the last few months, so we thought it would be useful to give you a quick roundup of everything you should be considering on your phone for your next trip, including some new goodies we haven’t mentioned before. There’s bound to be something here that you’ll find useful.

You can easily find any of these apps for iPhone or Android – just search for them on your app store.

Booking your holiday
Staying connected while travelling can be a lifesaver – literally – but your smartphone can be an important resource even before you’ve left home. Use a flight aggregator like Kayak or Skyscanner to search for plane tickets.

Search for a room on Hotels.com or get a cosier, more residential space with Airbnb.

If you’re comfortable winging it, wait until arrival and get deep discounts on your accommodations with Hotel Tonight.

TripIt will forward all your confirmation emails to a single custom itinerary, to help you stay organised.

When you travel
Skip the jet lag with JetLag Genie, which helps you adjust your sleep schedule before departure.

Generate a packing list with PackPoint to ensure you don’t leave anything behind, and prepare to hit the road!

In the airport, GateGuru can show you a map of the terminal, reviews of onsite restaurants, and even estimated wait times for the security line.

Find a prime spot to wait for your flight using Lounge Buddy.

Stock up on reading material for the flight by saving articles to Pocket for offline use.

When you’re on holiday
Once you’re back on solid ground, you may be used to using Google Maps to get around town. If you don’t have internet access in your new destination, try MapsMe instead, or Tripadvisor offline maps (you can download a whole city guide on TripAdvisor).

HopStop and AllSubway can help you navigate even the most mind-boggling public transport system.

If you’re renting a car, download GasBuddy to help you find the nearest fill-up station.

Are you hopping from city to city by bus or train? Rome2Rio (called FetchMyWay on Android), compiles a seemingly endless number of overland routes to any destination you can imagine.

Uber operates in many cities, and can be a quick and easy way to get a taxi. In some cities Uber is cheap, but in some cities like Dublin it’s very expensive, so keep an eye on costs.

Expensify can help you document expenses, but for keeping better track of your travel budget, install a more comprehensive finance app like Mint.

You’ll never be strapped for cash with the PinPin ATM Finder, and you can be sure you’re leaving the right tip with Tipulator.

Finding things to do
When the dinner bell rings, you may be tempted to rely on TripAdvisor and Yelp for restaurant reviews. These are good resources, but you can get specific dish recommendations on Tastespotting.

For a unique take on sightseeing, you can find locals’ favourite hotspots on Localeur and upcoming events on Goby.

Invite a local friend to join you on the WithLocals app.

Need help with a language barrier? Rely on Google Translate or hire an interpreter via Whym.

Safety
No matter where your travels take you, put safety first. TravelSafe hosts a database of emergency phone numbers around the world. You can even pin your destination’s police and ambulance contacts to your phone’s home screen.

So no matter which of our travel hotspots this month takes your fancy, keeping your journey in the 21st century is a snap with the right app!

Tips for healthy eating while travelling

One of the delights of travelling is the chance to experience new cuisines and sample authentic ethnic foods. Enjoying a delicious meal in a foreign city is as good as visiting the national museums – you learn about the traditions, culture and people from the food they share with you.

In the excitement of discovering a new country, however, there is always the temptation to go overboard. Who can say no to “just one more” bite? You’re on holiday after all!

But sometimes a sudden introduction of a new food can upset your digestion or disrupt your healthy eating habits. Here are a few tips to help you eat healthy on the road.

Be prepared
If you have dietary restrictions because of allergies or health conditions, or take medication regularly, make sure you know in advance what foods are common at your destination. A lot of restaurants publish their menus online, so you can get an idea of the sort of food, and the types of restaurant, that you should expect.

Spend a little time planning how to substitute your usual treats. When you arrive, try and stick to your normal eating schedule as much as possible. Keep a small snack in your handbag or daypack, just in case there are delays.

You can sometimes bring in snacks from the UK, but this varies from country to country. Be sure to check before you go, so that you don’t fall foul of customs!

Before you go, finding restaurants on TripAdvisor, or other online sources, can be useful. That way, you won’t just stop at the first fast-food place you find when you’re hungry and gorge on unhealthy food, while missing the local treats on offer.

Vitamins and medications
If you take vitamin tablets or other health supplements, you may wish to take these on holiday with you. That way, if you can’t find healthy options, or fancy spoiling yourself, at least your body can get some of the nutrients it needs.

If you take medications, check before you go whether there are any specific foods that you should avoid, and whether you can combine your medications with alcohol. Check with your pharmacist if you are unsure, and read the information that comes with your medication, even if you’ve been taking the medication for a while: it’s useful to remind yourself of things you might have forgotten.

Some foods and drink can prevent medicines from fully working. For example, the painkillers paracetamol and codeine are metabolised by the liver, so drinking alcohol as well can put a lot of stress on the liver. Thinking of a classic breakfast buffet, grapefruit can interfere with statins, and milk can interfere with some antibiotics.

Master the art of nibbling
Do taste the local speciality, but don’t binge on it. Give your body time to adjust to unaccustomed seasonings and sauces. Share a plate of starters with your partner or table mates, so you can sample without overeating. Eat slowly to savour every bite. If you discover something you really enjoy, learn how to pronounce it correctly so you can order it again!

Ask questions
In a new restaurant, tell your waiter or waitress about any dietary restrictions you have, so they can advise you about certain dishes. Ask for the house recommendations. If the menu doesn’t explain a dish adequately, ask how it’s prepared. Do express your appreciation to the staff for their consideration.

Be aware that not all countries are as used to dealing with food allergies as the UK. There can also be language barriers and a lack of training: some staff do not fully appreciate what “dairy” means, and all the items that it includes, so you might need to spell out all the things you can’t eat (e.g. butter, milk, yoghurt, etc.). If in doubt, play it safe!

Drink water and avoid dehydration
Drink plenty of water every day. Keep a bottle of water in your jacket or bag. Staying hydrated keeps your energy level high, reduces overeating, and helps your body flush out toxins and waste.

Bottled water can be purer than tap water. In some places this isn’t a problem, but in other areas, drinking the local tap water (including ice in drinks) can make you ill if you are not used to it. Check online, and in your travel guide.

Sometimes, feeling hungry can really just mean you are dehydrated, and it’s water that your body needs, not food. This can lead you to over-eat and not get enough fluids: a double whammy!

Alcohol
Enjoy the wine and spirits with a little common sense. Locally brewed beer can be a pleasure, and a wine or whisky tasting can be a highlight of your trip. But too much alcohol can lead to dehydration or can lead you to make poor food choices. When it comes to alcohol, aim for quality, not quantity!

Be aware that alcohol can make you more intoxicated and dehydrated when you are flying, due to the effects of altitude and cabin pressure, so be especially careful around the start and end of your holiday.

Shop locally
When you come across a neighbourhood market, stop and shop. Locally-grown fruits and vegetables will often be fresher and more economical that supermarket purchases. It’s also an adventure in and of itself to navigate a foreign grocery, with all its sights, sounds and aromas. Pick up fresh or dried fruits, cheese, bread and pastries, find a scenic spot, and enjoy a picnic lunch.

Come home healthy!
Like music, food is a universal language. You may come home with new recipes to try in your own kitchen, or a new appreciation for a food you once disliked. Above all, though, come home healthy.

Sensational Split: Life on the Adriatic

Split, the pearl on Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast, offers the rare combination of a beach and city break. This is a city rich in heritage and culture, but also gives locals and visitors the opportunity to head over to the beach when they need to do a spot of relaxing. It’s a great city to visit, and temperatures will soon be pleasant at this time of year, with average highs of 17C (63F) and 23C (73F) in April and May respectively.

Roaming around a Roman palace
The UNESCO heritage site and world-famous Diocletian’s Palace is the heart of the city. Built around 300AD, this Roman palace is one of the best-preserved sites of its era. The palace feels like a separate city, packed full of shops, restaurants and bars. You can easily lose yourself in its maze of streets and alleys for a whole day.

There’s always something going on here, whether it’s music, theatre or dance. Don’t miss the centuries-old ceremony of the changing of the guards, every day at 12 pm. At the start of May, the city’s annual “Festival of Flowers” showcases hundreds of displays around the palace, including within the palace’s cellars.

Italian food
Due to a close historical relationship with Italy, a short trip of less than 150 miles across the Adriatic, menus along the coastline are heavily inspired by Italian food: risottos, fish and seafood are all popular dishes in many restaurants. You’re sure to enjoy the world-class local wine in bars and restaurants throughout the city, and there are plenty of vineyards surrounding the city where you can learn from the growers and, most importantly, try more of their produce.

Life at the beach
Split’s position on the Adriatic means that beach trips are an essential part of life for locals, and you’ll find whole families flocking to them on weekends and summer evenings. The most popular and famous beach in the city is Bacvice beach, which is one of the few sandy beaches on the coast. This may not be the best beach in the area, but if you want to live like a local then find a spot on the sand and join everyone relaxing, eating and playing picigin, a hugely popular Croatian beach game.

If you want a more peaceful and relaxing beach visit then you’re better off walking west, following the coastline round to Jezinac. The beaches here are a good alternative, with bars offering great sunset views.

Boats
You can’t fail to notice the impressive collection of boats and yachts moored in the city; if you’d like to see more or dream about which one you’ll buy, the “Croatia Boat Show” gives you that chance. The show runs 5th – 9th April.

Head for the hills!
Anyone looking to escape the crowds of the city, or wanting to get back to nature, shouldn’t leave without visiting the tree-filled hills of Marjan. This shady park looms over the city and is an ideal escape for locals and tourists alike. There’s good reason why locals refer to Marjan as the “lungs” of the city: it’s a great place for walking, cycling and relaxing in general. There are also plenty of secluded beaches dotted around that you will often have all to yourself.

Maps for your smartphone that work without wifi

While on holiday, many of us don’t have a mobile phone data plan that covers data while we’re out and about, and it’s not always possible to connect your phone to wifi. This can make finding your way around town difficult.

The solution is to download a map or guide before starting your European adventure.

If you know you’re going to be spending some time in Vienna, Siena, or thousands of other cities and towns, the following apps for both iOS and Android will allow you to expertly navigate like a pro, without needing an internet connection.

Additionally, assuming you have a sufficient battery charge, these apps allow you to plan your trip while you are still travelling, on your flight or train ride before arrival.

MAPS.ME has much better offline maps than Google Maps
Maps.me is very impressive in its scope, and covers nearly the entire world. The level of detail includes every statue in a park and allows for flawless navigation to your next destination, wherever that may be.

Additionally, pharmacies, supermarkets hospitals, and public transport options are all clearly listed and marked. The app allows for fantastic zooming in and out, as well as rotation of the map, on any device without ever freezing up in front of your eyes. You simply need to download your destination when you have a data connection, either before you go on holiday or using the wifi in your hotel.

Download MAPS.ME for iPhone
Download MAPS.ME for Android

izi.TRAVEL: offline maps and audio guides for museums and cities
Increasingly, museums are giving visitors access to high-speed internet, which lets you use GPS location and QR code scanning to provide information about specific exhibits. This makes for a more interactive experience to museum goers.

However, even if this is not available to you, izi.TRAVEL allows you to download these audio guides before your visit to make the most of Europe’s finest museums in nearly every country.

While the app also provides city maps, Maps.ME is considerably better for that; the real treat is the audio guides, which are made by travel professionals, art history professors and a community of over six million users.

Download izi.TRAVEL for iPhone
Download izi.TRAVEL for Android

Both apps offer a lot with no price tag

Just because you don’t have a mobile internet connection when you’re in Europe, either due to cost or wanting to get away from your phone for a while, these two apps give you a sense of direction and “being in the know” before your arrival.

Ten events for a perfect spring getaway

With freezing temperatures continuing across the UK, we look at some of Europe’s best events over the next few months.

1. Dance away the winter cobwebs at one of Vienna’s grand balls
Vienna’s hugely popular ballroom dancing season runs until 25th February and offers 2,000 hours of dancing! The most famous event is the Opera Ball which offers a unique backstage view of the Opera House.

After whirling your partner around, make sure to take in sights including St. Stephen’s Cathedral and warm yourself up with a traditional strudel.

Temperatures up to 4C (39F).

2. Gorge on chocolate alongside the canals of Amsterdam
Chocolate lovers flock to Amsterdam’s Chocoa Festival (25th – 26th February) where some of Europe’s finest chocolatiers display their wares and visitors indulge in what is on offer.

Possibly a perfect late Valentine’s Day present but be warned, you might need to spend a few days wandering the canals of this famous city to work off those calories.

Temperatures up to 8C (46F).

3. Join in with a Greek carnival
The carnival season peaks on 26th February and the seaside town of Patras is the undisputed home of Greek carnivals. The Night and Grand Parades see thousands of revellers hit the streets with huge models and lanterns paraded through town.

Visitors may combine this with a few days in Athens or on one of the 6,000 Greek islands.

Temperatures up to 14C (57F).

4. Discover more than tulips at Dutch flower festivals 
Two of Europe’s largest flower festivals are held simultaneously in the Netherlands, with the Keukenhof Flower Show (23rd March – 21st May) and the Bloemencorso display (19th – 23rd April) drawing crowds.

Entrance to Keukenhof costs around £14 and is 45-minute journey from Amsterdam.

Temperatures up to 12C (54F) during April.

5. Celebrate the season at the Budapest Spring Festival
This long-running festival (31st March – 23rd April) combines a huge array of classical music, jazz, opera and theatre, all set within Budapest’s historic centre.

Between performances, don’t miss St. Stephen’s Basilica and the Chain Bridge. Many choose to have dinner on a luxurious river cruise along the Danube which divides the city.

If it gets chilly, warm yourself up with goulash, Hungary’s national dish (a beef stew with paprika).

Temperatures up to 15C (59F).

6. Watch fantastic films in Brussels old town
A regular on the European film festival circuit since 1983, the Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival (4th – 16th April) specialises in science fiction, thriller and horror films. Just ensure you try some of the luxurious chocolate before you leave.

Temperatures up to 13C (55F).

7. Stroll around the world’s best gardens in France
The International Garden Festival (from 20th April) in France’s Domaine de Chaumont-sur-Loire region will appeal to those with green fingers. This long-running festival attracts gardeners and visitors from around the globe and could be an alternative for regulars of the Chelsea Flower Show.

With Paris under three hours away, it is possible to combine this event with a city break.

Temperatures up to 11C (52F).

8. Taste the best ice cream Florence has to offer
Those with a sweet tooth shouldn’t miss Florence’s annual Gelato Festival this April (21st – 25th), when gelato lovers flock to this famous city, eager to combine great architecture with the world’s tastiest ice cream.

Accessible from many UK airports and with a wide range of accommodation options, Florence is a popular choice year-round. The world famous Uffizi Gallery (free on the first Sunday of the month) and Santa Maria del Fiore (the Duomo di Firenze which adorns every city guide), ensure there is plenty to appeal to those looking to soak up some culture.

Temperatures up to 19C (66F).

9. Sample the finest wines from Barcelona
The Priorat Wine Fair (30th April – 1st May) offers the finest in Catalonian wine, whilst tantalisingly close to the city of Barcelona. There really is something for everyone in this seaside city, boasting great food, culture and architecture.

Football fans won’t want to miss a tour of the legendary Camp Nou for £22, and may even catch a glimpse of Messi at a game.

Temperatures up to 18C (64F).

10. Enjoy Maltese fireworks in the Med 
Held annually since the country’s entry into the EU in 2004, the Malta International Fireworks Festival in late April has increasingly attracted visitors to the island’s capital, Valletta.

Excellent museums and churches, such as St. John’s Co-Cathedral, have boosted Valletta’s reputation as a cultural hotspot, and the warm weather makes it a perfect destination for a short break.

Temperatures up to 19C (66F).

These are just ten of hundreds of unique events occurring across Europe. If these don’t appeal there’s bound to be something to suit to your interests!

The Northern Lights: a dramatic holiday with a difference

When your winter routine starts to feel stuffy and stale, consider a relaxing trip to the North. It is here that you can cross off one experience from your bucket list: witnessing the wonder and awe of the elusive, electric Northern Lights.

The savvy traveller knows that booking an off-season holiday can be just as rewarding as a summertime trip. Appearing in a variety of vibrant colours, from pale yellow to deep violet, the Northern Lights —also known as the Aurora Borealis in the Northern Hemisphere — provide a spectacular display in the night sky.

Most commonly, the lights appear in hues of green and pink. To the human eye, the colours aren’t as vivid as you will see in the classic long-exposure photographs, but they are still a beautiful natural spectacle to behold.

Winter provides the ideal opportunity to encounter the Northern Lights. The recipe for a sensational show is simple: dark, clear skies. With the longer winter nights that the northern countries of Iceland, Sweden, and Norway are known for, there are many opportunities to view the dazzling auroral display.

Spend your next holiday relaxing indoors, cosying up with a hot cup of tea or cocoa, and pulling up a front-row seat to view the outstanding light display put on by Mother Nature right outside your window.

See the lights in Reykjavik, Iceland
Iceland’s tourism industry has exploded in recent years, and for good reason. The country is remote and its landscape is dramatic, providing stunning vistas of mountains, waterfalls, lava fields, and coastline.

Even Iceland’s largest city, Reykjavik, has a small-town feel. The city’s quaint size means it doesn’t even put off enough light pollution to hide the Northern Lights from view; they are easily seen from the downtown area. Often, on nights with high aurora activity, Reykjavik will even shut off its lights to give its citizens and tourists a better view!

After enjoying your stay in Reykjavik, consider a drive through the Golden Circle to see such landmarks as Gulfoss and Geysir.

There is plenty in Iceland to do and see by day, and the awe-inspiring Northern Lights to enjoy by night.

Boldly go north to Svalbard, Norway
Northern Norway is another hot spot for watching the Northern Lights flicker over the Arctic. The northernmost cities of Norway are a popular location for viewing the lights, but even further north is the Norwegian island of Svalbard.

Svalbard is home to Longyearbyen, the world’s most northernmost town, and is also home to the world’s most northernmost airport. If the lights shimmering in the sky weren’t enough, reindeer have also been known to roam the streets of Svalbard, and the North Pole is a mere 1300 kilometres away.

Dog-sledding and snowmobiling are common pastimes in this secluded land, but relaxing and taking in the sights of the landscape and the sky provide a pleasant escape from the hustle and bustle of your everyday life.

The experience of visiting Svalbard is truly otherworldly. Consider a late-winter holiday to this final frontier.

Wrap up and head to Abisko National Park, Sweden
Sweden, Norway’s neighbour, has similar opportunities for enjoying the Northern Lights. Like Iceland and Norway, the north is known for its “Midnight Sun” in the summertime, but the opportunity to view the Northern Lights is of equal intrigue.

Northern Light sightings begin in September and last through until March in the Swedish Lapland. The Aurora Borealis is most famously seen from the Aurora Sky Station in Abisko National Park.

Abisko National Park offers a chairlift to the observation tower. Spend time enjoying the Northern Lights exhibition, grabbing a hot beverage from the cafe, and purchasing a souvenir for your friends back home who will be green with envy.

Winter weather can sometimes inhibit the viewing of the lights, but Abisko has a reputation for clear skies. Seeing the Northern Lights from this vantage point is highly likely.

Where else might I see the Northern Lights?
The Northern Lights are also frequently spotted in Finland, Ireland, and the Denmark territories of Greenland and the Faroe Islands.

Temperatures
Winter temperatures in the northern countries of Iceland, Norway, and Sweden typically range from -15C (5F) to 0C (32F). Dress warmly, and don’t let the cold weather dissuade you from the experience of a lifetime!

When to go
While the Northern Lights can sometimes be seen as early as August, the highest-activity months are September through until March.

Aurora activity is higher during winter months, however, a trip does not guarantee a glimpse of the Northern Lights. Check the weather and an Aurora Forecast for your chances of aurora activity based on your location, or strike up a conversation with a friendly local to ask for tips on hunting the aurora. For locals, aurora hunting is a way of life!

Some Northern Light excursions, such as Reykjavik’s Northern Lights cruise, will offer a refund if viewing conditions are poor on your chosen date.

So avoid the influx of summer tourists and the pricier summertime season and plan a visit to see the Northern Lights this February.

Tell me more
To find out more, and see photos that have been adjusted for how the human eye sees the Northern Lights, take a look here and here.

Tips for travelling light

In the world of travel, light is better. The advantages of being able to travel light include saving time, energy and money, all of which translate into a more enjoyable trip.

Why would you want to travel light?
Of course, the easiest way is to travel with a smaller suitcase!  Travelling with carry-on luggage that can fit into the overhead bin in the plane means no lost luggage and no waiting at the luggage carousel. Not having to pay for checked luggage on a plane, or tipping porters, also saves money. Smaller, lighter luggage is easier when navigating stairs, trains, buses or taxis, and when getting through crowds of people.

For carry-on or checked luggage, the first consideration is picking lightweight luggage. Choosing light luggage can save more than two kilos in weight for a carry-on, without sacrificing wheels or durability.  Soft-cover luggage can be more convenient, but you can buy hard cover suitcases that are also lightweight. Search Google for “lightest suitcases” to get some ideas.

Packing Light
Packing for warm climates is easier and requires less clothing. Clothing should be made of lightweight material, mix and match and be able to be worn in layers. One rule of thumb is that all tops should match each other and match all bottoms, drastically reducing the number of articles of clothing that are necessary.

If this sounds boring, add in a fun accessory. For women, scarves are not only light and versatile, but are also safer than wearing jewellery.  Leaving the jewellery at home saves space and weight too!

Clothing that can be worn for more than one occasion or purpose also lightens the load. Pack one good, simple piece that can be dressed up or down with a scarf, belt, or tie.

Since shoes can be a heavy article of clothing, having shoes that are multi-purpose reduces the number of pairs required. Also, pack the lightest shoes and wear the heavy ones during travel.

Packing the Shoulder Bag
Reducing the small items in your shoulder bag may not seem like much, but definitely contributes to the ease of travelling light. Books can be reduced by using an electronic reader such as a Kindle, an iPad, or even just by using the free Kindle reader app on your phone. You can also exchange books with your fellow travellers, rather than carrying multiple books yourself.

Medications can be counted out for the number of days of the trip plus a few extra, always remembering to have a copy of the prescription in case you need more medication in an emergency.  Keep medications in your shoulder bag, close to hand.

If you want to travel with a water bottle, a flexible, refillable one is lighter and more convenient than a hard bottle. Remember the bottle must be empty when you pass through security, but you can fill it from a water fountain after security.

Cameras and smartphones
Bulky cameras and attachments can now be left at home because smartphones can take good quality photos, particularly with special clip-on lenses. The new Google Pixel phone, and the Samsung Galaxy S7, have particularly good cameras.

Final Check
As a final check, either lay everything out together or pack it a day or two in advance. The day before the trip begins, remove two items!  Looking at the remaining items, ask yourself if you really need if and if you are sure you will use it or wear it.

You can use a luggage scale to confirm the weight – digital and analogue scales are available – or you can stand on a bathroom scale with and without your luggage to measure the weight difference.