How to plan a trip the grandchildren will love

Spending time with your grandchildren in this day and age can be tough at times. With the rise of social media and the advancements in technology in general, it can be hard to spark their interest and hold their attention for long before they’re drawn back to their phone screens. 

But that doesn’t mean you should give up. At the end of the day, kids are still kids, and they want to have fun! It’s important for them to make memories that they can reminisce on in later life, and what better way to do that than with their loving grandparents? 

So, how do you plan that perfect getaway to have with your family? One that captures your grandchildren’s imagination? 

Europe is a great region to visit with youngsters because the flight times are quite short, so there’s less time to get bored on the plane!

Capture their imagination by exploring their interests
It can be pretty easy to figure out a way to make a trip align with your grandchild’s current interests. 

For example, a child that has an interest in the Vikings—whether school, TV shows or books—would probably love a trip to Norway! The Viking Ship Museum in the Bygdøy area of Oslo might be a good place to start. Of course, you might want to avoid Norway in the winter if you’re not a fan of chilly snow-covered winters. 

Italy may be a sunnier alternative in the colder months if you want some exciting history to explore with the grandchildren. A trip to the Colosseum could link in well with the Romans, and Italian food always goes down a treat with the youngsters!

If your grandchildren like taking photographs, think of places with brilliant photo opportunities, great for the budding photographer or Instagram enthusiast. For older classic buildings you’ll do well in Tallinn (Estonia) or Prague (Czech Republic). If classical palaces and grandeur are their thing, Vienna is hard to beat.

Older children will be learning a language at school, and visiting a country that speaks the language can really bring the lessons to life. [Editor’s note: I spent five years at school learning German, which seemed like a total waste of time until I visited Germany and Austria in my 30s and had an amazing time. I suddenly wished I’d paid more attention at school!] The most common languages taught in schools these days are French, German, and Spanish, so there are plenty of choices for places to visit for practice.

Sport can be a wonderful thing to bring the generations of a family together. If your grandchildren are football fans, how about a once-in-a-lifetime trip to the home of Real Madrid, FC Barcelona, A.C. Milan, or Bayern Munich? 

For motorsport fans, a trip to a Formula 1 Grand Prix will be unforgettable. You can often combine the race with a visit to the host city: the Hungarian Grand Prix in Budapest (2nd-4th August 2019) is great for this. And of course, every Ferrari fan must go to the Italian Grand Prix at Monza at least once in their lifetime (6th – 8th September 2019).

If your grandchildren like cars, BMW World in Munich is fantastic! Formula 1 fans who follow Lewis Hamilton might also like the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart. 

The classics
For younger children with an interest in Lego, how about Legoland? Their oldest park, in Denmark, was built in 1968, but there is also a Legoland in Germany.

Disneyland Paris continues to be well-liked by people of all ages, and you can get there directly on Eurostar if you’re not keen on flying.

We’re also hearing good things about First Choice Holiday Villages. They have a great Kids’ Club for younger children, along with activities and a pool. There are several of them across Europe, all in nice warm places, including Ibiza and the Costa del Sol.

Planning the trip
Planning what to do on the trip is important, but don’t be so strict with your timetable of events that you forget to allow those beautiful spontaneous moments to occur.

Create a list of activity options that you could do or places you could visit—remembering their selling points—and let your grandchildren have a say on which sounds the most interesting. It might not be the most organised way to plan a trip, but having a flexible itinerary can be better when it comes to family fun.

And it might have to come down to a vote, but it will be a family decision, and that means that you won’t be dragging along disinterested kids. They’ll be engaged and enthusiastic about the family adventure! This is something that they also wanted to see, not what their grandparents insisted on seeing. 

Worldwide cover for pre-existing medical conditions with Go2 Travel

We have now put together an exciting new travel insurance policy that will offer cover for most pre-existing medical conditions for travel on European and worldwide holidays.

We also offer three levels of cover, for those that want to travel on a budget and those that want a more comprehensive policy. Hundreds of sports activities are covered as standard, and there are plenty of optional extras from Winter Sports to Pet Care and Wedding cover.

Visit Go2 Travel Insurance and get a quote today.

Travel Diary: there’s more to Athens than epic ancient ruins

Hannah Champion recently visited Athens for the second time and discovered some little gems that she’d love to tell you about.

Having lived on the island of Kos in Greece for the past two years, on and off, I thought it was about time I got back to the capital to learn more about the country’s history. As it was my second time visiting, I didn’t just want to see the main sights (Plaka, the Acropolis Museum, and Syntagma Square), I wanted to discover some new corners of the city too.

Sights and museums
I think it’s pretty much a given that any trip to Athens will involve a visit to Acropolis Hill and the mammoth Parthenon that stands proudly atop it. I will personally visit time and time again as I feel exploring at different times of the day and year give you a completely different experience. This time I visited later in the day, and after wandering around the ruins I went over to the Areopagus Hill, an area where locals head to watch the sunset. This was something new for me, and it was great to feel more like a local than a tourist!

Another new sight for me was the Ilias Lalaounis Jewelry Museum housed on the south side of Acropolis Hill. I love all that glitters, even if it is not gold, but luckily for me much of Ilias Lalaounis’ work ticked both of those boxes! The jewellery here is absolutely exquisite, and you can see the small workshop at the bottom of the museum where many of these fine pieces were made. Having not heard of Lalaounis before, it was fascinating to learn that he was world-renowned as pretty much the Greek equivalent of Cartier!

Cool bars and cafés
Introduced to me by a local, Six d.o.g.s is a quirky teepee bar located on a side street near Monastiraki. Open pretty much all day (and night), it’s a great place to stop for a coffee or cocktail when you need a sit down from all your sightseeing. While it doesn’t offer the views of rooftop bars like A for Athens or Couleur Locale, it has a welcoming, warm atmosphere, and with roaring heaters in winter it’s an ideal place to warm up. 

A fantastic spot for brunch is Harvest Café in Psiri. With a range of delicious breakfast options and some top-class coffee and teas, this is a wonderful place to fill up before heading to Syntagma Square to see the changing of the guards. I know London’s Beefeaters have interesting outfits, but seeing guards with pom-pom slippers is something else!

Hidden gems of Athens
Now, here’s what you’ve been waiting for: my hidden gems of Athens!

Anafiotika is a hidden scenic neighbourhood on the slopes of the Acropolis that looks like it has been picked up from the Cyclades (a group of Greek islands southeast of mainland Greece) and dropped in the city. 

Anafiotika is still relatively unknown by tourists, and because it’s so difficult to find it’s not hard to understand why! I tried three times to find this secret village in the city and was really glad I persevered when I finally found it. With its quaint white houses with painted shutters, pristine pot plants and rolling terracotta roofs, this area looks nothing like the rest of the bustling city. 

As there are no signs, you may want to search on Google Maps for ‘Agios Georgios church Stratonos’. Look out for small winding paths that head uphill and keep your eyes out for a small church with a terracotta roof and a Greek flag. Once you’ve found this, you’re in the right place (even if it feels like you’re not!). As an extra tip, if you switch Google Maps to the satellite view, you’ll see the red roofs.

Take your time wandering back and forth between narrow sloping streets taking in the quaint island-style life in the city. This area also has some fantastic street art too!

Finally, if you want a bit of peace and quiet, you can’t beat a walk up Philopappos Hill. This is a tranquil spot (again, conveniently close to the Acropolis) that is especially quiet first thing in the morning. The trails wind up and around the hill, allowing you to find your own sacred spot or to explore The Prison of Socrates or The Pnyx en route. 

I will no doubt be back to Athens again sometime soon, and I hope to discover some new sights to share with you! 

Foodie delights: a guided culinary tour of Rome

Travel writer Julia Hammond takes us on a culinary journey through one of Rome’s most characterful neighbourhoods, Trastevere.

Gelato is the Italian word for ice cream. But if you thought gelato and ice cream were the same thing—join the club!—then you’re mistaken. It wasn’t until I joined a food tour in Rome that I found I’d been getting it wrong for years. 

Trastevere has working class boots but a high-class stomach. This bohemian neighbourhood straggles south from Vatican City along the west bank of the Tiber. It’s packed full of trattorias (informal restaurants), delicatessens and, of course, more than the odd gelateria. To discover the food that makes the locals happy, I needed expert help, which came in the form of our delightful tour guide, Sebastiana. 

Lesson 1: Always eat something when you go out drinking!
She led us, first, to a tiny trattoria called Da Enzo al 29, the kind that looks so unassuming you’d walk right by if you didn’t know any better. As her rapt audience munched on creamy burrata (a semi-soft cheese made with mozzarella) and chunks of refreshing melon, Sebastiana talked us through the long-standing tradition of the early evening aperitivo. Pouring us a second glass of Prosecco, she explained that Italians never ever consume alcohol without food. I thought it best to grab a bit more cheese, just to be on the safe side.

Lesson 2: The best restaurants appear where you least expect them to
Sebastiana prised the glasses from our hands and shooed us out the door with the promise of even tastier food. She led her band of willing foodies along backstreets and down alleyways before stopping in front of a building covered in Hebrew writing. 

Stepping inside, we followed her into the basement of what was once a synagogue. Now a restaurant, it served up slow-roasted pork known as Maiale di Mazio, cooked according to a recipe which had been used by the cook to Julius Caesar. A dish with such a pedigree couldn’t fail to hit the mark.

Lesson 3: Learning to count
“Un etto, due etto,” I chanted, repeating what Sebastiana had told me. School language classes had never been this fun, but then again the reward for being understood had never been a paper bag full of biscotti. The deli which was our next stop had been in the Innocenti family for decades, its precious biscotti recipes passed from generation to generation. 

For anyone with a sweet tooth, this was heaven, though the names they’d chosen sometimes left a little to be desired. Brutti ma buoni sounded so much better in Italian than the English translation “ugly but good”, though I had to concede, the latter was an accurate description.

Lesson 4: Who needs a restaurant when the street food’s this good?
I was getting a little full when Sebastiana described what we’d be eating at our next stop. Supplì are deep-fried rice balls stuffed with cheese and cooked in tomato sauce. Eaten straight out of the paper, I pondered why back home we make do with greasy kebabs and burgers when our street food could be this good. I’d have been tempted to have another, but our restless guide was on the move again.

Lesson 5: The most important lesson of all
We came to the end of our tour and, perched on the edge of a stone fountain, Sebastiana gave us the most important lesson of all: how to tell real gelato from the imposters. You see, gelato is made with milk, not cream. Because of this, it doesn’t need to be churned as much and contains fewer air bubbles, giving a denser, creamier consistency. 

Fatamorgana’s had some pretty out-there flavours: pink grapefruit with horseradish, ginger and lemon peel, pecorino cheese with honey and chestnuts, and avocado, lime and white wine. I chose zabaglione, a throwback to a dessert my mother used to make when she wanted to impress dinner guests.

Coming out of the gelateria, it was the first time I’d actually looked at the ice cream I was about to eat. Dipping my spoon in, I savoured the first mouthful. Sebastiana was right. It did taste better than the fake stuff. 

To book this tour for yourself, visit the Eating Europe website.
[Editor’s note: Just so you know, this company is not affiliated with us in any way, and this is not an advertisement; we just thought the tour sounded so much fun that you might like to replicate the experience for yourself!]

Introducing Europe Plus

This month we are proud to announce we are introducing a brand new European Travel Insurance policy with extra levels of cover and benefits.

More benefits, great prices!
We are starting 2019 with something special. Beginning this month, we have put together a completely new travel insurance policy based on the feedback from many of our loyal customers. A product to meet the needs of our customers of all ages with many more options: we’ll be offering you three levels of cover, with more benefits, along with increased sums insured for your valuables and many more optional extras to choose from.

This policy removes all the uncertainty of Brexit to give you complete peace of mind. This policy includes EU and non-EU countries and we now offer medical cover up to £10 million.

Best of all, we’re happy to say that we’re not increasing our premiums, so you can continue to get great prices for your travel insurance from us. When it’s time for you to renew, we will now be offering Europe Plus as an alternative option with our great renewal discount.

We want to assure our customers that Brexit does NOT and will not affect your existing policy, and the new Europe Plus policy will also not be affected by the Brexit situation.

As ever, we really do value you as a loyal customer, and we will continue to offer you a renewal discount by email when your policy is about to expire.

We’re really pleased that we can make these changes for you, and we really hope that you’ll take advantage of the new Europe Plus policy.

How to avoid the tourist traps and find better restaurants!

While on holiday abroad, we’ve all had the less-than-happy restaurant experience: the food could have been better, the service more attentive, and then there’s the shock on receiving the bill. No tourist has failed to be a victim to the tourist trap!

A tourist trap, of course, is a bar or restaurant which caters predominantly for tourists. Many of these establishments are excellent, and in many countries there is a strong tradition of hospitality.

However, the management of such places can be tempted to fall into lazy habits, because they are not building long-term relationships with their customers. They might feel they don’t have to make an effort because it is often not rewarded with repeat business.

Also, when we travel, our view of money becomes distorted. Even if we can make rapid currency exchange calculations, we are likely to be willing to spend more on holiday than we would at home, so tourist traps feel free to overcharge.

Where are the tourist traps?
Tourist traps tend to be in town centres, especially on a famous square or street. You’ll also find them near visitor attractions such as museums and landmarks. In beach resorts, tourist traps occupy the entire beachfront, because the whole town is geared up to the tourist economy.

Because tourists tend to congregate, so do the tourist traps. You’ll find many of them in one street or square. But have a look around. How many locals do you see there? Are they merely friends and family who are helping out by adding authenticity? Are there many diners speaking the local language, or are they all tourists? Is there a man whose job it is to beckon people in? These are all warning signs.

You’ll also find that tourist traps tend to be larger restaurants, because they can pack in lots of tourists at high prices. They also often have neon signs, have a menu translated into English and other non-local languages, or advertise “English spoken here”. If the menu has pictures of the food, that’s a bad sign: why would they need to show locals what the local dishes look like?

Now for a subtle clue for finding places popular with the locals: see what time the locals eat, and see which restaurants are busy at that time. For example, in the UK we tend to like to eat dinner quite early, but in France or Spain the locals often don’t eat until 7.30pm or later. 

How to find better restaurants
Some of the best restaurants are tucked away from the tourist haunts, and these are the ones you need to seek out. So walk away from the tourist hotspots, and see what you can find. Hopefully you’ll see places which are unpretentious because they know their culinary reputation alone attracts a regular clientele of locals.

Of course, these days, you might be tempted to trying finding the best places using online review sites like TripAdvisor, but these reviews can be deceptive or even fake. Sometimes, people genuinely review an eatery as being good, but their view of good differs wildly from yours! Reviews written in English are provided by tourists who haven’t had the time to savour all that the city has to offer, so they can often only have limited knowledge of an area’s restaurants to draw upon.

You could always ask your friends on social media if they’ve been to a place, and which restaurants they would recommend. You’re likely to know whether to trust their tastes!

Fortunately, traditional guidebooks are not dead and buried. Get a good one, and make sure it’s this year’s edition. You could get the Kindle version, and read it on your phone, so that it’s always with you. It will list restaurants that you otherwise wouldn’t think of visiting, covering a wide range of culinary styles, and can be a valuable source of useful tips.

You can also ask the locals who work at your hotel, who work in a shop, or your taxi driver, if they can recommend a restaurant which is good quality and reasonably priced. You can often phrase this question as “Where would YOU go?”, to get a more authentic recommendation. One thing to watch out for: if they ask you to mention that they referred you, they might be getting some kind of commission, which could colour their recommendation. 

With these tips, you’ll have some great meals and an unforgettable trip.

Innsbruck: A cosy winter getaway with charm and history

Nestled in the Inn river valley, between scenic mountain ranges, Innsbruck strikes the perfect balance between relaxing remoteness and urban culture. 

Innsbruck is the historical capital of Tyrol, in Austria. It’s especially famous as a prime winter sports location, has something to offer for every taste, from perfect snow for avid skiers and snowboarders, to a sizeable selection of museums and churches, to the dazzling Ambras Castle adorning the hills above the city. 

Innsbruck is well connected via its railway station, as well as the international airport located just three miles from the centre. 

Accommodation
Depending on your budget, there are various options for where to stay, either in or near the city. Located centrally in the old town, hotels can be booked from less than £30 per night per person, with more luxurious 4-star and 5-star accommodation being just as readily available. 

Holiday apartments range in style from rustic to modern and offer a good alternative to staying in a hotel.

If you prefer being closer to the mountains, you might choose to stay in one of Innsbruck’s neighbouring villages, such as Völs, Rum, or Ampass. If the central locations are fully booked, privately owned bed and breakfasts can sometimes become free at the last minute!

Sports and outdoor activities
The former host city of two Winter Olympics, Innsbruck is a paradise for winter sports enthusiasts. With a single ski pass, visitors can access up to nine ski resorts covering over 160 miles of snowy pistes, accessible by the free ski bus or cable car. 

Cross-country skiing, snowboarding, and even ice climbing are becoming more and more popular, with many tour operators offering courses for beginners and experts alike. 

Stunning hiking trails meander through the mountains, leading up to small farms, chapels, and summits of 8,200 feet.

To enjoy the outdoors in a less extreme way, an idyllic horse-drawn sleigh ride provides a special treat!

Food
A vast variety of restaurants, bars, and cafés invite the hungry traveller inside to warm up over a glass of mulled wine or a cup of delicious Viennese coffee. 

Trendy cocktail bars stay open late for après-ski, and modern rooftop venues offer spectacular views to complement traditional Austrian cuisine. Popular favourites include the famous Wiener Schnitzel or the renowned dessert Palatschinken: hot pancakes dusted with icing sugar and filled to one’s taste with jam, chocolate, fresh fruit, or ice cream. 

A particular highlight is the Seegrube Restaurant. Although at 6,200 feet above sea level, atop the Northern Range, its unique flair is not just accessible to aspiring mountaineers: you can reach it within 20 minutes from the centre by cable car. 

Culture and events
Innsbruck’s rich history is still reflected in many of its architectural masterpieces, such as the castle Schloss Ambras. Associated with Ferdinand II, Archduke of Austria, it now doubles as a museum. You can also enjoy attractions such as the unique Golden Roof, dating back to 1500, or the Triumphal Arch in the south of the city.

If you’re on a budget, a simple stroll through the old town can turn into a sightseeing tour. Interesting museums such as the Tyrolean Folk Art Museum or the Alpine Club Museum offer insights into local traditions, customs, and influences over the past centuries. 

If you’re visiting during the Christmas season, the Christkindlmarkt, illuminating the city with its cosy golden glow, is not to be missed. 

As you’d expect, you should bring warm clothes, as temperatures can fall below freezing in winter. On New Year’s Eve, colourful fireworks are displayed against the backdrop of majestic mountain ranges at the impressive Bergsilvester – an ideal getaway to start the new year in style! 

Escape the winter blues in Seville

As winter city breaks go, Seville, the capital of Spain’s Andalusia region, is difficult to beat. It is a stunningly beautiful historic city with plenty of sightseeing to enjoy. Besides its architecture, Seville offers lively streets, tasty food, and friendly people. In all, an ideal escape during the cold winter months.

Wonderful architecture
Seville is rightly considered one of the most beautiful cities, not only in Spain but in the whole of Europe. Full of history, several of its main sightseeing buildings are top notch.

The cathedral is the world’s largest church by volume. The remains of Christopher Columbus rest in its splendorous interior. La Giralda, the tall minaret built adjacent to the main building, dates from the times when most of Spain was under Moorish rule. The city views from its top are stunning.

El Real Alcazar is a palace in the Moorish style. Used by the Spanish kings as a residence after the expulsion of the Moors, the palace is where Columbus planned his journey to America. Its rooms and gardens are extraordinarily beautiful.

Plaza de España, and its surrounding gardens, was the site of the Spanish pavilion for the 1929 World Exhibition. 

The Jewish Quarter, known locally as Barrio Santa Cruz, is the oldest part of the city. Its narrow and winding streets are full of shops and bars.

Torre del Oro, located on the banks of the Guadalquivir River, is a thirteenth-century tower that now houses the local maritime museum. 

Activities for everyone
Seville lives and breathes art. If its architecture is incomparable, the Museo de Bellas Artes is considered one of the best art museums in Spain, beaten only by El Prado in Madrid.

Flamenco is a must-see activity when in Andalusia. El Museo del Baile Flamenco (The Flamenco Dance Museum) is probably one of the best places to experience first hand all the passion that flamenco exudes. There are also many bars that offer flamenco shows to visitors every evening.

If you love tapas, one of the highlights of Seville is the lively bar scene. Order a sherry or a local beer on tap and indulge in Southern Spain’s gastronomy.

On the west bank of the Guadalquivir River, Barrio de Triana is worth a visit. It has traditionally been a neighbourhood of sailors and artisans, and is famous for its flamenco singers and dancers.

Explore Andalusia: Cadiz and Cordoba
Although Seville is the nicest city to visit in Southern Spain, Cadiz and Cordoba are definitely worth a visit.

Cadiz is considered Europe’s oldest city. Founded by Phoenician sailors about 3,000 years ago, it is only 90 minutes away from Seville by train. As a fairly small coastal city, a day is more than enough to explore its old quarter, visit its interesting cathedral, and walk along its beaches. The coast of the Cadiz province is one of the most beautiful in Spain. Its wild beaches are internationally famous.

The villages in the area around Cadiz are also worth considering when exploring the wider region. La ruta de los Pueblos Blancos, the White Villages Route, would take you through a stunning hilly landscape of well-preserved small villages. Grazalema, one of Spain’s most beautiful villages, is the centre of the route.

Cordoba, just 45 minutes away from Seville by fast train, is a fantastic option for a day out. La Mezquita, the mosque, was built in 786 and later converted into a church following the Christian Reconquista of Cordoba in 1236. The main mosque, with its famous coloured arches, still remains intact. It is one of the most stunning buildings you can visit in Europe.

Weather and logistics
The weather in Seville is mild, even in the winter months, with average maximum temperatures during the day of around 18C (65F), and sometimes over 20C (68F).

Seville is very well connected internationally. It has its own airport, served by easyJet, and offers plenty of accommodation options, from hotels to apartments, for all budgets. There are also fast train links from the city to Madrid, Cordoba, and Malaga.

Christmas events in the sunny south of Europe

November, December, and January are some of the biggest months for festivals and events throughout Europe. This is in no small part because it’s the Christmas season, and everyone loves to travel and check out the amazing things that Europe has to offer.

Since it is also approaching winter, some of you may be travelling to southern Europe to escape the cold and the snow. So what are some of the best festivals in southern Europe to check out? The ones that most people don’t know about? Let’s dive in and see what’s happening!

Christmas Markets
Europe has some of the best craftspeople in the world, and Christmas is their bread and butter. This is why Christmas markets have exploded in popularity throughout the continent. Not only is it a great opportunity to see the wonderful creations these people make, but it’s an excellent place to find gifts for your loved ones during the Christmas season.

Lisbon
The Natal e na FIL festival market in Lisbon runs from 5th – 9th December 2018 and offers many local delights, crafts, and food. A popular part of the market is the chocolate market, where you can find the best chocolate masters in the country showing off their delicious creations. It’s a large market, but often gets overlooked for markets in other countries such as Germany and France.

Venice
Venice also has a range of Christmas markets that open in mid-December. Held in the piazzas, the markets include music, concerts, and entertainment. Look for events in Strada Nuova, Campo Santo Stefano, and the pop-up ice rink in Campo San Polo.

Tallinn
Going outside southern Europe for a moment, if you’re looking for something unusual, try the Christmas market in Tallinn, Estonia, at the Town Hall Square. This market continues well into January because the Eastern Orthodox Church has 7th January as Christmas Day. Late Christmas or not, you can enjoy the Christmas tree that is set up at Tallinn’s Town Hall each year. This has been going on since 1441, and Tallinn was the first place in Europe to have a Christmas tree. You can enjoy black pudding, sour cabbage, gingerbread and many other Christmas delicacies. 

Beyond Christmas Markets: Barcelona
One of the strangest traditions is the Tio de Nadal in Barcelona. When you visit you will find many great things to do, as well as seeing wooden logs with faces painted onto one end. The children call these logs – which give out sweets and presents – Caga Tio, or a ‘Poo Log!’ 

While in Barcelona, you can check out the Gothic basilica Santa Maria del Mar, which hosts an amazing Christmas concert that many people don’t know about. 

Malta
Few people choose Malta as a Christmas destination, but they may be missing out. Yes, it can be rainy and windy there at this time of year, but you still can enjoy the lights in Valletta that run throughout the Christmas season. You get a reasonably affordable trip, wonderful people to meet, and some great Christmas festivities including the Malta International Christmas Festival. This music and dance festival running from 27th – 30th December is only a few years old, but it is a wonderful time for everyone. 

So while you could go to Berlin, London, or Paris for Christmas and visit the tourist attractions, you might have a better time by going off the beaten track and checking out some very unique Christmas events in the sunny south. 

Rotterdam: A leading creative capital to explore

We asked Rotterdam local Huub Lakerveld to give us his personal tips for a visit to this wonderful Dutch city.

Visiting Rotterdam in the winter season means you can stroll around cosy Christmas markets, feast on local treats, and marvel at the contemporary architecture. 

Vibrant atmosphere
Rotterdam is a paradise for food lovers and architecture enthusiasts. In particular, the Blaak square hosts some of Rotterdam’s most original buildings. When I take the exit at the Blaak metro station, I see the iconic Cubic Houses on my right-hand side. The architect made the square houses turn 45 degrees, which makes them look like large hanging Rubik’s cubes. You can visit one of the houses for a unique experience. 

Next to the Cubic Houses, you can sip a drink while overlooking the Oude Haven, the old harbour, with its traditional vessels and many bars.

On the left side of Blaak square, you can find my favourite place for culinary refreshment: the Markthal or market hall, where you can revel in delicacies from all over the world. There are fresh meats, cheeses, exotic fruits, nuts, and much more to feast on. Don’t forget to look up, because the ceiling is decorated with vivid paintings of fruits and plants.  

Winter activities 
From the colourful Markthal, I make my way to the Trompenburg Garden Christmas market. The fragrance of hot chocolate fills my nostrils and snowflakes plunge onto my shoulders. Here you can taste the delightful Dutch delicacy called poffertjes: fluffy mini-pancakes covered with a blanket of powdered sugar. This Christmas market is one of many that pop up in wintery Rotterdam. 

For a wide selection of stalls and live music, visit the Christmas market in Delfshaven, the oldest neighbourhood in the city. This year most Christmas markets in the city will take place from 15th – 17th December 2018. Bring your hat and scarf, because the temperature in Rotterdam could go as low as -10C (14F) between November and January!

New Year’s Eve
The Erasmus Bridge over the Maas river is one of the sights you can’t afford to miss when visiting this vibrant port city. Its nickname, The Swan, makes sense when you see the white futuristic arch of the overpass. On New Year’s Eve there’s a bonfire and spectacular fireworks right next to the Erasmus Bridge. This firework show is one of the largest in the Netherlands. Be early to ensure your spot, as it gets very crowded. 

Book fair 
In the winter months, I prefer to spend a lot of time inside a café with an electrifying bestseller or a historical encyclopaedia near at hand. That’s why I love to visit the event hall Ahoy, where over a million books are sold during the annual gathering of bookworms called the ‘Boekenfestijn‘: literally the book feast. The next book fair will be held from 24th – 27th January 2019, and admission is free.

The ultimate food places
In Rotterdam, you can enjoy scenic views from the observation deck of the Euromast tower. Savour a lovely meal in the accompanying restaurant while overlooking the illuminated skyline of Rotterdam. You can opt for a dinner buffet or let the chef surprise you with a three-course dinner for £32. 

Another interesting culinary hotspot is the Fenix Food Factory. Similar to the Markthal, you can sample fresh Dutch staples such as bread, sausages, and cheeses. A good way of washing down the food is by drinking a beer at the Kaapse Brouwers, a local brewery. 

My favourite place for a refreshing ale is Belgisch Biercafé Boudewijn in the heart of the city. With over 200 types of beer, this is the perfect place to blend with the locals and finish your trip to Rotterdam in a friendly and relaxed way.