Coach holidays to Europe: the stress-free way to get away

Holidays often mean hours stuck in airports, with endless queues and invasive security checks. Yet many of our customers never have this hassle and stress, because they travel to Europe by coach.

If you’ve not looked at coach travel recently, it’s a real eye-opener. You’ll get some incredible ideas for holidays by browsing some of the websites that we’ll mention in this article.

These kind of guided coach tours are useful if you haven’t been to a place before. You can see the main sites without having to worry about exactly where you’re going, or how to find your way there.

There are several national coach firms in the UK, including ShearingsLeger Holidays, and National Holidays, which will all take you to Europe. They have special Christmas Market tours, and also offer year-round travel to lots of interesting places.

Shearings

Shearings visits more than 30 countries. They have Christmas market coach trips to Strasbourg, Copenhagen, Prague, and Brussels. Their packages include transport and accommodation. The tours tend to have a ferry crossing at Dover, and you can see an itinerary for each day of your trip. This can be useful if you want to see several places on the same holiday, but don’t want the worry of having to organise it yourself. 

They have modern coaches with lots of legroom, wifi, and air conditioning. They also allow you to book by phone, which can be handy if you have any questions or would prefer to speak to a real person.

Leger Holidays

Leger Holidays also has Christmas market coach trips. They have packages going to Bruges, Arras & Lille; Bavarian Christmas Markets in Nuremberg, Bamberg & Würzburg; and Copenhagen, Lübeck & Münster. 

For something different, try their tour Christmas Markets in Ypres & Lille and Battlefields of the Western Front. You can even spend Christmas in the Bavarian Forest.

They also have a phone number to speak to someone who can help you.

National Holidays

National Holidays have some interesting packages if you want to go away for the whole of Christmas and new year. You could visit Lake Garda in northern Italy, with an excursion to Verona. Or you could go to Tossa de Mar in Catalonia, Spain, with an excursion to Barcelona.

Coach holidays in 2020

Beyond the Christmas Markets, there’s a wide world of coach holidays in 2020. 

If you fancy a classic train ride, take a coach to the Glacier Express in Switzerland, and take the 180-mile journey from the pretty Alpine resort of Zermatt, close to the Matterhorn, on to Davos or St Moritz. 

Disneyland Paris is always popular, and you can go there by coach too.

Specialist tours
In the spring, you can visit the European bulb fields. Keukenhof Gardens is one of the largest flower gardens in the world, where you can see seven million tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and flowering bulbs!

You could also go to Sicily, In the Footsteps of The Godfather, and explore the places where Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather trilogy was filmed.

Many coach tours visit several cities—like a cruise but on the road! Shearings run a trip to Prague, Vienna and Budapest; a fireworks tour Rhine in Flames which takes in Cologne, Koblenz, Rudesheim, and Bonn; or the Great Cities of the Danube from Passau to Linz, including Vienna, Budapest, and Bratislava.

Foodies will like special coach tours tailored to their gastronomic needs. Italian Flavours, Ferrari and Pavarotti visits many high-quality food producers, the Modena home of opera singer Pavarotti, and Maranello, famous for being home to the Ferrari motor racing team. 

Tuscan Sights and Culinary Delights mixes the beautiful scenery of Turin, Pisa, Elba, Lucerne, and Reims with pizza, artisanal pasta, and salami.

If you’re planning ahead, in September you could take a coach to the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, one of the world’s most historic and fastest motor races.

We’re sure you’ll agree there’s such a wide range of coach holidays on offer that it’s worth exploring further, to get inspiration for your travels. So click on the links here that most appeal to you, and see where a coach could take you! Happy travels!

Dubai: A lovely warm holiday in the winter

Still unsure about where to go on holiday this winter? If you and your family are looking for an escape from the harsh cold weather, Dubai is your answer!

The most pleasant weather begins in December and lasts until February. Temperatures get up around 27C (81F) in December and January, so the weather is perfect for sightseeing and entertainment.

The best thing about winter nights in Dubai is the long walks in the city. The friendly fellow tourists can be seen stopping for a hot cup of cocoa or an ice cream. Every few blocks there are small carnivals, as part of the Dubai Shopping Festival (DSF) which runs from Boxing Day until the end of January.

Something for everyone

The city is filled with a huge variety of places and experiences suitable for all age groups. From unbelievable gardens to theme parks, from shopping malls to the best restaurants in the world, from water parks to beaches and carnivals, Dubai has it all! Let’s take a look at what you can do in Dubai in December and January.

Beaches

The latest addition to the impressive lifestyle of Dubai is La Mer beachfront. It has restaurants, a cinema, its own water park, and is the perfect place for family. The best part? Entrance is free!

The Marina Walk is another great attraction that allows you to take a walk among the beautiful paved streets. Surrounded by great hotels and restaurants, this walk ends on the beautiful Marina Beach.

Astonishing gardens

The world’s largest natural flower garden is the Dubai Miracle Garden, and everything it holds is sure to take your breath away. A display of around 109 million flowers in all shapes and sizes is not to be missed. A particular highlight is a real Emirates Airbus A380 aircraft, covered in more than 500,000 fresh flowers and living plants. The entry fee is £8.50 (AED 40) for adults and £6.50 (AED 30) for children under 12 years.

The Dubai Butterfly Garden is inside the same garden, although it requires a separate entrance ticket. It is home to more than 15,000 exotic butterflies, kept under four temperature-controlled domes. The entrance fee for adults is £10.50 (AED 50).

Action and adventure

Dubai is home to some of the best theme parks in the world. Motiongate Dubai is inspired by Hollywood. Legoland needs no introduction! You’ve also got Bollywood ParksWild Wadi Waterpark and IMG Worlds of Adventure.

Driving over sand dunes and seeing the never-ending stretch of the desert is a sight to behold. The drivers who take you on these trips are highly skilled and will make sure you remember this ride for a long time. Depending on which trip you book, the safari might end at a beautiful camp where you will experience true Arabic culture. When the tourists settle in, and the sun sets, the performances begin. Musicians and dancers show their skills, followed by dinner. Be sure to dress in warm clothes and take layers of clothing, as the nights in the desert can get pretty cold.

Shopping

During the Dubai Shopping Festival the discounts are huge! You’ll get a world-class shopping experience in the humongous Dubai Mall and Mall of the Emirates. Dubai Mall is a genuine attraction, with its Dubai Aquarium and Ski Dubai, the first indoor ski resort in the middle east.

Sightseeing

The right place to taste the world is the Global Village. The mix of 90 cultures in one place is something no one should miss. People from every country display their culture in the form of clothes, food and other specialities. The entry fee is £3.20 (AED 15). The best time to go there is a little before sunset. This will give you time to see everything in daylight as well as at night, where the true magic of lights begins.

The world’s largest dancing fountain is the most popular free tourist attraction. It is set in Burj Khalifa Lake between Dubai Mall and the Burj Khalifa, which is the tallest building in the world. There is a show every 30 minutes where the fountain dances to different songs. It is an experience like no other! For a better view, make sure you reach the fountain boundary five minutes after the previous show ends: December and January are popular months, and it can get very crowded.

There’s so much going on in Dubai that you’re bound to find something to interest you. So if you’re looking to get away from the cold, make this the winter you visit Dubai! Don’t forget to take out our Go2 Travel Insurance before you leave.

Kraków: A beautiful Christmas market, Chopin, and… axe throwing?

If you fancy a short European city break for three or four nights, and you don’t want to break the bank, try Kraków in southern Poland this December. There’s a lot to explore, with a flight time of only two and a half hours, and you might just get some snow to put you in the Christmas mood!

Kraków Christmas Market

As it’s December, let’s start our exploring with a trip to the Christmas market. The Irish Times named it one of the top ten Christmas Markets in Europe, and it’s well worth a visit.

The market is held every year in the beautiful main square, Rynek Główny, which is one of the largest medieval town squares in Europe.

You’ll find excellent first-hand accounts on the web of what the market is like, and detailed information of all the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes that you can experience. These articles will do a great job of selling you on why you need to go to Kraków this Christmas! Visitors also report that the prices are very reasonable.

There’s everything you’d expect at the market: Christmas trees, amazing decorations, Polish pottery, gifts, mulled wine served in traditional wooden barrels, and lots of food. Meat and cheese dishes are plentiful. Entertainment is provided by local ensembles singing carols, and you’ll find proper carol concerts too.

An unusual and unique tradition in Kraków is the display of Christmas Cribs, known as szopki—they are very ornate, and look like a nativity scene mixed with a dolls house.

You can even book a tour of the market, which includes a trip to an authentic Polish restaurant and explanation of Polish Christmas traditions. The tour also helps to support local cultural heritage by taking you to a small, local gallery to see how traditional hand-painted glass baubles are made.

What else is there to see?

The historic centre of Kraków is a UNESCO world heritage site. You can explore the medieval history and take a stroll around the public parks. 

You can see churches, such as St Adalbert’s Church and St Mary’s Basilica, and visit Wawel Royal Castle

You’ll also find plenty of fascinating museums and galleries. The Historical Museum is made up of 14 branches throughout the city.

The MOCAK Museum of Contemporary Art is notable for being built on the site of Oskar Schindler’s famous factory; it’s a modern warehouse museum with glass floors and slanting roofs, presenting 4,000 works from the last two decades.

When you need a rest, visit a milk bar for traditional food and drink. The milk bars have a fascinating history, dating back to communist times, and provide homemade meals at very low prices.

Culture in Kraków

The most famous Polish musician is the great piano composer Frédéric Chopin, and you don’t want to miss out on the opportunity to hear his music performed in Poland. The Chopin Gallery has regular one-hour piano concerts, performed by wonderful Polish pianists. The concerts get great reviews and cost less than £15 to enter.

For something a little bit odd, take a ten-minute walk north from the main square to Bad Axe. It promotes itself as “the premium Viking-styled axe throwing club, where you can learn how to safely throw axes”. It’s got to be worth a try, right?

Travel to Kraków

There are plenty of easyJet flights to Kraków airport from all over the UK. The city is 20-minute taxi ride from the airport, and the Uber taxi app also serves Kraków, to help you get around once you’re there.

Accommodation is reasonably priced, especially on Airbnb. £30 a night goes a long way here! There are also lots of traditional hotels to choose from.

If you’d like to have everything arranged for you, Newmarket Holidays runs a four day trip to the Kraków Christmas market. Leger Holidays also has package tours to many of the Christmas markets in Europe.

When it comes to Kraków, there’s so much to do that you’re bound to find a whole host of things to interest you. So here’s to festive good cheer in Kraków this year!

Europe’s best Christmas markets

Travel writer Julia Hammond is obsessed with European Christmas markets. Here she gives us a personal tour of her favourites that she has visited.

Magical Salzburg delivers festive cheer

In winter, under a carpet of snow, crowds of shoppers wrapped up in scarves and hats throng the Christmas markets. Nowhere in Austria, not even Vienna, does it better than Salzburg. 

Several excellent markets are scattered across the city, and the largest clusters around the steps of its imposing cathedral. The first Advent market was held in the city in the late 15th century. These days, at the sprawling Christkindlmarkt, stalls are laden with glass baubles, local handicrafts, and sweet treats. Strings of fairy lights and the cinnamon scent of glühwein on the frosty air add to the festive atmosphere.

Words like enchanting and magical pepper the travel pages at this time of year but for once they are more than just hype. At Hellbrunn Palace, the famous trick fountains take a back seat to a handicrafts market. Here, the quality of the merchandise is high. There are no cheap Chinese imports here. Instead, hand-blown glass, felted wool cushions, and locally carved wooden ornaments are the order of the day. Never has a bus ride to the suburbs been so worth it.

Advent is extra-special in Bavaria 

Although Austria is great, it’s Austria’s next-door neighbour—Germany—that tops the table in the Christmas market league. Nuremberg, in the north of Bavaria, stages arguably the best Christkindlesmarkt in the country. It also has the advantage of excellent transport connections to markets in places such as historic Bamberg and uber-quaint Rothenburg ob der Tauber

As in Austria, there are plenty of opportunities to pick up a locally-made souvenir. Nuremberg’s signature snack is Drei im Weggla, three slim but tasty sausages tucked inside a crusty bun. Follow it with spiced lebkuchen, a soft gingerbread eaten on the go.

Worthy of a special mention are the markets of nearby Regensburg, an easy train ride from Nuremberg. There are several markets in the city; cross the stone bridge at the Spitalgarten to visit a living nativity scene complete with farm animals. 

The best market, though, is the Thurn and Taxis market, set up every Advent in the grounds of beautiful (and conveniently central) St Emmeram Palace. Braziers full of seasoned logs and mugs of steaming hot spiced apple juice will warm your cold fingers, while swags of freshly cut fir decorate the popup shops. Lit by candlelight and torches, it’s a delightful sight and sure to get you in the mood for Christmas.

Try a Scandinavian Christmas market experience

For something different, try the Danish Christmas markets. Copenhagen hosts several Julemarkeder (Christmas markets). The Kongens Nytorv market is one of the most central, while the stalls that cluster on Nyhavn’s cobbled quays have perhaps the most picturesque settings. Pick up a hand-knitted Nisse man: a mythological creature from Nordic folklore who will look after you and your property, so long as you take care not to offend him.

It’s hard to beat the market that fills historic Tivoli, despite the hefty price tag to get in. This theme park is unrivalled when it comes to displays and decorations, and in December, you can combine its rides with a mug of gløgg (mulled wine). 

So there you have it. Europe is full of wonderful Christmas markets—which will you visit this year?

How to choose between a hotel and Airbnb

The boom of Airbnb and similar accommodation sharing sites like Booking.com has given us all a wealth of options when it comes to choosing where to stay. But how do you choose between a traditional hotel and the modern accommodation sharing sites? Here are some questions to ask yourself.

What is Airbnb, anyway?

Accommodation sharing sites like Airbnb or Booking.com give people a chance to rent out their property—or part of it—to short-term tourists.

Your “host” is the person who owns the property you’ll be renting. Sometimes you’ll just be staying in a room while the host still lives in the place, and other times the host won’t be there and you’ll have the place entirely to yourself for the whole length of your stay. You’ll know this in advance when you book.

Are you a culture seeker?

Airbnb is a great way to live like a local for a while. Often your host will be able to make some great suggestions for dining and activities that are off the beaten tourist track. This will give you a more authentic experience and insight into what life is really like for the people that live there. There are also more options for accommodation on the outskirts of the city centre, maybe in a neighbourhood you would not have visited otherwise. 

Are you a luxury traveller?

Hotels offer more amenities. There are some stunning Airbnb places out there, but they rarely come with 24-hour concierge and room service, access to a spa, or someone to make your bed. If you like to be pampered after a long day of sightseeing, only a hotel can offer you the full treatment.

On the other hand, some Airbnb places offer things like your own pool table in your apartment!

Are you on a budget?

Airbnb is often the cheaper option, especially if the size of your group means you’d need more than one room in a hotel. You’ll pay less for more space, and have access to a kitchen for cooking some low-cost meals. If there’s a washing machine in the house it’s usually free to use. You can also negotiate the price with your host, especially if you’re looking at a long-term stay. 

Are you keen to meet other travellers?

Hotels give you the chance to meet like-minded travellers during your trip. There are more places to run into people (lobby, lounge, hotel bar), and those people are almost guaranteed to be other visitors. With Airbnb, your neighbours will probably be going to and from work, and are unlikely to join you for the afternoon bus tour!

Are you with a group?

Airbnb is perfect if you’re looking to rent a larger space. You can find a three-bedroom house, an entire villa, or even a private island. The options and flexibility to accommodate a large group in one space are endless. It’s also cheaper to split the cost of a house on Airbnb than to book individual rooms for each of your group members.

Are you looking for something different?

Airbnb has some pretty unique accommodation options, from tree houses and tiny homes to igloos and castles! If you’re looking for a once in a lifetime accommodation experience, Airbnb is the place to find it.

Are you a points collector?

Hotel groups and booking sites often offer a rewards programme. Some might provide VIP benefits for frequent visitors, or a free booking after collecting enough points. Currently, Airbnb offers no such programme, but the cheaper accommodation offsets the value of reward points anyway.

There’s a whole world of exciting accommodation beyond hotels, so if you’ve not yet tried Airbnb, give it a go!

Seven free things to do in Las Vegas

Las Vegas is well known for some of its more expensive attractions: its gambling culture, but also its pricey hotels, restaurants, and live shows. However, if you’re travelling to Vegas on a budget, don’t despair. There are free and fun activities that you can add to your itinerary, and as an added bonus, they’ll take you off the beaten path where you can explore some of Vegas’s hidden gems. Here are seven exciting free things to do in Las Vegas.

1. Walk the Fremont Street Experience

When you think of Vegas, you probably think of the Strip, but in the early days of the city, all the action was located in downtown Las Vegas, in the northern part of the city. One of the central parts of downtown is the Fremont Street Experience, a vibrant pedestrian mall known for its extravagant light shows. Even if you don’t go into any of the casinos or shops, there’s still plenty of glitz and glamour to enjoy just by walking around. They host free concerts throughout the year, plus you’ll enjoy the Viva Vision light show, running on the hour on the world’s second-largest video screen. If you do have some cash to hand you can ride the SlotZilla zip line for a pretty spectacular view of the light show.

2. Watch the Bellagio Fountain Show

Even if you’ve never been to Vegas before, you’ve probably seen pictures of the Bellagio’s iconic fountains.  One of the best free attractions in the city is watching the fountain show, which takes place every 15 to 30 minutes throughout the day and night. Watching the water is incredibly calming, and the entire show is choreographed to music. This is an excellent family-friendly attraction that adults and children alike will enjoy—just make sure to stake out a spot well before the show starts so you can see everything. If you have a little more time, head inside and check out the Bellagio’s conservatory and botanical gardens as well. It’s simultaneously elegant and kitschy, and a great place for a photo.

3. Drive out to Seven Magic Mountains

A short drive south of Las Vegas, out in the desert, there is a collection of brightly coloured rocks. This is an art installation by Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone, called Seven Magic Mountains. When you want a breather from the hustle-and-bustle of Vegas, take a ride out here and experience the dramatic colours and landscape. Be sure to take your camera to capture the drama of the installation against the surrounding desert.

4. Watch a show at Circus Circus

Although many of Vegas’s most notable shows are very expensive, you can get a taste of the magic with a free performance at Circus Circus

Performances happen every half hour, starting at 11:30am. You’ll find trapeze artists, acrobats, clowns, and much more. The high flying show is fun and is a great way to take a break between casinos or bars. Circus Circus is also one of the most family-friendly resorts on the Strip, and if your kids are getting restless you can take them to the Adventuredome to let off some steam. Although the rides cost money, you may be able to get a good deal if you book in advance.

5. Stroll the Grand Canal Shoppes

The Venetian is one of the most iconic resorts in Vegas. Don’t miss a stroll through the Grand Canal Shoppes, which are designed to recreate the architecture and atmosphere of Venice. Even if you don’t buy anything, the spectacle will be more than enough to keep you entertained. You can even take a (paid) gondola ride around the mall, and there are Venetian themed street performers in a recreation of St. Mark’s Square. It’s as close as you can get to Venice without actually going there. After you’ve explored the mall, be sure to head in the direction of the Palazzo, where you’ll find the atrium waterfall between the two resorts. It’s the perfect place for a photo and maybe even a kiss if you’re with your significant other.

6. Tour the Ethel M Chocolate Factory

If you have a car, take a drive out to Henderson to tour this unique chocolate factory, which was founded by Forrest Mars Sr. after he retired from Mars. Tours are free, and you’ll get to see all of the chocolate-making in action. Outside, you can stroll through the on-site botanical cactus garden, which features hundreds of cactus species within four acres. If you are willing to spend some money, you can attend a chocolate tasting session or purchase some gourmet chocolate to take home as a souvenir.

7. Watch TV at CBS Television City Research Center

CBS Television City Research Center is located inside the MGM Grand. Here you can watch unaired pilot episodes for new shows that CBS is considering putting on the air—which means you may get to see the next big hit before everyone else does. You also have the chance to help with testing new commercials and even sometimes the testing of fun new products like gaming systems and smartphones. You’ll take a short touchscreen survey afterwards, and you’ll get a goodie bag of merchandise from popular CBS shows as a reward. If you’re a pop culture junkie, this is a unique experience that you shouldn’t miss out on.

Finally: Things to remember when travelling to the USA

Remember when travelling to the USA that you’ll need to fill in a type of tourist visa called an ESTA online before you go. Make sure you do it at least three days in advance to give it time to be approved. Also, medical costs in the USA are very high if you have an accident or are taken ill, so take out our Go2 Travel Insurance cover to protect yourself. Have a great trip!

Malta: still warm in November

If you need some November sun, but can’t face more than a three-hour flight, then Malta is a great choice.

Climate

Malta is located far enough south (at the base of Sicily) that it is parallel with north Africa. This gives Malta pleasant weather well into the autumn, with temperature highs in November of around 21C (70F), and sea temperatures of 22C (72F).

This is actually an excellent time of year to explore the country’s numerous sights without the oppressive heat of the high-season sun.

Architecture

There are an abundance of ancient grand churches and stunning temples at Tarxien to explore, with the oldest, the megalithic temple of Hagar Qim, thought to have been built as early as 3600 BC!

The capital, Valetta (the smallest capital in the European Union) was granted UNESCO World Heritage status in 1980. Considering its wealth of preserved 16th-century architecture, this is no surprise. Walking through the narrow, winding streets of the medieval city reveals new sights around every turn.

A main focal point, magnificent both inside and out, is St John’s Co-Cathedral built in the 1570s. Be sure to also visit the National Museum of Archaeology for a fascinating insight into Malta’s abundant history.

Shops

Valetta is also home to a labyrinth of limestone-walled streets, which host a vast array of quaint little shops where you can purchase unique gifts and even watch some being made. The art of glass-blowing can often be observed here, and you can buy the finished articles.

Restaurants

Just north of Valetta, Sliema and St Julian’s are the main tourist resorts, and are where the majority of the hotels and restaurants and located. Malta is not considered a party island, which is what often makes it an attractive choice for more mature travellers. However, St Julian’s does have a reasonable amount of entertainment in the evenings.

Beaches

For sun-worshippers, the Grand Harbour is not to be missed, and the glorious crystal clear waters—some of the bluest and cleanest in the Mediterranean—are very inviting. 

Malta has twelve blue-flag beaches, with lots of information available, and an online beach condition tracker. Malta has predominantly rocky beaches as opposed to sandy ones. However, Golden Bay has a nice sandy beach and offers spectacular sunsetsRiviera beach is also sandy.

Should you go?

Wherever you stay, the island is small enough (just over 122 square miles) that you are never far away from something of interest. 

So, whether it’s culture and history you are seeking, or sun and sea, Malta will definitely tick all your boxes. The Maltese people, being especially friendly, are sure to make you feel most welcome.

Travel Tips: How not to get lost when sightseeing

There’s no doubt that setting out to explore a city you’ve never been to before is exciting. Whether you’re planning on wandering around a bustling modern metropolis or the quiet cobbled streets of an ancient city’s historic centre, it’s great to be heading somewhere new.

Soaking up the atmosphere, taking in the sights, sounds, and smells, stopping to admire the architecture, or just browsing the window displays in the local shops can be a fascinating experience. But treading unknown territory can also be a little disorientating, and before you know it, you can easily find yourself lost. 

So how do you find your way in a strange city? A little planning goes a long way.

Google Maps and apps
If you’re thinking “Well, I’ll just get out my smartphone and get some directions from Google Maps, and that’s that!”—yes, you’d be correct; it’s one solution although not an infallible one. 

It’s very easy nowadays to become blasé about finding information when everything is there at your fingertips on the internet. But keep in mind you could be somewhere where the signal reception is weak, or even worse, non-existent. This can, however, be overcome if you were savvy enough to download offline maps before you got lost—the TripAdvisor app lets you download offline maps for a city. The compass app on your phone can also be useful too, even if you don’t have any internet access.

Phone batteries also have that bad habit of dying on you right at the moment you need them the most. For those reasons, relying on technology alone to get you around isn’t always such a good idea, and it’s better to carry some non-technological back-up with you too.

Use landmarks
Whatever city you’re visiting, you’re probably already aware of the major landmarks, monuments or museums you’re planning to see. If your hotel is near a railway or underground station, you can use these as a handy reference point to find your way back to. If you see a bus stop, have a quick look and see which number bus you could take to get back to the stop later.

Before you spend time exploring the city—preferably while you’re still at home before your travels—bring up Google Maps on your computer. If you’ve already arrived, use a computer in the hotel lobby. Then, using the directions tool, plot the route from your hotel to a significant landmark. Choose something big and tall like a cathedral that will either be visible from around the city or will be well signposted. 

Click on the pedestrian icon and it’ll show you the best route and how long the walk is. Magnify it until you can see all the street names and then print it out, or at least take a screenshot or photo of it on your phone.

Don’t forget to put your printout in your pocket when you leave the hotel!

Map reading
Most cities have a tourist information centre where you can pick up free maps. These centres can come in very useful too, provided you can find them in the first place! 

Travel guide books often also include a map, some of which are either separate or are designed to be easily detached to carry in your pocket.

Mark your hotel on the printed map with a pen, and also mark a nearby landmark that will be clearly signposted, to help you find your way back.

Use the sun
If your phone has run out of battery and you can’t use your compass app, you can use the sun to help you navigate. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west, no matter where in the world you are. Remember not to look directly at the sun!

In the northern hemisphere (Europe, USA) the sun will be at due south at midday. In the southern hemisphere (Australia), the sun will be due north at midday. (The exact time might vary a bit, due to daylight savings.)

If you’re completely lost and don’t have a reference point, and you can see the sun, this is a quick way to get your bearings and head in the right general direction until you can find a useful landmark to navigate from. 

Take notes
The first thing to note is the street your hotel is on, and which district or part of the city it’s in, eg the south-west. If you can find a business card at the hotel’s reception, it will probably have the hotel’s full formal address on it, which can be useful to keep in your pocket.

One sure way of keeping track of where you are is to take some quick notes as you go. From the moment you step out of the hotel reception, write down the name of each street you walk along and whether you turned left or right onto it. You can use the notepad feature on your phone for this. It also helps to take photos of important crossroads or places where you turned, or interesting landmarks you’ll recognise on the way back. 

To find your way back again, just follow the directions you’ve noted down. Don’t be tempted only to take mental notes, because it’s too easy for everywhere in a strange place to look alike, and it can get very confusing!

If you’re the adventurous type, you could learn a few phrases in the local language so that you can ask for directions.

Last resort: “Taxi!”
Of course, if despite your efforts you still get lost, you can always take a taxi back to your hotel! 

Load the Uber app (and the Lyft app if you’re visiting the USA) onto your phone before you go. You can check on the Uber or Lyft website to see whether they serve the city you’re visiting. Then if you can’t find a local taxi you can at least use your phone (if you’ve got battery power and signal/wifi) to get you back to your hotel in time for dinner!

Why community-based tourism helps bring Kyrgyzstan’s culture to life

Travel writer Julia Hammond had no idea what to expect when she travelled to Kyrgyzstan earlier this year. What she experienced was far better than she’d dared imagine.

In this internet-led, social media-fuelled age, there are few surprises when it comes to travel. A quick trawl of Instagram or a lightning-fast Google search throws up thousands of images. The days of going to the library or bookshop for a guide book are increasingly too slow for an impatient audience who need answers now. 

Enjoying the scenery
I’d checked the internet myself, of course, when I began planning my trip to Kyrgyzstan, which is just to the west of China. Breathtaking images of Song Kol lake framed by snow-capped mountains and horseback rides through the pretty Chong-Kemin valley made it to the shortlist. Joanna Lumley’s Silk Road television series filled in the gaps. 

My insistence on including the UNESCO-listed caravanserai of Tash Rabat met with an incredulous response from the tour operator I asked to put together my ambitious itinerary:
“But it’s so far, are you sure you want to drive all that way?” 

I did. If it was good enough for Joanna, it was good enough for me. (I should add, it proved to be the highlight of the trip.) I snapped away, recreating the shots that I’d seen online and added a few of my own, scribbling endlessly in my notebook. 

The weather was just perfect, and each scene looked more appealing than the last, with blue skies and spring flowers adding a splash of colour. Even the marmots played ball, scampering across roadside meadows to add what photographers might term “foreground interest”. And honestly, if that had been it, I’d have been quite content. 

Cooking food with the locals
But thanks to Kyrgyzstan’s community-based tourism set-up, which encourages local people to package up typical activities for a tourist market, I was more than happy. The country didn’t just satisfy: it made me excited.

You see, what I enjoyed most about this Central Asian nation was the Kyrgyz people’s determination to share rather than show off their culture. 

In Karakol, a boorsok cookery demonstration was scheduled for me. I arrived at the guest house as the sun sank behind the mountains. Outside, a cast iron pan balanced on top of a log fire. Using sign language and smiles, the owner showed me how to make these deliciously salty fried dough parcels. Before long I was cooking up a storm. There were broad grins all round when the results I dished up were crisp and golden and oh so tasty. 

A couple of days later in Kochkor, the little old lady who taught me her method of felting beamed from ear to ear when I showed her my own craft project from home. The techniques couldn’t have been more different. As she scrubbed away at her fibres with soap and water, my method seemed woefully lazy. But we shared a common love of crafting, and that made us equally delighted. 

Authentic and unspoilt
Things became a bit more challenging when animals were involved. It would have been all too easy to have been held to my unwitting purchase of the cow in the animal bazaar, one place where a smile and a nod might not be such a good idea. And I’ll know, next time, that when the eagle hunter asks if I want him to bring out the rabbit, he’s being literal. 

There was no denying, however, that when it came to skill and tradition, what I was seeing was real, with a no-holds-barred, inclusive approach. It was confronting, but at the same time, compelling.

I knew I’d stumbled upon something very special. Sure, Kyrgyzstan’s a stunner, but it’s also a country that hasn’t yet felt the need to sanitise and repackage its cultural heritage for a foreign audience. I saw a genuine joy in sharing a way of life just the way it was, and my travel experience was all the richer for it. 

They say, on the internet, that Central Asian hospitality is legendary, and they’re not wrong. I’m already planning a return visit.

How I planned my trip
[Editor’s note: the author travelled independently, and this is not a promotional piece. I simply asked Julia how you too could plan a trip like this. Here’s what she told me:]

I started with this jeep tour offered by Advantour and then customised it to fit my dates and needs. They will make any package bespoke, so you can say to them, like I did, that you’d like a felt workshop, a bread making class, or an eagle hunter demonstration, etc., and they will add those in. They were very efficient and helpful, and I would recommend them as a company. Plus this wasn’t a press trip, so I can say that without bias!

Travel insurance
Our Go2 Travel Insurance product is most appropriate for trips to Kyrgyzstan, since it offers cover for countries outside of Europe.

Granada, Spain: city, beach, and ski—three destinations in one!

Granada is one of those places in southern Spain where you really can have it all. You can eat free tapas in one of the many bars around the city, walk through the Sierra Nevada mountains before the first snowfall, or relax on a beach along the Costa Tropical. You’ll never be short of things to see and do in this authentic area of Spain.

Granada City
Granada may not be one of the more obvious cities to visit in Spain, but this only adds to its charm and authenticity. You can still go to traditional tapas haunts around the cobbled streets and get some delicious free tapas (when brought with an alcoholic drink). 

A particularly lively area called Plaza de Bib-Rambla is a great place to tick off when exploring the city. Full of cafes, bars and shops, this tree-lined square is full of Spanish charm and makes you fall in love with the area. Nearby is one of the great bazaars which sells a wide range of Arabic goods including silks, spices and colourful jewellery. 

The city is also the perfect place to get some wonderful views of the Alhambra Palace. A great way to see both the palace and the Sierra Nevada is to take in the views at Mirador de San Nicolas. Simply take bus number C31 from the Plaza Nueva or alternatively take a taxi which will cost only a few euros. 

Costa Tropical 
Less than an hour from Granada, the area of Costa Tropical is a great way to go from city to beach and enjoy a different part of Spain. With the Costa Tropical cooling to a pleasant 24C (75F) in October, and the beaches themselves becoming less crowded, it’s a great time of year to visit.

The nearest beach from Granada is Motril, which is approximately a 45 minute drive away. This long, shingle beach has a few beach bars dotted along the coastline, and the sea is relatively calm if you wanted to take a quick dip. If you stop for a drink, go to Hoyo 19, a chiringuito (small bar) right on the beach which serves delicious food and ice-cold drinks. 

Further along, you will also find Salobreña: labelled as ‘the jewel of the Costa Tropical’, this whitewashed town sits above a wonderful beach while being overlooked by a traditional Moorish castle. Enjoy the views while having a coffee in town, or take a walk along the beach and make the most of the peace and quiet.

Sierra Nevada 
Sierra Nevada means ‘mountain range covered in snow’ in Spanish. Along with the skiing, this national park is an ideal place to see some unspoilt beauty, and is just as scenic in the summer months as it is in the winter. Take the bus and look out for the variety of fauna such as badgers, wild boar, goats, and golden eagles. 

There are also over 60 different species of birds to see, and a wide variety of pretty wild flowers surround the landscape. 

A great way to see the national park to its full potential is by taking a day excursion. This covers this expansive area by 4×4 and also includes food and drink in a panoramic scenic restaurant.

All in all, the area of Granada has a wide range of things for you to see and do. Whether you want to explore the city, laze around on the beach, or get back to nature, you’ll get a taste of true Spain. It will leave you wanting to come back again and again.