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.

Preparing your phone for your holiday

Before you go on your next trip, taking some time to prepare your smartphone will help you to get the most out of it while you are on holiday. Here’s what you need to do:

Synchronise and delete unwanted data
Synchronise your phone with your computer before your trip. This will back up all your photos and other data, in case your phone is lost or stolen. (Your travel insurance or gadget insurance can never replace the magic moments stored on your phone.)

Once you’ve backed up, you can delete some things from your phone, to make sure there is lots of memory left for the photos and videos you will take on your holiday. As well as deleting unwanted apps that you no longer use, consider deleting photos and especially videos, because these take a lot of memory. You can also trim videos, just keeping the best bits, to reduce their size.

Roaming
Check that you have roaming turned on for your phone. This will allow you to use calls, text, and data while you are on holiday. You will often need to phone your network operator to arrange for roaming to be turned on. If you have recently changed your phone or your network, roaming will probably be turned off.

Be aware that charges apply for roaming, and it can be expensive. Fortunately, new EU legislation means that your network operator is now more limited in how much they can charge you, and from 15th June 2017 roaming charges in the EU will be abolished. (More information here.) You are best to use wifi abroad whenever you can, rather than your phone’s data connection, to be on the safe side.

It is most useful to turn data roaming off, but leave call and text roaming on. This means that your phone will not be able to keep using data to connect in the background, to retrieve emails etc, unless you are connected to wifi.

Apple roaming information is useful, and Google will give you Android roaming information too.

Know how to work your phone
Two very useful features are Flight Mode and the torch. (The torch illuminates the LED flash on your phone.) Make sure you know how to find these quickly. Search Google if you’re not sure.

Load up with travel apps
In previous newsletters we have covered some of the most useful apps. As a reminder:

  • Download TripAdvisor, open it, then download the offline city guide for the place you are visiting, if one is available. It’s free of charge. Then you can still read TripAdvisor when you don’t have an internet connection.
  • Download some kind of communication app to stay in touch with folks back home. Skype, WhatsApp, or Facebook Messenger would be useful. Make sure you add your family and friends to the app before you go, so that you can actually contact them!
  • Download a currency converter app such as XE. Load it up before you go away to get the latest exchange rates into the app before you travel.
  • Put a couple of games on your phone to pass the time. Go to your phone’s app store and you will quickly see the latest trending games. Many are free. Make sure the games don’t need the internet in order to work (test it before you go by turning on Flight Mode then playing the game).
  • Use the Sky TV app to record any TV programmes that you might miss while you’re away. (You can often use iPlayer to catch up when you get home, anyway.)

Social media
Just a word of caution: don’t write about your holiday publicly on social media until you get home. Otherwise you are advertising to the world that your house is unoccupied, and you might be in for a nasty surprise when you get home!

Reading material
Put the Kindle app onto your phone. It’s free, and you can get some free and very low cost books, including travel guides to the place you are visiting. This lets you save weight when packing, by leaving your books at home.

If you use Dropbox for storing your files, the Dropbox app has an offline mode, where you can download files for reading without an internet connection. This can be useful if you have newsletters or other files in PDF format that you wish to read.

Pack your charger, adapter and battery pack
Don’t forget to take your phone charger and its cable. You will also need a plug adapter for EU power sockets (check it fits the exact country you’re visiting).

You should also consider a spare external battery pack. These are quite cheap, and are readily available for iPhone and Android phones. The higher the capacity (measured in mAh), the more charge the battery pack will give you. Don’t forget to charge up the battery pack before you go away, because most do not come pre-charged.

A cultural winter getaway in Copenhagen

If you’re seeking a true white winter holiday, Denmark is your place and its capital, Copenhagen, offers the perfect mix of unique culture and snow-covered wilderness. As with most places in Europe during this time of year, things can get a bit chilly, but Scandinavia’s weather has its own special delights.

Exploring alternative Copenhagen and the side you haven’t seen
Denmark’s capital is well known for its old town, harbour and palaces, which should not be missed by first timers, but sometimes the city’s best attractions are hidden. One of the more popular alternative destinations is Freetown Christiania, well known for its sovereign governmental stance and 1960s lifestyle in the heart of Copenhagen. The odd little community is host to art-filled cafes, workshops, restaurants full of organic goods, and your fair share of amazing people-watching.

If you’re looking for a quick break from the city centre, the charming haven of Nokken is ideal for a relaxing day trip. Reminiscent of The Shire, you’ll find hobbit-style, tiny homes, bountiful gardens and spectacular sunset views of the harbour. Stop in one of the cozy cafes around town if you get chilly for a warming glass of “gløgg”, a local’s favourite Danish style hot spiced wine.

A dining experience beyond the tourist food trucks
When locals grab a bite to eat downtown, most turn to the new street food market on Paper Island (Papirøen). You’ll find quality dishes from around the world, most at an affordable price and some filling meals for as low as £5.

For a higher end Scandinavian meal, Noma is a favourite. The location couldn’t be better, sitting dead centre in the city, with gorgeous views of the river. It’s far enough away from the bustle that you’ll have a relaxing or romantic dining experience yet be near the action after dinner.

If you’re new to Denmark, don’t miss the traditional open-face sandwiches (smørrebrød) served in a variety of styles. A trip to Copenhagen isn’t complete until you’ve tasted Danish meatballs (frikadeller), which are being served up nearly everywhere you look.

Escape the city and see the country
This time of year, the snow is sure to be falling throughout Northern Europe, and there’s no better way to celebrate than breaking out the skis or snowboard. Since Denmark is a generally flat country, it doesn’t boast the extreme skiing that France and Italy may offer. Yet for those looking to get outside and take it easy on the hill, Hedelands Skicentre is perfect. The hill is only a 35-minute drive from downtown Copenhagen, making it a great option for a winter day trip. Most of the mountain is extremely user-friendly and has runs for any level of skier. Adult day tickets are only £11, and tickets for children are £6.

“Dyrehaven,” Danish for Deer Park, is another great option to see the countryside. It’s usually pretty quiet during the winter, which makes for peaceful strolls and exquisite wildlife viewing. The park is just north of the city – don’t forget to wrap up warm!

City essentials not to be missed
Nyhavn is one of Copenhagen’s most visited destinations, and while it may be busy, your first view of the port will show you why. The area is full of little restaurants surrounding the canal, and with a quick look around you’ll find that many have great live music. If it’s not too cold, do as the locals do and grab a beer from one of the shops and have a seat on the dock to enjoy the sunset.

For any beer fan, a tour of the Carlsberg brewery is a fascinating excursion. You’ll watch their unique brewing process that seems to provide beer to half of Europe. From the outside, you’d think Carlsberg is a castle for the old Danish king!

The ice rink at Frederiksberg Runddel is ideal for families or couples looking to join this age-old Danish tradition. Every year the area is transformed into a winter paradise offering a classic holiday experience. You can rent a pair of skates for £6.

Copenhagen is an amazing place to be during the winter months. You’ll dodge the tourist rush of summer and receive a true Danish experience, so don’t let the cold discourage you!

Using mobile apps to find holiday entertainment

The happy holiday memories that you look back on with fondness often come from the events and entertainment that you have experienced.

Whether it’s local musicians playing guitars in a restaurant in Kefalonia, eating and drinking in the beer halls of Munich during Oktoberfest, or listening to a Mozart concert in Vienna, these are memories to last a lifetime.

But how do you find the perfect event suited to you?

Find events and discounts with the Time Out app
One way is to use the Time Out app, which is free for iPhone or Android.  Time Out, as you may know if you live in London, is a respected entertainment listings magazine, first published in 1968: it has a long and distinguished pedigree of highlighting fun things to do.

The app covers the European cities of Amsterdam, Barcelona, Berlin, Madrid, and Paris. The country of Croatia is also covered, as are the UK cities of London, Birmingham, Bristol, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, and Manchester. This makes the app worth downloading for use at home as well as abroad.

Categories that you can explore include Things to do this week, Free events this week, Art this week, and Upcoming gigs. You can also book a theatre show, and find restaurants, bars, and pubs nearby.

Each event has a short write-up by Time Out staff, explaining what’s going on and what you can expect. The app gives dates and times for the event. There are also links to event websites, to give you more information. Usefully, there are user reviews, comments, and star ratings, so you can learn what to expect from others who have been to the event.

The app has “Exclusive Offers” too, which sometimes get updated every day. This is well worth a look.

The content changes often, so you can look at the app before you go, to get an idea of things you might like to do, and then check again while you’re on holiday to see if any last minute activities or offers have been added.

Overall, this is a very polished and useful app. If you are visiting any of the places its covers, it’s well worth downloading it, especially since it is free!

TripAdvisor app
While many people associate TripAdvisor more with hotel and restaurant reviews, it also has a good selection of what it calls “Things to Do”.

It has vast coverage, so most places in Europe will have listings. TripAdvisor mostly covers ongoing activities, such as museums, sights, theatres, bike tours, and spas, rather than short-term events such as festivals and carnivals.

Christmas treats: Lapland, Stockholm, and Paris

There is perhaps one season that Europe does better than anywhere else, and that is winter. Across the continent, it is a time to swap presents, share food, and engage in end-of-year revelry with friends and family, as we all seek to ward off the cold and the dark of those long, wintry nights.

Seasonal events are a booming industry: Christmas markets are the perennial favourite, and nowadays you can find stalls and chalets lining the streets of almost every town – from Sheffield to the south bank of the Thames, as well as more traditionally the streets of Germany and Austria.

Yet no matter how much you enjoy shopping for gifts and sipping mulled wine in a rustic marketplace, winter in Europe has much more to offer than this alone. Here are some of the locations that will help to bring an extra touch of magic to your end of year holiday.

Enchanting Lapland
A magical family adventure for young and old alike can be found in the remotest part of Finland’s north. According to folklore, Lapland is the traditional home of Father Christmas himself, and the locals have missed no opportunity in bringing this fairytale to life for seasonal visitors!

Direct flights operate throughout December from multiple locations across the UK, and many of our smaller regional airports are the starting point for package deals.

On arrival, there is no end of sleigh rides, mulled wine, and seasonal dinners. While younger visitors may be enchanted by the chance to visit Santa’s workshop, it is usually the prospect of glimpsing the Aurora Borealis (also known as the Northern Lights) which appeals to older travellers.

It is even possible to visit Lapland as part of a same-day return trip, offered by Thomas Cook and others. Do a Google search for “Lapland day trips” if you are interested. Just remember to pack for the cold climate!

The Festival of Light, Stockholm
All across Sweden, the 13th December is the annual festival of light: marking the day of Saint Lucy. For many Swedes, the event marks the true start of Christmas, and families come together to share a festive julbord (the traditional Christmas buffet), drink mulled wine (“glögg”), or indulge in saffron buns baked to mark the occasion – the Lussekatt.

The event is not a public holiday in Sweden, which means shops and services remain open throughout the day. Once night falls though, the city streets are brought to life with music and light, as children sing hymns, put on traditional costumes, and stage a candlelit procession through the streets. It is a moment to see Scandinavia at its most festive and picturesque.

New Year’s Eve on the Seine, Paris
If you are searching for a spectacular destination to bring in the new year, you do not have to look any further than Paris.

Although many of the world’s capital cities will host New Year’s Eve extravaganzas, few can muster the sheer wealth of opportunities that Paris offers: from the Champs Elysées and Arc de Triomphe to the Eiffel Tower and Notre-Dame Cathedral, there are countless iconic landmarks to select as the backdrop to your evening of music, light shows, and fireworks.

However, the epitome of Parisian luxury can be found on board one of the fine dining river cruises that sail along the Seine on New Year’s Eve. From the comfort of your dining table, you can take in all of the sights of the city at once, while also enjoying a gourmet dinner service.

For those who enjoy the finer things in life, it is perhaps the ideal way to start 2017.

Advantages to seeing Europe in winter

A winter holiday? It may not be the most traditional choice to go away when the nights draw in. However, there can be quite a few unexpected advantages for those who choose to go abroad from late November to early February.

Here’s how you can get the most out of a winter break.

Warmer climates
According to the Met Office, the United Kingdom has an average temperature of around 4C (40F) during winter. If you’re looking to escape the biting air and freezing rain, a holiday in the south of Europe could prove ideal.

The temperature in certain cities such as Seville and Athens will rarely go below 20C (68F) and 10C (50F) respectively during winter, due to the climate of countries such as Spain and Greece.

The warmer weather also means that key outdoor sites in the Mediterranean, such as the Parthenon and Real Alcazar, don’t close to the public.

Shorter queues, thinner crowds, and better availability
For almost all European countries, the winter months are seen as an off-peak time for tourism. Certain attractions, such as the city of Venice, have a (not undeserved) reputation for becoming ghost towns. This is often due to a drop in temperature and a rise in rain, but it can also be down to fashion – people don’t go, because people don’t go!

But this need not be a disadvantage. If you are planning to travel mainly to see the sights, take photographs, or visit heritage sites, the comparative lack of people in winter could prove to be a significant boon. As well as simply helping with getting around, the lack of summer crowds means that you may have a better chance to explore unhindered.

This doesn’t just apply to visiting open streets and plazas. You may have a more enjoyable time visiting larger museums, such as the Louvre in Paris. Heavy summer crowds are somewhat notorious for blocking views of the art, defeating the point of going there!

Queues to get into certain buildings and landmarks will also (typically) be much shorter. Additionally, metropolitan hotel rooms are often easier to find and book.

However, beware disappointment when trying to late book accommodation in popular seasonal locales such as Rovaniemi, Finland, which bills itself as being the “official” home of Santa Claus! Winter availability can go down as well as up.

It’s more affordable in winter
Winter travelling at off-peak times can often be a good way to get the absolute most out of your holiday budget. Rail fares, air fares, and nightly hotel rates can all prove substantially lower, as there are fewer travellers. Special winter discounts or deals are sometimes available for tourists.

Potentially, these lower prices could allow you to extend your break further or visit more places than you would in the summer. It could also allow you to get more value out of the present pound to euro exchange rates.

The time immediately around Christmas is generally an exception: travel costs tend to go up dramatically.

Winter-only attractions
Some countries also have natural and cultural attractions that can only be seen while travelling during midwinter, and we look at those in more detail further on in this newsletter.

In the darkest months, the northern lights can often be seen in Scotland, Norway, and Finland. For the adventurous, winter is also a great time to watch snowsport in the Alps and elsewhere. And of course, the Christmas markets in Austrian and German cities such as Cologne, Vienna, and Munich are world renowned.

Uber: a taxi service on your smartphone

If you’re looking for a cheap alternative to a hire car on your holidays, especially for city breaks, then Uber could be just what you need. It’s effectively a taxi service that you order directly from an app on your phone.

You’ve probably heard about Uber, because it’s become incredibly popular, and is often in the news. There’s no more trying to find a taxi rank, looking up the phone number of a minicab firm, or waiting outside in long queues.

Uber serves many cities within Europe, including the UK, so you can use Uber at home and abroad. Here is the full list of European cities supported by Uber.

Download Uber for iPhone
Download Uber for Android from the Google Play store

How Uber works
You download the Uber app onto your smartphone, which knows your location. Then you ask the app for a car to pick you up, and tell the app where you want to go.

The price of the journey is calculated within the app, so you know how much you’re going to pay before you get in the car. At peak times prices get more expensive, but off-peak you can get a real bargain.

Payment is also handled within the app (linked to your credit card), so you don’t have to mess around trying to pay the driver in an unfamiliar foreign currency.

The app shows you a map so you can see how far away your car is from you, and when it is likely to arrive.

Uber is very popular, and in our experience in several cities, it works well.

Staying safe
While millions of trips have been successfully completed on Uber, you should take the same sensible precautions as you would when getting into any cab.

Take a look at the Uber trip safety page for more info.

Uber promotional code for a free ride
There are almost always lots of promotional codes for free Uber rides or discounts, because Uber as a company is trying to expand rapidly. The codes change quite often, so just do a Google search for Uber promo codes when you download the app.

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