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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Tips for visiting Christmas markets

Christmas markets are held in many towns and cities between the end of November and a day or two before Christmas. Medieval squares are decorated with Christmas trees and lights, making an enchanting backdrop to the bustling stalls where you can shop for charming gifts and decorations.

Here’s how to get the most out of your pre-Christmas city break:

Book your flight early
Cheap flights to the largest Christmas markets such as Munich, Cologne and Nuremberg sell out quickly, so book early to get the best deals, or check out flights to less well-known markets such as those held in Stuttgart and Hamburg. Price comparison sites such as Kayak and Skyscanner can show you the most competitive prices.

It is often better to book directly with the airline though. For example, easyJet does not allow anyone to sell their flights more cheaply than they do, so just book directly on easyJet.com. The longer you wait before buying your tickets, the more expensive they will be.

Think carefully about whether you need to take a suitcase with you. You will probably only be going away for a few days, so it’s tempting just to take hand luggage, but if you want to bring back lots of souvenirs and presents from the market, make sure you’ve got enough space to carry them home! Because of the need to take lots of warm clothes, it’s probably best to take a suitcase.

You may prefer to travel in an escorted group with a specialist operator: prices are from £299 for a four-day tour by Eurostar of some of the best markets. Google “Christmas market tour” to start researching your options.

Wrap up with layers
Germany can be very cold in winter: the festive markets are all held outdoors, and you will be standing outside for a few hours, so wearing several layers of clothing will help ward off chills. If you’re prone to getting cold feet, take some good thick socks!

Wear sensible shoes
The streets and squares of German towns are often paved with cobblestones that can sometimes be a little slippery. Flat shoes with non-slip soles are the best way to avoid trips and falls.

Sample local delicacies
Give your taste buds a treat when you try the local Christmas delicacies such as mulled cider and stollen, wild boar sausages and decorated cookies. You will be asked to pay a deposit, usually around 2 euros, for a mug of glühwein; you can sometimes then keep the pottery cup as a souvenir (although it’s best to ask!).

Photography
The colour and bustling crowds of Christmas markets offer wonderful opportunities for photographers: the scene really comes to life as darkness falls. Mobile phone cameras often don’t take great pictures when it’s dark, so if you have a digital camera, take it with you when you go out.

Take care of yourself
If you require medication, be sure to pack enough for your visit and keep it with you in your hand luggage. Even on a short break, health insurance is advisable or you could find yourself facing big bills should you be unfortunate enough fall ill.

If you plan on doing some serious eating and drinking – and why not? – then you might want to carry some indigestion tablets with you when you go out to the market!

Other Christmas markets
While we tend to think of Christmas markets as typically German, Krakow in Poland has held markets at Christmastime for centuries. Bruges Christmas market is equally authentic and the city is easily reached by Eurostar. Vienna, a beautiful and atmospheric city, also has a Christmas market.

Riga: a winter wonderland

The fairy-tale medieval city of Riga, in Latvia, makes an intriguing destination for a winter city break, despite the long hours of darkness and the freezing temperatures. There are plenty of interesting things to see and do, and it is much less crowded than during the summer months. Riga is the perfect destination to rediscover the joys of winter.

Things to See and Do in Riga
The tradition of decorating a Christmas tree is believed to originate in Riga, and the Old Town has a ridiculously Christmassy feel from November onwards.

Although Riga only has one Christmas market – held in the main square – it’s a very good one, and is an excellent place to sip mulled wine and buy local handicrafts, such as traditional woollen mittens.

Riga lends itself to exploring on foot. There are a number of free walking tours taking you on historic routes through the Jewish Quarter, the quaint Old Town with its maze-like qualities, and the Art Noveau district – did you know that Riga has the highest concentration of Art Nouveau buildings in the world?

Riga is filled with museums, such as the beautiful Latvian National Museum of Art, the Museum of the History of Riga and Navigation, and the Latvian War Museum. The splendid Dome Cathedral is also well worth a visit.

Snow is expected in Latvia every winter, so why not explore the untouched pine forests with a breathtakingly magical horse-drawn sleigh ride? Winter rides can be booked at the Tiraines Stalli farm, on the outskirts of Riga.

Discover Latvia’s Cuisine 
Sample Latvian cuisine at one of Riga’s many restaurants, such as Vincents, which offers delicious gourmet food, and Milda, a popular and friendly restaurant with a traditional menu. Look out for the potato dumplings and the Baltic antipasti.

Weather: What to Expect
In the winter months, Riga’s climate tends to hover around freezing, with highs of 4C (39F), although the wind can easily make it feel a lot colder than that! Cool crisp snowy days are common, although cannot be guaranteed. Wrap up warm!

Where to Stay
The Neiburgs Hotel won the 2016 Travellers’ Choice Awards and is a large modern hotel in the city centre with double rooms from £105 per night. There are numerous hotels offering plenty of off-season bargains, such as the Wellton Centrum and Spa Hotel, with rooms from as little as £56 per night.