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.