Holiday apps to experience European history and culture

Holidaying in Europe brings to mind thoughts of pretty cobbled streets, majestic castles, alluring mountains, and memorable museums. And while exploring a city or town on your own is wonderful, finding the best attractions is sometimes difficult. Add to that, some of us like to explore a museum, castle, or church on our own, instead of hiring a tour guide.

So we’ve shortlisted a few apps that help you find your way to the sites, but more importantly, act as a pocket-friendly tour guide.

Sygic Travel 
Sygic Travel allows you to plan your trip by selecting the location, then reading about and bookmarking the sights you’re interested in. Saving your trip offline before you leave home ensures you don’t have to pay for an internet connection or have to search for wi-fi spots.

The app boasts details of tourist attractions across the globe, from castles and museums to hotels and restaurants, and from waterfalls and caves to parks and beaches. You just enter your destination city into the app, and it gives you a list of attractions nearby with distances. Add in your hotel details if you’ve pre-booked, and Sygic Travel shows you the sights near your hotel first.

If you don’t want to bother with calculating the distance to the nearest museum or castle, the map format shows all the attractions with small images of the sights in the place of pins. Clicking on the pin pulls up the details and history of the attraction, along with timings, days closed, and more.

This app is free to use for most of its functions, and only requires payment for the advanced options. If you want in-depth guides to any cities, the app also allows you to purchase them. All in all, it’s a really handy app to have around!

Download Sygic Travel for iOS
Download Sygic Travel for Android

World Explorer Travel Guide
Quite similar to the Sygic Travel guide, this app shows you attractions in a city based on a 0 to 5-star rating, making it a lot easier to pick the best museums, castles or parks in any part of the world. It also gives you distances on a standard or satellite map, making it easy to navigate to where you’re going.

Although it pulls up most of the information about attractions from Wikipedia, it also has an option to purchase City guides online. With geo-location to pull up nearby attractions, distances calculated in both kilometres and miles, and more than 350,000 attractions that have been rated to date, it’s easy to see why this app is quickly becoming a travel favourite.

Download World Explorer Travel Guide for iOS
Download World Explorer Travel Guide for Android

Rick Steves’ Audio Europe
This app gives you the benefit of having a professional guide at your disposal without paying for one. Rick Steves is much more than a guide, he is a respected authority on European travel. His audio guides are perfect for learning more about a city and its history, its attractions and its culture. There are a variety of audio guides to choose from, based on cities, cultures, or types of monuments.

The audio tours can be downloaded before you embark on your journey, so that you have perfect offline access throughout your trip. PDF maps built into the app complement the walking tours. Some of the recent additions to the audio tours include Sicily’s Essential Sights, Provence Markets, Authentic Greek Food, France beyond Paris, and many more.

With Rick Steves’ Audio Europe, it’s really easy to come away from a trip feeling like you have a good grip on a country’s history and culture.

Download Rick Steves’ Audio Europe for iOS
Download Rick Steves’ Audio Europe for Android

Learn a new skill on your next holiday

Are you looking for something new and interesting to do on your next holiday? With the weather turning colder, consider using your trip as a chance to gain a new skill.

Foreign Languages
Have you ever fancied learning a foreign language, or at least learning how to order things in the restaurant abroad? You’ll be happy to know that it’s possible to find language classes for foreigners in pretty much every European country.

Courses usually take at least one week, but can be much, much longer. The intensity of the courses varies greatly, and you would be able to pick one that suits you. This could be a relaxed, one hour in the morning course, or an intense full-time course.

Group courses are usually cheaper than individual lessons, but the latter focus more on your personal needs. Many language schools combine language classes with various other activities: you can sign up for Spanish and FlamencoFrench and Bordeaux wine tastingGreek with dancing, or Italian and opera!

Cooking
Do you love paella, pizza, or pain-au-chocolat, and would like to learn how to make these from scratch? What better way to learn than from local chefs on your next holiday.

Cooking courses welcome complete beginners and experienced cooks alike, and everyone can learn something new.

The variety of cooking courses is great. You could bake baguettes in France or make and decorate chocolates in Switzerland. How about preparing tapas in the heart of Barcelona or learning from top British chefs on a Food Hero cruise?

You can choose between short courses that only take a couple of hours, full-day courses, or an entire week or two of cooking lessons.

Wine
Perhaps you enjoy a glass of wine with your dinner and would like to learn more about the different types wines and grapes. If that’s the case, you may enjoy a wine tasting holiday.

These usually involve touring different vineyards, learning about the grapes and the process of winemaking, and trying many local wines. Dedicated wine tasting holidays range from weekend trips to holidays lasting a couple of weeks. If that’s a bit too long for you, many vineyards offer short daily tours with wine tastings.

It’s not only the big wine countries, such as France, Italy, or Spain, that offer wine tasting holidays. For an off-the-beaten-track wine holiday consider Hungary, the home of the sweet Tokaji wine, or Portugal where Port wine comes from.

Photography
Have you marvelled at beautiful photographs in travel magazines and thought you would like to take better pictures? Adding a photography course to your next trip might be a good idea.

Photography holidays vary in their focus (pardon the pun!), offering a lot of choice: portrait, wildlife, cityscapes. During a photography course you would learn about light, composition, and how to capture movement in your photos. Some courses require you to have your own camera, while others offer rental of equipment.

Why not select a destination and see if there’s a photography holiday available? You are sure to return home with a collection of stunning photos that will remind you of your holiday. What a way to impress your family and friends!

The courses described here are just a taste of what’s on offer. (We have not personally checked these courses, and they are not specific recommendations, but they give you some idea of what is available.)

There are many different activities available in all the European countries. With some research, you are bound to find a perfect learning holiday for you.

Exploring the cosy towns of medieval Europe

Do you feel like you’ve already visited every interesting city in Europe, and you’d like to try something completely different? Why not discover the unexpected beauty of these small European towns, that have preserved their magical medieval feel, architecture, and past traditions?

Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic
This picturesque Czech town deservedly became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992, and it is unique within the whole of Europe.

The town centre has preserved its historical look from the 15th century. The dominant feature of Cesky Krumlov is a gothic castle from the 13th century, which stands out above the Vltava river which flows through the middle of the town.

Local narrow streets with colourful timbered houses from medieval times complete the truly unique atmosphere of this town. Evening walks under the lit-up castle, while listening to the river and the music of local street musicians, will charm anyone who sometimes wonders what life was in the past.

If you’ve had enough of modern city life, and would like to step back into the past, at least for few days, than Cesky Krumlov is the right choice.

Rothenburg, Germany
The full name of this little Bavarian town is Rothenburg ob der Tauber. For all lovers of cozy towns which have kept their centre almost exactly as it was in Middle Ages, with numerous zigzag streets, Rothenburg is another exciting destination.

As soon as you arrive you will be amazed, and will be taken back in time to an age of kings, jugglers, and traditional street markets. For film lovers, the proof of its exceptional glory is the fact that part of Harry Potter was filmed here.

Another unique feature of this town is the famous Christmas markets which take place all year round!

As always in such a medieval town, you can enter one of many half-timbered houses and admire the traditionally decorated shops or traditional crafts. The main local treat is called “Schneeball” in German – meaning snowball – which is pasta noodles rolled into a ball, baked, and sprinkled on the surface with cinnamon sugar or coconut.

Colmar, France
The north-eastern French town of Colmar is a place for all lovers of wine and gothic architecture. Colmar feels like it was cut out of a postcard, and has the air of a fairy tale where people light torches and believe in supernatural powers.

Among the most charming places of Colmar are the Fishmonger’s District and Little Venice, where you can rent a rowing boat and float along one of the many local canals.

In Colmar, there is always time for a glass of great wine. Colmar has been nicknamed by the locals as the region’s king of wine – high praise in a country so famous for wine production. Of course, this is the way it should be, because wine undoubtedly fits our romantic view of the Middle Ages.

Local winemakers specialize mainly in varieties of white wine, such as Pinot Gris, Riesling, and Gewürztraminer. Life surely does not get any better than a trip in a wooden boat, followed by an evening walk alongside original medieval houses, then finishing the day by enjoying the delightful local wine in an area so rich in history.

Hallstatt, Austria
The smallest middle-ages town on our list is the Austrian town of Hallstatt, that is a home to no more than a thousand permanent residents. However, this does not change its glamour.

Even from a picture of Hallstatt it is clear to see why this town is loved by the thousands of travellers who visit this town every year, and why it has been included on the list of Unesco World Heritage sites.

Hallstatt has a breathtaking location, situated 1,670 feet above sea level, and lying beside Hallstatt lake and under Hallstatt Mountains. When looking out of the window, or when resting on a bench, you can be watching the calm lake surface or gazing at the top of the sharp mountain peaks. There is a waterfall on the mill stream right in the centre of the town.

Hallstatt has also become famous for its salt mining on one of the local hills, where one of the oldest salt mines in Europe has been preserved and is open to the public.

No matter which of these towns you visit, autumn colours will further enhance the charm that each of them has to offer.

There is only one downside to visiting one of those lovely medieval towns: you will never want to leave!