How to explore a city like a local

Going on a holiday should be fun and hassle-free! Our tips will help you navigate your next destination like a local, explore it’s most unique places, and find the spots that are not included in the travel guides.

Every holiday destination has its obvious “must-see” spots and famous places. However, there is always more to a city than its most famous landmarks.

Do you know a local?
The best way to see a place like a local is to actually go on holiday with a local! If you have friends from overseas, this can be a great experience. Our editor has been to Munich and Frankfurt with a German friend (a real-life Frankfurter!) and to Gibraltar several times with a Gibraltarian friend.

These holidays have been utterly unique; not only do you get the chance to spend some high-quality time with a friend, but you see the place through completely different eyes.

Explore on social media before you go
Nowadays it has become very popular for social media users to create pages where they show off the best of their city. Facebook, Instagram, and travel blogs have dedicated pages for the best food in town, the nicest coffee shops, and the most unique places.

It is nice to see the town through the eyes of the locals because they will give an exclusive insight. Write a list of your favourite spots, then organise it by location, to make sure you can fit it all in.

Many places also have a British expat community that will have their own social media groups, and you can learn a lot from these too.

Befriend locals
We are now in a new era of accommodation, where people rent out their apartment, house, or villa via various online sites such as Airbnb. These places are way more unique than a hotel or a resort, and you will find yourself chatting with the owner, who will often recommend the most amazing sites near your location.

Be open with the locals: most of them will speak English, especially the ones who work in restaurants or work as taxi drivers. They can show you magical, hidden spots that you can’t find in tour guides.

Ask them about the city, chat with them about culture and history. You will be surprised how many tricks and tips you can learn. Also, they will let you know where to go, where to eat, or which attractions are closed on certain days. Sometimes travel guides are not fully updated, and local knowledge can help you out.

How to find things to do
You might go on your holiday because you are interested in one particular event or place. If you are mainly interested in cultural events and activities, you can always search on Facebook for appearances, openings, and public nights.

For something a bit different, have a night where you attend a salsa dance, a gallery opening, a public talk, or a figure drawing class. It will be an amazing experience! Of course, if you are more interested in flavours, there are many cooking classes or wine-tasting events as well. These kinds of things will give some spice to your holiday, making it unforgettable. It will also give you an exciting and unique story to tell when you come home!

So before your holiday, take some time to explore your options. The modern online world has a lot to offer you when planning your next trip!

Top tips for going to the beach

There’s still some time this year to visit European beaches, and now that the children are going back to school, the beaches will be a bit quieter and the flights will be a bit cheaper! Here’s how to get the best out of your beach holiday.

Find the best beach
It’s well worth asking the locals where the best beach is. Often you’ll find that locals know the best spots and will be able to tell you which beach has the best sand, the warmest water, or the least amount of tourists. Ask the people who work in your hotel or in local restaurants.

Sit close to an obvious landmark
You’ve arrived at the beach, and you’re figuring out where to sit. Sitting close to a tall or obvious landmark will make it much easier to find your spot again when you’ve gone swimming or walking, particularly when the beach is busy.

Find the shade
Even on a cloudy day, the sun will hit your skin, and you occasionally need to take a break from direct sunlight. Cloudy days can be deceptive: you don’t think it’s too sunny, and you end up with sunburn! The same goes for a cooling breeze, which makes it harder to realise how quickly you are burning. So even though you’re wearing sun cream, stick an umbrella in the sand and sit in the shadow from time to time.

Apply enough sun cream
Most people don’t apply enough sun cream on their skin to be adequately protected. Although the sun has many benefits, such as helping our body to generate Vitamin D, taking in too many UV rays can cause skin cancer. So make sure you apply enough sun cream with a high SPF, and top it up regularly, especially after swimming. If you’re going in the water, use a waterproof sun cream.

Remember that sun cream often needs around 30 minutes after you apply it before it becomes effective, so put it on before you leave the hotel.

Drink water
Your body dehydrates faster when you’re baking in the sun. So drink water every 30 minutes, especially when you’ve been walking or swimming. Remeber that sea salt will dehydrate you, so drink often. A headache can be an early warning sign of dehydration, so drink more water before you take the headache tablets!

Interestingly, as we get older, our kidneys work less effectively and need more water to do their job. We also don’t begin to sweat until our body gets to a higher core temperature than in younger people.

Look at the warning flag for swimming
Before you go for a swim, look at the warning flag. Don’t go swimming when the red or yellow flag is out. Even when the flag is green, be cautious when going for a swim. And when the flag is a different colour, ask the lifeguard what it means. If in doubt, look for a sign that explains the flags, or ask for help. Stick to the designated swimming areas only; beyond these, there could be strong currents.

Swim where the lifeguard can see you
Finally, it’s always advisable to stay and swim where the lifeguard can see you. Don’t swim too far from their line of sight. If something happens, they’ll be there to help you.

Put your phone and camera in a Ziploc bag
Sand doesn’t go well with technology: it can end up in one of your phone’s ports, or it can scratch your phone’s screen. But a small plastic Ziploc bag can quickly make your phone, camera, or Kindle mostly sand-proof and waterproof. (Even so, you’ve still got to take care!) Depending on the make of phone you have, you might not be able to use the touchscreen through the bag, but it will at least help to keep the phone from getting damaged.

Pack spare battery power for your gadgets
If you’re going to be using your phone or iPad a lot on the beach, perhaps for reading, you don’t want it to run out of batteries. Modern phones don’t usually allow the battery to be easily swapped, but you can take a small portable battery pack with you, and use your normal charger cable to connect the battery pack to your device.

Rechargeable battery packs are very cheap now. We’ve had success with the Anker Astro E1 5200mAh (£11.99) and the higher-powered Anker Astro E1 6700mAh (£17.99), both of which will charge an iPhone around twice. (The higher the mAh, the more electricity the battery can hold.) When you get back to your hotel, you just charge up the battery pack again.

So why not see if you can fit in a trip to the beaches of Europe in the next month or two?

Five unmissable European events this autumn

As summer fades and autumn turns the leaves to brown, you would be forgiven for thinking that the rest of Europe would be heading for hibernation. But you’d be mistaken! We’ve rounded up some of the continent’s top events and festivals to look forward to this September and October. As you have a look through the events you’ll agree that one thing is certain – there’s plenty more to look forward to in 2018!

Oktoberfest, Munich, Germany
The world famous Munich Oktoberfest beer festival is happening this year from the 22nd of September. It’s time to put on your lederhosen as you join festival-goers from all around the world in Munich to celebrate Bavarian culture and beer from the original six Munich breweries. It’s been going since 1810 and has grown into the world’s largest Volksfest (a combination of beer festival and travelling funfair) with over 7 million litres of beer – over 12 million pints – being served over the 16 days.

Ticket Price: Beer tents are free to enter, beers cost around £10 a litre and a full meal will set you back 12 pounds.
Dates: 22 September – 7 October 2018

Regata Storica, Venice, Italy
One of Venice’s most important events happens on the first Sunday of September every year: the Regata Storica. It is an event of two parts: first, the historical boat parade made up of colourful 16th century-style boats manned by a crew of traditionally dressed oarsmen, followed by a series of rowing races. The celebrations aren’t limited to the water, with festivities spread throughout the city starting in the day and continuing well into the night.

Ticket Price: Free (there are options to pay for reserved seating).
Dates: 2 September 2018

Cafe Budapest Contemporary Arts Festival, Budapest, Hungary
With over 150 events offering design, literature, music and dance; the Cafe Budapest Contemporary Arts Festival is one of the highlights of the European contemporary arts calendar. It’s a must-visit for the music concerts (ranging from jazz to classical and crossover), the theatre productions, and the fine-art and design exhibitions.

Ticket Price: Various
Dates: 5 – 21 October 2018

Festival of Lights, Berlin, Germany
One of the largest and most famous light festivals in the world, the Festival of Lights in Berlin is not to be missed. Hosted in the centre of Berlin, the city’s world-famous sights and monuments are transformed. Featuring international artists, you can experience the wonder of light projections, 3D video light displays, and light installations that attract over 650,000 visitors every year.

Ticket Price: Free
Dates: 5 – 14 October 2018

Eurochocolate Festival, Perugia, Italy
Perugia is one of the top cities in Tuscany, Italy, and comes alive from mid-October as the city plays host to the Eurochocolate Festival. The festival celebrates its 25th birthday this year and promises to be better than ever. For ten days the city is nearly unrecognisable as it hosts almost 1 million visitors, the streets smell of chocolate, and every imaginable variety is on display and available for sampling.

Ticket Price: Free
Dates: 19 – 28 October 2018

So whether you’re looking for a new cultural experience, to sample food and drink from a different country, or to immerse yourself in bygone times, there’s a festival for you this autumn.

We’ve showcased our top 5 for September and October, but there is so much more on offer! Many of the festivals that we’ve shown you here are free to enter, but note that most have additional side events that are paid for separately and should be booked in advance. We’re sure you’ll have a great time!

How to visit three European cities in one holiday – on a budget!

We asked seasoned European traveller Lana Nikolajeva to show us how to follow in her footsteps for an exciting trip she’s got planned.

On a budget? In desperate need of a city break and unsure where to go? Not a problem, go to a flight comparison website like SkyScanner, put in the dates you wish to travel, pick “anywhere” as your destination and away you go. [Editor’s note: did you realise you can ask Skyscanner to take you “anywhere”? What an exciting feature!]

This is what I did, and came up with a £45 return trip to Vienna. The only slight issue is that 5 days and 4 nights in Vienna seems to be just a tad too long for me. After a bit more research I discovered that Bratislava is only an hour and a half away from Vienna, and Budapest is only three hours away, heading south-east in both cases. This opened up some possibilities.

Transport
Coaches and trains depart from Vienna city centre and arrive in the city centre of your chosen destination. The departure time is as early as 05:40 in the morning and as late as 11:40 at night. My return coach trip to Bratislava will set me back a grand total of £8.88 per person. As Budapest is a further distance away, the costs of a round trip will be £15.98 per person.

Bratislava
Before booking this trip I didn’t know that much about Bratislava (the capital of Slovakia) if I’m honest. But after some intense Google research, I can say that I am really looking forward to visiting the city. It seems to be a perfect combination of urban jungle, historic landmarks and green spaces.

Budapest
Budapest is better known to me, as it has been on my radar for a while. It’s a beautiful historic city filled with spectacular architecture divided by the River Danube. I’ve been told that it’s best to stay there until it’s dark, because when the lights come on and the whole town is illuminated it’s supposed to be quite a sight!

I will also do my best to visit the thermal baths. The Széchenyi Baths are one of the largest left in Europe. The city is split in two by the river, and you can find the baths on the Pest side of the city (east of the river). I know it sounds like a rather intense day, but based on my calculations I should be able to make it! The other option is to stay in Budapest for the night and return to Vienna the next day.

Vienna
Just because I’m not staying in Vienna for the duration of my trip doesn’t mean that there is nothing to see there. All you have to do is type the name of the city into Google and you will be bombarded with absolutely stunning images of palaces, museums, quirky streets and the world famous Vienna State Opera house. My plan is to remain in Vienna on days 1, 3 and 5 of my trip, and the other two days will be spent exploring Budapest and Bratislava.

What to check for
I have to admit that I’ve never done three countries in the same trip before: two was the maximum. But I’m not worried. I checked the timing of the transport, I have a list of my “must-see places”, and the hotel in Vienna is close to the coach station, so I’m not reliant on public transport once I arrive back late.

I don’t tend to plan out every minute of my trip, and I do like to take my time and stroll around the cities soaking up the local atmosphere. I occasionally look at the map to check if any of the places I want to see are nearby, and course-correct as required.

What I do triple check, religiously, is how to get from the airport to the hotel. The rest can be improvised if the occasion calls for it. Sometimes, not having a rigid plan turns a good holiday into a great one!

Milan: shopping, cathedrals, and a spiritual home of motorsport

While Milan may be renowned for first-rate football and being at the forefront of fashion, the city offers its visitors culture and beauty like nowhere else.

A city break gives you enough time to see the stunning sights while feasting on risotto, pizza, and gelato ice-cream, and you could have time to squeeze in some shopping too.

Where to stay
Accommodation in Milan can be expensive, but there are options available for every budget. The heart of the city, close to the stunning Gothic Duomo di Milano Cathedral, is the best area to stay for a city break, because you’ll already be near to the main attractions, so you won’t be wasting time travelling around.

Discovering the sights
The Duomo, a grand cathedral, really is the must-see attraction here. It’s an imposing masterpiece of Gothic architecture, with pink and white marble and a facade that’s adorned with more than a hundred spires and over three thousand statues. It took nearly six centuries to complete the building, but it’s now stunning, both inside and out.

Climb to the top, or take the lift, and you’ll be rewarded with incredible views of the city from the roof terraces.

The Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie is a fine church. The monastery permanently houses Leonardo da Vinci’s painting The Last Supper – one of the world’s most admired and studied pieces of art – which da Vinci painted directly onto a wall there. You’ll need to book a viewing in advance or sign up for a guided city tour to see this famous masterpiece, but it’ll be worth it.

There’s plenty more to explore around Milan that could see your city break jam-packed with visits to galleries to see works by Old Masters, or to museums and churches and even a cemetery tour! Cimitero Monumentale is an enormous cemetery and has an abundance of beautifully decorated tombs, as well as sculptures and architecture that attract many visitors each year.

If you’re visiting Milan during mid to late September, the infamous Milan Fashion Week (Women’s) means you’ll pay a higher price for your accommodation, but there are many public events available that can make your trip even more memorable.

F1 Grand Prix at historic Monza
Also occurring at the beginning of September is the Formula 1 Italian Grand Prix, which is easily reached from Milan as it’s just 12 miles to the north in the city of Monza.

Monza is one of the most famous and historic circuits in all of motor racing: built in 1922 it is the third oldest purpose-built circuit in the world. Every Ferrari fan should visit this incredible race, which has a unique atmosphere of racing passion like nowhere else.

Almost every legendary driver in F1 history has won at Monza, from earlier drivers such as Alberto Ascari, Juan Manuel Fangio, and Stirling Moss, to Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna, Damon Hill and Michael Schumacher, and the current champion Lewis Hamilton.

With Ferrari doing well this year, winning at Monza in 2018 would be the first home victory for the red team since Fernando Alonso in 2010, and would be an amazing experience to remember for the rest of your life.

Shop til you drop!
If high-class shopping is more your thing, then the world-famous Quadrilatero d’Oro (the ‘golden rectangle’) is the place to be. Even if you prefer to window-shop or people-watch, this lovely shopping district is perfect for either, and you can stroll along the cobbled streets pointing out the most famous designer labels in the world.

Eat til you pop!
Who doesn’t love Italian food? When you’re in Milan, you can also enjoy local cuisine including Milanesa minestrone, polenta or risotto, finished off with a panettone, said to be created by a Milanese nobleman.

You can eat the most wonderful food on your city break and then return home, full of tales to tell and full of delicious food, too!

Exploring the Algarve – From Lagos to Faro

With endless golden sands, secluded coves, and calm, clean waters, it’s no wonder that the Algarve is renowned for its stunning coastline. Located in the southernmost part of Portugal, the region covers over 730 square miles, and is the country’s top holiday destination.

Every year, millions of tourists flock to its sun-drenched beaches. Even better, the enchanting inner towns and villages are also full of charms just waiting to be explored, from mountain ranges to natural springs and archaeological remains.

The Algarve has a Mediterranean climate, so even in winter it’s an ideal European holiday destination. July and August are the hottest months, with temperatures in July reaching reach 33C (91F) and averaging around 24C (75F), while August has the most daily sunshine hours of the year.

If you’re visiting the coast in summer, the sea breeze is a blessing. Outside of the summer months, the Algarve is cooler yet still warm enough to sunbathe; sunshine is pretty much guaranteed here all year round.

There are accommodation options here to suit every budget, from cheap hotels and apartments to luxurious villas and resorts. In the slightly cooler spring or autumn months, it’s more likely that you’ll find better deals and experience fewer crowds too, so why not consider visiting this September or October?

Coast to coast
There are so many beautiful towns and villages to visit in the Algarve, both coastal and inland, although the seaside is more popular with tourists.

Albufeira is the largest resort town and one of the most well-known for holidaymakers. With a lovely beach, plenty of restaurants and attractions, a historic Old Town, and a lively nightlife on the Strip, it has something for all tastes.

Known as the Monaco of Portugal, the purpose-built resort of Vilamoura is somewhat more upmarket, and has its own marina, casino, designer shops and world-class hotels.

For either a day trip or a relaxing holiday, the towns of Faro, Lagos, and Portimao all have their own delights. The regional capital, Faro, has ancient city walls, excellent shopping, and pristine beaches. Lagos has stunning sandstone cliffs, a pretty harbour, and a 17th-century fort. Portimao has its Old Quarter, famous fish restaurants, and a marina.

Swimming, golf, sandcastles, and seafood
From various coastal sites in the region, you can take in the wondrous clifftop views and then head to the beach to swim, snorkel, surf or dive in the warm Atlantic.

If golf is more your scene, then the Algarve is the perfect European destination, as it has a host of championship golf courses and resorts, with the fairways perennially enjoying fair weather.

Every year, the Algarve offers its visitors plenty to see and do, with festivals, events for foodies, and much more. The annual Fiesa International Sand Sculpture Festival (the largest of its kind) takes place between April and October, and the incredible sculptures have to be seen to be believed.

August in the Algarve is for seafood lovers, who can head to Faro’s Festa da Ria Formosa, the Portimao Sardine Festival, and the seafood festival Festival do Marisco de Olhao.

Whether you’re after a holiday with dolphin-watching, cultural and heritage tours, or if you just prefer to eat good food and sunbathe, the Algarve is simply the ideal destination.