Tips to make the most of a European cruise holiday

Cruise holidays in Europe are becoming more popular by the year. If you’ve never been on a cruise, they are a great alternative to hotels. You’d be surprised how much variety a cruise can offer, and we’re sure you’ll find some helpful tips here.

Not all cruises are specific to a particular country        
Many cruise operators have European region-specific cruises that offer you a real variety of culture and sightseeing. There are a lot of cruise routes, so it’s worth you coming up with a list of countries you would like to explore. You should then be able to find a route that fits with the countries that you’d like to see.

However, if you want a longer holiday then you can take a 15-day cruise through most of central Europe. These cruises offer great value, allowing you to disembark to explore key landmarks and indulge in the local cuisine. Many cruise holidays can provide shuttle transport to these areas, so you don’t need to worry about taxis or using local transport.

Short river cruises 
River cruises offer you a way to see the waterways inside a country. They give you the inland cruise experience, getting into the heart of the country that you are sailing through. If you are looking for a shorter cruise but still want to see a large region of Europe, then taking a river cruise would be well worth considering.

A cruise along the River Danube can be between five days to two weeks, depending on how far you want to go and where you want to visit. The Danube can take you through Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary in just one week!

If you just wanted to stick to Germany, you could take a five-day river cruise through cities like Nuremberg and Cologne. The beauty is that you can find a lot of different options and pick the one that suits you best.

Guided excursions to organise your sightseeing
Many cruise operators have a tour manager who can arrange outings to local areas you might be interested in. Cruises are quite flexible: you can choose whether to take the excursions or, if you prefer, have a rest with a drink on the deck and take in the view.

Most people who take a cruise tend to get off and explore, taking advantage of these outings. The tour manager is usually someone who knows the area very well, and there’s the bonus of being able to explore an area without having to worry about arranging travel back to your ship.

Cruise companies offer paid incentives for longer cruises
Operators have all types of offers available when you are booking. Be sure to check for inclusive meals and drinks: many cruises have this as standard, but not all.

Specialist travel insurance for cruises
Most travel insurance policies don’t cover you for a cruise without taking out the Cruise Cover option. Be sure to choose Cruise Cover when you are buying travel insurance for your cruise. All our travel insurance policies offer Cruise Cover as an option.

First Time Cruising?
If you are a first-time cruiser, or are considering a cruise, then there is a huge amount of information on the website Cruise Critic, which can help you to make the right choice.

A summer city break in Basel, Switzerland

Despite many people thinking of Switzerland as a winter destination, there are many merits to visiting the country in the warm summer.

Basel is an elegant and beautiful medieval city in the north-west of Switzerland, close to the borders of Germany and France. Visitors will be surprised by the depth of culture on offer, and soothed by its predictable and safe efficiency.

The excellent transport makes the many places of interest within the city easy to reach and offers the opportunity to make day trips into the surrounding areas.

Basel is well-built, well maintained, and readily accessible for anyone with mobility challenges to consider.

Attractive historical buildings and cobbled streets are features of the old city. The industrial and new areas boast modern architecture and innovation. The river Rhine runs through the city, and along the banks you will find comfortable places to sit and relax. Stylish cafés overlook the Rhine, and a little wooden ferry boat can be used to cross the river in a novel way.

Culture vultures
If you enjoy culture, a visit to the city of Basel will offer you a multitude of museums and art galleries to explore. Interesting picks for culture are Museum TinguelyKunstmuseum, and Fondation Beyler.

The city is sprinkled with sculptures and beautiful drinking-water fountains. A walk around the city will reward you with unexpected visual surprises at every turn. Basel also has many green spaces to enjoy: perfect for picnics in the sun.

If you’re thinking of booking for next year, every spring the Fasnacht festival is a mind-boggling three-day event. The festival starts early morning on the Monday after Ash Wednesday. Brightly-dressed masked people parade around the city playing fluting pipes and drums. Confetti is thrown around, and “Fasnacht” is the only time of year you will see any kind of “litter” on the streets.

A number of cinemas in Basel show mainstream movies and some show arty, cultural films. The bonus of going to the cinema is that many screenings are shown in English with French and German subtitles. Even people who are not good at languages can find a film to enjoy. Most cinemas will have a break during the film, so you can head off to the loo or buy drinks and snacks.

The Musik-Akademie in the old city has a lively calendar of musical events, modern and classic.

Travelling around in Basel
Getting around the city is very easy. The comprehensive tram and bus system links everywhere together. Services are regular and are always on time. There is excellent transport from the airport into the city.

You can buy a bulk ticket which has a fixed number of journeys to use. You then stamp the ticket at the start of each journey. Or you can buy tickets for each journey as you go. You can also buy a travel pass, which is a good option for people planning to use the transport frequently.

The system is very easy to use, everything is clearly signposted, there are maps and ticket machines at each stop. You can also buy the “bulk” tickets at the newsstand kiosks located all around the city.

Basel SBB railway station is centrally located, very easy to navigate around, and can be reached easily using the trams and buses. The station has excellent connections to other places in Switzerland. Day trips to different towns, into the mountains, or even to France or Germany, are easily arranged from the station.

Getting to Basel
Basel Mulhouse Freiberg airport is easy and low cost, with regular easyJet flights from Gatwick, Luton, Bristol, Manchester, and Edinburgh. Ryanair flies to Basel from Stanstead Airport. Other airlines such as British Airways and Swiss also serve the city.

The airport straddles France and Switzerland; take care to exit from the Swiss side of the airport when you land! There are two exits from baggage claim, and both have signs in English.

Language – English is spoken
The language of Basel is Swiss German, a dialect of German. Most people will speak at least some English. More often than not they will speak excellent English. You can also use French, Italian and “high” German to get around. Museums and art galleries will usually supply information leaflets etc in English, German, French and Italian (at least).

Eating out
Eating out in Basel can be expensive, so it is well worth choosing accommodation that includes breakfast. For lunch, you can buy a picnic from one of the many shops and supermarkets, to enjoy by the river.

Beware of restricted shop opening hours: Basel does not do 24-hour shopping.

Delicious crusty loaves of bread and Swiss cheese can make a good picnic. Pretzel bread sandwiches can be found at various market stalls around the city and offer a tasty alternative to a sandwich. After saving for breakfast and lunch, treat yourself to eating out for dinner.

Self-catering accommodation can be found in the city which can help reduce the cost of meals.

Insider tip: watch out when ordering water, because they will always serve sparkling water. If you don’t like sparkling water you need to specify when you order that you would like “wasser ohne gaz” or “water without gas”.

Accommodation
Accommodation in Basel can be expensive, but for a very high quality service. Increasingly, there are low cost and mid-range options available. A comfortable hostel is located not too far from the SBB Station. There are also B&Bs catering to the lower end budget.

You can find holiday flats which can be rented for a week or more. Renting a flat can offer a good solution if you want to keep the cost of your hotel down.

An excellent website that provides information about available accommodation is Basel accommodation.

Gadget tips for a spontaneous French road trip

Megan Thomas tells us about a holiday for the more adventurous and romantic, and shows how you can follow in her footsteps.

I’ve just returned from a two-week road trip from the UK to the South of France, and did it with absolutely no pre-planning except booking onto a ferry from Dover to Calais.

“Why?” may spring to mind – my answer is simply: these days, you don’t need to plan, provided you’ve got the right tools.

“How?” is hopefully your next question, because I’ve got the answers right here.

Legal requirement: get a driving kit for France
Amazon sells a driving kit, and this is roughly £25 you will never regret spending. Amazon does free UK deliveries, so there is absolutely no excuse not to have your Driving Kit packed in your car before you embark on your adventures.

I left on my adventures with only one breathalyser, and was informed by someone I met that if I didn’t have two, I would get fined. I got lucky, but I wouldn’t want anyone getting fined for something as minor as this seems to be (seeing as, hopefully, nobody will need to actually use them!)

Once you’ve made this purchase, it means that the pre-planning for a road trip is minimal and you can pack up and go – driving from Arras, to Lyon, to Montpellier was easy knowing that my car was well-prepared and within French laws.

Download MAPS.ME
One of my favourite additions to our technologically-infused society is the smartphone. With a car-phone-charger in tow, and preferably also a separate battery pack for charging, all your best travel plans can be kept on your phone.

MAPS.ME is what I’d describe as a hybrid between Trip Advisor and a GPS/SatNav. When you’re connected to the internet, you download maps of places you plan on visiting – the whole of France, for instance. This app saved me when I took a wrong turn, finding myself in the industrial area of Bordeaux with no internet access.

Whatever you do, don’t rely on internet access always being available – always have offline options available.

You can download MAPS.ME from the iPhone app store or the Android app store.

More on navigation
Good navigation is essential if you aren’t precisely planning your destinations before you leave – which I found to be is a perfectly viable option, provided you’ve got this app to make sure you are never in a situation where you don’t know where you are.

If you have a SatNav for your car, make sure it covers Europe as well as just the UK – some do, some don’t. Even if you wanted to buy a new SatNav specifically for your trip, they are fairly cheap these days: for example, Argos sells the “Garmin Drive 50LM 5 Inch Europe Lifetime Maps” for £88.99.

Use Airbnb to find places to stay
Airbnb – which can either be downloaded from the iPhone app store or Android app store, or used online at airbnb.com – offers holiday homes and rentals. I consider it to be the easiest, cheapest way to find accommodation that precisely suits your needs in no time at all. Better yet, it means you can stay in a homely environment.

Each day, once I had decided where I would be travelling to, I’d simply type my budget and city into Airbnb and explore the many amazing houses and apartments on offer in the towns I was visiting. Before the days of Airbnb, a lack of planning could mean a lack of options.

This the perfect medium for spontaneous travelling, because Airbnb monitors its users diligently and you are unlikely to go somewhere you haven’t researched reliably. I found myself in central Marseilles, overlooking the Opera, and within walking distance of some of the most delicious snails and mussels I’ve ever tasted.

With these steps in place, your only concern will be finding a delightful spot to order a cold drink and a fresh baguette. The best way to find an authentic place is to ask your Airbnb owner (the person who owns the property that you will be staying in). All the pre-planning and research in the world can never match up to a local’s knowledge!

Our planning notes for the more cautious

  • Take a second phone or tablet computer to use as a backup.
  • Take a spare charger, and a spare battery pack. (Even if you can’t replace the battery on your phone, like with an iPhone, you can plug your charger cable into the battery pack to get an extra charge.)
  • Also consider carrying a SatNav (making sure it covers France, or the area you will be driving in).
  • Take a paper map to use as a last resort.
  • Ensure your car is roadworthy before you go, and that it has been serviced, topped up with necessary fluids and oil, etc.
  • Check your car breakdown cover to ensure that it covers you while you are abroad.
  • Check your car insurance covers you to drive abroad.
  • Check your travel insurance covers you to drive abroad.

Further information to keep you safe and legal
You should review the following information before you leave home, to make sure you stay safe and legally compliant:

Ohrid, Macedonia: A pearl frozen in time

Continuing our insider’s look at European destinations through the eyes of locals, we asked Angela Manevska, from Macedonia, to tell us about her country and what makes it special.

In the south-west part of Macedonia, hidden amidst the mountainous landscape, lies Ohrid, a city treasured for its historical value and breathtaking nature. As the main cultural and historical city in Macedonia, it gives you a combination of historical treasures and a peaceful beach getaway at the same time.

The average temperatures during summer are 19С (66F), making it a perfect location for both your beach rest and a pleasant evening walk.

Lake Ohrid
Located on the border of Macedonia and Albania, Lake Ohrid is estimated to be 2-3 million years old, making it the oldest lake on the whole European Continent. It is one of the most valuable stagnant water ecosystems in Europe, and has earned Lake Ohrid its title as a UNESCO World Heritage site. (Fun fact: NASA has even named one of the lakes on Saturn’s Moons Ohrid Lacus).

Known as the Macedonian Pearl, the Ohrid Lake acquired this nickname for its awe-inspiring beauty and aquatic rarities. The medicinal benefits and the therapeutic effects of the lake’s flora attract thousands of people every year. If you want to improve your body’s condition and feel refreshed, you can visit local spas and natural healing centres which work exclusively with products made from the lake’s fresh algae.

Cruises on Lake Ohrid
Boat cruises are available at any time, taking tourists to various locations across the lake’s shore, with the final destination being the church of St. Naum. There are also private rowing boats that you can rent if you want to have a closer experience of the lake.

Historical places and architecture 
Natural beauties aren’t the only thing the city of Ohrid has to offer you. As it is one of the oldest cities on the continent, museums and archaeological sites can be found everywhere across the city within a few minutes’ walk. There are 170 archaeological sites, some of which date back to 6,000 years B.C.

The ruins of the old Tsar Samuel’s fortress can be seen from higher grounds in the city, and archaeological findings are exhibited across the city and in museums.

One of the most notable characteristics about Ohrid is its unique antique building style. It’s one of the few cities where you can book and stay in a historical hotel. Most hotels and private accommodations here are built in the same architectural style that is symbolic of the city, allowing you to experience the history of the place through their interior design and the food they serve.

Ohrid has significant religious historical value. The saying “A church for every day of the year” is well-known to the citizens of Ohrid, as there are 365 churches throughout the city.

Ohrid is known to be one of the first cities to build cave churches. They can be found in various locations around the city periphery, most of them only available with a boat ride. The churches hold some of the most valued frescoes, on which you can see the beginnings of Slavic literacy.

The church of St. Jovan Kaneo is one of the most photographed churches in the world. It stands on a rock high above the lake, and creates a dreamlike landscape at sunset. The view of the golden sunset rays hitting the millennium-aged lake waves is a sight to be seen, something that many have described as life-changing.

While you’re having a walk across the Turkish-style bazaar, you will come across “The Old Chinar” (Platanus Orientalis), a tree 800-900 years old with a 20-metre wide trunk. It’s a famous gathering spot for locals, and you can see musicians and performers all around, giving you the experience of the town’s spirit and the warmness of the locals.

Beach life and recreation
If you want to get away from the noise and city crowd, the beach Labino is a 10 min walk west from the church of St. Kaneo. It’s a small, calm beach place which is divided into a male part and a female part, but it also has a mixed part too.

While there are many deserted beaches on the shore of the lake, you’re best to avoid these: they are hard to reach, as the terrain is filled with reeds, and they are mostly covered with small rocks instead of sand.

Different recreational activities are available in Ohrid. If you’re up for a walk, the mountainous terrain allows you to have a wonderful hike through the untouched nature of the national park “Galichica”, and the many fishing villages can give you a unique fishing experience in small boats.

While you’re in town, make sure to try out local specialities. As a fishing town, the lake’s carp and trout dishes will leave you craving for more, and combined with the city’s homemade wine will make you want to come back for the experience year after year.

Majorca beyond the tourist traps

Aimee Wetherall is a British writer who has travelled all over the world and is currently living in Majorca. We asked her to give us an insider’s guide that goes beyond the typical tourist traps.

When it comes to Majorca, what’s clear to me is that the south of the island has so much more to offer than the Magaluf strip and boozy boat trips.

From the up-and-coming resort of Palmanova to the chic and trendy resort of Portals Nous, this part of Majorca is a welcoming surprise and a place I am happy to call home, along with many other business professionals, retired couples and Spanish locals.

Regeneration all around
Palmanova is Magaluf’s neighbour, and I have to say, from living here, that it could not be more different. The area has gone through some regeneration and is fast becoming a destination for couples and families who enjoy good food, nice beaches and comfortable, relaxing places to stay.

There are three blue flag beaches in the area to choose from, and opposite each one is a promenade lined with bars, restaurants and cafes. Playa Porto Novo is my personal favourite as it is a little quieter with a small marina at the end of the promenade. It is also opposite some of the nicest restaurants and cafes in the area.

Accommodation in Palmanova is generally 3 or 4 star and many hotels have been newly refurbished. The adults-only Fergus Style Palmanova truly lives up to having the word ‘style’ as a middle name. There are Bali beds, a rooftop pool with great sea views, and the bar area is chic and relaxed. This is the perfect place to unwind and enjoy a good book.

Best marina area
Although Palma has some of the biggest and most impressive yachts I have ever seen moored on the marina, the area of Portals Nous is where you can see them up close while enjoying a drink and local tapas.

Another bonus to Portals Nous marina is that the beach is right next door. Playa Oratori is a blue flag beach and a favourite with locals. The clear blue waters and white sands make you feel instantly relaxed while you soak up the sun in your own corner of paradise.

Local information – food and transport
I frequently take buses around the resort, and although they may not always be on time, the buses themselves are comfortable and relatively cheap. You can also buy an intermodal card on board which allows you to make 20 or 40 journeys within a year and can give you considerable savings.

A great thing about the south-west is that the area has embraced the Spanish tradition of giving people great value for money, with some restaurants offering ‘Menu del Dias’ or ‘Menu of the day’ at lunch time. This means you can get a three-course meal in the area for less than £20 per head.

When to go
The south-west can get busy and extremely hot in the peak months of July and August, so if you’re like me, and you favour the beaches a little less crowded and your temperatures in the early to mid-twenties, plan your holiday here for September.

Santorini: a spectacular beach holiday

Santorini may not have as many golden sandy beaches as other Greek islands, but the other beaches here possess a more rugged natural beauty. Created by an ancient volcanic eruption, many of the beaches around the island are lined with unique rock formations, all set against the stunning backdrop of the sparkling sea.

Temperatures should be around 24C (75F) in June: perfect beach weather.

Relaxing and spectacular beaches
While the black beach of Perissa is perhaps the most famous, and certainly the most popular, it isn’t the best on the island. It can become very crowded, and sections of the beach are reserved for water sports, which won’t be to everyone’s taste. With a little research and planning there are more spectacular beaches to be found!

Those wanting a more relaxing beach experience should head to Vlychada, or the White Beach, so-named because of the huge white rocks that line up the coast here (which make for a great photo opportunity). Unlike some other beaches in Santorini, there are no loud beach bars or parties here, and it’s a great option for a beach where you’ll avoid the crowds descending on the island from cruise ships every day.

There are a few more sedate places to enjoy a drink in the evenings or to escape the heat in the day. “Theros Wave Bar” is one of the best spots on the island to enjoy excellent food and drink, whilst soaking in the stunning scenery.

Sandy beaches
Santorini has sandy beaches too. The best of these is Monolithis beach, but as it’s very popular with families you may want to avoid it during the school holidays in July and August, where it’s likely to be fairly noisy and crowded. A little tip for those spending all day at the beach: make sure you don’t forget your flip flops – the dark sand and pebbles will become scalding in the midday sun.

Funnily enough, the best place to swim isn’t even a beach. Locals and tourists love to take a dip at Ammoudi Bay, a tiny secluded spot just below Oia. To get here you can follow the path down from Oia towards the port (avoiding the donkeys) and take a left at the bottom. When you stumble across an incredibly picturesque bay with the clearest, sparkling blue sea you’ve ever seen, then you’ve arrived!

Sunsets
If you want to escape the heat of the beach then there is plenty to do across the island. Don’t miss the incredible sunsets at Oia: there is a good reason why so many sunset photos are taken there! Even if you’re not staying in Oia, it’s well worth spending a full day there before you catch a sunset as it’s a beautifully atmospheric town with lots of hidden paths to explore.

Food and drink
Oia is also home to some great restaurants. “Melitini” is one of the most popular places to eat in town, with locals and tourists heading there night after night to try their Greek tapas-style menu. It’s far more reasonable and casual than some of the overpriced restaurants overlooking the caldera, and has some of the best food on Santorini.

While you’re on the island, make sure you try tomato keftedes, a local speciality dish of fried tomato balls that will almost melt in your mouth. There are also plenty of vineyards dotted around, where you can sample some more of that delicious wine you had the night before!

Transport tips for cheap travel around Europe

Once you’ve booked your flights and made sure you’ve got a great deal, here are a few tips to ensure that you carry on saving money and time on your holiday transport.

InterRail pass  not just for students!
If you’re thinking of travelling around Europe by train then why not consider an InterRail pass? These tickets start from £210 for over 60s, and can be a huge money-saver if you’re looking to travel long distances within a country, or you are crossing between two or more countries. This is especially true in the more expensive western European nations such as France and Germany, where train travel can be a considerable expense.

Even better, purchasing this pass gives you two free trips within your home country (the UK), allowing you to get to and from the airport, ferry or Eurostar terminal. Just be sure to book in advance, as tickets depend on availability and there can sometimes be an additional charge.

There’s plenty of information on either the InterRail website or the forever helpful Seat61.com, which offers invaluable advice on train and bus travel across Europe and beyond.

Train passes for a single country
Some countries offer train passes just for travel within their borders. For example, it is possible for a non-Spanish resident to buy a pass for travel throughout Spain, where you can select a certain number of trips in a month. This allows you to book a seat on every train, without having to pay any additional fees, with prices starting from €195 for four trips in a month. This could be a worthwhile investment if you’re planning on travelling across the country.

Travel within a city – includes savings on attractions
Anyone who has travelled to London in the last 10 years will appreciate the usefulness of an Oyster card, where a small upfront payment can save you several pounds on each journey within the capital whether by tube, bus or even tram, more than paying for itself in a day or two.

The good news is that other European cities have followed suit and offer similar passes with discounted fares. Countless cities have such schemes, for example, Berlin’s WelcomeCard offers unlimited travel for 48 hours for just €20.

Some schemes also include deals to give you savings on popular attractions within the city. The Lisboa Card costs €19 and is valid for 24 hours, giving you unlimited travel throughout Lisbon as well as free entry to some of the city’s best museums, such as the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, priority access to avoid queuing and even discounts on tours.

Visitors to Prague can purchase a Litacka card for around £1.60, which can then be topped up like an Oyster card to access cheaper fares. Cardholders can also receive discounts of up to 50% on many major museums and galleries, including the City of Prague Museum, so it’s great value, and it’s well worth grabbing one of these if you’re heading to the Czech capital.

Websites for planning your transport
There are also lots of handy websites that are useful when planning your trip before you go, and for using when you’re on holiday. Rome2Rio is particularly good – even if you’re not actually going to Rome or Rio! – because it calculates the price and time it takes to reach a location using all modes of transport including taxis, buses and trains. This gives you all the information you need to make your decision and ensure you pay the correct amount.

Barcelona: an exciting city break with something for everyone

Barcelona has long been established as one of the most popular European destinations. There’s a good chance that someone you know has recently been and loved it! The city really does have it all: whether you love beaches, culture, shopping, food, sport, or all of the above, then Barcelona will not disappoint. With average temperatures of around 23C (73F) in June, now is a perfect time to visit – pleasantly warm, but not too hot.

Shopping
One of the first things you should do when you arrive is to take a stroll down La Rambla (a boulevard referred to locally as Las Ramblas). This is the heart of the city, where locals still come to relax and socialise along its tree-lined avenues. There are countless shops and restaurants along here, but the most authentic places are found further into the old city so make sure you check out the side streets too!

Fashionistas will no doubt want to check out the famous El Corte Inglés department store or the high-fashion names along Passeig de Gràcia, whilst there are countless boutiques hidden in Barri Gòtic (the Gothic Quarter) and the newly-gentrified El Raval.

Food and drink
Food is hugely important in Catalan culture and a vital ingredient in their regional identity, so make sure you taste some local cuisine. Foodies must visit La Boqueria (open Monday to Saturday), the world-famous food market just off La Rambla. Here you can taste some of the finest produce the region has to offer. Grab a freshly-squeezed fruit juice as you stroll through the alleyways of gloriously coloured fruit, cheese and desserts.

Anyone who has worked up a thirst from a day spent sightseeing or relaxing on the city’s beaches are well-catered for here. Almost everywhere you look there are bars where you can enjoy a refreshing beer or glass of world-class local wine, accompanied by pintxos, a traditional bar snack which is like tapas on bread, and which typically costs around €1.

Football
For many, the opportunity to make a pilgrimage to the Camp Nou, one of the spiritual homes of football, is reason enough to visit Barcelona. For football fans, no trip is complete without visiting the stadium’s museum, or if you’re lucky, catching a game to enjoy some of the world’s greatest players in action: the 2016-17 FC Barcelona team included Lionel Messi, Neymar, and Luis Suárez.

The stadium holds 99,354 people, making it the largest stadium in Europe. It’s guaranteed to be an unforgettable experience for anyone with even the slightest interest in the beautiful game. Tickets to the museum and stadium tour cost €25 for adults and €20 for seniors (over 70).

Quieter areas
After the excitement of the city, it’s a good idea to visit some of the quieter areas nearby to relax and catch your breath. Montjuic is a hill overlooking the harbour, and is a popular weekend escape for Catalans. You can save yourself a hike by catching a cable car! At the top you can take in the spectacular view across the city and out to sea, before learning more about Catalan history in the castle at the summit.

It’s best to walk back down towards the city centre, through beautifully serene gardens, passing attractions such as the National Botanic Gardens and Laribal Gardens, to enjoy the peace and quiet in the midst of one of Europe’s most energetic cities.

New wine and food apps for travellers

There are three brilliant apps for iPhone or Android that allow you to immerse yourself into the culture of a travel destination through the delicious means of food and drink. A major part of experiencing the culture in an unfamiliar place is to sample the fare.

The first app gives access to information about wine, the second, local restaurants, and if you happen to be vegan or vegetarian, this third app is specifically for you.

Each of these unique travel app tools will present you with possible cuisine and wine offerings in Spain, Greece, Italy, or wherever your destination may be. You’ll probably find that one or more of these apps becomes a staple in your smartphone travel routine.

WineGlass: translate wine menus and get reviews
Use WineGlass when you arrive at a new restaurant. While waiting for your meal, you may be inclined to sip on a glass or two, but sometimes you find yourself staring at the menu, completely confused as to what you’re ordering.

Most restaurants will have an English translation, but often these are oddly written and confusing to decipher. So, pay £4.99 for this app, and find the information you need. Act as if you were a sommelier, and order the perfect bottle!

Here’s how it works: 

First, download the app. At this point, you are only required to photograph the menu with your phone. Immediately, the picture is translated, and you receive the rankings, reviews, and costs of each wine, along with an interactive list of food pairings.

With WineGlass, it’s easy to find the bottle that will complete your meal.

WineGlass is available for download for both iPhone and Android devices through the official stores.

CultureTrip: find the best places to go
This free app is a great resource for hunting down the best restaurants, bars and activities in your location. It’s very simple to use, and it’s free!

Culture Trip says that it, “goes beyond the obvious and ordinary, exploring the new, the intriguing and the exciting in your neighbourhood and around the world.”

Here’s how it works: 

Once the app is downloaded, press the Explore button in the top right-hand corner. A list of cultural experiences is generated, and you can click on each article to read more. It’s also possible to use the search tool and research your destination in advance if you’re more of the plan-ahead type.

If you’re looking for new holiday spots, this app is convenient for inspiration, as well. You can be notified of new articles when they are posted, and bookmark anything that stands out to you for future journeys.

Culture Trip’s ratings show its user-friendliness and practicality. It will have you eating outside with a perfect view of the Eiffel Tower, or trying famous Portuguese pastries in the heart of Lisbon — whatever your heart desires.

Culture Trip is available for free download for both iPhone and Android devices through the official stores.

HappyCow: find vegetarian and vegan food

HappyCow does a stunning job of providing its users with healthy, easily accessible food. HappyCow holds almost 18,000 vegan and vegetarian restaurant listings in Europe alone, and covers over 180 countries, so you are bound to find places to go out and enjoy a meal in your destination. This app is priced at £3.99, a low price to pay for living a healthy life.

It can be hard as a vegan or vegetarian in a foreign country to ask for a tailored meal in a restaurant where you don’t speak the local language, so why not go to a restaurant that provides exactly what you need without the hassle or stress?

Here’s how it works: 

HappyCow will prompt you to allow access to your location. Once you have accepted, a list of local restaurants is produced.

HappyCow is available for download for both iPhone and Android devices through the official stores.

Regardless of where your journey takes you, rest assured that these apps will take the stress out of finding a stellar location to eat out or have a drink while enjoying your travel experience.

Beat stress with these holiday tips

The best thing about holidays is that they allow you to forget about the daily stresses at home. Make sure you plan ahead so everything runs smoothly and then you can focus on whatever holiday activity you’re looking forward to, whether it’s relaxing, sightseeing or eating and drinking.

Planning
Careful planning before you head off can save a huge amount of hassle later on and cut down on travel time. Think about avoiding the peak holiday periods as prices will be lower and everywhere is likely to be quieter.

You can use price as an indicator of how busy a place will be at a certain time – the more expensive the trip, the more packed with people it is likely to be! If you’re retired, you’ve got new-found flexibility, so use it!

Packing checklist
When packing, make a checklist of everything you need to take. If you keep it on your computer, or in an app like Evernote, or print it out, you can use it again the next time you travel. Here is an example packing checklist, for inspiration.

Ensure you’ve got copies of important documents such as passport and insurance details in your hand luggage just in case anything happens; it’s well worth leaving photocopies of these with family or friends at home in case of emergencies.

Hotel
Thanks to the internet, the days of arriving at an “idyllic” hotel, only to find a nasty surprise, should be coming to an end. It’s well worth spending time reading recent reviews, both good and bad, on sites such as booking.com, TripAdvisor and Expedia so there is less chance of a nasty surprise waiting for you. No one wants to go on holiday to find out their hotel is next to a building site!

You can ask questions on the TripAdvisor forum to get answers to specific questions you might have, or you can ask the hotel directly. There can be a language barrier with hotels, and sometimes it’s easier to email them, and other times it’s easier to phone them. If you don’t have luck with one method of contact, try another!

Notifying your service providers
If you think you may be withdrawing cash from your bank account while abroad, make sure you let them know where you’ll be on which dates so there are no issues with security. There would be few things worse than the cash machine keeping your card and having to liaise with both your bank and the local one to retrieve it!

Similarly, you might need to notify your credit card issuer to tell them that you will be using the card abroad. This especially applies if your card issuer is particularly sensitive to fraud, and tends to block your card quite often as a precaution.

Mobile phone roaming
Everyone wants to be able to keep in touch with family and friends when away so consider downloading an app such as WhatsApp or Skype which lets you speak over an internet connection. It can be hugely expensive to make calls from your mobile and to browse the internet without using a wifi network, so it’s always best to turn off the “Roaming data” setting on your phone to avoid charges.

Although you don’t want your phone to be using roaming data, it’s useful if it can connect to the local mobile network to receive calls and text messages, just in case of emergency. To do this, you might need to ask your mobile network provider to switch on roaming for you.

If you have just got a new phone, or switched your mobile phone contract, roaming is likely to be turned off. Contact your mobile network, or log into their website, to make sure roaming is on. While you’re doing it, make sure you are aware of the fees for roaming, so you don’t get caught paying high charges for calls!

Internet calls from wifi are often your best option when phoning home from your holiday, using Skype, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, etc.

If you’re planning on being away for a bit longer or you’re a regular visitor to the country, it may be worth buying a local SIM card so you can make calls when abroad.

Travelling
The most stressful part of a holiday is often the travelling. When all you want to do is get to the pool, faffing around at the airport for taxis or currency can be a real hassle. When booking your hotel ask whether they offer a shuttle service: this is sometimes free, and even if there’s a cost involved, it can be worth it to avoid having to negotiate a taxi or work out which bus to catch.

If you’ve exchanged your money at home you will often get a better rate than at a kiosk in the arrival lounge, plus you won’t have to queue. Double-check the currency of your destination before you go – not everywhere uses the Euro!

Remember to keep a bottle of water handy (after you’ve gone through airport security) and any medications you might need in your hand luggage, just in case! It’s often worth keeping a day’s worth of clothing, especially underwear, in your hand luggage, just in case your suitcase goes missing.

Finally, don’t try to squeeze too much into your holiday. It’s often far more relaxing to pick a few places to visit so you don’t spend all your time on transport, letting you enjoy your holiday! It can feel like anything but a holiday if you’re rushing to fit everything in, so allow yourself time just to relax, and realise you’re probably not going to be able to fit absolutely everything into just a week.