Island of Brac: the hidden gem of Croatia

You know we like to get a local’s view of the places we write about, so we asked Valentino Jaksic to tell us more about Croatia. He was born on a Dalmatian island in a tourism-oriented town, and lived there for 18 years before moving to Zagreb.

The Croatian Adriatic coast has become a popular holiday destination for British tourists in recent years. However, there are still some undiscovered parts, since most tourists usually only visit Split, Dubrovnik and Hvar. The real gem lies between Split and Hvar: the island of Brac.

Location
The island of Brac is the largest island in Croatian region of Dalmatia. It is easily reachable by a pleasant 50-minute ferry boat ride from Split or via Brac Airport. Even though Brac is the closest island to the Croatian mainland, it remains relatively uncrowded.

History
The island lies at the crossroads of important trade routes between the Croatian mainland and Italy. The abundance of olives and pine trees, and distinctive white stone used for building, ensured early human settlement. This led to the Greek and Roman colonisation of the island.

The Roman colonisation laid the foundation for the tradition of stone excavation on the island. Numerous quarries on the island produce stone of the highest quality: the quality of Brac building stone is famous all around the world.

Interesting fact: Brac quarries provided the stone for the construction of the White House in Washington and Diocletian’s palace in Split.

Climate
The island’s mild climate means that the average temperature on the island is around 25C (77F) during summer, although it often approaches 30C (86F). Sea temperatures reach 24C (75F) and allow swimming in the Adriatic Sea from May to September.

The mild climate has resulted in an easy-going lifestyle and unique cuisine. Cooler evenings are perfect for exploring the towns. Besides various festivals and rich nightlife, strolls along the waterfront are the most popular activity. Restaurants, cafes and bars typically stay open until 2 am.

One of the most popular destinations on the island is the Vidova Gora peak, the highest island point in the Adriatic Sea (780m). Due to its height, the temperature is usually a few degrees lower than on coastline. The highlight of the peak is its incredible panoramic view of the islands of Hvar, Korcula and Vis. The peak is accessible by car or via hiking trails.

Beaches
With a coastline of 175 km (110 miles), the island offers a vast number of different beaches, both public and in private camps. All public beaches offer a wide variety of activities such as boating and surfing.

Zlatni Rat beach is one of the most beautiful pebbled beaches in Europe. It is a highly popular beach located on the southern side of the island.

However, if you value privacy, there are numerous isolated beaches along the road all around the island. A great example is Lovrecina, a sandy beach near the town of Postira.

Summer festivals
Nearly all towns on the island take pride in their culture-oriented summer festivals. Usual events include exhibitions, theatrical performances and folklore evenings. Coastal towns organise Fisherman Feasts every week. During those feasts, local fishermen serve organic fish while singing traditional a cappella klapa music.

The city of Supetar’s summer festival also includes the traditional Brac Film Festival and an urban music festival called Voi’Sa.

Special events in Europe during February and March 2018

During winter, the summer holidays can feel like a million years away. As you’re reading this newsletter, you’re probably daydreaming of beaches, sunloungers and sangria, but let me interrupt you for just one second!

Maybe the remedy for the dark nights isn’t a time machine to transport you to summer. Maybe, it’s right on your doorstep…

These ten European festivals are just a short flight away, and will get you over your winter blues in no time!

Carnival of Binche 
Binche, Belgium, 11th to 13th February 2018
The tiny Belgian town of Binche comes alive on the days leading up to Lent, for the Carnival of Binche. During this time, Gilles take to the streets dressed up in elaborate costumes and take part in a variety of events including a confetti battle and orange throwing. The festival dates back to the 14th century and has been declared a “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” by UNESCO.

Berlinale International Film Festival in Berlin
Berlin, Germany, 15th to 25th February 2018
Berlin has long been regarded as one of the most important cultural cities in Europe. It should come as no surprise, then, that their International Film Festival is held in high regard all around the world.

Carnival in Bern 
Bern, Switzerland, 15th February to 9th March 2018
Bern Carnival is one of Switzerland’s most famous festivals, dating back to the 15th century. The city is filled with jesters and performers who take to the street with one particular aim: to awaken the imprisoned bears from their 11-day long winter sleep!

Taste Florence Food Festival
Florence, Italy, 10th to 12th March 2018
Let’s be honest: no trip to Italy is complete without sampling some of the country’s famous cuisine. So why not make it the focal point of your trip? The Taste Florence Food Festival features some of the region’s most famous chefs and producers and is a fantastic place to explore the city’s culinary traditions.

Carnival of San Remo
San Remo, Italy, 11th March 2018
The Mediterranean city of San Remo comes awash with colour during the annual Carnival. This is one of Italy’s most popular yearly events, with TV viewers in their millions tuning in to catch some of the action. The highlight of the celebration is the exquisite flower parade, which features imaginative floats made entirely from flowers.

Medieval Discovery Fair
Palos de Frontera, Spain, 11th to 12th March 2018
Palos de Frontera is a historical town in Andalusia with a rich maritime culture. The Medieval Discovery Fair celebrates the town’s involvement in the discovery of America and the life of Christopher Columbus. Visitors looking for full immersion can take to the cobbled streets fully clad in traditional clothing. It’s just like being taken back to the 15th century!

Saint Patrick’s Day Festival 
Dublin, Ireland, 15th to 19th March 2018
It seems like three-quarters of the world is half-Irish on Saint Patrick’s Day, so why not join them? Dublin is, undoubtedly, the heart of the world’s Saint Patrick’s Day celebrations. Expect parades, dancing, and of course plenty of pubs. Don’t forget to pack your green hat!

Las Fallas 
Valencia, Spain, 15th to 19th March 2018
Every March, Valencia goes up in flames for Las Fallas Festival. Visitors can watch as huge, intricate dolls take to the streets before being burned on the bonfire. Traditionally, the local people believe that everything bad is then burnt and can be reborn from the ashes.

Barcelona Beer Festival
Barcelona, Spain, 16th to 18th March
“Una Cerveza por favour!” (a beer please!) is a favourite phrase of most holidaymakers in Spain. To put it to good use, pay a visit to the Barcelona Beer Festival. The festival has more than 300 beers to choose from, coming from all around the world. Guests can also enjoy live music and a huge array of street food to line their stomachs!

Keukenhof Tulip Festival
Lisse, The Netherlands, 23rd March to May 2018
Spring is the perfect time to see Holland’s famous tulips in full bloom. During Keukenhof, visitors can enjoy 79 acres of vibrant and colourful flowers, making it one of the largest flower gardens in the world!

Amazing winter events in Europe during January and February

When the temperature drops, you may be tempted to just stay inside with a cosy blanket wrapped around you, doing nothing fun or adventurous. Oh, what a mistake!

Winter in Europe sets the perfect stage for numerous amazing events and festivals, giving you the opportunity to enjoy this magical season.

We’ve chosen nine incredible events that will take place in January and February 2018 in Europe; we’re sure you will find something you will enjoy!

If you are a carnival and music lover…
The world-famous Carnival of Venice will take place from 27th January to 13th February 2018. During the carnival city comes alive with its magical atmosphere – there are masks of different colours, shapes and designs everywhere you look, lively dresses and elegant costumes. Music and entertainment will follow you wherever you go in this town during the carnival, and it’s a unique opportunity to feel like you time-travelled back to another century, where everything is mystic and beautiful.

If you want something more wild, join the thousands heading to Carnival de Santa Cruz, Tenerife from 7th February to 18th February 2018. This festival is traditionally held every February on this stunning Canary Island, and it’s the source of immense entertainment for all generations. There are amazing costumes everywhere, and for a good reason: costume competitions and election of the Carnival Queen. You’ll enjoy the show, parades, beautiful and bizarre costumes, music concerts, jaw-dropping performances, street parties and much more!

Nice Carnival is a big thing in France. In 2018 it will take place from 17th February to 3rd March. This lively and colourful festival lights up the winter mood; people dress up in costumes, enjoy the show and the music, and have fun. You’ll love it for its happy feeling, as well as costumes, street performers, and clowns.

For a more calm and easy atmosphere, where you will relax and just enjoy the great jazz music, Winterjazz in Denmark is a perfect event. This music festival is held in several cities across Denmark: Copenhagen, Aalborg, Aarhus, Odense and Esbjerg, from 2nd February to 25th February 2018. You can hear hundreds of Danish and international jazz artists all across Denmark, so if you find yourself in this stunning country in February, don’t miss this great festival.

If you put great food and drink as your priority…
You’ve heard of wine tasting, but what about chocolate tasting? Amsterdam gives you the opportunity on 24th and 25th February to taste numerous different kinds of chocolate on its Amsterdam Chocoa Festival. Besides discovering and enjoying new flavours, you will learn about chocolate making and different kinds of chocolate, and more sweet stuff!

For all you beer lovers out there, Bruges Beer Festival in Belgium is exactly what you need for a perfect holiday! This festival will take place on 4th and 5th February 2018 in the historic centre of Bruges. You will have the opportunity to taste more than 300 different beers from more than 70 breweries. What’s more interesting: there are new beers launched at the festival every year, so it’s a great opportunity to try something new and exciting.

If you’re a visual type and enjoy winter lights…
Amsterdam Light Festival, which is held from 30th November to 21st January 2018, will amaze you with its beauty. As the day turns into night, this city turns into a fairytale, with its glowing artwork lights above the water, and it inspires everyone lucky enough to see it at this time of the year.

Closer to home, 30th January 2018 is a special day in Scotland because of one unique traditional event: Up Helly Aa in Lerwick, Shetland, is all about fire, burning torches, Vikings, and glory! If you want to see hundreds of people dressed up as Vikings with fire torches, burning a wooden Viking ship in honour of their history, and then dance all night around the fire, you have to see this one-of-a-kind event!

If the fire is not so much your thing, there is something completely different for you in the ice of Sweden’s Lapland: Jokkmokk Winter Market from 29th January to 4th February 2018. With over 400 years of tradition, people from all around the globe gather to enjoy Swedish food specialities, music and dance, and of course the beautiful, glowing decorations.

And there you have it! These are just a few of the events and festivals Europe has to offer in the winter months, so get out of that blanket and experience a new adventure! We’ll look at some more next month.

Hidden Zagreb: five secret spots you won’t find in a tourist guide

We asked a true local, Dorotea Albertina Knezevic, who was born and brought up in Zagreb, for her top tips.

Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, has become an increasingly popular destination in the last couple of years. It’s received an award for the best European Christmas Market last year, and it keeps attracting more people by continually improving what it can offer to travellers like you.

That means one thing: Zagreb can be swarming with tourists! If you want to visit Zagreb, but you want to avoid overcrowded tourist sites, here is a special treat for you: five hidden places in Zagreb to make your trip a truly unique experience.

Savica Lakes
Only five minutes car ride from the industrial part of the city, in the southeast outskirts of the town, you’ll find the perfect water oasis. The Savica Lakes is a complex of twelve lakes, surrounded by greenery, the chirping of birds, and serene swimming swans. You can take your picnic basket and a blanket and enjoy the view.

Medvedgrad Fortress
Medvedgrad, a medieval fortress built in the 13th century, watches over Zagreb from the southern slopes of Medvednica mountain. This picturesque but formidable castle defended the city from the Tatars, who often raided two ancient settlements of Zagreb: Gradec and Kaptol.

Through the years, the castle was the residence of many aristocratic families. One of the most infamous owners were the Counts of Celje, with the ill-famed countess Barbara “The Black Queen” as a head of the family.

Solar System Model 
Did you know that Zagreb has its very own solar system? That’s right! Most of the locals know about the “Sun” in Bogovićeva Street, but even they are not familiar with the existence of the other planets in this fascinating scale model art installation that is spread all over the city.

So, if you’re up for a little walk – put on your adventurous shoes and start your planet quest.

Grič Tunnel 
The tunnel that served as both a rave party venue and a bomb shelter in World War Two is located in the very centre of Zagreb. This 1,150-foot long tunnel is open to the public from 9am to 9pm. You can enter it from one of three entrances – Mesnička Street, Tomićeva Street or Art Park. I encourage you to walk through the tunnel and try to make an echo!

Zagreb’s First Traditional Teahouse 
After visiting all those places, a good cup of tea would be much appreciated! Jing Yuan – a teahouse in the centre of Zagreb, is a perfect place for it. It’s a traditional Chinese teahouse where you can enjoy a true tea ceremony and rejuvenate your body and mind. You can’t miss it – it’s in Ilica Street right after British Square.

Enjoy your secret Zagreb tour!

What should you buy at a Christmas market?

Visiting a Christmas market can be exciting, but once you’ve absorbed the fairy-tale surroundings and sampled the glühwein, it is easy to get lost among stalls full of novelty items and souvenirs.

However, you can find locally-made products and traditional gifts worth spending your money on. Here are some of the best:

Stollen
Stollen is a luxurious fruit bread made with candied fruit, raisins, and spices and rolled in icing sugar. It is thought that the first Stollen was made in Dresden as a Christmas offering to the Saxony rulers of the time. Known as Christstollen, the medieval version was less appetizing, containing only flour, oats, and water.

To this day, Dresden Stollen must be made by a registered baker. On 3rd December every year, an enormous Stollen is pulled through the streets of the city by horse and cart.

You can find versions made with rum, champagne, marzipan, and almonds. Buy it early, as traditionally, it should be stored before being eaten.
£2 – £50

Herrnhut Star
The Herrnhut Star is an iconic Christmas decoration used all over the world. Historians believe the 26-point stars were first made in a school in Herrnhut as part of geometry or math lessons in the late 1800s.

Herrnhut was the birthplace of the Moravian Church and so the stars appeared in local churches before being commercially produced a few years later.

They are still made by hand at the original factory in Herrnhut. In the markets, plastic and paper versions are common. Buy a bulb and light yours up inside.
£8 – £175

Lebkuchen
One food you will find at every Christmas market is Lebkuchen, a gingerbread made with honey, spices and candied citrus peel. Records exist of Lebkuchen being made in Nuremberg as early as 1395. Honey was in abundance because local forests were full of bees, which were kept by the Zeidler, or Bee-keeping Guild.

In the 1600s a guild of Lebkuchen bakers emerged, creating their own recipes and intricate designs.

Today, you will find Lebkuchen inscribed with messages in icing, packaged in decorative tins, or baked into heart-shaped cookies.

Different kinds of Lebkuchen are distinguished by the proportion of nuts they contain – Elisenlebkuchen, named after the daughter of one of the original bakers – must contain at least 25 percent nuts.
£2 – £110

Wood art
When tin mining declined in the Ore Mountains in Saxony, local miners took to carving wooden kitchen implements and toys to make a living. The miners also made decorative candle holders, known as Schwibbogen, which were placed in windows around Christmas-time to guide the miners home, and Christmas pyramids, which they made to hang in their houses.

Today, you will find these German folk art pieces at all Christmas markets. The authentic versions are made by hand. Look for the label saying, ‘from the Erzgebirge.’
£2 – £4,500

Glass baubles
In Lauscha in the late 1500s, poor glass blowers who could not afford the traditional fruit and sweets to hang on their Christmas trees created versions out of glass, and the Christmas bauble was born.

Early baubles were shaped like apples, pears, and pine cones, but the glass blowers got creative, and between 1870 and 1940 a huge variety of different ornaments were made and exported around the world.

Today, there are still around 20 small glass blowing businesses in Lauscha. You will find all kinds of baubles at Christmas markets – just make sure to pack them carefully!
£8 – £50

Prune figures or Zwetschgenmännle  
According to folklore, when a Nuremberg resident could not afford gifts for his children, he made them figures out of prunes from the tree in his garden. Now, the ‘prune man’ is given at weddings, Christmas, and New Year, and brings good luck and wealth to those who keep him in the house.

Hundreds of different versions are available, but all have arms and legs made with prunes, heads made from walnuts and bodies made from figs.  Despite their components, they are not supposed to be eaten!
£2 – £20

Travel apps review: Monument Tracker and TripLingo

Monument Tracker 

This app will guide you to all the important monuments in the city you are visiting, and will provide you with useful information about them.

Sounds boring and like all the other similar apps you’ve seen out there? You’re wrong.

Monument Tracker lists different monuments based on your location, putting the closest ones on top of the list. By clicking on a monument, the app gives you the exact location of it and how to get there, as well as information on its history and cultural significance.

The maps you choose are downloaded to your phone, so they are available to you when you don’t have an internet connection, which can save you money on data roaming fees.

You can add different monuments on your “must-see” list, and some of them even have the option for a guided tour or a 360º view.

An interesting feature of this app is that you can walk around the city and explore it at your own pace, and the app will notify you if you are near a significant monument, so you don’t miss anything.

Besides important sights, this app offers info about different activities and events in the city which you can participate in.

What’s addictive about Monument Tracker is that you can gain points by visiting different sights, reading about them, taking photos, recommending places, etc., and move from “beginner” level where you started to a more advanced level. You can also share your profile with your friends to show them where you visited, what you liked the most, and what you would recommend.

There are additional, fun options, such as quizzes to test your knowledge about the city after all that exciting sight-seeing.

Monument Tracker is free, and it’s available for Android and iOS.
Download Monument Tracker for iOS
Download Monument Tracker for Android

TripLingo 

One of the most challenging things in a foreign city is communicating with locals if they don’t speak English. Triplingo makes this more comfortable and headache-free.

The app provides you with a wide range of useful phrases and expressions for everyday communication at your travel destination.

Besides phrases and expressions, the app has a built-in offline dictionary with more than 10,000 words per language. Additionally, it has audio lessons, so you can prepare yourself before your trip.

It also includes one very helpful feature that makes communication smoother and faster, especially if you’re listening to someone speaking in another language: voice translator. It instantly translates your, or someone else’s voice into another language.

Another useful feature is the image translator: it lets you take a picture, for example, a sign or a menu, and translates it instantly. Never get a wrong dish in a restaurant because of the language barrier again!

If that is not enough, the app also has so many other helpful features, such as tip calculator, safety tips (emergency numbers, medical terminology, etc.) and lots of other info about the country you are visiting.

Overall, TripLingo is an impressive app that makes sure you’re fully prepared for your trip.

TripLingo is free, and it’s available for Android and iOS.
Download TripLingo for iOS
Download TripLingo for Android

Tips to smoothly navigate the airport

The airport: a long strip of asphalt connected to a huge metal shed full of armed police officers, screaming children, and overzealous security staff! A place where nobody will bat an eyelid if you have a pint with your breakfast fry up!

It’s the place where your holiday begins, so why not make the most of it?

Airport parking
Book your airport car parking as early in advance as you can. Like flights, it tends to get more expensive as it gets closer to your departure date.

If you are being dropped off, many airports now charge extortionate amounts to be dropped off directly outside the terminal building. However, many airports give half an hour, or an hour, of free parking in the official medium stay or long stay car park, then you can get a free bus to the terminal.

Pack well
A happy airport experience begins at home. There are plenty of online tutorials for how to pack a suitcase, but some forward planning at this stage will make your airport experience that much smoother.

Tuck your ticket into the photo page your passport (to act as a bookmark) and don’t pack them in your main luggage! You will be showing your boarding pass and passport several times before you board the plane, so keep them to hand in a trouser pocket, coat pocket, or a side pocket of your carry-on bag.

If you have a mobile boarding pass on your phone, then it’s still worth taking a printed boarding pass too, as a back-up, in case your phone runs out of battery or your boarding pass app crashes!

The queue for security can sometimes be long, or you might be pulled aside for a more detailed check, so go through security as soon as you can. Don’t hang about drinking in the bars: go through security first, and then you can have a drink and relax.

Stock up on food – avoid the coffee
Food can be expensive onboard the plane, so if you haven’t brought anything from home, stock up on a few snacks for the flight while you’re at the airport. A flapjack from somewhere like Pret a Manger is good, because it fills you up for a long time.

Coffee might be something to avoid at the airport. It acts as a diuretic, making you want to go to the toilet, which can be impractical. It can also sometimes upset the stomach, which isn’t what you want either! Finally, coffee can dehydrate you, and the air inside a plane cabin is dry enough already.

Walking distances 
As demand grows for flights, UK airports are constantly getting bigger, and adding more gates to park the planes. This means that there can often be a considerable distance to walk to get to your plane, sometimes taking 15 or 20 minutes (especially if you are on a low-cost airline).

Most airports in the UK have maps available online with distances marked between entrance points, security checkpoint and departure gates. Use this to both map out your route and to leave enough time to get around without rushing.

If you’re flying with easyJet, their mobile app can sometimes give you the walking distance to the gate, depending on which airport you are flying from. Other airlines are also starting to introduce this service.

Leave enough time! 
Aim to arrive at the airport 2 hours before take off for European flights, and 3 hours before long-haul.

This will give you ample time to drop off luggage and pass through security, so that you can be relaxing with your drink when your gate is announced, not frantically rushing to put your shoes and belt back on in the security area!

A day or two before your flight, check for pre-planned roadworks or railway engineering, and check the weather reports in case there is anything that could delay your journey.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Airport and airline staff are there to help you: from our own experience, we know that airline and airport staff go above and beyond every single day.

If you need help to get through the airport, just ask. Most airports and airlines will ask that you request assistance at least 48 hours in advance if possible. They can help transport baggage (or even you!) across terminals and through security. It’s nothing to be ashamed of or worried about, it’s a practical service to help you, the customer, to have a smooth transit through the airport.

Have some perspective 
Finally, and something many of us could bear in mind, just remember where you’re going. This is the miracle of flight! You are going to be sitting in a pressurized, metal tube flying at 35,000 feet above the earth’s surface and travelling at 550mph – and it’s all as normal as getting on a train.

Winter Wonderland: Christmas markets in Bruges

Bruges is a beautiful city at any time of year. Walking its quaint cobbled streets and admiring its medieval architecture, you can’t help but be reminded of childhood fairy tales.

The winter months bring even more sparkle and shine. At this time of year you’ll find gingerbread-style houses touched with frost, and Christmas lights twinkling in the canal.

The magical centre of this winter wonderland is the Bruges Christmas markets.

The markets
The 2017 Bruges Christmas markets open from 24th November to 1st January. They’re based in the city’s central Market Square, which is overlooked by the lofty medieval bell tower. More stalls can be found on Simon Stevinplein where you can also lace up your skates and head out onto the city’s winter ice rink.

Wandering the markets, you’ll find delicious Belgian chocolates, elegant glassware, handmade Christmas decorations, and lots of traditional handicrafts like knitwear and Belgium’s juniper-flavoured Jenever liquor. Food stalls also feature, with typical Belgian and international fare on offer.

Things to do 
While the Christmas markets are a highlight of a winter escape to Bruges, venturing beyond them offers even more delights. The 83m high belfry is a great place to start. A 366-step climb to the top of the tower gives you spectacular views of the city rooves and spires below.

Other beautiful architecture includes the façade of the Stadhuis, built in 1420, and the adjoining Heilig-Bloedbasiliek, which houses a vial thought to contain drops of Christ’s blood.

For a little culture, head to Groeningemuseum, Bruges’ best art gallery and home to Flemish and Renaissance works. Or for a more down to earth experience of Bruges life, past and present, make a stop at ‘t Brugs Beertje. It’s an old drinking hole and one of Belgium’s most famous brown cafés (so-called because the walls and ceilings have been stained brown by many years of tobacco smoke).

Back outside, take a horse-drawn carriage ride around the old town centre, or wrap up warm and explore the canals instead, taking a boat tour where you’ll learn all about the long and intriguing history of Bruges.

Food and drink
No trip to Belgium would be complete without sampling the local cuisine.

Chocolate is a must. Our favourite chocolate shops are Dumon and Pralinette, the latter selling a hard-to-find massive slab of pure Belgian chocolate that can be chopped roughly with a knife and savoured.

Save space for warm, freshly made waffles, bratwurst, glühwein, some good Belgian beer, and a big bowl of frites, delicacies you can find all across the city.

Places to stay
There’s a great selection of accommodation throughout Bruges. The five-star hotel, Dukes’ Palace, sits right in the middle of the action and also provides spa facilities within its palatial interior.

For a more boutique experience, there’s Inn us Hus, a modern and stylish B&B. It’s located on a quiet street but still just a stone’s throw from the town centre.

For something a little different, try Jacquemine Luxury Guesthouse. It offers beautiful rooms, delicious breakfast, and its own gardens and art gallery. There are plenty of apartments and Airbnb options to choose from too.

Useful information
Direct flights to Bruges from the UK are, unfortunately, few and far between. By far the most straightforward way to travel is by Eurostar from London St. Pancras. Alternatively, you can fly to Brussels and then hop on the train (it takes around an hour) or the shuttle bus (which takes a little longer) to Bruges.
Winter weather in Bruges is chilly, just like in the UK. You can expect average temperatures of around 4C (39F) from December to February, so take warm layers and be prepared to make many a glühwein pitstop!

Bruges is a great destination for a winter getaway, a cultural city break, and a little Christmas shopping too. The city is a winter wonderland that will infuse even the most dedicated scrooge with its festive cheer. For a short winter break over the winter months, medieval Bruges is picture-perfect and inescapably Christmassy.

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.