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!

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.

Something different: exploring Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way

We’re already into May, and summer will be with us faster than you think, so now is an exciting time to start making plans for the months ahead.

If you have considered visiting Ireland, there has never been a better time to go. The Irish Tourist Board has mapped out an easy-to-follow coastal drive called the Wild Atlantic Way, with the best sights the Atlantic (west) coast of Ireland has to offer.

Book a short flight or ferry. Grab a map, download the app and you are on your way!

Planning your route
‘The Wild Atlantic Way’ stretches from Donegal in the north-west to Cork on the south-west coast. Whether you have two days or two weeks, with 157 discovery points and over 1,000 attractions, you will be spoilt for choice.

The route is well signposted, with a wave symbol indicating frequent points of interest, and is quite an easy drive. However, to discover the truly remarkable points of interest, the signposts will often lead you down narrow country roads. It’s not uncommon for cars to be held up by a tractor or a wandering sheep! Enjoy it. After all, when holiday memories begin to fade, it is these experiences you will always remember as the ‘Only in Ireland’ moments.

When planning your journey, try to include some of the lesser known sights as well as the well-known locations. By contrast, popular locations such as the Cliffs of Moher, picturesque Kinsale Harbour, Bunratty Castle and the gorgeous Dingle Peninsula will always attract large numbers of people.

However, the beauty of this route is that it offers access to other hidden gems along the way: you may choose to take a guided boat tour out to see dolphins, whales, puffins, and the numerous other breeding seabirds; or you could watch the sun set on a deserted beach along this rugged coastline.

There are plenty of opportunities to get active, with popular activities such as angling or golfing. For the brave at heart, experience the exhilaration of swimming in the Atlantic Ocean on any of the blue flag beaches scattered along the coast, such as Lahinch. The northern edge of the Loop Head Peninsula also has great cliffs and a lighthouse.

Whatever your preference, The Wild Atlantic Way route will ensure your trip to Ireland is one that you will remember for a lifetime.

When to go 
May to September are the most popular months to travel around Ireland. The month of May is arguably the most colourful. As summer arrives, the landscape is awash with wild flowers blossoming, green fields against an Atlantic Ocean backdrop.

In the months of May and September, you are most likely to find you are the only person on a secluded beach or cliff walk. From June to August, the towns and villages buzz with activity, and you might be lucky enough to happen upon one of the many food or traditional music festivals held across rural towns and villages in the summer months.

Experience the culture, gourmet food and drink 
Don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation with a local. You will often find they are fiercely proud of their local area and will enjoy sharing their knowledge on its history, hidden sightseeing gems, or the best restaurants.

From gourmet bistros to artisan food markets, there are plenty of pit stops along the way to tickle your taste buds, and you will find the locals are the best guides for advice. Spend an evening sipping on an Irish coffee or a cold pint of Guinness while enjoying a traditional music session in a pub. You will find trad sessions in most rural villages and towns each night. Again, the locals will be happy to point you in the right direction. If you really want to immerse yourself in the culture, it is worth booking into a B&B to truly experience an Irish homestead at its best.

What to pack
Although Ireland has relatively mild summers, the Atlantic coast can bring in sweeping brisk winds that are sure to make you feel alive! Be prepared for warm sunshine, rain, and hail all in one day. It’s easiest to wear layers, with cosy knits and raincoats. Comfortable walking shoes are also a must.

Finally, don’t forget your camera. There are photo opportunities around every corner of the Wild Atlantic Way! Consider whether the camera on your smartphone is really up to the task, and perhaps treat yourself to a new compact camera to capture the stunning views.

Bord Failte, the Irish tourist board, offers an informative website and smartphone application to help you plan and navigate your trip. See http://www.wildatlanticway.com

Stunning European destinations you can have to yourself this Easter

The sun may just be starting to emerge from the clouds in the UK, but in the sunny south of Europe, spring is well on its way. With the Easter holidays fast approaching, it’s time to start making those winter daydreams of lying on the beach, drink in hand, a reality.

We can imagine your holiday fantasy didn’t include hundreds of other sunbathers occupying the same stretch of beach as you, so we’ve put together a list of some more off-the-beaten track destinations for a truly serene holiday.

Whether you’re taking part in the traditional Holy Week celebrations of Sardinia’s eastern province, shopping in the markets of a sleepy Portuguese town, or enjoying an island to yourself in Corsica, these holiday destinations are sure to send you home truly relaxed and rejuvenated.

Ogliastra, Sardinia’s Undiscovered Gem
While the Italian island of Sardinia has long been known as a luxurious and beautiful holiday destination among Italians and foreigners alike, most visitors usually concentrate on the north of the island. However, Sardinia’s eastern province, Ogliastra, has all the striking scenery that makes the island so popular, but with less of the development and throngs of tourists.

Spend your days swimming in the province’s crystalline waters at the beaches of Cala Mariolu or Cala Goloritze. For the more adventurous, head deep into the caves and grottos of Grotta del Fico, only accessible by boat, or the nearby Grotte Su Marmuri. To get the most from your visit, ask one of the guides to lead you around the winding corridors of these caves while you learn about the millions of years of evolution that made them possible.

Ogliastra has plenty of options when it comes to accommodation, from five-star resorts averaging around £500 per night, to hotels for around £100 per night, to more modest B&Bs, and even a multitude of campsites around the province.

Easter is an especially good time to see all that Ogliastra has to offer, as the Holy Week celebrations fill the streets of the villages with processions, music, and locals in the unique traditional dress of their village. Weather on the island at this time of year is also ideal, with temperatures averaging at about 18C (65F) on Easter Sunday and gradually climbing up to 25C (77F) as we inch closer to summer.

Sand and Surf in the South of Portugal
Head to the far southwest of Portugal’s Algarve region and you’ll find yourself in the village of Odeceixe. With its homes seemingly tumbling down the hillside to the beaches below, and a quaint windmill perched high above the village, Odeceixe’s old-world charm seems a million miles away from the golf-course, resort-filled land of the rest of the Algarve region. Long hailed as a haven for surfers and sunbathers alike, Odeceixe has plenty to offer newcomers, especially around the Easter season.

The area has plenty of opportunities to try your hand at surfing, but if you’d rather watch the waves than ride them, the town is filled with charming cliff-top bars and cafes, like the local favourite, Cafe Dorita, where you can watch from afar. There are also ruins of Moorish castles to explore, and beautiful coastal paths to walk along. On Easter Weekend, there is also the Folar Fair, which celebrates all things sweet and delicious, with lots of cakes, pastries, and traditional crafts to see and sample.

You can expect temperatures at Easter to be around 18C (65F), sometimes reaching as high as 23C (73F). While there isn’t a huge selection of accommodation in the area, places are reasonably priced, with the top hotel costing around £100 per night.

Corsica: An island to yourself
The French Island of Corsica is popular in the high summer months of June and July, when boats fill its ports and holidaymakers squeeze into every room of its hotels. But for those on Easter breaks, or travelling in the late spring to early summer, Corsica has a calm lull to it: a distinct breath of fresh air before the onslaught of the summer tourists.

This is a time to see Corsica as it truly is, as the locals experience it every day. Base your island holiday in the medieval town of Sartène and bear witness to one of the most famous Easter processions on the island. On Good Friday, candles in all the windows of the town are lit as they illuminate the path up to the church in the town square.

The doors of the church open and a man in a hooded robe with heavy chains around his feet and carrying a heavy cross emerges. He carries the cross for over a mile, falling three times, just as Christ did. This ancient tradition is a sight to behold, and is not to be missed if you’re anywhere in southwest Corsica over Easter.

Sartène is also a wonderful starting point for seeing many of the island’s prehistoric sites and exploring the rest of beautiful southwest Corsica. The sun constantly shines at this time of year, and the weather plays its part in helping you enjoy your holiday, remaining at a pleasant 16C (61F) to 17C (63F) during the day.

Sensational Split: Life on the Adriatic

Split, the pearl on Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast, offers the rare combination of a beach and city break. This is a city rich in heritage and culture, but also gives locals and visitors the opportunity to head over to the beach when they need to do a spot of relaxing. It’s a great city to visit, and temperatures will soon be pleasant at this time of year, with average highs of 17C (63F) and 23C (73F) in April and May respectively.

Roaming around a Roman palace
The UNESCO heritage site and world-famous Diocletian’s Palace is the heart of the city. Built around 300AD, this Roman palace is one of the best-preserved sites of its era. The palace feels like a separate city, packed full of shops, restaurants and bars. You can easily lose yourself in its maze of streets and alleys for a whole day.

There’s always something going on here, whether it’s music, theatre or dance. Don’t miss the centuries-old ceremony of the changing of the guards, every day at 12 pm. At the start of May, the city’s annual “Festival of Flowers” showcases hundreds of displays around the palace, including within the palace’s cellars.

Italian food
Due to a close historical relationship with Italy, a short trip of less than 150 miles across the Adriatic, menus along the coastline are heavily inspired by Italian food: risottos, fish and seafood are all popular dishes in many restaurants. You’re sure to enjoy the world-class local wine in bars and restaurants throughout the city, and there are plenty of vineyards surrounding the city where you can learn from the growers and, most importantly, try more of their produce.

Life at the beach
Split’s position on the Adriatic means that beach trips are an essential part of life for locals, and you’ll find whole families flocking to them on weekends and summer evenings. The most popular and famous beach in the city is Bacvice beach, which is one of the few sandy beaches on the coast. This may not be the best beach in the area, but if you want to live like a local then find a spot on the sand and join everyone relaxing, eating and playing picigin, a hugely popular Croatian beach game.

If you want a more peaceful and relaxing beach visit then you’re better off walking west, following the coastline round to Jezinac. The beaches here are a good alternative, with bars offering great sunset views.

Boats
You can’t fail to notice the impressive collection of boats and yachts moored in the city; if you’d like to see more or dream about which one you’ll buy, the “Croatia Boat Show” gives you that chance. The show runs 5th – 9th April.

Head for the hills!
Anyone looking to escape the crowds of the city, or wanting to get back to nature, shouldn’t leave without visiting the tree-filled hills of Marjan. This shady park looms over the city and is an ideal escape for locals and tourists alike. There’s good reason why locals refer to Marjan as the “lungs” of the city: it’s a great place for walking, cycling and relaxing in general. There are also plenty of secluded beaches dotted around that you will often have all to yourself.

Ten events for a perfect spring getaway

With freezing temperatures continuing across the UK, we look at some of Europe’s best events over the next few months.

1. Dance away the winter cobwebs at one of Vienna’s grand balls
Vienna’s hugely popular ballroom dancing season runs until 25th February and offers 2,000 hours of dancing! The most famous event is the Opera Ball which offers a unique backstage view of the Opera House.

After whirling your partner around, make sure to take in sights including St. Stephen’s Cathedral and warm yourself up with a traditional strudel.

Temperatures up to 4C (39F).

2. Gorge on chocolate alongside the canals of Amsterdam
Chocolate lovers flock to Amsterdam’s Chocoa Festival (25th – 26th February) where some of Europe’s finest chocolatiers display their wares and visitors indulge in what is on offer.

Possibly a perfect late Valentine’s Day present but be warned, you might need to spend a few days wandering the canals of this famous city to work off those calories.

Temperatures up to 8C (46F).

3. Join in with a Greek carnival
The carnival season peaks on 26th February and the seaside town of Patras is the undisputed home of Greek carnivals. The Night and Grand Parades see thousands of revellers hit the streets with huge models and lanterns paraded through town.

Visitors may combine this with a few days in Athens or on one of the 6,000 Greek islands.

Temperatures up to 14C (57F).

4. Discover more than tulips at Dutch flower festivals 
Two of Europe’s largest flower festivals are held simultaneously in the Netherlands, with the Keukenhof Flower Show (23rd March – 21st May) and the Bloemencorso display (19th – 23rd April) drawing crowds.

Entrance to Keukenhof costs around £14 and is 45-minute journey from Amsterdam.

Temperatures up to 12C (54F) during April.

5. Celebrate the season at the Budapest Spring Festival
This long-running festival (31st March – 23rd April) combines a huge array of classical music, jazz, opera and theatre, all set within Budapest’s historic centre.

Between performances, don’t miss St. Stephen’s Basilica and the Chain Bridge. Many choose to have dinner on a luxurious river cruise along the Danube which divides the city.

If it gets chilly, warm yourself up with goulash, Hungary’s national dish (a beef stew with paprika).

Temperatures up to 15C (59F).

6. Watch fantastic films in Brussels old town
A regular on the European film festival circuit since 1983, the Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival (4th – 16th April) specialises in science fiction, thriller and horror films. Just ensure you try some of the luxurious chocolate before you leave.

Temperatures up to 13C (55F).

7. Stroll around the world’s best gardens in France
The International Garden Festival (from 20th April) in France’s Domaine de Chaumont-sur-Loire region will appeal to those with green fingers. This long-running festival attracts gardeners and visitors from around the globe and could be an alternative for regulars of the Chelsea Flower Show.

With Paris under three hours away, it is possible to combine this event with a city break.

Temperatures up to 11C (52F).

8. Taste the best ice cream Florence has to offer
Those with a sweet tooth shouldn’t miss Florence’s annual Gelato Festival this April (21st – 25th), when gelato lovers flock to this famous city, eager to combine great architecture with the world’s tastiest ice cream.

Accessible from many UK airports and with a wide range of accommodation options, Florence is a popular choice year-round. The world famous Uffizi Gallery (free on the first Sunday of the month) and Santa Maria del Fiore (the Duomo di Firenze which adorns every city guide), ensure there is plenty to appeal to those looking to soak up some culture.

Temperatures up to 19C (66F).

9. Sample the finest wines from Barcelona
The Priorat Wine Fair (30th April – 1st May) offers the finest in Catalonian wine, whilst tantalisingly close to the city of Barcelona. There really is something for everyone in this seaside city, boasting great food, culture and architecture.

Football fans won’t want to miss a tour of the legendary Camp Nou for £22, and may even catch a glimpse of Messi at a game.

Temperatures up to 18C (64F).

10. Enjoy Maltese fireworks in the Med 
Held annually since the country’s entry into the EU in 2004, the Malta International Fireworks Festival in late April has increasingly attracted visitors to the island’s capital, Valletta.

Excellent museums and churches, such as St. John’s Co-Cathedral, have boosted Valletta’s reputation as a cultural hotspot, and the warm weather makes it a perfect destination for a short break.

Temperatures up to 19C (66F).

These are just ten of hundreds of unique events occurring across Europe. If these don’t appeal there’s bound to be something to suit to your interests!

The Northern Lights: a dramatic holiday with a difference

When your winter routine starts to feel stuffy and stale, consider a relaxing trip to the North. It is here that you can cross off one experience from your bucket list: witnessing the wonder and awe of the elusive, electric Northern Lights.

The savvy traveller knows that booking an off-season holiday can be just as rewarding as a summertime trip. Appearing in a variety of vibrant colours, from pale yellow to deep violet, the Northern Lights —also known as the Aurora Borealis in the Northern Hemisphere — provide a spectacular display in the night sky.

Most commonly, the lights appear in hues of green and pink. To the human eye, the colours aren’t as vivid as you will see in the classic long-exposure photographs, but they are still a beautiful natural spectacle to behold.

Winter provides the ideal opportunity to encounter the Northern Lights. The recipe for a sensational show is simple: dark, clear skies. With the longer winter nights that the northern countries of Iceland, Sweden, and Norway are known for, there are many opportunities to view the dazzling auroral display.

Spend your next holiday relaxing indoors, cosying up with a hot cup of tea or cocoa, and pulling up a front-row seat to view the outstanding light display put on by Mother Nature right outside your window.

See the lights in Reykjavik, Iceland
Iceland’s tourism industry has exploded in recent years, and for good reason. The country is remote and its landscape is dramatic, providing stunning vistas of mountains, waterfalls, lava fields, and coastline.

Even Iceland’s largest city, Reykjavik, has a small-town feel. The city’s quaint size means it doesn’t even put off enough light pollution to hide the Northern Lights from view; they are easily seen from the downtown area. Often, on nights with high aurora activity, Reykjavik will even shut off its lights to give its citizens and tourists a better view!

After enjoying your stay in Reykjavik, consider a drive through the Golden Circle to see such landmarks as Gulfoss and Geysir.

There is plenty in Iceland to do and see by day, and the awe-inspiring Northern Lights to enjoy by night.

Boldly go north to Svalbard, Norway
Northern Norway is another hot spot for watching the Northern Lights flicker over the Arctic. The northernmost cities of Norway are a popular location for viewing the lights, but even further north is the Norwegian island of Svalbard.

Svalbard is home to Longyearbyen, the world’s most northernmost town, and is also home to the world’s most northernmost airport. If the lights shimmering in the sky weren’t enough, reindeer have also been known to roam the streets of Svalbard, and the North Pole is a mere 1300 kilometres away.

Dog-sledding and snowmobiling are common pastimes in this secluded land, but relaxing and taking in the sights of the landscape and the sky provide a pleasant escape from the hustle and bustle of your everyday life.

The experience of visiting Svalbard is truly otherworldly. Consider a late-winter holiday to this final frontier.

Wrap up and head to Abisko National Park, Sweden
Sweden, Norway’s neighbour, has similar opportunities for enjoying the Northern Lights. Like Iceland and Norway, the north is known for its “Midnight Sun” in the summertime, but the opportunity to view the Northern Lights is of equal intrigue.

Northern Light sightings begin in September and last through until March in the Swedish Lapland. The Aurora Borealis is most famously seen from the Aurora Sky Station in Abisko National Park.

Abisko National Park offers a chairlift to the observation tower. Spend time enjoying the Northern Lights exhibition, grabbing a hot beverage from the cafe, and purchasing a souvenir for your friends back home who will be green with envy.

Winter weather can sometimes inhibit the viewing of the lights, but Abisko has a reputation for clear skies. Seeing the Northern Lights from this vantage point is highly likely.

Where else might I see the Northern Lights?
The Northern Lights are also frequently spotted in Finland, Ireland, and the Denmark territories of Greenland and the Faroe Islands.

Temperatures
Winter temperatures in the northern countries of Iceland, Norway, and Sweden typically range from -15C (5F) to 0C (32F). Dress warmly, and don’t let the cold weather dissuade you from the experience of a lifetime!

When to go
While the Northern Lights can sometimes be seen as early as August, the highest-activity months are September through until March.

Aurora activity is higher during winter months, however, a trip does not guarantee a glimpse of the Northern Lights. Check the weather and an Aurora Forecast for your chances of aurora activity based on your location, or strike up a conversation with a friendly local to ask for tips on hunting the aurora. For locals, aurora hunting is a way of life!

Some Northern Light excursions, such as Reykjavik’s Northern Lights cruise, will offer a refund if viewing conditions are poor on your chosen date.

So avoid the influx of summer tourists and the pricier summertime season and plan a visit to see the Northern Lights this February.

Tell me more
To find out more, and see photos that have been adjusted for how the human eye sees the Northern Lights, take a look here and here.

A cultural winter getaway in Copenhagen

If you’re seeking a true white winter holiday, Denmark is your place and its capital, Copenhagen, offers the perfect mix of unique culture and snow-covered wilderness. As with most places in Europe during this time of year, things can get a bit chilly, but Scandinavia’s weather has its own special delights.

Exploring alternative Copenhagen and the side you haven’t seen
Denmark’s capital is well known for its old town, harbour and palaces, which should not be missed by first timers, but sometimes the city’s best attractions are hidden. One of the more popular alternative destinations is Freetown Christiania, well known for its sovereign governmental stance and 1960s lifestyle in the heart of Copenhagen. The odd little community is host to art-filled cafes, workshops, restaurants full of organic goods, and your fair share of amazing people-watching.

If you’re looking for a quick break from the city centre, the charming haven of Nokken is ideal for a relaxing day trip. Reminiscent of The Shire, you’ll find hobbit-style, tiny homes, bountiful gardens and spectacular sunset views of the harbour. Stop in one of the cozy cafes around town if you get chilly for a warming glass of “gløgg”, a local’s favourite Danish style hot spiced wine.

A dining experience beyond the tourist food trucks
When locals grab a bite to eat downtown, most turn to the new street food market on Paper Island (Papirøen). You’ll find quality dishes from around the world, most at an affordable price and some filling meals for as low as £5.

For a higher end Scandinavian meal, Noma is a favourite. The location couldn’t be better, sitting dead centre in the city, with gorgeous views of the river. It’s far enough away from the bustle that you’ll have a relaxing or romantic dining experience yet be near the action after dinner.

If you’re new to Denmark, don’t miss the traditional open-face sandwiches (smørrebrød) served in a variety of styles. A trip to Copenhagen isn’t complete until you’ve tasted Danish meatballs (frikadeller), which are being served up nearly everywhere you look.

Escape the city and see the country
This time of year, the snow is sure to be falling throughout Northern Europe, and there’s no better way to celebrate than breaking out the skis or snowboard. Since Denmark is a generally flat country, it doesn’t boast the extreme skiing that France and Italy may offer. Yet for those looking to get outside and take it easy on the hill, Hedelands Skicentre is perfect. The hill is only a 35-minute drive from downtown Copenhagen, making it a great option for a winter day trip. Most of the mountain is extremely user-friendly and has runs for any level of skier. Adult day tickets are only £11, and tickets for children are £6.

“Dyrehaven,” Danish for Deer Park, is another great option to see the countryside. It’s usually pretty quiet during the winter, which makes for peaceful strolls and exquisite wildlife viewing. The park is just north of the city – don’t forget to wrap up warm!

City essentials not to be missed
Nyhavn is one of Copenhagen’s most visited destinations, and while it may be busy, your first view of the port will show you why. The area is full of little restaurants surrounding the canal, and with a quick look around you’ll find that many have great live music. If it’s not too cold, do as the locals do and grab a beer from one of the shops and have a seat on the dock to enjoy the sunset.

For any beer fan, a tour of the Carlsberg brewery is a fascinating excursion. You’ll watch their unique brewing process that seems to provide beer to half of Europe. From the outside, you’d think Carlsberg is a castle for the old Danish king!

The ice rink at Frederiksberg Runddel is ideal for families or couples looking to join this age-old Danish tradition. Every year the area is transformed into a winter paradise offering a classic holiday experience. You can rent a pair of skates for £6.

Copenhagen is an amazing place to be during the winter months. You’ll dodge the tourist rush of summer and receive a true Danish experience, so don’t let the cold discourage you!

Christmas treats: Lapland, Stockholm, and Paris

There is perhaps one season that Europe does better than anywhere else, and that is winter. Across the continent, it is a time to swap presents, share food, and engage in end-of-year revelry with friends and family, as we all seek to ward off the cold and the dark of those long, wintry nights.

Seasonal events are a booming industry: Christmas markets are the perennial favourite, and nowadays you can find stalls and chalets lining the streets of almost every town – from Sheffield to the south bank of the Thames, as well as more traditionally the streets of Germany and Austria.

Yet no matter how much you enjoy shopping for gifts and sipping mulled wine in a rustic marketplace, winter in Europe has much more to offer than this alone. Here are some of the locations that will help to bring an extra touch of magic to your end of year holiday.

Enchanting Lapland
A magical family adventure for young and old alike can be found in the remotest part of Finland’s north. According to folklore, Lapland is the traditional home of Father Christmas himself, and the locals have missed no opportunity in bringing this fairytale to life for seasonal visitors!

Direct flights operate throughout December from multiple locations across the UK, and many of our smaller regional airports are the starting point for package deals.

On arrival, there is no end of sleigh rides, mulled wine, and seasonal dinners. While younger visitors may be enchanted by the chance to visit Santa’s workshop, it is usually the prospect of glimpsing the Aurora Borealis (also known as the Northern Lights) which appeals to older travellers.

It is even possible to visit Lapland as part of a same-day return trip, offered by Thomas Cook and others. Do a Google search for “Lapland day trips” if you are interested. Just remember to pack for the cold climate!

The Festival of Light, Stockholm
All across Sweden, the 13th December is the annual festival of light: marking the day of Saint Lucy. For many Swedes, the event marks the true start of Christmas, and families come together to share a festive julbord (the traditional Christmas buffet), drink mulled wine (“glögg”), or indulge in saffron buns baked to mark the occasion – the Lussekatt.

The event is not a public holiday in Sweden, which means shops and services remain open throughout the day. Once night falls though, the city streets are brought to life with music and light, as children sing hymns, put on traditional costumes, and stage a candlelit procession through the streets. It is a moment to see Scandinavia at its most festive and picturesque.

New Year’s Eve on the Seine, Paris
If you are searching for a spectacular destination to bring in the new year, you do not have to look any further than Paris.

Although many of the world’s capital cities will host New Year’s Eve extravaganzas, few can muster the sheer wealth of opportunities that Paris offers: from the Champs Elysées and Arc de Triomphe to the Eiffel Tower and Notre-Dame Cathedral, there are countless iconic landmarks to select as the backdrop to your evening of music, light shows, and fireworks.

However, the epitome of Parisian luxury can be found on board one of the fine dining river cruises that sail along the Seine on New Year’s Eve. From the comfort of your dining table, you can take in all of the sights of the city at once, while also enjoying a gourmet dinner service.

For those who enjoy the finer things in life, it is perhaps the ideal way to start 2017.

Advantages to seeing Europe in winter

A winter holiday? It may not be the most traditional choice to go away when the nights draw in. However, there can be quite a few unexpected advantages for those who choose to go abroad from late November to early February.

Here’s how you can get the most out of a winter break.

Warmer climates
According to the Met Office, the United Kingdom has an average temperature of around 4C (40F) during winter. If you’re looking to escape the biting air and freezing rain, a holiday in the south of Europe could prove ideal.

The temperature in certain cities such as Seville and Athens will rarely go below 20C (68F) and 10C (50F) respectively during winter, due to the climate of countries such as Spain and Greece.

The warmer weather also means that key outdoor sites in the Mediterranean, such as the Parthenon and Real Alcazar, don’t close to the public.

Shorter queues, thinner crowds, and better availability
For almost all European countries, the winter months are seen as an off-peak time for tourism. Certain attractions, such as the city of Venice, have a (not undeserved) reputation for becoming ghost towns. This is often due to a drop in temperature and a rise in rain, but it can also be down to fashion – people don’t go, because people don’t go!

But this need not be a disadvantage. If you are planning to travel mainly to see the sights, take photographs, or visit heritage sites, the comparative lack of people in winter could prove to be a significant boon. As well as simply helping with getting around, the lack of summer crowds means that you may have a better chance to explore unhindered.

This doesn’t just apply to visiting open streets and plazas. You may have a more enjoyable time visiting larger museums, such as the Louvre in Paris. Heavy summer crowds are somewhat notorious for blocking views of the art, defeating the point of going there!

Queues to get into certain buildings and landmarks will also (typically) be much shorter. Additionally, metropolitan hotel rooms are often easier to find and book.

However, beware disappointment when trying to late book accommodation in popular seasonal locales such as Rovaniemi, Finland, which bills itself as being the “official” home of Santa Claus! Winter availability can go down as well as up.

It’s more affordable in winter
Winter travelling at off-peak times can often be a good way to get the absolute most out of your holiday budget. Rail fares, air fares, and nightly hotel rates can all prove substantially lower, as there are fewer travellers. Special winter discounts or deals are sometimes available for tourists.

Potentially, these lower prices could allow you to extend your break further or visit more places than you would in the summer. It could also allow you to get more value out of the present pound to euro exchange rates.

The time immediately around Christmas is generally an exception: travel costs tend to go up dramatically.

Winter-only attractions
Some countries also have natural and cultural attractions that can only be seen while travelling during midwinter, and we look at those in more detail further on in this newsletter.

In the darkest months, the northern lights can often be seen in Scotland, Norway, and Finland. For the adventurous, winter is also a great time to watch snowsport in the Alps and elsewhere. And of course, the Christmas markets in Austrian and German cities such as Cologne, Vienna, and Munich are world renowned.