A perfect summer holiday in France when travelling on a budget

According to the UN World Tourism Organisation, France is the most visited country in the world, receiving 82.6 million tourists in 2016! Although it can get crowded in summer in the tourist hotspots, there is still plenty to enjoy.

Where to visit 
When it comes to variety, France is hard to compete with. The north is completely different from the south, and the various cities have their own unique identities. Also, the beaches are too great for you to miss out on!

Your holiday in France doesn’t have to cost too much: even the most expensive cities in France like Paris have lots of ways to save money and make your budget go a long way.

We have chosen three of the best places you can visit to have a good time without having to dig too deep into your wallet.

Lille 
Lille is undeniably a cool place, and it is one of the best cities in France for you to relax and have fun. It’s in the very north of France, so not far to travel from the UK. There are no direct flights to Lille, so it’s best to get the Eurostar train.

The city has a beautiful Natural History Museum which has one of the world’s best insectariums. There is also the spectacular 17th-century Citadel of Lille. You’ll also get to see the biggest flea market in Europe at the annual Braderie de Lille, and enjoy delicious meals at an affordable price.

Paris
Paris is one of those cities that everyone has to visit once in their lifetime.

It’s possible to spend quality time in Paris without having to pay too much. You can roam around the Montmartre’s Secret Vineyards, have a little picnic under the Eiffel Tower with your loved ones, and dig out cheaper food options in a restaurant such as Chez Le Libanais, for delicious Lebanese shawarma.

Dune of Pilat
This is one of the most remarkable places in Europe. Located in the south-west of France, near Bordeaux, the Dune of Pilat is a large white sandy dune that stretches for miles, with the sea on one side and the lush forest on the other side. It is the tallest sand dune in Europe, and it is a famous tourist destination with more than a million visitors per year. It serves as a perfect place for relaxation and a perfect spot for a day trip.

Packing for a summer holiday in France
Summer in France can sometimes be scorchingly hot, mostly in the afternoons, but it can quickly turn cold later! It’s best to bring items that are light, but also to pack a jacket or a sweater to avoid the sudden drops in temperature. You’ll also find sunglasses handy for those long sunny afternoons.

For women, it’s best not to bring skimpy shorts, because French women don’t really wear them in public. It might work if you plan on going to a resort, but if you don’t, choose something else.

For men, light shirts and jeans are all you really need.

Kos: A lesser-known Greek island that’s well worth exploring

The charming Greek island of Kos will seduce you with its stunning seaside and mountain towns and villages, and its fascinating history stretching back to 366 BC.

It’s ideal if you fancy a sun-kissed beach getaway, with its golden sands and crystal clear waters, but there’s so much more to this gorgeous Dodecanese island that you won’t be able to resist exploring while on holiday here.

There are plenty of accommodation options spread across Kos, whether you want to stay in a budget or luxury hotel, apartment or villa, and many of them are located right by the sea. With 70 miles of coastline, it feels like Kos is a never-ending beach paradise.

Simply sunbathing on one of the clean, award-winning beaches and taking a dip in the clear Aegean Sea makes for a perfect day.

The summer months of July and August are the hottest here, with temperatures reaching 31C (88F), so you may want to bear that in mind if you prefer to visit at a cooler time.

Exploring the island
Kos is predominantly flat and low-lying, so cycling is popular among both locals and tourists, and there are plenty of bicycle rental outlets.

Hiring a car on Kos is easy, and it will give you the freedom to explore to your heart’s content. Kos is a fairly small island, so you can drive from the east side of the island to the west side in less than an hour, and it’s only 20 minutes from north to south, so you can get to see many of the sights quite quickly.

Kos Town is rich with sightseeing opportunities, from the medieval Neratzia Castle to the Ancient Agora ruins and the Tree of Hippocrates. The island is famed for its connections with Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, as he was born here and legend has it that he taught his students underneath the tree.

Further out, you can see the Roman Odeon and mosaics, tour the Venetian Antimachia Castle, take in the panoramic views from the ancient Asklepion, and finish off the day with a fantastic sunset from the beautiful village of Zia.

Many holidaymakers take advantage of the location of Kos to enjoy day trips to nearby islands, such as volcanic Nisyros, and you can even take a boat trip to Bodrum in Turkey, as it’s less than 15 miles away.

Festivals and Feasts
Modern Greek culture in Kos means festivals, religious feasts, and plenty of cultural events, and August is the best month for this. At the beginning of the month, the traditional village of Mastichari hosts its Wine Festival, while the historic fishing town of Kefalos has an Ouzo and Sardine Festival. Mid-August sees the Honey Festival inland in Antimachia.

Towards the end of August, you can join in with the celebrations in Mastichari for the Feast Day of Agios Ioannis (Saint John), which is when pilgrims pay their respect to the saint. Later in the day, locals and visitors alike gather on the beach to party until sundown.

If you’re visiting in July or August, the Hippocrates Festival is a must-do for visitors to Kos. Each year, for two whole months, the festival celebrates Hippocrates with all kinds of entertainment, from theatre and music performances to street dancing and art exhibitions.

Wonderful food
All kinds of palates are catered for in Kos, but for traditional cuisine, you’ll find a multitude of tavernas serving meat, fish, and vegetable dishes. Being an island, there’s a fantastic selection of fresh seafood, of course, and what better way to finish off a beach or sightseeing day than with delicious food?

Leeuwarden: A less crowded alternative to Amsterdam

Many people will think of Amsterdam when they hear of the Netherlands. If you’ve been to Amsterdam, you’ll know how beautiful it is, and also how crowded it can be. Every year millions of tourists visit Amsterdam; however, other Dutch cities are competing to attract some of these tourists. You will hear names like Rotterdam, Utrecht and Den Haag (The Hague), but few will mention a little gem in the north of the country: Leeuwarden.

Where is Leeuwarden?
Situated about 20 miles from the north-western coast of the Netherlands lies Leeuwarden, the capital of the province of Friesland and European Capital of Culture 2018, boasting over 600 monuments, several museums, and the house of artist M.C. Escher.

The city has a rich history dating back to the 9th century. Leeuwarden was granted city rights in 1435, and you can still find quite a few buildings dating from that time in the city centre.

The Oldehove
This askew tower was the result of a rivalry with the capital of the neighbouring province, Groningen. The goal was to build a higher church tower than Groningen’s, but what the Liwwadders (as the people of Leeuwarden are called) didn’t know was that the construction site was on the edge of one of the three terps (mounds) that made up the city before the area silted up in the 1300s.

During construction, the church tower began leaning sideways and the builders tried to compensate for it, but at a height of around 127 feet they simply stopped building!  Since then, the unfinished tower has become a symbol of the city.

From the top of the Oldehove you can enjoy a beautiful outlook over the city. Until the 31st October the tower is open to visitors every day of the week from 1pm to 5pm. The admission fee is 3.50 euros (about 3 pounds).

Shopping and culture
From the Oldehove you can go for a stroll through the Kleine Kerkstraat where you can find many small stores selling regional products, especially cheeses and meats, as well as Frisian treats.

The province of Friesland has a strong cultural identity that differs from the rest of the Netherlands, and outside of the cities you will not hear Dutch spoken often, as the native language here is Frisian.

Compared to Amsterdam, the city centre of Leeuwarden is smaller and less crowded. You will find many shops, and lots of these are small and run by the owners. And, like in lots of Dutch cities, you will see a large number of cafes located alongside the main canal running through the city centre.

Architecture
If you prefer beautiful medieval buildings, take a detour down the Grote Kerkstraat. This street leads to the Protestant church, called Grote Kerk. This was of special importance to the Dutch royal family, which is reflected in the architecture and decoration. Besides the Grote Kerk there is the Catholic Sint-Bonifatiuskerk, which is also worth a visit with its beautiful leaded windows. The whole of the city centre has many beautiful buildings to discover.

How to get to Leeuwarden
The nearest airport is Amsterdam, from which you can go by train directly to Leeuwarden. You can find hotels all over the city: most are located near the main railway station, and from there everything is within walking distance. The climate is mild, with average high temperatures around 20C to 25C (68F to 77F) during the summer months.

The beautiful beaches of Lefkada, a Greek island to cherish

Lefkada is a Greek island in the Ionian Sea, famed for its endless golden beaches and pure emerald waters. It’s the perfect place for a relaxing holiday suitable for families and couples, but also for young people who love the beach life.

The daily temperature during summer is 20C to 26C (68F to 79F),  perfect for any activity: tanning, swimming, sightseeing or yachting.

Besides being a great holiday retreat, the windy coasts and sunny skies create the ideal weather for kiting and boating.

Accommodation
One big advantage is that Lefkada is one of the few islands you can get to by car from mainland Greece, and you’ll need a car because the beaches are located outside of the towns. There are many hotels and apartments throughout the towns, and in the neighbouring villages, offering tourists accommodation at a very affordable price.

Depending on your budget, you can find rooms for a price as low as 25 euros per night in private motels in the villages, or as high as 500 euros per night in the luxurious hotels located along the coastline.

Although most of the hotels are in the cities of Lefkas and Nydri, the beaches are only a 15-minute drive away. However, it can be better to find accommodation in the villages between the towns and the beaches to save on time, since most of the best beaches are in the unpopulated south of the island, whereas the towns are north-east.

Beaches
The coastline of Lefkada is rich in natural splendour, with picturesque beaches and high rocky coasts. One of those beaches is Porto Katsiki, often thought of as one of the world’s most beautiful beaches, which attracts millions of tourists throughout the year.

Other beaches like Egremni, Kathisma, and Kavalikefta are renowned for their picture-perfect and breathtaking scenery, with endless golden sand and emerald water.

All the beaches are accessible by car and have their own parking, so renting a car is ideal if you want to visit as many beaches as possible. There are also daily boat cruises you can go on for 25 euros that go around the island and stop at famous tourist locations, beaches, and neighbouring villages.

Sightseeing
Lefkada isn’t all about the beaches. There are many other recreational and historical spots you can go to that will offer you a unique Greek experience. From ancient churches to mountain tops, there is something for everyone’s taste.

One place worth visiting is the Nydri Waterfalls, which you can get to by walking through a green forest, perfect for people who love outdoor hikes and activities.

Like any other place in Greece, the island plays host to many historical sites. The Castle of Santa Maura, a medieval castle located at the entrance of the town, is the go-to place for history-lovers. There are also many caves that were used by the Greeks throughout history, including their use as secret hideaways in wartime to hide submarines.

There are many churches and monasteries across the island, some a few centuries old. These are a great place to meet the locals and find out something more about the island and its history.

Food
Seafood restaurants, tavernas, fusion restaurants, gelaterias, bars: like any other tourist location, the local cities offer a variety of food you can choose from.

The best food is the local food. So, when you visit Lefkada make sure to order yourself a Greek salad, olives, souvlaki, or fish specialities. Then you can experience the true authentic flavours for yourself.

Halkidiki: The best-kept secret in Greece

We asked Greek writer Emmanouil Sakalidis for his tips on where to go in Greece. Here are his top tips:

Halkidiki is a region located in northern Greece, that brings together all the best parts of a Greek island: lovely beaches, luxury resorts, interesting cultural heritage, and classic Greek culinary delights.

Things to know about Halkidiki
Halkidiki is a popular destination made up of three large peninsulas. The peninsula of Kassandra, mostly famous for its beaches and the local taverns and restaurants; the peninsula of Sithonia, the ideal place for travellers who want to try boating, hiking or diving; and the Mount Athos peninsula, with its many monasteries – only men are permitted to visit this territory.

Halkidiki has 340 miles of coastline and contains 72 beaches with the blue flag certification.

The climate of Halkidiki is ideal for beach holidays. During summer, the temperature ranges between 25C to 35C (77F to 95F), while in May, the weather is even more pleasant, with temperatures no more than 25C (77F).

Things to do in Halkidiki
As you’ll find in every part of Greece, Halkidiki has many historical and archaeological sites. The best places to visit here are the world-famous cave of Petralona, the folklore museums of Arnea, Athitos and Nikiti, the Krouna tower and the tower of Prosforios.

If you are a nature lover, Halkidiki is the perfect place for you. With more than a thousand beaches with crystal-clear water, this region offers you plenty of activities like swimming, sunbathing, kayaking, diving or boating. There are also 17 cycling routes and 20 hiking routes to help you explore the natural environment.

If you love ancient Greek history, there is a hiking root that explores Stagira, the birthplace of Aristotle, the greatest Greek philosopher.

The Festival of Kassandra is a well-known festival that takes place on the peninsula of Kassandra, between July and late August. During this time, you can enjoy theatrical shows, folk music and dance, Greek food, and many traditional events. It has hosted world-famous artists such as Ray Charles and BB King, as well as many Greek musicians.

A day trip to Mount Athos is another extraordinary activity that you can do in Halkidiki. Mount Athos, known as the ‘Holy Mountain’, is the capital of Greek-Orthodox Christianity and consists of 20 monasteries, hundreds of hermitages, and more that 2,000 monks! Following the protocol of the state, women are not permitted into this territory. Although women are not permitted to enter Mount Athos, all visitors can admire the magnificent landscapes and the breath-taking monasteries from the small traditional boats that depart daily from Ouranoupoli, a small village that is the last settlement before Mount Athos.

What to eat in Halkidiki
Halkidiki offers you an amazing Mediterranean food experience. As it has plenty of high-quality ingredients, the culinary tradition of this region is unique. Honey, wine, sweets, pastries, herbs, table olives, extra virgin olive oil, and many different kinds of cheeses are only some of the local and pure ingredients that you can taste. You can also enjoy the fresh fish and seafood at the local restaurants and taverns.

Eating out in Halkidiki is cheaper than in the UK. On average, you will pay around £12-15 per person for a full meal.

Where to stay
The Greeks are very hospitable people, and the roots of Greek hospitality are even older than Parthenon. Halkidiki offers a big selection of affordable apartments, luxury resorts, cosy hotels or villas.

How to get to Halkidiki
The closest airport to Halkidiki is Thessaloniki. You can get direct flights on easyJet, Ryanair, or British Airways. From there, you can rent a car, take a taxi or a bus, and you can reach the destination of your choice in less than half an hour.

So come to Halkidiki this year: a voyage of true discovery awaits!

Budapest: The Paris of the East, and why it deserves the title

Budapest is often dubbed the Paris of the East, mainly for its spectacular architecture and its rich culture that puts good music, food, and wine at its centre. Fortunately, it’s far cheaper to visit than Paris, making it a popular destination for travellers.

Budapest is made from the joining of two former cities, the hilly Buda on the west side of the Danube, and the much flatter Pest on the east.

Sightseeing
The city is known for its architectural landmarks. There are a lot, so it’s good to plan ahead if you want to fit everything in!

The Hungarian Parliament Building is a must-see. The building is breathtaking, and you can’t help but feel insignificant standing next to it. Tours in English, to view the inside, take place daily and cost around £11.

Other popular attractions well worth checking out are the Citadel and its Liberty Monument, Matthias Church and the Fisherman’s Bastion, Buda Castle, Heroes Square, and St. Stephen’s Basilica. And yes, it’s absolutely worthwhile to head up the tower of the Basilica. That gorgeous 360 degree view of the city is priceless!

Activities
If you are looking for a bit more structure and guidance during your trip, you will see many of these sights on a Budapest Free Walking Tour. It’s in English and the friendly tour guides are walking information stands who will give you some insights into Hungarian history, tips for travelling in Budapest, and even a mini language course with all the basics like ‘Cheers’, ‘Thanks’, and ‘Hello’.

If you’re not up for much walking, try the sightseeing cruise up the Danube. The best time to go on a cruise is after dark, when the whole promenade, including the Parliament Building, is lit up.

It would be a crime to leave Budapest without having tried out one of its famous thermal baths. The most popular baths are Széchenyi Baths and the Géllert Baths, which are a great spot for relaxing.

Food
After all that exploring you’re guaranteed to have worked up an appetite, so make sure to fill up on some of Budapest’s best cuisine. You’ll find everything here, from traditional Hungarian dishes to food from all over the world. If you’re craving something sweet, you’ll find pretty cafes, doughnut shops, and ice cream parlours around every corner.

Make sure to try the Lángos and Goulash at the Central Market Hall. You should also try the Chimney Cake and rose-shaped ice cream at Gelarto Rosa.

Editor’s note: A highlight from my own visit to Budapest was Central Cafe, a beautiful Art Nouveau traditional and historic cafe where writers used to hang out. There’s a large array of tempting cakes in a large glass stand; order the classic Hungarian Esterházy torte!

The Jewish Quarter is a great spot for restaurants that serve great food and offer great service at an affordable price. Many of them, for example, Mazel Tov, also have outdoor gardens so you can enjoy the sunshine while gobbling down your food.

Ruin bars – a unique experience
For a fun and bizarre experience that you won’t get anywhere else, visit some of Budapest’s famous ruin bars. These popular bars are unique to Budapest, and are built into abandoned and dilapidated buildings! The furniture and decor are usually eclectic and crazy. Do a bit of internet research to find a ruin bar near you.

Beyond the city break
Taking a quick break from the city is easy in Budapest. You can explore the hills that surround the capital, as they are only a stones-throw away. The Elizabeth Lookout Tower is a popular destination with a stunning panoramic view of all of Budapest and its surroundings.

Craving a beach day? Fear not. The stunning Lupa Beach is only an hour from Budapest, and with its white sand beaches, palm trees and beach bars you get the best of both worlds.

The best time to visit is always now!
Budapest has something for everyone so what better time to pack up your bags and decide for yourself whether it truly is the Paris of the East, than now?

With summer fast approaching, the average temperature will be between 21C (70F) and 27C (80F). There are also plenty of great hotels and Airbnb’s on offer in the city, suitable for whatever your budget may be.

Helsinki: A capital city with warmth

When asked about Finland, the first thing most of us will say is “It’s cold!” Although that may be true of the long winter months, it could not be more wrong about the people: they are smart, resourceful and friendly. (Although surprisingly there is no direct translation of the word “please” into Finnish.)

They invented the sauna to stay warm, and have an education system that tops the world, making communicating in English very easy.

So what does Helsinki have to offer travellers on a city break?

What to visit
Suomenlinna is a huge fortress that was built by the Swedes to protect the city in the 1700s. It is so huge, in fact, that it spreads across six islands! Since the Russian invasion in the 19th century it has been left largely untouched, making it a real trip back in time. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. To visit all you need to do is hop on the ferry, which takes about 20 minutes.

Temppeliaukio Church, also known as the rock church, is one of the most iconic and most photographed buildings in Helsinki. The circular church is quite modern, opening in 1969, and has been carved out of the rock and topped with a copper dome. When approaching it looks more like a UFO than a church!

The Sibelius Monument is one of Helsinki’s must-visit locations. It is dedicated to the great Finnish composer Jan Sibelius. Not only is it one of the most breath-taking sculptures you will see, it is interactive too. By placing your head into one of 600 different pipes you can make your own music.

Helsinki Cathedral is one of the most beautiful buildings in the city. It was built to honour Russian Tsar Nicholas I in the 19th century. The steps leading up to the cathedral are a popular meeting place for locals, and make a great place to take some holiday snaps.

The sauna is an integral part of Finnish society, and a must-do activity when in Finland. It is so popular that for a population of 5.5 million people there are estimated to be over 3 million saunas, one per household! This means that wherever you choose to stay you will more than likely have a sauna you can try. If not, don’t worry, there are some great public saunas around the city.

For other unusual entertainment, the Formula 1 Ferrari driver Kimi Räikkönen part-owns a karaoke bar in Helsinki called Wallis (probably named after the 1976 F1 world champion James Simon Wallis Hunt).

Eating Out 
Eating out in Helsinki is more expensive than in the UK. On average you will pay around £15-25 for a main course. However, there are some great restaurants to choose from.

To try traditional Finnish food made with fresh in-season local produce, head to Grön. If you want to treat yourself, Helsinki has four Michelin-starred restaurants to choose from.

When to visit
The best time to visit Helsinki is during June and July, when you can enjoy the near 24 hours of sunlight, with temperature highs of around 20C (68F).

Want to know more? Visit My Helsinki and see what you can find!

The delights of Porto: foodie culture and wine cruises

Fabio Mendes has travelled extensively in Porto, so we asked him to give us his very best tips and advice for a great holiday.

There are plenty of reasons why Porto won the award for Best European Destination at the World Travel Awards in 2017. If you enjoy history, excellent food and wonderful views, you will agree that Porto deserves this title.

Porto is the largest city in Northern Portugal, and gives its name to the famous dessert wine, port. The city combines its historical roots and modern aspirations, in a setting which at first seems similar to its famous southern sister Lisbon, but feels quite different.

Placed at the margin of the river Douro, Porto represents an entire region proud of its uniqueness.

When to go, and how to reach Porto
Due to its more northerly location, Porto is spared from the typical Portuguese heat. Average temperatures between 20C (68F) in May and 25C (77F) in August, and almost no rain at all, offer perfect conditions to explore the city.

The airport of Porto is served by easyJet, Ryanair, British Airways, and TAP Portugal. Upon arrival, you will easily find public transport to the city centre right in front of the terminal.

To move around the city, you can buy a Porto Card day pass for six Euros, with discounts if you want a card lasting more than one day. This price includes the rechargeable card. With this pass, you can even use the public elevators, which bring you from the lower to the higher parts of the city. Make sure you always activate the ticket upon entering all transport and that a green light flashes afterwards.

What to see and do
If you arrive by train, the São Bento Station is a good first sight to behold. The impressive hall, completely covered with the famous Portuguese blue tiles, gives you an incredible first impression!

Walk down the narrow streets towards the river. You will reach Ribeira, the part of the city right by the river and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can stroll along the promenade until you reach the Dom Luis I. Bridge, designed by Gustav Eiffel, or just enjoy the scenery sitting at a café and drinking port.

If you are up for learning more about the Age of Discoveries, head to the Casa do Infante. Nowadays, this antique building houses a museum about the history of the city, but it is also the birthplace of Henry the Navigator, the famous mastermind behind the Portuguese discoveries of the New World. I can also recommend visiting the Palacio da Bolsa, a building that took 30 years to finish; its main purpose was to impress visitors to the city!

What to eat
Not many cities can claim to have such a vast offering of delicious restaurants as Porto. Typical Portuguese dishes are quite simple, and that means that plenty of places will offer you good food. In Porto, it’s actually difficult to stumble upon a restaurant where you will be unhappy.

The most famous dish in Porto is the Francesinha. It’s a sandwich made of different types of meats and sausage, with a fried egg and molten cheese on top. The secret is the sauce, and every single restaurant is proud to announce that their sauce is the best in town. The servings are usually so generous that many people can’t even eat it all.

Another creation of Porto is Tripas, which is a tripe stew that has been eaten in the city since the 15th century. Probably not the tastiest option, but surely one to tell your friends at home about!

Seafood and fish dishes are highly recommended too. Restaurants easily source fresh and high-quality fish at the local markets. You can try the local octopus salad almost everywhere, and it’s perfect as a side dish! Usually, lunch for two, with a bottle of house wine included, should not cost you more than 35 to 45 Euros.

The Port Wine Experience
It’s impossible to escape the sweet wine in Porto. Made world-famous by the British, you can have a small glass everywhere in the city for less than the equivalent of £2. To get the full experience, cross the river to the south side and visit the Port Wine cellars. Most of them offer guided tours, including a Port Wine tasting at the end. Graham, Sandeman’s and Cockburn are just some of the most famous names where you can learn all about the wine.

Another highlight is the river cruise offered by several operators. You will sail upstream, out of the city and into the heart of Northern Portugal to see where the grapes used for Port grow. It’s possible to visit the actual vineyards, sometimes with the guide being the owner himself.

In June, the Douro Fair is an excellent opportunity to taste the specialities of the region, not only the wines.

For the return to Porto, use the historical train for a memorable trip back in time!

Tallinn: the medieval marvel of the north

Mark Taylor is a British expat who now lives in Estonia. We asked him to give us an insider’s view of the beautiful city of Tallinn.

There is a reason that the entire old town of Tallinn is recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site: it’s jam-packed full of history that has been impeccably preserved. Being the son of an archaeologist, it’s probably one of the main reasons I made Tallinn my home eight years ago.

It’s hard to compress so much history into so few words, while also giving you a guide to the best places to see. So here’s a little taster of some of the most important places in the city’s history.

Toompea
Wherever you stand in Tallinn you will be able to see Toompea. The hill lies at the heart of the city and can be seen for miles around. It’s why the Danes built a castle there in 1219 and why the Houses of Parliament are there today.

However, the origins of the hill date back much further than even the bronze-age artefacts that have been found there. Estonian folklore tells that the hill was created by the mythical Linda piling rocks on to the grave of her husband Kalev.

St Olaf’s Church
With the Danes and the subsequent arrival of the Teutonic knights, Christianity arrived in the city and hence St Olaf’s church was built. As the city grew in prosperity and power from its membership of the Hanseatic League, so did the church.

Between 1549 and 1625 it is believed to have been the tallest building in the world at around 124m (407 feet). It has the best views of the city too, and at only around £2 to go up, it’s somewhere I always take visitors.

Kadriorg Park
After some 500 years of Danish, Swedish and Teutonic Knight rule, 1710 saw the arrival of the Russian empire under Peter the Great. To mark his victory he built a grand palace with grounds. Those grounds now make up the beautifully kept Kadriorg park, which is just a ten minute tram ride from the city centre.

As well as the palace you will also find the national art museum KUMU and the residence of the President of Estonia in the park.

Lauluvaljak
There is a reason Estonians are referred to as the singing nation, and it’s not their successes at Eurovision! Lauluvaljak, which simply translates into English as “Song grounds” played host in 1988 to the singing revolution, where more than 300,000 people gathered to sing patriotic songs.

The unique thing about the song grounds is the stage, which can hold up to 15,000 singers, a Guinness World Record.

When to visit
When having friends and family come to stay, I almost always recommend they visit in June, July or August (unless they like snow!). This is when the weather is at its most settled and pleasant, with average daily temperatures around 20C (68F).

It very rarely goes above 30C (86F) too, meaning that it never gets unbearably hot. The long summer nights are another great plus, including one month around the summer equinox when it never truly gets dark.

It’s Estonia’s 100th birthday
This year Estonia will celebrate 100 years since it first gained independence from the rule of various other countries. Therefore there are many events taking place in Tallinn throughout the year to mark the centenary.

[Editor’s note: from my own visit to Tallinn, the Museum of Occupations, detailing Soviet and Nazi influence, including huge communist statues, was a very powerful exhibition, not to be missed.]

To learn more about events happening in Tallinn when you visit, see the Visit Tallinnwebsite.

Malta: the perfect holiday for beaches, culture, and history

Malta is one of the most pleasant places in the Mediterranean to spend a holiday. It will suit you if you’re looking for beautiful beaches, plenty of things to do, an excellent climate, and affordability.

Malta is packed with interesting attractions, including medieval castles, incredible 17th-century architecture, and several UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It has over 7,000 years of interesting culture and history to explore, spanning from the Neolithic period, to the Crusades, to the island’s role in World War Two.

You will also find miles of beaches, where you can relax and frolic in the warm waters of the Med.

Things to know about Malta
Malta is just south of Italy, so the climate is great for a beach holiday. During the summer months you can enjoy up to 12 hours of beautiful sunshine, with temperatures that range from 24-28C (75-83F) during May and June, with peak summer months at a consistent 31C (88F).

When you arrive you will be delighted with the easy access to almost all of the main island’s attractions and beaches. With Malta covering only 122 square miles, you can travel from one end of the main island to the other in about an hour. You can decide to rent a car, but other forms of transport are readily available, such as a public bus system which will take you directly to several of the fabulous attractions around the island.

You won’t have to worry about a language barrier. The island has two official languages, Maltese and English. This will make your holiday more enjoyable when conversing with the local residents.

There is no need to worry about currency either. Malta is part of the European Union and uses the Euro. You will find plenty of places offering competitive exchange rates.

Where to stay in Malta
Most people on holiday in Malta stay in or near Valletta, the capital city, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site dating back to the 1560s. The neighbourhoods around Valletta offer holidaymakers a wide assortment of places to stay. Prices can range from £56 to over £200 per night depending on your preference for budget versus luxury.

Areas such as Paceville are lively, with plenty of dining, entertainment and shopping options within walking distance. Other neighbourhoods of interest include Sliema and Gzira which overlooks the Grand Harbour.

If you prefer to stay outside the city, in a more relaxed atmosphere, the Corinthia Palace Hotel, located within a renovated 19th-century Neo-classical mansion, is a fantastic choice. The hotel is situated a 15-minute drive from Valletta and many of the beaches, as well as being adjacent to the lush San Anton Gardens.

Beautiful Maltese beaches
The variety of beaches you can experience in Malta will provide you with plenty of opportunities for relaxation and swimming, along with numerous watersports activities. Most of the beaches are within around 20 miles of Valletta, and you can easily access them by car or public transport.

The Mellieha Beach, also known as Ghadira Bay, is an ideal choice if you want multiple on-site amenities. Beachgoers at Golden Bay can also enjoy a wide array of services as well as excellent sunsets. Pretty Bay is a short distance from Valletta with a superb promenade.

Other attractions in Malta
You can take an interesting tour of Valletta, a UNESCO World Heritage Site loaded with baroque and medieval architecture. When you visit the Upper Barrakka Gardens you will have panoramic views of the Grand Harbour, and you can learn about the Knights of St. John as well as the 1565 Great Siege of Malta.

Other magnificent sites include St. John’s Co-Cathedral, the ancient capital city of Mdina, and you can take a ferry north to the neighbouring island of Gozo. You can relive the perils of the bombing raids during World War Two within several renovated bomb shelters, and there are unique museums that cover World War Two.

Overall, travellers who have holidayed on Malta come away feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. Where else can you go to the beach, then walk through a Neolithic temple and a medieval city all in one day?

Could Malta be your perfect holiday getaway?