Tag Archives: England

10 Best Places to Hike in the World

28 Apr

Whether climbing Everest is at the top of your bucket list or you’d prefer a gentle hike through the British countryside, the world is full of jaw-dropping natural landscapes that beg to be discovered on foot. From Iceland’s otherworldly topography to unveiling the real Middle Earth in New Zealand, here are 10 of the best places to hike in the world.

New Zealand

Mount Cook in New Zealand

Mount Cook in New Zealand

Immortalized on film as the magnificent backdrop to the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, New Zealand’s many attractions and dramatic scenery have had a revival of late, with Peter Jackson’s most recent offering, The Hobbit, reminding travelers what they’re missing. It’s no surprise that hiking – or tramping as it’s known to New Zealanders – is one of the best ways to take in the scenery, and well marked routes traverse the length and breadth of the country, served by a wide network of government-run campsites. Most popular are the nine Great Walks including the one-day Tongariro Alpine crossing, passing by the famous Mt. Ngaurube volcano (otherwise known as ‘Mt. Doom’ from the Lord of the Rings films); the 82km Heaphy Track, which passes a varied terrain from dense rainforest to rugged coastal cliffs; and the 53km famous Milford track, which offers spectacular views of New Zealand’s tallest waterfall.


Nepal

Mount Everest

Mount Everest

Nepal’s legendary Annapurna Circuit tops many a hiker’s bucket list and the 230km loop is renowned as one of the world’s most impressive treks, tracing the awe-inspiring Annapurna massif and crossing the Thorung La pass at a breathtaking 5,416 meters. Nepal’s other famous challenge is, of course, the mighty Everest, and trekking to the base camp of notorious peak has become a popular undertaking even for non-climbers. Nepal’s appeal isn’t just the challenging trekking and ruggedly beautiful Himalayas though – the Buddhist country is noted for its unique hospitality and soaking up the culture is as much a part of the experience as the hike itself. Hire a local Sherpa guide, bed down in a traditional mountain village, visit serene mountaintop temples and sip yak butter tea with the locals, as you uncover a whole other world thriving in the wilderness.

UK

With short walking trails and rambling long distance treks running to every corner of the British isles, the United Kingdom makes the perfect location for hikers to test out their navigation skills, with well marked routes doing away with the need for a guide.  Head to one of England’s world renowned National Parks like the Lake District, the Peak District or the Yorkshire Dales, where the vast moorlands and sweeping hills are dotted with cobblestone villages and traditional pubs, or attempt the 182km Coast to Coast trail, spanning the entire length of England. It’s not just British soil that’s well trodden – you can also visit the Scottish Highlands which are home to the UK’s highest peak, Ben Nevis and a vast network of footpaths provide dramatic views over the windswept glens and glistening lochs of the northernmost county.

Turkey

Cappadocia, Turkey

Cappadocia, Turkey

From scrambling through the volcanic valleys of Cappadocia to trekking the vast Taurus Mountains, Turkey has plenty to offer lovers of the outdoors away from sun and sand of the Mediterranean coast. The 500km Lycian Way, running along the coast from Fethiye to Antalya, and the St Paul’s Trail, following in the footsteps of the legendary evangelist from Perge and Aspendos to Yalvac, are the country’s two main long distance hiking routes, passing a number of key historic sites and showcasing the country’s incredibly diverse terrain.

Iceland

Hiking in Iceland

Hiking in Iceland

With majestic glaciers, bubbling hot springs and looming volcanoes, hiking through Iceland’s otherworldly landscape offers some of the world’s most unique photo opportunities. Hiking is possible almost anywhere, but most adventurers head for one of the national parks – Skaftafell national park is a wonderland of shimmering ice caps and jagged mountains, whereas Landmannalaugar’s striking rhyolite mountains provide the focal point of the celebrated 4-day Laugavegurinn trail.  Another popular trek is scaling the country’s highest peak Hvannadalshnúkur, at 2110 meters, where you’ll be afforded spectacular views over the Vatnajokull glacier – one of the world’s largest.

Patagonia

Patagonia

Patagonia

The gateway to Antarctica has fast become a popular destination in its own right – a wintry playground of glaciers, penguin colonies and snow-dusted mountains. Stretching across the southernmost parts of Argentina and Chile, visiting Patagonia means seeing some of the continent’s most magnificent surroundings – swollen glacial valleys, pristine lakes and towering mountain peaks. The UNESCO biosphere reserve of Torres del Paine National Park, on the Chilean side, is a hotspot for hikers with well-marked trails offering expansive views of the famous pink granite Paine towers, or else make the pilgrimage to see the wondrous Perito Moreno Glacier, the ‘smoking mountain’ of Chalten volcano or the windswept archipelago of Tierra del Fuego, the ‘Land of Fire’.

California

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park

Hikers could spend a lifetime exploring the US on foot, but the varied terrains of California make the perfect place to start. While there are few pockets of wilderness left undiscovered, America’s third largest state still has plenty of jaw-dropping hikes up its sleeve, including some of the country’s most iconic landscapes. Hikers can choose from exploring the epic canyons and dunes of the Death Valley desert; the granite cliffs, tumbling waterfalls and vast rivers of Yosemite National Park; or visiting the world’s largest tree, the General Sherman Tree, in Sequoia National Park. The world famous parks aren’t the only options – the Joshua Tree National Park, Redwood National Park, Big Sur and the Golden Gate National Park all lie within Californian borders, with the landscape ranging from snow capped peaks to arid desert basin.

The Alps

Chamonix, Switzerland

Chamonix, Switzerland

Hikers traveling to Europe will find it hard to miss a walk in the Alps, Europe’s principal mountain range, sprawling across eight countries. Throughout winter the Alps play host to some of Europe’s glitziest ski resorts but as the snow thaws, hiking the alpine slopes becomes one of the region’s most popular pastimes. Color-coded signposts mark out routes throughout the Alps, Europe’s open border policies means hiking between countries isn’t a problem and there’s such a high concentration of peaks over 4,000 meters that you won’t have to walk far to get a view. Explore the traditional villages and cheese factories in the Swiss foothills; follow one of the acclaimed tracks through the lush valleys and glacial passes of the French Alps; or tackle the hugely popular trail encircling the iconic peak of Mont Blanc, Europe’s highest mountain, straddling the border between France and Italy on a Half-Day Trip to Chamonix and Mont Blanc from Geneva.

Canadian Rockies

Canadian Rockies in Banff

Canadian Rockies in Banff

Taking the famous train journey through the towering Rocky Mountains are one of Canada’s most celebrated attractions but to truly experience their magnitude, you’ll need to don your hikers and take to the hills. The vast Rockies harbor myriad opportunities for hiking but the best-marked trails and a network of alpine huts lie within the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage site. Notable trails include the famous Berg Lake Trail, running through the Mount Robson Provincial Park and scaling the highest peak in the Rockies; the Mount Fairview trail in Banff National Park, offering panoramic views of the dazzling Lake Louise; and the Lake O’Hara Alpine Circuit in Yoho National Park, a scenic route through lush woodlands and shimmering glacial valleys.

Kazakhstan

Ticked the other nine off your list? Now’s the time to get truly off the beaten track and discover some of the world’s most inspiring and least-visited landscapes – hikes long overlooked by the tourist hoards. Kazakhstan has been steadily building a reputation among serious hikers for its remote and unspoiled wilderness, and with a number of reputable trekking companies operating in the country, it’s easier than ever to explore. The Tian Shan and Altai mountain ranges hold the most popular routes, with ancient pathways tracing the borders of Russia, China and Mongolia. Just make sure you take a local guide.

10 Best Places to Hike in the World Argentina , banff , California , canada , Chile , England , featured , France , Geneva , Iceland , Kazakhstan , Nepal , New Zealand , Patagonia , Switzerland , turkey , United Kingdom , Yosemite National Park

The 10 Best Cities for a European Layover

4 Apr

Long flights with even longer layovers may seem less than ideal when you are eager to kick-start your vacation but your stopover doesn’t have to be boring. Whether your layover is a quick break or an entire 24 hours, venturing outside the airport in one of these ten European multi-faceted cities will make your layover just as memorable as your final destination.

Reykjavík, Iceland

Reykjavik, Iceland

Reykjavik, Iceland

Heading into Iceland’s capital in the dead of winter might seem counterintuitive (though the average temperatures aren’t much colder than New York) but the city has much to offer travelers in terms of history, culture and leisure excursions any time of year. And if you fly IcelandAir between the US and Europe, you can stopover in Iceland for up to a week at no extra cost.

From Kjavík International Airport, board the FlyBus for a 45 minute ride, hopping off at the very first stop in the city, called BSÍ, which is an easy walk to the city center. Those pressed for time can take a city tour highlighting the major landmarks and touristic attractions or you can explore on your own on foot. Use Tjörnin, a centrally located lake as your reference point, as many of the city’s museums and landmarks are within walking distance from here. For travelers with a bit more flexibility in their schedule, highlights include Perlan, the National Museum and Church of Hallgrímur not to mention the colorful nightlife scene. If you have an early flight the next morning and want to party, don’t plan on sleeping. Most locals arrive to the clubs after midnight on weekends.

Zurich, Switzerland

Zurich, Switzerland

Zurich, Switzerland

Switzerland has a reputation for being on the expensive side, and compared to how the U.S. Dollar and the European Euro fare against the Swiss Franc, that’s a fair statement. Zurich is Switzerland’s largest city in terms of both geographic size and population so while there is no way to do everything in a few hours, it also means that you have endless possibilities based on your interests. Getting into the city center won’t be difficult. While trams and buses are available, trains from the airport to the central train station only takes 10-15 minutes and purchasing a ZurichCARD will save you money.

For a picturesque and affordable view of the city, climb to the top of Grossmünste that once served as a Roman cathedral. Head to Bahnhofstrasse for some serious shopping or visit Kunsthaus to view Swiss art.

The small size of Switzerland and efficient train system also means that if you have more time and want to venture farther away from the city, you can. Interlaken and Lucerne are each about an hour away from the city by train; you can even get to Geneva on the other side of the country in less than three hours.

Prague, Czech Republic

Prague, Czech Republic

Prague, Czech Republic

One of the perks of having a layover in Prague is that the airport has a facility in Terminal 1 where you can leave your luggage for up to 24 hours. There’s a fee of 120 CZK per item but it beats lugging your bags around with you all day. On the flips side, a thirty-minute taxi ride into the city is the only realistic means of transportation and can be costly, but once you are in the city, costs are generally low compared to most destinations in Western Europe.

For a scenic tour, take either a one-hour cruise tide on the Vlatva River or opt for a bike tour if the weather is nice. If walking by foot, make sure to watch the Astronomical Clock chime every hour by Old Town Square and visit Prague Castle for a crash course in Czech history.

London, England

Westminster, London

Westminster, London

There’s hardly anything that can put a damper on a layover in London except maybe the frequent rain clouds. The city has a few different airports and all are accessible from the airport (via the Underground for Heathrow or via express trains and busses for both Gatwick and Stansted). The Underground (the Tube) is the cheapest method at £5 but takes more than an hour to reach the city so plan accordingly. If your next connection leaves a few hours, it’s best to stick around in the airport but if you have more time, as London airports are notoriously crowded.

If time permits, take the Piccadilly Line from Heathrow to the Green Park stop. Exit here and proceed through the park until you reach Buckingham Palace. From here, head north to Mayfair for shopping or west to South Kensington for museums.

Brussels, Belgium

Belgian Waffels

Belgian Waffels

A jaunt through Brussels may feel strangely reminiscent to another romantic European capital. The Belgium city was actually modeled after Paris and the similarities and differences are apparent. Conveniently located a mere seven miles from the airport, a quick trip to Brussels can and should be done. For an interactive and speedy tour of the city, join a bike or Segway tour or just explore on foot.

Start at Grand-Place, considered the heart of Brussels and featuring impressive architecture from the Baroque era. Make your way to the EU Headquarters for an audio tour of Parliament or simply stuff your face with sweets in one of the many local chocolate shops after a tour at the Belgium Chocolate Museum.

Lisbon, Portugal

Belem Tower, Lisbon

Belem Tower, Lisbon

There are certainly worse places to spend your layover than Lisbon. The city is known for its fascinating architecture and pleasant climate and is only five miles from the airport. If arriving during the day, opt for public transportation to get into the city.

A trip to Lisbon would not be complete without visiting The World Heritage Belem Tower, a landmark that is said to compare to Paris’ Eiffel Tower or London’s Big Ben. Grab a coffee in Baixa along Rua Agusta or view vibrant flowers in Jardim da Estrela. Laid-back by day and lively by night, Bairro Alto is a charming neighborhood lined with local restaurants, cafes and bars.

Madrid, Spain

La Cibeles, Madrid

La Cibeles, Madrid

Spain’s capital city has a population of more than three million, so it’s no surprise that Madrid Barajas Airport is the county’s busiest. Similar to Prague, the Madrid airport offers luggage storage space to travelers in terminals 1, 2 and 4 for €3.85 for the first day. If on a time crunch, take a taxi to reach the city in thirty minutes but if time allows, hop of the metro, which stops in terminals 2 and 4. Consider buying the Madrid Tourist Travel Pass if spending the entire day in the city.

Start your exploration in Plaza Mayor, a plaza located in the heart of Madrid. Browse through the Prado Museum for European art dating back to the 12th Century, see Picasso’s famous Guernica painting at the Reina Sofia or visit the Royal Palace. For a snack, stop into the Mercado de San Miguel, a covered market where you can sample tapas, wine, oysters, pastries and much more.

Istanbul, Turkey

Blue Mosque, Istanbul

Blue Mosque, Istanbul

Truly a unique city, Istanbul is split between two continents. After a short boat ride from the European side, travelers can reach Asia to experience a different side of Istanbul. The airport is about fifteen miles from the city and various transportation options are available including taxis, an express bus and the underground metro. Also worth noting is that most tourists from the U.S. (among other countries) are required to buy a $20 visa before leaving the airport in Istanbul, regardless of how long they are in town.

Once downtown, the famous Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia are within close proximity of each other near Sultanahmet Square. The Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art, Basilica Cistern and the Topkapi Palace are also nearby. For a more leisurely stop, shop at the Grand Bazaar for souvenirs or relax at The Turkish Baths.

Amsterdam, Netherlands

Red Light District, Amsterdam

Red Light District, Amsterdam

Consider yourself lucky if your layover happens to be in Amsterdam. There is hardly a tourist that won’t find this city effortlessly enchanting. Schiphol Airport is less than six miles away from the city and the commute is relatively stress-free. In twenty minutes and for under €4, you can reach Amsterdam Central Station via train (storage lockers are available at the airport for €5-10 per day so there’s no need to lug your bags). Known for its scenic canal system, many tourists sign up for a canal tour to better orient themselves with the city. If navigating by foot, make sure to pick up a map, as many of the street names look similar to the English eye.

The Anne Frank Museum and the Van Gogh Museum are two popular attractions as is the infamous notorious Red Light District just a few steps from the train station and outdoor markets.

Frankfurt, Germany

Frankfurt

Frankfurt

While Berlin and Munich would most likely be stops on a trip to Germany, Frankfurt sometimes gets overlooked for no good reason. Eight miles from the airport, the city is reachable via the fast and cheap S-Bahn train. Before leaving the airport, make sure you know which train station you want to get off at, as there are three main stations. Most likely, Hauptbahnhof will be the best starting point.

Ride the elevator to the top of the Main Tower for a ski-high view of the city or grab a traditional “Apfelwein” in Old Town. If the weather is bad or if you are in the mood for museums, Frankfurt makes it easy because most of them are lined next to each other along the river. Römerberg is another central square and is where the Christmas markets take place each winter.

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I Heart My City (in the Spring)

29 Mar

Hanami cherry blossoms outside the Tokyo National Museum. (Photograph by Rob Towell, Flickr)

There’s still a chill in the air here in Washington, D.C., but the days are getting longer, the cherry blossoms are starting to pop, and residents are beginning to shed those cumbersome winter coats. Spring is upon us (at least for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere), and we’re embracing it with open arms by highlighting seasonal must-dos from our amazing I Heart My City community.

From ice cream to air shows, palaces to train rides, here are 20 ways to make the most of the next few months in 20 cities around the globe:

Shelly’s Oxford (United Kingdom): Head to nearby Wytham Woods to see the bluebells at their finest.

The Hyangwonjeong Pavilion, on the grounds of Gyeongbokgung Palace. (Photograph by Ncburton, Flickr)

The Hyangwonjeong Pavilion, on the grounds of Gyeongbokgung Palace. (Photograph by Ncburton, Flickr)

Megan Natalie’s Seoul (South Korea): Visit Gyeongbokgung Palace’s gardens to experience a piece of paradise you’d swear couldn’t exist in Seoul (make sure to watch the changing of the guards).

Ewelina’s Krakow (Poland): Take a walk to Krakus Mound at Podgórze; a nice, green hill where you can take a blanket and relax.

Annie Fitzsimmon’s NYC (United States): Celebrate the bounty of post-winter produce and eat anything with ramps on it because they’re only in season for a few weeks! Motorino has a great ramp pizza, and ABC Kitchen never fails with its in-season menu.

Keith Bellow’s Montreal (Canada): Hang around near McGill and Prince Arthur, soaking up the sun and the street life.

Anya’s Istanbul (Turkey): Visit Topkapi Palace. The flowers are in bloom and it’s positively stunning.

Katherine’s Athens (Greece): Take a bus to Cape Sounion, the ancient ruins of Poseidon’s temple. On the short bus ride from Athens, you’ll wind along the coast and enjoy some of my favorite views.

The Boxi-Platz flea market in Berlin. (Photograph by La Citta Vita, Flickr)

Berlin’s Boxhagener Platz flea market is open on Sundays. (Photograph by La Citta Vita, Flickr)

Madeleine’s Annapolis (U.S.): Check out the Blue Angels air show at the United States Naval Academy commencement.

Maja’s Belgrade (Serbia): Go to Zemun in Old Town and have lunch at one of the fish restaurants on the Danube.

Colleen’s Beijing (China): Fly kites by Houhai Lake.

Zain’s Amman (Jordan): Pack a picnic and visit the Hellenistic site known as Iraq Al Amir.

Shannon Switzer’s San Diego (U.S.): Check out the wildflowers in Anza Borrego Desert State Park.

Yvonne’s Berlin (Germany): Explore Berlin’s many flea markets to find great vintage clothes, furniture, books, and local art.

Sylvia’s Tokyo (Japan): Go for hanami (cherry-blossom-viewing parties) in a park with a big group of Japanese friends, some beer, and some sushi.

Jessica’s Barcelona (Spain): Experience a traditional Catalan calçotada which consists of getting together and eating large quantities of local green onions known as calçots along with romenesco sauce, regional wine, and good company.

Vienna's MuseumsQuartier. (Photograph by Photongatherer, Flickr)

Hang out outside Vienna’s MuseumsQuartier. (Photograph by Photongatherer, Flickr)

Jennifer’s Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates): See Abu Dhabi from the water. Hire a dhow (traditional wooden boat) for a tour, charter a speedboat to take you to one of the 200 islands off the main island, or kayak amongst the mangroves.

Karen’s St. John’s, Newfoundland (Canada): Watch the last ice depart from the Atlantic from atop Signal Hill National Historic Site. Check out the on-site gift shop where local music, books, and culinary delights make excellent gifts.

Isabel Eva’s Madrid (Spain): Take a trip on the Tren de la Fresa to Aranjuez. During the 50-minute ride, you will be served fresh strawberries. Once in Aranjuez, you can take a tour of the Museo del Ferrocarril (the railway museum) and the Palacio Real (the royal palace).

Lea’s Vienna (Austria): Do as the locals do and head to the MuseumsQuartier to hang out on one of the over-sized flexible furniture elements called Enzis.

Nat Geo’s Washington, D.C. (U.S.): Check out the National Arboretum and Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens, two of D.C.’s hidden gems.

Wherever you are, what’s your favorite thing about your city in the springtime? Tell us about it in the comment section below.

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12 of the Most Beautiful Castles and Palaces in Europe

20 Mar

With its tumultuous history of feuding Royals and battling troops, its no surprise that Europe harbors an impressive array of castles and palaces, many of which boast spectacular locations. From the official residence of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth to the real-life Sleeping Beauty Castle, here are 12 of the most beautiful Castles and Palaces in Europe.

1. Chambord Castle, France

Chambord Castle; most beautiful castles in Europe

Chambord Castle

Standing proud in the picturesque Loire Valley, the royal Château de Chambord is a striking example of a French renaissance castle with its elaborate frontage sheltering equally exquisite interiors. Guests can tour the castle and its grounds, as well as taking a peek into the royal apartments of François I and Louis XIV.

2. Neuschwanstein, Germany

Neuschwanstein Castle; the most beautiful castles in Europe

Neuschwanstein Castle

A 19th century fairytale castle built as a refuge for King Ludwig and opened to the public after his death in 1886, Neuschwanstein famously inspired Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle with its dreamy spires and snow-capped mountain backdrop. A popular day trip from Munich, visiting the castle is possible by guided tour.

3. Pena National Palace, Portugal

Pena Castle; most beautiful castles in Europe

Pena Castle. Photo credit: Angel Torres via Flickr.

Perched on a hilltop in the central Portuguese municipality of Sintra, the eye-catching Pena National Palace (often nicknamed Sintra Castle) dates back to the 8th century and was an important strategic stronghold during the Reconquista. An easy train ride from the capital, the UNESCO World Heritage site makes a popular day trip for those visiting Lisbon.

4. De Haar Castle, Netherlands

Casting a dazzling reflection in its surrounding canal ways, the Netherlands’ De Haar Castle is an unmissable feat of neo-gothic architecture. The current structure dates back to the 18th century and makes a popular excursion from nearby Amsterdam, with guided tours offering a thorough exploration of the draw-bridged fortress.

5. Windsor Castle, England

Windsor Castle; most beautiful castles in Europe

Windsor Castle

The world’s oldest and largest occupied castle, Windsor Castle is not only one of the country’s most popular tourist attractions but it’s the Official Residence of Her Majesty The Queen and used for a number of British Royal functions. As well as exploring the 13-acre stately grounds, visitors can tour the resplendent State Apartments, the much-celebrated St George’s Chapel and the famous Queen Mary’s Doll House.

6. Prague Castle

Prague Castle

Prague Castle

Claiming the title of the world’s largest castle, Prague Castle was first erected in the 9th century, although its imposing Gothic façade dates back to the 14th century. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the castle is not only an iconic landmark of the Czech capital, but houses the Czech Crown Jewels.

7. Peles Castle, Sinaia, Romania

Dominating the skyline of Sinaia, the mountaintop Peles Castle makes an impressive detour from Bucharest, tucked away in the remote Carpathian Mountains. A mishmash of German Renaissance, Gothic and French Rococo architectural styles, the castle grounds and a number of its 160 rooms, including the armory, are open to the public.

8. Dunrobin Castle, Scotland

Dunrobin Castle, Scotland. Photo courtesy of Jack_spellingbacon via Flickr

Dunrobin Castle, Scotland. Photo courtesy of Jack_spellingbacon via Flickr

Scotland’s most fairytale-esque castle, with its wistful spires and romantic flower gardens, Dunrobin Castle is one of the country’s most exquisite stately homes, dating back to the 13th century. Visitors to the castle, nestled in the Scottish Highlands around an hour’s drive from Inverness, can explore the castle museum, formal gardens, falconry and lavishly decorated interiors.

9. Coca Castle, Spain

One of the continent’s most unique castles with its distinctive crenellated frontage, the 15th-century Coca Castle is fashioned entirely from sand-colored brick. Lying on the site of ancient Cauca, the birthplace of the Roman emperor Theodosius, the acclaimed Mudéjar castle is one of the most prominent landmarks of the central Segovia province.

10. Oberhofen Castle, Switzerland

Oberhofen Castle. Photo courtesy of Carthesian via Flickr

Oberhofen Castle. Photo courtesy of Carthesian via Flickr

In its tranquil setting on the banks of Lake Thun, Oberhofen Castle is one of Europe’s most romantic castles, dating back to the 13th century. A popular day trip for visitors to central Switzerland, guests can marvel at the medieval keep, explore the castle museum and take in the views from the Lake Tower.

11. Ksiaz Castle, Poland

Ksiaz Castle. Photo courtesy of Tripsoverpoland via Flickr

Ksiaz Castle. Photo courtesy of Tripsoverpoland via Flickr

The landmark Ksiaz Castle turns heads with its attractive color palette and medley of architectural styles, poised on a cliff top overlooking the Pelcznica River. Dating back to the 13th century, the magnificent fortress lies on the periphery of Walbrzych and makes a popular pilgrimage for walkers in the surrounding nature reserve.

12. Trakai Island Castle, Lithuania

Marooned on an island on Lake Galve, just 20km from the Lithuanian capital, Trakai is one of Eastern Europe’s most unique castles, a beautifully restored redbrick Gothic structure. The island castle now houses an impressive archeological museum, as well as hosting summer music concerts and events in its atmospheric courtyard.


12 of the Most Beautiful Castles and Palaces in Europe England , featured , France , germany , Lithuania , netherlands , Poland , Portugal , prague , romania , scotland , Spain , Switzerland

How to Explore Cambridge Like a Local

15 Mar

Cambridge, England is the kind of city you could call a masterpiece.

The infamous university town is home to writers, artists, genius mathematicians, scientists (the secrets of DNA were discovered here), historians and students galore, all hoping to follow in the hallowed footsteps of their academic heroes. It’s also stunning. Littered with astounding college buildings, the cobbled streets spill over with independent stores, galleries and niche museums while the River Cam weaves leisurely through its parks and meadows.

You can always get a decent pint, see a brilliant show or find somewhere interesting to eat and it’d be easy to live, study and work in Cambridge for decades and still find quirky, cultural and relaxing things to fill every weekend with. It’s just that kind of place.

Here are some tips for making sure you tick off all the must-see-and-do things that no tourist can miss, with an added twist for each, so you can see Cambridge as a local and not just as a fleeting visitor.

Punting on the River Cam

Cambridge River Cam

Punting down the River Cam. Photo credit: Gunnar Wrobel via Flickr.

Punting is the iconic Cambridge pastime. Much like traveling by gondola in Venice, the idea is to travel down river by propelling the punt (a flat-bottomed boat) using a long pole which doubles as a rudder – don’t be fooled, it’s not as easy as it sounds.

Pack a picnic and snuggle up under a blanket on a guided punt (a Cambridge University student will do all the hard work with the boat while telling you facts and stories about the college buildings as you float along) or give it a go yourself. Strip off your shoes and socks, plant yourself on the end of a punt, cling onto the pole and hope you don’t crash into any of the ancient university walls – or fall in!

The local’s twist: During the day the Cam is packed with tourists zigzagging their way under historic bridges and through narrow causeways, but in the evening, when the sun has set, they disappear and the braver locals embark on spooky by-night punting in search of wildlife. For a more luxurious river experience, you can order dinner by punt and sit down to sirloin steak, strawberries and champagne while someone else propels you along, or ditch the punt entirely and travel down the Cam on a paddleboard.

Touring the university college buildings

Cambridge University

Cambridge University. Photo credit: foshie via Flickr.

Official walking tours, science tours, ghost tours, architecture tours, private tours – you name it, there’s a tour for it. Take in the impressive majesty of Kings College, the pretty riverside Magdalene College or delve into the University library and learn about the eminent historians, scientists and writers who have wandered the city’s streets.

The local’s twist: Hire a bike to see the cobbled streets and looming colleges from a student’s perspective. First of all you will need to find a sit-up-and-beg bike with a wicker basket on the front (filled with books) for true authenticity. Second, be prepared to have to cycle round huge groups of European student visitors who don’t know where they are going. Once you’ve got your balance it’s easy to peer through archways and into college courtyards without getting caught up in queues. You might even get mistaken for a student and be able to sneak in!

Taking in famous local beauty spots

Grantchester Meadows

Grantchester Meadows. Photo credit: William Marnoch via Flickr.

Whatever you do, you have to tick off the top three: Christ’s Pieces, Jesus Green and Midsummer Common.

Christ’s Pieces in the center of town is a Victorian park filled with perfectly manicured flower beds and is ideal for having lunch in between shopping stints. Nearby is Jesus Green – it backs onto Jesus College, hence the name – and is a good spot for watching novice punters from or playing an afternoon match of tennis. When it isn’t being overrun by cattle or traveling funfairs, Midsummer Common is the best place to settle down with a book but there is also Parker’s Piece, a sports ground in the center of Cambridge where you can see local cricketers in action, and the meadowy Backs which run along the river and are fringed by the college gardens are always worth a stroll.

The local’s twist:  While the above tourist staples are stunning and each drag the countryside into the city, it’s Grantchester Meadows (home to the highest concentration of Nobel Prize winners in the world) that locals and students flock to when in need of an escape. A half hour walk from the city center (also accessible by punt and canoe if you have an hour or so to spare) Grantchester is perfect for a decadent English afternoon tea, cozy pub lunches and a wander to Byron’s pool (named after the poet who is rumored to have swum there). You can even go river swimming – locals traditionally jump in on New Year’s Day.

Pub lunches in iconic haunts

Pickerel Inn; See Cambridge like a Local

At the Pickerel Inn. Photo credit: Brokentaco via Flickr.

If you are looking for a decent pint and a British pub lunch, the loveliest (and most famous) Cambridge establishments to visit are:

  • The Eagle, with its ceiling scrawled on and signed by soldiers posted to the city during World War II
  • The tiny Free Press which turns up in almost every novel written about the university town 
  • The Pickerel Inn which is one of the claimants for oldest pub in the city
  • The Granta, which is nestled on the river surrounded by punts and cows that wander in off the nearby meadows
  • The Maypole, a favorite with students and is close Jesus Green

The local’s twist:  It’s the pubs and independent restaurants off one of Cambridge’s most busy and multicultural streets, Mill Road, that are the most character-full. There’s The Empress  (stacked with board games and keeps pigs in the garden – they eat Bombay mix), the Kingston Arms (cozy and cramped but serves incredible food), the Cambridge Blue (excellent cider and a lovely beer garden) and the Devonshire Arms (a nook of a pub that supports independent brewers) are worth a trip to name just a few.

Need-to-know and Need-to-do

Fitzbillies bakery; see Cambridge like a local

Fitzbillies’ famous Chelsea buns. Photo credit: Duncan Hull via Flickr.

  • Try the Chelsea buns at Fitzbillies bakery, they’ve been made using the same recipe for around 100 years
  • Walk up Castle Mount to see a panoramic view of the city from its highest point
  • Watch out for local pranksters Charlie Cavey, who plays his guitar from inside a bin, and Rob Thompson, who recreates film scenes around the city
  • Visit the Cambridge Arts Picturehouse for plush red velvet seats and wine with your film
  • Wander the rooms of the Fitzwilliam Museum for inspiration
  • Potter about the Cambridge Botanical Garden for a breath of fresh air

How to Explore Cambridge Like a Local Cambridge , England , featured

Best TV & Film Tours Around the World

9 Mar

Taking a vacation can be all about escape – and the same can be said about losing ourselves in the movies and TV shows we love. It’s only natural, then, for film and TV buffs to combine the two when we travel by visiting famous filming locations around the world.

Sometimes you’ll find out that a story set in one place is actually filmed in another place entirely (or, worse yet, on a soundstage or studio with a green screen!) – but in some cases, the location is so important that it almost becomes a character in the story. Here are some of the best film and TV tours around the world that will let you get up close and personal with the destinations behind your favorite shows.

Downton Abbey

We’ve fallen in love with the beleaguered Crawley family over three seasons, but it’s hard to say whether we would be as enthralled if the spectacular Highclere Castle wasn’t the setting for the fictitious Downton Abbey. Highclere has been a family home for hundreds of years, and even today there’s a real-life Earl and his family living in the castle. This private tour of Downton Abbey film locations includes a private chauffeur and guide, and you’ll see both Highclere Castle and the Oxfordshire village of Bampton where other scenes from “Downton Abbey” are filmed.


Lord of the Rings & The Hobbit

Hobbiton tours

Visit Hobbiton! Photo credit: Bobbi Lee Hichton.

Peter Jackson brought the fantasy world of Middle Earth to beautiful reality in his home country of New Zealand. Although some of the fanciful elements were created in studios and computers, New Zealand’s stunning natural landscapes made it instantly obvious why Jackson was the right man to bring Tolkien’s visions to life. In many cases, the structures built for the films have been removed, but the set of Hobbiton still exists – and LOTR fans will recognize the backdrops for famous scenes from Edoras, Rivendell, Helm’s Deep, Minas Tirith, and Isengard. There are several options for Lord of the Rings and Hobbiton Tours in New Zealand, depending on which locations you want to check out.


Ice Road Truckers

It’s unlikely that anyone watching Ice Road Truckers would think that doing that job full-time would be better than watching the show from the comfort of a warm living room, but visitors to Anchorage can at least get an inside look at what the task is actually like with the Ice Road Trucker Big Rig Experience. During the 2-3 hour tour you’ll go on a guided tour of a real transportation yard at the port of Anchorage, peek inside a modern sleeper truck, and actually get ten minutes behind the wheel of a big rig simulator to find out what driving on the ice road is really like.

New York TV & Movie Sites

NYC film tour - Ghostbusters

Find the fire station used in Ghostbusters in New York

The Big Apple has served as the backdrop for more films and TV shows than you can probably count, but sometimes the scenery is particularly memorable or important to the story. Grab your gal pals for a Sex and the City Hotspots Tour of filming locations such as Charlotte’s art gallery, Miranda’s cupcake bakery, and a bar the ladies frequented. Take a day trip to New Jersey on The Sopranos Sites Tour during which you’ll see the Bada Bing bar, the place where Chris was shot, and the diner booth where Tony sat in the final scene of the series.

See how the other half lives with a Gossip Girl Sites Tour of Manhattan’s Upper East Side, with stops at the hotel where the Bass and Van der Woodsen families live, the swanky building Blair calls home, the Henri Bendel shop, and Humphrey’s favorite bakery. Head for an NBC Studio Tour to see where they film The Today Show, NBC Nightly News, Dateline, and Saturday Night Live. You can also go on a New York TV and Movie Sites Tour to see more than 60 film locations for shows like FriendsWill and Grace, The Devil Wears Prada, I Am Legend, How I Met Your Mother, and Seinfeld or a Central Park Movie Sites Walking Tour to see filming locations for When Harry Met Sally, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Ghostbusters, and Love Story.

Harry Potter

Leadenhall Market, Harry Potter tours

Leadenhall Market, featured in Harry Potter films

Who among us hasn’t watched the Harry Potter films and wished we could be transported to that magical world? Well, even if you can’t conjure up any spells when you wave a magic wand, you can visit some of the places where the Harry Potter films were created. From the Warner Bros. Harry Potter Studio Tour and Harry Potter walking tours in London to multi-day tours of Harry Potter filming locations in Scotland, you can satisfy aspiring witches and wizards of all ages with these Harry Potter tours.


Hawaii TV & Movie Sites

50 First Dates location, film tour on Oahu

50 First Dates film location

You’ll probably have plenty of reasons to do nothing more than lie on the beach during a Hawaii vacation, but visiting the many Hawaii locations featured in movies and TV shows actually means you’ll see some of the most beautiful spots on the islands. On Kauai, you can take a 6-hour Kauai Movie Sites Tour that includes 13 filming locations for shows like Jurassic Park, Pirates of the Caribbean, Gilligan’s Island, The Amazing Race, and Tropic Thunder. You’ll also get lunch at Tahiti Nui, where part of The Descendants was filmed.

On Oahu, you can take a 5-hour Hummer tour of Oahu TV and Movie Locations, with stops at filming locations for Lost, Jurassic Park, 50 First Dates, Karate Kid II, Godzilla, and Hawaii Five-0. If you prefer a little more physical activity, you can take a mountain biking tour of Kaaawa Valley that gets you up close and personal with filming locations for Lost, Jurassic Park and Godzilla.

Pawn Stars

Rick's Restorations, Pawn Stars tour

Rick’s Restorations

Las Vegas sometimes feels like one big film set, but it’s the recent success of a reality show that’s drawing fans in droves to a real-life pawn shop in Sin City. Pawn Stars is filmed on location at the Gold and Silver Pawn Shop, and the guys you’ve come to love on the show – Rick Harrison, his family, and employees – are often in the shop themselves whether filming is going on or not. In addition to seeing the pawn shop, a Pawn Stars Tour of Las Vegas also includes a stop at Rick’s Restorations, where retro appliances are refurbished, and the Toy Shack, a vintage toy appraiser.

The Walking Dead

It seems that these days we’re all joking about (or preparing for!) the zombie apocalypse. What better place to get some first-hand zombie knowledge than in Atlanta, where they film the hit series The Walking Dead and where the movie Zombieland was made? During an Atlanta Zombie Film Locations Tour you’ll not only visit filming locations for both zombie shows, you’ll also get instruction from your guide – a veteran onscreen “zombie walker” – in how to walk like a zombie. You never know when that sort of information will come in very handy, indeed.

Chicago Movie Tour

Marina City and Towers, Chicago film tour

Chicago’s famous Marina City and Towers

Chicago’s unique architecture has featured in many popular movies, whether the stories were meant to take place in Chicago or not. During a 2-hour Chicago Movie Tour you’ll visit more than 75 filming locations – which also happen to be some of the city’s main attractions. You’ll see filming locations for movies like The Dark Knight, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Blues Brothers, The Untouchables, My Best Friend’s Wedding, and Transformers 3, covering more than 30 miles through Chicago’s diverse neighborhoods.


Doctor Who

Whether you grew up watching Doctor Who or you’re a recent convert, there’s no denying the appeal of a London tour of Doctor Who filming locations from its introduction in 1963 right up through the newest BBC incarnation of the series. You’ll ride around the city in one of London’s famous black cabs and see where the “Dalek Invasion of Earth” and scenes with the Time Lord (among many others) were filmed, and you’ll see major London landmarks along the way. You’ll even see a remarkably TARDIS-looking police box.

Boston TV & Movie Sites

Cheers, Boston movie sites tour

Enjoy a beer at Cheers

The city of Boston has served as the location for so many stories over the years that during a 2-hour tour of Boston TV and movie sites you’ll visit more than 30 distinct filming locations. Among the places you’ll visit is the brownstone house featured in Parent Trap, the famous park bench in Good Will Hunting, a mob hangout for Jack Nicholson in The Departed, and the park featured prominently in Ally McBeal. And of course no tour of film sites in Boston would be complete without a stop at the original Cheers bar, where you’ll get a chance to have a drink. It’s up to you whether you want to count the number of people who yell “Norm!” as they walk in.

Best TV & Film Tours Around the World alaska , Atlanta , boston , Chicago , England , hawaii , las vegas , London , Movies and TV , new york city , New Zealand , scotland

8 Romantic Things to Do in London

6 Feb

Paris, Rome and Florence always get the credit for being the cities with the most romantic views, locations and ambiance, but don’t underestimate good old London; this city also has some wonderfully romantic spots which are perfect places to soak up the atmosphere of this vibrant city. So when love is in the air and you fancy whisking your Valentine away on a special break, or just want to celebrate a special occasion, head to London and experience another side to England’s capital. Here are some suggestions on where to experience romantic London at its best.

1. Take a flight

London Eye Champagne Experience

London Eye Champagne Experience

A trip on the London Eye with your loved one is high on the list of top romantic experiences in the city. Take an evening ‘flight’ when the city is beautifully illuminated below, and watch the tiny boats on the Thames drift by whilst gazing at the iconic structures of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament lit up in gold. Enjoy breathtaking views stretching as far as 25 miles (40 km) from 135 meters high in the air. However decadent you want your experience to be is in your hands: you can simply book a place in a main capsule which holds up to 28 people, or perhaps take a Champagne Experience to treat your beloved – or to really push the boat out book a private capsule with champagne, truffles, and a private host for your 30-minute ride.

2. Head for the hills

Primrose Hill, an exclusive and fashionable residential area on the northern side of Regent’s Park, is filled with cute cafes, yummy mummies, cosy traditional pubs and eclectic shops. This is home to many celebrities, with past and present residents including Daniel Craig, Kate Moss, Sylvia Plath and Boris Johnson. From the top of Primrose Hill itself, at 78 feet high, there are magnificent views of the London skyline, and visiting this spot during the cooler months is a good excuse for cuddling up close to your date – especially after sunset. Wrap up warm, gaze out across central London, and take in the sights of St Paul’s Cathedral, the Gherkin and the London Eye. To reach Primrose Hill take the Tube to Camden Town and walk hand in hand along Regent’s Canal, or for a longer stroll take the Tube to Baker Street and walk through pretty Regent’s Park.

3. Park life

Richmond Park

Catch a sunrise at Richmond Park. Photo credit: Lucy Turnill-Phillips via Flickr.

For another fantastic view (if you can tear yourself away from gazing into the eyes of your loved one) head to Richmond Park in West London. This park is the largest of the eight Royal Parks, and is a National Nature Reserve. It was once a deer-hunting park, and today still has around 350 fallow deer and 300 red deer roaming freely. From the top of King Henry’s Mound, a planned vista from which Henry VIII allegedly watched hunting, you can see the skyline of the City of London ten miles away. Hire a horse and go for a romantic ride together, take a stroll amongst the flowers at the Isabella Plantation, or take a blanket and a champagne picnic for lunch in the ultimate setting.

If the weather is misbehaving then have lunch or afternoon tea in Pembroke Lodge, a wonderful Georgian mansion located at the highest point in the park. Take the train to Richmond and then take bus 371 or 65 to the pedestrian Petersham Gate.

4. Waterloo sunset

The Kinks wrote about it, there was a play and film made about it, and Jools Holland and Louise Marshall wrote a song about it, so it must be special. See what all the fuss is about yourself by taking a sunset stroll along Waterloo Bridge and see if you can feel the romance in the air. Even though the bridge itself is nothing special in appearance, the views from it more than make up for it and are arguably the best in London from ground level – landmarks such as the National Theatre on the South Bank, St Paul’s Cathedral, the London Eye are visible from the bridge. Take the Tube to Waterloo or Embankment to reach the bridge.

5. Cocktails in the clouds

For high-flying cocktails accompanied by a bite to eat, take in one of these two sky-high establishments, Vertigo 42 and Sushisamba. Vertigo 42 Champagne Bar is located in Tower 42 on Old Broad Street – take the elevator up to the 42nd level and enjoy breathtaking 360 degree views of the city whilst sipping your drink. Reservations are necessary, and bar food is available Monday to Friday, with cold bar snacks available on Saturdays. It costs around £14 for a cocktail, and considerably more for Champagne. For bird’s eye dining, visit Sushisamba on the 38th and 39th floor of Heron’s Tower on Bishopsgate. This restaurant offers Japanese, Brazilian and Peruvian cuisine, and there are also two outdoor terraces offering spectacular views. Reservations are required for the restaurant, but not for the bar. The nearest station to both establishments is Liverpool Street.

6. Adrenaline buzz

River Thames High Speed Cruise

Hold on during the River Thames High Speed Cruise!

If you’re looking for a more fast-paced and exhilarating experience for your date, why not hop aboard a speed boat and let the sights of London pass you by in a blur. Take a River Thames High-Speed Cruise where you will zoom past the attractions faster than any other boat on the river – this is sure to get your hearts racing! The tour guides are not your standard guides – they are actors and stand-up comedians who keep you thoroughly entertained with their witty banter on this hour-long ride. Boats travel from the London Eye pier to Canary Wharf, and special Valentine trips are available.

7. Chill out

London Ghost Walking Tour

Ghost Walking Tour of London

For a chilling date with the macabre and the opportunity to embrace the atmospheric streets of Old London Town after dark, take a London Ghost Walk. Although not romantic in the most conventional sense, this date with a difference allows you to cuddle up nice and close to your beloved whilst exploring the narrow alleyways and haunted streets of the City. The guides will conjure up an eerie atmosphere whilst telling tales of ghostly goings-on around ancient churches and Dickensian locations. You can take a tour on foot or in one of the city’s iconic Black Cabs. But the question is – are you both brave enough?

8. Dining in the dark

If you’ve seen an excessive amount of romantic views while in London and are feeling slightly overwhelmed, then this final way to experience the romance of London is the perfect antidote – you won’t see anything at all. Literally. A visit to the restaurant Dans le Noir? (In the Dark) makes for an unusual but memorable date – you’ll be dining together in complete darkness. When the sense of sight is removed other senses are heightened, and this sensory experience will take you to another dimension – there’s no room for shyness here!

Food is served by blind waiters who will act as your guides, and you will eat your mystery meal in the pitch-black Dark Room. There is also a lit bar where you can enjoy a pre-dinner cocktail and then a coffee afterwards when you will find out what you’ve been eating. Dans le Noir? is located in Clerkenwell, close to Farringdon Tube. A special Valentine’s Day offer is available, with lunch at £67 per person and dinner at £80 pp, including champagne and wine; special dietary requirements are catered for. We can guarantee that this is one romantic experience you won’t forget.

8 Romantic Things to Do in London England , London , romantic travel