Tag Archives: Paris

The 10 Most Beautiful Cemeteries in the World

3 Apr

While it might seem like a strange thing to add to your vacation to-do list, visiting cemeteries when you travel can be an interesting way to learn about a place’s history – not to mention see some of its most beautiful landscapes.

Primosten Cemetery, Croatia. Photo by Jessica Speigel

Primosten Cemetery, Croatia. Photo by Jessica Speigel

Of course, what constitutes a “beautiful” cemetery will depend on the viewer’s opinion. Some will be painstakingly landscaped, some will be historically meaningful, some will be haunting, and some will have stunning views. But in this selection of final resting places around the world we think everyone will be able to find one that deserves “beautiful” as a descriptor.

Père Lachaise – Paris

Père-Lachaise cemetery. Photo courtesy of extranoise via Flickr.

Père-Lachaise cemetery. Photo courtesy of extranoise via Flickr.

Père Lachaise is one of the world’s most famous cemeteries, largely thanks to its long list of famous residents. Fans of the late singer Jim Morrison have made pilgrimages to his grave for decades, painting other graves en route to his with Doors-inspired graffiti. Other famous names on Père Lachaise headstones include Chopin, Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde, Gertrude Stein, Eugene Delacroix, Sarah Bernhardt, Colette, Isadora Duncan, Moliere, and Marcel Proust. There are also many graves and tombs of people you won’t know that are even more beautiful than the famous ones. Take the Paris Metro to the Philippe Auguste stop, near the main entrance, and buy a cemetery map before you enter.

St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 – New Orleans

St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. Photo courtesy of JasonParis via Flickr.

St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. Photo courtesy of JasonParis via Flickr.

You almost can’t go wrong with the cemeteries in New Orleans. They’re above-ground cities of the dead, thanks to the city’s low elevation, and every bit as hauntingly beautiful as you’d expect from a place steeped in Voodoo and vampire lore. St. Louis No. 1 is home to the tomb of Marie Laveau, the 19th century Voodoo priestess. There are other famous names from New Orleans’ history buried here, but its appeal is far greater than just local history. The cemetery is just outside the French Quarter, and guided tours (of this and any cemetery in New Orleans) are highly recommended.

American Cemetery – Normandy, France

American Cemetery - Normandy. Photo courtesy of stephenminnig via Flickr.

American Cemetery – Normandy. Photo courtesy of stephenminnig via Flickr.

Just up from Omaha Beach, where so many young soldiers fought and died during the Normandy Invasion in 1944, there’s a plot of land that’s US soil even though it’s well inside French borders. Across the pristine lawns of the 172-acre American Cemetery and War Memorial there are more than 9,300 simple white crosses and Stars of David, most of which mark the graves of men who died during the Normandy Invasion. Also in the area there are cemeteries for the fallen soldiers of Canada and Great Britain, as well as the largest (and most haunting) cemetery in the area – for more than 21,000 of the German soldiers who died in World War II.

La Recoleta Cemetery – Buenos Aires

La Recoleta Cemetery. Photo courtesy of Liam Quinn via Flickr.

La Recoleta Cemetery. Photo courtesy of Liam Quinn via Flickr.

The cemetery in the Recoleta neighborhood of Buenos Aires is entirely composed of above-ground tombs, giving La Recoleta the same “city of the dead” feel of Pere Lachaise and the cemeteries in New Orleans. 94 of the tombs have even been added to the list of National Historical Monuments. Among the famous graves at La Recoleta you’ll find Eva Peron – known popularly as Evita – and many presidents of Argentina. You can take the bus to Avenue del Libertador and walk up the hill. Buy a cemetery map before you enter.

Primosten Cemetery – Primosten, Croatia

Primosten Cemetery. Photo courtesy of Gruenemann via Flickr.

Primosten Cemetery. Photo courtesy of Gruenemann via Flickr.

There are no famous names on the headstones in the tiny cemetery next to the church in Primosten, but should you end up in this tiny hill of a town on the Croatian coast it’s well worth a visit anyway. The small church and adjacent cemetery sit on top of the hill, affording all of those graves with a stunning view over the Adriatic Sea toward the islands just offshore. And because Primosten is so small and not a popular tourist stop (unlike nearby Split or Trogir), you’re likely to be able to enjoy the peace and quiet of the hilltop cemetery and its sparkling view.

Kokai Mausoleum and Okunoin Cemetery – Mount Koya , Japan

Okunoin cemetery. Photo courtesy of Stéfan via Flickr.

Okunoin cemetery. Photo courtesy of Stéfan via Flickr.

Japan’s largest cemetery is located at the mausoleum of Kokai, a 9th century Japanese monk, scholar, and artist who founded the Shingon sect of Buddhism on Mount Koya. The Okunoin Cemetery contains more than 200,000 gravestones and 120 Buddhist temples, and Mount Koya is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Among the things you can see in the Okunoin Cemetery are tombs with statues of UFOs, coffee mugs, and hundreds of statues of a Japanese deity who is supposed to protect children who have died – he is represented in the cemetery by small statues wearing articles of children’s clothing. You can reach the Okunoin Cemetery via the Nankai Electric Railway from Osaka’s Namba Station, followed by a cable car up the mountain.

Highgate Cemetery – London

Highgate Cemetery. Photo courtesy of loretahur via Flickr.

Highgate Cemetery. Photo courtesy of loretahur via Flickr.

You could be forgiven for mistaking London’s Highgate Cemetery for a park that happened to have a few graves in it rather than a cemetery that looks like a park. In fact, this Victorian cemetery is a nature reserve and is registered as a park. The fact that it’s also the city’s most famous cemetery is almost beside the point. Highgate is separated into two sections – the East Cemetery and West Cemetery – and you can only visit the latter with a guided tour. People buried in the West Cemetery include the wife and parents of Charles Dickens, but most of the famous graves are in the East Cemetery – including Douglas Adams, Malcolm McLaren, George Eliot, and Karl Marx. Highgate is near Waterlow Park, and the closest London Underground station is Archway.

Bonaventure Cemetery – Savannah, Georgia

Bonaventure Cemetery. Photo Courtesy of ann gav via Flickr.

Bonaventure Cemetery. Photo Courtesy of ann gav via Flickr.

The city of Savannah is widely known for its beauty, and that extends to the Bonaventure Cemetery. Bonaventure used to simply be an historic cemetery in an historic city, but after the success of John Berendt’s novel “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” the cemetery became a major tourist attraction. The book’s cover was a photograph of a statue called “Bird Girl” that had been in the cemetery for more than a half-century. When the book became a best-seller and the statue increased tourist traffic into the cemetery, it was moved to Savannah’s Telfair Museum of Art. Bonaventure Cemetery is still worth a visit for its historic significance, its huge live oaks dripping with moss, and the grave of Johnny Mercer.

Panteón de Dolores – Mexico City

Panteon Civil de Dolores. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Panteon Civil de Dolores. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Mexico’s largest cemetery, Panteón de Dolores, is crowded with more than one million interments and 700,000 tombs covering 590 acres. This is where you’ll find the graves of muralists Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco, opera singer Ángela Peralta, and many other notable Mexicans in the “Rotunda de las Personas Illustres.” The Panteón de Dolores cemetery itself is park-like in many respects, but it’s also sandwiched between two sections of the enormous Chapultepec Park in Mexico City. Especially in a city as big and busy as Mexico City, having a park as large as Chapultepec is a welcome respite – and almost as an added bonus, there’s an historic cemetery in there, too.

Capuchin Crypt – Rome

Capuchin Crypt. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Capuchin Crypt. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

While not exactly a “cemetery” in the truest sense, Rome’s Capuchin Crypt can be considered beautiful – as long as you’ve got a strong constitution and enjoy a little whimsy with your macabre. The row of small chapels underneath the church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini is decorated with the bones of the more than 4,000 Capuchin monks who had been buried in the crypt in the early 17th century. When newly deceased monks were buried, old skeletons had to be removed – and as those bones were removed, many of them were used in designs on the walls and ceilings of the chapels. The patterns are quite elaborate, and any student of the human body will likely enjoy identifying which bones are which. The faint of heart may want to skip this, but if your interest is piqued the Capuchin Crypt is on Via Veneto near Piazza Barberini. Donations are strongly encouraged.

The 10 Most Beautiful Cemeteries in the World Buenos Aires , croatia , France , Georgia , japan , London , Mexico City , new orleans , Normandy , Paris , Primosten , rome , Savannah

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.

I Heart My City (in the Spring) Abu Dhabi , annapolis , athens , austria , belgium , Belgrade , California , canada , d.c. , England , France , Ghent , Gouda , Greece , Iceland , Istanbul , japan , krakow , Madrid , maryland , Montreal , netherlands , New York , new york city , oxford , Paris , Poland , Reykjavík , san diego , Seoul , Serbia , South Korea , Spain , St. John’s Newfoundland , tokyo , turkey , United Arab Emirates , United Kingdom , United States , vienna , washington

The World’s Best Neighborhoods for Spotting Street Art

28 Mar

Stumbling upon vibrant street art may seem like you’re digging for a needle in a haystack but it’s actually easier than you think, especially if you know where to look. Many cities where street art culture flourishes have one or two neighborhoods where street artists tend to leave their mark. From Bogotá’s colorful La Candelaria to London’s gritty East End, here are 11 of the world’s best neighborhoods for spotting street art.

Williamsburg – Brooklyn, New York

Brooklyn street art; Best Neighborhoods for Street Art

Brooklyn. Photo courtesy of Megan McDonough.

For many tourists, a trip to New York City rarely includes visiting all five boroughs. Yet, just a short subway ride from Manhattan is Williamsburg, one of Brooklyn’s most up-and-coming neighborhoods. Home to galleries, trendy bars and vintage shops, the area draws a young and culturally curious crowd with an appreciation for street art and other forms of creative expression.

Taking advantage of Williamsburg’s public spaces and abandoned lots, emerging artists come here to work on a variety of experimental street art ranging from stylized text to poster-work, stickers and stencils. While graffiti and murals are scattered throughout the neighborhood, North 3rd Street and Bedford Avenue is a good starting point. Keap and Hope streets are generally covered in street art as well.

Kreuzberg – Berlin, Germany

Berlin street art; best neighborhoods for street art

Berlin. Photo courtesy of Megan McDonough.

Even in Berlin’s quiet and more residential neighborhoods, street art is never far from view, so one can only imagine how much there is to see in punk-driven, alternative neighborhoods like Kreuzberg. Most guided street art tours start in Mitte and end at the East Side Gallery, a section of the former Berlin Wall in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg consisting of 105 paintings from artists around the globe.

If touring the neighborhood solo, the best starting point is around the Kurfürstenstrasse and Mehringdamm U-Bahn stations, where various forms of street art are easily spotted. Don’t skip the “Spaceman” by Victor Ash, which is said to the biggest stencil currently in existence. If traveling in late April, there is an annual three-day Gallery Weekend celebrating art through a series of events, parties and special gallery openings.

La Candelaria – Bogotá, Colombia

Bogota street art; Best neighborhoods for street art

La Candelaria. Photo credit: Guache Street Art via Flickr.

Bogotá’s downtown La Candelaria neighborhood is starkly different than the modern buildings that tower over trendy Parque 99 in the north. The mere size of the city can be intimidating to travelers but the vast majority of local street art is conveniently located in La Candelaria, as are most of the city’s museums and various cultural attractions.

Despite the crowded squares, traffic-jammed roads and slew of budget hostels and bars catering to Bogotá’s boom in tourism, La Candelaria still maintains its old town charm. A simple walk through the pedestrian streets yields an array of old and new street art with subject matter ranging from thought-provoking political messages to pop-culture references.

Belleville/Menilmontant – Paris, France

The phrase “Paris is for lovers” goes way beyond the literal translation. While city landmarks like The Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe do make for a romantic backdrop it’s just as easy to fall in love with the street art here too. For the most innovative and representative graffiti, head northeast to the Ménilmontant and Belleville neighborhoods.

Formerly two small villages, they became part of central Paris back in 1860 and have since become a hub for art connoisseurs and leisure travelers alike. Explore solo or tag along on one of the regularly scheduled street art tours where guides navigate the Parisian streets highlighting work from famous local artists like Space Invader and Jef Aerosol.

Brasil – Santiago, Chile

Brasil, Santiago; Best Street Art Neighborhoods

Brasil, Santiago. Photo courtesy of Megan McDonough.

Several of Santiago’s neighborhoods have evolved throughout the years to cater to different industries. For example, El Golf serves as the center for international business affairs while Lastarria houses many of the city’s cultural museums and upscale restaurants. On the other hand, the often-overlooked neighborhood of Brasil is somewhat of an outdoor museum in its own right.

Before relocating to Las Condes, rich families built their mansions in Brasil, which explains why the area boasts a mix of architectural styles and a maze-like design. Nowadays, residents are evenly mixed between young university students and older tenants who never relocated. It’s the perfect place to spot vibrant street art in Santiago and also the most affordable neighborhood if on a budget.

Santa Teresa – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Rio de Janeiro street art; best neighborhoods for street art

Santa Teresa neighborhood. Photo credit: Rodrigo Galindez via Flickr.

Unlike in most cities, street art is legal in Rio de Janeiro as long as the artists are granted permission by building owners. While street art can be spotted just about anywhere here, Santa Teresa has become the most recognized neighborhood for artists eager to showcase their work.

Located on the top of a hill in the center of the city, Santa Teresa was once an upper-class neighborhood that later fell into disrepair. Then in the 1960s and 1770s artists and other creative moved to the area and slowly transformed the deteriorated neighborhood into the artistic hub it is today. Narrow streets and colonial architecture keep the neighborhood’s history alive while street art reflects current affairs. Art galleries and studios are also located in Santa Teresa to appeal to all artistic talents.

Beyoglu – Istanbul, Turkey

Located just north of the Golden Horn in Istanbul, Beyoglu (also known as Pera) was once a fashionable neighborhood with large apartment buildings in the late 19th century. As years passed, the wealthy residents moved to other neighborhoods and crime seeped into the streets. Today, gentrification has lessened crime and attracted the artistic community.

The result is a relatively quiet residential neighborhood with a good number of art galleries, cafes, restaurants and coffee houses. This cultural revival has in turn attracted aspiring stencil and graffiti artists to the area who use the alleyways as their own personal canvas.

East End – London, England

London street art; Best neighborhoods for street art

London. Photo courtesy of Megan McDonough.

Similar to other global cities like New York and Berlin, London neighborhoods each have their own unique personality. A far cry from the city’s posh West End, London’s East End is an international mix of cultures that forms a uniquely cohesive whole. The gritty neighborhood has emerged as a prime location for spotting street art, with organized walking tours now a regular occurrence.

Banksy, who hails from England and is probably most widely-recognized street artist in the world, has several pieces still in tact in London’s East End. For a crash course in London street art, start in Spitalfields and make your way to Brick Lane via Fournier Street. If time permits, venture into the nearby areas of Shoreditch and Camden for more variety.

Wynwood – Miami, Florida

Breathing new life into Miami‘s otherwise forgotten Puerto-Rican neighborhood, Wynwood is now bursting with color thanks to a few local artists who helped to give the area a much needed facelift. With the Midtown Miami urban development, people looked at Wynwood with new eyes, converting abandoned warehouses into trendy cafes, lounges and restaurants.

Now, there are more than 70 galleries, art collections and an impressive amount of street art to keep passerby entertained. Most of these art attractions are located between North 36th Street and North 20th Street. Every second Saturday of the month, the neighborhood hosts an “ArtWalk” where locals and tourists can browse from one gallery to the next at their leisure. Wynwood also has a thriving fashion and textiles industry.

Hosier Lane – Melbourne, Australia

Hosier Lane, Melbourne; best neighborhoods for street art

Hosier Lane

Unlike many of the other cities rounding off our list, Melbourne artists steer clear of creating graffiti and tagging, which are both illegal here. Street art in Melbourne primarily consists of elaborate wall murals and stencil work but is equally impressive.

Popular locations to spot new and existing work is on Hosier and Rutledge Lane across from Federation Square and on Caledonian Lane where it intersects Bourke Street. Hosier Lane is a pedestrian laneway in central Melbourne where artists paint the walls with often-times political artwork. Up until 2011 when it was painted over, a main attraction on Hosier Lane a mural called “Our Lady Hosier”.

Newton – Johannesburg, South Africa

Although the street art scene in Johannesburg is relatively new compared to New York and London, the city is showing definite signs of promise. The recent “I Art Joburg” project invited five international artists to create murals on prominent buildings like the MAMA. Many tourists head to Braamfontein, specifically Juta Street, to browse through street art but there are lesser-known areas that also offer colorful street art.

Newtown is one of several Johannesburg neighborhoods where emerging talent practice their craft. The best time to visit is on Sunday mornings when many of the local artists are working on their latest projects. The environment creates an atmosphere reminiscent of an open-air gallery.

The World’s Best Neighborhoods for Spotting Street Art art , berlin , Bogotá , brooklyn , featured , Istanbul , Johannesburg , London , Melbourne , miami , new york city , Paris , Rio de Janeiro , Santiago

Europe’s Most Accessible Cities (and Tips for Getting Around With Limited Mobility)

22 Mar

Accessibility in Europe

According to figures released by the UN, there are 650 million people living in this world with some sort of disability, with around eight million of those from Europe, which also has a population that is aging. That’s a huge section of the population and one that until recently was not well served when traveling overseas. However, times they are a-changing and guidelines for accessible travel laid down in the European Parliament are now largely being adhered to or at the very least worked towards.

Handicap Sign in Europe. Photo courtesy of Pink Sherbet Photography via Flickr.

Handicap Sign in Europe. Photo courtesy of Pink Sherbet Photography via Flickr.

“Accessible Tourism”

Accessible tourism is loosely defined as ‘ensuring tourist destinations, products, and services are accessible to everybody, regardless of their physical limitations or age’. It encompasses publicly and privately owned tourist locations throughout Europe and focuses on treating all visitors with dignity and compassion.

How Does Europe Compare?

So how are we faring in Europe in our quest for all modes of travel, hotels, restaurants, and attractions to be freely accessible to all? Spain, Portugal, Germany, France, and most northern European countries are increasingly geared up to receiving tourists in wheelchairs at their major museums, galleries, and theme parks, as well as providing equipment for visually and aurally impaired travelers plus wheelchair-accessible transport. Facilities could include low-level shower stalls at campsites, boardwalk ramps to enable access to viewing points and beaches, braille keyboards on computers, specially adapted wheelchairs with wide wheels at ski resorts, and well-adapted hotel rooms with accessible shower stalls.

Most airports, train stations, and ferry ports in Europe have a raft of accessibility services, from disabled restrooms to low-level computer tables, ramps, moving walkways, and elevators. Indeed European airlines all now cater fully for mobility-impaired passengers and pan-European train services such as Eurostar have dedicated seating areas at reduced fares.

Berlin, The Best European Country for Accessibility

Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. Photo courtesy of rosshuggett via Flickr.

Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. Photo courtesy of rosshuggett via Flickr.

But some European countries are way ahead of others in their campaign for full parity. On December 3, 2012, Berlin, capital city of Germany, was awarded the title of Access City of the Year by the European Commission. And that is no mean feat considering that this is a city whose politicians have had to marry together two very disparate halves since re-unification in 1990. Working with the public and private sector since 2000 to create an accessible public-transport system, broad sidewalks, and a tactile guidance system at road crossings, the government has made great strides towards 100 per cent accessibility, which is scheduled for 2020. As we speak, not all hotels have the requisite facilities, although the more expensive chains do. Nearly all of Berlin’s museums and galleries are happily accessible to all.

Sweden, The Runner-Up

Bus in Stockholm. Photo courtesy of Baltic Development Forum via Flickr.

Bus in Stockholm. Photo courtesy of Baltic Development Forum via Flickr.

Stockholm, Sweden’s capital, was runner up to Access City of the Year, having expressed a desire to the world’s most accessible destination by 2010. They largely succeeded; the city fathers instigated a program in the city of rebuilding pedestrian crossings with access ramps and contrast markings, redesigning playgrounds to make them accessible to children and parents with disabilities, and developing navigational apps for people with impaired vision. This goes hand-in-hand with total accessibility to all major buildings and attractions, elevators at all subway stations and full access to buses as well as every hotel (but not hostels), which must cater for mobility, visually, and aurally impaired guests.

Old Architecture can be a Hindrance

Ruins of Ancient Rome.

Ruins of Ancient Rome.

All these projects work towards facilitating visits to the cities, but how far can European tourist destinations compete with, say, the contemporary, purpose-built construction of North American or Australian cities in terms of accessibility? Many European cities have origins older that stretch back more than a thousand years and their centers comprise an impenetrable labyrinth of narrow cobbled streets and cramped, narrow buildings several stories high. Ancient Roman builders and Renaissance patriarchs did not have handrails and wheelchair-friendly ramps in their architectural lexicon. So what of Europe’s major tourist destinations?

 Rome Accessibility

Segways in Rome.

Segways in Rome.

Nowadays the ancient city of Rome  has wheelchair ramps on the pavements and full access to most hotels, plenty of space in restaurants for wheelchairs, and at the very least a ramp up into churches, galleries, and museums. The two great challenges here are the cobbles in the piazzas and the sheer size of the crowds around the major attractions such as the Colosseum and Vatican. All methods of public transport are wheelchair friendly and specially equipped mobility scooters can be hired.

Paris Accessibility

Louvre. Photo courtesy of simo0082 via Flickr.

Louvre. Photo courtesy of simo0082 via Flickr.

Some great attractions in Paris, including the spacious Louvre and the Eiffel Tower, are fully accessible; Notre Dame is not easily navigated, Sainte-Chapelle is. Hotels older than 100 years old are largely not wheelchair-friendly, so look for newer accommodations. The steep cobbled hills of Montmartre around the Sacre Coeur are not easily navigable but all public transport is. Mobility scooters and lightweight wheelchairs are available by pre-booking.

 London Accessibility

Big Ben, London

Big Ben, London

The streets of central London have wheelchair ramps and all hotels have at least five per cent of their rooms given over to mobility-impaired guests. All public transport is fully accessible, although the buses and underground can be horrifically over-crowded between 7.30am-9.30am and again from 4pm-6.30pm. Plan your travel accordingly; at least easy access is guaranteed at all the city’s attractions.

Barcelona Accessibility

Guell Park in Barcelona.

Guell Park in Barcelona.

Facilities for physically impaired visitors are not yet that great in Barcelona; adapted buses have the international disabled sign on them but only the metro’s Purple Line (Line 2) currently has lifts at each stop. Most modern four- and five-star hotels have specially adapted rooms but many smaller ones are hampered with tiny, old-fashioned elevators and flights of stairs. Museum access is hit-and-miss but there is a good guide on Barcelona Tourisme.

 Amsterdam Accessibility

Amsterdam canal.

Amsterdam canal.

Amsterdam poses its own set of problems for disabled travelers, what with the canals, mad cyclists, cobbled streets, and tram tracks, but now has several canal boats with wheelchair lifts and Star Bikes rent out specially adapted cycles. Most major museums, from the Tropenmuseum to the Rijksmuseum, are fully accessible, but disappointingly the Anne Frank Huis is not. The trams (except those marked with an ‘A’ after the number) and buses usually are and so are all larger hotels.

Prague Accessibility

Prague. Photo courtesy of Yortw via Flickr.

Prague. Photo courtesy of Yortw via Flickr.

Prague is another major European tourist destination that struggles with accessibility issues. The city center, although largely pedestrianized, is almost uniformly cobbled, the streets of Malá Strana leading up to the castle are steep, and the place is always rammed with tourists. The National Museum and parts of Prague Castle are wheelchair friendly but few of the metro stations, buses, or trams have facilities. And once again it is the pricier, more modern hotels that can handle guests with special needs.

Rental car in Paris

Rental car in Paris

 Tips for Mobility Impaired Travelers

  1.  Check before you travel that your airline is aware of any mobility issues. They will provide help with passage through the airport, checking in, and boarding. Call on the day of travel to reconfirm that you will be met at your airline desk.
  2. Plan ahead; most barriers can be overcome so research your destination and work out how you will navigate your way around. Don’t be put off by apparently insurmountable hurdles; for example there are elevators in Santorini to help mobility-impaired tourists up the cliffs.
  3. Check that ‘wheelchair friendly’ means exactly that in hotels. Ensure that there are shower stalls in the bathroom, that elevators are wide enough for wheelchairs, and that there are no flights of stairs in between you and your room. When you’ve found somewhere suitable, book the room in advance.
  4. Take your doctor’s emergency contact number and a letter explaining your condition, special needs, and other pertinent information, including a spare prescription in case of medication being lost.
  5. Familiarize yourself with the public-transport system in relation to your hotel; you don’t want to have to order a cab to get to the metro station. In small cities such as Florence, stay in the compact, largely pedestrianized center. In Venice, book a hotel near an accessible boat stop.
  6. Have a back-up plan in case things to go wrong; know what you will do if your hotel loses your booking.
  7. Contact local disability groups before travel for up-to-date and pertinent information on your destination.
  8. Book an accessible tour guide to show you the very soul of your destination. Contact Accessible Journeys (www.accessiblejourneys.com)) or Accessible Europe (www.accessibleurope.com).
  9. Take a bus tour around your city to get your bearings.
  10. Find out about mobility scooter hire to get around on vacation. Alternatively many car-rental agencies in Europe hire out modified vehicles.

Europe’s Most Accessible Cities (and Tips for Getting Around With Limited Mobility) amsterdam , Barcelona , berlin , Europe , London , Paris , prague , rome , stockholm , travel tips

Spring Break Destinations for Every Kind of Traveler

8 Mar

With Spring Break just around the corner, now’s the time to cast aside your studies, hunt down those last-minute deals and plan an unforgettable trip.  Whether you’re looking for a budget beach break, a romantic getaway or an adrenaline-pumping adventure, here’s a roundup of the best Spring Break destinations.

For budget travelers


Nassau Cable Beach - Best Spring Break Destinations

Budget travelers can find good deals in the Bahamas

One of the most affordable destinations in the Caribbean, the Bahamas offer plenty of Spring Break deals, with cheap flights running from the US to Nassau and Paradise Islands and a variety of island cruises available. Lounge on white sand beaches or try your hand at water sports during the day, then hit the beach clubs by night.

Puerto Rico

With a drinking age of 18 and prices far cheaper than most U.S destinations, the aptly nicknamed ‘Island of Enchantment’ is fast becoming a popular alternative to the party hotspots of Mexico. If the pristine beaches and lively nightlife aren’t enough to entice you to Puerto Rican shores, there are plenty of alternative activities to try, from horseback riding to scuba diving to trekking in the rainforest.


If you’d prefer to stay stateside and cut down on pricey airfares, there are plenty of options in Florida. Hit the beach bars and celebrity studded nightclubs at Panama City Beach, join the crowds at Miami Beach, or get involved in myriad spring break activities in the Florida Keys.


We couldn’t complete a spring break roundup without a nod to the student party Mecca of Mexico. If you’re looking for a non-stop roster of sunbathing and parties, head to the beach resorts of Cancun, Los Cabos or Acapulco, but don’t expect to have the beach to yourself – masses of students will be descending on the coast for the busiest season of the year.

For sun seekers


If you’re happy to fly further afield, Thailand offers some of the world’s best value beach resorts, with vast beaches, coral filled waters and a notoriously debauched party scene. Spend your time snorkeling or elephant trekking in the jungle, then hit the beach bars at night. Phuket, Hua Hin and Koh Samui are all popular among beach lovers, but be sure to join the masses for one of Koh Phangan’s infamous Full Moon Parties where cocktail buckets and blaring dance music keep the scantily clad revelers dancing until the early hours.


Goa Baga Beach - Best Spring Break Destinations

Goa’s Baga Beach

Uncover India’s bohemian roots with a beach vacation in Goa, where you can revel in the laid-back vibe and try wakeboarding, kite surfing and jet skiing, before hitting the beach bars at sunset. Once you tire of the sun, sea and sand, head inland to the ‘pink city’ of Jaipur, home to some of the country’s most spectacular architecture, and undergo a pilgrimage to the magnificent Taj Mahal.


With powder white beaches, scorching temperatures and endless Caipirinhas, Brazilians know a thing or two about a beach holiday. Head to Rio where you can soak up the rays on the famous Copocabana beach, hit the waves on neighboring Ipanema and pay a visit to the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue. If you’d prefer to dodge the crowds, travel north to Natal where you can spread your beach towel on the popular Ponta Negra beach and hit the samba clubs in the evening hours.

South Africa

Few countries boast more sunny days than South Africa and whether you’re after an action packed vacation or a leisurely beach break, there’s something for everyone. Of course, you just might need a trust fund to afford the airfare, but if you’ve got the cash to splash out, a South Africa Spring Break is an unforgettable adventure. Brave the waves on the famous Wild Coast, spot the Big 5 on safari in the vast Kruger National Park or come face to face with Great White sharks on a shark diving excursion from Cape Town.

For adrenaline junkies

Costa Rica

Costa Rica offers myriad activities to get your blood pumping, from hurtling down rapids in a whitewater raft to scaling the crater of an active volcano. For the most mind-blowing experience, make like Tarzan on a rainforest canopy tour, where you’ll get to zip line at breakneck speed through acres of untamed jungle, or zoom along the rainforest floor on an ATV instead.


Belize scuba divers in Blue Hole - Best Spring Break Destinations

Go underwater in Belize

Home to the second largest Barrier Reef in the world, Belize is the perfect place to strap on some fins and dive to the depths of the ocean on a scuba diving excursion. Another hugely popular activity is cave tubing with Belize harboring one of Central America’s most extensive underground cave networks. Still not exciting enough for you? Try zip lining through the jungle, kayaking through crocodile infested waters or parasailing on the open ocean.

Las Vegas

The bright lights of the famous Strip aren’t just for revelers and gamblers; Las Vegas makes the perfect destination for thrill-seekers, with the vast Grand Canyon right nearby. Take a helicopter flight over the strip, whiz through the Valley of Fire on a dune buggy, brave the Grand Canyon Skywalk, take a sunrise hot air balloon ride or skydive over the spectacular Red Rock Canyon. Or you could just blow your savings on the roulette table.

Niagara Falls

One of Northern America’s most celebrated natural attractions, just catching sight of the thundering Niagara Falls is a thrill but those hoping for an action packed trip can hurtle beneath the falls on a high-speed jet boat, zoom over the top in a helicopter or get a view from a giant tethered helium balloon. Not all activities have to involve the falls, though – go kayaking along the Niagara River, bungee jumping in the Niagara Falls area or climb the precipitous gorge at the nearby Devil’s Hole.

For snow bunnies

Whistler, British Columbia

Just because it’s spring doesn’t mean you have to opt for a beach holiday – swap sand for snow and hit the ski slopes instead. Head to the world-renowned Whistler resort – the continent’s largest ski area – where you’ll have the pick of over 200 ski runs. There’s plenty of snow-free activities to keep you busy on the warmer days too – horse riding, canoeing and mountain biking are all popular pastimes.

Jackson Hole, Wyoming

With some of the best ski runs in America, Jackson Hole is a veritable paradise for skiers and snowboarders. Springtime offers warmer weather activities too, so once you tire of the slopes you can hike or horseback ride through the Grand Teton Park, whitewater raft in the Snake River Canyon or explore the legendary landscapes of nearby Yellowstone National Park.

Lake Tahoe

Springtime in Lake Tahoe is the perfect time to explore the area’s idyllic beaches and waterfalls, but those hoping to hit the slopes will find plenty of powder still dusting the peaks of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Squaw Valley and the Heavenly Mountain resorts are popular spots, where you can ski or snowboard through the day, enjoy a beachside barbecue, then party the night away at one of the lakeside casinos.

For couples


Couple in Hawai - Best Spring Break Destinations

Hawaii is great for couples

Whether you take a romantic sunset boat cruise, cuddle up in a luxury eco lodge or just stroll hand in hand along a moonlit beach, Hawaii is a destination tailor-made for falling in love. There are plenty of adventures to be had in paradise too – try your hand at surfing, snorkel among the shimmering corals or take a helicopter ride over the famous ‘Ring of Fire’.


With its impressive mountain-backdrop and park-lined waterfront, Vancouver offers the perfect backdrop for a loved up getaway. Enjoy a horse-drawn carriage ride around Stanley Park, take the ferry over to the picturesque Vancouver Island, then enjoy dinner with a view at Grouse Mountain’s observatory restaurant or on a sunset dinner cruise through Vancouver harbor.

Buenos Aires

Effortlessly cool and oozing with Latino charm, Buenos Aires is the unofficial romance capital of Latin America. Get in the mood with a tango show or dance class; enjoy a stroll through the Palermo Rose Gardens, where you can hire a rowing boat on the lake and visit the planetarium for some sunset stargazing; then head to the waterfront Puerto Madero for dinner with a glittering view of the docks.

San Francisco

With its abundance of art galleries, designer boutiques, hip bars and gourmet restaurants, San Francisco never falls short of ideas for date night. If you prefer some low-key romance, snuggle up on a boat cruise around San Francisco Bay, take a day trip to the Sonoma and Napa Valley wineries or take in the sunset from the famous Golden Gate Bridge.

For Europhiles


Rent a villa in the idyllic Tuscan countryside and spend your days cycling the vineyards and olive groves, pouring over masterpieces in the birthplace of the Renaissance and over-indulging in delicious Italian pastas. Whether you’re after serene landscapes or iconic architecture (don’t miss the famous leaning tower of Pisa), few European destinations offer such variety as Tuscany.


Alternatively, opt for a memorable sojourn in the City of Lights, where you can breakfast on croissants and shop among the world’s most fashionable people. A trip to the Louvre, the exquisite Château de Versailles and of course, the inimitable Eiffel Tower, are all must-dos, along with a cruise long the River Seine and an entertaining evening at the notorious Moulin Rouge.

Costa Brava, Spain

Costa Brava beach - Best Spring Break Destinations

Join the sunbathers in Costa Brava

If you want to guarantee some warm weather, the glamorous resorts of Spain’s Costa Brava coastline are one of Europe’s most popular springtime destinations. Beloved by the likes of Elizabeth Taylor and Orson Welles, the vast Mediterranean beaches are not only popular with sunbathers but renowned among surfers, windsurfers and kite surfers, and with a network of hiking and cycling trails running along the coast, you’ll never be short of things to do.


You can’t visit Europe without paying a visit to the British capital and even after the excitement of the 2012 Olympics has died down, there’s still lots to see and do in London. Take a tour on the city’s iconic double-decker buses, enjoy a boat cruise along the Thames, watch the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace and get spectacular views of the city from the London Eye and The Shard. Make sure you spare some time for the quintessentially English tradition of afternoon tea at one of London’s glitziest venues.

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The Radar: Travel Lately

8 Mar

A tour of Paris isn't complete without the perfect cup of coffee.  (Photograph by Pablo Cuneo, Flickr)

The Radar – the best of the travel blogosphere – is a regular feature on Intelligent Travel every Wednesday.

Here’s this week’s:

  • Colorful and historical San Juan isn’t just a feast for the eyes. Here are five restaurants worth traveling for in Puerto Rico’s capital city. @OrdinaryTravelr
  • In Seoul, a city that thrives on modernity, a trip to the nearby Korean Folk Village proves a welcome, albeit touristy, respite. Experience the traditional side of Korean life in Yongin@Gadling
  • In one word, breathtaking. Yellowstone National Park embodies the glory of the American West and continues to surprise visitors time and time again. @TransAmericas 
  • Touring Paris – the Eiffel Tower to the Louvre to Saint Germain —  can be a whirlwind. You’ll need your caffeine. Luckily, there’s plenty of good coffee in this cafe-obsessed city. @sousstyle 
  • Its name may be more evocative of Nebraska than Nicaragua, but the Corn Islands prove to be a delightful Caribbean retreat. Oh, and don’t miss the coconut bread. @thatbackpacker

The Radar: Travel Lately Caribbean , Corn Islands , gadling , idaho , montana , ngtradar , Nicaragua , Ordinary Travelr , Paris , Puerto Rico , San Juan , Seoul , Sous Style , South Korea , That Backpacker , The Radar , Trans Americas , Wyoming , Yellowstone National Park , Yongin

Love is in the Air

12 Feb

When you see something interesting happen once, you think, well that’s interesting. Twice, its a coincidence. More than that, well, that’s a trend. Recently we’ve begun to notice a delightful trend on Viator – a fair number of people are proposing to their partners while on a Viator excursion.

We look forward to seeing a picture of the happy event!

Todd hopped a helicopter to the Grand Canyon:

Proposal at the Grand Canyon

Which is grander: Todd’s proposal or the Grand Canyon?

Tam proposed while on a scenic helicopter flight over Los Angeles:

Proposal in Los Angeles

Bringing new meaning to “Love is in the Air” Tam proposed while flying over LA

Rob asked on a Romantic Horse and Carriage Ride through Paris:

Proposal in Paris

“He asked, I said yes ! IN PARIS !!”

As well as Lisa’s mate:

Proposal in Paris

She says, “For anyone thinking of popping the question what a way to do it!”

Benjamin popped the question at the Empire State Building while using their New York CityPass:

Proposal in NYC

Benjamin and Lauren in NYC

Eric came down on one knee while on a tour of Neuschwanstein Castle. Says Stacey, “Once at the gorge, we got a closer look at the waterfall that started at the top of the gorge. This is when Eric got down on one knee and proposed to me. I said YES! And here is a photo to commemorate our moment.”

Neuschwanstein Castle

Stacey and Eric had a fairy-tale engagement at Neuschwanstein Castle

Congratulations to the happy couples!

We’re nothing but thrilled that these travelers trust us to share in their special day, and we hope that we’ll be there when they take their honeymoons, second honeymoons, and the many more trips they’ll have ahead together.

If you’re thinking about popping the question, check out some of the romantic travel ideas on our blog and on Viator.com. A private gondola ride in Venice, a night flight over the Las Vegas Strip, or a creative romance package in Paris, while no guarantees of a “yes”, certainly can’t hurt your chances. We’ll do our best to help you pop the question, have an amazing honeymoon, and maybe someday, keep the kids entertained with family-friendly activities.

Love is in the Air Grand Canyon National Park , los angeles , new york city , Paris , romantic travel

VIP: Moulin Rouge Show with Exclusive VIP Seating and 3-Course Dinner

12 Feb

The Moulin Rouge, which was first opened in 1889 is located close to Montmarte in the district of Pigalle on Boulevard de Clichy. This famous building, with its iconic red windmill is known as the spiritual home of the Can-Can. It was immortalized in the works of Toulouse Lautrec, and more recently in the eponymous hit movie directed by Baz Luhrman. With all this history in mind it was hard not to be excited as I was fortunate to be able experience the new Viator VIP: Moulin Rouge Show with Exclusive VIP Seating and 3-Course Dinner.

Viator VIP: Moulin Rouge Show with Exclusive VIP Seating and 3-Course Dinner

The Moulin Rouge

From the moment you arrive outside the Moulin Rouge, the VIP experience begins. It is hard not to get excited as you watch the red windmill turning in the evening sky. The first thing you notice is the long queue snaking around out of the door, and down the street. Of course, these people have already prebooked, months before, but still had to queue to waiting to be seated. We, however with the included skip the line access, could walk past the queue and straight to the entrance.

With a dash of French glamor the man on the door raised the red rope and guided us along the red carpet right past the snaking crowd of people all queuing to check in their coats and take their place for dinner. Our escort eased us to the coat check in to remove our coats, and before we knew it we were being taken through the slowly filling up theater to our seats, situated on a raised mezzanine level above the main dining area. These really where the best seats in the house, and we could not be better place to watch and appreciate the costumes, set and dancing! But first it was time to enjoy the 3-course dinner.

 Viator VIP: Moulin Rouge Show with Exclusive VIP Seating and 3-Course Dinner

The VIP seats are above the main seating area

The dinner

Our personal waiter was on hand to meet our every need, and immediately, it was time to open the champagne and present us with our aperitivo. During this time we could take a look at the complimentary program that was handed to us, and see what was in our gift bags that where presented to us at our seats on arrival.

Viator VIP: Moulin Rouge Show with Exclusive VIP Seating and 3-Course Dinner

The gift bag, personalized menu and champagne

The first thing I noticed on the menu was my name at the top; the personalized experience was present in all areas. Once we had chosen our food, the waiter could recommend the wine the accompany each course. My choice for dinner was the Duck foie gras with sea salt, mango vinaigrette, “Roquette” salad and grilled toast for the starter, the Sirloin steak, small fried potatoes with thyme, French Beans with fresh butter, pepper sauce for the main and the Moulin Rouge Opera pastry, chocolate wings, chocolate hazelnut sauce for dessert.

The show

Viator VIP: Moulin Rouge Show with Exclusive VIP Seating and 3-Course Dinner

There is a great view of the stage from the VIP seating

Following the meal, it was now time to sit back and relax and watch one of the most famous shows in the world. But first, as the performance started we were presented, a selection of delicious macaroons, in a variety of interesting flavors.

The current show is Feerie, which comprises a number of different scenes, including a pirate scene and a circus scene.

Throughout the evening, it was the small things that also made the difference. Just before the end of the show our coats were presented to us; something we hugely appreciated as we saw the long queues of people waiting to collect their coats on the way out.

VIP: Moulin Rouge Show with Exclusive VIP Seating and 3-Course Dinner featured , France , Mouin Rouge , Paris

Top 10 Romantic Destinations in Europe for Valentine’s Day

9 Feb

Europe is full of romantic spots. With castles, winding paths through medieval cities, views of sparkling water from cliffs and intimate cafes in which to sip coffee with your significant other, it’s easy to plan a Valentine’s Day holiday anywhere on the continent.

Need some destination ideas?

1. Amalfi Coast, Italy

Amalfi Coast

The Amalfi Coast is one of the top romantic spots in Italy

Located on the south coast of the Sorrentine Peninsula, the Amalfi Coast is one of those sigh-inducing spots complete with picturesque and colorful villages set against a 43-mile stretch of coastline. Valentine’s Day is the off-season, and with a mild winter, it makes it a perfect spot for romance. Stay in Positano and take trips down to Naples, Pompeii or even a boat to Capri. Be sure to take time to sip limoncello, a strong liqueur the area is known for making.

2. Dubrovnik, Croatia


How can you not fall in love in front of this view?

The weather may not be warm, the sun may not always be out, but Dubrovnik is romantic year-round. The old city, surrounded by ancient walls, provides plenty of opportunities to get lost in little side streets. For amazing views of the Adriatic, head up to walk the walls of the city.

3. Paris, France

Paris Eiffel Tower

No romantic trip to Paris would be complete without a visit to the Eiffel Tower

Of course, no “romantic spots in Europe” list is complete without a mention for Paris. The architecture, River Seine, cafes that line the streets … they’re all reasons to spend some time in this beautiful city, even in the middle of winter. Bundle up and head to the top of the Eiffel Towerfor a breathtaking panorama of the city, then head out to wander the streets of Montmartre hand-in-hand. No Valentine’s Day is complete without trying some of the city’s world-famous chocolates.

4. Lake Lucerne, Switzerland

Lake Lucerne

Lake Lucerne

With the snow-capped Alps and medieval buildings as a backdrop, it’s easy for romance to be inspired. Located in north central Switzerland, Lake Lucerne is the place to get bundled up and stroll hand-in-hand around the old city. Be sure to check out the Chapel Bridge and the Lion Monument.

5. Santorini, Greece

Santorini romantic


The Aegean Sea paradise of Santorini regularly makes the list as one of the most romantic spots in the world. With its whitewashed buildings, blue-capped churches and stunning views of the sea from a top Fira’s caldera, it’s easy to see why. Take a donkey ride or hop on a boat to check out a steaming volcano, and then unwind in hot springs and tour a vineyard.

6. Venice, Italy

Venice gondola

Get serenaded on a gondola in Venice

Another must on any romantic list; Venice is perfect for Valentine’s Day. Take a romantic gondola ride through the canals to see the colorful aged homes, and then wander the streets, stopping in Saint Mark’s Square.

7. Prague, Czech Republic

Prague at night

Prague is romantic day and night

Bundle up and explore the gorgeous city of Prague in the Czech Republic. Colorful buildings, Gothic churches, a castle and little, intimate restaurants await couples in search of a perfect Valentine’s Day.

8. Budapest, Hungary

Budapest romantic

Love is in the air in Budapest

Located on the banks of the River Danube, Budapest and its gorgeous buildings alone make it romantic. Add in the allure of the Széchenyi Thermal Bath – an indoor and outdoor area with pools, saunas and spas, plus the old Castle District with spots to take in the dramatic city split by the river, and the stage is set for love. Known as the “Pearl of the Danube”, book a cruise to see Buda and Pest from an entirely different vantage point.

9. Sintra, Portugal


Visiting Sintra makes for a great romantic day trip from Lisbon

Sintra, a quick train ride from Lisbon, takes couples into a fairytale world where views of the Atlantic are as mesmerizing as views from the top of the hilltop castle. Take some time and explore the little streets of town that are packed with cafes, restaurants and shops.

10. Hamburg, Germany

Hamburg at night

Hamburg at night

Oft referred to as the “Venice of the North,” Hamburg has more bridges than Venice and Amsterdam and plenty of romantic spots to cuddle up and take in the view of its numerous canals and lakes. Walk along the harbor promenade, Landungsbrücken and then visit St. Michaelis Church.

Top 10 Romantic Destinations in Europe for Valentine’s Day Amalfi Coast , budapest , dubrovnik , featured , Hamburg , Paris , prague , romantic travel , Santorini , valentines day , venice

Off-the-Beaten-Path Romance

8 Feb

The idyllic ECO Gourmet Café in Singapore. (Photograph courtesy ECO Gourmet Café)

I have to laugh when I see things like “rented” swans, petal-strewn hotel beds, and string-quartet serenades. While truly fine hotels will go to great lengths to help you plan memorable romantic experiences (they might even secure those swans for you if you insist), I’m more interested in simple, authentic alternatives.

That’s why I asked 10 concierges in some of my favorite cities what they would recommend to the most discerning of guests for a night of off-the-beaten-path romance — whether it’s Valentine’s Day, a wedding proposal, or simply a much-needed date night.

The view from the Four Seasons Istanbul.  (Photograph by Scanna283, Flickr)

The view from the Four Seasons Istanbul. (Photograph by Scanna283, Flickr)

A Rose-Colored Walk in Buenos Aires
With more than 15,000 rose plants, the Paseo del Rosedal in the heart of Tres de Febrero Park is as good as it gets when it comes to simple romance. Marcela Capellino, assistant manager of guest services at Palacio Duhau-Park Hyatt, loves the Andalusian patio in the garden, which was donated by the city of Seville in 1929. “It’s a quiet secret place,” she said. “The peaceful sound of a water fountain, mixed with the singing birds and the smell of roses make this spot my favorite.”

A World Away from London
The Waterside Inn, about an hour’s drive from the West End of London, is a place where you can completely disconnect. On the banks of the River Thames, this restaurant, which offers 11 rooms and suites to stay in, played host to Prince Philip’s 90th birthday dinner. “The ceilings are low and the walls are covered with accounts of prestigious events, dinners, gatherings, and awards,” said Corrado Bogni, head concierge at The Connaught in London. But don’t let the celeb cred intimidate you: “The decor is just like how the venue opened over four decades ago, and the feel is cozy and familiar,” he said.

A Quiet Meal in Singapore
For a superb Mediterranean menu and a selection of exotic cocktails, the ECO Gourmet Cafe is a romantic pick for Kamisah Abdul Rahim, chief concierge at Raffles Hotel Singapore. “Sitting in the belly of Labrador Nature Reserve, ECO Gourmet Cafe is quiet, romantic, and away from the hustle and bustle of Singapore’s city life,” he said.

A Secret Beach in Cape Town
Dirk Jacobs, head concierge at Relais and Chateaux’s Ellerman House, suggests choosing Bakoven beach over Cape Town’s more popular surf-side locales like Signal Hill and Table Mountain. “No one really knows about this little beach, and it is always quiet with the most amazing views of the Atlantic Ocean,” he said. “It’s also secluded from the wind, and can make for a perfect picnic on the beach.”

A view of Fiesole from the Florentine hills. (Photograph by CasteFoto, Flickr)

A view of Fiesole from the Florentine hills. (Photograph by CasteFoto, Flickr)

A Full-Day Fantasy in Istanbul
It was difficult for Burak Aydin, concierge at the Four Seasons Istanbul, to choose from among his favorite romantic places, so he picked three. His recommendations include Anadolu Kavagi, “a charming little village on the northern end of the Bosphorus, with dazzling remnants of a Byzantine castle,” The Maidens Tower, “a fairy-tale like tower in between continents,” and watching the day draw to a close from the Pierre Loti hotel (“Some of the most prominent writers and poets have watched the sun set over the Golden Horn at Pierre Loti”).

A High-Altitude Escape in Florence
I can tell you from personal experience that Fiesole, perched atop a hill in Florence, boasts one of the most romantic views in the world. Ruggero Vannini, head concierge at Hotel Savoy, couldn’t agree more. According to Vannini, highlights there include “a beautifully kept Roman amphitheater surrounded by olive groves and cypress trees,” the Duomo di Fiesole, and San Francesco monastery. But, he says, if you like walking, take the steep, old Vecchia Fiesolana road down to Florence, where “the city is always at your feet with its cobblestones, secluded gardens, and flowered balconies.”

An Under-sung Park in Barcelona
The Hotel Majestic‘s concierge team, Mario Montero and María Sabates, recommend checking out the city’s oldest historical garden, Parque del Laberinto de Horta – a local favorite they say is unknown to most visitors. When you’re finished exploring the park, they suggest taking the Arrabassada scenic highway up to Mirabé restaurant. “There is a spectacular balcony from where you and your other half can enjoy a beautiful sunset with a cocktail or dinner with Barcelona at your feet,” they said.

Visit the Musée de la Vie Romantique in Paris.  (Photograph by Gabriella Alu', Flickr)

Visit the Musée de la Vie Romantique in Paris. (Photograph by Gabriella Alu’, Flickr)

A Cinematic Stroll in Paris
At the refined Le Bristol hotel in Paris, Head Concierge Assistant Sonia Papet is often in charge of arranging romantic days for guests. For a unique experience, she suggests taking a private Midnight in Paris walking tour ”to go where the actors and actresses were in the movie” or, if it’s the weekend, checking out Les Puces de Saint-Ouen flea market. Whatever you choose, they say, think about spending some time at the Place du Tertre in Montmartre, where you can visit the Musée de la Vie Romantique (Museum of Romantic Life).

A Scenic Sail in Mumbai
If you’re looking for a moment of quiet in this otherwise overwhelming city, Tushnamaiti Dastur, concierge at The Oberoi Mumbai, says the place to be is the Mumbai Harbor. Add some romance to the experience by taking a champagne cruise, where you can enjoy the silence and scenic beauty in a completely undisturbed setting. “You’re cut off almost completely from the chaos of the city and daily life,” she says.

A Romantic Respite in Beijing
The Aman Resort is located next to Beijing’s Summer Palace, with a “secret door” to the highly trafficked, once-royal park. The area near the palace’s main gates can get crowded, so Tim Weiland, the resort’s general manager, suggests exploring the serene Garden of Harmonious Interests. “From there,” he said, “you can take the little footpaths through Longevity Hill‘s forests and completely forget you’re surrounded by a multi-million-inhabitant city.” He also recommends visiting the temple of Four Great Regions, ”a lovely spot to take in the sweeping views after a leisurely climb up the hill.”

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