Urban Travel Blog https://www.urbantravelblog.com The independent guide to City Breaks Wed, 23 Jan 2019 16:46:34 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.6.3 Bucket List City Destinations https://www.urbantravelblog.com/info/bucket-list-city-destinations/ https://www.urbantravelblog.com/info/bucket-list-city-destinations/#respond Wed, 23 Jan 2019 16:46:34 +0000 https://www.urbantravelblog.com/?p=18067 If you’re anything like us, you’re constantly thinking of your next adventure, be it a long holiday, a short city break or whatever escape you can get. Let the destination be your inspiration, with these seven must-see places…

There’s nothing quite like the thrill of getting out there and exploring somewhere new. But with so many incredible places to see in the world, where exactly are you supposed to start? Well, start with a bucket list and work your way through. If you’re in need of some inspiration, we’ve pulled together the best bucket list city destinations that we think you really ought to tick off.

Athens, Greece

One of the oldest cities in the world, the capital city of Greece is a must for anyone who’s fascinated with history and the ancient world. Be sure to explore the incredible Acropolis and take in the amazing city views from the top of Mount Lycabettus. More tips here.

athens-greece

Paris, France

Paris may be the city of love, but you don’t need to be on a romantic getaway to appreciate all that there is to see here. Climb to the top of the Eiffel Tower at night, catch the eye of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa at the Louvre Museum or take a river cruise along the Seine, taking in the sights as you go.

paris-france

Reykjavik, Iceland

Geysers, glaciers, waterfalls and a world of vibrant art, music and culture: who wouldn’t want to add the world’s northernmost capital to their bucket list? But, time your visit right (during the winter months) and you’ll hopefully be treated to the magical phenomenon in the sky, the colourful Northern Lights.

Las Vegas, USA

Las Vegas has got to be seen to be believed, it’s such an incredible city. A metropolis in the heart of the Nevada desert, you’ll be blown away by the city’s extravagance. Spend a whole day exploring the huge, lavish hotels and casino, zip-wire over Fremont Street or take a helicopter ride to the vast and beautiful Grand Canyon.

las vegas usa

Sydney, Australia

Head Down Under and discover Sydney’s famous landmarks for yourself. A wander around the harbour will give you a great view of the imposing Sydney Harbour Bridge and the iconic Sydney Opera House with its recognisable shell structure. A trip to Bondi Beach is a must while you’re there too. You can read up on many more fun things to do right here.

Cape Town, South Africa

This might not the first city that springs to mind to everyone, but Cape Town is a breath-taking place with a whole mixture of cultures and landscapes to experience, from Boulders Beach to the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront. Ride the cable car to the top of Table Mountain, the sight that defines the city’s skyline, and soak up the panoramic views of the land and sea from up high.

New York, USA

It’s the second city in the US to make our list, but with good reason. Or reasons, should we say? With the Empire State Building, Central Park, Times Square, the Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge, Broadway, Grand Central Station…(the list is endless); there’s no way that New York couldn’t be a bucket list destination.

new york

You should, by now, have some good food for thought for your next big city break. How many on our list have you already been to? Where’s next on your list?

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Top Five: Barcelona Bike Tours https://www.urbantravelblog.com/best/barcelona-bike-tours/ https://www.urbantravelblog.com/best/barcelona-bike-tours/#respond Tue, 22 Jan 2019 16:33:13 +0000 https://www.urbantravelblog.com/?p=17979 There’s no better way of exploring the Catalan capital than cruising around town on two wheels. We talk to the local guides at Steel Donkeys about the benefits of bike tourism in Barcelona, before running down our top five tours in the city…

“Riding a bike always provides a great feeling of freedom and joy — especially when you ride along the gorgeous seaside in Barcelona, with the sun caressing your face,” says Eduard, the longest serving guide of the pioneering bicycle tour company Steel Donkeys.

“The side effects to this experience are: happiness, exhilaration and a smile that can last for days.”

Edu regaling guests with his local insight...
Edu regaling guests with his local insight…

Edu clearly loves his job, and it’s easy to see why. Pottering around Barcelona’s back allies on a rather nifty Italian city bike, and showing his guests the many secrets he has garnered after nearly a life time of living in the Catalan capital (impressively, it turns out, he has also lived in China and speaks good Mandarin) is not a bad way to spend your days. Especially if the sun is shining, as it is 300 days of the year in Barcelona. Even the winters are mild here on the Mediterranean, and usually dry during the day, with temperatures still climbing up to 16 degrees on average.

In recent years the city council have made a determined effort to turn their city into a kind of Amsterdam of the south.

But it’s not only the year-round balmy weather that makes cycling around Barcelona such a joy. In recent years the city council have made a determined effort to turn their city into a kind of Amsterdam of the south. In 2018 alone, they added around 50km of new bicycle lanes, and it is now estimated that 95% of citizens live within 300 metres of a cycle path.

The sun always shines on a Barcelona bike tour
The sun always shines on a Barcelona bike tour

The rather natty red and white numbers that make up the city’s Bicing bikeshare scheme are sadly off limits for tourists (you need a Bicing card to operate them, and these annual passes are available for residents only). However, there are no shortage of rental firms willing to rent you a set of wheels, while there are plenty of advantages to booking a professional bike tour led by an expert guide such as Edu. His local knowledge lifts what would be a lovely ride to something even more edifying, and his under-the-radar itinerary means you don’t feel like you’re contributing to mass tourism (a trend that is unfortunately beginning to blight Barcelona).

His local knowledge lifts what would be a lovely ride to something even more edifying, and his under-the-radar itinerary means you don’t feel like you’re contributing to mass tourism…

“My favourite thing to show travellers is what the real Barcelona looks like, beyond the Gaudi houses, Sagrada Familia or Las Ramblas. Places like a community garden, run entirely by the neighbours, the last and only operating wood-powered oven inside the city where they continue to roast coffee and nuts, or an open-air swimming pool for kids and families in the middle of downtown.”

‘Alternative’ is a bit of watchword at Steel Donkeys where guides are given license to develop their own itineraries and to show guests something beyond the guidebook. Indeed they claim to be one of the world’s first alternative tours, championing off the path tourism as far as 2010.

“They [our tours] are guided by people that love the city and know a great deal about it. Through us, you will easily discover some of the best most overlooked places in town: from an old brothel, to a hidden park, to the best orxata place in Barcelona,” says Edu proudly.

Exploring the modern Port Olimpic
Exploring the modern Port Olimpic

Another of those people is Mariana, an Argentine who has lived in Barcelona for a decade now, and has zero intention of leaving. Like Edu, she revels in uncovering the city’s lesser known lights.

“I like to show a contrast between the old and the new, the wonderful remnants of medieval and art nouveau times, and the exciting modern developments of the city. We talk about politics, history, art, society and culture. I love every stop, but it is true that I have a very deep feeling for Santa Maria del Mar.”

“We talk about politics, history, art, society and culture. I love every stop, but it is true that I have a very deep feeling for Santa Maria del Mar.”

The point about conversation is salient. Whereas most bike tours in Barcelona ride in groups of 15 to 20 people, Steel Donkeys offers a more intimate ’boutique’ experience, riding in groups of no more than 8 guests, plus guide. On average the group size is just 4 or 5 people, allowing for much more interaction between guide and guest. Their guides do not simply broadcast a prepared speech and then move on to the next stop, they converse, and being part of that conversation turns out to be a lot of fun – not just for the travellers, but for the guides too. Engaging with the travellers is part of what makes the job so appealing to Mariana: “It is very rewarding when the guests ask questions about what I am saying, and when they are well informed of any topic that we speak. It is also very nice when it is an open tour and the integration between the whole group is achieved!”

Whereas most bike tours in Barcelona ride in groups of 15 to 20 people, Steel Donkeys offers a more intimate ’boutique’ experience, riding in groups of no more than 8…

And if the conversation does run dry? Well, it seems both Edu and Mariana can reply on the simple joy of riding along the city’s stretch of urban sands on the way back to the city centre.

“I love to see their faces of enthusiasm when they reach the beach, and at the end of each tour to see their faces of joy, their high energy and their words of gratitude. This for me, is without doubt the best reward and the best moments.”

barcelona bike tours
Sun, sea, sand… and cycling!

Steel Donkey Bike Tours run regular tours every Tuesday, Friday and Saturday throughout the year, departing at 10am. During high season they often run a Wednesday tour as well.

The itinerary isn’t fixed, but typically you will see some of the Old Town, some of Eixample and modern Barcelona and return to base via the beaches and Mediterranean sea. You’ll normally stop off for a glass of orxata and a pastry, or even some light tapas (all food and drink at your own expense).

The tour last 4 hours (give or take 15 mins), and costs €35 per person. You can book online via their website.

That price includes bike rental (helmet on request) and guide, but any snacks you pay for yourself. It’s slightly more expensive than the average bike tour, but considering you’ll be cycling in a much smaller group, it’s perhaps the best value for money tour on the market.

You can also upgrade to an electric bike for a €10 surplus, and if you can’t make one of their regular departures their private tours are just €50 a person (min. 2 people), so still very affordable.

Not sure if this is the tour you’re looking for? Keep reading to discover all your two wheel options for exploring the Catalan capital…

Top 5 Barcelona Bike Tours

Steel Donkeys are perhaps the hippest and well known name in town, but they certainly aren’t the only company you can saddle up with in Barcelona. Let’s countdown the top five tours in (and around) the city.

1. Steel Donkey Bike Tours

These pioneers of local, small group tourism have amazing guides and a relaxed ‘discovering the city with friends’ vibe, which has no doubt contributed to making them one of the must-do experiences in Barcelona.
www.steeldonkeybiketours.com

2. Bike Tours Barcelona

Starting all the way back in 1995, if you’re looking for a classic tour that incorporates Gaudi and many of the main sites, this is a good option, especially if you’ve never been to BCN before. Their 3-hour tour runs daily, with 15 to 20 people per guide, and costs €25.
biketoursbarcelona.com

3. E-Bike, Cable Car & Boat Tour

This fun and unique tour utilises not one, but three modes of transport, with your trusty electric bike joining the dots. As well as aspects of a conventional bicycle tour, you’ll also ride the famous Montjuic cable car, and take a ride on a pleasure boat around the harbour. The price is reasonable at €49.50 per person, and is available to book via Get Your Guide.

4. E-bike Tour with Wine & Tapas

Gourmets will love this tour, that takes you, via electric bicycle, around the Bohemian district of El Borne, and finishes with a delicious wine tasting session paired with tapas. The 2.5 hour tour is done in a small group, and the price of €69 per person includes food and drink. The tour is offered via Get Your Guide.

5. E-bike of Vineyards

Did you know Barcelona is surrounded by wine regions? Twelve of them to be precise, dotted all around the autonomous region of Catalonia. On this Bacchic bike ride you’ll go all the way out of town to the Alta Alella vineyard, which is about 10-12 kilometres up the coast… so a lovely ride. The ebikes (made by Mercedes Benz) make the distance easy and once you get there you’ll be treated to a tour of the vineyards and cellars, and – as you would hope – a wine tasting session is included in the price. Don’t worry about drinking too much, you’ll get a train back into town. Book via Get Your Guide.

If you are coming to Catalonia, don’t forget to check out some of our other in depth travel articles on Barcelona, such as a look at the photo tour trend, our favourite Cava bars, or the best buildings designed by someone other than Gaudi. Enjoy!

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Travels Through Cultural Italy https://www.urbantravelblog.com/info/travels-through-cultural-italy/ https://www.urbantravelblog.com/info/travels-through-cultural-italy/#respond Fri, 18 Jan 2019 14:44:55 +0000 https://www.urbantravelblog.com/?p=18007 No other European country has wielded so much cultural influence on the continent as Italy. In this post we look at the pillars of Italian art, performance and architecture.

There are many things that make Italy a wonderful place to visit. Its people are warm and friendly, the food is great and it has a rich and interesting history. But, it is this country’s culture that makes it such a fascinating place. Visiting Italy’s cultural hotspots is a sure fire way to see the best of the country.

Indulge in a night at the opera

Italy is quite literally the home of opera. The first performance took place there, in 1597. So, it will come as no surprise to you that the Italians love nothing better than to spend a night at the opera.

If you want Opera Tickets Italy is the place to buy them. There, tickets are not horrendously expensive like they can be in other countries, in London’s West End for example. The Italians are not stuffy about their opera, so people from all walks of life attend the performances.

opera house

The best places for opera in Italy are Rome, Milan, Venice, Naples, Florence, Palermo and Bologna. You can also enjoy special performances in smaller places like Sorrento and Torre Del Lago. The list of potential venues is a very long one. Following the opera trail will take you all over Italy and allow you to experience the delights of several of its nicest regions.

Enjoy the wonderful architecture of Italy

Every culture expresses itself in its important buildings and Italy is no exception. For centuries, the Italians have built divine places of worship and spectacular entertainment venues. It almost does not matter what area you travel to you will come across wonderful buildings with fascinating histories.

rome architecture

But, if architecture is your thing, Rome has to be top of your list of places to visit. In that city, you can visit buildings from virtually every century. You could stay there for months and still not see everything. But, you must not miss the Colosseum, the Sistine Chapel, the Roman Forum and the rest of the Trastevere neighbourhood. Venice, Verona, Florence, Milan and Pisa also have plenty of wonderful historical architecture for you to enjoy.

Italy for art lovers

If you like art you are really spoilt for choice in Italy. The Vatican Museums, the Borghese Gallery, Bargello National Museum and the Palazzo Colonna are just a few of the places you could head for. They are all overflowing with fantastic paintings and sculptures.

Enjoy some of Italy’s cultural fiestas

Italians love to party. Every town, village and neighbourhood plays host to at least one annual fiesta. Some are small and intimate, while others are huge and go on for days. These community celebrations are very much a part of the culture of Italy. So, they are something that every culture lover should experience. Before booking your trip, it is worth going online and finding out the dates of the local fiestas.

costume-3337141_640

Probably the biggest and most spectacular of Italy’s special celebrations is the Venice Carnival. It takes place every February. Most of the action takes place outside, so if you do want to experience it you will need to pack some warm clothes.

Easter is a particularly good time to travel to Italy if you want to experience the country’s religious festivals and fiestas. At that time of the year, you will find processions and other celebrations taking place right across the country.

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Retro London: Ten Ways to Step Back in Time https://www.urbantravelblog.com/info/retro-london/ https://www.urbantravelblog.com/info/retro-london/#respond Thu, 03 Jan 2019 14:17:00 +0000 http://www.urbantravelblog.com/?p=3334 London has enjoyed more golden ages than most, from Victorian times, to the swinging 60s and plenty in between. We invited Hostelbookers to the blog to share some old school ways to have fun in the capital….

Whether you want to sip gin from a teacup at a Prohibition-era speakeasy, take an Edwardian-inspired afternoon tea or turn heads in a freshly-bought swooshy ‘50s skirt, London’s got the goods to fulfil your vintage ambition.

See our ten ways to step back in time in London below…

retro-and-vintage-things-to-do-in-london

1. Clothes

Vintage 101 clothes shopping starts at Brick Lane: the two best-stocked and biggest stores round here are Absolute Vintage and Beyond Retro (pieces from the 60s, 80s and increasingly the 90s dominate). For more refined, designer-lead collections, head to Notting Hill’s legendary Rellik, beloved of celebs and stylists alike.

2. Antiques

Judy’s Affordable Vintage Fair at York Hall in Bethnal Green is the best place to pick up ‘50s armchairs, Bakelite radios and Ercol on a budget. The fair comes to town three times a year, check their website for dates. The rest of the year it tours some of the UK’s other great cities, so bear that in mind if you’re travelling yourself.

3. Sweets

Got a nostalgic craving for bonbons, coconut ice and sherbet lemons? Hope & Greenwood in Covent Garden sell all these and more, packaged so prettily you almost can’t bring yourself to gobble them (almost, we said). Update: their Covent Garden store is closed, but you will be able to keep buying their retro confectionery at other stores soon, as well as via their website.

4. Tea time

Every luxury hotel worth its salt in London puts its own twist on the traditional Edwardian afternoon tea. Nibble on sweetly-crafted Stella McCartney dresses and Mulberry bags in cake form at the Berkeley Fashion Tea, or go even more quirky at the Sanderson’s Alice in Wonderland-inspired tea. Here, there are sandwiches on rainbow-coloured bread and lollies that turn from hot to cold in your mouth.

5. Burlesque

A glamorous yet tongue-in-cheek combination of vaudeville theatre, cabaret and striptease, burlesque performers have taken London by storm in recent years. You can combine watching burlesque girls shake their tail feathers with drinks and dinner at various events hosted by Cirque du Cabaret.

6. Cocktails

Basement dwellings behind unmarked doors are popular right now for speakeasy-style cocktail drinkin’: the more hard-to-find the bar, the more authentic, the logic goes! Head to the Nightjar on City Road or Bourne and Hollingsworth in Fitzrovia to get your fill.

7. Cinema

Even if you’re seeing the latest popcorn blockbuster, it feels that much more glamorous to go to the cinema if your surroundings are special. London’s oldest cinemas include the 1910-built and beautifully-restored Phoenix in East Finchley, the Ritzy in Brixton and the Edwardian-era Gate cinema in Notting Hill.

8. Dancing

Pop on your victory rollers and dust off your dancing shoes: the Blitz Party promises to be the hottest ticket in town every time the party rolls in (check the Blitz Party website for latest events). Rollicking swing and jazz tunes mean nobody thinks to leave before the all-clear whistle.

9. Exhibitions

The V&A museum in South Kensington provides a comprehensive look at the history of British design in a gorgeous Victorian-era building. Exhibitions include fashion, ceramics, jewels, metalwork, furniture, pottery, sculpture, textiles and paintings through the ages.

10. Festivals

The Chap Olympiad, a kind of school sports day for dandies, takes place every July in the Georgian beauty of Bedford Square. Events include umbrella jousting, iron board surfing and the pipeathon – it almost goes without saying, but in this sporting battle, it’s panache that’s rewarded instead of prowess.

For more gallivanting around the capital, head to our Long Weekend in London itinerary.

Post by HostelBookers.com; specialists in budget travel advice and accommodation including cheap London hotels.

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Long Weekend: Krakow https://www.urbantravelblog.com/guide/krakow/ https://www.urbantravelblog.com/guide/krakow/#comments Wed, 02 Jan 2019 18:06:46 +0000 http://www.urbantravelblog.com/?p=727 Krakow is one city that casts a charm over all who visit. Duncan Rhodes experiences the allure of Poland’s ancient capital, with its myths, magicians and medieval architecture.

“Magiczny Krakow” (Magical Krakow) is how Poles refer to their ancient capital (Warsaw only took over in 1596), and the epithet fits in more ways than one. Yes, there are tales of shoe-makers slaying dragons, alchemists riding around town on giant cockerels and devils lurking in the city’s warren of cellars, but you needn’t resort to using your imagination to experience the magic of this city… you’ll see it in the twin towers of St. Mary’s Basilica glazed by the setting sun, you’ll feel it in the candlelit cafes as you tuck into tasty szarlotka (apple pie) and grzaniec (mulled wine), and you’ll soak it in up in scenic squares and courtyards on hot summer’s days, cold beer in hand.

Krakow weekend break
Keep an ear out for the trumpet call

After surviving WWII pretty much intact – and despite growing a curious appendage called Nowa Huta during Communism – Krakow came out the other side of a turbulent 20th Century in surprisingly good shape. No wonder that by the early noughties the city, with its preserved medieval Old Town, had well and truly been ‘discovered’ by the West and flocks of tourists started to outnumber the pigeons (or should that be heroic knights?) on the Market Square. With Poland’s spiritual heart, Wawel Castle, sitting imperiously on the river Wisla, and both the Wieliczka Salt Mines and Auschwitz close at hand there’s little danger of them leaving any time soon. If you’re planning on jumping on the bandwagon (and this one is worth the ride!), then the best time to go is in spring or autumn when the city’s 200,000 odd academics gift the city a youthful energy and the nightlife is at its most frenetic; whilst for sheer snowy romance December and the Christmas markets are also plenty of fun.

Best of the Beaten Track

Krakow’s Old Town is full of wonderful sights and the curious will be rewarded for throwing away the guide book and poking their nose down seemingly uninviting alleyways and up inconspicuous stairwells. Of the city’s most celebrated cultural attractions I would opt for the sensational stained glass of Stanislaw Wyspianski over the altar of Veit Stoss (found at St. Francis’ and St. Mary’s Basilica respectively) – especially as the former is free to view! And I would say the National Museum, with its collection of 20 Century Polish art, just edges the Czartoryski, despite the latter’s crowd-pleasing collection of ancient Egyptian artefacts and one work of Da Vinci’s. This itinerary will also give you a chance to cast your eye over the open Blonia common (next to the National), a picturesque green swathe of the city and a favourite with keep-fitters.

Krakow city break
A touch of glass

Of course it would be downright rude to come to Krakow and not to pay your respects to the ancient seat of the nation, the Wawel Castle (…and for Hindus the resting place of one of seven chakra stones cast by Lord Shiva). In the crypt of the complex’s cathedral lie Poland’s kings and queens of old, and it’s also worth climbing the tower for a look at the Zygmunt bell. Be sure to make your way out of the castle via the dragon’s lair… you’ll emerge from this cavern at the bottom of Wawel hill where a bronze incarnation of the monster awaits. Text ‘SMOK’ to 7168 to make the beast belch fire!

Hipster’s Guide

For a long time Plac Nowy in Kazimierz held sway as the patch for Krakow’s arty kids to hang out and compare existential crises, and, although you’ll find more of a cross section of characters inhabiting the area these days, there’s still plenty for aspiring Bohemians to wax lyrical about in the holy trinity of Alchemia, Singer and Mleczarnia. Sadly however it’s getting harder and harder to find such charismatic cafes amongst the depressingly formulaic ‘trendy’ bars that have sprung up around them.

Krakow travel tips and things to do
Reopened as a historical museum and modern art gallery

These days if you want to be avant garde in Krakow you’re probably best crossing the river over to Podgorze, a much-maligned district (it was after all the site of the infamous Jewish Ghetto under the Nazis) that is undergoing a slow resurgence (Podgorze photos here!). Leading the cultural charge are the Starmach Gallery, Drukarnia Jazz Club (where you might even hear a concert of ‘new klezmer’ music) and a renovated Schindler’s Factory which now forms a branch of the History Museum and holds a permanent exhibition on Krakow under Nazi occupation. Whilst bolstering the bar and nightlife scene is the uberhip Forum Przestrzenie, which enjoys a beachside location on the river Wisla in the former Communist-era Hotel Forum. On a fine day take a walk, via Bednarksi Park, to the Kopiec Krakusa – a pagan burial mound dedicated to Prince Krak, which affords splendid views over the entire city.

Experience & Events

Krakow’s cultural calendar gets fatter on a yearly basis but two mainstays worth travelling for are Unsound Festival (every October) and Photomonth (held every May). The former provides electronic music geeks with shoe-gazing sounds and audiovisual odysseys (if that’s your bag baby); the latter is a whole month dedicated to photography, with participating cultural venues, plus a fair few bars and cafes, turning the city into a gigantic exhibition space.

Krakow nightlife, bars, restaurants, festivals
More magic on the Market Square

Whereas it’s hard to avoid the feeling of being a tourist on a standard walking tour, a more energetic and engaging alternative can be to take to two wheels… the beach-cruising bikes of Cruising Krakow are ideal for taking in all the major sights whilst hearing some entertaining tales and trivia. Alternatively take a ride in an East German Trabant to the Communist district of Nowa Huta (click on the link for our report!) with the Crazy Guides gang. They’ll give you a history lesson you won’t want to sleep through! For a full range of options head over to this page on Krakow tours.

Pillow Talk

With frescoed ceilings, a rooftop terrace and a moodily-lit pool in the basement the Stary represents the cream of Krakow’s hotels. For something slightly more affordable the Grodek enjoys a quiet cul-de-sac location in the heart of the Old Town – and once put up former president Lech Walesa, and his twenty-strong retinue of moustache combers. For independent living talk to the aptly named Krakow Apartments. Finally, at the budget end of the price spectrum there are no shortage of quality youth hostels. Try Giraffe or Tom and Gregs.

Fork Out

At least one of your meals in Krakow should be taken at a milk bar, Communist-style lunch canteens where surly babcias (grandmothers) dish up stodgy Polski classics like barszcz, golabki, nalesniki and pickled cabbage. These much-loved institutions range from kitsch rural-style restaurants like Babcia Malina’s to grotty 70s bars where huge helpings of grub can be exchanged for just a handful of zloty. On a similar “cheap and cheerful” tip you would be well advised to check out our top five pierogi bars report.

For something much fancier, but still affordable, you can’t go far wrong with Pod Aniolami, set in a wonderful cellar on the Market Square. Try the grilled oscypek (sheep’s cheese). Whilst Farina is a much-vaunted seafood restaurant with an intimate atmosphere that offers a perfect prelude to attempted underwear removal. However, you really want to pull out the stops head to the romantic garden at La Campana, on the equally romantic Kanonicza street, for the finest Italian cuisine in town.

Those that have already upgraded their travels to Tourism 2.0 should check out the Krakow-based start up Eataway, a peer to peer platform where you can sign up for a meal in the house of a local.

Drop In

Krakow’s nightlife may lack the scope and diversity of Warsaw up the road, let alone London and Berlin, but for a wild weekend it might be harder to find a better party destination. The Old Town (allegedly) has the highest concentration of bars and clubs in the universe and with so many venues within stumbling distance of one another, low/no cover charges, liberal opening hours and the fabled-amongst-British-stag-parties ‘cheap beer and fit birds’ you’d have to be a miserable git of epic proportions not to have fun. Bomba and Pauza are two great choices for warming up, attracting both local scenesters and in-the-know tourists, whilst Cien is the perfect place to practice your pick up lines with the city’s pin ups. The legendary Prozak is also back, with a 2.0 in tow. Finally, Where2b has all the info on the best midweek parties, plus publishes party pics and more nightlife naughtiness.

A philosophical mural
A philosophical mural

For even more suggestions refer back to the Hipster’s Guide section, for recommended places to drink away from the circus of the Old Town, or our Top Five Cellar Bars in Krakow for drinking underground.

Getting There

The economic crisis plus some stiff competition has put paid to some cheap airline routes, but you can still fly into Krakow from many a major city with Ryanair and Easyjet, whilst Wizzair fly to Katowice nearby. BA and LOT also operate. An express train links Krakow to Warsaw, whilst clunky Communist-era carriages will get you, albeit not in a hurry, to the likes of Wroclaw, Poznan, Gdansk, Lodz and Lublin (see our City Guides on each!). Whilst overnight international train services to Prague and Budapest are handy for backpackers on a grand tour of East Europe. Lviv, across the border in Ukraine, is also a train ride away.

More Juice

Cracow Life is your one-stop shop for all your travel needs, from restaurant reviews to hotel reservations – their online events listings also appear in lime-green map form so pick up a copy in the city. The City Spy and In Your Pocket guides are also valuable, and the Krakow Post has the latest local and regional news. And, as one of our favourite cities, you’ll find plenty more articles about Krakow right here.

Hard Copy

Krakow’s great novel still hasn’t been written (which could be something to do with the intoxicating distraction of the city’s nightlife), however you can still get in the Polish groove by reading the translated works of greats such as Gombrowicz, Isaac Bashevis Singer or Sienkiewicz. Cracow Life has more book recommendations here.

Silver Screen

Famously parts of the Oscar-winning Schindler’s List were shot in both Kazimierz and Podgorze.

Soundtrack to the City

Krakow – Myslovitz and Marek Grechuta
Close Your Eyes – Smolik feat. Kasia Kurzawska
Kazimierz – Nigel Kennedy & Kroke
Soldier On – Don’t Ask Smingus
Drift Motion – New Century Classics
Bracka – Grzegorz Turnau

City Map


View Krakow City Break in a larger map

We selected Krakow as one of our favourite cheap city breaks as well as one of Europe’s most romantic destinations. Check out the articles for more great suggestions, or browse all our travel guides.

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6 Amazing Ideas For Your Travel Bucket List https://www.urbantravelblog.com/info/6-amazing-ideas-for-your-travel-bucket-list/ https://www.urbantravelblog.com/info/6-amazing-ideas-for-your-travel-bucket-list/#respond Thu, 20 Dec 2018 17:20:44 +0000 http://www.urbantravelblog.com/?p=17867 Travel goals inspire us to venture abroad more often and to try new things. As we look forward to the new year, we share six ideas for your bucket list that will get your searching for flights…

There’s nothing better than experiencing everything that the world has to offer. But what about some of the great, once in a lifetime moments, that you can experience while you are travelling?

This is by no means a definitive list, but here is the lowdown on some timeless activities that will ultimately stay with you long after you return home…

1. Experience an opera

Opera’s tour the world, but nothing could be better than experiencing opera in its homeland – Italy. From Carmen, to The Marriage of Figaro or Tosca, operas come in all shapes and sizes, lengths and styles. There really is something for every culture lover. Seeing an opera in the heart of Italy is something you’ll never forget – click here to find out more.

2. Discover the wineries of Australia

Australia, already one of the most popular traveller destinations, already has so much to offer. But did you know that it boasts some of the oldest and most famous wineries in the world? The most famous grape to come out of Australia is Shiraz, so why not experience a tour around the world famous vineries so next time you’re having a glass of wine in the pub with friends, you can let them know all about the grape and your adventures Down Under.

wine-travel

3. Experience the USA, cowboy style

If you’re travelling in the US, then why not head to Texas for a real taste of the United States? Texas is the home of cowboys and the old west, so trying something like a trail through the wilderness on horseback is a must. Discover how the United States was explored with covered wagon trails and rides, stay on a local ranch and work with the locals, or sleep under the stars for a real authentic experience.

4. Floating markets of Bangkok

The nightlife in Bangkok is something all travellers aspire to experience, but what about the hustle and bustle of the day? The floating markets of Bangkok are a feast for all the senses, with sights, smells and tastes, you won’t experience anything like it anywhere else in the world. The “Venice of Asia” really is incredible.

thailand-502480_640

5. Cruise under Niagara Falls in Canada

Everyone has heard of Niagara Falls and it was at one time, the most popular honeymoon destination in the world. With its thunderous cascading water and it’s awe inspiring beauty, it’s easy to see why so many people fall in love at Niagara Falls! There are lots of things to experience at the Falls, including a ride on The Maid in The Mist, helicopter rides so you can see the view from above, or experience the whole thing at night!

6. Head to India and discover the wildlife

Few people have seen the endangered tiger in its natural habitat. But if you take a trip to India’s Ranthambore National Park – you might be lucky enough to become one of them. The perfect place to have your very own Jungle Book experience.

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5 Inspiring Travel Goals for 2019 https://www.urbantravelblog.com/info/five-travel-goals-for-2019/ https://www.urbantravelblog.com/info/five-travel-goals-for-2019/#respond Wed, 24 Oct 2018 14:43:31 +0000 http://www.urbantravelblog.com/?p=17853 As the end of the year draws near, it’s time to assess what we achieved in 2018, and to make plans for 2019. We offer some inspiration that will ensure the following year is one to remember…

Yes, I know it’s only October, but as we move into the final months of the year, many of us are contemplating what we’ll have achieved by the time we’ve said goodbye to 2018… We all start the year with big plans, big ideas and a list of aims and targets as long as our arm, but sometimes – life gets in the way and many of our big ideas get put on the backburner… But not to worry, if you’re looking for some realistic goals to tackle 2019 with then you’ve come to the right place.

Read on for some potential goals you can totally smash in 2019.

Tick off a dream destination

You could go alone, with a friend, with a partner or even take the kids, however why not make 2019 the year you tick off a dream destination? Always wanted to go to North America? Then you could start by searching for hotels overlooking Niagara Falls and then either head south to see the great cities of the US, like New York, Boston, San Fran and Chicago. Or you could revel in the natural beauty of Canada, calling by Vancouver or Toronto. Wherever it is you’ve always wanted to go – make 2019 the year you do it.

niagara-falls

Volunteer

Whether it’s at an elephant sanctuary in Thailand, your local dog shelter or even at the charity shop in the high street, many of us willingly give to charity; whether that’s clothing, things we don’t want anymore or money, but what a lot of charities need to keep going is volunteers and their free time. Make a point in 2019 of giving a little free time to volunteering and helping those less fortunate than you. If you can do it abroad even better, as you yourself will benefit from the experience of a living in a different culture and making a difference to people’s (or animals’!) lives. There’s some advice for volunteering with refugees here and on the UNHCR site.

Take a city break in a lesser known destination

Paris, Rome, Barcelona!? Great fun, but you’re more likely to spend time queuing up for tourist attractions than experiencing an authentic slice of foreign culture. This coming year why not make a point of travelling somewhere none of your friends have been yet, and seeing a city not yet overwhelmed by mass tourism. A city break in Belgrade, weekend in Timisoara or short stay in Vilnius will be as invigorating as it is entertaining… not to mention impress your friends with your leftfield choices.

belgrade

Attend a music festival

From the world famous to the obscure and relatively unknown, if you’ve never attended a music festival before then make 2019 the year you change that. And if you are already a regular at Glastonbury or Reading, why not be braver and try heading abroad to festivals like Primavera in Barcelona, Melt in Germany or Sziget in Budapest, combining music with adventure. Enjoying live music outdoors is a wonderful experience – the atmosphere will leave you buzzing for days after it’s ended.

Go see the Northern Lights

Experiencing the Northern Lights is unlike anything you will have seen before. To witness this jaw dropping light show is a once in a life time opportunity and it can only be viewed in a handful of locations – so you could see them whilst your relaxing in an outdoor thermal spa in Iceland, whilst you’re travelling in Alaska or from the back of a dog-pulled sled in Norway, the choice is yours. Just head for the Arctic Circle.

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Lithuania: Hot Air Balloons & Haute Cuisine https://www.urbantravelblog.com/feature/best-places-to-visit-in-lithuania/ https://www.urbantravelblog.com/feature/best-places-to-visit-in-lithuania/#respond Fri, 19 Oct 2018 16:23:19 +0000 http://www.urbantravelblog.com/?p=17796 From the capital Vilnius to the Curonian spit, Josh Ferry Woodard takes a whistle stop tour of the best places to visit in Lithuania. On the way he experiences street art, saunas and saltibarsciai soup… and that’s just for starters.

“Here in Lithuania, everybody forages for mushrooms and berries,” said our guide Benas, as we walked through the cobbled streets of Vilnius old town, towards Amandus restaurant for lunch. “We always say that you can eat all mushrooms – just that some of them (the poisonous ones!) you can eat only once in your life.”

As the last Pagan nation in Europe to convert to Christianity and, with 33% of the country covered in forest, it is unsurprising that foraging remains a big part of daily life in Lithuania.

A Lithuanian friend of mine once told me, proudly, of how when he was younger he would spend all day searching the woodlands behind his grandmother’s house for mushrooms to sell. “One bag to pay for a ride at the fun fair, one bag to pay for a girl to ride with me,” said Povi. “And another bag to buy a couple of beers!”

Amandus Restaurant Vilnius
Lunch at Amandus

On arrival at Amandus I was given the chance to get my hands on some mushrooms of my own. Luckily, these were porcini mushrooms – meaning it was not a once in a lifetime opportunity – however these foraged fungi did look completely different to any mushrooms I had seen before. Through some feat of gastronomic sorcery they had been turned into thin discs with a similar texture to meringue. I was tasked with breaking these mushroom discs into smaller shapes and pressing them together with goat cheese into fancy sandwiches.

…these foraged fungi did look completely different to any mushrooms I had seen before. Through some feat of gastronomic sorcery they had been turned into thin discs with a similar texture to meringue.

The theme of fresh, local and foraged food continued with a tasting menu of reimagined traditional dishes, such as: hazelnut and apple crackling, beetroot bread, whipped smoked eel, sharp arctic cod ceviche with grapefruit and dill, melt-in-your-mouth beef cheek with seasonal pickle and liquid nitrogen raspberry purée.

Užupis: A Country Within a City 

“I’d like to show you shabby corners of Vilnius. Mess, mess, it’s a mess where you can find everything,” said Benas as we crossed the bridge from Vilnius old town into the made-up self-declared Republic of Užupis.

“Look! Look! A sculpture of an alcoholic,” said Benas before turning around and pointing at a homeless person with a bottle of spirit.

“And there’s one in real life.” 

Statue of an alcoholic Uzupis
Zapoy

Užupis was originally a sanctuary for marginalised elements of society during Soviet rule, and quite rundown. However, for the most part, the district has more of a bohemian vibe these days. Buildings are brightened by the pastel colours of local street artists, installations line the riverbank and speciality coffee shops neighbour craft beer houses opposite the famous Angel of Užupis statue.

The foreign ambassador [of Uzupis] is a notoriously fat cat named Ponulis that spends most of its time in Keistoteka Bookstore.

The ‘Republic’ has its own flag, currency, mayor, constitution and cabinet members. The constitution, which features important assertions such as: “Every dog has the right to be a dog,” and “Everyone has the right to appreciate their unimportance,” can be found translated into over a dozen languages on Paupio Street. The foreign ambassador is a notoriously fat cat named Ponulis that spends most of its time in Keistoteka Bookstore.

Uzupis street art Vilnius
Uzupis street art
Uzupis Vilnius Lithuania
Coffee & craft beer
Uzupis constitution
The constitution

Back in the old town Benas took us to an Amber Museum, where we downed shots of amber dissolved into 999 (a strong Lithuanian spirit made from 9 roots, 9 barks and 9 herbs… The Editor is familiar with it already). And then we visited Literatu Street (a beautiful collection of over 100 artworks dedicated to Lithuanian literature) en-route to the 45-metre high ancient bell tower.

From the top of the cathedral belfry we gazed at gorgeous panoramic views of Vilnius’ cityscape of Baroque red roofs, domes and spires stretching towards the green forests on the fringe of the capital.

From the top of the cathedral belfry we gazed at gorgeous panoramic views of Vilnius’ cityscape of Baroque red roofs, domes and spires stretching towards the green forests on the fringe of the capital.

Vilnius old town
Vilnius old town
Baroque Vilnius
Baroque Vilnius

“Here in Vilnius we don’t need city parks,” said Benas. “Because we are surrounded by greenery and lakes. It only takes 30 minutes to escape into the countryside.”

Boats & Balloons at Trakai Island Castle

True to Benas’ word, it took just over half an hour to arrive in Trakai, the ancient capital of Lithuania and a popular daytrip from Vilnius.

The scenic archipelago is made up of over 200 lakes and its crowning glory is the 14th century Trakai Island Castle, a majestic Medieval palace standing in the middle of Lake Galvė.

Trakai castle Lithuania
Trakai from the sky

Our examination of the castle began with a relaxing lap of its burnt orange turrets in a boat. Then we drove to a nearby field, where things really started to heat up.

A frighteningly loud flame bellowed a few inches above my head in the disconcertingly small basket, as our pilot prepared for take-off.

A frighteningly loud flame bellowed a few inches above my head in the disconcertingly small basket, as our pilot prepared for take-off.

It was a surreal, heart in mouth moment when our hot air balloon finally started to rise. Weightlessly, we floated higher and watched the people, trees and cars beneath us dissolve into tiny inconsequential shapes.

Serenely, we drifted to heights of around 1,000 metres for awesome panoramic views of Trakai’s green spiky pine forests and squiggly cloud-shaped islands. Then, as we approached the Island Castle, our pilot let us drop to what felt like touching distance of the medieval orange turrets.

hot air balloon Lithuania
Floating over pine forest
hot air balloon reflection lake trakai
Lake reflections
hot air balloon trakai castle Lithuania
The flame

After the breathtaking, truly memorable and highly recommended hot air balloon experience, we stopped by Ertlio Namas for a delectable tasting menu of centuries-old Lithuanian dishes: Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque recipes found in old manor houses and monasteries, playfully reinterpreted for the modern age.

Accomplished plates of sturgeon and eel terrine, parsnip soup with saffron and veal, pheasant breast with cranberry sauce and chocolate plum dessert were matched with tasty cider, wine and port. 

Big Stones & Eerie Crosses

After recharging at the comfortable city centre Congress Avenue hotel, we set off for Anyksciai forest, home of a very important boulder.

Puntukas stone
The second biggest stone in Lithuania

“Every child in Lithuania has heard of Puntukas Stone,” said our new guide Linas as we breathed in the crisp forest air, scented with pine resin and thyme. “It is the second biggest stone in Lithuania and features in a famous poem ‘The Forest of Anyksciai.’”

Walking through the forest of Anyksciai, through scores of pine, birch, maple, ash and poplar trees, we stopped to hear the rhythmic thuds of a woodpecker against a tall trunk.

Walking through the forest of Anyksciai, through scores of pine, birch, maple, ash and poplar trees, we stopped to hear the rhythmic thuds of a woodpecker against a tall trunk.

“Another interesting thing,” said Linas, pointing to a green patch of wild sorrel on the forest floor. “Is the second longest word in Lithuanian, which roughly translates to ‘those of masculine gender, who are no longer foraging for wood sorrel leaves by themselves.’”

“However, this year,” added Linas as we entered a metal treetop walkway with tremendous views of the forest. “They came up with a new word, which means ‘those who are no longer fed up by blogging.’” 

The Forest of Anyksciai
The forest of Anyksciai

Later, not in the slightest bit fed up by blogging, we pulled up alongside a convoy of trucks filled with orchard apples for a delicious and hearty lunch at Perinos Gastrobaras. I started with a cold, creamy, pink saltibarsciai beetroot soup and a local apple wine. “I’ve had hundreds of these beetroot soups in my life and almost every one is different,” said Linas, dipping a hot potato chip into the thick soup. 

“I’ve had hundreds of these beetroot soups in my life and almost every one is different,” said Linas.

After a huge bowl of spinach, cheese and zucchini fusilli, we headed to Kalita Hill Alpine Coaster for an exhilarating toboggan ride. Three goes careening around the corners later we drove to the famous Hill of Crosses.

The Hill of Crosses Lithuania
The Hill of Crosses
Hill of crosses Lithuania
A story of rebellion

The landmark tells a story of rebellion. It is thought that the crosses first appeared in 1864 after a massacre carried out by the Russian Tsar. Although the Russians demolished the shrines, the local Lithuanian population endeavoured to replace them.

History began repeating itself during the Soviet era, when the hill was demolished with bulldozers at least three times. Each time the local population risked the wrath of the Soviet powers and replaced the crosses on the very same night.

History began repeating itself during the Soviet era, when the hill was demolished with bulldozers at least three times. Each time the local population risked the wrath of the Soviet powers and replaced the crosses on the very same night.

During our visit there were over 100,000 crosses laid by people from all over the world at this eerie yet compelling symbol of Lithuanian unity and rebellion.

Grilled Game, Boozy Saunas & Late Night Lake Swims

“The owner is a little obsessed with hunting,” said Linas as we arrived at Villa Dubgiris, a complex of luxury wooden cabins in a secluded lake-side location in the Mazeikiai region. “There should be some tasty meats on the menu tonight.”

lake Plinksiai Lithuania
Lake Plinksiai

We spent some time sitting on the jetty, admiring the silent blue surface of the lake before settling into our respective animal-themed rooms to get ready for dinner.

In the ‘Banquet Hall,’ a warm, rotund two-storey building with large windows, natural wooden columns and rustic fittings designed by local blacksmiths, I feasted on a succulent pink-in-the-middle roe deer steak. We also shared a plate of cured game: thin slices of salami made from venison, roe deer and wild boar.

After dinner Linas and I each took a pint of ice-cold Svyturys Ekstra Lithuanian lager into the plush Dubgiris spa. The bathhouse was kitted out with water fountains, beige sculptures and Roman mosaics.

“You know, saunas were, and still are, a massive part of Lithuanian culture,” said Linas as we sweltered in the Siberian fir-scented sauna. “They were originally created with the function of washing in mind, but they evolved to be very important socially as well.”

“You know, saunas were, and still are, a massive part of Lithuanian culture,” said Linas as we sweltered in the Siberian fir-scented sauna. “They were originally created with the function of washing in mind, but they evolved to be very important socially as well.”

Freezing winter temperatures in Medieval Lithuania meant that it was impossible for families to store water for washing. Instead they built outhouses with fire pits to bathe and cleanse. Traditionally, men would enter first, when the sauna is hottest, followed by the women and children. “These weekly gatherings are still very important for many communities,” said Linas. “This is where issues get settled.”

To cool off, we left the ancient bathing hut and tiptoed across the grass to the lake, where the swirling sparkles of the Milky Way reflected off its glassy black surface. The vastness of the icy water pulled me in and I left feeling refreshed, and slightly euphoric.

Towards Russia with Love

The next day we headed to the nearby Cold War Museum in Plokstyne. Set in an underground bunker, the museum exhibits include a timeline of the Cold War, old generator rooms and a collection of Soviet and Western propaganda.

Built in secret from the Lithuanian people during the 1960s, the Soviet nuclear missile base had enough firepower to wipe out most of Europe.

Built in secret from the Lithuanian people during the 1960s, the Soviet nuclear missile base had enough firepower to wipe out most of Europe.

Soviet Propaganda Cold War Museum
Soviet Propaganda

When we re-emerged from the gloomy subterranean tunnel we set off for the Curonian Spit – a 98km long sand-dune strip of land that separates the Curonian Lagoon from the Baltic Sea, and connects Lithuania to the Russian territory of Kaliningrad.

Luckily, all fears of a nuclear apocalypse were cast away when we arrived at the stylish Monai restaurant in Klaipeda for a delicious lunch of autumnal seedy soup with artisan muffins and a plate of velvety cod loin in white wine sauce with al dente parsnips, potatoes and radishes.

After crossing the ferry from Klaipeda to the Spit, we drove along a forested road until we reached the Hill of Witches. “Most of these pagan wooden sculptures were built by Lithuanian artists in the summer of 1979,” said Linas as we strolled past dark wood dragons, bearded men and princesses. “The Soviets allowed them to honour Lithuania’s Pagan heritage because this area was closed off to the public. The civilian population was not able to see the transgressive sculptures.”

One particular sculpture that stood out was a black ghoul-encrusted archway with an extremely intricate and distressing devil behind it. It’s said that if you walk beneath the arch you will never return.

Devil statue Curonian Spit
The arch of no return
Satan hill of witches
The devil beyond the border

“Are you going under?” I asked a passer-by.

“Under that? God no!” The conviction in his reply was enough to keep me away too.

After gazing across the Curonian Lagoon at another border (the Lithuanian border with Russian Kaliningrad), we rented bicycles and explored the resort town of Nida. I worked up a hefty appetite during the scenic bike ride (and Baltic Sea swim), which was promptly satisfied by a three-course dinner of tomato and red pepper soup, bacon-wrapped chicken breast with girasole mushrooms and a pot of Eton mess at Skalva Hotel.

Curonian Spit Kaliningrad
Russia in the distance
Baltic Sea Nida
The Baltic Sea

Street Art in Kaunas

Kaunas, Lithuania’s second city, is home to a thriving street art scene. It all started in 2013 with a bespectacled, cosmic pipe smoking fella located on the facade of an abandoned shoe factory.

It all started in 2013 with a bespectacled, cosmic pipe smoking fella located on the facade of an abandoned shoe factory.

‘The Wise Old Man’ mural kick-started a wave of street art across the city, breathing life into everything from sketchy tunnels to residential courtyards and university campuses.

The Wise Old Man Shoe Factory street art Kaunas
The Wise Old Man

“That’s actually the artist who created this gallery,” said Linas, pointing towards a man painting a black and white woman onto a lilac wall. “He began the Courtyard Gallery by painting portraits of all the residents of this block.”

The courtyard gallery Kaunas
The Courtyard Gallery
courtyard gallery Kaunas Lithuania
Residential murals

The space, known as the only gallery open 24/7 in Kaunas, now features everything from colourful murals and mirrored mosaics to suspended chairs and lofty installations. Apart from becoming an important section of Kanuas’ cultural tapestry, the inventive artwork has helped foster a sense of community among the residents.

“For example, these bins are always clean now,” said Linas. “At least since that yellow cat has been watching over them.”

Courtyard gallery Kaunas cat street art
The watchful cat
Pink elephant street art Kaunas
The elephant of love
Da Vinci chess street art Kaunas
Da Vinci’s chessboard

On the way to lunch we stopped by a gigantic pastel pink elephant, which was drawn to represent the love proclaimed in a small piece of graffiti reading: ‘Deima + Arwnas,’ plus a beautiful Leonardo da Vinci chessboard mural.

Vista Puode is another top class restaurant specialising in fresh, seasonal interpretations of traditional Lithuanian cuisine, a fitting place for my last supper in the country. I tried another portion of cold saltibarsciai soup – this one thinner and more vinegary than the last – with a tower of fried potato pancakes with sharp garlic curd and a craft IPA from Klaipeda brewery Bocmano Usai. Not a bad way to say goodbye to Lithuania.

Josh was invited on this trip as a guest of the Lithuanian Tourist Board. All opinions are his own.

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Top Five Beaches Along Portugal’s Coast https://www.urbantravelblog.com/info/top-five-beaches-along-portugals-coast/ https://www.urbantravelblog.com/info/top-five-beaches-along-portugals-coast/#respond Tue, 25 Sep 2018 13:08:39 +0000 http://www.urbantravelblog.com/?p=17783 Forget Spain and Italy, Portugal’s pristine coastline boasts nearly 300 Blue Flag beaches. We invite some RV lovers to share their tips of exploring the country’s shores and sands…

The country of Portugal, despite its amazing culture and landscapes, isn’t as heavily marketed as a vacation destination as some of its other European counterparts, like France, Spain, and Italy. But for all the water-loving travelers of the world, this is good news. While Portugal certainly isn’t a secret, it’s clear that some areas of this country aren’t as widely regarded as you might imagine.

The Portuguese coast covers more than 850 kilometers of land, and nearly 300 of the beaches here have been awarded a Blue Flag, a designation given to beaches with the highest quality of water, cleanliness, and other environment-friendly features.

Each of these beaches varies in size and atmosphere: from large, white sand beaches that stretch as far as the eyes can see, to hidden water coves with large outcroppings, there really is a beach for everyone here.

For places with coastlines riddled with beaches and other attractions, like the Algarve in Portugal, or all across Australia, renting an RV is a safe bet. Whether you’re in Colorado and renting from a local company like Good Sam (check them out here: https://www.goodsamesp.com/) or driving your own RV to Portugal from hundreds of miles away, coasting along near the water in a mobile home is one of the best ways to experience everything that Portugal has to offer.

Praia da Marinha is a Portuguese beauty...
Praia da Marinha is a Portuguese beauty…

With one of the best coastlines in the world, naturally, it’s tough to do a roundup and hone in on just five. But these next five beaches are as diverse as they are beautiful, making it easy for anyone to fall in love.

Tres Irmaos Beach

Located in the Algarve (Lagos)—the most popular region for beach culture in Portugal—this beach isn’t a secret, but it’s a must-see. The reason it’s so popular is because it features one of the most amazing rock formations along the coast, and arguably the world. Although it tends to get busy during the high season, it’s full of character, very clean, and always a jaw-dropping site to see.

What to do: Explore little caves that arch along the cliffside. Grab a bite to eat at Canico, a seafood restaurant where you enter through a small tunnel in a cliff and arrive at a terrace that overlooks stunning views of a secluded beach. Then, check out the village of Alvor, a small Portuguese fishing village full of cute, authentic shops along narrow rows of cobbled streets.

Porto Covo

Porto Covo looks exactly like it sounds. Situated in a discreet cove in the town of Alentejo, you’ll feel as though you just stumbled into a resort pamphlet. To be fair, Porto Covo isn’t just one beach: it’s a series of small beaches, each with a distinct name, situated one after another. Expect turquoise water and golden sand, and each cove has its own variation of rock formations and watering holes.

What to do here: Follow along each cove, railroad style. Take a hiking trip along the Alentejo coast with Hiking Vicente, a tour company that aims to help visitors explore the unique and varied landscapes of the coast.

Monte Clerigo

Praia de Monte Clérigo is one of the hidden Algarve gems on this list. Situated just a mile and a half from the white-washed town of Aljezur, this long strip of sandy beach has so much to offer. As you get closer to the beach from the road, you’ll see dramatic views of surrounding mountains and water from a distance. There are several beachside bars and restaurants, and locals are so friendly, some visitors have even been invited to fish alongside them.

What to do here: Feel the full force of the Atlantic when you take surfing lessons from one the area’s most reputable businesses, Boa Onda Surf School (beginner or advanced). Practice yoga and meditation among the towering cliffs and beautiful sandy scenery at Prana Casa.

Praia de Benagil

Praia de Benagil is one of the most photographed pieces of the Portuguese coast. Because of limited parking, the area’s standout feature—a gorgeous sea cave—is only accessible by water, and it isn’t as busy as you might think. This sea cave is called Algar de Benagil, and from inside the cave you can look up into a vaulted opening in the rocks through to the blue sky above you. This beach is located in Benagil, a fishing village near Carvoeiro.

What to do here: Take a boat tour to check out the famous Benagil sea cave and other nearby seaside attractions. Enjoy a good steak or fish meal at Brisa Do Mar, a highly rated seaside restaurant not far from some of the best watering holes.

Praia da Marinha

While you’re near Praia de Benagil you should check out its eastern sister, Praia da Marinha. Similarly, because it takes a little hiking and climbing, this gem of a beach isn’t often very packed. While some beaches are great for surfing, this particular spot is ideal for sun lounging and snorkelling, thanks to perfectly clear and calm waters.

What to do here: Paddleboard around around Albufeira and get an up close view of some of the most amazing seaside cliffs with SUP Albufeira. Then head over to the Cocktail Garden for an extensive list of well-priced, inventive cocktails.

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Long Weekend: Lublin https://www.urbantravelblog.com/guide/lublin/ https://www.urbantravelblog.com/guide/lublin/#comments Tue, 07 Aug 2018 08:32:59 +0000 http://www.urbantravelblog.com/?p=2698 Poland’s grand eastern city looks destined to be the last discovered by travellers. A one time bastion of Jewish culture, and now lively University city, Stuart Wadsworth finds plenty to recommend in Lublin.

Long in the shadows of hipper, more well-known destinations in Poland such as Krakow, Wroclaw and Warsaw, Lublin has traditionally languished, economically and politically, out of the limelight, happy to be a big fish in the small pond of eastern Poland. In recent years however, Lublin has seen an upturn in fortunes, as European Union money has flooded into its coffers, infrastructure has improved and the architecture has been spruced up.

Painting the town orange

The city today is a confident, young, vibrant and cultural place with plenty to offer those (still relatively few) visitors who make the effort to travel here for a weekend break.

The town’s Rynek is ripe with tourist potential, ringed as it is with an array of cool bars, imaginative restaurants and relaxing cafes, and there is enough here to keep you busy – especially if you are interested in Jewish history – for several days.

Lublin is beginning to wake up to its potential as a premier destination in Poland at last, and put its painful history behind it.

Best of the Beaten Track

You’ll no doubt head through one of Lublin’s main historical ‘gates’ – Krakowska or Grodzka – on arrival, and into the cobbled alleyways of its old town. These winding streets are full of life in summer, and you can soak up the history in and around the Rynek (market square). At the Rynek’s centre is the 1781 neo-classical Old Town Hall, beneath which can be found the fascinating Lublin Underground Trail, which tells the story of the city with the aid of scale models and photos including the story of the fire of Lublin in 1719.

Visit the 16th-century cathedral nearby to see the ‘whispering room’; an acoustic vestry famous for its ability to project whispers.

The Castle should be on anyone’s hitlist, not so much for its exterior beauty (it was rebuilt as a prison in the 1820’s) as for its interior, especially the Chapel of the Holy Trinity, which contains a beautiful set of frescoes, perhaps the finest examples of medieval wall paintings in Poland.

A lonely walk at Majdanek Death Camp

Next on your itinerary should be a tour of Lublin’s Jewish sights, starting with the old Jewish district around ul. Lubartowska. Here you’ll find the only synagogue in town, and nearby the ‘Yeshiva’ – the school of sages of Lublin, or rabbi school, where rabbis were trained and dispatched all across Europe to teach before the war.

Finally Majdanek stands as a stark and austere monument to man’s inhumanity to man. Unlike the other well-known Nazi-run concentration camps which were mostly hidden away from public view in remote locations, Majdanek was situated on the edge of a major city, and visitors today can read accounts of the horrors that took place in full view of the local populace – around 80,000 to 100,000 died in just over two years of operation. You will not find the crowds here that you do in, say Auschwitz (indeed you may walk around for half a day with only a few crows for company, particularly out of season).

Hipster’s Guide

Lublin is a great city for cycling in and around and hiring a bike (cheap at around 30zł/8 Euro a day) will certainly open up some interesting options off the beaten track. First up, the skansen, 5km out in the west of the city. Over an undulating terrain of 25 hectares, this reconstruction of middle-ages rural Poland is a delight, and you can while away several hours here, exploring old wooden buildings, windmills, manor houses and even an orthodox church. Bring a picnic, have a campfire in the woods and watch locals sing folk songs on balmy summer evenings. Next door the pretty botanical gardens are worth a look too. Afterwards head to the south of the city through the forest (Las Stary Gaj) to the lake (Zalew Zemborzycki). Popular with fishermen, sailors, swimmers, cyclists, walkers and anyone who fancies a break from the city, this is a great place to chill out in the summer and unwind. Bring a book.

Nearby Kazimierz Dolny is a Polska highlight

Further afield, Kozłówka makes a pleasant day-trip; famous for the Zamoyski Museum housed in a sumptuous late-Baroque palace, the main reason to come here is to see the Socialist-realist art gallery, a great place to see that most politicized and discredited (yet still oddly fascinating) of styles, depicting various ‘glorious’ scenes of delirious workers interspersed with portraits of their infallible leaders (mainly from years 1949-56).

Also nearby (90 mins by bus) is the stunning Kazimierz Dolny, probably the best-preserved medieval village in Poland, surrounded by picturesque hills and situated by the Wisła river.

Experience & Events

Most of your time spent in Lublin will involve strolling around and enjoying the many cafes and bars around the old town, but for a town of its relative international obscurity, Lublin has a lively cultural life. Famed throughout Poland for its theatre tradition, don’t leave the city without checking out a performance – the main venue being Teatr im Osterwy.

The Danish influence

Filharmonia Lubelska stages classical and contemporary performances and the little Teatr im H Ch Andersena stages puppet shows (good if you don’t understand Polish!).

Pillow Talk

Lublin is not blessed with a wide variety of accommodation and it certainly lacks on the budget front, but Hostel Lublin tries to make amends for this with cheap and clean dorms, a common room with internet, free breakfast and friendly English-speaking staff.

Moving up the scale, Hotel Waksman, just inside Grodzka Gate in the old town, is a retro hotel which offers comfort and style in spades with faux antiques, historic portraits and some rooms with great views of the castle.

If you really feel like splashing out, check in at Grand Hotel Lublianka, a century-old pile which boasts a Turkish bath and sauna for all guests, one of the best restaurants in town and floor-to-ceiling charm.

Fork Out

The number of good bars and restaurants in Lublin has proliferated in the last five years, so much so that you’ll find it hard to make a choice where to go in and around the Rynek. 16 Stołow (16 Tables) does a fine job of pretending to be in a much bigger city, and its refined and elegant surrounds are matched by an eclectic European menu including everything from English style fish and chips with mushy peas to roasted fillet of duck with orange sauce.

A great place to try Polish cuisine is Old Pub. Less of a pub than a regal dining experience, this place serves up ‘staropolska’ (old Polish) cuisine in sumptuous surrounds, and it won’t cost you a king’s ransom.

Nearby, Magia sprawls over several rooms and out into a summer garden, each area beautifully decorated. Fresh and tasty ingredients are used to create an imaginative European-influenced menu. To complete the Jewish-tour experience, try Mandragora, one of the finest kosher restaurants in Poland, whose menu includes all manner of mouth-watering Jewish specialities.

For cheap and tasty eats, Zadora serves up bumper-sized pancakes for less than 5 Euro (15zl).

Drop In

Lublin’s nightlife scene is no match for Warsaw’s and Krakow’s, but in and around Krakowskie Przedmiescie in the new town, there are a cluster of bars where you can hang out and party till dawn if you so wish.

The night is off to a bright start

Try Kwadrat for a few local brews in relaxed surrounds with a bit of blues music and friendly locals for company. Otherwise, the spacious Klubokawiarnia Archiwum is a great place to go and meet some young Lubliners, as it’s slap-bang in the middle of studentville.

Back in the Old Town, try Grodzka 15 for some locally-produced fine ale (made on the premises) or Ceska Pivnice for some Czech brews in Czech-style wooden clad surrounds.

Getting There

Built for Euro 2012, Lublin’s International Airport links the city with several European hotspots, including London, Dublin, Munich, Oslo – and of course Warsaw. You can order an airport transfer in advance via Book Taxi Poland.

Lublin is well connected to all the major cities in Poland by frequent trains and buses, and is a regional transport hub for Lubelskie. Krakow is 5 hours distant, and Lviv in Ukraine about the same.

More Juice

Online information about Lublin is pretty scant, at least in English. Lonely Planet’s website has a chapter on eastern Poland that is your best bet for reliable online info.

Hard Copy

Both Rough Guides and Lonely Planet do solid travel guides on Poland, but if you are looking for some more poetic travel reading, then Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything Is Illuminated gives a great insight into the fate of east European Jews, and most interestingly, the history of ‘shtetls’, Jewish communities that existed in the Polish/Ukranian borderlands for some four hundred years until WW2. Bruno Shultz, another Jewish writer, wrote beautiful dream-like novellas and short stories, and was born in Drohobycz, in present-day Ukraine but then Poland. His collection The Street of Crocodiles & Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass is the best choice. Although not set in this region, Joseph Konrad’s Under Western Eyes, is the writer’s most eastern-European novel; often thought of as English, he was born Jozef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski to Polish parents in Russian-dominated Ukraine, 100km from Lublin. Finally The Magician of Lublin is an immensely readable account of a talented performer corrupted by his dreams of the big time. Isaac Bashevis Singer wields the pen.

Soundtrack to the City

Myslovitz – Sprzedawcy Marżen
Hobo Codes – When I Want To
Don’t Ask Smingus – Laying Down Lies
New Century Classics – Children of an Uncertain Future

Video Inspiration

Featured photo by Petrol Head.

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