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Belle Image by Stéphanie

Travel Photography

TRAVEL RECOMMENDATIONS

I am certainly no travel expert, but I have visited many places, some of which I am particularly fond of. The following list is not exhaustive, but includes some favorites places, as well as places that I thought interesting, even if not on my list of "must-sees" (but that I recommend you do check out if you happen to be in those areas!).This is not an endorsement of any site.

Under each country, you may click on any town to take you to that specific section. You can also click on the maps to see where the towns and specific sites are located. Be sure to check out the websites listed for each attraction. You will also see highlighted locations, which you can click on to see one of my photos related to those specific places.

I will continue to add information as I go along, so check back often for updates. If you'd like to be notified when new information is posted, please subscribe to this site (lower right hand corner of any page).

GERMANY    FRANCE    ITALY      BELGIUM        NETHERLANDS

SPAIN (under construction)       ANTIQUE MARKETS  

NEW!!!

TRAVEL RECOMMENDATIONS BY FELLOW TRAVELERS:

Here I will add travel tips and information submitted by anyone who would like to share their experience with everyone else! Just send me an e-mail with your information (not already mentionned in my Travel Recommendation section), and I will add this information here. Please also let me know if you agree to have your name mentionned.

 
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FRANCE

Strasbourg, Northeast France      Lille, Northeast France (& September Antique Market)     Metz, Northeast France      Saint-Emilion, Bordeaux Region      Carcassonne, Southwest France     Gordes, Provence       Saint-Remy-de-Provence    Isle-sur-la-sorgue, Provence          Conques, Aveyron         Pyrenees Mountains        French Riviera       Paris  Corsica  

100 Places to see in France: for more great destinations in France, take a look at this list (which will remain a work in progress until #100 is reached!).


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ITALY

Venice      Florence        Siena       San Gimignano       Tuscany    Alghero, Sardinia 


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BELGIUM

Tongeren      Bruges      Ghent  


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NETHERLANDS

Amsterdam          Maastricht          Delft    


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SPAIN ***under construction***

Canary Islands: Tenerife    Gran Canaria     Lanzarote

 Barcelona          Madrid          Sevilla        Valencia (Tomatina Festival in Buñol)  


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Trier

Trier is the oldest town in Germany, dating back to the Roman era. You can still visit many Roman sites within and around the town. One of the most important monument is the Porta Nigra, named because of the color of its stones. It acted as a protective gate to the town during the Roman era. Its Dom (basilica) is quite impressive and you can read about its beautiful baroque ceiling here.

 

 Trier is a great walking city with many pedestrian streets and a wonderful main square with its historic fountain right in the center. During the warmer months, people enjoy sitting at cafes and watching the world go by. Trier is also a great shopping town, and makes for an enjoyable day visit.  Some of my favorite shops are H&M (clothing shop-there are two of them in Trier, one specifically for children, and the other one, located on the main square, for adults) and the Gummy Bear shop (located on Brotstrasse). You will also find a Villeroy & Boch store, right across from the Porta Nigra. On the way to the Dom, there is a neat antique engravings store on the right hand side, where they sell beautiful antique steel engravings from all over Europe.

The easiest place to park is at the Hauptmarkt Parking garage, which is a 2 minute walk to the main square. It costs 1.30 Euros per hour except on Sundays and holidays, where it only costs 1 euro per hour.

You can also tour the town with a little train, which tells you about the history of Trier and show you the different sights of Trier for about 45 minutes. You can pick it up near the Tourism Office at the Porta Nigra.

Trier Tourist Website

Monschau

 Monschau is a picture-perfect German village nestled in an impressive mountainous area of the Eifel region in Germany. The historic center was not destroyed during WWII, which is why you can see 300-year-old half-timbered houses still standing. It is a great place to visit if you only have an afternoon to spare. When you get to the town, you cannot see the village itself, and will need to park in the main parking (you do need to get a ticket and place it on your dashboard), then take a very short walk into the village.  Above the village is Monschau castle, which dates back to the 13th century. With its half-timbered houses and the Rur river than runs through the village, Monschau truly oozes charm and is a must-see.

Monschau Tourist Website

Christmas Markets

 Germany boasts some of the best Christmas Markets throughout Europe. It truly is my favorite time of year and the Christmas markets in Germany make this time of year even more special. Every village has its own Christmas Market, but some of the best ones are: Trier, Cologne (also check out Cologne's beautiful Cathedral and the Lindt Factory), Dusseldorf, Munich, Stuttgart, Rothenburg ob der tauber, and Heidelberg, among many others. be sure to try some Glüh wein (hot spiced wine), which will warm you right up! A great place to find dates and other relevant information:

German Christmas Markets Dates and Information

You can read here a great article, by Leah M. Brown,  about Bratkartoffeln, a typical German potato dish, especially popular during the Christmas season.

Cochem

Cochem is a lovely town on the Mosel River that is surrounded by mostly Riesling vineyard. The best time of year to visit Cochem is during the summer time or early fall. Other times of the year, it is pretty dead and most shops have very limited hours, as well as its castle, Reichburg castle, which is a main attraction in Cochem. The castle is accessible on foot (it's about a 15 minute walk uphill), and offers great tours of the castle and its grounds. The tour guides are very knowledgeable and most of them speak English. You are allowed to take pictures throughout the castle.

The historic Cochem Mustard Mill: located on the opposite side of the Moselle from the castle, at the foot of the Moselbrücke. This mustard mill dates back to 1810 and still makes many different mustards, which you can purchase right on site. They offer a short visit and explanation of the mill (there is a small entrance fee), BUT it is only offered in German, so it is quite useless if you do not speak German.  Their mustards are packaged in neat little terracotta type of pots, which you can have refilled when you have run out of mustard.  Check out their website at www.senfmuehle.net.  They are open every day of the week from 10am until 6pm, but tours are offered at set times: 11am, 2pm, 3pm and 4pm (it lasts about 30minutes, but you only get to stay in one room, where everything is explained-not the best tour, and only if you speak German and want to know every detail of mustard making).

Also, be sure to take a cablecar ride up to the top of the hill opposite the castle, for a great view of the castle, the town and the river. Check out these websites for more information: 

Cochem cablecar

Reichsburg Castle

Cochem Website

Bernkastel

Bernkastel is a quaint and typical German village on the Mosel River, not too far from Cochem. I recommend doing a guided tour of the town to get the most out of your visit. There is a Tourism Office at the entrance of the Old town, where you can pick up guided tours. Quite a few neat shops, and some delicious ice cream can be found in the old town. One of my favorite shops is the Kloster Machern shop, where you can find olive oils, vinegars, wines and liqueurs made at the Kloster Machern Abbey a few miles down the road. You can visit the abbey (which is also a restaurant) and buy their goods there, or get them while in Bernkastel (they have a Kloster Machern shop on the road facing the Moselle river, on a street corner). The oldest building there dates back to 1416 and looks as if it will fall over any second. It is very ornately decorated and severaly leans to the left, over the street. Today, it is a well-known wine house. While in Bernkastel, you should also take a short cruise on the Mosel River, from where you will be able to admire the many steep vineyards all along the river.

Bernkastel Website

Kloster Machern Website (German only)

Bavaria

Bavaria is quite a large area in the southern part of Germany, and that is a popular skiing and hiking area. Garmisch is probably the most well-known ski resort. The mountains are beautiful and the village lovely (be aware that during the winter season, shops close around 6pm), but you might be disappointed with the difficulty level of the ski runs if you are an advanced skiier. There are many catwalks to be traversed in oder to get from one run to the next, and I felt I spent more time pushing on flat surfaces than I did actually alpine skiing.

 

 While in Bavaria, I visited the great village of Oberstdorf and hiked to the hamlet of Gertruben. It is a nice uphill hike which takes you through the awesome Bavarian scenery.  The houses there are about 400 years old and is now a protected site. Founded in the 13th century, mountain farmers lived there until 1892 the whole year round. This area is equally beautiful in the summer or winter.

Oberstdorf Website

Garmisch-Partenkirchen Website

Neuschwanstein Castle Website

Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Rothenburg ob der tauber is a wonderfully typical German town that is extremely popular in the summers and winters (for its awesome Christmas Market). It is a Bavarian town dating back to the Middle Ages. Its name literally means "Red Fortress above the River." The town itself is beautiful with its colorful half-timbered houses and its multitude of flowers most of the year. There is plenty to see for a weekend visit. The Night Watchman tour is a fun and interesting tour that takes place every evening at 8pm from March until Christmas. You will listen to the history of the town, as told by the Night watchman, a very entertaining man, who takes his Night Watchman job very seriously, and with a wonderful sense of humor! No reservations are needed (you pay at the end of the tour). Meeting point is in the market square in front of the Town hall. 6 euros for adults, 4 euros for students, free for kids 6 and under.

There are also many fun shops throughout the town including Kathe Wohlfahrt's Christmas shop (open year-round), and the Schneeballen shops. Schnee Balls are a local pastry specialty that you have to try if there.  

Be sure to visit the Rothenburg Town Hall (Rathaus) and climb to the top for an unparalleled view of the town. There is also a great Medieval Crime Museum where you can see the various methods of law enforcement and torture used back in the Middle Ages.  Also to check out is a 700-year old house, the "Old Craftmen's House,"  which gives you an insight into how a craftsman and his family lived and worked in the Middle Ages. The house contains eleven originally furnished room. The entrance fee is 2.50 euros.

For kids, and adults as well, the Doll and Toy Museum is a fun place to see. It holds over 300 dolls from between 1780 and 1940, as well as dolls' houses, dolls' rooms, kitchens, shops and metal toys. The Medieval Museum is only about 100 meters farther down. Finally, be sure to walk the town rempart walls (which are covered, perfect when if it rains), for a different view of the town. You can access the remparts from many different points around the town via stairs, and it's free!

Where to stay: There are many, many B&Bs and hotels in Rothenburg ob Der Tauber. We stayed at Gasthof Goldener Greifen. This family-run B&B is literally a stone's throw away from Mark Platz, the main town square, and it is where 600 years ago, Rothenburg's famous mayor Heinrich Toppler, lived. Breakfast is included, and it is quite good, with cereal, milk, coffee, tea, deli meats and cheeses, breads, and eggs cooked however you like them.  Service was outstanding and extremely friendly. The rooms are quite roomy and very clean. It also has parking on site, which is essential if you are driving. We paid 85 euros for a double room including breakfast, and found it to be an excellent value. Be sure to check out the access map to see how to get to the parking area behind the hotel, otherwise, your GPS will take you to the very front of the hotel (located on a main pedestrian street), where you cannot park. Rothenburg is mostly pedestrian but cars are allowed as long as you either live in town or are staying in a hotel.

Night Watchman Website

Schnee balls Shop in Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Rothenburg Website

Aachen (Aix-la-chapelle) and Cologne

Aachen, also known as Aix-la-Chapelle, is a historic spa city in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. Charlemagne built its impressive cathedral there, which still holds his relics. It was also the place of coronation of kings of Germany. Most importantly , it is in Aachen that you can find the Lindt factory, and a giant shop where you can buy an amazing variety of chocolate. Be sure to have enough Euros, as they don't accept international credit cards. Unfortunately, you cannot visit the factory itself. If you want to see how the process works, you will need to go to Cologne, which is only about 40 miles east of Aachen. There you will also find the Lindt Chocolate Museum, as well as a retail store. It is located right along the Rhine River. Cologne also has a magnificent cathedral (which does need a little cleaning as its facade as been blackened over time), located in the Old Town. The city is also known for its zoo.

Aachen Official Tourism Website

Cologne Official Tourism Website

Burg (Castle) Eltz

Burg Eltz is a medieval castle nestled in the hills above the Moselle River between Koblenz and Trier It is still owned by a branch of the same family that lived there in the 12th century, 33 generations ago. The Rübenach and Rodendorf families' homes in the castle are open to the public, while the Kempenich branch of the family uses the other third of the castle. 

 

 If you live in the Bitburg area, it is only about an hour drive away.  Once in Wierschem, you have to park your car at the parking area near the St. Antonius chapel (can be reached via Münstermaifeld or Wierschem). To reach the castle from here is an easy walk of about 800 metres, or use the shuttle bus (Price € 1.50 per person/trip).

The castle is open for April 1st to November 1st, from 9:30am to 5:30pm. They have tours starting every 10-15 minutes and a tour lasts about 45 minutes. Entrance fees (includes the castle tour + treasure vault): adults-€8, children  €5.50, family (2 adults + 2 or more kids) €24.   Unfortunately, no photos are allowed inside the castle.

Only about 5km from Burg Eltz, you will find Münstermaifeld, a great little country town dating back to 905 A.D.

If you enjoy hiking, you can access Burg Eltz through various paths to get to the castle:

Hiking paths to and from Eltz Castle

  • From the hiking car park "Ringelsteiner Mühle" in Moselkern along the romantic Elz river valley (About 35 minutes)
  • From the hiking car park "Müdener Berg" (reachable by car via Müden) along the sometimes very steep hills (About 45 minutes)
  • From Karden up through the vineyards and to a plateau, and through the idyllic Eltz woods. (About 1.5 hours)
  • From the neighbouring castle of Pyrmont (About 2.5 hours)

For more information about Burg Eltz:

Burg Eltz Website

Burg (Castle) Hohenzollern

 Burg Hohenzollern is located next to Hechingen, about 80km south of Stuttgart.  Hohenzollern Castle is the ancestral seat of the Prussian Kings and German Emperors as well as the Swabian branch of the Princes of Hohenzollern. It is one of Europe's most beautiful and popular castles in Europe. The panoramic views of the picturesque landscape are stunning. You will need to park at the bottom of the hill (parking costs €2 for cars), and then walk up the hill to the castle. It is a pleasant, short walk uphill (about 15 minutes). You can also take a shuttle up to the castle (cost is €1.75 one-way for adults and € .85 for kids).

 

 Opening hours for 2010:

March 16th - October 31th:
9.00 a.m. to 5.30 p.m.

November 01th - March 15th:
10.00 a.m. to 4.30 p.m.

Exceptions: 
closed on September 4th 2010 
closed on December 24th 2010

Entrance fees:

Castle grounds only
(including courtyard, 2 churches, cellar rooms)

Adults :  € 5,00 .
Children (6-14 years):  € 4,00

♦Castle grounds and guided tour interior
(visit of the interior is only possible with a guided tour, about 45 min.)

Adults:                          € 9,00
Groups (min. 20 P.):   € 6,00
Children :                      € 4,00

Guided tours in German language start every 20 to 40 minutes and take approximately 45 minutes. The group size can be up to 40 persons. Tickets are available at the castle entrance or at the information in the courtyard.
Unfortunately, tours are NOT available in English unless you reserve in advance AND have a minimum of 20 people in your group. We did the tour in German, and still quite enjoyed it.  They do offer guide books  in foreign languages (English, French, Italian, Spanish and Japanese)  for €3,00 each.
The meeting point for groups is at the information booth in the court yard. The whole visit of the castle, including the guided tour, the castle grounds and the cellar rooms, takes about two hours. Also note that no pictures are allowed inside the castle.

Ludwisburg, Baden-Württemberg

Ludwisburg is a great little town right outside of Stuttgart, about 15 km north.  Parking in town is quite easy, as they have several covered parking areas. Once you have parked, it is easy to walk to the main attractions. Here is a list of what to see and do there, click on the link for information on opening days, times, and fees:

The Residential Palace:  A great German Baroque Palace with 452 rooms. Every year, in Speptember and November, they hold a Pumpkin Festival with over 450 different types of pumpkins and many pumpkin sculptures. This is a great festival worth the trip! (see photos below)

The Monrepos lakeside palace: former hunting lodge of Duke Eberhard Ludwig, Its interior is decorated in the style of the Napoleonic era. In the summertime, it is also the place for open-air concerts and fireworks (see "Special Events").

The hunting lodge and summer residence Favorite: just a few minutes walk from the Residential Palace and was built between 1713 and 1723 by Duke Eberhard Ludwig for his mistress Wilhelmine von Graevenitz.

Residential palace Gardens: Beautiful Gardens around the Residencial Palace, it is also there that the Pumpkin Festival takes place in September and November of each year.

Fairy-Tale Garden: a great place for kids with more than 30 fairytale scenes.

Museums in the Residential Palace: includes are a Baroque gallery, a ceramics museum, and a fashion museum.

Torhäuser: made up of six historical gate buildings of the city between 1758 and 1760, it formed the exits of the city.

Special Events:  every year, the town of Ludwigsburg holds special events. Dates vary from year to year so you have to check the dates. Some of these events are the Pumpking Festival, the Horse Market, the Antique-Mile, the Venetian Fair and the Christmas market. Click here for a detailed list.

A good idea is to combine Stuttgart's Oktober Fest (mid-September to early October) with Ludwigsburg's Pumpkin Fest, since they occur around the same time.

Ludwigsburg Pumpkin Fest

Strasbourg, Northeast France

 

I love Strasbourg. It is one of my favorites cities in France (or anywhere else for that matter). It is a quaint town with both French and German influences, and both languages are spoken, but French remains the official language. Strasbourg's Cathedral is stunning and a must-see. The town's main square is a great place to sit and watch the world go by. Strasbourg is known for its Flammkuchen, which is thin bread dough rolled out into a circle or rectangle, and topped with creme fraiche, onions, and lardons. Nowadays, you can find Flammkuchen with every and any topping, such as seafood or vegetarian toppings. A great place for Flammkuchen is "Le Gruber," which is located near the cathedral.

A good way to see the town a little differently is by taking a boat ride on the river that runs through the town. You not only get to hear about the history of Strasbourg, but also see buildings and their facades, which you would not be able to see on foot.

Strasbourg also has an amazing Christmas Market, where you will find hundreds of stalls throughout the town.

Leah Marie Brown, a love of Strasbourg and a writer, wrote two great articles worth a read about beautiful Strasbourg: "Dallying with the Spirits" and "When Darkness Falls."

Le Gruber Restaurant

Strasbourg for visitors Website

Lille, Northeast France (& September Antique market)

Lille is a medium-sized city in the Nord-Pas de Calais region, near the Belgium border. It has a strong industrial background but it is now known for its beautiful downtown area and its very active cultural life. It is also a very young city with a very large student population.  It is also know for its once-a-year event, the largest flea market in Europe, the "Braderie de Lille," which is well worth a visit.

How to get there:

By Air: Lille has a small airport, the Lille Lesquin International Airport. Many major and budget airlines fly into this airport, and once there, you can take a shuttle to get to downtown Lille, which stops outside the main railway station) in 20 minutes, and runs once an hour costing 7 Euros (return ticket is 9 Euros). A taxi would cost about 25 Euros.

By train: Lille lies on the Brussels-Paris-London connection. TGV and Eurostar trains stop here. The journey to Brussels takes little more than 30 minutes, to Paris about an hour, and to London about an hour and 25 minutes.

Once there, you can walk most everywhere, but there is also a metro system with two lines, which you can also use to go places.

What to do/see:

La Vieille Bourse (1653). Right between two picturesque squares, Place du Général-de-Gaulle and Place du Théâtre, this former commercial exchange still plays a central part in the life of the city. You may find booksellers and flower markets in the inner court.

The main square, Place du Général-de-Gaulle, better known as the "Grand'place", has many beautiful historic houses, like the neo-Flemish headquarters of local newspaper La Voix du Nord, and a fountain with the statue of a goddess, "la Grande Déesse" (1843).

Place Rihour, surrounded by restaurants, houses the tourist information centre inside its main attraction, the Palais Rihour (1453).

The town hall is worth a look and can be combined with a visit to the Porte de Paris (1692).

The Opera (1923) and the Chamber of Commerce (1921) are located close together and offer magnificent sights, especially when lit-up at night.

Take a stroll through the old quarter of the city, known as Vieux Lille, and enjoy the quiet, cobble-stone streets, the variety of stylish designer shops, gourmet restaurants, and the Cathédrale Notre Dame de la Treille. More notable streets like Rue de la Monnaie and Rue Esquermoise are definitely worth the trip.

A bit farther from the city centre is la Citadelle, an interesting example of defensive military architecture, built by Vauban, a famous French military architect, under the reign of Louis the Fourteenth.

Musée des Beaux-Arts, a museum covering European art from 15th - 20th century.

Museum of Natural History, a large collection of stuffed mammals, insects, fossils, etc.

Musée de l'Hospice Comtesse, a former hospital now presenting art.

Musée d'Art et d' Industrie de Roubaix : La Piscine, a 20th century art museum hosted in a beautiful "Art déco" (start of 20th century) former swimming pool.

The subway in the long-distance train station Lille Europe is an attraction on its own. In the large stairway's hall, the walls are entirely covered with a big mural.

The annual Christmas Market is a must for visitors.

The open market, Marché de Wazemmes, is open every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday morning, but the busiest day is definitely Sunday. Vendors sell everything from fresh fruits and vegetables, books and stationery, suitcases and shoes, even perfume and undergarments

La Braderie de Lille

This is Lille's most important event. It takes place every first weekend of September, starting on Saturday at 2pm, ending on Sunday at 11pm. Millions of people go to this event every year, and reserve their hotel rooms months in advance. There you will find at least 100 km (60 miles) worth of stalls, downtown Lille, which is closed off to cars for that weekend.  There is also a great fair with many rides, as well as music, and great food everywhere. Lille is known for its "mussels and Fries," and restaurants will battle it out to see who sells the most! Some tips for the Braderie de  Lille:

♦ Book your hotel as far in advance as possible, and try to stay as close to the center as possible, because parking becomes very tricky. NOTE: All parking rules and regulations go out the window during the event, and you can pretty much park anywhere, as long as you are not blocking a road or an exit. You will not be towed, or ticketed. The town's police won't have time to monitor that or have you towed, as they will be busy directing traffic and making sure things don't get out of hand.

♦ If you hope to buy furniture or large items, you will need to have a car. Most sellers are people that drive in from other places in France, and they will not ship it to you. They might hold it for you to come pick up at a later time, but they really just want to get rid of bulky items and don't want to have to take them back with them.

♦Be sure to pick up a Market map at the tourist office (on Place Rihour). It will tell you wher bathrooms are, as well as which kind of sellers you will find on each street (garage-sale type versus real antiques).

♦You will find all types of sellers, and some sell true junk (like their kids' worn out shoes). I stay away from those streets, even though, you just might find treasures buried somewhere in those stalls.  The best streets are:

Along the river (Facade de l'esplanade-which is also where the fair is located); Boulevard Louis XIV; Rue de Cambrai, Rue de Douai, Rue d'Arras, Boulevard Jean-Baptiste Lebas, Boulevard de la Liberte. You most likely won't be able to see every street, but those streets offer the best items, in my opinion.

♦Unfortunately, most vendors speak very little English, and communication might be a bit of a struggle, but it can be done. Just be patient, and use a small notepad to write down numbers if needed. Vendors are more than happy to negotiate on their prices and will usually always come down their prices, just be pleasant and patient about it.

♦Very few sellers take credit cards. You will have to pay in cash in most cases. There are several ATM machines near the Boulevard de la Liberte, but also throughout the town. If you are using a Credit Card (and not a debit card), be sure to know your four-digit code.

♦At restaurants, servers will be extremely busy. They will take your order, deliver it to you, and you will probably have a tough time getting their attention if you need anything during your meal. They are not trying to be rude, they are just very busy. Restaurants don't usually add staff during the event and use all the servers they have, which is usually 3 or 4, to serve ALL of their tables. A smile, a "please" and a "thank you" go a long way with servers, and they will get you what you need as soon as they are able in most cases.

Where to eat:

Le Flams (8 rue du Pas, near "La Grand PLace"). From 11.90€ for the "all you can eat" flammekueche menu (Alsacian speciality. Crème fraîche, onions, and bacon on a thin crust of dough).

Pâtisserie du Lion d'Or, Place du Lion d'Or. This pâtisserie has all sorts of goodies, including THE best croissants in Lille.  

You can try some of Lille's famous "estaminets" (typical restaurants) : for instance rue de Gand has two nice restaurants : T'Rijsel and Chez la vieille. The atmosphere is very pleasant, and you can taste some of Lille's typical dishes : Potje'vleesch, Carbonade flamande etc... But you must know that these restaurants, being rather notorious in Lille, are very popular, and it is strongly recommended to book a table two or three days before the day you plan to eat there.

Brasserie Flore (place Rihour, just beside La Chicorée, near 'Rihour' subway station) menus from 13,50€, large choice of good meals

L'Omnia (9 Rue Esquermoise) You won't miss the entrance of this restaurant/bar, which is situated close to la Grand Place. Ramps and murals combine to create a perspective that makes you feel like you're Alice in Wonderland. Inside the decor appeals to the same childish sense of wonder- all red lights and plush, appropriate to this ex-theatre and ex-brothel (you'll find the history of the building on the placemats). The food itself is affordable- the lunch time menu starts from 9 euros.  The bar also has a wide range of beers, and the wine is reasonably priced and good.

Pubstore (44 rue de la Halle) This somewhat intimate restaurant is a great place for lunch or dinner. Candles on each table make it a nice spot for couples to have a quiet dinner. The menu, found under the glass tabletop, is full of diverse, delicious dishes. Each dish also has a clever name, usually a play on words.

L’ Gaïette (30, rue Masséna) The menu in this restaurant focuses on regional specialties and is written in Ch'ti, the local patois/dialiect. Great food and a warm, friendly waitstaff make this restaurant a great place to have dinner.

Le Compostelle, rue saint-Etienne, may offer some good dishes in a beautiful environment.

Barbue d'Anvers (rue St Etienne) Flemish cuisine

L'Huitriere (rue des Chats Bossus) Behind the early XXth century "art-nouveau" fish store lies one of the best seafood and fish restaurants in the country, appreciated by many famous people.

Where to drink:

Maison du Moulin D'Or (Morel & Fils), 31 Place du théâtre. This place used to be "une bonneterie," which is still reflected in the decorations inside. Dress forms, wooden dolls, cloth, and beautiful colors (soft sea green and pink) are found throughout two floors. A great place to stop for a coffee or beer when you're out and about.  

The Drugstore, 21 Rue Royale. Very small, groovy lounge with two floors and a few tables outside when the weather warms up. Ambient music and orange lighting complement the vintage-looking movie and music posters on the walls. My advice: grab a table upstairs - the chairs are comfy and you can see down onto the street and people-watch. This bar is more for cocktails than beer, and their happy hour special offers all their cocktails for 6 Euros.

Café Oz/The Australian Bar, 33, Place des Bettignies. Very cool bar with a lively atmosphere, good mix of music played, and a mélange of Francophone and Anglophone bartenders. They also have a terrace open during the day when the weather warms up for those who wish to enjoy an afternoon refreshment.

On Rue Masséna, you will find countless bars, nightclubs, and restaurants including small delicious kebab stands that are open late until the wee hours of early morning.

Pub Mac Ewan's on 8 place Sébastopol offers about 140 different beers. Starting at €1.90.

 

Metz, Northeast France

 Metz is one of Northeast France best kept secrets. If you are interested in finding out more about its history, do check out the article I wrote in the "100 Places in France."  Parking in Metz is quite easy and affordable. You can find parking spaces for as little as 50 euro cents per hour, and with almost 10,000 parking spaces, it's quite easy finding spaces (for more info and details, click here). If you live in Germany, like me near Bitburg, Metz is only about 1h30 away.

 

 In Metz, you will find amazing architecture throughout the city, and most especially in the old town.  Discover Metz on foot with a tour guide, by mini-train, boat, or at total liberty at your own pace with an audio-guide, which are provided by the Tourism Office (7 euros/person). For more information on the many tours available, click here.  For the min-train and boat in formation, click here.

There are so many things to see and do in Metz, that I couldn't possibly list them all here. There is a great list of sights here, so you can decide what to see for yourself.  Something that is quite remarkable with Metz, is the space that was alloted for green spaces: a total of 470 hectares (that's about 1,162 acres!!!). It remains a small city and having so many parks and green areas makes it even more pleasant to visit.  Be sure to bring your bike if you are able to, or rent one in town (ask the Tourism Office where to get them).

Another little known fact is that Metz flea market (held at the Expo center, dates vary, you have to check each month) is the second largest after Saint Ouen in Paris. It is an especially interesting flea-market for antique furniture from all over Europe, but mostly from France and Belgium. The Metz expo is very easily accessible by car (parking is free) and you can get clear directions here.  The dates for 2010 are:  3 July/ 28 August/ 11 September/ 16 October. 

Starting in November,, through the end of December Metz holds its annual Christmas Market in the heart of the historic center, and is second in popularity after Strasbourg's Christmas market.

Metz has many festivals and events throughout the year, but here is a short list of some of those events. You can see the complete list on the Tourism Office Website:

  • Flea market / Around 15 times per year
  • Contemporaneous art fair / March
  • May Fair
  • Summer Book Fair / June
  • Summer of Magic, Metz Celebrates and Metz Beach / July-August
  • 14th July Celebrations
  • Mirabelle Festival / Late August
  • Mongolfiades, hot air balloons festival / September
  • Second-Hand Fair / September
  • Nuit Blanche All-Night Celebrations / Early October
  • Metz International Fair / Late September-Early October
  • Moselle Open Tournament / Late September-Early October
  • Antique Dealers' Salon / November
  • Christmas Markets / Late November-end of December
  • Flood-lit walking / Early December
  • Saint Nicolas Fete Day / Early December

    Metz Expo Center (In French and German)

    Metz Tourism Office

  • Saint-Emilion, Bordeaux Region

    Saint-Emilion is a beautiful medieval village near Bordeaux, west central France. It is known for its Saint-Emilion wine and beautiful vineyards and castles. You will want to do some wine tasting in various chateaux around Saint-Emilion, as well as visit the village and its monolithic church (built in the rock). Be sure to climb to the top of the bell tower for an amazing view. There are many great outdoors restaurants and bistros throughout the village. Bring good walking shoes, as the village is made up of fairly steep cobblestoned streets. Also, be sure to try a Cannelé, a pastry specialty in the Bordeaux region. You can learn more about these on my Madly Europe Blog.

    Saint-Emilion Tourism Website

    Things to see around the Bordeaux Region:

    The Wine  Roads

    This region is known for its many Chateaux and vineyard, and there are many itineraries that allows you to see many of the best vineyards of that region as well as many chateaux and other attractions.  Click on each itinerary for a detailed route (PDF files).

    The Chateaux Road: North of Bordeaux, the presqu'île of Médoc is easily accessible. The Wine Route towards Pauillac and the Pointe de Graves leads to the finest terroirs and to the Grands Crus Classés. There is a wide variety of possible activities: visiting wine cellars, tastings or strolls along the Gironde estuary. The village in Médoc offer small auberges, charming hotels and some important gourmet restaurants.

    The Heritage Road: In the Libournais region, the châteaux are less imposing than those in Médoc, but the countryside is much greener. Vast expanses of vines alternate with medieval and Roman monuments. The small town of Saint-Émillion, a UNESCO world heritage site, is worth a detour. The food is wonderful there, and you are guaranteed to find a good bottle of wine.

    The Hillside Road: East of Bordeaux, the Wine Route begins and ends with the Côtes de Bordeaux, with the beautiful Citadelle de Blaye, the Château de Cadillac, or a meal in Bouliac. The Abbaye de la Sauve is steeped in history. The wines are everywhere, as are the possibilities to visit the châteaux. History buffs will enjoy visting the Bastide de Monségur or de Sauveterre de Guyenne where they will find a medieval atmosphere in the middle of the vines.

    The Graves Road: South of Bordeaux, the vines are sometimes hidden in the pine forest. In less than an hour from Bordeaux, you can enjoy spa and vinotherapy at Martillac, visit the Château de Labrède or the nature reserve at Saucats, or sample wine at several châteaux. Fans of sweet wine can also stroll amongst the vines in Sauterne and enjoy tasting their favorite wines.

    The Fortified Towns Road: The largest wine-growing region in Bordeaux, the Entre-deux-Mers owes its name, literally “between two seas”, to the two rivers surrounding it, the Dordogne and the Garonne.  A host of wines is produced here: fruity, lively reds; clarets and rosés; a wide variety of whites to be enjoyed while young and crisp; plus, a range of semi-sweet and sweet whites.  This region invites visitors to travel through history by discovering fortified towns such as Créon and Sauveterre de Guyenne; abbeys such as La Sauve Majeure; and inspired places where geniuses such as Mauriac (Château de Malagar) and Toulouse Lautrec (Château de Malromé) lived.

    The Atlantic

    Remarkable surf and sunsets are guaranteed by the nearby Atlantic Ocean. Those looking for something a little less tame can take their clothes off and tan far away from the crowd. With 250 km of sandy beaches, there is enough space for everyone.(photo: en.france-easy)

     

    Dune du Pyla

    It is possible to cycle the 50 km from Bordeaux, through fragrant pine forests, to the last sand dune cycle in an hour and a half. Speaking of dunes, an excursion to the Dune du Pyla is an absolute must: imagine a giant sand dune 5 km long and 111 m high, standing between the forest and the ocean.(photo credit Smart.travel)

    Bassin d' Arcachon

    The Bassin d'Arcachon is paradise to oyster and seafood lovers. Cap Ferret is the trendy Bordeaux beach; this sandy point covered in pines is situated between the calm waters of the Arcachon Basin and the sometimes rougher waters of the Atlantic. Incredible views. (photo credit: Linternaute)

     

    ♦Other side of the Garonne:

    On the other side of the Garonne, towards the east, are the charming historical small villages of the Entre-Deux-Mers (literally between two seas) region. On summer evenings, many of them host local festivals and other activities. An ideal way to see another side of France. Other villages have rich histories such as Castillon-la-bataille, Sainte Foy la Grande, Sauveterre de Guyenne or Monségur. And who can forget Blaye, Bourg or Saint-Émilion, this medieval village classified as a worldwide heritage site.

    -Where to stay:

    The Bordeaux region has many, many B&Bs. Some of them are castles, others cottages, but most are historic homes, which makes the experience even more enjoyable.  Below you will find a map with several B&Bs, most of them castles. All of those are within a one hour drive from Bordeaux, and some of them are minutes away from the wonderful village of Saint Emilion (one of my favorites villages!). As always, check for review on Tripadvisor.com or Booking.com before making your choice.


    View Bordeaux B&B Chateaux in a larger map


    View Bordeaux B&B Chateaux in a larger map


    View Bordeaux B&B Chateaux in a larger map


    View Bordeaux B&B Chateaux in a larger map

     

    Gordes, Provence

     Gordes is the quintessential Provence village and a must-see if you are ever in the Provence area of France. When you drive up to the perched village, you will see many gorgeous stone houses that are characteristic of the local architecture. Gordes is not only a lovely village with tons of character, but you can also find there some of the best olive oils available in Europe. There is a shop on the main square that sells all sorts of olive oils, and you can taste them all before making your choice. You might recognize the main square of Gordes, since it was there that the movie "A Good Year," with Russell Crowe, was filmed. The restaurant where Fanny Chenal (Marion Cotillard) worked is an actual restaurant with simple, local foods. Right outside of Gordes proper, you will find a Bories Village, classified as a historic monument. There, you will see typical Bories homes (made of stones without mortar), from hundreds of years ago.

     

    Gordes Informational Website (1)

    Gordes Informational Website (2) 

    Carcassonne, Southwest France

    Carcassonne is truly a unique fortified town that is worth a visit. It looks as if it came straight out of a fairy tale book. The town can get very crowded in the summer months, and streets are narrow, so it is best to visit Carcassonne in the off season or early in the morning. You must definitely take a guided tour, which will tell you about the 1000 plus years of history of Carcassonne, and which will allow you to walk on the fortified walls surrounding the town. Carcassonne has become very popular with tourists, and unfortunately, some shops have started selling a lot of junky souvenirs. There are many good places to eat but I recommend eating at one of the restaurants located on the main square.

    You can fly into the Carcassonne airport from Charleroi, Belgium with Ryan Air.

     

     Carcassonne Tourism Website

    Saint-Remy-de-Provence

    "Starry Night," Painted by Van Gogh during his stay in St Remy de Provence

    A beautiful small town in Provence, Saint-Remy de Provence is where Van Gogh painted "Starry Nights." He also spent time in the Asylum of Saint-Paul de Mausole, and you can still visit his room left intact in the hospital. Saint-Remy is also the birth place of Nostradamus. You can visit Gallo-Roman ruins, shop for olives oil, regional pottery, and santons figurines (handmade figurines made of clay and usually representing occupations from the old days. Each santon is hand painted and unique in itself). The old center of Saint-Remy is a great place to be during the spring and summer.

    What are Santons Provençals?

    Saint-Remy-de-Provence Website

    Van Gogh's Asylum

    Isle-sur-la-sorgue, Provence

     This small town, also known as the Venice of Provence, because of its layout and the Sorgue river that runs through it, is mostly known for its overwhelming number of antique shops. Every Sunday, there is an antique market in the streets of the town, and you will need the entire day to get the most of it! There are also many markets throughout the year, not all antique related. A great place to visit for a day, and right before you get to the village of Gordes. 

     

    Isle-sur-la-sorgue Tourism Website

    Conques, Aveyron

     To get to Conques, you will take the Departmental road D901, which is a wonderful scenic route and you will go through the village of Marcillac-Vallon, which is famous for its fruity red wines. Then, you will arrive to one of the most beautiful villages of France (yes, there is such a ranking, you can find it here). A village to visit at any time of the year, from the cold of winter to the heady heat of Summer. I love it best in the spring, when all the flowers are in bloom.

    Conques is a village that has kept its medieval houses, and its streets of bygone years, under the eyes of the beautiful Abbey of Sainte-Foy. You will fall in love with the undeniable charm of its medieval houses and cobblestone streets that will make you feel as if you had gone back in time. . In the heart of Conques, you can stay at the charming and accommodating
    Auberge Saint Jacques - wich offers excellent dining, and cozy bedrooms.

     

     One of the important attractions is the 12th century Typanum frieze that is over the subdued entrance to the Abbey. It depicts the kingdoms of heaven and hell, you will definitely want to take a closer look at all of its imageries. Heaven is to the left and hell to the right.

    I recommend spending an overnight in Conques, to truly enjoy the whole experience. Another one of my favorite places which I wholeheartedly recommend!

     

     

    Conques Website

    Pyrenees Mountains

     

    By far my favorite mountain range in France, the Pyrenees mountains have a rugged beauty and numerous villages of characters. A favorite thing for me to do is riding the Little Yellow Train, an open-roof train that can be picked up in the Medieval town of Mont-Louis. It takes you, through many twists and turns, to the fortified city of Villefranche de Conflent. Enjoy a scenic ride down the mountain, and the have lunch on the main square in Villefranche de Conflent. You can also visit the castle Liberia, which was built by Napoleon, and which is perched above Villefranche de Conflent.

    The Pyrenees Mountains offer a wide variety of activities such as skiing, hiking, horseback riding, fishing. If you'd like to do a 2 to 3 hour hike, you can start at the Lac des Bouillouses, and then climb up towards the Pic Carlit. It is an easy hike, steep at times, but you will see magnificent views, from small lakes sprinkled here and there in the scenery, to amazing views of the valley.

    When parking at the Lac des Bouillouses, beware of the huge horses that hang out there. They carry around large bells, and will scratch your car with those bells, if you park your car too close. I prefer parking at the bottom of the hill because they usually stay in a different area closer to the hotel-restaurant there.

    Villefranche de Conflent Website

    The little yellow train Website

    French Riviera

     We all know how popular an area the French Riviera is, and for good reasons. Driving along the coast from Saint Tropez to Monaco truly is an experience. Saint Tropez is a lovely village, but definitely a place for the rich and famous. Prices there go accordingly. Along the coast, you will go through Cannes, another popular place for those with money, but fun to visit. Avoid visiting Cannes mid-May, as that is when the Cannes Film Festival takes places, and prices go through the roof and it is overcrowded. Right near Cannes is Antibes, a great little town right on the water, and a great place to spend a night or two before continuing on to Nice and Saint-Jean-cap-Ferrat. Nice dates back to the Roman era and the old town is worth a visit. Saint-Jean-cap-Ferrat is considered the crown jewel of the French riviera and you will understand why when you get there. Highly recommended.

    Off the beaten path, is the village of Gourdon. It is perched on the rocks above the Loup river, and has been ranked as one of the most beautiful villages in France. It's a very small village and there aren't that many restaurants to choose from, but the one I would recommend is the Taverne Provencale, which has an outdoor terrace offering amazing views of the river and the French Riviera coast. If you are afraid of heights, this might not be the place for you, but definitely worth the visit!

    Monaco Tourism Website

    Saint-Jean-cap-Ferrat Information

    Saint-Tropez Tourism Website

    Gourdon Village Information

    Paris

     Where to start about Paris...Even if you lived a lifetime in Paris, you probably wouldn't be able to see it all. But I can at least give you some of my favorites spots and things to do (you will definitely need a good travel book dedicated to Paris):

     

     Louvre Museum

     Eiffel Tower (if you are willing to battle the crowds)

    Tour MontparnasseParis's best kept secret for a stunning 360 degree view of the city. Hardly any lines, in comparison to the Eiffel Tower (where people have waited up to 3 get in). The viewing deck is on the 56th floor and in just 38 seconds (it has Europe's fastest elevator!), you will on top of the world! The entrance fee is 11 euros, and it is open from 9:30am to 11:30pm in the high-season, which means that you can see beautiful sunsets from up there. The metro stop is Montparnasse-Bienvenüe (15th arrondissement/district)

     Arc of Triumph (climb to the top for a great view of the Champs Elysees, "the most beautiful avenue in the world")

     The Invalides Museum (Military Museum, Napoleon is buried there, great museum)

     La Conciergerie (where Marie-Antoinette spent her last days) and the adjacent Saint-Chapelle, built in the 13th century under Louis IX, the future Saint Louis. You can buy a combo ticket (11 euros), otherwise the Conciergerie costs 7.5 euros and the Sainte Chapelle costs 4.5 euros. There will be a line in front of the Sainte Chapelle entrance because you have to go through security, the same way you would in an airport. Indeed, the chapel is part of the supreme court building and is highly secured.

     D'Orsay Museum (Impressionism museum)

     Jacquemart-Andre Museum (a private museum where are displayed 18th century French, Italian Renaissance, and Flemish masterpieces, within an incredibly beautiful historic home)

     Notre Dame de Paris (climb to the top for a great view)

     Versailles Palace(an easy metro ride away from the center of Paris-about a 45 minute ride. From whichever metro, buy a ticket to go to "Chateau de Versailles-Rive Gauche." It costs 2.95 euros, a little more than the normal Paris Metro ticket, because it is in a different zone. You will want to get to the RER "C" line -yellow line- Be careful because that line can take you in many different directions, so you need to make sure you choose Chateau de Versailles Rive Gauche ). Once at the Versailles Chateau RER stop, exit the metro and follow the signs for the castle. It's about a 10 minute walk.

    If you get a chance, do buy tickets to see the Academy of equestrian arts and the castle's royal stables. They let you watch practice every day at 11:15am and includes Dressage Routines from their evening shows. It costs 12 euros for a 45 minute show. You also get to visit the stables either before or after the show and see the horses up close.  You can find the Royal stables before you get to the castle. See a map here.

    When visiting Versailles, there are many ticket options (see here) but I do recommend getting the "Versailles Passport," which gives you access to everything including the Gardens (which are an additional cost if you only get the Palace ticket). During the summer time, they also have the Grandes eaux musicales and jardins musicaux (you will get to listen to Baroque music throughout the garden and see all of the fountains in action).

    Plan your metro itinerary with the RATP Transports here.

     Take a cruise on the Seine River. A great way to see Paris without having to walk as much is with the Batobus, which is a "hop off and on" boat. It stops at 8 main sites. It also gives you a bit of the history of each site. A one-day ticket costs 13 euros, 7 euros for children under 16. You can also buy 2-day tickets and 5-day tickets (they do have to be consecutive).

     Stroll down the Champs Elysees, considered one of the most beautiful avenues in the world. Lots of shops, including higher-end namebrands like Louis Vuitton and Prada. Many outdoor cafes also, such as the Cafe Henri V.

     Visit the Marais district (traditionally a "bourgeois" area but also well-known historically)

    Read a book in the garden of the Tuileries (across from the Louvre Museum)

     Stroll through Montmartre and visit its Sacre Coeur Basilica .

     Visit the cemetary Pere Lachaise (where Jim Morrison and Oscar Wilde are buried, as well as a long list of other famous people (some people will try to sell you a (rather expensive) map of the cemetary so you can find those famous people's tombstones, but you can now find it online). 

    Places to eat:

    If you are ever in the 17th arrondissement, I highly recommend Les Puces des Batignolles (110 r Legendre 75017 PARIS). This is local restaurant (and therefore you won't find many tourists there) that has great food in a very pleasant atmosphere, with friendly service. I had the best "entrecote" (ribeye steak, cooked just the way I wanted it), with home made fries, and we finished our meal off with some fabulous desserts (Tiramisu wiith Nutella, Lemon creme brulee, Daim (Heath bar) flaky pastry. That and a pitcher of red wine made it the perfect meal! They have a great variety of food, from seafood, to meats, to salads.

    Another place to check out is Le Procope (13 rue de l'Ancienne Comédie - 75006 Paris)  It is the oldest café restaurant in Paris, and was founded in 1686. The restaurant is a bit like eating inside a museum. Famous people such as Voltaire, Moliere, Diderot and Benjamin Franklin ate there. The setting in itself is beautiful, with many amazing historic artifacts within a beautiful building. The food is also good, but might seem overpriced for some. You will want to go there mostly for the atmosphere and the experience of eating in such a historic place.  Something to do at least once if you visit Paris.

    Café de Flore (corner of Boulevard Saint-Germain and Rue saint Benoit): Located in the fancy 6th arrondissement, Café de Flore has been around since the late 19th century and is known as the quintessential Parisian cafe where intellectuals such as jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir would meet to discuss philosophy.  This is a great place to sit outside and watch the world go by on Boulevard Saint Germain.  

    Generally speaking, I don't recommend eating in touristy areas, as those restaurants tend to be way pricier, for food that really isn't that good, since it caters to tourists. Try to go off the beaten path and look for places to eat on side streets to find the best deals.

     The list goes on, but that should get you started. If you plan on visiting many museum, I recommend buying the Paris Museum Pass, which allows you to visit up to 60 museums, over a 2, 4 or 6 day period, for one set price. You will bypass all the lines. Also, you can find a great map with all of the most important attractions here.

    Paris Museum Pass

    Paris Official Tourism Website

    Read a wonderful article about Paris and its Bistros, as experienced by Leah M. Brown, a true Francophile and lover of Paris, here.

    Corsica

    Corsica is a small but beautiful island south of the French Riviera, and just north of Sardinia. You can fly into four different airports, or take a ferry (where you can take your car) into six different ports. The ferry is the most popular option because getting around on the island without a car is very difficult. You can certainly rent a car while there, but prices are much higher than if you rent a car in France. We took an overnight ferry from Marseille to Porto Vecchio, which is in the southern part of Corsica. Old Town Porto Vecchio and its port are a wonderful day trip. Corsica is known for its delicious cured meats, which you will see hanging butcher's storefronts. Be sure to try some.

    From Porto Vecchio, we continued on to Bonifacio. Bonifacio is a magnificent village perched on the impressive limestone cliffs of the Corsican southern coast. There is also a lovely marina where there are many outdoors cafes and restaurants. You can make boat excursions out onto the Mediterranean sea, from which you will also get a magnificent view of the village. The entire Porto Vecchio and Bonifacio area has beautiful beaches with crystal clear water. Just find your spot and enjoy a picnic in a paradise-like setting!

    On your way up to Ajaccio, drive through the mountains of Corsica, and you will go through many small villages, such as Sartene, that are worth a detour. Roads are quite narrow and sineous, so take your time.

    Ajaccio is the birth place of Napoleon. You will see his house with a sign above the door that proudly displays that fact. Ajaccio is a bigger town, but still small enough to not need a car. There is market near the port every morning, and many restaurants and bars that come to life in the evenings. You can also take a tourist train ride through the town, which will take you all the way to the Genoese Parata Tower. It is about a one-hour ride total.

    The northern part of Corsica (where Bastia is located) is very different from the south. Here you will find less tourists and more locals, the true, proud  Corsicans. The south has adapted to the high number of tourists and is a great place to go if you love beautiful beaches and turquoise water.

    Venice

    Venice is truly a unique city. I cannot think of any other town that ressembles Venice. I visited Venice in October, and found it to be a great time of year to go because of the pleasant weather and the low number of tourists.

    Getting there:

    If you fly into either Venice airport (either marco Polo-6km from venice or Treviso with Ryan Air-30km from Venice), you can catch either taxis (cheap from Marco Polo Airport but about 80 from Treviso) or a bus. The bus is the better option if you are flying into Treviso.  The company ATVO offers bus rides into Venice for about €3,00 and is the most convenient option. It has a luggage compartment underneath where the driver will put your bags. The stop is located between the Arrivals terminal and the Departures area.

    You can buy tickets at the ATVO counter in the arrivals hall (open 8 a.m. to midnight), from the ticket machines in the baggage-claim area, or from a ticket machine in the bus departure area.

    Be careful! ATVO also runs buses to other locations, you need to look for the "Venezia" sign before boarding, and I would even ask the bus driver to be 100% sure of its destination.) You will want to get off at Piazzale Roma. Travel time to the Piazzale Roma is 20 minutes.

    To take the bus from Venice to the airport, buy a ticket at the ATVO Bus Terminal in the Piazzale Roma and walk to where you'll see signs for coaches to the Venice and Treviso airports.  (Treviso Airport buses are for Ryanair and Transavia flights.) Be sure to validate your ticket before or immediately after boarding the ATVO coach. At the airport, you'll find a stamping machine next to the bus stop; at the Piazzale Roma, stamp your ticket in the machine behind the driver's seat.

     

     Once at Piazzale Roma, you will need to buy a vaporetto ticket to go into Venice Historic Center. You will see a ticket stand near the boarding areas.  If you're at a vaporetto stop without a ticket counter, buy a ticket from the conductor on the vaporetto platform as you board to avoid a fine. A single waterbus ticket costs €6.60 and is good for 60 minutes in one direction, which means you can transfer as long as you aren't headed back toward your starting point. It is pretty pricey, but once you get to your hotel and drop off all of your bags, you will most likely be able to walk everywhere and won't need to purchase any more Vaporetto tickets, until you have to get back to the airport.

    On water buses, you're allowed to carry one piece of luggage with a combined length, width, and height of 150 cm (60 inches) or less. For more luggage, or for a bigger bag, you may need to pay a supplement.

    Where to stay:

    When booking a hotel or B&B room, do check on the location of the hotel. We stayed in a B&B (Locanda Art Deco) in the San Marco area, which is a convenient area to stay in, close to everything.( that was located across from a very busy bar, and we could not get any sleep because of the noise late at night, and again early the following morning. The room was nice but on the street side. We had to move to room 100, which was cheaper and definitely not as nice, but super quiet, and that was fine with us. The breakfast area is very small, and when the hotel is full, you will have to wait your turn to get a table. Breakfast is very basic. This hotel had nice reviews on Trip Advisor, which is why I booked it, but I will never stay there again and will try somewhere else next time. If you want to be able to sleep before 2 am and past 6am, stay away from Locanda Art Deco.

    What to see:

    Venice has the reputation to be an expensive and it is. But you can still find things to see and do that won't cost you anything. Here is a list:

    1.    Piazza San Marco

    2.    Basilica di San Marco

    3.    Venice Waterfront (St. Mark's Basin)

    4.    Grand Canal

    5.    Rialto Bridge

    6.    Rialto Food Markets

    7.    Venetian Ghetto

    8.    Canali, campi, calli (canals, squares, and back streets)

    9.    Churches (Salute, Carmini, and others that don't charge admission)

    10.   Shopping Streets

    11.   Islands of the Lagoon (San Michele cemetery, Murano, Burano, Torcello, Lido)

     I highly recommend doing a walking tour in order to get a good introduction of the city. We used Italy Tours ArtViva and were very happy with it.

    Of course, a gondola tour is a must, but be prepared to spend quite a bit (the official rate €80 per 40-minute ride, up to 6 people per gondola. Beware, though, that gondoliers can adjust their rates for various reasons,and you have to negotiate and agree on the price before getting on).

    Here is a more comprehensive list of things to do (click on each link to view a picture), some are free, others are not:

    Bridges:

    Accademia Bridge

    Bridge of Sighs

    Ponte della Constituzione

    Rialto Bridge

    Places other than churches:

    Piazza San Marco

    San Michele Cemetery Island

    Venice's Ghetto

    Murano, the Glass Island

    Venetian Lagoon

    Chioggia

    Vicenza

    Churches:

    Basilica di San Marco

    Madonna dell'Orto

    Santa Maria della Salute

    Other structures:

    Campanile di San Marco

    Dogana di Mare

     For more information, check out these websites:

    Venice Guide

    Italy ArtViva Tours

    Florence

    Florence is a stunningly beautiful city with amazing art work everywhere you turn. I recommend doing a walking tour as well, because there is so much to see and learn about, which is not as easy to do on your own. We also used Italy Tours Artviva for our Florence Tour. It was well worth the money. We stayed in a B&B (I Parigi) located a little outside of the center Florence. Our room was beautiful and with tons of old world charm. They offer free parking, and you can catch a bus at the bottom of the hill that takes you straight into the center of town in less than 15 minutes. Unless you want to spend a fortune on parking, I do not recommend driving your car into Florence. Breakfast, which was included, was great with lots of variety. I would probably stay there again should we ever go back to Florence.

    As far as what to see and do, the list is endless. There is, of course, the duomo, which is worth the visit (there will be a very long line during the spring and summer months, best to go during the off season). You can also climb to the top of its tower, for a great panoramic view of Florence. Lines there will be even longer because they can only allow a few people at a time because of steep narrow stairs. There are what feels like a million museums, and if you like renaissance art, you'll be happy with just about any of them. I enjoyed most just walking around and exploring the town on foot. If you want to see a great view of Florence, go to Piazzale Michelangelo (where there is one of many copies of "David"). The square itself is not impressive, but the view of Florence is magnificent (see a photo here).

    There are several markets around town, including the leather market, which is neat to walk through. I did not find anything I really wanted to get, especially considering the prices, which I thought were no bargain.

    Eating out in Italy can get costly because of the "cover charge" that all restaurants add to your bill. That can add an extra 2 to 3 euros per person, just for the right to use their chairs, table, and dishes. That can add up really fast. Many Italian will grab a pizza or an espresso at a cafe and eat standing up in order to not have to pay that fee. Of course, there is much to be said about the enjoyment of sitting outside and watching the world go by while enjoying a good meal.

    Florence Guide

    Siena

     Another beautiful medieval town in Tuscany, Siena is a great place to spend the day, and sit on the Piazza del Campo, sipping on wine and watching the world go by. Be sure to visit the Duomo and climb up to the top for a great bird's eye view of the town. Siena is small enough to only spend a day there.

    On July 2nd and August 16th, Siena holds its Palio di Siena, which is a horse race. It truly is a unique and very popular event. Read more about it here.

    Siena Guide

    Siena Tourism Website

    San Gimignano

     A beautiful fortified village in the hills of Tuscany, San Gimignano is known for its typical colorful Tuscan Pottery (such as can be seen here). Shops will all ships anywhere in the world (at a price, granted!). There, you can also climb up the tower at the Civic Museum, about 54 meters high, which offers a panoramic view of the town. Be sure to have some gelato on the main square before you leave.

    San Gimignano Website

    Tuscany

    Tuscany is such a beautiful area and there is so much to see. You most definitely want to rent a car in order to fully take advantage of everything Tuscany has to offer. Other than driving around and admiring the scenery, I recommend a wine tour, and more specifically a wine tour at Castello del Trebbio. That was by far the highlight of our trip. Castello del trebbio dates back to 1184 by the Pazzi family, also know because of the "Pazzi conspiracy," a plot to kill members of the De Medici family. Today, the castle is the oldest castle in Italy that remains inhabited 12 months out of the year by its owners. This place is a family run vineyard, and Alberto, our awesome tour guide, made it an experience to remember. Highly recommended!

    Castello del Trebbio

    Another nice vineyard to recommend is Villa Vignamaggio, in the chianti region, said to be the birth place of Leonardo Da Vinci's Mona Lisa. The castle itself is stunning, especially the gardens (that is also where the movie "Much Ado About Nothing" with Kenneth Branagh, was filmed).

    Villa Vignamaggio

    Alghero, Sardinia

    Sardinia is a fairly large island off the coast of Italy, and a stone's throw away south of Corsica. I flew into Alghero's Fertilia Airport, which is only about one hour and twenty minutes away from Frankfurt-Hahn Airport. Once you arrive, you can either take a bus ride (one every hour, about 70 euro cents), or a taxi, which will run about 22 euros to Alghero town (12 km away). I went with three friends, and we stayed in a B&B called Viadelmare. It is located 45 Via Lido, which is right a cross from Lido beach. We shared a bedroom (it had a queen size bed and a bunk bed), which worked out great. There was also a kitchen for us to use and a very nice, clean bathroom. Reviews on Tripadvisor were very positive about the hosts but we only saw the son when we checked in and the mother when it was time to pay. Otherwise we never saw them, and breakfast was average(Lady fingers, dry toasts and orange juice. For coffee, you had to make your own with an Italian press). My guess is that we were there during the low season and they probably didn't care as much about making us happy as they would during the high season. I have read that during peak season (June-September), they are fabulous hosts. If you want a low cost, clean place that is about a 10-15 minute walk to old town (most hotels are at least 20-30 minutes away from the Old Town), and 15 seconds to the beach, this is the place for you.

     Since we didn't have a car but wanted to get around to sightsee the coast, we rented a golf cart from this place called "Cycloexpress" which was located along the Via Lido near the town. They rent out Scooters, bikes and golf carts. We rented a golf cart for the entire day for 50 euros. You can drive on the regular roads with those and they do ask for a driver's License as well as a refundable deposit, in case of damage.  The people that worked there spoke great English and were extremely friendly and welcoming (they even called a restaurant for us to make reservations for dinner). We rode all the way up along the coast and stopped at a couple of beaches and had lunch at Lazaretto beach. The autonomy of the golf carts is about 65km, which gives you plenty of mileage to go all the way to Capo Caccia, where you can visit the beautiful Neptune Grotto. Once you get there, you will go down (and back up!) 654 steps

     Another popular way to get to Neptune's Grotto is by boat. They have boats that leave about every hour, and it takes about 45 minutes to get to the Grotto. It does cost 14 euros round trip, and you still have to pay 12 euros to visit the Grotto, which can get a little pricey if you have several people in your party.

    Places to eat: Les Arenes (1 Via Lido) is known for its good food but mostly for its pizza by the meter (which is only served evenings, no lunch).  Another great restaurant we went to for dinner (reservations are recommended, it was full when we got there, but we did have reservations thanks to the wonderful guy at Cycloexpress), is Trattoria Maristella located in the old town at 9 Via Kennedy. It seemed to me to be a favorite of local Sardinian's, and we had great service and food. You will see some negative reviews on Tripadvisor, but don't let that detter you, everyone has different experiences, and ours was great.

    Old Town Alghero has tons of shops open until 10pm during the summer (which means they open a little later during the day), and the most popular shopping streets are Via Roma, Via Carlo Alberto and Via Gilbert Ferret.

    My friends and I went there early May and the weather was great (about 70 and sunny), and it was not crowded at all. I did hear that July and August are terrible months to go there because of the heat (it gets up into the 100s) and the crowds. My recommendations would be to go towards the end of May or early June. Alghero was a quick getway well worth the trip. The ocean's turquoise water is gorgeous, and the white sandy beaches (after spring time cleanup) are sure to be a relaxing experience for most anyone.  

    Tongeren

     Tongeren, the oldest town in Belgium, does have a few attractions (such as its Gallo-roman museum and its Basilica of our Lady), but it is mostly known for its Antique market every Sunday of the year. Vendors start setting up at 6am and close shop around 1pm.  It is one of my favorite places to go roam around in the hope of finding a great deal. Sometimes you do, sometimes you don't. Each week, you will see different items, so if you see something you'd like to have, go ahead and buy it, because it will probably be gone by the time you come back to get it! You can find everything from furniture (mostly from France and Beligium) to silverware. Summers are best, as that is when there is the largest number of vendors, and the weather is much more pleasant than in the winter months (it can get down to frigid temperatures in the winter). Read a beautiful article by Leah M. Brown here.

    Tongeren Information

    Bruges

     Bruges is an awesome Belgian town. It is a great walking town, where most streets are for pedestrians and bikes only. There are well over 50 chocolate shops in Bruge proper, which means that there is a chocolate shop every other shop or so. It'll be difficult making a choice, but I can recommend both Dumont and Stef's chocolate (My best friend Leah fell in love with a chocolate called "Concerto"). There is, of course, a chocolate museum, as well as a French fry museum. Belgian have the reputation to be the best in the world, but that'll be up to you to decide. be sure to eat French fries the Belgian way, that is with Mayonnaise  or ketchup, or both, and even chocolate! (I have not tried that yet) I also highly recommend taking a canal boat trip through the town of Bruges, which will allow you to learn about the history of the town and see buildings that you cannot see on foot. Bruge is also known for its lace and tapestry. Those will be much cheaper in Bruges than most places.  There are many historical sites to visit, but the compact nature of the town makes it easy to see most everything over a weekend.

    Bruges Official Tourism Website

    Bruges Informational Website

    Ghent

     Ghent (Gent in Dutch; Gand in French) is a city with a population of 250,000, so quite sizeable. Yet, it maintains a quiet atmosphere of a provincial town. Ghent has a young population with many students, who choose to live in Ghent rather than Brussels and Antwerp. Ghent dates back to the medieval era and the whole city center still breathes the atmosphere of a thriving late-medieval city state. The city centre has the largest pedestrian zone in Belgium.  It is a great little town that will remind you of Bruges but that has more of a cosmopolitan flair. 

    You can see Ghent in one day.   As in all cities, some sites are closed in the winter so I recommend going there in the spring or early summer.

    -Getting there:

     

     Ghent is only a 30-minute train ride away from Brussels and is on the line from Brussels to Bruges and the coast. If you're planning to visit Bruges and Brussels, definitely stop over in Ghent as well.

     

     Two train stations in Ghent: Gent-Dampoort and Gent-Sint-Pieters. Gent-Sint-Pieters is the main station. To go to the centre, take tram 1 (until 'Korenmarkt'). Travel time is about ten minutes. Gent-Dampoort is located closer to the center (about 15 minutes walk), but only trains coming from/in the direction of Antwerp stop there.  If you're visiting from Bruges, Brussels or Antwerp during the weekend, it is cheaper to get a return ticket (special rate: weekendreturn).

    By car: two main highways E40 (Liege-Brussels-Ghent-Bruges-Ostend) and E17 (Antwerp-Ghent-Kortrijk-Lille) cross at Ghent. Brussels and Antwerp are 40 min away, Bruges 30 min. That is, of course, outside of rush hours. When arriving in Ghent, it is best to leave cars in Park & Ride zones next to the road. The actual city centre is a car free area, and parking is difficult and expensive in the city.  Ghent is a completely walkable town and you will not need your car in the city center, which is completely pedestrian anyway.  You can also rent bikes to get around town.

    -Where to stay:

    ♦Budget:

    Youth Hostel De Draecke :Sint-Widostraat 11. Located on a quiet street in the city center. Free breakfast and bedsheets are provided. Youth Hostel De Draecke has a bar on the premises that offers a range of Belgian beers.

    Ecohostel Andromeda :Bargiekaai 35. Low-energy, low-budget (beds start at €22) hostel-on-a-boat, 10 minutes walk from the centre. Creative, modern interior, surprisingly spacious and with better showers than many "land" hostels. Internet and breakfast available.

    Brooderie: Primarily a cafe & bakery, but with three rooms located on Jan Breydelstraat opposite the Design Museum. Shared bathrooms and showers with the cafe below but a cheap way of getting a fine room in a superb location - delicious bread with breakfast. €50 for a single, €70-75 for a double.

    ♦More expensive:

    Hotel Trianon I: St-Denijslaan 203. Hotel Trianon I is situated close to St. Pieter's train station. Prices start at €62 per night; breakfast is an additional €5. Each room has an attached bathroom. The luxury rooms are equipped with jacuzzi's.

    Best Western, Cour Saint-Georges: Botermarkt 2. 'The oldest Hotel in Europe, since 1228'. Right in the center, near the towers. Recently, it was taken over by the American "Best Western" hotel group. Rates from €125 - €200 for a room.

    Autour des Tours (Around the Towers): This recently renovated house dates from the 19th century and offers a B&B formula. No car needed here, this hotel is located nearby the historical city centre. Exploring the area can be done by foot.

    -What to see/do:

    Belfort en Lakenhalle (Belfry and Cloth Hall), Emile Braunplein (Tram: 1 or 4 to Sint-Baafsplein) Mid-Mar to mid-Nov daily 10am-12:30pm and 2-6pm; free guided tours of Belfry Easter vacations and May-Sept Tues-Sun 2:10, 3:10, and 4:10pm. The Belfry was a symbol of the city's autonomy, begun in 1313 and completed in 1380. This municipal tower holds the great bells that have rung out Ghent's civic pride through the centuries. Take the elevator to the Belfry's upper gallery, 66m high, to see the bells and take in fantastic panoramic views of the city. The Cloth Hall dates from 1425 and was the gathering place of wool and cloth merchants. 3€ adults, 2.50€ seniors and students, free for children under 13.  

     

    Sint-Baafskathedraal (St. Bavo's Cathedral), Sint-Baafsplein (Tram: 1 or 4 to Sint-Baafsplein). Cathedral: Apr-Oct Mon-Sat 8:30am-6pm, Sun 1-6pm; Nov-Mar Mon-Sat 8:30am-5pm, Sun 1-5pm. Mystic Lamb chapel and crypt: Apr-Oct Mon-Sat 9:30am-5pm, Sun 1-5pm; Nov-Mar Mon-Sat 10:30am-4pm, Sun 1-4pm. Don't miss this cathedral. Rather unimpressive exterior of Romanesque, Gothic, and baroque architecture. However, the interior is filled with priceless paintings and sculptures, including the 24-panel altarpiece "The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb", completed by Jan van Eyck in 1432. Simply spellbinding, this work was commissioned by a wealthy city alderman in 1420. Other art treasures in the cathedral include Rubens's restored "The Conversion of St. Bavo" from 1623. Cathedral: Free admission; Mystic Lamb chapel and crypt: 3€ adults (includes audio guide in English), 1.50€ children 6-12, free for children under 6.  

    Het Gravensteen (Castle of the Counts), Sint-Veerleplein (Tram: 1 or 4 to Sint-Veerleplein), Apr-Sept daily 9am-6pm; Oct-Mar daily 9am-5pm. Closed Jan 1, Dec 24-25 and 31. Built by Count Philip of Alsace, count of Flanders, soon after he returned from the Crusades in 1180 with images of similar crusader castles in the Holy Land. If its walls (2m thick), battlements, and turrets failed to intimidate attackers, the count could always turn to a well-equipped torture chamber inside. You can view relics of the chamber in a small museum in the castle. Climb up to the ramparts of the high central building, the donjon, which has great views of Ghent's rooftops and towers. 6€ adults, 1.20€ seniors and ages 13-25, free for children under 13.  

    Sint-Niklaaskerk (St Nicholas's Church), Korenmarkt (entrance on Cataloniestraat) (Tram: 1 or 4 to Korenmarkt) Mon 2:30-5pm; Tues-Sun 10am-5pm. A mixture of surviving Romanesque elements of the Flemish architectural style known as Schelde Gothic, the impressive 13th- to 15th-century church was paid for by Ghent's wealthy medieval merchants and guilds. In recent years, it has undergone extensive renovation work that's still ongoing. The tower is one of the "three towers of Ghent" - in fact, it was the first of the three to grace the city skyline. Free admission.  

    Rederij Dewaele Canal Cruise, Graslei or Korenlei. April to October, daily from 10am to 6pm, and November to March on weekends from 11am to 4pm. A cruise on the canals is a good way to view the city's highlights. The tour lasts approximately 40 minutes; longer tours are available. 5€ for adults; 4.50€ for seniors, students, and those under 26; 2.50€ for children agest 3 to 12; free for children under 3.  

    Jan Plezier Boottochten, Snepkaai or Ketelvest. Themed cruise, such as the pancake cruise (pancake boat), the spareribs cruise, and the shrimp cruise. pancake boat = 11.5€ for adults; 9.50€ for children aged under 6 to 12; free for children under 6.  

    Vrijdagmarkt (Friday Market). Vrijdagmarkt has been a fixture since the 13th century. It is the scene of a lively street markets on Friday (7:30am-1pm) and Saturday (11am-6pm), as well as the Sunday bird market (7am-1pm).

    Shopping: The main shopping street in Ghent is the extremely central and busy Veldstraat, which is lined with shops on both sides.  While the Veldstraat is completely pedestrianised, when shopping in this part of Ghent, do bear in mind that trams still run along this stretch all through the day.

    Belgium in general and Ghent in particular is a great place for handmade lace shopping, if you are into that.  There are many lace shops throughout the town. A popular one is Duchesse Lace on St. Baafs Square.  I recommend and shopping around to compare quality and prices, but do expect to pay quite a bit for good quality handmade lace.

    -Eat/drink:

    Ghent provides an excellent and affordable sample of Flemish cuisine, which in the eyes of the locals is one of Europe's finest as it combines French delicacy with German sturdiness. Try some local specialties like mussels, spare ribs or 'stoverij' (a kind of tender meat cooked for three hours in dark beer with a brown gravy) with Belgian fries.  Another dish from Ghent is the "Gentse waterzooi" (litt. "boiled water from Ghent"), which was the food for the poor originally, a stew of cheap fish (usually turbot) and vegetables. Now it is often made with chicken as well.

    Korenmarkt: good deal, reasonably priced restaurants; the menus and 'menus of the day' at the Brasserie Borluut provide great value and this includes Gentse waterzooi. The real upmarket restaurants are to be found in the 14th century quarter called 'Patershol', near the Castle. There is also a big Turkish community in Ghent, centred around Sleepstraat a bit further north, which is home to numerous Turkish pizza places.

    For authentic pubs, go to St. Veerleplein (the square in front of the Castle), the pubs around St. Jacob's church (especially during weekends), or the student area around Blandijnberg (Mount Blandin), especially in the proximity of the School of Arts and Philosophy, recognisable from afar by the 64 metres tall art deco Library Tower. Central Area: Castle-Korenmarkt-Graslei.

    Some popular pubs:

    • Waterhuis aan de bierkant (The Waterhouse on the beerside), Groentenmarkt 9 (near the Castle).Boasts about 400 different kinds of Belgian beer, but is fairly touristy.
    • Het Galgenhuis (the Gallows house) near Waterhuis aan de Bierkant is a tiny tavern in a lean-to built on to the Gothic Butchers' Hall. A good selection of draught and bottled beers.
    • 't Dreupelkot, Groentenmarkt 12 (near the Castle). 200 kinds of Belgian Genever, a number of which is home made. Try the pepper genever if you are a tough guy/girl (be cautious!). Pol, the owner, is a friendly guy, altough it might look the other way at first sight. Around € 2 for a genever.
    • Hot Club de Gand, Schuddevisstraatje - Groentenmarkt 15b, is not a club, but a small, cracking little pub accessed down a narrow lane and has its own small courtyard. Barman says it closes "when the last person leaves", famous for its jazz concerts and jam sessions. The same owners opened the pub Hot Cub Reserva, Jan Breydelstraat 32, offering food and more live concerts a few hunderd meters further.
    • On Korenmarkt, you'll find the live Jazz pub Damberd.
    • Overpoortstraat is a street packed with 34 pubs and bars where during the week (especially Wednesday and Thursday nights) all the students go crazy. Because on Thursday it is so crowdy over there, dancing usually happens on the tables. Some notorious bars/clubs are the Cuba Libre (commercial, R&B,...), Decadance (house, techno, drum&bass), Twieoo (alternative).
    • Porter House, Stalhof 1 (near the Overpoortstraat). The official pub for Erasmus students from over Europe.
    • Plan b: Typical cosy local bar located in the center of Ghent. Nice view on the river. Street: Verlorenkost 17

    Amsterdam

     Amsterdam is nicknamed "The Venice of the North" for good reasons.  With its canals and 1280 bridges, it will definitely remind you of Venice, if you have ever been there. Just about every Dutch person speaks English fluently, so there will be no language barrier. I found people to be extremely friendly wherever we went. During my three-day stay in Amsterdam, I gathered quite a bit of information, and in order to keep it simple, I will break this article down into smaller sections:

     

     -Getting there/parking:

    If you are driving into Amsterdam, plan an extra half hour to full hour of traveling. Traffic going into town is extremely heavy and you will sit bumper to bumper for a few miles. The train would probably be a better option, especially since parking in Amsterdam is extremely expensive (it averages 45 euros for 24 hours). The cheapest option is to park in a P+R parking lot right outside the city and take public trandportation into town (Metro + tram). It only costs €6 per 24 hour period, but you do have to be willing to travel an extra 45 minutes or so to get to your hotel. You will find the list of P+R parking lots here.  Also, if your hotel is anywhere close to it, there is an area that is cheaper than others at €3 per hour from 9am to 9pm, or €18 for a whole day (you can buy a day pass right where you park with a credit card-no cash), free the rest of the time, and totally free on Sundays. See where this area is here.  Another little know parking tip which offers great convenience if you are willing to spend a little bit of cash is one where this company will pick up your car from the hotel and deliver it back to you when you are ready to leave. This service costs €30 for the first 24 hours, then €20 for the following 24 hours periods. I cannot remember the name of the company that offers that service but your hotel should know about it, just ask them about it. Otherwise, most hotels offer overnight parking in nearby locations (not part of their hotel, just public parking places with which they have contracts) that usually run about €45 for 24 hours. Quite expensive and would avoid that route if possible.

    -Where to stay: 

    With so many hotels and B&B's to choose from, you'll have a tough time figuring out where to stay. Lodging in Amsterdam is quite pricey, and if you want to stay in the center of town, you will have to spend at least €100 for a double room for a decent, clean place. I definitely recommend reading reviews of hotels (on Booking.com or Tripadvisor.com) before choosing. You will find that many downtown hotels, especially those located near the Red Light District, are very loud late into the night, and you will have a tough time getting a decent night's sleep.  I chose a historic B&B (Parklane Hotel) that is located in the Plantage area, right near the zoo, which is more of a residential area and much quieter. It is only a 10-15 minute walk into the center of town. The B&B owner was very pleasant and helpful, and the rooms were very clean and quite roomy. Each bedroom has its own bathroom. Breakfast is included and plentiful.

    -Where to eat: 

    Our very first meal was at this absolutely awesome local place called "Frenzi" and located in the Waterlooplein area (see map here). We sat outdoors and got to enjoy incredible food while watching people and boats go by. Service was impeccable. Opposite "Frenzi" and on the other side of the river, there is a restaurant called "Dantzig a/d Amstel," which was the first place we went to get lunch, but after waiting forever to even get greeted, we left and went to "Frenzi," which was the best decision we made! That "Dantzig" place was full of tourists eating what appeared to be "tourist" food, that is, very basic, low quality food at high prices. There were only two servers to take care of about 40 tables, which meant absolutely no customer service. I do not recommend you eat there, you'd be sorely disappointed.  Reviews written about this place confirm this statement, to check out at your own risk!

    China town is another good place to check out if you are in the mood for Thai, Chinese or Japanese food (mostly Thai though). 

    -How to get around:

    The best way, in my opinion, is on foot. Bikes have priority and you need to be careful not to walk on the bike lanes, but on the pedestrian sidewalks. You can rent bikes throughout the town, ride a boat (they have the "hop on/hop off option, € 22 for 24 hours or the simple cruise option, about €10 for a 1 1/2 hour cruise), or take the tram, which we did not do at all, since it was so easy to go places on foot or by boat. Of course, avoid driving your car, Amsterdam is not car-friendly at all!

    -Discount cards:

    In most hotels, you will find this rack of discount cards for most attractions in Amsterdam. You just pick and choose which place you want to visit, find its discount card, and present it for reductions, or free gifts. Make sure you get one for each person.

    -What to do and see:

    ♦ Anne Frank House:

    Location: The Anne Frank House is situated in the centre of Amsterdam at Prinsengracht 263-267. It takes around 20 minutes to walk from the Central Station to the museum. Trams 13 and 17 and buses 142, 170 and 172 stop nearby, at the ‘Westermarkt’ stop. Lines can get VERY long, and the best times to visit are right as it opens at 9am, or after 6pm. We went at 8pm, and there were no lines at all. It stays open until 10pm in July and August and 9pm most other months. Entrance fee is €8.50 for adults. The Anne Franck house, where Anne Franck and her family went into hiding in 1942, is devoid of furniture because of her father Otto, the only survivor, who wanted it to stays unfurnished, after the Germans raided the place. For that reason, you might be a little disappointed, because it has become difficult to picture how things were back then. But they do have some models showing how the place was, based on Otto's recollection. There are also the famous journals that Anne wrote during her stay there, as well as other artifacts that belonged to the people who hid in the house.

    ♦ Heineken Brewery:

    A great, interactive museum, it was one of the highlights of our trip. Easily accessible by tram (from Central Station lines 16,24,25. From Leidseplein, lines 7 and 10. By boat, there is a stop right in front of it).  It is open every day from 11am to 7pm. The entrance fee is €15, which might seem high, but your visit will last about 90 minutes and does include a total of 3 Heineken beers (one tasting, hence a smaller drink, and two large drinks before you enter the Heineken shop). Visitors under 18 must be accompanied by an adult and the legal drinking age in the Netherlands is 16.  If you enjoy beer and want to know everything there is to know about heineken, this is highly recommended!

    ♦ Madame Tussauds:

    Madame Tussauds, the famous wax figures museum, is located on Dam Square in the heart of Amsterdam, approximately a ten minute walk from Central Station. It is open from 10am to 5:30pm every day, except from July to September, where it is open until 8:30pm.  This is one of the most expensive museums ever at the cost of €21 per adult, and €16 for children 5 to 15. Free for kids under 4. If you are a family of three or four, they offer cheaper packages (2 adults + 2 kids is €62.50 for example). Still, this remains a very expensive visit.

    ♦ Rijksmuseum, The Masterpieces: 

    Located on the Museumplein. The museum is dedicated to arts, crafts, and history. It has a large collection of paintings from the Dutch Golden Age and a substantial collection of Asian art. There you will art by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Hals, Steen, among many others. It is open every day from 9am until 6pm. During the high season (April to June), avoid the crowds by visiting the museum after 4pm. You can also buy your tickets ahead of time online, on their website. It costs €12.50 for adults, and is free for visitors 18 and under.

    ♦ Van Gogh Museum: 

    The museum contains the largest collection of paintings by Vincent van Gogh in the world and is located on Museumplein in Amsterdam, between the Rijksmuseum and the Stedelijk Museum. The museum entrance is at Paulus Potterstraat 7. It is open every day from 10am to 6pm, except on Fridays (open from 10am to 10pm).  Admission fee is €14 for adults, and free for visitors 17 and under.

    ♦ Rembrandt House Museum: 

    This is the house where Rembrandt lived from 1639 until 1658, and it is located in the Waterlooplein neighborhood (Tram lines 9 and 14).  It is open every day from 10am until 5pm, and costs €9 for adults. This was a really interesting museum where you will see where and how Rembrandt lived in this beautiful home, which he purchased at the height of his success. He was also a great etcher and engraver, and you will get to see how the process works in his etching studio. You will not see any Rembrandt paintings there, so if you'd like to see some, you will need to go to the Rijksmuseum. 

     

    ♦ Houseboat Museum:

    Close to the Anne Frank House, the Westertoren and the Leidseplein, this houseboat museum gives you the unique chance to experience the life onboard of a real houseboat.  There are many people living in houseboats in Amsterdam, and you will see how people have converted their boats into comfortable living quarters and what it's like to live on a boat year round. The admission fee is €3.50.

    ♦ The Red Light District: 

    This infamous district of Amsterdam is one of Amsterdam's oldest parts, with many beautiful historic homes. Of course, the Red Light District is known for its window parlors where women try to entice their customers. This is not a place to take children, but if you are an adult, it is definitely an interesting experience. The Red Light District is located right next to China town, and both areas can be combined when doing your sightseeing. The RLD becomes very lively later in the evening, around 10pm, which is when you will see all of the sex shops neon lights, and prostitutes' red neon lights above their windows. Walking around the RDL felt completely safe, but I can imagine things probably get a lot crazier past midnight. One of the most important rules is that you cannot take pictures of the prostitutes in the windows. You will get your camera taken away if you are caught taking photos. The RDL is also where you will find most gay bars with their rainbow flags hanging out their front doors.

    You will also see (and smell) many "coffeeshops", aka Marijuana shops, and if you do decide to buy some, be aware of the fact that you cannot smoke marijuana in the streets, and only in coffeeshops. Of course, some people break that  rule, but I was surprised at how few people smoked Marijuana in the streets. Also, since recently, smoking cigarettes is illegal in restaurants, hotel and any other public enclosed place. People are now having to go out on the street to smoke, which is great for non-smokers! Do not smoke in your hotel room, or you will be fined €150. 

    For more useful information, check out Amsterdam's official Tourism website.

    Maastricht

     

     Maastricht is the southernmost city in the Netherlands, and is located within walking distance of Belgium and cycling distance of Germany. Maastricht claims to be the oldest city in the Netherlands, but so does the town of Nijmegen. Either way, Maastricht is a very old city with some magnificent buildings and old houses and monuments, lovely cathedrals and a spectacularly cobblestoned town centre.

    -Getthing there:

    By Car

    If you live in near Bitburg, it is only a one and a half hour drive to Maastricht. Travelling by Car can be painful in Maastricht, largely due to the fact that most of the city centre is pedestrian-only, and also due to the horrendous parking rates. It is often easier to park your car outside the town centre and either walk or bus into the city.

    By Bus

    The city has a bus system called the Stadsbus ("City Bus") that travels over most of the city and to surrounding areas. Tickets can be bought on the bus, or in advance with a pass called a Strippenkaart "Strip-card".

    You can purchase the Strippenkaart at the train station, or any post office or newsagent. There are two denominations, € 6.80 and € 20.10. The lesser of the two has 15 strips on it, and the larger 45. So, each strip costs about € 0.45, and each trip on the bus takes at least 2 strips. So a ride on the bus might cost about € 1. Depending on where you go, the fare increases. This is much cheaper then buying the fare on the bus, as a trip purchased from the driver might cost between € 1.60 and € 2.40. The "Stippenkaart" is valid on city buses/trams/metro all over the Netherlands, so even if you don't use all the strips in Maastricht they won't be wasted.

    By Train

    Trains run four times per hour between Maastricht Centraal Station, and Maastricht Randwyck station (at the South of the City), at a cost of €2.20.

    By Foot

    Always my favorite option, especially with a town like Maastricht, which is easy to visit on foot.  A particularly nice walk outside of the centre is along the river, from St Servaas Brug (The Stone Bridge near the entrance to the city) down to the JFK Bridge (near the bottom), which goes through Maastricht's largest park. Visitors can then cross the JFK bridge and go to Maastricht's modern art museum - the Bonnefanten (see below).

    By Bike

    There are several bicycle hire shops in Maastricht. At around €10 per day you can explore the flat country of South Limburg. Dutch traffic laws give priority to bikes, so you can feel safe while riding your bike downtown.  Maastricht-Biking offers 2 hour guided city tours off the beaten track. You can make online reservations on their website.

    -What to see/do:

    City Fortifications, including:

    • Helpoort - a 13th century town gate, the oldest in the Netherlands.
    • fragments of the first and second medieval city walls.
    • Hoge Fronten (or Linie van Du Moulin) - remnants of 17th and 18th century fortifications with a number of well-preserved bastions and an early 19th century fortress Fort Willem.
    • Casemates - underground network of tunnels, built as sheltered emplacements for guns and cannons. These tunnels run for several miles underneath the city's fortifications. Guided tours available. 

    ♦The Inner City - city center and main shopping district, including Stokstraatkwartier, Grote and Kleine Staat, and Rechtsraat. Maastricht is known for its cafés, pubs and restaurants.

    • Dinghuis - Medieval courthouse with an early Renaissance facade.
    • Entre Deux - a recently rebuilt shopping centre which has won several international awards. It includes a book store located inside a former 13th century Dominican church. In 2008 British newspaper The Guardian proclaimed this the world's most beautiful bookshop.

    Markt - the Market Square was completely refurbished in 2006-2007 and is now virtually traffic free. Sights include:

    • town hall - built in the 17th century by Pieter Post.
    • Mosae Forum - a brandnew shopping centre and civic building designed by Jo Coenen and Bruno Albert. Citroën Miniature Cars, the world's largest exposition of Citroën miniature cars, is inside Mosae Forum parking garage.

    Vrijthof - the best-known square in the city. Sights:

    • Sint-Servaas Basiliek - Romanesque church of Saint Servatius. The tomb of Saint Servatius in the crypt is a favoured place of pilgrimage: Pope John Paul II visited here in 1985.
    • Sint-Janskerk - sandstone Gothic church dedicated to Saint John the Baptist with distinctive red tower.
    • Theater aan het Vrijthof - main city theatre with Neoclassical facade.
    • The Vrijthof regularly hosts large festivals at various times throughout the year, including autumn and winter festivals. The Carnaval before Lent is an amazing occasion where (it seems) the whole city dresses up in costume and parties until the early hours. It really has to be seen to be believed, this is a North European Mardi Gras, hence colder and darker than its American cousin.

    Onze-Lieve-Vrouwe Plein - picturesque tree-lined square with an abundance of pavement cafes. Sights:

    • Basilica of Our Lady - 11th-century church.
    • Derlon Museumkelder - a small museum in the basement of hotel Derlon with Roman remains: Derlon Museum Cellar, Plankstraat 21. Sun: 12.00 am - 4.00 pm. The museum is not wheelchair accessible. Before the restoration of the Derlon Hotel started, Maastricht's city archeologists undertook an extensive survey of the site. The Roman finds, from the 2nd, 3rd and 4th century, are considered that important that it was decided to conserve them and exhibit these to interested parties. The following can be seen in the cellar of Derlon Hotel: part of a 2nd and 3rd century square, a 3rd century well, part of a pre- Roman cobblestone road and sections of a wall and a gate dating from the 4th century. Free entry.

    Bassin - a restored early 19th century inner harbour with restaurants and cafés. The surroundings are currently being developed into a cultural hotspot.

    Jekerkwartier - a picturesque neighborhood with the small river Jeker popping up between old houses and remnants of city walls.

    Natuurhistorisch Museum (museum of natural history): Natuurhistorisch Museum, De Bosquetplein 7. Mon-Fri: 10.00 am - 5.00 pm; Sat-Sun: 2.00 pm - 5.00 pm. The museum outlines the natural history of southern Limburg. Modern displays offer an insight into both the recent and distant past. Among the museum's highlights are the remains of enormous Mosasauriers and Giant Turtles found in marlstone at the St Pietersberg caverns. Fossils of all shapes and sizes show how South Limburg has changed in the course of the last 300 million years. Adult: €4.50; child 4-11: €3.00; child under 4: free entry

    Céramique - a modern neighborhood on the site of the former Céramique potteries. Now a showcase of architectural highlights:

    • Bonnefanten Museum: Avenue Céramique 250. Tue-Sun: 11.00 am - 5.00 pm; Mon: closed, except on public holidays. The museum is the foremost museum of Old Masters and contemporary art in the province of Limburg. The contemporary art collection contains works by an international group of artists. In addition to contemporary paintings, the collection also includes projections and gallery-sized installations. The collection of Old Masters emphasises on 16th and 17th century Flemish paintings, including major works by Peter Paul Rubens, Anthony van Dyck and Jacob Jordaens. In addition, the collection comprises magnificent medieval sculptures by Jan van Steffenswert, early Italian paintings and a presentation of Maastricht silver. Adult: €7.50; child 13-18: €3.50; child under 13: free entry.  
    • Centre Céramique (public library and exhibition space) : Centre Céramique, Avenue Céramique 50. Tue and Thu: 10.30 am - 8.30 pm; Wed, Fri, Sun: 10.30 am - 5.00 pm

    Parks - there are various parks in Maastricht. The more interesting ones:

    • Stadspark - the main public park on the West bank of the river.
    • Monsigneur Nolenspark - extension of Stadspark with remnants of medieval city walls.
    • Aldenhofpark - another extension of Stadspark with statue of d'Artagnan.
    • Charles Eykpark - modern park between the public library and Bonnefanten Museum on the East bank of the Meuse river
    • Griendpark - modern park on the East bank of the river with inline-skating and skateboarding course.

    Sint-Pietersberg - a modest hill just South of the city, peaking at 171 metres (561 ft) above sea level. Sights:

    • Fort Sint-Pieter - an 18th-century fortress fully restored in 2008.
    • "Grotten Sint-Pietersberg (caves) - sandstone (marl) quarry with vast network of man-made tunnels. Guided tours available.
    • Ruine Lichtenberg - a farmstead containing a ruined medieval castle keep.
    • D'n Observant - artificial hilltop atop Sint-Pietersberg.

     

    Where to Eat:

    Eating out in Maastricht is seldom cheap, with most restaurants catering to a posh older crowd, rather than the student population. On weekdays, good and relatively low-priced sandwiches can be had at Deli Belge and Somethin' Good, both on Tongersestraat, close to the Economics and Law faculties of the Universiteit Maastricht.

    • Eetcafé Ceramique, Rechtstraat 78, +31 (43) 325 20 97.. Wed-Mon: 5.30 pm - 10.30 pm; Tue: closed. Three-course meal: €26.00 / table wine: €3.00 by the glass.  
    • Eetcafé De Preuverij, Kakeberg 6. Mon-Fri: 10.00 am - 10.00 pm; Sat-Sun: 12.00 am-10.00 pm. If you are really hungry, but don't want luxury food then visit this place. Try the Vesserslatien sandwich (cock-and-bull story sandwich). At night it is a popular drinking venue with students of Maastricht University. Three-course meal: €12.50.   

    Where to stay:

     Budget

    • Stayokay Maastricht, Maasboulevard 101. This hostel opened its doors on 5 April 2007 and offers 38 rooms. It has a deck looking over the Maas river and is a delightful place to have a beer in the evening. Prices start at €21 (breakfast included) for an overnight stay in a dormitory.  

    Mid-range

    • Hip Hotel St. Martenslane Maastricht, St. Maartenslaan 1-7 +31 (43) 321 11 11 [23. Hip Hotel St. Martenslane Maastricht is the most affordable trendy Bed & Breakfast designe hotel in Maastricht city centre.  
    • Townhouse Designhotel Maastricht, St. Maartenslaan 5, +31 (43) 321 11 11  Townhouse Designhotel Maastricht is a new and innovative hotel concept located in Maastricht city centre.  
    • Bastion Deluxe Hotel Maastricht, Boschstraat 27, +31 (43) 321 22 22 . Bastion Deluxe Hotel Maastricht is part of a Dutch chain of four star hotels at sub-four star prices. If you are used to the full four star service this will be a disappointment, but it is only a five minute walk into the city center of Maastricht and provides free wireless internet service.  
    • Hotel De Pauwenhof, Boschstraat 70, +31 (43) 350 33 33. De Pauwenhof is a small hotel with a family run feel. It has recently been refurbished with air conditioning in all 15 rooms. There is no restaurant in the evening, but with all the eateries in central Maastricht within a few minutes walk, who really cares?  
    • Design Hotel Eden, Stationsstraat 40 +31 (43) 328 25 25. If you're bored of identi-kit hotel rooms then Design Hotel Eden will be a breath of fresh air. All the rooms are comfortably furnished in a variety of modern styles. You'll appreciate a philosophy that doesn't put a desk in your room so you can relax properly; and with the centre of Maastricht less than 5 minutes walk away that's easy to do.  

    Splurge

    • Crowne Plaza Maastricht, Ruiterij 1, +31 (43) 350 91 91. Crowne Plaza Maastricht is quietly situated in the city center on the river Maas.  
    • Hotel Derlon, Onze Lieve Vrouweplein 6, +31 (43) 321 67 70. Ideally located on the most beautiful square of the city.  
    • Kruisherenhotel, Kruisherengang 19 - 23 +31 (43) 329 20 20. A beautifully renovated gothic monastery in the center of Maastricht, complete with a church, is a rather spectacular stage for an unusally stylish hotel.

    -Outside Maastricht:

    • World War II Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial: take the N278 9.5 kilometers (6 miles) east of Maastricht. The cemetery is located just west of the village of Margraten. Open daily except for December 25 and January 1; 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The cemetery is the final resting place for 8,301 American military dead. A monument is inscribed with the names of 1,723 Americans whose remains were never found or identified. The site contains a chapel and museum with three engraved operations maps describing the European Campaign.
    • Caves in the Sint Pietersberg: Although the limestome caves are actually mines, it is nice to take a guided tour through the belly of the berg. In the Second World War, the Dutch stored their national arts collections in a vault in the hill, and a lot of engravings - some more old than the other - are to be admired. Entrances lie at several places on the mountain, and are well within walking distance of the town center. Plan in advance to make sure you can get in.
    • Fort Eben-Emael: A Belgian WW2 fort no longer in use, but open to the public on certain weekends. Very close to Maastricht, just south across the Belgian border.
    • Valkenburg aan de Geul: This historic town was beseiged many times and many traces remain to be seen, including Valkenburg castle. Along with tours of the old mines there is also a popular spa and a casino.

     

    Delft

    Under construction

    Canary Islands: Tenerife 

     The Canary Islands are made up of 10 islands (from largest to smallest): Tenerife, Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, La Palma, La Gomera, El Hierro, La Graciosa, Alegranza and Montaña Clara.  Tenerife, Gran Canaria and Lanzarote have the largest number of tourists. In this post, I will focus on these three islands, starting with Tenerife.

    As ar as places to stay is concerned, I recommend always checking hotel reviews on Trip Advisor or Booking before making any reservation. There are many, many choices in Tenerife, and some are better than others as far as value is concerned.

    Tenerife

    The largest island. The south side of the island (typical beach atmosphere, not as typical as the north, a resort type of environment): mostly where young tourists hang out. With consistent summer, little to no wind, and pretty much perfect beach-weather for much of the year (though it has been known to get cooler in January and February). The north side (greener, more typically vibrant local culture): where older and family tourists go, chosing Puerto de La Cruz and its surrounding areas. Weatherwise, expect some very wet days in the winter although most days will still be sunny. The weather fluctuates a bit more there, but is also mostly pleasant though not as hot as the south. Tenerife and the Canary Islands in general are very popular with British and Dutch tourists.

    -Getting there:

    Tenerife has 2 airports: Tenerife South (Reina Sofia) near Los Cristianos and Tenerife North (Los Rodeos) by La Laguna.  If departing from Europe, Ryan Air only flies onto Tenerife South, 60km from Santa Cruz. Whichever destination you choose, you can get to your town of choice by bus, but I highly recommend renting a car, as getting around the islands by bus can be burdensome.  Taxis are VERY expensive from the southern airport to Puerto Cruz. Unless you plan on never driving around and staying put, your best bet is to rent a small car.

    -Where to stay:

    With so many places to choose from, you'll have a tough time deciding where to stay. The closer you are to the beach, usually the more expensice hotels will be.  Here are some recommendations as far as places to stay, but as always, do your homework and look at reviews from fellow travellers before booking!

    B&B Reveron Plaza Tenerife South, near Playa de las Americas, and within walking distance to 2 beaches, Even in high season, very affordable (about €80 per night for a double room).

    B&B Los Dragos Norte, near El Teide and Puerto de la Cruz: very affordable and clean, with a pool, about $50 a night.

    B&B Villa Las Dunas: Near El Medano beach, very hospitable hosts, rooms start at $70 per night.

    -Things to do/see: 

    Teide National Park:

    In the centre of Tenerife, it boasts some of the most spectacular natural scenery in the world, including an enormous volcanic crater 10 miles (16km) wide, out of which rises the highest peak in Spain.
    From the car park, tourists can take the 10 minute cable lift to 3550 m (25€ per person/each way).

     

    Lady Shelley:

     Hop aboard Lady Shelley, a glass-bottomed catamaran that embarks on daily cruises from Los Cristianos in Tenerife. Trips last from two to five hours and visit whale and dolphin reserves. The longer cruises provide meals and opportunities to go swimming. Check out their website for information on the various trips:   

    http://www.ladyshelley.com/ladyshelley_en.html

    Loro Parque:

    Loro Parque is a wildlife park in northern Tenerife, in Puerto de la Cruz, home to around 30,000 animal species and the largest parrot collection in the world. Visitors ooh and aah over waddling penguins, graceful orca whales, friendly dolphins, gorilla families and much more. Open 365 days a year from 8am to 6:45pm. Unfortunately, tickets are very expensive at €32 for adults and €21 for kids 6 to 11.

     

    Parque Rural de Anaga:

    Fantastic place to go hiking. There are some routes that you can do. In Cruz del Carmen you can find the visitor's center where you can get information about the park. Don't forget go to the Pico del Inglés viewpoint where you can see a beautiful view of the island (if the weather is good). From La Laguna you only need fifteen minutes in car to arrive. Other places are Taganana, Roque las Bodegas, Almáciga (black sand beaches).

    Masca:

    The picturesque hamlet of Masca sits amid some of Tenerife's most dramatic scenery. Bordered by steep ravines, the quaint settlement has been fairly inaccessible up until recent years.
     

    Water activities: Tenerife is a favored destination for scuba divers, with numerous dive operations. The waters round the island are diveable throughout the year, with the temperature varying between 18 degrees in January to around 25-26 degrees in August. Water sports are available in the south including surfing, wind surfing, speed boat parashooting and jet-skis.

    Markets:

    Santa Cruz has a big market by the station on Sunday mornings. Las Americas has one Thursday and Saturday and Los Cristianos on Sundays.

     

     

     

    Beaches:

    Playa Americas beach is black volcanic sand but Los Cristianos is yellow imported sand. The black sand feels the same as the yellow but is not as pleasing to look at as the yellow sand beach to most people. Beaches often have sun-loungers with parasols available to rent for the day, but if you are doing this for a few days it is probably better to just buy a parasol and some beach mats.

    Villages:

    Visit the beautiful old towns of La Orotava and La Laguna, the latter being a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

     -Other tips and recommendations:

    ♦The sun is extremely strong this close to the equator so use plenty of high factor sun cream and do not sun bathe between midday and three o'clock .

    ♦Many, many shops on the island selling electrical and optical goods as well as cameras. You may think you are getting a bargain from these smooth talking salesmen but you aren´t. You will overpay for something you could buy cheaper at home and even cheaper off of eBay. Your goods may be faulty. Your guarantee will probably be worthless. These shops are everywhere in the tourist areas and so many people have been cheated by them for so many years. Also, beware of places that sell video games (mainly for the Nintendo Game Boy or DS) as they are usually bootlegs.

    ♦Also beware of men who try to sell you sunglasses, watches, jewelry and other cheap knick-knacks. They are also known to sell drugs, if approached in a certain manner. They spend their days and nights trawling through the resorts approaching people on the beaches; or while walking and sitting at restaurants. A firm 'no gracias' or 'no thanks’ is enough to deter them from further approaches. It is not a good idea to start bartering with them, as you will never get rid of them, but even if they get to the point where they won't leave you alone, simply threaten to call the police  or if you're in a restaurant, tell one of the waiters or the manager (many restaurants in Tenerife are now enforcing bouncers because of this, so don't be put off if you see large burly men standing outside the restaurant entrances).

    ♦Do not take electrical items, credit cards or large amounts of cash to the beach if you plan to leave your goods unattended while swimming.

    Canary Islands: Gran Canaria

    Gran Canaria is the third largest island in the Canary Islands , and has the largest population. The capital Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, in the northeast of the island, is one of Spain's largest cities.

    The south coast of the island is now dominated by the tourist resorts which generate most of the island's economy. The centre of the island is mountainous, with the remains of ancient pine forests on the peaks.

    -Getting there:

    For those living in Europe, Ryan Air does fly into the Gran Canaria Airport.Once at the airport, you can take taxis, busses or rent a car (my personal choice).

    Taxis: There are taxis available at the airport. Just look for eggshell-white cars with a red stripe on the sides (on each front door). Other signs that might help you recognize a taxi are the letters SP (meaning Servicio Público) and a green light on top or in the front windscreen (this green light indicates that the taxi is empty). This is the quickest but most expensive option. Costs vary according to your final destination.
    Bus: There are frequent bus services between the airport and most of the destinations on the island. The journey to Las Palmas (north of the island) takes around 35 minutes and to Playa del Inglés (south) from around half an hour.
    Rental cars: You will find all the major international auto rental companies on the island and many Spanish car rental companies. Generally, you will always get a better price if you book in advance and Internet bookings are probably the most competitively priced. Car rental prices on the Canary Islands are considerably lower than in mainland Spain.

    -Where to stay:

    Reina Isabel Hotel: Las Palmas de Gran Canaria hotel, well located, right on the beach, with rooms starting at about $80 per night. It is a 4-star hotel, but truly more like a 3-star, but still a great value considering the location.

    AC Hotel Gran Canaria: Las Palmas 4-star hotel, with rooms starting at about  $90 per night, nice, clean hotel. It is one of the tallest (but not most attractive from the outside) buildings in the town (25 floors) and offers great views. Has a pool on the roof top. Very central location.

    H10 Playa Meloneras Palace: South Gran Canaria, beautiful hotel, a little pricier, about $160 a night, but well worth the money. A resort in itself, this is a great place to go if you plan on staying put and relaxing. 

    -What to do and see:

    There is A LOT to see on Gran Canaria Island, and if you want to keep it organized, I recommend following some of these six routes, which break the island up into different sections. Choose your routes depending on how much time you have, and where your hotel is situated.  Click on each place to see a picture and details about the site.

    Camel Safaris:

    The famous Sahara-like sand dunes of Maspalomas, forming part of a nature reserve, are – for example – one of the places on Gran Canaria, which can be explored by foot or… on the back of an exotic dromedary.
    The other place, where you can ride a camel rides, is located near the attractive village of Fataga. After a brief introduction about the life of a camel, you will enjoy a ride through the beautiful valley of Fataga, a camel show and finally a delicious lunch.

    Horse riding in Gran Canaria

    You can go for a ride at the riding school of the Real Club de Golf in Bandama. You can also book riding lessons and trekking tours at Rancho Park, near Playa del Inglés (on the road to Palmitos Park).

     City of Las Palmas:

    Places to visit: Vegueta -Triana - Ciudad Jardin - Santa Catalina - Playa de las Canteras - La Isleta

    ♦Gran Canaria's North:

     

    When exploring the north of the island - and you want to make the most of it - I am suggesting to do this on two tours, of which the first one would be the inland tour and the second one the coastal tour:

    ♦Inland Route

    Places to visit: ArucasFirgasMoya VallesecoTeror

    ♦Coastal Route

    Places to visit: Santa María de Guía GáldarAgaete Puerto de las Nieves

    ♦From East to South:

    Places to visit: Telde ValsequilloIngenioAgüimes Barranco de Guayedeque Santa Lucía de Tirajana San Bartolomé de Tirajana Fataga

    ♦From South to West:

    Places to visit: Maspalomas Dunes Playa del Inglés Pasito Blanco ArguineguinPuerto Rico Puerto de Mogán MogánSan Nicolás de TolentinoPuerto de la Aldea

    ♦Center of the Island:

    Places to visit: TafiraJardin Botánico Canario Viera y Clavijo Caldera de BandamaSanta Brígida Vega de San Mateo Pico de las Nieves - TejedaArtenara

    ♦Top beaches of Gran Canaria:

    Beaches to visit: Playa de las Canteras Playa de las Alcaravaneras San Agustín Playa del Inglés Maspalomas Playa de Puerto Rico Playa de los AmadoresPuerto Mogán.

    The longest beach is "Playa del Inglés" and "Maspalomas", the almost 4km strech of beach between Playa Del Ingles and Meloneras is a serviced nudist beach.

    -Where to eat:

    Canarian food is quite good and definitely worth trying. It combines traditional Spanish recipes with African and Latin-American influences. The basis of the typical local cuisine is a variety of fresh vegetables, fruit and fish.

    La Casa Vieja: (North area of Maspalomas) serve Canarian meals like Gofio, fish, squid rings, octopus with vinegar, Papas arrugadas con mojo (salted potatoes with a spicy mix), and grilled meat.

    ♦Las Palmas: there are many excellent fish restaurants, specially along the coast near Las Canteras beach and El Confital in the neighborhood of La Isleta. An exquisite dish is Chancletes al limón, but many other local fresh fish are excellent too.

    ♦Las Meloneras:  Restaurant Cioa Cioa serves an Italian cuisine with good pizzas, meat and fish dishes.

    ♦Puerto de Mogán (near the yacht harbour):Restaurante Olivia in Puerto de Mogán serves well prepared local dishes.

    Canary Islands: Lanzarote

     

     

     Lanzarote, a Spanish island, is the easternmost of the Canary Islands, in the Atlantic Ocean 125 km off the coast of Africa.  It has three main tourist resorts: Puerto del Carmen, Costa Teguise and Playa Blanca.  Lanzarote is the fourth largest island of all the Canary Islands, and also one of my favorite, because of its smaller size and cozier feeling. It is a volcanic island,  and still has active volcanoes. as you drive around, you will see remnants of previous volcanic eruptions, and almost feel as if you were on the moon because of its unique landscape.

    -Getting there:

    Lanzarote's airport is west of Arrecife (ACE), and the only airport on the island. If you live in Europe, Ryan Air does fly there.  Once you arrive, it is imperative you get a rental car, as you will not be able to get around the island without it. You can rent a small car for very reasonable prices at the airport, bur as always, make sure you book your car ahead of time, especially during the high season (summer months to early fall). 

    -Where to stay:

    Most hotels are clustered in and around the major resorts of Puerto del Carmen, Playa Blanca and Costa Teguise.

    Some hotels to check out:

    Gran Melia Lanzarote El Castillo n° 1, (34) 928 519185 - The Hotel Gran Meliá Volcán Lanzarote counts a total of 255 bedrooms (49 of them in the Royal Service) spread over 20 typical houses. The rooms provide spectacular views over the islands Fuerteventura, Isla de Lobos, the Papagayo Beaches, the Yacht-Harbour "Marina Rubicón", Playa Blanca and the extensive pool and gardens areas of the hotel. Can be pricey for some (starts at around $150 per night for a single room), but a beautiful experience!

    Gran Melia Salinas, Avenida. Islas Canarias, s/n , (34) 928 590040 - Situated in the north of the Lanazarote Island, Gran Meliá Salinas is in close proximity to the architecturally historical capital of Teguise, as well as Arrecife airport, Jameos del Agua, and Cueva de los Verdes.

    Castillo Schlaraffenland, Camino del Meson 45 (La Assomada), +34 928511159. The apartments of Castillo Schlaraffenland that are build in César Manrique style are situated in the middle of the island, just 250m above Puerto Calero. All three apartments have been build into volcano rocks and have a stunning view across the Atlantic coast and Fuerteventura island.  A great place to stay if you want to book for a week or longer!

    -What to do and see:

    The Cave of Los VerdesThe Cave of Los Verdes
    La Cueva de los Verdes forms part of a spectacular and complex system of caves formed by underground Lava flows.
    El Golfo and Los Hervideros, LanzaroteEl Golfo and Los Hervideros, Lanzarote
    El Golfo is a volcanic crater filled by sea water.
    The deep green colour is caused by algae in the water.
    Jameos del AguaJameos del Agua
    Jameos del Agua is a cave complex that includes a natural Concert Hall with wonderful acoustics, subterranean lagoon, a restaurant and a museum.
    Timanfaya National ParkTimanfaya National Park
    Timanfaya National park is a must-see for any visitor to Lanzarote. 50 km² of Volcanic Landscape and Craters, as well as the 'El Diablo' Restaurant.
     
    Castillo de San Gabriel, Arrecife, LanzaroteCastillo de San Gabriel, Arrecife, Lanzarote
    The Castillo de San Gabriel is a 16th Century fortress overlooking Arrecife Harbour.
    Guinate Tropical Park & Penguin ParadiseGuinate Tropical Park & Penguin Paradise
    Guinate Wildlife Park, near Haria in northern Lanzarote, is home to many species of exotic birds, animals, reptiles and fish and is set in 45,000 sq metres of g
     
    The Cactus GardenThe Cactus Garden
    The Cactus Garden was created by local artist, the late Cesar Manrique, and features an impressive collection of Cacti and sculptures and a restored Windmill.
    Mirador del Rio, LanzaroteMirador del Rio, Lanzarote
    Mirador Del Rio boasts spectacular views of La Graciosa and other small islands.
    The Wine Museum of LanzaroteThe Wine Museum of Lanzarote
    The wine Museum of Lanzarote is located at the old cellars of the "El Grifo" Wineries, which were built over the volcanic lava left from the 18th century erupti
    Lanzarote AquariumLanzarote Aquarium
    The Lanzarote Aquarium is the largest aquarium in the Canary Islands with hundreds of marine species that can be observed and enjoyed.
     
    Casa Museo y Monumento al CampesinoCasa Museo y Monumento al Campesino
    The House and Monument to the Farm Labourer are a tribute to the traditional farming techniques of Lanzarote.
    LagOmar MuseumLagOmar Museum
    Legend has it that this heavenly place once belonged to the famous actor Omar Sharif, who fell in love with the house while filming in Lanzarote.
    Castillo de San Jose, Arrecife, LanzaroteCastillo de San Jose, Arrecife, Lanzarote
    The Castillo de San Jose, built in 1799, now houses a Modern Art Gallery and Restaurant.

     -Beaches:

    ♦Puerto del Carmen

    The main beach in Puerto Del Carmen is known as Playa Grande. This is a long beach facing the busy resort. There are numerous beaches in the area running from Arrecife airport, Guacimeta, right through to the old town of Puerto Del Carmen. Adjacent to the old town lies a sheltered beach, Playa Chica, that is host to a wide variety of sporting activities. Here you can take diving lessons, rent jet skis, go Para-sailing or do some Snorkeling.

    ♦Playa Blanca

    In the South of the Island near the resort of Playa Blanca lie the most beautiful beaches of all - Papagayo. These fantastic golden sand beaches are a must for beach lovers and although nudist bathing is common it is by no means compulsory. Also in Playa Blanca are the two man-made beaches of Playa Dorada (with beach-bars, pedalos, banana boats etc) and Playa Flamingo (currently awaiting the reconstruction of its breakwaters which were damaged in 2005's tropical storm Delta). The small but attractive beach in the centre of Playa Blanca town is also popular - especially during July and August.

    ♦Famara and La Santa

    For those who love surfing and Body Boarding the beaches of Famara and La Santa, in the West, both present fabulous opportunities. Famara is world famous for its surf but its strong currents make it unsuitable for bathing.
    La Santa Sports Complex, as well as being the training ground for international sports stars, is also surrounded by a beach and Wind Surfing lake.

    ♦Caleton Blanco

    At the North of the island, near Orzola, there are a number of white sandy beaches with shimmering turquoise lagoons (Caleton Blanco). The contrast between the bleached white sand and black lava is quite stunning.

    ♦Costa Teguise

    In the Northeast lies the Resort, Costa Teguise. The main beach here is known as Las Cucharas and is famous amongst the windsurfing community. In fact it has been the breeding ground of international champions and host world championship events.

    ♦Arrecife

    Finally, Arrecife, Lanzarote's capital, has a wonderful golden beach lined with Coconut palms, El Reducto. This beach faces a number of Canarian bars where one can have traditional coffee (cortado), a beer or a relaxing cocktail.

      -Where to eat:

    Los Pocillos
    Leneghans RestaurantLeneghans Restaurant
    Leneghans Bar and Restaurant, Centro Comercial Los Pocillos, Puerto del Carmen, Lanzarote. Great view of the sea and beach.
     
    Macher
    La TegalaLa Tegala
    This quality restaurant offers modern Canarian cuisine with panoramic views over Macher and Fuerteventura.
    60 Carretera de Tías a Yaiza
    Matagorda
    Jazz BistroJazz Bistro
    Jazz Bistro offers fine dining, fusing a wide variety of styles, with a touch of inspiration from Jazz.
     
    Nazaret
    LagOmarLagOmar
    LagOmar offers fine food in a captivating and unusual venue with a fascinating history.
     
    Playa Blanca
    Almacén de la SalAlmacén de la Sal
    This restaurant, located in a former Salt Warehouse, offers fine Spanish cuisine.
    12 Avenida Maritima, Playa Blanca
    Puerto del Carmen
    Nippon Japanese RestaurantNippon Japanese Restaurant
    For those craving some sushi, the Nippon is an excellent authentic Japanese restaurant located in Puerto del Carmen's Old town.
     
    Casa RojaCasa Roja
    Casa Roja, specialising in Canarian and International Cuisine, is ideally located overlooking the Harbour in the 'old town' of Puerto del Carmen, Lanzarote.
     
    Quintins RestauranteQuintins Restaurante
    Quintins specialises in fine dining and modern European dishes. Owner/Head chef, Finn O'Sullivan trained under Alan Ducas at the Hotel De Paris in Monte Carlo.  On the pricier side and a great place fpr a  special occasion.
     
    Tomatissimo RestaurantTomatissimo Restaurant
    Tomatissimo is a new restaurant recently opened by Maria and Joachim Rosenthal, who also own and run the hugely successful and neighbouring El Tomate.
    El TomateEl Tomate
    El Tomate is one of the most popular and well-established restaurants in Lanzarote.
     

    Barcelona

    Madrid

    Sevilla

     

    Seville is the capital of Andalucia, with just over 700,000 inhabitants (1.6 million in the metropolitan area, making it Spain's 4th largest city). Seville has much to offer travelers. The city is located on the banks of the Guadalquivir River, which divides the city into two halves: Sevilla and Triana.  Best time to go: early spring or fall. During the hot summer months, it is extremely hot and can make walking around to see all the sights rather unpleasant.

    -Getting there:

    Sevilla International Airport is located about 25 minutes drive from the city center.

    A bus service Especial Aeropuerto runs about every 30 minutes from just outside the "Arrivals" hall during most of the day (but with longer gaps from 1PM-4PM) and costs approx. €2.40. Taxis are always available next to the bus stop and run on a fixed fare to Seville center, just under €18 during the day and just under €21 after 10PM and on weekends/holidays. Some taxi drivers trying to overcharge tourists, so be careful to pay no more than this if you are traveling into the city. Other destinations outside Seville obviously cost more and are metered. Tips are not necessary, though €1-2 for polite, helpful service is appreciated.

    La Parra Internation Airport is located 10km from Jerez de la Frontera, in the way to Seville.

    Used by discount airlines such as Ryanair (from Frankfurt-Hahn, London-Stansted). Please Note that Ryanair also flies to Sevilla International airport, from more destinations than Jerez.

    -Getting around:

    BUS: Sevilla has a great public transportation system. The buses run frequently and cover the majority of the city in their routes. You can purchase bus cards called "bonobus" card at any news stand. It costs €1.50 to buy and can be kept and topped up.  You'll pay about 60 to 70c per trip.

    BIKES: Sevici bikes are available throughout the city with special docking stations that allow you to easily grab a bike and go wherever you need, then drop it off at another station when you arrive. Bikes cost 5 euro for a week pass, which allows the first 1/2 hour free and subsequent hours are a euro each.  You can find bikes at Maria Luisa Park, amonth other places.

    SCOOTERS: Scooters are available for rent for €30 for the day and €120 for the week. These are a cost efficient way of getting around and a drivers license is not necessary.

    TRAM: A tram system is currently being incorporated into Sevilla's local transportation and is running from the San Sabastian Bus Station to the Plaza de Nueva but is expanding North and West into Triana.

    TAXIS: Taxis are easily accessible throughout the city. Many offer decent rates, but tourists should beware of the possibility of a crooked cabbie.  

    METRO: Seville's new metro opened on the April the 2nd 2009. It follows a 18km reverse U from the south-west to the south-east through the southern end of the city centre where it stops at Plaza de Cuba, Prado de San Sebastian and San Bernardo. Tickets are €1.30 for a single zone or €4.50 for all 3 zones unlimited trips, and the metro runs from 6.30AM-11PM on weekdays, and late departures are available on Fridays and Saturdays until 2 o'clock.

    WALK: Always my favorite method of transportation within the city!

    -What to see/do:

    Sevilla Card: designed to help you explore the city and conserve precious travel funds, this card is a great deal. It includes:

    -free admission to most Seville museums and monuments

    -unlimited use of public transportation (TUSSAM Buslines)

    -a guided visit of the Real Alcazar of Seville

    -unlimited use of sightseeing buses

    -boat rides on the Guadalquivir River and admission to the Isla Mágica Theme Park.

    -significant discounts in shops, restaurants, shows and leisure centres for adults and children.

    The Sevilla card is accompanied by a guide and city map. However, the Sevilla Card cannot be used for trams and buses.

    The Sevilla card comes in three denominations of 1, 2 or 3 days’ duration in blocks of 24 hours from the time of first activation when inserted into the electronic validation terminal of the suppliers associated with the Sevilla Card Programme (be careful not to activate too soon).

    Prices: 1 day €50 (with transport €53), 2 days €60 (with transport €66), 3 days €65 (with transport €72). The 2 and 3 day options attract a discount of €3 per card when purchased on the website.

    The Sevilla Card can be purchased online, by telephone +34 91 600 21 21 / 902 088 908; and, once in Seville, at tourism offices, the airport, the train station, travel agencies and through national and international tour operators (check the website for addresses).

    A less expensive version, the Sevilla card Cultura is valid only for museums. (1 day €28, 2 days €32, 3 days €36). - 5% if purchased online.

    The Cathedral of Seville was once judged the third largest church in the world after Saint Peter's in Rome and Saint Paul's in London, it is now arguably the largest church in the world when compared using the measurement of volume. Seville's fifteenth century cathedral occupies the site of the former great mosque built in the late twelfth century. The central nave rises to an awesome 37 metres over a total area of 11,520 square metres. The Cathedral is the final resting place of the remains of Christopher Columbus.

    La Giralda is a large and beautiful minaret tower, originally intended for the chief mosque, but now is the magnificent bell tower of the Cathedral and a symbol of Seville. Climb the 34 ramps for a great view of the city. Adult admission to both attractions is €7.50.

    The Real Alcázar is a beautiful palace in Mudéjar (Moorish) style, built in the XIV Century by Pedro I the Cruel. With its myriad of rooms, extravagant architecture, lavish gardens with many courtyards, ponds and secrets to be explored, it is a fascinating place to visit. Be sure to check out the room where Christopher Columbus's journey to the Americas were planned. You can see his coat of arms embroidered on the wall along with many other royals. In the heat of summer it offers a cool retreat from the suns glare and can quite easily keep you occupied for a few centuries, if not all of your life. Free visit if you are a student.

    The Jewish Quarter (Barrio Santa Cruz) is located around the Cathedral. It is filled with small winding streets and is generally regarded as the most charming part of the city, but it is also fairly touristy.

    The Hospital de los Venerables, Plaza de los Venerables. A 17th century retirement home and hospital for aged and sickly retired priests, recently restored by the Fundación to preserve an example of Andalusian architecture at its very best. Includes a resplendent Baroque chapel which is highly recommended. Adult admission is €4.75 and includes an informative audio guide.

    Torre de Oro is a thirteenth century tower, the top of which is rumored to have once been covered in gold. It now houses the local maritime museum. Admission €1 for students.

    Parque María Luisa was built for the 1929 Iber-Americano World's Fair and now is landscaped with attractive monuments and museums.

     

    Plaza de España is the site of the Spanish pavilion from the 1929 exhibition. In more recent years it was used in the filming of the new Star Wars episodes. It is somewhat in need of repair. Visit it later in the evening to see it completely empty and take great photos.

     

    Casa de Pilatos is a sixteenth century palace and generally thought to be one of the best in the city. Admission €8, free after 1PM on Tuesdays.

    Palacio de Arzobispal is located in the historical section of the city and is home to various clergy and the Archbishop. On the outside you only can catch a glimpse of the patio but on the inside there are important works of art.

    The Museo de Bellas Artes, Plaza del Museo, 9. Open Tu 3PM-8PM, W-Sa 9AM-8PM, Su 9AM-2PM, closed Mon, free entrance for EU citizens. Considered by some as the second most important fine arts museum in Spain after the Prado in Madrid. The museum building is a former mercy convent renewed in the 17th century and the fifteen exhibition rooms show a comprehensive picture of Sevillian art from the Gothic period to the early trends of the 20th century. The square just outside hosts an open-air art market on Sundays until around 1:30PM. Plenty of original paintings on local topics, although some not so interesting bits as well!

    Museo de Carruajes, Plaza de Cuba. Open M-F 10AM-2PM. A small museum with carriages of various kinds. Free admission for EU citizens, €3.60 for other nationals.

    Go out — The nightlife of Seville is fantastic; no other European city has so many bars per inhabitant than Seville. In summer go to Isla Cartuja and find out why the Spanish night doesn't stop before 7AM. There you can find plenty of open-air discotheques. Other nightlife spots include Calle Betis in Triana, La Alamede de Hércules, and Plaza Alfalfa.

    Flamenco — Flamenco is in fact very popular at the moment in Spain and is not just for tourists, however finding the right place is hard. The "Museo del Baile Flamenco" is a museum dedicated to the art and offers a wealth of knowledge, as well as performances at discounted price for museum visitors on Friday and Saturday evenings at 19:30. Open all day everyday from 09:00 - 19:00.  Address: Museo del Baile Flamenco, C/ Manuel Rojas Marcos 3, 41.004 Sevilla

    El Arenal is another place to consider. The Cultural Centre (C/ Ximénez de Enciso, 28 Santa Cruz) is a good spot to see real flamenco, performances are daily at 9PM, it costs €15, €13 for students and Sevillians, €9 for kids (4 to 10). La Carboneria located in the twisty alleyways in front of the Cathedral offers free Flamenco shows nightly at 11PM

    Football — Sevilla has two football teams, Sevilla FC and Real Betis. At the Sevilla FC stadium next to Plaza Nervion you can regularly catch the last 5 minutes of a game for free.

    Attend a Bull Fight at the Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza — Not for the squeamish or those with convictions on animal welfare! Failing that, a visit to the arena and the attached museum of bull-fighting (€5) is well worth the time. While it is not the largest, it is considered the most attractive bull arena in Spain due to its history.

    Wander through an open-air market. Vendors in many parts of the city sell on the streets, but on Sunday, when everything else is closed, a few spots really fill up. One market is located behind the Alcampo shopping center at Ronda del Tamarguillo on Avenida de la Paz (Bus lines 30, 36 from Prado de San Sebastian), but it is easily outdone by a large flea market, selling clothes, furniture, trash, books, shoes, CDs, food, tools, and probably everything else just northwest of Triana near Avenida Carlos III (off of the left-hand side of most tourist maps).

    Climb to the top of the Cerro de Carambolo for a view of the whole city. The hill is outside of the town but can be reached on the M-170, M-171, and M-173 from the Plaza de Armas bus station.

    Cruises, an hour in duration, leave from beneath the Torre de Oro and travel a circuit on the Guadalquivir river.

    Horse drawn carriage rides found near the cathedral take you to the nearby park and other sites of interest. For the sake of the animals, try to avoid / discourage the use of carriage rides in the heat of the day in summer.

    Sevilla Bike Tour: tour around the center of Seville, which also takes you a bit off the beaten path. It will give you a pretty good overview of the city, while at the same time giving you information that could prove useful during your visit, for example,the best restaurants, theatres and bars.

    Semana Santa — The sombre Easter week processions feature thousands of people and go on all week, a spectacular display of conspicuous Catholicism.

    Feria de abril — A release after the somberness of Semana Santa. To say this is a huge party is an understatement. Most if not all of Seville takes a weeks holiday and they plan for the Fair months in advance. The fair is close to the river and covers a huge area and contains hundereds of private and public "casetas" which are laid out to form streets. Casetas are small marquees and you can only get into the private ones if invited.The public ones are alrge but just as much fun. The day is naturally split in two and between noon and 8PM the streets of the fair throng with horses as riders and carriages strut their stuff dressed in traditional Spanish robes. After 8 the streets are cleared and "Calle del Inferno" comes to life. This must be one of the best funfairs in Europe and I can testify to having seen it happen that it takes weeks to assemble and pack up. The Fair is one of the best festivals in Spain and appeals to everything thats great about Spain - Traditional dress,Flamenco dancing, guitars, Fino, great tapas and men, women and children who dance with gusto and eat and drink the day and night away.

    -Shopping:

    Seville is home to many beautiful artifacts, some of the more popularly known are plates and Spanish tiles. Triana offers many ceramic factories where one can buy various tiles from authentic craftsmen. There are stores that custom design plates and tiles near the cathedral, especially in Calle Sierpes, but across the river in Triana are other worthwhile pottery stores. Depending on the time of year, but especially leading up to Christmas, there are a number of artisan fairs throughout the city.

    -Eat/drink: 

    Seville, like most Andalusian destinations, is known for its tapas. "Tapa", while it is associated with certain dishes, is actually a size and many restaurants or bars will offer a tapa, 1/2 ración (half serving, although sometimes enough to make a meal) and ración (serving) of the same dish. There are many great tapas places around the foot of the cathedral in the center of town. You can't go wrong, simply order one of everything to find your favorite! Some typical tapas include tortilla española (potato omelet), pulpo gallego (Galician octopus), aceitunas (olives), patatas bravas (spicy potatoes), and queso manchego (sheep's milk cheese from the nearby La Mancha region). Also be sure to try the ham, which you often see hanging above the bar. Be aware that most of the restaurants kitchens do not open before 20:30 in the evening. Though usually some easy to prepare meals are available before that time.

    Pedalquivir and El Faro de Triana:  bars near the river, they offer a nice view but aren't as good of a deal in terms of the quality of the food.

    El Patio San Eloy (San Eloy 9, Sevilla): the tapas can be a little hit and miss, but where the cool staggered seating steps, fabulous décor and fruity sangria; provide a wonderful respite from the heat of the day.

    If you're vegetarian, make sure you specify that you eat no fish or tuna as vegetarian only implies no meat here. A place with a very good selection of vegetarian and vegan foods is Habanita, a quiet open air restaurant in the center of the city.

    La Manzanilla: good tapas,  food is cheap and delicious. It is located off  Calle de Alphonse.

    Taberna Coloniales: another great place for tapas in Plaza Cristo de Burgos 19. The place is cozy and has only a few tables. Go there early to put your name on the board to get a table, then head inside for a couple of beers. Portions are large and food is very good.

    If you would like to purchase your own food, head down to one of the markets close to the center of the city, such as in Plaza Encarnación. El Corte Inglés is a larger more popular department store that you can go to for almost every need.

    • M.A.S and Dia. These are two very popular grocery stores and have everything you need for much less money than El Corte Ingles. Additionally, Dia has its own discount brand on a lot of items. Though they are closed on Sundays (like most everything else in Sevilla) they are located throughout the city and are very easily accessible.  
    • Levies, Calle San José, 15 41004 Sevilla mon-thu 20:00 to 2:00 / Fri-Sun  20:00 to 3:00. Levies is a set of three restaurants in one small plaza, sharing table space and menus. The original Levies is a great tapas restaurant with great prices and wonderful, inexpensive jarras of sangria. The Taberna has a different menu and offers tapas as well as more mexican-inspired dishes such as burritos and nachos. The third Levies is their wine and drinks bar and is also recommendable.  
    • Rodilla: a great place to get lunch, they serve up sandwiches in the form of tapas. They have a large selection of sandwiches, fresh squeezed orange juice, and great cafe con leche. There are two locations in Seville, one close to the cathedral and  just outside of the Barrio Santa Cruz area. Rodilla is inexpensive, and can also be a great option if you a vegetarian.

    -Drink:

    There are quite a few teterias in Triana across the river offering teas, shakes and middle eastern pastries in a cozy cushion filled environment. 

    Sangría (an alcoholic fruit punch) is often sought by tourists, but Tinto de Verano (a mix of red wine and lemon or orange soda) is more authentic, has less alcohol, and is often cheaper.

    Cruzcampo, the local beer, is worth trying. Compared to other Spaniards, Sevillanos consume more beer and less wine.

    Agua de Sevilla is sometimes thought of as a popular drink in Seville, but you will never see a person from Seville drinking it, despite all the tourists drinking it as if it were something popular.

     

     Cafe de Indias: across from the Cathedral, where you can buy delicious chocolate shakes and coffees. Down the street is a patisserie shop selling chocolate covered palmeras, a wonderful afternoon treat after a long day touring the sites. There are many coffee shops and patisserie shops in Seville, particularly in Calle Asunción in Los Remedios.

    Cervecería La Internacional, one of the best beer shops in Spain. More than 250 types of beer, wonderful tapas and good connections. It's located in Calle Barcelona, just 1 minute away from Plaza Nueva, near the Town Hall. However, do not get confused, it is international, meaning, not typically Sevillano.

    -Where to stay:

    Accommodation prices change with the tourist seasons. High season is April, May, September & October ,Semana Santa, and Feria; Mid Season is March & June. Visits are recommended in November. Prices are not too high and weather is not too hot neither cold. For a more intimate experience on a budget, wander into Santa Cruz, the old Jewish Quarter and you will find wonderful "pensiones" offering comfy beds and typical courtyard views.

    Most places have air conditioning but be sure to ask in summer, you will want it. You will probably pass the siesta (early afternoon) in your room to escape the heat.

    Sevillanos are famous for their nightlife so if you don't plan to be out at all hours yourself, you may want to seek out accommodation on a quiet street (that is, without too many bars and restaurants). Ask for a room set back from the street. While a view of the passing traffic may be pleasant by day, you will appreciate the relative quiet at night.

    Hostels are a wise choice for the unplanned trip. There are many nice hostels located all over the city. You can sleep dorm style with up to 10 beds in a room sharing a common bathroom or for a little more money you can stay in a single bed with your own bathroom.

    Budget

    • B&B Naranjo Address: C/San Roque, 11 - phone +34 954 22 58 40  Rooms from 35.- €. Free Breakfast! Internet Corner & Wi-Fi Connection! The best price in the historical and monumental centre of Seville. It is a typical sevillian house, 50 M. from the Fine Art Museum and Sierpes street. Surrounded by the most emblematic monuments of the city. In this B&B you will find private rooms for up to 5 people in Andalusian traditional style, with Private Bath, Amenities, Air conditioning, Heating, Television, Telephone, Piped Music, etc. Public parking is nearby at Plaza de Armas with discounts for clients.
    • Hotel Zaida C/San Roque, 26. Located in a renovated casa-palacio, Hotel Zaida will allow guests to enjoy themselves with a 17th century feel while still having all the modern amenities. The hotel is close to the main shopping district and the Museum of Fine Arts for plenty to do. All of the rooms are large and have windows overlooking the street below.
    • Hotel Abril  C/Jerónimo Hernandez, 20. T 0034954229046.  Small, friendly hotel situated in the historical and monumental center of Seville. Just near the new construction Metropol Parasol and nearby the Alameda Square (a must for nightlife). All the comfortable rooms offer Air conditioning, Heating, TV, Telephone, Safety Box,... The hotel offers for FREE: Coffee all day long and Wi-Fi Connection.
    • Triana Backpackers, C/Rodrigo de Triana 69, +34 954 45 99 60 (), checkin: 13.00; checkout: 12.00. Definitely among the prettier hostels in the world, with a fantastic aula tiled with painted ceramic tiles, and green plants among cozy sofas, it also has very nice roof terrace with hammocks. Rooms are pretty standard for a hostel with most rooms having iron bunk beds, safety boxes and rather crammed space. Free breakfast and 3 (slow) computers with internet access. It's 3 blocks up from the Guadalqevir river, in a nice neighbourhood with narrow streets and old houses, with Puerta Jerez and the Cathedral about a 15 minutes away by foot. €14-21.  
    • Hostel Nuevo Suizo C/Azofaifo 7. T 003495229147. info@nuevosuizo.com.— Located in the very heart of Seville, it has free Wi-Fi and breakfast, and if the room or bed is available, you can check in early and check out late.
    • Oasis Backpackers' Hostel, Plaza Encarnacion 29 1/2, (+34) 954 293 777 (). The oldest backpackers' hostel in town. Breakfast, 24hs tea & coffee, welcome drink, a big personal locker, internet & wifi + patio, bar and big roof-top terrace with a small pool. Daily activities such as walking tours, Spanish classes, bar games- all for free as well. Beds from €15.  
    • Sevilla Urbany Hostel, Calle Dona Maria Coronel 12. T 0034954227949. — Chic and modern with comfortable rooms. Central location. Breakfast, internet, air conditioning and lockers. From €12.

    Mid-range

    • Hotel Abanico, Calle Aguilas, 17. T 0034954213207. Free Coffee-Shop all day long. Typical Sevillian House from the 18th and 19th Centuries, surrounded by by the most important monuments of the city. It is a small Boutique-Hotel with 22 rooms in Andalusian traditional style, with Private Bath, Hair Dryer, Amenities, Air conditioning-Heating, Satellite TV, Telephone, Internet Connection, etc…
    • Hostal Callejón del Agua, Calle Corral del Rey, 23. Located on a beautiful quiet street corner in Santa Cruz, offers many amenities of a smaller boutique hotel. All rooms in this classic hostal include air conditioning, television, internet access, with some including balconies. Only around 5 minutes from the shopping district and Cathedral and Alcázar the convenience of the location plays a large part in the appeal.
    • Hotel Abril, Address C/Jerónimo Hernández, 20 T 0034 95 422 90 46. Mail: info@hotelabril.com. Situated in the historical and monumental centre of Seville, in a quiet street near Encarnacion Square and the Alameda. Free Coffee is offered all day long. Set in a typical Seville House totally equipped for the requirements of today´s comfort, keeping its traditional style. Hotel Abril has 20 traditional comfortable rooms, with a private bath, Air conditioning, Heating, Television, Telephone, Hair dressed, Safety locks. There is also a room for Continental Buffet Breakfast. You also have an Internet Corner and Free Wi-Fi connection.
    • Grupo Piramide, Between the Alcazar and the Indian Archives. A Group of four hotels named after artists that offer good accommodation. Each offers a slightly different form of accommodation, Hospederia Dalí, Hotel Zurbarán, Hostal Van Gogh, Hostal Picasso. Contact information and map are available on their website. (Hostal Van Gogh, double room with private bathroom, €50 in June).
    • Hotel Amadeus and the adjacent sister Hotel Musica, Alvarez Quintero 52. Small boutique hotels in a good location. Take breakfast on the roof terrace with beautiful views across the rooftops of the old city to the Giralda Tower. All the rooms have a musical theme and there is a music room for the use of guests. Free internet access.
    • Hotel Monte Triana, located in the popular Triana. Just a 10 minute walk from the Historic Quarter and the Cartuja Island, where EXPO 1992 was held and where the current headquarters of several important companies and the Isla Mágica Theme Park are located. Easy access to the main transport networks: San Pablo International Airport, Santa Justa Railway Station, and also the FIBES Convention and Congress Centre.
    • Hotel Monte Carmelo, near the river Guadalquivir. Three star boutique hotel, located in the commercial area of Los Remedios, and a short walk from the inimitable Historic Quarter of Seville, the María Luisa Park, and the shopping and leisure areas.

    Splurge

    • Eme Fusion Hotel, Calle Alemanes, 29. Located in the monumental, financial and trade heart of the city, within steps of the Giralda, EME offers a renewed view of the city of the Guadalquivir. It is the ideal location to soak up the bustle, enjoy fine cuisine without leaving the hotel, experience the historical heritage, or to enjoy a day of shopping!
    • Hotel Alfonso XIII — The most luxurious hotel in Seville, built for the Exposicion in 1929, and with prices to match!
    • San Gil Hotel, Doctor Cortezo 3.In the center of the city. A converted palace dating back to 1901, the hotel San Gil is listed as one of the hundred best buildings in Seville. Positioned in the Old Quarter of the city it was completely renovated and extended four years ago, and now has 61 rooms which include air-conditioning, phone, satellite TV, minibar and safe. The small rooftop pool and sun terrace provide views and a traditional style bar/coffee shop and adjacent breakfast room complete the San Gil's facilities.
    • Casas de los Mercaderes. The Hotel Casas de los Mercaderes is in the shopping area of the city centre, between San Francisco square and Salvador square next to the famous Sierpes and Tetuán streets. Its quality makes it one of the best 3 star hotels in Seville.
    • Oasis Islantilla, Avda de Islantilla, Isla Cristina, Islantilla, 21410, +959 486 422. The hotel is located near the very impressive beach of Islantilla (Huelva), surrounded by natural interest zones Doñana, El Rompido, and Sierra de Aracena.  
    • Gran Melia Colon, Canalejas, 1. Facilities include spa, private garage, restaurants, bars and more.
    • Hotel Villa de la Palmera. Avenida de la Palmera 57. This hotel is in an affluent section of Seville just outside center city. The hotel is a former private home of the Marquis and Marquise of Castilleja, built in the early 20th century and renovated for use as a hotel in 1999. Services and amenities include breakfast and room service, pool, gardens and a terrace, free parking and free wifi internet access.

    -Other places nearby:

    • Sierra de Aracena. Located towards the North West of Sevilla, it is one of the most famous places for Jamón in Spain and full of lovely small villages to discover. Great for walking around, eating and exploring this Natural Park. There are numerous buses from Plaza de Armas Bus Station.
    • Sierra Norte. Located towards the North of Sevilla, it makes for a nice change from the monotonous landscape of the Guadalquivir Valley. It is an area of steep relief, olive groves, and deep river valleys. Deer, wild boars and other large animals are often seen from the car. The area is well-known for its cured meats.
    • Cordoba. A wonderful day trip (about an hour by train from Seville) or make it two days to see everything. Visit the Mezquita with peppermint striped arches, the old white walled Jewish quarter where every turn offers a new view, and the Medina Azahara archeological site. You can also take a bath in Hamam, Arabic baths, massage included, a very relaxing experience.
    • Granada. Offering the incredible Alhambra, is possible on a long day trip, but better for an overnight or long weekend.
    • Cadiz. A wonderful, ancient (oldest city in Europe) city. It's an hour and a half by train, a little less by car. Walk its downtown, bathe at its beaches and taste its delicious fish. And if it's Carnival time, don't miss one of the more massive Carnival celebrations in the world (and surely one of the funniest too).
    • Huelva. Discovering a XIX Century British town in the middle of this Andalusian city is definitely remarkable. Huelva has a interesting history. Columbus left from Puerto de Palos and La rabida Monastery, where he spent a few months it is well worth the visit. The wide and white beaches around, like Punta Umbria or Islantilla are also a good reason to visit and try fresh fish. Buses from Damas Bus Company every hour from Plaza de Armas Bus Station.
    • Italica. A partially excavated Roman city, only a brief bus ride from Seville on the M-172 (from Plaza de Armas Bus Station). Most of it is lost under the village of Santiponce, but several streets and the footings of houses and public buildings with mosaic tiled floors can be seen. The highlight is one of the largest known Roman amphitheaters with seats for 25,000.
    • In the summer, cruises are offered from beneath the Torre de Oro to Sanlucar de Barrameda at the mouth of the river.

    Valencia (Tomatina Festival in Buñol)

    Under construction

    ANTIQUE MARKETS

    Europe is known for its many flea and antique markets, especially during the summer season. Before heading out to any of these, please check for accuracy.

    Belgium

    Eupen, Sun., parking Carrefour.
    Eupen, Sun., shopping center Plaza; includes antiques.
    Eupen-Kettenis, Sun., Festhalle.
    Genk, Sat., at St. Jacob's.
    Liège, Sun., Quai de Maastricht.
    Mechelen, Sat. and Sun., Nekkerhal; includes antiques.
    Spa, Sun., Galerie Leopold.
    Tongeren, Sun., city wall; closes at 1 p.m.

    France

    Lille:  Every first weekend of September, the entire town of Lille (northern France), shuts down its downtown for its annual flea market, the largest one in all of Europe. You will find more than 100km (60 miles) worth of antique dealer stalls. Lille also holds its annual Mussel and Fries festival. For more information, check this website.  This is a huge events and millions of visitors go there every year, which means that hotel rooms must be booked way in advance for the best deals.

    Metz, Sat., Parc des Expositions, 6 a.m.-noon. The second largest flea market in France, only open on certain weekends, check  the Metz Expo Center website for dates (website is only in French and German, look for "Marche aux Puces" for dates)

    Isles-sur-la-Sorgue, Provence:  every Sunday of the year, rain or shine. Check out my travel recommendation here for more info.

    Saint-Ouen, Paris: the largest flea market in France. Find practical information on how to get there, where to park and opening times here.


    Germany


    View Germany Antique markets in a larger map

     

    A great source for flea markets around Germany is http://www.zum-flohmarkt.de/  and http://www.marktcom.de/blogs/start (where you can search by region from a map). Always check dates and times before heading out!

     

     

     

    Alsfeld, Sat. and Sun., Hessenhalle and parking area; includes antiques.
    Babenhausen, Sat., Antikhalle at Aschaffenburger Strasse.
    Bad Dürkheim, Sat. and Sun., Saline.
    Bad Kreuznach, Sat., Pfingstwiese.
    Bad Schwalbach, Sun., Schmidtbergplatz.
    Blieskastel, center of town.
    Darmstadt, Sat., Pallaswiesenstrasse.
    Darmstadt, Sun., Real parking, Eschollbrückerstrasse.
    Darmstadt, Sun., Stiftsaal, Stiftskirche.
    Erlensee, Sun., Erlenhalle.
    Frankfurt, Sat., Schaumainkai.
    Frankfurt, Sun., Hessen-Center, Borsigallee.
    Frankfurt-Höchst, Sat., Jahrhunderthalle parking area B.
    Gründau-Lieblos, Sun., Höffner parking area.
    Hanau, Sat., hall near train station.
    Heidelberg, Sat., Messplatz.
    Heidelberg-Dossenheim, Sat., Edeka C&C; starts at 4:30 p.m.
    Idar-Oberstein, Sun., Globus on B41.
    Lampertheim-Rosengarten, Sat., Kaufland parking area.
    Landstuhl, Sat., Kaufland/Toom Markt parking area.
    Mainz, Sat., Rhine River bank and university parking west gate.
    Mannheim-Brühl, Sat., Real, Mannheimner Landstrasse.
    Oberursel, Sat., In der Allee.
    Offenbach, Sat., Main River bank.
    Ramstein, Sat., Flohmarkthalle.
    Reichelsheim/Odw., Sun., REWE parking area.
    Riedstadt-Goddelau, Sun., industrial area, near McDonald’s.
    Rodgau/Weiskirchen, Sun., FEGRO parking areas.
    Saarbrücken, Sat., Hela-Center; includes antiques.
    St. Ingbert, Sat., Alte Schmelz-Werkhalle; includes antiques.
    Stuttgart, Sat. and Sun., tent at Karlsplatz; includes antiques.
    Sulzbach/Ts, Sun., former drive-in, near MTZ; includes antiques.
    Trier, Sun., Hela, Castellfortestrasse.
    Viernheim, Sun., at Rhein-Neckar-Zentrum.
    Wallerfangen, Sat., Rathausplatz.
    Worms, Sat., Güterbahnhof.

    Italy

    Listings are from the Web site www.mercatinoantiquariato.it. Please verify details before setting out.
     

    ABBRUZZO
    Avezzano, Sun., near historical center.
     

    CAMPANIA
    Naples, Sat. and Sun., near Villa Comunale; telephone 081-621951.
     

    FRIULI VENEZIA GIULIA
    Trieste, Sun., Piazza Unità D’Italia; 040-6796-111.
     

    LIGURIA
    Genova, Sat., near Via Cesarea and Via Fiasella.
    Recco, Sun., near Piazza Nicoloso; 0185-722-440.
    Arma di Taggia, Sat. at Viale delle Palme, Sun. at Via Soleri; 0184-476-222.
     

    LOMBARDY
    Bergamo Alta, Sun., Piazza Angelini; 035-216374.
    Treviglio, Sun., near historical center; 0363-3171, 0363-317-347.
    Iseo, Sun., near Piazza Garibaldi; 030-980-161.
    Lonato, Sun., near historical center; 030.913-9211.
    Carimate, Sun., near Castello; 031-790-438.
    San Fermo Della Battaglia, Sun., near Piazza Don Praier; 031-211-126.
    Cremona, Sun., near the cathedral, historical center; 0336-454-450.
    Imbersago, Sun., Piazza Garibaldi; 035-992-1229.
    Varenna, Sun., near Imbarcadero zone; 0341-830-367.
    Asola, Sun., near Piazza XX Settembre; 0376-710-784.
    Corsico, Sun., Via Togliatti and Nenni; 02-4860-1414.
    Melzo, Sun., near Piazza Della Republicca; 02-951201.
    Milan, Sun., near Via Fiori Chiari; 02-794-593.
    Vigevano, Sat., Piazza Martiri Della Liberazione; 0381-2991, 0381-299-282.
    Gallarate, Sun., near historical center; 0331-754-425, 0331-754-111.
     

    TUSCANY
    Dicomano, Sun., Via Dante Alighieri and Piazza Buonamici; 055-838-541.
    Lucca, Sat. and Sun., near Piazzas S.Martino and Antelminelli; 0583-4422.
    Quarrata, Sun., near Piazza Risorgimento; 0573-72584.
    Siena, Sun., Piazza Del Mercato; 0577-281619.
     

    VENETO
    Brugine, Sun., near Villa Roberti; 049-973-0080.
    Cittadella, Sun., near historical center; 049-941-3411.
    Este, Sun., near Piazza Maggiore; 0429-3635.
    Masera’ di Padua, Sat., near Piazza Municipio; 049-886-0021.
    Montagnana, Sun., near Piazza Maggiore; 0429-81247.
    Padua, Sun., Prato Della Valle; 049-820-5111.
    Godega di Santurbano, Sun., Via Roma; 0438-430448.
    Mestre, Sat., near historical center; 041-274-9330.
    Miran, Sun., near Via XX Settembre; 041-579-8311.
    Soave, Sun., near historical center; 045-768-0648.
    Verona, Sat., near Basilica San Zeno; 045-8030086.

    United Kingdom

    Listings are from the Web sites www.findersfair.com, www.antiquesnews.co.uk and www.antiques-atlas.com.


    London, Sun., KM Antiques Fair, The Rembrandt Hotel, 21 Thurloe Place; 11 a.m.-5 p.m.
    Benson, Sun., Antique and Collectors Fair, Parish Hall, Oxfordshire; 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
    Stone, Fri.-Sun., Antiques and Fine Art Fair, Sandon Hall, Staffordshire; 11 a.m.- 5 p.m.

    TRAVEL RECOMMENDATIONS BY FELLOW TRAVELERS

    Here you will find additional travel recommendations and suggestions from fellow travelers. The lists are arranged by contributors and country. To get a better idea of where the different sites are, you can get an overview by looking at the map of the various sites for each contributor.

    Germany    

    Germany

    Recommended by Julie (in Mannheim):


    View Julie in a larger map

    Luisenpark: in Mannheim, a municipal park open year-round, from 9am until 9pm (summer) and when it gets dark in the winter. Has thousands of different types of plants, a botanical garden, as well as animals. Also has a little lake where you can rent boats. Makes for a great family outing.

     

    Bamberg: Lovely Bavarian little town, also nicknamed "Little Venice."

     

     

     

     

    Schwetzingen: 9 miles southeast of mannheim, it is a nice little town, and has a lovely summer palace with gardens.

     

     

     

    Ladenburg: 10 km east of mannheim, it is a small town with Roman ruins and the Benz Auto Museum (open Wed, Sat and Sun. from 2pm to 6pm)

     

     

     

    Esslingen and Chemnitz Christmas Markets: Esslingen's medieval town center is the setting for a wonderful Christmas time with a backdrop of half-timbered buildings and the town hall square.  Also, not to be missed is the traditional Christmas market in Chemnitz, which is situated near the beautiful Erzgebirge Mountains, world-famous "Räuchermännchen" (hand-carved smoking figures), pyramids and nutcrackers are part of a Christmas tradition that is still very much alive.

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