One Day Itinerary in Harrogate

The Victorian town of Harrogate in North Yorkshire has been a popular tourist spot for almost 200 years when it became the fashionable place for the high society of Edwardian and Victorian Britain to come and sample the therapeutic spa waters. Although the spa tradition continues to this day with the Turkish Baths, which is one of the only remaining spas of its kind to still be in operation, the town now annually attracts new visitors who come for relaxing weekends away, to attend some of the town’s significant events such as the Great Yorkshire Show or to use it as a base from which to explore the Yorkshire Dales.

If you’re planing on heading to this Victorian Spa Town for a day, it is worth having some idea of what you should do beforehand to make sure you make the most out of your trip. Keep reading find out what your One Day Itineray for Harrogate should look like.

Morning: 9am

Every visit to Harrogate must include a visit to Bettys. the traditional Victorian tea rooms that originated in this charming spa town in 1919. Having refused numerous times to branch outside of Yorkshire, Bettys has definitely become a tourist attraction, particularly in Harrogate where it all started. Going to Bettys is like stepping back in time to the town’s golden Victorian era, as the cafe and shop look like a set out of Downton Abbey, complete with the staff dressed in traditional Edwardian-esque clothing. Due to its popularity, it’s essential to get to Bettys early before the queues start forming, as by mid-morning there will be people lining up round the corner.

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Go for early breakfast as a great way to start your day in Harrogate. Of course you must have a pot of Yorkshire Tea with you breakfast! Bettys products are handmade and use the highest quality ingredients that are usually sourced locally, so you can be sure that whatever you have will be delicious as well as giving you the best that Harrogate and the surrounding area can offer. After breakfast, make sure you have a look in the Bettys shop the adjoins the tea rooms before you go, particularly at their seasonal display, which always looks beautifully designed, like walking back in time to a Victorian bakery.

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Mid-morning: 11am

Felling a bit more full and sophisticated from your morning breakfast at Bettys, have a wander down to one of Harrogate’s more stylish shopping districts by going down Montpellier Parade.

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Turning right down to Montpellier Mews, you’ll find there are numerous small boutiques and cafes to explore at your leisure. Make sure you pop into the Farrahs Sweet Shop on the way, home to Farrah’s Original Harrogate Fudge established in 1840 and now recognisable for their distinctive blue & silver tins. Sampling the fudge is nonnegotiable, and it would be worth buying some fudge or other sweets for later.

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After exploring some of the boutiques in the Montpellier district, make your way to the historic Royal Pump Rooms. Now the town’s museum, the Royal Pump Room originally operated as a spa water pump house, where locals and tourists would go to take the sulphur water which was pumped on site from a natural spring known as the Old Sulphur Well. The only remaining source of sulphur water can be found on the outside of the building from a tap, although if you are brave enough to try the water, make sure you do so at your own risk, and make sure you have some toffees on hand to get rid of the taste in your mouth afterwards!

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Home of the strongest sulphur water in Europe, sampling these curing waters is definitely not for those with weak tastes. In the museum, you’ll be able to see the treatment baths and machinery of Harrogate’s spa history. You can also take a trip down to the surfer well accompanied by the museum staff every day at 11am, 2pm and 3pm Monday-Saturday, and 3pm on Sundays. Rather oddly, the museum also houses an internationally renowned collection of Egyptology, including a unique Anubis mask and a mummy case. Click here to find out about ticket prices and opening times for the Royal Pump Rooms.

Midday: 12pm

After sampling the curing waters of this old spa town, take a stroll into Harrogate’s principal gardens, the Valley Gardens. These historic gardens are a great place to sit on a sunny day with an ice cream and a bite to eat. Along with woodlands known as The Pinewoods, Valley Gardens covers 17 acres of land to explore, with a wide variety of outdoor games available in the summer months including tennis, golf, crazy golf, and a children’s play area and paddling pool.

Early afternoon: 1pm

On your way back into the town centre, swoop via the Mercer Art Gallery where Harrogate’s fine art collection is now housed in what was the Promenade Room, which was built in 1805 as a site for the fashionable society of the town and its visiting population to socialise after taking the waters. You can also walk past the Royal Baths before walking back up into the town centre, which was designed to provide a luxurious setting for specialist hydrotherapy treatments to compete with other European spas, now a mixture of restaurants, bars, nightclubs and the Turkish Baths.

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Afternoon: 2pm

For an afternoon coffee and bite to eat, from here you can head to one of Harrogate’s various cafes. If you’re looking for a coffee house, look no further than Bean & Bud or Hoxton North.

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For a more foodie cafe, head to Baltzersens for a Scandi inspired menu or Farm Shop Bistro for tasty, more traditional Yorkshire food.

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Late Afternoon: 3-4pm

Once fed and rested, you can spend the afternoon in whatever way pleases you, as there is a variety of options. You can explore more of Harrogate’s boutiques and shops by heading down West Park. Or head to Harrogate Theatre to watch some of the shows on offer, produced by a number of amateur societies that regularly perform musicals and plays throughout the year.

For a complete history trip of Harrogate, you could also treat yourself to a visit to the Turkish Baths. Turkish Baths used to be common in Victorian times, but only seven remain which date back to the 19th century, three of which are in England, including the one in Harrogate. The present Turkish Baths were only one of many facilities during the Royal Baths’ golden days, other services like a medicinal waters’ dispensary, hydrotherapy departments, mud baths and steam rooms were also available. As the only remaining arm of the original Royal Baths, the Turkish Baths is definitely part of any history trip to Harrogate. For under £20, you can experience the traditional ritual of heating, cooling and cleansing by moving from the Hot Room Chambers to the Plunge Pool to the Stream Room or Frigidarium to relax, then repeat, just as royalty such as the Princess Alix of Hesse and her sister, Princess Victoria of Battenburg regularly did in times gone by. If you’re feeling very luxurious, you can even treat yourself to an additional treatment at the spa like a full body massage or to one of their spa packages. Whatever you chose, you’ll certainly come out of the Turkish Baths feeling like a new person!

Evening: 6-7pm onwards

Home to a variety of restaurants and bars, for an evening’s entertainment you have a lot to choose from in Harrogate. As well as the standard chain restaurants, you can also find independent, high quality food havens located close to or in the town centre. For authentic, but exceptional Chinese dishes look no further than the Royal Baths Chinese Restaurant, housed in what was the Royal Baths Hall. For a taste of Spain, head to La Feria, one of Harrogate’s most recent additions on the cuisine stage, offering the taste of Spanish delicacies as well as accommodating, friendly service. Indian cuisine in the town centre is best found at Cardamom Black, while for Argentinian food head to Bodega Steakhouse, another recent addition to the Harrogate food scene. Graverleys of Harrogate is the place to go for traditional but good quality seafood, while the Brassiere down the road is the best place for a relaxed evening listening to some live Jazz music.

With so much to choose from, you can easily have an evening well spent in Harrogate to finish off you day.

If you have another additions you want to make to this One Day Itinerary in Harrogate then please share them in the comments below!

 

Meandering around Edinburgh

A One Day Trip to the Scottish Capital

Edinburgh is one of those places that everyone should visit at least once in their lives. If not ten times. As the UK’s second most popular tourist destination after London, as well as the Scottish capital, it is a city that never ceases to draw in visitors. This isn’t very surprising as there is always something new to discover in Edinburgh every time you revisit it. My latest trip to Edinburgh is my second to the city, and will no doubt not be my last as I never seem to get my fill of it.

After an early arrival into Edinburgh Waverley, I began this particular trip by letting my wandering feet take me first to Stockbridge, an affluent suburb on the north side of the city. Past the New Town, Stockbridge is like the Chelsea of Edinburgh, as it is home to a plethora of pretty town-houses, boutiques and charming cafes that all seem to run on a sleepy, relaxed timescale. It’s a great place to start a day in Edinburgh as many of the city’s best cafes can be found along these quaint streets and it is one of the most picturesque but less visited parts of the city.

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Royal Circus, Edinburgh
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Circus Lane, Edinburgh

I loved wandering aimlessly around the beautiful Stockbridge streets, enjoying taking in the quaintness of the photographic backstreets like Circus Lane (top) and the grand rows of Georgian townhouses like those on Royal Circus (bottom). Before long, my stomach began wailing so I went in search of some much needed breakfast. To get my fill, I headed to The Pantry on Circus Place for a warming coffee and a perfectly sized, perfectly delicious No Small Fry breakfast, complete with all the trimmings including some haggis! The food there is delicious and is a popular choice amongst locals, so you’re unlikely to find the cafe not radiating a friendly atmosphere (Read about my review of The Pantry here).

Once filled to the brim with mouth watering foodie goodness, I began my travels again, this time looping round to Grassmarket. As the city’s historic horse and cattle marketplace as well as a previous site for public executions, Grassmarket is a must-see area of Edinburgh for all tourists. Nestled within the heart of Edinburgh’s historic Old Town just behind Edinburgh Castle, Grassmarket is well worth exploring as aside from its history it is has a lot of character, being one of the more vibrant parts of the city, well known for its eclectic mix of independent shops, cafes, bars and restaurants. It is also a stone’s throw away from The Elephant House, the infamous cafe where J K Rowling wrote Harry Potter. Grassmarket is also a reliable place to find some unusual souvenirs. Its old cobbled streets are filled with independent shops selling all-sorts from designer fashion by some of Scotland’s biggest names to gift shops selling unique presents and antique books.

 

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W Bow leading to Victoria Street, Edinburgh.

 

It was then up to the Royal Mile I went, walking via W Bow/Victoria Street (featured above and below), which has to be one of my favourite streets in the Old Town. The colourful shopfronts and mixture of several centuries of beautiful architecture makes this one of the most photographed streets in Edinburgh. The whole street looks so topsey-turvey due to two streets being visible from the bottom of the hill, Victoria Street and Victoria Terrace above. It almost looks as if the two streets are running on top of each other, with the looming buildings almost toppling over you like something out of Diagon Alley. This seems rather fitting of its history, as this area was where Major Thomas Weir used to live, a man known as ‘the Wizard of the West Bow’ who was executed for witchcraft in 1670. After standing empty for over a century because of its reputation for being haunted before being demolished in 1830, some parts of the Weir’s house are believed to still exist within the Quaker Meeting House on the upper terrace. Luckily, I didn’t see anything supernatural as I made my way up the hill and up the small flight of stairs halfway up the street that leads to Upper Bow and the Royal Mile.

 

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Victoria Street, Edinburgh

Once up on the Royal Mile, I began to explore the whole length of this famous street by beginning at Castle Hill (where I managed to take a very touristy picture of a Scotman playing the bagpipes near the castle – featured below) and slowly making my way down to Canongate. With each step I took I couldn’t stop looking up at the buildings above and around me. The old twisting streets, sharp curves and secret passageways to decorate the Old Town make it one of the most enchanting and impressive parts of Edinburgh. Being situated in the oldest part of the city, the buildings here are like silent testimonies to Edinburgh’s past. Over centuries of fighting and bloodshed with their neighbours, housing was repeatedly built up within the old town walls of the city as opposed to outwards as a way to defend the city against English attacks. This gave the Old Town its historic and impressive architecture that millions come to see every year. I can see why, as with this historic, jaw-dropping architecture twisting and rising above me with every step I took down the Royal Mile, it’s was hard not to keep looking up and appreciate the history around me, despite it hurting my neck!

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Castlehill, Edinburgh
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Cockburn Street, Edinburgh

After exploring the length of the Royal Mile, not the mention sampling plenty of whisky and fudge in the numerous Scottish tourist shops on the way, I was beginning to get peckish for some more substantial food again, so I looped back round to the New Town via the North Bridge.

The New Town is a completely different kettle of fish that the Old Town entirely. Long considered to be a masterpiece of city planning, this grid like area with the regular blocks of buildings is something totally different to the topsy-turvy, cobbled streets and alleys of the Old Town. Many of the roads here still retain a lot of the original neo-classical and Georgian architecture, making it a pretty place to go for an early evening stroll. My favourite street is Rose Street, as it is pedestrianised so you can walk freely down it, admiring the buildings without being having to stop for cars at the same time. A lot of the pubs down Rose Street have been serving the good people of Edinburgh for over 100 years, so having dinner in this part of the city should definitely be on your history tour of Edinburgh!

In true Edinburgh style of being proud of its history all the while not taking itself too seriously, the names of Rose Street’s many pubs is something to see on any trip to Edinburgh. From the more literary namesakes in reference to Walter Scott, such as the the Kenilworth (names after Scott’s novel of the same name) and Abbotsford (named after Scott’s house) to the more crude pubs like Dirty Dicks, Rose Street certainly is not home to a boring backstreet bar. It even has its own drinking game, the Rose Street Challenge, which involves making your way along Rose Street while having a drink in every drinking establishment on the way. Having more bars and pubs along its cobbled paths than any other street in the Scottish capital, giving Rose Street its nickname the ‘Amber Mile’, this challenge is definitely not for the faint hearted.

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Rose Street, Edinburgh.

Having an early evening train to catch, on this one trip I decided against taking up the Rose Street Challenge, opting instead to take my dinner to-go so that I could finish off my day in Edinburgh by walking up to Calton Hill for a final view over the city before it got dark. Calton Hill is the site of many iconic photos of Edinburgh and is well worth the short walk uphill to see what all the fuss is about. I was very lucky as despite the sky being full of clouds for most of the day, I still got a glimpse of the setting sun smiling over Edinburgh when I finally reached the top. It was beautiful to sit up there and hear the city buzz below, as the evening slowly rolled in. I could even see the dramatic rocky background of Arthur’s Seat in fading sunlight, the supposed mythological location of King Arthur’s Camelot.

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Dugald Stewart Monument, Calton Hill overlooking the city of Edinburgh.

It was the perfect end to a day very well spent. I could have stayed up there on Calton Hill watching the city below all night but unfortunately my trip to this beautiful city was cut short. I cannot wait for the day when I can return back to Edinburgh and explore it further. I might even take on the Rose Street Challenge!

What did you think of Edinburgh? Let me know by commenting below.

Read more on Edinburgh, How to See The Edinburgh Fringe in One Day.

Up Next on Yaya’s Meanderings, Meanderings in York.

 

How to See the Edinburgh Fringe in One Day

It’s August, which means that Edinburgh has now been officially and wholly taken over by the madness of the Edinburgh Fringe. The Fringe is a month long, city-wide festival that overtakes the whole of the city every single year. It is part of one gigantic arts and culture celebration that is made up of multiple festivals which run in sync with each other. The Fringe is the most well known among them, the others being the Edinburgh International Festival, Edinburgh International Film FestivalEdinburgh International Book Festival, Edinburgh Art Festival, Edinburgh International Jazz and Blues Festival and the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo.

The beauty of these coinciding festivals is the organised chaos that they collectively produce. The whole city explodes with creativity, quirkiness and the carnivalesque, displaying the best from each of the arts, from the amateur and emerging to the well-known, star-studded names in the business. These festivals draw huge crowds to the Scottish capital each year, with visitors coming from all over the world to enjoy the craziness. As a result, around this time each year, prices skyrocket. It can cost hundreds of pounds simply to stay over for a weekend, with travel in and out of the city from around the UK also peaking. It’s not surprising then, that many now opt to go to the Fringe for only one day, not even staying overnight.

With the variety that the Fringe and the other coinciding festivals offer, there is literally something for everyone. There are two forms of attack when going to the Fringe for just one day. Either you choose a specific day you’re going to go on and plan it ahead of time so that you can fit in as many events as possible, or you take a more spontaneous, relaxed approach.

I favour the spontaneous approach, especially if it’s your first time at the Fringe. Turning your trip to the Edinburgh Fringe into a military operation draws away from the very spirit of the festival. Read on to find out how to have a great time at the Fringe without micro-planning every second of your day.

Firstly, get into Edinburgh as early as possible, ideally before or at 9am. This allows you to get your bearings and go for breakfast to store up some energy for the day. Head towards Stockbridge where you’ll find plenty of quaint little cafes where you can sit and enjoy a hearty breakfast. I’d recommend The Pantry, near the photographic Circus Lane, where they serve a delicious and filling breakfast.

After refreshing yourself, head back to Princes Street to the Half Price Hut located at the Mound Precinct for 10am. The Half Price Hut offers discounted tickets to performances on that day and for the following morning, as well as a serving as a collection point for purchased tickets. If you’re going for a spontaneous approach to your day at the Fringe, it’s a great place to pick up a bargain for last minute shows. Try to have an idea of what type of events you’d like to see before hand as there is normally a lot on offer and the staff cannot help you decide as they have to remain impartial (click here for the list of Fringe events). Try pick two or three events for the day, all that are different. Normally shows are around an hour long so space them out as you need to factor in time to eat as well as navigate around the city. Maybe pick one for the morning, one for early afternoon and one for late afternoon or early evening before your train home. Go for a mixture, choosing at least one show that is a random or spontaneous choice – half the fun is seeing and trying new things, be brave!

Once you’ve bought your tickets or collected them, get exploring! In between shows you should definitely head up the Royal Mile to get a feel for the festival atmosphere. This street will be rammed packed with visitors, street performers and people giving out flyers left right and centre. A lot of the street performers and flyers will be about shows being performed that day, many of them free, so make sure you take the time to watch a few and see if there is anything else you’d like to see in between your shows. Don’t forget to explore the offshoot streets off the Royal Mile, walk into the Scottish tourist shops where there will be plenty of fudge samples to try and of course see Edinburgh Castle!

For lunch, make your way down to Grassmarket via Victoria Street, where you can buy food on the go from the local market or head to some of the local cafes like the famous Elephant House Cafe (where J K Rowling wrote Harry Potter over cups of coffee) or the popular Lovecrumbs. Before or in-between your afternoon shows, make sure you explore the main hubs of the different festivals. If you love music, head to George Square which houses the heart of the Underbelly At Edinburgh Fringe  where a lot of the music events perform. There are also loads of pop-up bars and food stalls with live music that are great to sit and soak up the festival atmosphere.

Love books? Head to Charlotte Square Gardens where the Edinburgh International Book Festival is housed, complete with two well-stocked independent bookshops and three cafes – perfect for a sit down with a cuppa to enjoy a newly purchased book. Maybe even get a book signed by an author or join in with a discussion!

Art Fanatic? Check out some of the best art on display as part of the Edinburgh Art Festival, from their takeovers of the capital’s leading art venues to  pop up exhibitions of new artists throughout the city. You could even attend on an Art Late session, which are special events in venues throughout the city that happen every Thursday evening during August, that includes live music, performances, artist talks and tours.

After your final show of the day, catch some dinner in one of the many restaurants in Edinburgh’s New Town, particularly down the lovely Rose Street. Before making your leave of this beautiful city, why not watch one of the Best of the Fest films run by the Edinburgh International Film Festival for £8. Or listen to some live music while sipping on a cold drink at one of Edinburgh’s many live music bars and pubs, such as the Pear Tree. If you are able to stay in Edinburgh late enough, take a walk up to Calton Hill. It’s iconic view of Edinburgh offers the perfect spot to watch night fall upon the city. If you are there late enough, you’ll get a great view of the fireworks from the Military Tattoo that is performed every night Monday-Saturday at the castle.

After a day crammed with the sights and sounds of the Fringe and the rest of Edinburgh’s festivals, head back to Waverley Station with a smile on your face and your feet in need of a sit down, excited to do it all over again next year!

Yaya’s Top Tips for visiting Barcelona

Barcelona is one of those cities that most people want to go to at some point, but often you don’t see as much of the city as you’d like. After recently visiting Barcelona, I thought I’d put together some tips from my travels for anyone heading there so they don’t make the same slip ups I did. Comment if you have any questions!

  1. Everything costs money. All of the major sites and attractions have an entrance fee, so any sort of budget for your holiday should definitely include money for getting into each venue. And the tickets can be surprisingly expensive. Casa Milà costs €22 alone to get into, Casa Batlló €23.50, La Sagrada Família €15 just to get in, but it’s an extra €7 for the audioguide, another €7 to go to the tops of the towers for a panoramic view of the city, overall costing €29. To get your fill of Antoni Gaudí‘s amazing works, you need to budget accordingly or else you’ll miss out.
  2. Book ahead. This is vitally important if you’re wanting to look at the inside of any tourist attraction. Although they reserve some tickets to be sold on the day, you can almost fully guarantee that these will be sold out before you’ve even reached the site. La Sagrada Família, Casa Batlló and Casa Milà all have never ending queues to reach the ticket offices and even the lines for those with tickets can be extensive. Even Park Güell costs, although most of the park is free to explore, it’s best to book ahead if you want to gain access to the parts of the park where you can see Gaudí’s architecture and designs.
  3. Think carefully before buying a Barcelona Card. Although this card boasts free transport and free access to Barcelona’s top sites, it may not be as costs effective as you think. To use the card for 72 hours costs €45, and although you do get free access to all public transport and free access to some museums, you only get discounts on the main sites, and these discounts can be minimal. For example, you only get a €1 discount on La Sagrada Família, a €3 discount at Casa Batlló, and 20% off at Casa Milà. You also only get a discount as opposed to free entrance to some of the main museums, like a €1 discount at the Casa Museu Gaudí, and 30% off at Museu d’Historia de Catalunya. You do however get free access to the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, Museu Picasso and the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona. I would suggest instead investing in a T10 metro pass. The T10 is a 10-ride ticket that can be used for all of Barcelona´s public transport systems. Costing €10, it makes each journey only €1 each, and are easily purchasable from the metro ticket machines. Buying one of these and booking your tickets to the main sites online will ensure you can move round the city quickly and see all there is to see in this beautiful city.
  4. Dress appropriately. The Vatican in Rome is known for having particular standards for dress, but less known is that the Cathedral Basilica of Barcelona does also. I would take a similar approach to as if you were visiting the Vatican – no knees or shoulders showing, with a scarf handy ready to cover your head.
  5. Be selective of restaurants. This can be said for almost anywhere you visit, but if you want to sample Barcelona’s authentic delicacies you need to do a bit of hunting amongst the variety of restaurants and cafes. For breakfast, head to Plaça de Catalunya to Cafe Zurich on the top of La Rambla which is great for a simple pastry and coffee while people watching, while Cafe Txapela (there are a few in the city) is great for sampling over 50 pintxos (like tapas but usually spiked on bread with a skewer). For a tapas bar on Barcelonaeta (the walkway near beach) head to El Rey de la Gamba for paella with great flavours and huge portions. For more authentic and local dishes, try Quimet i Quimet or La Cova Fumada.
  6. Head to the markets. No trip to Barcelona would be complete without a detour to the markets, particularly La Boqueria Market. La Boqueria is a large, covered public market just off La Rambla that is bursting with flavours, colours and smells. From fresh meat and fish, to delicious baked goods to vibrant fresh and candid fruits and mouthwatering smoothies, La Boqueria has an eye-watering variety of goods to try. On a hot day, the iced fruit smoothies are just what you need to cool down, but venture far into the market to get the best deals as the fruit smoothies that are €5 at the start of the market are reduced to €1 0r €2 further in. Make sure you buy some chocolates and sweets while you are there. Although they aren’t cheap, the chocolate and sweets there are divine and worth the price as a little holiday treat to yourself.
  7. Search out the history. Although Barcelona comes across as a very modern, cosmopolitan city, it has got a lot of history that not everyone makes the effort to find out about when they visit. If you want to stay by the beach and only by the beach, then miss this last tip. But if you, like me, enjoy learning a bit of history of the place you’re in, then first things first and take a walk. Barcelona’s history and culture is displayed through its architecture throughout the city so one of the best ways to see its past is on foot (or alternatively on the Hop on Hop off buses which run very helpful tours). The city’s Gothic Quarter as the centre of the old city bears witness to the splendour enjoyed by the city from the 13th to the 15th centuries with several medieval buildings still standing as well as some of the old Roman wall still visible. Walking to see sites such as Gaudí’s Casa Milà and Casa Batlló give you a taste of the legacy of Catalan modernista architecture, while climbing up to Castell de Montjuïc which not only has great panoramic views of the city, also offers you insight into Barcelona’s turbulent history as a key defensive site in War of the Spanish Succession . Of course, for those of us who love nothing better than to dive into the past, head to the Museu d’Historia de Catalunya and the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya for an afternoon in the history of Catalunya.

Happy Exploring!

Exploring Sugared Barcalona

I didn’t have high expectations of Barcelona. Recommendations from my friends of the best beaches and bars on the coast to go to did not exactly raise my expectations, as I’m not exactly a beach person. But when I got there I was pleasantly surprised. Although the centre of the city around Plaça de Catalunya and La Rambla with its long, wide pedestrianised streets did reminded me of other European cities like Budapest, its small backstreets did hold a charm for me, as it felt like I had stumbled upon the real Barcelona. I loved the narrow, winding streets where the overhanging buildings seemed to topple over you, then open up into gorgeous little squares. I also loved the vibrant colours around the city, particularly evident in the beautiful Catalan modernist architecture of Antoni Gaudí and Lluís Domènech i Montaner.

My favourite Catalan modernist building was the Hospital de Sant Pau, designed by Montaner. Much like Montaner’s other masterpiece Palau de la Música Catalana, the hospital looks like something out of a fairytale, made entirely out of sweets and chocolates thanks to Montaner’s inventive use of mosaic, ceramics and stained glass. The whole building glitters in the sun as if its walls were made out of gingerbread, and its fabulous ornamentations were sugar coated goodies, like the witch’s house in Hansel and Gretel. In comparison to Gaudí’s architecture which I found a lot more playful but less mesmerising, Montaner’s masterpieces are lighter, but much more detailed and intricate, which I personally preferred.

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La Sagrada Família, although not my favourite Catalan modernist building in the city, did come pretty high on the list. Although it didn’t seem like much from a distance, resembling something more like ant hills than anything else, when I came closer to Gaudi’s most famous masterpiece, I began to see its appeal. It’s beauty lies in the details that you can easily miss if you’re not looking carefully enough. The whole church is laced with trees, birds and figures who look as if they are dancing due to the building’s design. You can almost imagine one of the figures playing a flute as all the engraved characters dance into the church. On the other side of the church to the entrance, you can see the moments of Christ’s life, crucifixion and resurrection in abstract scenes of stone all amounting to Jesus on the Cross, with a golden Christ barely noticeable looking on from above in heaven. It is beautiful, and very clever in how it can cover so much in such simple stonework. The cranes and building sites on the ground did draw away from the effect of Gaudi’s work however, but that’s a-given until the building is complete in 2026.

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Similarly bursting with colour is the vibrant La Boqueria market situated just off La Rambla. With stalls filled to the brim with glossy candid fruits and spiced nuts, indulgent chocolates and juicy fruits, La Boqueria is a visual feast to anyone who ventures into its wonderland. The chocolates are particularly tasty, especially the treats that have some form of pistachio in them, as are the chocolate coated nuts.

Aside from the alluring beauty of Gaudi’s and Montaner’s buildings, I also loved the Gothic architecture of the Cathedral Basilica of Barcelona. Pristine and almost shining in the gorgeous sun, its intricate details and wonderful gargoyles shone brilliantly. The various arches in the doorway reminded me of Durham Cathedral, in that you feel as if you’re getting pulled inside the church when you walk towards them. Unfortunately I was apparently not dressed appropriately to go inside as I was slightly showing my knees, so was denied the treat of looking at its interior. But if it’s anything like the outside, I bet it will be a wonder to look upon.

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Beside the famous buildings and gorgeous food, one of the best things about visiting Barcelona was being able to take in all the beautiful architecture that lined almost every street.

Walking along the narrow alleyways and roads, you would come across the most beautiful architecture, from Gaudi-esque rooftops that shine in the summer sun as if sprinkled with sugar, to stone engravings on walls, to intricate wall murals that span whole buildings. It was a real treat to just walk round and see what was going to pop up around the next corner.

Overall, Barcelona did surpass my expectations and in the end I wish I had more time to explore the history of the city in much more detail. There are places I still want to go and see, and those I want to return to at a later date. For now, I will have to say goodbye to this beautiful sugared city, until the day I will see its gleaming rooftops again.

Crafting the perfect Travel Journal

Going on a holiday this summer? Wanting to capture your memories on the page? Travel journals are a great way of crystallising your holiday in a much more creative way than simply just printing a few photos, but how do you get started? Read the helpful tips below to help you decide on your travel journal of choice .

1. Think about the type of holiday you are going on. 

What type of travel journal you should make depends on what type of holiday you are going on. If you are going on a nice relaxing holiday where you will have time to leisurely walk around and admire your surroundings, stopping here and there to take everything in, then you’re more likely to be able to craft a travel journal that is beautifully detailed on site. Whereas, if you are going on a more intense, compact holiday such as a quick weekend city break or a sightseeing trip where you will be constantly on the move, you are probably less likely to be able to sit down and take half an hour or so to write in your journal.

For a nice relaxing holiday, a notebook with good quality paper is essential as you want paper on which you can write, draw, paint and stick things onto without colour bleeding through or pages ripping. You also need enough room in the notebook to write neatly and potentially to fit in pictures, drawings and memorabilia. Something like the Pocket or Large Moleskine’s Sketchbooks, Sketch Albums or Watercolour Notebooks would be a good option as the paper is of great quality being made from heavy paper so will be able to hold watercolour paintings or sketches without bleeding. The Sketch Albums and Watercolour Notebooks are also longer so are a great choice as they can fit in landscape photos or drawings easily.

If you are going on a more intense holiday where you won’t have much free time, a good idea is getting a rough journal to scribble down your thoughts and stick memorabilia into, then assemble into a neat journal later on at home or back at the hotel. This is what I did while visiting Rome, as I was only there for 4 days which didn’t leave me much time to write everything neatly. I used  the Moleskine’s Set of 3 Plain Cahier Journals as I could use one journal while on holiday to make rough notes and hold memorabilia that I collected on my travels, while the other two were used to make the neat version of my notes, complete with printed photos, drawings and maps. If you’re using a rough journal, it would be worth also developing a short hand to write quickly while on holiday. For example, in my Rome rough journal, I would write things like v. interesting for very interesting to save time and space.

If you want to read about my travels to the Eternal City, click here

2. How are you going to use your journal?

Next you have to decide how you’re going to use your journal, as this will also affect the type of journal you get. Is it going to be a journal on everything you’re done, your opinion of places you’re visited, what your eaten etc. or just a few notes alongside pictures? Are you going to include just your writing, or collages of photos and memorabilia, and maybe some drawings? Or maybe a mixture? Thinking about how much you’re going to put in your journal and what you’re going to put in it will affect the type of journal you get. For example, if you’re going to use it more like a diary in which you write about every detail of your trip with a few photos and napkins scattered here and there, it would be better to use an A5 notebook than a painting sketchbook as you need to a journal suited to more text than pictures, such as the Moleskine Plain Notebooks. While, sketchbooks or painting notebooks are more suited for a travel journal with some text but mostly drawings, pictures, and bits and bobs as they have a higher quality of paper to prevent bleeding, as well as normally being better suited to landscape orientated pictures and paintings. Once you’ve worked out how you’re going to use you travel journal and what for, you can accessorise!

3. Supplies 

Most travel journals will have stuck-in memorabilia from the holiday such as napkins from restaurants, transport tickets, food wrappers as well as printed photos to stick in the pages. But it is worth looking around for other supplies to add to your travel journal to make it that much more interesting. There are loads of great ideas out there that you can use. A really good idea I saw while watching Minnie Small’s Travel Journal Tips #1 · What’s in My Bag video is using sticky notes as a way to note down ideas on pages that you will complete later, such as ideas of how you’re going to layout that page when you stick in all the bits and bobs, or what text to include, so you don’t have to rub out loads of pencil from your journal. This works really well if you are using the rough and neat travel journal idea I suggested above, as you can plan how you will set up your neat pages once you’ve set about coping your rough journal out.

Selecting high quality equipment is also essential. As well as Moleskine, for a high quality art notebooks other brands to consider would be Strathmore. For a more colourful, but sophisticated travel journal, check out Smythson’s Travel Journals. If you’re wanting a travel journal with built-in writing prompts to help get the creative juices flowing, more colourful journals such as I Was Here: A Travel Journal for the Curious Minded are great options. For those wanting to keep everything digital, the MobilyTrip app is a great resource as you can upload your journal straight onto its website where you can then develop it further. 

As well as a high quality notebook for your actual journal, reliable writing equipment such as a high-quality ink pen that doesn’t leak or seep through the paper is a no-brainer.  Other supplies to consider would be Foldback Clips to hold your pages open while you are writing or drawing, scissors and a small glue-stick if you are planning on sticking things into your journal as you go. If you are planning on drawing in your journal, a set of good quality sketching pencils and a compact art supply like a watercolour palette such as a Portable Painter is a must. Check out youtube accounts such as Minnie Small for reviews of art supplies tried and tested by vlogging artists.

You can also pick up extra crafty things to make your travel journals more fun and colourful. Things like tissue paper, wrapping paper, washi tape and other travel-themed stuff to you can add to your pages, easily purchasable from stores like Waterstones, Paperchase, Tiger Tiger and Muji as well as online shopping sites like Etsy, Folksy or Society6. I found vintage map styled tissue paper and craft paper at Paperchase which I’ve used as a background print around my photos in my Rome travel journals. These stores can also sell more unusual and novel things such as these old world map Ex Libris Page Labels I found in Waterstones.

Another way to add to your travel journal is to use different media aside from the pictures you take or draw. In my travel journals, I often include things like maps, reconstruction images of ruins, blueprints of the area and quotes to make it feel more in depth.

4. Get Inspired!

Before starting my travel journal, I spent endless hours looking online for inspiration for ideas on layouts, colours, clever little tricks etc. There were loads! I was overwhelmed by the wealth of ideas out there. Look up ideas on Pinterest, Instagram and Youtube which are all great resources for finding and picking up ideas! Check out my travel journaling board on Pinterest for some starting ideas.

If you have any other travel journaling tips of your own please share them below, I’d love to hear about them!

 

 

Tips for InterRailing

InterRailing around Europe this summer? Here’s some helpful tips from someone who has already experienced such an amazing

Bring student ID

My biggest mistake! Before going on our month-long trip I hadn’t realised:

  1. How many places charge entrance fees – Whereas England offers free entry to most museums and galleries etc. that’s not the case in many european countries so be prepared!
  2. How many places you can get student concessions – With your student ID you can get discounted tickets.  Although you may think you’ll not want to go into these places during your trip, if the heavens open your plans may be ruined. Amsterdam was spoilt for us when the weather decided to resemble Whitby in February. At times like this, museums, galleries and the like become a dry haven for a low budget, especially at discounted entry. Speaking of which…

Budget for extra things

Bad weather will happen, plans will change – planning for alternative things to do in each place can be a lifesaver, especially if the weather turns or you need some ‘me’ time. Regrettably we budgeted little beyond food, as we planned to mostly sightsee. This was one of my biggest regrets: Not only did we not adequately budget for things we wanted to see (such as museums we did not know charged entrance) we didn’t budget for extra special things, such as renting bikes to tour Amsterdam, or Gondolas in Venice. As much as seeing what happens is part of InterRailing, you need a little set aside to fund spontaneous plan B’s.

At the same time, you need to be prepared for plans to change. Having a vague plan for your day-to-day itinerary is extremely helpful, but do plan in time and money just in case you come across things you want to do that were not on your to-do list. In Venice, we accidentally timed our visit with an annual midnight firework which was an absolutely spectacular show that we did not know was happening until we arrived, yet it was easily one of the best parts of our whole trip. Be prepared and budget for going with the flow.

See each city at day and night

Some of my favourite memories were made by seeing the same place at different times of the day. Of course a lot of sightseeing and exploring is done during the day, but it is worth seeing those same sights at night and seeing the same city transformed over the space of a few hours as it becomes something completely different in the dark hours. In Budapest, the historic and must-see sites like the castle and the parliament building which in the day time are beautiful and impressive buildings, become shining beckons along the river at night as the city becomes illuminated by lights.

Go in a small group 

Going in a smaller group or a group that you can split from, then meet up with at different points, works a lot better than a large group. Large groups mean a lot of compromise. We went as a large group of 10, and although this sized group was fun it did mean a lot of compromise and at times was often frustrating as it took a long time each day to decide what everyone was doing. Travelling in smaller groups, or meeting up with different people along the way, allows you to do more you want to do and prevents conflict. Going in a mixed group of boys and girls also helps to balance out the group dynamic. We had a majority of girls, which often resulted in a fair bit of bitching and heated moments, especially when some were trying to leave the house early and others were taking forever to get moving or get ready, and left the few boys feeling a little overwhelmed at the best of times and frustrated at the worst.

Be prepared for conflict

Along the same vein, it is essential that you go with the understanding that it’s not going to be a big, happy travelling family 24/7. There will be arguments, bitchy side comments, heated moments and you will need time alone. It is better to be frank with your travelling companions when you need a little break, or when someone is being a tad selfish expecting everyone to do what they have planned that day. This is another reason to not completely cross off what you want to do for the sake of the majority. After all, it’s your trip as much as everyone’s.

Take at least four days to see each place

InterRailing is exhausting. It is not a relaxing holiday. Taking three days to see each place only really leaves you one day to see it, as on the first you have just arrived and need to find your hostel, get your bearings etc. and on the third you have to check out of the hostel, back up all your things and potentially buy food for the long train journey. This only really leaves you one day to fully enjoy the place you’re in. In hindsight, four days dedicated to each location would have been much better as it would have given us two full days to leisurely experience each place and been a lot less hectic and exhausting as a trip overall.

Go on a walking tour in each place

These may sound to many as something very old-peopleish, echoing those tours you parents dragged you on in your childhood holidays. But in all honestly taking a walking tour in each place brought each place alive for me. Suddenly instead of being surrounded by buildings and historic sites you knew very little about, it cemented the history, culture and ambiance of the city, opening your eyes to the place. Hence, it’s better to go on a walking tour on one of your first days, almost as a quick, intense intro to the location allowing you to explore the bits you found most interesting later on. Also, if you are staying in hostels (which I highly recommend), ‘free’ walking tours often start and finish at your doorstop.  Although it’s common practise to tip what you think the tour was worth at the end, so the ‘free’ part is a little bit misleading.

Avoid night trains like the Plague

Actually, that’s a bit extreme. Avoid night trains into or out of Croatia like the Plague. We only took one night train from Split to Zagreb, but it was one of the most horrible nights of my life. In the heat wave of the summer of 2015; the air con was broken, the tiny room with two sets of three bunk beds on either side was claustrophobic, the beds themselves were made out of the same material as old bus seats and for a duvet we only had a thin paper sheet. Our broken sleep was serenade by the sound of mosquitos and the train scraping along the metal rails due to us having to open the window instead of suffer the heat of the train with the lack of air con. It was beyond horrible. The train into Croatia was only slightly better. Again, no air con in 40 degree heat, in a train that ran through the very twisty mountains on a track next to very sharp drops. As a result, I spent 4 hours curled up in a ball feeling horribly sick from the suffocating heat, the jolting of the train and the hight of the track. Croatia itself is beautiful and I highly recommend visiting it. Just don’t go via train.

 

Yaya’s Top Tips for Visiting Rome

There is so much to see in Rome, so you don’t want any slip ups or silly mistakes to get in the way of seeing as much of the city as possible. Having recently visited Rome, I decided to put together some tips that I would give to anyone planning trip there, as it can be overwhelming in trying to work out which sites to see when, how much to try fit in, and what to look out for.

  1. Get a good map. In Rome there is a never-ending network of winding alleyways and narrow roads with no or few street signs. Investing in a detailed map of the city is a must before going, as the paper ones given out for free at many of the hotels are often too simplistic or not clear enough to be useful.
  2. Only buy a ROMA pass if you are seeing sights outside central Rome. The ROMA passes are a great way to fit a lot into your trips as they offer free and discounted entrances to the different sights, as well as free access to all public transport. They are available for 48 or 72 hours, being active once you start to use them. On my trip, I only explored the city centre, in which a lot of the attractions are free. I only used my ROMA pass to enter the Colosseum site, while attractions like the Pantheon are free to get into, and the Vatican was not included at all. The free access to public transport was the most useful part of the pass. If you’re planning on only seeing the main sites in Rome or are going to stay within the city centre, I would suggest that you buy a public transport pass as opposed to the ROMA pass, and book or reserve a lot of your tickets to the historical sites online instead, particularly for the Vatican.
  3. Try to aim to see one major sight every day in the morning, then minor sites in the afternoon. The sites in Rome get crowded very quickly, particularly the main ones like the Colosseum. The best way to skip the long queues is to plan to see one major site every morning, then spend the rest of the day exploring the smaller sites and the city. I would suggest that you aim to see sites like the Colosseum, St. Peter’s Church and the Vatican Museums on different days as early in the day as possible. Each of these sites require at least an hour and a half to fully enjoy them, if not 3 hours. By seeing them in the morning, you avoid wasting your holiday by spending hours in queues, and you also avoid information overload by trying to do too many major sites at once.
  4. Some sites are better to see later in the day. Certain attractions are better seen in the late afternoon or the evening. The Roman Forum is best seen in the late afternoon when there is quieter queues and less people. Similarly, you can still enjoy the Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain in the evening when these often chaotic attractions are much more hushed. I loved seeing these sights at dusk when I could fully enjoy them instead of in the middle of the day when it was too hot and too busy to absorb the history that I was surrounded by. Equally, make sure you explore the city in the evenings or at night, as you should try experience it in every light. When I was walking back to my hotel along Via Dei Fori Imperiali at night, I was taken by surprise by the electronic projections of computerised versions of ancient Rome onto the ruins. It was a wonderful sight watching the ruins come to life as I watched projected Romans walking in togas along now ruined pathways, a birds-eye view of Rome as it once was 2000 years ago, and now ruined houses reimagined in all their splendour. It was completely unexpected and I would not have known it existed had I not been walking that way at that time.
  5. Go further afield to truly taste Roman food. When you’ve been exploring ancient history all morning, the idea of walking another 15 minutes to find a more authentic restaurant seems ridiculous. But it is so worth it!  The pizzas served near the main attractions are nothing compared to the amazing delicacies you can find in the less visited parts of Rome. The most popular of these neighbourhoods is Trastevere, the best place in my experience to find delicious Italian foods, particularly the gelato! It is also well worth visiting the food markets that pop up around Rome every month. The most well know of these is the farmers’ market in Campo de Fiori, Rome’s historic market place that has existed for over 400 years. It is a must-see historic site for any traveller, as well as a great spot to pick up authentic Roman foods (try the olive paste!). It is open daily, but is best explored in the morning.

Happy Exploring!

Exploring the Eternal City

Rome has been one of those places that I have been dreaming about going to since I was a littler girl. I love Roman history and have studied Latin as well as the poetry of Catullus in my time, so my recent trip was more than simply ticking off one of the seven wonders of the world from my bucket list. But the Eternal City was very different to how I expected it to be. For one, I always connected Rome to its history as the centre of the ancient world, not as the thriving metropolitan capital of modern day Italy. As a consequence, I was quite taken aback by the business of the city, particularly its ruthless drivers and endless streams of cars. As a result, what I loved about Rome and what made it gain an eternal place in my heart was different to what I expected.

The thing I loved the most was not even technically in Rome. It was the Vatican  City that made me fall in love with this little part of the world. A lot of people are put off from visiting the Vatican because of its endless lines and high ticket prices, but in my opinion it is well worth both the time and money. If you get there very early in the morning as I did, you’ll be surprised how quickly you’ll be able to get into St. Peter’s Basilica. The Basilica itself is utterly breathtaking. Now, I am an art lover, particularly of Renaissance style architecture, but I have never seen with my own eyes something so beautifully crafted, so entirely visually overwhelming, both on an architectural and artistic level, as the Basilica. It is only by comparing the crowds of visitors to their surroundings that you can grasp how vast the church is, as they are dwarfed by its towering  arches and aisles lavishly decorated by marble, gilding and exquisitely carved sculptures. It is so beautiful that you catch yourself because it seems too detailed to be really crafted by human hands. I would have lied down on the cold, marble floor and gazed up at its high, painted ceiling for hours, if the Basilica staff had not been lurking around every corner.

Apart from the church itself, another part of the Vatican that I really enjoyed was going up to the top of St. Peter’s Dome, although the 300 narrow, uneven steps up were a little bit difficult. Not only do you get to see the interior of the dome in much more detail but you also get a wonderful view of the church below. I was really lucky as I went on a Sunday, so as I looked down at the beauty of the church below, I could hear the peaceful harmonies of the choirs who were singing during the Mass services. It was really beautiful to listen to their voices drift up to the Dome where I looked down from above. The exterior view from the top of the Dome is what really sells it though. On my trip, it was a glorious sunny day with a clear blue sky as far as the eye could see, so the whole expanse of Rome was laid before my feet in wonderful sunshine.

My second favourite site to the Vatican in Rome oddly was not the Colosseum, but its neighbouring site, the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. It was here that the Roman history that I have been reading over the years really came alive. When I was looking round this huge site of ruined temples, palaces, shops, and old parliamentary buildings, I could envisage what ancient Rome really looked like. The Roman Forum lies in the valley that is overlooked by Palatine Hill, so when you enter the site along Via Sacra, looking up at the Arch of Titus, and then descend into the valley away from the hustle and bustle surrounding the Colosseum, you do feel like you are being taken back in time. The site is oddly peacefully, even with throngs of tourists crowding Rome during the summer, which I think it’s why I was able to imagine Romans walking beside me as I retraced their steps. You have to have peace to let your mind wonder back to an earlier time, appreciating history is hard to do with the sound of traffic abusing your eardrums. I loved walking along the ancient streets in this site, visualising all the ruined buildings still intact around me, looking up to the curving slope that leads to the Temple of Saturn with its surviving columns, imaging that I was going to perform a morning offering to the god. The ruins on Palatine Hill itself, overlooking the valley, are also fascinating as you can really gage how large this cultural hub used to be. As you make your way up the steps, you can envisage the shops that would have been selling textiles, fruit and meat, overlooking the streets below. At the top is now a beautiful garden with an orange orchid, where you get wonderful views of both the valley below and the rest of the city, almost rivalling the views from St. Peter’s Dome. This site is what brought ancient Rome alive for me much more than its overshadowing neighbour the Colosseum, and nicely completed my trip to this ancient centre of the known world.

Another often neglected part of Rome which really made my trip special was exploring the winding streets of Trastevere, the neighbourhood on the west bank of the Tiber. There you will not only find endless narrow streets with little boutiques but also more trattoria than ristorante restaurants, which definitely does not mean a level down in the quality in the food. It is the other side of the river to the main sites such as the Colosseum, which not only meant cheaper food but also more authentic dishes than those found in close proximity to the main tourist sites. From my experience, the trattoria restaurants on this side of the river offer much more delicious and flavoursome delicacies for a lower price tag than the ristorante restaurants.  Another striking difference is the gelato. Although most gelaterias in Rome make their own gelato themselves, the gelato in Trastevere is packed with much more flavour. If you’re in the neighbourhood, go to the Piazza di Santa Maria to Blue Ice Gelaleria. Although it looks more like a standard ice cream shop with its bright neon sign, they serve the most amazing gelato, with really berry pieces in their Berry gelato and actual coconut flakes in their Coconut gelato. Perfect after a day sightseeing in the hot sun!

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Overall, exploring the nooks and crannies of the Eternal City was a wonderful experience, one that will stay with me forever. It truly is a city like no other, although it is often not what you expect it to be. I think a part of me will always want to wander back to those parts of Rome that really captured my imagination and heart. After all, all roads lead to Rome.

If you’re travelling to Rome this summer and want some tips, read Yaya’s Top 5 Tips for Visiting Rome.

Tips for InterRailing

InterRailing around Europe this summer? Here’s some helpful tips from someone who has already experienced such an amazing

Bring student ID

My biggest mistake! Before going on our month-long trip I hadn’t realised:

  1. How many places charge entrance fees – Whereas England offers free entry to most museums and galleries etc. that’s not the case in many european countries so be prepared!
  2. How many places you can get student concessions – With your student ID you can get discounted tickets.  Although you may think you’ll not want to go into these places during your trip, if the heavens open your plans may be ruined. Amsterdam was spoilt for us when the weather decided to resemble Whitby in February. At times like this, museums, galleries and the like become a dry haven for a low budget, especially at discounted entry. Speaking of which…

Budget for extra things

Bad weather will happen, plans will change – planning for alternative things to do in each place can be a lifesaver, especially if the weather turns or you need some ‘me’ time. Regrettably we budgeted little beyond food, as we planned to mostly sightsee. This was one of my biggest regrets: Not only did we not adequately budget for things we wanted to see (such as museums we did not know charged entrance) we didn’t budget for extra special things, such as renting bikes to tour Amsterdam, or Gondolas in Venice. As much as seeing what happens is part of InterRailing, you need a little set aside to fund spontaneous plan B’s.

At the same time, you need to be prepared for plans to change. Having a vague plan for your day-to-day itinerary is extremely helpful, but do plan in time and money just in case you come across things you want to do that were not on your to-do list. In Venice, we accidentally timed our visit with an annual midnight firework which was an absolutely spectacular show that we did not know was happening until we arrived, yet it was easily one of the best parts of our whole trip. Be prepared and budget for going with the flow.

See each city at day and night

Some of my favourite memories were made by seeing the same place at different times of the day. Of course a lot of sightseeing and exploring is done during the day, but it is worth seeing those same sights at night and seeing the same city transformed over the space of a few hours as it becomes something completely different in the dark hours. In Budapest, the historic and must-see sites like the castle and the parliament building which in the day time are beautiful and impressive buildings, become shining beckons along the river at night as the city becomes illuminated by lights.

Go in a small group 

Going in a smaller group or a group that you can split from, then meet up with at different points, works a lot better than a large group. Large groups mean a lot of compromise. We went as a large group of 10, and although this sized group was fun it did mean a lot of compromise and at times was often frustrating as it took a long time each day to decide what everyone was doing. Travelling in smaller groups, or meeting up with different people along the way, allows you to do more you want to do and prevents conflict. Going in a mixed group of boys and girls also helps to balance out the group dynamic. We had a majority of girls, which often resulted in a fair bit of bitching and heated moments, especially when some were trying to leave the house early and others were taking forever to get moving or get ready, and left the few boys feeling a little overwhelmed at the best of times and frustrated at the worst.

Be prepared for conflict

Along the same vein, it is essential that you go with the understanding that it’s not going to be a big, happy travelling family 24/7. There will be arguments, bitchy side comments, heated moments and you will need time alone. It is better to be frank with your travelling companions when you need a little break, or when someone is being a tad selfish expecting everyone to do what they have planned that day. This is another reason to not completely cross off what you want to do for the sake of the majority. After all, it’s your trip as much as everyone’s.

Take at least four days to see each place

InterRailing is exhausting. It is not a relaxing holiday. Taking three days to see each place only really leaves you one day to see it, as on the first you have just arrived and need to find your hostel, get your bearings etc. and on the third you have to check out of the hostel, back up all your things and potentially buy food for the long train journey. This only really leaves you one day to fully enjoy the place you’re in. In hindsight, four days dedicated to each location would have been much better as it would have given us two full days to leisurely experience each place and been a lot less hectic and exhausting as a trip overall.

Go on a walking tour in each place

These may sound to many as something very old-peopleish, echoing those tours you parents dragged you on in your childhood holidays. But in all honestly taking a walking tour in each place brought each place alive for me. Suddenly instead of being surrounded by buildings and historic sites you knew very little about, it cemented the history, culture and ambiance of the city, opening your eyes to the place. Hence, it’s better to go on a walking tour on one of your first days, almost as a quick, intense intro to the location allowing you to explore the bits you found most interesting later on. Also, if you are staying in hostels (which I highly recommend), ‘free’ walking tours often start and finish at your doorstop.  Although it’s common practise to tip what you think the tour was worth at the end, so the ‘free’ part is a little bit misleading.

Avoid night trains like the Plague

Actually, that’s a bit extreme. Avoid night trains into or out of Croatia like the Plague. We only took one night train from Split to Zagreb, but it was one of the most horrible nights of my life. In the heat wave of the summer of 2015; the air con was broken, the tiny room with two sets of three bunk beds on either side was claustrophobic, the beds themselves were made out of the same material as old bus seats and for a duvet we only had a thin paper sheet. Our broken sleep was serenade by the sound of mosquitos and the train scraping along the metal rails due to us having to open the window instead of suffer the heat of the train with the lack of air con. It was beyond horrible. The train into Croatia was only slightly better. Again, no air con in 40 degree heat, in a train that ran through the very twisty mountains on a track next to very sharp drops. As a result, I spent 4 hours curled up in a ball feeling horribly sick from the suffocating heat, the jolting of the train and the hight of the track. Croatia itself is beautiful and I highly recommend visiting it. Just don’t go via train.