Categories
Europe France

Driving in France

[vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]

Whether you’re heading for the Eiffel Tour, the chateaux of the Loire Valley or the beaches of the Côte d’Azur, here are some helpful tips if you are considering bringing your car or hiring one when you arrive in France.

[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”TOLLS” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]

Autoroutes in France are dotted with numerous tolls which can add up, particularly on a long journey, so it pays to do your research before you go. The costs vary but as a rule of thumb it’s about 7-10 cent per kilometre travelled in a car, and you can add half as much again if you are towing a caravan. Figures below correct as of 10/1/18, taken from here.

[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]

Journey Car Car towing trailer/caravan Distance in Kilometers
Bordeaux to Paris € 55.10 € 85.60 641km
Lille to Paris € 16.30 € 23.40 225km
Bordeaux to Toulouse € 19.60 € 31.40 245km
Lyon to Paris (A6) € 34.10 € 53.30 466km
Marseille to Paris € 58.80 € 92.60 744km
Nantes to Bordeaux € 29.20 € 44.70 346km
Nantes to Paris € 36.60 € 56.70 384.6km
Rennes to Paris € 28.80 € 44.30 348.8km
Toulouse to Paris (A20) € 36.00 € 55.70 683.5km

[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]Tolls can be paid in cash or with Eurocard, Mastercard or Visa. Maestro and Electron debit cards are not accepted.

There are alternative non-tolled routes in France that are very easy to drive on (similar to dual-carriageways). You can locate these routes by selecting the “show routes without tolls” option on AA Routeplanner.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”LEGAL REQUIREMENTS” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]French authorities are quite stringent on all motorists carrying the correct documents and compulsory equipment when driving. These include a warning triangle, headlamp converter and a reflective jacket. The jacket must be kept within the passenger compartment of the vehicle and be put on before exiting the vehicle in an emergency/breakdown situation.

It is absolutely prohibited to carry, transport or use radar detectors. Anyone who does risks a fine of up to €1,500 and confiscation of their vehicle and/or device.

In January 2013, the French government announced that the enforcement of the law requiring drivers to carry a breathalyser has been postponed indefinitely. So while you are theoretically still required to carry a self-test breathalyser when driving in France, no fines are being issued for non-compliance.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”PENALTIES” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]

Be warned that some French police are authorised to impose and collect on-the-spot traffic fines of up to €375. French traffic police take their job very seriously so your Irish charm is not likely to work on them!

[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”CAR RENTAL ADVICE” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]Avis, Europcar, Hertz, Budget and Sixt have branches at most major towns all over France. Keep an eye on their websites or your airline’s website as they may offer good deals or discounts.

Car rental companies in France are required to provide basic liability insurance to renters for the duration of their trip. However, collision damage waivers vary from company to company so check with yours in advance.

Don’t forget, if you’re an AA customer, you get to up to 10% off and add an additional driver for free with Enterprise, Alamo and National Car Rental, our AA Rewards partner. To get a quote or book click here.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_accordion style=”accordion”][vc_accordion_tab title=”Damage”][vc_column_text]

Check the car for damage with an employee from the car rental company before signing a rental agreement, and again when the vehicle is returned. Have the damage-free condition confirmed in writing, or note any damage. Disputes can sometimes arise after you arrive home so it’s a good idea taking the time to take some phone pictures of the car both when you pick it up and when you return it.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_accordion_tab][vc_accordion_tab title=”Controls”][vc_column_text]

Check all the switches, indicators and other controls carefully and if any are unfamiliar or don’t work, ask the rental firm for guidance.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_accordion_tab][vc_accordion_tab title=”Refuelling”][vc_column_text]

Check the refuelling requirements in advance and keep fuel bills as proof of a full tank when the vehicle is returned. Consider taking a photo of the fuel gauge, particularly if dropping the car off without a hire company employee present.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_accordion_tab][vc_accordion_tab title=”Insurance cover”][vc_column_text]

Third-party insurance is a must but in some countries the minimum statutory cover may be higher and if cover is insufficient, the hirer is personally liable for the excess. There may be a charge to increase cover.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_accordion_tab][vc_accordion_tab title=”Additional insurance”][vc_column_text]

If you can, choose comprehensive damage cover without an excess, but check what is actually covered as some may exclude damage to tyres, rims, the underbody or stone chips.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_accordion_tab][vc_accordion_tab title=”Theft insurance”][vc_column_text]

This is recommended if it is not included in the comprehensive insurance.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_accordion_tab][/vc_accordion][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”PARKING AND TOLLS” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]You can get parking discs for ‘blue zone’ (zone bleue) pay-and-display parking areas from police stations, tourist offices and some shops. These let you park free for one hour between 9am and 12pm and from 2pm or 2:30pm until 7pm from Mondays to Saturdays, with no limit outside these hours or on Sundays and public holidays.

If you see the word horadateur (ticket machine) or stationnement payant (paid parking), this means that there is a nearby machine and you have to pay and display. Also beware of signs saying stationnement interdit – this means No Parking.

As mentioned above, make sure to factor in road tolls when planning your journey. Keep money aside to cover these costs and keep some spare change handy but don’t leave it lying about in your car.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”EUROPEAN BREAKDOWN COVER” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]If you plan on taking your own vehicle, The AA offers European Breakdown Cover. Some of the benefits include:

  • 24 hour English speaking emergency telephone assistance throughout Europe.
  • Roadside assistance for the duration of your motoring holiday.
  • Emergency roadside repairs or towing to the nearest garage in over 40 European countries.
  • Location and dispatch of spare parts(s) needed to complete repairs overseas.
  • Vehicle recovery to the Republic of Ireland.
  • Provision for emergency car hire, accommodation or alternative travel.
  • Emergency accommodation if you have to wait for repair work to be completed.
  • Discounts for AA members.

Get a quote here![/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”FURTHER READING” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]More on driving on the continent:

[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]

Photo by Spedona, used under CC licence.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Categories
Africa England Europe France Morocco Netherlands Portugal Spain

City Breaks – the AA Roadwatch guide

[vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]Here in Ireland we may be marooned on an island, but it’s never been easier – nor cheaper – to jet off for a fun-filled city break in one of the dozens of fascinating destinations on our doorstep. And now that winter is approaching, it’s a great time to start poring over the map, feeding the imagination and then firing up the cheap flights websites in search of some last minute sun or even a winter wonderland.

We asked some of the AA Roadwatch team to tell us about their favourite city breaks – and they’re not all in Europe. So read on for some inspiration from our broadcasters and get booking![/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][image_with_text image=”21891″ title=”Seville”]

Photo by SkareMedia used under CC BY-SA 3.0 ES licence

[/image_with_text][/vc_column][vc_column][vc_column_text]Words by Lauren Beehan

IN A FEW WORDS:

A unique fusion of styles and cultures, Seville is an enthralling city where getting lost is part of the fun. 

HIGHLIGHTS:

Seville is the traditional starting place for journeys in Spanish literature, so a weekend here was a fitting start to my own travels in Spain. The labyrinthine Barrio Santa Cruz is a true navigational challenge, but I thoroughly enjoyed getting lost in its tiny winding streets: who needs a map when there’s a tapas bar or café around every corner?

Map or no map, I couldn’t miss Seville’s proudest historical sites: the colourful Alcázar (palace) and the world’s largest cathedral, whose skyscraping belltower (La Giralda) started life as part of a 12th-century mosque. Indeed, the whole city is a blend of Arabic and European styles, unlike anything I’d seen before.

Less than a kilometre away from those historical treasures, I climbed the baffling Metropol Parasol, a modern wooden structure built over a two-century-old market. Officially, it’s designed to resemble trees; locals call it Las Setas (the Mushrooms). The rooftop panorama is great spot for a drink or, in my case, to take too many photos.

A final noteworthy spot is the majestic Plaza de España in Maria Luísa Park, where I discovered how terrible I am at rowing boats. I should have followed the sevillanos’ lead and stuck to paddling in the enormous fountain…

HOW TO GET THERE:

Ryanair fly to Seville twice weekly from Dublin. Several airlines offer daily flights via London. 

GETTING AROUND:

The Old Town is best experienced on foot, but taxis are inexpensive and quick. There’s also an extensive bus network, a metro line and a tram line.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][vc_column][image_with_text image=”21910″ title=”Marrakech”]

Photo by Luc Viatour, used under CC-BY-SA-3.0-migrated licence

[/image_with_text][/vc_column][vc_column][vc_column_text]Words by Arwen Foley

IN A FEW WORDS:

Not your typical city break, but perfect for warming the bones. 

HIGHLIGHTS:

Most people who contemplate a trip to the Moroccan city of Marrakech think of it as somewhere to relax and lie out by the pool and if that’s what you’re looking for, I recommend heading to a hotel in the new city.

However, if you’re looking for a culturally diverse location, completely different from your normal city break, then I thoroughly recommend a stay in a riad – a bit like boutique hotel – within the walls of Marrakech’s old city. We stayed in Riad Dar One, which was lovely and within walking distance of most of the major tourist attractions.

The colours, sights, sounds and the smell of spices and orange blossom make Marrakech a truly wonderful city. You can spend hours meandering down the narrow streets or getting lost amongst the market stalls.

Food can be very mixed in Marrakech so it’s best to do your research before you travel. Trying a Moroccan tagine is a must – perhaps start with chicken cooked in honey, with apricots and almonds. Morocco is a Muslim country so alcohol is not as readily available as it is in Ireland. However, most hotels serve alcohol and we didn’t have any problem finding bars to stop in for a tipple. It is advisable to check that the restaurant you’re going to serves alcohol before you get there though.

HOW TO GET THERE:

The only airline that flies direct from Dublin to Marrakech is Ryanair so really there’s only one option. When we arrived, our riad had arranged for a driver to collect us. You can get also get a taxi but be warned, a lot of the taxi drivers only speak Arabic or French. My Leaving Cert French came in quite handy for the couple of days we were there.

GETTING AROUND:

The best way to get around is on foot but it is possible to get a taxi or you can do the real touristy thing and flag down a horse and cart.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][vc_column][image_with_text image=”21890″ title=”Lyon”]

Photo by Patrick Giraud used under CC BY-SA 1.0 licence.

[/image_with_text][/vc_column][vc_column][vc_column_text]Words by Chris Jones

IN A FEW WORDS:

A beguiling riverside city that’s not just for foodies.

HIGHLIGHTS:

France’s third largest city may not have the romance of Paris or the glittering coastline of Nice, but it’s the kind of place that charms you quickly. A lot of people go for the food (it boasts a galaxy of Michelin stars among its many restaurants) and although I can’t vouch for that, it’s a wonderful city to wander around. Be warned though – it’s very hilly. Vieux (old) Lyon is a charming area with lots of nooks and crannies to explore (and the steepest Metro line I’ve ever been on) while the best views are from the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière, which dominates the city’s skyline. You can take a funicular railway up to it but wrap up unless it’s summer – the first time I visited in early spring, it was icy cold. Back in the attractive city centre, I recommend a stroll along the banks of the Rhône and Saône rivers, and don’t miss Place Bellecour, one of Europe’s largest public squares.

HOW TO GET THERE:

Aer Lingus flies from Dublin to Lyon-Saint Exupéry five times a week. Easyjet flies from Belfast International once a week, every Saturday. When I went there for Euro 2016 direct flights had sold out, so I flew to Paris Charles de Gaulle airport and took the high-speed TGV train direct to Lyon. It’s fun and covers the 500km distance in just two hours.

GETTING AROUND:

Lyon has a comprehensive transport network, with a six-line tram system and a four-line metro, as well as an extensive bus network, taxis and Uber. Public transport runs from around 5am to midnight, and a single ticket on any form costs €1.90. The Lyon City Card includes unlimited use of public transport for as long as the card is valid.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][vc_column][image_with_text image=”21889″ title=”Lisbon”]

Photo used under CC0 License

[/image_with_text][/vc_column][vc_column][vc_column_text]Words by Adrian Harmon

IN A FEW WORDS:

A charming medieval city whose trams zig-zag across its seven hills.

HIGHLIGHTS:

The city is awash with tours, and I highly recommend them as a way of getting acquainted with your surroundings. The city centre is easily navigated on foot – don’t miss Bairro Alto, the centre of the city’s nightlife, the opulent Baixa district and the quaint and maze-like neighbourhood of Alfama, which surrounds the city’s Arabic/medieval St George Castle.

I stayed near Rua Dom Pedro V and Rua Sao Pedro de Alcantara – a central area which is home to some great restaurants. Rooms with a view include Insólito (great food and cocktails) and Lost In (quirky and there are no bad seats). The restaurant-cum-hostel Decadente was also a very nice lunch option.

Outside the city, there are some great places to visit. The walks and coastline around Cascais are worth the short train ride and boast breathtaking scenery. Boca de Inferno (Devil’s Mouth) is a great spot for some snaps.

The magical UNESCO World Heritage site of Sintra is also a must-see with the Castle of the Moors and Pena Palace among the attractions. The area is steeped in history, with spectacular views, and I found a half-day tour from the city plenty to take it in.

HOW TO GET THERE:

Direct flights from Dublin are operated by Aer Lingus and Ryanair. A frequent bus service will take you directly from the airport to city centre. A taxi will take approximately 20 minutes.

GETTING AROUND:

Lisbon’s tram network has declined since its heyday in the 1960s but trams remain a common sight on the city’s streets and the vintage ones are an attraction in themselves. There are also funiculars, a four-line metro and an extensive bus network. A 24-hour pass for bus, tram and metro costs €6.50 for the first day and €6 for each additional day.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][vc_column][image_with_text image=”21899″ title=”London”]

Photo by DeFacto used under CC-BY-SA-4.0 licence

[/image_with_text][/vc_column][vc_column][vc_column_text]Words by Ruth Jephson

IN A FEW WORDS:

One of the most iconic cities in the world, and on Ireland’s doorstep.

HIGHLIGHTS:

The Museum of London is the perfect place to visit early on in your trip as it provides an overview of the city and its history. As you walk through the museum, you’ll learn about London chronologically and what has shaped it over the years – I found the features on The Great Fire and the 7/7 Bombings particularly interesting. St Paul’s, Moorgate and Barbican Underground stops are all 5/10 mins walk away and admission is free.

There are about a dozen exhibitions in the Imperial War Museum on Lambeth Rd, but make sure you visit the Holocaust Exhibition, which is a permanent fixture. Allow plenty of time – I’ve spent six hours there over two visits and I’m planning a third! There are incredibly moving video interviews with Holocaust survivors, as well as other potentially upsetting material so it’s not recommended for under 14s. Other exhibitions include The War on Terror and the First World War. Entry is free.

You could also check out the Tower of London, Madame Tussauds, Buckingham Palace and the two Tate Galleries – or see a West End show!

HOW TO GET THERE:

There are dozens of flights from Irish airports every day. If you fly to Gatwick, you can then take the non-stop Gatwick Express to the city, which goes every 15 mins. Last time, I flew to Luton and took the Thameslink in.

GETTING AROUND:

Get an Oyster card and you can use all London transport by tapping on and off. Download the Citymapper app. This is a godsend, you input your destination and, combining all the public transport options, it gives you the best way to get there. It even says what section of the train or tube to get on for ‘Exit Planning Optimisation’. (I love this app so much I nearly put it in the ‘Highlights’ section).[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][vc_column][image_with_text image=”21892″ title=”Amsterdam”]

Photo by Patrick Clenet used under CC BY-SA 3.0 licence

[/image_with_text][/vc_column][vc_column][vc_column_text]Words by Róisín Nestor

IN A FEW WORDS:

Beautiful architecture, museums and plenty of interesting experiences!

HIGHLIGHTS:

One of the best things I did in Amsterdam was the Sandeman’s free walking tour. Our guide brought us around for two-and-a-half hours, covering everything from the city’s beginnings as a fishing village to the Red Light District. It was a local perspective and helped us plan how we wanted to spend the rest of our trip. Hopping onto a canal cruise is another great way to see the sights.

I’d definitely recommended booking in advance to avoid the queues at the Anne Frank House. The Heineken Experience was a bit of fun and I enjoyed the Van Gogh Museum. At €4 entry, the Sex Museum is also worth a look for a bit of a giggle. And if you’re not getting high enough on life, Bulldog Café is one of the best-known of Amsterdam’s infamous ‘coffeeshops’.

HOW TO GET THERE:

You can fly to Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport from Dublin, Cork, Belfast City or Belfast International. When we arrived, we took the train from the airport to Centraal station.

GETTING AROUND:

Many of the attractions in Amsterdam are quite central so we mainly walked everywhere. Otherwise you can make use of the great network of buses and trains by buying a three day travel ticket for €26. Or why not do as the locals do and rent a bike?[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]

Main image used under CC0 licence.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][vc_column][vc_column_text]

No-one wants to think about bad things happening on holiday, but it’s always best to be prepared. AA Travel Insurance can give you the peace of mind you need to enjoy your time away.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Categories
Europe Ireland Sport and leisure

Family fun when the sun doesn’t shine: the AA Roadwatch guide

[vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]

The August bank holiday may be behind us but there are still a couple of weeks left before the kids go back to school, and you can’t always rely on the sun to shine to keep them entertained. Fortunately, there’s a whole host of fun, exciting and educational activities on offer around the country so you and your family can enjoy a day out when the weather isn’t playing ball.

[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”GET ACTIVE” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_single_image image=”22245″ border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” img_size=”full”][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]If it’s pouring down outside and your little ones are starting to climb the walls, there’s no better remedy than taking them somewhere they can let off steam. For younger children, indoor play centres can be perfect – they can spend an hour or two running, jumping and sliding until their hearts’ content while you observe with a coffee. Try these centres in Cork, Limerick, Galway and Dublin’s Long Mile Rd.

For older kids, there are even more options. Ten-pin bowling is an evergreen activity for all the family – there’s an alley in all the cities and in many large towns where you can unleash your competitive side. And for a retro spin, why not try out roller skating? There are rinks in Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Newbridge.

If you’re going to get soaked if you go outside, you may as well get wet inside! With hair-raising slides, wave machines, lazy rivers and paddling pools, splashing around at a water park is a great way to spend a wet afternoon. Aqua Zone in Blanchardstown, Dublin, has thrilling slides for older kids (and grown-ups!) and the safe and fun Pirate Ship area for the under-8s. If you’re in the north-west, there’s Waterworld Bundoran, while Funtasia in Drogheda is another popular spot.

And if there’s a budding petrolhead in the family, indoor karting could get the green light. There are tracks all over the country where kids from around 8 years and older (depending on the centre) can have a go at becoming the next Lewis Hamilton:

[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”GET EDUCATIONAL” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_single_image image=”21823″ border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” img_size=”full”][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]School may be out but there’s no reason that learning has to stop for the whole summer. There are lots of attractions and activities that are both educational and fun, no matter what gets your kids’ brain cells whirring.

Imaginosity in Sandyford, Dublin, is a great all-in-one choice for under-nines. There is a wide range of hands-on exhibits and play areas across three floors, and kids are encouraged to navigate it at their own pace. There are workshops too, focusing on science, theatre, art, engineering and more. W5 in Belfast is similar, but with more of a scientific focus – its name stands for “Who, What, Where, When, Why”, the questions posed by science. With over 250 interactive exhibits and a full programme of events, there’s plenty to keep everyone happy – including the grown-ups.

For older children with the space bug, observatories and planetariums are a great choice. Blackrock Castle in Cork is home to Cosmos at the Castle, an interactive astronomy exhibition, and daily planetarium shows that should get the kids dreaming of space. Birr Telescope and Science Museum in Offaly is a great option in the midlands, with a more personal perspective on space discovery told through the eyes of the pioneering Parson family.

Finally in Northern Ireland, Armagh Planetarium has been delighting children and adults since the late 1960s, with interactive exhibits, workshops and spectacular star shows in the domed theatre. Perfect for rainy days.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”BE ENTERTAINED” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_single_image image=”22249″ border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” img_size=”full”][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]What better way to put in a rainy afternoon than by watching a movie? While you can always go to a regular screening, many cinemas offer special kids’ screenings, often in the morning or early afternoon, at a discounted price. No need to worry about your little ones getting shushed from across the cinema, as everyone is in the same boat!

While a cinema trip is always an exciting event for kids, you can ramp up the excitement by taking them to an IMAX show. With a huge screen (generally 22m wide by 16m tall, but they can be bigger), IMAX used to be the preserve of educational and nature films. Now though, you can catch many blockbusters in IMAX, and the sensory overload is something the kids aren’t likely to forget in a hurry.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”BRAVE THE OUTDOORS” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_single_image image=”22242″ border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” img_size=”full”][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]Sometimes when the weather is bad, there’s nothing for it but to wrap up warm, get the wellies on and brave the elements! It’s unlikely that the kids will mind too much – who didn’t love splashing in puddles as a youngster, after all? Whether you live in a city and have a choice of parks to visit, or you’re in the countryside and can get to a forest or dedicated walking trail, you should have plenty of choice. Here are a few ideas:

Alternatively, head underground for an awe-inspiring visit to one of the magical caves that are dotted around the country. In many cases, these subterranean worlds lay hidden for millions of years, only to be discovered by chance in recent times. Many of them offer guided tours, often on a boat, while you can learn more about the geological processes responsible for creating the caves at their visitor centres. Some even offer kids’ parties! Here are a few of the best:

[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_single_image border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” image=”22247″ img_size=”full”][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]Kids can unleash their inner Picassos at Giddy Studios in Dundrum. They offer little ones the opportunity to paint their own pottery masterpieces – from egg cups and tiles to dinosaur ornaments and money boxes. Once painted, the pottery is glazed and fired in a kiln, and then you pick up the finished article a week later.

If you fancy combining creativity with a little bit of history, the Toy Soldier Factory in Macroom, Co. Cork lets you cast and paint your own miniature, and in this case you get to take it home on the same day. While you’re there, don’t miss their dioramas showing battle scenes from history, including the huge Battle of Waterloo showpiece that features over 15,000 figures.

Or how about rubbing shoulders with the celebs at Dublin’s National Wax Museum Plus? Recently relocated to Westmoreland St from its previous site at College Green, the museum hosts waxworks of everyone from movie stars to politicians, cartoon characters to sporting icons – not to mention the spooky Chambers of Horrors! There’s an educational aspect too, with rooms dedicated to periods of Irish history, great writers and science and discovery. It’s a well-rounded family day out.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”DON’T FORGET!” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]

Take out or renew your AA Membership before you start packing the car. For just €8.25 a month, you get 24-hour breakdown cover in Ireland and the UK (meaning you can take the car to Northern Ireland in confidence), personal cover (which covers you in any car) and Home Start, which means you’re covered at your home or very near your home address.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Categories
Featured Ireland

AA Roadwatch’s favourite Irish staycations

[vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]Main photo – public domain

While travelling abroad is wonderful, it’s all too easy to overlook the holiday gems that we have right here on our doorstep. There are countless good reasons why almost nine million people visited Ireland in 2016, and they are all available for Irish holidaymakers to enjoy at a fraction of the cost, hassle and travelling time of those glamorous foreign destinations.

From spectacular coastlines to picturesque villages, bucket-and-spade fun to vibrant nightlife, Ireland has it all. We asked the AA Roadwatch team to recommend some of their favourite ‘staycations’, most of which bring back fond memories of those hazy childhood holidays. So leave the passport in the bottom drawer, hop in the car or on the train and get exploring![/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][image_with_text image=”22123″ title=”KILKENNY CITY” title_tag=”h2″]

Photo by Aldebaran, used under CC-BY-SA-3.0 licence

[/image_with_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]IN A FEW WORDS:

Whether you’re in the mood for a raucous weekend or want something a little more sedate, Kilkenny is a city that has something for everyone.

HIGHLIGHTS:

If you’re staying in the city, a walk along the River Nore by Kilkenny Castle and a detour into the castle grounds is worth a few hours of your time. I’ve never done a tour of the castle itself but it’s on my list for the next time I visit.

Just over the road on The Parade, Ristorante Rinuccini serves delicious, authentic Italian cuisine. The Grapevine Wine and Tapas Bar on Rose Inn Street is another great spot but in each case I would ring ahead and book in.

Not too far away from Kilkenny City is beautiful Inistioge which looks like a movie set. In fact, a number of films have been shot there, including Jim Sheridan’s The Secret Scripture in 2015. The village is a perfect place to have lunch, ideally before or after visiting nearby Woodstock Gardens which overlooks the River Nore Valley.

If you want to bring home a souvenir, then spending an afternoon in the Nicholas Mosse Pottery Factory should be added to your list. Located in an old stone mill in Bennettsbridge, just south of Kilkenny City and only two minutes from J9 on the M9 motorway, the views from the cafe are worth a visit alone.

GETTING THERE:

There are lots of public transport options available for Kilkenny City such as Bus Eireann, JJ Kavanagh & Sons, Dublin Coach and Irish Rail, all of which offer regular services. If travelling by car, exit at J8 Kilkenny or J9 Kilkenny South (if staying at Mount Juliet) on the M9, or J4 Urlingford on the M8.

WHERE TO STAY:

There are plenty of options for all budgets in Kilkenny, but if you are treating yourself, there are number of AA approved hotels to consider. A short drive from the city, the four-star Lyrath Hotel Estate is set on 170 acres of mature parkland and boasts two AA Rosettes. Alternatively, you may prefer Butler House on Patrick St, a stone’s throw from Kilkenny Castle. For the keen golfer, the triple AA Rosette-awarded Mount Juliet Hotel is an attractive option. Set in 1,500 acres of parkland, it boasts a Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course. This means nothing to me, which is why I would probably spend my time in the hotel’s excellent spa. Esther O’Moore-Donohoe[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][image_with_text image=”22170″ title=”DUNMORE EAST, WATERFORD” title_tag=”h2″]

Photo by Flickr user karenandkerry used under CC BY 2.0 licence

[/image_with_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]IN A FEW WORDS:

Explore the picturesque fishing village where BBC drama Kat & Alfie: Redwater was filmed.

HIGHLIGHTS:

As well as half a dozen beaches and coves (my favourites are Lawlor’s Strand and Ladies Cove), sailing, fishing, kayaking and diving are all on offer in the village – check out the Adventure Centre in the harbour for activities for both children and adults. There’s also a cliff walk from Dunmore East to Portally Cove which takes about half an hour.

The biggest event in the village calendar is the Dunmore East Bluegrass Festival in August. Over the weekend, groups from all over the world perform in pubs and bars across Dunmore and turn the whole village into a toe-tappin’, roots and country music party.

If you’re looking for a pint any other time of the year, you’ll be well looked after in Powers Pub (“The Butcher’s”) and for a bite to eat, try The Lemon Tree and The Spinnaker (especially for seafood lovers).

As well as what Dunmore has to offer, the county’s newest attraction is the Waterford Greenway, a 45km walking and cycling trail which runs along the old railway line between Waterford and Dungarvan.

You could also check out The Viking Triangle, the cultural and heritage quarter in Waterford City – about 20 minutes’ drive from Dunmore.

HOW TO GET THERE:

Waterford City is connected to the rest of the country by the M9, the N24 and the N25. From there take the Dunmore Rd (R683/R684) – or if you’re using public transport, Suirway runs buses out to the village throughout the day.

If you’re coming from Wexford, there’s also a ferry to Passage East (15 mins from Dunmore).

WHERE TO STAY:

The Strand Inn sits right next to Lawlor’s Beach and is one of the most featured locations in Redwater. There are plenty of B&Bs and hotels in the village too, but if they’re all booked up, Faithlegg House Hotel is about 15 mins away and would be an AA-recommended alternative. Ruth Jephson[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][image_with_text image=”22126″ title=”NORTH COAST OF ANTRIM” title_tag=”h2″]

Photo by Chmee2, used under CC-BY-3.0 licence

[/image_with_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]IN A FEW WORDS:

A host of world-famous tourist destinations set in spectacular scenery.

HIGHLIGHTS:

There’s only one place to start here – the legendary Giant’s Causeway. The bizarre rock formation is made up of hexagonal columns of basalt which sweep down from the cliffs to the wild Atlantic. It’s a must-see, and I recommend making a day of it as there are some fantastic coastal walks in the area too.

A couple of miles from the causeway, you can pay a visit to the historic Old Bushmills Distillery to find out about how their world-famous whiskey is made – and to sample the goods. The tour is great but a weekday visit is best as the bottling plant falls silent at weekends. If you’re a golfer, you’ll be spoilt for choice – Darren Clarke’s home course Royal Portrush will host the The Open in 2019, while Graeme McDowell’s home links Rathmore is just next door.

Game Of Thrones fans shouldn’t miss the chance to see the eerie Kingsroad for themselves. Also known as The Dark Hedges, the beautiful avenue of beech trees is a key filming location for the show, and it’s situated at the entrance to Gracehill House near Stranocum – about half-an-hour’s drive from Portrush. Then there’s the ruined Dunluce Castle, glorious sandy beaches, Carrick-a-Rede’s hair-raising rope bridge… Lots to do.

HOW TO GET THERE:

From the south and east, take the M1/A1/M1 to Belfast, then follow signs for Derry to join the M2. Exit at J6 Antrim and take the A26 to Coleraine. From there, it’s a short drive to the coast.

From the west, take the N17 Galway/Sligo Rd and then the N15/N13 to Derry. From there, take the A2 to Coleraine and onward to your destination. Use AA Routeplanner for exact directions, travel times, fuel costs and traffic information from AA Roadwatch.

WHERE TO STAY:

Bushmills Inn is a perfect base for a north coast holiday – situated right in the centre of Bushmills and walking distance from the distillery, it’s also just three miles from the Giant’s Causeway. The hotel is described as “spotless and welcoming” by AA inspectors, and I can vouch for the excellent food and cosy bar.

If you’re on a budget, there’s a Premier Inn in the nearby town of Coleraine. Chris Jones[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][image_with_text image=”22127″ title=”LAHINCH, CLARE” title_tag=”h2″]

Photo – public domain

[/image_with_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]IN A FEW WORDS:

Lahinch is a seaside town with all the essentials: a 2km beach, fun activities and plenty of pubs!

HIGHLIGHTS:

One of the first things people think of when they hear ‘Lahinch’ is surfing. Lahinch Surf School and Ben’s Surf Clinic are based on the prom and offer lessons whether you’re a pro or just starting off. The latter also offers rock climbing, kayaking and archery in his adventure centre.

Lahinch is a great spot for a night out. Kenny’s usually has some great live music and The Nineteenth or The Shamrock are welcoming pubs. If you’re in the mood for some dancing, The Claremont is certainly an experience… O’Looney’s also boasts a late bar, with live music or a DJ. Finally, no night out in Lahinch is complete without a visit to the Chinese where Billy will look after you.

From Lahinch, it’s less than a 15-minute drive to the Cliffs of Moher (pictured). It’s a beautiful spot for an Instagram and the fresh breeze will sort out any hangovers. There’s also a visitor centre there if you’d like to discover more about the geology and wildlife of the area. I’d definitely recommend doing (at least some of!) the cliff walk down to Doolin to really experience the rugged beauty of the cliffs.

HOW TO GET THERE:

You can get to Lahinch from Dublin using the M7 southbound and then the N18 northbound until you turn off at J12 Killow. You’ll bypass Ennis on the N85 and continue along the road to Ennistymon, where you’ll turn left at Blake’s Corner and head out the N67 Lahinch Road to your destination.

WHERE TO STAY:

If you’re looking for a treat, Moy House is a five-star AA lodge overlooking the bay. You can also dine in the restaurant, which has two AA Rosettes.

For a budget option, Lahinch Hostel is located at the top of Main St. At weekends, it’s €18 per person per night with a light breakfast included. Róisín Nestor[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][image_with_text image=”22128″ title=”SALTHILL, GALWAY” title_tag=”h2″]

Photo by Terence wiki, used under CC-BY-SA-3.0 licence

[/image_with_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]IN A FEW WORDS:

Head west to one of Ireland’s best seaside destinations.

HIGHLIGHTS:

With sandy beaches, beautiful scenery and great craic, there’s plenty to do in Salthill. A dip in the world famous Galway Bay, a stroll along the promenade or a flutter in the iconic casinos are just a few of the activities on offer in this charming old seaside resort.

If you fancy something different, though, there are also some less conventional options. Salthill is the home of the Galway Atlantaquaria – Ireland’s largest native species aquarium. With tours and talks throughout the day that include big fish feeding, touch pool tours and freshwater fish feeding, this is the perfect spot to combine education and fun. There are plenty of knowledgeable and friendly staff on hand and it’s affordable, with tickets priced from €7.50 to €12.

One of my favourite ways to spend a day in Salthill is to catch a match in Pearse Stadium. Galway is one of Ireland’s most successful GAA counties and on a sunny day it’s hard to beat the colour, noise and atmosphere of the Tribesmen’s home ground in the heart of Salthill. Whether it’s football or hurling you’re into, with the Championship running from May to September there are lots of opportunities to catch a game.

HOW TO GET THERE:

Located at the western edge of Galway City, Salthill is easy to get to by road and well served by public transport. Iarnród Éireann, Bus Éireann and a number of private companies run numerous train and bus services from various locations around the country to Galway City every day. From Eyre Square in the city centre, the 401 Bus Eireann City Service will bring you right to the heart of Salthill in 15 minutes.

WHERE TO STAY:

The smart, country-house style Ardilaun Hotel in the nearby area of Taylor’s Hill is one of west Galway’s best hotels. With friendly staff, exquisite food and landscaped gardens, it’s a great spot to relax and unwind. Ann-Marie Donelan[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]

DON’T FORGET!

[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]

Take out or renew your AA Membership before you start packing the car. For just €8.25 a month, you get 24-hour breakdown cover in Ireland and the UK (meaning you can take the car to Northern Ireland in confidence), personal cover (which covers you in any car) and Home Start, which means you’re covered at your home or very near your home address.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Categories
Featured New Zealand

Following the Lions tour to New Zealand: the AA Roadwatch guide

[vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]Main image by Melanwell, used under CC BY-SA 3.0 licence.

The British & Irish Lions tour of New Zealand is underway, with the three test matches against the All Blacks scheduled for Auckland and Wellington at the end of June and beginning of July.

Whether or not the Lions roar on the pitch, it’s set to be a trip of a lifetime for those fans fortunate enough to be heading down under to follow the team. If you are one of them, read on for our practical guide to visiting the country![/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”WHEN YOU ARRIVE” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_single_image image=”22139″ border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” img_size=”full”][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]Image used under CC0 licence.

Most international flights arrive at Auckland Airport, around 20km outside Auckland in the far north of the country. From there, you can catch domestic flights to towns and cities all over New Zealand.

To get into the city centre from the airport, catch the SkyBus which operates two different routes. Whichever one you’re on, it should take between 40 and 60 minutes depending on traffic conditions. You can buy tickets from kiosks at the bus stops outside the terminal, from the driver (cash only) or online. Naked Bus and Intercity also operate bus services between the airport and city centre.

You can connect to the Auckland rail network (see the Public Transport section below) by taking the 380 Airporter Bus to Papatoetoe station on the Southern Line and Eastern Line. Plan your journey here.

Taxi ranks are located outside the arrivals area (door 8) at the international terminal and outside door 4 at the domestic terminal. A taxi journey into the city could cost anywhere between NZ$38 – NZ$75. The airport’s website has more information on the specific companies and their pricing. Find it here.

Car hire is available on the ground floor of international arrivals. For more on hiring a car and driving in New Zealand, check out the Renting A Car section below.

The first stop of your Lions tour is unlikely to be Wellington or Christchurch unless you are travelling via Australia. However, their airports’ websites provide information on onward travel. Find it here for Wellington and here for Christchurch.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”GETTING AROUND” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_single_image image=”22140″ border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” img_size=”full”][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_accordion style=”accordion”][vc_accordion_tab title=”Renting a car” title_tag=”h5″][vc_column_text]Image used under CC0 licence.

If you’ve travelled all the way to New Zealand, the chances are that you’ll want to get out of the cities and explore the country’s stunning and varied countryside – at least for a day or two. And while the country does have a reasonable public transport system (read on for more on that), nothing beats the freedom of hiring a car and hitting the road.

Car hire is available from our preferred car hire partners, Enterprise Rent-A-Car and Alamo. AA members save year-round on car hire and get a free additional driver – click here to learn more. You can also find Avis, Budget, Europcar, Hertz or Thrifty at airports and in city centres.

Most companies in New Zealand require you to be over 21 to hire a car. It’s worth noting that if your driving licence is not in English, you will need to carry an accurate translation. See NZ Transport Agency for more information.

One handy thing about New Zealand’s roads is that they drive on the left, so you’ll feel immediately at home in your rental car and on the road. There are some things to bear in mind, though:

  • New Zealand is a much larger country than Ireland, which means it can be easy to underestimate distances by just looking at a map.
  • The roads in rural areas are often narrow and winding, so you should always leave more time than you expect to need. Use AA Routeplanner for accurate journey planning.
  • A tired driver is a dangerous driver, particularly on unfamiliar roads, so don’t be overly ambitious when planning your journeys and take regular breaks.
  • Changeable weather is always likely in New Zealand, so make sure you check the forecast before setting off on any journey. Of course, it’s currently winter which means that snow is a real possibility if you’re on the South Island. Check out the Weather section below and read our winter driving tips.
  • Beware of rail crossings – only half of the 1500 crossings in New Zealand have automatic alarms. Flashing red lights means a train is approaching, so stop and only proceed once the lights have stopped flashing. Other crossings have a ‘Railway Crossing’ sign and give way (equivalent to our yield) or stop signs only. If you see this, stop, look both ways and only cross the track if there are no trains approaching.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_accordion_tab][vc_accordion_tab title=”Public transport” title_tag=”h5″][vc_column_text]You can get around New Zealand by bus and, less commonly, train and ferry. Bus is the cheapest and most readily available way to travel between cities, with the two main providers being Intercity and Naked Bus.

Rail travel is much less common, but there are three main lines operated by KiwiRail: Auckland to Wellington on North Island (Northern Explorer), Picton to Christchurch (Coastal Pacific), and Christchurch to the West Coast (the famously scenic TranzAlpine), both on South Island. However, they don’t intersect and services are infrequent.

Ferry is a fun way to travel between North and South Island (try InterIslander and Bluebridge) and a convenient way to reach some of the many islands off the coast.

Within the cities, Wellington is surprisingly better served than Auckland, but both have their own bus, rail and ferry networks – Metlink for Wellington and AT for Auckland. Christchurch is also served by buses and ferries – Metro.[/vc_column_text][/vc_accordion_tab][vc_accordion_tab title=”Domestic flights” title_tag=”h5″][vc_column_text]

Flying is a popular and convenient way to get around the country. There are 25 airports that have regular scheduled domestic flights (16 on North Island, 9 on South Island), and no flight is longer than two hours – the Auckland to Wellington services takes just one. There’s more information on flying around New Zealand here.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_accordion_tab][/vc_accordion][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”WEATHER” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_single_image image=”22141″ border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” img_size=”full”][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]Image used under CC0 licence.

The Kiwi winter generally runs from June to October, though around Auckland, cold days are actually quite rare. It’s a different story on South Island, where alpine regions often experience significant frosts and heavy snowfall and skiing is possible – especially in the Canterbury, central Otago and Southland regions. Your itinerary will have a large bearing on the weather you encounter, but definitely bring some wet weather clothes at the very least as rainfall is high all year round.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”AUCKLAND” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_single_image image=”22142″ border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” img_size=”full”][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]Image used under CC0 licence.

If you’re heading to New Zealand, chances are you will be spending a fair bit of time in its largest city, Auckland. Located on North Island, its 50,000 capacity Eden Park stadium is the home of the All Blacks and will host the first and third tests on 24th June and 8th July.

Fortunately, there is plenty to see and do in the so-called City Of Sails when you’re not cheering on the Lions. It’s extremely beautiful, squeezed in between two stunning natural harbours and blessed with a balmy, sub-tropical climate which means it never gets too chilly – even in winter. It’s also vibrant and cosmopolitan, with a population of more than a million people and a strong Maori and Polynesian character.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”TOP THREE THINGS TO DO IN AUCKLAND” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_accordion style=”accordion”][vc_accordion_tab title=”Sky Tower” title_tag=”h5″][vc_column_text]

Standing 328m tall, the Sky Tower dominates Auckland’s skyline and is the perfect vantage point from which to take in some amazing 360 degree views. At the base of the tower, there are restaurants, a casino and a theatre. There are more restaurants near the top, as well as a viewing platform. And if you’re a real adrenaline junkie you can even walk around the edge or throw yourself off – harnesses provided!

[/vc_column_text][/vc_accordion_tab][vc_accordion_tab title=”Harbour Cruise” title_tag=”h5″][vc_column_text]

Auckland is every inch a maritime city, with Waitemata Harbour to the north and Manukau Harbour to the south. So whether you fancy taking in the city skyline from the water or exploring some of the many small islands, there are boat trips and cruises to suit all budgets. Auckland’s tourism site has a range of options.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_accordion_tab][vc_accordion_tab title=”Waiheke Island” title_tag=”h5″][vc_column_text]

Take a 40-minute ferry east of the city and you’ll arrive at Waiheke Island – a dream for wine lovers. The beautifully green island has a number of wineries and vineyards that offer guided tours and food along with the obligatory wine-tasting. There’s more to it than just vino though – a mixture of farmland, beaches, forest and seaside villages; outdoor activities such as horse riding, ziplining and clay pigeon shooting; and a thriving arts scene mean you may want to spend longer than a day there.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_accordion_tab][/vc_accordion][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”WELLINGTON” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_single_image image=”22143″ border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” img_size=”full”][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]Image used under CC0 licence.

Located at the south-western tip of North Island, New Zealand’s capital is known as Windy Wellington, but don’t let that put you off – it was recently named the world’s most liveable city. That should make for a pleasant stay if you happen to be in town to watch the Lions take on Super Rugby side Hurricanes on 27th June or the All Blacks in the Second Test on July 1st.

Wellington is the second largest city in the country, but with a population of around 400,000 it’s less than one-third the size of Auckland, which makes it compact and practical for a short stay. It’s a picturesque place, surrounded by a large natural harbour on one side and hills on the other three, and as it’s known as the country’s gastronomic and cultural capital, there’s plenty to do.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”TOP THREE THINGS TO DO IN WELLINGTON” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_accordion style=”accordion”][vc_accordion_tab title=”Food and drink” title_tag=”h5″][vc_column_text]With more cafés and restaurants per capita than New York City, it’s no surprise that Wellington is New Zealand’s culinary capital. Fans of Asian flavours will be impressed by what’s on offer – Indian and Malaysian cuisine is especially popular here – while you will have no trouble finding good quality seafood, thanks to the city’s seaside location. In fact, good old fish and chips is incredibly popular in Wellington – perfect if you are on a budget and fancy something familiar. The city also has a buzzing café scene, with a wide variety of cool coffee shops offering quality coffee, snacks, brunches and light meals. Vegetarians and vegans are very well catered for too.

After dark, check out the city’s vibrant nightlife. Wellington was an early convert to the craft beer revolution and as a result there are plenty of cool little bars to explore, each serving a variety of local brews that you won’t find at home.[/vc_column_text][/vc_accordion_tab][vc_accordion_tab title=”Lord Of The Rings” title_tag=”h5″][vc_column_text]

When director Peter Jackson needed to find the right locations for his depiction of Middle Earth, he didn’t have to look far – the areas around his home city of Wellington fitted the bill perfectly. As a result, the city has become a mecca for fans of the Lord Of The Rings films. A number of tour companies are now well-established, offering trips to see filming locations near the city such as Kaitoke Regional Park (Rivendell) and the Hutt Valley (Great River Anduin), as well as Weta Studios.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_accordion_tab][vc_accordion_tab title=”Take a cable car to Kelburn” title_tag=”h5″][vc_column_text]You can of course explore the hills around Wellington on foot, but there’s no easier way to do it than with the Wellington Cable Car. This funicular railway (‘cable car’ is actually a misnomer) whisks you from Lambton Quay in the city centre, past Victoria University and up to the hillside neighbourhood of Kelburn, offering magnificent views over the city and Wellington Harbour.

Once you arrive you can find out more at the Cable Car Museum, check out the astronomy museum Space Place and explore the beautiful Wellington Botanic Garden – all within walking distance of the cable car terminus.[/vc_column_text][/vc_accordion_tab][/vc_accordion][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”DON’T FORGET!” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]

You can get cover up to 60 consecutive days away with AA Travel Insurance, giving you peace of mind on your Lions adventure. Click here to find out more!

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Categories
Europe Featured France Germany Italy Spain Sport and leisure

Top tips for a European cycling holiday

[vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]

With routes spanning the continent, a European cycling holiday could be the perfect way to get off the beaten track and see those places that would otherwise pass you by. It’s a great way to get plenty of exercise, too. We asked Mike McKillen of Cyclist.ie, the Irish Cycling Advocacy Network, for some advice for anyone considering taking to the saddle.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”GET THE RIGHT MAPS AND APPS” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]“Preparation is needed – you can’t just land there and do it. Get hold of the Eurovelo Cycle Route Network Map. That’s a website that is maintained by our parent organisation in Brussels, the European Cyclists’ Federation. It’s like the AA for cycling. They have an offshoot called Eurovelo, which are European bicycle routes – generally off-road but they can be on less-traffic roads like access-only routes.

“You should also go online to order trail maps from IGN, the French Ordnance Survey. They show cycling routes for the region, and you can get the scale that you are comfortable with – you would need at least 1:50,000, preferably 1:25,000. That’s just for the planning.

“Once you get there, turn on your GPS and use the ViewRanger app. That has cycling maps in it, and it gives you the detail you need to turn right here and know that in 400m you’re going to hit a cycling trail and be off-road.”

Remember too that you can use the AA Routeplanner (available on the AA app) when you are planning car journeys abroad.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”DON’T FALL FOUL OF THE LAW” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]

“If you’re bringing your bikes on the back of your car, don’t forget that you have to have a lighting board on the bikes showing your number plate, indicators and stop lights, with lights to light the number plate. That has to be on the last bike of the stack. A lot of Irish drivers don’t know that French police, for example, will pull them over and won’t let them proceed. In France, you also have to have two high-vis vests and a breathalyser in your car.”

[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”KNOW YOUR BIKE RACKS!” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]“The one on the top of the car is for lightweight sports bikes that you can lift with one hand. Touring bikes are heavier, and I would find mine difficult to lift it up onto the roof, so I have a rack that fits onto the tow hitch at the back of my car. It takes two bikes, but you can get them for up to four.”

Click here for a full AA guide on travelling with a roof rack.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”CONSIDER RENTING BIKES” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]“I lead tours, and we always end up renting bikes if we’re abroad because it’s just so much easier. The nice thing about renting a bike is, if something goes wrong with it, the company generally comes with a van, picks it up and gives you a replacement. Of course, then you’ve got to wait for the van to come to you and it could be two hours away.

“If you’re hiring the bikes there, you would need to make contact with a bike hire company, or engage the services of a bike touring company over there. They book everything for you, they know you’re going to do 80k a day on this leg or 55k on the next one, and they book you into lovely pensions, B&Bs, villas or hotels. Whatever grade you want, you just tell them. This way, you don’t have to carry a tent or sleeping bag. All you need is your camera and water bottle, and they transport your luggage to the next hotel.”[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”GETTING THERE…” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]“When booking your passenger fare on the ferry, there is a drop-down menu for vehicles and an option for ‘bicycle’. You just cycle in the same way as you would drive in, and the crew tell you where to put the bike. Generally they have a ‘strop’ – a strap that fixes it to a rail. If you’re travelling by train, you’ll need to bring as strop to immobilise it and stop it flying around the carriage – otherwise you’ll have to stand with it and hold it. 

“With Aer Lingus and Ryanair, you have to bag the bike. You can order a bike bag online but I don’t like taking bikes on a plane because you have to take them apart and reassemble them when you get to the other side, and then you have to find somewhere to put the bike bag. You don’t want to be carrying that with you, so you need to find somebody to hold it for you at the port or airport until you come back, and then you have to do the whole thing in reverse.”

Don’t forget to buy your AA Travel Insurance before you go![/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”ON YOUR BIKE – AND OFF…” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]

“With a nice, leisurely group that don’t want to do huge kilometrage, you’d be planning on anywhere between 40k and 100k a day. That’s doable by six o’clock in the evening, and it gives you plenty of time to go and change, shower, have an aperitif and then go for your dinner at eight. It also includes a two-hour lunch break – al fresco, on the patio, in the café or restaurant! So, start off at 9:30 in the morning, have a two-hour lunch and you can still be in at 6 o’clock in the evening having done 100k.”

[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”WHAT ABOUT NUTRITION AND TRAINING?” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]

“There’s a lot of myth about having to take protein supplements and so on, but you don’t. If you want to lose weight, a cycling holiday is the best way to do it. You don’t need to be stuffing your face every half hour. You’re trying to force your body to mobilise the fat reserves that you have built up to get rid of them, so it’s a great way to lose weight. You don’t need to train for these holidays. If you’re talking about a leisurely family or group trip, children are well able to do these as well.”

[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”BRING A FIRST-AID KIT” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]“Most cycling injuries are from a fall off the bike, so a broken wrist or collarbone, or gashes and lacerations. Bring pads and enough to do a splint so you can strap up a broken wrist.”

Hopefully you won’t be unlucky enough to suffer something more serious while abroad, but here’s some advice on minimising the stress and expense.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”DON’T FORGET YOUR TOOLS!” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_column_text]“If you are the leader and bringing your own bikes, you would need to bring a set of tools that will deal with every nut. Most bike nuts are Allen ones, so you need an Allen key set. You would need a cone-tightening spanner just in case cones on the bearing races come adrift and get loose.

“You need a spare tube suitable for every wheel, so if you’re bringing children I would make sure they are on adult bikes with 26″ tubes – if you have children on smaller bikes, you have to pack a tube specific to their wheel size. Then you need tyre levers because cyclists do their own repairs. A good multi-tool device will have most things you need for tightening things up.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Categories
Europe Featured Italy

Travelling to Rome – the AA Roadwatch guide

[vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]Compiled by Chris Jones and Jennifer McCormack.

Main photo of St Peter’s Square by David Iliff. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]For centuries, Rome has been known as the Eternal City, so called because ancient Romans believed that no matter what happened in the world, and how many empires rose and fell, Rome would go on forever. So far, they’ve been proven right.

Today, the city retains its allure through a heady mixture of ancient ruins, stunning architecture, world-class art, and the simple pleasures that the Italians like to think they do best – namely coffee, ice cream and watching the world go by from a pavement café.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_text_separator title=”HOW TO GET THERE” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][/vc_column][vc_column][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]There isn’t a huge range of options for flying from Ireland to Rome, so unless you fancy a connecting flight your first port of call will be Dublin airport.

Aer Lingus flies from Dublin to the main Leonardo Da Vinci airport by the coast, while Ryanair uses the smaller Ciampino to the south-east of the city. You may be surprised to know that it’s the closer of the two to the city centre, although the transport links aren’t quite as good.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][vc_column][image_with_text title_tag=”h3″ image=”21861″ title=”Leonardo Da Vinci aka Fiumicino Airport”]

Aerial view of Fiumicino, Italy by Julo is licensed under CC-BY-SA.

[/image_with_text][/vc_column][vc_column][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][vc_column][vc_column_text]Express train

From Da Vinci, the Leonardo Express departs for the city centre every 15 minutes between 7am and 9pm – every 30 minutes at other times. The journey takes half an hour and tickets cost €14 one-way – be sure to buy one before you get to the platform as it’s more expensive to buy there, and don’t forget to stamp it before boarding the train.

Commuter train

The Regional FL1 trains serve other stations in Rome, so if you aren’t staying in the city centre it may be worth using them instead. They’re cheaper (€8 one-way) and they depart every 15 minutes on weekdays, or every half-hour at weekends. The train station is within the airport – just follow the signs.

Buses

Da Vinci is served by a number of buses, which each take you to the city centre in around 45-60 minutes. Most depart from the bus hub outside Terminal 3, to your right as you leave Arrivals. You can pay on the bus – much more convenient than booking online, which ties you to a specific departure time.

Taxis

There is a taxi rank outside each terminal. It’s not unknown for tourists to be conned by rogue drivers, so make sure your taxi is white with a TAXI sign on the roof and a clearly displayed licence number. The city authorities have capped the fare at €48 from Da Vinci to the centre of Rome. Confirm this with the driver before you get in, and call +39 (0) 60606 if you have any problems.

Alternatively, you could try Uber – but, as ever, watch out for fare surging.

Car hire

You can hire a car from Avis, Europcar, Hertz, Enterprise, Alamo and several other local firms. The car hire area is accessible via a pedestrian tunnel – follow the signs from Arrivals.

Don’t forget, if you’re an AA customer, you get to up to 10% off and add an additional driver for free with Enterprise, Alamo and National Car Rental, our AA Rewards partner. To get a quote or book click here.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][vc_column][vc_column_text]

Ciampino Airport

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][vc_column][vc_column_text]There is no direct rail service from Ciampino to the city centre, so unless you want to catch a bus to the nearest railway station, which just adds an extra leg to your journey, it’s best to take a direct bus or taxi.

Buses

As with Da Vinci, a range of buses will take you to the city centre. They all leave from stops opposite International Departures. Fares are between €4-6 and the journey should take around 35-45 minutes.

Taxis

The taxi rank is right outside the terminal building. Again, follow the advice above to make sure you get an official taxi, and confirm the maximum fare with the driver. In this case, it’s €30 to the city centre. Uber may well be cheaper so it’s worth a try if you use it.

Car hire

You can hire a car from Avis, Alamo, Enterprise, Europcar, Hertz and several other local firms. The offices are a short distance away from the terminal, but a complimentary shuttle service is available.

Don’t forget, if you’re an AA customer, you get to up to 10% off and add an additional driver for free with Enterprise, Alamo and National Car Rental, our AA Rewards partner. To get a quote or book click here.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_text_separator title=”GETTING AROUND” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]Rome is a sprawling city, but the historic centre is relatively compact and so you can explore much of it on foot – and so you should, with all of those pavement cafés and gelaterie to try out!

That said, you will be well served by the city’s extensive public transport system for those longer distances, with buses, trams, a metro, and a suburban train system available to use.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][image_with_text image=”21883″]Photo ‘local railway Rome Laziali – Giardinetti’ by Reinhard Dietrich – public domain.

Metro

The two main lines are A (orange) and B (blue), and they cross at Termini, the main train station. Trains run between 5.30am and 11.30pm (to 1.30am on Fridays and Saturdays).[/image_with_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][vc_column][vc_column_text]Buses

Buses generally run from 5:30am until midnight, with a limited service overnight. There is also an extensive network of night buses that runs between 1am and 5am.

Taxis

You can hail a taxi on the street or from a rank, which are plentiful around the city. As always, make sure the taxi is official (white with a TAXI sign on the roof and a clearly visible licence number) and that the meter is on. Don’t agree on a set fare unless you are travelling to or from the airport, when the fare is capped (see the airport section above).

If you phone for a taxi rather than picking one up, be aware that the meter starts running from wherever the driver receives your job – not when you get in to the car. You can book a taxi by phoning the Comune di Roma’s automated taxi line on +39 (0) 60609 or calling a company direct. The website www.060608.it has a list – click on the Transports tab, then Getting Around, then By Taxi.

Tickets

Public transport tickets are valid on all of the bus, tram and metro lines except for routes to Da Vinci airport. They are as follows:

BIT (single journey, valid for 100 minutes) €1.50

Roma 24h (valid for 24 hours) €7

Roma 48h (valid for 48 hours) €12.50

Roma 72h (valid for 72 hours) €18

CIS (weekly ticket) €24

Abbonamento mensile (a monthly pass – a single user €35; multiple users €53)

Children under 10 travel free.

You can buy tickets at tabacchi, news-stands and from vending machines at main bus stops and metro stations. Just make sure you stamp your ticket on the bus, or before you get onto your tram or train, using the validation machines available.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_text_separator title=”THINGS TO DO” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]

There are so many different things to see and do in Rome that the difficulty will be deciding what not to do – it just depends on how long you’re planning on staying for. Here are some of our favourite attractions that we recommend seeing while in the Eternal City:

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][image_with_text image=”21850″ title=”TREVI FOUNTAIN”]Photo by David Iliff. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0

One of the most beautiful and most iconic monuments in Rome, and it’s free of charge. We recommend going before 10am as it’s much quieter and you’ll get a much better view of the fountain. Don’t forget to follow the tradition of throwing a coin over your shoulder and into the fountain. The legend goes that doing so guarantees that you will one day return to Rome.

Location: Piazza di Trevi, Rome

Getting there:

Metro: Line A – Barberini stop (seven minute walk)
Bus: Line 40 Express, 53, 62, 63, 80, 83, 85 (Via del Tritone stop)
Tram: Line 8

Opening times: 24/7[/image_with_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][image_with_text image=”21851″ title=”THE COLOSSEUM, ROMAN FORUM & PALATINE HILL”]Photo by David Iliff. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0

The Colosseum is the largest amphitheatre ever built and one of Italy’s most popular tourist attractions. It sits to the east of The Roman Forum, which was the political centre of ancient Rome. Palatine Hill is also directly beside the Roman Forum, and was home to many Roman emperors, including Augustus.

A ticket here guarantees you entry to all three venues over a two-day period. The ticket prices vary, with free entry to under-18s, €7.50 for EU citizens between 18 and 25 years old and all EU teachers, and €12 for adults. The Colosseum is free for everyone on the first Sunday of every month.

Audio and guided tours are available.

Location: Piazza del Colosseo, Rome.

Getting there:

Metro: Line B – Colosseo stop
Bus: Line 75, 81, 673, 175, 204
Tram: Line 3

Opening times:

Last Sunday in October until February 15 – 8:30am to 4:30pm
February 16 to March 158:30am to 5pm
March 16 to the last Saturday of March – 8:30am to 5:30pm
Last Sunday in March until August 31 – 8:30am to 7:15pm
September 1-30 – 8:30am to 7pm
October 1 to the last Saturday in October – 8:30am to 6:30pm

Last entry is one hour before closing time. The Colosseum is closed on May 1 and Christmas Day.

For even more information, check out our dedicated post on the Colosseum here.[/image_with_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][image_with_text image=”21852″ title=”THE PANTHEON”]Photo by Keith Yahl. License: CC-BY-SA 4.0

The Pantheon is the best preserved monument of Ancient Rome. It was originally built as a pagan temple to the Gods of Rome, but was given to the Catholic Church in 609 AD. There is no entrance fee to The Pantheon unless you want to do a guided tour; in which case there is a fee per person.

Location: Piazza della Rotonda, Rome.

Getting there:

Metro: Line A – Barberini stop (15 minute walk)
Bus: Line 40, 60, 64 (get off at Piazza Argentina and walk from there)
Tram: Line 8

Opening times:

Monday – Saturday: 8:30am – 7:30pm (last admission 7:15pm)
Sunday: 9am – 6pm (last admission 6:45pm)
Public holidays: 9pm – 1pm (last admission 12:45pm).

The Pantheon closes on the following dates:

New Year’s Day
May 1
Christmas Day

Visits are not allowed during Masses (Holidays: 10.30am; Saturday: 5pm).[/image_with_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][image_with_text image=”21849″ title=”ST. PETER’S SQUARE AND BASILICA”]Photo by Fred Hsu. Released under the GNU Free Documentation License.

St. Peter’s Basilica is one of the largest churches ever built. The Basilica is home to the Vatican Grottoes, where the tombs of Popes including John Paul II are located. Entrance to the main Basilica is free. It’s also possible to visit the dome designed by Michelangelo (8am to 4:45pm every day from October to March, 8am to 5:45pm from April to September), but there is an entry charge. Note that you must be dressed appropriately (shoulders covered and not too much leg showing), otherwise you will be denied access.

If you want to see the Pope, he usually appears on Sundays at 12 noon, when he comes to the window to pray and bless the crowd in St Peter’s Square. No ticket is required. Otherwise, you can also attend the general audience address held in St Peter’s Square on Wednesday’s, although advance tickets are required for this.

Location: Piazza San Pietro, Rome

Getting there:

Metro: Line A – Ottaviano stop (10 minute walk)
Bus: 23, 34, 40 & 62
Tram: 19

Opening times:

Monday – Sunday: From 7am to 6pm (until 7pm during winter), except on Wednesdays (if there is the papal audience, the Basilica remains closed until 12 noon).[/image_with_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][image_with_text image=”21848″ title=”SISTINE CHAPEL”]Photo by BriYYZ under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic licence.

Part of the Vatican Museums, its status as one of the most famous tourist attractions in the world is thanks to the spectacular ceiling fresco painted by Michelangelo. Admission charges: full price €16, concessions €8 (children aged 6-18).

Audio and guided tours are available.

Location: Viale del Vaticano

Getting there:

Metro: Line A – Ottaviano stop (10 minute walk)
Bus: 23, 34, 40 & 62
Tram: 19

Opening times:

Monday – Saturday: 9am – 6pm (last entry 4pm)
Every last Sunday of the month: 9am – 2pm (last entry 12:30pm)[/image_with_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]Honourable mentions:

  • Centro Storico
  • Spanish Steps
  • Piazza Navona
  • Villa Borghese

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_text_separator title=”FEELING INSPIRED?” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]Here are some more great travel guides from AA Roadwatch:

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Categories
Europe Ireland

Family fun at Christmas – the AA Roadwatch guide

[vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]It’s the most wonderful time of the year – Christmas is coming and the kids are getting excited about Santa’s visit. But it also presents a challenge – how do you occupy the little ones when they have more than two weeks off school in the depths of winter?

Fortunately, here in Ireland we’re used to amusing ourselves when the weather isn’t playing ball and so there are lots of great places to take the children at this time of year. From the oceans to the stars, science to nature and maybe even the chance to meet the big man himself, here are a few of our favourites…[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_text_separator title=”FARMLEIGH HOUSE & ESTATE” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_single_image image=”21800″ border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” img_size=”full”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]Set in 78 acres of land just northwest of the Phoenix Park, the beautiful Farmleigh House is used by the government to entertain foreign dignitaries and host high-level meetings, as well as being open to the public. Each Saturday and Sunday leading up to Christmas, there’s festive fun for all the family, with horse and carriage rides, storytelling, puppet shows and lots more. Best of all, everything is free!

ESSENTIAL INFO:

The Christmas programme runs every Saturday and Sunday until December 18th from 10am to 4pm. Entry to all events is free but puppet and storytelling sessions are on a first come, first served basis. The ground floor of Farmleigh House (where all Christmas events take place) is fully accessible to wheelchair users. The house is closed on December 24th-27th and December 31st to January 3rd. The estate is closed on December 25th-26th and January 1st. More info here.

HOW TO GET THERE:

Access by car is via the Phoenix Park. The closest entry point for Farmleigh is the Castleknock gate. You can also get there on the number 37 Dublin Bus and get off at the Castleknock gate. Farmleigh is a 15-minute walk from the gate. Detailed directions for drivers and bus passengers are posted on the Farmleigh website. Photo © Farmleigh House & Estate.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_text_separator title=”SEA LIFE, BRAY” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_single_image image=”21801″ border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” img_size=”full”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]If your little ones are captivated by the deep blue sea, a visit to Sea Life in Bray could be just the ticket. The aquarium houses a huge collection of marine life, and you can sit in on feeding time with rays and tropical sharks among other fascinating creatures. Some are friendlier than others – the ‘Toxic Terrors’ feature lets you get up close and personal with some of the most venomous sea animals and is likely to delight older children.

ESSENTIAL INFO:

€10 for adults, €7.50 for children – group discounts are available. Sea Life is open from 11am-5pm (Mon-Fri) and 10am-6pm (Sat-Sun) every day except Christmas Day and St Stephen’s Day. Christmas Eve opening times are – 11am-4pm; New Year’s Day – 12pm-6pm. Advance booking is recommended. More info at the Sea Life website.

HOW TO GET THERE:

Sea Life is situated on Strand Rd in Bray. Enter the town and follow signs for the seafront/Sea Life. Paid parking is available in front of Sea Life and along the seafront. If you prefer to use the train, it’s a three-minute walk from Bray DART station, which is half an hour from Dublin city centre. Dublin Bus’s 45, 84 and 145 routes serve Bray Main St, from where it’s a short walk to the centre. Photo © Sea Life, Bray.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_text_separator title=”WINTER WONDERLAND AT WESTPORT HOUSE” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_video link=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hd0sdUuxoEM”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]Westport House in Co. Mayo is a stunning 18th century stately home in beautiful grounds, and this December it has been transformed into a winter wonderland. Kids and adults can enjoy a fun-filled few hours with Santa, Mrs Claus and the elves – including story time, face-painting, and the chance to paint your own gingerbread men. The highlight is a very special visit to Santa in his magical grotto in the Dining Room, where each child will receive a gift and a chat.

ESSENTIAL INFO:

Admission: adults (16+) €14, children (2-15) €28, infants (1-2) €15, babies free. Open Friday to Sunday every weekend until Sunday 11th December, then every day from December 16th-23rd. The house is not accessible for wheelchairs and buggies but according to the website, 90% of the estate is. More info at the Westport House website.

HOW TO GET THERE:

Westport House is located on Quay Rd, just west of Westport town centre. The town is situated at the end of the N5 Longford Rd and is also accessible from the Clifden or Ballina directions via the N59.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_text_separator title=”ARMAGH PLANETARIUM” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_single_image image=”21802″ border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” img_size=”full”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]Armagh Planetarium is the ultimate destination for families fascinated with the cosmos. The main attraction is the spectacular shows that are projected onto the planetarium’s dome. Until December 22nd, an astronomical version of the Christmas story is told in ‘Mystery Of The Christmas Star’. Aside from the shows, there’s a real meteorite (4.5 billion years old!), interactive exhibits, an outdoor landscaped Astropark and a huge amount of fascinating facts about the solar system and beyond.

ESSENTIAL INFO:

Entry is £2 for the exhibition area (or free Mon-Fri during term time). For the shows, ticket prices are £6 for adults, £5 for under-16s and seniors. A family ticket (up to two adults and three children) is £20 per show. Discounts are available for large groups. All shows must be pre-booked. Standard opening times are 10am-5pm but there are some extra evening shows. Closed on Sundays, December 24th-28th and Jan 1st-2nd. More info at the Planetarium’s website.

HOW TO GET THERE:

Armagh Planetarium is located on College Hill in Armagh City, approximately 30km from Monaghan Town via the N12/A3 and 50km from Dundalk via the N52, N1, A1 and A28. Photo © Armagh Planetarium[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_text_separator title=”AQUAZONE, DUBLIN” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_video link=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3j8ErQYcnWQ”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]If the sprogs need to let off steam, they can get wet and wild at Aquazone, which claims to have Europe’s biggest and best water rides and attractions. There are some hair-raising, high-speed slides, plus flumes, a pirate ship, wave pool and lazy river.

ESSENTIAL INFO:

Admission during the school holidays is €15 for adults and €13 for children and students. A family ticket (two adults and two child or one adult and three children) costs €47. The centre is closed for maintenance from Dec 19th-26th, but it’s open again between 10am and 5pm from Dec 27th – Jan 8th (except Jan 1st), so it’s perfect for a post-Christmas dip. Aquazone is wheelchair accessible. More info at the Aquazone website.

HOW TO GET THERE:

Aquazone is part of the National Aquatic Centre on Snugborough Rd, Dublin – close to where the N3 Navan Rd meets the M50 at J6 Blanchardstown. The centre is also served by Dublin Bus routes 17a, 236, 38 and 38a.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_text_separator title=”SANTA’S WORKSHOP AT AILLWEE CAVE, CO. CLARE” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_video link=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JQiCx2S0SS8#t=47″][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]Located in the heart of The Burren in Co. Clare, Aillwee Cave is a spectacular network of underground caverns, otherworldly stone formations and a thunderous waterfall. It’s a fantastic family day out all year round, but never more than when Santa is in residence. Along with Mrs Claus and his team of elves, Santa will greet each child with a gift, while there is face painting, a puppet show and lots of carnival entertainment too. This year, for the first time, there is also a special Sensory Day for children with autism and other sensory challenges, with softer lighting and music and a slower pace to the festivities.

ESSENTIAL INFO:

Admission: adults €16, children €34, babies €7. Open Friday to Sunday every weekend until Sunday December 18th, plus Wednesday 21st and Thursday 22nd. Sensory Day is on Tuesday 20th. Not suitable for wheelchairs or buggies. The caves are open throughout the holidays except for Dec 24th-26th and Jan 1st. More info at the Caves’ website.

HOW TO GET THERE:

Aillwee Cave is located just off the Ballyvaughan/Ennis Rd (R480) in the north of Co. Clare. From the Galway direction, take the N18 Claregalway/Limerick Rd and then the N67 Kilcolgan/Lahinch Rd. Turn left onto the Ennis Rd (R480) around 2km south of Ballyvaughan. From the Ennis direction, take the R480 the whole way to the caves.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_text_separator title=”BIRR CASTLE & SCIENCE CENTRE” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_single_image image=”21818″ border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” img_size=”full”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]If you’re looking for an educational day out for your little stargazers, then try the Science Centre at the 11th century Birr Castle in Co. Offaly. The museum tells the story of early photography, engineering and astronomy in Ireland, particularly through the eyes of the pioneering Parsons family, who own and still live in the castle. The prize exhibit is a reflecting telescope which was the largest in the world for over 70 years after it was completed in 1845. The stunning grounds are open to the public too, though tours of the fairytale castle are only available from May to August.

ESSENTIAL INFO:

€9 for adults, €7.50 for seniors and students, €5 for children aged 5-12 (under 5s go free). A family ticket (2 adults and 2 children) is €25. Open 10am-4pm until March 15th. Closed Christmas Day, St Stephen’s Day and New Year’s Day. The museum and grounds are wheelchair and buggy-accessible, though some paths are gravel so can be rough. More info at The Birr Castle website.

HOW TO GET THERE:

Birr Castle is located in Birr, Co. Offaly on the N52 Tullamore/Nenagh Rd and the N62 Athlone/ Roscrea Rd. If you’re travelling from the east, you can take either the M4/M6 Dublin/ Galway Rd (exit at J5 Tullamore on the M6) or the N7/M7 Dublin/ Limerick Rd (exit at J21 Borris-in-Ossory on the M7). Photo © Flickr user bea & txema & alan.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_text_separator title=”WINTERVAL, WATERFORD” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_video link=”https://vimeo.com/112793188″][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]This is more of a pre-Christmas option, but Waterford’s Winterval is Ireland’s biggest Christmas festival so it definitely warrants a mention. 2016 is its fifth year, and every weeks until December 23rd there are over 30 events and attractions to choose from, including Santa’s Grotto, the Christmas Market, a carol concert, horse drawn sleigh, ice skating, the Elves’ Workshop and more. Something for everyone!

ESSENTIAL INFO:

Many events are free, but full listings and ticket sales are available at the Winterval website.

HOW TO GET THERE:

Winterval takes place at a variety of venues around Waterford city centre.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_text_separator title=”THE PLANET, CORK” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_single_image image=”21804″ border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” img_size=”full”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]If it’s action you’re after, The Planet has it in spades. Cork’s largest family entertainment centre has plenty to keep the whole family entertained on a drizzly afternoon – bowling, laser tag, pool and Cosmo’s Funworld – a soft play area with slippery slides, rope bridges, a huge ball pool and bouncy castles, with a separate area for under-5s. There’s a diner too.

ESSENTIAL INFO:

Admission is free and activities are priced individually. A full list is available here. Closed December 25th-26th and January 1st. Closes early on December 24th (4pm) and 31st (7pm).

HOW TO GET THERE:

The Planet is located on the Old Mallow Rd, in the north of Cork City. It’s just off the main N20 Cork/Limerick Rd.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_text_separator title=”IMAGINOSITY, DUBLIN” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_single_image image=”21823″ border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_self” img_size=”full”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]Kids can let their imaginations run wild at Imaginosity – “Ireland’s only interactive children’s museum for the under 9s”. The ethos is all about learning through play, and there’s a dazzling array of interactive attractions where kids can be a shopkeeper, a mechanic, a doctor or a newsreader, and even learn to drive on a simulator in a real car. There’s a wide range of Christmas-themed events throughout December.

ESSENTIAL INFO:

Adults €8, children (3+) €8, concession €7, toddlers (1-2) €6, babies (6-12 mths) €2. Annual Family Membership is available. Closed December 24th-26th. The building is wheelchair accessible. Full opening hours, event calendar, accessibility info and a comprehensive FAQ are available at the Imaginosity website.

HOW TO GET THERE:

Imaginosity is located in Sandyford Business District, a short distance from J13 Sandyford on the M50, just off the Drummartin Link Rd. Sandyford Luas stop is approximately 10 minutes’ walk from the museum. Detailed directions are available here. Photo © Imaginosity.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]

The AA Routeplanner and AA app can help you find your way to each of these attractions quickly, safely and easily – with live traffic information provided by the AA Roadwatch team.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Categories
Europe Featured Germany

Travelling to Berlin – the AA Roadwatch guide

[vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]Germany’s capital is one of the absolute must-visit cities of Europe. It may not be the easiest on the eye and it certainly doesn’t wrap itself up in a neat little package for tourists, but once you scratch the graffiti-daubed surface, you may never want to leave. Berlin has some of the world’s best nightclubs, food from all corners of the world and a fascinating, turbulent history with buckets of political intrigue – after all, it spent decades of the 20th century divided between the Americans, British, French and Russians.

AA Roadwatch’s Chris Jones is on hand with a few tips…[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”GETTING THERE AND GETTING AROUND” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]This bit shouldn’t give you too much trouble – Ryanair and Aer Lingus each operate two flights per day from Dublin, while Ryanair also flies three times a week from Belfast and twice a week from Shannon. Whichever route you use, flight time is well under three hours, so you should be fresh and raring to go when you arrive.

Berlin is a huge city by area, and walking from A to B isn’t always practical – not least because its divided history has left it with multiple focal points. East Berlin’s main square Alexanderplatz, for example, is nearly three kilometres from the iconic Brandenburg Gate and neighbouring Reichstag (the German parliament building) – and both are relatively central.

Fortunately, you can rely on that famous German efficiency when it comes to the city’s comprehensive public transport network, with plentiful trains (the mostly underground U-Bahn or the suburban S-Bahn), buses, trams and even ferries. Tickets are transferable across all the modes of transport, and there are multi-day and group discounts available – perfect for a family or group of friends on holiday.

If you plan to take the car, you can find lots of advice on driving in Germany at our blog.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][image_with_text_over icon_size=”fa-lg” image=”21512″ title=”Sightseeing” title_size=”65″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]Due to Berlin’s sprawling size it can be hard to get your bearings, so I recommend starting your visit with a walking tour. Over two to three hours, your guide will take you all over the city on both sides of the Berlin Wall (some of which is still standing) and give you a potted history of this fascinating place. Remember to take notes of the places you want to come back to!

For many people, Berlin’s Cold War history is the main reason to visit, and you could easily spend your entire trip soaking it all up. Squeezed into a Tardis-like riverside location is the excellent DDR Museum, which tells the often chilling story of communist East Germany in the decades after the Second World War. Look out for the lovingly recreated and brilliantly kitsch East German living room, or the little Trabant car that came to symbolise the oppressive system.

No less sombre, the Holocaust Memorial beside the Brandenburg Gate is an essential reminder of Germany’s part in the Second World War. Don’t leave without wandering through its abstract, maze-like columns.

Get a sense of Berlin’s sheer sense of scale by taking in the view from the restaurant at the top of the Fernsehturm, or TV Tower. Built by the East German state as a way of flexing its Cold War muscles, it stands at a whopping 368 metres tall. Nearly 50 years after completion, it remains the tallest structure in Germany, and in a city with few skyscrapers, it looks cool from the ground too.

Finally, if you are planning a trip in late November or December, don’t miss the wide array of Christmas markets, or Weihnachtsmärkte, in the city. Check out our guide to these and the best Christmas markets around Europe here.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”NIGHTCLUBBING” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]There are no two ways about it – Berlin is the clubbing capital of Europe. Lovers of dance music, especially that particularly Teutonic brand of dark, pounding techno, will be in hog heaven – and you could easily spend an entire weekend wandering from club to club. Think you’ll get kicked out at 3am, Irish-style? Think again – most people are only turning up at that time, and the best clubs stay open until lunchtime the next day, at least.

The infamous Berghain is top of many people’s list, with good reason. Set in an imposing former power plant, the door policy is strict – very strict – but if you manage to make it inside you’ll find a club unlike any other, all hard stone and metal surfaces, punishingly loud music and a permissive but respectful vibe. If you have an open mind, give it a go.

It’s not all tough electronic beats in Berlin, though. Having once been home to David Bowie and Iggy Pop, the city retains some of its rock and roll glamour and you won’t be short of options that’s your thing. Indie clubs and venues like The Astra, Lido and Bang Bang Club should be top of your list – once you’ve made the pilgrimage to Bowie’s former home.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_text_separator title=”HANGING OUT” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]Like many large cities, the coolest parts of Berlin keep changing along with the demographics – a shabby area becomes hip, makes a name for itself and then gets smartened up as the chain cafés and stores move in, so the artists and hippies move on. These days, the southern districts of Kreuzberg and Neukölln are the places to be – you’ll be spoilt for choice with cool bars, shops restaurants and cafés.

On my last visit I loved Zum Böhmischen Dorf, a buzzing, Czech-themed bar serving authentic, unpasteurised beer. Or for something a little edgier, try Barbie Deinhoff’s a little further north – an amazing dive bar with great cocktails and fantastic music. It’s the kind of place you’d want as your local.

As for food, where to start? Like any cosmopolitan city worth its salt, Berlin is big on street food, and with a large Turkish and Middle Eastern population that means excellent kebabs and falafel. If you fancy a sit-down meal, I can recommend a fantastic – and incredibly cheap – Vietnamese restaurant called Hamy Café near the Hermannplatz U-Bahn stop. Quick, fresh and very tasty! Or at the other end of the scale, you can literally dine in the dark at one of the city’s two ‘dunkelrestaurants’ (dark restaurants) – with only your nose and taste buds to guide you, it’s a sensory experience unlike any other.

Berlin isn’t the kind of city where all the good stuff is restricted to one small location, however. Wander around these areas and many others, and there’s a good chance you’ll stumble into your new favourite hangout by sheer fluke. And although it’s not the prettiest city in the world – Paris it ain’t – the German capital is hard to top for atmosphere, nightlife and things to do. It’s the kind of place you will want to keep returning to – if you let it get under your skin.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_text_separator title=”FURTHER READING” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no” background_color=”#ffcc00″ title_color=”#000000″][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]

If you’re planning your next city break, why not consider a trip to Edinburgh? Check out our guide and learn more about what to expect when visiting the city. Before going on holiday, we advise all travellers to take out AA Travel Insurance. It offers a wide range of travel insurance benefits like flight cancellations, lost or stolen luggage and medical expenses.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]

Hopefully your trip to Berlin will be hassle-free, but if you are unfortunate enough to have your passport lost or stolen, then we have some great advice on what to do

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]