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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.

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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.

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Categories
Croatia Czech Republic Europe Germany Netherlands Slovenia

My Interrailling Journey – From Amsterdam to Zadar

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Planning your interrailling journey? AA Roadwatch’s Sharron Lynskey tells us all about her experience travelling through Europe by train.

[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][image_with_text_over icon_size=”fa-lg” image=”20927″ title=”Amsterdam, The Netherlands” title_size=”80″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]Our first stop was a quick flight to the Dutch capital and it was the ideal start to our interrailing experience. The vast majority of Irish travellers opt for this city as their first step in their journey. It’s a short hop on a plane from Dublin and the city is brimming with quirks. Although this was the most expensive city on our route, it was worth every penny to experience the magic of the canals, the cobbled streets and the extraordinary sights of the red light district.

We stayed two nights in a dingy hostel with a small Stuart Little for company. It was definitely the worst accommodation and yet, we paid almost double the price for this place in comparison to other hostels.

In terms of local cuisine, make sure you don’t leave the city without sampling the Dutch pancakes. There are small stalls and pop-up restaurants dotted all around the city that serve this delicacy – I’d recommend eating it with lashings of Nutella. You’re only on holidays once, eh?

Boredom simply does not exist in Amsterdam. The city is bursting with fun things to do so whether you want to re-visit the realities of World War II in the Anne Frank House or sip a cold pint at the Heineken Experience, this city has it all. I would definitely recommend taking a spin on one of the many canal cruises that are on offer. I didn’t expect much from this at first but the cruise really was one of the best ways to see this fascinating city. You can go for an evening or dinner cruise, but we spent a sunny afternoon on one of the day cruises, which was a really relaxing way to pass the time.

Amsterdam Bucket List:

  • Anne Frank Museum
  • Red Light District
  • Canal Cruises
  • Ice Bar
  • Heineken Experience

For a more comprehensive guide to Amsterdam, check out Nicole Gernon’s trip to the Dutch Capital.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][image_with_text_over icon_size=”fa-lg” image=”20937″ title=”Berlin, Germany” title_size=”80″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]After a (relatively!) short 6hr journey via Munich, we eventually landed late at night to the prinicpal station in the majestic German capital. Luckily for us, the hostel we booked was centrally located in the Alexanerplatz district and was less than a 10 minute commuter train from there. If you’re unsure where to book you accommodation, then I would highly recommend staying around Alexanderplatz. It’s a very central and safe part of the city and there’s an energetic vibe around the square with a number of high street shops dotted around it. There’s also a big train station just off the square that connects you to all the major tourist sites around the city.

We stayed in the One80 Hostel in Alexanderplatz and it was probably the best standard of accommodation we stayed in over the sixteen days. It’s a modern hostel full of young tourists and inter-railers from across the globe. It also has a nightclub, a beer garden and a decent restaurant included in the building so you’ve everything at your disposal. The rooms were clean and tidy and bathrooms and shower facilities were second to none – a rarity in most European hostels!

We stayed a mere three nights in Berlin and I can say, it really wasn’t enough time to truly take in all its historical significance. Saying that, we didn’t waste a single minute and packed in a plethora of activities. Truly, the best way to see the city is to avail of a free walking tour. A lot of the tours actually pick up people from the hostels and take the crowds directly to the tour’s start point – saves a lot of hassle! They’re mostly free of charge but they do accept donations at the end of the tour. Our walking tour took us through the Houses of Parliament, the Berlin Wall and other historical and sometimes quirky points from World War II, including the site of Hitler’s bunker.

Another must-do is the Alternative Pub Crawl. Berlin is well-known for its stellar nightlife but this particular pub crawl is second to none. We stumbled across this pub crawl by accident but it was probably one of the best nights out I had over my holiday. This crawl only travels in small groups and takes you through the more interesting bars around the city including a hippie bar, a ping-pong bar, a Goth rock bar and even a toilet bar (don’t ask!). You will definitely experience a night out like none other! We were also fortunate to stop off in Berlin during one of Germany’s group games with the USA in the World Cup 2014. We caught an open-air screening of the game in the park behind the Brandenburg Gate and the atmosphere was nothing short of electric!

Berlin Bucket List:

  • The Alternative Pub Crawl
  • Walking Tour of Berlin
  • The Berlin Wall
  • Holocaust Memorial
  • Fernsehturm – The Television Tower in Alexanderplatz

[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][image_with_text_over icon_size=”fa-lg” image=”20954″ title=”Prague, Czech Republic” title_size=”80″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]Prague is only a 4 and a half hour train trip away from Berlin but the difference between these two cities is phenomenal. On the train journey, you’ll travel from the bustling contemporary life of Berlin through some of the beautiful, green German countryside and the quaint Czech villages before arriving at the old-fashioned and charming Prague. Although it’s well known amongst young travellers for its crazy pub crawls, this city is definitely more suited to those looking for a relaxing European break.

We stayed in a hostel just off the Old Town Square and although it wasn’t the liveliest area of Prague, it served as a nice place to have some ‘down-time’ mid-trip. Our hostel was called Hostel Franz Kafka and it had all the basics; a clean room, shower facilities and a small kitchen – everything a budget traveller needs!

Prague is such a beautiful city and you could honestly spend hours wandering through the streets and marvelling in the intricate details of the architecture around you. Take in Prague Castle, the Old Town Square and the Astronomical Clock at your leisure. When the sun sets, the Czech nightlife comes into its own.  You can’t leave the city without heading on the Drunken Monkey pub crawl. Every backpacker does it and we met a ton of people from varying nationalities. It’s the best way to meet like-minded travellers and exchange anecdotes of your recent trips.

Prague Bucket List:

  • Prague Castle
  • Petrin Hill & Observation Tower
  • Old Town Square
  • Prague Astronomical Clock
  • Drunken Monkey Pub Crawl

[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][image_with_text_over icon_size=”fa-lg” image=”20956″ title=”Lake Bled, Slovenia” title_size=”80″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]After our stop in the Czech capital, we departed Praha Hlavni Nadrazi (Prague’s Main Train Station) on an overnight train towards Slovenia. Yes, they’re uncomfortable, rocky and a little stinky but we’d a great laugh on the overnight train.

After the rocky ride, we landed in the most remote train station on our trip – it was like rocking up to a ghost village! Lesce-Bled train station is a good distance away from Bled itself and in the early hours of the morning it’s near impossible to find any signs of life, never mind a form of transport! Lucky for us, we managed to flag down a random passer-by who gave us details of a local taxi company but if you’re planning on arriving in the wee hours of the morning, maybe make sure you’ve some form of transport sorted beforehand.

Despite a pretty hectic start, Bled was undoubtedly my favourite place on the trip. It’s breathtakingly gorgeous, with crystal clear waters, blue skies and luscious greenery to boot and is undoubtedly a hidden gem nestled in Central Europe.

Because it’s not as well known as a holiday destination, the village still retains some of its quaint and old-fashioned charm. The houses have colourful picket fences and there isn’t a major shopping district or brand name in sight – a nice break from the bustling squares of Amsterdam, Berlin and Prague. We stayed in a central hostel which was brimming with backpackers from all corners of the globe and had a small bar out the back which was really cosy and was a great spot to catch the World Cup games.

During the day, this little town is brimming with outdoors-y activities to enjoy. Climb to the top of Bled Castle or rent a bike and cycle around the lake. I’d definitely recommend taking a day out to walk to Vintgar Gorge – an astoundingly beautiful gorge nestled between the Hom and Bort hills about an hour walk from the town. The walk to the gorge is nearly as impressive as the attraction itself. You’ll wind your way through picturesque old-fashioned Slovenian villages and farms before arriving at the beautiful rapids, waterfalls and pools. Best to bring your runners for this one as it’s a bit of a trek!

Lake Bled Bucket List:

  • Take a boat out to the Bled Island
  • Rent a Bike and Cycle around the lake
  • Bled Castle
  • Vintgar Gorge
  • Tobogganing on the Straza

[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][image_with_text_over icon_size=”fa-lg” image=”20959″ title=”Zadar, Croatia” title_size=”80″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]Our next and final stop on our inter-rail adventure was the spectacular Croatian coastal city of Zadar. Another spot that isn’t totally bustling with tourists, it still boasts most of its Roman architecture. If you’re travelling from Bled, bear in mind that it’s not a straightforward journey. We had to get a train and two buses and for some reason, one bus company would not accept our Inter-rail passes so make sure you’ve a bit of cash to fork out on a bus journey if you’re taking this route.

We stayed a full five nights in Zadar and because of this, we decided to rent an apartment rather than rough it in another hostel. We found a lovely AirBnB and although the décor was slightly out-dated, it looked out on the beautiful Roman Forum and was within a five minute walking distance of all the major shopping streets, pubs and clubs.

Zadar has all the blue skies and sandy beaches of a regular sun holiday but with added quirks. The ‘Sea Organ’ is a really interesting piece of architecture located at the sea front which plays music by way of sea waves. The best time to hear it is when a large cruise ship or ferry passes by as the extra waves really make the difference! Just a short walk from there is the Greeting to the Sun. When the sun sets behind the Croatian islands, these solar underfloor lights come alive and create an impressive light show, to the tune of the nearby sea organ – a must see!

Zadar Bucket List:

  • Listen to the ‘Sea Organ’
  • Watch the ‘Greeting to the Sun’
  • Take a stroll along Paseo Maritimo
  • Visit the Roman Forum
  • Sit back, relax and enjoy a cocktail in the sun!

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Categories
Europe Netherlands

A Dam Good Time in the Dutch Capital – A Guide to Amsterdam

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Words by Nicole Gernon

@nicole_gernon on Twitter

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Amsterdam is the go-to city break at the moment for young and old alike. Facebook is jam-packed with pictures of friends taking in the spectacular views of the canals or enjoying a bike ride through the cobbled streets of this spectacular man-made city. AA Roadwatch’s Nicole Gernon has just landed back from a trip to the Dutch capital and has all the details you need to plan your perfect break away.

[/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=”Getting There” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no”][vc_column_text]There’s good news for Irish travellers as Ryanair is now flying directly into Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, after years of just bringing people as far as Eindhoven. Aer Lingus also flies directly into Schiphol from Dublin so you’ve no excuse not to bag yourself a flight.

Once you land, you’ll be glad to hear that trains run directly between Schiphol and Amsterdam’s Centraal Station. There are self-service ticket kiosks in the Airport terminal which are easy to use but only accept coins or cards. A one-way ticket to Centraal is currently €5.40.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_text_separator title=”Getting Around” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no”][vc_column_text]You’ll easily navigate around Amsterdam on foot. It’s very compact and the layout of the canals help too so public transport isn’t a necessity.

If you fancy a more relaxed pace of life, a bike or a tram is your best option. Bike rental shops are everywhere and renting a bike is reasonable. Watch out if you’re cycling beside a canal though, as there are no safety barriers!  Trams criss-cross the city and there is a variety of options and prices. Although we found walking to be the best way to see the city, you really don’t have to – the trams can take you anywhere.

There are very few bus options, apart from the sightseeing tour buses. Even still, you’re better off getting the water-taxi version. Water taxis can bring up to eight passengers across the city via the canal system. There’s not much point in driving because bikes and trams are considered far superior. Driving in an unfamiliar city is also quite daunting and parking is scarce.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_single_image image=”19746″ alignment=”center” border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_blank” qode_css_animation=”element_from_fade” img_size=”large” link=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/aigle_dore/4788963707/in/photolist-8ibG4M-9H92Rg-7jusFb-9H94wi-64Dga-7jPM4A-7xLH5f-8KsKmX-7wTHYe-8KsKqB-qUDLnm-8KsKLr-baAxok-61WwGT-8HRZNS-8KvPzf-baAtZk-8KsMr4-8YVzR7-dDWdCW-djQzLu-bWSsFw-9HbV1y-8YVzF9-9HbV9Q-8KsMuK-8KvNwU-4VgEoj-8QH9Kx-dYWSGK-w5b9-bRf5i2-8Jddme-4WCLPN-e6k1z7-pikHPr-8CXVgm-8KsKNt-p2BLcq-caDmhw-nEAqQR-4Vicaz-eQH1F4-ooEAUs-9eHF9L-oRqpRX-62VTK-cQcMZh-pRfKcM-7uUkf4″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_text_separator title=”Where to Stay” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no”][vc_column_text]There is an abundance of hotels. Try to stay within the canal belt so you’ll be within easy walking distance to everything. However, trams will be your saviour if you’re staying in the suburbs.

Avoid Dam square and anywhere directly on the main Damrak thoroughfare, as hotels in these areas tend to be pricier. It might go without saying but if you’re looking for a more relaxing break, it’s probably not the best idea to stay in the Red Light District.

If you’re going in a group, Air BnB has some great options. Staying in Nieuwmarkt or Leidseplein is a good idea if you’re looking to hit the bars every night. We stayed in the boutique Albus Hotel on Vijzelstraat, between Rembrandtplein and the Flower Market and we walked everywhere. Rembrandtplein also has plenty of great bars and clubs.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_text_separator title=”What to Do” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no”][vc_column_text]

A lot of Amsterdam’s allure lies in its aesthetic beauty and relaxed vibe. You can spend hours walking around all the canals and looking at the famous dancing houses, which seem to defy the laws of gravity. Here are my must-see attractions:

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You can opt for a day or a night cruise but I feel that the twilight cruise is a good in-between option. If you’re waiting until later in the year to go, The Amsterdam Light Festival is quite spectacular. It runs from the end of November to the middle of January every year and we were lucky enough to catch it. Artists from all over the world design light installations for the canals and a Colours Cruise at twilight is the best way to experience the festival.

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See the home of Heineken, interact with the story of the famous beer, play some virtual rugby, pull your own beer and relax with a couple of cold ones in the rooftop bar. The bar is one of the highest points in this low rise city – the view is beautiful and access is included with your ticket. Make sure to save your drinks tokens for the rooftop bar instead of the bar that you enter at the end of the tour – you’ll thank me later!

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The city’s Ice Bar is another fun night-time activity for tourists. We did it the same day as the Heineken experience to get the most from it and it was a great way to kick off the evening. For the price of admission you get a cocktail in the ski-lodge before you enter the ice room and then two drinks in the ice room, which are served in a glass made from ice. Wear something warm but don’t worry too much as they will provide you with a thermal jacket and gloves.

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Undoubtedly one of the most important things you’ll see in Amsterdam is the Anne Frank House. The Frank Family hid from the Nazis in an annex behind Otto Frank’s factory for over a year and now, the site serves as an important reminder of World War Two. The minute you’ve booked your flights, this should be the next thing you book, even before your hotel. The queue can sometimes be two hours long but a pre-booked ticket allows you to skip the queue. It also entitles you to a pre-tour talk by a knowledgeable guide who provides context and shows you photos from the Frank’s private collection.  We found the talk interesting and moving and it provided a good basis for the tour. The rooms are unfurnished – as Otto wanted – but artefacts, short videos and information points help you imagine what the family went through.

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This is perhaps one of the most famous areas of Amsterdam, purely because it’s so unusual. To the Dutch, prostitution is an industry like any other and the working girls hire out the rooms and pay taxes. Wandering down the streets is unlike anything you’ve ever experienced and it’s even stranger because nobody bats an eyelid. While you’re there, you can check out the various museums which might help you gain an insight into the origins of this industry.

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These are cute little bars, traditionally in the front room of a canal house. They’re called brown bars because of the brown décor – the result of years of tobacco smoke staining the walls and furniture. While there, make sure you try the local drink, Jenever- a type of fortified wine – just make sure you do so on a full stomach, it’s fairly potent!

[/vc_column_text][/vc_accordion_tab][/vc_accordion][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][blockquote text=”There are Tours and Tickets outlets on every corner. They do brilliant discounts and allow you to skip the queues at the attractions. You’d be crazy to go directly to the attractions without pre-booking. ” show_quote_icon=”yes”][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_single_image image=”19755″ alignment=”center” border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_blank” qode_css_animation=”element_from_fade” img_size=”large” link=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/nagy/58010180/sizes/l”][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_text_separator title=”And if that’s not enough…” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no”][vc_accordion collapsible=”yes” style=”accordion”][vc_accordion_tab title=”Rembrandtplein”][vc_column_text]

See Rembrandt’s ‘The Night Watch‘ brought to life with full-size statues and Rembrandt himself overlooking it all.

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Marvel at The Royal Palace – the former home of the Royal Family, see the War Memorial Obelisk and visit Madame Tussauds.

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The main attraction here is the Reijksmuseum, where all the Dutch painters’ masterpieces are housed. Even if you’re not into art, it’s worth heading down to Museumplein just to wander underneath the great archway of the Reijksmuseum. While you’re down this neck of the woods, make sure you get your photo taken at the Iamsterdam sign – perhaps the best photo-op in the city. There are also other museums dotted around the square, including the Van Gough Museum.

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Cafés are where you go for a coffee, coffeeshops provide an entirely different type of herbal refreshment, so don’t get confused! Coffeeshops are on most streets and while there’s often talk of preventing tourists from entering and purchasing anything, they seem to be doing a roaring trade.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_accordion_tab][/vc_accordion][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_text_separator title=”What to Eat” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no”][vc_column_text]There’s plenty of delicious Dutch food you have to try when you’re there, but don’t plan on sticking to your diet!

Cheese: The Dutch are cheese lovers and there huge shops dedicated to cheese everywhere.

Frites: Chips are another staple and the purple cones filled with these fried delights smothered in a sauce of your choosing are the perfect snack day or night.

Stroopwaffles: Melting waffle biscuits with a gooey centre. Heat them up on your hot beverage, dunk and enjoy.

Dutch pancakes: Crepe style pancakes, but larger, served with whatever you can think of. You may as well go the whole hog and get lashings of Nutella and icing sugar.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_text_separator title=”Before You Go” title_align=”separator_align_center” border=”no”][vc_column_text]Before you start planning your ideal city break to the Dutch capital, make sure to:

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