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Hiring and Driving a Car in Europe

[vc_row css=”.vc_custom_1433753900038{padding-top: 20px !important;padding-bottom: 20px !important;}” row_type=”row” use_row_as_full_screen_section=”no” type=”full_width” parallax_content_width=”in_grid” angled_section=”no” angled_section_position=”both” angled_section_direction=”from_left_to_right” text_align=”left” background_image_as_pattern=”without_pattern”][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]Hiring a car anywhere abroad should be a relatively easy and transparent process, but very often it is not and is something that can cost you dear when you get home.

The array of insurances and confusing conditions can make it virtually impossible to make an informed judgement – there’s a chance that you may either take out unnecessary insurance or face additional and often considerable costs later.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row css=”.vc_custom_1433754037283{padding-top: 20px !important;padding-bottom: 20px !important;}” row_type=”row” use_row_as_full_screen_section=”no” type=”full_width” parallax_content_width=”in_grid” angled_section=”no” angled_section_position=”both” angled_section_direction=”from_left_to_right” text_align=”left” background_image_as_pattern=”without_pattern”][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]

Plan Ahead

[/vc_column_text][vc_separator type=”normal” position=”center”][vc_column_text]If you leave it to the last minute and simply pick a car hire desk at random when you arrive at your destination airport you’ll have no idea if you’re getting a good deal or not.

The best advice is to plan ahead and book before you travel. This will give you plenty of time to read and understand the conditions of hire and consider the cost and value of any additional charges.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row css=”.vc_custom_1433755003295{padding-top: 20px !important;padding-bottom: 20px !important;}” row_type=”row” use_row_as_full_screen_section=”no” type=”full_width” parallax_content_width=”in_grid” angled_section=”no” angled_section_position=”both” angled_section_direction=”from_left_to_right” text_align=”left” background_image_as_pattern=”without_pattern”][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]

When you’re there

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To help you plan accordingly, we’ve listed advice below for hiring and driving a car in countries such as Spain, Portugal, France and Italy.

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Spain

[/vc_column_text][vc_separator type=”normal” position=”center”][image_with_text image=”18662″]

Source: “Llançà coastline” by Dennis van Zuijlekom on Flickr used under

Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence

[/image_with_text][vc_column_text]Who can I rent from? Many well-known car-hire brands have offices throughout Spain such as Hertz, Avis, Europcar, and Alamo. If you’re an AA Member you can save up to 10% on global car hire.

What about tolls? Spain has a large number of tolls dotted throughout the country – inconvenient at times, but these roads enable easier access than their alternatives. You can view a list of toll prices in Spain here.

Is there anything else I should know? Hire cars are often targeted in service areas or tricked in to stopping on the hard shoulder by the occupant of a passing vehicle. They will gesture that something is wrong with the vehicle, so lock all doors and keep bags out of sight. The number of thefts by bogus policemen has increased in Madrid and Catalonia. It’s also worth remembering to bring the same credit card to the rental check-in desk that you initially booked with.

Fuel Prices
Unleaded: €1.25 – Diesel: €1.17

Advice from AA spokesman Conor Faughnan: “More Irish people drive abroad in Spain than anywhere else so lots of people have had the experience. The Spanish have spent hugely on their roads and the motorway network is excellent but it can be scary.

We are spoilt in Ireland because our motorways are new and feel comfortable in terms of lane widths and hard shoulders, compared to Spain especially. I saw a truck driver trying to change a wheel near Barcelona a year or so ago on a hard shoulder that was only half the width of his vehicle.

What you do find though, are plentiful good quality service areas (National Roads Authority please take note).

Spanish motorways are a good deal cheaper than France but they too are sprinkled with toll booths. Often the toll itself is set according to by-laws or converted from old peseta or franc denominations. Hence, you get utterly stupid charges like €2.56 that have tourists wrestling for small coins.

The Spanish have got their act together more recently in terms of enforcement. If you haven’t been in a while, you might be tempted to treat their speed-camera signs as just roadside decoration. A mistake – Spanish, French and Italian authorities can and do pursue you, and you will get an unpleasant demand in the post weeks later for anywhere between €45 and €80.

Especially in tourist areas, park carefully. It’s not just bag-snatchers – many parts of Spain are notorious for cars with dents and scratches.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row row_type=”row” use_row_as_full_screen_section=”no” type=”full_width” parallax_content_width=”in_grid” angled_section=”no” angled_section_position=”both” angled_section_direction=”from_left_to_right” text_align=”left” background_image_as_pattern=”without_pattern” padding_top=”20″ padding_bottom=”50″ css_animation=”element_from_fade”][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]

Portugal

[/vc_column_text][vc_separator type=”normal” position=”center”][image_with_text image=”18669″]

Source: “Lisbon, Portugal” by Arden on Flickr used under

Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence

[/image_with_text][vc_column_text]Who can I rent from? Many well-known car-hire brands have offices throughout Portugal such as Hertz, Budget and Thrifty.

What about tolls? Tolls are charged at several motorways throughout Portugal. It is compulsory to either carry a Temporary Electronic Toll Device (DEM) or pre-pay tolls. This is required for many motorways throughout Portugal. The official guide to paying tolls can be viewed here but we understand the toll motorways to be the A4, A17, A22, A23, A24, A25, A28, A29, A41 and A42.

Is there anything else I should know? It’s not unusual to spot police cars at the side of the road with speed guns as speed limits are strictly imposed. In built-up areas, drive at 31 mph (50 km/h), outside built-up areas at 55 mph (90 km/h) or 62 mph (100 km/h) and on motorways at 74 mph (120 km/h).The minimum speed on motorways is 31 mph (50 km/h). Motorists who have held a driving licence for less than one year must not exceed 55 mph (90 km/h). In some town centres the speed is reduced to 12 mph (20 km/h).

Fuel Prices
Unleaded: €1.41 – Diesel: €1.23

Advice from AA spokesman Conor Faughnan:There wasn’t just a Celtic Tiger in Ireland – Portugal had one as well. They invested very heavily in infrastructure so like Ireland, Portugese motorways are good quality modern ones.

In years gone by the Portugese road safety record was appalling, one of the worst in Europe and far worse than Ireland’s even when ours was a disgrace. However times have changed all around Europe and in Portugal standards have improved to the point where you will hardly recognise them if you are remembering a trip from a decade ago.

Even so, these roads are relatively more dangerous than Irish ones. In tourist areas especially you do need to concentrate at all times.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row row_type=”row” use_row_as_full_screen_section=”no” type=”full_width” parallax_content_width=”in_grid” angled_section=”no” angled_section_position=”both” angled_section_direction=”from_left_to_right” text_align=”left” background_image_as_pattern=”without_pattern” padding_top=”20″ padding_bottom=”50″ css_animation=”element_from_fade”][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]

Italy

[/vc_column_text][vc_separator type=”normal” position=”center”][image_with_text image=”18673″]

Source: “Rome” by Moyan Brenn on Flickr used under

Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Licence

[/image_with_text][vc_column_text]Who can I rent from? Car-hire is available from Hertz, Avis and Thrifty alongside plenty of smaller independent car-hire firms.

What about tolls? Tolls are levied on the majority of motorways in Italy. You can calculate tolls here.

Is there anything else I should know? AREA C (A pollution charge, formerly Eco-pass) is levied in the centre of Milan. Charges apply Mon-Fri and generally from 7.30am until 7.30pm. Drivers must purchase an eco-pass before entering the restricted zone. Tariffs vary according to the emissions of the vehicle. Mopeds and motorcycles are exempt.

Traffic is also restricted in many historical centres/major towns known as ‘Zone a Traffico Limitato’ or ZTL’s, where circulation is only permitted for residents.

Fuel Prices
Unleaded: €1.65 – Diesel: €1.52

Advice from AA spokesman Conor Faughnan: “The Italians have a reputation for being warm, friendly, chaotic, stylish and disorganised. It is a wonderful country to visit but in keeping with the clichés their roads can be difficult for visitors. I drove in northern Italy a number of years ago and it is a Mecca for car nuts. At one stage, as we sat in traffic in our diesel Ford Fiesta hire car, I noted that the car in front and the two cars behind me were all Ferraris. We also took a spin up into the Italian Alps. I gather the scenery was lovely; I didn’t get to see it. Along twisted mountain roads that looked like they were straight out of The Italian Job, my abiding memory was of dodging the bikers flinging themselves into hairpin bends. I half-expected to see piles of smashed bikes at the base of the cliffs.

Don’t let it put you off. Italy has a good quality modern network, and while town and city centres probably do require an experienced and calm visiting driver the general driving environment feels safe and secure. Motorways are extensively tolled but are far cheaper than France and more comparable to Spanish rates.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row row_type=”row” use_row_as_full_screen_section=”no” type=”full_width” parallax_content_width=”in_grid” angled_section=”no” angled_section_position=”both” angled_section_direction=”from_left_to_right” text_align=”left” background_image_as_pattern=”without_pattern” padding_top=”20″ padding_bottom=”50″ css_animation=”element_from_fade”][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]

France

[/vc_column_text][vc_separator type=”normal” position=”center”][image_with_text image=”18675″]

Source: “Paris Skyline, France” by Luke Ma on Flickr used under

Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Licence

[/image_with_text][vc_column_text]Who can I rent from? You can rent from companies like Hertz, Sixt and Argus Car Hire. Rental vehicles in France come with unlimited third party liability insurance included in the initial price.

What about tolls? Pay-as-you-go tolls are charged on most motorways in France. You can pay toll fees by credit card or cash.

Is there anything else I should know? “French authorities are quite stringent on all motorists carrying the correct documents and compulsory equipment when driving. These include a warning triangle 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. Failure to comply with this regulation involves a fine of up to €1,500 and the vehicle and/or device may be confiscated.

Fuel Prices
Unleaded: €1.39 – Diesel: €1.39

Advice from AA spokesman Conor Faughnan: “France is a beautiful part of the world and the roads make it easy. On the motorways especially, you quickly forget that you are abroad. The locals are reasonably friendly provided you don’t bring bad Irish motorway habits with you. Our tendencies to hog the outer lane or to switch lanes without indicating do not go down well.

The Autoroutes are peppered with tolls and they really add up. As a rule of thumb it is usually between 0.07-0.10 cent per kilometre travelled, add about half that again if you are towing a caravan. I did a 375km trip in the south of France last year and it cost nearly as much in tolls as it did in fuel: €31.00

French traffic police are notorious and their law is tough. Treat them as formally as you would airport security or you may regret it just as much. They are much more laid back off the roads but be warned. Don’t dream of taking an alcohol-risk.

Don’t ignore speed cameras either – they work and you’ll find a charge either applied to your card or sent to you back home in Ireland.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row css=”.vc_custom_1433771293246{padding-top: 20px !important;padding-bottom: 20px !important;}” row_type=”row” use_row_as_full_screen_section=”no” type=”full_width” parallax_content_width=”in_grid” angled_section=”no” angled_section_position=”both” angled_section_direction=”from_left_to_right” text_align=”left” background_image_as_pattern=”without_pattern”][vc_column][vc_column_text]

For peace of mind

[/vc_column_text][vc_separator type=”normal” position=”center”][vc_column_text]• Damage – 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.

Controls – Check all the switches, indicators and other controls carefully and if any are unfamiliar or don’t work, ask the rental firm for guidance
Refuelling – 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.
Insurance cover – 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.
Additional insurance – 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.
Theft insurance – recommended if this is not included in the comprehensive insurance.

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Categories
France

5 Theme Parks in France Your Kids Won’t Want to Miss

[vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]If you’re looking for a fun filled day out with the kids then these five theme parks are bound to keep you and the family entertained for hours on end.[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]

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

There’s a reason that Disneyland Paris is the most well-known theme park in all of France. It’s spellbinding, enchanting surroundings will bring wonder and awe to children of all ages. With breath-taking parades, family-friendly rides and the chance to meet Minnie and Mickey Mouse, it’s no surprise that Disneyland Paris is the most visited theme park in Europe. You and the family can take a trip down to Pocahontas’ Indian Village, spin about on the Mad Hatter’s Tea Cups or help Buzz Lightyear in his laser quest. As the sun sets on your magical adventure, you can see Sleeping Beauty’s Castle come to life with lasers, fireworks and a unique telling of the Disney classic stories.

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

Puy du Fou [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]If you’re looking for something a little different during your stay in France, then the historical theme park, Puy du Fou will be right up your street. Throughout the day, you can watch gladiator’s battle and chariots race in an authentic Roman stadium. Enjoy witnessing British and French armies fight in a medieval castle in the heart of a forest or be a part of the intense battles amongst the Vikings. In between shows, the kids can have fun at the jumping water jets or pick their own vegetable in the quaint 18th Century village. The park is located in the heart of the Vendée region of Western France and is less than an hour drive from the cities of Nantes and Angers.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]

Futuroscope[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]If the thoughts of roller coasters and being thrown 50ft into the air make your stomach churn, then fear not, Futuroscope is the ideal place for you and your family. Situated just 10km north of the city of Poitiers, Futuroscope is the perfect spot for those who wish to experience the thrill of a theme park, but without feeling faint. Combining a mixture of motion simulators, 3D and 4D theme rides, there is no room for boredom at Futuroscope. The Little Prince is a 4D experience your kids will not want to miss. Special effects such as ground vibration, rain, clouds, smoke and the sensation of falling are just some of the thrills you can expect during your day out. A stress-free day out is guaranteed, as there is a direct route to the park via TGV.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]

The Astérix Park [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]Centrally located just 30km from the city of Paris, The Astérix Park is the perfect blend of rollercoasters and amusements. With five different worlds for you and the kids to explore, you can spend the whole day immersed in Egypt, The Roman Empire or Ancient Greece, to name but a few. For the adrenaline seekers in your family, the park also boasts the biggest wooden rollercoaster in Europe, the jaw-dropping Goudurix winding rollercoaster. On a warm, sunny day you can cool off on one of the many water-based theme rides or face an incoming ‘storm’ on a swing boat. The younger children won’t be left out either. One third of the total attractions in The Astérix Park are catered to suit children under 6 years old so families of all ages can enjoy what it has to offer.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]

Cite de l’Espace [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]Has your child ever dreamt of becoming an astronaut? That dream could become a reality with a day visit to Space City, located just a 15min drive from Toulouse’s city centre. Visitors can travel on board the MIR Space Station, an exact replica of the well-known Russian space station used for ground testing. As well as that, your family can lead a space mission, take control of a spacecraft, build your own rocket or practice your moonwalking. Watch their eyes light up as they walk towards the Ariane 5 Rocket, the giant life-sized rocket that reaches up to 53m in height. For the adults then, marvel at the Planetarium or sit back and enjoy a screening in the IMAX theatres.

Image credit: pixabay.com[/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.

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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
England Featured France Germany Italy Northern Ireland Scotland Spain USA Wales

Avoiding a Medical Emergency Abroad

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There are plenty of steps travellers can take in advance of a trip away to minimise financial costs and the inevitable stress that comes with a medical emergency abroad. We’ve listed below some incredibly simple steps to take ensuring everyone has a safe and enjoyable trip.

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See your doctor before you go

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It’s a good idea to get a medical check-up from your doctor before you go. If you’re planning on taking part in strenuous physical activities such as hiking or skiing, pay a visit to your doctor to make sure you’re in good shape for it. (And don’t forget to check with your travel insurance provider that these activities are covered under your policy.) Consider whether you need vaccinations for your destination, too. In an AA study, 23% of males aged 17-24 years old told us they needed medical attention whilst abroad compared to just 15% of women in the same age bracket. So once you pay a visit to the doctor, tell your partner/dad/brother to do the same!

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Medical care at your destination

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Learning about the quality of medical care at your destination means you’ll know what to expect should you need it. For example, in Spain there are two types of health establishments you can visit depending on the severity and type of illness – a hospital and a health centre (Centro de Salud). For serious illnesses or injuries, it’s expected that you would visit a hospital, but for instances not requiring immediate hospitalisation the Centro de Salud is your best bet. Knowing information such as this allows you to make sound judgments about what type of treatment you need.

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Know how to seek medical care

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Do you know how to call for help in a foreign country? It’s not something you even think of amongst the flurry of packing and printing out flight tickets, but it could prove to be the most vital. Click here for a map that shows local emergency telephone numbers from around the world.

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Carry health information

[/vc_column_text][vc_separator type=”normal” position=”center”][vc_column_text]You might know your blood type and that you’re allergic to peanuts, but what about other background information like medications or previous surgeries? These could be crucial to a doctor giving you emergency treatment.

And while it’s wise to carry your EHIC (European Health Insurance Card) with you if you’re travelling to Europe, be aware that it won’t cover for things like an air ambulance home if someone is in serious trouble, which can cost up to €20,000.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]

Check your insurance

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People often think medical care isn’t included in their travel insurance policy, but a lot of the time it is and they just don’t know. Check your policy to ensure you’re getting value for money and sufficient coverage. The AA provides unlimited medical cover for Members who have an extra Travel policy, meaning there are no restrictions on the amount you can claim.

[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]For more information on AA Travel Insurance, please click here.

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Categories
Featured

Do you need a European Health Insurance Card or travel insurance for European breaks?

Sometimes a vacation is what’s needed to escape the daily routine, and with the Easter midterm break on the horizon it’s the perfect opportunity to gather the family for that much-needed sojourn. But in between making sure you’ve packed the kids’ essentials (passport, togs, iPad – check!) it’s easy to forget things like taking out proper travel insurance or to just neglect it all together. In fact, research from the AA reveals that almost 20% of holidaymakers don’t bother with it because they carry the free European Health Insurance Card (previously known as an E111 card).*

Do I need an EHIC or travel insurance?

Source: Librestock.com
Source: Librestock.com

The EHIC allows you access to healthcare services when travelling to other European Union (EU) and EEA (European Economic Area) countries. There you can avail of the same level of state-provided free or subsidised medical treatment that local citizens would expect within that country. Once you’re living in Ireland or intend to live here for a year you can apply for the EHIC from the HSE.

While the EHIC is well worth having, bear in mind that healthcare systems vary from country to country and are quite likely to be different to the system here in Ireland. The EHIC doesn’t provide for private medical treatment abroad, or other costs such as sea or mountain rescue, an emergency flight home, or indeed accommodation if an accident or illness means you have to delay your journey home. Some countries may even charge EHIC cardholders for ambulance services, local doctor visits, prescriptions or specialist medical costs. Costs can vary and you may be required to make a contribution towards your treatment. Holidaymakers should also remember that there are some areas within the EEA where the EHIC is invalid, such as parts of the Republic of Cyprus.**

A holiday saviour

Source: Librestock.com
Source: Librestock.com

A travel insurance policy will cover all of these costs. The most common claim type we receive is for medical emergencies, but it’s important to remember that insurance covers you for a lot more. The second most common claim type is for holiday abandonment with travellers having to cancel their getaways due to unforeseen circumstances. Beyond that, your policy will also help meet the costs of lost or stolen belongings. Those jetting off should bear in mind that some policies won’t cover the cost of treatment at a state hospital if the EHIC should have been used and was not.

And while you might be tempted to go for the cheapest policy on offer, the AA warn against taking out cover based on price. “The cheapest policies often have high excesses, meaning you could be paying anything between €50 and €350 before an insurer will process your claim. Make sure your policy covers everything you need it to,” advises Conor.

The AA offers great value and benefits online with Annual Travel Insurance.  Get a quote now here.

_______________________________________________________________________________

*Research carried out by Populus among 23,085 AA members aged 18+, 7–15 May 2014. Populus is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.

**Neither your EHIC nor S1 form (a certificate of entitlement) is valid in the parts of the Republic of Cyprus where the government of the republic does not exercise effective control (the northern part of Cyprus). http://www.nhs.uk/NHSEngland/Healthcareabroad/countryguide/Pages/healthcareinCyprus.aspx

Categories
Europe Featured Scotland

Travelling to Edinburgh – the AA Roadwatch guide

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It’s no surprise that Edinburgh was once known as the Athens of the North. A city of exquisite medieval architecture built on hills, Scotland’s capital makes for a great autumn city break. Whether you’re a history buff, a comedy fan or an urban explorer, there are plenty of attractions for all ages and budgets. And, take it from a former resident, AA Roadwatch’s Lauren Beehan – you get used to the hills. Eventually.

[/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=”WHY GO NOW?” 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]Edinburgh makes a great destination for an autumn city break, when the parks are resplendent in orange and yellow. Known as one of the world’s most haunted cities, it really comes into its own at Hallowe’en, with numerous ghost tours, cemetery trails and guided underground visits. There really is no better place to see off All Hallow’s Eve than the supposedly haunted pubs on Niddry St and Cowgate, complete with spooky vaulted basements under the medieval Old Town. For those more easily scared, there are plenty of Harry Potter-themed events, ceilidhs and Celtic Samhuinn celebrations.

From late November, the Christmas festival adds craft markets, ice rinks and a ferris wheel to your usual list of must-sees in the city. The world famous Hogmanay celebrations on New Years’ Eve attract crowds with the street party, fireworks and outdoor concerts. It’s also the only night of the year that the imposing clock above the Balmoral Hotel shows the correct time: the rest of the year, it runs three minutes fast to ensure that travellers make their train at the neighbouring Waverley Station.

But what about the weather? It is cold and it’s always windy, so you’ll need to pack your Arran jumpers and tartan scarves, but let’s be honest: no-one goes to Scotland for a sun holiday.  And, really, who needs an excuse to buy more tartan?[/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]

Edinburgh’s compact city centre is best experienced on foot, although be prepared for uphill struggles. It can be difficult driving in the historic centre: many of these cobbled streets were built before anyone had even dreamed of cars and the Royal Mile is partially pedestrianised.  If you do decide to drive, keep in mind that most on-street parking is pay-and-display. Many car hire companies are based in the airport, with a few city centre offices. Click here for advice on speed limits in Scotland. The newly-built tram line runs from the airport to the city centre via Haymarket, while Lothian Buses provide an inexpensive service throughout the city. A fairly extensive Night Bus network will get you home safely in the wee hours, and taxis are easy to find at designated ranks.

[/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_over icon_size=”fa-lg” image=”21554″ title=”WHAT TO DO” title_size=”65″][/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]No trip to Edinburgh is complete without visiting the castle and taking the mandatory photo on the esplanade, no matter how windy it is. The castle – which doubles as a handy navigation point, given that it sits on a volcano above the city and lights up at night – actually comprises several buildings and exhibits.

From the castle, you can walk down the Royal Mile (which is longer than a mile) towards Holyrood Palace. This is the main street in Old Town, the oldest part of the city, with a labyrinth of ‘closes’ (narrow medieval streets) off each side. Centuries old, these are worth exploring and serve as useful detours when the main street is full of shoppers stocking up on tartan and shortbread. You can also take a ghost tour from the Royal Mile, although this writer, shamefully, was scared off by the photographs.

On the other side of Princes Street Gardens (above, photo by the author) is New Town, built in a Georgian grid pattern. Princes Street is the main shopping area, while bars and restaurants fill Rose Street and George Street. The best photo opportunities – especially at sunset – are from Calton Hill, home to a curious collection of half-finished monuments.

Make sure to try the national dish of haggis, neeps and tatties (turnips and potatoes). While you’ll hear about deep-fried Mars Bars, this mythical ‘delicacy’ is only available in a handful of chippers.

Edinburgh’s numerous bars are matched only by its multitude of coffee shops. Harry Potter fans can visit the cafés where JK Rowling wrote the early books: looking out the windows, it’s not hard to see where the inspiration for Hogwarts came from.

On a sunny day, climb Arthur’s Seat, one of three extinct volcanoes in the city. If you visit in summer, follow the local tradition and take a disposable barbecue to The Meadows. This is not advised at any other time of year!

A lesser-known walk is along the Water of Leith through Dean Village. Less than fifteen minutes from the bustling city streets, it feels like a country walkway with truly baffling architecture. Stockbridge, a village on the river, holds a great farmers’ market on Sundays: come for the cheese and meats, stay for the cupcakes.[/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=”FESTIVALS” 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]Edinburgh is the festival capital of Europe and there’s always something going on. If you decide to hold off until next summer there are the world famous August Festivals, when six festivals take place simultaneously. They double the city’s population and make walking in Old Town at 4am feel like crossing Times Square at midday. The Festival Fringe alone boasts 50,000 performances before the month is out. Whether you make plans or let yourself be whirled away by the relentless teams of ‘flyerers’, you’re bound see exciting and unusual shows.

Apart from these stalwarts of the festival calendar, smaller events take place throughout the year, including festivals dedicated to jazz, storytelling, film, science and cake.[/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=”DAY TRIPS” 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’d like to venture further afield, you’re spoiled for choice. South Queensferry, the home of the impressive Forth bridges, is just one train stop away. Meanwhile the bigger city of Glasgow – great for shopping or events – is just an hour away by car or train. The medieval city of Stirling and even older town of St Andrews are both within 50 kilometres.

Many people use Edinburgh as a base to begin their tour of Scotland’s beautiful Highlands, either by coach or by rental car. If you’re driving, the roads deep in the Highlands are single-lane country routes, with designated points for passing cars travelling in the opposite direction. Popular spots include Fort William, Glencoe, Inverness and the Isle of Skye. Skye is deceptively big: the capital, Portree, is almost an hour’s drive from the bridge at Lochalsh. Once you’re there, though, hike to the Old Man of Storr for unrivalled views of the isle and its neighbours.[/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 Berlin? 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.

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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.

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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

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Categories
Ireland

AA Roadwatch go to Electric Picnic

[vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]Electric Picnic takes place in Stradbally, County Laois this September from Friday the 2nd to Sunday the 4th. Headline acts this year include LCD Soundsystem, Lana del Ray, The Chemical Brothers, New Order and Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds. If you’re thinking to yourself ‘but I want more Esther’ , there are also food demonstrations, a dedicated children’s area and an excellent comedy tent where Dylan Moran, Aisling Bea and Rubberbandits will perform.

I’ve been to EP a few times but the closest I’ve gotten to camping was sleeping in the back of a HiAce van. Last year was my favourite by far as I was broadcasting and interviewing bands. More importantly, I had access to the fancy loos which is the dream at a festival.

Electric Picnic has been sold out for months but if you’re lucky enough to have gotten a ticket, here’s what you need to know about getting to Stradbally.[/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=”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]It’s not rock and roll but it is important to plan your journey in advance and allow yourself plenty of time to get to the festival site. If heavy rain is forecast on the day you’re heading down, this usually means more people will take the car and in turn, could mean longer delays. If you are travelling down after work on the Friday, keep in mind you’ll be coming into rush hour traffic so be prepared for this.

Our new and improved AA Routeplanner is fed live traffic information from AA Roadwatch so you can see what the traffic is like on your route plus any incidents that may add to your journey time.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_accordion style=”accordion”][vc_accordion_tab title=”By Car”][vc_column_text]On the M7, both northbound and southbound traffic can exit at Junction 16 Portlaoise East towards Broomfield Roundabout and onto the Stradbally Road before following signage. Northbound exit at Junction 17 Portlaoise Centre and follow signage.

From the M8 northbound motorists can exit at Junction 3 Rathdowney (Abbeyleix) and follow signage through Ballacolla, Abbeyleix, Ballyroan and onto the site.

On the N80 via Carlow, travel straight to Stradbally. Motorists can also travel to the event via the Stradbally/ Athy Rd (R428). All routes leading to designated parking areas for the event are clearly sign-posted and patrons are urged to follow these routes to avoid unnecessary delay and traffic disruption.  Gardaí will be on point duty.[/vc_column_text][/vc_accordion_tab][vc_accordion_tab title=”Car Parking”][vc_column_text]

There are multiple car parks on site for ticket holders and parking is free of charge.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_accordion_tab][vc_accordion_tab title=”Disabled Access Car Parking “][vc_column_text]According to the EP website, there will be two different car parks for those camping and for day attendees. Day ticket holders should park in Car Park Z and those camping should park adjacent to the disabled campsite. Pre-registered customers will be sent route information in advance.  Spaces will be available to attendees who have pre-registered to use the facility. Please note car parking passes will not be issued until approximately 1 week before the event. The disabled day car park is the closest public car park to the site but keep in mind that it is still some distance from the event entrance.

There will be a designated disabled access campsite which will have accessible toilets, fridges (should medication need to be stored) and electrical hook ups for wheelchair charging. Each disabled customer may have up to three people camping with them, and one car. There will be dedicated stewards in the disabled campsite providing 24 hour cover.[/vc_column_text][/vc_accordion_tab][/vc_accordion][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”Bus-ing it to The Picnic” 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=”Marathon Coaches”][vc_column_text]The bus service will start from 8am on Friday 2nd with buses departing George’s Quay every 30 minutes until 6pm that day. On Saturday 3rd and Sunday 4th, buses will depart at 10am, 11am and midday.

The full return bus fare costs €25 but you can avail of a reduced fare online of €22.50 until 5pm on Wednesday 31st Aug.

You’re strongly recommended to book online in advance to ensure you get the correct bus departure time

Return Buses will start departing the festival site from 8pm on Sunday 4th and will run until 1pm on Monday 5th September.

You can choose your own departure and return time during the booking process.[/vc_column_text][/vc_accordion_tab][vc_accordion_tab title=”Bus Eireann”][vc_column_text]Bus Éireann will be operating a number of return services from Custom House Quay in Dublin throughout the weekend.

From Custom House Quay to Stradbally

The Friday service departs from ​7.30am to 18.00pm with services running every 30 minutes​. The Saturday and Sunday services leaves Custom House Quay at 10am, 11am, midday and 1pm.

From Dublin Airport to Stradbally

A Friday bus departs at 2pm.

From Stradbally to Custom House Quay, Dublin

On Saturday, buses departs from 11pm, midnight and 1am while on Sunday, they leave at midday and every 30mins from 8:30pm until 2am. On Monday then, they depart every 30mins from 5am to 1:30pm.

Buy tickets now

From Parnell Place, Cork serving Fermoy, Mitchelstown and Cahir to Stradbally

On Friday, the bus departs Parnell Place in Cork City at 8am, Fermoy (McCuratin Street) at 8:35am, Mitchelstown (The Square) at 8:50am and Cahir (Castle Street) 9.:20am

The return service on Monday departs Stradbally at midday. Tickets cost €40 return and can be bought from online or from the Travel Centre at Parnell Place Bus Station in Cork City. Call (021) 4508188

From Galway to Stradbally

The Friday service departs Galway Bus Station at midday.

 

On Monday, the Galway bus leaves Stradbally at 10am. Tickets cost €35 return and can be bought from Bus Éireann Travel Centre in Eyre Square, Galway City. Call (091) 562000[/vc_column_text][/vc_accordion_tab][vc_accordion_tab title=”Kelly Travel”][vc_column_text]

Kelly Travel will be offering a range of services from Cork, Limerick and Tipperary to Stradbally for both weekend attendees and Sunday attendees. You can view the locations, service times and book tickets here.

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JJ Kavanaghs will operate a direct bus service from Ulster Bank, Georges Quay to Stradbally on Friday 2nd September. There will also be returns bus on Sunday 4th and Monday 5th September. Tickets cost €25 return and can be bought here.

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AA Patrols will be on standby in the Stradbally area over the weekend to deal with festival breakdowns. AA Membership is available for as little as €8.25 per month and offers 24/7 emergency cover so you’ll never get stuck in the mud. See here for more.

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When I polled my Roadwatch colleagues for festival tips, one emailed straight back telling me I had a typo in my email so we were off to a great start

[/image_with_text_over][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]You should download The AA Routeplanner app of course, to help plan your trip to Stradbally. On the map app, you can see what route is heaviest on the way to the festival, approximately how long your journey will take and estimated fuel costs which is bound to get you in the mood to party.

Esther ‘Best Roadwatcher’ O’Moore Donohoe.

My advice is to bring lots of socks. They stop your wellies from rubbing up against your leg and if it rains having a few spares means you can keep your feet dry and toasty. You can also use them as gloves* if you get cold whilst camping and if you need to wipe your hands (say if you spill your bottle of sparkling water** all over yourself). Socks are your friends in emergencies.

Arwen Foley, Roadwatch Editor

*Arwen has called these HocksⓇ (hand socks).

**Arwen’s eye twitched here

If it’s your first time going to Electric Picnic, you do not need to bring a massive tent and large suitcase. We made this mistake going to our first outdoor festival and it was a real pain. We also packed way too many cereal bars, crackers and snacks. No matter how many cereal bars you bring to ‘save money’, you’re inevitably going to pay €10 for a greasy hot dog at 2am

Sharron Lynskey, Broadcaster, researcher, typo corrector.

I have never been to Electric Picnic or any similar festival. I’ve only ever been to Summer Madness, a Christian festival in King’s Hall, Belfast which I attended in ’06 and ’07.

Ruth Jephson

Who needs a carryall or a suitcase? A bin bag is your best friend at a festival. You can even use it to fill it up with more bin bags. Bin bags for everyone! I should also mention that a black bin bag can be used as a black bin bag. Genius.

Rachel Murray

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Categories
Uncategorised

Win a family trip with Stena Line

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Win a family return trip to Britain with Stena Line. 

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AA Rewards partner Stena Line would like to give one lucky family return trip tickets to Britain.  Plus give all AA customers an exclusive 20% saving on sailings when you book by 19th August.

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Providing sailings from as early as 1561, during the reign of Elizabeth, between Howth in Dublin and Holyhead in the UK.  Stena Line now consists of 22 strategically located ferry routes with a modern fleet of 35 vessels including fast ferries (HSS), traditional combi-ferries, RoPax-ferries for freight and passengers, and pure cargo ships.

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The Prize

A return trip for two adults and two children including a car on either Stena Line’s Dublin to Holyhead or Rosslare to Fishguard Routes.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/1″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]

Competition closed

Congratulations to our competition winner, Brian Johnston.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/1″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/1″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/1″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/1″][vc_single_image image=”21309″ border_color=”grey” img_link_target=”_blank” link=”http://www.theaa.ie/aa/aa-rewards/Exclusive-20-off-Sailings/105/” img_size=”full” alignment=”center”][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]

Stena Line are now offering all AA Customers an exclusive 20% saving on sailings.  Click here to find out more.

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Categories
Ireland

Galloping to the Galway Races

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Crowds of race-lovers will descend on the west of Ireland again this year, as the Galway Races get underway from Monday 25th July. Whether you’re a fully-fledged race enthusiast or it’s your first-time joining in on the fun, the Galway Races has something for everyone. As it’s one of the biggest racing festivals of the summer, you can expect it to draw massive crowds both to the racecourse and to the city itself and traffic delays are unfortunately inevitable.

[/vc_column_text][/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=”21342″ title=”When’s the Best Day to go to the Races?” title_size=”60″][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_column_text]The festival runs from Monday 25th right up until Sunday 31st July, which is the weekend of the August Bank Holiday. You’re always going to get a great day out at the races no matter what day you pick. If you want to avoid the worst of the crowds and opt for a more relaxing racing experience though, Monday or Tuesday are your best days as they tend to be quieter.

On Wednesday, the infamous Galway Plate race takes place and this one usually garners the most media attention and in turn, massive crowds of people. It’s a great day out and the atmosphere is second to none.

Thursday is an equally monumental day as the fashionistas and finery come to the fore. The ever-popular Ladies Day descends on the racecourse in Ballybrit and it’s usually the most colourful and vibrant day on the Galway racing calendar.  If you’d like to chance your arm and put your own style to the test, the good news is that you don’t have to go through a formal entry procedure. The judges simply wander through the crowds and select a number of eye-catching finalists. Be sure to be in a prominent part of the racecourse before 11:30am though, as that’s when the judges start their rounds! The Annual Best Hat competition and Most Stylish Man event also take place on the day so if you can’t claim the big prize, those awards might make for a suitable consolation.

It’s another style-filled spectacle on Friday as Friday’s Fair Lady competition gets underway. This is likely to be another very busy day for the racecourse, so be prepared for traffic delays and long queues to both the bookies and the bar. Again, if you’re looking to enter the Fair Lady competition, there is no formal entry – just sit pretty in a prominent position for the judges and you’re sure to be spotted. Don’t dilly-dally though as finalists are usually picked out before 6pm.

If you’re looking for a family day out, then Saturday or Sunday at the races are your best option. They’re the dedicated family days and children even get free entry. Think the kids will find race day a bit dull? Think again. There will be an abundance of entertainment for the young racegoer including bouncing castles, slides and face painting. The Mad Hatters Day takes place on the Sunday and is a real fun way to get the kids involved in race day. There are prizes available for adults and children sporting wacky hat designs but make sure you head to the Mad Hatters Tent, found behind the Tote if you want your entry to be recognised.[/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=”What Do I Wear?” 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 isn’t an overly strict dress policy at the Galway Races but if you want to keep in tune with the crowds, it’s best to stick to your smart/casual attire. You’ll get away with dressing more informally on Monday or Tuesday but from Wednesday onwards, it’s a good idea to get your finest glad rags out. Thursday and Friday are the big ‘dressed up’ days, when the Ladies Day and Fair Lady competitions take place so you’re encouraged to dress as smartly as you possibly can.

[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”Where is the Racecourse in Galway?” 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’ll find the racecourse about 5km from the city centre, in an area called Ballybrit. It’s easily accessed off the N17 Tuam Road or the N6 Bothar na Dtreabh and delays are likely on both of those approaches to the racecourse. There will be ample car parking facilities available in the vicinity of the racecourse and parks will be located on both approaches to the racecourse.

Remember!

If you’re using the N17 from Sligo to get to Galway for the races, the road will be closed between Collooney and Tobercurry near Ballinacarrow North from Tuesday 26th until Thursday 28th July between 4am and 5pm each day. You will be diverted but do expect that to add to your journey time.

Top Tip

If you’re using the N17 to get to the races and want to avoid the heavier traffic. You can take a left at Claregalway onto the N18 (signposted Limerick). At the traffic lights, take a right and drive past the airport. After about 3 and a half kilometres, you’ll take a right onto Ballybrit Crescent and head into the racecourse that way. You won’t avoid the inevitable delays around the vicinity of the racecourse, but you should bypass the heaviest traffic on the N17.

Still unsure of your route? Check out AA Routeplanner or use our new AA Roadwatch/ Routeplanner app for live traffic information.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”What’re My Public Transport Options to the Racecourse?” 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 will be a shuttle bus service operating every day of the races between Eyre Square and the racecourse. It will pick up people outside The Skeff Restaurant on Eyre Square and buses will start running from approximately 2 hours before the first race. Return services will start bringing people back into the city from after the second-last race each day and you’ll find the service at Entrance B and C of the arena.

The demand for buses will be high so expect some queues. An adult single fare is €6 and you’ll pay €9 for the return service while for children, a single ticket will cost €3 and €5 for the return. The pick-up stop at The Skeff is just a short five minute walk from Ceannt Train Station and the adjoining Galway Bus Station, so this may be a good option for you if you’re using public transport to get to Galway.

There will be numerous taxis travelling between the city centre and the racecourse. If you want to get a taxi out of the venue, the taxi rank will be located at Entrance B.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space height=”32px” image_repeat=”no-repeat”][vc_text_separator title=”What Else Do I Need to Know?” 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’re advised to arrive at least one hour before the time of the first race and turnstiles will open about two hours before the first race each day.
  • No need to worry about pre-booking tickets. Admission can be paid on the day through the turnstiles.
  • OAP’s and students can get a discounted admission rate on the day, provided you have proof of a current ID. Discounted rates are as follows: Monday €10, Tuesday €15, Wednesday €15, Thursday €20, Friday €15, Saturday €10 and Sunday €10.
  • Children under 12 will be admitted free of charge to the Summer Festival and if the kids are over 12, they will be offered the discounted student rate.

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