Category: Traveling in Europe

Top 5 Things to do in Vienna

One of the great European capitals, Vienna was for centuries the stomping ground for the Habsburg rulers of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The empire is long gone, but reminders have been carefully preserved by the tradition-loving Viennese. Past artistic glories live on, thanks to the cultural legacy of the many artistic geniuses nourished here—including Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Strauss, and Gustav Klimt. Today’s visitors discover a city with a special grace and a cohesive architectural character that sets it so memorably apart from its great rivals—London, Paris, and Rome.

1. St. Stephen’s Cathedral

Towering above the streets of the Innere Stadt, this massive cathedral is the true centerpiece of Vienna. St. Stephen’s has stood in this very spot since the early 12th century, but little remains of the original aside from the Riesentor (Giant’s Gate) and the Heidentuerme (Towers of the Heathens).

The Gothic structure standing today was built in the early 1300s and has survived the Turkish siege of 1683. St. Stephen’s Cathedral is open Monday through Saturday from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Entry to the main section is free, but you’ll have to shell out around 5 euros (about $6) to visit the catacombs or climb the towers.

2. Museum of Fine Arts

The works at the Kunsthistorisches Museum, or Museum of Fine Arts, range from ancient Egyptian and Greek objects to masterpieces by numerous European masters, including Titian, Velasquez, Van Dyke and Rubens. In fact, the collection here is so extensive that many people say the walls of the Hofburg Palace look bare in comparison. The building itself, which opened to the public in 1891, impresses travelers as well; its facade features ornate sculptures.

Open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. with extended hours on Thursday evenings. During the summer, the museum is open daily and operates the same hours. Admission (which includes entry to the Imperial Treasury at the Hofburg Palace complex) is 15 euros (around $17) for adults and guided and audio tours cost 4 euros (about $5) extra.

3. Schonbrunn Palace

Originally constructed in 1696 as a hunting lodge, Schonbrunn Palace later became the official Hapsburg summer residence. Under the supervision of Maria Theresa (the only female Hapsburg ruler), Schonbrunn evolved into an expansive paradise with ornate rooms and vast elaborate gardens comparable to King Louis XIV of France’s palace at Versailles.

Schonbrunn Palace is open daily at 8:30 a.m. (closing times vary depending on the season). Admission ranges from around 14 to 20 euros (about $16 to $23) for adults and about 10 to 12 euros ($11 to $14) for children, depending on what type of tour you select and whether you’ll be using a guide. You’ll have to pay a few euros extra to explore certain areas of the gardens.

4. Tiergarten

Today, Tiergarten is the oldest zoo in the world, home to about 750 animal species (around 8,500 animals total) ranging from tigers to lemurs. The zoo hosts daily animal talks and feedings that visitors can watch, with animals like orangutans, elephants, penguins and otters.

Since its founding, Tiergarten has undergone many a renovation to bring it up to par with modern facilities. Travelers say that while the cost of admission is on the pricey side, it’s worth it to see the variety of animals and impressive facilities at this zoo. Tiergarten – located on the Schonbrunn Palace grounds – is open every day at 9 a.m.; closing times (usually sometime from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.) vary by season. Admission is 18.50 euros (or around $20)

5. Hofburg Palace

Sitting on the southwestern edge of the Innere Stadt, the 13th-century palace shelters several individual attractions, and if you want the full royal experience, you’ll need to spend at least half a day here. Experienced travelers say it’s best to start in the middle of this massive complex and work your way out. The oldest parts surround the Swiss Court, named for the Swiss guards who used to patrol the area. And from there you’ll find the Kaiserappartements (Imperial Apartments), more than 2,000 rooms where the royal family lived.

Only a dozen or so are open to the public. Take some time to explore the Kaiserappartements‘ Sisi Museum, which offers insight into the life and death of Vienna’s beloved Empress Elizabeth. Then swing by the Imperial Silver Collection or the butterfly house. The Hofburg Palace is open every day from 9 a.m. to 5:30 or 6 p.m. depending on the season. Prices vary depending on which attractions you wish to see. Visit the palace’s main website to plan your visit.


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The Top 5 Things to Do in Valencia

Spain’s third-largest city is a magnificent place, content for Madrid and Barcelona to grab the headlines while it gets on with being a wonderfully livable city with thriving cultural, eating and nightlife scenes. Never afraid to innovate, Valencia diverted its flood-prone river to the outskirts of town and converted the former riverbed into a superb green ribbon of park winding right through the city. On it are the strikingly futuristic buildings of the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias, designed by local boy Santiago Calatrava. Other brilliant contemporary buildings grace the city, which also has a fistful of fabulous Modernist architecture, great museums and a large, characterful old quarter. Valencia, surrounded by its huerta, a fertile fruit-and-veg farmland, is famous as the home of rice dishes such as paella, but its buzzy dining scene offers plenty more besides.

1. art and science city

Valencia’s most famous tourist attraction is the weird-but-wonderful City of Arts and Sciences complex. The complex consists of several buildings for cultural and educational activities, including a science museum, aquarium, planetarium and IMAX cinema. Designed by local celebrity architect Santiago Calatrava, it’s perhaps the most iconic symbol of the city. Inside the Turia river bed (now converted into a park), the City of Arts and Sciences towers over the city as this strange, alien-like series of structures. It’s free to wander around and great for a selfie, but if you want to see the inside, you’ll have to book a ticket to one of the different attractions.

2. Valencia Cathedral and The Holy Grail

One of the cities’ more controversial claims to fame is that it has what is supposed to be the Holy Grail, the actual cup that Jesus drank from at the last supper, the cathedral is a lovely old place and well worth visiting. You can actually climb to the top of the Miguelete bell tower and admire great views of the city. Inside the cathedral, the Holy Grail is one of the must-see attractions for those of a religious following. Legend has it that the cup traveled from Rome centuries ago. However, when the Muslim rulers took over Spain, it was placed into hiding for centuries and only returned to the city in 1427 by the gloriously named King ‘Alfonso the Magnanimous’.

3. La Lonja

This splendid building, a Unesco World Heritage site, was originally Valencia’s silk and commodity exchange, built in the late 15th century when Valencia was booming. It’s one of Spain’s finest examples of a civil Gothic building. Two main structures flank a citrus-studded courtyard: the magnificent Sala de Contratación, a cathedral of commerce with soaring twisted pillars, and the Consulado del Mar, where a maritime tribunal sat. The top floor boasts a stunning coffered ceiling brought here from another building.

4. Museo de Bellas Artes

Bright and spacious, this gallery ranks among Spain’s best. Highlights include a collection of magnificent late-medieval altarpieces, and works by several Spanish masters, including some great Goya portraits, a haunting Velázquez selfie, an El Greco John the Baptist, Murillos, Riberas and works by the Ribaltas, father and son. Downstairs, an excellent series of rooms focuses on the great, versatile Valencian painter Joaquín Sorolla (1863–1923), who, at his best, seemed to capture the spirit of an age through sensitive portraiture.

5. Bioparc

This zoo devoted solely to African animals has an educational and conservationist remit and an unusual approach. Though, as always, the confinement in limited spaces of creatures like gorillas raises mixed feelings, the innovative landscaping is certainly a thrill. The absence of obvious fences makes it seem that animals roam free as you wander from savannah to equatorial landscapes. Aardvarks, leopards and hippos draw crowds but most magical is Madagascar, where large-eyed lemurs gambol around your feet among waterfalls and grass.


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This 25-Inch-Wide Hanging Bridge in Switzerland Is Not For The Faint Of Heart

Those with a fear of heights need not try crossing this dizzying new suspension bridge that hangs 83 meter (275 feet) over Switzerland’s deepest Alpine valley. The world’s longest pedestrian suspension bridge, at 1,620 feet in length, opened last month and connects the towns of Zermatt and Grächen. Those brave enough to traverse it can enjoy … Continue reading This 25-Inch-Wide Hanging Bridge in Switzerland Is Not For The Faint Of Heart

TIVOLI GARDENS : a national treasure and an international attraction

 

Tivoli Gardens is a charming amusement park and pleasure garden situated in the heart of Copenhagen. It opened in 1843 which makes it the second oldest amusement park in the world, attracting over 4 million visitors a year. Rumour has it that after visiting the park, Walt Disney was deeply inspired by it and tried to emulate Tivoli’s fun, laid-back and inviting atmosphere during his creation of Disneyland.

As soon as you walk through the gates you’re greeted with the Moorish-inspired vision of Nimb, a lavish hotel with an out-door eating area, the perfect place for lunch and people watching. Needless to say it wasn’t within my budget, but that didn’t stop me gawping at it in the way I do when I’m wistfully looking at restaurant menus that are too expensive for me.

Admittedly, amusement parks are never usually my thing, but I was utterly charmed by Tivoli. Immediately falling in love with its vintage, old movie like appearance – being beautifully maintained and feeling as if you were stepping back in time. It doesn’t have that modern day, gimmicky atmosphere that many amusements parks have; you won’t see people dressed up in costumes or be subjected to loud, thumping dance music. Instead you’ll hear the sound of people laughing and chatting and experiencing a landscape that could easily have been found in a Hans Christian Andersen fairytale. It’s not surprise this place inspired Mr Disney.

I visited Tivoli once during the day and rode the ‘Daemon’ roller coaster which twirls and swirls whilst going upside-down at a terrifying speed. The ride doesn’t last very long which pleased me, because any longer and I might have lost my voice box from screaming so much! There are lots of gentler rides too, and a wide variety to suit all tastes and thresholds of fear! Something to note is that rides aren’t free once you pay your admission, instead you pay for them individually. There are three different pricing brackets which range from approximately £4.50 to a rather pricey £8.50 per ride.

One of the great things about Tivoli is that being located in the city centre it means you can leave and re-enter the park as often as you like. I therefore decided to visit at night too to see how it differed from the daytime. Luckily I was there on a Saturday night when they hold a spectacular fireworks display at 11:45pm, I know this is quite late for families with young kids but it’s worth letting them staying up for! Before the firework display all the rides are still in full swing and are lit up really elegantly, and there’s also a concert area with a brass band.

There’s a really romantic vibe during the late evening as couples hold hands on the rides, and the smell of food drifts out from the restaurants and lingers in the air. There are also quiet and dimly lit pockets to the garden and lakeside areas which attract fewer people. The lake looks stunning at night because it captures the reflection of nearby rides which light up in colours of gold, red, purple and blue. It’s also funny to see the hundreds of coy fish swimming and bobbing up their heads with open mouths at this time of night.


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The Top 5 Captivating Cities To Visit In Europe

1. Zagreb, Croatia

Travelers to Croatia tend to make a beeline for the Adriatic delights of the country’s extensive coastline, but its flourishing inland capital shouldn’t be overlooked. Zagreb is at once cosmopolitan and edgy, with its heady mix of Brutalist architecture and sun-splashed Austro-Hungarian squares brimming with coffee drinkers.

Urban regeneration is making the city over. Street art, particularly the striking works of local artist Lonac, adorn Zagreb’s outdoor canvasses and new galleries and creative spaces, including a recently reopened WWII bomb shelter under the Upper Town, are opening at an ambitious pace. To top it all off, the city is home to a blossoming food and craft beer scene, and with the opening of Zagreb’s long-awaited airport terminal, along with a host of new flight routes, it’s never been easier or cheaper to reach the Croatian capital.

2. Galicia, Spain

Hundreds of thousands of people stride across Galicia’s rolling green countryside every year, bound for Santiago de Compostela on the world-famous Camino de Santiago. But few are aware that this northwestern corner of Spain is a unique scenic-gastronomic-cultural cocktail that is a dream to explore beyond the Camino.

Almost a country unto itself, Galicia has its own language and history, its own (bagpipe-focused) music, a superb heritage of centuries-old stone architecture and wonderfully welcoming people. Over 1000km of coast snakes around long inlets, plunging cliffs, pretty fishing villages and hundreds of beaches. It yields some of the tastiest seafood you’ll ever savour, to which characterful Galician wines provide the perfect accompaniment. And 2017 is a special year to enjoy Galician wine and food, with Cambados celebrating the year as European City of Wine.

3. Northern Montenegro

If the cruise ships queueing by Kotor’s bay are anything to go by, the cat is definitely out of the bag for Montenegro’s stunning Adriatic coastline. Fortunately, overlooked Northern Montenegro is brimming with off-the-beaten-track adventures – without the crowds. What’s more, the country’s compact size and good roads make this remote region more ripe for exploration than you might have thought.

Adventure hunters can raft through Europe’s deepest canyon at Tara, or cycle through lunar landscapes around the Durmitor ring. Foodies are catered for in highland towns where you can savour Montenegro’s growing slow food scene with mountain cheeses and hearty beef stews; while history buffs can take a pilgrimage to stunning monasteries etched into cliff faces at Ostrog or nestled in breathtaking valleys at Morača.

4. Northern Germany

Travellers to Germany tend to be tempted by edgy Berlin or quaint Bavaria, but those keen on exploring a part of the country rarely experienced by international visitors should head north. The opening of Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie concert hall may be the big news in 2017, but beyond its architectural and acoustic glow awaits a windswept land tailor-made for those seeking an elemental exposure to nature.

This is big-sky country with a pristine coast hemmed in by shimmering beaches and buttressed by pint-sized islands. In between lie charismatic cities like Lübeck and Bremen that flaunt a medieval pedigree and are only a train ride away from such places as Lutherstadt Wittenberg and Eisenach, both of which played key roles in the Reformation launched 500 years ago this year.

5. Le Havre, France

One of the best places to be this summer is the Norman city of Le Havre, which will celebrate its 500th anniversary with a five-month-long, art- and music-filled fête. The harbour town will host concerts, outdoor art installations, avant-garde street parades, costumed dance parties and spectacular fireworks. Highlights include performances by the mechanized giants of Royal de Luxe and a floating Zen temple complete with underwater observation deck.

Despite Le Havre’s years, the city is a showcase of eye-catching modern architecture – including designs by the likes of Auguste Perret, Othello Zavaroni and Oscar Niemeyer – having been completely rebuilt after WWII. Le Havre is also a great base for exploring other parts of Normandy, from the famed D-Day beaches to the picturesque cliffs of Étretat.


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From a Ugly Bunker to a Hipster Paradise

Forget “poor but sexy.” The quote that best describes Berlin is from German cultural critic Karl Scheffler, who called it a city “condemned always to be becoming but never to be”. Many Berliners would see this as a blessing: the German capital is constantly reinventing itself, and when you’re here, you can too. Generations have come to escape the crushing weight of conventional life, to join an off-kilter milieu of artists and misfits, scholars and anarchists. But the city’s buildings, many still empty today, also hold the promise of reinvention.

Art collectors Christian and Karen Boros heard their call around 15 years ago, as they sought a home for their 700-piece contemporary collection. “We looked at old factories, schools, hospitals, swimming pools – everything empty. Places crying out, ‘Help! Give me a new use!’” In 2002, when they came upon what Boros calls “surely the ugliest building in Berlin” – a World War Two bunker in Mitte, at the time not yet Berlin’s hipster centre – it was love at first sight. To the city’s artists and art lovers, the Boros Collection has been an open secret ever since, the bunker’s hulking façade and spray-painted interior walls a handy metaphor for Berlin’s layered history.

The bunker has been re-purposed as Berlin’s coolest art space

The couple weren’t just looking for a way to reinvent the concept of a gallery, though. They wanted to rethink modern living as well. The improbable result was a penthouse atop the bunker, designed by the same architect. Their home isn’t part of the tour, but just knowing they’re up there is strangely compelling. It’s easy to imagine yourself into their lives; no doubt part of the charm of visiting any private art collection. “It’s not like I go down in my bathrobe every day and look at the art with a glass of red wine,” says Boros with characteristic wryness. “But the feeling of sitting on an accumulation – that I could go down at any time and look – is very nice.”

That feeling of richness – of being surrounded by culture – is familiar to all who spend time in Berlin. Indeed, it is one of the capital’s greatest strengths. The Boros Collection may not be a secret anymore, but in this city of constant reinvention, there are plenty of places now getting a second or even third lease of life. When asked about the fast pace of change in Berlin today, Boros is hopeful: “As long as so much is still being created here, this city will live on, not repeating itself, but reinventing itself.”


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