Category Archives: Europe

48 Hours in Nantes

French city breaks don’t just mean Paris, you know. For your next European getaway, think France, or more importantly, think Nantes. A laidback mix of old and new, the modern and the majestic, this all-too-often overlooked French city has finally found its pulse in recent years and a weekend in Nantes is all you need to uncover its charms.

Like all your favourite European cities, Nantes has historic tourist attractions to satisfy the hungry sightseer, as well as modern attractions to woo the most cynical tourist. Here are my tips for what to see and do in 48 hours in Nantes:

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Ramping up the romance factor in fair Verona

Few cities have romantic legend in the bag as much as Verona. Sure, Paris is still the capital of Lurve with a capital L and New York is the home of cinematic lovefests from An Affair to Remember to Sleepless in Seattle, but Verona has Romeo & Juliet and no rom-com can trump that.

As well as being the stomping ground for Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers, Verona is actually a beautiful, lesser-spotted Italian city that’s well worth a visit, whether you snoozed through Romeo & Juliet at school or not.

Here’s my tips for what to see and do in Verona, with a little sprinkle of romance along the way:

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Gallery: An ode to Venice

So unless you’ve been living under a rock this past week you’ll have caught the A List wedding of George Clooney to Amal Alamuddin. In Venice no less. I have to say, even the cheesy shots of the Clooneys sailing off in a boat called Amore (groan) headed for their honeycloon (extra groan) made me all sorts of sentimental for my own trip to Venice this time last year. After all, movie stars and super-chic international human rights lawyers are no match for Venice in all its glory.
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The Frankfurt Five: my 5 favourites in this city

Unless you’re a business traveller, I’m guessing most of you have never set foot in Frankfurt, never mind considered it for a German city break. Poor old Frankfurt tends to get left behind in favour of the Berghain beats of Berlin or Oktoberfest madness of Munich. Well, for Irish tourists at least. But the oft-overlooked Frankfurt has lots to keep you entertained if you’re there on business or just passing through.

Despite the stuffy financial hub image, Frankfurt has plenty of pluses in its favour. With a population of just 700,000 people you’re never thronged by crowds on the streets, and, even though it has a highly efficient public transport system, you can pretty much walk everywhere. The city mixes old-style architecture with slick skyscrapers and, despite the cosmopolitan spirit, you won’t have to search far to indulge in a traditional apple wine or schnitzel.

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Trekking in Tenerife will change your mind about the Canaries forever

Think of Tenerife and I’m willing to bet my handbag collection that fitness won’t be the first thing to spring to mind. Or in the top ten for that matter. But it should be.

5 million tourists flock to the volcanic island of Tenerife each year and for most holidaymakers, the Canaries tick the package holiday sun, sand and Sangria boxes. That’s great if you need some beach-shaped relaxation but, as host to four of Spain’s impressive 14 national parks, the islands have everything fitness fans need for an active holiday, with spectacular scenery and the balmy embrace of the sun to boot.

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A cheapskate’s guide to Geneva

Geneva’s got quite the reputation. Not for its scenic beauty, views of Mont Blanc or its chocolate and watch-making finesse but as the kind of destination where you need to rob a bank to holiday there. We’ve all heard horror stories painting Switzerland as a rip-off destination. When I told a work mate I was off to Geneva she warned me “it’s €12 for a coffee there”. (Slight exaggeration – it’s 4.50 Swiss Francs for a small one at the airport) Yes, Geneva is expensive but I’m here to tell you there are ways to visit on a city break without selling an organ on Ebay. Don’t believe me? Read on.

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And the award for coolest city goes to….Copenhagen

If I was a city, I’d want to be Copenhagen. If only I was cool enough. Ok so anyone who’s ever been to IKEA, played with LEGO or donned gear from COS knows that Scandinavians have effortless cool nailed. But what surprised me the most about Copenhagen was how unpretentious it all was. Achingly stylish but not a pose-off in sight. In terms of touristy things to do, Copenhagen ticks all the usual city break boxes (attractions, historic sites, a buzzing food scene and fun ways to sightsee) but most of all, it’s got bags of charm.

Let’s start with the locals…If one thing sold Copenhagen to me, it’s the locals. Copenhagen natives have been repeatedly voted among the happiest on earth and as a result the city exudes a laidback and open-minded vibe that’s infectious from the moment you arrive. The locals are friendly, painfully stylish and – yeah, I know I sound like a 14 year old Bieber fan here – easy on the eye. So easy on the eye you’ll have low self-esteem leaving.

Sightseeing fixes…The good news for lazy bones like me is that Copenhagen is a lot smaller than you would expect and a few strolls around Stroget, the main shopping area and the world’s longest pedestrian street, is enough for you to find your bearings. If you don’t fancy hot footing it around the city’s streets, there are three fun ways to sightsee in Copenhagen; a canal tour, kayaking through the city’s canals and hopping on a bike.

Let’s start with the easiest. The canal tour is a chilled out way to see the city from the comfort of your boat (unless it’s raining). Pass the Queen’s palace, Amalienborg Palace, with its spectacular globe and fountains, and get a view of the famous Little Mermaid from the water. We also glided by the stunning royal yacht. Fancy.

Kayaking…I won’t lie – I was dreading kayaking but – shock horror! – it turned out to be my favourite thing from the trip. Kayaking costs around €40 for an hour and a half and don’t worry, you don’t need to be a watersports pro to hit Copenhagen’s canals. You can pick a double or single kayak (depending on how badly you need moral support) and then it’s all about splashing your way into the open waters and canals of Copenhagen, dodging cruisers full of tourists (who are probably cursing at you in a foreign language) and following your kayak instructor who makes it look (wait, it’s that word again) COOL. My advice? Just keep your eye on the prize – the Carlsberg at the end (yes, a pint really is included in the experience). Surprisingly good fun.

Christiania calling….Around 50% of the city’s natives commute by bike and cycling is the easiest way to cross town to visit the third most popular tourist attraction in Copenhagen, Christiania. Set up in the Seventies by squatting hippies, Christiania is a modern version of hippie life. 900 people live in this self-governed, self-sufficient area and, although it’s not exactly Woodstock, it’s worth seeing in the flesh. From here, cycle to the grand Christiansborg Palace, the first palace in the city, and check out the original ruins downstairs. Take a short spin over to the old city centre to grab a coffee and see an original 1880s telephone booth, gilded with black and gold and in top nick, among the classic Scandinavian architecture.

The tourist checklist….In the city, there are some tourist attractions you can’t fly home without visiting. The Round Tower peers over Copenhagen’s bustling streets and the story behind it is a bit Grimm Brothers. Apparently the tower was built for Christian IV, a king who legend has it was so fat he built the Tower with no steps up to its peak, only a flat path so his horses could carry him up. It also houses Europe’s oldest functioning observatory and is worth a visit for the panoramic views over the city’s rooftops alone.

Another must-visit attraction is just a short stroll from the Round Tower. In Kongens, the king’s gardens, you’ll find the Rosenborg Castle which houses artefacts from 400 years of Danish royal history. If you’re into royalty, riches and history, this is the real deal. This castle houses a large collection of royal belongings such as rich tapestries, oil portraits and jewellery but the real gem is the long hall on the top floor which has spectacularly gilded thrones on display in a superbly decorated room fit only for a king.

Finally, the Nyhavn harbour is a postcard-perfect stretch of canal with all types of boats docked there. The walkway is lined with bars and restaurants and the multi-coloured Danish buildings make it one of the prettiest places to grab a beer and people watch.

Disneyland for grown-ups…If you need more persuading, an evening at Copenhagen’s most magical place is guaranteed to make you fall in love with the Danish capital. Dating back to 1843, Tivoli is the second oldest amusement park in the world and is said to have inspired Walt Disney to create Disneyland. Tivoli welcomes approx. 4 million visitors a year and Christmas markets and live music events set up camp here throughout the year. Tivoli has bars, restaurants, old style sweet shops, souvenir shops and thrilling rollercoasters so it’s a perfect night time escape for all ages. Grab dinner at Madklubben restaurant, where three course dinners cost just 200KR and there’s a whole host of local beers to sample. With its old world charm and perpetual festive spirit, Tivoli is Disneyland with soul. MAGICAL.

Eat…As the city which brought us Noma, one of the world’s most famous food experiences, it’s no surprise that Copenhagen is a foodie’s delight. To get your finger on the pulse of Copenhagen’s cuisine, a visit to the Meatpacking district is in order. Unlike in NYC where this district is a meatpacking area in name only, here it is still a food packing zone but the resourceful Danes have revamped this area into a vibrant district with hipsterish bars and top-notch restaurants. Head for Fiskebaren restaurant which is not only a fun nightspot but it serves delish dishes made up of local produce.  You don’t need to be Sherlock Holmes to see why it has been awarded Bib Gourmand status from Michelin. Plus the dessert is so good it’ll make you weep. Across the road, the quirky Nose 2 Tail restaurant is an ode to new Nordic cuisine and eco-friendly culinary delights.

Cocktails… Award-winner Ruby has the best cocktails in town. Fact. With its old speakeasy feel and cosy house party vibe, Ruby is not only the perfect place to end a night, it’s a bar I want to live in. If there’s a Danish Don Draper, this is where you’ll find him.

Pics, pics, pics…click to see more from my trip:

Now for the important stuff…

Getting there: Scandinavian Airlines fly direct from Dublin to Copenhagen, twice daily, from as little as €85 one way, including free 23kg baggage, free online check-in and a 25% child discount. Visit www.flysas.ie to book.

Money saver: get a Copenhagen card for free admission to 60 attractions and free public transport. www.copenhagencard.com

For more information, go to www.visitcopenhagen.com or www.visitdenmark.com or download the mobile App “VisitCopenhagen” from Appstore or Android market for free.