Tab Travel: Winter Break in Europe
ANNA SHEINMAN looks forward to the Christmas holidays with three ideas for winter city breaks on the cheap. Read here for her suggestions.
With only three weeks left until the holidays, yes, I said three, it’s about time we started planning our holidays. In the first of a three part feature, these are my top three City Breaks.
Yes, Paris at Christmas is a cliché, but the French capital is a favourite all year round with good reason: it’s super close, there’s something for everyone, and despite the freezing cold those Parisians remain so damn sexy.
How to get there: Eurostar is by far the most comfortable option, if you book soon there are still £60 youth returns and you will glide out of the gleaming St Pancras and into central Gare du Nord in just over 2 hours. Eurolines coaches take 8 to 10 hours, and if you can get one overnight, at £38, the saving may well be worth it. I have always found the coaches comfortable and clean and have slept well, but then again I’m 5 foot 3. Don’t take the plane: it will cost you more time, money and aggro with French taxi drivers getting to and from the airport than you could ever save with a 99p fair.
Where to stay: French hostels are famously awful, and given Parisian prices of around €30 a night, ideally you’ll have a friend to stay with. Otherwise log onto fusac.fr, gumtree.com and craigslist.com and find an apartment to rent for a few days. Beware scams, but if you pull it off, you’ll be extremely grateful after a long day sightseeing to have some space to prepare meals, using fresh produce from your local market with a bottle of Petit Recoltes house wine from Nicholas on the side.
What you could do once there: Eiffel Tower (ugly), Mona Lisa (uglier) and sipping hot chocolates in Parisian corner cafés (UHT milk abounds and anything but black coffee in cafés is extortionate, even more so at the corner brasserie opposite any Metro station).
What you should do: Buy a Pariscope for 40 centimes from a newsagents for weekly listings of everything going on in and around the city. Visit Monet’s intoxicating Nymhiades at L’Orangerie. Go and see a French film for under €4 at Gaumont Gobelins. Huddle in the reading rooms upstairs at bookshop of dreams Shakespeare and Co. Eat organic home cooking at the well hidden La Bonne Heure in the 13th. Trawl the Marche aux Puces de Montreuil for dirt cheap vintage clothing. Go gay clubbing at Queen. Wander your local food market, sipping vin chaud, and practice your GCSE French on the stall owners.
Europe’s city of vice, famous for its… canals. No that’s not a euphemism. Seedy, quirky, beautiful, in a constant state of identity crisis, this is a city to fall in love with. This time of year, however, the rain will cut you to the bone if you haven’t packed appropriately, but on a happier note, the Dutch celebrate Christmas freakishly early, so the shops are a much calmer place to go present hunting.
How to get there: Rail, sail, coach or plane, pick your fancy. If price is your concern (and it’s certainly mine) Eurolines coaches are currently £35 return from London. Those lucky enough to live in Newcastle can take a very efficient DFDS ferry for about £60 return. Or you could cycle.
Where to stay: Hostels in Amsterdam are excellent. Well equipped, clean and safe, with kitchens and hang out areas, you’re spoilt for choice. The Flying Pig Hostel Uptown comes highly recommended by many for a friendly backpacking crowd and that all-important and very charming indoor smoking area (ahem). It comes in at around €17 a night on a weeknight and €30 on weekends.
What you could do: Go to the Anne Frank Museum and the world’s largest Van Gogh collection. Hang out in a cannabis café and get high on wonderfully named foreign strains of weed like ‘White Widow’. Wander through the Red Light district, tittering nervously.
What you should do: You should definitely do those things. The huge Grasshopper café has a second smaller branch which is warm and homely, with great window seats to watch the world go by. Try the Bluebird café for a decent joint. According to my darling college husband, the strip shows have a ‘banana act’. Whatever floats your (banana) boat. When the whole sex, drugs and lots more drugs thing gets a bit too seedy, rent a bike from just about anywhere and head for the serene Vondelpark, the city’s answer to Central Park.
When you’re done admiring the duck ponds pay a visit to the Filmmuseum, whose film screenings range from classic Hollywood to German horror at €7.80 a pop. At Waterlooplein street market you can pick up an entire wardrobe, second hand, fur coats and all for £50. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, make a beeline for Thaise Café Bird on Zeedijk, or get Amsterdam’s best chips at the unpronounceable Vleminckx Sausmeesters on Voetboogstraat.
Ok, I get it, you’ve probably been there before for shopping, dinner in theatre land, and a musical in the West End. This is not OK. London is big, it’s pretty hard to navigate, and it can be expensive, but if you get away from the tourist traps there’s a whole new (much cheaper) world to be discovered.
How to get there: From Cambridge take the train into King’s Cross, £10 return walk-up fare if you travel on a weekend with a 16-25 railcard. From further afield, the train from Edinburgh takes 4.5 hours, Manchester 2.5 hours and Bristol 1hr 45mins. Prices vary wildly depending on how far in advance you book, and if you’re travelling peak (before 9.30am) off peak (after 9.30 am) or super off peak (weekends). Coach is almost always cheaper, and generally takes double the time, check out National Express or Megabus for deals.
Where to stay: Finally cash in on all that socialising you did when you should have been writing essays, and stay with a friend. Unless they live in Brixton and you’ve never been to London before, in which case, find a new friend.
What you could do: Tower of London, Tate Modern, Madam Tussauds, the museums in South Ken, the Globe, the Aquarium, so far so touristy. But chances are you’ve done all of that on school trips. Move on, move away from the river, mooove awaaay from the riiverrrr…
What you should do: Go for a wintery walk on undulating Hampstead Heath then warm up again in one of Hampstead’s many coffee shops. I like Café Base. So does Thierry Henry. Buy an Oyster card and actually work out how to use the buses. Luxuriate in TopShop on Oxford Circus, then relax with a Sam Smith’s ale, perhaps at Angel in the Field on oh-so-poash Marylebone High St. Do your food shopping in bustling Borough Market. Visit South London, just so you can say you have: I hear Richmond is the least scary bit. Flirt with the bottle flinging bar staff in Freud on Shaftesbury Avenue. Get lost in the vintage shops and bhangra madness of Brick Lane, then cross the Whitechapel Road for the Best Bangladeshi in the West at Tayyabs. Hang around Shoreditch or head to Camden High St for a live gig (Proud and Barfly attract some of the better acts). Then hit up Tiger Tiger or Cheapskates for a truly dirty student night out.
Illustrated by Amy Munro-Faure