7 Spanish Attractions Every Kid Should Experience

Spain isn’t just for grownups and whether you live here or you visit, there is no shortage of things for kids to do. From an amusement park on top of a mountain to the biggest aquarium in Europe to a magical fountain; exploring Spain is fun for all ages. Here are the seven Spanish attractions that every kid, and frankly every adult should experience at least once in their lifetime.

7. Tibidabo Amusement Park, Barcelona

The mountain of Tibidabo overlooks the city of Barcelona and offers spectacular views of both the city and the coastline. It also happens to be the site of one of the best kids attractions in the country. Tibidabo Amusement Park opened in 1899 and is one of the oldest still operating parks in the world. Most of the original rides are actually still in operation here. Attractions here include a pirate area, castle and many rides both modern and original.

The journey to this park is half the fun, as you first need to take a train from the center of Barcelona to the Tramvia Blau, which takes you halfway up the mountain. The rest of the way up is by funicular train and expect breathtaking views. There are no “thrill” rides here but expect a friendly atmosphere, plenty of experiences for the little ones and one heck of a Ferris Wheel that overlooks the entire city.

6. Parque del Buen Retiro (Retiro Park), Madrid

It translates into Park of the Pleasant Retreat in English and as the biggest park in Madrid City, it is certainly worth a trip with the kids. This magnificent park is filled with beautiful sculptures and monuments, galleries, a peaceful lake and home to a variety of events. The best part about spending time here is that both kids and parents love to explore the gardens, the lake, and the towering trees.

A favorite activity here is to rent a rowboat from the lake’s northern shore, an iconic Madrid experience that shouldn’t be missed. Throughout the summer visitors will find plenty of open-air cafes to have lunch at, live music to dance too and numerous children’s events that happen. Mingle with tourists and locals as everyone heads here on the weekends to enjoy the beautiful outdoors.

5. Madrid Zoo and Aquarium, Madrid

Home to approximately 3,000 animals the zoo and aquarium in Madrid is a favorite amongst visitors with kids. It opened in 1770 and is one of the largest zoos in Spain, along with one of the only zoos in the world to house giant pandas. The exhibits at this zoo include a petting zoo, aquarium, dolphin exhibit and an aviary. There are several restaurants on-site along with a boat and train tour. Favorite animals here include the small group of koalas, gorillas, and sea lions and of course the dolphins. Talks are offered throughout the day but note that these are in Spanish.

Give yourself a full day to visit as there is plenty to see and do and make sure to pick up a map as this place is full of hidden twists and turns, and you won’t want to miss a thing! It is best to avoid coming on weekends as it does get busy and we recommended buying your tickets ahead of time online to avoid any lineups.

4. Barcelona Aquarium

Located in the city’s old harbor, the Port Vell, the Barcelona Aquarium declares itself as the world’s most important marine leisure and education center dedicated to Mediterranean undersea life. Kids will love traveling through the aquarium visiting 35 Mediterranean and tropical tanks that are home to more than 11,000 animals from over 450 different species. The highlight of this aquarium happens to be the immense Oceanarium, the only one of its kind in Europe. The transparent 80-meter long tunnel runs through the Oceanarium where you walk among sharks, morays, giltheads, ocean sunfish and more.

There are a total of three sections to the aquarium for kids to explore, the aquarium itself which houses all the different marine life, the Planeta Aqua Section where kids can learn more about water, it is here where the lethal fish are kept as well as the penguins. Lastly, there is the Explora! Zone, a fun area where children have access to interactive learning tools, as well as a play area complete with slides. Count on this being an entire day trip.

3. Poble Espanyol, Barcelona

Built at the beginning of the 20th century, Poble Espanyol is a mock village with over 40 workshops showing 21 different types of craftsmanship at work. If you are looking to do something on the weekend with the kids, this is the place to be. Sundays are the best day to visit with the little ones, as there are organized activities and shows to take part in. Bonus tip: Reserve a meal at one of the restaurants inside and gain free entry to the village.

One of the best ways to explore the village with kids is to take part in a Gymkhana activity with the family. It is a treasure hunt throughout the village that gives clues to families as they search for the hidden secrets. Children ages 3-9 must be accompanied by an adult and it is one of the best ways to get the kids involved while here. A specially designed space for education and family fun, family-friendly restaurants on site and a day full of new experiences is something not to miss!

2. Font Magica, Barcelona

It is one of Barcelona’s most popular attractions and promises to wow both kids and parents. The Magic Fountain was designed by engineer Carles Buigas and was one of the greatest successes of the 1929 International Exhibition, later restored for the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games. It is Barcelona’s biggest ornamental fountain that offers a spectacular display of music, water acrobatics and lights, which generate over 50 kinds of shades and hues.

During the display the moving jets are illuminated and synchronized to the music and lights, creating a magic dance that will enthrall kids. Make sure you head here from Thursday to Sundays as the fountains do not operate the rest of the week during the summer. Wintertime the fountain only operates on Friday and Saturdays with extended hours over the holidays.

1. L’oceanografic at City of Arts and Sciences, Valencia

It is the largest aquarium in Europe and certainly deserves a visit from families of all ages. Visitors will find over 45,000 examples of 500 different marine species including sharks, Beluga whales, sea lions, penguins and manta rays. This oceanographic park is structured into ten areas for visitors to explore and includes a popular dolphinarium. You will need to spend all day here to explore the entire aquarium with sections dedicated to the Red Sea, Arctic, Mediterranean, mangrove forests, and more.

Most of the aquarium is found below ground wherein a series of massive tanks you can watch the animals. The shark tunnel is one of the favorite things about this aquarium and throughout the year they offer the chance for kids to spend the night sleeping under it. Check out the two-level restaurant, which offers superb views into the aquarium.

15 Amazing Hotels Around The World For Under $100

While it is very easy to spend a lot of money when staying at a nice hotel there are some places around the world that have world class service and rooms that easily fit into any budget. With a little searching you can find hotels that offer luxury accommodations, great facilities and locations. Next time you are looking to get away for a weekend getaway, head out on a business trip or even once in a lifetime family trip, you don’t have to settle for a small room in a substandard hotel because you are afraid it might break your budget. Take some of these suggestions for amazing hotels that you can book for under $100 a night.

15. Chatrium Hotel Riverside -Bangkok, Thailand

The Chatrium Hotel Riverside is a multiple award winning hotel located adjacent to the Chao Phraya River, just 30 km from the International Airport in Bangkok, Thailand. A Grand Room with a city view is under $80 and comes with a private balcony. At 60 sq. meters the room comes complete with a kitchenette and dining area, coffee and tea making facilities, bathrobe and slippers. The hotel offers a business center that includes everything necessary if you just can’t leave work behind. A 35 meter infinity pool overlooking the river with an outdoor Jacuzzi awaits along with a fully equipped fitness center. Head to the Nemita spa on the ground floor and get a relaxing massage or do pick up some items in the shops. Also on the premises is a Starbucks Coffee Shop and the Saizen Japanese Restaurant. The hotel also has facilities for meetings and weddings.

Photo by: Chatrium Hotel
Photo by: Chatrium Hotel

14. Sri Bungalows -Ubud, Bali

For under $100 you can book a suite at the Sri Bungalows. The bungalows located in Ubud Bali comes with handsomely appointed suites with a private balcony overlooking the rice terraces. The rooms are stylishly appointed and other facilities include two swimming pools, restaurant and full service spa so you can enjoy a Balinese massage. The bungalows cover two floors and are surrounded by gardens and terraces. The hotel is only a short walk to the Ubud Market and the Monkey Forest. For a relaxing stay in a tropical paradise the price is hard to beat.

Photo by: Sri Bungalows
Photo by: Sri Bungalows

13. Radisson Blu Hotel -Cebu, Philippines

Located in the second largest city in the Philippines, Cebu is a popular destination because of the proximity to beautiful beaches and laid back lifestyle. The number one rated hotel in Cebu can also be had for under $100. The Radisson Blu, located 11 kilometers from the International Airport is conveniently located near all the popular tourist sights. With rooms offering goose feather pillows and duvets the Radisson will surely please. The hotel’s restaurant, Feria, offers both à la carte options and a buffet and with five master chefs the food runs the gamut of Filipino, Chinese, Japanese, Mediterranean and International cuisines. The hotel has a large tropical pool outside along with a fully equipped state of the art fitness center and spa. For those staying in a business class room or suite the business class lounge is open daily. The hotel also has a 180 seat lobby bar a pool bar and a tea bar serving 21 different teas from Sri Lanka, China, Japan and South Africa.

Photo by: Radisson Blu
Photo by: Radisson Blu

12. Riad Viva -Marrakech, Morocco

Located in the city center, 15 minutes from the airport, the Riad Viva Hotel offers visitors a relaxing stay in beautifully appointed rooms. The hotel offers guests a wide range of amenities including free WiFi, 24 hr. room service and airport transfers. With a combination of Moroccan style and luxurious amenities guests can be assured of a royal stay. The hotel has a pool along with a steam room and restaurant. The friendly staff can also help in arranging tours to the Ourika Valley, a Berber village, the magical city of Essaouira or point you to the best shopping in town. You can also check out the cooking classes offered by the hotel so you can learn how to use all those aromatic spices and flavors to impress your friends when you return home.

Photo by: Venere
Photo by: Venere

11. Hilton Anatole -Dallas, Texas

You don’t have to travel half way around the world to get a good hotel deal. The Hilton Anatole in Dallas offers the business traveler or visitor to the city comfortable rooms with all the amenities. A room with a King Size bed can be had for under $90 and has just about everything you need as a traveler. The hotel has a full business center and conference facilities and also offers an ATM, currency exchange, clothing store, onsite convenience store and concierge serve. Feel like getting a little exercise? Head to the Verandah Club with fully equipped fitness center, 25 meter lap pool, cross training and boxing gym or enjoy racquet ball the jogging track or basketball courts. The V Spa is the perfect place to get a relaxing massage or spa treatment. In addition to room service there are 5 dining establishments at the hotel including SĒR Steak + Spirits serving up tender steaks and fresh seafood on the 27th floor.

Photo by: Hilton Hotels
Photo by: Hilton Hotels

10. Hotel Paseo Del Arte -Madrid, Spain

Located just a 100 meters from the Atoche Train Station, the Hotel Paseo Del Arte is a 4 star hotel in the heart of Madrid. Comfortably appointed rooms are tastefully furnished and offer a panoramic view of the interior garden or the city. Complete with desk, free WiFi, flat screen TV with international channels, and marble bathroom guests are in the perfect spot to explore the city. The hotel has a fitness facility, shops, coffee shop and bar. The restaurant serves a breakfast buffet and along with regional and international cuisine. With 260 rooms the hotel is less than 15 km to the airport making it easily accessible. The hotel is located in the area known as the Arts Triangle and within walking distance to several museums, parks, shopping, restaurants and the famous Madrid nightlife.

Photo by: Hotel Paseo Del Arte
Photo by: Hotel Paseo Del Arte

9. Century Plaza Hotel and Spa -Vancouver, B.C.

The Century Plaza Hotel and Spa is a family owned and operated located in the center of downtown Vancouver. The hotel prides itself on providing the best service possible. With a business center, conference facilities and indoor pool, the Century Plaza is the perfect place for business travelers and families visiting the city. Since opening the Absolute Spa at Century Plaza Hotel 12 years ago, the Spa has received over 50 awards and is the favorite of celebrities like Zac Effron, Elle McPherson and Gwyneth Paltrow when in town. With an ozonated swimming pool, eucalyptus steam room and relaxation lounge the Spa is the perfect place to get pampered. The hotel also features the C Prime Italian Steak and Wine Restaurant. Using locally sourced meats, vegetables and seafood Chef Bruce Woods has made the restaurant one of the hottest destinations in Vancouver. A coffee shop, salon and Vancouver’s iconic comedy club The Comedy Mix are also available to guests.

Photo by: Century Plaza Hotel
Photo by: Century Plaza Hotel

8. Sana Hotel -Berlin, Germany

The Sana Hotel is a 4 star Superior Class hotel located on the west side of Berlin. With 203 rooms including suites and apartments the Sana offers a wide choice of accommodations. A double room can be booked for less than $100 and prices go up from there. Facilities include a breakfast room, restaurant serving Portuguese cuisine, two bars, terrace garden, fitness center and massage services. The F8/eight Bar & Lounge seats 50 and guests can relax with fine wines and spirits while listening to live jazz. A smoking bar also exists for those that enjoy a fine cigar. In addition to massage services the wellness area on the 7th floor offers an indoor swimming pool, sauna and Turkish bath. The Sana Hotel is also centrally located for sightseeing with the Brandenburg Gate less than 5 km. away, as well as the zoo, museums and cultural facilities being nearby.

Photo by: Sana Hotel
Photo by: Sana Hotel

7. The Signature at MGM Grand -Las Vegas, Nevada

Located just off the famed Las Vegas Strip, The Signature at MGM Grand offers an elevated level of personalized service. Luxuriously appointed suites start at just under $100 and have all the amenities you might expect in luxury hotels costing much more. With a private pool complete with personal cabana and in suite spa services to the spacious suites with granite and marble bathrooms and kitchenettes the hotel does everything possible to pamper the guests. The hotel concierge will ensure you get tickets to the best shows and hard to get restaurant reservations and has a gourmet delicatessen on the premises. Whether you are hitting the Las Vegas Strip, spending the day golfing or seeing the sights you can relax and unwind in your private suite at night and get the rock star treatment from a dedicated staff that does everything the ensure you have the ultimate Las Vegas experience.

Photo by: Signature at MGM Grand
Photo by: Signature at MGM Grand

6. Golden Tulip Amsterdam West -Amsterdam, Netherlands

Amsterdam is known for offering cheap backpacker accommodations with over 180 hostels in the city. For those not wanting budget sleeping arrangements with noisy neighbors there is an alternative. Conveniently located to Schiphol Airport and the city center the Golden Tulip Amsterdam West makes exploring the city easy. With rates under $100 you can have the comfort of a spacious room with heated floors, a rain shower and free internet access. Comfortably appointed rooms have been designed to be soundproof so guests can get a good night’s sleep uninterrupted by the wild Amsterdam nightlife. The buffet restaurant seats 300 and is open for breakfast and dinner and the modern bar is a great place to relax and have a cocktail, cup of coffee or a slice of homemade pie. The tram stop is a mere 50 meters from the hotel for easy commute to the famous sights such as the Anne Frank House and Van Gogh Museum.

Photo by: Golden Tulip Hotels
Photo by: Golden Tulip Hotels

5. Relais Spa Chessy Residence -Paris, France

Visitors to Paris know hotels and pretty much everything else can be pricey. With a little searching you can find gems such as the Relais Spa Chessy Residence near Disneyland Paris. A premium room with free WiFi, unlimited spa access and shuttle to Disney Land can be scooped up for under $100. The rooms have a small office area and a discreet kitchen with hot plate. Hotel amenities include pool, steam room, sauna, gym and spa treatments. The Franklin Bar makes for a cozy place to relax with friends for a drink while the Brasserie Flo restaurant serves up sophisticated French cuisine. The hotel staff strives to ensure each guest gets the VIP treatment.

Photo by: Realis Spa
Photo by: Realis Spa

4. Chateau Victoria -Victoria, B.C.

Sitting on the location of a former mansion the Chateau Victoria is a boutique hotel offering a touch of opulence to guests. The hotel has a colorful past due to a parrot that inherited the old mansion that previously stood there and some swear they have seen the well-dressed ghost of Victoria Jane, the previous mansion owner, roaming the halls. Whether you see a ghost or not one thing you can be assured of. The hotel goes out of the way to make to feel comfortable and the rooms complete with free WiFi and big comfortable beds await the tired traveler. The hotel’s Vista 18 restaurant offers regional cuisine and has an extensive wine list. The hotel bar, Clive’s Classic Lounge, has been listed as one of the top hotel bars by several publications. The hotel offers in room spa treatments and massages and the hotel has a lap pool, hot tub and fitness center.

Photo by: Trip Advisor
Photo by: Trip Advisor

3. Grand Nikko Tokyo Daiba -Tokyo, Japan

While Tokyo has its share of pod hotels, where you get to sleep in what resembles a submarine torpedo tube, there are other options. One such option is the Grand Nikko Tokyo Diaba Hotel, a 5 star resort located just 20 minutes from Haneda International airport on 15 minutes from downtown Tokyo. A superior Double room can be booked for under $100 during the week and the hotel comes with such amenities as an outdoor terraced swimming pool with fantastic views of Tokyo, a wellness salon, acupuncture center and has a medical clinic on the premises. The hotel fitness center is fully equipped and has trainers on staff and the hotel has several shops on site. There are eight restaurants at the resort including sushi, Chinese and Italian and the Ruy Lopez Bar stocks liquor from around the world along with fine cigars.

Photo by: Jalan
Photo by: Jalan

2. Lancaster House -Bogota, Colombia

Lancaster House in Bogota Colombia is a boutique hotel designed in the art deco style. The 4 star hotel has two bars, restaurant, gym and sauna. Gatsby Restaurant serves traditional Colombian and International food while the more relaxed Bistro 106 is a great place to relax and get a lighter meal or dessert. Relax in the piano bar with a game of billiards or a cocktail before heading up to your luxurious room. The Junior Suite comes equipped with a living and dining area, work space and kitchen. The hotel also offers a mobile spa service so guests can book a massage or just relax in the sauna. Located in an upscale neighborhood close to embassies and near the major shopping areas the Lancaster is centrally located for easy access to all the city has to offer.

Photo by: Lancaster House
Photo by: Lancaster House

1. Kaani Village and Spa -Maldives

The Kaani Village and Spa located in the beautiful Maldives offers guests a pampered option to staying at a discounted beach hotel. With a Double Deluxe room overlooking the pool that comes with a breakfast included the hotel makes a perfect base to enjoy the island. The Sampa Spa at the hotel offers tradition Thai massage as well as aroma massages performed by two masseuses at once. The hotel has a pool and restaurant and the hotel staff can arrange activities such as fishing, dolphin watching, scuba diving, snorkeling or an island tour complete with picnic. Rated number 3 out of 40 small boutique hotels by TripAdvisor the Kaani Village and Spa does everything possible to pamper guests and make your stay memorable.

Photo by: Kaani Village & Spa
Photo by: Kaani Village & Spa

8 Interesting Facts You Didn’t Know About Spain

Spain is a popular European vacation and backpacking destination that’s world renowned for fabulous food and wine, picturesque scenery and fun times. While you may think you know a lot about Spain, there are some interesting, little known facts that may surprise you. Here are 8 interesting facts about this popular European country:

8. It’s Actually a Kingdom

That’s right, Spain is officially known as “The Kingdom of Spain” and is the second largest country in the European Union with an area size of 505,955 square kilometers. Many people are unaware of the country’s official (and very regal sounding) name except those who live in the country themselves.

Noradoa / Shutterstock.com
Noradoa / Shutterstock.com

7. Public Nudity is Legal

And why not with more than 3,000 hours of sunlight each year? Exhibitionists will enjoy the carefree attitude towards nudity and the fact that on many of the beaches of Spain it’s common to see other sunbathers (particularly women) wearing no tops.

Spain beach

6. High Unemployment

It’s no secret that Spain’s economy has been suffering as of late and in 2015 the country had the second highest unemployment rate of any country in Europe at 24.2 per cent. That’s only slightly behind Greece, a country who’s failing economy has made headlines around the world. If you look at youth unemployment the picture gets even worse with an average youth unemployment rate of 50 per cent for those between the ages of 15-24.

Brian Maudsley / Shutterstock.com
Brian Maudsley / Shutterstock.com

5. There Are No Words

In their national anthem that is. The March Real as it’s known (or Royal March in English) is one of only four national anthems in the world to have no official lyrics. According to experts, though variations of the anthem exist, the original symphonic version should be played in the tone of B major and have a duration of 52 seconds.

Spanish flag

4. There’s a Pooping Log at Christmas

Christmas really is celebrated differently everywhere in the world! The Tió de Nadal is a popular Christmas tradition found in many Aragones and Catalan homes during the holiday season. Tió de Nadal translates to Christmas log in English but the log also goes by the nickname Caga tió (meaning ‘shitting log’ or ‘poo log’) because of the fact that at Christmas, children beat the hollow  wooden log with sticks until it ‘defecates’ out chocolate, candy and other treats.

Tió de Nadal

3. The Eiffel Tower was Almost Built in Barcelona

This iconic Paris landmark and symbol of French culture was originally planned to be built in the Spanish city of Barcelona  around 1887 but the people of Barcelona did not want it, and apparently got their wish. Interestingly enough, one construction was finished on the tower in Paris in 1889, the people of Paris did not like it either and wanted it taken down.

Eiffel Tower

2. Never Ending Construction

The Sagrada Família Church in Barcelona, officially known as the ‘Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família’, has been in construction since it was started in 1882. That’s over 130 years of construction and even still, the expected completion date of the Sagrada Família is not until 2026. Despite the construction, the church is open to the public and has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Cristian Zamfir / Shutterstock.com
Cristian Zamfir / Shutterstock.com

1. Spain is Home to The Oldest Restaurant in the World

If you wish to visit the world’s oldest operating restaurant, head to the Spanish city of Madrid and visit Restaurante Botín. The restaurant was opened in 1725 and sets the bar for traditional Spanish cuisine in Madrid. The restaurants longtime specialties include Cochinillo asado, (roast suckling pig) and old style roast lamb.

Eric Crama / Shutterstock.com
Eric Crama / Shutterstock.com

12 Amazing Galleries Every Art Lover Should Visit

So much more than décor, artistic works have long been used as modes of self-expression and cultural identity, as well as tangible historical tools that visually display the progression of society throughout the ages. Through changes and innovations in technique, mediums and subject matter, a piece of art has the ability to transport the viewer to different points in time, or alternatively (in the case of the modern movement) to different realms of consciousness, and provide some insight into a highly subjective human endeavor. For those of you that want to revel at works that are classical, weird and everything in between, here are the world’s top 10 must-see galleries.

12. Auckland Art Gallery – Auckland, New Zealand

Since opening in 1881, Auckland Art Gallery remains the largest gallery of fine and visual art in New Zealand, currently holding over 15,000 works dating from the 11th century to the present. What started out as a small collection of pieces by European masters, has now grown into the most comprehensive collection of New Zealand art, as well as distinguished pieces by Maori and Pacific Island artists. Art lovers will love how this smaller gallery contrasts with the (though beautiful) often overwhelming scale of the famous European galleries, and appreciate the chance to admire how such an architecturally split environment (the building is part renaissance and part modern) beautifully showcases such a diverse range of works.

ChameleonsEye / Shutterstock.com
ChameleonsEye / Shutterstock.com

11. Rijksmuseum – Amsterdam, Netherlands

Translated literally, Rijksmuseum means “state museum” and is just that, chronicling the development and progression of Dutch art and history through its vast collection of paintings, sketches, photography and applied arts. The newly updated gallery, which reopened in 2013 after a 10-year renovation, offers a unique art-viewing experience, displaying all types of pieces (i.e. paintings, sculptures, furnishings, etc) together in galleries organized by time period. Though holding a small amount of international art, including a dignified collection of Asian art, it is the works hanging in the Gallery of Honor that are the highlight of the museum. It in this corridor that you will find the masterpieces of the Dutch Golden Age of painting, including Vermeer’s The Milkmaid and Frans Hals’ Portrait of a Couple, all leading to the gallery’s most treasured piece: Rembrandt’s Night Watch.

Mediagram / Shutterstock.com
Mediagram / Shutterstock.com

10. Prado Museum – Madrid, Spain

Established in 1819, the Museo del Prado in Madrid contains the single largest Spanish art collection in the world, along with notable European fine art works of the 12th-19th centuries. In fact, in addition to displaying works by Francisco de Goya, Diego Velazquez and El Greco, the Prado now also houses the largest collection of art by the Italian masters outside of Italy. A stroll through this national art museum will reveal such well-known pieces as Fra Angelico’s The Annunciation, Rubens’ The Three Graces, and Goya’s The Third of May: The Execution on Principe Pio.

The Prado Museum Madrid

9. National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art – Seoul, South Korea

Composed of several branches in the Seoul area, the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art was opened in 1969 as the country’s only gallery devoted solely to works  from 1910 and onwards. The main branch, located in Gwacheon, currently houses over 7,000 works featuring well known Korean artists such as Ko-Hui Dong, Ku Boh-Ung and Kim Whan-Ki, as well as a sizeable collection of international artists like Andy Warhol, Joseph Beuys and Marcus Lupertz. Art lovers will also appreciate the gallery’s commitment to discovering and showcasing the works of artists new to the contemporary art scene in its many temporary events and exhibitions.

Joymsk140 / Shutterstock.com
Joymsk140 / Shutterstock.com

8. Musee D’Orsay – Paris, France

Opened in 1986 in the former D’Orsay railway stations (originally built for the 1900 World Exhibition), the gallery contains a vast selection of fine art pieces created between 1848 and 1914. The collection is comprised mainly of works from the Louvre, the Musee du Jeu de Paume which became devoted exclusively to Impressionism in 1947 and the National Museum of Modern Art, which in 1976 trimmed its collection to only include pieces by artists born after 1870. Today, the gallery houses six unique collections in several artistic disciplines (paintings, sculpture, objets d’art, photographs, graphic arts and architecture) and is home to Renoir’s Bal du Moulin de la Galette, Manet’s Olympia and Cezanne’s The Cardplayers.

pio3 / Shutterstock.com
pio3 / Shutterstock.com

7. The National Gallery – London, England

The National Gallery in London’s Trafalgar Square holds the country’s national collection of art (it belongs to the people, so admission is free!) and consists of over 2,000 Western European paintings dating from the medieval period to the 19th century. The national collection was established in 1824 with the English government’s £57,000 purchase of John Julius Angerstein’s 38-piece personal collection. Originally displayed at Angerstein’s house, the Parliament agreed to construct a dedicated gallery building in 1831, doors opened at the current location in 1838. The collection greatly expanded in the early 1860s under director Charles Eastlake, and now contains several must-see works such as Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, Titian’s Bacchus and Ariadne and Monet’s Bathers at La Grenouillere.

The National Gallery, London

6. Tate Modern – London, England

Another London staple, the Tate Modern is one of four museums in the Tate family and, as its name suggests, houses the UK’s national contemporary and modern art collection (dating from 1900 and later). Housed in a converted former power station in the banks of the river Thames, the gallery offers a unique experience for art lovers, displaying pieces in thematic zones rather than in typical chronological order. The themes currently on exhibit are Energy and Processes, Structure and Clarity, Poetry and Dream and Making Traces, and feature works by Picasso, Rothko and Rothschild.

Tupungato / Shutterstock.com
Tupungato / Shutterstock.com

5. Uffizi Gallery – Florence, Italy

An unlikely home for fine art masterpieces, the Uffizi Gallery was originally commissioned by Cosimo de Medici in 1560 to hold the offices of the Florentine Magistrates and Judiciaries. Today, this original purpose is especially evident in the gallery’s cramped spaces which were built to accommodate just a few individuals, not the thousands that now flock through its doors each day. Nevertheless, the Uffizi is one of Italy’s best attractions, containing 45 halls that chronologically display works from the 13th to 18th centuries. Highlights of the collection are Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus and Michelangelo’s Doni Tondo, and also not to be missed are the gallery’s iconic Vasari Corridor and Octagonal Tribune designed by Bernardo Buontalenti.

T photography / Shutterstock.com
T photography / Shutterstock.com

4. Vatican Museum – Vatican City, Italy

Dating back to 1503, today’s Vatican Museum is comprised of a combination of pontifical museums and galleries, whose acquisitions began with Pope Julius II’s collection of sculptures. The complex now houses quite a large number of museums, exhibiting everything from Christian Antiquities to ancient tapestries and mosaics to religious and secular relics. The museum also contains a vast painting gallery (Pinacoteca) which opened in 1932 and consists of over 400 paintings displayed more or less chronologically from the 12th to 19th centuries. Undeniably, the largest draws of this museum are the incomparable pieces found within the Sistine Chapel, where visitors can admire the works of Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, Rosellini and Signorelli, as well as the world famous ceiling masterpiece by Michelangelo.

Vatican Museums Rome

3. State Hermitage – St. Petersburg, Russia

As one of the world’s largest museums at over two million square feet, and housing over three million items, the State Hermitage Museum complex holds an astounding collection of fine art that is a must see for any art lover. Housed in 120 galleries in four of the Hermitage’s main buildings—the Winter Palace, Great Hermitage, Small hermitage and New Hermitage—visitors  will find the works of Matisse, Degas, Titian, and Rembrandt. The collection, which was established in 1764 by Catherine the Great, now consists of over 600,000 works of art and includes such famous paintings as Da Vinci Benois Madonna, Matisse’s Dance and Rembrandt’s Flora.

Popova Valeriya / Shutterstock.com
Popova Valeriya / Shutterstock.com

2. The Metropolitan Museum of Art – New York City, USA

The largest gallery in the United States, The Metropolitan Museum of Art is one of the biggest attractions in NYC, drawing over six million visitors each year. And once you’ve seen it, it’s easy to see why—the current collection includes over 2,500 European paintings, the largest Egyptian art collection (outside of Egypt) and the world’s largest collection of American artistic works. The museum also boasts extensive holdings in African, Asian and Islamic Art, as well as an impressive amount of antique weapons, armor and costumes. With over two million works housed in over two million square feet of space, the Met has something for everyone, making it a must-see for art lovers of all styles and periods.

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
T photography / Shutterstock.com

1. The Louvre – Paris, France

As the largest and arguably most well-known art gallery in the world, the Louvre currently houses over 35,000 artistic works and draws over eight million visitors a year. With a history dating back to the 12th century as a city fortress, and later, royal residence, the galleries of the Louvre were not used for art exhibition until 1699 when the artist residents held their first “salon”. The Museum Central des Arts (located in the Salon Carre and Grande Galerie) was opened to the public in 1793 with a growing collection of paintings that eventually expanded into other parts of the building. The site became exclusively devoted to culture in 1882, and today consists of over 650,000 square feet of exhibition space holding some of the world’s most renowned masterpieces, including Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People and Durer’s Self Portrait.

cesc_assawin / Shutterstock.com
cesc_assawin / Shutterstock.com

11 Tapas You Must Try in Spain

Tapas are a staple in Spain. Simply put they are delicious, small snacks that are served between lunch and dinner, to work up your appetite and help tie your stomach over until the normally late dinner hour rolls around. They are served in bars, restaurants and people’s homes and it’s normal for friends to go out after work for drinks and tapas. They are served hot or cold and can range from anything as simple as the traditional olives to much more complex foods such as quail eggs. When in Spain make sure you try these 12 tapas; they will not disappoint.

11. Pulpo a la Gallega

Described as chewy, salty, sweet and filling, healthy and satisfying, this is a favorite tapas and a must have in Spain. Pulpo a la gallega is simply chopped boiled octopus in the Galician style – dressed with sea salt, olive oil and sweet pimento. When in Spain you can find this delectable snack from a stand in the street or a tapas bar. It is commonly served on a wooden board with toothpicks and is simple yet so satisfying. Pulpo a la Gallega

10. La tortilla Espanola

Often referred to as the national dish of Spain, this is an ever popular tapas that is served throughout the country. It’s actually an omelet, but not the kind of Spanish omelet we are used to here. This one is made up of three ingredients; eggs, potatoes and onions, and it’s served either hot or cold. Although this tapas seems pretty basic, there is something to be said if you visit Spain and don’t eat their national dish. La tortilla Espanola

9. Cojonudos

This tapas consists of a slice of Spanish blood sausage with a fried quail egg over a slice of bread. It can be served with a little strip of red spicy pepper as well. Cojonudos is most commonly found in the city of Burgos as they are very well known for their blood sausage, or morcilla as they call it. Although it doesn’t sound entirely appetizing; this is one food you must try and it will certainly surprise and delight your taste buds.

Photo by: Hola Foodie
Photo by: Hola Foodie

8. Bacalao

Bacalao aka Dry salted cod is the staple in a lot of tapas dishes and earns its own recognition for the delicious flavor it brings to many dishes. Bacalao can be batter fried or even used in a sauce. It’s used in fried cod balls, stuffed peppers, and even in potato spread. No matter what kind of tapas you are having in Spain you are going to come across dry salted cod and you will be better for knowing how delicious it actually tastes, despite how it may sound. Bacalao

7. Gambas al Ajillo

This yummy tapas dish is something you can easily try to replicate at home but we promise it just won’t taste as good as it did in Spain. Sweet shrimp are tossed in garlic and olive oil creating a blend of flavors that excite your mouth. Most places will either serve them in a peppercorn sauce or in chili peppers. In Spain the shrimp are juicy and tender, the oil left on the bottom is perfect for mopping up with some crusty bread and it is certainly a great tapas to get your night started. Gambas al Ajillo

6. Croquetas de Jamon

Translated to ham croquettes, these small deep fried pouches of goodness sort of resemble the pub favorite fried mozzarella sticks. One bite into them though and you feel as though you have hit the jackpot. Savory Spanish Ham, a crispy crunchy exterior that is made of a stiff béchamel sauce and a glass of fine sherry makes for one incredible tapas. The ham filling is often replaced with different meats and tastes just as good. Croquetas de Jamon

5. Pimientos del Padrón

This tapas is just as popular with locals as it is with visitors and must be sampled while in Spain. Tiny padron peppers from Galicia are fried and sprinkled with coarse sea salt and served warm to patrons. These peppers for the most part are mild but once in a while you get a hot one. This dish can be referred to as the ‘Russian Roulette’ of Tapas. Pimientos de Padrón

4. Chorizo

Chorizo as you may know is a popular type of pork sausage and the Spanish love to braise it in different liquids and serve it as tapas. Many places choose to serve the chorizo in wine, thus earning its name Chorizo al Vino, while others serve it in cider.  Either way is delicious as the sausage is first seared in a pan of oil, tossed in the liquid and then served warm over the remaining liquid. A simple yet delicious and salty tapas snack that is ever popular in this country. Chorizo al Vino

3. Queso con Membrillo

Queso means cheese in Spanish and is used in many of the tapas served across the country but one you must try is the Queso con Membrillo. Layers of cheese and fruit jelly are stacked upon one another and normally topped off with a walnut. The cheese used is Manchego and the combination of sweet and savory flavors make this one unforgettable bite. Queso con Membrillo

2. Aceitunas

Perhaps the most popular tapas in all of Spain are olives. In fact it can be said that it is rare to find any restaurant that does not serve this dish as a tapas. The olives can often be filled with anchovies or red peppers. They can be tossed in oil, served with feta or sprinkled with rosemary. The options are truly endless for olives in Spain and we can guarantee you will be eating them almost every time you sit down at a restaurant. Aceitunas spanish olives

1. Pan con Tomate

Simply translated as tomato on bread, this tapas is one of the most well loved and well known tapas across Spain. This delicious treat is toasted fresh bread that is rubbed with fresh garlic and ripe tomato. It is then drizzled with a little bit of olive oil and topped off with fresh salt. It can be eaten by itself but it is often topped off with ham, sausage or cheese. You haven’t truly lived until you have tried this amazing and traditional tapas. Pan con Tomate

12 Things to See and Do in Madrid

Madrid is the largest metropolitan area in Spain and the capital city of the country. The city’s core is home to 3.2 million Spaniards with 6.5 million living throughout the greater limits of the city. It’s a place rich in history and elegance. That should come as no surprise given that Madrid is the third largest city in all of the European Union. While it is generally more expensive for the average North American to be a tourist there thanks to a pricey Euro, some of the sights you can see and things you can do in the city are absolutely unforgettable. In a place full of culture and some of the world’s most amazing sights, it’s only fair that we at EscapeHere.com count down the 12 best things to see and do in Madrid, Spain. Rest assured that if you have the chance to visit, you’ll have the time of your life witnessing the beauty of the architecture in the city, the rich flavors of the food and all of the Spanish tradition you can handle.

12. Take an Open-Top Bus Tour

No matter which city around the world you may be traveling to, an open bus tour is always a good option. If you’re vacationing in the spring or summer time like most people, it’s a good chance to catch some sun and see some of the hot spots and downtown architecture of all your favorite places. With an opportunity to sight-see as much as you can all in one bus ride, and there’s no reason not to take this chance in Madrid. A two-hour trip in the afternoon will take you to all of the monuments and landmarks that you would ever want to see in the city.

Of course you can hop on and off of the bus throughout the day and check out whatever floats your boat. There are many interconnected stops that allow you to get a taste of both Modern and Historic Madrid. Buses will pass by you every 20 minutes along the route once you do decide to get off and you can take the whole tour for less than 20 Euros for the day. The trip is organized through the city’s local transportation system so you won’t have to pay an arm and a leg for it and you can rest assured that you’re getting the same deal as everyone else. A bus tour is a great way to start your trip and get a sense of the other places you’d like to visit.

Darios / Shutterstock.com
Darios / Shutterstock.com

11. Go on a Tapas Tour

If you’re going to spend some money to take a tour bus all around Madrid, you might as well take things a step further and go on a food tour, more specifically a tapas tour. Taking this type of walking tour is a great way to explore the historic parts of Madrid at night. The Tapas Walking Tour was created by a group of Spanish people that love the cuisine and wanted to share it with the world. You can get on one of these tours for around $70 US, which is pretty good considering you get to check out a variety of spots and eat lots of dishes from different places all in one night.

The tour visits four authentic Spanish restaurants where you can try various delicacies like octopus, cider, and sherry from various regions around the country. Food is always a great way to connect to a local culture and to converse with people that you normally wouldn’t talk to. Personal experiences and building relationships is part of the fun of traveling in the first place, so starting out with a tapas tour is something you simply have to experience.

spanish tapas

10. Parque El Capricho

Parque El Capricho is a little bit further away from the center of the city but if you’re willing to make the drive out there, you’ll see some amazingly beautiful floral arrangements, and amazing gardens that you can walk through and enjoy. It’s a truly enchanting experience and if you happen to be traveling with the love of your life, you’ll both be captivated by sweet romance. Just like many other tourist type places in Madrid, you’ll also see beautiful architecture everywhere.

In the winter time a lot of the staff there are away and there is only one main gate to the park, so as you go through this beautiful maze, you do have to remember where you came in because the entrance is also the exit. That said, much like any other park the best time to visit Parque El Capricho is during the warmer times of the year. Either way no matter when you make the time to go there you’ll feel a certain warmness in your heart when you experience its beauty and see how amazing it really is. It’s about a 15 to 20 minute walk to get there from the closest transit hub and it’s well worth the walk.

Parque El Capricho Madrid

9. Eat at The World’s Oldest Restaurant (Botin Restaurant)

There’s no doubt the basic concept of eating food for survival goes back all the way to the beginning of time, and although it would be quite cool to go back to the days of the caveman, that’s not realistic. That said, if you do want to go to a restaurant in Madrid that has stood the test of time, check out the Botin Restaurant in Madrid. The spot specializes in Mediterranean cuisine and was founded way back in 1725 making it the oldest restaurant in the world according to the Guinness Book of World Records.

The average price of a main course there is just under 20 Euros, with a 3-course meal coming in at around 40 Euros. Famed author Ernest Hemingway used to frequent the place and in his own estimation, considered it one of the best places anyone could visit for a great meal. Although it is a popular place to go among locals, Botin has evolved more and more into a touristy spot. There are 4 different dining rooms, tiled and wood beamed for you to enjoy eating in and you just might see an appearance by the tuna, a musical group that plays throughout the restaurant from time to time. Botin is truly a great Spanish dining spot.

Eric Crama / Shutterstock.com
Eric Crama / Shutterstock.com

8. See Flamenco Dancing

Flamenco music first developed its roots in Madrid during the 19th century. Although a lot of the top media outlets and magazines that used to cover this form of artistry no longer exist, there are literally hundreds of dance academies you can check out that still perfect the art form, including Amor de Dois, one of the more famous ones. The crazy part about this kind of dancing is that you can see it at a lot of different bars and restaurants around the city, so you can eat good food and enjoy the culture in an all-encompassing Spanish experience.

El Corral de la Moreria, Casa Patas and Café de Chinitas are some of the best places to go. These places are not to be confused with bars and restaurants that simply offer a flamenco type feel to them without having the actual dancing part. Make sure that you get to experience the real thing. You’ll be totally wowed by it and it will be a unique experience that you would never be able to find on home soil. Good food and good dancing all at the same time… there aren’t too many people out there that would not sign up for that.

Anatoly Sokolov / Shutterstock.com
Anatoly Sokolov / Shutterstock.com

7. See Real Madrid Play

With an estimated franchise value of $2.5 billion Euros ($3.4 billion dollars), Real Madrid is the richest sports franchise on the entire planet. The team first began playing way back in 1902 and has been the heartbeat of the city ever since. It doesn’t take a travel expert or sports aficionado to know that sports fans live and die with this team. Santiago Bernabeu Stadium seats over 81,000 people, so when you walk through the gates and sit in the middle of all the action, you’re bound to feel your heart racing and your blood pumping as you watch an All-Star team of the world’s top footballers playing alongside each other.

Coming into the 2014 season, the team hadn’t won a club world title since 2002, but that all changed last year when Real Madrid claimed its 4th ever title by beating the other top clubs in the world at the competition in Morocco. Real Madrid is also home to perhaps the world’s most famous athlete, striker Cristiano Ronaldo. Love him or hate him, he’s a talent worth paying the price of admission for, and female fans will find him easy on the eyes. Given that there’s no other institution in the country with more fanfare, seeing a live Real Madrid soccer game is an absolute must in Madrid.   

nacroba / Shutterstock.com
nacroba / Shutterstock.com

6. Royal Palace of Madrid

The Royal Palace of Madrid was once home to King Felipe V and is now a tourist site to behold. It’s owned by the state and located in the western part of downtown Madrid. With the exception of any functions run by the government, many of the palace’s rooms are open to the general public for a small admission fee of 11 Euros. It contains 3,418 rooms and stretches a whopping 1.4 million square feet. That’s a lot of space, enough to make it the largest palace in terms of floor space in all of Europe.

Aside from the floor space itself, the palace awes visitors and travelers from all over the world because of the incredibly beautiful materials used to construct the building, the abundance of art inside and the decoration of all the rooms. The Royal Palace of Madrid is home to the world’s only complete Stradivarius string quintet and also plays host to the Royal Armory of Madrid. It’s one of the best displays of armory in the world and definitely a sight worth seeing. Visit this palace and you’ll feel like royalty yourself, all for just 11 Euros.

Royal Palace of Madrid

5. Puerta Del Sol

The Puerta Del Sol literally translated means The Gate of the Sun. It’s the square in the middle of the city where the network of roads meet. It is one of the busiest and most popular places in all of Madrid. Think of it as the Spanish version of Times Square in New York. The city has held New Year’s celebrations there since 1962. The ‘gate’ itself was actually a portal used to get beyond the wall that surrounded Madrid way back in the 15th century. The word Sun comes into play because the gate was oriented to face the east side of the city where the sun rises.

Puerta Del Sol is host to many of the city’s famous buildings and landmarks, including the office of the President of Madrid, which was the city’s post office long ago. To the north side of the President’s office lies a symbolic plaque that represents the center of the city, so if you want to literally stand in the middle of it all, the Puerta is where you want to be. It also connects several tourist hotspots together so whether you’re doing some sightseeing or planning on shopping, it’s a great place to start a day as you work your way around the city.

Nanisimova / Shutterstock.com
Nanisimova / Shutterstock.com

4. El Rey Leon

Even if you don’t speak a lick of Spanish there is a good chance you can figure out what El Rey Leon translates to in English…The Lion King. Everyone should know this play because most of us grew up and watched the Disney movie, and now that we’re all adults we have been pelted with advertisements promoting the theatrical version of the story at every corner of North America, whether it happens to be playing on Broadway in New York or another major city close to home.

That said the Spanish version of the play is truly a sight to behold. The opening and closing acts will send shivers down your spine and the set designs and costumes will wow you. The show is worth every penny you spend on it. It will keep you entertained and whisk you away for close to 3 hours. It may even inspire you to take Spanish lessons so that you can learn how to sing Hakkunah Mattata in another language. Maybe you won’t go that far but if you want to see a Spanish twist on a classic show, El Rey Leon is the best bang for your buck without a doubt.

ValeStock / Shutterstock.com
ValeStock / Shutterstock.com

3. Sorolla Museum

Sorolla Museum is about as real and down to earth as it gets when it comes to Spanish museums. It only takes a few minutes to walk there from the Hotel Intercontinental. The museum of course features the work of world-renowned artist Joaquin Sorolla. The house is small but you can move through it quickly and you only have to pay 3 Euros to get in. it’s a cost-effective and yet amazing tourist spot to check out. The museum was Sorolla’s home before he and his wife passed away, which means that when you walk through a lot of the main rooms in the home, you’re seeing a lot of the same furniture that he used and much of the place has been left as it was.

Most recently, the museum featured an exhibit filled with photographs taken by David Palacin of a ballet production originally put together by Sorolla in coordination with the Spanish National Dance Company. If you have an appreciation for the arts and you’re looking to spend an afternoon looking at some extraordinary work without going to the most extravagant galleries in the city, Sorolla Museum might just be one of your favorite places when all is said and done.

Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock.com
Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock.com

2. Buen Retiro Park

The Buen Retiro Park has been around for a long time, but it wasn’t accessible to the public until the 19th century because before that it was owned by the Spanish monarchy. It measures almost one and a half kilometers and is located very close to the center of Madrid. The park’s roots go as far back as the 17th century -we’re talking about history here, not plants. Some of the cool things you can see at the park include The Rosaleda, a beautiful rose garden that actually has a monument dedicated to Satan in it, the only recognized monument of Lucifer on the face of the planet. Rest assured that while the monument is a representation of evil in a sense, the garden itself is a sight to see.

As you make your way around the park, you can also find more signs of royalty from the past, including the Crystal Palace, which offers more of the beautiful architecture you’d expect from a building fit for a King. The bottom line is that if you want to see history and natural beauty in one place, Buen Retiro Park is probably the best place you can possibly go in Madrid. The park features the Avenida de Mexico, Paseo de la Argentina, Casita del Pescador and other monuments and statues that will appeal to your eyes and make you feel serene.

Buen Retiro Park Madrid

1. The Prado Museum

The Museo del Prado was first established way back in 1819. It’s known as Spain’s national art museum and the pieces you’ll find there are truly one of a kind. It’s collection of fine art dates all the way back to the 12th century and runs all the way to the early 19th century, so you won’t find any portraits from today’s popular artists in the place…this one is all about history. When you go there, be prepared to be around a lot of other tourists as well. In 2012, the Museo del Prado saw over 2.8 million visitors walk through the doors.

That makes sense when you consider the museum’s convenient location just off of the Atocha Underground Station and not too far from the Banco de Espana. As for where the pieces come from, many of them were either created or discovered by artist Velazquez, who is the creator of the museum’s most famous painting called Las Meninas. He was so passionate about adding to the Prado that Velazquez continually sought out to add Italian art to the gallery. His vision is what makes the Museo del Prado the largest collection of Italian pieces in the world outside of Italy.

The Prado Museum Madrid

The 10 Cheapest Cities to Touchdown in Europe

A trip across the Atlantic Ocean over to the Old World of Europe may only be a fantasy for a number of North Americans. With airfare, accommodations, food, spending money and all the other little things that add up it can be an exceedingly costly trip. Though many people may dismiss the thought of a European getaway as just a fantasy that isn’t fiscally obtainable, that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case. One may be surprised to learn that certain cities are much more affordable to visit than others and the reasons for this can range from lower airport taxes to economic struggles. Below is a look at 10 of the best places in Europe to visit by cost:

10. Athens, Greece

Athens International Airport is the obvious international hub of Greece, though that may not be the best plan of arrival for potential visitors. In bound flights to Greece are rarely cheap, and it usually makes more sense for travelers to land elsewhere in Europe and make a short land trip into the country instead. Due to recent economic struggles in the country, hotel prices have dropped quite a bit in the past few years.

Tourism is a major industry and a key part of the Greek economy. Greece ranks as the 10th most visited country in Europe, and saw over 15-million visitors in 2012. Major attractions in Athens include: the Acropolis, the Parthenon, the Agora and the National Archaeological Museum. For travelers on a budget, Greece is an ideal candidate to visit on a trip through a number of countries as prices for hotels and other amenities have dropped from the aforementioned economic struggles.

Athens, Greece

9. Milan, Italy

The choice between Milan and Rome is a difficult one, but Milan comes out slightly cheaper in comparison for tourists. Milan is one of the most important tourist destinations in all of Europe, and will never truly be a bargain destination for visitors. The addition of Emirates flights to Milan, however, means that there are more reasonably priced flights to a destination considered to be truly first class among travelers.

The city is home to two professional soccer clubs that share the famous San Siro stadium, considered a Mecca of sorts to traveling fans that are as vocal as they are loyal and exist all across the globe. Milan is also home to Pinacoteca di Brera, Piazza del Duomo, and the Milan Cathedral. Italy ranks as the 3rd most popular European destination behind only France and Spain, and Milan provides an opportunity to experience a cultured city for a relatively reasonable price.

Milan, Italy

8. Prague, Czech Republic

A country known to savvy travelers as a little-known gem, the Vaclav Havel Airport in Prague is where visitors land. The country has started to gain notoriety for being a great place to visit, and has experienced a major boom to its tourism industry. The secret is starting to get out, however, as prices have started to rise in the past few years as more and more people become aware of the beauty of the Czech Republic.

Younger travelers may be interested in the nightlife offered in Prague, as it is known for being low cost, and home to a large number of bars and clubs that are in close proximity and open late. There are a number of castles, breweries, and quaint towns to visit throughout the Czech Republic, but potential visitors should act quickly as prices are expected to continue to rise in this historic and unique Eastern European nation.

Prague, Czech Republic

7. Madrid/Barcelona, Spain

Though the two cities provide a vastly different experience, both cost travelers an almost identical price. Madrid is home to Barajas Airport, while Barcelona has El Prat Airport. For those with an interest in the “beautiful game” both Madrid and Barcelona provide an opportunity to catch some of the best soccer players in the world plying their craft in the confines of the magnificent stadiums.

The Spanish economy has become fairly reliant on tourism as an industry, which has seen a decline due to economic issues. Luckily for potential tourists, this means costs will be less for a very popular destination. Each city provides a unique experience, with the high-tempo Madrid contrasting perfectly to the quieter Barcelona. Take advantage while the opportunity is there, as Spain is still the 2nd most popular destination in Europe. If possible (and if desirable), visit Ibiza for a crazy night or two, as it is recognized as the party capital of the world.

Anton_Ivanov / Shutterstock.com
Anton_Ivanov / Shutterstock.com

6. Budapest, Hungary

Much like Prague in the Czech Republic, Budapest in Hungary is another less-obvious tourist haven that has started to become more recognized. The cheapest tickets for a flight into Budapest’s Ferenc Liszt International Airport usually involve a stopover in Moscow or Helsinki, though a stop in Zurich is not much more in terms of cost and saves a great deal of time. Similarly, like Prague, prices for Budapest have begun to climb in 2014.

Popular attractions in Budapest include Buda Castle, which includes: the Hungarian National Gallery, the Matthias Church, the Parliament Building and the City Park. Thermal baths are another popular tourist destination, and the Danube River passes through the city providing for great scenery. While Budapest may not be top of mind in terms of European cities to travel to, take some time to learn about its great history before crossing it off a list of places to visit.

Budapest, Hungary

5. Lisbon, Portugal

The westernmost large city and capital in Europe, Lisbon has been on the rise as a popular and affordable tourist destination. Tourism has started to become an increasingly important industry in Portugal, with Lisbon becoming one of the most visited cities in all of Europe. Flights to Lisbon Portela Airport, the international airport in Lisbon are reasonably priced, and the city is known to be much less expensive than other premier destinations in Europe.

Some of the more popular destinations in Lisbon are the Sao Jorge Castle, Belem Tower, Lisbon Oceanarium and the Church of Santa Engracia. Potential visitors should aim to get to Portugal before the tourism industry truly takes off in the country, while flights and local prices are still more accessible for travelers. Take in some soccer before leaving, and maybe get a chance to witness world-famous Cristiano Ronaldo as he continues his quest to break long-held records.

Lisbon, Portugal

4. Paris, France

The dream vacation for a number of North Americans is a trip to the world-class city of Paris. The popularity of the city has led to Charles de Gaulle Airport being one of the busiest hubs in Europe. Because of this, travelers can find surprisingly competitive prices for a flight to Paris. As of 2014, costs have even slightly improved for tourists as well.

Paris is home to a number of France’s most famous attractions, starting of course with the Eiffel Tower. The Arc de Triomphe is another famous monument built to honor those who fought and died for France during the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars. The world-renowned Louvre Museum is also in Paris, home to the Mona Lisa and many other iconic pieces of art. The diversity of sights in Paris also features the iconic Notre Dame cathedral, a gothic-style church that is as gigantic as it is awe-inspiring.

Top Cities 2013 - Paris

3. Istanbul, Turkey

Despite the significantly further distance to travel to Istanbul in comparison to the rest of Europe, Istanbul can offer some reasonable prices for airfare. Turkey ranks as the 4th most popular destination in Europe, and 10th most popular in the world. With tourism in mind, the government in Turkey has undertaken the development of what will be the world’s largest airport in Istanbul, with the first (of a four part plan) being completed in 2017.

Due to the historical significance of Istanbul, the city is one of the most important tourist destinations in the world. Some of the major tourist sights in the city include the Haiga Sofia, the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, Topkapi, Basillca Cistern and Galata Tower. Istanbul is also home to Cevahir Mall, the biggest shopping mall in all of Europe (and 7th largest in the world). The city is also home to a number of museums, sports teams and cultural events.

Istanbul, Turkey

2. Dublin, Ireland

Ireland is a remarkably cheap country to visit in comparison to the rest of Europe. Though Dublin is the capital of the country, the airfares for flights landing at Dublin Airport are less than that of Shannon Airport, Ireland’s other international hub. Tourism provides a significant amount of income for Ireland’s economy with more than 6-million people visiting the country in 2012.

Destinations in Dublin include St Patrick’s Cathedral, the National Museum of Ireland, Trinity College, Christ Church Cathedral and of course the Guinness Storehouse. While at the Guinness Brewery, taste brews that are only available in Ireland, and take a break in their famous lounge. In 2010, the United Nations even awarded Dublin the title of UNESCO City of Literature due to the number of famous writers who are from the city. Travelers should also be pleased to know that Ireland also has no departure tax or comparable fees for air travel.

Bridge Dublin Ireland

1. Moscow, Russia

Even though the distance to Russia is quite far, travelers shouldn’t be intimidated by the fear of an expensive trip. Russia’s national airline, Aeroflot, is one of the cheapest tickets in Europe, and many cheap flights to other countries stop over in Moscow. Russia has seen a rise in tourism likely as a result of the previous Winter Olympics, but the current economic landscape in Russia benefits potential tourists right now.

There are a number of world-famous tourist destinations in Moscow, most notably the Kremlin and Red Square, the political heart of Russia. The city also features the impressive architecture of Saint Basil’s Cathedral, the Winter Palace and the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. The city is also home to the iconic Mausoleum of Lenin. It is important to note the cultural differences between Russia and the west, so it is best to read up on recent political and legislative changes that unfortunately may deter some travelers from wanting to travel here.

Moscow Russia Red Square

10 Worst Cities in the World for Pickpocketing

When you are traveling, you always need to be watchful of your valuables. This is especially true of items that you carry in your pockets. When you are traveling in a foreign country, you need to be especially careful in certain places that are known for pickpockets. Here is a guide to the ten worst cities in the world for pickpockets.

1. Barcelona

This beautiful Spanish seaside city hides a danger underneath its surface. It is notorious for thieves who like to prey on unsuspecting tourists. The large crowds and boisterous noise provide the perfect environment for pickpockets to operate.
Pickpocket 1

2. Prague

This is widely considered by many to be among the most beautiful cities in Europe. It draws in legions of tourists every year, but many of them leave with less cash than they should. Be very wary of the large crowds that provide cover for pickpockets at the tourist hotspots like the Charles Bridge in Prague.

3. Rome

Rome is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, and that reputation draws in the thieves. They have easy pickings with the many tourists who walk around in a daze as they gaze upon all the famous sights. Be mindful of your surroundings at all times in Rome, especially in busy areas.

4. Madrid

Spain can be proud of many things, but having two cities among the top five most notorious pickpocket locations in the world is not one of them. The Spanish capital of Madrid is also one of the world’s pickpocketing capitals. The metro and the markets are the locations where tourists need to be especially careful to guard themselves against the sticky fingers of petty thieves.
Pickpocket 4

5. Paris

They say that Paris is a city for lovers. That reputation may help explain why it is one of the world’s leading pickpocketing sites. The lovers walk around in a haze as they enjoy their romances, which makes them easy marks for the thieves who patrol the city’s streets. They are especially prevalent on the city’s metro lines. The crowded trains make it easy for them to operate without getting caught. People are packed in so tight that it can be difficult to notice someone’s hand reaching into your pocket.
Pickpocket 5

6. Buenos Aires

This is one of the wealthiest cities in South America, which brings in lots of thieves who are looking to siphon off some of that wealth. One of the most infamous tricks these thieves pull is to have one person dump something on a tourist. An accomplice then comes in to “help” the tourist by cleaning them off, which gives them an ideal camouflage for rifling through the mark’s pockets.
Pickpocket 6

7. Florence

One of the most famous artists’ cities in the world is also infamous for its pickpockets. It is easy for these thieves to steal from tourists when they are gazing in rapture at the stunning artworks that abound in the city.
Pickpocket 7

8. Amsterdam

This is one of the most delightful tourist destinations in the world. Its thieves are just as welcoming as the rest of its residents, and it is easy for them to operate in Amsterdam’s laidback atmosphere. The thieves make easy work of the inebriated tourists who like to indulge themselves in Amsterdam’s legendary party scene.

9. Hanoi

The Vietnamese capital is also the pickpocketing capital of Asia. The city is full of noise with its steady stream of motorcycles, cars and taxis always honking. This noise and the bustling crowds provide a nice cover for the petty thieves who ply their trade on Hanoi’s busy streets.
Pickpocket 9

10. Athens

No city on Earth has more historical sites to see than Athens. These sites often put tourists into an enchanted stupor in which they become easy prey for the legions of pickpockets who operate here. Tourists need to secure their money well before heading out to see the famous historical ruins of the city like the Acropolis and the Parthenon.

8 Romantic European Weekend Getaways

The summer is already here, and it is a great time to go on some romantic getaways with your special someone. In brainstorming for locations, I can find no better destination for a romantic getaway than Europe. Now, this might seem pretty broad, but there is just so much history and romanticism in this continent that it is difficult to pinpoint which location in Europe is the most romantic. The following is an overview of 8 romantic European weekend getaways.

1. Rome, Italy

The Italian capital is the perfect place to go if you want a romantic weekend. This ancient city has cobblestone streets, amazing historical sites, and great food for you to enjoy. To start off, you can go to the Flavian Ampitheater and relive the age of the gladiator. Next, the Roman forum will provide sights such as the Temple of Saturn and the Arch of Titus. If you’re feeling hungry, you and your loved one can take a stroll through the Campo de’ Fiori, which is where farmers and fisherman go to sell their fresh fruits and catches of the day.
Rome, Italy

2. Paris, France

One cannot plan a romantic weekend getaway to Europe without considering Paris. Paris has a great culture that is a mix of the old and the new, and the food here is the envy of Europe. Start by going to the Eiffel Tower and then have a picnic in a nearby lawn. Next, explore the city and visit the Arc de Triomphe and the Jardin des Tuileries. If you have a sweet tooth, be sure to visit Laduree, which is a great place to sample some Parisian treats like macarons and other old world delicacies.
Top Cities 2013 - Paris

3. London, England

London is an extremely charming city, and it does not get the attention that it deserves when it comes to being a romantic destination. Taking a stroll around Westminster Abbey and listening to Big Ben chime is one of the most romantic things that a couple can experience. Walking around London, you two will feel like you are in a fairy tale.
Top Cities 2013 - London

4. Madrid, Spain

Madrid is a charming city that has all of the ingredients to be a romantic getaway. If you are art enthusiasts, you will love nothing more than to walk the halls of the Prado Museum, which has one of the most extensive art collections in the world. If you want to feel like a “Madrileño”, then visit the Puerta del Sol plaza, which is considered to be the cultural center of the city.
Madrid Spain

5. Venice, Italy

This iconic city is famous for its river streets and also for its romanticism. Take a gondola ride with your loved one and take part in the tradition of kissing under every bridge you pass. Take a stroll down the Piazza San Marco and experience the beautiful architecture of the Basilica di San Marco located nearby. Don’t forget to take a boat ride down the Grand Canal, which is the main waterway in Venice. The entirety of this bustling town can be seen from here, and it is a magnificent sight.
Venice 1

6. Amsterdam, Netherlands

Amsterdam is commonly known as the “Venice of the North” because of the abundance of canals that it has. Just like Venice, you can take advantage of these canals and go on romantic rides. Amsterdam, however, is a large city compared to Venice. If you and your loved one are up for an adventure, simply walk around and enjoy the beauty of the city. You might get lost, but it will be a wonderful experience!
Top Cities 2013 - Amsterdam

7. Bruges, Belgium

It is very difficult to find something as romantic as walking down a cobblestone street with beautiful gothic buildings on either side. This is exactly what you find in Bruges. With an abundance of castles and quaint shops, it is easy to have a romantic time here.
Bruges Belgium

8. Prague, Czech Republic

To continue with our theme of castles and cobblestone streets, here we have Prague. Arguably one of the most beautiful cities in Eastern Europe, Prague has many buildings that date back to the 13th century and beyond. One look at the Old Town building and you will know that you picked the right place for a romantic getaway.
Prague Czech Republic