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Magical Madrid, 14th February, Flights & Hotel, 3 Nights €199!

Terrazas de la Plaza Mayor de Madrid

The Spanish capital of Madrid is often overlooked for a city break but actually it probably has more to offer than most of it’s European counterparts.

 

Take a guided tour of the Royal Palace, probably one of the largest and most beautiful palaces you are likely to see. Enjoy a coffee on the Plaza Mayor, Madrid’s main square, it is a great place to people watch and plan your day. Follow that with a night out in the city, when Madrid comes alive with gastro bars, al fresco eateries and vibrant nightlife. With over three thousand restaurants, it is not surprising that Madrid is now considered one of Europe’s top cities for gastronomy.

There is plenty in  Madrid to keep everyone happy, some may like to shop while the others take in a football match or a stadium visit. A trip to the Real Madrid’s Bernabeu would satisfy even an avid football fan. A stroll along the Gran Via, Madrid’s grandest street is a shoppers paradise, where high street and designer shops combine to tempt you with prices cheaper than at home. A new apple store opened in 2014 with a 360 degrees genius bar, where experts from ‘Apple’ give advice and solve any technical issues, its known as a ‘little apple museum’, worth a look in the area of Puerta del Sol!

Bernabeu, The Travel Expert, Sarah Slattery

So with all of this and a lot more, isn’t it time you visited the city of Madrid? I have found a great deal departing on the 14th of February. Fly with Aer Lingus and stay three nights in the popular HRC hotel for only €199. This modern hotel is situated in the heart of Madrid, close to all the main attractions and it’s excellent nightlife. The HRC also receives excellent reviews on tripadvisor as well as a certificate of excellence.  So what are you waiting for?

 

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Prices are correct at the time of issue but are subject to change.

 

Sarah 

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City BreaksEuropeTravel TipsTraveling With Kids

Top 10 tips for taking kids on city breaks

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Check out my top 10 tips for taking kids on city breaks and get planning your next weekend break away.

 

Taking kids on city breaks may not be as daunting as you might think. Airfares are so low to many European cities, so it would be a shame to not take advantage of them – well thats my excuse anyway! Travel broadens the mind and is extremely educational for children. They will learn new cultures, see famous landmarks, try new foods and who knows, may even learn a bit if history too! Hopefully my handy tips and tricks will see you will jetting off on a family city break in no time.
 

 

1. Choose your city wisely.

The ideal choice when taking kids on city breaks is to choose a city that you have already been to, and you would like revisit. You won’t feel it necessary to see all the top attractions the second time round and you will have a more relaxed trip. Failing that, choose a small city where you don’t have ten ‘must see’ sights to see, because no matter how well behaved your children are, there are only so many museums and monuments that kids can take…

tips for taking kids on city breaks
 

 

2. Get your kids excited before you go.

Find something that you know they would be interested in and focus on that. Perhaps there is a famous landmark, a football stadium, a theme park or an aquarium that you know they would be excited to see. Google famous films made in that city and watch a movie together before you. 
 

 

3. Choose good flight times when taking kids on city breaks.

Very early starts are ok if your kids will sleep on the plane, but if this is not likely, then try to choose day time flights. Many hotels won’t have your room ready till 2pm anyway, so arriving at 11 am, after being asked ‘are we nearly there’ ten times, only to be told to come back in a few hours, is not ideal! On your last day all kids want to do is go to the airport, so try to get an early flight home and avoid hanging around. That €20 you think you are saving by coming back on a later flight, trust me you will spend it ten times over!


 

 

4. Choose your hotel wisely.

Try to choose a hotel that is centrally located, so you can walk to restaurants in the evening and sights during the day. Kids get tired and bored on buses and trains, so avoid these where possible. If you can, try to get a hotel with a pool. It is a great incentive when out walking all day, to reward your children with a swim in the evening before you go to dinner.
 

 

5. Get the kids involved.

Give them maps and let them help plan your day. Try to encourage your children to take selfies front of famous landmarks and bring them back and show their friends or teachers.

Tom ten city breaks for families

6. Choose museums that are interactive or child friendly.

The ‘please do not touch’ museums don’t work out so well! There are usually technology, science or transport museums in most cities, that everyone can enjoy. Boat trips can also be something that will appeal to adults and kids.
 

 

7. Plan one thing to do each day that interests them.

Try to fit some sightseeing in the morning while your children are fresh. Plan an activity for them in the afternoon, a visit to a park, zoo or kids attraction.
 

 

8. Bring portable toys, buggies or even scooters!

Bring pocket colouring books, lego, smart phones, tablets or anything that fits into a backpack. When you are taking time out for a coffee or standing in line in a queue, they can come in very handy. A Verbatim MEDIA SHARE is much handier than a portable DVD player. It creates it’s own wifi network so kids can watch movies on their tablets or phones, anywhere – just remember to bring headphones! It is great to have on the plane, in restaurants or even in museums where kids usually get bored. Depending on your children’s ages you may want to bring buggies too. If they are old enough a fold up scooter can be a great asset to get around a big city.

tips for taking kids on city breaks
 

 

9. Try something new.

Children will visit lots of aquariums, zoos or even theme parks in their lifetime, so do something different that they will remember the trip for. Maybe its something simple like eating the local street food, or taking a tuk-tuk ride around the city, but do something that you would not do in your own home town.
 

 

10. Relax and enjoy it!

Don’t stress out if you can’t ‘fit it all in’. Enjoy taking kids on city breaks,and if you love the city that much, you can always come back!
 

 

 

Want to see more travel tips? Click here!

 

Sarah

 

The Travel Expert Sarah Slattery

 

 

City BreaksDestinationsEurope

My City Guide to Berlin

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Berlin, I finally got around to visiting a city that has been on my wish list for many years and boy was it worth the wait!

 

The atmosphere in Berlin is almost palpable. Walking around the city you cant help but be taken by the enormity of what happened here. The Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie, all the various memorials and of course the numerous museums are all fascinating, even to someone who is not that up on her history! It is also renowned for amazing nightlife and must rival New York for the title of ‘the city that never sleeps‘. There are basement nightclubs, cocktail bars, craft beer houses and even beer cabins. You name it, Berlin probably has it.

What to see:

So where do I begin, there really is so much to see, I had four full days and really could have done with another four. Before you do anything, buy the Berlin Welcome Card. This allows you free transport on all buses, trains and the underground. It also gives you 25-50% off many top attractions and even some restaurants. If you are smart you can even use it to get to and from the airport to save on taxi fares. The train system is great and you will use it, as the city is too large to navigate on foot.

I would start at the Brandenburg Gate, it is the only remaining city gate which used to represent the separation of the city between east and west. It is extremely well kept and was one of the highlights for me. From there walk to the Reichstag building (German parliament) which has a spectacular glass dome with incredible views over the city. TOP TRAVEL TIP: You need to register to do this online to gain access otherwise you will have to stand in line for over two hours.

From here you can walk to the Jewish Holocaust Memorial complete with 2,711 concrete slabs, arranged in a grid pattern on a sloping field. Then on to the west side of the Berlin wall. Depending on energy levels you may be able to continue on to Checkpoint Charlie where you just have to get the obligatory photo with the American ‘GI’s”! Incidentally Check Point Charlie was the name given by the Western Allies to the best-known Berlin Wall crossing point between East Berlin and West Berlin during the Cold War.

The Travel Expert, Sarah Slattery, Berlin, Checkpoint Charlie
Checkpoint Charlie

Would you believe there are 175 museums in Berlin so I think it is safe to say you won’t get to see them all! The visit berlin website is worth checking out as it is best to try to plan what museums you want to see before you go. Museum Island has five world renowned museums and is considered part of UNESCO world heritage and that is probably the most popular choice. However if you are looking for something a little different try the museums of technology, science, the spy museum or the interactive DDR museum.

One of the things most people do when they tour a city is find a high point to get an aerial view. In Berlin there are several of these. The TV tower is the most popular. It is now an icon for Berlin and is the highest publicly accessible building in Europe. Try to book online for the best choice of tickets. Failing this you can see a similar view from “Panoramapunkt” at Potsdamer Platz – it’s outside so might be windier than the TV tower, but still very nice. It’s also only  €6.50 to enter, so also cheaper than the tower which starts at €13.00. The view from the dome of the Reichstag is very impressive too so try to plan in advance which one you want to see and it may save you some time and money.

The Reichstag Building, Berlin, Sarah Slattery, The Travel Expert
The Reichstag Building

The east gallery of the Berlin wall for me was another of the highlights. It is a 1.3 km-long painted stretch of the former Berlin Wall and is the largest open-air gallery in the world, with over one hundred original mural paintings. The murals represent freedom and reconciliation and it is well worth a visit. I really enjoyed the experience and the combination of the bright coloured murals and the riverside setting makes for superb photographs.

The Berlin Wall, Sarah Slattery, The Travel Expert, Berlin
The East Berlin Wall

Berlin is full of wonderful squares too or ‘Platz’ as the locals call them. Alexanderplatz has plenty of market stalls and a typical beer house with outside tables and sometimes, live music. It is a great spot to relax and enjoy a German beer and take in the atmosphere. On the quieter side is Gendarmenmarkt, a square with stunning buildings and remarkable architecture. There are plenty of good restaurants here and lots of places to enjoy an alfresco coffee. Last but not least if you get nice weather, a boat trip along the Spree river is a nice way to see the city from the water.

Where to stay:

One thing that I did underestimate was the size of Berlin and how much there was to see. Yes, the underground system is remarkable and the S and U Bahn trains take you all over the city. For me though, I like to walk around a city and discover places that are not always in the guide books, I found it difficult to do this in Berlin. The tourist area close to the Brandenburg Gate is walkable and I would recommend staying near here if sightseeing is your main objective. Likewise if you are visiting for nightlife stay in east Berlin, Mitte, Friedrichshain or Kreuzberg are the most popular choices. I stayed in West Berlin near the famous Kurfurstendamm shopping district but I felt it was too far out of town, if I was to return, I would choose to stay in a more central location. The Adina Apartments at Checkpoint Charlie are a good choice, they are spacious and come with a kitchenette and have an indoor pool too.

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Brandenburg Gate, Berlin by The Travel Expert
Brandenburg Gate

What to do with the kids:

This was the first ‘proper’ city break that I have brought my kids on and although I would definitely do it again I would probably resign myself to the fact that you wont get to see everything you want to see. My kids are 7 and 4 so I couldn’t exactly drag them into the holocaust museum and there is only so much sightseeing kids can take!

On the other hand if you are looking to bring kids to a city, Berlin is a great choice as there is plenty for them to do too. Choose a hotel with a swimming pool, it is a great start to the day or else a great way to finish off a days sightseeing. The Lego discovery centre was a big hit with my two, mind you they are lego fanatics! You could not compare it to Legoland though, it is really only somewhere to spend one and a half to two hours at a maximum. Don’t bother with sealife and the aquadom, the one in Bray is just as good!

The aquadom is one of those things that sounds great in theory but is really just a lift that lasts five minutes so trust me, don’t waste your money! The DDR museum is a good choice as it is an interactive museum so unlike most museums, kids are encouraged to touch things and interact! The National History Museum has three huge dinosaur skeletons,  including the largest skeleton in the world, and let’s face it, kids love dinosaurs! The Zoo is one of the most popular in Europe and there are numerous technology and science museums that are very child friendly. My kids loved the Holocaust Memorial, obviously not for what it represents but because it is maze-like and they navigated their way through it.

Lego Discovery Centre, Berlin by The Travel Expert
Lego Discovery Centre

Where to eat:

There are numerous eateries all over the city but as I had my kids with me, we probably played it a little safe. Vapiano is a place you have to try, there are lots of them in Berlin, it is fast food but with an edge. There is a strong emphasis on fresh food with pasta, pizzas, antipasti and salads all ordered directly from the chefs in front of you, and prepared as you watch. Ask for your favourite dish and they will try to provide it. The modern interiors make you feel like you are somewhere special but the prices certainly don’t. A great choice for a quick stop or a leisurely lunch.

Another good find was Amici on Gendarmenmarkt square, excellent value for such a prime location and the food and design was very good. If you are short on time and trying to fit in some extra sightseeing you could try a currywurst (like a hotdog but with tomato /curry sauce), they are on every street corner and are the staple street food in Berlin! The 12 Apostles, close to museum island is a nice family restaurant if you have kids with you, good pizza, pastas etc. Just be aware that the 12 Apostles and other restaurants we found only accept cash and no credit cards! If you are planning to visit the Reichstag building the roof top restaurant here is excellent and is a good way to gain access to the dome, you will need to book in advance.

Vapiano, Berlin Restaurant by The Travel Expert
Vapiano Restaurant

Berlin has so much to offer that I can safely say I would recommend it for everyone. Over the last one hundred years, this is a city that has seen the rise and fall of the Nazis, was destroyed, rebuilt, and then divided into two very different ‘cities’. You get the distinct impression that the residents of Berlin both past and present can handle anything that is thrown at them, they just live for the moment and enjoy life. That is something that will resonate with me for a long time to come.

 

Sarah

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Majorca – How To Choose The Right Resort For You

Girl on Beach

Majorca has been one of the top holiday destinations from Ireland for many years now. In fact Majorca was my first holiday abroad, as I am sure you can imagine I didn’t exactly take in the stunning scenery! Yes like many young people, I went for the great nightlife and the warm sunshine. There is so much more to this magnificent island though that needs to be told…

 

Majorca is an island that no matter what age you are, you can have a great holiday, it truly is an island of contrasts. Whether you have just finished your leaving cert and want a lively holiday, have children and want a family holiday or if you are retired and want some relaxation with evening entertainment, Majorca has all in abundance. Many people still associate Majorca with discounted package holidays but it is also full of luxury hotels, Michelin star restaurants and impressive marinas. The key is knowing which resort to choose at various times during the year.

North Coast: Alcudia, Puerto Pollensa, C’an Picafort, Playa de Muro

Puerto Pollensa, Alcudia, Can Picafort and Playa de Muro are the main resorts that stretch across the north of the island. My personal favourite is Puerto Pollensa. It is almost picture perfect with a long sandy beach, a mountain backdrop and a pretty old town to sweeten the deal. It was once an old fishing village so still retains a certain charm. There are great restaurants here and a great choice of self catering and hotel accommodation to suit anyone looking for a relaxing holiday with nice surroundings.

The neighbouring resort of Alcudia, has a magnificent 12km long beach and an old walled town but for me, lacks the authenticity that Pollensa has. In fact it has gone so developed now that it resembles the holiday resort cliché, with burger bars and loud music on every corner. C’an Picafort and Playa de Muro are both quieter resorts, pretty and less developed than Alcudia but the former has a large promenade and a more modern feel.

Majorca, by The Travel Expert

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East Coast: Cala D’or, Cala Millor, Cala Bona, Sa Coma.

The east coast is also very popular from Ireland with many families and couples choosing Cala Dor, Cala Millor , Cala Bona, and Sa Coma for their summer holiday. Cala D’or would be my personal favourite along this coast, it is a great choice for families and couples, with many cove beaches and a stunning marina in Cala Longa – a great spot for al fresco dining.

Cala Millor was somewhat of a surprise to me, it is a large resort which a long sandy beach and plenty of great shops and nightlife. The smaller resorts of Cala Bona and Sa Coma are more family orientated with nightlife centered around hotels and family resorts.

Majorca by The Travel Expert

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South West Coast:  Santa Ponsa, Magaluf, Palma Nova.

Santa Ponsa, Palma Nova and Magaluf are renowned for great nightlife so tend to attract mostly young people during July and August. They are also very popular with couples and families who are looking for a lively holiday at that time. In the quieter months, May, September and October enjoy a more mixed crowd as some of the other parts of the island may be almost ‘too’ quiet for some tastes.

All three resorts are lively with a great choice of bars and restaurants and long sandy beaches to satisfy adults and children alike. Santa Ponsa is particularly popular with Irish people so you are bound to hear ‘the wild rover’ emanating from numerous bars as you walk through the town.

Majorca, by The Travel Expert 

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Palma, Puerto Portals:

Majorca isn’t just about a traditional sun holiday, it can offer so much more. The vibrant city of Palma would compete with the best for a city break destination. The gothic cathedral, the Almudaina Palace and Bellvar Castle (amazing views from the top) are just some of the ‘must see’ sights. It is a modern city with stunning architecture, excellent shopping and one of the most impressive marinas in Europe.

Wandering around the old town of Palma is really impressive albeit with a relaxed holiday feel. The nearby resort of Puerto Portals has been home to celebrities for some time now. It has a sophisticated marina as well as plenty of designer shops so it feels more upmarket than some of its neighbours. It is very close to Palma Nova so many choose to stay here but take a taxi to Palma Nova for a lively night scene.

Tram, Majorca, Sarah Slattery, The Travel Expert

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Exclusive North West Coast:

If you are looking for something a little more exclusive you should try Soller or Deia on the west coast. This is Majorca at its best. These hill top towns boast magnificent views as well as mouth watering restaurants and luxury hotels. Take a tram to the port of Soller and enjoy a cocktail at the waters edge, the scenery is stunning. Enjoy a day trip to Valldemossa, this old town oozes charm and character and is one of the prettiest villages in Majorca.

Sarah, Slattery, The Travel Expert, Majorca

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Wander through the cobbled stone streets and do some souvenir shopping but beware it is only 30 minutes from Palma so it does attract a lot of day trippers. This part of the island is for me one of the highlights of this island, so if you are planning a break to Majorca in the future make sure you rent a car or take a bus and go see it, you will thank me for it!

 

Sarah

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5 Star Luxury Hotel Croatia, 1 week, 8th September, Flights, Hotel & Transfers, €787!

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The medieval city of Dubrovnik should be on everyone’s wish list. Although you can stay in the heart of the old town I think the best way to enjoy it, is to holiday in one of the resorts close by.

 

The city is actually quite small and can be packed with cruise ship visitors during the day. Temperatures can also be very high, depending on the time of year.  If you choose to stay outside the centre you can literally have the best of both worlds. Relax by the sea or pool during the day and hop on a water taxi in the evening when the city is less crowded.

A visit to Dubrovnik by The Travel ExpertCavtat is the jewel in the crown on of this region. Only 20 km south of Dubrovnik, Cavtat is a an upmarket resort with a delightful old village and a palm fringed promenade. It is perfect for couples and families who want pretty resort with a relaxed pace. The medieval village has a small selection of boutiques and galleries and there are plenty of excellent restaurants to satisfy even the celebrities who hang out there. To top it all off there are numerous boats which leave from the harbour all day visiting Dubrovnik and the surrounding islands. Lets face it, there is no better way to explore this stunning coastline. Read my destination posts for more information on Cavtat and Dubrovnik.

Why not treat yourself and stay at the 5 star luxury hotel Croatia for seven nights for only €846, on the 8th of September. Enter my exclusive code TRAVELEXP10 in the promo code box to save 10% off the accommodation cost, making the total €787 per person. Highly rated on tripadvisor this was a travellers choice winner in 2015 & 2016. You just have to read the reviews to see how good this hotel really is. This price includes flights with Aer Lingus, transfers and a seven night stay, with FREE breakfast and FREE wifi.

 

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All prices are correct at time of issue but are subject to availability.

 

Sarah

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DestinationsEuropeFamily HolidaysFeaturedSunseekers

Why Lanzarote Is My Favourite Canary Island

lanzarote

With year round sunshine, numerous sandy beaches and plenty of interesting sights, Lanzarote is my favourite Canary Island.

 

When you land in Arrecife airport the landscape is startling. There are no high rise blocks, just barren terrain and pretty white washed buildings as far as the eye can see. Thankfully building laws prohibit high rise buildings in Lanzarote and all houses, hotels and apartments have to be painted white. This makes even the commercialised holiday resorts, such as Puerto del Carmen, very pleasing on the eye. There are many resorts to choose from, Puerto del Carmen, Playa Blanca and Costa Teguise are the largest but there are also smaller resorts, such as Los Pocillos, Matagorda and Puerto Calero – suffice to say there is a resort here to suit all tastes!

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Puerto del Carmen

Puerto del Carmen is one of those holiday resorts that ticks all boxes. Located just ten minutes from the airport, we arrived at our accommodation within a half hour of the plane landing! There is just the right amount of night-life, but you would never consider it ‘rowdy’. For this reason it tends to attract plenty of families, couples as well as girls looking for a nice break away. There are plenty of different areas to stay, the growing ‘new town’ leads in to the neighbouring resorts of Los Pocillos and Matagorda. I stayed in the Aqua Suites, an four star boutique hotel which is superb for families, read why I think the Aqua Suites is the best place to stay in Puerto del Carmen with kids.

lanzarote

I love the ‘old town’, which has some lovely restaurants and excellent duty free shopping, with shops like Zara and Mango about 20% cheaper than what you would find at home. The harbour is the best place to catch the sun set. There are plenty of bars and restaurants as well as a playground for kids. You can enjoy sundowners while the kids play happily – its bliss!

 

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Families will love the wide sandy beach. With pedalos and an inflatable waterpark, you could easily spend the day here. Don’t miss the open air cinema and enjoy a day out at Rancho Texas Park. This theme park has dolphin and seal shows, a small water park as well as hundreds of animals. For more details read my post on things to do in Puerto del Carmen with kids.

lanzarote

Puerto Calero

Less than ten minutes by taxi from Puerto del Carmen will bring you to the pretty town of Puerto Calero. Purpose built, its marina is home to many luxury yachts and designer shops. Restaurants are reasonably priced though and it is a great option for lunch if you happen to be staying in Puerto del Carmen. If you are feeling adventurous you can take the coastal walk ( about 90 minutes ) from Puerto del Carmen all the way into Puerto Calero, enjoy a tasty lunch and catch the water taxi back.  You can also take boat trips on stylish catamarans or if travelling with kids, they will love the submarine safari.

Playa Blanca

With plenty of five star hotels and an upmarket marina, Playa Blanca is becoming the ‘sophisticated’ choice. The promenade stretches for 7km from the Marina Rubicon to the small old port where you can catch the ferry to Fuerteventura. There are plenty of inexpensive restaurants here along the seafront and most with stunning sea views. The marina has plenty of upmarket restaurants and designer boutiques, all surrounded by some luxurious yachts. The big draw is the choice of golden sandy beaches as most of the other resorts in Lanzarote have darker sand. 

 

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Playa Blanca is also very popular with families as there are numerous self catering options to choose from, most of them offering an entertainment programme and facilities for children. Aqualava, waterpark is sure to keep the kids entertained and the more adventurous can dive to Europe’s only underwater museum. If you fancy a change of scene take the ferry to nearby Fuerteventura. Once you see it’s white sandy beaches, you will think you are in the Caribbean!

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Things to do in Lanzarote

Lanzarote is the perfect size for exploring. It is very easy to navigate so I would suggest hiring a car and visiting the main tourist spots yourself. Timanfaya National Park is a must see, the volcanic landscape is spectacular. Over 100 volcanoes erupted between 1730 and 1736 but due to limited erosion, the area still looks almost Martian. It was made a National Park in 1968 and you are no longer allowed walk freely through the park. Coach trips, guided walks and camel rides are all possible but go early as it can get very busy in the afternoon. Try El Diablo restaurant, where you can enjoy meat barbecued by the heat from the Volcano – a truly unique experience. 

 

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Don’t miss a trip to Jameos del Agua, in the north of the island. Famous Lanzarote artist César Manrique created this tourist site in the 1960s, inside lava caves that were formed 4,000 years ago by the eruption of La Corona Volcano. Walk down stone steps into the volcanic tunne,l which is one of the longest in the world, at 6 kilometres in length, to discover a unique restaurant which over looks a small lake. The lake looks almost translucent, which probably has something to do with the small blind albino crabs that are only found here.

lanzarote

You then emerge from the dark cave to find hundreds of tropical plants and a stunning swimming pool. The fact that you are not allowed to swim in the pool only makes it more magical! The Jameos del Aqua is also home to a large auditorium where cultural events and concerts are housed throughout the year. The Jameos del Agua is said to be the perfect harmony between nature and artistic creation.

A short drive from Playa Blanca brings you to the small village of El Golfo. This is a great spot to stop and have lunch, the seafood is fantastic and the setting is perfect. Situated on the coast, with sea views but extremely authentic and thankfully still unspoilt. If you like to haggle, visit the old town of Teguise. With its cobbled stone streets is probably the pettiest town on the island and holds a market every Sunday.

Like this post? You might be interested in these:

Five Things To Do With Kids In Puerto del Carmen

 

Why The Aqua Suites Is The Best Place To Stay In Puerto Del Carmen With Kids

 

Sarah

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DestinationsEuropeSunseekers

Tuscany, Italy

rolling-hills-of-tuscany

The contrast of the countrysides rolling hills mixed with the stunning cities of Florence and Pisa make’s Tuscany an irresistible choice for any traveller.

There is so much to see here, the problem is where to start! I have holidayed in Tuscany numerous times in various cities and towns and loved it each and every time. There are regular direct flights from Dublin to Pisa with Ryanair and they won’t break the bank so its probably the most direct route to take. I would recommend getting the Ryanair coach from Pisa airport direct to Florence and spending a few days there first. Florence is Tuscany’s capital city and when walking around it, you get the feeling that it deserves to be! The Tuscan countryside is so beautiful that it would almost be a shame if its capital city didn’t have that certain heir of grandeur. Although the largest city in the region it retains its old world romantic charm. It has one of Italy’s must see Cathedrals or Duomo, the magnificent Basilica di Santa Croce, the famous statue of ‘David’ by Michelangelo and of course one the largest collections of art in the world in the Uffizi Gallery. I would recommend doing an organised city tour to avoid long queues and will enable you to see most of the sights in the shortest time. If you would rather go it alone make sure you at least pre book the Uffizi tickets online, the queues can be over 2 hours long during peak summer months. Florence is not only known for its artistic charm, it’s really quite romantic too. The Ponte Vecchio Bridge, one of the most photographed places in Florence, is lined with vendors, hoping the magic of this city will entice the spellbound tourists to purchase something for their loved one.

Sarah Slattery, The Travel Expert talks about Tuscany

From Florence you can take a train to nearby Siena which is only just over an hour away. In my opinion, this is another ‘must see’ if visiting Tuscany. It is one of my favourite places to visit. The old town centre is pedestrianised and is so easy to navigate. It doesn’t have that big city feel but there are numerous sights to see and it feels almost relaxing, strolling through the streets picking up souvenirs, a complete contrast to the hustle and bustle of Florence. Siena has been declared a World Heriage site by UNESCO and after a visit to the Piazza del Campo you will see why. The Palazzo Pubblico or town hall stands magnificently beside the Torre del Magnia. Climb the 400 steps to the top to see the red roof tops of Siena and the surrounding countryside, it is breathtaking. This is also the famous location for the Palio horse race which takes place twice every summer. Ten horses with bare back riders race around Il campo each representing their own district, dressed in various colors, it really is a magnificent sight. For any movie buffs out there you may recall this from a scene in the James Bond’s movie, Quantum of Solace. Like most of the Italian cities and towns, there are loads of typical trattorias and osterias. One of the best lies in the heart of Siena. Unfortunately the secret is out so its usually thronged with locals and tourists but make sure you visit, you won’t be disappointed, Losteria on via de Rossi.

Sarah Slattery, The Travel Expert talks about TuscanyFrom Sienna, get a hired car. There is a fantastic train service to most of the larger towns but to experience the Tuscan countryside properly you really need a car. The freedom you have to stop at small walled towns and villages and sample the local produce, for me is one of Tuscany’s highlights. The Cypress trees, old country cottages and the striking sunflowers means the journey is the destination. Driving the Chianti region, stopping at various towns and sampling the local wines is another highlight. We came across Montepulciano, one of the oldest hill top walled towns while driving one day and to this day it’s one of my favourite spots. Although not exactly undiscovered, it’s not as well known as some of its neighbours so it doesn’t attract as many tourists as the famous San Gimignano just down the road. However, regardless of the large influx of tourists the medieval walled town of San Gimignano is town you just have to visit. The fourteen towers dominate the landscape and give a dramatic feel as you get closer to it. Like most of Tuscany’s towns it is also pedestrianised but although easy to navigate it can be extremely busy in the summer months. I would recommend staying there for a few days or even overnight to get a true feel for the place. Alternatively visit in the late afternoon when the numerous Tour buses have left. Because of the nature of the walled town it gets dark very early and is not the best place to see the Tuscan sunset. Its neighbour on the other hand, Volterra, is the perfect spot. Only a half hour drive from San Gimignano, but its situated perfectly to enjoy a late drink as the locals meet in the open square to discuss the events of the day. You get the feeling you are seeing the true Tuscany here while taking in one of the best sunsets in the world.

Top tips for taking the best holiday photos

You can drive back to Pisa from here as it’s only an hours drive and visit the famous leaning tower before flying home. Pisa however, for me lacks the grandeur of the other Tuscan cities. In fact, if it wasn’t for the Leaning Tower, I think I would probably skip it altogether. The great thing about the Tower and its surrounding buildings is that they are so close to the airport that you can really do a quick visit on your way home. There are four buildings, one of which is an impressive Cathedral but really a few hours is all you need here to tick the box and get the souvenir photo.

 

Sarah

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DestinationsSunseekers

My Guide to Lake Garda, Where to Stay and What to Do.

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For a long time now Italy has been one of favourite holiday destinations. I have stayed in Lake Garda twice, with and without children and loved it both times. Check out my handy guide to Lake Garda, with tips on where to stay and what to do.

Lake Garda, Italy’s largest lake, is extremely popular with Irish visitors. There are direct flights to Verona from Irish airports during the summer months, as well as flights to nearby Milan and Bologna. It may sound like a cliché but Lake Garda is one of those destinations that caters for everyone. It is romantic yet family orientated, quiet but full of sports activities. It is also perfectly situated to visit some of Italy’s famous cities and towns.
 

 
Lake Garda is just over two hours from Milan and Venice, and only an hour from Verona – so if you are looking for a holiday where you can get out and explore some more of Italy, then Lake Garda is for you.

sirmione, lake garda, italy

If Venice or Milan seem a little too far to attempt on a day trip, Verona is most definitely not. It’s so easy to navigate and has some marvellous sights to see. The amphitheatre or Arena Di Veroni, is stunning, and is remarkably well preserved. In fact I thought it was more impressive than the Colosseum in Rome when I saw it for the first time.
 

 
You can also visit Juliette’s house and call out to your partner from the balcony where Romeo declared his love. If on the other hand you just want to wander, Verona is a beautiful city with plenty of shops and cafes that line its historical streets.

juliettes balcony verona, near lake garda
 

 

Things to do in Lake Garda

As much as there is to do close by, you may find it hard to leave Lake Garda. It takes approximately three hours to drive around the lake, and you will be surprised at how each town differs in style and size. Water taxis are available to most towns and are a great way to explore the lakeside towns.
 

 
The cable car ride from Malcesine to Monte Baldo is a great way to see the lake from above. You will see many jumping off the top of the mountain with parachutes – it is a remarkable sight.  If you just want to relax, there are many man made beaches to choose from, but the sandy beach of Lazise is one of the best on the Lake.
 

 
Gardaland is a must visit if on holidays in Lake Garda with kids – see more on that below, and a new cycle path is due to open in 2021, which I am personally looking forward to seeing.

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Where to stay in Lake Garda

If you are only staying for a short time the choice of location is very important, particularly if you want to do some sightseeing. Generally speaking try to stay in one of the towns at the southern end of the lake if you want to be close to Venice, Milan and Verona.
 

 
If you are staying in the beautiful town of Riva, at the very north of the Lake,  it will take you a lot longer to travel to and from destinations. The town of Garda is a popular choice and attracts many visitors because it is only twenty miles from Verona. My favourite town in Lake Garda is Sirmione.

sirmione lake garda

Sirmione is situated at the southern tip of Lake Garda, on a long peninsula that juts out from the mainland. It is stunning! The old town is dominated by a thirteenth-century fairytale-like castle, the Rocca Scaligera. The fortress is open to the public and is well worth the visit. If you are travelling with kids, don’t despair. My daughter Alex thought it was like Cinderella’s castle, so it appeals to both adults and children. 
 

 
You can choose to stay in Sirmione, but bear in mind it will be very busy with tourists in peak season. A day trip might be a better option depending on the time of year you visit. If, on the other hand, you are looking for a more relaxed village to stay in, Bardolino or Limone may suit you.

bardolino lake garda

If you are travelling with kids, Pescheira would be my resort of choice. It’s southern location allows for a short airport transfer and it is also ideal for day trips to nearby cities. Its pedestrianised streets and Roman ruins make an idyllic setting, but its close proximity to Gardaland is the main attraction.
 

 
Gardaland is Italy’s largest theme park and one of the best theme parks in Europe. It is also home to Peppa Pig Land, and Legoland is opening a waterpark there in 2021. If you are staying in Garda for two weeks you may be better to buy an annual pass. This will allow you as many visits as you like, with automatic fast pass entry to most of the rides.
 

 
However, if one day is enough for you, order your tickets online to beat the queues. This saved us forty-five minutes queuing time in July. GardaLand is a super theme park with rides for all ages and I would highly recommend it if you are travelling with kids.

gardaland

Garda is just one of the many beautiful holiday destinations Italy has to offer, but is one that I can safely recommend for everyone. Whether you want to try some fantastic water-sports, visit some stunning Italian cities or simply enjoy a peaceful lakeside setting, Lake Garda has all in abundance.
 

 
Sarah

The Travel Expert Sarah Slattery

DestinationsEuropeFeaturedSunseekers

Fun in Fuengirola

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With over 1 million visitors from Ireland to Spain each year, the resort of Fuengirola tends to get overlooked.

It’s probably for that reason that I like it so much! Unlike some other Spanish Resorts you don’t feel like you are on O’Connell Street when walking through the town at night. In fact it’s the opposite, it attracts many Spanish people and has a feeling of authenticity about it. Yes, there are lively English bars but not to the extent of the other resorts along the Costa del Sol. The beach stretches over 7km so the resort itself is quite spread out. The main centre known as Constitution Square still has a Spanish feel to it, with a beautiful church in the centre and plenty of pedestrianised streets with boutiques surrounding it. Although you find some high street stores like Zara and Mango, it doesn’t feel like a city or a holiday resort, more like a town that locals inhabit. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of tourists but it just feels more subtle than its neighbours, Marbella or Benalmadena.

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There are so many good restaurants that it is hard to only mention a few! Along Calle Moncayo, or ‘Fish Alley’ which it’s more commonly known, there are numerous restaurants side by side, each as good as the next and very reasonably priced. You can get a three course meal with wine for €10 here, and the quality is exceptional! Casa Roberto, just off the square is excellent, and again relatively inexpensive for the quality of the food.  My personal favourite is El Toston, tucked behind the local bus station. Its full of locals because the food is so good! It’s primarily a tapas bar but you can have a full ala carte menu if you prefer. The steak on the stone is just perfection and if you like tapas, try the  pata negra ham and the wild boar croquettes – amazing! By the way Mamma Mia‘s serve great pizza, so if tapas are not your thing don’t worry, there are restaurants a plenty to suit every taste.

Tapas

With all of those food recommendations, I can only suggest staying in an apartment or if it has to be a hotel, make it a room only or on a B&B basis. I like the Illunion Hotel, it’s right across the road from the beach and only about 15 minutes walk to the centre. The beach bar, Madrid Playa offers a great lunch menu and you can get two sun beds plus a bottle of cava for €5 per day – how can you beat that! They will even keep them at the waters edge for you if you ask the day before!

Fuengirola is a great choice for a sunshine break without breaking the bank – go try it for yourself.

Sarah

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DestinationsEuropeFeaturedSunseekers

Benidorm – bold or beautiful?

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For years, I couldn’t understand the appeal. I had to know why Benidorm was the most searched destination from Ireland on Google last year.

I was aware that Benidorm had good nightlife, and of course it is renowned for its low cost of living – but don’t most Spanish resorts have this? I finally got the opportunity to visit this place that had perplexed me so much,  I was invited on a familiarisation trip and I  jumped at the chance to see what Benidorm had to offer.

After a pleasant 2hour 20 minutes flight, we arrived at the Costa Blanca.  I must admit my first impressions were not that great, high rise buildings and English bars everywhere. I found myself wondering why this place was so popular with Irish people? It wasn’t until that night when suddenly it all became apparent. Until then, the only thing I had heard about the nightlife was that it was loud and catered mostly for stag and hen parties! I have visited most Spanish resorts and have experienced nightlife on many levels, but Benidorm has so much more. There are bars, disco bars , karaoke but its the shows that differentiate it from everywhere else. People, young and old, thronged to see amazing tribute acts, Take That, Westlife, Queen, U2,  unique comedy acts, and everyone was fantastic!

benidorm sarah slattery the travel expert

We found ourselves wondering “why are some these acts not winning  X Factor”! When it comes to nightlife, Benidorm is king, there is nowhere better – it has it all.  It was like being in the West End but everyone walks around in shorts and teeshirts and all the shows are free! The cost of living has to be lower than other Spanish resorts, 6 bottles of beer for €5, or €1 for a pint – hard to beat that anywhere!

Now that I had warmed to the nightlife, I tried to feel the same way about the resort itself. I  was pleasantly surprised when visiting hotels that most rooms had sea views.  In the 1950s, the mayor of Benidorm decided he wanted hoteliers to build upwards so everyone could get a beautiful sea view.  With these high rise buildings everything is in close proximity and Benidorm can cope adequately with 500,000 tourists at any time.

Benidorm has five stunning beaches, stretching over four miles. You can choose Levante Beach which is close to the lively centre and tends to be extremely busy, or the quieter Poniente Beach which has a newly built promenade, great for an evening stroll. In between both you have the old town of Benidorm. It is packed with shops, tapas bars and oozes character. We enjoyed a fabulous lunch with sea views right in the heart of the old town, it was perfect.

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Not only did I have a new found respect for Benidorm as a destination, but I realised that it has so much more to offer than nightlife and beaches. What other resort can offer five theme parks within a ten minute taxi ride from the centre? There is Aqualandia, the largest aqua park in Spain with one of the tallest slides in the world! There is Mundomar, a park with dolphin and seal shows and of course Terra Mitica, if rollercoasters are your thing then you can’t afford to miss it! Lets not forget all of the possibilities for day trips, there is the stunning Villajoyosa with its colourful buildings and the city of Alicante which really surprised me. The castle of Santa Barbara is well worth a visit, with lifts that go all the way to the top, the views are stunning! The palm tree lined promenade stretches the length of the City. Alicante has beautiful old  buildings and an affluent marina, it stuck me that not only is it a nice day trip from Benidorm, it also is a great option for a city break.

benidorm sarah slattery the travel expert

I know finally understood the whole Benidorm phenomenon  and why seven years later, the TV series is still such a huge success. Benidorm has sun most of the year, stunning beaches, a variety of Hotels, fantastic nightlife, an old town full of character. Benidorm has something for everyone and it is a destination everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime!

Sarah

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City BreaksDestinationsEurope

Cascais and the Lisbon Coast

Lisbon

Despite visiting Portugal on many occasions, I had never visited Lisbon until recently. I wanted a beach holiday but with the opportunity to do some sightseeing too – the Lisbon Coast has both in abundance.

 

I was really impressed by the Lisbon Coast as a holiday destination, it had something for everyone. I stayed in the beautiful village of Cascais which offered the best of both worlds. We enjoyed staying in a holiday resort, but within easy access to Lisbon. Lisbon is a great city to visit. It is so colourful, has a great food scene and there is an endless supply of sights to see.

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Things to do in Lisbon

If you are on a city break and staying in Lisbon you may get to see all of the top attractions, but if like us you are staying along the Lisbon Coast, and day-tripping to Lisbon, it is impossible to see everything! I would recommend taking one of the old fashioned trams and doing a hop on hop off city tour, this will enable you to see as much as possible. If you want to go it alone, Tram 28 offers the best route to all the sights.

 
things to do on the lisbon coast
 

The city is quite spread out, but using the trams will allow you see the cultural centre of Belem, the Castelo de Sao Jorge and even climb the Cristo Rei: a huge statue of Christ where you can see views of the whole city. If you are travelling with children, the Aquarium is a must-see. It’s one of the worlds largest aquariums, and one that you could easily find yourself spending the day in!

Wondering where to stay in Lisbon? Read my top picks of 3, 4 & 5-Star Lisbon hotels here.

 

 

 

Things to do on The Lisbon Coast 

A visit to Sintra is one of the top attractions on the Lisbon Coast. Wander through the narrow streets and marvel at the architecture that dates back to the fifteenth century. It has numerous designated UNESCO world heritage sites, the most famous being the National Palace. I loved the lesser known Quinta de Regaleira, a mystical place, great for families with children, who can explore the many nooks and crannies in its wonderful gardens. There are underground tunnels, waterfalls and a magical castle. My son Luke (6) thought we were in middle earth and needless to say he thoroughly enjoyed it!
 
things to do on the lisbon coast
 

 

 
If, like us, you want to stay in a beach resort, there many to choose from. We chose Cascais and loved it. It is such a charming town, filled with quaint cobbled stone streets, some great shops, and a huge variety of restaurants to cater for every palate. I found a little gem hidden away from the main centre called 5 Sentidos, Casa do Largo, with typical Portugeese food that catered really well for all of us. There is a nice cove beach with a marina close by and plenty of larger beaches a few minutes drive from the centre too.
 

 

 

 

 
The beaches at Guincho are particularly impressive,  with huge waves and wide stretches of sandy beach. The train station is right in the centre of the town, with trains going every 20 minutes to Lisbon and the surrounding area.

Overall it was a great trip. It was not your typical family beach holiday, but that was part of the charm. When I think of the thousands of Irish visitors that travel to the Algarve each year, I enjoyed taking the path less travelled on, it made all the difference!
 

 

 

Wondering where to stay in Lisbon? Read my top picks of 3, 4 & 5-Star Lisbon hotels here.

 

Like city breaks? See more here.

 

Sarah

The Travel Expert Sarah Slattery

 

DestinationsEuropeFamily HolidaysFeaturedSunseekers

Family Holiday Guide to Zakynthos, Greece

Zakynthos

With beautiful scenery, amazing food and a low cost of living, it’s not surprising that Zakynthos is a firm favourite with Irish holidaymakers.

 

Until recently however, Greece was considered more suitable for couples or groups than families. I guess the perception was that the accommodation was more basic in Greece than its European counterparts and maybe lacking in some kids facilities. This may have been the case many years ago but certainly not any more…

Family Friendly Zakynthos Resort

I managed to find a great family resort on the Island of Zakynthos called the Alykanas Beach Village. It’s like a hotel but with self catering facilities so if you have small kids this is ideal for making breakfasts, baby food etc. They have endless facilities for adults and children, day and evening entertainment, a kids water park, kids clubs and  three swimming pools. There is a ‘quiet’ pool if  day time entertainment isn’t your thing and failing that, the Hotel is right on the beach.  They also offer free wifi, although if you are an avid ‘Facebooker’ beware –  it can be temperamental! 

Splash park at Alykanas beach resort, Zakynthos

 

Many family resorts in Greece are ‘All Inclusive’ , with all meals and drinks included. This works very well for many families but personally I prefer to dine out so the Alykanas Beach Village suited me perfectly. In Greece, the food is so good and so cheap, my personal favourites are their traditional dishes like stifado or saganaki and of course the typical Greek salads. The restaurants cater so well for kids too with most places having play areas or bouncing castles. My little ones had great fun choosing the restaurant each night and the restaurants with biggest play areas usually got picked! They also believe that the best spaghetti bolognese is not to be had in Italy, but in Zakynthos!


Zakynthos
But it’s not just the accommodation that made the holiday so special for me. Zakynthos has so much to see and do for all family. There are numerous options for day trips, a trip to see the famous loggerhead sea turtles is a must. These are now endangered so it is great to see them in their natural habitat. Another famous landmark is Navagio or ‘Shipwreck beach’ as its more commonly called. It is the most photographed beach in the world and is simply stunning.  It is only accessible by boat but there are organised boat trips to bring you there from all of the holiday resorts. A word of warning though, the bus trip from your Hotel is not the most comfortable! It is a long winding road and can lead to some upset tummies.  If you are travelling with kids make sure you get good seats on the lower deck of the bus ; trust me, the sound of sick kids on the upper deck was  not a pleasant way to start the trip! The pictures that you see of Navagio beach on various websites are, dare I say, a little misleading! Yes, it still is a stunning site, but the white ‘sandy’ beach that you see in the photos is actually tiny white stones and is quite hard underfoot. I would recommend that you bring surf shoes to make it easier to jump off the boat and if you want to go swimming. Also bear in mind that unless you go extremely early in the morning or late at night, there will be thousands of other people on the beach with you!


Navagio beach, Zakynthos
Although I would highly recommend taking one of the organised boat trips, if you don’t fancy doing this there are numerous other activities to satisfy you. All of the typical water sports you would expect to find at a beach resort are in Zakynthos too, from pedaloes with slides to glass bottom boat rides.  There is also a waterpark with plenty of slides and high speed tubes to keep kids entertained all day long.  And if you are still looking for more action you can visit the larger island of Kefalonia, less than an hour by boat, see the setting for Captain Corelli’s mandolin and the beautiful capital, Argostoli.

I am writing this on my return plane journey home, a leisurely 3 and a half hour flight. I can’t help asking why have I waited so long to bring my kids to Greece? It has so much to offer and still relatively unspoilt, I will definitely be returning.

Sarah

The Travel Expert Sarah Slattery

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