People in Europa / Ciao ciao bella, Monaco
November 4, 2009 4:53 AM   Subscribe

April. Europe. Our first proper holiday, and I haven't left the country in eight years. Where to go?

On the shortlist are Amsterdam, Paris, Berlin, Barcelona, and, um, somewhere Scandinavian or Italian.

As the pound is worth little these days, and I have to pay £80 to renew my passport, we need to know cities and places to stay that aren't hugely expensive (hostels are fine as long as they're safe), and food too. We like museums, art and graveyards, interesting urban architecture and culture, shopping (ie. things that we can't get in the UK - we like crafts and boardgaming, and I like thriftshopping), pubs rather than clubs, nice cafes, things to see and do and photograph. Neither of us can drive, but I'm a beginner cyclist so we can get around that way.
posted by mippy to Travel & Transportation (24 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Oh, and if it helps I speak Spanish a bit, and my SO knows a bit of French. I'd love to go to Carcassone, but the lack of driving and lack of mad language skillz puts me off slightly...
posted by mippy at 4:57 AM on November 4, 2009

The Amalfi coast (southern Italy) is quite nice in April. Vesuvius, Pompeii, Herculaneum and the island of Capri are all in easy reach, and there's plenty of local crafts and friendly little bars in places like Sorrento.

Or for less touristy and more museumy, you can't go wrong with Florence.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 5:02 AM on November 4, 2009

From your shortlist, I'd say Amsterdam - the museums and galleries are out of this world, the brown cafes are a perfect combination of cafe and pub, and the cycling is remarkable. You won't have to speak any Dutch.
posted by handee at 5:15 AM on November 4, 2009

Well, Reykjavik is awesome, but it's generally more convenient to get to if you're flying via North America since it's easy to stop there on your way to continental Europe.

I have to say that I went to Lisbon this summer and it BLEW ME AWAY with how gorgeous it is. I've traveled a bunch and I wasn't at all prepared for how beautiful and amazing that city is. Lots to see - lots of ruins, castles, amazing food... Can't recommend it enough. Easy to get around via subway.

Plenty of stuff to photograph. (Self-link: The over 400 pictures that made the cut to upload to Flickr - that is to say, I took more and whittled it DOWN to 400. And oh hey! Graveyards included! With feral cats!)
posted by grapefruitmoon at 5:29 AM on November 4, 2009

Berlin is amazing, super cheap, full of great, modern architecture and a fine place to spend a couple of days.
posted by jedrek at 5:30 AM on November 4, 2009

As you say your pounds aren't going to do you any favours in most of those places. BEar in mind Sweden and Denmark are both outside Euroland and are currently not as comparatively expensive as they might previously have been. Copenhagen is an interesting and pleasant place to visit and if you go there you can day trip to Malmo.
posted by biffa at 5:34 AM on November 4, 2009

Spain Spain Spain Spain Spain Spain SPAIN.
Museums: Reina Sofia, Prado, Thyssen , Sorolla Museum (Madrid); Picasso Museum, Dali Museum (Barcelona and thereabouts)
Interesting urban architecture: Casa Batllo, Casa Mila, Parque Guell
Shopping: Fuencarral, Tribunal, Rastro (Madrid); Rumblas (Barce)
posted by cachondeo45 at 5:43 AM on November 4, 2009

I just got back from Paris, and it was wonderful. Museums, art, cafes... and I found it really easy to get around my Metro, so never once wished that I had a car. There are also bicycles all over the city that you can rent by the hour (if you have a credit card that works with their system).

I stayed at a reasonably nice hotel in a fantastic location that cost about 75 Euros per night for a single. (Don't know if that's in your budget or not.) If you want more details, feel free to memail me.
posted by cider at 6:02 AM on November 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

April is still kind of cold so you probably should go as far south as you can. FWIW, the Canary Islands are part of Spain. It has an incredible amount of urban architecture. Plenty of work by Calatrava and Cesar Manrique.
posted by JJ86 at 6:07 AM on November 4, 2009

Paris is kind of cold and rainy in April, but you really can't beat Père Lachaise cemetery. I guess you could go run around in the rain and pretend you're Morrissey.
posted by oinopaponton at 6:15 AM on November 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

Amsterdam is great because the city centre really isn't very large, it's pretty easy to navigate, and there's enough there that it can keep you busy for several days. So you don't have to spend much on transportation, especially if you rent a bike instead of ride the trams.

The Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum are wonderful, and they're both on Museumplein so you can easily visit both in one day.

There are other nice museums: the Anne Frank House (very close to Dam Square), the Amsterdam Historical Museum (right by Het Spui, where there are some nice cafés and bookshops), and a bunch of churches.

Zorgvlied Cemetery is very close to central Amsterdam. Some famous Dutch people are buried there.

Amsterdam is full of pubs -- I highly recommend In De Wildeman.
posted by transporter accident amy at 6:30 AM on November 4, 2009

Please consider Eastern Europe. Cheap and beautiful. Prague, Krakow, Budapest and my favorite little town in the world Cesky Krumlov. I took the high speed train from Amsterdam to Dresden, spent a day there in that really amazing town, then took a train the next day to Prague. From Prague it is a couple more hours to Krumlov and from there a couple more hours to Krakow.
posted by nestor_makhno at 6:59 AM on November 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've recently been to Amsterdam: cool city, nice parks and museums and cafes (if you find the right one) but expensive and very crowded with tourists. Some pubs were charging 6 euros for a pint of beer, and the food was generic tourist rubbish (I'm sure there are better places outside the tourist areas, and it will probably be cheaper in April). The Rijksmuseum is being refurbished; only a relatively small part of the collection can be viewed. Not sure if that will still be the case in April, but might be worth noting.

Barcelona: I loved it. Easy to get by with rudimentary Spanish; some decent museums/galleries that aren't overwhelmingly big, or hard to get to; the Sagrada Familia; interesting architecture generally; good food; a fantastic market (good for both food shopping and just wandering).

Not on your list, but recommended: Portugal. You could fly to Porto and get a train to places like Braga (for a day trip) and/or Lisbon (for several days). Or just fly to Lisbon, wander round the Moorish fort, check out the galleries/museums, take a trip to Sintra to visit the ruins/castle, etc. Again, just wandering round Portugese cities is fun, checking out the architecture etc. The food is great (if you avoid the tourist trap restaurants with English menus outside), people friendly, and it's relatively cheap, even with the bad exchange rate. (If you do decide on Lisbon, feel free to MeMail me, I can recommend a fantastic (small) hostel with the best hosts ever).
posted by Infinite Jest at 7:09 AM on November 4, 2009

As far as your budget and livelihood are concerned, I'd go for Berlin. I found some awesome stuff at flea markets/thriftstores there, looking at the architectural differences between East and West is fun, the food is way more affordable than in other places (eating out in Paris is pretty annoying, unless you go hang out in the Marais neighborhood and eat falafel and delicious other baked goods), and I quite enjoyed the cafes. ALSO for photography, I noticed that Berlin had some old school photobooths scattered around. That's fun.

Another cool thing you could do is to go to Paris, swing by Brussels, and go to Amsterdam all on the same trip, riding Thalys, and basically hang out in Paris for a while, then go to the Magritte Museum in Brussels (still regret missing that!), and then hop over to Amsterdam, which is beautiful and bikable and fun.

For budget and added culture (and if it doesn't freak you out), you could find people to stay with through
posted by mustcatchmooseandsquirrel at 7:13 AM on November 4, 2009

I just went to Barcelona last month and can't recommend it enough.
posted by haveanicesummer at 7:30 AM on November 4, 2009

Let me third Portugal. Lisbon is beautiful, and a day trip to Sintra is great. Super-easy to negotiate, and I got around easily with my New York City Spanish. (yes, Spanish isn't Portugese, but I made myself understood, and understood others OK too.)
posted by gaspode at 7:44 AM on November 4, 2009

If you had a couple of weeks, I would strongly strongly reccomend exploring Asia.
We like museums, art and graveyards, interesting urban architecture and culture, shopping ... things to see and do and photograph

You have just described Malaysia (Malaya) in south East asia. I used to live there - incredible place. Can't speak other languages to easily? No problem - national language is Malay / Indian / Chinese there but nearly everyone normally speaks english.

Cheap as chips (to quoff a phrase) and one of the most intersting culture rich placest in the world. Malaysia is comprised of (nearly) equal parts Indian / Malay / Chinese. So you can imagine the food is exquisite, the culture is far reaching and the sites and places of interest are stunning. The oldest jungle in the world / the origins of Batique craft / Incredible Fruits and trees / Orang Utans / Very friendly people/

Hop on a plane and go to the other known side of the Malaysian Islands: Borneo. Jungles and all manner of exciting things lie there.

The only downside is that some can see it as a little "too" different from pie and chips down the Queens Head in Doncaster - but if you want to see the world? Start there.

I do hope this helps :)
posted by Cogentesque at 8:54 AM on November 4, 2009

Amsterdam in April? QUEEN'S DAY!!!!!
posted by randomstriker at 9:58 AM on November 4, 2009

The Hanseatic League awaits you. April might be a bit chilly, but if you saw Jonathan Meades' Magnetic North, you'll know what those coastal cities have to offer.
posted by holgate at 10:26 AM on November 4, 2009

On a recent trip, I found that staying in smaller countryside hotels (places in the "Logis" network, for example) could be less than half the price of a city hotel, and you'd still get a nice stay with a private room/bath, TV, etc. I stayed in Limoux near Carcassonne for 49 euros/night. The downside is that many hotels in this class aren't very accessible to train/foot travellers. Some are, though, so keep it in mind while researching.

There are cyclists all over the south of France, from Tour-de-France-wannabees to actual pros to regular plodders; you'd probably want to do research about specific areas for tips on good bike routes to follow. Note that the reason a lot of people bike in the southwest is for the challenge of tough mountain climbs--if conquering the Col de Tourmalet isn't on your to-do list, you may want to look elsewhere.

Carcassonne is perfectly nice for a day. I drove, but the Cité itself is right next to town, I'd expect that if you can get yourself there by train or other means then biking or even walking up would be pretty straightforward. It's crawling with tourists on a nice day (Germans!! Everywhere!!), so limited language skills aren't really a problem there, although they might be in the town itself. In smaller towns in the Aude people with English were almost non-existent, although they were very patient and friendly with my limited French.

Toulouse is worth a day or two of exploring. Only downside to Toulouse at all is that hotels may be a bit pricier. The metro is excellent, the centre-ville is very, very walkable, and the city government has very nice automated red bike rental things everywhere.

An example of a way to keep hotel costs down, maybe: let's say you stay in Carcassonne or Albi or even Pau as a "home base", and take the train into Toulouse to explore there for a day. If country hotel plus train is less than the cost of the big-city hotel in Toulouse, you're that far ahead on your budget. You could probably apply the same reasoning to other areas as well (stay in a town with an hour or two train connection to Lyon, for example).

Food in the region is fantastic, of course, but can be an investment in time as well as money--restaurants and brasseries expect you to be sitting around smoking, chatting, or reading the paper like a proper French person, not rushing off to your next tourist stop (like an uncouth American like me).

Three tips for saving money on food: 1. Lots of regular corner bakeries sell sandwiches and paninis for a few euros. Quick, cheap, easy, extremely filling and sometimes very good quality. 2. Carrefour or the equivalent--if you can smoke out a proper grocery store, you can stock up on cheap provisions. If you like a little irony and amusement in your vacation, you can even get canned or microwavable versions of the treasured regional specialties that the touristy restaurants feature. 3. If you do go to a 'real restaurant', the plat du jour is probably what's cheapest, freshest, fastest and what they have the most experience making. Moving away from the daily special can turn a 15-euro meal into something much more expensive.

It could be worse, you could be financing your trip with U.S. dollars instead of pounds.
posted by gimonca at 10:46 AM on November 4, 2009

If you can't be talked into Eastern Europe (and outside the Eurozone), I would go with Berlin first, Amsterdam second. They're both pretty cheap and Berlin has so much to do it's untrue. It's truly a fantastic city. It's been about 10 years since I've been to Amserdam and I loved it there as well, though it's smaller than Berlin. Lisbon is gorgeous but I can't say anything about prices there as I haven't been there for some time. If you do go to Lisbon, I would like to second Sintra, as someone mentioned above.

I haven't been to Paris but have been to the south of France and while it was beautiful, it wasn't the cheapest holiday. I also haven't been to any Scandinavian countries, but I think they can be fairly spendy, as is Iceland. You can get a good deal to the Canary Islands and I can personally recommend Fuertaventura. Also, if you're looking for a beach holiday - Benidorm! So trashy, but have you seen the television show?! Hilarious! AND a very cheap holiday!

I have found really great deals on city breaks at I just got back from a 4 day trip to Prague for about £320 total for airfare, hotel and transfers for two people. We ate mostly street food while we were there, which was cheap and delicious (bratwurst!). I am also going to Krakow in a few weeks for six days, and I paid £300 total for two people, which again includes airfare, hotel and transfers. Worth a try anyway - there are lots of ways to keep costs down while travelling abroad. NOTE: I am not in any way associated with this company - I just love to travel and am willing to spend time looking for deals. Feel free to memail me if you'd like any more tips and tricks.

Let us know what you decide and have fun!
posted by triggerfinger at 12:44 PM on November 4, 2009

April in . . . Paris, of course. There's a reason that this is still a popular song after nearly 80 years and is not just that it's a pretty melody. Paris satisfies all your criteria. A trip of a lifetime!
posted by Neiltupper at 1:57 PM on November 4, 2009

If you had a couple of weeks, I would strongly strongly reccomend exploring Asia.

I'd love to go to Asia, but cheap airtickets are £500. It's sadly not going to happen this year...
posted by mippy at 10:02 AM on November 5, 2009

I'm not ruling out Eastern Europe - it just hasn't popped up on my little mental shortlist. Prague would be great but I worry it's turned into stag-do central these days.

for the record, I'm not averse to learning languages - I hate it when Brits go abroad and expect everyone to speak English - but it's good to be able to get about with some basic phrases.
posted by mippy at 10:07 AM on November 5, 2009

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