Our alternative guide to European breaks for 2018
With Christmas, all done and dusted and the January Blues about to kick in, it’s time to plan your next travel escape. So we’ve put together a selection of our favourite European hotspots for 2018, to help you plan your next getaway. And what’s more, they’re all easily accessible via our Nectar travel partners, meaning you can either redeem your Nectar points to help you get there, or collect reward points when booking.
Amsterdam: The ‘Venice of the North’
Known for its tulips, canals, bicycles and art galleries, Amsterdam is indeed an attractive and historic city. Take yourself off the beaten track ‘Oost’ (that’s ‘east’ for any non-Dutch speakers) and it becomes more akin to the cool vibes of east London – with hipster cafes, bars, clubs and boutiques popping up even faster than the tulips.
With approximately 1,500 bridges crisscrossing the canals of Amsterdam – three times more than in Venice – the best way to get around is by boat or by bike.
Amsterdam: Best things to do
So, once you’ve experienced the delights of Oost, we’d recommend taking a leisurely cycle northwards to the docks, where you’ll find the offshore platform REM Eiland. Once home to a pirate TV channel in the North Sea, it’s now a hip bar and restaurant serving excellent food and signature cocktails. With its dramatic views across the water, we think you’ll be broadcasting about this discovery to anyone who’ll listen when you get home.
Famed for its historical and cultural attractions, Amsterdam hosts the Van Gogh Museum, Anne Frank Museum, Rembrandt House Museum – the list goes on. And, if you’re after some culture at zero cost, then head to the EYE Film Institute. A free-entry museum with a collection of 37,000 film titles, 60,000 posters, 700,000 photographs and 20,000 books.
Before you make your Amsterdam flight and hotel plans, take a look at Expedia, which has great-value offers all year round – and you can collect Nectar points too!
Paris: Hipster hangouts and flighty adventures
Fancy a quick and luxurious getaway? Then just hop on the Eurostar, and in only over two hours, you can be dining in style in Paris. While there, you can check out these alternative Parisian escapades.
When it comes to Paris visitor experiences, you might think the pièce de résistance would have to be a panoramic view of the Paris skyline from the top of the Eiffel Tower. However, our guide goes one better. Head to the Montparnasse Tower, one of Europe’s tallest buildings, and here you’ll witness a panorama of Paris with the Eiffel Tower in it. Plus, you’ll not have the queues or the entrance fees to pay either – c’est magnifique!
More cool places in Paris
The Paris Flower Market is a firm favourite for many visitors, but for something a bit different, why not go there on a Sunday, when the floral displays vanish and are replaced by birds and cages of every shape and size.
If you’re into boutique hotels with an arty, bohemian edge, then Mama Shelter is the place for you. Philippe Starck, one of the best-known designers of our time, has created a stylish hotel, trendy nightspot and hipster hangout, where, in their words: ‘Mama takes care of everything!’
Brussels: Map your adventure
Another favourite Eurostar destination of ours is Brussels. Famous for its beer, waffles and chocolate, Brussels is a historic city with jaw-dropping architecture dating back as far as the eleventh century. However, step off the tourist trail, and you’ll discover that Brussels now hosts a cosmopolitan mix of cultures, partly due to being the unofficial capital of the European Union.
Built to be the world’s deepest indoor swimming pool, the Nemo 33 is the perfect place to learn how to scuba dive. If that sounds like a scary prospect, then there’s also a great restaurant with seven large windows offering views into the pool so you can watch the divers in action as you tuck in.
Brussels tourist information
To get around, make your way to Saint Catherine’s Square and visit the USE-IT office for a free map. A kind of alternative tourist information centre, USE-IT offices are popping up all over Europe, but it all started in Brussels. The plans include insider advice for nightlife, reasonably priced food, alternative activities and other local favourites. The program also includes essential tips for any visitor to Brussels – such as how to order a beer like a local, and where to get the best waffles.
Italian ideas: Underwater adventures, swings and roundabouts
Fancy your mini adventure around Italy? Then why not hire a car with Expedia, and head from Piedmont to Capri, following in the footsteps of the great Romantic poets Shelley and Byron, and taking in the sights, experiences and taste sensations of Italy.
Alternatively, if you want your trip to follow a less touristy route, here are a few of our favourite ideas to get you started.
Italy's hidden gems
The old Roman town of Baia nestles in the northwest corner of the Gulf of Naples. Baia was favoured by super-rich Romans over Pompeii as the hedonistic Las Vegas in ancient times. However, the invading Saracens put an end to the party in the eighth century, and the town was abandoned – before gradually becoming submerged by water due to volcanic activity. Today, the site is one of the world’s few underwater archaeological parks. Here, visitors can view the amazingly preserved remains of the Roman town through glass-bottomed boats – or even by snorkelling and scuba diving amongst the ruins.
Drive north and, not far from the famed attractions of Venice, you’ll find the lesser-known delights of Osteria Ai Pioppi. Hidden deep in a forest, this is a stunning home-made amusement park, packed full of unique and unusual rides – all built by one man, Bruno Ferrin. Starting out as a children’s playground next to his food and wine stand, over the past forty years Ferrin has created a unique variety of human-powered attractions – from a swinging bridge to a giant merry-go-round – all inspired by the area’s natural beauty.
Make sure you pre-book your Eurostar train or your travel, accommodation or car hire with Expedia using Nectar to get a great deal. And whichever city breaks you enjoy in 2018, don’t forget to check out the latest offers on the Nectar app, for an even more rewarding experience.