It’s the set of posts you probably haven’t been waiting for – my top 20 cities!
Before anyone gets peeved at how Eurocentric the list is (all 20 cities are European); outside of Europe I’ve only been to Beijing (interesting but not a favourite), Abu Dhabi airport, and Disneyworld in Florida. That’s the sum total of my non-European travels. Whereas I’ve been to countless European cities. It’s not really a contest.
Numbers 20 to 11 are below. Technically one of them I couldn’t choose between two cities, but they’re quite similar so YOLO.
20. Rome, Italy
Anywhere I go on holiday with my family will ensure the only places I see are the touristy ones. So I can’t offer any cool, quirky places you haven’t heard of a million times. But Rome is pretty awesome for a history buff and Latin language learner when it’s not too busy – although that’s not very often – and obviously the food is divine.
Got there: Train from Naples (multiple, 1h 10m)
Stayed at: Hotel Nazionale
Recommendations: The touristy stuff, especially if the Colosseum you can get your dad to flash his stomach while standing atop one of the bits of plinth. To be honest, I wish I’d seen some of the non-touristy stuff, but this was in my pre-travelling days.
A bit overrated… but the fact that it’s overrated and still makes the list means you should go and rate it for yourself.
Got there: Train from Berlin (4h 21m)
Stayed at: Old Prague Hostel
Recommendations: Try absinthe ice cream at one of the Absintheries (we went to the one on Kafka Square), go to the top of the Petrínská observation tower, pedalo down the river on a sunny day (esp when hungover). Restaurant-wise, we very much enjoyed both the food and free Wifi at Mistral Cafe, while the Ice Pub was also great fun.
I was pretty lazy during my time in Dubrovnik, partly because of the heat but also because I had a room to myself for two nights, which was utterly blissful. However, when not sleeping or crying with joy that I had a room of one’s own, I surmised that – while it’s more costly than the rest of the Balkans – it can kind of afford to be. The weather was glorious, the sea was glorious, the old town was glorious. Pretty good going.
The only non-glorious thing is the fact that you have to share oxygen with the multitude of tourists who have actually gone all the way to Croatia because a festering turd of a high-budget fantasy porno was partly filmed there. Luckily, as there are separate tours for these slavering, semi-erect Tits and Dragons enablers, you don’t necessarily have to come into contact with them – for which the non-tragic population, who know that ‘Daenerys’ sounds like a particularly crusty type of haemorrhoid, can be eternally thankful for.
Got there: Bus from Mostar (4 per day, around 3h)
Stayed at: Apartments & Rooms
Recommendations: Walk on the city walls (for 100 kuna, or €10), find Cafe Bar Bard through the gaps in the walls and have a drink overlooking the sea/go swimming [LOOK AT THAT VIEW], and go for a wander outside the city walls and into some of the coastline gardens.
Lake Ohrid is a massive lake. Ohrid is a city on the Macedonian side of the massive lake. It’s easy to get lost, but seeing as getting lost seems to always lead you to another beautiful old church, or a forest, or an archaeological site where a thousand-year-old building is being dug up, why would you want to be found?
In addition to this, the football-loving owner of Sunny Lake Hostel is also one of the coolest hostel owners I’ve met. Professional? Not at all. Great fun? Definitely. Helpful? Massively. And he gave me free cider. What a babe.
Got there: Bus from Skopje (multiple, around 3h)
Stayed at: Sunny Lake Hostel
Recommendations: Get the boat over to Sveti Naum for a half-day trip and take pictures of the peacocks, go to all the old stuff (Samuil’s Fortress, St Panteleimon – play ‘spot the swastika’ while you’re there – and Holy Mary Perybleptos church), try the Barovo wine. The neglected area on the lakefront away from the slopes is also worth a look around, just by way of comparison.
16. Winchester or Canterbury, UK
This is definitely the weirdest inclusion in my list. Why Winchester or Canterbury? Why not Manchester, or Edinburgh? (Answer: I’ve never spent much time actually exploring either, because I’ve been busy with Countdown stuff when I’ve gone – but I hope to spend more time there in the future.) Winchester is the absolute epitome of the leafy, southern English city, and it’s just really chill and pretty, with loads of pubs – not to mention it’s a former capital of England. Canterbury, on the other hand, is of huge religious (and literary, thanks to Geoffrey Chaucer) importance here, and while the Bible-bashing is of no interest to me, it does mean that it’s also ancient and has tonnes of lovely buildings. South East England represent.
Got there: Car (but accessible in an hour from central London on the train)
Stayed at: N/A
Recommendations: WINCHESTER: cathedral, cathedral grounds, just the city centre generally. CANTERBURY: cathedral, Westgate Gardens, the Chocolate Cafe.
I was far too knackered from three weeks’ hot, hectic and emotional travelling to appreciate Munich first time round, so it’s a good thing I came back for more. Second time, I took my then-best friend to Munich for his birthday in the hopes that we could score tickets to Der Klasiker (i.e. Bayern v Dortmund, who he loves). LOL at my naivety.
Safe to say we did not get tickets, and instead ended up watching the match in a shack on the street. But we did get to see 5 museums, drink beer and socialise with American tourists, and luxuriate in the greenery of the English Gardens. What’s not to like? (Apart from beer. I hate beer. But if you like beer, move to Germany.)
Got there: Train from Verona (5h 20m) first time, second time flight from London Gatwick (1h 50m)
Stayed at: 1st time Jaegermeister Hostel [DO NOT RECOMMEND 40 BED DORM], 2nd time Golden Leaf Perlach Allee Hof
Recommendations: Hofbraühaus, the 4 art museums (entry is €1 each on Sunday), Englischer Garten.
14. Oslo, Norway
Super expensive? Yes, especially the booze. Lots of begging women circling you if you’re holding a pizza box in the street? Yes. Cold? Not that bad in early May but I can’t vouch for the rest of the year. Despite these things, Oslo is beautiful and fairly relaxed for a capital city. There are flowers and statues everywhere. Just don’t forget that whales are endangered and order a whalemeat steak for dinner (oops).
Got there: SweBus from Gothenburg (3h)
Stayed at: Sentrum Hostel
Recommendations: Vigeland Park, Botanic Gardens, Akershus Fortress
13. Dublin, Ireland
Irish accents + Irish pubs + Irish men. What’s not to like? (Answer: Guinness. A truly grim imbibing experience.) Dublin is fairly expensive – nearly London prices at times – but contrary to expectations, there’s far more to what it has to offer than rowdy knees-ups in the Temple Bar. In fact, that’s the least of its charms. Irish people are warm, friendly and very forward (having been complaining to my friends just an hour earlier that men never chatted me up, I was approached by a very direct and complimentary 50-something who wanted to take me to dinner at 11pm on a Saturday. I didn’t take him up on the offer, but it was certainly an experience). But please don’t try to outdrink them.
Got there: Ryanair flight from London Gatwick (1h 20m)
Stayed at: Lynam’s Hotel
Recommendations: St Patrick’s Cathedral, Bewley’s Cafe, all the pubs (so many pubs).
Greek food is absolutely amazing. Pilafs, moussaka, feta, spanakopita, olives… need I continue? Where was I? Oh, yeah, telling you why you should go to Thessaloniki. Basically: ruins, culture, ports, people dancing despite the utter shitshow that is their country’s economy, FOOD. Sorry about the lack of eloquence or specificity; I’m currently drooling over the mere mention of pilafs and moussaka.
Got there: Bus from Skopje (2 per day, 6h 30m)
Stayed at: Little Big House
Recommendations: the Roman Agora, the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki (I really like historical stuff, sorry not sorry), Zithos restaurant (how can a simple pilaf be that good??)
Budapest is better than Prague. It’s cheaper, it’s weirder, and who doesn’t love a hermetic language that bears no similarity to any of its surrounding languages?! The roofs of buildings are beautiful in a way you’d never have expected Legoesque roofs to be. Its ruin bars are pretty much the coolest nightlife in Europe (admittedly I’m not an expert on such things). And, good news: if you have a terrible and debilitating cold when you visit: a trip to the mint saunas at the Szechenyi Baths will make you genuinely feel like you’re cured within 5 minutes.
It’s probably not as cheap as it was in 2013 because everyone has woken up to how great and mind-bogglingly cheap it is for a popular city break destination, but those prices will just keep inflating – so go while you can.
Got there: Sleeper train from Krakow – seems to have been discontinued since we went, though
Stayed at: Shantee House
Recommendations: Szechenyi Baths, Matthias Church, the Szimpla Kert ruin pub