5. Paris, France
Paris is the most clichéd of clichéd favourite cities. So let’s get the cons out of the way: it’s busy, people are rude, it’s expensive, terrorists occasionally go batshit crazy and massacre people. But central Paris is so beautiful. So much cleaner and more pristine than London, the people are well-dressed.. see, I can’t even shatter any clichés about it. You won’t learn anything that isn’t already received wisdom, but it’s still worth it.
The only thing that might enlighten you is if you count the number of pharmacies you spot while walking around. There’s one on every road – sometimes more than one. It’s crazy. ‘Une Pharmacie’ is a game for the ages that never fails to thrill.
Also, Disneyland is AMAZING.
Got there: Eurostar from Ashford International
Stayed at: Novotel Paris des Halles
Recommendations: Disneyland!!! And all the usual touristy places. Again: pre-travel days.
I don’t want to live or work in London: this is my idea of a nightmare. But visiting for a day trip? Walking around one of the huge parks, criss-crossing the city on the tube and laughing hysterically whenever you get a northbound train on the Piccadilly line? (Life goal: accomplished.)
For day trips or weekends, especially if those that involve avoiding Zone 1, it’s a perfect location. Really – spend one day getting Buck Palace, Trafalgar Square and the South Bank ticked off your list, then spend the rest of your time in London at Primrose Hill or Hampstead Heath looking over the city from afar.
It’s inexplicably soothing, and for me, it’s practically home.
Got there: It’s 40 minutes from where I live to London Bridge on the train.
Stayed at: My house. This may not be helpful for you, though.
Recommendations: Primrose Hill, British Museum, Hyde Park, Hampstead Heath, Vauxhall City Park. Zone 2 is generally much less hectic than Zone 1 and there are nicer places to go for a walk. Or you could just read this noob’s guide to London. Or you could read all my blog posts on London.
Our first podium finisher is…
Vienna is not a particularly exciting city. It’s the Oxford of Europe; classical buildings everywhere, clean, cultured, and loads of blimmin’ cyclists. But actually, it owns the classical, clean, cultured, cyclist-clogged city thing so well that it doesn’t need to be any of those things. The transport is Teutonically efficient, the opera is devastatingly cheap if you have the time and inclination to sit outside in a queue for 2-3 hours, and the productions you get to see once you invest that time into queuing are breathtaking and accessible. I’m basically a culture pleb, and I adored it.
If you really want to see the less sophisticated side of Vienna, go to one of the cheap(ish) and cheerful restaurants where barmaids wear tops with Carry On-esque necklines and the women pictured on their business cards have buoyant breasts (we’re talking practically inflatable), or share a dorm room with a British Nazi who never sleeps! The latter remains one of my fondest travel memories, even if I BBM’d my brother in fear for my life at the time.
The honourable runner-up is…
If homegrown patriotism is the preserve of the right, then fawning over Scandinavia is The Done Thing on the left. Yer boys Sweden, Finland and Denmark (Norway not so much) are the leftie dream! Denmark’s the happiest country in the world, Finland had the best schools (although they’re now in freefall in the global rankings for failing to innovate while ahead), Sweden just has all the state provision for all the things. I was sceptical about how much I would enjoy Scandinavia partly for the hype (do politics translate into a good holiday? Seeing as my favourite city is in a very corrupt and divided country, I’d say not), and partly for the cost.
My time in Scandinavia was mixed, due to impersonal hostels, loneliness and expensive eating options. But my time in Copenhagen was all good. It’s not that expensive if you can subsist off Wok On noodles, corner shop Danish pastries and pre-made salads from the Danish equivalent of Lidl. There’s loads to do, be it walking up a vertigo-inducingly high staircase around a church spire, NOT taking pictures of people buying naughty herbs in Christiania, going on rollercoasters and watching pantomimes at Tivoli Gardens, and going around the Carlsberg brewery. Plus, obviously she’s underwhelming as any world-famous attraction you’ve ever seen, but you WILL go and see the Little Mermaid.
Got there: From Helsinki on a Norwegian Air flight (£46.70, 1h 40m)
Stayed at: Sleep In Heaven
Recommendations: Tivoli, Nyhavn, Christiania, Wok On (Oriental cuisine takeaway near Christiansborg). More recommendations, in detail, for things you can do with a Copenhagen card are here.
AND THE WINNER IS…
There are but 5 things in this world I will excessively eulogise on when started. Suede (band), Blur (band), my pet gerbils, Tonbridge Angels FC, and this here city. Sarajevo is impossible to describe adequately, and if you asked me to, I’d just try to twist your arm into buying us plane tickets so you could see it yourself and I could be back there.
It is not without flaw whatsoever – begging children interrupt your Maccy Ds, chuggers flout their wares in the street, and corruption is rife – but it’s pretty in a shabby way, the people are diverse and resilient, and the culture is vibrant and feels revitalised 20 years after the end of the siege that killed so many. The Baščaršija – Old Town bazaar – is the beating heart of the city, but a walk alongside the Miljacka river in the centre or up the hills towards the memorials will also stand you in good stead to get an idea why Bosnia’s quickly becoming a sleeper tourist hit, especially with Brits. And don’t forget to check out the giant chess set in Liberation Square, where old men gather all day to play or heckle others. I haven’t even done the abandoned bobsleigh bit in the mountains (don’t wander off the beaten track; there are still live landmines buried there from the war) or the tunnels under the airport. The nightlife isn’t up to much, but there is a delightfully-named club called Pussy Galore.
Someone, please – take me back.
Got there: From Belgrade using a GEA Tours minibus (€25, approx 9h[!] – but it’s the only efficient way to get there!)
Stayed at: Travellers Home Hostel
Recommendations: Baščaršija, Liberation Square, Nanina Kuhinja (restaurant in Baščaršija – may take a while to find, but worth it!)