Craig and I (Gemma) have been travelling together since we met in 2012. Our first trip to Southeast Asia was a test run to see if you could spend over a month in such close proximity without killing each other. Surprise, we had a thrilling experience and no one was drowned in the Gulf of Thailand or pushed in front of a moped in Hanoi! Three years later we took an 18-month career break to travel the Americas and Europe, in taking this risk we had ample time to tick off our ever-growing cool bucket list ideas. We prefer to travel slow, at times even volunteering to help stretch our budget for longer and giving us the chance to immerse ourselves in the local community but often time and money dictates, and we take a whirlwind tour of our desired destinations – we believe it’s all about balance and hope that after reading our travel tips and quips here at Two Scots Abroad that you will believe that you can make travel happen too.
The Big Two Scots Abroad Cool Bucket List Ideas
I’ve identified what we’ve managed to do and link to the story so you can have a nosey.
Eat Laksa in Malaysia (image below is Liverpool) –
Eat bull tongue in South Africa –
Make a maple syrup lolly in Ottawa –
Try true Mexican food (and not just mushy nachos) –
Eat an authentic curry in India –
Try a cornish pasty –
Go to vodka distillery –
Taste pasta in Italy –
As the stamps on our passports increase, the items here multiply. Bucket lists are supposed to be fluid and adaptable, there will be no stage in our lives where we manage to do all of the exciting experiences the world has to hold but we’ll definitely give it a bash! We think our travel bucket list is realistic, what do you think?
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Since Craig I (Gemma) met we’ve travelled. Seeking adventure during a 5-week Southeast Asia trip, taking a 17-month career break to travel the Americas and Europe, getting engaged in Vancouver and then eloping to Austin, Texas. Now we’re home and we’ve bought the house and got the dog the obvious next steps in life is to get knocked up. This is not a disclosure; there is no haggis in the oven but I wanted to prove to the naysayers that while travel with kids is a challenge, it certainly can happen. Here is a comprehensive guide on how to save and plan for your next trip with kids as well as where to stay, how to feed and entertain and what to do when they get sick. Tips from fellow kickass travellers who will prove to you that family travel can be stress-free (ish).
1. Saving for Family Travel
The most common thing people say to me when they hear that I travel with kids is ‘how can you afford to travel so much?’ The answer is easy; we make it a priority. I shop frugally, doing my grocery shop once per week and I only buy what I need.
We try to avoid eating out too often although we don’t cook on Friday night; that’s pizza night but this feeds all of us for about $30. Luckily, I am not a big shopper, I could not think of anything worse than wandering around the shops, which means I don’t spend money on unnecessary things.
I shop with a purpose only, something that has been instilled in me most probably from having three kids in for years! We save all of our spare change, every few months we take it to the bank and deposit it into the holiday account (note from Two Scots Abroad, we actually recommend that you have three bank accounts when saving, see why here). When the kids were younger, we had a house cleaner to help me with the workload. Since the kids have gone to school, I now do the cleaning again myself.
Once that’s done, I happily sit down and reward my travel account with the amount that we once paid the cleaner. This money often covers our spending money or pays for an attraction or experience we all want to do. We fly budget airlines so that we can upgrade our hotel choices. Our flights are short-term pain for long-term gain. These are small ways to save money that can make a big impact.
2. Planning and Packing for Family Vacations and Trips
One thing I have learned from travelling with kids is that you really need to be organised. Gone are the days of ‘winging it’ for us – we have everything planned ahead of time.
This all starts with packing for our trips. It used to be so easy; throw a few clothes and toiletries into your backpack or suitcase and, as long as you had your passport and credit card, you would worry about the rest as you went.
But now a comprehensive family packing list is essential. You don’t want to risk forgetting to pack formula or nappies or wet wipes, and God forbid you to forget your kid’s favourite cuddly toy!
Now I never pack without using a packing list on my iPhone, to make sure I don’t forget anything. We now always try to organise accommodation well in advance (I don’t advise trawling round town with two small kids in tow trying to find somewhere to stay), and we research child-friendly of hotels, emailing ahead to ensure we have extra bedding etc.
We also tend to organise airport transfers ahead of time – either through the hotel or a private company, or at least we will have researched the best way to get to our hotel. We travel a lot in Asia and taxis here often do not have seat belts so we prefer to use hotel transfers in this situation.
And finally, we will research tours and activities ahead of time. We do tend to do ‘adult trips’ with our kids – ie. adventure travel but we always ensure there is something specifically for the kids to do every day too – whether it be a hotel swimming pool, playing on the beach or finding a playground. Read more – a breakdown of what travelling Europe with children is like.
3. Travel with Toddlers Destinations (and Bigger Kids)
If you are reading this guide and wondering OK I know how to save and pack but now where to travel with kids, we’re here to help. We have two pre-schoolers and we’ve taken them to some amazing places around the world, but our kids’ favourite destinations are always ones with a beach.
What kid doesn’t love a beach? We get to relax, build sandcastles, and play with them in the waves while they have the time of their lives. It makes for some fantastic family bonding. Our favourite family beach vacations so far have been to the Bahamas, Cuba, Aruba, Southern California, and Kribi Cameroon.
Honestly, any beach will do as long as there is sand and waves, which keeps kids entertained for days on end. Then you can sprinkle in some culture, sightseeing and museums nearby to mix things up a little and take a break from the sun. Everyone is happy!
If you are not beach people, then tips for family trips include visits to national parks. Holidays to national parks are educational and allow everyone to enjoy the great outdoors together.
Parents get exercise and kids burn energy running around outside. Spending time in nature is shown to relieve stress, and what parent doesn’t need that? No matter the kids’ ages, national parks are a great fit. When our son was one, we put him in a baby carrier and he gazed up at the trees as we hiked the Great Smoky Mountains.
Our daughter was 3 and she hiked like a champ and still talks about the waterfalls we discovered. We returned this year and our 2-year-old son blew us away with his stamina on long vigorous paths. Needless to say, the kids slept well after all that hiking and they learned a few things about forest conservation and wild animals. Another win-win!
One of the biggest things I have learnt since travelling with children is to tailor your itinerary to suit every family member, not just the child.
Firstly, choose destinations and activities that are going to be enjoyable for all family members. Letting older children have some say about where you are going and what you do, will get them involved and excited about your trip. Alternating between adult activities and child-orientated activities is also one way to teach patience and compromise.
A bonus of pre-booking some activities online is you can get some great savings. I’ve found that having some activities planned is also an easy way to talk to children about an upcoming trip and get them excited about what they are going to experience.
Another thing to think about when planning your trip is to allow for plenty of rest times. You might enjoy jumping from one museum to another in Italy but your children, whether toddler or teen are probably not going to have the same enthusiasm. For younger children, it is a great idea to find some local parks or green areas where they can let off a little steam. For teens, it can be as simple as stopping for a food break or some technology time.
When travelling with kids, you take the fun but also the drama with you. This can start with the baby’s crying, the toddler’s tantrums and the teen’s puberty blues and when you are all in it together there may be no possible escape.
However, there is an excellent way to diminish the drama’s frequency and its impact on your overall well-being: slow travel. Travelling slowly is hot and happening. Not without reason, because it gives you the opportunity to immerse yourself in a new culture and learn the language a bit. Moreover, in general, the slower you travel, the cheaper your holiday is.
But when (full time) travelling with kids, slow travel has a more important advantage. It gives the whole family a chance to relax, to just be and to let all the impressions sink in. Kids need that time off. In honesty, grown-ups too, but they can cope better with busy travel schedules.
So on your next travels don’t plan sightseeing trips every day. Stay several nights in one place, take (half) day trips from there and schedule a regular stay at home day where your kids can play and swim. In the end, you might see less of your destination, but you’ll get rewarded with easy-going kids, fun experiences and a relaxing vibe.
Getting my pre-schooler and infant to sleep at home is a tough enough task between requests for water from my 4-year-old and the drowsy wailing that my infant graces us with each night. Add in jet lag, an unfamiliar room, and getting them to sleep on the road is nothing short of a miracle. After being THAT person whose baby screamed through the night despite my best efforts, I’ve come up with some tricks that help ease the process of sleeping on the road.
For the pre-schooler, we do our best to get her excited about the changes she’ll face while sleeping away from home. She has a special little cot that’s just hers and we just use it when we’re traveling, so it’s extra special. Since it’s the same cot she uses constantly, it smells familiar to her and she’s got the attached pillow feeling just right.
When we’re traveling with a toddler on a plane, we make a big deal out of letting her watch a TV show before she stretches out on a blow-up pillow that’s made for sleeping on planes. We even got her a small toiletries case so she has duplicates of her favourites from home.
For our infant, we practically started traveling with him from birth, so we’re getting pretty good about staving off screaming fits since that’s the best way to make everyone in the hotel hate us!
He just grew out of this soft-sided travel bassinet that folded up to be a diaper bag but before that we let him sleep in it at home for a few nights before our first big trip to get him used to it. After a transition phase, he adjusted and would fall asleep without any issues. Keeping his routine as close as possible to what it is at home also helps.
If either wakes up from jet lag, we do our best to calm them down and get them back to sleep. Sometimes that works, and sometimes we’re up at 3am in Munich eating yogurt.
Adding in a nap or two as you transition those first few days in a time zone seems to help as well. No matter what, staying calm and being flexible with your sleep schedule is the priority!
7. Choosing Accommodation whilst Travelling with Kids
We have been travelling with our daughter since she was 6 months of age and at this age, we would not allow her to eat anything from outside.
The best option found was to book apartments, which had a well-equipped kitchen where we could make baby food.
Apartments have also helped us save on our food during travels, as we would mostly have our breakfast and dinner in the room. Apartments are spacious with more than one room and help kid move around and play while we have better privacy when compared to hotels rooms.
We try to create a “home away from home” as we travel with our son. The absolute best way to accomplish that for us, is house-sitting! My family has been travelling full time since 2014.
We’ve spent almost a year and a half of that time house sitting around the world. This has helped us save an incredible amount of money, as house sitters we get to stay free in exchange for caring for property and pets.
Access to all the comforts of home like a full kitchen to cook meals, a washer to do laundry, and cute pets to play with, make traveling with kids so much easier and affordable. Our son is eight now and he’s learned so much about caring for different kinds of animals.
Then there are the benefits of staying in a local neighbourhood versus a hotel in a tourist zone. It’s given all of us the opportunity to live like locals as we travel. We’ve had so many more awesome cultural experiences than we would have staying in an area geared toward tourists.
The best part about house sitting as we travel is we all have a stronger connection to the places we visit and more lasting memories as well. If minding someone’s house and pets sounds like something you’d like to try while you travel with your kids check out this post 20 Popular House Sitting Questions Answered for more information.
If I had to buy a drink or something to eat for my little one every time she was thirsty or hungry I would completely blow my holiday budget on food alone. Over the years of travelling with a little one from baby, to toddler and now young child I have learned a few tips when it comes to food and kids when travelling.
Take snacks on the plane, whilst you cannot take food off the plane with you once you reach your destination (if its international) you can take food on to the plane. Sometimes it can take a while for the flight attendants to reach you with food, so this way you can feed the kids whenever they are hungry.
This also prevents meltdowns when the kids do not like what they are served by air staff. I also take an empty drink bottle onto the plane with us. Whilst you cannot take water onto most planes, ask the flight attendants to fill up the kids drink bottles once you board.
One of the first things we do when we reach our destination is to do stock up on snacks and bottled water at a local supermarket.
We keep our stash in our hotel room and back our day bag full of goodies before we head out each day. Kids are always hungry at the most inconvenient time, like when there isn’t a shop in sight or you have just commenced a 5-hour bus trip or something! And don’t forget to fill up those drink bottles each day too so you are not forever purchasing bottled water.
Having sick kids is never fun, having sick kids when you’re travelling is even more difficult. As the mother of a tween and a teen we’ve been through all stages of childhood – and sickness at this point. Over time I’ve developed a few strategies and tricks that work well to plan ahead and deal with sickness.
First, I ALWAYS have a travel first aid kit with me. Instead of carrying full-size amounts of medicines I compact it all down into a makeup bag and bring just enough of everything to make it through a day, or overnight until I can get to the pharmacy for more. I try to purchase non-liquid versions of medications (in both adult and kid doses) such as acetaminophen, Pepto Bismol for the stomach, cold and flu medication, motion sickness pills and more.
Along with having this packed we also try to make good choices when it comes to eating and drinking. We don’t actually avoid local food; in fact we go for it as the number one option because if local people are eating it, they know better than us what is good (Two Scots Abroad can vouch for this, one of the highlights of travelling around Vietnam was sitting on the tiny chairs with the locals eating street food).
We also allow our kids to drink one soda a day. I know this sounds odd but we’ve found that the sugar helps combat upset stomachs. Finally, making sure they have enough rest has been vital to staying healthy. Not pushing too hard and knowing when to slow down – or stop completely – is sometimes the most important way to combat illness.
Two Scots Abroad interjection: Naturally we do not advise going away without travel insurance as adults but this is especially important when you are responsible for other people’s lives too. These wee guys are dependent on you, do not let them down. We are insured by True Traveller. I did have to use them while in Vancouver, I had one GP visit and two stints at a physio; True Traveller paid out quickly which was ideal as we were on a budget.
Travelling with kids is both fun and tiring; you need to how to keep the kids of all ages entertained. When travelling with toddlers on long haul flights, load up a smartphone or tablet with educational games and movies that your kids will watch.
Also, ensure that the games can be played without the Internet as it is never pretty when your kid wants to play their favourite game on the plane and it needs a signal! Hide these favourite Internet games in a folder before you travel to avoid unwanted demands. Always pack headphones that your kids will wear. These are best tested out before you go so the kids are used to wearing them before your trip.
Travel Journals are excellent for school-aged kids. There are a variety of destination journals available so see if you can find one related to the destination you are traveling to.
Also, books are great for any age but they can take up room so look for exchange bookshops on your travels and swap them over.
A deck of cards keeps kids of all ages entertained. In the toddler years, games of snap are great fun and as they get older play card games or use cards to teach maths. For the toddlers of this world, a set of cars or figurines can be invaluable to travel with.
The fun they have exploring new places with their favourites toys are worth the luggage space they take up. Why not set photo challenges with the figures using a kid-friendly camera?
Games like I spy are great fun as well as educational; get your older children to spell out the words for extra praise. Finally, pack a tennis ball or inflatable ball that won’t take up much space. They provide hours of fun wherever you travel in the world.
This guide has hopefully reassured any worries about travelling with children and inspired you to not let dreams of short or long-term travel die because there is a mini-me on your back instead of a rucksack! We feel honoured to work with travellers of all ages who do not let this fear prevent them from seeing the world, I hope to be like them when I grow up too.
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What tips would you include? Pop them in the comments below.
Iceland sparkles for me. The reason? I can’t quite put my mitten on it. Maybe it’s this small north Atlantic island’s vast landscapes, canyons, and geysers. I do love to be near water (having grown up in a coastal town in Fife, Scotland) so is it the thundering waterfalls, lagoons, and beaches? Or the beautiful Reykjavik city folks with their cool exterior? I know for Craig Iceland means the solar spectacular, Northern Lights and glaciers. Whatever the reason, it’s easy to see the appeal of an Iceland honeymoon.
Now I know what you are thinking – didn’t you pair marry last March in Austin, Texas and then travel around the Americas and Europe? Correct, but hey, you only get married once (we hope!) We deserve a backpack/budget free honeymoon! Imagine not being confined to $45 a day… We did it! Here’s our perfect honeymoon itinerary for Iceland.
A visit to the crafty and mountainous Seyðisfjörður (missed)
Iceland’s second city, Akureyri – whale watching in Iceland!
Dettifoss – the most powerful waterfall in Europe, apparently
The gateway to Hell – Dimmuborgir
The north’s equivalent to the Blue Lagoon, Mývatn Nature Baths
Research indicates that the west side of the Ring Road is more drive than stop but it is worth taking a detour to….
Snæfellsnes aka “Little Iceland”
… and then on to
Hike Mount Esjan
Then a celebratory end of tour drink at Blur’s Damon Albarn’s bar in Reykjavik (turns out this is a great marketing ploy, he own a tiny a share of it!), HI bar is better for views
Iceland’s Golden Circle Tour
If your chauffeur decides that being the designated driver for the entirety of your honeymoon is no fun, then the alternative reduced Iceland itinerary would be the Golden Circle Tour which takes a mere 3.5 hours to tackle by car (6 – 10 hours with stops).
I don’t want to put you off here but the Golden Circle is very touristy. Think Disney World or the Eifle Tower in July! We visited in September and there were a lot of crowds.
I would aim to reach the likes of Geysir and Gullfoss very early before the bus tours if you plan to road trip yourself.
Now, this is a sad one as our timings were out. September just flirts with the official window (October to March) of seeing the light show also known as the Aurora Borealis.
Iceland is not always dark, and although lots of factors come into play when chasing the Northern Lights in Iceland, the darkest months of November to February are your best bet. Northern Lights tours can last up to 5 hours and run from September until May.
One of the downsides of visiting Iceland in April (when our wedding party was) is that you are kind of in a limbo period where the weather dictates Iceland’s tourist attractions.
If you visit Iceland in summer (July), you can hike, whale watch, and avoid freezing your asses off, however, this means giving up the chance to witness the dancing light show.
Lagoons in Iceland
Now that I am over not seeing the lights (I don’t like being cold anyway) let’s dive deep into something I do love – geothermal activity.
Oh hello, hot water! I’m a 40 degrees at the Hungarian baths type of chick, Craig not so much! Iceland’s most famous hot spring is the Blue Lagoon. Close to the country’s capital, a trip to this lagoon is an easy day trip from Reykjavik (40 mins by car, you will be inundated by adverts for Reykjavik tours to the Blue Lagoon).
Basic entry cost is €40 / £33. 95 / $42.37 (top tier luxury price €195) however, I am told repeatedly by bloggers and tourists alike that regardless of fee and popularity, the Blue Lagoon is worth every penny. Do not wear your contact lenses like my good friend Helen!
We opted for the Secret Lagoon (£19/€22) as it was on our route back to the capital. I love that you can buy a glass of wine or a beer and soak your troubles away! Be warned, you are expected to shower naked before you enter.
Budget lovers, there are free hot springs in Iceland (my favourite phrase) making it one of the hottest free things to do in Iceland (get it?)
Check out Hveragerdi which is only 30 mins from Reykjavik and also has free hiking trails; a stride and a soak seems like a winning combo to me!
There are a variety of geothermal pools of all sizes in Iceland so this is only the tip of the iceberg. Which do you prefer and why?
Hiking in Iceland
Hiking might not be everyone’s ideal honeymoon activity but we are a big fan of the outdoors and Iceland certainly is a hotbed for nature.
The most popular trek in Iceland is the 3-4day south-west Laugavegur trek. If that’s not enough, you can continue on with the Fimmvörðuháls hiking trail (or attempt as a stand-alone one day hike) which takes you between the two volcanoes, Eyjafjallajökull and Katla.
Part of Fimmvörðuháls has literally risen from the ashes after the 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull. There are easier Iceland hikes such as Mount Esjan which is close to Reykjavik.
October to April is low season. Winter activities such as the ice caves are open (what about snorkelling at Silfra?) and the Northern Lights are at their optimum. It is not advised to drive in Iceland during the low season unless you are used to Canadian winter conditions (and I don’t mean B.C), although it is never as cold as Alberta.
Daylight is very limited to six hours so take that into consideration if driving. October to February sees the most rainfall. Time to get cosy on that Iceland honeymoon! Winter does not put visitors off! Here’s my friend Janet’s experience of things to do in winter.
Spring starts in April and ends in May, although the first day of summer is April 18th… Summer means a lot of daylight, the longest day is June 21st where the sun sets around midnight in Reykjavik and rises before 3am! This may take a bit of getting used to but obviously offers a good chance to enjoy the midnight sun (while partying?!)
Skiing is out and unfortunately, mass tourism, pre-booking, and selfie sticks are in.
In summer, budding photographers can capture the crazy lights of the golden hours (without the pressure of time), driving is safe, and hiking doesn’t involve an axe. There are so many photographers in Iceland, they really don’t like you ‘ruining their shots’.
Getting to Iceland
Cheap flights to Iceland (Keflavík International Airport) from the UK can be found for under £200/$300 via Icelandair and Easyjet.
The taxi from Keflavík International Airport is $120 at the time of writing, yes you can get a one-way flight for this price.
Car rental companies charge a supplementary fee for airport collection and drop off. Save an hour for the check-in/transfer process.
Well, folks, that’s it from me and my dream Iceland honeymoon. Our honeymoon trip to the land of fire and ice did not disappoint. My initial thoughts were, I could explode with excitement just like Katla volcano, which has actually set off its biggest tremors since the ’70s, and I hope you feel the same way too.
Going to Iceland?
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Ski, sun and Christmas markets! There are a variety of reasons to visit Europe during Winter. I’ve found myself (Gemma) drawn to the Skyscanner app… confession, I’ve set a few email alerts for flight price drops in the hope that we can squeeze in one of the following sensational Christmas Europe breaks recommended by fellow tinsel-loving travel bloggers. Whack the heating up, get your onesie on and get ready to be whisked into some serious winter wanderlust with the following tried and tested winter holiday ideas for Europe.
Note: A decision about Europe’s Christmas markets and events will be made by each country individually. Please keep us updated if you hear of any decisions. Thank you.
Christmas Europe Breaks
1. Alsace, France
Wine, Wine, and More Wine!
France’s Alsace region in the east is a dream when December comes around. The joint German-French influence creates an area that offers incredible food, stunning architecture, local beer and wine, and a true appreciation for Christmas.
Strasbourg’s Christmas markets are bustling, the entire town is dressed up, and there is holiday cheer everywhere. Then, as you leave Strasbourg and head into the smaller villages along the wine route, the Christmas markets are smaller but absolutely packed with locals and tourists alike. Colmar is second to Strasbourg in terms of popularity, it looks like a fairytale Christmas village.
In all the towns, the stalls sell everything from pretzels and mulled wine to handmade ornaments and home-wares. Each one has its own cup that you have to purchase in order to get mulled wine or beer at the stands (our favourites were the glass mugs from Kayersberg) – you can return them at the end to get your money back.
Oh, and did we mention that this is all located along the wine route, meaning there are plenty of wineries to pop into along the way? Our recommendation is to fly into Basel and hire a car – driving through all of the villages is the best way to see the area and remember to visit the Christmas markets. Joyeux Noël! <—- White, red, rose, hot, chilled… I love wine!
Does mulled wine make a city one of the best European winter breaks?
Snowy Swiss Alps
One of the more expensive winter destinations in Europe is the Swiss Alps but it is worth saving up for.
In 1864, a local hotelier in St Moritz, in the Swiss Alps, offered a money-back guarantee to a few British holidaymakers, offering a winter trip to his local hotel that would be just as rewarding as the summer trip they were enjoying.
The bet was placed, the visitors enjoyed their trip and the hotelier never had to make payment.
Like this, winter ski vacations in Switzerland and St Moritz as the capital of the wealthy and glamorous world of alpine skiing holidays became popular.
But rather than crowded and expensive St Moritz, consider Andermatt for your next Christmas vacation. One of the best places for Christmas in Europe if you are a ski fan.
A tiny village after the Oberlap Pass, Andermatt has remained the choice of adventurous and off-piste skiers instead of the après-ski fans.
The village is all walkable, reachable by train and now features a fabulous and sleek hotel The Chedicomplete with ski school, in-room fireplaces and the most stylish spa with an outdoor pool.
The investment will soon change the face of this speck of alpine beauty so go now before that happens and enjoy Christmas markets, skiing and the postcard-perfect landscapes of a snow-capped mountain.
—-> Sounds like one of Europe’s perfect winter snow breaks to me! Has anyone skied here? Share your experience in the comments below.
Austrians take their Christmas markets seriously making it one of the best European cities to visit in December.
During the festive season, every city and town has a Christmas market. As the capital, Vienna tops them all with a profusion of markets.
The city has 20 official Christmas markets and lots of other smaller neighbourhood markets. It’s enjoyable to see the city – warming yourself with a cup of gluhwein and shopping for traditional handicrafts and ornaments. For non-drinkers and children, there is a non-alcoholic version of the gluhwein.
The biggest of the markets is held in front of Vienna’s City Hall, the Christkindl Market.
The festive cheer spills out into the nearby park, Rathaus Park, where the trees are decorated with giant ornaments and there is entertainment for the children. <—- Nice to hear of a kid-friendly city. Sounds like an ideal place to take them for their Christmas holidays in Europe.
The entire city is decorated with Christmas lights. Some shops and hotels also go all out with lights and decorations – Corte Ingles on Plaza Catalunya usually looks amazing! I also love the unique and somewhat strange Catalan Christmas traditions.
At the city’s biggest Christmas market, the Fira de Santa Llúicia, you’ll find plenty of really cute looking little logs with faces and hats on the Caga Tió – literally: “the poo uncle”. Kids cover him in a blanket and feed him in the time leading up to Christmas, and on Christmas Eve the poor log gets beaten until he, err… releases… the presents! Find out more in Two Scots Abroad’s Barcelona winter guide.
It’s a cute souvenir to take home, with quite a story to tell.
For fans of classical music, there’s usually a concert of Händel’s Messiah at the magnificent Basilica Santa Maria del Mar a few days before Christmas Eve.
Christmas time in Barcelona lasts until January 6th (King’s Day), and there is a huge parade on the evening of the 5th.
Bonus points that make Barcelona a great destination for a Christmas break? The weather. It’s much warmer than in most parts of Europe, and just cold enough to make ordering a hot chocolate with churros feel right. —-> Still laughing at the Christmas poo. Oooohhh, this must be where South Park Mr Hankey originated from?!
If you are looking to enjoy a short break in Europe just before Christmas and want the stereotypical experience, Berlin is the perfect place to visit. Strolling through Berlin’s Christmas markets is the epitome of a Berlin visit in December.
Small, wooden booths decorated with idyllic ornaments including sparkling stars and snow-covered fir branches provide a memorable experience for all the family as you enjoy an evening stroll with the sound of your favourite traditional Christmas music echoing around the city.
Berlin is home to a number of traditional markets that occur annually across the city.
We stayed in the Alexanderplatz district of the city and were a short walk from the market, though it’s safe to say that the majority of this neighbourhood turns into one large Christmas celebration throughout December.
The Berliner Weihnachtszeit is a short distance from the Alexanderplatz and offers a romantic and nostalgic experience with gorgeous, historic architecture providing the perfect backdrop to the skating rink.
Could you imagine any better way to spend a Christmas break than taking a romantic ride on the Ferris wheel while enjoying stunning panoramic views across Berlin with the Brandenburg Gate, Potsdamer Platz, and Reichstag just a few iconic landmarks that you will see?
A visit to Berlin wouldn’t be the same without sampling a fine German brew and what better time of the year to keep you warm as you nibble on your favourite Wurst and wash it down with a local beer. —> I do not need much encouragement to visit Berlin again. Like Christmas markets? Check out this post on more Christmas markets in Germany.
Florence is the perfect city to spend Christmas time in. First off Italy is a predominately Christian country, meaning when November and December roll around you can bet that you will see lights everywhere.
During Christmas time Italian hospitality is at its finest and everyone is out on the streets with giant smiles on their faces. The air, the decor, the people, the churches – everything just screams “It’s Christmastime!”
We were able to spend last Christmas there with family and it will always be a trip to remember. Check out Natasha and Cameron’s post on things to know about Italy if you are heading to Florence!
Switzerland is one of the most amazing places I’ve visited in all my travels, it is a magical country with the endless beautiful scenery.
Being an Australian I have always dreamed of having a white Christmas and beautiful snowy winters and I think everything truly looks more beautiful covered in a layer of snow!
We visited Grindelwald, a majestic village located high in the Swiss Alps a few years ago for our anniversary.
Grindelwald literally looks like the front of a Christmas card and the whole time we were there I couldn’t stop telling Dan how I felt like we were living in a real-life snow globe!
Grindelwald is perfect because it has everything; scenery, outdoor sports, adventure, accommodation for everyone whether you are seeking luxury or budget, fine restaurants and even a train that goes to the ‘Top of Europe’!
We spent our days exploring the mountains, strolling the snow-covered streets, eating excessive amounts of Swiss cheese and chocolate and relaxing in our outdoor hot tub in the snow. It truly is one of the most beautiful destinations in the world and a short break we will never forget. <—– Grindelwald sounds likes one of the cutest Europe trips for couples! Snuggle up, guys.
Winter city breaks in Europe don’t have to break the bank and Poland’s cutest city is renowned for affordability.
Krakow is one of the most Christmassy destinations on Earth!
It is located in Poland, right between Eastern and Western Europe. It has an airport, so it is very easy to get there from anywhere in the world.
The city is beautifully decorated, with Christmas trees, lights and ornaments.
It is also one of the cheap winter breaks in Europe – you can find an apartment in the heart of Old Town for less than $60!
Krakow has a world-famous Christmas Market. It starts at the end of November and lasts until the end of Christmas.
If you go there, be sure to try Grzaniec Galicyjski. It is traditional Polish mulled wine with cinnamon, cloves and all the other warming spices. Yummy! Into festive booze? Check out this Christmas cocktails post.
Oxford Street and Regent Street, twinkling in the glow of a thousand of lights. Famous department stores, such as Harrods and Fortnum and Mason decked out in their Christmas finery, with stunning festive window displays (and each with their very own Father Christmas).
Children’s pantomimes and the giant Christmas trees at Trafalgar Square and Covent Garden.
There’s plenty to enjoy in London at Yuletide.
In 2016 the magical Winter Wonderland is celebrating its 10th year at Hyde Park.
I love wandering around the pretty wooden chalets, selling a myriad of Christmas gifts and decorations and tucking into tasty treats such as mulled cider, glühwein and bratwurst.
There’s always a funfair with a giant Ferris wheel and the ever-popular ice-skating rink and so much more.
Two new attractions this year are The Imperial Ice Stars’ production of the Nutcracker on Ice and The Magical Ice Kingdom, made from over 200 tonnes of snow and ice.
You’ll find many more ice rinks dotted around the city, including the Natural History Museum and Somerset House, and further Christmas markets include the Tate Modern, Leicester Square and the Southbank Centre.
London at Christmas is simply overflowing with festive cheer throughout its bustling streets and beautiful parks, and even its museums and art galleries. I can’t think of a more exciting city to spend a short break at Christmas.
Germany at Christmas time is a truly magical place. The whole country smells of mulled wine and bratwurst, snow is dusting every roof and tree, and it feels like there is a Christmas market around every corner.
Cities like Dresden or Nuremberg and their world-famous confectioneries instantly come to my mind.
Yet I recommend you to visit Munich instead – and not just because I live there.
You see, the perfect city break in winter should be about more than just a lovely Christmas market. You’ll want wonderful restaurants, excellent museums, a couple of good day-trip options and some shopping would be nice as well. Bavaria’s capital has all that and more.
There certainly is a lovely Christmas market in Munich, but you also got roughly 100 museums to visit, while the Alps and their ski resorts are barely two hours’ drive away. Not convinced yet?
Well then, Munich has one of the largest pedestrian areas in Europe, a world-class opera (or a stationary circus for the kids!) and a gigantic thermal bath.
You could also attend a Christmas mass in one of the beautiful churches or go skating on one of the ice rinks.
The many fairy tale castles around Munich will look especially beautiful with a little snow covering their golden splendour, and if everything fails you, there is always the Hofbräuhaus and ancient Bavarian beer culture to get familiar with! <—- Yup, I’m sold!
Nuremberg, Bavaria is the perfect Christmas city break in Europe.
It is centrally located, has excellent air and rail transportation connections, and it has what is arguably the best Christmas market in Europe. It is clearly one of the best visited – boasting over two million visitors in the four short weeks the market is open every year.
Dating from the early 1600s, Nuremberg’s Christmas market occupies the Main Square under the towering Frauenkirche (Chruch of Our Lady).
The stalls, with their candy-striped awnings, occupy in neat little rows. The stalls sell all manner of traditional handicrafts, including little “smoker” men (carved figures that hold smoking incense inside) and carved wooden toys.
A horse-drawn stagecoach takes visitors on a ride through the cobblestone streets of the medieval old city.
On weekends, the Nuremberg Christmas market is a throbbing mass of people huddling together to stay warm. During the week, you can explore the market in tranquillity, eat the local Nuremberg sausages (eaten three in a roll) and drink gluhwein (hot mulled wine).
We’ve visited many of Europe’s markets, but Nuremberg is one of the best. Whereas other markets in other cities focus only on tourists, Nuremberg’s Christkindlesmarkt still maintains its local flavour.
Where to go for winter holidays in Europe- Bavaria?
18. Prague: Sip Svařák, See Snow
Prague is one of the most magical places you could spend a European Christmastime city break. Prague Castle sits on top of the hill and looks beautiful with a dusting of snow on it, and the Christmas markets in the Old Town have a festive, celebratory atmosphere.
My favourite thing to do there during the winter is to buy a cup of svařák (warm red mulled wine) from a booth for about a euro and take a wintry walk across Charles Bridge, marvelling at the old historical houses along the river’s edge.
Or you can curl up in a café with a view of the Vltava river with a cup of coffee and a Kafka book and watch the snowfall.
Ah, winter! <—- Yet another Christmas market break, so many to choose from!
Sinaia is one of my favourite destinations when it comes to Christmas destinations in Europe and winter holidays in general.
The small beautiful mountain resort has plenty of wonderful things to offer in the cold season. Located in the heart of Romania, The Carpathian Pearl is ideal for winter sports enthusiasts.
Whether you choose to ride the gondola up to 2000 m, for breathtaking mountain views, or to practice skiing, the experience will certainly be an amazing and unforgettable one. Besides, you will surely wish to visit one of the most spectacular castles in Europe. Peles Castle is the main attraction in town, for good reasons. King Carol I of Romania fell in love with the surroundings of the place and decided to build a summer residence there.
Nowadays, his castle turned out into a museum, visited by more than half a million people annually.
The Neo-Renaissance architectural masterpiece is stunning! Add some snow to the image that you have already pictured in your mind and the fairytale landscape will be complete. The interiors of the castle will let you breathless, as well.
Each room has a different architectural style, such as Gothic, Venetian, German or Oriental.
Overall, Christmas atmosphere can be felt anywhere in town, no matter if you decide to go to ice skate in downtown, to admire the holiday decorations of the streets, or to simply enjoy a hot chocolate in a rustic restaurant with your loved one. <—– You all know how much I loved our summer European trip to Bucharest, maybe Sinaia will be next on our list!
Sinaia – one of the Christmas Europe breaks for architecture lovers
One of our favourite Christmas getaways in Europe is Tallinn, the picturesque capital city of Estonia. Tallinn’s old town was made a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage in 1997 because unlike any other capital city in Europe, it has managed to completely preserve its medieval structure and therefore nicknamed “the medieval pearl of Europe”.
The cobblestone streets are all originals, which along with the medieval churches, grandiose merchant houses, barns and warehouses, date back as far as the 11th century.
It’s the perfect Christmas getaway in late December early January time because it’s all covered in snow, making it like something from a fairy tale – the perfect ideal Christmas image you dream of <—- Have you been good this year?
Maybe Santa will send you to Estonia on your Christmas Europe break!
Welcome, and thanks for reading our penultimate monthly budget – how much does Backpacking Europe Cost? We’ve been on the road, travelling around the Americas and Europe, for the past 15 months. Our monthly budget for June focuses on our last month – backpacking through Europe. Each day Craig tallies up what we have spent in the following categories and we then report back our monthly findings/spendings. I hope that fellow travellers looking for the cheapest way to travel in Europe find it useful.
Months on the road: Fifteen
Countries / Cities visited: Hungary (Budapest 4 nights), Slovenia (Ljubljana, Bled, Kolpa River 8 nights), Croatia (Zagreb 0 days), Bosnia and Herzegovina – BIH(Sarajevo & Mostar 7 nights), Serbia (Belgrade 3 nights), Romania (Bucharest 3 nights), Italy (Bergamo1 night), Spain (Marbella 4 nights)
Transport: 3 flights, 1 train, 10 buses, 1 car hire
Monthly Travel Round Up: How Much Does Backpacking Europe Cost?
Books: Gemma – Trainspotting 2 // Craig – Anything on the EU Ref
During this month, we backpacked around Central and Eastern Europe and the Balkans. Accommodation wise we did a mix of comped hostel stays (Slovenia and Romania), an airport hotel (Italy) and a glampiste (Slovenia)!
For our third and final time in Budapest we opted for an apartment again (our third) which was £22.50 per night (not our cheapest in Budapest). In Ljubljana, Slovenia we partnered with a converted prison, Hostel Celica. Then on the Slovenian / Croatian border we, were happy glampers at Big Berry luxury campsite (invited as guest bloggers)! One night in a Bled hostel was squeezed in between.
No time was spent in Croatia, we bussed straight to Sarajevo in BiH after making the decision to save Croatia and Montenegro for next summer. We will then have more time and a bigger budget. Seven nights was spent in an apartment (£23.66 per night) near the old town in Sarajevo, I fell hard for this city. Belgrade in Serbia didn’t do much for me (apartment £20.33 per night) whereas Bucharest in Romania blew me away.
We had a room with a view at the lovely Little Bucharest in the Old Town for 2 nights (first night was spent in another apartment – £16 per night). In Italy, we paid for an airport hotel, which was actually 5k from the flipping airport with a stupidly priced shuttle bus. Finally, we, reach Spain, where we spent time with Craig’s family in a villa in San Pedro de Alcántara near Marbella (gratis for us – this area is a much cheaper alternative than Marbella proper).
I’ve probably eaten enough sausage to do me a lifetime during this month. The sausage differs in each country too! In Slovenia, you eat it with bread and mustard. In BiH and Serbia, you have it in a naan type bread with onion and tasty sour cream! While travelling through Europe, we did a mix of cooking in and eating out. We cooked in during our time in BiH as I cannot stand eating where people smoke (no smoking ban). However, it is probably just as cheap to eat out than at home in BiH and Serbia. If you are working through Switzerland etc this will make the average cost of backpacking through Europe more expensive but hopefully, this guide will give you a flavour (sorry!)
Read more: Travel + get free food – volunteer, here’s the how-to guide
Planes, trains, and automobiles this month. We trained to Budapest from Slovenia (€39 / £32.52 per person). We took buses in Slovenia, as well as to BiH from Croatia. Bussed from BiH to Serbia and planned to bus to Romania but ended up taking a flight to save time (£91 per person). We had a one-night stopover in Bergamo before getting to Malaga where we bussed to San Pedro de Alcántara. Phew!
Warning – cheap European flights don’t always work out cheap. We booked two flights with the king of low-cost airlines in Europe, Ryanair. The first from Bucharest to Bergamo then Bergamo to Malaga. Due to timings, we had to spend one night in Italy’s Bergamo, which was fine as Craig loves Italian food!
However, our ‘airport’ hotel shuttle was not free, which we found out after landing. This would mean we had to take two public buses to get to the hotel which was a problem since we were leaving at 5am on a Monday morning for the flight to Malaga. To make matters worse, Über was coming in at €35. Argh – Solution? We hired a car for £25 (quick internet booking). Another problem arose – there were no petrol stations open on a Sunday / early Monday morning. Note to readers – it is often cheaper, in the long run, to spend more on direct flights. Have you experienced this? Please remind me when we are booking flights again! One of the coolest (unused) forms of transport we visited was the abandoned bobsled track in Sarajevo!
We took a walking, biking or a food tour in each city. This is always my favourite way to find out about the new area. We also cycled around Lake Bled (before the heavens opened) which was lush! Our day trip to Stari Most, Mostar in BiH was probably the most scenic of all trips. That Old Bridge is just lovely. Heaps of history trips in Sarajevo too including one to the Tunnel of Hope.
Total: £74 (couple)
Stari Most, Mostar – Bosnia and Herzegovina
The Cost of Socialising in Europe
We definitely enjoyed the Slovenian wine with the Big Berry team at Kolpa River but then gave our livers a wee rest in BiH and Serbia. We actually went clubbing for the first time in ages in Romania – Bucharest is a party place after all! We are just back from Vienna which a pretty expensive city. Wine is around £4-6 per glass. You can read more about costs and what we got up to in this cool city here.
Total: £178 (couple)
Craig’s family in Spain
Luxuries / Miscellaneous
This month we splurged on toiletries, we replenished our clothes (thanks to my parents for giving us some cash, embarrassed by our threads?!) and Craig got a haircut in Budapest. There is a chain of barbers called Barber Shop Budapest that do vintage cuts in an old-style barbershop, pretty cute. How does this compare to your ideas on how much backpacking through Europe cost?
Hostel Celica, Ljubljana Food Tours, Visit Ljubljana, Big Berry – Slovenia
Slow Tours Bike Tours, Little Bucharest Old Town – Romania
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How Much Does Backpacking Europe Cost?
Hopefully, this answers the question, how much does it cost to travel around Europe for a month? Naturally, your destination of choice will change the cost of accommodation, living etc. Even within these countries, we noticed a big difference between the price of alcohol (Hungary being the cheapest, Bucharest and Marbella the more expensive). The best backpacking Europe tips I can provide are: use public transport where possible, drink the tap water, take the free (pay by tips) walking tours, eat local – those sausages are tasty! Europe on a budget is possible, with some strategy, research, and prioritising!
Monthly Total: £1500 (couple)
Daily: £48 daily (£43 not including clothes)
Naturally, we are in quite a unique situation, travelling on a career break, but soon we will be in the same position as Vicki from Make Time To See The World where we are working full time and will be able to actually afford travel more comfortably!
What are you saving for this month? Any questions, fire away in the comments below and I’ll get back to you soon.