London: 10x off the beaten track

London is my absolute favourite European city. I like to visit at least twice a year, just to see what changed. I like to go by train (Eurostar) since I only live across the English channel. Arriving in St. Pancras: it gives me goosebumps every time.

I still have a lot of exploring to do, but I’ll sum up some of my favourite off the beaten track things to do/see. No Big Ben, Madame Tussauds or London Eye in this list.

  1. Alternative Walks London: I cannot stress this one enough. I talk about it with everyone I meet, regardless of their interest. A colleague recommended this tour in 2014 and we did the walking tour straight away. It took us to a less known neighbourhood and gave us the chance to get to know a ‘new’ side of London. We saw really amazing street art, the guide was friendly and entertaining and we discovered new restaurants and shops. We went back to the neighbourhood (near Spitalfields Market) in 2015 and were surprised by how much the neighbourhood (and street art) had already changed. The neighbourhood is definitely being upmarketed so if you’re planning on visiting: be quick. Sooner or later the neighbourhood will be a hipster hangout and the real underground vibe will probably shift to another neighbourhood.
  2. The Book of Mormon:  Okay… Visiting a musical in London isn’t really going off the beaten track, but this isn’t a musical like The Lion King or Mamma Mia. It’s created by the South Park team so you know you’ll be in for a great night. Great show, great actors and voices. Side note: If you do not like South Park humour, you should probably not visit.
  3. Greenwich: Most tourists don’t take the time to visit Greenwich, but you can easily go there by public transport. It’s a great escape from the busy London vibe. If it’s sunny you should jump on the train and go picnic on one of the lawns of Greenwich Park (near the world-famous Observatory).
  4. The O2 Arena: Also in Greenwich, but feel I must make this a new item. This concert hall isn’t only a concert hall but a whole artificial city. It used to house the amazing British Music Experience (which was unfortunately closed in April 2014). Even without the BME the O2 Arena is an experience in itself and chances are there’s a great show on while you’re in London. Not for the fainthearted though, the tribunes are steeeeep.
  5. Anthropologie: I must admit I am a sucker for this chain of clothing stores. Their shop on Regent Street has a beautiful hanging garden. You can dump your more conventional travel friends at Hamleys which is not far away. If you like a less crowded shopping experience there’s always the shop on Kings Road (and other shops I haven’t visited yet).
  6. The Comedy Store: If musicals aren’t your thing you can always catch a nice comedy show in London. We were recommended the Comedy Store and it truly was a great experience. In high season shows can be sold out, but there are lots of other comedy joints.
  7. Just walk: my best London experience was the time we just walked for hours. We didn’t enter any museums, churches or shops… we just walked. We went past all the well-known monuments and enjoyed them from a distance. No long queues, no noisy people and no rip-offs. Do wear appropriate footwear, since you ca easily walk for hours straight in this lovely city. We went past the London Eye, Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, Parliament, Piccadilly Circus,… They’re all walking distance so no need for The Underground, just enjoy the view. You can also easily walk along the Thames!
  8. Highgate Cemetery: We visited the East and West Cemetery. You can only visit the West Cemetery by tour (worth it!). We had a really funny tour guide (in an appropriate way, since you’re still visiting a graveyard) and learnt a lot about the history of the cemetery and London in general. Better than Pere Lachaise (Paris) and Kerepesi Cemetery (Budapest).
  9. Huntarian Museum: Weird yet beautiful. A museum full of animals and human body parts, mostly preserved in jars. If you’re not a medical professional it does require some time to get used to seeing some of the abnormalities but in its core the museum just shows how beautiful nature can be.
  10. Kew Gardens: Not necessarily off the beaten track, but often left aside due to time restrictions. If you have time the gardens are worth the visit. If you don’t have time you should make time.

I’ll be visiting London again in July. We’ll probably (hopefully) visit the Sir John Soane’s Museum, but I’d love to hear about some other hidden gems if you know some!

Two (and a half) days in Dublin

In May 2015 we took a short term citytrip to Dublin. We stayed in Ireland’s capital for two and a half days and we truly made the most of it (or so we would like to believe).

When your time is limited you have to make choices. I’ll tell you about the choices we made and the opportunities we let go. Want some snapshots? You can find them on our Facebook page.

Day One – Top choices

  • Temple Bar Area in the morning: No noisy/drunken tourists for us, but beautiful street art and nice little streets to wander in.
  • Saint Patrick’s Cathedral and Marsh’s Library: I especially loved the little library. Cute and much more quiet than the famous Old Library at Trinity College.
  • Kilmainham Gaol: Even though the most beautiful wing was closed when we were there, it was a really nice tour with a lovely guide and the people working there are some of the nicest people we’ve met in Ireland.
Day Two – Top choices
  • Trinity College: Take a guided tour. It’ll cost you an extra 2 EUR on your entry ticket but it’ll be worth it. Ask for the guide who looks like Harry Potter. After the guided tour you can visit the Old Library (with the Book of Kells) and the Long Room. It was extremely crowded when we were there, so we just glanced at the Book of Kells. The Long Room however was worth the mass hysteria.
  • Take a loooong walk: On our second day in Dublin we went to the outskirts and back by foot. Worth it! We saw teenagers jumping from buildings in the canal, we saw cute little streets and some nice street art.
  • Queen of Tarts: Some sugary go(o)d(d)(n)ess.
 
Day Three – Top Choices
  • The real highlight on this day: Viking Splash Tours! A fun way to explore the city with (adult) children. Become a Viking and roar at passing Kelts. Watch them toss their maps and learn some history of the city at the same time. Plus you get to wear a viking helmet.
  • Dublinia: a nice museum, especially if you have children. If you don’t: just act like one, it’s worthwhile. The museum is connected to Christ Church, you can buy a combi ticket and save some euros.