Category Archives: Europe

Five myths about Europe cruises

Park Guell in Barcelona, Spain

There are advantages to doing an ocean or river cruise in Europe this summer, particularly the strong US dollar – meaning more money in your pocket to buy European goods and to try local restaurants while in port.

Here we dispel five myths that shouldn’t be holding you back from cruising in Europe.

1. Europe cruises are all about the Mediterranean

First, the truth is that the Mediterranean is the most popular cruising region. Western Mediterranean cruises from places including Barcelona and Civitavecchia (the port city for Rome) take you to Italy, Spain and France with access to such must-see places as the Colosseum in Rome, Michelangelo’s David in Florence and the Leaning Tower of Pisa; eastern Mediterranean cruises get you to the Acropolis and other ancient historic sites and scenic islands of Greece and Turkey, and may include the wonders of Venice and Croatia. But these are hardly the only cruise itineraries in Europe. Baltic cruises, embarking from Copenhagen, Amsterdam and ports in the UK, get you to the Old World wonders and cutting edge design of Scandinavia and include St. Petersburg, Russia, where you can visit palaces of the Czars and see a Russian ballet performance. Costal Norway cruises bring you to fairytale landscapes and breathtaking fjords. Cruise the British Isles to explore Scottish history, visit pubs and kiss the Blarney Stone. Or explore high culture along the French Riviera. River cruises bring you to inland destinations including the world-class sights of Vienna or the Bordeaux wine region.

2. All Europe cruises are long

While you cover more ground on cruises of two weeks or more, there is a large variety of one-week itineraries. On Princess Cruises, you can explore in a week the western Mediterranean, Greece and Turkey or the Baltics – a sailing from Barcelona to Rome in June on Emerald Princess bargain-priced from $598 per person. Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean, among others, also have a variety of one-week itineraries this summer. Luxury line Seabourn’s seven-day sailings include the Baltics; sailing and motor yacht line Windstar has one-week cruises to the Greek Isles and Italian and French Riviera (including Monte Carlo). You can explore the Norwegian Fjords on a six-day cruise on Hurtigruten between Bergen and Kirkenes. River cruise lines such as Viking River Cruises and Avalon Waterways do weeklong cruises in France and on the Danube and Rhine.

3. All Europe cruises are for grownups

Depending on the cruise line, there are likely to be many families onboard. Your kids will find activities galore and have opportunity to meet youngsters from various countries in programs operated by lines including Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Princess, MSC Cruises and Costa Cruises. Disney Cruise line, on its European cruises – in Northern Europe and the Mediterranean – gears much of the experience toward families. This year’s cruises on Disney Magic in Norway include appearances by Anna and Elsa and other characters from the movie “Frozen.” River cruises have mostly been the realm of adults, but lines inluding Tauck and Uniworld have specific kid-friendly sailings, and Adventures by Disney is doing family river cruises next year on a ship chartered by AmaWaterways.

A benefit of a cruise in Europe is that you visit several countries without having to hassle with going through several airports, taking trains or checking into a bunch of hotels – your floating hotel takes you comfortably on to the next destination, often several countries each week. Cruise lines have gotten more savvy of late in terms of understanding that some travelers want more time in port, so you may find an itinerary that spends 12 or more hours or even overnights in key ports, affording you more time to explore and experience the local nightlife. If you’re a DIY type it behooves you to check itineraries carefully in terms of time in port, especially if you plan to explore on your own any distance from the ship.

5. All you do is visit churches and museums

Shore excursions bring the benefit of targeting specific must-see attractions from ancient Pompeii to the Hermitage to the Vatican, getting you there with a guide in a hassle-free way, where you don’t have to exchange money or even speak the local language. But there are cultural tours and active tours and even, on some itineraries, beach excursions that have nothing to do with history or religious sites. Those who consider themselves “travelers” or who just don’t like organized tours are also free to take off on their own, mingling with locals at a market, discovering the perfect croissant at a bakery, visiting artist studios, dancing on tables at a taverna. The cruise is your transportation, but you can create your own exploration scenario. There is opportunity to immerse yourself in the culture and rhythm of the places you’ll visit – albeit only for a day or two. Those who want to linger can also take advantage of pre- and post-cruise opportunities.

Now is the time to book your cruise. Call us today at 877-229-6008 or 757-229-6008.

Visit us on the web at www.vipleisuretravel.com

7 Days in Italy- A Suggested Itinerary

 

I would suggest that Italy is never far from a traveler’s mind. Whether you’ve been many times, haven’t been able to check that one Italian city off your list, or if you are simply a dreamer there’s something to be said for a traveler and Italy. Passing illuminated ancient ruins on the way home from dinner, motoring through the Venice canal’s in a motoscafi (water taxi), and like a Guinness pint is to Ireland, I don’t care where you’ve had gelato there’s no better bliss than gelato in Italy. Combine, art, cuisine, history, and you’ve got a culture filled unforgettable vacation. Italy is diverse and flexible and there is a multitude of ways to experience it. To get started see the suggested itinerary below.

Rome Day 1: Arrive and take private transfers to your hotel to check-in. The perfect thing to do after check-in is find a strong Italian coffee or espresso to ward off any jet lag! Then start to explore on foot from your hotel. Finish this light day off with an afternoon tour to get your bearings by seeing Rome’s main sights with the Imperial Rome afternoon tour. Tour highlights: Visit Piazza Venezia, the Capital Square, view of the the Roman Forum, Massenzio Basilica, Colosseum, SanPietro in Vincoli, Arch of Constantine, Circus Maximus, Pyramid of CaiusCestius, St. Pauls Basilica.

Rome 3

Rome Day 2: Spend the day at the smallest independent state in the world, Vatican City and take the Vatican Tour. At a minuscule 0.2 square miles, Vatican City houses the largest art collection in Europe with more than 65,000 masterpieces and is the headquarters for over a billion Roman Catholics. Tour highlights: See Porta Pinciana, the Aurelian Walls, and visit the Vatican Museums, seeing the Candelabra Gallery, Tapestry Gallery, the world-famous Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilic.

Rome Day 3: Time to get out of the city with the full day Naples & Capri Tour: Travel along the Autostrada del Sole across the Roman countryside to Naples and depart by steamer to Capri. Upon arrival at the Marina Grande, an optional visit to the Blue Grotto, at an added cost of 25 Euro per person, is possible, weather permitting. Return to the Marina Grande and continue for a panoramic view of the island ending at Anacapri.

Rome /Florence Day 4: Travel to Florence check-in to hotel
Explore the renaissance city in the heart of Tuscany, spend time on the famous Ponte Vecchio, one of the city’s best known images.

Florence - Ponte Vecchio

Florence Day 5: Take the day to visit two the top must sees. Don’t forget to stop and enjoy a gelato, I recommend the pistachio- just remember it’s pronounced pis-takk-ee–o. Tour Academia Gallery (Morning) Tour the Galleria dell Accademia to admire the famous David by Michelangelo and other works by the great artist. Tour Uffizi Gallery (Afternoon) Visit the famous Uffizi Gallery to revel in the magnificent paintings of Botticelli, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Raffaello, Giotto, Cimabue, and Masaccio.

Florence/Rome Day 6: Return to Rome for Flight home but enjoy last night Rome with the Rome By Night, Dinner & Music tour: Enjoy by night the beautiful illuminated monuments and piazzas of Rome, Including the elegant Via Veneto of Vita, Aurelian Walls, Triton Fountain,
Quirinale Square with the Presidential Palace, Trevi Fountain (stop), Piazza Venezia, Colosseum, Theatre of Marcellus, Castel S. Angelo, Vatican City with St. Peter’s Basilica, Colosseum, Trevi Fountain (stop), and the charming and romantic Piazza Navona (stop and visit). The tour ends with a special Italian dinner, local wine, and traditional music and song.

Rome - Trevi Fountain

Depart Rome Day 7: Enjoy Breakfast at hotel, take return private transfers to the airport.

I hope that you get a chance to explore Italy.

Ready to book your European Vacation? Call us today at 877-229-6008 or 757-229-6008.

Visit us on the web at www.vipleisuretravel.com

10 things to know before visiting Sicily

Sicily has beautiful black-sand beaches, a volcano to ski on and desserts to satisfy the sweetest tooth.

Plus 8,000 mummified citizens in the catacombs of Palermo, to keep you awake at night.

Oh, and the Mafia? There are hundreds of places to eat, shop and sleep run by Sicilians who have said no to organized crime.

1. Sicily isn’t all that Italian

The dead sea?

Much of Italy retains a strong regional identity.

Calabrians, Apulians and Tuscans often feel at least as strong an affiliation with their home regions as they do with the Italian state, formed only around 150 years ago.

However, Sicily’s island status makes this ambivalence even stronger.

That sense of separateness explains a lot, from the persistence of the island’s notorious criminal underworld to the strength of the Sicilian dialect — which some linguists have argued constitutes a separate language.

Sicilians also often have a darker complexion, with stronger facial features, than many mainland Italians, reflecting the presence of Phoenician and Arab ancestry among the island’s population.

The Mafia don\'t obligingly dress like Al Pacino any more but that doesn\'t mean they\'ve gone.
The Mafia don’t obligingly dress like Al Pacino any more but that doesn’t mean they’ve gone.

2. If you meet the Mafia, you won’t know it

The Mafia: Popular culture may as well have made it Italy’s brand.

Unhelpfully, members of Cosa Nostra — as the Sicilian criminal syndicate is also known — these days don’t often dress the way they do in the movies so, although you may come across them on the island, you probably won’t know it.

To compound matters, the coppola, the jaunty cap Mafiosi often used to wear, has been adopted as a symbol of resistance by the anti-Mafia movement — worn at a different angle.

But just because the mobsters are relatively inconspicuous doesn’t mean they’re at home knitting.

The Mafia continues to exercise a baleful influence on Sicily and beyond, from its periodic killings, to the protection money — pizzo — many hotels, restaurants and shops are forced to pay, and the corrupt investment climate that helps to keep businesses away and keep Sicily relatively poor among the Italian regions.

Tourists will hardly ever be touched directly by mob violence, which tends to go on in the poorer parts of town that are the Mafia’s strongholds.

But you can help those who have suffered by getting hold of a”pizzo-free” city map of Palermo and eating, shopping and sleeping in establishments that have signed on to an anti-extortion charter.

Various Sicilian tour groups offer “Mafia tours” of the island.

One, Addiopizzo Travel, provides an “anti-mob” tour, visiting Mafia bosses’ former homes confiscated by police.

An ancient Roman bikini catalogue? \
An ancient Roman bikini catalogue? “I’ll have that one!”

3. The bikini is very old news here

Concrete, aqueducts, particularly violent spectator sports — we attribute a lot of things to the Romans, yet not often a skimpy item of women’s sportswear.

However, the evidence is there in Sicily, in the form of beautifully preserved mosaics, that female Roman gymnasts were prancing around in garments very similar to the modern bikini as early as the fourth century.

The so-called “Bikini Girls” — depicting muscular women running, lifting weights and throwing a discus — are the most celebrated mosaics on display at the Roman Villa  in the town of Piazza Armerina.

Other mosaics within the UNESCO World Heritage site depict crashing chariots, a bare-breasted Queen of Sheba, and female nudes dancing in pagan abandon.

4. Sicily rivals Greece for ancient Greek architecture

In classical times, Sicily was the star of Magna Graecia, Greater Greece.

The Valley of the Temples, in the southern city of Agrigento, is where the ancient world comes most vividly alive on the island.

The city, ancient Akragas, rivaled Athens in its splendor but may also have been a kind of Los Angeles of the ancient world.

Pindar, the ancient poet, declared — sniffily or with longing, it’s hard to say — that the hedonistic inhabitants of a city “built for eternity … feasted as if there were no tomorrow.”

Now the remains of the Doric temples within the Valley, another world heritage site, are among the largest and best preserved of all ancient Greek buildings.

The Temple of Concordia, in particular, looks as though it needs only a slap of paint and a statue or two for toga-clad types to fit right back in.

If these are the virgins\' breasts, the chancellors\' buttocks sound worrying.
If these are the virgins’ breasts, the chancellors’ buttocks sound worrying.

5. Desserts will satisfy the sweetest tooth

Blame the early Arab settlers, who spiced up Sicilian cuisine with citrus fruits and cloying sweets.

Their legacy is cassata, a cake filled with ricotta cream and decorated with almond paste and candied fruit.

Also blame Sicilian nuns, closeted away in convents with little to do but pray and bake cakes

Novice nuns made marzipan concoctions, transmuted today into rather more sacrilegious-sounding nibbles such as “virgins’ breasts” and “chancellors’ buttocks.”

They look vividly as described and can be embarrassing to eat.

Marzipan is also sculpted into the shape of peaches, oranges and prickly pears throughout the island.

In the town of Modica, sweet pastries combine chocolate and meat in a surprisingly tasty combination.

6. Manners remain very formal

The Sicilians don’t conform to carefree southern Italian stereotypes — life has long been too bitter-sweet.

Don’t expect the locals to break into song while a stereotypical cuddly mama serves your pasta.

At first, Sicilians can seem sullen, inscrutable and fatalistic.

Sicilian family life is a cocoon. Personal loyalty is sacrosanct and little exists beyond that.

But persevere and you’ll find that chill can melt into something as sweet — sometimes as cloyingly sweet — as cassata.

7. You can ski on a volcano

The snow capping one of the most active volcanoes in Europe, constantly smoking and spitting lava, seems unlikely enough.

Perhaps even more improbable are the two ski resorts, Rifugio Sapienza and Piano Provenzano, on Mount Etna’s flanks.

You can ski down the north face of the volcano and jump over lava bumps.

8. Mummies are a weird attraction

The dead are very much still family in Sicily, and mummification rites practiced on the island until 1881 sought to keep them looking more or less alive for as long as possible.

Using arsenic baths and quicklime, Capuchin friars preserved the corpses of aristocrats, the clergy, doctors, lawyers, women and children and laid them to rest in Palermo’s Catacombe dei Cappuccini .

Around 8,000 embalmed Sicilians, rictus grins aplenty, are now on display to the public in the underground vaults.

Among the spookiest is “Rosalia,” a toddler with a face that looks scarily perfect, 90-odd years postmortem.

9. The beaches are black and white

Some of the most dramatic beaches are on the tiny Aeolian Islands, to the north of Sicily.

There you’ll find midnight-black beaches — a legacy of volcanic activity — and sand dunes split with rust-red seams of iron.

Or, as on Lipari, the largest of the islands, beaches of silvery-grey pumice stone.

On the mainland, the cleanest white sand beaches are to be found around the city of Ragusa, to the south.

A couple of millennia after Caesar, Sicilian wine is praiseworthy again.
A couple of millennia after Caesar, Sicilian wine is praiseworthy again.

10. The wine’s no longer all swill

Julius Caesar praised Sicilian wine, but to the rest of us it’s long been thought of as swill.

Despite a pedigree dating back even to Phoenician and Greek times, Sicilian wines have underperformed.

However, a recent revival has seen a glut of boutique wineries producing a far superior drop.

Superb floral whites are produced around the city of Alcamo, in the north.

In the west, elegant Marsala is a fortified wine that rivals top sherries and ports.

The new-wave wine-growers on Mount Etna make award-winning Bordeaux-style reds

Wine resorts are also all the rage.

Near Alcamo, you can stay on the Marquess de Gregorio’s estateand taste organic wines while you learn to cook Sicilian dishes.

Ready to book your next vacation?? Call us today at 877-229-6008 or 757-229-6008.

Visit us on the web at www.vipleisuretravel.com

Rome Attractions

Some of Rome’s attractions are among the best-known spots on Earth. Few visitors need to be told to visit the Colosseum or the Trevi Fountain during their stay in the Eternal City. But here’s a list of some other worthwhile things to see and do that tourists may want to add to their itineraries, and the best part is that they won’t cost a dime.

GLIMPSING THE POPE IN ST. PETER’S SQUARE

On Sunday mornings when the pope is in Rome, pilgrims, tourists and Romans flock to St. Peter’s Square, intent on glimpsing the pontiff at his studio window as he speaks to the crowd below. Facing the basilica, the window to watch is next-to-last on the top floor of the Apostolic Palace. Just before the pope pokes his head out, a red curtain with the papal seal is hung from the windowsill. Many people carry flags or banners from their home countries or hometowns, giving the square a festive air.

Depending on what the pontiff says, the square often erupts in thunderous applause. His appearance starts at noon sharp and lasts about 15 minutes, so don’t be late. The sun and presence of so many bodies can crank up the heat, so water bottles and hats are recommended. Even if the pope’s out of town, the square is a worthwhile destination, with its 17th century colonnade cradling the area like two arms.

THE APPIAN WAY: ANCIENT ROME

The first part of the road from the center has no sidewalks and is unsuitable for pedestrians, but a good starting point is Cecilia Metella’s tomb, a circular building of the Augustan age built for the daughter of a first-century B.C. consul. In the 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) from there to the city’s outskirts, the road is often paved with its original basaltic blocks, and flanked by fragments of ancient tombs, statues and mausoleums.

Cecilia Metella’s tomb can be reached by taking the Metro A line from Termini station to the Colli Albani stop, then riding the No. 660 bus for eight stops. Here you’ll suddenly feel like you’re in the countryside: Cars are rare, with the whole area closed to private traffic on Sundays, and sheep grazing in nearby fields. In summer, you can even pick blackberries from hedges along the way.

The road also has modern touches of glamour, since many rich villas are located on the sprawling countryside. In the late 1950s-early ’60s “Dolce Vita” era, several of the villas were frequented by movie stars, and today’s occupants still throw exclusive parties on weekends.

THE IMPERIAL FORUMS BY NIGHT: A ROMANTIC STROLL

But tourists who visit in sunlight should consider returning after sunset, when the Forums are transformed into a romantic spot with white, blue and green beams of light coloring the ruins. Lovers are often seen here embracing on the big fragments of columns scattered under the trees along the way.

SEE THREE STATES IN A KEYHOLE

A villa owned by the Knights of Malta atop the ancient Aventine Hill, at No. 3 on the Piazza dei Cavalieri di Malta, has a large entry door with a celebrated keyhole. If you peer through it, you’ll have a perfectly framed view of the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica.

Curiously, viewers can see three different states at once: the villa’s garden in the territory of the Sovereign Order of Malta; the Vatican City State, where the Basilica is located, and a small portion of Italy in between.

EUR NEIGHBORHOOD

A startling contrast to the wealth of ancient, medieval and Renaissance palaces in the city center can be found in the rationalist architecture of 1930s Rome in the EUR neighborhood. The area was designed as the host site for a proposed 1942 world’s fair called Esposizione Universale Roma, or EUR. The expo, which Benito Mussolini had planned as a celebration of 20 years of Fascism, never took place because of World War II, but the neighborhood is still known by its initials as EUR.

The district’s square, neatly laid-out buildings, connected by wide avenues, house government offices as well as several museums, including the popular Museo Preistorico ed Etnografico, which explores the development of Italian and world civilizations.

The EUR Magliana stop on the Metro B line is located in front of the neighborhood’s most famous site, the so-called “square Colosseum”: a huge, three-dimensional parallelogram pierced with arches. From there, one can easily walk to other buildings featuring the same monumental style associated with the Fascist era, such as the Palazzo dei Congressi (Congress Hall), built to host conferences and other gatherings.

Exploring the Fjords of Norway

2013-09-08-936943_650554721001_151782433_n.jpg

To visit the Norwegian fjords, long arms of the sea formed by glacial erosion, begin in Bergen, a cheerful port city surrounded by seven mountains. The city’s historic center wraps around a bay crowded with sailboats. Old wooden houses in reds and yellows line the water. At the market, local fishermen offer a smorgasbord of smoked salmon, herring, spiced whale meat, moose and reindeer sausage, and the city’s best fast food: salmon curry. Steep cobblestone streets are lined with bars, cafes and souvenir shops selling antlers and thick Norwegian sweaters. And just a couple blocks from the waterfront is a funicular railway that will take you up Mount Fløyen to a lookout point where you can see the entirety of the city and its surroundings.

From Bergen, many travelers take a cruise through the fjords. An option which provides more variation is the Norway in a Nutshell tour, which takes you through the region by train, bus and ferry.

The first leg of the trip is a train ride to Myrdal, where you board the legendary Flam railway train, one of the world’s steepest railway tracks. The train rides along the edge of cliffs, overlooking rivers that run through the fjords, and tunnels in and out of mountains. The railway is used more by tourists than by locals, and so it stops at Kjosfossen, a roaring waterfall, where a woman known as a Huldra, the Scandinavian version of a siren, emerges from atop an adjacent cliff to sing and dance for onlookers. Flailing about in a medieval red gown with wavy blond hair down to her waist, she is quite a spectacle.

Flam
The train lets you off in the small village of Flam, built on a flat plain surrounded by lush farmland and rugged mountains. One of the village’s hotels, the Flamsbrygga, has a Viking-style microbrewery where you can sample several award-winning beers and aquavit, which are distilled locally.

A short walk down the quai is Fjord Safari, which takes you on a two-hour ride through the Aurlandsfjord and Nærøyfjord on a motorized rubber boat, getting so close to a waterfall at one point that you’re showered with mist. Villages dot the waterside, with rustic houses embowered in trees. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot porpoises and seals in the water.

Hardangerfjord

Head south to Hardangerfjord, described in 1939 as “perhaps the most magnificent in a land where superlatives are soon exhausted,” a statement which holds true today.

One of the largest fjords in the world, Hardangerfjord offers ample opportunities for outdoor adventures like sea kayaking and canoeing. The surrounding mountains provide hikes of various difficulty levels. One short hike takes you from the center of Eidfjord to the Hæreid Plateau, where more than 350 burial mounds, dating from 400-1000 A.D., lie among birch trees. For a more challenging route, climb up a steep mountainside to the Kjeåsen mountain farm, located high above the Simadalsfjord.

A short bus ride from Eidfjord is the Vøringfossen, a spectacular waterfall that tumbles in white torrents down 182 meters into the canyon below.

White Water Jump

A walk along an ancient footpath near Eidfjord leads to a zipline that extends over class five rapids. After you’re harnessed into the zipline, you leap off the edge of a cliff and slide to the middle of the river, where you are suspended just above the water, next to a thunderous waterfall.

Exploring the Fjords of Norway
Practical Information

The best time to visit the fjord region is from May to September, with the warmest months being July and August. In the summer, the daylight does not fade until after midnight.

It rains so often in this area that the Norwegians have a saying: “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.” So pack accordingly – a raincoat is a must.

Ready for this once in a lifetime experience? Call us today at 877-229-6008 or 757-229-6008.

Visit us on the web at www.vipleisuretravel.com

10 money saving tips for first-time visitors to London

First time visit to London? Lucky you! There’s lots to look forward to. What’s not fun to anticipate, however, are the costs involved. Plan ahead and it’ll go a long way towards ensuring a stress-free trip.

To save a few shillings without having to scrimp on the sights, here are our EuroCheapo top tips for first time visitors to London.

1. Walk it.

The center of London is deceptively small. Rather than be the tourist who wastes £4.50 getting from Charing Cross to Embankment on the Tube (when they’re right next to each other on the street), it usually pays to use your feet. You get much better views too.

Marvel at London at its most imposing by walking from Trafalgar Square and National Gallery, down Whitehall and on to the Houses of Parliament and Westminster. Or experience the city’s fun side by exploring the streets of Theater Land around Covent Garden, before wandering over one of the Thames’s bridges to the always-bustling South Bank.

From street performers to hidden parks, there’s a lot more to happen-upon when you’re traveling above ground.

2. Use an Oyster card.It’s an unrealistic hope to completely avoid public transport in London so make sure that when you use it, you’re using it in the smartest possible way. Get an Oyster card: it slashes your journey costs. (For example, it would reduce the cost of that unnecessary Tube trip from Charing Cross to Embankment to £2.10.)

Additionally, opt to take the most picturesque bus routes rather than paying for sightseeing tours (we recommend the RV1).

And if aquatic is your favorite style of transport, I would recommend the Thames Clipper, which goes from Waterloo to the Dome in North Greenwich, as a great cheapo alternative to a river cruise, costing only £3.90 with your Oyster.

3. Visit free sights and museums.

National Museums are all free and definitely worth factoring into any itinerary. The British Museum,Tate Modern and the National Gallery are the more obvious choices for first time visitors, but it’s also worth saying hello to the dinosaur skeleton hung in the imposing Gothic building of the Natural History Museum, spending an afternoon in Greenwich – a world heritage site – at the National Maritime Museum or learning more about your host city at the Museum of London.

Cheapo tip: If you arrived by Eurostar, it’s worth keeping hold of your ticket: they allow two for one entryinto many of the major temporary charging exhibitions.

Tower of London

A Eurostar ticket can get you into the Tower of London for cheap. Photo: Marku85.

4. Find special offers in advance.

While the paying attractions will undoubtedly make a dent on your wallet, it’s always worth checking out deals before you turn up. It’s cheaper to go on the London Eye if you book in advance, for example. The same applies to bus and train fares.

And while you’re on the National Rail website, make sure to stop off to look at their two-for-one entry deals to places like Tower of London, the Zoo and Madame Tussauds.

5. Grab a free Time Out.

If the last two tips have both failed you, make sure you pick up a copy of Time Out Magazine for their money saving tips and vouchers. The city’s best listing guide is now given away each week for free. Get the new edition each Tuesday for the latest of what’s going on and their authoritative reviews, as well as cost-cutting advice.

Pizza Express London

Pizza Express is a Cheapo standby. Photo: Kake Pugh.

6. Vouchers can make meals much cheaper.

Vouchers are your secret weapon when it comes to eating in London without breaking the bank. UK website Money Saving Expert keeps an up-to-date listing of which restaurant chains are currently running 2 for 1 or money off promotions.

We recommend Pizza Express as a safe bet: it’s got branches throughout the capital, reliable service and food and is part of London’s history: it opened its first branch in Soho’s Wardour Street in 1965. Celebrate your savings with an extra helping of their dough balls.

7. Join a free walking tour.

Take a walking tour to familiarize yourself with the city. While there’s plenty of paying options available, there are some fantastic free walks on offer too. Sandeman’s has a free Central London Royal London tour that will guide you through the city from Anglo-Saxon times.

For contrast, Alternative London runs a pay-what-you-like tour of East London, with an emphasis on its street art and creative scene. Both are great ways to get a flavor of the city and to work out what bits you’d like to spend more time exploring yourself.

London Eye at Christmas

Christmas is a beautiful—but expensive—time to visit London. Photo waldopepper.

8. Avoid peak travel times.

If you have some flexibility with your timings, avoiding peak times for travel in the UK will help with both costs and crowds. These times are mainly Easter, Christmas and the school summer vacation, when you’ll be competing with British families to make the most of London. An enjoyable time to visit would be September and early October, once the schools have gone back and there’s usually some late summer sunshine hanging around.

Between Christmas and New Year can also be a good period for exploring the city: the streets are still looking pretty in their festive decorations but are free of stressed commuters. Just be prepared for bad weather and be willing to spend some of your day hauled up in a cozy pub.

9. Use bathrooms when they’re free.

Public conveniences in London tend to be rather inconvenient. There’s not many bathrooms left for public use and those that remain are often paying. With entrance fee of up to 50 pence per visit, you can spend a lot more than pennies during a day’s sightseeing. Instead, make the most of the bathrooms inside tourist attractions, and in restaurants, bars and pubs.

For when you’re out and about, it’s worth taking note of this excellent toilet map, a mobile-friendly guide to all of London’s public facilities. You’ll never need to be caught short – or short of cash – again.

View from Alexandra Palace

The view from Alexandra Palace is stunning—and Cheapo! Photo: lo_ise.

10. Enjoy free views of the city.

With a trip on the London Eye costing from £17 upwards (even after your early booking discount), going up the Shard priced at £24.95, and an ascent of the London Orbit in the Olympic Park billed at £15, getting a good view of London can be a costly business. But some of the best views in London are free and a great way for a first time visitor to get their heads around the city.

Head up northwards to Alexandra Palace to see a majestic sweep across all of London, or to Parliament Hill where residents gather with picnics in the summer and celebrate each new year with sparklers. In central London, Monument – 202 feet tall and built to commemorate the Great Fire of London in the seventeenth century – costs only £3 to climb. You’ll even get a souvenir certificate thrown into the price.

Ready to book your London experience? Call us today at 877-229-6008 or 757-229-6008.

Visit us on the web at www.vipleisuretravel.com

Mediterranean Islands to Get Away From it All

The Mediterranean’s charm is based largely upon its history, cuisine, sun-bleached villages, and relaxed lifestyle, and nowhere are these on better display than its many islands. This summer, why not skip the crowded beaches and touristy fare of the region’s traditional summer hotspots and head for the more authentic smaller islands scattered throughout the Med’s blue waters. To help with the planning, we’ve gone through recommendations from real travelers and locals on minube to create this list of the Mediterranean’s best island getaways. From uninhabited wildlife refuges to charming fishing villages, here are 10 Mediterranean islands where you can really get away from it all this summer.
2013-07-01-SifnosNaxos.jpg

Sifnos, Greece – The tiny island of Sifnos, one of Greece’s Cyclades Islands, is a world away from the bustling cruise ship and tourist scene in neighboring Santorini. The white-washed villages and quaint churches against the backdrop of the Aegean’s stunning blue waters is the essence of Greek charm. It’s a perfect place to appreciate slow rhythm of Mediterranean life. (Photo by Naxos)

2013-07-01-CapreraCalaCotticoLauraTenebrosi.jpg

Caprera, Italy – Caprera is a small island and nature reserve in the La Maddalena Archipelago off the coast of Sardinia. Aside from historic treasures like Roman ships and the home of Giuseppe Garibaldi, one of the fathers of Italian independence, Isola Caprera is home to coves like the amazing Cala Coticcio, considered to be one of the most beautiful in all of the Mediterranean. (Photo by Laura Tenebrosi)

2013-07-01-CominoCristinaSerrano.jpg

Comino, Malta – Although it measures slightly less than 1.5 square miles, Malta’s Comino Island definitely packs an outsized punch. Without a doubt, the top attraction is the Blue Lagoon, an area whose unique topography has created a protected natural swimming pool, complete with submerged caves and radiant blue waters. (Photo by Cristina Serrano)

2013-07-01-MilosIslandNaxos.jpg

Milos, Greece – Like Sifnos, the island of Milos is part of the Cyclades island chain, but it stands out for its unique and gorgeous landscapes. The island owes its stunning rock formations to its volcanic origins, and is home to towering cliffs which shelter hidden coves of calm sapphire water. One of the most spectacular ones is Sarakiniko Beach, formed of radiant and wind-smoothed white rock which stands in bright contrast to the emerald waters. (Photo by Naxos)

 Columbretes, Spain The Columbretes Islands are a group of uninhabited volcanic island off the coast of Spain’s Valencia region. Due to their protected status, only a limited number of approved visitors are allowed each day, but the trip is worth it. The island is a special breeding ground for dozens of varieties of sea birds, and the shoreline is teeming with marine life, making it one of Spain’s top diving destinations. (Photo by Gaspar Cabanes Serrat)

2013-07-01-FavignanaValentinaDacquisto.jpg

Favignana, Italy – Only a short boat ride from historic Sicily, the small island of Favignana in the Aegadian Islands combines the best of Mediterranean history and beauty. The island is dotted with impressive ruins from an ancient Carthaginian settlement, many of which are still accessible today. But if you’re looking to cool off after a day of history, there’s nothing better than relaxing dip in the azure waters in one of the island’s many coves. (Photo by Valentina D’acqisto)

2013-07-01-FormenteraSamuelMuozFernandez.jpg

Formentera, Spain – While it’s larger and glitzier sibling, Ibiza, gets more tourists, Formentera shines for its natural, untouched beauty and laid-back island culture. Known locally for its Caribbean-like beaches, Formentera is perfect for those looking for some peace and quiet or a break from Ibiza’s hectic, crowded party scene. You can get there by daily ferries from Ibiza. (Photo by Samuel Muñoz Fernandez)

2013-07-01-LevanzoSophieCazalis.jpg
Levanzo, Italy – Levanzo is a small island paradise in the Aegadian Islands and, at only 450 inhabitants, is a sure bet to relax and disconnect from the routine. The island’s only village offers visitors a charming scene of brilliant white houses, authentic eateries, and friendly locals, while the rest of the island beckons travelers with spectacular hiking trails, dramatic cliffs, and turquoise-blue waters. (Photo by Sophie Cazalis)

2013-07-01-MarettimoIslandSilpan.jpg

Marettimo, Italy – Also in the Aegadian Islands, Marettimo is a destination for lovers of history, nature, and quaint Italian fishing villages. Aside from an amazing variety of indigenous plant and animal life, the island also boasts Roman houses and ancient churches for those looking for a bit of culture with their relaxation. It goes without saying, though, that Marettimo is also home to some truly spectacular stretches of coastline. (Photo by Silpan)

2013-07-01-PorquerollesMarion06.jpg

Porquerolles, France – The largest of the Hyères Islands, Porquerolles is an island and natural reserve off the coast of Provence. Travelers can only arrive by boat, but can spend the day exploring the island’s hiking trails, renting a bicycle, enjoying one of casual restaurants on the coast, or simply taking a load off next to the crystalline waters on one of the island’s many beaches. (Photo by Marion06).

Ready to book your next vacation? Call us today at 877-229-6008 or 757-229-6008.

Visit us on the web at www.vipleisuretravel.com