Loren Christie on cool European destinations for 2012
Canada AM travel expert Loren Christie
Published Thursday, April 5, 2012 8:55AM EDT
'Tis the season to start booking your European holiday. I recently returned from a week in the United Kingdom and it certainly reminded me of just how many wonderful destinations are just across the pond. It truly is hard to go wrong in Europe, but here are five spots that you should consider in 2012.
Not only is Olympic fever spreading north from London, but the Queen's Jubilee means a year full of unique happenings in what I think is the U.K.'s most majestic city. The Royal Mile is the city's main thoroughfare connecting Edinburgh Castle and the Palace of Holyrood House, the official Scottish residence of Her Majesty the Queen. There are many sites and sounds to take in as you walk the mile, but the highlights are definitely the bookends.
Edinburgh Castle offers fantastic views over the city. It also offers the chance to view the Scottish Crown Jewels and soak up the history of Scotland. There is a lovely café there for a quick and simple meal, including your chance to sample a bag of Haggis & Black Pepper flavoured chips.
The Queen's Gallery next to Holyrood House just opened a new exhibit called "Treasures from The Queen's Palaces," which runs until November. It brings together some of the finest treasures from the Queen's Royal Collection and reflects the tastes of monarchs and other members of the royal family who have shaped one of the world's great art collections.
The collection includes five centuries of paintings, drawings, miniatures, manuscripts, furniture, ceramics and jewelry. Highlights include paintings by Rembrandt, Canaletto and Monet, and Imperial Easter Eggs by Faberge. The pieces come from nine different royal residences and some have never been seen by the public before.
My favourite attraction in Edinburgh is the Royal Yacht Britannia, a floating museum that not only offers a unique view into decades of British diplomacy, but gives a sneak peak into the personal lives of the royal family. I'll take you on a full tour in May on Canada AM.
If you do go to Edinburgh, check out the Apex Waterloo Place Hotel. Great service and location.
Belfast, Northern Ireland:
This charming, hip city is upping its ante with the opening of Titanic Belfast, a museum dedicated to the history of the Titanic, its passengers and Belfast of the early 1900's. The museum also offers an interactive ride and film footage of the wreck of Titanic in its final resting place 3,784 metres below the Atlantic, some of it never seen before. It is one of a number of signature projects designed to generate tourism in Northern Ireland. Tune into Canada AM next week on the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, when the show will be broadcasting live from the museum.
Long undervalued as a bureaucratic hub, this small city offers fantastic food (think mussels, frites, and hundreds of beers made by monks), cool neighbourhoods like the Dansaert and a hip international vibe. It makes a fantastic hub from which to explore the great Western European capitals of London, Paris and Amsterdam, which are all accessible via train within a few hours. For those gardeners and flower lovers out there, take a drive to Venlo, Holland (closer to Brussels, than Amsterdam) to check out Floriade. It's the world's largest international floral show and gardening exposition, held only every 10 years. Think the Olympics for green thumbs. It opens today and runs until October. 7th.
This city is the arbiter of cool on the continent. Celebrating its 775th anniversary this year means a bevy of free events throughout 2012. The Nikolai area is being transformed into a medieval quarter as part of a history themed festival. Additionally, a hotel boom in Berlin has resulted in competitive hotel room rates compared to other European capitals. According to Hotels.com's Hotel Price index, average room rates are going for an average of $111 a night. That's 18 per cent less than the average European room.
Winner of Lonely Planet's "Best in Travel Readers' Choice" award for 2012; this is the place to see incredible displays of nature. Iceland is currently experiencing two "maximum cycles," one to do with increased volcano activity and another to do with the increased aurora activity for 2012. Set aside two days for Reykjavik and, if you can, 10 days to conquer the 900-mile Ring Road which will take you through geothermal spas, volcanoes and unbelievable landscapes. Although it is not quite as cheap as it was in 2008, it is still a great value destination.