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People groan about layovers, and we can’t help but wonder why. The longer the layover, the more likely it is that we’ll be able to leave the airport and explore! With the inexpensive flights we love often come lengthy layovers—and here are a few of the best layover cities in Europe for making the most of it.

London, England

Pedro Szekely, http://bit.ly/2ckCCIc, Attribution CC BY 2.0

Photo: London | Pedro Szekely, Flickr

Aww, poor you! Do you have a long ol’ layover in London? Just kidding! You’re so lucky—not only is London’s Heathrow a paradise for shoppers (there’s an 11,000 sq ft Harrods inside), but you’re just a 15-minute train ride on the Heathrow Express to central London. What to do with your limited time? Take it from us: Just pick an area and start walking. London is so huge that it’s easy to get overwhelmed if you try to plan too much, but there’s so much to see and do that any direction you pick will yield some serious treasures. A good place to start is the famous St. Paul’s Cathedral; gaze in awe at its ornate golden ceilings before heading across the street to Tate Modern for a dose of contemporary art. Afterwards, you’ve earned a snack, and the place to get it is Borough Market, where the restaurants and shops are open all week and there’s a farmer’s market on the weekends. If you’ve still got some time left, grab a pint at one of the hundreds of neighborhood pubs and just watch the world go by.

Paris, France

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Oui, you can take awhirlwind trip to Paris! Just a 45-minute train ride from Charles de Gaulle Airport will bring you to the massive Châtelet-Les Halles station, where you can store your luggage for a small fee and transfer to any neighborhood you like! Like London, Paris is too sprawling to try to conquer it in less than a day, so pick a single area to wander through and soak up the Parisian lifestyle. We recommend heading to Ile de la Citie, the hopelessly romantic island of Paris, which has the Notre Dame Cathedral at its tip. Drape yourself along the bridges and watch the boats slide by, then wander until you find a cafe (it won’t take long, we promise). Sit down, order a cafe creme, and weigh your options: Sunset boat tour along the Seine? Or postpone your flight indefinitely?

Amsterdam, Netherlands

Moyan Brenn, http://bit.ly/2czKvvi, Attribution CC BY 2.0

Photo: Amsterdam | Moyan Brenn, Flickr

Amsterdam is a fantastic city for long layovers—you’re a 20-minute train ride from Amsterdam Central Station, where you can store your luggage, and hello: This is a seriously fun city, with an active nightlife and interesting museums. If you arrive in the evening, the infamous Red Light District is a quick walk from the station; by day, don’t miss renting a bike and pedaling along the city’s beautiful canals like the locals. Make time to stop for cafes! But keep in mind: When in Amsterdam and inneed of coffee, ask for a cafe—asking for a coffee shop will get you directions to the nearest marijuana shop. And if you only have time to see one major sight, make it the Anne Frank House, the truly moving museum that chronicles one Jewish family’s experience during the Holocaust.

Istanbul, Turkey

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There’s so much shopping and dining just outside your gate in Istanbul that you may never want to leave the airport. That said, even beyond those airstrips, Istanbul is heaven for layovers. Everyone who leaves the airport has to pay a $20 visa fee, but after that, it’s simple to hop on an express bus. Once out of the airport, check it out: You’re in an ancient city, a cross between East and West, and spindly minarets puncture the skyline everywhere you look. Don’t miss sightseeing at the famous Blue Mosque, and check out the Grand Bazaar—it’s as fascinating today as it was centuries ago. Stop to have a drink of raki, Turkey’s anise-flavored national drink, and if there’s time, book a boat tour on the gorgeous Bosphorus river.

Venice, Italy

Gondolas in the canals in Venice. Surely this is the prettiest of the best layover cities.

Photo: Venice | Moyan Brenn, Flickr

If you have a lengthy layover at the Marco Polo Airport (a popular stopping point for travelers going to Asia), by all means, take the opportunity to explore Venice. From the airport, follow the signs for the water bus to central Venice, and hop on! Enjoy the sight of Venice appearing on the waterline, then exit at San Marco square for a jaw-dropping scene: Here is a majestic city plaza (once the largest in Europe!) and an ancient cathedral gorgeous enough to make you cry. Grab a gelato, take a stroll around the square, and enjoy the ambiance—pigeons rise from the crowds in startled flocks, and it seems the whole world has congregated in what was once the most powerful city in Europe and Asia. If you’re feeling posh, treat yourself to a snack at Cafe Florian, reputedly the oldest cafe in Europe, and sit surrounded by Neo-Baroque gilt mirrors and waiters in traditional tuxedos. Afterwards, take a gondola ride to see Venice as it was meant to be seen: from the water.

Madrid, Spain

Игорь М, http://bit.ly/2ckCrMT, Attribution CC BY 2.0

Photo: Types of Madrid | Игорь М, Flickr

A long layover in Madrid is so good we’re jealous. You can store your luggage at Madrid Barajas Airport and hop on an airport transfer shuttle to Plaza Mayor, Madrid’s bustling main square.Visit The Prado Museum for a chance to see one of the world’s finest collections of European art, but really, Madrid is entertaining just to walk through. There are so many tempting places to eat and drink (the Market of San Miguel! stop for tapas and wine at multiple bars!), and so many sites of historic significance—the Royal Palace of Madrid and Plaza de Cibeles among them. Meaning all you need to do is point your feet in a direction and keep moving for an adventure.

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Tagged: City, Flights, International, Tips & advice

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Spending so much on a Halloween costume that you have to dip into your travel fund? Now that’s scary. Fortunately, these DIY costume ideas leave plenty of cash for your next wanderlust fix while letting everyone know that travel is your idea of a treat.

Parisian mimeA striped shirt and a beret are all you really need to channel your inner Marcel Marceau. If you want to go all out, add a scarf, white gloves and some pale makeup.

Credit dresscorilynn.com.

Credit dresscorilynn.com.

Venetian gondolier: If you’d rather apply that striped shirt to a costume that doesn’t render you mute for the evening, then try this Italian idea. A straw hat, red sash, red scarf and oar (cardboard if you must) complete the look.

Credit: littlepim.com.

Credit: littlepim.com.

Waldo and Carmen Sandiego: Where in the world is this adventure-seeking couple off to? Anywhere they want. Striped shirt, hat and glasses for him. Red trench coat, yellow scarf and hat for her. Done.

Credit Ashley Baccam.

Credit Ashley Baccam.

Travel bug: Here’s the perfect getup for a witty wanderer. Drape yourself in an old map, and attach pipe cleaners to a headband for homemade antennae. For bonus points, complete the look with a set of store-bought wings.

Credit kianablaire.com.

Credit kianablaire.com.

Pizza rat: There are so many dignified costume ideas around the Big Apple—Statue of Liberty, a firefighter, Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. But no. This is the year of the pizza rat. Remember that New York City rodent who was caught on video carrying a slice of pizza down the stairs of a subway station? No need to get fancy with the costume. A simple gray sweatsuit, mouse ears and oversized slice of pizza made from poster board will do the trick.

Credit: halloweencostumes.com.

Credit: halloweencostumes.com.

Royal family: The family that dresses up together, stays together all night. To make like Queen Elizabeth, just hit up a thrift store (or your grandma’s closet) for some matronly duds and a matching handbag. For the royal guards, embellish a red jacket, step into some black pants—er, trousers—and for the hat, glue some black fleece to a cardboard tube, and affix with a gold cord. Bloody brilliant.

Credit costume-works.com.

Credit costume-works.com.

Tagged: Holidays, International, New York City, Uncategorized

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It’s “wave season.” That means from January-March every year, cruise lines and cruise distributors offer their cheapest rates in an effort to get people to book their cruises early in the year. Cheap cruises–we’ll take it! Here are some cruise ports that will take your breath away from the deck of the ship as you glide into port.

Port of Venice, Italy

[captionid=”attachment_5580″ align=”aligncenter” width=”500″]Venice's grand canal at night. Courtesy of Kosala Bandara. Venice’s grand canal at night. Courtesy of Kosala Bandara.[/caption]

By land or sea, Venice is one of the most beautiful cities you’ll ever see. People visit Venice to see the canals, to eat the food, to experience the culture and learn some history, before it all sinks beneath the Adriatic Sea. But what visitors don’t necessarily expect is how the water weaving between each and every block plays with the light. In the daytime, the blue of the canals contrasts the color of the architecture, making its orange hue even more vibrant. At night, the lights play on the water, dancing and illuminating the canals to the point that almost becomes a second light source. The best time of day, though, is twilight. That time of day when the sun has dipped below the horizon but it’s not quite dark yet. A purple hue falls over the city and envelopes everything in a way you can’t experience anywhere else. Plan a cruise that docks just as the sun sets to experience the magic.

Port Vell, Barcelona, Spain

A view of Port Vell in Barcelona from Montjuïc. Courtesy of David Merrett.

A view of Port Vell in Barcelona from Montjuïc. Courtesy of David Merrett.

Continuing around from Italy and through the Mediterranean, is Barcelona, the capital of the autonomous region of Catalonia. Barcelona is steeped in history that remains visible today and is evident as soon as your cruise ship begins making its approach toward Barcelona’s Port Vell (that means “old port” in Catalan). If you can peel your eyes away from the beautifully blue Mediterranean waters and palm trees gently blowing in the sea breeze (and maybe a few topless women on a beach nearby, because, well, this is Europe), you’ll be taken aback by Barcelona’s architecture. To your right as you approach the port, you’ll see the outlines of Antoin Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia, the famed yet unfinished church that’s been under construction for decades. To your left, you’ll see the ancient fort perched atop Montjuïc, which served as a lookout for invaders from the sea. The ship will dock at the base of La Rambla, one of the most vibrant and well-known boulevards in the city. When you step onto that Barcelona soil, your adventure really begins.

Port Santorini, Greece

Santorini port. Courtesy of Shane Gorski.

Santorini port. Courtesy of Shane Gorski.

The whitewashed buildings stand out starkly against the vibrant blue of the sky and sea as you approach the Grecian island by way of the Aegean Sea. Tales of Greek monsters are nowhere near your mind as you sail toward Santorini, but you wonder if maybe this is Mt. Olympus because only the gods could tread somewhere this beautiful. The crescent-shaped island is southeast of Greece’s mainland and is the remnants of a volcanic eruption that destroyed the earliest dwellers. As you approach the island’s main port, Athinias, you’ll see the remnants of the centuries-old eruption in the dark, steep cliffs holding up the white towns and villages.

Papeete port, Tahiti, French Polynesia

Tahitian palm with the island of Moorea in the background. Courtesy of Lori Branham.

Tahitian palm with the island of Moorea in the background. Courtesy of Lori Branham.

You may feel as though you’re a castaway finally washing ashore in Tahiti after the hundreds of remote miles you traveled through the South Pacific to arrive. But at least you’ve arrived to paradise. The largest in the Windward group of French Polynesian islands, Tahiti is an explosion of green among the vast blue, with mountains jutting upward and palm trees framing the port. Tiki huts line long docks jutting out into the pristine waters. The island is centered on volcanic mountains, and is famous for its black sand beaches, formed with bits of lava fragments. Much of Tahiti’s beauty also lies beneath its waters. Farming for the Tahitian black pearl is a huge part of the countries economy, and coral reefs surrounding the island teem with colorful wildlife.

Misty Fjords port of call, Alaska

Misty Fjords, Alaska. Courtesy of Andrew Malone.

Misty Fjords, Alaska. Courtesy of Andrew Malone.

Although there are dozens of ports of call in Alaska (and most Alaskan cruises hit several per trip), Misty Fjords is not to be missed. The cruise ship is dwarfed by the rising, snow-capped mountains seemingly enveloping the fjord on all sides. A fjord is a narrow inlet lined with steep cliffs that was formed by a glacier. And this one will take your breath away. There are 1,000-foot waterfalls, sheer granite cliffs, pristine lakes and low-hanging mist in this remote section of the Alaskan panhandle. While you are awe-inspired from the landscape, make sure to keep your eyes peeled for wildlife such as bald eagles, grizzly bears and moose peeking out toward the ship.

Kona Port, Kailua Kona, Hawaii

Kailua-Kona after sunset, with volcanic rocks on the beach in the foreground. Courtesy of Steve Dunleavy.

Kailua-Kona after sunset, with volcanic rocks on the beach in the foreground. Courtesy of Steve Dunleavy.

There are about 150 distinct ecosystems throughout the Hawaiian islands, and you’ll be able to see a slew of them as you cruise into the port in Kona. Ships use the port at Kailua Kona, on the western side of the Hawaiian island. The Kona Coast has been distinguished by recent lava flows that continue to build on top of each other. Lush vegetation grows in over the flows as time goes by, making it possible to go from lush vegetation to a landscape of barren, hardened lava just by turning a corner. Some beaches also feature black sand. Whales are likely to be seen on cruises traveling now through April.

Reykjavik, Iceland

Downtown Reykjavik, Iceland. Courtesy of O Palsson.

Downtown Reykjavik, Iceland. Courtesy of O Palsson.

For being the capital of Iceland, Reykjavik offers some surprising small town charm. Nordic settlers founded the town that has grown up along the pristine Atlantic coastline in 874. Iceland seems to have a little bit of everything, as far as geologic formations go, and cruising into Reykjavik will give you an introductory taste. There are inlets and peninsulas, straits and islands, mountains and glaciers. There are volcanoes and hot springs, ice fields and thermal pools, all engulfed in a bubbling yet sophisticated culture gathered around fresh seafood. Iceland offers snapshots of landscapes that can’t be seen anywhere else in the world, and Reykjavik is the beautiful gateway. Make sure you look up at night for a potential glimpse of the Aurora Borealis.

Story by Ally Marotti

CTIXblog CTA _ cheap of the week

Tagged: Cruise, Family, Hawaii, International

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Cruiseblog
Want to travel to Europe? Here’s one of the travel deals that can help save you money: take a Europe cruise.

With cruises, most of your travel is prepaid is U.S. dollars, so you don’t need to worry about the exchange rate, and cruises can be a great way to see several cities at once.

And with these cheap cruises, you can see Europe for prices starting at less than $500.

A seven-night Mediterranean cruise aboard the Costa Romantica takes you to Rome, Sicily, Greece and Turkey. Interior rooms start at $499 for the November 3-10 sailing. Onboard, you can enjoy a cocktail outdoors at the Terraza Bar or sit at the Juliet wine bar. And the Botticelli Dining Room features signature Italian dishes with floor-to-ceiling windows for a fantastic view.

Or, take the seven-night Ancient Treasures cruise on the Costa Serena. The voyage starts in Venice and includes stops in Greece, Turkey and Croatia. Interior rooms are just $549 for sailings starting November 9 and 16. The ship’s Samsara Spa and Wellness Center complex includes 87 special spa cabins and 12 suites, along with treatment rooms and a spa eatery.

You can travel to Europe without spending a fortune. Just find a cheap airfare, book your Europe cruise and pack your bags!

CheapTickets resources:

Tagged: Cruise, FREE!, International, Limited-time Offers