Best of Madrid

Best of Madrid

Spain’s capital city, Madrid, is famous for its gracious boulevards, world class museums, and beautiful Baroque Royal Palace. With excellent train and flight access it’s easy to combine your visit with many other Spanish locales (check out my recent article on Seville, here). Madrid is culturally rich, pedestrian friendly, and well known for its active night life – truly a city that never sleeps.

VISIT

Gran Via: To get a sense of the city, walk along this major thoroughfare which leads from Calle de Alcalá, close to Plaza de Cibeles to Plaza de España. It’s the city’s “Broadway boulevard” home to theater, restaurants, taverns, and fashion.

Plaza Mayor: This portico-lined square is right in the heart of the city’s oldest districts. The symmetrical layout is ringed by three-story residential buildings with 237 wrought iron balconies. The plaza plays host to numerous events, art shows and holiday markets and is a welcome open-air space amidst Madrid’s many bustling streets.

Las Tablas Flamenco: Flamenco is Spain’s most famous dance and is known around the world for its energy, colorful costumes, and artistry. Purchase tickets in advance for one of the many shows on offer, some including dinner or a drink.Madrid, Spain

Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum: From Impressionism to avant-garde, this museum features abstract and figurative art, 17th century Dutch masters, and 19th century American classics. It’s part of the “Golden Triangle,” which also includes the Prado and the Reina Sofia national galleries.

Reína Sofa Museum: One of Europe’s most interesting contemporary art collections, this museum houses the “Guernica,” Picasso’s creation for the 1937 Paris Exposition.  Most likely his most famous work, it’s a powerful political statement painted as an immediate reaction to the Nazi’s devastating bombing on the Basque town of Guernica. It has become a reminder of the tragedies of war and a symbol of the hope for peace.

El Retiro Park: Contained in this vast green oasis you’ll find a bevy of sculptures, monuments, lush lawns, and an artificial lake with row boats for hire. Rent a bicycle and pedal around the plentiful paths and check out the Glass Palace a beautiful cast iron pavilion built in 1887 to house exotic flora for an exhibition on the Philippines.

Prado: The crown jewel of the city is celebrating its 200th anniversary this year. Lining its walls are masterpieces from Spanish, Italian and Flemish schools.  Make time to view Dutch artist Bosch’s “The Garden of Earthly Delights” and the “Haywain Triptych” famous for the dreamlike universes they depict.  Short on time?  Focus on famed Spanish painters, El Greco, Velázquez, and Goya. Our tour with an historian from “The Real Thing” gave us an insidery view and an amazing lesson in art appreciation.

The Royal Palace: Although it is not the official residence of his Majesty the King of Spain (they live in Zarzuela Palace on the outskirts of Madrid), this palace hosts state ceremonies, official banquets, and state functions.  This majestic building is open every day as a museum except when ceremonies are held. Housed within is an extensive collection of paintings, sculptures, weapons, musical instruments and decorative arts (most notable is the porcelain room).  Of particular interest to my cellist son: two violins, one viola, and one violoncello all made by Stradivarius for Charles III. Madrid & Beyond’s excellent guide gave us plenty of insight to the life of the Bourbon kings who called this grand palace home.Madrid, Spain

Santiago Bernabéu Stadium: Home to Real Madrid (thirteen-time winners of The European Cup) it is set to undergo a massive renovation to include a pedestrian zone, larger club shop, and museum. The self-guided tour takes you around the club’s most iconic spots including players’ dressing rooms, trophy collection, interactive exhibit, and of course the gift shop featuring plenty of “merch.”

EAT

Tapas tour: Hosted by Devour Tours, this tour connected us to the authentic cuisines and traditions that the city is most famous for.  For the uninitiated, tapas are those delectable hot and cold appetizers in Spanish cuisine – small portions that pack a flavorful punch, meant to be shared. In three hours, we sampled an endless variety of food and beverages from the family-run eateries and mom and pop shops that are at the heart of what makes Spain so unique… and delicious!

Churros San San Ginés: There’s one reason to visit this café and that is for its famous chocolate con churros (hot chocolate and churros). It’s open 24 hours so visit day or night, or multiple times!

Mercado de San Miguel: Arrive hungry and stroll the aisles of this beautiful historic market and take a gastronomic tour of Spain: Iberian ham, Galicia seafood, Basque cheese, Asturian Cider, and much more.

Madrid, Spain

Lateral: This restaurant group’s six locations offer a mix of traditional tapas and modern cuisine with outdoor seating with heaters for cooler nights. Try the gazpacho, fresh tosta de salmon con brie, las croquetas de jamón, and albóndigas (meatballs).

Madrid, SpainLa Casa del El Abuelo: A traditional pocket-size family tavern in business since 1906, it means “grandfather’s house” in Spanish. The secret to their long success? Prawns. Perfectly prepared in garlic with a side of freshly baked bread, served with a glass of sweet Alicante red wine.

La Mallorquina: Since 1884, this bakery’s glass display cases have been filled with delectable handmade pastries and cakes. Need a break from touring? Head upstairs to their small dining room where you can enjoy your treats to order with a café con leche or a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice. Our favorite? Hands down, the perfectly flaky, crunchy and sweet Napolitana de Chocolate.Madrid, Spain

SHOP

Antigua Casa Talavera: The handmade Spanish ceramics crafted here hail from several regions of the country: Talavera, Toledo, Valencia, Granada, and Seville. Pick up brightly hewed Sangria pitchers, dinnerware, tea sets, plates, vases and tiles depicting scenes of Spanish life: bullfights, dancers, and folklore.

Taller Puntera: This store doubles as a workshop where reasonably priced handmade leather goods are crafted. Artisans work in a rainbow array of leather colors and textures.

Salamanca Neighborhood: Madrid’s northeastern district is a quiet but upscale neighborhood with plenty of chic dining options, historic architecture, and international high-end retailers. Calle de Serrano, Calle de Goya, and Calle de Velásquez are considered the most exclusive streets of the entire city and showcase beautiful 19th century buildings with delicate facades.

Il Corte Inglés:  Spain’s largest department store features an extensive selection of men’s and women’s fashion including Spanish brands like Bimba Y Loa, Jocavi and Cuplé. On the top floor visit the Gourmet Experience for a selection of foodie souvenirs like olive oil and vermouth.Madrid, Spain

Madrid, SpainNeed help putting together your bucket-list trip or dream vacation?
Email me: mollie@herrickstravel.com, and find out about upgrades, special amenities, and VIP service for Herricks Travel American Express/Altour customers.

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Madrid at dusk photo credit: Florian-Wehde

Best of Seville

Best of Seville

Seville’s rich heritage results from the melding of a myriad of cultures including Phoenician, Roman, Visigoth, Arab, and Jewish. Located in southwestern Spain, Seville is a 2.5-hour train ride from Madrid or a 1.75-hour flight from Barcelona. Birth place of Flamenco, the city is also the inspiration for countless operas including Carmen, Don Giovanni and The Barber of Seville. Its architecture weaves Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque styles into a colorful and vibrant tapestry. Seville straddles the Guadalquivir River with walk-able bridges connecting the historic city center with the lively Triana neighborhood.

Typically narrow Sevillian street

Food is a main attraction – a mix of traditional and more innovative cuisine can be found in every corner. Tapas is the hallmark and each establishment proudly puts its heart and soul into its own specialties. With an excellent year-round climate, take advantage of plenty of outdoor dining on terraces and in hidden courtyards. Nightlife in Seville has its own special charms – the restaurants and bars spill out their patrons into the many squares that dot the city. It’s easy to join in on the vibrant lifestyle and “alegría de vivir.”

After a day of sightseeing, there’s plenty of shopping along charming cobblestone streets and picturesque winding passages. Pedestrian-only areas offer an eclectic mix of popular Spanish brands (Zara, Mango, Desigual), international retailers, and local artisans selling ceramics, olive oil, chocolate, orange blossom fragrances, flamenco fashion, leather goods, musical instruments, and embroidery. As you wander the city’s endless, twisting streets, Google Maps often proves useless—bustling streets quickly lead to petite passageways barely the width of a sidewalk and not easily tracked by any app. But, wander you must, since this is the best way to embrace Seville’s hidden treasures.

VISIT

Museo del Baile Flamenco:
Located in an eighteenth-century building, learn about the origins and evolution of Flamenco, the different categories of this passionate dance, and witness the passionate artistry live in a nightly show.

Barrio de Triana:
On the west bank of the river, this neighborhood has many beautiful churches including the Chapel of the Sailors. Famous for its pottery, pay a visit to the Triana Ceramic Centre, housed in a former ceramics factory.

Seville, Spain

Plaza de Toros:
The most important bullring in the country has a capacity of 13,000 seats. Not up for a bullfight? Visit the museum with an array of sculptures, costumes, and bullfighting paintings on display.

Catedral de Santa Marìa de la Sede:
This is the largest Gothic church in the world and the third largest after the Vatican’s St. Peter’s Basilica. Built on the site of the Almohad Mosque, remains of this mosque are still preserved in its minaret, symbol of the city. Head to the top for excellent views of the city.

Real Alcázar:
The oldest palace in Europe, it remains a royal residence where Spain’s royal family stays when visiting Seville. It’s actually a group of palaces and gardens built in different eras dating back to the tenth century. Watch Game of Thrones (The Water Gardens of Dorne), or the movie Knight & Day for scenes filmed here.)Seville, Spain
Seville, SpainSanta Cruz District & San Bartolomé District:
These districts make up the city’s old Jewish quarter. Wander through lovely squares like Plaza de Doña Elvira, Plaza de la Alianza and Plaza de Santa Cruz. Visit the Interpretation Centre of the Jewish Quarter: a permanent exhibit which reveals the legends of the Sephardic community that inhabited this quarter.

Archive of the Indies:
In 1795 by order of King Carlos III, all documents relating to the discovery of America were collected and stored in this Renaissance building where 43,000 files are kept.

Roman Columns:
Where Aire Street and Marmoles Street meet, there are three famous Roman columns that belonged to a second century temple built by Hadrian. (During our stay at Palacio Marmoles, we walked by this historic site almost daily.)

Pretty Plaza de España mixes Renaissance and Moorish styles

Maria Luísa Park:
Over 340,000 square meters, it was the headquarters of the Latin American Exhibition of 1929. The main attraction is the Plaza de España with its gorgeous brick and ceramic panels.  In the avenues adjacent to the park are the pavilions of the countries that participated in the exhibition including America, Argentina, Guatemala, Brazil, Columbia, Mexico, Morocco, Peru, Chili, Uruguay, and Portugal. (Star Wars fans, you will recognize Plaze de España from Attack of the Clones— it’s where Anakin and Padmé arrive on Nadoo.)

Torre del Oro:
This stone tower, dating back to the thirteenth century, houses the Naval Museum which documents the nautical history of Seville, an important inland port.Seville, Spain

Easter Week:
The main festival of the city, it melds together rituals, arts, and celebrations. Sixty religious brotherhoods parade and proceed throughout the city streets in this season of penance. Easter Sunday begins the bullfighting season which lasts through October. Following Easter is the ever-popular April Fair, a colorful explosion of fiestas, parties… and dresses!

Hop on Hop Off Bus:
For a fun city tour on a double-decker bus, sign up for a one- or two-day ticket. (Your ticket will include some excellent complimentary walking tours throughout the city.)

EAT

La Azotea:
A collection of four tapas restaurants sprinkled throughout the city. All offer excellent food in an authentically local setting.

Laherre Restaurant:
This beautiful tapas restaurant is nestled in the courtyard of the Hotel Palacio Pinello. The setting is bright and minimalist – an nice escape from the hustle and bustle of the city streets.

Tapas Tour:
Can’t say enough about our amazing Devour Tours Tapas tour – a great way to get a truly authentic taste of the city. It’s a must for your Seville itinerary.


SHOP

Adolfo Dominguez:
This Spanish fashion designer has several locations throughout the city all offering simple but chic designs for men and women.

Il Corte Inglés:
Spain’s largest department store, there are two locations in Seville within blocks of each other. One focuses on home decor and housewares, the other features a gourmet food hall, and fashion and accessories for men and women including Spanish brands Bimba Y Lola, Jocavi, and Cuplé. On the top floor there’s a roof top restaurant with a bird’s eye view of the city.Seville, Spain

Mercado El Postigo:
Browse the airy courtyard of this gallery space which brings together a group of artisans selling hand-made jewelry, pottery, and fashion accessories.

Metropol Parasol:
This vaulted, looming wooden structure located at La Encarnacion Square was designed by the German architect Jürgen Mayer and nicknamed “the Mushrooms.” It has received a lot of attention (and criticism) for its avant-guarde design. Inside is the Central Market, featuring 40 different stalls with an array of merchandise: fruits, game meats, fish, seafood, pastries, and of course the famous hand sliced Jamón Ibérico – Iberian cured ham made from acorn and chestnut fed pigs.

Seville, SpainEl Galante:
Lovely men’s shirts, silk ties, and furnishings locally made and at affordable prices. Located nearby to Plaza de Jesus de la Pasion.

Convento Madre de Dios de la Piedada:
What beer is to Trappist Monks, sweets are to the Convent Sisters – baking fulfills their requirement of prayer and work, and doubles as a source of income. Wooden turnstiles create privacy and allows them to sell the sweets unseen. You might have to visit them daily since the pastries on offer change often. Many of the recipes hail from Jewish traditions since most convents housed Jewish women escaping persecution during the 15th century.

Seville, Spain

A lovely lunch at Hotel Alfonso XIII

STAY
Seville has no shortage of accommodations. To name just a few: the luxurious and iconic Hotel Alfonso XIII; the beautifully appointed and well located Gran Melia Colon; or for a unique stay, check into Palacio Marmoles, an apartment/hotel, originally an 18th century palace and private home, transformed into seven exquisite apartments each with well-equipped kitchens and lovely furnishings, and all with access to a rooftop terrace with views of the cathedral.

Need help putting together your bucket-list trip or dream vacation?
Email me: mollie@herrickstravel.com, and find out about upgrades, special amenities, and VIP service for Herricks Travel American Express/Altour customers.

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Travel Trends 2019

Travel Trends 2019

The recent New York Times Travel Show drew record crowds and participation: more than 32,000 attendees visited over 560 exhibitor booths and cultural displays representing 107 countries from across the globe. An annual weekend event, this public show packs in plenty of travel tips and inspiration to keep your wanderlust fulfilled far into the future. Here are some of the major takeaways and travel trends gleaned from the show’s industry seminars hosted at Manhattan’s Jacob Javits Convention Center:

New York Times Travel Show

What are the top destinations in the U.S.?
Not many surprises here, but plenty to put on your bucket list: Hawaii, Honolulu, Florida Keys, New York City, Washington D.C., New Orleans, Hilton Head, and Austin *

Top international destinations?
London, Paris, Rome, Venice, Florence, Barcelona, Dublin, Amsterdam, Madrid and Toronto *

Top hotel brands?
Hilton, Marriott, Holiday Inn, Hyatt *

Have children, will travel
Thirty-one percent of all trips taken include children. And, their opinions count! Among these traveling families, 77 percent say that their children influence the planning and 68 percent say their kids pick the destination. So, listen to those little ones.*

Heading to the U.K.?
Plan your trip around popular events like Glasgow’s Celtic Festival, a winter music festival featuring artists from around the globe and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the largest arts festival in the world. For the sports minded, the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox will square off at London Stadium in June — the series is part of a two-year plan to play across the pond. **

Bound for Berlin?
November 9th marks the 30-year anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Events focusing on the history of division, the struggle for freedom, and the process of reunification will occur throughout the year. **

New York Times Travel ShowFancy a trip to France?
June 6th marks the start of the 75th anniversary of the D-Day Landings and the Battle of Normandy, with plenty of opportunities to celebrate peace, liberty, and reconciliation. Plan a trip to follow in the footsteps of the “Greatest Generation.”**

Original Eats
No matter where you go, get off the beaten track and take the road less traveled to unique or off the radar restaurants — not just what’s featured on social media. A few gems: Al Pompiere and La Taverna dei Fori Imperiale in Rome and the Bras Group of restaurants in France. In Venice head to the islands of Lido or Burano to dine. In Amalfi, visit the bathhouse/restaurant at Fornillo Beach, located just outside of more populated Positano. **

Ready for a river cruise?
AmaWaterways is adding a new larger ship to its Danube cruises. And, their new itinerary in Portugal’s Douro Valley will bring you up close to this region, famous for its wine tasting. +

Big on Bleisure
More and more people are blending business with leisure activities on business trips. Piggybacking on a business trip itinerary can help save you money and time and is the best reward for your hard work.+

Small is BIG
Small cruise ships can visit smaller ports and take you to unique destinations. These itineraries also feature more intimate excursions often with VIP access or after hours visits that are blissfully crowd free providing for an experiential and meaningful vacation. +

New York Times Travel ShowThere’s an app for that
Technology can improve the guest experience by creating moments of delight and helping travelers use time more efficiently. The AmaWaterways app sends picture postcards home and keeps track of ports and last-minute itinerary changes. The Princess Cruise app is the new “walkie talkie” – it keeps families in touch while on board. (Plus, you can even order a pizza and have it delivered to your cabin!) The MY TSA app tracks airport security lines (And, check out their entertaining Instagram for pics of outrageous items found in carry-on luggage). But, while on tours, put the phone away, turn off devices, and take time to meet the people around you. This is the time to soak up experiences and escape from life’s fast pace.+

What matters most? Travel!
People give up on other things before they will give up on travel. Collect experiences, not things. We all want to escape the harsh realities of life and travel is just the ticket.+

And the most important takeaway of the Travel Show?
Travel Agents will save you time! Click here to see why.

Need help putting together your bucket-list trip or dream vacation?
Email me: mollie@herrickstravel.com, and find out about upgrades, special amenities, and VIP service for Herricks Travel American Express/Altour customers.

SMART PHONE SUBSCRIBERS: to view this complete article online and read my previous articles, use this link: uniquefamilytraveler.com.

To become a SUBSCRIBER and receive all of my latest articles right to your inbox, look for the “subscribe to this blog by email” box and then respond to the follow-up email.

For more information on my trip planning services, please click HERE.

Herricks Travel American Express/Altour

*Data provided by James Shillinglaw, Insider Travel Report
**Data provided by Kier Matthews, Classic Vacations; Celina Tavares, Tourismo de Portugal; Wanda Radetti, VisitCroatia; Elizabeth Minchilli, EatItaly App
+Data provided by James Shillinglaw, Insider Travel Report; Christine Duffy, Carnival Cruises; Kristin Karst, AmaWaterways; Jenniver Tombaugh, Tauck; Jackie Freedman, Nexion Travel; Lindsey Uuberroth, Preferred Hotels
Header photo courtesy of Valentin Antonucci; all others courtesy of New York Times Travel Show

 

Top Twelve Stockholm

Top Twelve Stockholm

Stockholm, Sweden’s capital, is often overlooked as a “can’t miss” destination, relegated to just one of numerous ports on a Northern European cruise itinerary. But, Stockholm is a city for all seasons and worthy of a longer stay.  Made up of 14 islands and 50 bridges, it’s an eclectic Nordic mix of nature and culture easily explored on foot. To truly experience all this dynamic city has to offer, several days are required. Check out my top twelve moments:

Stockholm City lights

Stocjholm Changing of the GuardCatch the Changing of the Guard: This daily ceremony is held at the Royal Palace, one of the largest in Europe. This 18th century baroque style residence also houses five museums. Visit the Armory with its stately royal costumes, armor, and coronation carriages. Or go below ground to the Museum Tre Kronor housed in the cellars – it tells the story of what it took to defend the castle in ages gone by.

Stockholm ChristmasEmbrace Gamla Stan’s Medieval Glory: Founded in 1251, Gamla Stan is the Old Town and the heart of the city. Its pedestrian-friendly, narrow cobblestone winding streets are lined with historic colorful buildings in shades of crimson and ochre. (Marten Trotzigs street is the most narrow – less than three feet wide!) Browse authentic souvenir shops or enjoy lunch in a cozy local tavern. In summer take a seat in the city’s oldest square, Stortoget, a lively meeting spot. In winter, it transforms into a enchanting storybook setting with festive lights and snow underfoot.

Visit the Vasa: a maritime museum located on the island of Djurgarden. The main feature? The Vasa, an almost fully intact 17th century 64-gun warship. In 1628 on her maiden voyage, the 69-metre ship sank right in the heart of Stockholm harbor. After 333 years on the seabed, the massive warship was salvaged and basically raised from the dead. To keep it from decomposing, it is now contained within a humidity-controlled space.

Turn back time at Skansen: Wander the world’s largest open-air museum and discover Swedish customs, culture and celebrations on the green island of Djurgarden. To preserve the history of Sweden, 150 houses and structures were brought from all over the country and preserved here. Spring and summer brings outdoor concerts and performances; winter brings holiday markets and festive entertainment. There are child friendly activities including a Children’s Zoo and Aquarium.Stockholm, Sweden

Settle into SoFo: The bohemian island/neighborhood of Södermalm is a city within the city. Head to SoFo (South of Folkungagatan) to sample a lovely mix of independent stores, vintage shops, pubs, cafes, and plenty of nightlife.

Must eat Meatballs: Anyone who has shopped at Ikea knows Sweden’s obsession with meatballs. But, you have never tasted the most divine and flavor packed specimens found only in Stockholm. Made from whatever is in season – veal, pork, or wild boar – the side dishes are just as important: pickles and tart lingonberries, the perfect compliment to the rich and creamy brown sauce. Try Pelikan, the Stockholm classic in Sodermalm. Theirs are dense, extra-large, light on ingredients but heavy on flavor. With a side of mashed potatoes, it’s the perfect meal!Stockholm, Sweden

Take the Tunnelbana: The subway is a great way to get around the city and since 1950, artists have turned this underground system into a giant urban art installation. Sculptures, paintings, mosaics, and cave-like features transform transit into an event. Buy a 24-hour or single use ticket valid for 75 minutes. (Note: the Blue Line is the most colorful.)

Walk in the footsteps of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: Fans of the psychological crime thriller series written by famed Swede Stieg Larsson, will appreciate a walking tour of Lisbeth Salander’s and Mikael Blomkvist’s many neighborhood haunts.  Watch the films before you go—the Swedish versions are even more moody and noirish than the Hollywood incarnations.

Ride a coaster with a view: Gröna Lund amusement park offers just enough entertainment to keep the younger members of your family engaged.  The thirty rides come with a view of the surrounding harbor and islands. In the summertime, outdoor musical concerts are an added attraction.

Walk in and dance out of the Abba Museum: The music! The clothing! The lyrics! Admit, it, you cannot NOT be hooked by the sound and sight of this famous Swedish Pop band, well deserving of its own, pleasantly interactive exhibition.

Get smart at the Noble Museum: This petite museum celebrates big ideas: winners of the most prestigious prize in the world named for Swedish inventor and engineer, Arthur Noble. Remember, ideas can change the world: “The courage, creativity and persistence of the Nobel Laureates inspires us and gives us hope for the future.”

Stockholm, Sweden

Hot or cold, a Fika fits in any time of year

Finally…take a Fika Break: It’s difficult to translate, but basically it means meeting up for a coffee and a piece of yummy cake or pastry. It’s a Swedish thing, part of everyday life, and everywhere you go you will find cafes with plenty of character, but absolutely no to-go cups. Fika’s function? To take a moment to slow down and appreciate the good things in life.  We could all use a little more Fika.

Need help putting together your bucket-list trip or dream vacation?
Email me: mollie@herrickstravel.com, and find out about upgrades, special amenities, and VIP service for Herricks Travel American Express/Altour customers.

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Header photo courtesy of: Ola Ericson/www.stockholmsfoto.se

Best Day Trips from London

Best Day Trips from London

My recent article, London Best Bets, highlighted what to do, see, and eat in this amazing town on the Thames. If you have a few extra days in your itinerary, consider a day trip outside the city. There’s plenty to explore within a few hours radius with transportation by private tour, rail, bus, or group tour:

Bath, England, United Kingdom

The Roman Baths, constructed in 70AD as a grand socializing and bathing complex

Stonehenge & Bath:
Built over 5000 years ago, the story behind this famous Mesolithic-period monument is still up for debate. The unique stone circle is aligned with the movements of the sun and was created by a sophisticated pre-historic people. Leave extra time to visit the newly renovated Visitor Center chock full of archaeological treasures. Afterwards, head to Bath a lovely countryside town well known for its stately 18th-century Georgian architecture (like the sweeping Royal Crescent) and Roman Spa and springs that still flow with natural hot water. Combined, a visit to Stonehenge and Bath will be a full-day excursion.

 

Hampshire:
A county on England’s southern coast, about an hour from London, Hampshire is well known for picturesque villages, manor house hotels, golfing, biking, equestrian, and outdoor sports steeped in history like fly-fishing and clay shooting. It’s your country home away from home. Even if you’re not a “Downton Abbey” fan, Highclere Castle, the massive, real life home of the 8th Earl & Countess of Carnavon is worth a visit. Satisfy your inner “Indian Jones” with a visit to the castle’s lower level – the Egyptian Exhibit displays King Tut’s artifacts discovered 100 years ago by the 5th Earl of Carnavon and archaeologist Howard Carter.

Hampton Court Palace, England

Hampshire’s lovely countryside, tailor made for biking

.

 

Highclere Castle, England

Highclere Castle, the real life Downton Abbey

Hampton Court Palace:
It’s easy to spend hours exploring the rooms of this historic royal Tudor/Baroque palace on the Thames plus the added attraction of 60 acres of formal gardens with lush topiary, privy gardens, and hedge maze. Go in the spring to witness one million flowering bulbs.

Hampton Court Palace, England

Hampton Court Palace’s gorgeous gardens

Stratford-upon-Avon:
This medieval market town in the West Midlands, is most noted as the 16th century birthplace of The Bard, William Shakespeare. Take in a play at the Royal Shakespeare or Swan Theatre; visit Anne Hathaway’s house (his wife, not the American actress); climb to the top of the Theatre Tower; or have a pint in one of the many pubs.

Oxford:
Located northwest of London, this quaint city revolves around the prestigious 12th century university composed of 38 colleges. If the weather is good, take a biking or walking tour. Want to pair your educational excursion with a bit of retail therapy? Check out nearby Bicester Village Outlet Shopping home to 130 fashion and lifestyle boutiques.

Cotswolds:
Not far from Oxford, explore this region of quintessential English villages and lively market towns. It’s brimming with natural beauty any time of year. Rent the Kate Winslet/Jude Law rom-com The Holiday for the best travelogue.  If you are not short on time, visit Blenheim Palace, and get lost in this proverbial country manor home which just happens to be the birthplace of Winston Churchill. The grounds have been featured in numerous Hollywood flicks including Mission Impossible, Spectre, and Harry Potter.

Cambridge:
Located north of London, this college town is home to the legendary university founded in 1209. Take a walking tour and soak up some of that knowledge and be inspired by the many museums, galleries, and majestic college buildings. Science, math, and history buffs know there is no shortage of Hollywood biopics filmed here honoring the lives of famous Cambridge alums: The Theory of Everything (Steven Hawking), The Man who knew Infinity (Srinvasa Ramnujan), and The King’s Speech (King George VI).

Windsor Castle’s Long Walk

Windsor:
One of three official residences of the Queen, it’s the largest inhabited castle in the world. Time your visit to see the changing the guard; view the State Apartments; and gaze at St. George’s Chapel which recently hosted the wedding seen ‘round the world: the marriage of Prince Harry and Princess Meghan Markle.

Warwick Castle:
Built by William the Conqueror in 1068, this Renaissance castle pairs well with a visit to nearby Stratford-upon-Avon.  The castle offers medieval-age appropriate crowd pleasers like jousting tournaments and plenty of child friendly activities including Falconer Displays, Adventure Maze, and the Hall of Armor.

Making of Harry Potter:
No London day trip list is complete without the Warner Bros. Studio Tour, a permanent exhibit which displays an authentic behind the scenes look into all things Harry Potter. The studio tour explores two sound-stages and a back-lot filled with original sets, animatronic creatures and plenty of special effects. Interactive activities will put you into the action, with opportunities to purchase a frothy cup of Butterbeer, of course!Hampton Court Palace, England

Need help putting together your bucket-list trip or dream vacation?
Email me: mollie@herrickstravel.com, and find out about upgrades, special amenities, and VIP service for Herricks Travel American Express/Altour customers.

 

SMART PHONE SUBSCRIBERS: to view this complete article online and read my previous articles, use this link: uniquefamilytraveler.com.

To become a SUBSCRIBER and receive all of my latest articles right to your inbox, look for the “subscribe to this blog by email” box and then respond to the follow-up email.

For more information on my trip planning services, please click here.

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London Best Bets

London Best Bets

When’s the best time of year to visit London? Anytime! Summer is warm and there are plenty of parks and markets worth exploring. Autumn is mild — as the mercury goes down, the holiday decorations go up. Although Winter has the coolest temps, it’s not uncomfortably cold and the post-holiday weeks are a great time to shop sales. Spring can be a mix of sun and rain, but there’s plenty of indoor and outdoor pursuits to pick from.

My past articles included London’s Top Ten, Twenty-two Top Shops, and 18 Favorite Places to Eat.  After a recent trip with my son, I am inclined to add to my never-ending London to-do list. Planning a trip over the pond? Put a few of these items on your itinerary:

VISIT

Exhibition Road: Home to numerous cultural institutions, this South Kensington “Museum Mile” includes Royal Albert Hall, Natural History Museum, and the Victoria & Albert Museum. Our favorite? The Science Museum – on display are 5,000 years of innovation; it’s STEM on steroids!  Check out tech treasures like the Apollo 10 Command Module and the Enigma Machine. Visit the IMAX Theatre, hands-on Wonderlab, and a well-stocked book/gift shop.

Borough Market, London

Seafood abounds at Borough Market

Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre:  Although a reconstruction of the Elizabethan era theatre, it’s very true to the original. Located Bankside (near the Tate), tours include access to the underground Exhibition Space.  Plan ahead and book tickets for outdoor performances in the Globe and inside the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse.

Borough Market: This 1000-year old food market features endless stalls of fresh produce, fish & seafood, confectionery, cured meats, oils & vinegars, spices & preserves, and a multitude of bars and restaurants. After filling your shopping bag (and your stomach), take a leisurely walk over the London Bridge.

Greenwich:  This borough of London, located on the southside of the Thames, is well known for its maritime history. Visit the Cutty Sark (the restored 10th-century ship), the National Maritime Museum, and the Old Royal Naval College (home to one of the greatest baroque ceilings in Britain). The Royal Observatory overlooks Greenwich Park, and is the site of the famed Prime Meridian Line, which marks Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) and divides the Eastern and Western Hemispheres.

Greenwich Obervatory

Straddle east and west at the Prime Meridian

The Royal Institution (Ri): Founded in 1799 with the aim of introducing new technologies and connecting people to the world of science, Ri houses the Faraday Museum (in honor of the British scientist and his discoveries in the fields of electromagnetism). This petite, lower level exhibition celebrating the achievements of Ri members (many of them Nobel Prize winners), packs a powerful punch, especially for science lovers like my kids.

Small Car, Big City: If you love classic cars, the iconic ’60’s movie “The Italian Job,” or just want to see the city from a unique perspective, book one of these bespoke Mini Cooper tours. Two-hour to full day themed tours include Hidden Gems, Street Art, Beatles, Harry Potter, or Landmarks of London. Your adorable vehicle (and driver!) will meet you right at your hotel’s doorstep.

Small Car, Big City, London

Zoom around the streets of London in a classic Mini Cooper

SHOP

Twining’s: The oldest tea shop in London, this 300-year old flagship features premium teas from ‘round the world. It’s also one of the city’s narrowest shops – only twelve feet wide! Sample the flavors at the Loose Tea Bar or sign up for a Masterclass. There’s also freshly ground coffee for java addicts.

Maille Boutique, London

Maille Boutique

Maille Boutique London: At the entrance to Piccadilly Arcade, inside this corner store, lies rows and rows of France’s finest condiments. Pick from mustards, vinegars, chutneys, cornichons (those cute, miniature flavor-packed pickles) and more. Did I mention there are free samples?

Sainsbury Supermarket: No matter where we travel, we always wind up in a supermarket. It’s a great place to pick up affordably priced souvenirs and stock up on favorite local delicacies.  The condiment aisle is my favorite of course: we grab bottles of Belazu vinegar (it has a distinct thickness and texture) and delicious mango and plum chutneys and can’t leave without Cadbury Milk Chocolates (they’re sooo much creamier than the U.S. version!)  Just remember, put all liquids in checked luggage, not your carry on!

EAT

Afternoon Tea at the Dorchester: Served in The Promenade, the hotel’s lobby restaurant, this proverbial English tradition is worth the splurge. Sink into plush couches surrounded by gilded marble columns and lush potted plants, and indulge in a delightful meal of tea, champagne, and the savoriest finger sandwiches — smoked salmon, egg, chicken, prawn and cucumber. Next comes warm scones with glistening strawberry jam and Devonshire clotted cream and finish off with a tiered platter of cakes and tartlets. (And, unlike the Ritz’s Tea, no jackets required.)

Afternoon Tea at the Dorchester

There’s always time for Tea

Momo: Entering this West End restaurant is like stepping into a Moroccan Souk with its lush fabrics and decor. The menu is a North African/Mediterranean mashup: couscous, lamb tagine with pears and plums, and fresh mint tea.

Sakagura: Located in Mayfair, this Japanese Restaurant has an amazing Sake Bar. Try one of their Sake cocktails — my favorite, their Mojito with fresh mint and pomegranate. The restaurant is just steps off Regent Street on pedestrian-friendly Heddon Street, also home to the Ice Bar.

Yautcha: A member of the Hakkasan Restaurant Group, this contemporary dim sum house in Soho features a modern interpretation of a traditional Chinese Tea House with the busy vibe of a Hong Kong eatery. Dishes are designed to share.

Padella: This affordably priced, pocket sized Italian cafe with an even smaller menu has THE best homemade pasta. It’s situated just on the perimeter of Borough Market. Try to get a seat at the bar to see the chefs in action as they whip up your order, pronto! No reservations but arrive before they open to keep the wait at a minimum.

Da Corradi: This long-standing, old-school Italian bistro tucked into Mayfair’s Shephard Market, has generous portions, friendly and efficient service, and cozy seating — it hit the spot, especially on a cool and rainy afternoon.

Need help putting together your bucket-list trip or dream vacation?
Email me: mollie@herrickstravel.com, and find out about upgrades, special amenities, and VIP service for Herricks Travel American Express/Altour customers.

SMART PHONE SUBSCRIBERS: to view this complete article online and read my previous articles, use this link: uniquefamilytraveler.com.

To become a SUBSCRIBER and receive all of my latest articles right to your inbox, look for the “subscribe to this blog by email” box and then respond to the follow-up email.

For more information on my trip planning services, please click here.

Herricks Travel American Express/Altour

Planning Perfect Multi-Generational Trips

Planning Perfect Multi-Generational Trips

A multi-generational trip is an amazing way to create authentic, long lasting memories with your friends and family. But coordinating a multitude of individual needs and desires can overwhelm even the most intrepid traveler. Here are some tips to help make your vacation planning stress-free:

plan ahead:
The larger the group, the farther ahead the planning. Start at least a year in advance to give everyone ample time to arrange for vacation time away from work or school.

choose a leader:
Assign a point person who can represent the group, coordinate its needs and wants, and present vacation options based on an agreed upon set of parameters including price per person and length of trip.

call your travel agent:
Sure, there’s lots of travel advice online, but it’s so easy to experience information overload and wind up down the “internet rabbit hole.”  A travel agent (that’s me!) is a valuable resource and can suggest destinations, negotiate group rates, arrange complimentary amenities or upgrades, and organize your entire itinerary door to door. Need more convincing? Read my recent article “Top Twelve Reasons to use a Travel Agent.”

Grand Cayman

Resorts offer plenty of water-sports and beach activities to keep groups of all sizes happy

narrow the choices:
Discuss the needs of each traveler, including the kids and the teens, who usually have some genuine input and ideas. Do they favor city tours or country pursuits? Are they “Harry Potter” fans or “Beatlemaniacs”? Beach bums or adventure junkies? Foodies or fitness freaks? Remember, their opinions matter.

Maui, Hawaii

Woodcarving in Bali, Indonesia

Hands-on activities like wood-carving in Bali, will keep curious kids engaged

Guided group tours geared towards families (like Tauck’s Bridges Program) are a great option.  Or, consider a cruise or all-inclusive resort. Many offer children complimentary accommodations or at a reduced rate, and both offer plenty of activities that appeal to a wide range of age groups.  Private guided excursions in a van or minibus will bring everyone together and allow you to tailor sightseeing to everyone’s wishes, especially if individuals have physical limitations that need to be accommodated. Look for unique activities that will keep everyone engaged: a cooking class – think, pastries in Paris or pizza in Pisa; a Segway session in Seville; or London MINI-Cooper tour.

include some downtime:
Alone time is important – don’t expect family members to spend every waking moment together. Everyone can use a good afternoon nap no matter his or her age.

purchase trip insurance:
Comprehensive cancellation and medical coverage is crucial in the event of an emergency or unforeseen situation while away or back home, either prior to or during travel.

London, England

Book a MINI Cooper Tour and visit hidden gems of London in these classic cars

keep it fun!
Remember, the goal is being together with friends and family and taking time off from the busy lives we all live to enjoy some real (and electronic-free!) time together. Make it an unforgettable experience, and everyone will sign up for another trip, even before the first one has ended!

For more travel advice, check out my recent article: “Smart Traveler Tips” 

Need help putting together your bucket-list trip or dream vacation?
Email me: mollie@herrickstravel.com, and find out about upgrades, special amenities, and VIP service for Herricks Travel American Express/Altour customers.

SMART PHONE SUBSCRIBERS: to view this complete article online and read my previous articles, use this link: uniquefamilytraveler.com.

To become a SUBSCRIBER and receive all of my latest articles right to your inbox, look for the “subscribe to this blog by email” box and then respond to the follow-up email.

For more information on my trip planning services, please click here.

Herricks Travel American Express/Altour