12
Jun 2015
Isle of Scenery: 5 Eye-Filling Attractions on Isle of Man

Every year in late spring, nearly 50,000 bike enthusiasts descend on Isle of Man, drawn by the famous Tourist Trophy racing events. But if you want to enjoy untouched landscapes and undisturbed silence, avoid the island during the popular bike fest. Instead, opt for an Isle of Man vacation that offers you a chance to discover some of the least spoiled and quietest places in the world amidst its lush valleys and rolling hills.

1. Manx Electric Railway

Old Laxey by: diamond geezer (CC)

To see the British coastline in a comfortable and stress-free manner, include the Manx Electric Railway on your Isle of Man itinerary. This popular tramway line connects the island capital Douglas with Laxey in the east and Ramsey in the north, passing through areas of outstanding natural beauty. The longest narrow-gauge electric railway in Britain, this system uses original Victorian and Edwardian tram cars. The railway covers about 27 km (17 mi) and offers views of the picturesque Manx countryside stretching outward to the sea. Along the way you can take a break at more than 60 official stops, providing plenty of opportunities to hop off and explore some of the island’s glens and villages on your own.

2. Summerhill Glen

Bay half way up Woodhall Lochby: Kirsty Smith (CC)

Easily accessible from the center of Douglas, the verdant Summerhill Glen features a network of wide footpaths along bubbling streams and through verdant groves of native trees and shrubs. Developed in the 1930s as part of a “work for the workless” government program, the glen has long been a popular destination for school trips and motorcycle trial events. A growing number of foreign visitors add this natural area to their Isle of Man trip planners, drawn by the glen’s picturesque setting and tranquil atmosphere. Join local birdwatchers for a morning stroll, or stop by in the evening, when dramatic lighting effects illuminate the glen’s meandering footpaths.

3. Groudle Glen Railway

Annie and train at Sea Lion Rocks, Groudle Glen Railway
by: Rob Phillips (CC)

Operated by a small group of rail enthusiasts, the Groudle Glen Railway allows you to easily explore the island’s picture-perfect eastern coastline. Initially constructed to serve a local zoo complex, the railway stopped operating in the 1960s and remained largely forgotten for more than two decades. Restored in the 1980s, the line quickly gained enormous popularity for its route that traverses a small glen just north of Douglas. At the end of the line you can stop at a small visitor center and tea room, which offers light snacks and unbeatable views of the sea.

4. Road of the Gull

Raad ny Foillan (Road of the Gull), Maughold
by: Chris Gunns (CC)

If you’re looking for some outdoorsy things to do on Isle of Man, try exploring at least a small part of the rugged Road of the Gull. The coastal path circles the entire island, covering approximately 145 km (90 mi). Start your walk in lively Douglas and then wend your way through colorful fishing villages and secluded nature reserves on the island’s coastline. As you walk across the mixed terrain of high clifftops and sandy beaches, listen to the sounds of native birds soaring above the clear blue sea. To meet the locals and taste some island cuisine, detour to one of the village pubs located near the path.

5. Glen Maye National Glen

Glen Maye by: James Stringer (CC)

Situated near a small village on the island’s western coastline, the lush Glen Maye National Glen remains best known for its waterfall and sheltered woodland walk leading to a small beach. Increasingly popular with cyclists, hikers, and birdwatchers, this area still includes sections of an ancient forest that once covered the entire island. The glen supports a lush ecosystem of ashes, sycamores, and elms, as well as several plant species not found anywhere else on the island, including wood vetch and hairy brome. Bring binoculars if you wish to spot hawks and fulmars nesting in the cliffs at the bottom of the glen.

The Island of Unspoiled Nature

While many people come to Isle of Man for its motorcycle races, mass tourism and commercialism really have no place in this paradise of pristine natural areas. Skip the roar of the engines and opt to visit when you can get the most out of this lovely retreat.

10
Jun 2015
Summer in the City: Top 5 Things to Do in London

London summers may be short, but the city offers plenty to see and do to fill up a few hours or an entire week in Britain’s capital. Visit London in the summertime and discover the following warm-weather attractions.

1. Trafalgar Square

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Trafalgar Square by: S Pakhrin (CC)

Though you can certainly visit Trafalgar Square any time of the year, summer makes this city landmark all the more attractive. Just north of Charing Cross, the square marks the center of the city and features the famous monument to Lord Horatio Nelson, whose distinguished service in the Napoleonic Wars earned him the reputation of one of the country’s most heroic historical figures. During the warmer months the popular square offers everything from film screenings and dance demonstrations to community gatherings and political events. A number of statues and sculptures permanently decorate the square, with one plinth left intentionally empty in order to host regular art exhibits. Check it out on a warm summer’s evening, and don’t forget to bring your camera.

2. Royal Botanic Gardens Kew

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The Palm House, Kew Gardens, London by: Jim Linwood (CC)
One of the most iconic garden complexes in all of Europe, the immense Royal Botanic Gardens Kew boast one of the largest collections of living plants in the world. Begun in 1759, the gardens now spread over a vast 120 hectares (300 acres) and include the world’s most comprehensive collection of orchids. Rightfully recognized as a World Heritage Site, the gardens can easily take an entire day to explore. Add this site to your London itinerary to discover over 30,000 kinds of plants, including many rare and exotic specimens. If you feel pressed for time, take a guided tour of the highlights, which include the world’s largest ornamental glasshouse and a 17th-century pagoda designed by architect William Chambers.

3. Highgate Cemetery

 
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Highgate Cemetery by: monkeywing (CC)
A standout among London’s famous “Magnificent Seven” cemeteries created in Victorian times, Highgate Cemetery remains known both for the people buried there as well as for its status as a protected nature reserve. The grounds serve as a final resting place for illustrious figures like Beryl Bainbridge and George Eliot. Split into two distinct parts, the cemetery covers over 20 hectares (50 acres) of atmospheric lanes and lavishly decorated Victorian crypts. The eastern side’s biggest attraction is the grave of Karl Marx, while the wilder western section offers a labyrinth of winding footpaths and ivy-clad tombstones accessible by guided tour only.

4. Hampstead Heath

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Kenwood House, Hampstead Heath by: Laura Nolte (CC)
Situated in north-central London, Hampstead Heath offers a staggering 320 hectares (790 acres) of public green spaces ideal for summertime recreational activities. Add the park to your London trip planner to take advantage of its swimming pools, children’s playgrounds, and extensive trails for cross-country running. Boasting the highest point in London, this giant park affords panoramic views of the city’s skyline from multiple lookouts. Be sure to tour the stately 17th-century Kenwood House, featuring a restored interior filled with important artwork. If you get tired of walking and sightseeing, grab a cup of tea and some cake at the park’s tearoom.

5. Regent’s Park

 
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Regent’s Park by: Paul Robertson (CC)
Once the favored hunting grounds of Henry VIII, the verdant Regent’s Park is now one of the most popular fine-weather spots for relaxation in London. Bordered by paved walking and cycling routes, the landscaped park was the brainchild of architect John Nash, who initially planned to use the area to build lavish palaces for the city’s wealthy aristocrats. The plan never quite came to fruition, but the park still contains many architectural gems, including numerous villas and terraces dotting the shores of an artificial ornamental lake. Bring a blanket and some light snacks for a picnic near the water, or head to the London Zoo, arguably the park’s biggest attraction.

A City of Scorching Summer Attractions

London boasts some of the world best galleries and museums, fine attractions for visiting on typically cold and rainy English days. But for an entertaining London holiday in the warmer months, be sure to include some of the city’s outstanding summer attractions, offering a heap of outdoor activities guaranteed to surprise and delight visitors of all ages.

08
Jun 2015
In the Know in Madrid: 5 Hidden Gems to Add to Your Plan

Spain’s cultural and political capital, Madrid offers plenty of things to do and see to keep you pleasantly busy and entertained during your vacation. For a memorable Madrid itinerary away from the tourist crowds, consider exploring some of the city’s hidden gems.

1. Museo Sorolla

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Museo Sorolla-Sale del Pintor by: juantiagues (CC)

If you’ve already explored Prado or simply wish to escape that museum’s long entry lines, head to Museo Sorolla, which offers a rewarding experience off the beaten path in Madrid. Dedicated to the life and career of Joaquin Sorolla, a celebrated Spanish painter known for his fine portraits and landscapes, the museum occupies a quiet mansion in which the artist created many of his best works. Sorolla designed the lush gardens surrounding the house, finding inspiration in the sun-kissed Mediterranean coastline he often painted. The mansion’s upstairs rooms contain a comprehensive collection of Sorolla’s works, including several of his famous Impressionist beach scenes.

2. Convent of the Royal Barefoot Nuns (Monasterios de las Descalzas Reales)

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Convent of the Royal Barefoot Nuns by: Brian Snelson (CC)

Founded in 1559 by the daughter of King Charles I of Spain and Queen Isabel of Portugal, the Convent of the Royal Barefoot Nuns sits inside a palace complex that once belonged to this imperial family. Many foreigners find the former palace’s exterior unpromising and skip this attraction altogether, missing the chance to see the convent’s collection of priceless artifacts. In addition to 33 chapels, the convent boasts masterpiece paintings, ornate tapestries, grand sculptures, and major religious relics. Highlights include works by artists Hans de Beken and Brueghel the Elder, along with a set of 17th-century tapestries woven in Brussels to designs made by Baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens. Because entry is by guided tour only, book your visit well in advance.

3. Museo del Aire

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Canadair CL-215T at Museo del Aire by: Barcex (CC)

A good alternative to the city’s historical sites and lavish mansions filled with artistic treasures, Museo del Aire features six exhibit galleries and houses about 150 aircraft. Located on the outskirts of the city, the museum occupies Spain’s first military airfield, which is now used for both indoor and outdoor displays. Add this attraction to your Madrid trip planner to see dozens of historic airplanes and helicopters, many of which previously served in the Spanish Air Force. A big draw for aviation enthusiasts, the museum also houses hundreds of miniature aircraft models, military uniforms, engines, and weapons. Look for the display of the famous de Havilland Dragon Rapide, which flew Francisco Franco from the Canary Islands to Spanish Morocco in 1936.

4. Paseo de la Castellana

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El Paseo de la Castellana by: Jose Manuel Segovia (CC)

Get a breath of fresh air and stretch your legs with a stroll down Paseo de la Castellana, one of the longest and widest avenues in Madrid. The tree-lined street serves as home to many government offices, international embassies, and banks, which help make this part of the city one of the most cosmopolitan neighborhoods in Spain. Look for souvenirs at the small shops located along the boulevard, or get the feel of the city at one of the terraced cafes frequented by locals living nearby.

5. Basilica de San Miguel

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Basilica de San Miguel-Madrid by: Federico Jorda (CC)

Frequently overlooked by casual tourists, Basilica de San Miguel remains one of Madrid’s little-known Baroque landmarks. Completed in 1745, the church features a convex facade rarely seen in Spain, along with statues of the four virtues and reliefs of Justo and Pastor, the patron saints of the city. Include the building in your Madrid tour to discover several major wood sculptures, including one by noted Baroque artist Luis Salvador Carmona.

The Secret Side of Madrid

Although you can find dozens of world-famous galleries, parks, squares, shops, and restaurants in Madrid, the city’s secret gems allow you to experience the quieter side of this busy urban center. Avoid the long lines and jostling crowds, and take a little time to visit some of Madrid’s less-explored churches, museums, and neighborhoods.

05
Jun 2015
48-Hour Amsterdam Itinerary
What to See and Do on a Weekend Stay

Regarded as one of the greatest small cities in the world, Amsterdam charms visitors with its cozy atmosphere, picturesque canals, green parks, and art-filled museums. For a short-yet-meaningful experience, visit the city on the weekend and explore some of its major sites and activities.

Saturday

9:30-11:30 AM: Vondelpark

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Vondelpark by: J. Kunst (CC)

Nearly 10 million visitors include Vondelpark in their Amsterdam tour planner, drawn by the park’s abundance of ponds, lawns, and winding footpaths. Often compared to New York City’s Central Park, this sprawling green area covers approximately 47 hectares (120 acres) and remains a vital part of Amsterdam’s urban experience. As you stroll with the family or ride a bike, look for a Surrealist sculpture of a giant fish, created in 1965 by Pablo Picasso. Frequent weekend activities at this location include music and dance performances at the open-air theater, as well as kid-friendly events at several play areas and large playgrounds.

12:30-3:30 PM: Rijksmuseum

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Rijksmuseum by: Dennis Jarvis (CC)

Housing masterpieces by some of the Netherlands’ most distinguished artists, Rijksmuseum boasts a huge collection of nearly 1 million objects, about 8,000 of which sit on display. Established in 1800, the museum occupies a majestic building combining elements of both Renaissance and Gothic architectural styles. Considered a masterpiece by architect Pierre Cuypers, the building preserves several centuries of art history and holds many of the finest paintings from the Dutch Golden Age. Walk through the museum’s “Hall of Fame” galleries to see works by Rembrandt, Ruisdael, Hals, Steen, and Vermeer. Avoid the biggest crowds by visiting after 3pm, when you can enjoy the galleries and sculpture gardens at your own unhurried pace.

4:00-5:30 PM: Anne Frank House

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Anne Frankhuis by: Amateur Photography by Michael (CC)

End your Saturday tour of the city at the Anne Frank House, a hugely popular historical attraction that receives approximately 1 million annual visitors. The secret attic where Anne wrote her wartime diary sits inside a 17th-century canal house at the very heart of the city and offers a powerful insight into a dark moment in European history. Indisputably one of city’s best-known sites, the melancholy house-museum displays Anne’s actual diary, a touching reminder of one girl’s optimism in the face of life’s harsh realities.

Sunday

10:00 AM-1:00 PM: Heineken Experience

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The Heineken Experience by: Arjan Richter (CC)

No Amsterdam itinerary can be complete without the Heineken Experience, a self-guided tour of a 19th-century brewery known globally for its Heineken pilsner. Designed to engage and entertain beer lovers from around the world, this tour allows visitors to walk through the industrial buildings where Heineken brewed its famous pilsner for well over a century. In addition to discovering the history of the Heineken family, you can also learn all about the process of pilsner brewing though a series of interactive multimedia displays. Go early to beat the crowds, and end your visit with a cold pint of the brewery’s famous beer.

2:00-4:00 PM: Prinsengracht

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Prinsengracht and Westerkerk by: Daryl Mitchell (CC)

If you need another outdoor thing to do in Amsterdam, consider spending part of your Sunday exploring the area along Prinsengracht, the longest and liveliest of the city’s main canals. The 17th-century waterway stretches for about 3.2 km (2 mi) and remains one of the city’s major landmarks. Well-preserved houses constructed during the Dutch Golden Age line the riverbanks, while the surrounding streets feature numerous shops, cafes, and historical buildings. The canal’s architectural highlights include the tallest church in Amsterdam, the city’s narrowest house, and one of the oldest cafes in this part of Europe. If you have time to spare, stop by the only houseboat museum in the world, located inside a former freighter built in 1914.

A Weekend Getaway in “Venice of the North”

A growing favorite with travelers looking for a brief but memorable holiday, Amsterdam offers plenty of weekend sites and activities guaranteed to fill up any visitor’s itinerary. Make your two-day visit unforgettable by exploring the city’s parks and museums, and make time to take a long walk along its canals, which offer an ideal place for getting the feel of this great European capital.