When planning a trip to a major European city, it’s only natural that one makes a long list of things they want to see and do. But perhaps it’s just as important to make time to see the city for what it really is, away from the big attractions and best-known sightseeing hotspots. After all, what makes a city special and what gives it its unique flavour is not to be found where the masses of tourists are, right?
When in Rome…
As the saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and when it comes to visiting the Eternal City, you’d do well to adopt a similar approach to absorbing as much character as possible from Italy’s captivating capital.If we’re talking about breath-taking architecture, history, culture and atmosphere, the ‘Eternal City’ is simply second to none. It really is the top of the list, so much so that the entire historical centre of the city is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. Such a vast amount and high standard of ‘things to see and do’ is actually quite overwhelming, but don’t panic!
Even if your stay is a short one, you can get so much out of the city, whatever you choose to do with your time. This is Italy, after all - relaxing with a coffee in any one of a thousand Piazzas, soaking up the atmosphere, a bowl of the Roman specialty Gnocchi Giovedi – these are things synonymous with a way of life that’s woven deeply into the fabric of Italian life. The Pantheon isn’t going anywhere, St. Peter’s Basilica will still be there in a couple of hours, so why not take a load off, find a nice table and order yourself a Frascati (wine from the local Lazio region, usually white) and watch the world go by.
The pick of the bunch would have to be the delightfully named Campo de’ Fiori (or the ‘field of flowers’ for those of us who’d have to say ‘Io non parlo Italiano’), situated on the eastern side of the Tiber in the rione Rigola, so named because this beautiful little square was once actually a meadow on the outskirts of the old city. A perfect setting for people-watching due to the fruit and veg market during the daytimes, or equally vibrant as an evening meeting spot for young couples or groups of friends in the cafes and bars. The Piazza’s centrepiece statue is that of Giordano Bruno, an astronomer and philosopher who met his grisly end by being burned at the stake for his heretical theories in this very square in 1600. Certainly something to think about over glass or two of wine at L’Angolo Divino, a wine bar with a real old Rome feel about it, offering not only a fantastic selection of local wines, but also platters of delicious salami, cheese and smoked fish.
If the hustle and bustle of the market leaves you wanting a little more quiet, just a short walk north is the ‘Caffe della Pace’, or ‘Peace Café, well known as a day- or night-time hangout for painters, sculptors, writers, poets and the like since the late 19th century. It ticks all the boxes for a place to sit, relax and enjoy a drink on the terrace in perfectly Roman surroundings, casually accompanied by the soundtrack of locals and foreigners alike, discussing art, literature, politics and anything in between.You could – and in an ideal world, should - spend literally months, or even years, visiting the incredible landmarks that Rome can offer to its visitors, but it would be a shame to steam through the city on a crazed mission to cram as much sightseeing as possible into your trip, at the expense of experiencing the Italian lifestyle at its best – taking the time to absorb the surroundings, the people, the flavour of Rome. Let Lufthansa show you how to enjoy this wonderful city like one of its residents would.
Paris, Je T’Aime!
Ahh, Paris, the city of light, love and an endless list of superlatives, but for good reason. Yes, the French metropolis has been described in infinite detail by pretty much every travel writer who ever picked up a pen, and the city itself boasts probably the world’s most recognizable landmarks. From the Notre Dame to the Champs-Élysées, you can barely turn a corner without coming across yet another astonishing example of grandiose Parisian architecture. So how do you even get started when you’re so spoilt for choice? By thinking like a Parisian, that’s how! And you won’t see many Parisians metro-hopping between five attractions in one day. Give your feet a rest, while you give your eyes, ears and taste buds something to think about as you get to know the city’s unique and captivating personality from the comfort of a bistro or pâtisserie.
As Jean Cocteau once famously put it: “In Paris everybody wants to be an actor, nobody is content to be a spectator”. What better place to lap up the everyday performances of the Parisian people than a market? The Rue Mouffetard, situated in the 5th Arrondissement (the name given to the districts of the city), is home to arguably Paris’ best street market, at the southern tip of the street. This is the real ‘old’ Paris – from your terrace seat on the cobbled street outside Le Vieux Chêne (at number 69) you can watch the Chefs from the local restaurants bartering with the farmers from out of town for the day’s ingredients. Le Vieux Chêne, incidentally, is thought to be Paris’ oldest bar, an institution on this street, still very popular with the locals, and holds informal jazz gigs on the weekends.
A quick trip north on the metro will land you in the 20th Arrondissement, just in time for a couple of evening drinks. La Cagnotte de Belleville (‘cagnotte’ means ‘kitty’) is a perfectly Parisian neighbourhood bar in Belleville, frequented by workers after a long day, alongside students and artists who may well have been nursing that same pastis all day long. Don’t expect to find a too chic and stylish place; this is a scruffy, lively bar and restaurant where you can soak up the lively chatter of real Parisians. As many people know, the French have a very strong sense of national identity, but even their fellow countrymen are not completely sure of what to make of the eccentric Parisians. All the more reason, in that case, to experience what Paris is like away from the renowned landmarks that the rest of the world knows inside out. Fly with Lufthansa to one of the world’s most iconic cities, not just for the remarkable attractions, but also for it’s remarkable citizens.
¡Bienvenidos a Madrid!
Madrid is a city perhaps best known for it’s world famous artistic and cultural heritage, and although it enjoys a little healthy rivalry with it’s Catalan neighbour, Madrid is up there with any other European capital in terms of atmosphere and mystique, as well as it’s mesmerizing architecture and globally celebrated museums. But unlike Rome and Paris, Madrid doesn’t have a standout monument, like the Eiffel Tower or the Colosseum. But it more than makes up for it with its passion for its way of life, which perhaps explains why Madrid is often described as the most Spanish of Spain’s cities.Perhaps the best way to get acquainted with the Spanish sensibility of the Madrilleños is to start at El Rastro, Europe’s biggest flea market. Yes, there are a fair few tables full of the usual junk, but this is a gigantic market that’s been going for half a millennium. The market is frequented by literally all walks of life looking for all kinds of bargains. Situated just south of La Latina metro station, El Rastro is held every Sunday and on public holidays. Every once in a while, believe it or not, an original Picasso or Goya turns up buried amongst the cheap clothes and antiques.
As well as the excellent Tapas stalls around here, you’ll also find yourself drawn to the rich, hypnotic aroma of chocolate – that’s Churros, a Spanish delicacy consisting of a kind of long, thin doughnut that you dip into hot chocolate. The Chocolateria San Gines is a short walk up the Calle del Toledo, and is famous with city’s residents for it’s excellent Churros.
But if you’re not feeling up to the clutter of the market, one of Madrid’s lesser-known squares is the Plaza de Olavide, or ‘people’s plaza’. In the heart of the Camberí neighbourhood, this is a square that isn’t especially touristy, and a great place to enjoy some typical Spanish food at one of the many fantastic restaurants and cafes around the outside of the Plaza, or just to sit on the benches in the middle by the fountain, and watch the world go by, the children playing on the swings, the elderly but stylish Spanish women chatting the whole day through, secluded from the busy Calle de Fuencarral shopping street a block away.
If indeed you are hungry for some authentic Spanish Tapas, the Sagaretxe restaurant just to the north of the Plaza is highly regarded by locals and visitors alike.You’d be missing out if you didn’t visit Madrid’s wealth of Museums, art galleries, grandiose palaces and majestic boulevards, but it’s equally worth your time to take in a sense of the everyday here in the Spanish capital. Let Lufthansa help you on your way to discovering Madrid from the perspective of the real Madrilleños.
Ambling around Amsterdam
Just like any other major European capital city, Amsterdam is not short of tired clichés, but it doesn’t take a genius to see past such stereotypes and discover that Amsterdam isn’t just a stunningly picturesque ‘Venice of the north’, but also a city that prides itself on its culture, creativity and innovation, and incredibly friendly citizens that make it such a popular destination for all kinds of visitors.As many people know, Amsterdam is a big friend of the bicycle, so if you really want to experience the city like a local, your best start would be to rent a bike from any one of the thousands of bike shops that offer a hire service. But if you don’t want to stand out as a tourist with brightly painted adverts for your bike hire establishment written in garish colours across your handlebars, you can’t do better than going to Bike City, situated in the trendy Jordaan neighbourhood. They pride themselves on ‘camouflaging’ the visitor with a very normal-looking city bike, so you’ll blend in just like a local. They also claim to be the ‘friendliest bike shop in Amsterdam’. No surprise, then, that the service is very good.
If meandering about on a bike isn’t really your cup of tea, don’t panic - this city is just as good for walking, and the public transport is very extensive and affordable, with trams, busses, the metro and ferries to choose from, you can get around with a minimum of fuss.
Amsterdam has a truly excellent selection of museums, and the entire historic city centre is very beautiful and largely unchanged since the 19th century. But if the name of the game is avoiding the tourist hotspots, there are a few things to avoid if you don’t want to get mixed up with big groups of stag parties and boisterous partygoers. That said, Amsterdam is a huge city, and there is plenty of space to cater for all its visitors.
A nice way to get acquainted with the city would be to have a stroll down the Haarlemmerstaat, also in the Jordaan district. It’s ostensibly a shopping street, but unlike the main shopping street in town, the Kalverstraat, instead of all the big name commercial shops you can find in any city, here you can peruse smaller independent shops, cafes and grocery markets. It’s busy, but considering its location, not too busy, and a lot of ‘Amsterdammer’ hang out here, day and night. You may have noticed the abundance of divine-looking cakes and pastries around the city, and if you’ve got a bit if a sweet tooth, Unlimited Delicious (at Haarlemmerstraat 122) is one of the best in the business.
The Vondelpark is a huge (120 acre) urban park where a lot of the locals go for a picnic, a stroll, jogging, something to drink or even to rollerblade (you can hire them at the southern entrance of the park). Generally speaking the southern side of the park is much quieter than the north, and there’s even a free open-air theater and a film museum. And don’t forget to look out for the Picasso statue entitled ‘The Fish’. People generally think of Amsterdam as a very touristy destination, which it undeniably is, but, as with many such cities, there’s so much to discover away from the well-trodden paths. With so much emphasis on the tourist trade in certain parts of the city, it can sometimes be difficult to ignore the loud calls of the tourist traps. But it’s just as easy to explore the city on your own terms, and get to know its welcoming people and it’s delightful canals and back streets. Discover the allure of Amsterdam with Lufthansa, and find your own corner of the Dutch capital.
London: But I Thought The Games Had Finished?
Yes, it’s true: the world’s spotlight is no longer focused on the British capital. But the world keeps on turning, and London is still the vibrant, dynamic and multicultural city it was before the summer’s festivities began, and, after the draining commitment asked of a city that such a huge event demands, now is a great time to see Londoners reverting to a more relaxed frame of mind.London is huge. There’s no avoiding the fact that it’s a very big place spread over a very large area, yet still feels like a busy and bustling metropolis almost everywhere you go, perhaps due to it’s complex system of narrow, winding streets, crisscrossing through the city, connecting the dots. So how on earth do you even begin to tackle such a sprawling place?
Well, finding a bit of piece and quiet is not as difficult as you might think. London is comprised of thirty-two boroughs, each one functioning almost like a self-contained town within the city itself. So it’s not unusual to venture out from the mega attractions in the city centre, and find a feeling of a smaller community to each of the different areas of the city.
One of London’s prettiest boroughs is Hampstead, an elegant and well-kept suburb of the city on the north side of the Thames. Taking a relaxed stroll around the Heath is a lovely way to get a feel for the area, and it looks beautiful at this time of year as the leaves turn a golden-brown in the autumn. Hampstead has, over the years, been the home of a whole host of London’s good and famous, and the Freud Museum, located at Sigmund Freud’s former residence, as well as the house of romantic poet John Keats are well worth a visit. And what better way to experience a cornerstone of English culture than enjoying a pint of bitter and Sunday lunch at one of London’s oldest pubs, The Spaniards Inn, a very typical London pub with more than a few stories of it’s own.
And now for something completely different, as Monty Python famously put it. Camden has long been associated with the young, hip trendsetters of the City, and it’s a great place to go to experience a true cross-section of the diverse cultures that all call London their home. The market held here every weekend (but Sunday is still the busiest day) is a great place to wander around, where you can find practically anything for sale on the tabletops. Especially worth investigating is London’s rich culture of food on offer, thanks to the long history of people coming to the city from overseas over the years. Whether you’re in the mood for Caribbean fish, Indian curry or a trusty English bacon sandwich in a crusty bap, there’s something for everyone’s tastes. The market trader is an art form unto itself, as is the business of haggling – if you want to buy something, don’t be afraid of a little bartering with the stall’s owner. They usually expect it, and besides, they are almost always very friendly people, seasoned experts at the London banter that makes these markets such a colourful and vibrant experience.The Olympic games turned the world’s attention onto London for a few weeks in the summer, and, inevitably, when people think of London, they always bring the same collection of museums, monuments and historical attractions to mind. But experiencing the rest of the city, what makes London so special, is well worth your time, too. As the great author Dr. Samuel Johnson famously said, “By seeing London, I have seen as much of life as the world can show”. Fly with Lufthansa to one of the world’s truly great cities, and see for yourself what makes Londoners some of the greatest people around– despite the fact it’ll probably be raining.