Best Places Off the Beaten Path in Europe for 2016

It’s that time of year when people start looking ahead and making travel plans, and for many of us that will mean a trip to Europe. Since it’s always fun to discover a few hidden gems when you’re there, here are a few of the best places in Europe off the beaten path that you may not have heard of before.

off the beaten path Europe

London, England

Located only a few short hours south of Manchester, London has a rich and colorful history dating back to medieval times. This under-the-radar city is generally recognized as a global hub of business, culture, and even hosted the 2012 Summer Olympics. Despite all of this, the quaint city is skipped by many. This is a huge mistake as London is full of enough sights to keep most travelers busy for an entire long weekend. Upon arriving at one of London’s numerous sleepy airports, train stations, or bus terminals, those in the know head straight for the banks of the mighty Thames river where a historic clock tower near the Parliament building is located. Known affectionately to locals as ‘Big Ben’, the clock tells Londoners what time of the day it is, and many use it to schedule their meetings, meals, and social events. Another sight worth seeing in London is a stately home called Buckingham Palace where men in red suits with large black hats live and prance publicly.

Insider Tip By Someone Who Lives There: Spend an afternoon riding on the London Eye, a large observation wheel, because there is nothing else remotely like it in the world.

off the beaten path Europe

Paris, France

Nestled in the heart of northern France, Paris pleases all who visit it with a dizzying array of culinary delights, historic sights, and a ten-thousand-ton triangular iron tower. Put on the map by the 2007 film Ratatouille, Paris has been rising in popularity ever since, but if you hurry, you can still see this so-called City of Light before it shines too bright. The Eiffel Tower in the center of the city may be easy to spot, but you’ll be amazed at the solitude you’ll experience underneath its massive legs or during a climb of its steps to the observation deck. Other sights in Paris worth seeing are the Louvre museum, best known for its role in the book The DaVinci Code, and the Arc de Triomphe which is a large block of cement with a massive hole in it.

Insider Tip By Someone Who Lives There: Don’t even think of leaving town without trying some of the fabulous food Paris is becoming famous for like French Onion Soup, French Bread Pizza, and French’s Mustard.

off the beaten path Europe

Rome, Italy

A historically historic city located in central Italy, Rome offers those interested in civilizations an unrivaled amount of things to do and see – easily enough for a day or two. The Colosseum is a relatively unknown ancient ruin in town that used to be a venue for gladiator games and rivals the Los Angeles Colosseum for beauty and historical significance. Rome is known as a great city for lovers, and the Trevi Fountain is hands-down the best spot in Rome for them as its flowing water and solitude make it the perfect place for whispering sweet nothings. Legend has it that if you throw a coin into its waters and make a wish, you will return to Rome, a tradition unique to this fountain and this fountain alone. There is also a man named The Pope who lives in Rome, and if you like white hats or religion, a visit to see him is a must..

Insider Tip By Someone Who Lives There: Restaurants abound in Rome, but the best ones display pictures of their food on plastic cards hanging out front of their establishment.

 

Photo Credits: 1,2,3

Best Oktoberfest Beer Tents

The great thing about Oktoberfest beer tents is that no matter which one you stumble into, you are going to have the time of your life.

So, it’s not worth losing too much sleep over which one to go to.

With that being said though, not all beer tents are created equal and picking the right one for your personality will go a long way to ensuring you have a successful Oktoberfest.

The most important thing to remember when choosing between Oktoberfest beer tents is that there are two types of tents in Munich: big ones and small ones.

The big Oktoberfest beer tents are called “fest halls”, and these are the ones you have probably seen on TV that are home to thousands of guys wearing lederhosen and girls wearing German dirndls toasting, singing, dancing, and going berserk, in a good way. The smaller tents are a bit more laid back and relaxed, but they are also still home to bands and all kinds of good times, so I think hitting at least one smaller tent gives you a more well-rounded Oktoberfest experience.

After four trips, I definitely have my favorites, so here are my picks for best Oktoberfest beer tents, both big and small.

oktoberfest beer tents

Schottenhamel

I will start with this one as it is hands down my favorite and it is the tent where Oktoberfest is officially kicked off every year by the mayor of Munich. The mayor taps the very first keg and then fittingly declares ‘It’s tapped!” to the masses, ushering in a new year of sudsy fun and frolicking. This tent is absolutely perfect in my opinion, and if you could only go to one of the 14 big Oktoberfest beer tents, this is the one. Schottenhamel is very popular among the younger set, and that creates a fun and friendly atmosphere throughout that I just haven’t experienced in as much abundance at the other tents. In contrast to some other tents where almost all of the people around you will be tourists, in Schottenhamel you will be outnumbered by locals, who will almost all be the utmost of friendly and fun.

Basically, go here or you will regret it for the rest of your life.

Oktoberfest beer tents

Hacker

Billed as “Bavarian Heaven”, this one makes my list based mostly on the interior design of the tent. The sky and clouds that are painted on the ceiling here create a fantastic atmosphere, and even if the weather outside is a bit sketchy, sitting here always feels light, sunny, and the epitome of what Oktoberfest is all about. The music here is more rock-n-roll than traditional and it is a great spot for late night fun as it seems to get a perfect mix of tourists and locals. I never regret a stop here.

Oktoberfest beer tents

Café Kaiserschmarrn

Looking like something straight off the board game Candy Land, Café Kaiserschmarrnk is a sight for sore eyes, and that’s perfect because your eyes are going to be sore in the morning after the previous day’s festivities. Café Kaiserschmarrn is one of the smaller Oktoberfest tents, but what it lacks in size it makes up for with pastries and is hands down the best place to start your day off at Oktoberfest. Café Kaiserschmarrn opens early for breakfast and serves a fanciful assortment of coffee drinks and wholesome German breakfast treats. If you are in the mood to get your beer drinking started early though, they have that too. Music starts here in the afternoon and a slightly subdued party atmosphere soon follows.

oktoberfest beer tents

Augustiner

Augustiner is the last of the big six Munich breweries to be independently owned, and as a result has a beloved place in almost all Munich residents’ hearts. A stop here is always one of my favorite moves and while the Augustiner beer tent isn’t quite as aesthetically charming on the interior as some of the others, it’s relatively calm and peaceful atmosphere more than makes up for it. Augustiner is the perfect big tent to balance out an earlier stop at a rowdy and tourist-heavy tent like Hofbrau.

Oktoberfest beer tents

Weinzelt

This one is for the classy people, but despite this fact, they let us in for a couple hours. As you may have guessed from the name, this is the wine tent at Oktoberfest, and while you could certainly go for one of their fine varieties of wine, I stuck to the only beer they serve and coincidentally my favorite type, weiss beer. What makes this place great though is the calm, chill, and dare I say elegant atmosphere that makes you feel like you are in the great hall of a Bavarian castle. Just like the Café Kaiserschmarrn tent, it’s a perfect first stop of the day or a perfect spot to catch your breath in the middle of the afternoon while you make your game plan for the rest of the day.

Oktoberfest beer tents

Lowenbrau

As far as the big tents run by world-famous breweries (Hofbrau, Paulaner) are concerned, Lowenbrau is definitely my favorite. First off, the big lion out front is pretty cool and the atmosphere in here is always fun without being too rowdy. The band here is without a doubt one of the best at Oktoberfest, and on balance, you might just get the most well-rounded experience at Lowenbrau. With nearly 3,000 outside seats, it’s a great place to go on a nice day too.

 

For all things Oktoberfest, you could always check out the official Oktoberfest website, too.

Photo Credits: 1,2,3,

Eating At Il Timoniere: One of the Anthony Bourdain Rome Restaurants

anthony bourdain rome restaurants

Next to history and gorgeous scenery, eating is one of the things that make a trip to Europe so magical.

And nearly every corner of the continent has a culinary specialty that screams out to be eaten by the food-focused traveler.

Dreaming of a summer trip France? I’m pretty sure some cheese and wine have been floating through that equation. Going to Germany? You’ve probably already been bragging about all the pretzels and roast chicken you’ll have at a German beer festival. Swinging through Spain? Tapas are surely atop your list.

But nowhere, and I mean nowhere commands the attention of travelling foodies like Italy.

Every time I go to Italy, I am on the lookout for ‘off-the-eaten-path’ type spots, and thanks to Anthony Bourdain, I discovered Il Timoniere in Rome, and I can’t recommend the place enough.

I used to record No Reservations all the time and especially took notice of the Rome episode that aired since it was on mere weeks before I would be in the Eternal City. I found it entertaining, informative, and a little slow as usual but it wasn’t until the segment when he visited a Roman “mom and pop” restaurant that I looked up from my laptop and started paying attention.

I was so impressed with the segment on Il Timoniere that I immediately texted my friend who I was going to be traveling with and said “Dinner. Rome. Done Deal.”

 

A few weeks later, we were without a doubt the only tourists wandering the streets of the Garbatella neighborhood searching for Il Timoniere. Even though the directions we had written down seemed bulletproof, of course we got lost. Through the help of many friendly Romans though, we got back on course for our first course and headed straight down a hidden residential street.

It was a perfect September night, remarkably quiet and still. With all the high rise apartments that enveloped us with their windows open, the only sound in the air was that of televisions broadcasting the local soccer team, A.S. Roma, and the “ooohing and aaaahing” of the fans in their homes.

anthony bourdain rome restaurants

When we finally arrived at the restaurant after multiple wrong locations searched, it was like taking a step back in time. The name of the restaurant was sketched into a piece of wood out front and it appeared to be in the courtyard of a residential building.

We were seated and became only the second table being served. There wasn’t one word of English on the menu, and that was just what we were hoping for.

What followed was a mouth-watering procession of prosciutto-wrapped buffalo mozzarella, carbonara with zucchini flowers, Spaghetti Amatriciana, and Tiramisu. The dishes tasted as good as they had looked on television and then some.

The family dog that was scouring the floor for scraps and the peeling wallpaper complimented the “mom and pop” feel, but it was the warm, family-run atmosphere that made Il Timoniere the highlight of my time in Rome.

Go to Il Timoniere on your next trip to Rome, you will not regret it.

 

 

Oktoberfest Munich Advice: How To Do It Right

oktoberfest munich advice

Since I’m always talking about how much I love Oktoberfest (and casually mentioning that I’ve been there four times), I often get e-mails from readers asking me for Oktoberfest advice.

I figured it would be cool to respond to the most common questions that I get here in one post.

So, if you are getting ready to go for the very first time or had so many beers in previous visits that you don’t remember anything, these Oktoberfest tips are for you.

When is Oktoberfest? There are no set Oktoberfest dates. Like Mardi Gras and Easter, the dates for Oktoberfest change every year. In 2017, it’s from September 16th to October 3rd. Most years, it spans 16 days from the third Saturday in September through the first Sunday in October.

The main thing to remember is that Oktoberfest is mostly in September not October and it includes three weekends. Speaking of those weekends …

What are the best days to go to Oktoberfest? Not the weekends.

Going on a weekday is probably my number one bit of Oktoberfest advice. Seriously, avoid the weekends at all costs. Why? well, it is undeniable that if you go to Oktoberfest, you are going to have a fantastic time with thousands of your closest friends, but there’s no need to make it millions.

The weekends at Oktoberfest are a mega-mess of masses and I recommend just staying away.

Plus, it feels good to be drinking beer at noon on a Monday or Tuesday when all your friends back home are at work. Oh yeah, If German Reunification Day (October 3rd) falls on a weekday, avoid that one too.

[Read more…]