Loลกinjย 

Getting close to nature on the Croatian island of Loลกinjย 

Loลกinj, Croatia
View of Mali Loลกinj from Umpiljak Hill

Like so many of Croatia’s islands, Loลกinj is long, thin and easily accessible. I arrived via a flight to Pula and then a direct ferry, you can also reach this island by flying into Rijeka and taking a bus or ferry, or by island-hopping from Zadar. I’ve lost count of the Croatian islands I’ve visited, but I do now notice how different they can be from one another. Loลกinj’s key selling point? Nature.

This 74.36 km2 island is marketed as ‘The island of vitality’. There are hundreds of medicinal plants growing here, over 200 days of sunshine annually, a renowned marine biology institute, a choice of highly-rated spa hotels, and 280km of hiking trails for a variety of abilities. Being a hiker, it was the latter that I most enjoyed.

By foot to faraway beaches

Concrete path on the coast of Loลกinj, Croatia
Part of the long trail that runs around the north western coast of Loลกinj

It was a pleasant surprise to discover a concrete trail running around almost the entire north western coast of the island. This infrastructure meant that remote beaches were accessible to most (although I’m not sure how easy it would be to use them in, say, a wheelchair), and cyclists could enjoy traffic-free routes to some stunning locations. The trails running through the island’s interior are sometimes steep and lead through verdant forests. Many are old paths threading between stone walls erected centuries ago.

From Mali Loลกinj you can walk along easy coastal trails for hours and still come across beaches where showers and changing areas have been constructed. I was most grateful for the occasional short ladders into the sea, which made snorkelling a simple endeavour.

Beyond a naturist beach the trail turns from concrete to dirt, but it’s still very easy to follow and, having continued along it for many hours, I found myself all alone on gorgeous white stone beaches lapped by water so clear that it felt as though I was flying high above the seabed when I went for my frequent dips.

Keeping it clean and clear

ฤŒikat Bay, Loลกinj, Croatia
A boutique hotel on picturesque ฤŒikat Bay

I met with the Blue World Institute (BWI) in the small and very cute fishing village of Veli Loลกinj to find out about the work they did, and in the hope that I could get an article commissioned about their impressive efforts. The BWI has been gathering data on bottlenose dolphins for 34 years; so rich is this data that it’s used by marine institutes the world over. They work closely with the tourism industry to protect marine wildlife throughout the Adriatic, an important job especially in July and August when the sea is crammed with noisy motorboats.

My visit coincided with the Festival of the Sea, held in the island’s main town Mali Loลกinj. Among concerts and seafood stalls I met with the local astronomy group, who explained to me how light pollution has become a big problem on the island. Hopefully the authorities here will listen to the astronomers’ concerns – much as I appreciate all of that infrastructure around the coast there is a point at which maintaining the island’s natural wonders will need to be prioritised.

Floating in ฤŒikat Bay, my mouth so close to the still water that I could hear my breath reflected back at me, I was fully aware of the importance of preserving this island for both humans and wildlife. This picturesque bay is surrounded by luxurious old villas and backed by pine-clad hills, both currently existing in tenuous harmony.

Mali Loลกinj

Mali Loลกinj, Croatia
Mali Loลกinj’s harbour

What I really love about the cute towns on Croatian islands is how Romans, Venetians and Austrian-Hungarians created calm harbours, taming the sea so that sailing vessels could easily glide up to warehouses and colourful villas. Mali Loลกinj is just such a town. At night boats bob in the black water as lively restaurants buzz with patrons enjoying fresh pasta and seafood.

In town you’ll find the exceptionally good and creative MobyDick Gelateria, plus the Deveron restaurant – I highly recommend the truffle-laced Pljukanci. Along the quayside is the Museum of Apoxyomenos which contains a Greek bronze statue dating to the 2nd or 1st century BC, found in the waters off of Vele Orjule, an uninhabited islet next to Loลกinj.

When to go

From May until October average high temperatures here will be at least 20C (68F), which means you have May, June, September and October to come to this warm place without the vast crowds and high prices of peak summer months.


Add a visit to Loลกinj as part of this Slovenia and Croatia itinerary

๐Ÿจ

There’s a huge range of accommodation on the island, from camping to 5* boutique hotels. I stayed at the Hotel Apoksiomen which is the best choice for a mid-range budget if you want to stay in town.

โœˆ๏ธ

I recommend flying to Pula and spending a night to see the ancient streets and immense coliseum there before catching the ferry to Loลกinj. Good value flights can also be found to Rijeka.

โ›ด๏ธ

From Pula you can get a direct ferry to Mali Loลกinj with Krilo Ferries.

๐ŸšŒ

Arriva run a direct ferry between Mali Loลกinj and Zagreb, stopping off at Cres (which I highly recommend you do) and Rijeka.

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The art of independent travel

A new book, by me, with suggestions on how to travel independently

Front cover of the book The art of independent travel

When I was struggling through a nasty bout of Covid earlier this year I came across some rather uninspiring self-published travel information books, by a blogger claiming to be a ‘bestselling’ author. In my delirium I thought that I could do a better job and banged out 20,000 words in three days.

My more rational post-Covid self then had a lot of editing to do. The main goal was to make the book fun and easily readable, not just paragraph after paragraph of dull words with a few holiday snaps lazily thrown in. Although I poured into the book over 20 years of travel experience, plus the kind of knowledge that comes from having travelled independently through 85 countries, I also knew that I now had to do a lot of research and fact checking.

Part of the shoulder season calendar from The art of independent travel

The book is aimed at those who haven’t done any, or very much independent travel before. I wanted it to be a resource that would ease the traveller into the idea of going it alone, and hopefully help them save a bunch of money along the way. It’s a fairly short book (95 pages on Kindle) because I wanted it to be both succinct and cheap (ยฃ0.99/$0.99 – the lowest price I could set!).

Self-publishing is a tortuous exercise of fiddling with margins, designing covers, and formatting trial and error. At last, though, it is done. You can take a peek at the book (and possibly even be tempted to buy it) via the links below.

Amazon Kindle > (FREE until 12 December!)
Amazon paperback >

Making time for Liechtenstein

One of the world’s smallest countries deserves more than just a couple of hours of your time

Malbun, Liechtenstein
Sareis Bergrestaurant, Malbun

How do you define “visiting” a country? A layover in an airport? Going through passport checks? Spending a certain amount of time there? My definition has always been; getting your feet on the ground on the other side of the border. This would stretch the idea of a ‘visit’, but it does allow me to include Lithuania in my list of visited countries.

Liechtenstein is one of those countries where some may think that, because their train passes through it, they have fully experienced it. While the view from the Feldkirch, Austria to Buchs, Switzerland train is filled with marvellously mountainous scenery, there are rarely any stops in Liechtenstein. I recommend that you come to this 160 km2 country for at least a few hours.

Malbun, Liechtenstein
View of Malbun, Liechtenstein

Disembarking the train from Zurich to Sargans with us was a couple doing just that; taking a brief self-guided tour of the capital, Vaduz. Together we found the #24 bus, which took us to the edge of this small city – population 5,696 (many of whom seem to work in the banking sector) – where we walked to the Alte Rheinbrรผcke (Old Rhinebridge), a covered wooden footbridge that stretches the width of the immense Rhine and which was built in 1871.

Fortunately the bridge is just a 10 minute walk from the bus stop, from where we caught the #21 to Malbun. How powerful these bus engines must be; from the 455m altitude of Vaduz we were transported through Triesenberg (where many Walser people live) and up to Malbun at 1600m. Being so high up, Malbun is Liechtenstein’s only ski resort, but when we visited in early summer we saw that it also makes for an excellent hiking destination.

From Malbun leads a variety of trails, ranging from white-knuckle cling-to-ridges scrambles, to gentle strolls along valley floors. If I ever return here I’d be keen to undertake the two-day hike down to Vaduz. Malbun features a chairlift that operates year-round, from the top you can see the huge peaks of Austria and Switzerland, and enjoy refreshments in the friendly cafรฉ, on the terrace of which patrons can gaze at panoramic views.

Watch highlights of my visit to Liechtenstein

After a day of walking it was a joy to discover that our hotel (Hotel Turna) had a modern and peaceful spa in the basement. It was even more of a joy to realise that one of the very few (possibly only) restaurants open at this time of year had been decorated to look like a cave. Someone had gone to huge efforts to mould stalagmites, stalactites and little nooks from what must have been tonnes of plaster. The pizza served here was rather good too.

Instead of taking the bus directly back to Vaduz we opted instead to walk down the valley to Steg. Although the trail never strayed far from the road, there were so few vehicles that peacefulness prevailed. Here and there were little waterfalls, mountaintops constantly loomed above. At Steg is a man-made lake and yet more opportunities for long-distance hikes.

Vaduz Castle, Liechtenstein
Vaduz Castle looking over Vaduz

Because our time in Liechtenstein was almost up, we opted to return to Vaduz and have a quick look around this tiny capital. The highlight here is Vaduz Castle which sits high above the city, and which can be reached via a pleasant and well-signposted walk. The castle is home to Liechtenstein’s royal family and so you can’t actually go inside, but the view of and from the castle is well worth the steep climb.

Back in town and the main attractions here are the KunstMuseum (which also has a great cafรฉ) and the Liechtenstein National Museum. Nothing here can be described as cheap and so, before we completely blew a two week budget in two hours, we walked to the Parkplatz Rheinpark Stadion where the national and local football team plays. Here we caught a Flixbus for the 35-minute journey to Chur, Switzerland.


๐Ÿจ

We stayed at the Hotel Turna in Malbun, which was well located for the bus, cable car and hiking

๐Ÿš…

Sargans is a 55-minute train journey from Zurich. From Sargans buses leave from the station and cross into Liechtenstein

๐ŸšŒ

Vaduz is on Flixbus’s line from Munich to Milan and is an easy and affordable way of getting in and out of Liechtenstein

27 hours in Hamburg

How to make the most of a brief stay in Hamburg, including 5 useful tips

Hamburg’s Rathaus town hall

I arrived into Hamburg on a cruise ship and was immediately told that it’s impossible to walk into the city. It is entirely possible, and in fact quite pleasant to walk into Hamburg from the cruise terminal, a route which involves walking through the 111-year-old tile-lined Elbe pedestrian/bicycle tunnel.

Elbe pedestrian/bicycle tunnel

In an attempt to stick to a small budget I stayed in a hotel just east of the main train station. The area in which it was located felt a little unsafe, but busy enough to not cause too much concern.

Tip 1: If you have the budget, I recommend staying in Hamburg City Centre, on the side of the train station where the Rathaus is located.

Reeperbahn

The Reeperbahn is a street in the St Pauli area that has a horrendous four-lane busy road running down the middle of it and which, during the day, feels enormously seedy and depressing. It may be more interesting at night, but it was far enough away from the city centre and was covered in so much trash and sleaze that I had absolutely no desire to return (plus I was exhausted!).

The posh part of town

View down Alsterfleet

Between MรถnckebergstraรŸe and GroรŸe Bleichen is a lovely collection of streets interrupted by two charming waterways running between the Elbe River and Alster Lake. The architecture here is more interesting and it’s one of the few picturesque parts of the city, albeit inhabited by prohibitively expensive shops.

In the centre of this area is the Rathaus, the city’s grand town hall adorned with statues of men who for the most part have impressive beards. Nearby is the Alster Lake, which is a pleasant place to circle or take a boat trip on.

Tip 2: Frittenwerk Hamburg is one of the cheapest places to eat in this part of town and offers OK dishes such as currywurst.

Perhaps the world’s best attraction

Miniatur Wunderland is a wonderland of miniature scenes from around the world, threaded together by 16km of model railway track. I spent 2 hours here, I could probably have done with another hour before kick-out time

Tip 3: Tickets for entry 2 hours before closing time are discounted by 20%, reflecting the time needed to see the entire attraction

The location of this attraction is in two of the red brick buildings of Speicherstadt, the world’s largest warehouse district which is worth strolling around and is easily walked to from the city centre.

Tip 4: Miniatur Wunderland has a LOT of buttons to push. Press the button by the mini chocolate factory and a little Lindt chocolate will be produced just for you

The warehouses of Speicherstadt

Where to get some views

At the western end of HafenCity, just next to Speicherstadt, you’ll not be able to miss the Elbphilharmonie concert hall. Its glassy, wavy edifice looks out over the Elbe and it’s well worth riding the curved escalator up to the viewing platform which runs around all four sides of the building.

Tip 5: You can get to the Elbphilharmonie viewing platform for free. Get your ticket from ticket office on Am Kaiserkai (you may not be able to gain immediate access during busier times)

A lot of fuss is made about the views of the city from the water. I wasn’t hugely impressed, but the ferries are a pleasant way of getting from A to B. Short journeys are priced at โ‚ฌ1.80 and I enjoyed route 62 from Landungsbrรผcken Brรผcke 3 to Altona (Fischmarkt). The Fischmarkt building itself is worth seeing, both inside and out, and nearby there’s a U-Boot Museum if you’re into that sort of thing.

Inside the Fischmarkt

Cafรฉs

Hamburg has a wealth of cafรฉs. Some are of the relatively-bland-but-good-value-chain variety, such as LE CROBAG. Others blend delicious hot chocolate (I’m not a coffee drinker and so hot choc quality is very important to me) with captivating views – the coffee shop looking down Bleichenfleet being a good example.

Chilehaus, dating from the 1920s

Perhaps the best cafรฉ I visited was one that was recommended to me by Carolin from Solo Travel Story. Klein Und Kaiserlich on Am Kaiserkai is an elegant Austrian-style establishment where I tucked into a rich and perfectly-flavoured apfelstrudel for the reasonable price of โ‚ฌ5.80. I understand that the coffee here is pretty good too.

Speaking of coffee, if you’re anywhere in the warehouse district then the chances are that, at some point, you’ll be blessed with the scent of roasting beans drifting from Speicherstadt Kaffeerรถsterei, surely a must-visit destination for you avid coffee drinkers.


Visit Hamburg as part of this free 13-day Germany itinerary (for Budget, Mid-range, and Luxury travellers)

๐Ÿจ

I stayed in STAY! Boardinghouse, which was a good value and comfortable hotel, albeit in a not particularly interesting area

โœˆ๏ธ

Hamburg Airport is an easy 25-minute train journey from Hamburg HBF

Reading to Oxford hike

Description of the 42-mile Thames path from Reading to Oxford

Where the Thames Path disappears into a tunnel of trees

Having previously walked from the source of the Thames to Oxford, and in need of another low-key adventure, I decided to complete the next section of the Thames Path, but in the other direction: from Reading to Oxford

Day 1: Reading to Dorchester-On-Thames

It didn’t help that, upon stepping off the train in Reading, I started walking towards the wrong stretch of water (the Kennet and Avon Canal also goes through Reading). Having lost half an hour I now had to increase my pace so as to reach Goring on time.

The Thames at Reading is wide and, on one side, lined with luxurious houses raised above the frequently-flooded river. Here the path is close enough to road and rail to not be particularly peaceful. It then passes through a rather dull suburb before, thankfully, returning to bucolic countryside. At Pangbourne the walk at last becomes particularly serene and scenic.

In Pangbourne Kenneth Grahame, the author of The Wind in the Willows, once lived. Upstream of the village the path passes through some woods and at one point is high above the river, which flows at the base of steep forested slopes. Having made up time, I reach Goring (which has a train station with direct links to London) for a late lunch at the excellent Pierreponts Cafรฉ.

I had packed a headtorch and so I wasn’t too concerned about the darkening skies, but I continued to keep the pace up anyway. The Thames here feels far tamer than the wilder countryside in which it begins, and the frantic city towards its end. There were still plenty of high-end waterside homes for me to covet all the way up to Dorchester-On Thames, which I reached shortly after traversing the lovely town of Wallingford, once home to the immense 11th-Century Wallingford Castle (remains of which can still be seen).

Shortly before I got to my final stop for the day I had to cross and walk along a horribly busy main road just the other side of Shillingford, which was probably a lowlight of the walk.

My room for the night: The George in Dorchester-On-Thames

Day 2: Dorchester-On-Thames to Oxford

After a lovely stay at The George in Dorchester-On-Thames and a quick visit to ancient Dorchester Abbey – founded in 1140 – I took some much-needed painkillers and continued on upstream. There were more stretches where road, rail and aircraft were far enough away to leave no sound but the gurgle of water and songs of birds. I saw numerous cormorants, storks, and maybe even a kingfisher.

Shortly before getting to Abingdon, just upstream of Clifton Hampden, the river splits in two at Clifton Cut. It wasn’t always like this. Before 1822 river traffic was charged a premium to navigate this stretch of water, but having overcome strong local opposition a ‘cut’ was dug, shortening the journey and taming the river thanks to the newly-built lock.

There are many points along the upper Thames where ferrymen operated. Poor people couldn’t afford horses and it (as I experienced) could be a very long walk to the nearest bridge. You’ll often see place names or pubs that reflect the heritage of ferrymen along the river.

Abingdon-On-Thames is another place where its long history is evident in various buildings dating back to 1180, although many of the old-looking edifices only date back to Victorian times when Trendell erected various follies. The 1680 County Hall building is particularly splendid, and this is a good town in which to stop for lunch.

This walk was undertaken at the end of October and I was very lucky with the weather. The path was only muddy in one place – just outside of Abingdon – and the trees were putting on their colourful Autumn show.

The closer I got to Oxford the more rowers I saw. Boats with one, two, four or eight people zoomed past, often accompanied by their coach yelling from a megaphone. And yet this only added to the serenity of the river, at least until I approached Sandford Lock.

At last I staggered into Oxford. I recognised the boathouses where my wife once coxed during her university days and thought that I was nearly at journey’s end. But no, still another 45 minutes walking through the city’s pretty environs, the Thames my constant companion. At last I saw Osney Bridge, just the other side of which is the train station and my ride back to London.


Trip details

Total length: roughly 42 miles
Total walking time: 12 hours
Trains to Reading: direct from London Paddington and take on average 44 minutes
Trains from Oxford: direct to either London Paddington or London Marylebone and take on average 1h 13m
Where I stayed: The George, Dorchester-On-Thames (book here)

Swimming near piranhas

Floating lodge, Amazonas, Brazil

A lot of the enjoyment of travel comes down to trust. We trust transport to get us to places, we trust accommodation to provide what’s described on their website, we trust bloggers and writers to accurately depict a destination. On my journey into the Brazilian Amazon I had to trust my guide when he said that a particular section of river wasn’t infested with piranha.

A sublime swimming pool

I’ve always been fascinated by piranha, but not to the extent that I want to be in the water with them. Having been on a fishing expedition to find these toothy fish my caution felt justified. Using small pieces of meat the fish were attracted to our boat and I could feel – rather than see – their powerful jaws sawing away at the meal at the end of my line. It was when, at the end of the day, my guide assured us that it was safe to swim in the water that my trust of him really kicked in

Guide holding up a piranha

It was explained to us that piranha only swim in certain types of water, the murky green water where we’d found them rather than the tannin-rich dark water around our floating lodge. Thus reassured, I dived in.

I really enjoy swimming and this tributary of the Amazon River was the perfect pool. Flat, warm and with no-one else around I swam until sunset every evening, sharing the brackish water with tiny un-bitey fish and pink river dolphin.

Sunset over a lake, Amazonas, Brazil

Caution

Experiences such as these demonstrate the value of having a guide or speaking with knowledgeable locals. Having swum in various other Amazon tributaries it helps to know what to look out for, and how each section of river can have different risks and rewards.

Cooked piranha on a plate

I recently read someone describe piranha as “delicious” and with a delicate flavour. It really is not, at least not the one that I tried and which we caught earlier that day. It has a strong flavour and we had it served to us intact, massive teeth and all – not particularly appetising, but a good reminder of why I wouldn’t want to be swimming anywhere near these fish.

8 Top Hoi An Hostels and Budget Hotels

My top picks for Hoi An, based on location, dorm and private rooms, bathrooms and shared facilities

Hoi An Hostels and Budget Hotels
Hoi An, Vietnam

This is a must-see city when visiting Vietnam…plus it has a gorgeous sandy beach. Here are my top Hoi An hostels and budget hotels picks:

Hoi An Love.ly Hostel

Hoi An Hostels: Hoi An Love.ly
Hoi An Love.ly Hostel

๐Ÿ“ 9 minutes’ walk away from Cau Temple
๐Ÿ›๏ธ Spacious and clean dorms (no bunks) with air con
๐Ÿšฟ Bathrooms attached to each room
๐Ÿฝ๏ธ Good value on-site restaurant with free breakfast, free beer Mon/Wed/Fri
๐Ÿง‘โ€๐Ÿคโ€๐Ÿง‘ No private rooms


The Imperfect Downtown Hoi An

Hoi An hostels: The Imperfect Downtown Hoi An
The Imperfect Downtown Hoi An

๐Ÿ“ Perfectly located on An Hแป™i island
๐Ÿ›๏ธ Spacious 3, 4, and 5-bed dorms with air con
๐Ÿšฟ Good bathrooms but floor can get very wet
๐Ÿฝ๏ธ Breakfast included. Bar and small swimming pool
๐Ÿง‘โ€๐Ÿคโ€๐Ÿง‘ Entire dorm rooms can be reserved ahead


The Seaside Bungalow

Hoi An hostels: The Seaside Bungalow
The Seaside Bungalow Hoi An

๐Ÿ“ Just a couple of minutes walk to Ha My Beach
๐Ÿ›๏ธ Bright and roomy 4- or 8-bed dorms
๐Ÿšฟ Good bathrooms, nicely designed
๐Ÿฝ๏ธ Bar and restaurant, free breakfast, free drink on Wednesday
๐Ÿง‘โ€๐Ÿคโ€๐Ÿง‘ Beautiful private rooms


Hoi An Life Homestay

Hoi An hostels: Hoi An Life Homestay
Hoi An Life Homestay

๐Ÿ“ Located in a quiet suburb 26 minutes’ walk from Cau Temple
๐Ÿ›๏ธ No dorm rooms, max 4 per private room
๐Ÿšฟ All rooms have en-suite bathrooms with free toiletries and towels
๐Ÿฝ๏ธ Free breakfast and bicycle rental. Best thing here: the gorgeous pool
๐Ÿง‘โ€๐Ÿคโ€๐Ÿง‘ Private 2, 3, or 4-bed rooms


Blue Clouds Homestay

Blue Clouds Homestay Hoi An
Blue Clouds Homestay

๐Ÿ“ 10 minutes’ walk to Vau Temple
๐Ÿ›๏ธ Private rooms sleeping up to 3 people
๐Ÿšฟ Simple bathrooms
๐Ÿฝ๏ธ Breakfast available at extra cost, small outdoor terrace
๐Ÿง‘โ€๐Ÿคโ€๐Ÿง‘ Well-appointed ensuite rooms with either 1 or 2 beds


Melody Boutique Villa

Hoi An budget hotel: Melody Boutique Villa
Melody Boutique Villa

๐Ÿ“ Located between downtown and Ha My Beach
๐Ÿ›๏ธ 4-bed dorms with no bunks
๐Ÿšฟ Clean and modern bathrooms
๐Ÿฝ๏ธ Rooftop terrace, no restaurant or kitchen
๐Ÿง‘โ€๐Ÿคโ€๐Ÿง‘ Variety of private ensuite rooms sleeping up to 4 people


Cheerful Hoi An Hostel

Cheerful Hoi An Hostel
Cheerful Hoi An Hostel

๐Ÿ“ 19-minute walk to Cau Temple
๐Ÿ›๏ธ Spacious 4- and 8-bed dorms with simple bunks
๐Ÿšฟ Most rooms have simple ensuite bathroom
๐Ÿฝ๏ธ Free breakfast, nice outdoor dining area
๐Ÿง‘โ€๐Ÿคโ€๐Ÿง‘ Ensuite private rooms for up to 3 people


Coral Riverside

Hoi An hostels: Coral Riverside
Coral Riverside

๐Ÿ“ Great location on the River Hแป“ and just 5 minutes’ walk to the beach
๐Ÿ›๏ธ 4-bed dorms with privacy curtains, air con, fans and reading lights
๐Ÿšฟ Luxurious ensuite bathrooms
๐Ÿฝ๏ธ Kitchen and free breakfasts
๐Ÿง‘โ€๐Ÿคโ€๐Ÿง‘Excellent private rooms with ensuite bathrooms and private balconies


If you’ve been inspired by Hoi An’s top hostels then get your free Vietnam itinerary below, as well as a link to the best flight deals:

FREE travel plans

Visit Vietnam with this FREE 14-day itinerary

Although Da Nang is the nearest international airport to Hoi An, I recommend flying to Hanoi and travelling down through the country. Click the button for the best current deals

Caledonian Sleeper vs Night Riviera

Comparing the UK’s 2 sleeper train services in 14 different categories

Caledonian Sleeper vs Night Riviera
The Night Riviera sleeper train in London’s Paddington Station

The UK has two sleeper train services: the Caledonian Sleeper from London Euston to Scotland, and the Night Riviera from London Paddington to Cornwall. How do they compare for their basic cabins (aka Classic Room on Caledonian Sleeper)?

Caledonian Sleeper (CS)Night Riviera (NR)Winner
Price for 2 adultsยฃ205ยฃ158.40 (with railcard)NR
Website user experienceConfusing info about Room Supplements, buttons hard to see, lots of steps to get to orderNot immediately obvious what the options are for the service selectedNR
Accepts railcards?NoYesNR
Journey time7h 33m8h 9m
BikesFreeFree
Dogsยฃ30ยฃ30
Choice Caledonian Double, Club Room, Classic Room, seatCabin, seatCS
Breakfast includedHot drink and oat barHot drink, choice of bacon roll, fruit, croissant, cereal or porridgeNR
Lounge accessYes, in Dundee, Leuchars and Perth (other lounges available for more expensive cabin types)Free access to First Class lounge (with hot and cold drinks, snacks, fruit, pastries and shower access) in Paddington, Penzance, TruroNR
Lower bunk size190x63cm193x62cmNR
WashbasinYes, but no coverYes, with coverNR
Amenity packSoap, towel, eye mask, ear plugsSoap, towelCS
Cabin techReading lights, cabin lights, temperature control, UK plug sockets, USB ports, host call buttonReading lights, cabin lights, temperature control, UK plug sockets, USB ports, room service button
WiFiFreeFree
StorageUnder lower bunkUnder lower bunk, tiny cupboardNR
On-board diningDining car with full menuSnacks and light bitesCS
Lounge/barDining car is also bar, priority access for Club Room and Caledonian DoubleFully stocked bar, free snacks and non-alcoholic hot and cold drinks NR
ComfortExcellent mattress, but bumps and shunts during night (stops at 00:10, 05:07, 06:15)Smooth journey (stops at 00:49, 02:37, 04:11, 04:33, 05:11, 06:12, 06:26, 06:33, 06:41, 06:49, 07:07) bunk ladder folds easily away for more spacious seatingNR
Dis/embarkationRooms available up to 1hr 20m before departure (they wouldn’t actually let me on until 5 mins before) and 30m after arrivalLounge available 2h 45m before departure, from Penzance to Paddington the train arrives at 05:04 but guests can stay on until 06:45 (and then use the lounge)NR

TOTALS
Caledonian Sleeper: 3
Night Riviera: 11

Watch a video of a Night Riviera sleeper train journey between Truro and London Paddington:

Europe’s free public transport revolution

Free public transport in Europe is more common than you may think

Free public transport in Europe
One of Luxembourg’s free buses

When Germany created a โ‚ฌ9 ticket for unlimited train travel in June, July and August almost 52 million were sold, with a reduction of 1.8 million tons of CO2. The increase in free public transport in Europe is most apparent in Luxembourg hasseen less busy rush hours on the roads, although overall traffic on the roads has increased (no data available yet for 2022).

Several countries in Europe have now either experimented with, are about to launch, or have permanently introduced free public transport. Whether this is to ease the pain of increased costs or to help the environment, it’s good news for those travelling to these countries.

FREE train tickets in Spain

Spain is currently offering free commuter (Cercanias/Rodalies) and medium-length journeys of less than 300km/186 miles (Media Distancia) until 31 December – see details on the right on how to get your ticket

getting your free spain train ticket

1. Register with Renfe
2. Subscribe for a multi-trip pass and pay a deposit of โ‚ฌ10-โ‚ฌ20
3. Take at least 16 journeys before 31 December

Although designed to assist commuters during the cost of living crisis, tourists can also take advantage if they’re taking numerous short hops by train. For travel in and between Asturias, Bilbao, Cadiz, Madrid, Malaga, Murcia/Alicante, Santander, San Sebastian, Seville and Zaragoza you’ll need the Cercania pass, for Valencia and Catalonia you’ll need the Rodalies pass. Longer distance trains (Avant) are also discounted by 50% until 31 December.

FREE buses in Malta

From October public transport buses in Malta will be free (details on how to get free tickets on the right), meaing you can travel from Valletta to Mdina, San Lawrenz to Xlendi…or any other part of Malta and Gozo for โ‚ฌ0.

GETTING YOUR FREE MALTA BUS TICKETS

1. Register for a tallinja card (you’ll need your passport number)
2. Scan your card when you board the bus

Malta has a population of 500,000 and yet there are over 400,000 cars on its roads. Encouraging even more people onto its extensive bus routes is therefore vital, and is of course great news for visitors for whom, apart from hire cars and boat taxis, buses are the main way of seeing the islands. This map shows you exactly where you can go and which buses to take.

FREE public transport in Luxembourg

No information box needed here; all you need to do in order to take free public transport in Luxembourg is step aboard. Trains, trams and buses are all free no matter where you go in the country. For an idea of how best to use this amazing resource, have a read about my recent trip to this country at the heart of Europe.

FREE public transport in European cities

It’s not just countries which are offering free public transport, there are many cities in Europe where you can travel for nothing, including these tourist favourites:

Explore diverse Seattle neighbourhoods

Get to know 8 very different Seattle neighbourhoods, and how to visit each one

Seattle neighbourhoods
Seattle’s iconic skyline

Seattle neighbourhoods are diverse and characterful and, thanks to the city’s busy cruise terminals and proximity to stupendous national parks, they’re becoming ever more popular with tourists. Having taken dozens of business and leisure trips to the Emerald City over the years, I’ve become familiar with neighbourhoods away from Downtown, how they are changing as a result of the influx of wealth, and how each of them contributes to such an exciting city.

Queen Anne

Seattle neighbourhoods: Queen Anne
View from Queen Anne

Home to Frasier, this wealthy and historic neighbourhood, named after the Queen Anne mansions found here, has some of the best views of the city, particularly from Kerry Park. At the top of the hill on which it’s situated there’s a cute high street with upscale coffee bars and organic food retailers. Yep, it’s that sort of place. On the other side of the hill large houses overlook the Union Canal.

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It’s a 40-minute walk from Pike Place Market to Kerry Park, via Belltown. Directions here.

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Take bus #2 from Downtown. Details here.

Capitol Hill

Seattle neighbourhoods: Capitol Hill
Characterful Capitol Hill

If you don’t like to confirm to societal norms you’re gonna love Capitol Hill. Here are coffee shops with live music, LGTBQ+-friendly bars and clubs, many microbreweries, and more than a few tattoo parlours. Named in the hope that Washington’s capital would be located here (it’s actually Olympia), this neighbourhood often hosts festivals and protests, and has some gorgeous old houses .

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A steep walk 35-minute up from Pike Place Market. Directions here.

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Capitol Hill’s Link light rail connects the neighbourhood to Downtown (Westlake) and Tacoma Airport. Details here.

South Lake Union

Seattle neighbourhoods: South Lake Union
Burgeoning SLU

The engine of Seattle’s recent growth, South Lake Union is an Amazon neighbourhood. Locals have long been priced out of the area and it’s now home to wealthy tech workers and shiny new buildings. Thankfully visitors can still access Lake Union and kayak, lounge at the water’s edge, watch float planes take off and land, or visit the excellent Steamer Virginia V and Museum of History and Industry.

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An easy 25-minute walk to Lake Union Park from Pike Place Market. Directions here.

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Take bus 40 from Fremont or Downtown, or rapid line C Line from Downtown to Westlake Ave N & Mercer St.

Ballard

Seattle neighbourhoods: Ballard
Ballard’s historic buildings

Oh-so-trendy Ballard sits towards the city’s northern edge and is where to come if you like small live music venues. The Duwamish favoured this area for the salmon fishing, as did later Scandinavian settlers. My favourite thing to do here is visit the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks where you can watch, for free, salmon swimming to spawning areas, as well as large vessels passing along the Washington Ship Canal.

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I’ve walked from Downtown to Ballard. It’s a long way – about 2 hours from Pike Place Market to the locks, albeit via lovely Queen Anne.

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Bus 29 will take you all the way from Downtown to the locks (stop NW 54th St & 30th Ave NW). Details here.

Fremont

Seattle neighbourhoods: Fremont
By Wonderlane, Flickr

Fremont used to be where locals could find affordable accommodation, until Amazon…well, you know the rest. This neighbourhood does, however, retain heaps of character, evidenced in its immense troll, quirky street art and Summer Solstice Parade & Pageant. If you must do one thing in Seattle, then do a tour of the Theo chocolate factory, and try ALL the samples. Yum.

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Wander along the edge of Lake Union, or through the lovely Queen Anne environs. It’s about an hour from Pike Place Market. Directions here.

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Bus 40 and bus 62 are your best options to get from Downtown to the Fremont Ave N & N 34th St stop.

Bellevue

Bellevue, Seattle
Bellevue & Cascade Mountains

Ah Bellevue. Shiny, shiny Bellevue. As suggested by the name, you can get some beautiful views from this neighbourhood (particularly from Chism Beach Park), which is across Lake Washington from Downtown. Home to perfect malls, upmarket eateries and corporate skyscrapers, Bellevue is a great place to find good value accommodation and top-notch cuisine.

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Your most efficient bus route to Downtown is #550. Just don’t be tempted to walk…it’s too far.

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In 2023 you’ll be able to ride the Link light rail allll the way from Downtown (Westlake) and Tacoma Airport to Bellevue. Details here.

Belltown

Bell Town, Seattle
Belltown from the Space Needle

Recently renovated Belltown is on the edge of both Downtown and Puget Sound. It has some really lovely bars, plenty of great dining options and a thriving nightlife. You’ll find boutique accommodation here, as well as the 9 acre Olympic Sculpture Park. I love the old red brick warehouses and walking along Centennial Park, where trains travel to Canada and California. You’ll probably pass through Belltown on your way to the Space Needle.

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An easy and lovely 15-minute stroll along the waterfront from Pike Place Market to the sculpture park. See directions.

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Take bus 29 to Downtown, Ballard locks or Queen Anne from 1st Ave & Broad St.

West Seattle

West Seattle
Alki Beach

And now for something slightly different. West Seattle feels far removed from the frenzy of Pike Place Market, and has perhaps one of the best beaches in the area; Alki Beach. From this wealthy neighbourhood you can enjoy relaxed beachside dining, as well as views of the city, Puget Sound, and the grand Olympic Mountains. Alki Point is believed to be where the Denny party first settled, and the Log House Museum is bursting with Seattle history.

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Pier 50 is a 20-minute walk from Pike Place Market. From the pier you can take a ferry to West Seattle Pier, and then either bus 775 or walk 45 minutes to Alki Beach.


A note about the Duwamish

Before all these neighbourhoods grew out from the Denny party’s initial settlement at Alki Point, the areas they now occupy were inhabited by Native Americans for at least 4,000 years. In fact, Seattle is named after the tribe’s leader, Chief Si’ahl. The Duwamish Tribe is not recognised by the US government, due to the government not honouring the Point Elliott Treaty, although a May 2022 appeal hopes to change that.

Duwamish members are involved in United Indians of All Tribes, and I strongly encourage you to visit their cultural centre in gorgeous Discovery Park, as well as their gift shops (one of which is in SeaTac Airport). The Duwamish Longhouse and Cultural Center also makes for a fascinating visit, and is located just southeast of West Seattle – take bus 21 from Downtown and then walk 20 minutes.