Why spend 24 hours in Sydney?

They said it was madness. How can you possibly see one of the world’s most iconic cities in a mere 24 hours?

Famous for its Opera House, Harbour Bridge, beaches, great restaurants and laid-back Aussie lifestyle it was certainly going to be a challenge to sample Sydney in 24 hours. But faced with a gap between flights and the fact I wasn’t likely to be in these parts anytime soon I was willing to give it a go.

Arriving after many hours sat on a plane, bewildered why my watch – not yet adjusted to local time – said it was night and yet it was light outside, sleep deprived and admittedly a little grumpy, I had a hard time convincing myself my Sydney adventure had been a good idea. Surely a nap in the airport lounge made much more sense?

But as my train pulled into Sydney harbour I knew I had made the right decision. From my window were views of the Opera House and harbour that were so familiar it felt like I was dreaming. In my experience some places don’t look the same in real life as they do on TV but this city offers everything you think it will and more besides.

My hopelessly vague plan of action had been quickly cobbled together before my arrival. Knowing I had little time I had opted to buy a 24-hour ticket for a bus tour – a bit touristy I know but my time was limited and it meant I could get my bearings and see which areas of the city I wanted to return to. The buses allowed me to hop on and off where I wanted.

My first port of call was The Rocks and Circular Quay areas. This is where the crowds gather to watch the city’s famous New Year’s Eve celebrations and people promenade from the Sydney Harbour Bridge to the famous Sydney Opera House.

No trip to Sydney is complete without visiting these areas. The Rocks is Sydney’s historic core now rejuvenated and is a great place for a stroll, a bit of shopping or getting a bite to eat.

You won’t be able to miss the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge. Intrepid travellers can take a bridge tour and get spectacular views – but since I was only in town for a few hours I opted out. But however long you are in town don’t miss the chance to get as close as you can and wonder at this feat of engineering.

I had always wanted to visit the Sydney Opera House. There is no building like this on earth; its sheer size and scale is hard to convey in mere words. Here I took a pre-booked guided tour which offered interesting insights into its history.

Afterwards the ferries at Circular Quay caught my eye, pulling in and out filled with commuters and tourists. You will find a wide variety of commercial and public services which take a number of different routes and stop off at different places and offer a great way to see more of Sydney.

I took an evening harbour tour – which was fantastic. It took me past landmarks, different suburbs and left me hoping (somewhat optimistically) that one day I would be able to afford one of the city’s stunning waterfront homes.

Next morning, I visited Darling Harbour. Home to museums, shops and other attractions this is a great place for an amble around. With time rapidly running out I then headed off for the city centre and took in a few shops, grabbed a coffee and did a bit of people watching. Then it was time to head back to the airport to get my connecting flight.

So, was it worth it? Definitely, yes. Thank goodness I didn’t waste my stopover sat in an airport. Sydney is one of the world’s great cities and I’ll always treasure my trip – even if it wasn’t nearly long enough!

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How to enjoy Helsinki like a local

The locals tell me Helsinki – with its mix of vibrant city life and natural surroundings – looks vastly different from season to season.

When I visited it was winter and the city was coated in snow and the sea was frozen making it seem like land and the ocean were as one.

Helsinki is quite the winter wonderland. But life very much goes on – all around people are enjoying the outdoors, motorists take to snow-covered roads and I even came across a street which had underfloor heating which meant I could safely do a bit of shopping!

This is a city that has a vibrant heart full of Scandi-cool design shops and great cafes and restaurants. It is really easy to get around – just hop on one of the city’s trams.

Helsinki’s archipelago consists of over 300 islands, making it a destination that offers an accessible mix of city centre buzz and stunning natural surroundings. As I venture to the outskirts for a few hours away from the hustle and bustle just like the locals do I’m told this is a city that looks vastly different according to the seasons.

When rivers and sea melt the beautiful outskirts of Helsinki become a relaxing retreat. Here locals put away their skis and snowshoes and go bike riding, enjoy picnics, go fishing and take boat trips.

You will find plenty of things to see and do whatever the season making it a great year round destination.

Take a sauna: No trip to Finland is complete without a sauna. Most homes seem to have them and they can be found in public buildings, hotels and sports centres. Even in the midst of winter I’m persuaded it’s a great thing to do.

Enjoy Helsinki’s design culture: This is a city renowned for its design and you will find plenty of fertile hunting ground whether you are looking for jewellery, vintage or antique pieces, interiors or clothing. Although some of the items that you covert may not come cheap – but there’s no harm in looking is there? The city has its own design district which is also home to many bars, cafes, restaurants and hotels.

Get out and about and enjoy nature: The forests of the Central Park begin close to the city centre. It has plenty of walking trails and jogging paths; some become ski trails in winter and many locals journey through the Central Park as part of their commute. Or take a trip to one of the city’s islands.

Visit Uspenski Cathedral: This orthodox cathedral is one of the clearest symbols of the Russian effect on Finland’s history. With its onion domes it is a well-known landmark which sits on a hillside overlooking the city and the harbour.

 

 

 

 

Top 6 budget must-sees in New York

It is the city that never sleeps and many believe they will need to dig deep to afford a trip to New York. But travelling to the Big Apple on a budget does not have to mean missing out.

Here are a few great things to do if you are keeping an eye your dollars:

1: Spend an afternoon in Central Park. Grab a take-away lunch from a local deli or hot dog cart and have a picnic in the park like the locals. If running or rollerblading isn’t your thing take a stroll and visit attractions including the Alice in Wonderland statue

2: Take the Staten Island Ferry. Savvy locals know this is one of New York’s best things to do for free. I was advised to go over during daylight hours and return as the sun was setting to get the full effect. The views of the city are spectacular and you get to sail past the Statue of Liberty. Although beware I had to get off and re-board before returning.

3: Plan your own walking tour. Take the time to enjoy a stroll around the financial district. This sounded a bit dull when it was first proposed but I had not appreciated how grand some of the district’s buildings were. I visited during the day when this area is really alive and took in the fast-paced life of some of the city’s movers and shakers.

4: Eat out at a diner. Another highlight I was always in them. They are a great option for breakfast, lunch or dinner and often great value. Stacks of pancakes for breakfast, pastrami on rye, a cobb salad or the classic beef burger, what’s not to like?

5: Wander over Brooklyn Bridge. This is a great place to take in the New York skyline. Its promenade is really popular and over the years the bridge has been a place for dates, anniversaries and even marriage proposals. Visiting at sunset provides some pretty spectacular views. If you are keen to find out a bit more about the area you could consider taking a walking tour.

6: Treat yourself to a night out in New York. Being on a budget doesn’t mean you should miss out on the fantastic nightlife. Queue for cheap theatre tickets at a ticket booth or mingle with the locals in the city’s many bars, restaurants and nightclubs. It is worth looking online for discount vouchers or special offers ahead of your visit if there is an attraction you really want to see. Look in local listings guides as some bars offer free live music.

Want to get away from it all? Go where Irish eyes are smiling

It is hard to convey the beauty of County Donegal in simple words. With its rolling hills and unspoilt beaches, it is the perfect place to get away from it all for 48 hours.

This is a place that is made for those who love spending time in the great outdoors. If you are feeling social there are plenty of opportunities to call into a local pub and chat with the locals or if you want to get away from it all it is perfectly possible to immerse yourself in the grandeur of the local scenery and hardly bump into another soul.

Here are some great things to see and do on your trip:

1: Take a trip to Slieve League, reportedly among the highest marine cliffs in Europe. Be prepared though rural South West Donegal has some narrow, winding roads – although my guide took it in his stride with all the bravado of a local. However, when you reach your destination the panoramic views are well worth it.

2: Murvagh Beach, near Donegal, is simply stunning. The long sandy beach is flanked by dunes and nearby Murvagh Forest has many clearings and picnic tables.

3: Waterbus trip around Donegal Bay, Donegal Town. This is a good way to sample local life and learn about the area’s fascinating history including reminders of the Irish famine. The trip takes you past the old ticket office where people bought their tickets bound for a new life in America or Canada and the slipway where families said their goodbyes. It also offers a fantastic vantage point to learn about the spectacular setting, its wildlife and the islands in the Bay.

4: Enjoy being in the outdoors. Being in such beautiful surroundings it would be a crying shame not to explore the local scenery. You can find absolutely beautiful beaches along the coastline of South West Donegal. When I visited one there was not another soul about and it was quite something to have the place to myself! There are plenty more things to do including walking, golf, horse riding or trying your hand at fishing.

5: Sample the local hospitality. This might be a bit obvious but if you can try to pay a visit to a local pub. A bit of friendly hospitality, a warm fire and a drop of the black stuff was the perfect end to a day spent in the outdoors. The region also has plenty of fine produce which can be sampled at a range of restaurants, cafe and pubs.

Top five travel writing tips

Always wanted to be a travel writer? The following are tips to help turn your dream into reality.

1: Know your audience: Think about who you want your article to appeal to e.g. adventurous types, solo travellers, food lovers, families etc. Your article then needs an angle – why did you go? What were you looking out for? What was the point of the trip? Consider the things that you have seen and done on your trip that will appeal to your audience and write your article accordingly.

2: The best travel writing sounds natural: Use simple language. Articles filled with clichés and meaningless words like ‘the waves were gently lapping on the beach’ are obvious and can put readers off as it doesn’t tell them anything new. Something like ‘With its powdery sand, warm turquoise seas and palm trees xxxxx Beach is an ideal place to unwind’ paints a picture in the reader’s mind and helps them decide if they want to visit.

3: It is all in the detail: People want interesting information and facts. They don’t really care that while you were on holiday you attended your cousin’s wedding and had a great time. They want tips on great places to stay and visit, want to hear about the café you discovered on a back street or a day trip you planned and put together that you really loved.

4: Don’t start at the beginning: This may sound a bit weird but a good article is all about structure. If you tell the reader the story of your visit but just relay it in chronological order, then that can make for a very dull article. All your pieces will always begin with your trip to the airport, train journey etc, not necessarily interesting! Instead try to think of an anecdote that happened on your journey as a way of setting the scene.

5: Successful writing: This is all about painting a picture and drawing the reader in. If you can give them a sense that you are letting them in on a secret, then you will have been a success. They will come back to your work if you make great recommendations, give lots of useful information and tips and tell an enticing story. But a word of warning, always be realistic and straightforward, readers are unlikely to forgive an author who cannot be trusted.

How to fall for Toronto

THEY SAID it was one of the best views I would get of Toronto and as my ferry pulled into the harbour I had to concede my friends were right.

My ferry took me from a fantastic day spent relaxing on the Toronto Islands back to the more hectic pace of city life. The collection of small islands is just a 10-15 minute ferry ride away from Toronto and it is worth getting a good seat for the return journey to take in the approaching city’s dramatic skyline in all its glory.

We are in the Canadian city on a five-day break and are keen to see as much of Toronto as possible without breaking the bank.

A day can be spent at the Toronto Islands for the price of a return ferry ticket. With its beaches, picnic areas and amusement park the islands are popular during the summer months.

You can hire bicycles to get around or stroll along the boardwalk which takes you on a delightful route, winding around the shoreline.

Toronto’s market culture

During our five-day stay I was a frequent visitor to the St Lawrence Market. There are a huge selection of stalls selling everything from fresh fish to bread and cheese and maple syrup and plenty brimming with pastries, bagels, and a huge range of produce and tempting snacks. Breakfast for me was often a quintessentially Canadian peameal bacon sandwich – a bun stuffed with thick slices of pork.

Getting about on foot is a great way to see the city and sample a bit of local life. The distillery district, was once the site of the dilapidated Gooderham and Worts Distillery but has now been transformed into cafes, restaurants, shops, galleries and hosts regular events.

Toronto has plenty of cheap eats with its diners and wide variety of ethic restaurants often offering great value. The city’s Chinatown district offers plenty of shops and restaurants.

Niagara Falls

Whether you are on a budget or not a visit to Niagara Falls is a must-see for many visitors. It is not hard to see why. The sheer power of the falls crashing down is pure spectacle.

Pulling on a waterproof cape and boarding the Maid of the Mist takes you astonishing close to its beauty and brute force. You will get wet but will find yourself unable to tear your eyes away as you jostle for the best viewing position from your historic boat.