It’s never been cheaper to travel to Europe than it is right now. When I first started going back and forth between New Zealand and Heathrow at the beginning of this century, I could pay as much as $3,000 (return) if I timed it wrong. Yet despite inflation, a return fare today can be as little as $1349, if you shop around*. Some of the reasons behind the price drop include increased capacity thanks to larger planes, stronger competition between airlines and a handful of new budget carriers vying for custom. And while paying bottom dollar might not make for the most pleasant 24 hours of your life as you wing your way to the other side of the world, if economy is your aim, you’ll be happy to play this game.
So, where to go in Europe?
A strong magnet for kiwi wanderers for ever so long, London will always exert a mighty pull. Of course, any tourist worth their salt can find Buckingham Palace, Harrods or the Thames – but how about mixing it up in the Queen’s capital and exploring East London’s Hackney Wick. Before the 2012 Olympics, this formerly derelict spot had millions of pounds lavished on it, transforming a wasteland into a thriving arts community with a theatre, canal side eateries, bars, pubs and a couple of excellent craft breweries including Crate, which is run by New Zealanders. What’s more, once you’ve made it there by Overland (or on the 388 bus from Bethnal Green) it’s all walkable. Or cyclable if you care to hire a Santander Cycle from one of the many Hackney docking stations. Take the short stroll to Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park (home to a stadium, pool and velodrome) or just walk around the acres of park, wildflower meadows, playgrounds and fountains. What’s more, barely a hop, skip and a jump from all that nature is Stratford Westfield – Europe’s biggest shopping mall.
Scotland is a delightful chunk of the British Isles and, in many ways, it feels like its own distinct country – as many Scots would agree it is. So whether your ancestors came from Scotland, you like the sight of tartan, or you’re a fan of Scotland’s national animal – the unicorn – whatever your reason for heading north of the borders, the capital city Edinburgh is an obvious first port of call. Board your train at London’s Kings Cross – such a relaxing way to travel – and trundle through lush countryside and past castles to Auld Reekie. Aside from the wonderful arts festival that sees the city heave each August, if you’ve a thirst for whisky, you’ll be thrilled to learn a dram of quality single malt will set you back just £4 which is much more reasonable than the £10 you might pay in London’s swankier bars. Be sure to make time for a stroll around the Royal Botanic Gardens, a climb up Arthur’s Seat for sweeping views and a sense of deep history and of course the Edinburgh Tattoo. And even if you’re not a fan of the world’s most famous boy wizard, the Harry Potter Walking Tour is really rather magical.
There is no other place in Europe like Barcelona. A bustling seaside metropolis, the EU’s sixth most populous city, this Catalan community is a haven for lovers of culture, art, architecture and sport. Boasting eight World Heritage Sites, the city is deservedly famous for its modernista architecture – muchas gracias Gaudi and amigos – not to mention other historic structures some of which date back over 2000 years. Aside from the dreamy architecture, food also exerts a strong pull and the cuisine, including tapas, has really evolved over the years, with many establishments offering imaginative twists on traditional Catalan styles of dining. And you’ll be hard pressed to find cheaper wine – which makes a siesta after a long lunch a most excellent idea. Or how about browsing through a district dedicated to a theme – Example for craft beer lovers, El Born for comic book shops and Las Ramblas for everything you never knew you needed. And if it all just gets too crowded, your senses over-loaded, slip into your most sensible shoes and hike up the majestic Montjuic Mountain. It’ll take some puff, but when you get to the top, those views will be your reward.
And then there’s Lisbon. The capital of Portugal is older than Rome, London and Paris, an elegant centre of arts, culture and finance, it’s one of the oldest cities on earth, and one of the most delightful. Imagine a bigger, more ancient version of Wellington; set by the sea, it’s hilly, the locals know good coffee, the nightlife is loads of fun and it’s easy to navigate. Like finding yourself inside a post card, everywhere you look you’ll be taking a lot of photographs. The seven trademark hills, the endearing old buildings, the cobbled laneways and the bars with their intoxicating Fado music all weave their spell. And unlike Wellington, Lisbon has a Mediterranean climate.
And don’t forget to play it safe because as much as you’ll take every possible precaution to keep you and your loved ones safe while abroad, it’s also wise to think about travel insurance in the face of unexpected loss or illness. So be sure to investigate Worldcare’s low-cost, high quality travel insurance options for your next long distance trip.
*Price accurate at the time that this article was written. Prices will fluctuate so be sure to shop around.
Elisabeth has what is known in the trade as a ‘portfolio career’. Upon discovering that law school wasn’t really her bag, she completed a degree in theatre and film at Victoria University, followed by a diploma in acting from The NZ Drama School: Toi Whaakari. After a couple of years playing Shortland Street’s notorious villain, the evil Nurse Carla, she became a breakfast radio host which required a lot less make up and marginally less bloodshed. From the late 90s wanderlust took over and she spent the subsequent decade travelling the world, taking on all manner of odd jobs during which time she discovered that her vocation was writing. Today Elisabeth writes about travel and leisure, arts and culture; she is also a regular contributor to Radio NZ National and an award-winning playwright.