24 Hours in Nuremberg

There’s few cities in Europe that have endured such a turbulent history than Nuremberg.  It’s name will always be associated with a dark chapter in the history of the world but today it is a city that doesn’t hide the painful past, seeking instead to be a prosperous cultural centre.  Home to just over half a million inhabitants, few people outside of Bavaria will know that the city was once the unofficial capital of the Holy Roman Empire as it was seen as a convenient stopping off point for routes converging on the path to Italy and Rome.  Nothing like a bit of self-publicity to bring the crowds in.

Today, the city is a vibrant place, with the medieval heart painstakingly rebuilt after the Second World War with the huge market square that every Christmas hosts the famous Christkindlemarkt, one of the biggest and most traditional Christmas Markets in Europe which draws visitors from near and far.  Certainly one of the reasons for braving the freezing conditions to visit the city in the Winter time.  Here you will be able to experience one of the local delicacies, the Nürnberger Rostbratwurst.  These small, thin but delicious sausages are served five in a crusty roll with a dollop of mustard and can be found across the city when the market is on.

Nuremberg held great significance during the Nazi Germany era. Because of the city’s relevance to the Holy Roman Empire and its position in the centre of Germany, the Nazi Party chose the city to be the site of huge Nazi Party conventions — the Nuremberg rallies which were attended by hundreds of thousands in a show of supposed power.  The Zeppenlinfeld is still standing today and is worth visiting just to see the sheer size of the site.  It is located next to FCN’s stadium, Stadion Nürnberg which in itself is worth a visit on a match day.   The nearest station to these and the following sites is Frankenstadion Sonderbahnsteig on the S-Bahn line from the city centre.

Whilst it may have the longest name of any tourist attraction in the world, the Dokumentationszentrum Reichsparteitagsgelaende is one museum that above all else tries to explain the rise of the Nazi Party and what happened during the Second World War.  It’s hard hitting but absolutely fascinating.  Admission is just €5.  The museum is housed in the Kongresshalle, which was an impressive building built by the Nazi’s on the edge of Großer Dutzendtreich, which today is a popular boating lake.  It was to seat 50,000 but was abandoned during the war.  Another site not too far away was to be the Deutsches Stadion (“German Stadium”), designed by Albert Speer and would hold an astonishing 400,000. Its construction began in September 1937, and was slated for completion in 1943 but was demolished after the end of hostilities.  Today the Exhibition Centre (Messe) sits on the site where the stadium would have been.  To the north of Bayernstrasse is the Luitpoldhain, a very pleasant park but in the corner is the remains of the Hall of Honour.

After the war the city was chosen by the Allies to hold the trials of those accused of war crimes.  The Nuremberg Trials took place just outside the city walls in an annex to the Courts of Justice.  You can tour the site today to complete your journey through the recent history of the city.  Admission is €5.

Other spots well worth your attention include Nuremberg Castle, where the travellers on the way to and from Rome would stop and meet (as well as sleep and eat).  The Germanisches National Museum in the historic centre is also worth an hour of your time. However, the greatest pleasure of visiting Nuremberg is simply to wander into the corners of the city and enjoy the beauty of the buildings, especially those that line the River Pegnitz.

It is a relatively small city centre so most of the hotels are around the outside of the historic walls.  One that does sit in the centre is the Elch Hotel which is on Weinmarkt and dates back to 1342 but is full of modern cons.  The Hotel Drei Raben is also in the centre next to St Sebald Church and is perfect for the Christmas Market as it is right on the doorstep.  If you want to stay closer to the parade grounds and the football stadium then the Ramada on Muenchener Str is close by.

For beer lovers then you are in luck.  Not only has the city centre got some excellent bars but there are also a couple of breweries.  The Hausbrauerei Altstadthof in Bergstraße 19-21 has been brewing some outstanding beer for over thirty years whilst the Barfüßer is highly recommended and again is close to the Hauptmarkt.  The highest rated bar in the city is Mr Kennedy in Hintere Sterngasse 29 which has dozens of beers on offer.

Apart from sausages, which can be grabbed all over the city, such as the Bratwursthausie (the sausage house) which is in Rathausplatz.  Restaurant Burgwachter is a traditional German restaurant offering all the family favourites in Am Helberg whilst Alm is located a few doors away from the Hausbrauerei and is famed for its traditional atmosphere and cuisine.

Albrecht Dürer Flughafen is located around 3 miles north of the city centre and is linked via U-Bahn line U2 with a journey time of around 15 minutes.  A single ticket is €3.  Only a few UK-based airlines fly to the city (Ryanair are currently the only ones) so many will fly into Munich instead then head north on the new fast train line.  As you walk into the historic centre, pop into the Tourist Information Centre on Königstrasse to get your bearings.

I will wager a pint that once you’ve been to Nuremberg you will want to return time and time again – it is a small city but has so much to offer whatever time of the year you visit.

24 Hours in Zurich

What ever the season or the weather there is never a bad time to visit Zürich.  Often mistaken as the capital of Switzerland, it is the largest city in the country and has an unenviable position in the heart of the Alps, meaning there is outstanding natural beauty in every direction.  Whilst you will need to ensure you have plenty of Francs when you arrive, there are things to do, eat, drink and sleep for all budgets.  And with a flight time of less than 90 minutes from most UK airports, it is a perfect 24 hour destination – in fact due to the size of the country, Zürich is within touching distance of all corners of the country as well as neighbouring Southern Germany, Austria, Italy, France and of course Liechtenstein.

For those arriving by air into Kloten Airport, around 8 miles north of the city centre and linked by a regular train service that runs from below the building opposite the terminal below the shops.  The ZürichCARD offers travel to/from airport and the city centre plus discounts on many places for CHF24 for 24 hours (CHF16 for 6-16 year olds) or CHF 48/32 for a 72 hour period.  Most major airlines operate at least one route from the UK to Zürich.  Most of the places you will visit in the city are walkable but if necessary there is a good network of trams that cover all points.  Most stops have very clear displays showing the routes and when the next service is due.

Just outside the main station is the National Museum on Museumstrasse, one of the most iconic buildings in the city and charting the history of the nation and the city as well as temporary exhibits.  Another interesting museum worth a visit is the Money Museum in Hadlaubstrasse that traces the history of one of Switzerland’s most important specialities – banking.  The No Show Museum is an art museum, devoted to nothing and its various manifestations throughout the history of art. It claims to be the first of its kind. Founded in 2013 by Swiss conceptual artist and curator Andreas Heusser, the museum’s collection today includes around 400 works and documents from over 120 international artists of the 20th and 21st centuriesUndoubtedly, the most interesting museum in the city (OK, so I am biased!) is the World Football Museum housed at FIFA’s HQ on Seestrasse where you can get up close and personal to the genuine (apparently) World Cup Trophy.  Talking of football, the two city rivals, FC Zürich and Grasshoppers share an intertwined history and a stadium, the stunning Stadion Letzigrund.

Some of the beauty of the city is simply the stunning location and some of the historic buildings around the city centre. The Old Town on the hill to the east of the main station is perfect for a couple of hours wandering, with plenty of shops, restaurants and bars, whilst the two churches of Grossmünster and Fraumünster dominate the skyline, the latter of which houses 5 large stained glass windows designed by artist Marc Chagall depicting a Christian story. Of course the lake comes alive in the summer, with boat trips heading out in all directions providing some of the best views of the city and the surrounding area.

The main shopping, should you decide to indulge (and we really mean indulging here) can be found in the Old Town around Zäringerstrasse and Banhofstrasse on the left bank of the Limmat.  There is also a shopping centre at SihlCity well served by tram line 5, 13 and 17 which also houses the Four Seasons Hotel and Arena Cinemas as well as a host of bars and resturaunts.

So where do you start with places to eat and drink?  Many will want to try (or retry) fondue and one of the most historic places to sample it is Le Dézaley, a 13th century restaurant on the edge of the Old Town.  One of the best, and most reasonable, places to eat is the Zeughauskeller on Paradeplatz which is reminiscent of a German beer hall and serves meat, potatoes and beer – oh and a foot long sausage.  Just around the corner from here is the Bauernschänke in Rindermarkt which is the place to go for a schnitzel.

Fancy a  drink?  Of course you do.  There’s a million and one bars you can try in the city centre but if you are spoilt for choice how about starting at Widder Bar in the hotel of the same name in Widdergasse which is famed for his huge range of single malt whiskey.  For a view with your drink head to the Jules Verne Panorama Bar on Uraniastrasse, located above the rooftops of the city.  The International Beer Bar is the home of craft beer in Zürich and can be found in Luisenstrasse and is well worth an hour or two.

There’s loads of places to lay your weary head in the city but don’t expect any bargains.  A decent three star hotel such as the Altstadt in Kirchgasse may still set you back a couple of hundred pounds, whilst the Ascot Hotel in Tesserinplatz is a favourite of the footballing community.  If you really (and I mean really) want a slice of Swiss humour then book a room at the cow-inspired Leoneck Swiss Hotel in Leonhardstrasse.

24 Hours in Guernsey

Fancy stepping back to a time when life had a more leisurely pace? Where people respect the countryside and where the sun shines a little bit more than in the Great Britain? Welcome to Guernsey, the second biggest Channel Island, sitting some 38 miles west of France and 100 miles south of the mainland of England.  The island, along with the small islands of Herm and Jethou, lies within the Common Travel Area of the British Isles and is not a member of the European Union, but has a special relationship with it, being treated as part of the European Community with access to the single market for the purposes of free trade in goods. Taken together with the separate jurisdictions of Alderney and Sark it forms the Bailiwick of Guernsey.

The main attraction on the island is the island itself.  There are some physical attractions such as Castle Cornet, occupying a strategic location at the edge of the harbour in St Peter Port which is good for a couple of hours, or the trio of museums – La Vallette Underground Military Museum, The German Occupation Museum and the German Underground Hospital Museum – that trace the occupation of the island in the Second World War, but many people will come in the warm months from April to September to enjoy the beautiful beaches (such as Vazon Bay or Shell Beach on nearby Herm).

If you are lucky then either the Football Club or Rugby Club, both of whom who play at Foote Lane around a mile from the town centre, will be at home, which is a decent afternoon’s entertainment.

For just a pound (even better that Guernsey has still retained the one pound note which ceased to be legal tender in March 1988 on the mainland) you can get a bus that tours the island to take in all of the popular sights on the island (all bus fares are £1 on the island for convenience).  The drivers are normally good at pointing out the locations of places of interest such as the ones above, but you may need to do your own investigations to find the four more unusual places of note below:-

  • The post box in Union Street in St Peter Port is the oldest cast-iron pillar-box still in use anywhere in the British Isles, and the only one on the island that isn’t blue.
  • The location of the world’s first underwater arrest, where Mr Kempthorne-Leigh was illegally harvesting ormers, a popular but protected mollusc, and was arrested by a scuba-diving police officer.
  • The sight, according to local folklore, where Guernsey was once invaded by a group of fairies, who were inappropriately excited by the beauty of the local women. This did not augur well with their husbands and partners. The bloody battle that ensued inspired the name of Rouge Rue in St Peter Port, which translates as “Red Road” and refers to the alleged spilt blood that flowed through the street.
  • The Hauteville House Museum, the very strange house that was home to Victor Hugo.
  • The Little Chapel, which is just as the name suggests, on the outskirts of St Peter Port.
  • The house of Martin Brady, the man with the slowest ever recorded human heart rate.

Virtually all visitors will arrive on the island via air, using the Island’s own airline, Aurigny, who fly daily from a number of UK airports including Gatwick and Stansted.  The route from Southampton Airport involves a scheduled 45 minute flight, meaning the plane is in the air for around 30 minutes, enough for even the most nervous flier.  A bus (number 95) makes the regular route to St Peter Port, taking around 20 minutes.  A cab will cost around £12.

As you would expect, Guernsey offers a wide range of accommodation for the night, with smaller Bed & Breakfast establishments opening up for the summer months.  The best hotels are the St Pierre Park Hotel, about 1.5 miles outside of St Peter Port and close to the Foote Lane Stadium, which also offers a decent restaurant (Victor Hugo Restaurant), health club and golf course, whilst the Old Government House in the centre of town is the island’s only 5-Star hotel. Other good places to stay include the Best Western Moores Central, on the High Street and just a two-minute walk to the sea front, whilst the Le Friquet Hotel is a perfect retreat outside of the bustle of St Peter Port.

In terms of suitable hostelries, as you would expect the majority of establishments in St Peter Port.  Stand out pubs, both in terms of location, friendliness and range of beers, include The Golden Lion in Market Street, Red Grill House in The Pollet and The Ship & Crown on the sea front.  In terms of decent places to eat, The Octopus which is a 20 minute walk out-of-town at Havelet Bay is great for seafood, The Boathouse has an unenviable location on the water’s edge, Da Nello is one of the best Italian’s in town and slightly further afield The Restaurant at Beaucette Marina has the location and the food.

One thing you can absolutely guarantee though is nobody ever leaves Guernsey saying they won’t be back.  It has so much warmth and beauty that it is the perfect destination, irrespective of the weather for 24 hours, albeit it isn’t quite a city.

24 Hours in Fort Lauderdale

Miami has the beat, Fort Lauderdale has the beach.  Few people will come to Florida’s 8th biggest city unless they are coming for the sun, sea and sunsets, rather passing through on the way down to Miami just 30 minutes to the south and onwards to The Keys.  But there’s enough here to keep even the most restless tourist occupied for 24 hours.

For starters there’s Sawgrass Mill, America’s biggest outlet centre with over 300 stores, located on the edge of the Everglades National Park, and rivals some of the theme parks in Florida for daily footfall.  Less busy but still impressive is the Aventura Mall that sits on the borders between the city limits of Fort Lauderdale and Miami. No good can come out of visiting either as the owner of a joint bank account or credit card.  Both really require a car to access although Aventura has the hub of a number of local bus routes, such as line 4 that runs up Ocean Drive to Dania Beach.

To get a different view of some of the amazing properties that sit on the river then use the informative Water Taxi service that runs the whole length of Hollywood and the waterways of Dania and beyond. There is a boardwalk that runs for a couple miles from South Hollywood allowing the perfect cycling conditions, with hire points at regular intervals.

You’d be mad not to take advantage of being so close to the Everglades and the best way to see them is by airboat.  Guides will point out alligators, manatees and all sorts of strange creatures at the Sawgrass Recreation Park.  Florida is one of the few states where gambling is legal and so many people will head to Gulfstream Park for some betting action whether that’s on horse racing or on the casino tables.

Take your pick from all of the major chain hotels either in the city centre or Hollywood Beach. You will pay a premium for a room with a view in somewhere such as The Diplomat on Ocean Drive which has a 33rd floor bar and an amazing swimming pool as well as a very good restaurant.  A cheaper option, The Crown Plaza 5 minutes south has an infinity pool which offers some superb sunset views from the poolside bar.

Hyde Beach Kitchen, just off  is a seriously good seafood restaurant and cocktail bar with a local right on the beach that will earn anyone trying to impress their partner significant brownie points, whilst further up South Ocean Drive is the highly recommended GG’s Waterfront Grill and Billy’s Stone Crab Shack which not only offers superb stone crab, unsurprisingly, as well as superb sunset views.  If you want to sample some of the best craft beers in the area then Hollywood Ales brews on the beach at the junction of Polk Street and North Surf Street, which also does some decent food, whilst a minute’s walk away is the always busy Taco Beach Shack.  You’ll find the excellent Hollywood Pale Ale in many bars and restaurants up and down Ocean Drive.

24 Hours in Bilbao

Name a place in Europe where you can buy you a three course meal, a glass of superb red wine, a bottle of water and you still get some change from €20? There’s very few places I’d wager unless you have somehow managed to get Doc Brown’s DeLorean working again.  But just sometimes the world surprises you and that’s exactly what Bilbao does.  The meal deal isn’t in some backstreet rundown café either – its in a 4 star hotel where you can eat with a view of one of Europe’s most modern stadiums or one of Europe’s most ambitious and most successful dockside regeneration programmes,  step forward the restaurant El Buxto in the Hotel Hesperia Zubialde, which not only has this excellent offer but slap bang next to Bilbao’s latest architectural wonder, Estadio San Mamés.

First up – don’t come to Bilbao and expect the city to entertain you.  Sure, there are a few attractions but to get the most out of this gem of a city you need to walk like a local, eat like a local and drink like a local.  Be prepared to understand the etiquette of Pintxo and the fanaticism of Athletic Club and you will get along famously.

Twenty years ago the city was a bit of a mess.  The riverside was still scarred by years of neglect and the city was just coming to terms with the 21st century.  And then along came Frank Gehry with his vision for an artistic masterpiece that would change the future of the city forever.  The opening of the Guggenheim Museum in 1997 was the defibrillator that the region needed. Over €500 million was generated for the region in just a few years as over 4 million tourists visited the museum. The regional council estimated that the money visitors spent on hotels, restaurants, shops and transport allowed it to collect €100 million in taxes, which more than paid for the building cost. In economic theory terms, the Return on Investment was bat-shit crazy. A cameo role in the 1999 James Bond film “The World is not Enough” didn’t harm visitor numbers either.

Most visitors come to Bilbao to experience the Guggenheim Museum and it is certainly as stunning inside as it is from the outside.  Admission is €10 plus any additional charge for the temporary exhibitions.  The museum has a prime location on the banks of the river, opposite the very upmarket Duesto district with its fine riverside mansions.  The parkland running adjacent to the museum has now been redeveloped, including a new shopping centre, the Zubiarte plus La grúa Carola (the red crane) which forms part of the Maritime Museum whilst closer to the Guggenheim is another excellent art museum, the Museo de Bellas Artes be Bilbao in Euskadi Plaza.

Further down the river towards the mouth of the Biscay is the Vizcaya Bridge, built to connect the two banks and is today the world’s oldest transporter bridge, having been built in 1893 after being designed by Alberto Palacio, one of Gustave Eiffel’s disciples.  45 metres tall and 120 metres long, the bridge is still in operation today, transporting vehicles and passengers across every couple of minutes on a cradle, suspended by 40 metres of cable.  You can cross the bridge by the walkway, 40 metres above the river if you don’t have a fear of heights for €7, which also includes a trip on the vehicle transporter.  It is best to approach the bridge from Areeta metro stop as that side is open during all seasons whilst the Portugalete side is only open March to October.

The centre of the city is Plaza Moyua and it is from here that you can experience the Basque art of the Txikiteo – a Basque bar crawl that essentially involved hopping from bar to bar to sample each one’s speciality dishes, or pintxos.  The rules of the txikiteo, where the best pintxos could be found and even that there was an annual competition for the best one in the city (the Muestra de Bares de Pintxos if you really wanted to know) change from week to week but for the visitor it is easier just to go with the flow.  A list of the finalists each year can be found here.

If you head to Madrid or Barcelona you can hop from bar to bar and experience tapas. You will get a small plate of whatever the bar has made free of charge with your drink. In the Basque region, a pintxo costs extra. The pintxo started life modestly, as a piece of tortilla or ham on bread, and must be consumed standing up, in a maximum of two mouthfuls. The Guggenheim effect is the terms given to explain the explosive growth in popularity in txikiteoing and pintxos in general as a result of the opening of the museum. My personal favourite is Singular, a craft brewing inspired bar in Lersundi Kalea which not only has 6 craft beers on tap but an excellent selection of Pintxo in a very relaxed atmosphere.

The city has some decent hotels including the Hotel Abando in Colon de Larreategui and the amazing building that is the Palacio de Oriol in Avenida Cristobal Murrieta.  If you want to really splash the cash then head to the Hotel Carlton on Plaza Federico Moyua 2 or the Gran Hotel Domine in Alameda de Mazarredo with its amazing atrium and slap-bang opposite the Guggenheim.  Neither come cheap but what you spend on a room for the night you will undoubtedly save in food and drink.

If one building sums up the city then it is the new home of Athletic Club Bilbao, the San Mamés stadium, located just 10 minutes walk from Plaza Moyua.  The building is stunning and won the 2015 World Sports Building of the Year award.  Tickets can be purchased at the ground and if the team aren’t at home then you can also tour the stadium.

The Airport itself is a wonderful piece of architecture, designed by Santiago Calatrava whose latest creation, the Occulus, is the hottest new building in Lower Manhattan. Located 6 miles outside of the city centre, in the Loiu valley, it is linked by the BizkaBus (number 3247) which runs every half an hour to Plaza Moyà and the Bus Terminal at San Mamés and costs €1.45 each way with a journey time of around 25 minutes.  Once in the city if you want to make use of the Sir Norman Foster designed metro (such as a trip up to the port or the Transporter Bridge) then buy a day ticket for €4.30.  Within an hour you can also reach the fantastic resort of San Sebastian, famed for having more Michelin stars per capita than anywhere else in the world and the amazing crescent beach, by bus or train, whilst an hour to the west is another resort town, Santander.  To the south you can find Pamplona, famed for its annual Bull Run.

24 Hours in Aberdeen

Welcome to the Granite City said the sign as you drive across the River Dee from the A90.   Aberdeen.  Home to Henry Cecil, Graeme Garden, Brewdog and Alex Salmond, winner of Britain in Bloom a record ten times and the 56th most habitable city in the world. That’s quite an introduction to a city that is often forgotten on the cultural map of Great Britain, one of the furthest outposts on the tourist trail of these wonderous Isles.

The city’s history has been tied to the sea and it is no different today.  The quayside still bustles with activity, day and night as the onshore home of the North Sea Oil and Gas industry.  The importance of the sea in the development of the city can be found in the Maritime Museum, located in Shiprow which also offers some fine views across the harbour area and is free to enter.  Another interesting museum in the city centre is the Tolbooth Museum which is one of Aberdeen’s oldest buildings and one of the best-preserved 17th century gaols in Scotland. It features displays on local history and the development of crime and punishment through the centuries and provides a unique experience in the form of its atmospheric 17th and 18th century cells, original doors and barred windows.  For something more hands on and educational then head to the Science Museum in Tramsheds – admission is £5.75 for Adults and £4.50 for Kids.

For those with a more criminal mind, you can follow the stories of crime writer Stuart MacBride who has used the city for the location of his Logan McRae thrillers such as Cold Granite and Dark Blood, with a self-guided tour around the places featured in his book.

The city features a number of parks and gardens such as the Hazlehead Park and Duthie Park and Winter Gardens, whilst the fine beach of Balmedie is within touching distance of the city centre.  A walk through Seaton Park down to Brig o’Balgownie, Scotland’s oldest bridge, is well worth the effort. Built on the orders of Robert the Bruce and restored in 1607, it served as the River Don’s main crossing point. Lord Byron, referred affectionately to the single span bridge in Don Juan.  If you are prepared to travel out of the city a bit then the Queen’s favourite country retreat, Balmoral, is open between April and July, located around 50 miles west.

Located just five miles outside the city centre is the state of the art home of the craft brewery craze.  Brewdog can quite rightfully sit back and say “we did that” when they see the hundreds, if not thousands of micro-breweries opening up around the world today.  The DogTap is located at the brewery and allows you to get up close and personal with the beer and the brewery process.  Tours are available Monday to Friday at 4pm and 6pm, and 12pm, 2pm and 4pm at weekends and costs £15 per person, which of course includes a few beers. Number 67 & 68 buses run regularly from Aberdeen city centre to Ellon Park & Ride which is a short, thirst-inducing, walk away.  They also have a bar in the centre of town in Gallowgate.

The nightlife in Aberdeen is often something that people often come to the city for and there is so many bars to choose from that it is impossible to scratch the surface in one evening.  The Howff in Union Street is one of the best rated bars as well as offering some decent food, whilst literally just down the road is The Pint of Cupid which is certainly a fixture on most nights out.  The Tippling House in Belmont Street gets very busy in the night as it offers an extensive food menu and whisky tasting.  Finally, The Illicit Still in Guestrow offers food, drink, pool and a good location.

I actually had my first ever Deep Fried Mars Bar back in 1999 in Stonehaven in The Carron Fish Bar, which used to proudly display a banner on the side of the building claiming they invented the snack, although today they’ve been forced to remove the claim.  However, there are still places around the city where you can try the “delicacy”.  Alternative, for a real unique snack, head to Pittordrie, home of Aberdeen Football Club where you can sample the Pittordrie Pie, so good that the football club are looking at trademarking the meat pie.

There are a number of good hotel options in the city, with the majority falling into the “reasonable” bucket.  Jurys Inn Aberdeen is right in the centre of the action, opposite the station and has the airport bus stop right outside, whislt the Premier Inn Aberdeen City Centre Hotel is just north of Union Street, in the heart of the main night time action. Holiday Inn Express Aberdeen City Centre is also in the area and good value if booked in advance.  If you really want to push the boat out then consider the Mecure Ardoe Hotel in South Deeside Road which looks like a Disney-esque castle.

Aberdeen’s Dyce Airport is located six miles northwest of the city centre and is served by BA from Heathrow, Easyjet from London Gatwick and Stansted, as well as FlyBe from London City.  The airport is linked to nearby Dyce railway station by the 80 Dyce Airlink shuttle bus which runs between the station, where you can get a train every 30 minutes to the city centre. Trains run on a regular basis up the east coast from Glasgow and Edinburgh via Dundee.



24 Hours in Helsinki

Back in 2011 Monocle magazine voted Helsinki as the most liveable city in the world. The Economist Intelligence Unit placed it in their top ten cities in the world last year and last year they welcomed a record 3.5 million visitors who added nearly €1.5 billion to the already thriving economy. It’s fair to say Helsinki, and Finland overall, are enjoying life at the moment.

But will you? Your 24 hour experience in the capital of Finland will ultimately depend on two factors:-

1. The time of year
2. How well you have prepared for point 1

It’s fair to say that your experience of this fantastic city will be dependent in many ways on the weather. Whilst the sun shines hard and long into the night in the height of summer, the bitter winter is enough to send the most durable Finn indoors to enjoy their favourite past time – Saunaring.

I’m not sure there is a verb “to sauna” but if there isn’t it then the wordsmiths have obviously never visited Finland. There are more saunas here than cars but not quite as many as mobile phones – after all this is the country that brought us Nokia, and of course Snake. Consequently, a Finnish fact to take how is that there are no pay phones in the country.

Let’s assume for the sake of this post (and how I’ve experienced the city twice now) you visit during the summer. Whilst there will be the odd “grey day” where low cloud and drizzle will be the order of the day, most days will be wall to wall sunshine, with daylight disappearing in late June/early July close to midnight.

The new train line now takes you direct from the very smart Vantaa airport around 10 miles north of the city direct to the main station in around 20 minutes. The station can be found in between the two terminals and a single ticket to the city is €5.50. Trains run via two routes but both ultimately go to the city centre with very little difference in journey times. Remember to validate your ticket when you board in the orange/yellow machines.

The Soviet influence (after all, St Petersburg is only a four and a half hour journey away) is obvious from the block-line buildings and the fantastic architecture of the main station featuring the poshest Burger King in the world.

The importance of the water during these months cannot be underestimated. Finns love to take to their boats and sail out to the three hundred plus islands that form the archipelago of Helsinki. Whether it’s on an organised boat trips sailing gently around the islands or a visit to such historic places as the fortified islands of Suomenlinna, which are today a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Another place to visit for an afternoon is Helsinki Zoo or Korkeasaari, located on a rocky garden. A ferry and water buses take visitors to the island summertime from the Kauppatori and Hakaniemi where the market stalls are.

With few tall buildings in the city, the best views of the skyline are from the water. The one building that dominates the panorama is the Helsinki Cathedral, the icon for the city since it was built over 150 years ago, a brilliant white structure with the green and gold rooftops sparkling in the summer sunshine.

For football lovers, head to the Sports Academy opposite the station that has enough screens to keep even the most ardent fan happy as well as decent American diner-style fair. If you are in town for the football season then a trip up to the Olympic Stadium, where the Finns hosted the games in 1952 and the next door is the Sonera Stadium (Finnish for stadium by the way is Töölö), how to arguably the biggest team in Finland, HJK and HIFK. The ground is a 15 minute walk up Mannerheimintie from the central station.

On the other side of the railway line from the stadium complex is the amusement park of Borgbacken and the Sea Life centre that heaves of a weekend but is great to get a feel for family life in Finland.

The city centre is compact and easily walkable. The pedestrianised streets are cross-crossed with trams if your legs need a rest but nowhere is more than a ten minute walk away. The streets around the main station (remember if arriving by train Helsinki is often written in the Swedish form Helsingfors. The main artery of Mannerheimintie is flanked by institutions including the National Museum, tracing Finnish history from the Stone Age to the present, imposing Parliament House and Kiasma contemporary art museum as well as some of the upscale shopping establishments. At right angles to this is the tree-lined boulevard of Esplanadi which runs to the water’s edge and is where the good and beautiful congregate after work on a summer’s evening.

Talking of midnight sun, then the place to head is Hernesaaren, a ten minute cab ride to the furthest southern tip of the city. The old abandoned industrial land has been converted into a massive beach club with various pop up bars, street food vendors and a huge stage for outdoor events. Deckchairs and cabanas provide a Cafe deal Mar feel whilst the deck area offers superb views of the city, silhouetted by the setting sun. Five minutes walk back towards the city is Löyly, a huge sauna open to all on the rocks that is covered by another superb bar and restaurant.

There’s no shortage of decent bars and restaurants in the city. If craft beer is your thing, and quite frankly why wouldn’t it be, then head to the tiny Wall Street cabin bar on Ateneuminkuja, behind the Ateneum art gallery where the have a fridge full of the stuff.

For a drink with a view then jump on the old red tram called Spårakoff that departs from Mikonkatu near the central station every hour during the summer from 2pm. The posh team not only tours the sights of the city but has a fully stocked bar. A ticket costs €9. Alternatively head to the 14th floor of the Hotel Torni where their panoramic terrace offers some of the best views in the city.

Another unique bar is the Trillby and Chadwick Detective Agency on Katariinankatu street. Themed as the 1920’s Helsinki branch of a London detective agency set up to support the enforcement of Finland’s prohibition laws and combat alcohol smuggling, it’s hidden behind an unmarked wooden door. Pass through here and pick up the phone and make an appointment with Trillby. If there’s room, they will invite you through a second set of doors to the most secret bar in the city.

The usual hotel chains are scattered across the city centre but if you are looking for something a bit different then the Hotel Katajanokka may be up your street, located in an old prison whilst the GLO Kluuvi is highly recommended with a great city centre location, a decent bar and very comfortable rooms.