Thursday, February 24, 2011

POLL: What are your Favourite European Destinations?

As part of our European City Break Season I have put together a list of 20 destinations that I want YOU to vote on!  Help me to put together a Top Ten list by voting on the poll to the right.  You can vote for more than one city .... so no need to spend hours deciding!  It takes just a few seconds to vote for your favourite cities so please cast your vote now!

If your favourite city does not feature then don't let it be left behind...comment here and I will add it in :)

Thank You!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

City Break Season

Spring is the awakening season for more than just nature.  It is generally the time of year when that traveller's itch starts to itch that bit more!  With Winter over and the Summer in sight the urge to get out of the house, the town, the country becomes unbearable.  Given that it is still too cold/wet/elementally unreliable to plan an excursion based solely on outdoors living and pursuits, we flock in our thousands to various cities across Europe looking to scratch that itch with some urban sampling of the foreign variety. 

Over the next few weeks the Top Tips for Trips Blog will focus on European city destinations and what they offer the itchy tourist :)

Having just returned from a 5 day trip to Paris (in case you're wondering I was not swept there for a romantic Valentine's weekend....a girly shopping spree took priority!), the French capital is first on my list for review.  Still itchy after the spree I immediately booked a weekend in  Berlin on my return-so I will end  my city break season with a review of the German capital.  In between expect lots of tips for city breaks in Europe, including my top ten picks!  

For now I leave you with a word of advice: If you want to fit in a mini-break between now and summer NOW is the time to book :)

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Valentines' Weekend Ideas

If you missed our interview on Spin this afternoon then here is a little round up of some ideas and offers for this Valentine's weekend in Ireland.

Dublin Dates on the cheap

Dublin might not have the same romantic connotations as the amorous and atmospheric Paris or Rome. However on a technicality it is THE destination to go to if you want to celebrate Valentine's day properly. And by properly I mean acknowledging the 'saint' part of the holiday. This is because Dublin is home to the relics of the patron saint of lovers. St. Valentine's remains reside at the Whitefriar Street Church, Aungeir St. Couples are welcome to visit the church and pray to the saint year round, but the 14th February in particular is a busy day as there are two special 'blessing of the rings' ceremonies held at 11 AM and 3:15 PM. Many soon to be wed couples have their marital bands blessed here, hoping to start their marriage on a good foot!

There is nothing more romantic than climbing to the top of the world and enjoying the view with your lover. You share a sense of achievement in getting to the top and then pleasure in admiring the world below. This is probably why hilltops are traditionally popular locations for marriage proposals! But don't worry; you don't have to propose just because your on an incline...! For south-siders Killiney hill offers stunning views; for north-siders Howth Head with it's view of the Howth peninsula and beyond is breathtaking. If you are a lazy lover that likes the idea of a view without the climb then take a ride on the Dublin eye. Enjoy the cityscape with zero effort and a glass of champagne in your hand!

 View from Killiney Hill

View from Howth Head

If you have worked up a hunger after your hike - or are simply just hungry-there are lots of Dublin restaurants offering romantic meals this year, too many to mention! Like the rest of Ireland, Dublin's restaurant industry is currently a competition of value. 'La carte' is in the hands of the diner, so shop around and you will be sure to get an intimate, tasty Valentine's meal with a price tag that won't break your heart!

Hotel Breaks 
Irish hotels love Valentine's. Most put together enticing weekend packages to tempt courting couples. Like restaurants there are many great deals to be had. Invest a bit of time researching what is on offer before you decide and your patience will be rewarded! In saying that there is just ONE WEEK left to Valentine's weekend so get moving!

Here are some of my top picks for Valentine's with an activity twist:

Inchydoney Island Lodge & Spa has put together a package that includes a stunning starlit kayak paddle for two through the water. Enjoy a gourmet picnic and marvel at the bio-luminessence in the water as you float along.

WARNING: Not all couples are suited to manning a two-man kayak together (personal experience!). Unless you work well as a team this love boat could turn into the divorce boat!

But even if you have a frustrated lovers tiff on the water you should make up over the rest of your weekend.

Package includes 2 nights bed and breakfast accommodation, 1 gourmet evening meal, access to the spa facilities (including a warm saltwater pool), the starlight kayak experience with picnic basket. €336 pp. Package available throughout February. To book click here. 

Clonakilty's Fernhill House Hotel and Gardens has also put together an activity package, this time swapping a kayak for a horse.  This package includes 1 night Bed and Brealfast in the newly refurbished bedrooms, gourmet dinner for two, winter picnic and a one hour Horse riding lesson at Kingston's Horse Riding School all for €125 pps.

This next package is gimmick led and extremely corny, but I thought I'd include it anyways for the sickly-sweet hell of it!
Rathmullan House in Donegal has a package especially for couples who are Nuts About Each Other.  Guests get to plant a nut tree in the hotel grounds to symbolise that they are madly in love. Not only will they receive a Nuts About Each Other certificate giving details of their tree, couples also but get a complimentary upgrade at the hotel whenever they return to check on its progress (how enterprising!).

A one night package starts at €135 pp.If you are nuts enough to book click here! 

Thrifty Tip:  If you like this idea, but can't afford the hotel stay then DIY by heading to your local garden centre and buying a packet of seeds for a fiver. You'll have to make your own certificate in Word, but if you're lucky there will be a squirrel nearby who can validate it for you both.......  

Bed and Breakfast Country Breaks  

Hotel breaks can be expensive, but you can enjoy a romantic getaway for less by sticking with B & B accommodation.  There are heaps of lovely Bed and Breakfasts around Ireland, lots with a very high standard -almost like boutique hotels-and almost all with extremely helpful and friendly staff!  Expect to pay about €30-€40 pp. p/n for an en-suite room and endless local knowledge!  This is a great option for people who love exploring the countryside and village life.  Both and www.bedandbreakfastireland.net are good sites for sourcing accommodation.  


For people who usually hide under their (single) duvet until the soppy holiday passes and the dessert-sharing lovers go back indoors. there are some single friendly Valentine's weekend options out there! 

TullAmoré Matchmaking Festival

If you are looking for love this Valentine's then the TullAmoré Matchmaking Festival may be just the ticket!  The inaugural festival takes place between the 11-13th February and is pitched as a celebration of life, friendship and love.  Three days of events in the Offally ton centre around the headliner Black tie Valentine's Ball @ the Bridge House Hotel in aid of the Irish Heart Foundation.  Ball tickets cost €100, a steal considering professional 4th generation matchmaker, Claire Daly, will be on hand to offer her services.  You can't put a price on love!  A 2 night B & B stay at the hotel cost €110 pps. Visit the Bridge House Hotel website or the festival site for more details. 

Pour Moi @ the Mayrick hotel Galway

The Galway city hotel is running a Pour Moi package with a variety of fun activities laid on for singletons.These include a welcome treat on arrival (strictly not of the heart-shaped variety), a soothing hot stone back massage and a singles cocktail party in the Basement Bar that night.  You can choose between 5 dates over the weekend.  A single occupancy room is priced at €165, but if you bring a pulling partner or wing man it works out @ €110 pp.  To book your place click here!

Hope this has inspired some nice trips for the upcoming weekend!  For me it is fingers crossed that my other half reads this and cops on that I would love to be swept away..............likely :(

Happy Valentines!


Thursday, February 3, 2011

Valentine's tips on Dublin's Spin 103.8 FM

Tune in to Plan B on Dublin's Spin 103.8 FM tomorrow (Sat 5th Feb) between at 11:45 AM and 1:45 PM (most likely @ 1:20 PM) to hear me talking all things Valentines' with Spin presenter Michelle Beatty.  We will be discussing ideas for trips in Ireland to suit all budgets, as well as some suggestions for singletons!  If you miss the show no need to worry, you will find all the info discussed here on The Top Tips Blog after it has aired. 

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Girly Day in Kilkenny

Last weekend I spent the day in Kilkenny. It is 15 years since I last visited the city, so remembering very little of my childhood visit, I literary came to it with a fresh pair of eyes. I loved what I saw.
Located in central Ireland on the river Nore, Kilkenny is a medieval city with a population of about 24,000 people. It is acclaimed internationally as a centre for craft and design, for its beautiful castle and its lively and atmospheric spirit.  The old city is characterised by exquisitely restored buildings and narrow winding slip ways. It is small enough that you can explore on foot, yet so packed with fascinating historical architecture, treasure chest shops, design galleries and cosy pubs and restaurants that you could easily pass a carefree weekend here.

Kilkenny was named after a 6th century monk St Canice.His memory lives on in the beautifully restored St Canices Cathedral, built overlooking the city in the 13th century. Kilkenny Castle , one of Ireland's finest, was built by the Normans who arrived in the city during the 12th century. A visit to the castle is an absolute must for newcomers to Kilkenny. At €6 entrance fee per adult and discounts for seniors, families and students it is a very affordable tourist attraction. The Office of Public Works, charged with the restoration and upkeep of the castle, should be commended for keeping entrance fees so low, as well as keeping the castle in such good knick of course! For visitor information visit the Kilkenny Castle website.

Kilkenny city may be old in structure, but it is young at heart It is one of Ireland's creative hubs, home to many independent artists and musicians, design centres and studios- including the renowned Kilkenny design centre- and even its very own Oscar-nominated animation studio, Cartoon saloon. There is a definite arty vibe here. Creative charm and retro chique combines with quaint and cosy comforts to deliver a warm and inspiring environment. It is a free-spirited town with a welcoming atmosphere, helped along by friendly relaxed locals in friendly, relaxed venues.

One of the most charismatic spots in Kilkenny is definitely Bridie's General Stores. We were just minutes on the street when we passed its magical window display and were forced to slink in for a pre-mature coffee. stop Few could resist the tantalising tarts and fancies that devilishly lure you through the door. Once inside there is more to delight. Floor to ceiling shelves of glass jars filled with old-style sweets greet you. A glance at those forgotten- familiar treats had my mouth watering for days gone by. Childhood nostalgia out of the way,you can slip through the swing doors that lead to a wonderfully charming old-world bar. Even empty and in the light of day this place oozed atmosphere.  Through the bar again is a stylish-heated-beer garden. Whatever your vice-a tipple, a smoke, or just a sweet tooth- Bridie's will be sure to cater for all.

Want to see more of Bridie's? Check out this little slide show :)

Leaving Bridie's in a dreamy haze we hit the shops. Most of the high-street chains can be found here, and for the thrifty shopper I counted at least 5 charity stores. The highlights for me however were the little boutiques, treasure chest everything stores and hide-away vintage shops. My sister and I through the town gathering a bundle of unnecessary, must-have delights. Luckily we were travelling in a van :) Dandelion Daydreamer, my sister's blog, has covered the many lovely shops we visited. But if you just want a saeak peak then here are some photos that are sure to get you counting you saving for a spree in Kilkenny.

Butterslip-a haven for trinkets and jewellery 

Yesterdays-O so lovely French style furnishings and interiors

Smoking Lily -vintage clothing

Shutterbug-Photography studio and second hand store

Exhausted after splurging in the shops we decided to splurge over lunch instead.  With so many cafes and restaurants to choose from we found ourselves in a dining dilemma. When in doubt, ask a local. We were directed to Cafe Mocha on the main street and am I glad we were! A giant toy soldier at the door invited us up the stairs and into the restaurant. Inside the country kitchen style cafe we struggled to choose from a tempting menu and then struggled even harder not to look at the cake display while waiting for our lunch. Luckily our food arrived quickly, and it was gone nearly as quick. Delicious home-style cooking with bags of flavour- the only thing after a day on your feet!   

We weren't lucky enough to experience Kilkenny after dark, but I am assured that the nightlife is kicking!  However, not one to take someone else's word for it, I am already booked in for a night out in Kilkenny in early March.....All in the name of research of course! Once I have sufficiently sampled the pubs and clubs I will report back to the Top Tips Blog!  For now I just have to save my pennies so I can hit all those lovely shops again in March....

To keep up with news and events in Kilkenny visit the Kilkenny Tourism website.  

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Spring is in the air! Famous quotes about springtime

Today we can officially wave goodbye to the winter blues and welcome -warmly-the arrival of spring!   It might still be cold, it might still be wet, but the evenings are lengthening by the rooster's step (as my Grandad would put it) and the eternal optimism of spring is in the air.  It's in my step too :) 

For me Spring is about getting back outdoors, taking weekend mini-breaks and planning for your summer trips....all of which will be covered here on The Top Tips for Trips Blog over the coming months.  If you still have one foot stuck in winter then have a read of these famous seasonal quotes...they might help you get a spring back in your step like they did for me!  Enjoy! 

Spring is when you feel like whistling even with a shoe full of slush.
Doug Larson

It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold:  when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.  
Charles Dickens

Everything is blooming most recklessly; if it were voices instead of colors, there would be an unbelievable shrieking into the heart of the night.  
Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters of Rainer Maria Rilke

In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt. 
Margaret Atwood

A little Madness in the spring Is wholesome even for the King. 
Emily Dickinson

Spring has returned. The earth is like a child that knows poems. 
Rainer Maria Rilke

It's spring fever.  That is what the name of it is.  And when you've got it, you want - oh, you don't quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!  
Mark Twain

The year's at the spring
And day's at the morn;
Morning's at seven;
The hillside's dew-pearled;
The lark's on the wing;
The snail's on the thorn;
God's in His heaven -
All's right with the world!

Robert Browning

And Spring arose on the garden fair,
Like the Spirit of Love felt everywhere;
And each flower and herb on Earth's dark breast
rose from the dreams of its wintry rest.

Percy Bysshe Shelley, "The Sensitive Plant"

The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day.

Robert Frost

Spring is nature's way of saying Let's Party.
 Robin williams

The first day of spring is one thing, and the first spring day is another.  The difference between them is sometimes as great as a month.  

Henry Van Dyke

If you've never been thrilled to the very edges of your soul by a flower in spring bloom, maybe your soul has never been in bloom. 
Terri Guillemets

April hath put a spirit of youth in everything.  
William Shakespeare

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