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No wheels, no worries: the best way to explore Switzerland is sans car
Those punctual, hardworking Swiss have thought of everything. After all, where would we be without velcro, the World Wide Web (invented at CERN by British scientist Tim Berners-Lee) and… LSD? But there’s one thing you’ll never have to think about when it comes to travelling through their picture-perfect country: a hire car. Of course plenty of the population drive their fuel-efficient cars on their impeccably designed motorways but, for travellers, a car is about as useful as a pair of knitting needles on a Swiss Army knife. Although the country is compact – at around two-thirds the size of Tasmania – Switzerland’s public transport network is unrivalled, weaving a hyper-punctual web of rail, trails, river boats and buses across the land and requiring just one integrated pass: the Swiss Travel Pass. This is how you can keep your travels clean, green and lean while exploring Switzerland’s natural beauty by any means but car. Why drive when you can first-class train it? You’d be hard pressed to find a destination in Switzerland not serviced by a train – one with wrap-around panoramic windows and tea service, at that. There are 29,000 kilometres of public transport routes criss-crossing the country, and you can buy a blanket Swiss Travel Pass or individual region passes to make use of them, depending on where you’re going. If you’re just getting from A to B, you’ll truly understand the term ‘Swiss efficiency’ after touching down in Zurich and zipping to the other side of the country in two hours flat. However, for most people, it’s all about the Grand Train Tour of Switzerland – an experience in and of itself, which attracted a 48 per cent increase in bookings in 2017. It combines eight different routes, including iconic panoramic journeys like the Glacier Express (travelling across the Alps) and GoldenPass (with its beautiful Belle-Epoque GoldenPass Classic). With a Swiss Travel Pass in hand, you’re not only covered for train journeys but the entire network of boats, buses and city transportation, along with many mountain cable cars and free admission to more than 500 museums. [caption id="attachment_43773" align="alignnone" width="1024"] Take a glimpse of beautiful Haslital.[/caption] More cycling trails than the Tour de France The circuit of the Tour de France may clock 3500 kilometres, but it’s Switzerland that has over 12,000 kilometres of signposted cycling trails, making it one of the most cycle-friendly countries in the world. They’re even shutting down roads so you can ride in the shadows of their snow-capped mountains. Select mountain passes will now be closed to motorists between May and September for Ride the Alps, a cycle series that allows cyclists to freely ride through the storybook landscape without fear or inconvenience of passing cars. But it’s not just the Swiss who are nuts for two-wheel transport – almost two million visitors to Switzerland will cycle during their holiday, with about 30 per cent opting for the ease of e-bikes. Companies like Rent a Bike allow you to pick up wheels in one spot and drop them in another. You’ll also find bike-storing facilities on public transport, and for the serious lycra-lovers, there are even bike hotels where you’ll find handy facilities like bike repair workshops, e-bike charging stations, and luggage transfer services. [caption id="attachment_43774" align="alignnone" width="1024"] The stunning Lausanne in full view.[/caption] Food on foot There’s nothing more quintessentially Swiss than a hike throughout the day before retreating to a traditional fondue house for schnapps, rösti and raclette. However, there’s more to Switzerland's culinary landscape than chalets of cheese. In Zurich, explore the up-and-coming Zurich-West quarter on foot with fellow foodies on the Zurich Food Tour and you’ll taste your way through some of the city’s top restaurants and try freshly brewed Zurich beer. Continue your explorations and you might stumble upon Max Chocolatier; the artisanal chocolate house, which has its flagship on the banks of the River Reuss in Lucerne, offers private chocolate tastings to learn about the origins of their cocoa and other natural ingredients. Wandering by foot is also the best way to discover the makers within Basel’s Markethalle (Market Hall), which operated as a local market from 1929 until 2004. After laying dormant for a decade, it was rejuvenated and re-opened in 2014 with a line-up of up-market food stalls and a weekly market on Saturdays. Just staying there gives you free transport To avoid transport costs gobbling up a good chunk of your holiday budget, many major cities within Switzerland provide a discount card when staying in one of its hotels. You’ll generally receive unlimited access to the city’s public trains, buses and trams, but some cards include additional extras, which make the argument for leaving the car in the rental bay even stronger. The Basel Card, for example, gives holders so much more than free transport, such as access to free wi-fi at 17 spots around the city; 50 per cent off admissions to Basel Zoo; a two-hour sightseeing bus; a walking tour of old town; and scheduled river cruises. In Bern, airport transfers are thrown in. In Lausanne, the Transport Card also grants holders discounts at selected shops, theatres and museums.
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Five essentials for your first time in Berlin
Explore this dynamic European capital one delicious currywurst, vibrant food market, sunny beer garden and sprawling art gallery at a time. No matter what stage of life you're in chances are high that Berlin is a big part of your travel diary. Whether that means you've already been there or are yet to tick it off your wish list, Germany's capital, and one of Europe's most dynamic cities, is rightfully one of the most desired and storied in the world, with a cultural scene so rich and diverse that first-timers could easily feel a bit overwhelmed. To help quell that confusion a bit, we've put together a list of five essentials for your first time in Berlin that you should definitely keep in mind ahead of any upcoming Eurotrip. Make the most of Berlin’s expansive art scene [caption id="attachment_43383" align="alignnone" width="600"] The Berlin Wall East Side Gallery is the largest open air gallery in the world (1.3km-long). It is situated near the center of Berlin.[/caption] From the intensely intimate, to the outrageously strange, to the kind of inspiring, grand works found only in the world's best museums, Berlin's art scene is in a league of its own. Then you have the elaborate – both political and otherwise – murals and protest graffiti that cover all 1316 metres of East Side Gallery, the longest open-air gallery in the world, transforming the largest remaining part of the Berlin Wall into an extraordinary and profound art walk along the Spree River. For art lovers there is no better place to be than Berlin, whether you're delving into the dark side of the city's history at the deeply affecting Topography of Terror, dipping into communist history at the DDR Museum, admiring the beauty of the newly relocated Käthe Kollwitz Museum, or hopping around the five major museums that dot the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Museum Island. And while you're at it, don't forget the endearing (and delicious) Deutsches Currywurst Museum. Learning about Germany's complicated history and then seeing how art has layered on top is one of the most inspiring experiences you can have in Europe. Berlin's art scene deserves all the fame and all the hype that regularly surrounds it. The city has been transformed by some of the most creative minds in all of Europe, extending arts influence far beyond the regular institutions and using the whole city as a canvas. You'll find art all over the city, and it’s a great way to explore Berlin's many different and distinctive neighbourhoods. The best way to museum hop is to grab a Museum Pass from Visit Berlin, which is around AUD $47 for free entry to over 30 different museums, including all of the ones on Museum Island. If that's not enough for you, there's plenty of street art tours you can take around neighbourhoods like Kreuzberg. Join the conversation on Currywurst Berlin's staple fast food favourite is as hotly debated as any flagship snack across Europe. There's one difference though, the currywurst blows just about all other European street food out of the water, and finding the best currywurst in Berlin feels like a true accomplishment. Why? Well for starters there's an endless amount of stalls dedicated to serving that faultless combination of steamed and fried pork sausages, sweet curry ketchup and curry spice that dates back to 1949. Secondly (providing you've found one of the better ones), your taste buds won't stop thanking you as that rich sauce dances across your tongue, with or without a spicy kick, and lays down a royal red carpet for those chopped pieces of pork sausage to come decorate your palate with pure and utter joy. You'll find many locals swear by Curry 36, and it is most definitely one of the best entry points to currywurst a first-timer can have. As a bonus, if you're heading along to Potsdam (which you should most definitely be doing) you'll likely have to change trains at Zoologischer Garten (the destination for Berlin Zoo as well), ideal because there's a Curry 36 stall right outside and, thankfully, it's consistent with the popular brand's main stall which is located on The Mehringdamm, a street in southern Kreuzberg. Convenience aside, there's plenty of Currywurst stalls out there that are just as good, if not better, and highlight the surprising diversity that has been built from this simple recipe. You'll be shocked at just how significantly different the taste is when you tweak any one of those three essential ingredients, and many chefs have their own special ways of bringing out these differences. Tuck into the homemade brilliance of Curry Baude, which is just outside of U-Bahn station Gesundbrunnen; queue up with the locals for the super popular Zur Bratpfanne in Steglitz; test your spice tolerance at Curry & Chili in Wedding; or dig into the very centrally located Curry Mitte in Mitte. Once you plough through the signature offerings at these stalls you'll have a good idea of just how contentious this culinary topic is. [caption id="attachment_43384" align="alignnone" width="600"] Cloudy Autumn sky above old buildings in Berlin, Prenzlauer Berg.[/caption] Make time for a day trip to Potsdam Head out of Berlin for the day and into Brandenburg's capital of Potsdam. You'll only be travelling around 40 kilometres so getting here won't eat up much of your time, and the tiny effort is well worth it. Known as the former royal seat of Prussia, this town is resplendent with old world charm, featuring spectacular palaces and impeccably manicured gardens, the kind European fantasies are made of. One stroll through Sanssouci Park and a visit to its breathtaking palace is the most essential thing to do out here if you're short on time, although Potsdam's unmatched charm and rich history extends far beyond any one sight. [caption id="attachment_43386" align="alignnone" width="600"] Communs - situated opposite the New Palace in Sanssouci Park, Potsdam, Germany[/caption] The UNESCO World Heritage-listed capital has the type of opulence and grandeur to rival dream destinations like Versailles and Petergof, breaking away from Berlin's urban sprawl with more than just a few flashes of aesthetic brilliance. There aren't enough postcards in the world to quite capture the feeling of taking a leisurely stroll through the Dutch Quarter, standing in the imposing shadow of the New Palace, taking in the history of Cecilienhof Palace, or the elegance of Chinese House. During summer there will be plenty of tourists hopping around, but even the thick crowds can't take away from the sense of tranquility framed by timeless beauty. [caption id="attachment_43387" align="alignnone" width="600"] Detail of the Nicolas Church (Nikolaikirche) in Potsdam (Brandenburg, Germany).[/caption] Spend as much as time as possible in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg The intersection of these two locales (defined by Oberbaum Bridge) is large enough to demand your entire time in Berlin, so if you're only on a short trip it's best to plan ahead as there is a lot of see and do. The city's hipsters amass all throughout these two neighbourhoods, spilling in and out of the many galleries, nightclubs, eateries and public parks at all hours of the day. [caption id="attachment_43385" align="alignnone" width="600"] A sunset by the Spree river in Berlin, Germany.[/caption] A few of the top things to do over on the Friedrichshain side of the bridge is visit multifaceted gallery and art space Urban Spree, walk that aforementioned East Side Gallery, party poolside at Haubentaucher, engage with the local creative scene at Michelberger Hotel, check out the former pumping station turned arts palace Radialsystem V, and tuck into one of the area's many cafes, which includes Aussie-born Silo. Of course, night owls should always see if they can slide past the infamously tight entry policy and party all night at one of the most well-known and desired nightclubs in the world, Berghain (tip: don't dress up, stick to street fashion as a start). Hipsters will want to spend most of their time in the dilapidated surrounds of RAW-Gelände, a former train repair station now covered by graffiti and populated by weekly flea markets, nightclubs, art spaces and bars, including disco-for-two Teledisko which is located in a repurposed phone booth. It's not only one of the best examples of adaptive reuse projects in Berlin; it's one of the best in the world. On the other side is Kreuzberg, and it's a name many of those who haven't been to Berlin should be more familiar with. The neighbourhood is massive so there's much to do, including eating your way through the high density of Berlin's best dining options, from street food to high-end restaurants. If you go to one market in Berlin, make sure it's the Turkish Market which stretches just under a kilometre along the Landwehr Canal, on both sides of Maybachufer Straße, every Tuesday and Friday from 11am to 6.30pm; Kreuzberg is defined by its Turkish population, so plenty of delicious food and interesting wares can be found here. For a similar, but more food-focused, vibe head along to Markthalle Neun for the famous Street Food Thursdays before taking a stroll through Viktoriapark and perhaps visiting its small, historic vineyard or hidden beer garden. Whatever you do, don't forget to eat at Burgermeister at least once, it's right near Schlesisches Tor and does up some of the tastiest burgs in the city. Foodies will want to spend plenty of time walking the hip and fashionable Paul-Lincke Ufer, a street that runs along the Landwehr and is lined with some of Kreuzberg's finest. Coffee enthusiasts should stop by Concierge Coffee, while just about everyone will find something they like. Just make sure you end up on Admiralbrücke for the sunset; the 10-metre-wide bridge has long been a local favourite for the public, and on a good day you'll find hundreds of Berliners out just socialising, either sitting on the pavement or on the bollards. Countless beer bottle caps have been cobbled into the ground, which should immediately indicate that this is somewhere young people use as a gathering spot, much to the chagrin of older neighbours who have made numerous attempts to put a stop to the social institution. At around 10pm each night the police will come around to tell people to leave, but until then it remains one of the best and most immersive atmospheres in Berlin. You'll make some new friends, no matter how shy you are. [caption id="attachment_43388" align="alignnone" width="600"] Two yellow trains on the Oberbaum bridge in Berlin, Germany[/caption] Hang out at one of the many beer gardens Other cities in Germany may be better known for their beer gardens, but Berlin has still got some of the best in the country. If you're in a group then spending endless hours enjoying life’s finer things in a busy beer garden is a Berlin essential. The city's oldest is still its best, so make sure you check out Prater for its huge yard, onsite restaurant and picnic-style outdoor seating. It's located right on Kastanienallee too, which is a street in the heart of Berlin with plenty to see and do. For something a bit different, head along to Café am Neuen See in Tiergarten park; the popular summer destination is located right on the lake and hides in the shade of tall trees, making it one of the most picturesque and relaxing gardens in Berlin. Worth travelling for is Loretta am Wannsee, which overlooks Wannsee lake and does up some of the best hearty German food around.
Switzerland’s thermal spas
Katrina Lobley checks in to one of the Switzerland's best thermal spas to discover its health-giving benefits – all in the name of research, of course.
100 tips, tricks and hacks from travel insiders – Europe
It's no secret that Europe is holiday destination people can't seem to have their fill with. From exploring the Greek Islands, to enjoying the best pizza Naples has to offer, it's certainly not short of incredible experiences for travellers.
Pristine natural landscapes and an intriguing culture: how to see the real Scandanavia
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How to complete your European bucket list without lifting a finger
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Why you need to explore the world with Gate 1 Travel
Founded in 1981 with just three employees, Gate 1 now boasts more than 400 staff in their international offices that offer around-the-clock support for travellers, with a promise to deliver more of the world for less by developing quality, affordable holidays for Australians. Gate 1 Travel offer escorted tours, European river cruises, small group tours and customised international travel packages. Our diverse tour offering covers destinations across every continent, even taking travellers to Antarctica. With its own ships that sail along the Rhine, Danube and the Netherlands’ waterways, European River Cruising is the most popular product and also among the cheapest on the market, with a deluxe seven-night Rhine River cruise from $2199 per person. Visit gate1travel.com.au to see the full list of tours and save $500 per person on all 2019 European River Cruises at the time of booking when you quote promo code INT500RCA by 31 December 2018. The facts -Great pricing without sacrificing quality; we often include 4-star or higher ranked hotels on escorted tours and our river cruises are 4- and 5-star. -Time and time again travellers comment on the high quality of our local Tour Managers. They are extremely knowledgeable, considerate of the needs of the tour group and passionate. -We have a diverse selection of tour destinations across every continent. From Antarctica to Asia, Africa and more, we offer More of the World for Less! -European River Cruising is one of our most popular packages and our cruises are much more affordable than the ones you’ll see advertised elsewhere. We operate our own luxurious ships and travel along the Rhine, Main and Danube Rivers, as well as the Netherlands’ waterways. -Gratuities are included on all our escorted tours and river cruises. -A normal deposit is all it takes to lock in our Early Bird deals and we don’t charge any credit card fees. You can even get 5% off the balance when you pay by bank deposit. -We have been operating for over 35+ years. -In a recent survey, 100% of Gate 1 travellers said they would travel with the company again. Classic European River Cruise 14 nights / from $4179 per person Enjoy a 14-night Classic European River Cruise from $4179 per person when you quote promo code INT500RCA at the time of booking. Spend 14 nights aboard the Deluxe Monarch Empress, First Class Monarch Governess, or Monarch Duchess and journey through the heart of Europe from Hungary, through Austria and Germany, finishing in the Netherlands where you’ll tour the canals of Amsterdam. Along the way you’ll see magnificent panoramic views of Budapest from atop Fisherman’s Bastion, visit romantic Vienna with its legendary opulence and elegance, and walk in Bamberg’s medieval centre with its 11th-century Romanesque cathedral. The cruise includes 41 meals: 14 breakfasts, 13 lunches, 14 dinners with unlimited wine and beer with dinners. Plus you’ll receive river port charges of $380 per person, entrance fees per itinerary as well as comfortable wireless earphones for excursions. For more information, please head on over to Gate1travel.com.au
Why you should be booking a Beyond Travel cruise through Russia
Established in 1994, Beyond Travel have over 24 years of expertise helping Australian travellers experience the best that Russia has to offer. Renowned leaders in travel to this fascinating country, in 2019 we are pleased to present the largest range of Russian river cruises available, with a dedicated Cruise Russia website and brochure.
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