Get more bang for your Euro

Not often touted as a budget destination, there are a surprising number of cities in Europe that cost far less than you think to visit. To stretch your travel euros further, skip the traditional jaunts to Paris, Rome and London and visit one of these just as charming, slightly unchartered and equally breathtaking cities instead.

6851856425_27e93634b4_bLeón, Spain – A far cry from the prices of more popular Madrid or Barcelona, León has some of the least expensive food in the entire country. After visiting the city’s famed cathedral, stop for a drink and enjoy tapas and a glass of Rijoa wine for as little as one euro. Experience the culture of the city with a self-guided tour to the picturesque old quarter, known as the Barrio Humedo, or through the Palace of the Guzmanes, a 16th-century palace now home to the City Council.

Krakow, Poland – If you’re into drinking and nightlife, Krakow is your place – featuring more pubs per square kilometer than any other city in the world. For perspective, you can sip on Belvedere vodka in one of the city’s trendiest nightclubs for less than four euros. Beyond drinks, there’s plenty of free sights and architecture to see in the Medieval Old Town, like the Royal Castle of Wawel, and in the Jewish quarter of Kazimerz, home to some 150 synagogues and churches and over two million works of art.

Budapest, Hungary parliament at night

Budapest, Hungary parliament at night

Budapest, Hungary – Built on a natural thermal spring, Budapest has long been a place people flocked to for spa treatments and soothing mud baths. Despite many luxury spas, there are quite a few that have bath tickets with cabins or lockers for as little as 17 euros, like the famous Szechenyi Baths or 16th-century Csazar Baths. Beyond mud spas, you can take an affordable bus tour through the hilly, historic Buda side of town and a self-guided walking tour through the modern Pest side to see the fascinating contrasts between old and new.

Prague, Czech Republic – Despite being one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe, the prices in Prague have remained reasonable, with four-star hotels costing around $100 USD per night. Plus, the city boasts a vast array of free activities, including a visit to the gothic St. Vitus Cathedral built in 1344, a Jewish Quarter with a fascinating history, the Vysehrad 10th-century castle, Moser Glass Factory and more. For locals, their favorite low-cost activity is packing a picnic and gazing over the city from Perin Hill.

 

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Off The Grid In Yangon, Burma

photo: Fotopedia

photo: Fotopedia

photo: Wilderness Travel

photo: Wilderness Travel

After the 2010 election the Burmese government changed significantly, making Burma a safe and appealing destination for travelers seeking somewhere new and authentic. Home to awe-inspiring religious monuments, charming colonial architecture and colorful street markets, there’s never been a better time to visit Yangon.

If you were only able to visit one place in Yangon, it would have to be the sacred site of 2,500-year-old Shwedagon Pagoda, where strands of Buddha’s hair and other relics are enshrined. Shwedagon is one of the most elaborate structures: the gold-plated pagoda stands at over 320ft and the top of the stupa is encrusted with 5,448 diamonds, 2,317 rubies, sapphires and other gems.

photo: Backyard Travel

photo: Backyard Travel

photo:  Burma Cuisine

photo: Burma Cuisine

Make sure to wander the 2,000-odd shops at the Bogyoke Aung San Market, where you will find all the souvenirs you need. If you enjoy seafood and most Asian cuisine, then you will love the Chinese, Indian and Thai influences in Burmese cuisine. Be sure to try laphet thohk (green tea salad), made from pickled tea leaves; and mohinga, a bowl of rice noodles covered in delicious fish soup.

Check out our Burma Adventure with G Adventures and experience one of Southeast Asia’s best kept secrets in comfort! Call our travel specialists for more information.

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Five Must Do’s in Paris

The Louvre Pyramid

The Louvre Pyramid

Paris is so much more than just the Eiffel Tower. Let us help you wander beyond the surface for a taste of real Paris and a more affordable vacation.

1) The Louvre
With over 35,000 priceless objects on exhibit and the juxtaposition of the renaissance-style palace and the modern pyramid, the Louvre attracts a large number of tourists every day for good reason.

2) The Centre Georges Pompidou
With its ‘inside out’ layout, this is one of the world’s most recognizable examples of modern architecture. It houses the national modern art museum, a movie theatre, library, shops and performance space, so it’s the ideal place to spend a few hours immersing yourself in French culture.

3) Champs Elysees
For retail therapy look no further than the glamorous tree-lined Champs Elysees. The avenue is home to upscale stores and luxurious brands as well as movie theaters, cafes, and restaurants, and is popular with tourists and locals alike.

4) Peniche Antipode
By day it’s a canal boat that puts on theater shows for children but by night it transforms into a music venue for everything from gypsy jazz to improv performances. The bar onboard serves only artisanal and fair trade products but has a drink for all tastes.

5) The Sacre Coeur
This basilica sits atop the highest hill in Paris, offering panoramic views of the city. For the most memorable sight, ascend the 234 steps at dusk and watch everything around you, including the Eiffel Tower, begin to sparkle.

Don’t miss our fabulous 12-day tour, Impressions of France. On this itinerary you will channel your inner artist and follow in the footsteps of the Impressionists from Paris to Provence. Your spirit will soar as you explore the French Alps, cycle through the wine region of Burgundy, and picnic beneath the Eiffel Tower. You’ll sip champagne at its source and meet the beautiful people in Nice. As always, you’re free to choose the activities that interest you-because you can’t discover yourself if you’re not free to discover the destination in your own style. Contact our travel consultants today for more information!

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Sidewalk Food Tours of Chicago

photo: Food Tour Pros

photo: Food Tour Pros

One of the best ways to get to know a location is by tasting the local food. Sidewalk of Chicago‘s 3-hour Food and History walking tours unlock the city’s most interesting neighborhoods by exploring their culinary delights. Sample delicious food tastings at amazing specialty food stores, ethnic eateries, well-known food purveyors and off-the-radar establishments – at the end of our tours, you will be able to use your newfound culinary perspectives and put the neighborhood and the city into a new, exciting context. Along the way, expert local guides provide an entertaining insider’s view into the culture, history and architecture that define Chicago. Tours are leisurely paced and suitable for all age groups and fitness levels. So eat as the locals eat, and see what the locals see – join the fun on one of Sidewalk of Chicago’s food-tasting tours.

“We believe there are two important things that one should have at the end of a good tour: a full belly and a full mind. That’s why we’ve structured our Food and History Walking Tours to offer you the best food and most fascinating sites that Chicago has to offer.  Our expert local guides provide an entertaining insider’s view into the culture and history that define Chicago. Experience the best of Chicago in all of its deliciousness.”
– Sidewalk Food Tours of Chicago

Do you love food and travel? Check out our Culinary Travels page!

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Springtime in Western Europe

photo: Travcoa

photo: Travcoa

Springtime travel throughout Western Europe offers myriad advantages: tourists are fewer, and the weather is ideal, with the sun overhead and a crisp in the air. City explorations, river cruises, and visits to the Castles & Countryside of Lore can be savored at an unhurried pace. There’s often a slight chance of rain, but it merely provides an excuse to duck into a charming Italian café or a local Irish pub to mingle with the locals.

While springtime brings with it Ireland’s “40 shades of green,” the abundance of budding flora is sure to be a highlight of your cruise through the Waterways of France by Luxury Barge. Flowers come into bloom on hillsides and in gardens, adding color and fragrance to each journey.

Although gastronomes are never in need of a particular season in order to indulge, Italy’s Heart & Soul reawakens in springtime, when gelaterias entice the locals out of hibernation with refreshing flavors such as lemon, custard cream, hazelnut and pistachio, zabajone and stracciatella. And of course you can’t forget the wines of Valpolicella and Cortona in your celebration of the new season.

Whether traveling for the scenery, the culture, or the cuisine, spring is a wonderful time to explore all that Western Europe has to offer.

Let our travel specialists help you find the perfect itinerary for your travel needs. Call us for more information and mention Travcoa’s Springtime in Western Europe!

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Fall Festivities at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta photo:FEST300

Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta                                               photo credit: FEST300

Today marks the first of the nine-day Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. Every inch of sky above New Mexico’s Rio Grande Valley becomes a connect-the-dots rainbow of color. Events begin as early as the sunrise “Dawn Patrol” and extend well into the evening’s “Glowdeo” parade. Thousands of onlookers gather below to watch the balloon races and enjoy the festivities. A favorite amongst many is the Balloon Glow, where every balloon lights their burner at 5:45pm, which is followed by the impressive fire work show. This fall festival is truly a spectacle of wonder for all ages!

There are many opportunities to include hot air balloon festivities in your next travel itinerary. Call our travel consultants to learn more!

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5 Tropical Escapes That Don’t Require a U.S Passport

Manua islands, American Samoa photo: Michael Anderson Gallery

Manua islands, American Samoa                                        photo: Michael Anderson Gallery

Need an exotic getaway but don’t have a passport? No worries! According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, these five destinations allow U.S citizens to travel without a passport.

Puerto Rico
The island of Puerto Rico (officially an unincorporated territory of the United States) has been a long time favorite for U.S travelers. Relatively inexpensive airfare makes Puerto Rico a great economical option, particularly for East Coasters. It was awarded TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice 2013 winner for best island in the Caribbean. With miles of unspoiled beaches, perfect kayaking and endless sunshine, what’s not to love?

United States Virgin Islands
The U.S. Virgin Islands are only a quick plan ride away from Puerto Rico. Made up of three main islands—St. Thomas, St. Croix, and St. John—plus a scattering of smaller isles, this popular destination welcomes more than 2.6 million visitors each year. Each island has its own unique appeal. St. John, with its national parks and incredible scuba diving, will charm even the most adventurous of travelers. St. Thomas is a shopper’s paradise, with charming boutiques, jewelry stores and bustling cruise terminals that offer all sorts of diverse souvenirs. And St. Croix is a favorite of luxury-seeking honeymooners and spa seekers. There really is something for everyone here!

Note: Travelers will need to have a passport to visit the neighboring British Virgin Islands.

Northern Mariana Islands
These Micronesian islands have been governed by the United States since the Battle of Saipan in 1944. They rely heavily on tourism from their northern neighbors Japan and Korea, as well as the United States. History buffs will find much to see in Saipan, the largest island of the Marianas, which is home to several war memorials and museums. Nature enthusiasts can dive with sea turtles and reef sharks in the Grotto, a limestone cave with 70-foot-deep waters. Although the Mariana Islands are relatively undeveloped, several major hotels, including Hyatt, run four and five-star properties on Saipan. This one is a real off-the-beaten-path adventure!

Guam
If you haven’t been to Guam it’s time! Tumon’s beaches are known for its legendary snorkeling, and the crystal-clear seas are famous among divers for visibilities up to 150 feet. Two Lovers Point, a cliff-side lookout offers some pristine panoramas from 400 feet above the Philippine Sea . And while flights to Guam don’t come cheap, accommodations can; resorts in Tumon and Tamuning average around $200 per night.

American Samoa
A collection of five volcanic islands and two atolls between Fiji and the Cook Islands. With only a handful of hotels on Tutuila and the neighboring islands, there are very few commercial distractions to remind you of home. In American Samoa you’ll find coral-filled waters, lava sculpted  coastlines and untouched beaches whose only other sunbathers are the sea crabs and ocean birds.

Plan ahead and escape the winter blues with a trip to one of these tropical havens! Call us for more information! Our travel specialists are here to answer all of your questions, create an unforgettable itinerary and find you the best deal for your dollar!

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