One of the great things about Barcelona is the coastline and its city beaches. After a hot day of sightseeing, museum hopping, shopping and walking around, there’s nothing more refreshing than jumping into the fantastic Mediterranean Sea. And better than just cooling off, Barcelona offers a vibrating beach life during the extra long Spanish summers.
It hasn’t always been like that though. Until 1992 the inhabitants of Barcelona are said to have lived with their back towards the sea. Unlike now, they didn’t come here to have long Sunday lunches and some paddling afterwards as the beaches along the coastline were non-existent. When Barcelona hosted the Olympic Games in the summer of 1992 the city’s council decided to pull out all the stops, giving the visitors an opportunity to experience a brand new city beach.
It started with the cleaning up of Barceloneta and the construction of the Olympic Village: Vila Olímpica. A new port was being built as well: the Olympic Port. And it worked as the whole world could see what Barcelona had to offer and the beach was probably one of its main attractions. After the Olympic Games tourism in Barcelona continued to grow, as did the kilometres of golden sand; the first towards the Fòrum in the north and recently also the south part of Barcelona underwent a facelift.
Nowadays Barcelona has nine beaches within the city borders: Sant Sebastià, Sant Miquel, Barceloneta, Somorrostro, Nova Icària, Bogatell, Mar Bella, Nova Mar Bella and Llevant. The beaches close to the neighbourhood of La Barceloneta and Vila Olímpica are usually the most crowded ones, especially during the weekends and holidays they’re packed with locals, families, tourists and youngsters. Some people prefer the quieter beaches towards the north, such as Mar Bella or Nova Mar Bella. Both are a bit further away from the city centre, but can be reached easily by metro (L4), bus or bicycle.
If you don’t like the idea of a city beach at all, you may want to leave the metropolitan area of Barcelona and find yourself a more idyllic playa somewhere else along the coast, just like many locals do. Sitges, Montgat and Sant Pol de Mar are favorites and can all be easily reached by train.
But back at Barcelona, the beach area is more than sand and the shimmering sea. Think activities such as stand up paddle (SUP), surfing, pilates on the water, skating, biking and, for those who don’t like the salty water, there’s an outdoor swimming pool just in front of Barceloneta’s beach. In the early morning and in the evening, when the beaches are quieter, you’ll see locals participating in boot camp sessions or simply running along the boulevard.
Feeling hungry? Naturally, sea and fish are inextricably connected. La Barceloneta is the best barrio in town to order a fish paella. Good restaurants are Salamanca and Can Majó. If you want to try something else, order the Catalan variation called arròs negre; black rice made with squid ink and, believe me, it’s delicious. Barraca is a more modern urban rice restaurant, with a broad variation of rice dishes from
Catalonia and other Spanish regions, such as Valencia. Most are combined with fish.
Another possibility is to visit one of the many temporary looking restaurants along Barcelona’s coast. La Guingueta de la Barceloneta, by chef Carles Abellan, is definitely a good option. Further to the north you’ll find La Guingueta de Escribà, from a Catalan family famous for its culinary traditions.
Just looking for a place to have cocktail? A beach based nightlife can be found around the Port Olímpic and the twin towers Torre Mapfre and Hotel Arts. Here you’ll find many clubs such as Opium and Shoko, and the local casino. Right at the port you can sit down at one of the many terraces for food or drinks in the evening and, later on, most places transform into late night venues where party-hard tourists hang out until early morning. However, these are not usually frequented by locals.
The area around the W Hotel, Barcelona’s newest icon, is the current place to be for drinks. Here you’ll find different bars and restaurants, and on the 26th floor of the same hotel you’ll find the bar with a view: The Eclipse Bar. It’s a fancy venue for food, drinks and music but after sunset it can get pretty crowded and it’s definitely not the cheapest place in town. But when the bar closes you still have the beach to hang out and enjoy Barcelona’s early summer sunrise.
El Magnífico: a classicOverall coffee is good in Barcelona, but there are some places coffee lovers especially appreciate. El Magnífico (Carrer de l’Argenteria 64) is a classic. It’s the oldest coffee shop in town and a place where locals buy their freshly harvested beans. But you can just order a cup of coffee, although choosing may not be that simple. They can prepare your coffee in almost every possible way: espresso machine, filter coffee, aeropress, to name a few. According to some this is even the best coffee shop in the whole of Spain.Satan’s Coffee Corner (Carrer de l’Arc de Sant Ramon del Call and several other places) has been around for a few years. As the name suggest, Satan’s is usually a corner within a shop. The coffee they serve is on the go and comes straight from El Magnífico and other fine brewers, so quality is guaranteed. And don’t worry, you won’t go to hell drinking this coffee.
Seasonal roastsA relatively new coffee place in town is Nomad Coffee Lab & Shop (Passatge del Sert 6 and Carrer de Pujades 95), from the beginning a pilgrimage destination for coffee freaks. Nomad Coffee is an initiative from award-winning baristas Jordi Mestre from Spain and Kim Ossenblok from Belgium. Here you’ll find only rotating seasonal roasts.
Order your coffeeAll Spaniards have their own way of drinking coffee and it is perfectly normal to order exactly what you want. For example, a ‘café con leche’ with warm milk but not that hot and served in a glass instead of a cup. Trust me, waiters won’t get angry. Or a ‘cortado largo de café’, an espresso with milk but with more coffee than milk.
Café solo (cafè sol).This is comparable to the Italian espresso, a small cup of strong coffee. Some locals may, regardless the hour, order a ‘carajillo’, which means adding something stronger, such as rum. Typically in this city it is the perfumed coffee with anise in it, a ‘perfumat’.
Café con leche (cafè amb llet).This is not a cappuccino, since foamed milk is not appreciated by everyone in Spain. ‘Cafe con leche’ is coffee with hot milk, similar what most people know as café latte, but with a bit less milk. Let the waiter know if you want the milk to be warm, cold, hot or very hot. You can also order a ‘café con leche corto de café’ (less coffee) or ‘largo de café’ (more coffee).
Cortado (cafè tallat).‘Cortar’ literally means breaking or cutting: in this case the bitter coffee (espresso) is being cut with a little amount of milk. Don’t be surprised if your cortado is served in a glass on a saucer. Also in this case you can ask the waiter to add a liqueur, usually rum. Locals know this drink as a ‘trifásico’.
Cafe americano (cafè america).‘American coffee’ isn’t, contrary to what many think, filter coffee. It’s espresso diluted with water. The unconfirmed story goes that this is an invention dating back to World War II, when the American soldiers were fighting in Europe. They are said to have added water, to make the coffee overseas taste like the filter coffee they were used to at home. It is very common to ask in advance to have a lot or just a little bit of water.
Bombón (cafè Bombo).This is the indicated coffee for sugarfreaks. A bombón is a short coffee, served in a glass, just like a ‘cortado’, but instead of normal milk it comes with condensed milk. This variant is originally from Valencia and is also called ‘café goloso’, which means something like ‘coffee for sugarlovers’. It looks beautiful, because the coffee remains as an elegant layer on top of creamy milk.
Café con hielo (cafè amb gel).When it is very hot in summer, you can order your coffee with ice. This goes for any type of coffee. Whenever you order café ‘con hielo’ you’ll get your coffee and a glass with some ice cubes. The idea is to poor the coffee into the glass of ice cubes (it sounds easier then it is so make sure to have a steady hand). Do not stir too long and drink immediately otherwise it is too watery. If you add sugar to your coffee, add it before you poor your drink into the glass of ice cubes.
Go on a coffee tour with host Stephanie!Coffee drinking is a trend in Barcelona and besides the many authentic places that have been there for ages, cool places to experience, share and enjoy the coffee tradition pop up as mushrooms from the ground. The city even hosts an Independent Coffee Festival. Host Stephanie is originally from France and a huge coffee lover. She has been living in Barcelona for the last eight years and offers coffee loving travellers the chance to experience the city through its coffee culture.
Commercial heartAs Barcelona gained more importance as a trade city El Born was founded, which between the 13th and 15th century was the commercial heart of the city. The gothic quarter was just too small and El Born was well located close to the sea and port. Several street names still refer to historical activity. For example, Carrer dels Sombrerers is the street where the hat makers were located.
With increased trade, money was made and a new upper class of rich merchants were born. They were not allowed to build their palaces next to the ‘old rich’ who lived in the gothic area so they had their mansions built in El Born, many of them on Carrer the Montcada. The famous Picasso museum found its home in one of those old palaces centuries later.In the 16th century the district lost its economic importance with the arrival of the new port, today known as Port Vell. In 1714 a big part of El Born was demolished after the Spanish Succession War and, at the same time, the Catalans had to give up their hope for independence. The area where houses were destroyed was destined to become the Ciutadella fort built to defend the city.In the 19th century, during the World Expo in 1889, that same area became a park, Ciutadella Park. A bit earlier the Mercat del Born had been constructed and, at the same time elsewhere in the city, the extended Eixample neighbourhood was being built. For the bourgeoisie at that time this new, modernist district was the place to be. El Born and the old city centre were forgotten. People would still come from other parts of town to relax in the park, but in the eighties El Born was a poor area where junkies were sleeping on the streets and on the steps of the Santa Maria del Mar church, which today is one of the show pieces of area.
Independent designer boutiques and workplacesThe 1992 Olympics turned this around. Part of the games took place on the Montjuïc and to get from the city’s hill to the Olympic port and village, people had to pass through El Born, resulting in this part of the city being cleaned up. After the Olympics Barcelona became more and more popular as a tourist destination and El Born was one of the areas that started to reinvent itself. Locals turned their back to the Ramblas and found in El Born the relaxed atmosphere they were looking for. More and more shops, bars and restaurants opened their doors here. Big chains were kept out and this area is still known for its independent designer boutiques and many art and craft workplaces.The area never lost the small scale and intimate feel. Visitors often compare it to New York’s Soho or Lower East Side and London’s Covent Garden or Notting Hill. Here the locals enjoy long lazy afternoons in the Ciutadella park or on one of the many terraces. During the night they have dinner with friends or go for cocktails, for example on the beautiful Passeig del Born.The most important tourist attraction is the Picasso Museum. Pablo Picasso lived not far from his actual museum as a youngster. Another highlight is the modernista concert hall Palau de la Música. Also worth a visit is the Basilica de Santa Maria del Mar. This church was built in the record time of just over sixty years in the 14th century. The locals that were living here at that time all contributed their grain to ensure the upcoming neighbourhood had a church of its own. Some call the Sagrada Família the church of the tourist, but think of the Santa Maria del Mar as the church of the people.
The local connection with El Born still goes further. The former fresh market is now a wonderful museum (El Born Centre Cultural) where the Catalan nationalist sentiments predominate. Some years ago archaeological remains of the houses that were demolished in 1714 were discovered. The city council decided to share the discovery with the public and opened its doors on 11th September 2013. The date of 11th September is an official bank holiday in Catalonia, a day the Catalans remember that they lost their hope to freedom on 11th September 1714. Every year on that date the inhabitants of Barcelona descend in large numbers to El Born but the neighborhood remains popular all year round. So if you want to hang out where locals do, go to El Born.
NDSM wharfOnce the biggest shipyard of Europe, now a creative haven and a popular location for festivals and events. The area is full of old elements such as a hijskraan (which actually turned into a hotel!) and is full of cool street art. One of the key attractions is the monthly flea market the IJ-hallen: the dream of every bargain hunter. Check the calendar to see if you’re lucky and stroll along the endless stalls that offer a wide variety of products.
NoorderlichtLocated on the NDSM wharf, this cultural café slash restaurant is the perfect place to sit down at after your shopping spree at the IJ-hallen. Thanks to its glass roof, grass fields, music stage and sunny terrace you will have a hard time leaving this wonderful garden.
PllekLooking for a beach vibe but you don’t feel like leaving the city? Pllek is the answer. Apart from being one of the view places where you can actually feel sand between your toes, you can enjoy the outdoor cinema, visit expositions or dance the night away.
TolhuistuinTolhuistuin is an area with multiple buildings and a garden right across Central Station. Until 2011 it belonged to Shell, who used it as the cafeteria for their 1200 employees. Nowadays the cafeteria is replaced for restaurant THT, which serves delicious and fair priced shared dishes and where beautiful views are part of the menu. But like many places in Noord, Tolhuistuin is so much more than just a restaurant. It includes a dance studio, exposition area and several rooms that are rented by organizations such as Paradiso. Don’t forget to check out the garden, in the back of the building and enjoy one of the music performances from the grass.
A’DAM TorenNamed after Amsterdam’s favorite nickname, A’dam, the reopening of this tower is the latest addition to up and coming Noord. Just like many other capitals we now finally have a viewing point of our own! It’s needless to say that the view from the recently opened observation deck on top of the building of 22 stories is amazing, but what more can you expect? Music! A’dam also refers to ‘Amsterdam Dance and Music’ and being owned by some of the biggest international dance organizations of the country (and the world!), the expectations of the new club in the tower are high. I can only hope we’ll be able to experience it ourselves soon!
A love affairRainy or not, Amsterdam is always on top of the list of the most bike-friendly cities in the world. I honestly don’t think that I even know a single person who goes around by car in Amsterdam. Why would you? The network of 400 kilometres of cycling paths sure helps a lot. Moreover, unless you are very unlucky and you have to cross the entire city to reach your destination, you’ll probably get to your destination in less than thirty minutes. Amsterdam is a small city and it helps that the terrain is flatter than flat. Your biggest challenge might be ‘climbing’ one of the cute bridges crossing the canals. Sure makes things easier.According to research, about 70% of all trips in Amsterdam are made by bike. One of the biggest advantages of cycling on a daily base? Say hello to that free work-out! Sure, you will need to adapt your outfit to your transportation mode (short skirts might be your best option), but did you know that our crown princess and even our prime minister cycle to school and work every day? If they can rock that bike so can you.
Amsterdam is for cyclingAmsterdam forms the perfect background for cycling tours. Dutch people love it. Cycling tours are our Sunday brunches. As soon as the temperature gets over 15 degrees, they put on their comfortable shorts, hop on their bikes and spend a nice day on the road. Don’t be surprised if you see entire families passing by on their barrow bikes or with their children and/or pets in a child trailer. Cycling starts at an early age.
Where to go?Of course you can use the bike to hop from attraction to attraction or to change one neighborhood for another, but there is much more you can do.One of my favorite places to go to is the Amsterdam forest. This forest is three times as big as Central Park and yet only 20 minutes cycling from the city center. It goes without saying that this place is especially nice when the sun is shining. No matter how busy the city might get, over here it feels like you’ve truly escaped the crowds. Bring your picnic basket and a blanket and relax next to the pond. Or, if the weather is not as pleasant, treat yourself with some Dutch pancakes in ‘Boerderij Meerzicht’. They are the best!Follow the Amstel to get an idea of what the surrounding countryside looks like. As soon as you leave the city, you’ll be surprised with traditional windmills, farms and stunning views. It shouldn’t take you more than an hour until you reach the picturesque town of Ouderkerk, known for its historic harbour and excellent restaurants overlooking the river and the many boats that are passing by.If you prefer to stay within the city, take the ferry and visit the northern part of Amsterdam, simply referred to as Noord. Separated from the rest of the city by a big canal, you’ll notice that it is quite different and it even used to be kind of isolated. However, over the last couple of years Noord has become very popular and is now beloved for its countless hotspots and creative ambiance.
Some practical tips for cycling in Amsterdam:
- You can get a bike at almost every corner of the city; a rental bike will cost you about €10 per day.
- Although you can book a tour with a guide it is, if you ask me, much more fun to explore the city by yourself. Or, even better, accompany yourself with a local guide for a private tour. This way, you can take your time and learn more about the area.
- Ring that bell! Many tourists can’t tell the difference between sidewalks and cycling lanes, so don’t be afraid to let them know. It’s for everyone’s safety.
- If you’re not used to cycling, it’s better to practice your skills in a more quiet area than in the heart of the city. People will thank you for that.
- Please don’t mix up bikes with beercycles. Just don’t.
Go to TigreGo to Tigre, but go to the real Tigre. As a tourist, you’re most likely to follow the tip to go to Tigre and end up going to the dreadful Mercado de Frutas on a Sunday and wander round stalls selling garden furniture with The Godfather printed on it and little leather trinkets of no use to mankind, and maybe take a forty-minute boat trip with a tour guide who tells you nothing of interest. Instead, get a bunch of friends together, rent a house, jump on a charming old wooden lancha colectiva, and get ready for a weekend of barbecuing, drinking and jumping in the river. There are people who claim the Tigre delta is their favourite place on Earth. This author is one of them.
Avoid Tourist Tango TrapsAvoid the hyper-touristy tango shows and take a guided tango trip with tangotrips.com for a more authentic experience at one of the city’s traditional milongas. You can go and watch or go and dance, and they’ll even provide you with lessons and a partner if you don’t have one. If you want to check out a milonga on your own, Maldita Milonga in Buenos Ayres Club, San Telmo comes highly recommended with live orchestra El Afronte playing every Monday, Wednesday and Sunday around 11pm. (Oh yeah, tango tends to start late, though there are earlier options.)
Check out the jazzBut Buenos Aires isn’t just about tango. As well as the ubiquitous folclore and rock nacional, there’s a great jazz scene – Thelonious would be a good place to start – and you can even listen to roda de chora on the first Sunday of every month at Café Rivas, which OK, it’s Brazilian music and you’re in Argentina, but it is awfully nice. Besides, Café Rivas is a wonderful art deco kind of place, gourmet but unassuming food, small wine list, you’ll love it.
Drink wineYou’ll be wanting to try the Malbec. But rather than staying at home glugging a bottle of Callia, you’ll be pleased to know that there are now many wine bars in Buenos Aires that serve wine by the sample glass so you can get a real feel for the country’s wines and look sophisticated at the same time. Shout Brasas & Drinks in Retiro is just across the road from the apartment where Paul Theroux read to Borges in The Old Patagonian Express.
Drink beerBuenos Aires isn’t only about the Malbec. While maybe fifteen years ago you would have been lucky to get much more than a cold bottle of Quilmes, the city’s craft beer scene has exploded in the last couple of years, to the extent that they had to create a beer map to accommodate them all. On Tap and Blue Dog in Palermo are two of the hottest places to go, while Bierlife in San Telmo has more than forty beers on tap. That’s thirty-nine more than fifteen years ago.
Eat meat you grilled yourselfWhile the parrilla crown seems to be divided among the La Cabrera-Don Julio-Lo de Jesús beef triangle, do be sure to check out the newish kid on the block, La Carnicería. Or for even more beefy fun, do your own asado. AsadoAdventure takes you round the cobbled streets of Palermo Viejo shopping for your ingredients, then shows you how to cook it in the comfort of a big private house. You get to eat it as well, obviously.
Keep eatingThere’s plenty of great non-Argentine food too: Try El Tejano for the most tender ribs this side of the Rio Grande, La Fábrica del Taco for probably the most authentic and unpretentious Mexican in town, Burger Joint for arguably the best burgers (a contentious issue among expats), and Venezuelan arepas at La Arepería de Buenos Aires.
Walk it offOnce you’ve wandered around the city centre and Palermo for a couple of days and got your bearings, be sure to take a walking tour with Buenos Tours. As well as the usual classic walks, they also offer an off-the-beaten-track tour of lesser known barrios and a Jewish history tour well worth looking into.
Take in some more barsWhile you’re exploring the outer circle of barrios that Buenos Aires tourists tend to ignore, it’s a great opportunity to check out some of the city’s Bares Notables, old, classy bars staffed by old men in bow ties and/or comfortable cardigans. Café de García in Villa Devoto has everything you’d look for in such a place: black and white floor tiles, old men playing billiards, photos of Gardel and Maradona on the walls (Diego used to live round here), and their picada has the best charcuterie you’re likely to taste in this town. You might also want to make the trek out to Los Laureles in Barracas (live tango, old dudes), Tokio in Villa del Parque, or Don Juan in Villa Santa Rita, where Buenos Aires fanboy Robert Duvall filmed Assassination Tango.
Free stuffThere’s plenty of free open air stuff too. The Reserva Ecológica (nature reserve) round the back of Puerto Madero is a vast open space that makes you forget you’re in one of the most populous cities in the Americas, great for bird watching and other geeky chills. Further up the coast to the north is the Costanera Norte, with river views, the Palermo woods, opportunities for plane spotting at the Aeroparque if that’s your thing, and a great bondiola (pork shoulder) sandwich from any of the food carts along the way.
Get religionWhile you’re up on Costanera Norte, Tierra Santa, possibly the world’s only religious theme park, is gold for those with a heightened sense of irony. A plastic Jesus resurrects every hour and you can leave your prayers in a replica of the Wailing Wall. Live shows! Biblical food! And new: Noah’s Ark! You can’t have this much fun for 100 pesos anywhere else in town.
Go to an abandoned fun fairParque de la Ciudad, out in Villa Soldati (leave your valuables at home), is an abandoned (non-religious) amusement park where you can go up a space-age observation tower for a view of the city. Plus you also get to ride on possibly the world’s diddiest tram. the Premetro, as far as the Parque de la Ciudad stop.
¡Al Colón!Get tickets for the Colón. It doesn’t matter what for, the star of the show is the theatre itself. Thousands of tourists and expats spend years in Buenos Aires without ever visiting one of the best theaters in the world. Don’t do that to yourself. Book online (English option in top right corner) or in person at the theatre.
Go to an old cinema before they turn it into apartmentsYou’ve marveled at the Gran Splendid bookshop but imagine seeing a film there, like you could back in the last century. While the invasion of multiplexes and shopping centres has seen many of Buenos Aires’s best-loved cinemas turned into religious temples, car parks and touristy tango monstrosities, a handful of the city’s great old cinemas remain. Personal favorites are Lorca and Premier, both on Corrientes, while the Arte Plex in Belgrano and the renovated 25 de Mayo out in Villa Urquiza are well worth a visit. If you want to see old films projected, head to Cine Club Dynamo in San Telmo. There’s also BAMA Cine and the beautifully renovated Cine York out in Olivos.
Go to a mansionTake the train out to Beccar and head for Villa Ocampo, the mansion of writer and general literary hobnobber Victoria Ocampo, where you can enjoy a guided tour of the house and take a dainty tea on the best china.
Get a bikeLast of all, and possibly best of all, get a bike. The city might look at times like the worst place to ride, but there is an increasing network of cycle paths and if you keep away from the main avenues and wear a helmet you’ll be fine. A bike gives you a totally different perspective of this city. You can borrow bikes for free from any of the City-run EcoBici stations around town.
Where to stayMost travelers stay in Sultanahmet in order to be close to the tourist attractions, but after the attractions close, there isn’t too much to do in the area. That’s why I always recommend staying in central Beyoğlu for the best experience. The most popular Beyoğlu areas are the cosmopolitan neighborhoods of Cihangir and Galata. With delicious restaurants, cafes, wine bars, and pubs, there’s also something to do. Plus, these neighborhoods are centrally located on the metro line, only seconds away from Taksim Square and bustling Istiklal Avenue, and within walking distance to the Sultanahmet tramline.Beşiktaş, another neighborhood on the European side, is also an ideal location and more reasonably priced than Beyoğlu. Although Beşiktaş is not on the metro line, it is still centrally located with several public transportation options. Close to the water, Beşiktaş is also the perfect place to stay if you plan to spend some time exploring the neighborhoods further up the seaside such as Ortaköy, Bebek, and Rumelihisarı or taking the ferries to the Asian neighborhoods of Üsküdar and Kadıköy.If you’re interested in staying on the Asian side, Kadıköy is the place to be. With a trendy pub scene and lovely streetside cafes, it’s another favorite neighborhood among locals and travelers alike.
Where to eatBeyoğlu has a number of delicious restaurants, particularly in the Cihangir and Galata neighborhoods, but also in Asmalımescit, a small neighborhood towards the end of İstiklal Avenue. Kadıköy also has a fair share of well-known eateries such as Çiya, a Turkish restaurant often mentioned in international publications.For a true Turkish dining experience, you will want to visit a meyhane, or traditional Turkish tavern. Meyhanes features mezes, small plates similar to tapas, followed by hot appetizers, and then main entrees, which are typically seafood or meat. Rakı, Turkey’s famous aniseed liquor, is the beverage of choice at meyhanes since it pairs well with mezes and fish. For a true local meyhane experience, try Asmalı Cavit in Asmalımescit, for a more upscale meyhane experience with delicious seafood, Karaköy Lokantası is your place, and for a modern take on traditional meyhane culture, try Sahrap in Asmalımescit, newly opened by well-known Turkish chef Sahrap Soysal.Another traditional Turkish dining experience is the ocakbaşı, an open fire used to cook skewers of chicken and red meat. The ocakbaşı experience is similar to the meyhane with its mezes and rakı, but at an oçakbaşı, the meat is the highlight and is often cooked in the main dining room. For a true oçakbaşı experience, look no further than Zübeyir Ocakbaşı in Taksim.For first-time visitors to Istanbul, Zomato, a foodie app with extensive restaurant reviews and ratings can be extremely useful. With Zomato, you can search for restaurants in your vicinity if you have your GPS on and quickly compare ratings.
How to get around – Public transportIstanbul has an excellent public transportation system, and although it can be overwhelming at first due to the various methods of transportation, it’s extremely efficient. For visitors staying more than a couple days, I recommend purchasing an Istanbulkart, the standard public transport card, for 7 TL. Istanbulkarts can be purchased at most major transport hubs and the card can be loaded with money at free-standing kiosks. If you don’t purchase an Istanbulkart, you will have to pay per ride (4 TL) which is almost double the price of a ride if you’re using your Istanbulkart (2.15 TL). If you transfer to a second mode of transport with your Istanbulkart, the second ride will be further discounted. Another uniquely Turkish form of transport is the dolmuş, or shared taxi. Dolmuş are typically the size of a small van or mini-bus and they run on set routes. Passengers can pick up the dolmuş anywhere along the route, paying in cash depending on the distance traveled. A popular dolmuş line from Beşiktaş to Taksim Square runs a passenger just 2.20 TL, similar to a bus ride in price, but much faster.Bosphorus ferries are the preferred mode of transport for Istanbulites. Ferries leave from a number of points on the European and Asian sides at regular intervals, typically every 20 to 30 minutes (except for ferries traveling to the islands which depart less often). Instead of taking one of the tourist boat rides, take an Istanbul ferry from Beşiktaş to Kadıköy and back, and you’ll have a more local experience. Plus, you can purchases simit (sesame coated bread rings), freshly squeezed orange juice and tea on the ferries.Did you know that the second oldest underground was built in Istanbul? The Tünel was originally built in 1875 and is the second oldest only after the London Underground. Today, you can still enjoy this historic mode of transport. Tünel runs between Karaköy and Şişhane, immensely cutting down on the time and energy needed to ascend the hill up to İstiklal Avenue. When you get off at Şişhane on İstiklal Avenue, you can jump on the historic İstiklal tramway, another nostalgic mode of transport still in operation today.
TaxisTaxis are relatively cheap in Istanbul and easy to use, but some Istanbul taxi drivers (like in other major cities) can be dishonest especially in the tourist areas. When you get into a taxi, make sure the driver turns the meter on. Prices should always be in Turkish liras, never euros or dollars. It’s a good idea to have small bills and coins as sometimes taxi drivers won’t have change for larger bills. If you are going to a well-known destination and want to get an estimate on how much it will cost, feel free to ask the driver before getting in. He should be able to give a pretty good estimate.Instead of flagging a taxi, you can also use BiTaksi. A popular taxi application used by locals, this app uses GPS to show which taxis are in your vicinity, allowing you to call a taxi near you. Since BiTaksi has a user review feature, BiTaksi drivers tend to be more customer-oriented.
TippingUnlike in other countries, tips are not always required in Turkey. For example, it is not necessary to tip taxi drivers although it’s common practice to round the fare up, especially if you do not have exact change.A 10% tip is a nice gesture at high-end restaurants, but isn’t expected at low to mid-range restaurants. Unless the service is exceptional (and it may be), it is not necessary to tip at low to mid range places. In most restaurants, you cannot add a tip onto your credit card so make sure to have coins or small bills on hand. Some restaurants are now adding on a service charge, so if you’re considering tipping, check your bill first to make sure a service charge hasn’t already been included. At cafes or pubs, you can simply leave a few extra liras if you have them on hand.
Museum PassIf you’re planning on seeing a majority of the tourist attractions, it’s a good idea to look into purchasing a Museum Pass. While the Museum Pass is cheaper than purchasing individual tickets, the pass is not valid at all attractions and has a 120 hour time limit. Thus, while useful, it does mean that it takes a bit of planning to get the most bang for your buck. Like in other countries, some attractions are closed one day of the week, so do take a look at the opening days and times before planning out your schedule and purchasing your pass.Female travelers should always carry along a scarf if touring religious sites since women are required to cover their head when entering mosques. In the summer, it’s also a good idea to bring along a light pullover since bare shoulders must also be covered when visiting religious sites.
Useful Turkish vocabularyTurkish is a fun language to learn due to its unique agglutinative structure which can seem quite strange to the untrained ear. Some letters that are unique to Turkish are ç which is a ch sound, ş which is a sh sound, and ğ which serves to elongate the vowel before it, but is otherwise silent.To prepare for your trip, learn these helpful words ahead of time:
|Nasılsın||How are you?|
|Ben iyiyim||I am fine|
|Ne kadar?||How much does it cost?|
|Çok pahalı||It’s very expensive|
|Çok güzel||It’s very beautiful|
That last one is a bit tough so you can use merci (same as in French) which is also sometimes used and widely understood.
How to greet peopleTurks often greet friends and family members with a kiss on both cheeks. If you are meeting someone for the first time, it’s appropriate to shake hands at first and kiss as you get to know each other better. However, in conservative religious families, keep in mind that it is not considered appropriate for men and women to touch. If you’re not sure, feel free to let the other person take the lead and follow their cue as to the appropriate style of greeting. In general, Turks are very affectionate and with their warm hospitality, it’s easy to feel right at home.
If you’re a tourist in Buenos Aires or one of those people who came as a tourist, is beginning to be an ex-pat, but can still afford the flight home, the trains in this city are a mystery. You worked out how to take the Subte on day one, because you’d have to be pretty numbnuts not to understand a subway system (although there are exceptions). The colectivos were a bit of a headfuck because the Guía T was all senseless squares and numbers, but then you worked out that if you stared at it for long enough it suddenly all made sense, like those Magic Eye paintings that you don’t see so many of these days.
But you’ve never taken a train and you’re not entirely sure how it’s done or where they go or even if they really do exist or are just runaway subway trains you keep hallucinating about. People tell you they’re dangerous, that if you take a train you’ll either get robbed or get killed in a horrific crash. Ignore them. You have more chance of being killed in a road accident (there are about ten deaths a year on the railways, compared to about 8,000 on the roads, although do bear in mind there are way more cars than trains here. Actually ten deaths a year is quite a lot, the UK only registers one death a year and they have trains coming out of their arseholes). Your discovery of the trains, how to use them and where they go, is your key to unlocking a whole side to Buenos Aires and its environs you’d probably never otherwise see, and may not even want to see. You may want to ease yourself in with something gentle, like Retiro to Tigre, or Plaza Constitución to La Plata, but once you’ve found your bearings on the railways, do consider these less tourist-friendly options…
*(It probably goes without saying that you’d be well-advised to leave your valuables at home and avoid drawing attention to your gringo self by exclaiming loudly in English; and not just on these trains but in life in general).
Aldo Bonzi-Puente Alsina (The Belgrano Sur)Back in the day, this railway took you all the way to Carhué in the south of the province. Then the military government decided trains were communist and put a stop to that, and what we have left is a shanty-strewn 8-mile branch done over a leisurely 50 minutes. It’s like slow culture, only not deliberately so, and therefore all the more authentic.
This train is not for the faint-hearted. The very mention of the station names -Villa Diamante, Villa Fiorito, KM 12 – strike fear into the heart of all but the most valiant rail traveler. Some say that if you can take this train, you’ll never lose an argument with a porteño again. Others say, quite rightly, that no argument with a porteño could ever end in anything other than bitter stalemate.
You will pass great poverty: rubble and discarded plastic bottles and stray dogs barking with much longing amid brightly-coloured children’s swing sets and unplastered breezeblock homes and stunted trees and vintage Renault 12 action. You will pass La Salada market. You will see the world’s saddest pony contemplate another stagnant pool. You will see pasacalles banners for Saint Expeditus, the patron saint of urgent causes. And you will ponder on the remarkability, really, of a train passing through all this. The shacks and lean-tos are so close to your window that it feels like this railway was built slap through the villa, rather than the villa sprouting gradually, as villas will, in the margins of human life, besides the railways and rivers and motorway intersections. And amid the occasional stones and other missiles raining down on your semi-transparent window, you’ll see that it’s not so bad, that these are just human beings like you, albeit living in abject poverty, and that you maybe shouldn’t have come on this shanty-gawking tour, and nor should I have recommended that you do.Train times
There are five trains a day, and six on Sundays, for this is a pagan land. If you take the one that runs after dark, you’re a braver woman than me.How to get there from Palermo
Take the 59 all the way to the end of its route to Estación Buenos Aires, admire the back of Huracan’s art deco stadium, then take the train to Marinos and get off at Aldo Bonzi. When you get to Puente Alsina, walk over the bridge back into the city and take the 15 or 188 back to Palermo.
Temperley-Haedo (The Roca)
If you’ve already taken the Aldo Bonzi-Puente Alsina route, the Temperley-Haedo line will bring the shanty memories flooding back. If you haven’t taken the former yet, you can use this as a kind of practice-bravery run, as it isn’t quite as scary but still has dilapidated rolling stock and is mostly a ride through the shanty towns of Lomas de Zamora and Ingeniero Budge, before things get slightly more civilized around San Justo.
Expect to see: dirt roads, abandoned cars, piles of white-bagged rubbish, cobbled-together fences of wood and rusting corrugated iron, discarded cookers and boilers, pampas grass, lean-tos and cables, DirecTV dishes, the world’s second saddest pony contemplating another stagnant pool, a pristine Argentine flag flapping from a wooden pole, pigs, cries of ‘chipá sopita’ and ‘garrapiñada palito maní’ from ambulant vendors on the train selling sugary Argentine treats and starchy Paraguayan goodness, red-cheeked schoolkids and mate-sipping young mums, feasting on a five peso breakfast of sugar-roasted peanuts and palitos, then tidy rows of new government-built hopeful homes where a villa once was. It isn’t really that bad. Do you seriously want to live in that bubble of Palermo/Barrio Norte/Microcentro all your time here and never see any of how the great majority of Buenos Aires’s millions live? Thought so.Train times
Trains run approximately every hour, but do be wary of cancellations and delays.How to get there from Palermo
Take the Subte D then C to Plaza Constitución, then any train to Temperley. When you get to Haedo, cross the platform and you’re on the Sarmiento line, whence you can either head to Liniers, Caballito or Once, or you can take …
Once-Moreno-Mercedes (The Sarmiento)
Back in the day, these used to be dreadful, ageing Japanese multiple units whose doors had been wedged open by passengers, so there was always a risk of passengers falling out of the open doors. Fifty-one people died in 2012 when a train went through the buffers at Once station. Eventually, the government realised this wasn’t a good look and went and replaced the trains with modern Chinese efforts. And they started to fix the tracks and raise the platforms all over the Metropolitan Area of Buenos Aires, turning what was once the wild west of rail travel into something resembling a commuter ride in south east England. Worst of all, they took away one of the things people loved to complain about the most, ie, the state of the trains, leaving a vast empty void in their lives. But there is hope for these people, as the trains are still packed and crime is still rife, if not in reality then at least in their paranoid imaginations.
For the genuine Argentine we-travel-like-cattle commuter experience, you should take this train during rush hour, 7-9am going into Buenos Aires, 6-8pm coming out. Alternatively, take an early train out of Once and smugly watch the unfortunate masses on the trains going into town, and then less smugly get stuck in the rush at Moreno when everyone crams on to the train you’re trying to get off and drags you back to Once.
If you do manage to get off, change platforms and get on the train to Mercedes. If you’re lucky, the train to Mercedes will look like a 1960s Mercedes, classic silver grey carriages like a touch of class from a golden age long since passed, once-proud interiors with stiff upright seats, not a bit of plastic to be seen, but brown faux-leather chairs, their stuffing coming out of the coverings, exposing bits of wood in the arm rests. The windows are scratched and daubed with paint, but there are sturdy metal luggage racks and retro strip lights on the ceiling like something out of a Le Carré movie adaptation, and even seat numbers left over from a time when such things mattered. So it’s more like a 1960s Mercedes that has been left in a barn for the last twenty years, a missing tyre here, a broody chicken there, but still just about dependable and a darn sight more romantic than what you get if you’re unlucky, which is a fairly modern diesel multiple unit with plastic seats that make you wish you’d taken the bus.
Taking the train from Moreno to Mercedes, and then from Merlo to Lobos, in November 2013, made me decide that I wanted to live in the countryside instead of Buenos Aires and subsequently moved myself and my wife to Entre Ríos. While you should not expect such life-changing inspiration from your own journey on either train, you will experience the pleasant sensation of gradually leaving behind Buenos Aires’s uglier suburbs and slowly (things are always done slowly on these trains) contemplating the passing fields, the quaint stations in small towns, a slower pace of life. Mercedes is a very pleasant town, claiming for itself the National Peach Capital and something to do with salami, although so many towns claim to be National Salami Capital that it’s hard to sort through the bullshitters.
To try out the salami for yourself, head to Vieja Esquina in the centre or trek out to La Pulpería de Cacho. A pulpería is an establishment of deepest Argentine folklore, traditionally a stopping pace for horsemen and coaches, peopled by gauchos and outlaws and ne’er-do-wells, the scene of many a knife fight or high-stakes card game; a chance to stretch your legs and spit on some quality sawdust. The pulpería in question, which is so much the epitome of a pulpería that they called it La Pulpería, is probably the oldest standing building for miles around, a place of legendary repute, a thousand stories hidden in its walls. It also tends to be closed during the week, so get a room in town and stay the weekend. And remember: Mercedes has more lawnmower shops per capita than any other Argentine town. A sure sign of prosperity and decent folk.Train times
Trains between Once and Moreno are every ten minutes. Trains from Moreno to Mercedes are every hour and a bit, in theoryHow to get there from Palermo
Do this the fun way, and get the train from Constitución to Temperley and from there to Haedo, or do it the boring way on the boring old 68 or 41. Or take the good old 34 or 166 bendy bus from Palermo to Liniers.
Retiro- Tucumán in ‘first class’ (The Mitre)
For those wanting to travel long-distance by train in Argentina, there are still a surprisingly healthy number of services, far more than any other South American country and without the tourist-fleecing prices you find in Peru and Ecuador (though do avoid the Tren a las Nubes). From Buenos Aires there are daily to weekly services to: Córdoba, Retiro, Mar del Plata, Tandil, Bahía Blanca (get a coach from here to Viedma for the train to Bariloche), Junín, Rufino (and maybe Mendoza in the future), General Pico and Santa Rosa. Make sateliteferroviario.com.ar your friend and companion. Often the biggest challenge with these trains is getting hold of tickets, as tickets are sold on a kind of Soviet-inspired merit system whereby only those with the time to make several different phone calls and stand in three different queues for hours at a time will be rewarded. Nowhere is this truer than the legendary twice-weekly train from Retiro to Tucumán, which takes 27-29 hours to cover 1170 kilometres but is nonetheless the Argentine train you just have to take. You were probably going to go to the NOA (North West Argentina, or NWA) anyway, since everyone told you how great it is. There are salt flats and llamas and stuff.
There are three classes on the Tucumán train: the camarote, or sleeper compartment, which costs $400 for two people and is therefore easily the greatest bargain in the whole damn country. However, there are about twelve sleeper compartments per train, two trains a week, and about ten thousand people who want to get some sleeping car action. And unlike equally hard-to-get Boca-River tickets, there isn’t even a black market for them.
So then there’s the Pullman, at the ridiculously cheap price of $130, for which you get a comfortable reclining seat with plenty of leg room. There’s a dining car too, and although catering standards have slipped considerably since the days when Perón dined on this train, it’s still that rare beast, a dining car on a train in South America. I paid six pesos for a cup of tea in 2014; you couldn’t buy anything with six pesos in Argentina in 2014.
But at peak periods (December-March, July) you’ll be hard-pressed to even get that. Which leaves seats in first class which, as you will have worked out by now, is third class. With tickets a mere $70, or the price of lunch in the dining car, it’s easy to understand the huge demand for tickets when the coach costs $1100 (and still takes fifteen hours). But this is your best chance of getting a ticket for this train. Your carriage will have minimum comfort, a leathery bench which folds back and forth to face the direction of travel (Argentines refuse to travel against the direction of travel and it’s written in the Constitution that they don’t have to) and some kind of rudimentary toilet, possibly with running water. Your travel companions will only be too keen to show you local music and other aspects of their culture you were previously oblivious to because you were too scared to take the Temperley-Haedo train. They’ll be your friends for the next twenty-seven hours, and maybe even longer. Do take a good book, as the view from the train is 24-hour field, if you can even see out of the Plexiglas window. Still, highly recommended.Train times
Trains leave Monday and Friday mornings, but what you really want to know is how to get tickets. Call the number listed here, tickets usually go on sale three months in advance and sell out within days. Find out when they’re going on sale, then get down to Retiro Mitre with your passport/DNI and that of anyone you’re buying tickets for and do some good old Argentine queuing. Good luck.How to get there from Palermo
You know how to get to Retiro by now.Update: as of December 2015, the new Chinese trains replaced the old trains to Tucumán, making travel in Primera a far more attractive proposition, and probably making it even harder to get tickets.
Confession: it took me some time until I really appreciated Amsterdam Oost (‘east’) for what it is. With my family living in the western part of the city, I always preferred that area. I know, Amsterdam is not that big (our teeny-tiny capital!), but somehow I kind of overlooked the eastern part for a long time. And I missed out. Especially the last couple of years it has become increasingly popular and hotspots pop up around every corner. So, don’t miss out like I used to and discover upcoming Amsterdam Oost!
Volkshotel, Canvas & Doka
If you’re into clubbing, you’ve probably heard of club Trouw. Yes, we all cried when Amsterdam’s hottest club closed earlier this year. Luckily, last year Volkshotel opened its doors right across the street. A creative hotspot that is so much more than just a trendy hotel. Go for drinks and food to the renewed rooftop bar Canvas, which turns into a nightclub when the sun goes down. And as if that wasn’t enough, the basement houses another club where you can dance the night away: Doka. Needless to say that Volkshotel makes up for the loss of Trouw, right?
The Albert Cuyp in de Pijp might be the most famous market of Amsterdam, the Dappermarkt is the most exotic. The daily market counts 250 stalls where you can buy food and non-food items from all over the world. Whether you’re looking for tulips, Asian beauty products or herbs from Suriname, you’ll find it at the Dappermarkt.
Even if you don’t like beer, you’ll probably like de Biertuin. The beer garden looks incredibly nice with all the colorful lights and is very popular by locals. The food is good, the beer list is huge and the terrace heated during the winter. Favorite? Mannenliefde: a Dutch special beer. Don’t be deceived by its somewhat girly, pink label. If you’re a real man you will try it too!
To be honest, I was quite surprised to find this super cosy and low-key bar slash restaurant pop up in the middle of a residential area. The location definitely fits Michel-Inn. The friendly dog jumps on your lap, board games are laying everywhere and the fireplace is burning: it immediately feels like home.
Het Faire Oosten
It’s all in the name: fair east instead of far east in concept store het Faire Oosten. A great place if you’re looking for fair, handcrafted products varying from clothing to art and beauty goodies. Most of the products are actually made by local designers, so they get the chance to showcase their work.
Badhuis JavapleinHet Badhuis Javaplein is located in a former bathhouse in the heart of the colourful Indische Buurt. After it closed its doors in 1982, Badhuis Javaplein lost its original function and the building was used for completely different things. Ever heard of a bathhouse that turned into a Hindu temple? Or a thrift shop? Me neither. Nowadays, it is (just like in the old days) very popular by local inhabitants, but instead of chatting under the shower, they now come for a nice meal or a cup of coffee. Don’t forget to look for the old elements, this place is obviously full of history.
‘I met my wife because of the flood’ says the taxi driver as we move along the pockmarked and pitted road to the ruins of Epecuén, a once bustling spa town in the south of Buenos Aires that rose from the flood water that had submerged it twenty years earlier. ‘My parents were aid workers, she was an evacuee.’
Lake Epecuén is five or ten times saltier than sea water, depending on who you talk to, and its Mapuche name supposedly refers to the ash-like appearance of the salt. Back in the day, people with chronic rheumatism would take the train from Buenos Aires to benefit from the water’s curative powers, right up until November 1985, when the lake that gave the town its name took the town for itself. The trains now evacuated the inhabitants, and that branch line was flooded the following year.
Like many Argentine tragedies, the flooding of Epecuén was one that could have been averted. The local council saw that the water was threatening to exceed the 5-metre high dyke protecting the town, but sat on their hands, out of the usual combination of arrogance and ineptitude. Farmers dynamited another dam to save their fields, condemning a whole town in the process. ‘The people of Carhué didn’t give shelter to the evacuees’, the taxi driver tells us. ‘They lived in tents on the outskirts of the town for two years. People lost their homes; many died of sadness.’ We pass El Castillo, the remains of a castle-themed hotel that subsided into the ground, only one of its turrets remaining, popping out of the marsh.
Epecuén remained lost to the world until a couple of years ago, when the waters subsided and the town’s ruins began to attract a different kind of tourism. It feels odd to visit ruins of such a recent vintage. When you visit, say, Pompeii, you’re not so concerned about how Pompeii’s former inhabitants feel about tourists nosing around their homes, or riding a BMX over them to advertise a popular energy drink. Most of Epecuén’s surviving residents still live in neighbouring Carhué, and have mixed feelings about what’s become of their home town.
What remains of Epecuén is like a scene from a war film, albeit pretty much at the end of the film, when the veterans return years later, weeds have grown over everything and it’s all very peaceful and sad. Swallows flit about the ruins, chirping in the petrified trees, all salty white and fawn, stunted like the antennae of comic-book aliens. A few buildings still stand, mostly those built not long before the flood, brick walls with the plaster crumbling off, like Hotel Monte Real, its claret and gold rhombus tiles, while elsewhere are delicate mosaics of mustard and emerald green. While many towns in Argentina retain a very 1970’s feel, this is inevitably true of Epecuén.
Mostly we see piles of bleached-white stone and bricks and concrete, rusted girders, the occasional feature still standing where all else has crumbled: grey wooden door frames, a brick fireplace, a 10-step staircase leading to nowhere. The Parque Hotel, reads a sign on a spot where there is nothing but rubble and stunted trees, was once the town’s largest hotel, built in 1937 and acquired in 1984 by one Raúl González, who presumably spent the next year kicking himself as the waters rushed in.
We walk down the deserted main strip, Avenida de Mayo, and look at photos of the same avenue in its late 1970s heyday, lined with Ford Falcons. At least the traffic has improved. At the end of the avenue, ripped wires hanging from telegraph poles flap in the wind coming off the lake. A commemorative sign tells us this where the municipal bathing complex used to be, fresh water swimming pools, two slides still visible, rusting out in the water, and beside that in delightful juxtaposition a non-commemorative sign in red capitals, BATHING STRICTLY FORBIDDEN.
It is tempting to see in the history of Epecuén -a tragedy that could have been averted for want of stupidity, pride or greed, people dying of sadness, waiting for someone to help them, a desolate bleak shadow of former glory and bonanza– a symbol of Argentina itself. Hold that thought as on the way out of Epecuén we pass what is probably now, in a delightfully-DeLilloesque way, the world’s most photographed slaughterhouse, designed by Francisco Salamone, its strangely shaped tower, the letters MATADERO silhouetted in the sky. Built in the 1930s, it was novel not just for the eye-catching Art Deco exterior but also the new large-scale, mechanized slaughter techniques used inside. The lake came up as far as the abattoir but didn’t flood it, so for a while they carried on butchering, surrounded by water, before eventually giving up the ghost.
Carhué can be reached from Buenos Aires by coach (8 hours, £26) or, for the adventurous, by train to Pigüé (11 hours, £6) then 40-minute coach to Carhué.