Rotterdam is a great destination for travellers in search of an offbeat adventure. Since the end of the second world war, when the city was heavily bombed, Rotterdam has embraced an identity rooted in creativity. You’ll find an ever-expanding list of weird and wonderful things to do here, such as staying the night at Culture Campsite (each sleeping spot is an artwork), visiting the world’s first floating farm, or exploring the new restaurants in the hip neighbourhood of Katendrecht – start at the aptly named Delistraat, where you can find smart new eateries such as Kaap, or explore the buzzing Fenix Food Factory.
How to get there P&O Ferries travels from Hull to Rotterdam, with a coach transfer from the port to the city centre, a 30-minute drive away.
Innovative cube homes in Rotterdam; Culture Campsite; Rotterdam’s de Kralingse Plas
Amsterdam has been battling with overtourism in recent years, but there are ways to make a visit to the city more sustainable. Plastic Whale runs trips along Amsterdam’s iconic canals; you won’t just be admiring the 17th-century waterside architecture though, you’ll also be given a fishing net to help remove rubbish from the water –there’s even a prize for the weirdest item retrieved. The world’s first museum for sustainable fashion is also in Amsterdam. Fashion for Good will have you interacting with installations to learn about innovation in the industry. And for bohemian vibes, chill out at Café de Ceuvel in Amsterdam Noord – it’s a sustainable restaurant with a lineup of interesting community and environmental events.
How to get there P&O Ferries travels from Hull to Rotterdam, with a direct coach transfer to central Amsterdam available for P&O passengers, which takes around 90 minutes, costing £7/€11.50 one-way. Alternatively, Amsterdam is an approximately one-hour drive from Rotterdam city centre, or a 40-minute train ride from Rotterdam Centraal station.
The Plastic Whale runs sustainable tours of Amsterdam’s canals; one of the city’s charming canalside homes; windmills outside the city
Bruges is one of the best-preserved medieval cities in Europe, and no doubt you’ll have your walking shoes on and routes planned to explore the Unesco world heritage-listed streets of its historic town centre. But a day’s wandering tends to build up a mighty appetite and a princely thirst, so if comfort food and beer are your jam then Bruges has it in ample measures. Tuck into local dishes – such as eel in green sauce or the national dish of beef stew – at one of the bistros in the city’s enchanting medieval centre. Pick up Belgian chocolates from family-run chocolatiers – try Spegelaere for its bunches of marzipan “grapes”, which are loved by locals. When it comes to beer, the country has more than 1,500 types. Savour at least one of those in the atmospheric 500-year-old Café Vlissinghe. Or visit the cellar bar Le Trappiste Brugge, where you can work your way through some of the rarest Trappist beers in the world.
How to get there P&O Ferries travels from Hull to Zeebrugge. There is a bus transfer from the port to Bruges city centre, a 20-minute drive away.
Savour some of Belgium’s 15,000 types of beer in its old cafes and cellar bars
Ghent is one of Europe’s overlooked gems. A glorious mix of old and new, traditional and alternative. Get your bearings with a whizz around the old town, defined by its resplendent Flemish gable architecture. The city has one of the largest pedestrianised areas in the whole of Europe, which makes it ideal for cycling. It’s just one way that Ghent is embracing being an eco-destination. Another is in its status as a “vegetarian capital” – with about 15 of its restaurants completely vegetarian. It’s also cutting down on its food waste, which means asking for a doggie bag – or restorestje – is positively encouraged.
How to get there P&O Ferries travels from Hull to Zeebrugge, from which Ghent is approximately a one-hour drive. Alternatively, there is a bus transfer from the port to Bruges city centre, with a connecting train to Ghent taking only 20 minutes.
Ghent has one of the largest pedestrianised areas in the whole of Europe, ideal for cycling
The home of the European parliament, the artist René Magritte and comic book hero Tintin, Brussels is an eclectic jumble of influences. Explore the city by way of the Comic Book Route: a self-guided walking tour of more than 20 fantastic murals paying homage to Belgium’s favourite comic book creations, including the Smurfs and Lucky Luke, among many others. Alternatively, you could take in the city’s sumptuous art nouveau architecture on one of many guided walking tours, or go under your own steam, stopping for some classic Belgian frites with sauce andalouse (a mayonnaise-based dip with tomato and peppers) on the way. After something more eclectic? Then head to the emerging Marollen neighbourhood, where you’ll find Place Jeu de Balle, one of the biggest flea markets in Brussels, alongside a glut of trendy cafes and bars, and even some techno clubs should you feel like shaking a leg.
How to get there P&O Ferries travels from Hull to Zeebrugge. There is a bus transfer from the port to Bruges city centre, and Brussels is an hour and a half away by train or car.
Brussels’ Horta Museum, and the Belgian Comic Strip Center; Derry’s Peace Bridge
Derry Girls got you inspired? This Northern Irish city has more for tourists than you might think. Walk the 17th-century city walls – they’re a mile long and one of the finest examples in Europe. Check out the neo-gothic splendour of the Guildhall. And cross over the Peace Bridge – opened in 2011, it looks especially attractive at night when it’s illuminated. Ready for a bite? One of the stars of Derry’s emerging culinary scene is Pyke ‘N’ Pommes, a food truck (which now has its own permanent site) specialising in what could only be described as highbrow tacos, with options such as beef tartare, fried squid and porter-braised brisket. YUM.
How to get there P&O Ferries travels from Cairnryan to Larne with up to seven crossings a day. Derry is an-hour-and 40-minute drive from Larne.
The Wolff Grill at Titanic Hotel; Belfast City Hall; the Titanic Belfast experience
Northern Ireland gets a major new attraction this year. The Game of Thrones tour will be opening at Linen Mills Studio – 24 miles south of Belfast. But don’t let that be an excuse to bypass the city – there’s loads worth checking out. The award-winning Titanic Belfast experience takes you through the city’s ship-building history and tells the story of the doomed liner. The building opposite – once the headquarters of shipbuilders Harland and Wolff – has been transformed into the Titanic Hotel, where you can have afternoon tea or a cocktail in the room where the ship was designed. The city’s food scene has also started to get some attention – last year, the Muddlers Club became the city’s third Michelin-starred restaurant.
How to get there P&O Ferries travels from Cairnryan to Larne. Belfast is a 35- minute drive from Larne, or an hour’s train journey.
Temple Bar, the Market Arcade, and Ha’penny Bridge
Dublin is known for its hospitality, and while you’re probably bound at some point to pop into Temple Bar for a tipple, the city is full of so many other fantastic pubs that are equally worthy of a visit – from the beloved local Walsh’s in trendy Stoneybatter, to literary haunt Neary’s in the city centre. But before you partake in a pint of the black stuff, take yourself for a wander through the rus en urbe wonder of Phoenix Park, the largest enclosed urban park in Europe and home to a roaming herd of fallow deer. Dublin’s culinary scene is resurgent following its dip in the wake of the collapse of the Celtic Tiger, so make your way to the Dublin 8 district – the city’s unofficial food capital – to sample acclaimed eateries such as Bastible and brunch hotspot Bibi’s. If city tours are your thing, then Dublin has some great unusual options guaranteed to show you another side of the city. Pull your trainers on for a street art running tour or sign up to one of My Street Ireland’s walking tours, which are led by local residents who were previously homeless.
How to get there P&O Ferries travels from Liverpool to Dublin with up to six crossings a day.
La Piscine gallery, Roubaix; macarons; Lille’s enchanting skyline
This Flemish-influenced city close to the Belgium border is an enticing destination for culture lovers. It’s home to the Palais des Beaux-Arts, which has the second largest art collection in France (the Louvre takes the top spot), and is also the world design capital, a title it’s wearing proudly with a packed programme of exhibitions. The influence of its neighbour to the north – Belgium, that is – bears a distinct mark on the on the city; its charming old town has an understated, Flemish feel and across Lille you’ll find bistros, brasseries and bars serving up the wonderful local cuisine, which fuses French technique with Belgian classics such as carbonnade de bouef and moules et frites. For something more unusual, take a leisurely six-mile bike ride from the city centre to admire the Villa Cavrois, a grand modernist mansion and one of the finest examples of 20th-century architecture in northern France.
How to get there P&O Ferries travels from Dover to Calais up to 23 times a day. Lille is an hour-and-20- minute drive from Calais, or an hour-and-30-minute train journey.
Atelier des Lumières
There’s probably little that could be said about Paris that hasn’t already been said – you’ve sipped wine in the bars of Montmartre, eaten escargot in the Cafe de Flore, marvelled at the Louvre and the Pompidou, maybe even graced the dancefloors of the clubs in Pigalle. But even returning visitors will find new things to do in the French capital this year, as there have been a slew of museums and galleries opening. Atelier des Lumières, which opened in 2018, is dedicated to digital art. Last year, visitors were able to walk around an immersive world created from the artworks of Van Gogh. This year, Monet, Renoir and Chagall are getting the special treatment. There’s also much anticipation about Bourse de Commerce, which will welcome its first guests this year after a $170m (£130m) transformation. It’s financed by French billionaire François Pinault and will house his 5,000-strong contemporary art collection.
How to get there P&O Ferries travels from Dover to Calais. Paris is a three-hour-and-10-minute drive from Calais, or a two-and-a-half-hour train journey.
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