4 reasons to visit Timişoara before 2021

Timişoara, Romania, will be European Capital of Culture 2021, but it’s got plenty to offer visitors now. Here’s why you should visit Timişoara before the crowds do. 

Visit Timisoara2010 check out Timisoara sign

Check out Timisoara before the crowds do!

Reason 1: Architecture in Timişoara is fabulous

Its buildings may be less well recognised than those of its Romanian counterparts Sibiu, Sighişoara and Brasov; but Timişoara’s architecture is fabulous. Baroque and Austro-Hungarian influences are everywhere.

After three days in the city, my own architectural highlights were: The Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral on the southern edge of Victoriei Square; and the colourful Porto-esque buildings of Unirii Square.

And not forgetting the shabby chic edifices at various street corners around town. There’s a whole load of renovation going on – no doubt one of two of these will have been transformed into boutique hotels by the time of Timişoara 2021!

With Timişoara’s architecture comes an associated arts and cultural sceneopera at the opera house, open air theatre in the park, and some rather funky sculptures dotted about town.

Visit Timisoara2021 culture heart sculpture

Andrew and I loved this sculpture 😉

Reason 2 to visit Timişoara: the city has a place in history

By December 1989 the Iron Curtain was well and truly buckling. Communism was already on its way out and legislative change on its way in, in countries including Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia. Romania was next.

The Revolution in Romania started in Timişoara, and you can learn all about it in the worthwhile Museum of the Revolution.

Although clearly underfunded, the museum is well presented, and some English-speaking staff can give you an overview of the different exhibits. Particularly powerful is a 20-minute video (subtitled) showing actual footage from the start of the Romanian Revolution on 16 December 1989 and the days that followed. In some cases it’s pretty brutal – protestors being shot by their own Army as the regime desperately tried to suppress the uprising.

The video, whilst harrowing, made me think about how different my life would’ve been if I’d been a teenager in Timişoara in 1989, instead of in Yorkshire, England.

Around town you can see many of the buildings brought to prominence during the revolution, and there’s also a memorial statue in Victoriei Square.

Reason 3: Timişoara has a lively outdoor café and bar culture

Like much of the rest of the Balkans, stopping for a coffee at a pavement café is one of the best things to do in Timişoara, and indeed in Romania as a whole.

Café’s are plentiful, particularly on Victoriei Square, Unirii Square and the surrounding streets.

visit Timisoara2021 coffee culture

cramming over the Eastern Europe phrasebook with a coffee

For a bit of a change, though, head down to the Bega Canal for some cool bars with extensive beer and cocktail menus. Honestly, it would be rude not to!

visit Timisoara2021 Bega canal bars

browsing the rather extensive cocktail menu at a Bega Canal bar. I went for a mojito 🙂

In September 2017, coffees and beers cost around 4-10 lei (£0.80-£2), cocktails around 15 lei (£3).

[box type=”info”]We stayed in the homely Pension Dinu Residence B&B in Timişoara, which we reserved through booking.com. We also used the Lonely Planet Guide to Romania & Bulgaria for our trip. Help the site by buying through these links, at no extra cost to you.[/box]

Reason 4 to visit Timişoara: it hasn’t been overtaken by tourist hoards

Timişoara has some domestic tourism and isn’t exactly off the beaten track, but there were very few foreign voices to be heard – a smattering of German speakers, a couple (literally one couple) from either the US or Canada, and that was about it! We were there for three days and heard not a single other English voice. It was bliss.

[box type=”info”]Many Romanians working in cafes, bars, restaurants and museums speak some English – anything from a few words to fully fluent. If you do get stuck with the lingo, knowledge of other Latin languages will help – we found French, Spanish and Italian useful when English wasn’t spoken. Romanian has similarities to Italian in particular, which helps when you see it written down. This Lonely Planet Eastern Europe Phrasebook was also handy. Help the site by buying through this link, at no extra cost to you.[/box]

Stop to take a picture in Timişoara and people will wait patiently for you to finish, so as not to not be in the way of your photo. That’s how unused the city is to mass tourism.

As 2021 approaches, word will get out and the world and his dog may well want to visit Timişoara! As the city’s own slogan for 2021 says, “Shine your light – light up your city” … I expect there’ll be many lights shining! My recommendation: visit Timişoara before the crowds do.

Is Timişoara on your wish-list, or have you already visited? Share your experiences in the comments below.

How to spend a full day walking York city walls

This locals’ guide to York city walls features several hot spots that make this English city so special. Plus: I include some insider tips about the off-wall places you shouldn’t miss.

You could walk the 3.4km around York city walls in an hour or so. But, take in sights and the occasional pub en-route, and that hour could easily stretch into a day – and night.

York city walls at Lendal Bridge

Yes, the walls even have in-built coffee shops. This one’s The Perky Peacock under Lendal Bridge.

Start with a good breakfast

If you’re going to be on your feet all day, give yourself a good dose of fuel to start with. Begin your York city walls walk with breakfast at the Brew and Brownie on Museum Street. Their all-day pancakes are to die for. Get there at opening time though, as tables are in demand. The visitor information centre is a couple of doors down.

[box type=”info”]To help you get the most out of your time in York, pick up the Insight Guide to the city before you arrive. Help the site by buying the guide through this link; it won’t cost you a penny more![/box]

Start your York city walls tour at Bootham Bar

A “Bar”, in York city walls terminology, is not somewhere to buy a lovely glass of wine or a fancy cocktail. Oh no. It’s the ancient term for a Gatehouse. In the case of York, the gatehouses are stone structures or towers the size of several houses. They were used as tollhouses or defensive positions to guard what was once England’s second city.

There are four large and two small Bars around the walls, and they’re all pretty photogenic. Start your York walls walk at Bootham Bar, which is next to the De Grey Rooms.

If you were hoping a bar was secret code for “pub”, more of those later!

Go clockwise to York Minster

You’ll soon look over the beer garden of the rather fine Lamb and Lion pub; overshadowed by the Gothic splendour of York Minster looming before you.

The Minster’s current exterior dates from the 13th century. There’s a fee to get in for non-residents, but the views from York’s walls are free.

Continuing, you’ll overlook gardens and fancy houses galore. York St John University (on your left), the Treasurers House and the Quilt Museum (on your right), before arriving at Monk Bar. The tiny Richard III Experience is located inside this Bar (joint ticket with the Henry VII Experience at Micklegate Bar).

Sadly, the walls aren’t continuous (boo, hiss), so – about 10 minutes after Monk Bar – you’ll need to get off them at a particularly unattractive road junction opposite a carpet store. Walk with the waterway on your right and the entirely unglamorous retail units of Office Outlet and Halfords on your left, before rejoining at Red Tower.

Walmgate Bar

After rejoining the walls at Red Tower, you’ll reach recently-restored Walmgate Bar after only a few minutes. If you fancy a restorative cuppa you’re in luck, as it’s home to the rather fine Gatehouse Coffee.

York Gatehouse Coffee - York city walls walk

Yes, it really is a coffee place in a “bar” – one of my fave places for a brew in York

Clifford’s Tower and the Castle Museum

Moving on from Walmgate Bar, you’ll pass the Barbican – a venue for concerts and the occasional snooker championship – on your left, before arriving at York’s former castle, just past the Travelodge. Clifford’s Tower is the old Castle Keep. It’s run by English Heritage and offers fine views of York from the top.

Clifford's Tower York - York city walls walk

Clifford’s Tower – even if you don’t pay to go in, it makes for a good photo 🙂

York Army Museum - York city walls walk

At York Army Museum
– who can resist dressing up?

From here you can also detour to the fascinating Army Museum (one of several York attractions focusing on military history), and to a York favourite, the Castle Museum (all have entry fees, though there’s a discount at the Castle Museum for local residents with a York Card).

In the Castle Museum you can get locked up in the old city jail, and wander the streets of a very plausible Victorian York. It’s the kind of place you can have fun for hours. It also makes for a brilliant stop if the weather isn’t kind to you.

From the Castle, cross the river over Skeldergate Bridge, where you can rejoin the walls or keep going straight ahead for a minute or two for a little off-piste detour.

You’re in locals’ territory here. This is Bishy Road – Great British High Street of the Year and a slightly gentrified but very lovely little row of shops, mostly of the independent variety. It’s also round the corner from my home; so I admit I’m rather biased in loving it!

For a bite to eat, I can highly recommend Sicilian bistro and gelateria Trinacria, the bustling Pig & Pastry or the fabulous Robinsons. If you’re after something stronger, The Swan pub is a good bet.

[box type=”info”]For somewhere to stay near the walls in York, try Middletons Hotel on Skeldergate. Middletons also does a very nice Sunday lunch and owns the neighbouring gym (which I go to). Or there are plenty more accommodation options, including cosy B&Bs and budget hostels. Booking through these links doesn’t cost you any more and I receive a small commission which helps me run this site. Thank you :)[/box]

Micklegate Bar

Rejoining the walls at the end of Skeldergate Bridge, continue to Micklegate Bar, which houses the Henry VII Experience.

York city walls - Micklegate Bar

Micklegate Bar. Not bad for a city entrance.

If you didn’t have a Bishy Road lunch stop, another option here is Your Bike Shed Café, just below the Bar. Brigantes, slightly further down the hill into town on your left, is a fine pub/bistro option; or you could mix it up with a tasting and/or tour at York Brewery.

York Brewery - York city walls walk

The York Brewery tour – you get a tasting at the end of it 🙂

Keeping on the walls, you’ll soon see York’s magnificent railway station on your left. You can detour here – it’s a ten-minute walk (signed through the station) to the free and fun National Railway Museum. Like the Castle Museum, there’s entertainment to be had for kids and big kids alike.

Finish your tour of the walls with a beautiful vista of York Minster straight ahead with you. At Museum Gardens grab yourself an ice-cream, and sit in the sun (optimistic here, this is England, after all!) under the remnants of St Mary’s Abbey to enjoy it. Bliss!

the view down to York Minster from York city walls

Looking towards the Minster on the home stretch of this York city walls walk

Best time to visit York city walls

York city walls - March daffodils

Don’t miss the March daffodils

March, without a doubt. Spring is in the air and the daffodils are in full bloom. There’s no finer sight.

York city walls tips and practicalities

  • They’re free! You don’t need a ticket – just find the nearest entry point and enjoy.
  • The walls are open every day from 8.00am until dusk, except on Christmas Day and days when there’s snow or ice.
  • They can be busy, especially during weekends and school holidays. A great time to walk York city walls is just before they close at dusk – you’ll have them pretty much to yourself.
  • Many stretches of the walls have sheer drops to one side; not to be tippled over when tipsy. There are also steps galore.
  • York is half way between London and Edinburgh. If you arrive by train, you can enter the city walls at Micklegate Bar, which is to your right if you exit the train station’s main entrance.

Have you walked York city walls? Did you manage to complete the circuit without stopping at a pub? Tell us all about it!

What to see on a self-guided Berlin architecture walk

Wow, Berlin’s got a tonne of fantastic buildings! Here’s my self-guided Berlin architecture walk that shows off the city’s eclectic side. There’s a load of glass, brick and render out there …

1. Modern Berlin architecture at the Hauptbahnhof

A homage to glass, the multi-storey central train station (Hauptbahnhof) combines style and function and has itself become a Berlin landmark since opening in 2006. Wander amongst its many levels, try not to get lost by mixing up your S-Bahn with your U-Bahn (or was that just me?), and admire the precision of its sleek design as well as its punctual train departures.

Berlin architecture walk Hauptbahnhof

Berlin’s Hauptbahnhof (central train station), a homage to glass

From the Hauptbahnhof, walk south for 2km through Tiergarten to Potsdamer Platz, where you’ll find the very cool Spy Museum, some Berlin wall remnants, and another next piece of fancy Berlin architecture, the Sony Center.

2. The Sony Center’s wondrous glass roof

The Sony Center is home to a wondrous glass roof that reflects and refracts in the multitudinous glass edifices below.

It inspires lot of staring upwards. And plenty of picture-taking.

The Sony Center is also home several places to eat, some funky big screens, and a random pond.

Berlin architecture walk Sony Center eating

Plenty of places to eat and admire the roof

Enough of the glass, the next stop is one of Berlin’s rapidly changing neighbourhoods, Prenzlauer Berg. It’s a good hour away from the Sony Center on foot, so you can let the train take the strain for this next stretch of Berlin architecture, by hopping on U-bahn (Underground) line U2 from Potsdamer Platz to Eberswalder Straße.

3. Prenzlauer Berg

Part shabby chic, part gentrified, Prenzlauer Berg isn’t big on major Berlin landmarks, but it IS the place to go for renovated 19th century Berlin architecture. Think a fusion of pastel-painted facades, and you’re there.

Berlin architecture walk Prenzlauer Berg

It’s painted. It’s pastel. It’s in Prenzlauer Berg!

One building that’s escaped the swooping of the paintbrush is the red-bricked Kulturbrauerei, a former brewery turned arts/museum/cultural complex.

Berlin architecture walk Kulturbrauerei Liebe

Wir lieben Berlin!

The Kulturbrauerei also houses a Sunday street food market. Yum.

Plus, there’s this rather convenient Liebe (love) sign. Now if that’s not an invitation for a self-timer photo, I don’t know what is 🙂

Comfy shoes at the ready for this next bit … the next part of your Berlin architecture walk takes you 3km south and east of the Kulturbrauerei through Prenzlauer Berg, via the Volkspark Friedrichshain, to the boulevard of Karl-Marx Allee.

4. Karl-Marx Allee, Friedrichshain

Karl-Marx-Allee is the example of Berlin architecture that made me decide Communist-era apartment blocks were the epitomy of cool. OK, maybe not ALL Communist-era apartment blocks, but definitely these.

The first seven- and eight-storey apartment buildings went up in a matter of months in the 1950s, a feat of labour-intensity designed to show Communist engineering and construction prowess.

Berlin architecture walk Karl-Marx Allee

uniformly incredible apartments on Karl-Marx Allee

The grandeur and uniformity of this 2.3km tree-lined boulevard has stood the test of time, and the high-ceilinged apartments are as much in demand now as they were back in the 1950s. A tenancy on Stalin Boulevard (as Karl-Marx Allee was then known) in that era signified you as a mover and a shaker in the former East Berlin.

Berlin architecture walk Frankfurter Tor

Frankfurter Tor – there are two identical blocks on either side of Karl-Marx Allee

Karl-Marx Allee ends at  Frankfurter Tor. If you’re hungry by now (I know I was!), walk right from here into the bustling streets of Friedrichshain, with cafes, bookstores and bike shops galore. I can recommend Fine Bagels at the Shakespeare & Sons bookstore on Warshauer Strasse.

Keep heading towards the river for the final stop on this Berlin architecture walk – the Oberbaumbrücke, East Side Gallery and surrounds.

5. Oberbaumbrücke and surrounds

The Oberbaumbrücke over the River Spree is another red brick wonder of Berlin architecture. Walk across the bridge under its uniform arches, ride over it on a bright yellow U-Bahn train (yup, that is an oxymoron), or under it on a river cruise.

Berlin architecture walk Oberbaumbrücke

the double-decker red brick Oberbaumbrücke

Back when Berlin was divided, the bridge marked a checkpoint between East and West. Nearby is the longest stretch of remaining Berlin wall, now the East Side Gallery arts project.

During the time of my visit (July 2016), one side of the wall had a tear-inducing temporary exhibition on Syria, featuring powerful images and stories from a land blighted by war.

Berlin architecture walk Syria exhibition

powerful images of Syria in this temporary Berlin Wall exhibition

The area either side of the Berlin Wall was once a no-mans land, but is now a property developers dream.

With fancy new apartment blocks, a new music arena under construction, and a bright turquoise office building, it’s all going on in this part of town.

Berlin architecture walk turquoise building

turquoise office? Check. Crane? Check? This must be Berlin …

If you’re the kind of person who likes to take pics of cranes criss-crossing the skyline, this is where you need to be.

[box type=”info”]I stayed in an Airbnb apartment in Berlin (££ discount off your first Airbnb stay with this link) and used the Lonely Planet Pocket Guide to Berlin for my trip. Help the site by using these links, at no extra cost to you.[/box]

Berlin architecture summed up: diverse

There’s seemingly a gazillion architectural styles and projects in Berlin. The forthcoming Humboldt Forum promises to be another exciting development, which means only one thing: I’ll need to go back!

Which are your favourite examples of Berlin architecture? Share your know-how below 🙂

Day trip from York: Beningbrough Hall by bike

Beningbrough Hall makes a perfect day trip from York by bike. Here’s how to combine gentle exercise with a Georgian mansion, without ending up in a spin.

day trip from York - Beningbrough Hall by bike

… and we’re there *collapse* 😉

Cycle Route 65 from York to Beningbrough Hall by bike

The route from York to Beningbrough Hall forms part of National Cycle Route 65, which means loads of signposts and minimal chances of getting lost. Hurrah!

You’ll pedal along the banks of the River Ouse from central York (passing under the city walls at Lendal Bridge) on dedicated cycle paths, before joining (mostly) quiet country lanes.

The route is mostly flat, so you don’t need to be King or Queen of the Mountains, or even of the Mild Inclines! The most strenuous it gets is a couple of bridges over the East Coast Mainline railway line.

Arriving at Beningbrough Hall by bike

Happily, the National Trust, who run Beningbrough Hall, are well geared up for cyclists.

free brew on a day trip from York to Beningbrough hall by bike

free brew!

There’s a bike rack right next to the entrance, and cyclists can even enter the grounds for free for half an hour – to use the bathrooms, take a quick wander round, and grab all-important refreshments.

Even better, they’ll even throw in a free tea or coffee! Admittedly, it’s more of a “buy a snack, get a free brew” kinda deal, but a flapjack/brownie is practically the law anyway after you’ve spent all that energy, right?

If you want to explore for longer and go in the house itself, you’ll need to buy a ticket. They cost up to £12, depending on the season (more on that a bit later).

What to expect at Beningbrough Hall

Like many of the UK’s grand old houses, you can expect history, grandeur and gardens.

Outside there’s a formal garden with a lawn manicured to an inch of its life, plus the mandatory veggie patch (patch being an under-exaggeration!). Happily, they’re not so precious about the lawn that they won’t let you take a picnic on it.

There’s also parkland with some rather photogenic trees.

photogenic tree at Beningbrough Hall - a day trip from York

photogenic trees abound in Beningbrough Hall’s parkland

In the Hall itself there are super-helpful volunteers, who can give you the lowdown on its previous inhabitants. There’s even 300 china cups to represent the Hall’s 2016 300th anniversary. How can you not love that?

300 cups at Beningbrough Hall - a day trip from York

300 years, 300 cups

There’s also an affiliation with London’s National Portrait Gallery going on. Great if you’re into portraits, even more so if you don’t mind being a bit silly with the dress-up-as-if-you’re-sitting-for-a-portrait option 😉

Beningbrough Hall was home to Royal Canadian Airforce Servicemen during the Second World War. It’s one of many York attractions with an interesting military history. The Canadians used the nearby airfield as a base for raids over Germany. Many didn’t return, and their stories are told in some of the upstairs room. For me, this was the most captivating (and poignant) part of the house.

Practicalities of a day trip from York to Beningbrough Hall

Bike practicalities

If you’re making this day trip from York by bike, wear a helmet and take a lock. Go by car or bus instead if the river is flooded!

cycle helmets - Beningbrough Hall by bike - day trip from York

playin’ it safe with our cycle helmets

Bike Hire is available in York, including at Cycle Heaven at York’s Railway Station. Hire costs are £15 for five hours, or £20 for a full day.

National Cycle Route 65 is well signed. You can also download full details of the route here.

[box type=”info”]To help you get the most out of your trip to York, pick up the Insight Guide to the city in advance. Help the site by buying the guide through this link, at no extra cost to you.[/box]

Beningbrough Hall costs and opening times

Georgian mansion Beningbrough Hall - day trip from York

Georgian mansion? Don’t mind if I do!

Entrance costs to Beningbrough Hall depend on the season. During the Winter, only the gardens are open, and tickets are cheaper. For full details, see their website.

In the Summer, Beningbrough Hall is open Tuesday-Sunday and the Adult price is £10.80 or £12.00 with gift aid (a scheme that enables tax-effective charitable giving by UK tax payers).

In the Winter, the gardens are open and on weekends only. The Adult price is £6.30 or £7.00 with gift aid.

Children pay half price and family tickets are available.

Prices and information correct 7th June 2016.

Getting to Beningbrough Hall by bus

If you don’t fancy a bike ride, there are a couple of other options.

One is to drive, the other is to take the service bus from York to the nearby village of Newton-on-Ouse (a pretty village with two good pubs) and walk from there. The timetable can be found here.

However, no bike = no free brew 🙁

Tell us your tales of Beningbrough Hall. Did you go by bike? Where else would you recommend as a day out from York?

DIY your Lisbon architecture tour with this guide

The architecture of Lisbon has been influenced through history by its rulers, its seafaring exploits and a great big earthquake. DIY your own tour of Lisbon architecture by time-travelling through the Portuguese capital.

The Moors – Arabic influence in the architecture of Lisbon

Lisbon was under Moorish rule from the 8th-12th centuries. The current Castelo de São Jorge dates from the mid 11th century and was a Moorish stronghold until the four-month strong siege of Lisbon in 1147, after which Dom Afonso Henriques ousted the Moors and declared himself the first King of Portugal. The castle was expanded and modified to become his court.

Ramble on the ramparts, meander down the moat and breeze across the bridge. The restored citadel (price €8.50 per adult) also houses the remains of the 13th century Royal Palace, and some monster views over the red-roofed city below.

Lisbon architecture - view from the castle

Lookout from the Castelo de Sao Jorge to the city below

Heading up and down the steps to the battlements gives a certain scale to this centuries-old structure; but be warned – as Lisbon’s top tourist attraction you won’t have the place to yourself.

The influence of the Moors is still apparent in the Arabic flavour of Lisbon’s architecture in the Alfama neighbourhood, which sits directly below the castle. It’s a fair hike up here from the city centre below, or you can let a tram or tuk-tuk take the strain.

Lisbon architecture - yellow tram

You can’t go to Lisbon and not take a picture of a tram. It’s practically the law 😉

The seafarers – Lisbon’s Manueline architecture extravaganza

Manueline Lisbon architecture - The Tower of Belem

The Tower of Belem – a showoff piece of Manueline architecture in Lisbon

From the Moors to the explorers, Lisbon’s architecture had a serious dose of flamboyance and eccentricity in the late 15th century under the reign of Manuel I.

It was under his flag that Vasco de Gama set sail in 1497 around the Cape of Good Hope to India at Goa and Calicut. His voyage resulted in the lion’s share of the Eastern spice trade – initially pepper and cinnamon – heading Portugal’s way.

Seafaring – as well as bringing wealth to Portugal – featured strongly in the Manueline architecture found in some of Lisbon’s buildings of his era.

A cross between Gothic and Renaissance, the decorative architectural style included knotted ropes and other references to all things oceanic. Examples can be seen in Lisbon at the Unesco World Heritage sites of the Tower of Belém (€6) and the Jerónimos Monastery.

The earthquake – tiles for fire prevention

Following a huge earthquake that devastated the city in 1755 through destruction and fire, an ingenious but decorative approach was taken to future fire prevention. Tiles.

Azulejo are the city’s famed hand-painted and glazed ceramic tiles, and were used in Lisbon architecture to decorate buildings outside and in as a means of protection from the ravages of heat.

It’s a trend that continued throughout the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries to this day.

For an extra dose of tile, you can head on over to the Museu Nacional do Azulejo (National Tile Museum), which features a tiled-filled cloister, a Lisbon-in-tiles panorama, and a peaceful courtyard to rest, refresh and contemplate.

But you don’t need to go to a museum to see your fill of tiles.

Lisbon architecture - azulejo tiles

check out these tiles!

The cobbled streets of this hilly city are filled with colourful facades and tiled designs that seem to draw their influence from Moorish times. Geometric styles, symmetrical designs and florals in blues, yellows and greens are all common in Lisbon’s architecture.

DIY your own Lisbon architecture tour

To make your own architectural tour of Lisbon all you need is a pair of shoes that can deal with the cobbled streets, and a dose of stamina for the city’s hills. A camera also comes in handy. Enjoy!

What’s your favourite type of Lisbon architecture? Which other buildings should you visit to get a taste of its style? Share your thoughts in the comments below.