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Posts in ‘Sightseeing & Culture’

Popular Tourist Attractions in Dubai

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Dubai at Dusk

Dubai is a city state and one of the seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates UAE. It is the second largest in terms of land and the largest in population. Dubai ranks 7th amongst the most visited tourist destinations of the world. It is expected to attract around 15 million visitors in 2015.It has liberal social policies and is the most modern of the emirates.

Just a few hours flying time from Europe and South Asia, it is ideally located for tourists looking for a convenient break. The emirate’s huge construction boom includes many superb hotels, world-renowned buildings and high-end luxury homes. The rulers have deliberately set out to create superb infrastructure and first-class tourist amenities. The goal is to achieve premier status in the tourist and trade sectors.

Dubai has very quickly established a name for itself as a great destination for shopping, partying, fine dining and sporting activities. There are many things to see and do in Dubai.  Some of its attractions are:

Desert Safari
Also known as Dune Bashing, you head out in an SUV/4×4/Hummer driven by specialist drivers.  The drive is an exhilarating roller-coaster off-road expedition over picturesque sand dunes.

Dubai City Sightseeing Tours
One fun way to see this modern city of soaring skyscrapers is to take a bus tour. Drive past or stop at the Dubai Museum, Al Fahidi Fort and the Spice Souk. You will get to see the world’s tallest building – the Burj Dubai, Burj Al Arab and visit the Palm Jumeirah. You could also take a Hop-on-Hop Off Tour of Dubai.

Dubai Fountains
This water feature is the work of the creators of the Fountains of Bellagio, Las Vegas. It spurts water as high as 500 feet and is synchronised to music. The fountains are located on the Burj Khalifa Lake and do their thing every day.

Burj Khalifa
The tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa has an outdoor observation deck on the 124th floor equipped with a telescope. The views of the surrounding desert and city are absolutely stunning.

Burj Al Arab
The Burj Al Arab is the fourth tallest hotel and (arguably) the only seven star luxury hotel in the world. The building resembles the dhow. The building stands on an artificial island just off Jumeirah Beach and opened in December 1999.

Wild Wadi Water Park
The Park is an ultra-modern water activity complex located in the Jumeirah area of Dubai and next to the Burj Al Arab. It has 30 rides including a hot and cool wave pool, water slides, artificial surfing machines and a waterfall. It also has shops, restaurants and snack stands.

Dubai Creek
The original settlement of the city came up around this picturesque creek, which is still the heart and lifeline of the place. You can take a small water taxi (abra) along the creek and see the old historic city and trading wharfs; weave among the dhows that still sail the Arabian Sea as they load and unload goods from India, Africa and other Middle Eastern ports; walk along the shores and get a closer experience of the heritage of this now modern city. You could rent a boat and have dinner whilst cruising up and down the creek.

Palm Island
This icon to luxury and everything fashionable has world famous hotels, shopping malls, spas, pools, gardens and wide selection of fine dining restaurants. There are miles of beach front lined with bars, clubs, theme parks and all forms of entertainment.

Dubai Marina
A recent addition to the Dubai attractions, the marina has great views, boat rides, casual and fine dining restaurants. Stretching along three and a half kilometres, the marina is the largest man-made marina in the world, where you will find the gleaming yachts of the super rich.  In the evening the marina turns into a magical place. The lights and shapes of some of the world’s most iconic buildings add to its allure.

Ski Dubai
Ski Dubai is the third largest indoor ski slope in the world. It has a chair lift and 6,000 tonnes of snow for your skiing pleasure. There are practice jumps, racks and other aids to help you learn the basics. You can also snowboard and toboggan down its slopes. All this snow – all year round!

Other attractions and activities can be accessed at Jumeira Beach and Park, Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo and Dolphin Bay – the world’s largest dolphin habitat.
 

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Top 5 Reasons To Visit Belgium

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            Best known for it’s authentic beer, rich chocolate, and delightful waffles, Belgium’s food reputation over powers its historic character and diverse atmosphere. A destination filled with history, food, sightseeing, and relaxation, Belgium is one of Europe’s most unseen countries. If you are still contemplating on whether or not Belgium is for you, here are 5 reasons as to why Belgium is a must see European country.

1.     Notorious for it’s chocolates, waffles, and fries, Belgium has food that is easy to find in any other country but more authentic when found in Belgium. From unique fry toppings to flawless chocolate shops, the cultural food of Belgium is one of a kind.

2.     You might have tasted Belgian beer before in a country of your own, but nothing compares to an actual Belgian beer in Belgium! From strong beers that will knock you off your bar stool to over 400 different types of Beer at the Delirium bar, make sure you pace yourself when experiencing this part of the Belgian culture.

3.     Hidden in the shadows of Brussels, are the marvelous cities of Bruges and Ghent. Just a short train ride away from the countries capital, these two cities will astonish you with their medieval architecture and serene demeanor.

4.     Compared to Bruges and Ghent, Brussels is a modern city that not only is the capital of Belgium, but the European Union as well. However do not let its modernism fool you, Brussels has some medieval secrets of its own.

5.     Giving Berlin a bit of competition, Brussels’ nightlife has been emerging over the years. With many bars and restaurants open until 6 in the morning, you can find anything from tequila bars to seafood restaurants to put up camp for the night.

So before you plan your next trip to an overpopulated city or a remote island, think about the distinctive beers you can try in Brussels, the delectable chocolates in Bruges, the great waffles in Ghent, and the medieval secrets residing beneath your feet and book Belgium!

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Visit Three Countries in a Day!

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Three different times of the day, three different activities and three different…countries? Yes, countries! It is very possible to visit three countries in one day, especially when on the Mediterranean Coast stretching between France and Italy. What some people don’t realise is how close these bordering countries are with each other- something I certainly did not understand until I crossed European country borders myself! I come from a small island, and the only way to get into another country is either to get on a plane or boat. With the Schengen Agreement, you are allowed to travel between a large number of European countries without having to whip out your passport every time you pass through the border. So why not try to visit three different countries in a day?

Your trip can begin in Nice, France and end in Ventimiglia, Italy. These towns are along the Mediterranean coast referred to as the French Riviera and are so close together you can stop by them all along your way north the coast. The French Riviera is the coastline of the south of France, and is an area that had the first modern resorts because of its natural beauty. Tours of this coastline are sublime, because of the splendour of the area and the good weather year-round. It has hot, dry summers and mild winters, making it a pleasant destination at any time of the year. You can spend a whole day (or more!) in Nice, for it has much to offer- such as shopping, ruins from Roman times, and charming views.

Monaco is the second smallest country in the world, and is completely surrounded by France on three sides, its fourth side facing the Mediterranean. It is directly between the French town of Nice and the Italian town of Ventimiglia, and will be your second stop on this trip. Monte Carlo is famous for its gambling and also has a large entertainment centre, featuring restaurants, nightclubs and sports clubs. I can promise that you would not want to spend merely a few hours there, for there is much to do! You can loiter there for a few days…but why would you, when you can travel onto Italy, making it your third country in one day?

Wrap up your hectic day with some pasta and wine in the charming seaside Italian town of Ventimiglia. Not as much of a tourist destination as Nice, it is more laid back but still has bits of its history scattered around…such as the remains of a Roman theatre, the medieval city centre, as well as other remnants of its ancient past. It’s a good end for an amazing journey, and if there is any town you want to revisit, it will be just a short car ride away.

Three countries in one day: didn’t think you could do it, huh? If you plan your day well, it is very possible along the French Riviera.

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New Year’s Kiss

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New Year's Kiss A friend once told me that her New Year’s resolution was to be kissed as the clock struck twelve on the first day of the New Year. So here are some great and different places that I would suggest for that magical kiss with that special someone:

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Famous for its Carnival, Rio is also great destination any other time of year. This is one of the few times of the year that the locals join the tourists for a great time! This celebration is on par with their Carnival and the fireworks are absolutely amazing. Dress up in white and share that New Years kiss on the beaches of Rio! And you cannot come all the way to Brazil without experiencing its rainforests, can you?

Venice, Italy

This small city in Italy is perfect for a New Year’s kiss. On the last night of the year, many restaurants in Venice have feasts starting from 9p.m. and lasting until midnight, with great food and cheap wine. Also, in St. Mark’s Square there is a huge celebration with music, fireworks and a huge group kiss at midnight. And nothing spells romantic like a gondola ride through the canals of Venice!

Cape Town, South Africa

Welcome the New Year dancing in Cape Town! Some of the hottest parties and celebrations are held in this seaside city, and you can have your special New Years Kiss while on the beach. You of course will have to try the wine while in South Africa, for it rivals even Italy for quality!

Hong Kong, China

Although the Chinese Lunar New Year does not coincide with December 31st, there are still celebrations held in Hong Kong! You will not be at a loss to find a popping party the night of. Top the Hong Kong experience off with your New Years kiss while LED lights count down the last 60 seconds of the old year! You cannot forget the wonderful beauty outside Hong Kong either, for China is home to some of the most breathtaking sights.

Sydney, Australia

Although not as typically romantic as European cities, Sydney has a lot to offer. Enjoy your New Year’s kiss as some of the first New Year’s fireworks in the world explode in the night sky amid music! The best part of being in Sydney at the end of the year is that it is not wintertime; you will be coming in the height of summer. You can spend your days at the beach, dolphin spotting and enjoying the Australian lifestyle!

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Doge’s Palace Venice

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The Palazzo Ducalo, Venice, also known as the Doge’s Palace, combined with St Mark’s Cathedral and St Mark’s Square make up the most beautiful architectural complex in the world. The Palace on its own is a very impressive complex. Every façade is really striking, whether you approach on a boat via the Lagoon or from La Piazza (St Marks’s Square).

For over a thousand years it was the residence and seat of the rulers, the Doges, of the Venetian Republic. In 1923, the palace was turned into a museum. Since then it has been one of the top draws in Italy with huge crowds going in and out of and around this pale chalky masterpiece of Venetian Gothic architecture and design.

Throughout its history, until it became a museum it has been a place where official, legal, political and commercial work took place. Its fabulous halls and rooms housed public offices, archives room, courtrooms, prisons, torture rooms, the Doge’s apartments, stables, armouries, and other facilities.

The structure, as it stands today, is the culmination of centuries of building, rebuilding, renovation, expansion and a variety of architectural styles. It has suffered the ravages of three devastating fires, the first in the 10th century, the next in 1483 and the last in 1547.  No traces of the original building remain but the result of the fires and the growth and power of the Venetian state saw additional construction and extensions to the structure.

Most of what we see today is the result of work started and directed by Doge Bartolomeo Gradenigo in 1340. His efforts were focused mainly on the side facing the lagoon. Before that other major works were carried out under Doge Sebastiano Ziani (1172–1178) and Doge Francesco Foscari who extended the building by raising a wing facing the Piazzetta (little Piazza). The highlights of this construction were the ground floor arcade, the delicately beautiful open loggias that run along the first floor, the internal courtyard and the lovely Porta della Carta.

Nearly every Venetian and Italian artist, architect and designer of note has contributed to the Palace at some time or the other. The fires may have destroyed many masterpieces, but they only inspired later exquisite works. Frescoes, paintings, sculptures, staircases, ceilings and nearly every corner and cornice has the touch of some master. Listing them and their works in the Palace would require a separate article to do any justice.

Today the entrance to the Palace is from the Porta Del Frumento leading to the Museo dell’Opera containing a profusion of sculptures. The upper floors are where the Doge’s apartments are located. The second floor contains the Institutional Chambers, the Armoury and the attic prisons (immortalised by the escape by Casanova).

Venice, especially the Palace, was famed for its intrigues, conspiracies, plots, shady politics and assassinations. This led to the construction of a series of backdoors, stairways, secret chambers and hidden corridors running through the Palace. To visit these areas you have to book a scheduled tour in advance. It is called the Secret Itinerary Tour and can only be done in the company of a guide.

A visit to the overwhelmingly marvellous Doge’s Palace generally finishes with a walk-through the attic prisons onto the New Prisons, which is reached by the world-renowned Bridge of Sighs (Ponte dei Sospiri). The Bridge is reputed to have acquired its name from the sigh of the prisoners as they trudged across never to beautiful Venice or the world again.

As you walk out, you too sigh, wishing you had more time to really take in all the Palace has to offer.

Visiting Hours: Daily 8:30 – 7:00 (closes 5:30 in winter), last admission one hour before closing. Closed January 1 and December 25

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Christmas Shopping in the Fashion Capitals of the World

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The Christmas season is upon us once again, and you know what that means- shopping! No matter how much you love to shop, at this time of year, it can get tedious. But why not combine travel to a fantastic city with that little bit of pleasure and pain? Here are some great ideas for your Christmas shopping:

Paris: Paris is well known as the city of love and lights, but it is also one of the oldest cities in the world.  In the Antique Shopping tour, you can acquire little pieces of its past! This tour ensures you do not go into Paris to face the many shopping options alone. Your guide will pick a market in Paris for you to visit, where you can either enlist your guide’s help in shopping, or go around on your own. Whether you’re looking for antique furniture, jewellery, or clothing, you’re sure to find it while on this tour. Antique items make a great and unique Christmas present for anyone, and you will be satisfied with the great prices!

Dubai: Dubai is not an ancient city like Paris, but it has been climbing the ranks in one of the most fashionable cities in the world. So why not treat yourself with a shopping tour with an expert guide? This tour will take you to some of the best malls and souks where you can get some amazing bargains! You will not only get to visit the more conventional malls, but also the more traditional markets and really get a feel for the city of Dubai.

Milan: Everyone knows that Milan is the capital of fashion, but Serraville Outlet is the capital of brand names. It’s the first designer outlet in Italy and the largest in Europe, and only 50 minutes outside the fashion capital! It is a huge area with 180 shops and boutiques of the most prestigious brands in a very pleasing surrounding.

London:  I’ve only been in London for a couple of months, but I’ve noticed that Londoners love their markets! The markets are absolutely amazing and provide unique and great presents for family and friends, and at great prices! You also don’t have to brave these London markets on your own; a guide can be with you. What’s even better, the tour is not the same every day, so you can go on the same tour twice, but get two totally different experiences!

New York City: New York City is well known worldwide for being a great destination for tourists, business, food, and of course, shopping. So it is no surprise that there is a Fifth Avenue Shopping Tour! On this tour you get to visit some of the most popular stores in the Big Apple. Not only that, but an expert stylist is your tour guide- so you can get clothes that fit your body and budget! This tour also includes coffee and cake at the famous Trump Tower. No matter what place you decide to visit for your Christmas shopping, you can be guaranteed a great shopping experience, a beautiful city, and great tours besides!

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Amsterdam Canals

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Flying into Amsterdam you could be forgiven for thinking that you were looking down on the film set of a Star Wars movie. The geometric, radiating belts that you see are defined by the 8 main canals that give Amsterdam its nickname of “Venice of the North.” With over a hundred kilometres of canals, spanned by more than 1,500 bridges the label is most fitting. Oh yes, it also contains around 90 islands! One of them, Java Island is man-made and was completed in 1995.
 
The canals were built in the 17th century, during what is regarded by the Dutch as their “Golden Age.” The first, oldest and innermost, the Singel, however dates back to 1480, when it was actually a defensive moat that protected medieval Amsterdam. Along with the Singel there are seven other major canals in the city of today.
 
Four of these, the Prinsengracht, Keizersgracht, Herengracht and Jordaan, were put on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2010. They also frame the precincts of the city centre. The buildings, mansions and property lining the banks of these four major canals are prime property, exclusive areas and very beautiful. Many of them date from the glory days of the Dutch.
 
The good burghers of Amsterdam have created some ostentatious homes along these waterways that have lovely inner gardens and old-style coach houses. One of these posh areas is called the Golden Bend. Streets in these areas are frequently recognised for their beauty.
 
Several of Amsterdam’s better known buildings can be found around these four major canals. They include Anne Frank’s House, Westerkerk (the tallest church in town) and the Homomonument (Gay Monument!) The canals also bear testament to the city’s past activities.
 
It was a major textile centre and port of destination for the Dutch merchant navy and the Dutch East India Company bringing their cargoes of spice, silks and other exotic products.   Many of those warehouses have become high-priced homes and apartments. Oh yes! It wouldn’t be Amsterdam if there no houseboats. Some of the loveliest and picturesque houseboats on the European continent can be found on these waterways.
 
With so much history, beauty and attractions lining the canals it is no wonder that cruises and hop-on-hop-off tours along them are popular. Where other countries indulge in street processions and cavalcades for visiting dignitaries, Amsterdam takes them on a cruise. Three million passengers a year attest to the fact that Amsterdam is best seen from the deck of a canal cruiser.

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Neuschwanstein Castle – A Fairy Tale Castle

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Driving through the Bavarian countryside close to the Austrian border is a trip into picture postcard land. The beauty of the green undulating country side and its lovely forests, which could get spooky in winter with mist drifting through it, is almost unreal.

The road climbs up to what are the lower foothills of the Alps till you get to the village of Hohenschwangau. That’s when you get a really good view of Neuschwanstein Castle.  Perched on the steep rugged hill above the village and rising above the surrounding trees, it is the castle you have seen in every illustrated fairy tale book. On one side are the rocky escarpments of the Tyrol Mountains and on the other are the Alpsee and Schwansee lakes.

All the elements are there. The startling white walls; slate grey, sloping roofs; high pointy turrets and innumerable windows, not to mention, the tall tower in one corner and you know you are in Disneyworld. Through this castle the tales of Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers Grimm come alive.

Building started in September 1869 and though Ludwig II, moved in 1884, it had not really been completed then or now.  A three-nave church and “knights’ bath” were never built.  In fact, when he died Ludwig had spent only 172 days in the castle. Inspired by the Romanesque Revival style, the design borrows heavily from German legends, the classic castles of medieval knights and Ludwig’s own romanticised vision.

Inside, the decorations, paintings and furnishings pay homage to the grand operatic themes of Richard Wagner, the composer, and the epic German Lohengrin sagas. They are opulent, intricate and very elaborate with the figures all heroic in dimension and action.

As a visitor, be warned as there are plenty of steps to navigate. Tours to the castle are all guided and you cannot wander around on your own or at your own pace. There are several don’ts with no cameras being allowed one of them.  The tour takes about half an hour.

The northern and western sides of Neuschwanstein castle are undergoing restoration work and are not expected to be completed before the end of 2012.

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Visiting Greece

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Greece is one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations – ranking in the world’s top 20 countries. The country’s beaches and reliable sunny summer weather coupled with its nightlife, historical sites and natural beauty are what attract tourists. Let’s have a look at some of the more prominent places to see or do when visiting Greece:

Athens City Sightseeing : This enchanting capital of Greece has loads to offer with its many modern and classical sites. Its wonderful culture makes the city a centre for philosophy, learning and the arts. From Acropolis and Parthenon, Tower of Winds, Panathinaikos Stadium to the New Royal Palace, to the Temple of the Olympian Zeus and Zappeion Gardens, you’ll see why Greece is such a tourist top spot.

Zakynthos: For beaches, sun and relaxation, Zakynthos is your place. The island, named after Zacynthos, son of legendary Arcadian chief Dardanos has a thriving tourism industry. Its northern and eastern shores contain numerous wide sandy beaches that are always packed with tourists in summer months. One amazing small beach here in the north is the Xigia beach that has underwater springs rich in sulphur, giving it a characteristic odour.

Santorini: Santorini is famous for its dramatic view – with the island essentially the remains after an enormous volcanic explosion. It is also famous for its stunning sunsets from Oia town, its strange white aubergine, the town of Thira and naturally its very own active volcano.

There are also naturally fantastic beaches such as the beach of Perissa, the black pebble beach of Kamari, white beach and red beach. The Greek island of Santorini also beckons visitors to explore the beautiful Aegean waters framed by steeped cliffs rising hundreds of feet skyward.

Mykonos Island Tour: It is probably the most popular Greek island due to its cosmopolitan atmosphere, its nightlife and gay community, as well as its magnificent golden sandy beaches with transparent waters. Besides these, Mykonos Island also has small white painted houses lined in paved alleys and hundreds of little family churches.

All in all, Greece is such a beautiful place that one should visit at least once during one’s lifetime. It has so much to offer to say the least.

 

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Explore Amsterdam

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Amsterdam is a city of dichotomies. Where else will you find coffee shops selling marijuana situated next to ancient churches? The city’s varied culture means there is an attraction guaranteed to pique the interests of every traveller. From the enlightening to the leisurely, here are the top things to do in Amsterdam:

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1. Canal Cruise

Amsterdam is connected by a series of canals, so one of the fastest (and most scenic!) ways to orientate yourself with the city is to go on a canal cruise. Relax aboard a guided tour and discover hidden treasures including houseboats and the splendid architecture of the many bridges. You’ll see there is a reason why Amsterdam is called “The Venice of the North.

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2. Red Light District tour

There is no other place comparable to Amsterdam’s infamous Red Light District. A tour of the district allows you to see past the often overwhelming spectacle of half-dressed girls and cannabis-shops aplenty and understand the history of the district. Informative, educational and amusing, a Red Light District tour will give you insight on a key aspect of Amsterdam’s culture.

3. Anne Frank’s House

Whether you have read Anne’s diary or not, when you walk in the same spots the Frank family spent years hiding from the Nazis, you just begin to comprehend their situation. Visiting Anne Frank’s House is a very emotional and eye-opening experience but one that you absolutely must do. At Otto Frank’s request, the house was left unfurnished after the Nazis raided it and the windows remain blacked out, offering you a glimpse of how they lived.

4. Bike Tour

Amsterdam’s preferred mode of transportation always amuses car-reliant travellers. (Have you seen a multi-storey bike parking lot before?) With the narrow streets and everything in close proximity, bikes are the quickest method of travel. Experience the city through the eyes of a local and go on a bike tour. Nervous about pedalling around a foreign city? Don’t worry as there are special bike lanes and lights and you’re more likely to come across fellow cyclists than cars. And of course, don’t forget to wear your helmet!

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5. Keukenhof

If you fancy a quick day trip out of the heart of the city, visit the picturesque Keukenhof gardens. There is a reason it is one of the most popular gardens in the world with its immaculate flower displays that literally go on for miles. (It is the largest flower bulb park in the world after all!) Every year a staggering seven million flower bulbs are planted in accordance to a specific theme. Time is of the essence as the garden is only open from about March to May because of the flowering season.

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