I took part in the latest Twitter Chat operating under the hashtag #TravelSkills with the eye-catching title of 'The Hidden Gems of Europe'; bringing to mind quiet little towns uninterrupted by globalisation, exquisite scenery unchanged for centuries and the type of places we seek when travelling in order to avoid the usual touristic traps. I was definitely interested in hearing what this group had to say about where in Europe is still considered 'hidden' and unexplored, by many of us at least!
This week's chat was helpfully moderated by absolute experts in the travel industry: @cjmcginnis and @JohnnyJet along with deluxe river cruise company @USEmerald.
First question came out looking for immediate names of places we could consider as 'Hidden Gems' with:
"After London, Paris and Rome, which 3 capital cities should travelers see in Europe? Why?"
Much discussion and naming of a multitude of cities ensued but @TravelCuts summed it up well with: "Budapest, Zagreb & Warsaw. So much culture + history to discover in Eastern Europe & you’ll def have a unique experience!"
@LifeofTravel gave us a diverse response listing some cool spots very worth visiting: "Lisboa, Belgrade & Berlin- for history, cuisine & 3 very different european cultures!" while @BBC_Travel provided one solid answer we're excited to hear: "Dublin’s on the rise - it’s being called the Silicon Valley of Europe!" What with so many international companies calling Dublin their European base, such as @Google, @LinkedIn and @Etsy, there's a real buzz about the city full of young professionals from all over the world.
Other capitals mentioned were: Prague, Reykjavik, Madrid, Amsterdam to name a few.
The second question focussed on the financial side of things by asking:
"Which European country or region offers the biggest bang for the strong American dollar?"
We immediately had to throw in our two cents on this one as our recent move to Spain from London resulted in massive cost savings: @Concierge_99 "I'd have to say Spain and Andalucia in particular. Fab weather, free tapas and the rest not expensive!"
@Bugs223 reminded us all of the little island country off mainland Europe not to be forgotten: "Iceland was inexpensive. Great people and beautiful country!" That is definitely on the list to visit, especially after recently seeing the incredible scenery in the @BBC's Icelandic TV show 'Trapped'.
We all got to talk about our favourite mode of travel and getting around the best bits of Europe when we were asked:
"Best way to see smaller towns and cities in Europe? Train? River cruise? Other?"
We agreed with @Tigrib29 when she said: "I love to travel by train...you see the changing landscapes and get better sense of geography of country than in a plane" although with so many places inaccessible by train, we do love taking a rental car or scooters into the small villages and towns. @gieckel pointed out a great service in Europe that is quickly gaining popularity among travellers as a way to save a few $$ and ££ as well as meet like-minded people along the way : "I had a pretty cool experience with @BlaBlaCar in Europe (ride-sharing) and got from A to B safely with a few new friends".
@cjmcginnis reminds us why it's handy to follow along with these Twitter Chats and get travel insider tips with: "TIP Smaller towns and cities provide a much more “European” experience than big capitals do". So true.
The answers were really narrowed down when we were all asked:
"Best hidden gem destination you've visited in Europe? Why?"
We totally agree with @LifeofTravel here: "Split,Croatia.Used as a drop point to dubrovnik/hvar but take a bike&picnic or rental boat to secluded beaches".
@TBarnthouse showed us exactly what she meant with a gorgeous accompanying picture to: "Tough question! Gotta go with any small town in Sicily, like this one I took in Ragusa."
@SmarterTravel pointed out even more reasons to visit Portugal with: "Sintra; it's a small, hillside town 30 minutes west of Lisbon, home to many iconic palaces in Portugal." We can't wait to explore Portugal more - it's really a top destination in everybody's book these days.
Next we were asked to really explain why our chosen destinations deserved this 'hidden gem' title: "Most interesting city or country in eastern Europe? Why?"
@EmeraldWaterway made us long to return to the Dutch gem: "Netherlands. Everything you expect from this flat country including tulips, cheese and windmills but also so much more" while @JimByersTravel put it well by saying: "I adore #Slovenia. Mountains, lakes, Mediterranean coastline & great capital of Ljubljana." @gieckel pointed out that "Moldova is actually is secret little spot for wine production and it's not really touristy yet". Thanks for letting us in on the secret! :)
Other spots mentioned were Belgrade, Budapest and Istanbul - looking forward to exploring them someday hopefully soon, especially Istanbul straddling both Europe and Asia and steeped in the culture of those influences.
Drawing us in more now to focus on a specific type of travel within Europe, we were asked:
"Name a European river you'd love to cruise. Why?"
@USEmerald stated: "One of our more popular cruises is the Legends of Moselle, Rhine and Main". That really does sound amazing.
@Tigrib29 took the words out of my mouth by saying: "The #Volga. Heard it's beautiful and very convenient way to travel between #StPetersburg and #Moscow." This would be a perfect trip and what better way to see the incredible cities of Russia.
The Danube was also a very popular option amongst those chiming in - sounds like a great option for someone looking for a river cruise.
Focussing on our US holidayers now, we were asked:
"Is the strong dollar affecting your interest in Europe this summer?"
to which @SmarterTravel immediately assuaged any fears with: "No way! US travelers seeking budget transatlantic fares have a lot more options this summer".
@nrsafiani spoke for us non-Americans who don't have the advantage of the strong dollar: "I'm Malaysian, so my weak Ringgit is affecting my plans :)". A pity, as we would have enjoyed a couple more trips to the US this year!
"What websites/blogs/publications are good at sharing hidden gem destinations?"
Now this is key to these Twitter Chats: finding out something all of us might be missing in planning trips. Any interesting answers?
Why yes, there's this one by yours truly @Concierge_99: "We ourselves actually aim to review cities to the wayside of the capitals; so Lyon, Granada, Cork for ex."
@Michaelherrmann let us know about a site we'd previously never heard of (but definitely now checking out): "I've heard good things about @eurocheapo as a source."
@JimByersTravel answered with: "I'm biased, but I think travel.canoe.com does a GREAT job outlining deals and destinations." No problem with bias here! This is the stuff we want to hear about.
Great question next to which the answers revealed some key things to remember when travelling in Europe:
"Best money-saving advice for first-time travelers to Europe?"
So many answers and good advice so here is a quick review of some of the best tips from the travel experts:
@Bugs223: "Don't spend a lot of money on a fancy hotel (lots of cheap options) & use public transportation (taxis are $$$)"
@CFJPilgrimage: "Brush up on the language, shop at a local specialty grocery store and have picnics!" (I love this idea and picnics with fresh ingredients from a local store are the best to try out the cuisine!)
@nodestinations agreed with us: "Dont eat all your meals out...the markets are incredible in Europe and can be so cheap!" Such a good point. What's better than sampling tasty treats from each stall while walking around a bustling market in Europe? @BoroughMarket in London is our favourite although can't always be considered the cheap option.
@findinganeish: "Don't underestimate European public transport. You can get just about anywhere by bus or train." Yes! And if you are organised enough to book ahead (online and app booking available for many now), you can get massive cost savings on these trips too.
On to our favourite part of these Chats where we get to actually see the beautiful places everyone has been talking about via the final question:
"Share a photo of a hidden gem in Europe you’ve visited or would like to visit!"
Thanks to everyone for taking part in #TravelSkills chat! Always enjoyable to chat with everyone and learn something new about travel every time.
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Siamac and Julieanne are avid world travellers, sun worshippers and enjoy sharing recommendations of treats they've encountered along the way. With this blog and Concierge99's Top 5 Guides, they can help you make the most of your travels, giving you an opportunity to find interesting and unique things to do wherever you are in the world.
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