Europe

How to survive a group holiday... and other things to do in Dublin, Ireland

As lovely as holidays are, they can be a right ballache to plan at the best of times. Now, factor in nine fun-loving, yet opinionated, 20- and 30-somethings and you've got yourself a potential recipe for disaster... or for a shit load of fun!

Myself and eight other friends headed just across the way to the land of Guinness, leprechauns and men with hot accents: Dublin for St Paddy's Day! What a better way to show respect to the patron saint of Ireland than in the capital city itself?

Here's how to make the best memories with your friendship group and survive a big group holiday without wanting to kill your buddies (because that would really put a downer on the holiday):

Book an AirBnb
I love staying in hotels when travelling, but you really can't beat an AirBnb for a group holiday. For a start, the cost of an AirBnb is likely to come in cheaper than a hotel room when divided between each person, but is way more luxurious than a hostel dorm.

You'll have the whole place to your group, so needn't worry about waking up in time for the served breakfast (or about what constitutes as a 'continental breakfast'), nor being too loud late into the night. Even better, if you wake before everyone else, there is a communal living room you can head to, rather than lying quietly in bed, trying - and failing - to use your phone on the dimmest light setting.

Accept that problems will occur
A holiday is not a military operation; the holiday plans won't run smoothly, no matter how intricately you've planned. We had a fairly successful approach that involved one of the most organised of our friendship group doing the majority of planning (thank you!!) while asking us to vote on specific things and also delegating tasks some tasks, such as trains to and from the airport, and tourist activities.

As smooth as this operation was, a few things easily threw the plans, for example, me being unable to fly on the same day as everyone else. I'm pretty sure this annoyed my friend a little, but it was unavoidable and she was absolutely fine about it once we were all there. Accept some elements will be beyond your control, especially as you are dealing with a group of independent adults and find the solution between you. 

Do what you want to do...
... within reason! Now, I'm not saying be a selfish cow, but do recognise that you're in a different place and need to make the most of it. Also, remember IT IS OKAY TO DO THINGS SEPARATELY. Out of our group of nine, just three of us went on the sightseeing bus tour of Dublin. You will still create amazing memories this way; I will never forget sitting on the cold March pavement outside Croke Park, eating a takeaway fry up like chavs, while joking around with my friends. Word of warning, the Croke Park stop on the Citysightseeing Bus Tour is just within the grounds. We took blaaady ages to find it. 

After a cool whistle-stop tour of the city, your ticket will also get you a free Guinness in an authentic Irish pub. The pub had a great vibe and we then headed to another underground bar with live music. SO GOOD! I even got to see the pretty Ha'penny Bridge I had read about.

...But also come together once a day!
Our whole group ensured we spent some time together each day. We were usually brought together by alcohol and we had some great nights out over the long weekend. St Patrick's Day was spent in the infamous Temple Bar area and there was such a good atmosphere. Everyone was friendly, the drinks were good and the music made you feel as if you were part of the Irish community. 

In keeping with the alcohol theme, we all headed to the Guinness Factory on the 18th March (the day after St Paddy's Day). Hmmm, perhaps we should have foreseen the huge amounts of tourists who'd had the same idea as us... However, the factory put on some great entertainment while we were in the queue: there were circus acts, tap dancers and even a face painter. I'm sure we were in the queue for over an hour, but it FLEW by.

The staff were just as friendly and accommodating in the factory itself. The tickets included a free pint of Guinness, which I didn't love, so the barman happily offered me a Guinness Prosecco mix, free of charge. The bar area also had a dance show on, where they taught punters a specific dance and they performed to the room. Honestly, this place is far more than a museum and highly recommended.

The Guinness Factory

The Guinness Factory

Step back and enjoy each other's company
Work and life usually get in the way of spending extended quality time spent with your friends. A group holiday is the perfect place to enjoy each other's company, free from time restraints. As mentioned earlier, AirBnb's are perfect for bonding, laughter and great memories (lol, super cheesy). We played Cards Against Humanity, Twister, and other games, for hours on end and it was flipping fantastic.

Of course, there will always be little things that will gripe you when on holiday with a large group, but the great memories farrrr outweigh these little grumbles.  

How to avoid cheese in Italy... and other things to do in Rome, Italy

No, I don't like it in sauce; no, I don't like it on pizza; no, I don't like it in cakes. Yes, I'm aware there are different types of cheese; yes, I have tried some recently. We good?

People seem unable to believe that I detest the taste of cheese. They proceed to reel off a list of every. single. possible. way. to cook cheese, just to triple check.

What I do love, however, is the city of Rome, which just so happens to be situated in a country famous for majorly cheesing up their dishes.

Here is a little guide to eating cheese-free in this incredible city if you, like me, are a cheese-o-phobe, or if you're just cutting down on the smelly blocks from hell. 

Pizza 
I'm not sure I can trust people who don't know how to season food properly. A dash of salt and pepper will never cut it; if I wanted bland, I'd grab a jar of baby food. But boyyyy, do the Italian's know how to season their food. The Marinara, a simple tomato and garlic pizza, engulfs the taste buds in just one bite. The herbs are mouthwateringly delicious. Watch out for the places that pop anchovies on top though, it's super weird. 

We frequented a small pizzeria near where we stayed, close to the Basilica Papale di Santa Maria Maggiore. Santa Maria Maggiore has a sightseeing bus stop outside and we used it to get around the city. GENIUS, I TELL YOU. After buying a 48-hour pass, we could get to all the sights and back to our hotel, too. We didn't once step foot on public transport until our last day, in order to get to the airport.

The Colosseum

The Colosseum

Mussels (and other seafood) 
Italy may be famous for its pizza and pasta, but their seafood tastes pretty damn good too. I'd recommend fresh mussels, but I know that's not everyone's bag.

After we filled our gills (lol), we soldiered through our marathon sightseeing day with high energy. We started at the Colosseum (more below), and then jumped back on the sightseeing bus, headed for the Trevi Fountain. I'd wanted to see the fountain for absolute ages and, thankfully, I got to see it and make my wish before the restoration started. 

From the Trevi Fountain, you can walk to the Spanish Steps, via the Pantheon. All breathtaking architecture that you MUST see when you visit Rome. I still had pizza left over so snacked, post-dinner, while sat on the Spanish Steps.

Spanish Steps

Spanish Steps

Get your caffeine hit
Okay, so the weirdest thing about Rome is how casual they are about their amazing history. I mean, the Colosseum is literally in the middle of a roundabout. People casually just on their way to work, driving (and crashing - they be cray, these Roman drivers) around the world-famous Colosseum. Probably cursing about how hard it is to pull off, back onto the main road, like us normal folk.

After you've headed in, looked around and been transported back to the battle times past, grab a coffee at a nearby cafe. Choose one a few hundred meters away from the Colosseum itself, so you can look out onto the bit of history you've just got to touch. The coffee will slide down your throat and hit you like no other cuppa before. Your history class never made you feel so alive!

Gelato
The gelato in Rome is to die for. I'm talking MELT IN YOUR MOUTH, like butter in a hot pan. Like Michael Buble's voice. Like warm pee in the snow. Like your landlord trying to get out of fixing your boiler. Like... basically, smooth AF. 

Grab a cone in the famous square, Piazza Navona, and lap up your surroundings. Selfie in front of the fountain and try not to think about that scene in Angels and Demons where the priest is nearly drowned in said fountain. There's no Tom Hanks here and the gelato isn't literally to die for - I just mean it's frigging fantastic. 

Last, but not least, pasta!
Head down to Vatican City early on a Sunday, or Wednesday, to watch the Pope's address. Even for those less religious, there's something tranquil about hearing the Pope speak in the holy city. In addition, it's free and it's outdoors, so you can top up your tan while getting blessed.  

After the crowds disband, head on into the museums. I promise you, you will never see such incredible art elsewhere. The views ain't that bad, either... My mum says she gets super tired at the end of a day like this, because her brain can't comprehend the beauty she's seen. This is 100% one of those kinds of places. The museums are set upon beautiful grounds and the art throughout the 2 hour walk are beyond belief. Even the ceilings are intricately designed with gold and paint! I will say though, the famous painting in the Sistine Chapel is a little smaller than anticipated (a feeling I'm sure a few of you can relate to...lolololol); the rest of the museum has pieces just as great, if not better. This didn't stop us kneeling down, ever so slyly, and taking a photo though - whoops!

We ate pasta in the Vatican Museum's canteen. Yes, even without the waiter-grated cheese on top, it tasted bloody marvelous. Rich and filling, you know that spag bol sauce definitely did not come out of a jar, so say yes to the bread bowl and mop up the last of that tasty sauce.

Painting inside the Vatican Museums

Painting inside the Vatican Museums

Rome is the first Italian city I visited and will always hold a special place in my heart. The vias are charming and it is a city full of culture. You'll fall in love, faster than the speeding cars on their streets.

Why it's okay to be single in the city of love... and other things to do in Paris, France

Ooh la la, Paris. The city of romance, couples and all things lurrrrrve… which is all good and well, unless you’re single and your significant other is a cat/work/bottle of gin.

Well, fellow singletons, don’t be put off by these connotations of the French capital; after just one visit, you’ll start your life-long love affair with the city itself.

I’ve been single both times I’ve been to Paris. My first trip was in 2009, looking oh-so glamourous, and then again, backpacking with my best friend, looking oh-so not. I stepped off the train into Gare du Nord station each time with the kind of butterflies you usually get from seeing a really fit man across the platform. I’ve definitely found my future home in the city of love. Think London, but more. The Montmartre area (home to Moulin Rouge and the Sacre Coeur) is so beautiful and quaint - I’d move there in a heart beat.

If you’re after a trip less Amelie and more Monster in Paris (SPOILER ALERT: still has a lovey-dovey ending, but you know what I'm getting at), read on…

Eiffel Tower (duh) and Trocadero

Obviously, swooning over the Eiffel Tower is THE thing to do in Paris. You don’t need a proposing fella to warrant visiting the city’s biggest attraction; it's crawling with families, lone-travellers and other non-coupley combos. During the day, the views are beautiful. The green gardens roll below and the Seine looks vast. For height-phobes (like myself), the second floor is just high enough to appreciate the city below, but not high enough for a little bit of wee to come out when you step off the lift.

Every evening at dusk, the Eiffel Tower becomes an incredible light show, set to music blaring out industrial-sized speakers. Too romantic, you ponder? HA! The annoying touts trying to sell you cheap wine, or get you to fill in their survey (don’t do it, they try and make YOU pay for taking part), kill any romantic vibes.

If you’re looking for an alternative spot to get a good view of Le Tour Eiffel, head to Trocadero, which while teeming with tourists, affords a great snap.

Eiffel Tower

Eiffel Tower

Pastries and macarons

Tesco’s four packs have nothing on proper, fresh croissants. Wrap your lips around a warm croissant from any residential bakery and you’ll be transported to a sepia-coloured, accordion-playing, striped-top world in an instance. As for the macarons, well, they’re even more perfect. So soft, yet with the perfect crunch, and more wonderful flavours to choose from than types of men at a RnB club night.

Champs-Elysees and Arc de Triomphe

Head on down to Champs-Elysees to shop ‘til you drop, making it rain with Euros. Yes, it would be nice to have a BF splashing the cash on you, but it’s the 21st century, ladies. Sistas doing it for themselves. The shopping haven starts (or ends, depending on which way you look at it) with Arc de Triomphe, so you can climb/crawl up after shopping and get some Insta-worthy snaps. Your feet won’t love you, but your followers will.

Outside the Louvre

Outside the Louvre

The Louvre

And by that, I mean da Vinci’s renowned piece of art, Mona Lisa. Her smile is pretty much the smug emoji, amiright? Take inspo from her, and other world-class paintings in the Lourve, and own your singledom in the city of love.

The area outside of the Lourve is just as incredible as the artwork inside the building. Filled with glass pyramids and fountains, it is absolutely beaut and a must-see.

Parting words of wisdom

Don’t stay in a hostel while you stay in Paris. I’m not one of those people who turn their noses up at hostels; they can be the perfect, low-cost alternative to hotels. You can get clean, private rooms. However, let’s just say Parisians are the epitome of sophistication and chic, but this DOES NOT extend to their hostels. Eughhh.   

Hostels aside, Paris is the perfect city for couples, singletons or families. You can get from London to Paris, via the Eurostar, in the same time it takes to travel from one end of the Piccadilly line to the other. For a cheaper alternative, you can fly. Now, that is love.

Avoiding frostbite... and other things to do in Prague, Czech Republic

January is pretty quiet in Prague; even the tourist areas attract little queues and there is a stillness about the place. There are so many things to see and do, but how do you comfortably go about in -8 degrees with your friend who is convinced her face has been wind burnt? 

Taxi drivers = unsuspecting tour guides
Make friends/buddies/pals with your taxi driver. Our driver (nicknamed "Chiwi", much to his delight, as he was half Czech, half Kiwi), gave us some good intel on a club (indoors!) that had naked men with tattoos on one floor and fire breathing on another. It was just a shame he was our driver on the way home. Damn it.

LAYERS
Sounds obvious, but WRAP THE HELL UP. I definitely do not have a head for hats, but I'm talking the bobbliest hat, the longest scarf and the thickest gloves. Oh, and thermal underwear. If you're feeling more Mr Bean's Holiday and less Audrey and her headscarf, style it out with some lippy. Future you, stood at the top of the Astronomical Clock (also known as Old Town Hall Tower), or Petrin Tower, will be soooo thankful.

    Jewish Quarter

    Jewish Quarter

    Remember: ice is slippery AF
    Speaking of the Petrin Tower, do not, I repeat DO NOT, hike up Petrin Hill in the snow unless you are a trained hiker, or wish to die an ice-related death. TBH, it would be a pretty place to die, near the top of the hill, looking upon all the red roof tops below, but ya know...

    We decided to cure my friend's minor allergic reaction to grapefruit by walking up the hill in cool air, instead of grabbing the little train near most Legil (one bridge down from Charles Bridge). So much for "fresh air"; 15 minutes later, we were all holding our breaths. Every movement on the increasingly icy accent could mean slipping right back down, flat on our arses. "Okay, ladies now let's get in formation" took on a whole new meaning: formation was link arms and stand with your feet pointing out like a penguin to hinder sliding on the ice. A further 45 minutes later and we made it. Google Maps, you liar, it was not only five more minute to the top.

    Climbing up Petrin Hill

    Climbing up Petrin Hill

    Food
    Prague in winter is like one big Christmas market when it comes to food. Our favourite haunt across the weekend was a stall opposite the Astronomical Clock selling mulled wine for 29 czk/90p and Trdelník (a warm Czech doughnut type pastry) for 59 czk/£1.80. So warming and exactly the sustenance you need to break up a cold day's sightseeing.  

    Snack breaks aside, Prague's cuisine is proper comfort food. Goulash - a beef stew served in a bread bowl - dumplings, roasted duck and schnitzel appear on most menus. You can eat indoors like a sane person, or brave the outdoors like you would on a warmer holiday, armed with provided heaters and blankets . While the alcohol is far cheaper in Prague, the food is around a similar price to that in the UK.  

    Architecture
    There are so many beautiful buildings in the city. Don't just Instagram the outside; venture inside the buildings, if you can. As well as being marginally warmer, the architecture can be just as intricate, and the history just as rich. Venture into:

    • The Old New Synagogue in the Jewish Quarter, the oldest preserved synagogue in Europe.
    • The Castle District, which has many indoor sections to explore, including St Vitus' Cathedral and Golden Lane.
    Golden Lane

    Golden Lane

    I would 100% recommend Prague as a city break and I would definitely make a return trip or two (or three)! Cheap alcohol, beautiful sights and a great vibe during winter AND summer; what's not to love?