In 2013, Amsterdam spent an entire year celebrating the 400th Anniversary of the historic Canal Ring, the reign of Queen Beatrix, her abdication and then the inauguration of her son, King Willem-Alexander. Any city would be forgiven for patting themselves on the back, hanging up their dancing shoes and taking it easy for the next 12 months at least. But no one ever accused Amsterdam of being just ‘any city’.
Far from resting on last year’s laurels, Amsterdam’s planning to throw a 2014 party of all parties to celebrate its first ever King’s Day on April 26th. Although King’s Day is generally on April 27th. But since that’s a Sunday, this year it’s on the 26th and it’s really only the name ‘King’s Day’ that’s a first, because there’s been a traditional Queen’s Day in the Netherlands since 1885, normally on the 27th.
Confused? Don’t be. King’s Day is an immense celebration on April 26th 2014 all over the Netherlands, and Amsterdam is partying harder than anywhere – all day and all night – and everyone’s invited.
It’s a Dutch Royal Event so from cake frosting to clothes, pet costumes, hats, houses and faces, orange is the colour of the day – you don’t need to go all out, but even a tiny hint will get you into the King’s Day spirit. If you’re in Amsterdam you won’t see the Royal Family (they’re visiting Amstelveen and Graft-De-Rijp this year), but the city’s not short on action in every other aspect and as always the focus is on fine Dutch traditions like trading, sailing, eating, drinking and intense partying.
VRIJMARKT (King’s Day Citywide Free Market)
credit: Hindrik Sijens
Kicking off the King’s Day celebrations at 6am, the annual Vrijmarkt is the mother of all Flea Markets. Almost every inch of Amsterdam is commandeered by traders (basically anyone with something to sell) and the atmosphere is incredible; noisy and colourful with lots of friendly haggling, loud music, excellent street food and some amazing finds. It’s as if the entire city turned out its attic and put the contents up for sale. Vintage clothes, millions of books, home stuff, kitchen stuff, paintings, photographs, you name it and someone is selling it. But if you really want to see where the Dutch reputation for steely determination comes from, visit The Vondelpark on King’s Day. The biggest and most famous park in Amsterdam is given over to children from 9am on April 26th so they can sell their outgrown toys and clothes and make some cash to buy new ones. It’s very endearing no doubt about it, but the smaller citizens of Amsterdam drive a hard-bargain, so don’t be too fooled by the cute.
BOATS AND BRIDGES
If you live in Amsterdam and you aren’t selling your worldly possessions on April 26th, you’re probably sailing instead. This isn’t the day to take a Canal Cruise because every waterway in the city’s packed with barges and houseboats and motor boats and rowing boats and dinghies and anything else that floats. They’re all glammed up for the day and going nowhere fast. But that’s ok, because it’s not the point of being on the water on King’s Day. The point is just to party and because there are just about as many bridges as there are canals in the city you don’t even need a boat to be part of the spectacle. Just leave every shred of inhibition behind, find a vantage point, get dancing and go for it.
BREDEWEG AND BEYOND
credit: Charles Roffey
The traditional Bredeweg festival in Amsterdam’s Oost District is the city’s busiest and best known street party. It starts on King’s Night and doesn’t stop till King’s Day is done and dusted and there’s nowhere more family-friendly. Performance artists, face painters, story tellers, musicians, bands, theatre, a huge street market, rides, workshops and even a fair, make Bredeweg an event in itself and it’s free. Free, family-friendly and great fun can also be found at NDSM Vrijhaven 2014 in the city’s Noord District, an enormous party with the emphasis on food, drink, art and live music – plus another huge children’s Street Market.
FREE KING’S DAY PARTIES
Live music is one of the big King’s Day traditions and there are loads of ticketed parties in Amsterdam with everything from techno and house to hardstyle, jazz and about as many DJ’s as you’d ever want in any one city. But if you can’t get tickets (some parties were sold out months ago) or partying for free is just more satisfying, then you’re in luck. De Pijp’s famous Albert Cuypmarket is closed for King’s Day but open for ‘Arcade King’s Day’, a mammoth music event from midday to 8pm that’s madly busy and totally free. The Noord District’s NDSM Wharf is hosting ‘These Guys King’s Day’ with live electronic acts and dj’s doing their stuff surrounded by shipping containers. And local noise takes centre stage at the free ‘Kingsize Festival’ (added bonus of Kingsize XXL after-party at Club Underground from 11pm).
KONINGSNACHT (King’s Night 25th April)
If you’re looking to spend King’s Day in a pleasantly spacy, sleep-deprived haze, you want to hit King’s Night hard on April 25th. Be prepared for anything, as long as it’s loud, relentless and lasts all night because that’s what over a dozen music marathons city-wide have in store for King’s Night 2014. Not fussed about what or who you listen to and just want to party? Then visit www.lastminuteticketshop.nl on 25th April and take your chances.
LGBT KING’S DAY (AND NIGHT)
No party’s complete without a Mardi-Gras (at least as far as Amsterdam’s concerned). So don’t wait till the city’s Gay Pride carnival in August. Get some of King’s Day’s pink and orange spectacle on April 26th as well. There are LGBT events all over the city, music and dancing are the rule, the atmosphere is full-on party and the places to be are Reguliersdwarsstraat, Westermarkt, Wamoesstraat and Zeedijk. www.iamsterdam.com has regularly updated LGBT King’s Day party info.
If I missed someone or something, I’m sorry. But there’s a lot going for King’s Day this year and I am, but one lowly writer. All I can say by way of compensation is; go to Amsterdam for April 26th you’ll love it and all my oversights will be forgotten.
Gone are the days when being a vegetarian meant going hungry when travelling. In fact, vegan and vegetarian travel are now growing markets and the best meat-free cuisines around the world are sought out by travellers with hearty appetites. Whether you’re a curious carnivore or a master of meat-free food, here are ten cities worth visiting if you enjoy vegetarian and vegan food.
Portland, Oregon, USA
Considered by many to be USA’s most sustainable and eco-friendly city, it should be no surprise that vegetarians and vegans are well-catered for in Portland, Oregon. With hotspots including the 100% plant-based Back to Eden Bakery and the vegan trattoria Portobello, it’s never a struggle to find a good vegetarian or vegan meal in this city.
Prague, Czech Republic
I had many expectations when I went to Prague for the first time – cold weather, beautiful architecture, and centuries of history hiding around every corner – but what I didn’t expect to find was a hidden mecca for vegetarian and vegan food. Despite Czech food being very meat-focussed, which admittedly it still is, Prague has a long-standing reputation for good vegetarian cuisine, like that being served at Buddhist restaurant Maitrea tucked down a side street close to Old Town Square. Here you can wash down vegan and vegetarian food with some local Czech hemp beer in a smart and minimal interior that has been fully feng-shui-ed.
Once considered the world’s number one city for vegetarians, London has sort of gone full circle with a recent flurry in popularity of meat-focused restaurants. This is actually a good thing for vegetarians as we are now seeing a new generation of vegan and vegetarian restaurants emerge, not to mention the growing popularity of farmers’ markets in London selling seasonal vegetables you won’t find in the supermarket. Check out this list of London’s vegetarian restaurants for some great spots across the city.
Vegetarian food is an integral part of Berlin’s understated yet vibrant foodie scene. Across its eclectic neighbourhoods from Friedrichshain to Schöneberg you will find organic farmers’ markets and vegetarian restaurants from around the world. Try the cheerily named natural fine-dining restaurant Lucky Leek in Prenzlauer-Berg for a fully vegan menu or enjoy brunch at Café Morgenrot, where you pay what you think the canteen style spread is worth. You can even try a vegan version of Berlin’s famous currywurst at Yellow Sunshine on Skalitzer Strasse.
Recent years have seen more and more vegetarian options sneaking their way on to the menus of Amsterdam’s best restaurants and the popularity of organic supermarkets like Marqt shows no sign of dwindling. Other highlights include the Vegetarian Butcher on Rozengracht, where you can find some of the best meat-substitutes and imitations, and Marits Huiskamerrestaurant in Amsterdam-Oost, where you can enjoy food that is literally home-cooked in Marit’s own kitchen which she opens up to the public three days a week.
Famous for its coffee culture, Vienna’s vegetarian scene deserves much more press than it gets with over 50 vegetarian and vegan restaurants lining its historic streets. From the all-organic Bio Bar to yamm!’s vegetarian buffet, which also includes lactose and gluten-free dishes, keep some room for a stop at Vienna’s famous Naschmarkt which also has vegetarian street food stalls.
Loved as a creative and cosmopolitan city, Austin is something of a vegetarian veteran with long-running restaurants and cafes. Popular spots include Swad, home to the city’s best veggie Indian dishes, and Tex-Mex restaurant Mr. Natural, where you can follow a veggie empanada with a gluten-free chocolate brownie.
While much of Southeast Asia can pose some problems for vegan and vegetarian travellers, they will find it much easier to satisfy their appetite in Singapore. Head to Little India to find flavourful vegetarian dishes being served by families from southern India. Even restaurants with a mix of meat and vegetarian dishes on the menu are masters of the vegetarian dish. Like Lagnaa Barefoot Dining restaurant where you can choose how spicy you want your food on a scale from 1-10, though be warned very few make it past level 3 even.
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Something of a retreat for soul-searching and yoga-practicing travellers, Chiang Mai is proud of its relaxed atmosphere. It follows that the city is a haven for vegans and vegetarians with restaurants offering meat-free interpretations of both Thai and international dishes. One popular vegetarian Thai restaurant is Pun Pun, set within the ground of Buddhist temple Wat Suan Dok.
Vancouver is another Pacific Coast North American city that suggests maybe west is best when it comes to meat-free cuisine. Upmarket cocktail bar and restaurant The Parker proves that vegetarianism can be sustainable and sexy, and for an Asian twist seek out Paradise Vegetarian Noodle House for cheap and cheerful Vietnamese food. Vancouver also has a great reputation for farmers’ markets and delis selling bio-organic produce so you can confidently go self-catering in this city knowing you’ll have no trouble finding your favourite vegetarian ingredients, or some new ones to experiment with.
Finland in the Bronze Age must have been a grim, cold, pitiless and mostly an incredibly boring place.
Hunt, farm, fish then hunt again. Skin some animals, eat what’s left, wait for a few hundred years so the Swedes and Danes can invade and bring something to do with them. That’s pretty much it. Not even any runes to read before turning off the night campfire. So it’s easy to imagine a fur-draped, fluffy Finnish individual in this time, finally done curing a reindeer or something. Looking up, he sees just how far he has to trek back to his hut over a frozen lake, with his fragrant new carpet dripping down his back, and hurrumphs in a manly fashion. As he starts trudging across the ice – which hopefully won’t break like it did underneath poor Aantero two moons ago – he slips on a bone, travels a metre and lands flat on his behind. And lo, ice skating was born. Strapping bones to each precursor Ugg Boot, our hero invented ice skating and noblemen, farmers, royalty and first daters have been slipping and slaloming over patches of frozen water (also animal fat in some warmer places before refrigeration) to greater and lesser success ever since.
In honour of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia next month; here are ten of our favourite outdoor rinks and lakes to strap on some stainless steel (or bone, if the story made you feel a little medieval), laugh and lazily trace circles in the ice with your family. Or if you like to live a bit faster, carve a furrow like you’re being chased by Danes. On horses. Take your pick.
Red Square Ice Rink, Moscow
Brilliant for tourists, skating in the Red Square allows you to combine visiting one of Moscow’s most famous and picturesque landmarks with acting like a complete child, gaily slipping and sliding all over Russia’s biggest skate rink. And if you’re in town while the Winter Olympics are on, even though Sochi is over a thousand kilometres away, winter sports will be especially popular and exciting.
FlevOnIce , Netherlands
The longest ice skating rink in the Netherlands at 5km, if you like marathons then FlevOnIce is where to go. It’s a one hour drive from Amsterdam (you can also get a train) in the town of Biddinghuizen, so you should make a day of it.
Central Park, New York
New Yorkers and visitors alike agree, there’s nothing quite like serenely meandering over the ice of Wollman Rink in Central Park, with the famous Manhattan skyline right behind you. Frozen for your skating pleasure on the south side of the park. Trees and panoramic cityscapes included.
Beaver Lake, Montreal
Lac des Castors if you’re French speaking, which Montrealers of course are. This is the locals’ favourite place to skate, and it isn’t hard to see why. Beaver Lake is on top of the mountain from which the town gets its name, Mount Royal, and the fact that the city stretches out below you is brilliant. Best enjoyed with the family, skating at Beaver Lake is an amazing day out with the kids.
Plaza del Ayuntamiento, Valencia
This year the shopkeepers around Valencia’s most famous square clubbed together to build an ice rink in the heart of town. While the rink closed a few days ago for the year, make sure to keep your ears to the ground (don’t get frostbite though) to see if it will make a return in 2015, because it’s a unique and beautiful place to skate.
Hotel de Ville, Paris
The most popular rink in town, and for good reason. The ice skating outside the Hotel de Ville in Paris is free, has a smaller children’s area and opulent 19th century architecture as a backdrop. We advise coming in the evening, when the buildings light up in all their glory. As a night-time skate here is possibly the most romantic thing to do in Paris, and Paris is the most romantic city on earth, this is a top contender for the single most romantic thing you can possibly do. Valentine’s Day idea-seekers take note.
Honourable mention must also go to the Eiffel Tower Ice Rink. It isn’t in action every year however, the last one was 2012, but who knows? You may be able to ice skate atop Paris’s most famous landmark next year.
Munich Ice Magic, Munich
credit: Mark Simons
Grab your earmuffs, pull on your big clumsy gloves and head to Bavaria’s favourite frozen puddle for figure-eights. Muenchner Eizsauberi in Munich’s frankly beautiful to behold shopping district is a huge hit with locals and visitors. Delicious and warming cups of glühwein from the stalls that encircle the rink probably help too.
Tower of London, London
There are a few contenders for best ice rink in London (our other favourites are at Hampton Court Palace, the Natural History Museum and Somerset House), but the Tower of London comes out trumps because of being a singular and unique location. With the ancient and forbidding walls of the ancient Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress looming over you, you can almost feel the thousands of years of history seeping into your feet through your skates.
For as long as humans have been rearing children, we’ve known that getting kids to do something fun and physical will send them to bed quickly and happily. If you find yourself in Copenhagen then make sure to take them to Genforeningspladsen for a day of twirling, chasing with snowballs and collapsing into an exhausted pile of childhood memories. It’s a really big area so they’ll have plenty of space to flail wildly, or whiz passed you.
So we’ve come full circle and ended where we begun, with a Fin and some skates. Helsinki’s Ice Park is the hottest meeting point in town, and a great way to experience Finnish culture and meet its people. And as the people of Finland drink more coffee per capita than anyone else in the world, it shouldn’t be too hard to find a coffee shop afterwards to warm up.
So there it is, ten of our favourite places outdoors to skate. Make sure to check opening times, especially for non-Scandinavian places as they are open for shorter periods every year.
Turns out I can’t not wade in with some predictions for 2014. I’m a bit of a list lover and New Year’s the perfect opportunity to add mine to the myriad floating around (everything from ‘Best Put Down’ to ‘Worst Selfie’). Stick to what you know I say, so here’s where I predict you should be travelling to in 2014.
If you live in the great city of Glasgow, you’ll probably have completely forgotten that from July 23rd to August 3rd 2014 it’s playing host to The Commonwealth Games. The preparations seem to have gone on forever. But, as a visitor, I predict the results will be something quite spectacular. Apart from the games themselves, the architecture that’s been born off the back of them is stunning. Plus you get to stay in one of the most hospitable cities in the UK, and since the games finish on the 3rd of August there’s hardly any good reason I can see, why you wouldn’t just head off to Edinburgh for The Edinburgh International Festival (first two weeks in August).
Sticking with sport and Scotland, The Ryder Cup is being held at Gleneagles in Perth from September 25th to 28th 2014. This is the first time Scotland has hosted this internationally renowned golfing challenge since 1973, so it’s a bit of a thing. ‘Bit of a thing’ barely begins to describe Perthshire, so even if you’re a Golf Widow (or widower) there’s lots to keep you interested. Perthshire’s home to Glamis Castle and the lovely city of Perth itself. It’s also for children who don’t want to hang around working out the difference between a Birdie and an Eagle. And for foodies, it’s arguably the best place in Scotland to be.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
A slightly more exotic sporting location than Scotland (not if you’re Brazilian, obviously), Rio de Janeiro is just one of Brazil’s cities hosting FIFA World Cup 2014 matches between June 12th and July 14th 2014. But I’m giving it a shout out, because not only is it lovely and huge and sometimes very strange, it’s also where I like to think I’ll spend New Year 2015. With upwards of 2 million people on Copacabana Beach. Watching an outstanding firework display. Setting sail my small, white paper boat filled with offerings to the Goddess of Water. And then partying until I can party no more – don’t worry you’ll have got over your recent New Year fatigue by then.
There’s only one constant about Iceland’s landscape: it will be inconsistent with anything you ever expected. It’s made ‘mythical land’ appearances in movies like Thor and Prometheus and features heavily in Game of Thrones (visit and you’ll see why), but Ben Stiller’s 2013 ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’, Iceland is itself – as well as Afghanistan, The Himalayas and Greenland. This gives you an idea of the diversity of a country where even the capital Reykjavik is more charming, imagined, Nordic fishing port than major city. ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’ might not have been wholly loved by the critics but no one failed to say how gorgeous it looked.
Sometimes rugged, often challenging and unfailingly charming, Yorkshire is the Grand Depart for 2014’s Tour de France. Leeds is where it all starts and this lively, beautiful restored Northern England city couldn’t be a more perfect introduction to another lovely part of the UK.
The Seychelles, South West Indian Ocean
One of the most special and breath taking places to visit, The Seychelles are known for beautiful beaches and the type of sea people can’t resist calling ‘azure’. They’re also a truly unspoiled environment. And since 2014 is The Year of Small Island Developing States, I’m hinting it might be the time to go see before everyone else does.
In 2014, Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum is up for a slew of design awards and it’s a worthy contender. But, stunning as the museum is, it’s not all that’s happening designwise in Amsterdam this year. The Centraal Station construction is on-going and avant-garde cafes and bars are all over and Noord-District is home to really exciting and brave development. But, if you hanker after a touch of the traditional with your design, I think this is the year you should visit before the city’s Red Light District is completely consumed by the new.
2014 is the centenary of the start of WW1, the war they said would end all wars, but sadly didn’t. With its chaos and vast loss of life WW1 is seen as an end to innocence. The experience of visiting the battlefield sites at Ypres, Passchendaele and Tyne-Cot are often mistaken as exclusively adult, but in France and Belgium a visit is regularly included in the school year. This year, Belgium commemorates the centenary everywhere and events range from small and personal to international. If you haven’t visited the WW1 battlefield sites, you’ll be moved and fascinated.
credit: Martin Kauffman
If you’ve ever heard or seen René Redzepi, founder of Noma, interviewed you won’t have failed to be charmed by his humour, passion and generosity. So this year I predict Copenhagen is worth a visit to eat at ‘Amass’, former Noma’ Head Chef, Matthew Orlando’s new restaurant. It’s already a design hot ticket and the food holds true to a style that’s distinctly contemporary Danish.
It might seem as if Louvre Galleries are springing up everywhere at the moment, but the one I think is hottest is almost on home territory in Lens, Pas-de Calais (you could almost twin with my Belgium prediction). The Louvre, Lens is an incredible exhibition space extending the Louvre, Paris’ programme of allowing works to be seen (often for the first time) by wider audiences. The building’s superb glass and metal structure is very fluid and light and includes a unique underground area where the public can see work in storage and watch restoration projects.
I could go on and on, but 10’s traditional for New Year lists. Hopefully it’s more inspirational than some you’ve seen so far.
In countries that worship at the altar of jingling bells, holly wreaths, and mobs of aging, scarlet gentlemen with cornucopian facial hair; there are, unsurprisingly, many who do not feel the urge to partake in the lamentably common commercialism and faux.
Yes, absolutely, me too. I think deep down under our novelty Christmas jumpers we can all sympathise with those who feel the need to escape Christmas, especially now we are stuck in the middle of the long festive run up surrounded by too many adverts, too many mince pies and too much Slade.
So, what are your options should you choose to escape Christmas this year? Where can you go and say “Bah! Humbug!” without being labelled a Scrooge? Well, here are my suggestions.
The red city is traditionally Muslim so Christmas is not the everything-grinds-to-a-halt occasion that it is in other parts of the world. But perhaps this isn’t the best reason to visit Marrakech at this time of year; it’s the weather. With temperatures often staying in the low 20s (Celsius) and more sunny days than not, you can say “Humbug!” in your cool cotton T-shirt while getting lost in a maze-like Medina or haggling your way through the famous Jemaa El-Fna market. Alternatively, to escape Christmas, the city and almost everything else, I recommend a trip to the nearby Atlas Mountains for stunning, floral landscapes and star-filled skies that will make you feel far from everything.
While many parts of Bangkok and Thailand will be adorned with Christmas decorations and fairy lights – it’s peak tourist season after all, and they know us “Farangs” love a bit of festal bobbledness – the Buddhist majority of Thai residents of course don’t approach the festive holidays with the same gusto they do their own spiritual festivals and celebrations. Moreover, I can absolutely guarantee a 0% chance of snow. Therefore, it’s easy to avoid Christmas in the Thai capital while also topping up your tan and satisfying your Tom Yum cravings. Immerse yourself in culture by visiting one of the city’s elaborate temples or rummage for vintage bargains at Rod Fai market. Alternatively do little more than relax by the pool of your luxurious high-rise apartment before heading out at night for arguably the best street food in the world.
St. Petersburg, Russia
If you’re keen to avoid Christmas but not the pretty winter scenes that a snowy landscape brings, then head to Saint Petersburg. With the Russian Orthodox Church celebrating Christmas on 7th January you can time your visit to escape the chaos at home, while also soaking up a little seasonal spirit if you’re not 100% Scrooge. Often hailed as the Russian Federation’s most “European” city, St Petersburg’s picturesque canals, architecture and growing “foodie” scene are reason enough to visit. Unsurprisingly the beautifully intricate WinterPalace is at its most impressive when surrounded by pure white snow and you can seek warmth and culture in the city’s many museums including the world-famous Hermitage art gallery.
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
You may think this an unusual choice because it’s in the thick of Christmas-celebrating Western Europe, but hear me out. By the time Christmas Eve arrives in Amsterdam, children have already had their presents and they’re a little bit over Christmas. This is because the more commercial celebration of Sinterklaas comes much earlier on the evening of the 5th December and Christmas Day itself is a celebration mostly reserved for religious Christian families, though everyone enjoys a day or two off work. With the Dutch state and church being long separated, this means that Christmas in Amsterdam is festive, but it’s far from an overwhelming seasonal assault on your good will, so head to Amsterdam to admire a beautiful city lit up at night (Amsterdam Light Festival runs from 6th December until 19th January) and enjoy all the usual heart-warming Dutch treats like stroopwaffel, poffertjes and piping hot bitterballen washed down with a local beer in one of the city’s many “gezellig” brown bars.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
While Kuala Lumpur won’t be outdone when it comes to Christmas shopping and January sales opportunities – head to the upmarket area of Bukit Bintang for this – the traditional and older areas of Malaysia’s capital will offer you little clue that Christmas is upon us. That’s not to say the city is without sparkle, but it’s a sparkle that you can find there every day of the year. In the heart of Chinatown, along Petaling Street, lanterns and lights glow above the famous market stalls and in Brickfields, also known as Little India, lights left over from Diwali lead you to delicious street stalls where you can eat curry off a banana leaf for less than $4.00. And if you’d like to leave the city behind for a day or two head up to the tropical rainforest of FRIM – close to the famous BatuCaves or to the CameronHighlands, famous for its rolling hills of tea leaf fields.
So are you planning on escaping Christmas this year? If so, I’d love to know about any other tinsel-free towns you think are worth visiting for your ‘anti-Christmas’.
Featured image by Stu-bear