I have a list of ‘Things to do before I’m 25’ which is like a bucket list in a sense, except I don’t plan to die at 25. One thing on my list was to walk the Three Peaks. In the UK there are two types of three peaks:
- The National Three Peaks, which involves climbing Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon in 24 hours
- The Yorkshire Three Peaks, which involves the three mountains of Pen-y-ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough in 12 hours
I and my friend decided to climb them in April 2012, but as we weren’t looking for anything strenuous we decided to do it over two days rather than the twelve hour stint. Cheating? I’d argue not...
If you were climbing the mountains in twelve hours you probably didn’t need have the stuff we took, but as we had a break and my car in between the two days, we brought endless amounts of food, and overnight things for a stopover at a local B&B. We set off at 6am on the first day, which proved to be a challenge in itself, and made the drive to Ribblehead, North Yorkshire, to meet the bottom of our first Everest of the day, Whernside.
Whernside was okay I'd say. The highest of the three mountains, not that cloudy, and plenty of other walkers on the way therefore making me feel better that I wasn't the only one out of breath! A four hour hike later and we were successful on Whernside. Most of our food supplies already gone we drove to the next mountain and had a break at a local coffee shop. Taking it easy was fine in our books, but didn’t feel so great when you saw people running up the mountains, as if this was just a few hours out of an average day…
After the coffee shop we faced our next battle, Pen-y-ghent, which was supposedly the easiest of the three mountains. It was clearly smaller than our previous mountain but more difficult to climb. Snow surrounded the path (I don’t remember it snowing in months) and on the way down was a literal climb, holding on to rocks. After scrambling down Pen-y-ghent amongst the local inhabitants of sheep, we completed our first day. I’m not that unfit but my legs were killing by this point, so good luck to anyone who attempts all three mountains at once. We then drove to our overnight destination which was in Ribblehead, North Yorkshire. Ribblehead is what I expect from any Yorkshire village, it’s cute, with a few local pubs, a fish and chip shop and a market comprising of two stalls. A true reflection of an English country village.
Day two involved climbing the biggest mountain, Ingleborough. An effort to climb as the mountain is a far walk from the road, so you have to tackle that bit first. Five and a half hours later we were happy to have finished all of the mountains, then at the end on a flat piece of land; I fell and slightly sprained my ankle…
Pain and hobbling aside, we completed the three mountains, which is what we set out to do. We may not have done it in twelve hours, but I still ticked if off my ‘Things to do before I’m 25’ list and I’d travelled a part of my own country that I’d never really experienced before. A lot of people I meet through my travels generally ask “where is good to visit in England?” and I always argue that they should visit the Yorkshire Dales or the Lake District. Both fairly different places but both have their own charm and offer a varied view of Britain, and what my wonderful country has to offer the average backpacker.
Amsterdam in a day you
say? Well it can be done because I have done it. When I was 17 I and my friend
jumped at the chance of a trip to Amsterdam when we heard it only cost £30 return
to get there. I kid you not! P&O Ferries offer overnight trips to the Dutch
capital, from Hull and Portsmouth in the UK. At the time, it was £62 return and
they offered a 2 4 1 deal which went on for quite a few years. I’ve looked
recently and found the deal isn’t on at the moment, and that you’re looking at
a return price of £75. I still argue this is fair deal, but you might even be
able to get cheaper flights these days.
Our trip started off boarding the ferry at Hull, around 5pmish, to where we were given a cabin room. Basic, but it had all the essentials of a bed and a bathroom, therefore just perfect for the overnight trip. The ferry wasn’t anything special overall. There were a few bars and ‘entertainment’ which didn’t even rival that of Butlins, and there were also a few restaurants. You probably could have got away with bringing your own alcohol on the ferry, but the idea hadn’t crossed my mind.
We arrived in Rotterdam at about 7-8am where a coach met us and drove us to Amsterdam (all included in the price of the ferry ticket). About an hour later we were in the centre of the Dutch Capital with a fairly full day to ourselves. We were told the bus would depart at 5pm, so we were given about 8-9 hours in the city. Also, as the ferry wasn’t going anywhere, we were allowed to keep some things in the cabin we stayed in, so that was great for leaving our overnight belongings.
The was my first trip to Amsterdam, and I have since been again part of my university fresher’s trip, so I can add a few things to the list on what you can cover in a day. On my first trip, we quickly came across ‘Museum Erotic’ which is a sex museum in the middle of the main street. At 3€ a ticket, we weren’t ones to say no. The museum seems to be a highlight of many a trip to Amsterdam from myself and my friends. The museum was a bit of fun, and quite interactive (not too interactive, it was only 3€ after all), and I’d say definitely worth a visit.
Other sights which can be covered in a day include the ‘Heineken Experience’ which is the distillery and factory for Heineken. Not too badly priced and quite an interesting tour and factory, and of course you get some Heineken at the end. Worth your time is a boat trip around the many canals in the city. Great for good weather and to enjoy a drink or two on board. Also, it’s maybe worth exploring ‘Madame Tussards’ which is located in the main square, which is smaller compared to the London tourist attraction. I enjoyed it but there are better ways to spend your time as the museum isn’t that vast inside. A key way to spend your time in Amsterdam is to wander round the red light district. The area is full of tourists who are just curious to see what it is like, so don’t worry, you won’t be seen as seedy by just walking around. Plus it’s in the heart of the city so not difficult to ignore.
Some sights I didn’t see but are now on my list include the ‘Anne Frank Huis’ which shows the actual house Anne Frank and her family hid in during WWII. House of Bols might also be worth a visit, which is a famous gin factory. There are a million and one other things to do in Amsterdam, but obviously all can’t be covered in a day. Also, not to miss the obvious, but a key way many people spend their time in Amsterdam is to smoke and eat those special brownies. It is all widely available in Amsterdam and is legal so don’t feel anything against getting into the culture as I say. Although, any legit place will ask for ID, hence why I was not successful when I visited this city as a 17 year old.
So there is a potential day itinerary. Amsterdam can be explored in more depth and a lot more time can be spent here. But if you just have a day and not much money, then this may be the trip for you!
I say a winter in Barcelona; it was more of a week but in the winter period. A few years ago I and three friends found some cheap flights to Barcelona just before Christmas day, and jumped at the chance to have a cheap Christmas getaway. Being students at the time, we didn’t have loads of money but we still managed to enjoy Barcelona and what this great Catalan city has to offer. As we were on a budget, I like to say we were travelling ‘backpacker’ style. However, we didn’t stay in a hostel and I did in fact bring a suitcase with me. My friend found some kind of apartment which was in the heart of the city and very beautiful. It was run by a local man who lived a few floors down, and we got access to a bedroom with two double beds, a kitchen, a lounge and a huge bathroom. Our accommodation was just off the main tourist street in Barcelona, the ‘Ramblas’, which hosts shops, bars, tourist statues of men standing still all day, and crappy souvenirs. The street is worth walking down even if you aren’t staying in the centre. However, don’t expect any cheap drinks in these bars. Rather, head to the Carrefour supermarket, which is on the Ramblas, and be classy like me and get a €1 bottle of wine.
There are the typical sights in Barcelona, which are on the ‘must-see’ lists and are recommended by most travel books, and some I recommend as well. Firstly, the historic La Sagrada Familia. A very impressive sight, but also an uncompleted one. Despite this, I found the sight more impressive unfinished as it provided you with a once in a lifetime chance to watch the artists and architects in their natural habitat, building this impressive religious building. However, if you’re looking for a completed piece then you’ll have to wait until 2026.
The next famous Catalan sight is Park Güell, which is worth visiting in all seasons. The park shows some unique pieces of art and architecture, and also offers fantastic views of the city. Other famous tourist attractions which are just out of the city, like Park Güell are the Barcelona Football Stadium (Camp Nou) and also the Estadi Olímpic. Both slightly interesting and probably more so if you actually like sports…
A famous sight in the city and a beauty at night is the Palau National with sets of ‘magic’ fountains (Font Màgica) in front of it. This palace style building is very impressive and at night the Font Màgica puts on a show (so to speak). They light up in various colours and are definitely worth a view. Another, beautiful water style attraction is the Cascade Fountains in Park Ciutadella. Spectacular architecture surrounding this water feature and a fairly peaceful park, which isn’t as full of tourists as Park Güell. Also there is a giant elephant (statue) in the park, where my friends and I spent over an hour exploring the various photo opportunities…
There are many other sights in the city that may be of more cultural interest to you such as the Casa Battlo and the La Pedrera, which mimic the same type of unique architecture in Park Güell. Also, a fair bit out of the city is Montserrart, which is a visually stunning set of mountains and buildings. However, if you’re ones to stay in the city centre then it is worth checking out the Picasso Museum. I’m no art lover but I quite enjoyed the museum and it’s in the centre of the city so worth a look. Also in the centre is the Museu de la Xocolata, which is a small chocolate museum/factory. It was fairly cheap and you receive a free chocolate bar - worth it in my eyes. If you’re lucky enough to be visiting Barcelona during the summer months then check out the beach which is very easy to get to from the city. Also, maybe check out the aquarium, but essentially nothing special.
For good food and drink head to the Placa Reil. I don’t really know of any other food or drink places as my visit included a student budget, so Carefour wine it was for me. However, the city offers many cafes with a lunch deal which usually includes a fair few set courses for 10€.
Overall, Barcelona is a great city and a must visit if touring through Europe. Certainly not a cheap place but my winter in Barcelona was beautiful and worth the money we paid. Maybe try the trip at Christmas, face the bitter cold and enjoy the joys of the Christmas markets in this very cultural backpacker city.
Japan is labelled as one of the most expensive countries in the world, and having lived here for the past eight months I can certainly say it isn’t cheap, however this country still can be done cheaply. Not Eastern Europe, South East Asia cheap, but a bit cheaper than you first might think. As a local I now know some of the tricks to travelling this wonderful country on a budget, and I feel it’s only right that I pass on my thoughts.
Firstly, your main cost no doubt, is accommodation. This can be avoided by any traveller who is familiar with couchsurfing. There are a million and one foreigners in Japan, so if you're worried about the Japanese language barrier, then worry no more! Couchsurfing is worth exploring, and although it can limit your travel due to location and timings, it’s still a great way to explore a country. However, if couchsurfing isn’t for you then I’d recommend these cheap but good quality hostels in the main cities of Japan:
Tokyo – there are plenty of hostels in Tokyo, and all can be found pretty cheaply considering they are in one of the most expensive cities in the world. For the best price/rated hostels in Tokyo look for Asakusa hostels and Khaosan. You may also want to check out capsule hotels, where you basically get a capsule to sleep in. These seem fairly claustrophobic to me, so I’ve avoided them, however they sometimes can be cheap and maybe worth the effort for a night or two.
Kyoto – if you want to stay in Kyoto for 30 days or more than you can do for free at Khaosan Hostel. They offer a scheme where you clean for three hours a day (washing sheets, bleaching the showers etc.), then you work 21 days out of the 30 days you stay, all for free. So you get free accommodation for one month for a slight bit of cleaning on some of the days you stay. You don’t need to speak a word of Japanese or have a certain type of working visa, and you probably won’t be the only one cleaning, therefore a great chance to meet other backpackers.
Osaka – I stayed in Hotel Toyo for three weeks whilst I was job and apartment searching in Osaka. I also have a few good friends who have ‘lived’ there for over six months. Hotel Toyo is in Southern Osaka with great access to the city centre. In Hotel Toyo you get your own room and basically share the bathrooms, kitchen and common room just like any hostel. The rooms cost around £11 a night, and are even cheaper if you book a slot of ten nights, and even cheaper for a slot of thirty nights. The rooms are basic but comfortable and the common room is decent. I’d recommend staying here just for the price alone, but the hostel has fellow backpackers who chill in the common room, so a great way to meet people.
Subway - you can’t really avoid the subway prices in each city, and there isn’t a day or travel pass that I know of to make it any cheaper. However, Japan offers a lot of bike rentals for the day. Most hostels will offer this service which can save a great deal on city transport.
Wider travel – if you want to cover a lot of in Japan in a short period of time then buy a JR japan pass before you leave your country. These can only be delivered to your home address, which can work if you buy it then have a friend or parent ship it over to you. These passes allow you to travel on any train in Japan for five days. Not a great deal of time but useful if you want to explore a large space in a few days.
Travel between cities – the shinkansen certainly is a quick way to travel but it is by no means cheap. If you have the time then I recommend using ‘Willer Express’ which is a bus company that travels between big cities. It does take a long time but it’s the cheapest way to travel, and they also offer night buses.
Food and Drink
Food and drink is a big cost in Japan, especially if you’re making your own meals. Fruit and veg is crazy expensive, and even the national food of sushi is ridiculously priced. If you want to make your own food then try and find a big supermarket, which are usually around the outskirts of the city. If you want quick food then you can find pot-noodle style sets in any convenience store. However, if you’d rather eat out, but cheaply, then find udon and ramen huts. Some great udon noodle restaurants offer huge bowls of noodles for around £3, which can often come with extras such as tempura and rice balls. Also, head to the chains of Yoshinoya, Matsuya, Coco Ichiban and First Kitchen, which can be found all over the main cities, and offer quick and cheap dishes of curry, ramen and local favourites.
Drink-wise you’ll want to find an izakaya. They are usually in the side streets and not hard to miss as they boast their 280yen drinks with huge signs. If you want a big night drinking then find a nomihodai. They are very popular in the cities so head to any drinking area and you won’t be shy of finding one. Basically, they are all you can drink bars for a limited time. A typical scenario is 90 minutes drinking for 2000yen (about £15) so you can really take advantage. Some bars also offer food and drink deals with nomihodais.
A lot of the museums and sights in Japan aren’t free, which may make sense, but if you’re used to all the free museums in London then Japan might burn a hole in your purse. However, there are a number of different websites which reveal ‘the top 25 free things to do in Tokyo’ for example. However, many of these include libraries, and generally boring things, so here are my recommendations for the capital city.
Tokyo – Ueon Park, ADMT Advertising Museum, Imperial Palace Gardens, Meiji Shrine, Senso-ji Temple, Tsukiji Fish Market, Sony Showroom, Sumo Museum and Sumo Stable, Parasite Museum and Yebisu Beer Museum.
The great thing about Tokyo is that this city can be enjoyed just by watching what goes on every day. For example, walking around Harajuku to gaze at the weird and wonderful fashion, or explore the red light district in Shinjuku. All free of charge and all can offer great insights to Japanese culture.
Vienna and Bratislava are the two
closest capital cities in the world, just over an hour away from each
other by train; it is worth doing them as a trip in themselves. The two
capitals, of Austria and Slovakia, both offer different qualities of Europe,
one quite western and the other bordering on eastern, and both great cities to
visit as a backpacker.
Vienna is a typical Austrian city, full of great food, beautiful architecture and great landscapes. The city is easy to get around by the subway system, which easily connects the main sights and many a hostel. When in the Austrian capital you’ll want to visit the Schönbrunn Palace and the Schloss Schönbrunn Gardens. These gardens are extensive and show off great Austrian beauty. The best way to tackle this great sight is to start at the bottom near a set of mazes, which are fun and greatly enjoyed by backpackers and travellers alike. After the maze you can begin your tour and viewings of the great gardens. The Schönbrunn Gardens are very beautiful and a ‘must-see’ sight in Vienna. Surrounded by fountains and they offer great views of the Palace. You can tour the palace but it is expensive, and not as extensive as you might think. For example, the building has 1441 rooms, but only 40 can be toured.
There is a great deal more to see
without spending your money on the Palace tour, for example when I visited
Vienna in September 2010 I was lucky enough to be visiting during some kind of
festival/fete, with plenty of food stalls, yodelling show downs and Austrian
young farmers. This is a great event to visit at the time, not only for the
free food samples, but just to be surrounded by Austrian culture and the local
I was also lucky enough to be visiting during the ‘Vienna Film Festival’. This meant a large film screen donning the front of the town hall and about two hundred available seats outside to enjoy. At night there are free showings of different films, which are surrounded by great food and drink stalls. Another way to spend your time in Vienna is to venture slightly out of the city centre and find a vineyard. There are many vineyards situated on the outskirts, so have a search and sample some of the impressive local wine.
When moving on from Vienna to Bratislava, the easiest way is by train from each city’s main train station. The train station in Bratislava doesn’t show the city off at its prettiest, however the walk into the city centre is short, and the buildings begin to open up and show some beautiful architecture. Such architecture can be enjoyed quite cheaply in Bratislava, and your tour should begin with the Bratislava Castle. I’m not sure if it was just me being unfit, but the walk up to the castle took its toll, but still worth the effort. The castle is an extensive sight and an impressive part of the city, with even more impressive views to offer. You can tour the castle, which also houses a historical museum and the Treasury of Slovakia. It’s worth a few hours of your time and the hike. My second sightseeing recommendation for the Slovakian capital is the ‘Blue Church’. The church is free and the building has an interior of mosaic roses. The ceiling shows a bright blue sky; hence the name, and is nice to visit on a weekend where you will see beautiful weddings.
Another way to spend your time in Bratislava is to enjoy the Hlavné nám plaza, which is the main square in the city. During the Easter and Christmas periods this plaza is filled with a number of different Christmas themed markets, which show great elements of Slovakian culture. During the rest of the year the plaza is worth visiting due to the beautiful cafes and more ‘normal’ market stalls. I’d recommend trying a local hot chocolate in the plaza, as it is rich tasting and one of the best hot chocolates I have ever tasted. It is worth visiting the cafes and restaurants in the square as you won’t find much cheaper in other plazas in Europe.
Overall, the two capital cities both offer remarkable views on European culture, but from different angles. You won’t see many other neighbouring capital cities that offer a different charm and feel as these two cities do. The cities can be done in a few ways, therefore they make great stop offs on any interrailing trip, and allow you to explore a mix of Western and Eastern European culture.