When and where to book a hostel in Havana

Havana Cuba

Booking a hostel in Havana is far more exciting than staying in an international chain hotel. Providing travellers with a local understanding of the Cuban capital, “casas particulares” (private homes) are a cheap and friendly way to explore the city.

Allowing guests an opportunity to mingle with locals, Havana has an abundance of casas particulares and booking one is a great way to discover Cuba on vacation. With its sub-tropical climate there is never a bad time to travel to Havana, but the ‘dry season’ generally takes place from November to March.

1. Cuba Backpackers, Havana, Cuba

Havana Backpackers Cuba

As the largest hostel in Havana, the Cuba Backpackers is already a popular choice with the travelling community. Magically situated next to the Vedado district, which is near the Avenida de Maceo sea wall and only a few minutes walk from the Estadio Latinoamericano (Latin American Stadium) and the Plaza of the Revolution, the hostel is the perfect choice for first-time travellers in Havana.

Offering clean rooms and the warmest Cuban hospitality, you can meet fellow travellers and get a local understanding of the city at the same time.

• dorms from €7 per night

 2. Havana Nilda Backpackers, Havana, Cuba

Havana Nilda Backpackers

Offering sweeping panoramic views of the city, Havana Nilda Backpackers has a family atmosphere and is close to the Plaza de Revolucion. With its clean dorms and and romantic balcony overlooking the crumbling landscape of colonial Havana, the hostel is perfect for solo travellers and group bookings.

• dorms from €5 per night

3. Casa Habana, Havana, Cuba*

Casa Habana Havana Cuba

Casa Hasbana is a charming hostel and has a long roof terrace overlooking the city, where you can enjoy a Cuban Mojito after a long day sightseeing. Ideally close to Angel de Armas, Plaza Vieja Museums Cuban and Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de La Habana, travellers will receive a warm and friendly Cuban experience when they stay.

*5% discount for HostelsClub.com Membership Card holders (3 nights minimum)

• dorms from €13 per night

4. Rolando’s Backpacker, Havana, Cuba

Rolando's Backpacker, Havana, Cuba

Arguably the most social hostel in Havana, Rolando’s Backpacker is perfect for students, solo travellers and group bookings. Wonderfully located in old town Havana, all of the city’s major attractions are viewable on foot and it has two common areas to hang out with international travellers.

• dorms from €8 per night

5. Almendares Hostal, Havana, Cuba,

Almendares Hostal

Almendares Hostal is a beautiful 1924 refurbished colonial building with six private bedrooms, four bathrooms, traditional porch and a long terrace. Less than five minutes walk from the Plaza of the Revolution and the National Bus Station, the art deco hostel is a romantic choice for travellers.

• dorms from €4 per night

6. Casa Karlita, Havana, Cuba

Casa Karlita, Havana, Cuba

Situated in the cosmopolitan Vedado district, Casa Karlita is one of the most stylish hostels in Havana. The family run institution is less than fifteen minutes walk to the city centre and has a wonderful social atmosphere. With a series of private rooms and dorms available, the party hostel is a wonderful place to stay if you’re travelling solo or in a large group.

• dorms from €12 per night

7. Paradise Hostel Backpacker, Havana, Cuba

Paradise Hostel Backpacker, Havana

With its colonial 1920’s atmosphere and international following, Paradise Hostel Backpacker is the perfect place for international travellers arriving in Havana. Situated in the funky Vedado district close to the Estadio Latinoamericano, the friendly hostel is a romantic place to meet new travellers and discover the real Havana on vacation.

• dorms from €6 per night

Meet the Kelpies

Kelpies Helix Project Falkirk

Rising from the green ashes of a Scottish eco-park, The Kelpies are Scotland’s largest public art installation. Inspiring visitors and passing motorists, the water-borne equine creatures are the brainchild of  Glaswegian sculptor Andy Scott, who modelled them on industrial heavy horses. Opening to the public at Helix Park, Falkirk (near Edinburgh) in April 2014, The Kelpies are 30-metre high horse-head sculptures and Scotland’s newest cultural landmark.

Kelpies M9 Motorway Falkirk

A ‘kelpie’ is a shape-changing water spirit of Scottish legend, which are said to haunt rivers and lochs, usually in the shape of a horse. Andy Scott’s award-winning public art project was inspired by Scotland’s industrial heritage. Heavy horses were once the powerhouse of Scotland’s central belt, working in the foundries, the fields, farms and the nearby Forth & Clyde canal.

Keplies Falkirk Horses

After undergoing a spectacular metamorphosis at Helix Park, The Kelpies have become a beautiful testament to modern Scottish history. Hundreds of thousands of visitors have toured the site since it opened in April 2014 and The Kelpies provide a wonderful companion to Falkirk’s other leading tourist attraction The Falkirk Wheel.

Whether you’re coming to see the horse head sculptures or exploring nearby Edinburgh, Glasgow and Stirling, there is a rich casket of wonders just waiting to be discovered in Central Scotland.

How to Get to The Helix

  • Visitors arriving by train can get to Falkirk High Street Station from both Glasgow and Edinburgh in less than 25 minutes.
  • From London you can travel direct to Falkirk Grahamston (5 hours) or change at Edinburgh or Glasgow.

Where to stay in central Scotland

  • Willy Wallace Backpacker Hostel in Stirling is the nearest  hostel to The Kelpies and they have comfy dorms available from €19.
  • Malone’s Old Town Hostel in Edinburgh is a budget friendly hostel situated above Malone’s Irish Bar in the historic Old Town. Dorms are available from €20.
  • Haggis Hostels in Edinburgh offer clean dorms and rooms in an 18th-century Georgians building close to Waverley Station. Dorms are available from €24.
  • Bluesky Hostel in Glasgow is a super friendly hostel close to Glasgow’s School of Art. Close to both major train stations and Buchanan Street, it’s ideal for exploring wider Scotland. Dorms are available from €14.
  • Euro Hostels Glasgow is budget friendly hostel in central Glasgow close to both major train stations and is perfect for exploring central Scotland. Dorms are available from €19.

The Kelpies Enflammer from The Helix on Vimeo.

Bilbao: A boutique guide to the Basque Country

Museo-Guggenheim-Bilbao

Vivid, stylish and ruggedly handsome, Bilbao is a titan of culture on the northern Spanish coast. The largest city in the Basque Country has inspired visitors since Museo Guggenheim was built in 1997. Since then Bilbao has become an art and culture destination inspired by its modernist architecture, galleries and surreal public monuments. Furthermore, the Basque city has some of the best pintxos in northern Spain and its love affair with art and food make it a sensual experience for young travellers.

Pintxos Bilbao

Still a bustling port, the industrial city gave birth in the estuary of the Nervión river, which splits Bilbao into two distinct sections: the Old Town (Casco Viejo) on the right bank; modern districts on the other side. With its modern architecture chiming against its industrial heritage, Bilbao is a city of resurrections and contrasts. Just wandering around the Basque city you’ll find yourself inspired by the energy of its people and incredible public art.

What to see in Bilbao

Guggenheim Flower Dog

Most visitors to Bilbao come to visit the Museo Guggenheim. It’s a truly extraordinary museum and one of the finest in Europe, inspiring art pilgrims from across the world. Despite of its obvious allure, Frank Gehry’s architectural masterpiece isn’t the only reason to visit the Basque Country.

Philippe Starck’s Alhóndiga Bilbao is a 1909 wine warehouse transformed into a culture centre, which includes a glass-bottomed swimming pool, exhibition space and an art house cinema.

Alhóndiga Bilbao

Bilbao’s love of modernism has touched every corner of public life. From the Norman Foster designed Metro stations, which are called Fosteritos by locals, the city’s architectural landscape is a fascinating experience for all backpackers.

Where to eat and drink in Bilbao?

txikiteo bar crawl eating pinxtos

Walking along the streets of Bilbao’s Old Town (Casco Viejo), there are some fantastic pincho bars and gorgeous Basque restaurants to be savoured. Pintxos are the Basque equivalent of Spanish tapas and they are baby toast snacks topped up with salt cod, goat’s cheese or chorizo.

Some of the best places to enjoy a txikiteo in Bilbaoa bar crawl involving eating lots of pintxos, include the avante-garde bar Zuga (Plaza Nueva), Sasibil (Calle Jardine) and locals favourite Bar Gatz (Calle Santa Maria).

Best hostels to stay in Bilbao

Basque Boutique HostelsClub

Like many post-industrial cities, Bilbao has an affordable range of hostels available. With its boutique hostels matching the city’s art galleries for style and imagination, staying overnight in Bilbao is always a visual experience. Basque Boutique offers eight themed rooms in beautifully designed conditions and is close to the Museo Guggenheim. Rooms are available now from €39 per night.

Casual Hostal Gurea Bilbao

Casual Hostal Gurea is a refurbished boutique hostel in the Old Town and is perfect for any traveller wanting to head out on a txikiteo bar crawl. With its bright clean rooms and pure minimalist design, the Bilbao residence is like staying in an upmarket hotel and paying ridiculously low hostel prices. Rooms are available from €23 per night.

Botxo Gallery Hostel Bilbao

Botxo Gallery Hostel lies directly across from the Museo Guggenheim and offers its guests a funky social experience. Creatively designed for modern travellers, this hostel allows backpackers to enjoy the sweet life while on vacation. Dorms are available from €12 per night.

Now you are ready to explore Basque Country.

Art and design hostels in Portugal

Tattva Design Hostel Porto

Forget nights in ugly dorms and terrifying showers, modern hostels have undergone a serious upgrade in the twenty-first century. Like the smartphones of the ‘flashpackers’ who use them, new hostels are increasingly hipster with a special emphasis on art and design. Many now feel like a boutique hotel, only without the punishing price tag.

Nowhere better captures Europe’s love affair with designer hostels than Portugal. From the imperial back streets of Lisbon to Porto’s Cais da Ribeira quayside, the latest crop of Portuguese hostels are simply gorgeous.

Appealing to hip locals, business travellers as much as the discerning backpacker, you can travel with grace and style in the 2010’s.

1. Almáa Sintra Hostel, Sintra, Portugal

Almáa Sintra Hostel, Sintra

Celebrating Sintra’s Moorish heritage, Almáa Sintra Hostel is a retreat centre and eco-hostel hidden inside a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The soulful hostel has been beautifully furnished and dates back to the twelfth century, providing travellers with a respite from everyday life.

Situated deep inside Sintra’s countryside, the eco-friendly hostel is surrounded by romantic hillside mansions. Less than an hour away from Lisbon, the woodland resort of Sintra is best known for Pena National Palace, a close distance from the hostel.

dorms from €20 per night

2. Serenata Hostel, Coimbra, Portugal

Serenata Hostel, Coimbra

After refurbishing a former maternity ward and music conservatory, the Serenate Hostel has evolved into a boutique hostel in the twenty-first century. Situated in the heartbeat of the UNESCO town of Coimbra, the luxury residence is only a few minutes walk from the city’s main attractions. Superbly designed with a minimalist touch, the Senerata Hostel is a modern refuge in the university town of Coimbra.

dorms from €14 per night

3. Nations Hostel, Lisbon, Portugal

Nations Hostel, Lisbon, Portugal

The Nations Hostel celebrates Lisbon’s motifs and is only a few minutes from “Marques de Pombal.” With its hand crafted aesthetic and decorative artworks, the Lisbon hostel captures the essence of modern design and is in a superb location to explore Portugal’s imperial capital.

dorms from €10 per night

4. Oasis Backpackers’ Mansion, Lisbon, Portugal

Oasis Backpackers' Mansion, Lisbon, Portugal

Oasis Backpackers’ Mansion is a grand re-imagining of a former Lisbon mansion and overlooks the Tagus river estuary from the city’s Bairro Alto district. Serving freshly cooked Portuguese cuisine from their patio garden restaurant, the Lisbon hostel provides budget accommodation with a stylish touch.

dorms from €10 per night

5. Tattva Design Hostel, Porto, Portugal

Tattva Design Hostel Pilot hostel

Restyling two historic buildings, Tattya Design Hostel is now officially the largest hotel in Porto, offering travellers majestic views of the city’s skyline. Only a few minutes’ walk from the Cais da Ribeira quayside, Tattya Design Hostel is a designer haven for image conscious travellers.

• dorms from €14 per night

6. Pilot Design Hostel & Bar, Porto, Portugal

Pilot Design Hostel & Bar, Porto, Portugal

Super modern with a kitsch aesthetic, the Pilot Design Hostel and Bar is one of the most popular hostels in Portugal. With its contemporary furniture and minimal decorating, the boutique hostel is a discerning choice for travellers wanting to explore the gothic wonders of Porto.

dorms available from €11 a night

When and where to find the northern lights in Iceland

Iceland Northern Lights

Iceland’s northern lights are a mysterious, elusive phenomenon, where the Arctic sky is lit up with a wondrous glow of colour. Also known as the aurora borealis (named after the Roman goddess of the dawn), the northern lights is a spiritual experience for many travellers.

Swirling over the alien mountainous landscapes of Iceland, the northern lights is one of the most thrilling shows on earth. Dancing and morphing across the rugged Arctic skyline, it’s the closest many of us will get an intergalactic experience.

The chance of witnessing one of nature’s most beautiful shows has attracted many travellers to Iceland in recent years. It’s a genuinely unique experience, something you’re not always guaranteed to see, but that only serves to make the aurora borealis even more special.

Iceland Northern Lights

What are the Northern Lights?

The sun lies behind the formation of the aurora borealis. Large solar explosions and flares cause huge quantities of particles to be thrown out of the sun and into deep space. When the particles meet the Earth’s magnetic shield, they are led towards a circle around the North Pole, where they interact with the earth’s atmosphere. The energy which is then released is the northern lights.

When to go?

Travelling to Iceland between September and mid-April offers travellers the best possibility of witnessing the northern lights. The lights may be seen at any time during this period, but late October, November, February and March are usually the best months.

Reykjavik Northern Lights

Where in Iceland can you see the northern lights?

Budget travellers will arrive in Reykjavik and from there you can join an organised tour to see the northern lights in Iceland’s outer regions. Options include private jeeps, bus package tours and wintertime cruises from Reykjavik Old Harbour.

If you’re able to drive independently, you can always hire a car and travel 30 minutes to nearby Vik and stay at Hostel Vik. At this cosy, intimate hostel, guests can see the northern lights unravel from their bedroom window.

Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park is in southwest Iceland and is a popular choice for travellers. The rugged lava field is a wonderful place to see the aurora borealis unfold across the wide open plains and mysterious valleys.

Thingvellir National Park Northern Lights

What is the best time to see the northern lights in Iceland?

It becomes darker the further north you travel in Iceland, and while the aurora can be seen at any moment, 9pm to 2am tends to be optimum hours. Some hostels offer travellers an aurora alarm service if you don’t want to stay up late.

Why should you visit Iceland on vacation?

Offering travellers pure wintry landscapes, boutique hostels, sledge rides by huskies, hot springs and epic volcanoes, there are countless reasons to book a vacation in Iceland. With some luck you’ll also see the skies awash with gorgeous, swirling light, and experience a moment on earth that you’ll never forget.

Book your hostel now and explore the strange and beautiful wonders of Iceland this winter.

Iceland Aurora 4K from Iceland Aurora Films on Vimeo.

Le Salon du Chocolat – A Chocolate Festival in Paris

Chocolate Fashion Show Mini Skirts

Celebrating a Willy Wonka fantasy world of chocolate mini-skirts, Salon du Chocolat is one of Europe’s craziest food shows. Perfect for travellers wanting to sweeten up their itinerary in Paris, the Salon du Chocolat is a visual delight and a major food event if you’re visiting the City of Light in late October.

Le Salon du Chocolat Paris

Encouraging chocolate travellers to sample the cocoa wonder drug in Paris’ Port de Versailles, Salon du Chocolat is perfect for chocolate pilgrims going on vacation; there will be recipes demonstrations by chefs, pastry competitions, exhibitions and the world famous ‘Chocolate Fashion Show’. Judge for yourself which models show off the finest in chocolate couture.

Chocolate Fashion Show Paris

As a glamour show exclusively dedicated towards chocolate, you can experience the wonders of the catwalk and enjoy free chocolate samples. Lots of them too. Sweet toothed travellers will enjoy fruit-dipped chocolate, éclairs, truffles and macaroons at Salon du Chocolat.

Salon du Chocolat

Salon du Chocolat will be selling chocolate sausages and asparagus, chocolate busts of your friends, and chocolate calendars to all visitors. Furthermore, there are cooking demonstrations, cocoa beauty care, and last year there was a spectacular exhibition of chocolate renditions of famous Louvre artworks.

Chocolate Fashion Show Paris Catwalk

Perfect for chocolate lovers travelling to Paris, Salon du Chocolat takes place from 29 October – 2 November 2014 (10AM – 7PM) in Porte de Versailles. Book your low cost accommodation in Paris now and check out this sexy chocolate catwalk on vacation.

Venice untouched by tourists

Cannaregio, Venice

Escaping the crowds in Venice can be a serious challenge, but thankfully the city has a few discreet areas untouched by mass tourism. Surprisingly few tourists go to Cannaregio, which is a quiet, residential district home to baker shops and candle stores. With its rickety wooden bridges and sad green canals, Cannaregio is the closest you’ll get to experiencing Venetian life on vacation.

Jewish Ghetto

Jewish Ghetto Venice

Remarkably unspoilt with a wistful quality, Cannaregio is much quieter than San Marco and is one of the few places in Venice where locals still live and work. If you want to escape the tourist crowds then you should start off at Campo di Ghetto, the Jewish Ghetto, which serves as the neighbourhood’s public square.

If you pay close attention, you’ll notice the buildings are significantly taller than the rest of the city. Historically forbidden to expand outwards, the Jewish residents reached to the sky.

 Fondamenta della Sensa

Fondamenta della Sensa

As one of the most understated parts of Venice, Fondamenta della Sensa has a rustic charm that provides a wonderful antidote to the thronging masses at Rialto Bridge. Perfect for an early morning stroll, the quayside has two landmark churches nearby, Sant’Alvise and the epic fourteenth-century Madonna dell’Orto. Otherwise you can enjoy home made Venetian cooking at Anice Stellato, which is a charming and inexpensive family run restaurant.

Campo dei Mori

Campo dei Mori

Providing a macabre spectacle to visitors, Campo dei Mori (Square of the Moors) is far, far away from the dreaded yellow arrows and is famous for its turbaned statues. Dominated by three miserly brothers Rioba, Sandi and Afani, the grotesque siblings were erected in the thirteenth century.

If you’re hungry in Cannaregio then you should check out the famous local restaurant Osteria L’Orto dei Mori. Renowned for its Venetian home cooking and creative recipes, you’ll definitely be relieved that you walked so far to find it.

Cannaregio night time

Cannaregio Night

Cannaregio is pretty quiet after dark, but that’s not to say there aren’t some excellent hang outs for travellers. Local favourites include craft beer bar Il Santo Bevitore and art jazz bar Paradiso Perduto (The Lost Paradise). Providing a trendy hipster enclave in this gorgeous Italian city, Cannaregio is perfect for young, adventurous travellers exploring Venice for the first time.