Top 5 Must See Cities & Flight Deals: Europe

As prices of flights continue on their upward trend, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find the perfect getaway without breaking the bank. Below are the top 5 must see cities in Europe, and the best flight deals from the UK!

Lockdown is finally coming to an end as the numbers of those fully vaccinated soars. Which means that for the first time in 16 months, jumping on a plane for leisure purposes is a real possibility! But now comes the hard part… deciding where to go first!

5. Prague, Czech Republic

With an infamous reputation in years gone by for loud & obnoxious stag do’s from the UK, Prague has understandably been given a wide birth by many holiday makers from these shores. Fear not – those days are now gone, and Prague is a destination that should be near the top of your travel list! This city has so much to offer; from history & architecture, to possibly the best lager in Europe.

The Charles Bridge (above) is one of the most famous sites in the city, along with the medieval astronomical clock – the oldest operational astronomical clock in the world – in the old town square. Vyšehrad, the old fortress of Prague offers over 1000 years of history, and some pretty awesome views. There are also countless churches to explore in the city of a hundred spires!

When it comes to lager you are spoilt for choice. The locals will tell you that the Czech lagers are the best in the world… and I am inclined to agree with them! Try one of the more common commercial lagers like Staropramen or Pilsner Urquell, or take a punt on a craft ale produced by one of the local microbreweries. There is the Staropramen museum located in the site of the historic brewery – however from my experience it wasn’t really worth it. The information is largely available online and there wasn’t too much to see.

Best Deals

Return flights from the 3rd to the 6th of September from London Stansted;

Return flights on the same dates from Edinburgh;

In terms of hotels – a short distance from the main sites and attractions, 4 & 5 star hotels start at around £65 per night based on 2 adults sharing, and good quality apartments start at £30 per night. You can obviously make this far cheaper by staying in a hostel – but after the last couple of years, a little luxury is definitely justified!

Total cost for 2 adults flights and accommodation for 3 nights at the 4* Grand Hotel Praha, in the centre of the city;

£347 including breakfast

4. Budapest, Hungary

From one slightly controversial destination to another… Budapest. Unlike the Czech Republic, the controversy surrounding Hungary is not thanks to UK stag parties, but rather their of own governments making. None of this however takes away from the beautiful city that is Budapest. Split in half by the river Danube, together the old cities of Buda and Pest offer the famous spa baths, beautiful history & architecture and fantastic food!

Photo by Ljubomir Žarković

Every review of Budapest will without doubt cover the famous Szechenyi Spa Baths – this is for good reason! They are a must for your trip to this beautiful city. Afterwards, venture down to the Danube to see the ‘Shoes on the Danube Bank’, a sobering memorial to the 3,500 people killed by the fascist Hungarian militia in the Second World War. In the afternoon, climb Castle Hill above Szechenyi Chain Bridge to visit Hungarian National Gallery and The Budapest History Museum within Buda Castle, and watch the sunset over the amazing skyline of Budapest.

Aside from the well known tourist attractions, you can wander around the streets of Budapest and find many a hidden gem. Restaurants and bars line many a street serving a mixture of local cuisine and standard fare. For those looking for nightlife, you will find it here in abundance with parties going on long in to the early hours. The best part? It won’t cause too much damage to your bank balance!

Best Deals

Return flights from 10th to the 13th September from London Luton;

Cheaper flights are available, however at rather unsociable times!


For hotels in Budapest, 4 & 5 star hotels start at around £70 per night and luxury apartments start at approximately £40 per night based on 2 adults sharing. Again, you can make your stay far cheaper by opting for a budget hotel or hostel. I would recommend a little luxury and comfort after long days exploring all that Budapest has to offer.

Total cost for 2 adults flights and accommodation for 3 nights at the 4* Buda Castle Hotel with views over the city;

£327 including breakfast

3. Copenhagen, Denmark

From one side of Europe to the other – in at number 3 is the Danish capital city, Copenhagen. Full of creativity, colour and culture, Copenhagen manages to effortlessly blend class and sophistication with intrigue and creative flair. You might think you need to stuff some thermals in your hand luggage for this trip to Scandinavia – but a jumper will suffice for the cooler yet still mild September evenings.

Photo by Nick Karvounis

As the vast majority of the cities on this list, Copenhagen has a whole raft of well known tourist attractions, however I think some of the lesser known parts of the city are more worthy of your time than the well trodden paths!

The one ultra touristy thing you MUST do here is visit Tivoli Gardens. It is the second oldest theme park in the world (behind Bakken, across town also in Copenhagen). Whether you want to try out the rides, to visit the beautiful gardens or simply to enjoy the charm and magic that Tivoli possesses in abundance, it is worth well worth it.

If possible, spend a couple of hours visiting Christiania – an international community and “freetown” located within the city of Copenhagen. Previously, Danish law wasn’t recognised or enforced in Christiania hence it being a freetown, however over the last 10 years or so that has changed. The objective of the anarchist community

“to build a self-governing society where each individual is free to express themselves under the authority of the community. This society shall be financially self-supporting, and the common aim must always be to show that the mental and physical contamination can be averted”

13 – 11 – 1971

Please be respectful of the residents when you visit Christiania, and abide by their rules with regards photography.

Nyhavn is a great spot to visit to get some good photos like the one above, but be careful with some of the bars and restaurants that line the waters edge – even by Danish standards some are overpriced and not the best quality!

The image that will spring to mind for a lot of you when you think of Copenhagen will be the Little Mermaid statue, inspired by Hans Christian Andersen. It is a good 20 minute walk out of the city centre, and standing at 1.25m tall it isn’t the most impressive statue you will see but it is still worth a visit if you get time.

Copenhagen is a more expensive city than both Prague and Budapest, but it is full of beautiful architecture, beautiful people and a fascinating history. It is well worth the extra few pounds on hotels and spending money!

Best Deals

Return flights from the 9th to the 12th of September from Manchester;

Hotels are far more expensive in Copenhagen than the previous 2 destinations on average & are the most expensive of the 5 cities in this list. For 4 & 5 star hotels, you will do well to get anything for less than £95 per night, however there are a number of 2 & 3 star options with prices starting from as little as £45 per night. The standard of hostels in Copenhagen is fantastic, so that is a real option here if you are looking to save on costs. I have stayed in the Danhostel previously and would highly recommend a stay here. Given current Covid rules, you have to book an entire room for yourself, so hostels are not as good value as normal – expect to see large reductions in prices at such hostels as rules are relaxed.

Total cost for 2 adults flights and accommodation for 3 nights at the perfectly situated 4* Absalon Hotel;

£358 including breakfast

2. Lake Ohrid, North Macedonia

Back over to the east of Europe we go, and this time to one of the former states of Yugoslavia – Macedonia, now known as North Macedonia. It is not a country that attracts many tourists from the UK, with only 2 direct flights a week from London Luton – on a Wednesday and a Sunday – during the peak season of April to October, and 0 direct flights at all from November to March. This is what we have been missing out on…

Photo by Pursuit Of Purpose

Lake Ohrid straddles the border between southern Macedonia and eastern Albania – now recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it is easy to see why. The views are breath taking, picturesque clear waters in the foreground with snowcapped mountains to the rear. It was the first time in my life I arrived at a destination and was genuinely lost for words. The reality is even better than any photograph could ever depict.

Ohrid is a popular holiday resort for Macedonian’s, however it is still relatively undiscovered by the outside world. The infrastructure isn’t set up for hundreds of thousands of tourists to descend at once, however there are many bars and restaurants along the edge of the lake offering a wonderful selection of food, cocktails & beers. The prices are unbelievably good value, and that’s without taking the view in to account!

I would recommend booking day trips through your hotel to visit places such as the Monastery of Sveti Naum, a trip over the border to Pogradec in Albania & if you are lucky enough to find a driver / tour guide like mine – ask to visit a local village such as Trpejca to sample the fresh catch of the day as it lands from the small fishing boats. The locals are incredibly friendly and love talking about their history. As not many tourists visit from outside the region, the translation is a little more challenging, but that adds to the authenticity of the experience.

Two locations to visit within walking distance of the town centre are Sveti Jovan at Kaneo pictured above, and Samuel’s Fortress – not just because I share his name, but the views are fantastic. Just make sure you take water with you – the steep walk up is rather tiring in the heat!

Photo by Pursuit of Purpose

The hotels in Ohrid are a little unconventional – some are bed and breakfast, some are serviced apartments. There are a couple of more “traditional” hotels, but I highly recommend staying in one of the guest house / serviced apartments.

Best Deals

Return flights from the 15th to 19th September from London Luton;

Get ready for this… the prices for accommodation based on 2 adults sharing start at around £20 per night. I recommend you pay a little more to get a lake view – this will cost somewhere in the region of £35-40 per night. Yes, £35 per night, for 2 adults. It is fantastic value. My recommendation below is a property I have personally stayed at and I highly recommend. Ana is the lovely owner, and she is fantastic for sorting our day trips and making your time in Ohrid as perfect as possible. Breakfast is not provided here, however a lakeside cafe just along the boardwalk pictured above serves breakfast for around £5 per couple.

Total cost for 2 adults flights and accommodation for 4 nights with a lake view from the balcony – Apartment Villa Dudanov;

£229 breakfast not included

1. Porto, Portugal

After an intense battle with Ohrid for top spot, in at number 1 on my top 5 must see cities in Europe, it’s Porto. A city bursting with creativity and energy, hundreds of narrow streets packed with amazing architecture, history hiding around every corner. From the port lodges to the churches decked out in the famous Porto tiles, the river side restaurants and bars and the beautiful green spaces in the middle of the city. Porto has it all.

Photo by Everaldo Coelho

Its hard to accurately summarise Porto in a few words. It is everything to everyone. Whatever you are looking for in your city break – Porto has it. Culture, history, shopping, amazing local food & drink both casual and fine dining. It has both a feel of a small quaint city, and yet has the buzz of a large sprawling metropolis in the same breath.

It is another city that often gets overlooked when holidays are being considered, either for the beaches of southern Portugal, or its big city rival and capital of Portugal, Lisbon.

Porto is, as the name suggests, a port town where the river Douro meets the Atlantic Ocean. The seafood is exquisite all along the banks of the river, but in particular a trip to Mercado Municipal de Matosinhos – the fresh fish market, and the restaurants that surround it is a must.

It may be a bit touristy and clichéd, but book in for a port tasting at one of the famous old port lodges! I went to Graham’s and it was absolutely amazing and incredible value for money. Take a guided tour of the lodge, see how and where the port is made, have a peek in the cellars and at the end try a mix of the ruby and tawny ports, what more could you want?

The local drink of choice on the warmer days is a “porto tonico”, a white port and tonic cocktail. I was initially wary, however it soon became the drink of the trip. Beautifully refreshing after a long day exploring – I can see why the locals love it so much!

Photo by Pursuit of Purpose

This post wouldn’t be complete without a mention of the incredible porto tiles that adorn the walls of many a church and many a building in the city. This photo above is the inside of Porto’s main train station Estacão São Bento. The immaculately decorated blue and white tiles are a common sight, but one that never gets old. You will find many a stall selling them outside the various tourist hot spots – go a little further afield and get better quality for a lower price!

Best Deals

Return flights from the 12th to 17th September from London Stansted;

Return flights on the same dates from Manchester;

There are cheaper flight options from Manchester (as low as £40 at the time of checking), however due to unsociable hours on the return leg of the journey, I have opted for these flights as my recommended option.

Accommodation in Porto is plentiful, and competitively priced. Apartments start at around £35 per night, and 4 & 5 star hotels start at approximately £60 per night. As always, cheaper accommodation is available, however be careful not to compromise too much on quality in order to save a few pounds.

Total cost for 2 adults flights and accommodation for 5 nights at the luxurious 4* Exe Almada Porto is;

£421 (breakfast available for additional £8 per person, per night)

There you have it – my top 5 city break destinations for post lockdown European travel!

Where would your top 5 be?

Challenging The Stigma Of Change

I am a strong believer that all stigmas should be challenged and debated – and in modern society we are getting far better at challenging these preconceptions. Social stigmas surrounding mental health, culture, gender, sexuality are often challenged and rightly so – but the social stigma surround change, especially from those closest to us, is rarely discussed.

Photo by Matheus Ferrero
Photo by Matheus Ferrero

stigma

noun

disapproval or discrimination associated with a particular circumstance or characteristic, particularly those that distinguish and individual or group from the rest of society.

We’ve all been there at some point in our lives, on both sides of this coin. Either the one on the receiving end, or the one of those people dishing it out. It’s often put forward as a joke, or banter (I will do a future post on my disdain for this word). Sometimes it is even badged as life guidance or advice. In rarer and more extreme circumstances it can even be manipulation or an intervention.

It’s that moment when you, or a friend / family member announces they are making a life change. Whether it be a new hobby, a change of career, becoming vegan, a new partner, moving home, moving country, and so on. In that moment, many supportive friends and family members will provide neutral or positive responses, some will offer encouragement, however there are always those dissenting voices. As I mention above, it will often be delivered as a joke aimed to belittle your decision or take the piss (poking fun, for any readers from across the Atlantic). Sometimes its instantaneous, other times its behind your back, or later down the line, but it always seems to crop up, and it always seems to be those people closest to us that deliver the gut punch.

When challenged on this, the defences will range from “come on, it’s a joke” to “well you’ve brought this on yourself, its a silly decision” to “look, all I am saying is, you might want to rethink this”.

Status Quo

But why the hell do they do it? To maintain the status quo. No, not the band… but rather the maintaining of the current situation. Although now I mention it, the lyrics to one of their greatest hits – Down, Down are rather fitting;

I want all the world to see

To see you’re laughing, and you’re laughing at me

Status Quo

See, if you change then it impacts the equilibrium for others. You aren’t the same person you were, and that is too much for some people to accept. Forget that you might be happier & healthier, the important factor for these people is that you aren’t the person you are today… and that prospect frightens some people.

Does this change mean you won’t see them as much? Potentially make new friends? Live further away? Do things they wish they could do? Be more successful? Find true happiness?

For some, those questions will strike fear in to their hearts. They look to a future where you are no longer giving them what you currently do, rather than thinking about how amazing the change could be for you.

Stand And Deliver

These attitudes and the stigma it has created are exactly what we need to challenge. Trying something new, whether we fail or succeed, is crucial to our happiness. We need to stand and deliver a robust response when people decide to joke about our life choices or belittle them in anyway, whether its our parents, siblings, our best friends, colleagues or anyone else for that matter.

If following challenge they aren’t prepared to provide support and take it seriously, then ultimately they don’t deserve to be a part of the future you. Who needs negativity and nastiness in their lives?

Also, shout out to those who noticed me take my musical references from the 70’s through to the 80’s here with Adam and The Ants…

A Little Respect

I’ve started, so I am going to have to continue… In to the late 80’s with Erasure. I may be a 90’s kid, but you’ve got to appreciate the classics!

To be clear, the above is not suggesting that we should have tunnel vision and be ignorant to everyone and everything around us. It is really important to have respect for those closest to us and their views. Healthy debate and challenge is great and helps us focus and make solid and informed decisions. But that respect needs to go both ways. There will be people around you whose views and advice you may want to consider, so engage with them, have that open and honest debate… but also set the ground rules.

It isn’t a chance to belittle you or your vision, but a chance to help you shape it. If they want to input in to your future, and you are happy for them to do it, make it an investment.

Who Do You Believe In?

I believe in you. You should too. Ultimately we either have to be prepared to take some risks, albeit calculated wherever possible, or accept the current situation. Whatever your decision is, back yourself. If you don’t, you can’t expect those around you to invest in your vision either.

It’s ok to stay where you are if that’s what makes you happy, just as it’s ok to make wholesale changes. Society seems to have an unwritten rulebook when it comes to these things. It’s time to tear that work of fiction up, throw it out of the window and write your own future.

Lets see who is on the ball with their musical references – for this last one its a song released in 1999. If you know the artist, drop the answer in the comments!

Defining Our Purpose

Sounds a little silly, right? I am in pursuit of something that I am yet to properly define. It is really important to understand the journey we are looking to embark upon, and where / what we are aiming for before we take those first strides.

purpose

noun

the intention, aim or function of something; the thing that something is supposed to achieve

The Oxford English Dictionary definition seemed a good place to start, but it leaves me with more questions than answers…

What am I supposed to achieve? How do I measure achievement?

What is my function / aim? How do I know when I have found my ‘function’?

What are my intentions? Are they sufficiently challenging and yet still realistic?

At what point does challenge become unrealistic?

And there you have it, an insight in to my thought process. Inquisitive and critical, methodical and frantic.

But if there is one thing I have learnt in recent times, it’s that it is ok to not have all the answers. If we did, life would be pretty damn boring! Part of this process is about discovery and learning.

I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.

– Socrates (via Plato)

Just to be clear, I am not professing to be the wisest of humans – but I do think this quote is an important one to keep in mind. The thirst for knowledge, information and answers can lead to us feeling inadequate when faced with questions about ourselves, and our purpose. When the internal google search returns no results, it’s hard to feel anything but inadequate and incredibly frustrated.

It is ok to not have the answers to internal questions, but it is also important we keep asking them!

Can I define my purpose?

Yes! It isn’t always about knowing exactly where you are going to end up or even the precise journey you are going to undertake. All I need to define at this stage are the traits that will define success for me.

The chances are throughout this journey I will take several detours and the final destination will move more than once! So no, I don’t know where I want to end up, but I do know the traits I am looking for;

Happiness – to wake up each day looking forward to the upcoming 24 hours, either because I am doing something I love, or because I am moving towards doing something I love.

Pride – to have a deep sense of pride in my work and in myself as a human being & to know that I am being the best version of me that I can be.

Achievement – to be able to see the tangible output of my efforts in both work and life.

Fulfilment – to combine happiness, pride and achievement will deliver a sense of fulfilment.

It all sounds a bit cheesy & clichéd, doesn’t it? Well sometimes it’s good to be a bit cheesy! I said at the start of this post;

It is really important to understand the journey we are looking to embark upon, and where / what we are aiming for before we take those first strides.

I might not know the exact co-ordinates of the destination, nor the route or method of transport, but I certainly do understand the journey I am embarking upon, and what I am aiming for.

When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.

– Lao Tzu

And So The Journey Begins

 The last 18 months have been really difficult for millions of us all around the world. Life seemed good… until a global pandemic brought the world to a grinding halt. Life hasn’t been the same for anyone since February 2020.

Having fallen in to a dangerous cycle of working harder than ever, alongside consuming more of everything, I found myself in a downward spiral. I wasn’t sure where the spiral would end, but I seemed to be hurtling towards the final destination.

Whilst this spiral was exacerbated by the ongoing situation, it felt all too familiar. Somewhere I had been several times over recent years – a place always lurking in the shadows of my life. I had, like many others, avoided answering the difficult questions, content to drift through life, scared of what I would find if I strayed from the path well trodden.

It was time to shine a light on the shadows.

As the light crept in, the shadows melted away and left me with my greatest fear. My inability to answer one of life’s oldest questions. Instead of confronting it, I have continually pushed to the back of my mind. The catalyst for this had been the sudden passing of my Grandma in 2015. Intertwined with the deep sense of pain and loss was the reminder of my mortality. Despite working through my grief, there is one part I have been unable to reconcile. One itch I have failed to scratch. Answering one question…

What is my purpose?

Its so easy to ask, and yet so hard to answer. I have spent the last 5 years avoiding this question, for fear of not having an answer. Would that mean my life was pointless?

I threw myself in to my work, and reaped the benefits for my efforts. I spent the weekends with a packed social life, from meals out with friends to partying. But now I was forced to stop and spend time on my own with my own thoughts.

“Is this it? Is this my life?”

I have been incredibly successful in my career at a young age. It’s a line of work I have a talent for, but it certainly stops a long way short of being my purpose. My social life became non-existent, but even at its height – it was an enjoyable distraction. Was this combination my purpose in life; work long hours, and then party the weekends away, rinse and repeat?

No.

With the answer resoundingly clear, it’s time to make some changes, and focus on my passions.

And so the journey begins.

______________________________________________________________________________________________

Travel, Food & Nature.

Over the coming weeks and months I will be sharing written posts here, photos on my Instagram page and videos on my new YouTube channel later in the year. The focus will be on travel, food & nature. My content will focus on mental health, and the ups and downs throughout this journey of discovery.

We all believe on some level that our life need purpose. Whether that is following artistic talent, being a parent, playing your favourite sport, following your favourite team(s), or partying the long in to the night with your friends.

For it to be our purpose, it has to be our passion.

I’m Sam, and this is my Pursuit Of Purpose.