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5 Must do's in Bratislava, Slovakia

clock 16th November 2015 | comment0 Comments

Eastern Europe has so much to offer holiday goers and explorers alike, with unique quirks, historical towns and beautiful landscapes, there is something to appeal to everyone.

The likes of Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia are now seeing an influx of visitors from Western Europe and the welcoming locals make a trip here truly unforgettable. One nation in particular which is growing in popularity is Slovakia, with the capital Bratislava an absolute must on a European cruise.

bratslavia-slovakia


Iglu Cruise offer a number of river cruises along the Danube, starting in Hungary and stopping off in Bratislava en route to Austria. So what is there to do in Slovakia's largest city? Here are our top five suggestions.

 

Bratislava Castle

Sitting on a hill of the Little Carphathians overlooking the city, Bratislava Castle is arguably the most historic and recognisable sight in the capital. It provides stunning views over Bratislava, parts of Austria and on clear days you will you be able to see as far as Hungary. As you would expect, the castle has a long and rich history. It can trace its origins back to the ninth century where it was believed to have been built by the Romans as a frontier post. It was accidentally burned to the ground by garrisoned soldiers in May 1811, leading to a full rebuild in the 1950s.

It is home to both The History Museum and the National Museum, with one of the rooms dedicated to the works of Slovakian and foreign artists. Around 3,500 paintings, statues and print are housed in the castle, the most impressive being copies of 15th century altarpieces by Paul of Levoca.

bratislava-castle

St Martin's Cathedral

Sticking with the historical theme, St Martin's Cathedral is a testament to Bratislava's Gothic architecture. Situated on the edge of the Old Town, the church can trace its history back to the 13th century when it was originally built in a Romanesque style. However, by the 14th century it was replaced by a three-nave Gothic dome and was fully transformed by 1452.

Being the largest and one of the oldest churches in Bratislava it has been the scene of many a famous ceremony. Between 1563 and 1830 it was known for being the coronation church for the Kingdom of Hungary and saw 19 Hungarian Emperors crowned during this time.

Today, it remains open to the public allowing people to wander around this magnificent structure and the see the work of famous Austrian baroque sculptor Raphael Donner.

St Michael's Street and St Michael's Gate

Both St Michael's Street and St Michael's Gate are go-to places for anyone visiting Bratislava. It is the main hub of activity in the city with shops and restaurants lining the street, making for a very lively place. Both locals and tourists alike come out to enjoy the ambiance on an evening with street bands providing a great atmosphere as the sun goes down.

At the top of the street is St Michael's Gate which remains the only city gate in Slovakia that has been preserved of the medieval fortifications. Originally built during the year 1300, it was rebuilt in 1758 and has survived several wars, occupations and the Communist rule, a period renowned for tearing down and replacing historic buildings.

Now it is seen and appreciated as a hugely relaxing area, ideal for enjoying a glass of wine or two and simply watching the world go by.

st-michaels-street-bratislava

Slovak National Theatre

If you get the chance, a visit to the Slovak National Theatre is an absolute must if you are a lover of the arts. It is the oldest professional theatre in the country and consists of three ensembles - opera, ballet and drama. It is split into two separate buildings the old, opened in 1886, and the new, opened in 2007.

The former was designed by Viennese architects R. Fellner and H. Helmer, responsible for creating ten buildings across Europe. It is the home of Neo-Renaissance opera, ballet and philharmonic performances and if you have the chance to catch a show, then it will be an unforgettable experience.

slovak-national-theatre

Novy Most

While Bratislava Castle provides a beautiful panoramic view of the city, for more spectacular views head to one of the more modern structures in Bratislava - Novy Most Bridge.

Despite being built during the era of Slovak Communism, the 1971 bridge does not follow conventional architecture of the time. It is more inkeeping with Bratislava's more historic side and has drawn comparisons to the Space Needle in Seattle.

Providing a link over the Danube, you can venture up the impressive structure to an observation desk where you can take in all the views of Bratislava. Maybe even have a spot of lunch at the restaurant UFO, a popular eatery so booking is advised.

 

Browse our Danube River cruise deals



How to plan your first river cruise

clock 4th September 2015 | comment0 Comments

Updated March 2017

 

Whether it be exploring the delights of Southeast Asia sailing along the Mekong or discovering the wonders of Europe on the Rhine, river cruises are a great way to see the world.

With carefully planned out itineraries and excellent hospitality onboard, venturing along one of the world's most famous rivers is a great way to enjoy a holiday. It could even be a break from the traditional beach holiday or city tour that you tend to go on. On these cruises, not only will you visit some beautiful places but also see some glorious sights en route.

If you are planning your first river cruise, there are probably a few things you will want to know before stepping aboard. Here is our handy guide to your first river cruise adventure.

 

Picking your location

river cruise far east


The first thing you need to be considering is where you want to go and there are a huge amount of cruises to choose from spanning the globe. You can pick from Asia, Africa and Europe with all the trips ranging from 7 night voyages to 16 night adventures.

There is a wide selection to suit all tastes. Why not explore the likes of Holland, Germany and Austria with a cruise of the Rhine or see a different side of Spain and Portugal with a trip along the Douro? Eastern Europe can be covered with a Danube Explorer holiday which visits other nations such as Hungary and Slovakia.

You can travel a bit further to the likes of Vietnam and Cambodia to get a flavour of Southeast Asia. Even sail along the mighty Mississippi discovering the southern states of the US, there is simply so much choice available.

You will need to be aware of the travelling time involved. European cruises will include either flights or Eurostar travel to your first port of call while the longer cruises will involve longer trips to reach your starting point. So you need to decide what type of holiday you want to experience.

Read more in our blog about exotic vs European river cruising.

 

How long to go for?

Each cruise is tailored with a special itinerary in place, ensuring that you get to see all the best bits during your river cruise. The majority of European cruises span seven nights, including either flights or Eurostar connections, making them very manageable. The further afield trips in the likes of Asia, Africa and beyond are much longer. The latter gives you the chance to recover from long flights and ensure you have overcome jet lag before you set sail. Many of them will include a couple of nights stay in a hotel, giving you the opportunity to not only recharge the batteries but experience cities such as Siem Reap or Beijing before hopping on the cruise.

What to pack

what-to-pack-river-cruise


This will no doubt be one of the first thoughts that crosses your mind when preparing for your first river cruise. You will get many chances to step off the ship and explore plus there will be many chances for dressing up and donning your smart attire.

Life aboard a river cruise is a laid back and casual affair but there are a number of formal evenings where a dress code may be required - so pack your best glad rags for these occasions. We also recommend low heeled shoes and comfortable footwear for when exploring the towns and cities during your holiday. Something for rain or shine is advisable and always pack sun block no matter the time of year.

Most of the ships are are fitted with onboard Wi-Fi so you can stay connected and upload photos whilst you sail. Ask your cruise sales expert about plug sockets in case you need to take an adaptor for your appliances.

Food and drink

food and drink river cruise


You will be treated to some of the finest food around as all cruises serve breakfast, lunch and dinner at no extra charge. However, you may want to take a bit of extra money to treat yourself while ashore or to dine in a speciality restaurant.

You can not go to the likes of Southeast Asia or mainland Europe without trying some of the local delicacies. So while all food onboard is catered for, don't miss out on the delicious cuisine you can find at port.

Any river cruise will be one to remember, make sure you are thoroughly prepared before setting sail and ask your agent for more information.

 

Browse our river cruises or find out exactly what's included in your river cruise.



Things to do and see in Amsterdam

clock 1st September 2015 | comment0 Comments

Amsterdam is one of the most unique cities in the whole of Europe.

Interspersed with canals and a hugely liberal way of life, the Dutch capital tends to be high up on many a bucket list. Originally developed as a small fishing village in the 12th century, Amsterdam has turned into one of the most cosmopolitan, hippest places you're likely to find. It even boasts a small medieval centre which has been recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Many River cruises of both the Danube and the Rhine begin in Amsterdam offering the perfect way to start your adventure by exploring this magnificent city.

So what is there to do for a day or two in Amsterdam? Here are our suggestions of what's not to be missed before you set sail through the rest of Europe.

Rijksmuseum

Rijksmuseum museum Amsterdam

Start your day with a trip to the Rijksmuseum, the largest of its kind in the whole of the Netherlands. Opened in 1800, it began life as home to a collection of art from all over the country. It moved around quite a bit during its early days before finally relocating to its current home in 1885, a building designed by Dutch architect Petrus J.H. Cuypers in a neo-Renaissance style.

Many recognise Rijksmuseum as being one of the most breathtaking in all of Europe and it is in the enviable position of displaying some world renowned pieces of art. Amongst the amazing collection of around 8,000 objects is Rembrandt's 'Night Watch' as well as several paintings by Vermeer, van Dyck and Jan Steen.

You will also be able to visit the newest exhibits following the museum's ten-year renovation, which was completed in April 2013.

It is open throughout the year with entrance charged at around €17.50 (£12).

Van Gogh Museum

Right at the top of many people's to-do lists when they come to Amsterdam is visiting the Van Gogh Museum. Honouring one of the most well-known and popular artists the world has ever seen, this is a showcase of Vincent van Gogh's (1853-1890) very best work. From paintings to drawings to letters, no stone is left unturned when discovering his incredible artwork.

Opened in 1973, the museum has quickly become one of the most popular in Europe with 1.6 million people visiting it every year. There are over 200 paintings and 500 drawings of Van Gogh's housed here, along with other works from fellow Impressionists and Post-impressionists around at the same time.

The museum is charted chronologically representing different periods in Van Gogh's life - The Netherlands, Paris, Arles, Saint-Remy and Auvers-sur-Oise. They are set in a wonderful space meaning you can take your time simply admiring this great collection of work.

Open throughout the year admission is around €17.

Oude Kerk

If you are looking for more of a spiritual experience then head to De Oude Kerk (The Old Church). Ironically situated in Amsterdam's Red Light District, this huge, monumental church is a symbol of the national character of Dutch Protestantism. It also symbolises the tradition and the present-day of the city.

Standing in the city since 1213, Oude Kerk is one of the very few Protestant churches with unique architecture. From the sculpted misericords in the choir to the impressive gravestones that line its floor, it really is a sight to behold. The focal point of the church is the 17th century grand organ which plays a major part in a series of concerts throughout the year.

Oude Kerk opens all year round with admission prices starting from €5.

Anne Frank House

Canal at Anne Frank house


Tucked in an unassuming Amsterdam suburb is the home of Anne Frank. The building at Prinsengracht 263 became a residence synonymous with the second world war and the Nazis' occupation of the city. Anne lived there for over two years with her family writing a diary to account the goings-on of the time.

Being sheltered there, they were exposed in August 1944 and deported to various concentration camps, with only Otto Frank of the group surviving the war and going on to have his daughter's diary published. In 1960, the home was converted into a museum and visitors are able to see into the exact room where the Frank family hid from the oppression of the Nazis.

While the room remains empty, visitors will still feel the atmosphere of the time.

Amsterdam Brown Cafes and Canal Walks

Amsterdam canals


With a long day of sightseeing behind you, it is time to relax a little and unwind and this is where Amsterdam comes into its own. There are over 1,500 restaurants, cafes and bars dotted across the city but for a true taste of local way of life is to visit one of the many brown cafes.

They are a quintessential side of Amsterdam culture. Known as bruine kroeg in Dutch, they are characterised by their dark wood interiors and smoke-stained walls. Relax with a wide selection of beers and borrel hapjes (typical bar snacks), before moving on to a restaurant later on in the evening.

Crown your day in Amsterdam with a stroll under the stars as you wander through the canals, just keep an eye out for hurried cyclists. Biking is a very popular form of transport in the city.

Visit Amsterdam on a relaxing Rhine river cruise. Browse our Rhine River cruise deals



Enjoy the sights and sounds of Porto

clock 14th August 2015 | comment0 Comments

Porto is one of the more understated cities in Portugal. Overshadowed somewhat, arguably unfairly, by its southern counterpart Lisbon, it is a place of immense beauty.

The coastal city sits on the banks of River Douro and is a great place to start a cruise in the heart of southern Europe. Iglu offers a series of packages which begin in Porto before moving into Spain and other parts of Portugal. The Duoro is a focal point of this busy industrial and commercial centre and is regarded as the heartbeat of the city.

Such is the majesty of the area that the historic centre of Porto was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. With a day to spare before setting off on your cruise of the Duoro, take a stroll around and discover everything Porto has to offer.

Discover a historical centre

 


There is no better place to start a tour of Porto than with its historical centre. Head down to the Ribeira, the part of the city near the river, to discover a bustling waterfront. It is a beautiful area with small fishing boats coming in and out of the harbour before making their way out to the Atlantic Ocean.

It is hard to miss the dominating figure on the Ribeira de Gaia which is the Ponte de D. Luis bridge. Built in 1886, this metal arch bridge connects Porto to Vila Nova de Gaia, allowing traffic to cross the Duoro. Take a stroll to this magnificent structure to take in some stunning views of the city.

Part of Porto's UNESCO status is the Church of Sao Francisco. Set in the city's historic centre, it is the most prominent Gothic monument Porto has to offer. Originally established in 1223, the church itself was completed in 1425. Inside there is some beautiful Baroque era stylings including an altarpiece which depicts the Tree of Jesse.

Moving away from the waterfront, head towards the Baixa (downtown) part of Porto and visit Mercado do Bolhao. This traditional market is somewhat of a landmark in the city with locals going about their daily business. Stalls sell a range of produce such as fruits, vegetables, fish and meat. There are also a number of small restaurants selling the local dishes at low prices.

Sample the nightlife


After a day of sightseeing it will be time to sit down with a spot of food and drink. You are in luck as Porto boasts some of the finest restaurants in the whole of Portugal. The best are mainly centred around the Matosinhos area near the beach and the seafront known as Porto de Leixoes.

Local cuisine is as unusual as it is delicious. One of the most common dishes in the city is Tripas a moda do Porto which is a hearty meal, but beware as it is made from tripe. It is the reason why natives of the city are known as tripeiros (tripe-eaters). Another favourite is Bacalhau, a salted codfish, which has inspired hundreds of dishes across the city.

However, if you want a true taste of Porto then you must try a Francesinha. Translated as the Little Frenchie, this sandwich has gained huge notoriety and is the ultimate comfort food for locals and tourists alike.

This delicacy is made with bread, wet-cured ham, smoke cured pork sausage known as linguica, chipolata, steak or roast meat, covered in melted cheese and hot tomato or beer sauce served with french fries.

Each restaurant in Porto will have its own take on the Francesinha and have a variation of the sauce, but wherever you choose to indulge in this local staple you will not be disappointed. Combine it with a glass of port wine or beer and you have one of the finest dishes around in a beautiful surrounding.

Browse our Duoro River Cruises



The many wines of the Rhine

clock 6th August 2015 | comment0 Comments

The Rhine river cuts through some of Germany’s finest winemaking regions; ideal for cruisers who love their wine.

Renowned regions the Middle Rhine, the Rhine Valley (Rheingau) and the Rheinhessen, all lie on the banks of this famous waterway, making it easy for you to sample the wine as you go. It would almost be rude not to.

We’ve put together a guide for each of these three magnificent regions, their specialty wines and which ports are in each area.

The Rhine Valley - Rheingau


The picturesque Rheingau is one of the most famous areas in Germany for wine making. The name of the game here is quality, not quantity and each batch of wine being crafted with perfection as the goal. The region’s wine-making exploits date back to the Roman era, making it the oldest wine-growing area of Germany.

Known for its high quality Riesling grapes, the region produces some of the finest white wines in Europe with 80 per cent of the produce coming from the valley being fruity Riesling varieties. However, while it’s certainly a popular stop for those who prefer white, Rhine Valley’s reds are also high in quality. Much lighter than their neighbouring European counterparts in France, German reds are much more delicate and subtle.

Many of our river cruises take dock at Rüdesheim; a wine-making town in the heart of the Rhine Gorge. Here, you’ll be right in the heart of German wine-land, with fine Rieslings and tasty reds easy to come by in almost every bar and restaurant.

The Middle Rhine


The Middle Rhine is another area of Germany where Riesling rules the roost. While not as famous as the wineries of the Rheingau, the quality is still very high.

Dotted with picturesque castles and lines by green rolling hills, the Middle Rhine is one of the most popular sections of any Rhine river cruise with its fine wine only aiding its popularity. Vineyards are aplenty within the region, so you won’t have to travel far to find a good glass of wine when exploring your ports of call.

As well as Riesling, the Middle Rhine is known for its own delicious variety of pinot noir; spätburgunder. This full-bodied wine has a real kick to it and is one of the most celebrated reds on the Rhine.

Besides being one of the most important cities on the Upper Middle Rhine, Koblenz is also a popular stop for wine. Our Jewels of the Rhine from Basel stops at Koblenz, and so it’s the perfect choice if you’re after a few different tipples.

Rheinhessen


For a different kind of white to Riesling, although there’s still plenty around, take a stop in the Rheinhessen and enjoy a glass of Müller-Thurgau; a flowery tipple with a hint of nutmeg.

For reds, try the dry Dornfelder, This common grape is the most popular type or red in the region and can be distinguished by its deep, dark colour. For a more Mediterranean flavor, look out for Regent, one of the newer grapes to be cultivated in the area. Since 1994, this red has been popular with locals and tourists alike, and now takes up 800 hectares of the Rheinhessen’s vineyard area.

The towns of Worms and Bingen are the most important places on the Rhine in terms of wine, but you can pretty much get hold of a bottle of quality Rheinhessen tipple anywhere along the river.

A side (tasting) note


Due to the proximity of these regions, many of the wines crossover and can be found in each. If you are after a bottle to accompany your meals, don’t be afraid to ask the waiting staff for tips; they will be more than happy to help out.

Browse our Rhine River cruise deals



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