It’s a great thrill when you’re travelling to stumble across a hidden gem: somewhere off the beaten track which you didn’t expect to find. That thrill is even better when it happens with an entire city. On occasion, for one reason or another, I’ve ended up in places that are far from my bucket list: Dusseldorf for work, Dublin to visit a friend and Brussels because I got a good deal. I’ve gone doubting that I’d be particularly taken with the city but knowing that I’d probably still have fun. I was only half right- and I don’t mean that I didn’t have fun. In fact, I was left wanting to go back.
1. Dusseldorf, Germany
I’d heard mixed reviews of Dusseldorf before I went. Some had said it was alright, others just said that it was very industrial. Since I’ve been back, people have had similar reactions. Now, however, I know what to ask. I ask them if they’d been to the Altstadt. They hadn’t- and that’s the best part. The city’s old town is lined with cobbled streets and bars, which have people spilling out onto the streets. Not in a drunken way, just in a merry way. In the evenings it has a buzzy vibe with people happily sipping on a traditional German beer, or two, and the night can be ended with a wander along the River Rhine (and [perhaps even a delicious currywurst). I didn’t get to experience any clubs but the amount of stag and hen parties that visit the city do stand testament to the nightlife.
It wasn’t just the Altstadt that made the city great. The main thing, for me anyway, was the fun, friendly and welcoming people I was working with. After all, it wouldn’t be quite the same grabbing a beer alone. Other areas of the city were also worth a visit. Konigsallee is renowned for its luxurious shops. A traveller’s budget may not quite extend that far but its worth a window-shopping trip just to see the canal running through. The area around Heinrich Heine Allee may be a better bet for that. Then there’s the Medienhafen- the media harbour- which plays host to a lot of businesses. This may not sound like a particular draw but the architecture is pretty impressive (such as the building in this post’s featured image) and guided tours of the area are regularly given.
I have to admit, the main reason I want to go back is to see the people but there are a couple of sites I would like to explore. Not only did I only make it to one art gallery but since I was working I didn’t get to make the most of the great train links Dusseldorf has to the surrounding cities and towns. That’s on the list for next time.
2. Brussels, Belgium
When my friend told me that she could get some complimentary Eurostar tickets through work, we got excited about the idea of going to Paris. I’d been twice before but it’s an amazing city and I’d love to go again. Unsurprisingly, they disappeared quickly and we were left with the option of Brussels. It was a fantastic opportunity so, of course, we took it, but I didn’t know what to expect. I’d had brief trips to Ypres and Bruges before but I hadn’t heard much about Brussels, other than it was a base for the European Union.
I only really had one proper day in the city and I definitely made the most of it: shopping in the morning, going on a free walking tour in the afternoon, sampling local delicacies and testing out the nightlife with a bar, before moving onto a club. The first thing that struck me was the architecture. A message I send to all cities is this: give me some good architecture, and I’m yours. After all, I do like a pretty building. Brussels delivered on this with its Grand Place, where the buildings were staggeringly beautiful. Then there was the food. Whilst I can’t say I’ll be ordering snails with any regularity, my Flemish beef and beer stew was one of the best I’ve ever had. After all, I do like a tasty stew.
Finally, there was the nightlife. Delirium was a packed bar with some good cocktails and You was a nightclub that ticked almost every box as far as I’m concerned. It had popular club music, which I happily danced and sung along to until about 5.30am (that’s a feat for me, usually by the time it reaches 2am, there is very little that can keep me from a kebab shop). The only thing was that, aged 23, my friend and I were easily some of the eldest people there.
I can’t say I am dying to go back but there are some places I didn’t get to go to, such as the underground ruins of the Coudenberg Palace and the galleries full of Flemish art. Then there’s the fact that the city has a serious sweet tooth- that alone is worth going back for.
3. Dublin, Ireland
I was very excited for my trip to Dublin but that was because I was going with a couple of friends to help one of them move over there for work. We would have fun wherever we were. I’d never really considered going to Dublin. Perhaps because of proximity to England, it just didn’t seem exotic enough. Plus, I don’t like Guinness. Boy, was I wrong.
As soon I stepped off the bus from the airport, I realised I could fall for Dublin. Yup, you’ve guessed it, it had some beautiful architecture: the Central Bank, City Hall and Trinity College were particular standouts (the latter being truly amazing). Even the Guinness was better here. And lets not forget the fact that the Irish accent is probably the best accent there is.
I was staying in the central area of Temple Bar: an area alive with people, full of lanes lined with bars, shops and restaurants and a draw for tourists. That did make it pretty expensive but places like The Temple Bar, a bar still covered with Christmas decorations in the beginning of January and that had live music and a dancing crowd, was worth it. It only came second to the Leprechaun Museum, which was essentially a playground for all ages, where you could sit on giant seats, pose with a stuffed leprechaun and go through a rainbow, whilst being told folk tales. Perhaps it wasn’t exotic but Dublin was a little big magical.
As much as I’ll miss my friend being so far away, I’m glad she’s staying long enough for me to go again! After all, there are day tours that take you from the city to some of the locations used for filing Game of Thrones. Now that I HAVE to see.