Caledonia Dreaming: Banbury Folk & Hobby Horse Festival 2017

I had only been to  Banbury Folk Festival (6-8 October 2017) once before, as a volunteer steward a few years ago and had very much enjoyed spending a weekend in this historic Oxfordshire town with its canal boats and lots of friendly pubs with live music. It is a mostly volunteer-run community festival, which cherishes the folk club tradition and is never really that much about well-known artists, but about getting together with a pint around tables and listening – and often singing along – to talented musicians you will most likely not have heard of (yet). As this year was the 18th and last year for festival organisers Mary and Derek Droscher, it was definitely time for another visit and I certainly didn’t regret my decision!

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Last weekend was a great example why I love volunteering at folk festivals and why they are such a nice weekend getaway, particularly as a solo traveller. From the moment you check in for your shifts (usually jobs like taking tickets, doing reception for stewards or artists, helping with the café, setting up venues, cleaning up after gigs, helping with the parade etc.) you’re part of the team and often run into people you met at similar events (like one of my favs, Shrewsbury Folk Festival). It’s always a good idea to be cheerful and helpful, especially as a newcomer. Offering to make cups of tea or carry things from A to B are always appreciated. So is flexibility about shift times. Helping out with stewards’ reception on Friday afternoon was a nice and busy start as a lot of people were arriving around that time. I also met a guy who must have had the best volunteer role I’ve ever seen at any festival: Hobby Horse Liaison. Just brilliant!

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After a quick dinner on the go and dropping in on the main venue, Banbury Town Hall, for the start of the evening concert, I had to make my way over to the Banbury Cross pub where I was doing the door for the club room at the back were a couple of traditional singers were on until late. I’m glad I stayed on for a set by the energetic Granny’s Attic in the front bar of the pub and it made up for missing most of the Irish concert over at the town hall.

As October isn’t the best time to pitch your tent anywhere in England, the festival offers the option of ‘indoor camping’ upstairs in the Methodist Hall, the second largest venue. Sleepovers in a room above a church are a bit like being on a school trip decades after you’ve left that part of your life behind. People just bring their sleeping bags and there are tea making facilities and bathrooms available. Basic, but it makes for a nice atmosphere among your fellow volunteers (just make sure you don’t forget your ear plugs!) and Dave the Hat (see pic below) made sure we were all happy campers.

Gisela & Dave the Hat

After a lazy breakfast in the local Wetherspoons just around the corner, I was ready to explore Banbury’s charity shops for some second-hand book finds and the UK’s oldest working inland waterway boatyard, Tooley’s, which happened to have an open weekend with narrow boat trips and historic engine displays.

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At 11am it was time for the Hobby Horse Procession and some Morris sides to parade through the middle of town. There were so many great handmade costumes, mostly horses, of course, but also a unicorn, sheep, boar and a bear. Luckily the weather played along nicely, too, most of the weekend.

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This year’s headliner was award-winning Scottish songwriter (including an OBE) Dougie MacLean and as the festival organisers anticipated a lot of demand for his two appearances, they had come up with a pre-queueing system for tickets (free for festival pass holders), which required people to line up separately for his afternoon and evening events. I would have quite liked to see some other bands as well, but the timings were so tricky that I ended up doing a shift organising the first queue and doing audience mic for Dougie’s ‘Meet the Artist’ session at the Methodist Hall and then queued again for his evening concert in the Town Hall. It reminded me a bit of volunteering at Toronto Film Festival a few years back, where queueing had such a capital Q that it ended up being quite an entertaining experience.

As it turned out, it was well worth making it to both events though. I had never seen Dougie live before, but once he started singing, I realised I knew most of the songs from the cover versions of Irish sisters Mary and Frances Black, who I saw live many times when I was living in Ireland in the past. The ‘Meet the Artist’ session was a great format, an hour of audience questions interspersed with songs, just him and his guitar and that lovely, subtle voice. It was easy to see why he has so many fans around the world. His songwriting is a winning combination of memorable, often fairly melancholy melodies and thoughtful lyrics, which seem to resonate with many people.

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After a well-deserved coffee break, I joined a few others for the next queue at the Town Hall, which was a little chaotic and actually quite fun as we met lots of other festivalgoers. After all the wait, we scored first row seats – success. While we were passing the time chatting with other folkies, Pat Smith and Ned Clamp, who had run a beginners’ ‘spoons’ workshop earlier that day, began handing out pairs of spoons, which was followed by instructions on how to behave during our ‘performance’. Yep, we had just been volunteered to join the ‘Spoons Orchestra’ and were basically warming up the audience for the other (real) acts to come. Defo time for a drink or two!

After appearances by Granny’s Attic as well as local band Scarecrow, the wait was eventually over and Dougie performed his main set, which included harmonica playing AND didgeridoo. But seriously, who could be envious of the talent of such a humorous and soft-spoken man? I was just grateful he not only sang some songs from his latest album ‘New Tomorrow’ (the title track being a very moving one for his grandsons), but also a lot of my favourites including ‘Broken Wings’, ‘Talking to My Father’, ‘Caledonia’ (probably for the 3578th time in his life…) and the best encore ever, ‘This Love Will Carry Me’. Sigh. Singing along en masse to beautiful folk songs just makes you feel all warm and fuzzy (me anyway) no matter whether the majority of the audience hit the right notes or not. This concert certainly did! The very low-key ‘after show party’ (as it would be called in London) was held at the Cricket Club where we did more singing along to mostly shanties and traditional folk songs and got to chat with Dougie over a pint about his musical adventures around the world before getting herded onto the shuttle bus for a transfer back to our church home for the weekend.

Sunday was basically a recovery day following two fairly late nights. In the morning, what felt more like the middle of the night to me, I caught a lift with the festival shuttle back to the Cricket Club for a ‘singing breakfast’. It wasn’t the greatest start to the day if you were vegetarian like myself, but the atmosphere totally made up for it. Seasoned and entertaining performers Pete, John and Andy of Alhambra led the singalong and then we went around the various tables with people contributing songs or tributes to Mary and Derek, who had some great stories from 18 years of making Banbury Folk Festival history. Back in town, I caught one more singer-songwriter, Irishwoman Paula Ryan, at the Banbury Cross Pub before my last shift of the weekend back at the Town Hall.

Banbury Paula Ryan

This was supposed to be a ticket checking shift, but as they were short of a hobby horse handler (lol), I got volunteered for the second time this weekend for something I had no qualifications for. It reminded me of dressing up for carnival as a child back home and my horse with no name was actually a beautiful specimen handmade from papermache. So I trotted into the town hall following a cow, with a furry brown bear hot on my heels. Can you think of a more hilarious way to spend a Sunday afternoon?

After all this excitement, it was time for Keith Donnelly’s and Anna Ryder’s (she also has a pretty cool website about moths!) humorous set and Anthony John Clarke closed the festival including a tribute to Vin Garbutt, who sadly passed away in the summer. Mary and Derek deserve to be very proud of their achievement in the past (nearly) two decades, what a lovely festival with so many friendly people.

Hobby Horse Farewell

Like every last festival day, the post festival blues hit me soon after leaving Banbury, but the good news is: the folk festival will most likely continue in the future and I found out that Dougie and his wife Jenny (who looks after all his merch at gigs and is a very talented artist in her own right) have been running their very own festival called Perthshire Amber each November (taking a break this year). So it took a weekend in the wilds of Oxfordshire to serve as an unexpected reminder that I need to spend more time in Scotland. I’ll hopefully also make it to a few of the island festivals in 2018, watch this space…

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Solo Travel Guide to Hamburg

In September I spent a long weekend in Hamburg visiting Reeperbahn Festival (see full review and festival tips) and exploring Germany’s second largest city. While I was part of a small group during the festival, I also planned in two days to explore the city on my own, which I love doing as I tend to get more done and can decide the pace and path myself. Here are some of my top tips for a first visit to Hamburg, so you get a great mix of sightseeing, culture, coffee and food spots plus some awesome views to impress your friends back home.

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Discover the City’s Many Facets on a Walking Tour

I always make a point to join at least one walking tour during any city trip. As a solo traveller, this gives you a chance to mingle with other visitors and you get to ask a knowledgeable local about up to date tips for the best spots to eat and hang out.

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Hamburg has a lot of history and quite a few neighbourhoods to discover, so you can do a general tour to give you an overview when you’ve just arrived (or are short of time) or pick a particular area, such as the Speicherstadt (see pic above), Hamburg’s docklands area, or go with a theme, like musician Stefanie Hempel’s Beatles Tour (it passes through the main streets of the St. Pauli red light district, so you basically get two in one). There are also many other historic or quirky tours on offer. If you have more time, Hamburg surrounded by the most beautiful countryside and there are fantastic walks and idyllic lunch spots along its waterways and smaller rural communities.

Great Neighbourhoods to Explore

Hamburg has many distinct neighbourhoods, so it’s a good idea to take your pick and discover a few of them on foot. If you’re after traditional sights, beautiful old buildings and sea views, the old town and harbour area are for you. If you manage to stay up very late or get up very early (neither of which I managed on my trip) on Sunday morning, the Fischmarkt and its boisterous market criers are an unmissable experience (5.30am to 9.30am, but until midday on Sundays with live jazz music).

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If you’re more into alternative culture or after music, fashion or bookshops, the Schanzenviertel and Karolinenviertel are for you. Get off at Sternschanze and your first speciality coffee stop, Elbgold, is only a 5 minute walk away. Walk down Susannestrasse with its many small cafes and boutiques, turn  left into Schulterblatt (ahead on the right you can see the Rote Flora, which has been squatted since 1989 and has had a pretty turbulent history ever since), which has Zardoz Records (and books) on the left hand side and Herr Max (great cakes and ice cream) a bit further down. Keep walking and aim for Marktstrasse with more small design and music shops along the way, such as Hanseplatte (see pic above). If you get tired, Hatari on Schanzenstraße is a great place to have a burger (veggie options available) or other yummy lunch options. For those on a budget, Turkish restaurant Pamukkale (Susannenstraße) does an all you can eat brunch including filter coffee for €7.90 on weekdays. In order to get a different view of the old town, you can do a walk along the banks of the Außenalster.

Best Instaworthy Views from Above

The brand new Elbphilarmonie concert hall, nicknamed ‘Elphi’ by the locals, is a must do and you can just turn up and get a visitor’s ticket for free (or book a slot online in advance for a small fee). This allows you entry to the viewing platforms with fabulous views of the harbour which you can enjoy with a glass of bubbly from the café or restaurant.

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My favourite viewing point, however, was the Michel (see pic of view from top below), the 132m high tower of the St. Michaelis church between the Rödingsmarkt stop and St. Pauli stop. It’s €5 (or €4 with the Hamburg Card) and the elevator zips you up to the top in just a few seconds. The views are fantastic, especially on a good day. From there, make your way along Ditmar Koel Straße with lots of Portugese and Italian restaurants down to the Landungsbrücken where all the ferries and harbour tours leave from.

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Quirky Things to Do If You’ve Already Seen the Main Sights

The subterranean Alter Elbtunnel, constructed in 1911 nearly 24m underground the Elbe river, acts as a transport link for people, bikes and vehicles. I was surprised to learn it was modelled on the Clyde Tunnel in Glasgow (another one of my fav cities).

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While you’re there (on the Landungsbrücken side), have lunch or dinner outdoors at Dock3 Beachclub. Watch the ships go by from your deck chair on this artificial beach with real sand and enjoy some seriously delicious food. Something that’s a bit more nerdy than quirky, but also a big attraction is the Miniatur Wunderland, the world’s largest miniature railway and kids with a maximum height of 1m go free.

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As I love coffee and animals, every time I visit a city that has a cat café, of course that’s where I’ll go. Hamburg’s Cafe Katzentempel (2 min from U3 stop Schlump) is the home of 6 rescue kitties, 5 from Ireland and 1 from Greece, offers vegan food and great coffee and is also a good place to meet other animal lovers if you’re travelling solo. If you still have energy at the end of the day, why not party in a real WWII bunker? The Übel und Gefährlich nightclub is housed in the Flakturm IV (U3 stop Feldstraße, I told you, this line is all you need!) and hosts diverse music events.

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Festival City All Your Round 

Hamburg truly is a city of festivals all year round from music of all genres (Reeperbahn Festival, MS Dockville, Elbjazz, Hurricane, Hanse Song, A Summer’s Tale), to literature (Harbour Front Literaturfestival), theatre (Hamburger Theater Festival) and other cultural events (Comicfestival, Cruise Days, Altonale etc.). Plus there are lots of lovely seasonal events, for instance at Christmas time. So whenever you’re visiting, you’re probably arriving smack-bang in the middle of some sort of celebration you can join in on.

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A Cosy Night’s Sleep Right in the City

Hamburg has a well-organised public transport system and the U3 is the line you’re probably going to use most, but any place near a U-Bahn stop will be a good location, so you can get out and home again quickly. I stayed at Superbude St. Georg (see pic below), a quirky hotel and hostel near the Berliner Tor stop (2 stops from Hauptbahnhof) with a very yummy breakfast buffet (including make your own waffles) and communal tables, so it’s easy to get to know other travellers. Other options include the Generator Hostel right beside the Hauptbahnhof, a huge, well-run hostel with comfy beds, which is also a great base in case you’re arriving late or leaving early.

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Getting Around Hamburg

Hamburg’s Fuhlsbüttel airport has a lot of nice shops and cafes and is only a 25 minute ride from the city (€3.20 one way) on the S1 from the main train station (Hauptbahnhof, so relaxing compared to London. While in Germany shops are generally closed on Sundays, the many shops and cafes at the train station are open all weekend, great for last minute souvenirs. You can rent a locker for your luggage for just €4 (fits a small trolley plus backpack) or €6 (large suitcase) for 24 hours. A daily public transport pass is €7.60 (or €6.20 after 9am) and the Hamburg Card (which in additionncludes discounts on museums, harbour tours and other attractions) is €9 per day. Like in most large European cities, you can also rent a city bike, the Hamburg version is called StadtRAD.

Hamburg on Tour in London 20-21 October 2017

Don’t forget: Hamburg on Tour is bringing the Northern charm of Hamburg to London’s Boiler House (Shoreditch) this October with a fantastic free programme of events for everyone to enjoy. And you can quiz the folks from Hamburg Tourism about visiting Europe’s second largest port city.

Disclaimer: Life is a Festival visited Hamburg, the Reeperbahn Festival and stayed at Superbude St. Georg as a guest of the nice folks at Hamburg Marketing. Prices are as of September 2017, please confirm them online before you go. Opinions expressed are those of the author. All photography used in this blog post was taken by Life is a Festival.

4 Days, 40000 Music Fans, 70+ Venues: Hamburg’s Reeperbahn Festival 2017

If there is such a thing as the perfect time to visit Hamburg (also see my Solo Travel Guide to Hamburg), I probably hit the jackpot with getting to go during Reeperbahn Festival time. What an amazing weekend! I arrived on Wednesday afternoon and, after dropping off my stuff at the hotel, headed straight over to the Festival Village at Heiligengeistfeld (U3 stop St. Pauli) to pick up my press pass. Ready to go for a weekend of live music, culture and fun!

What Is the Festival Like?

The great thing about Reeperbahn Festival (20-23 September 2017), which is in its 12th year this year, is that it takes place in many of the city’s best venues, bars, theatres and clubs of all sizes, most of which can be reached on foot and a few by a short ride on the U3 underground. And hurrah, a public transport pass is included in your festival pass. Besides all the indoor clubs, there are also two large outdoor spaces with smaller stages. One is the Festival Village at Heiligengeistfeld (where you pick up your festival pass), which has access for passholders only and Spielbudenplatz with lots of food trucks, which is freely accessible even for non-passholders (apart from some areas). In addition, Reeperbahn Festival has been hosting a two-day music industry conference since 2009 as well as the NEXT conference for digital creatives and also includes a lot of art projects and a very cool gig poster fair, Flatstock 64, at Spielbudenplatz.

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It’s all a bit overwhelming – I hear you!

That’s exactly what I thought when I first arrived, especially as I didn’t know a lot of the bands. Luckily, the printed programme (you could pick a free daily one up in all the venues) had an indication what kind of genres the bands were (indie, pop, rock, folk, singer-songwriter, electronic, hip hop, soul, jazz, classical etc.) and I highly recommend downloading the festival App as it worked like a charm. It also updated you on entrance stops for particularly busy shows and any changes or cancellations, so I used it every single day. Another strategy is to focus on particular countries. The first evening I decided to head to a showcase by Project ATX6 from Austin (live music capital of the world!), Texas, and it didn’t disappoint. All six acts, incl. Little Marzarn and Mobley, were unique and excellent. It took place in a cool venue called Molotow, which had four stages (3 indoors, 1 in the courtyard) and is just off the main Reeperbahn.

What Kind of Music Can I Expect?

The festival is a multi-genre event with an eclectic line-up of both headliners and up and coming bands from all around the world. This year’s star-studded list included Portugal. The Man, Liam Gallagher and Beth Ditto (whose show was my favourite of the whole weekend, so much positive energy), but also bands like London-based 47Soul, Omar Suleyman from Syria, Amadou & Mariam from Mali and Sólstafir from Iceland. I also attended the Anchor Award 2017 for new music, which was won by UK singer-songwriter Jade Bird. This year’s festival partner country was Canada and I would have loved to see more of the bands lined up for this, but due to lack of time I only managed to catch one of my favourite Canadian musicians, Sarah McDougall, who is always amazing live. Keychange was created by the festival to highlight the fact that women are still underrepresented both on and behind the stage in today’s music industry was another interesting project. Last but not least, the amazing Elbphilarmonie concert hall (U3 stop Baumwall), which only opened in January 2017 and was lovingly nicknamed ‘Elphi’ by the locals, was definitely one of the highlights at this year’s festival. I got to do a tour with a guide during the day, but don’t worry, you can visit for free, sign up online (small fee but guaranteed entry) for a slot or just turn up and ask for a visitor’s pass, which allows you access to some of the building, the cafes and restaurant plus the viewing platforms overlooking the harbour. I also went to a midnight gig on the last day of the festival, the main hall with its 360 degree stage and many balconies is really super impressive!

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Is the Festival just for Hipsters in their Twenties?

Nope, most definitely not. I met people of all ages, locals, Germans from other parts of the country and lots of international folks, too. That’s what’s so nice about RBF, you get to mingle with music fans, journalists, bloggers, music industry insiders and people of all ages, from excited teenagers to retired architects. There is a fun and friendly vibe everywhere and it’s super easy to get talking about the best shows while you’re queueing for a gig or hanging out in the open air area in between concerts.

What other events should I catch in between the gigs?

Did you know that the Beatles started their career in Hamburg, spending about two years in the German port city, honing their skills in the local clubs and pubs before making it big internationally? Hamburg musician Stefanie Hempel does very insightful and entertaining Beatles Tours, which start on Beatles Square right on the Reeperbahn. I was also lucky to go on a tour of Hamburg’s best recordshops with DJ Sebastian Reier, including Hanseplatte, Zardoz Records (who also have lots of second hand books), Smallville Records, Groove City and a visit to the nightclub Übel und Gefährlich on the fourth floor of a former WWII bunker (the rooftop view is fantastic including the St. Pauli football stadium).  You can also do a musical harbour boat cruise with Frau Hedis Tanzkaffee, which runs year round and takes you around the harbour of Hamburg for two hours with an onboard bar and varying musical entertainment or DJing.

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Where Can I Grab Some Food and Drink?

This will be your smallest problem during the festival as there are lots of street food vendors plus the regular Reeperbahn chips, pizza and falafel places (and some proper restaurants) to choose from. Some of the street food was excellent, I tried for instance a yummy vegan hot dog with caramelised onions and goats cheese in a speciality bread roll. The Festival Village, too, had some interesting options like fries with peanut sauce or handmade sandwiches from Handbrotzeit. The Arcotel Onyx near the St. Pauli stop is the official festival hotel where you can take a breather in between gigs or meet music industry folks for a chat over a coffee.

How to Get into Popular Venues & Avoid Long Queues

You’ll be pleased to hear that the bouncers at the festival venues don’t prioritise anyone, everyone needs to queue. There is a special queue for delegates (meaning conference delegates, press and staff), but it doesn’t guarantee you entry. I even had to act as an interpreter for a band from the US who had been told to come to their venue to pick up their passes, but then were sent away by security staff as they had no badge to prove their status. I managed to get them in anyway after explaining their situation in German. Phew. So basically just turn up early if you’d like to see a particular band. For Liam Gallagher’s special appearance at Docks on Saturday night, I arrived two hours earlier and it was no problem. The other alternative is to be really patient and very friendly to the bouncers, as often people leave after each band and they play it by ear how many are still allowed in. It was defo worth it for Beth Ditto at Große Freiheit 36 (see pic below).

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Make a Game Plan – or Just go with the Flow

I’m a bit of a festival nerd, so I love festival schedules! I really enjoy working out how to see my favourite bands and events, but I also often change my mind after getting recommendations from other festival goers, promoters and band managers. What lots of people love about Reeperbahn Festival is that it’s a club festival and you don’t have to book individual concerts. You can simply walk into any of the participating venues with your wristband and sample exciting bands from all over the world. As I didn’t know a lot of the bands, my strategy was basically seeing as many different venues as possible, especially the smaller ones and to catch bands from places or countries I like, e.g. a Swedish showcase at Headcrash including Smith & Thell from Stockholm as well as Maybe Canada (a solo project by Magnus Hansson from Gothenburg). I also enjoyed being in the audience of a live radio show for NDR Blue at Alte Liebe, which included some shorter sets by three musicians as well as live band interviews. If you have a fairly broad musical taste, this is the perfect festival for you, but even for those of you, like me, who are into more acoustic music, there were plenty of gigs to choose from.

Other Tips Before You Go

There is a bag size restriction for all venues, which is roughly A4 size and yes, they will turn you away if your backpack looks a little bigger than this, so either leave larger bags in your hotel or at the nearby (6 stops) main train station (Hauptbahnhof) where you can rent a small locker for only €4 euros for 24 hours. The underground runs all night at the weekend (from Thursday onwards), so you can rest assured you’re going to get home without any problems. Also, talking of personal safety, please be aware that most of the concerts take place right in the actual red light district, but while it certainly is very crowded there in the evenings, I walked around late at night without any problems just like the thousands of other festival goers. I highly recommend booking accommodation along the U3 route (I stayed at Superbude St. Georg, a short walk from Berliner Tor), in fact I used this line for most of my sightseeing, too, it’s just perfect to get to most of the venues and also the hip Schanzenviertel for a brunch or a stroll through the many great shops. Finally, Hamburg’s airport is within the AB zone, which means you only pay about 3 euros for a single ticket and it only takes 25 minutes on the S1 to get to the Hauptbahnhof. Perfect!

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A Taste of the Reeperbahn Festival and Hamburg in London – Hamburg on Tour 20-21 October 2017

I know, unfortunately it’s another 12 months until the next Reeperbahn Festival, but don’t despair, Hamburg on Tour is coming to London in October and best of all: it’s free! Yep, free music with bands from Hamburg’s most awesome festivals, such as RBF, MS Dockville, Elbjazz, Hurricane, Hanse Song and Wacken, free films courtesy of Internationales Kurzfilmfestival, a free Beatles ‘tour’ with Hamburg musician Stefanie Hempel, free coffee workshops with Speicherstadt Kaffee and a free 360 degree experience of the brand new Elbphilarmonie concert hall. Plus you get to taste some German beer and find out all about Germany’s second largest city. See you there!

Disclaimer: Life is a Festival visited Hamburg, the Reeperbahn Festival and stayed at Superbude St. Georg as a guest of the nice folks at Hamburg Marketing. Prices are as of September 2017, please confirm them online before you go. Opinions expressed are those of the author. All photography used in this blog post was taken by Life is a Festival with the exception of the last photo, courtesy of Hamburg on Tour.

Not Just The German Carnival Capital: Your Weekend Guide to Cologne

I admit, I was guilty of it myself: I’ve travelled to quite a few other German cities and towns before, but never really considered going to Cologne, the largest city of the German Bundesland of North Rhine-Westphalia, until I was heading from Berlin to Bavaria this spring and happened to pass through during carnival time. I totally loved my stay! Cologne might not be as well-known as Berlin, Hamburg or Munich, but its friendly, talkative locals will have you forget about being a stranger in no time. Just like in my other favourite cities of Dublin and Glasgow, you can have a brilliant time in Cologne if you immerse yourself in its lively festival, culture, café and pub scene.

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Festival City All Year Round

Kölner, as the locals in Cologne are known, are always up for a party and the city offers an enviable number of festivals throughout the year. From the famous Kölner Karneval in February and a smaller, but equally busy summer version at the end of August, there are always some great events on. Apart from a few of them, you don’t need to be able to speak German to join in and they often even have a website or programme in English. The most popular include Lit Cologne (March), Cologne Pride (the city is very LGBT friendly) and the Film Festival Cologne. While I was visiting during the first weekend of September, there was an urban arts festival on, City Leaks, and I also found a small world music festival, Festival der Kulturen in Troisdorf, which was only 30 minutes away on the train.

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It’s all about ‘Veedel’ Culture – Meet the Neighbours

Cologne has a number of distinct neighbourhoods and its locals strongly identify with where they live. Ehrenfeld has an East London or alternative Berlin feel to it, the Südstadt is quieter (but not at carnival time!), Nippes and Agnesviertel has lots of cafes and parks and the Belgisches Viertel is the place to head for boutique clothes and designer shopping. Just like London has its cabmen’s shelters, Cologne has its ‘Büdchen’, little stalls/snack bars where you can purchase a coffee and a bite to eat or some sweets. The Büdchen am Nikolausplatz (tram stop 18 nearby, see pic below) in Köln Sülz (near the University) is especially lively, it’s run by a group of six people who take turns with the shifts and also sometimes organise outdoor live music and little literature events around their stall. The Weisshaus Kino is only 5 minutes down the road on Weisshauptstrasse. If you don’t speak German, don’t worry, some of the cinemas show movies or documentaries in the original version (marked with OV behind the title and Monday is usually the cheap cinema day, expect to pay around €5 or €6 for a ticket).

While I was visiting I joined a local walking tour, which was part of the City Leaks Urban Arts Festival and it took us around the streets and alleys of the Eigelstein quarter, where prostitution has been thriving for hundreds of years up to this day. But you’ll still find hotels, kindergardens and playgrounds nearby. While you might want to stay clear of Ebertplatz at night, the Eigelstein-Torburg square right beside it has some lovely restaurants (burgers, a gelateria, Thai food, coffee) for a sunny afternoon on the terrace or a cosy dinner in wintertime.

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Café Culture and Brunch Spots

The city has a huge number of cafés and bakeries with a lot of veggie and vegan options. You can basically start wherever you are and pick any nice-looking place. Zeit für Brot in Ehrenfeld is great for people watching (or pet dogs that are passing by) while you munch on one of their super yummy cinnamon, walnut/maple syrup or plum buns (see pic below). Nearby is Café Goldmund, a book café with walls lined with endless number of second hand books. I also love the BadenBaden in the basement of the Neptunbad (spa) in Ehrenfeld (mixed menu including Flammkuchen). But beware, only the ones marked with a green sticker on the back are for sale. Another lovely coffee place is As If Records in the Belgisches Viertel, a record store, vintage store and café rolled into one with very friendly staff.

On Sunday we went for breakfast at the local ‘cat café’ Café Schnurrke, in Ritterstrasse, less than 10 minutes on foot from the Hauptbahnhof. The two black and white resident rescue kitties, Millie and Merlin, might join you on the sofa while you enjoy your breakfast (both veggie and vegan options available) or a cake and a smoothie. Going for breakfast or brunch (usually a buffet or choice of sweet and/or savoury combos) is very popular in Germany, especially at the weekends, and many cafes have special breakfast menus available.

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Cathedral, Street Art & Unusual Museums

I always like getting an overview of a new city by joining one of the free walking tours (usually in English and often also in Spanish; the only city that didn’t have one was Vienna – for legal reasons – where I simply went to one of the hostels and joined theirs). The Dom (Cathedral), the fourth-tallest in the world, is a no brainer and I suggest you get there first thing in the morning or in any case plan for at least an hour as you’ll have to climb the steps all the way up for the best views. Cologne also has a number of excellent art museums, as well as a few more unusual ones, such as the German Olympic Museum and the Chocolate Museum (which sounds tempting, but I suggest you spend the €11.50 on actual chocolate). There is also lots of fabulous street art to discover, for instance in Ehrenfeld, Eigelstein and other neighbourhoods.

Cologne Street Art Ehrenfeld

Live Music any Day of the Week

Earlier this year, I made a friend on Instagram, who lives in Cologne and enjoys the same kind of music I like. So she gave me lots of great tips and we met up one night for a gig at Kulturcafe Lichtung. In fact, I ended up going there two nights in a row. The musician on Friday night, Ofer Golany from Israel, also told me about a great little (and free) world music festival in Troisdorf, a 40 minute S-Bahn ride away, the Festival der Kulturen. I went there on Saturday and had fantastic homecooked Ethiopian food, listened to various musicians from around the world and met many cute dogs (see Cuddle a Dog a Day). As it was the weekend of the summer carnival, there were also lots of local live bands singing in various pubs in their local dialect, Kölsch (which is pretty much unintelligible by other Germans too, but it’s always a good idea to learn a few phrases before you go). In fact, at the Weißer Holunder pub you can join a Kölsch singalong every Sunday night from 6pm, beginners welcome. Other live music venues to try include Studio 672 (venue &  nightclub), Kulturkirche (a Protestant church but also a concert venue), the Gloria Theater (both plays and gigs), Die Wohngemeinschaft (hip hostel and gig venue), Blue Shell (club, live gigs & poetry slams) and many more.

Where Should I stay?

I found a very cosy Airbnb for my first stay and returned there again as it was the perfect base for me. It is across the river in a quiet neighbourhood and was easy to reach by tram, even after midnight. Any of the Veedel (neighbourhoods) are a great place to stay, just pick it based on whether you’d prefer a quiet night’s sleep or prefer staying in a busier area with the nightlife options right outside your door. Either way, there are many choices, so you can’t really go wrong.

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Public Transport, More Local Tips & Saving Money

Cologne is fairly walkable and I love discovering it on foot. To get from your accommodation or to a venue quickly though, you can use the local public transport. A single ticket costs €2.80 (buy it with coins or a credit card at a machine at a tram stop or inside the tram, make sure you have one as ticket inspectors patrol the trams and it can cost you €60 if you get caught!), so a public transport day pass (currently €8.60) is usually a good idea. You can use it in the whole city and East of the Rhine river, too. The Cologne Card is only slightly more, for €9 a day it also gives you 20-50% off some museums. As I was there for four days, I bought a weekly ticket for €25.10 (cheaper than 3 day passes). There are trams, buses and S-Bahn (commuter) trains and, in my experience, they were safe to use even at night and also run every few minutes after midnight, so you can book cheaper accommodation a little further out and still won’t have to worry about getting home. The tourist office is very close to the Cathedral and the main train station (where you can leave luggage in lockers or in a left luggage place for ca. €6 a day). There you can pick up a very clear map of the city centre and slightly beyond for about 50 cents and find out about current events. There are quite a few guide books in English, but I was glad I found a few specifically local guides, Green City Guide Köln, Basic Köln and the yearly updated Köln 2 Go (all three in German), which were more aimed at locals and had a lot of great tips for veggie places and more alternative sightseeing options.

Whatever you do, make sure you visit Cologne sooner rather than later, it’s one of the easiest cities to enjoy whether you’re a seasoned traveller or a travel newbie of any age.

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Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in this blog post are those of the author. Prices listed are as of August 2017, please confirm them before you go. All photography by Life is a Festival.

Room For All: A Guide for Shrewsbury Folk Festival Newbies (including festival review 2017)

I first attended Shrewsbury Folk Festival in 2012, signing up as a volunteer very last minute and had a wonderful time, as it is just an incredibly well-run and relaxed event. It not only bursts at the seams with incredible live music and dancing, it also has an ideal location being walking distance from the centre of the historic English town of Shrewsbury, in Shropshire, not far from the Welsh border.

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The 2017 Festival

For me, this year’s Shrewsbury Folk Festival (26-28 August 2017) was all about collaborations. Some of the exciting collaborative projects were The Passerine (Folk duo O’Hooley and Tidow with musicians from Egypt, India, Sudan and other countries) as part of the new Room For All Initiative celebrating cultural diversity, all female ‘supergroup’ Coven (Grace Petrie, O’Hooley and Tidow, Lady Maisery) and the closing performance in the newly named Bellstone tent (Marquee 1) ‘Faith, Folk & Anarchy’ with Steve Knightley, Tom Robinson and Martyn Joseph. As festival co-founder Alan Surtees sadly passed away earlier this year, there were lots of emotional tributes to him as well as a CD to support the newly created Alan Surtees Trust. Other local and international artists included Loudon Wainwright, Le Vent du Nord, Skippinish, The Unthanks, Daphne’s Flight, Sarah Jarosz, the Oyster Band, Joe Broughton’s Conservatoire Folk Ensemble, The East Pointers and Ragged Union. While SFF is very much dedicated to folk music in its many forms, performers from other genres, such as the excellent Stockholm based US blues musician Eric Bibb this year, also always find a musical home here. My favourite new discoveries were The Fitzgeralds from the Ottawa region of Canada, who also offered an excellent step dancing workshop, which was attended by well over a hundred people. There was also a new stage this year, The Launchpad, near the food and bar area, showcasing up and coming musical talent, e.g. the excellent The Trials of Cato (who are based in Wales, but met each other in Lebanon, of all places).

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What accommodation options are there?

As a general punter you can arrive to pitch your tent from Friday morning (the music starts in the early evening) and the festival programme usually finishes around early evening on Monday, so most people leave around then or stay until the next morning (the last unofficial gathering in the onsite Berwick bar with lots of craft beer and cider on tap is always a highlight). If you’re in a campervan, you can park it beside your car or a car park across the road, depending on how much space there is when you arrive. I always come by train and the taxi to the site is less than 5 pounds or a 10 minute walk. There are three permanent toilet buildings (the one in the bar has mirrors and plugs for drying your hair) plus some nice toilets with sinks dotted around the site. The free showers are also good (and nice and hot) and there are drinking water taps available, too. Alternatively, Shrewsbury has a number of great hotel and B&B options, just make sure you book fairly early as it is a very popular weekend (with other events like a large steam fair on as well).

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What is it like to volunteer at the festival?

I always have a great time volunteering at SFF. You make new and meet up with old friends, are part of a lovely motivated team and help making the festival a success. In exchange for about 15-16 hours of work, you get a festival and camping pass for the weekend and work shifts of 2-4 hours at a time. You can also arrive a day early on Thursday from lunchtime. It is advisable to sign up as early as possible, i.e. email the festival for more details about steward applications. You can then choose one of the teams to work in, but please be aware that you might not always end up on your preferred team (especially if it’s your first time) and that it is not always possible for you to see all the artists you might want to see (but you can always try and request one or two). Some shifts also run fairly late (I had an evening shift until 1am), but this depends on your particular team. You can also volunteer to do setup and takedown, if you have time to arrive early and leave late and thereby be free during most of the festival.

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What kind of food and drink can I expect?

There is an outdoor food area around a large tent with tables and seats right beside the main marquee and it offers all the food you could possibly want (burgers, pizza, Mexican, Indian, Italian, fish & chips, two specifically veggie/vegan stalls, sandwiches, coffee, ice cream and cakes). This is supplemented by two large bars, the Berwick bar in an actual building and the beer tent beside the food area, both with tables and chairs, so you definitely won’t go hungry and thirsty!

What is there to do at the festival apart from the live music concerts?

I tend to focus on the concerts, but I often meet people who spend all weekend in trad sessions or in the dance tent. If you play an instrument, there are many tuneworks sessions, which include fiddle, whistle, guitar, accordion, melodeon, ukulele and even mountain dulcimer. You can bring your own instrument(s) or, for some of the beginners classes, borrow one for the class or the weekend (but please confirm this before you arrive). There is a whole separate Children’s Festival section (0-10 years) with a circus tent, lots of music, craft and acrobatic workshops all weekend and a lovely lantern procession in the dark. Older kids (11-20 years) can join the Refolkus Youth Festival and also improve their samba drumming or singing skills, be part of a dance battle or try some aerial acrobatics.

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How accessible is the festival?

SFF does its best to be inclusive to everyone. The location has paths leading to all the main venues, which are suitable for wheelchair use and mobility scooters and wheelchairs can be rented for the weekend. Accessible toilets and showers are also available beside the Berwick bar and there is a special disabled camping area beside between the Sabrina marquee and the bar. Most of the venues have an easily accessible wheelchair area (usually in the front) and the volunteer stewards can point you to it in each venue.

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Can I bring my dog?

Yes, you can, if it’s friendly and you look after it well. Which means you pick up after it and don’t leave it in your car for hours on end. Dogs are not allowed inside the main music venues, but there is usually space on the grass at the back or side of the tents where dog owners can spread out a blanket and enjoy the show with their four-legged buddies. I petted so many nice dogs (you can see a selection on my Instagram account Cuddle a Dog a Day), including a number of adorable puppies, this year and it’s nice to find out their stories and a great way of getting to know people, which is super easy at SFF anyway as most people are very friendly. There are also many dog owners in Shrewsbury itself and there is a great app/website called Doggie Pubs to find out about dog-friendly places to eat and drink around the UK.

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Will I enjoy myself even if I’m not a big fan of folk music?

This depends a bit about how open you are to trying out new things. The good thing about folk music is that it covers many different styles and SFF only book top class musicians, so if you’re willing to be open-minded, you will definitely have a great time. Plus, you can learn a new instrument from scratch over the weekend, improve your dancing skills, do some yoga, browse the many clothes and pressie stalls or simply chill in the sun (which we’ve had buckets full of this year, not a drop of rain!). Don’t worry about visiting by yourself, it’s practically impossible not to get chatting to some friendly folkies at SFF and lots of people return year after year. You can always opt for a day ticket to start with and I’m sure it’ll be a weekend pass next time around ;-).

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Is it worth checking out the town of Shrewsbury while I’m here?

Absolutely. The birth place of Charles Darwin has a number of museums and historic sights and is just a lovely, lively town to explore any time of the year. During SFF there are lots of morris displays (my fav this year was Pig Dyke Molly from East Anglia) and a parade around town on Saturday and Sunday. The city’s many cosy pubs, cafes and restaurants serve excellent food, including quite a few veggie and vegan options and I often head into town for breakfast to start my festival day. I also always do a charity shop crawl as there are a good dozen or so dotted around the city centre. A few of them also have stalls at the festival itself. In addition, Shrewsbury hosts lots of other interesting events year round, including the Shrewsbury Literature Festival in November. Free festival shuttles take you in and out of town on Saturday and Sunday, but the ten-minute walk along the river is a great way to stretch your legs, especially if the weather is as nice as this year.

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Summer City Break Guide to Stockholm

Stockholm is one of my favourite cities in Europe and it’s easy to see why: beautiful architecture, a seaside location and stylish Nordic design. It was actually my second visit, but the first time was so long ago (12 years, unbelievably) that I decided to do two things, see the best summer sights with the help of Stockholm Pass and simply enjoy being by the sea in one of the most stunning cities of the world.

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Culture Festival & Walking Tour

I couldn’t have picked better weather or, indeed, a better time to visit as right when I arrived the Stockholm Culture Festival was on, which meant lots of free arts and music events around town. Perfect timing! I joined a Free Tour Stockholm walking tour of Gamla Stan (old town), one of which I try and catch in every city I visit, as the guides are usually enthusiastic, the crowd international and you often get lots of inofficial (read, more budget-friendly and authentic) tips for your visit. Our guide dropped us off near the Royal Palace and I heard some loud live music from a stage near the water. When I got closer, I realised it was one of the culture festival events and they had an India theme going, so I ended up eating the most delicious, freshly cooked masala dosa (pancakes) while watching the sun go down over the harbour.

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Getting the Most out of Your Stockholm Pass

The Stockholm Pass is really useful if, like me, you are trying to get a lot of sightseeing done in a short period of time. There are 24 hour (SEK 595), 48 hour (SEK 795) and 72 hour (SEK 995) options and they include many of the city’s top sights, but not public transport. A one-day travel pass can be added for SEK 120 and a three-day one is SEK 240 (each plus SEK 20 for the card itself). So it’s definitely not cheap, but simply add up what you’re planning on doing and see if it makes sense to get any of the above passes.

Just like in Gothenburg (see my travel guide), it makes sense to plan ahead, i.e. figure out what you most want to see and prioritise that. I opted for a Royal Canal Tour (normally SEK 190, there are also other canal tours, but this one is the one with the largest loop taking you all the way around Djurgarden). You can get your ticket at the ticket booth on Nybroplan (queue early, this is very popular in the summer!), but then walk the short distance over to Strömkajen to the first stop, so you get the best seats at the back of the boat. A must-see for Stockholm first-timers is the fascinating Vasa Museum (normally SEK 130), a restored warship, which sunk on its maiden voyage in 1628.

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Alas, I didn’t have time for photography museum Fotografiska (normally SEK 130), but it’s meant to be amazing, several people mentioned this to me as a highlight during their stay. The Sky View (normally SEK 150, free with the pass from 10am-12pm, SEK 30 afterwards) is something you can skip if necessary, as it’s outside the city centre and I wasn’t overly impressed with the views, but was fascinated how anyone can work at such a height (see pic below). Instead, opt for a Drottningholm Palace and Boat Tour (normally SEK 325), a visit to the Nobel Museum (normally SEK 100), Nordic Museum (normally SEK 100) or The Royal Palace (normally SEK 160).

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Another thing I already loved last time around was visiting the world’s oldest open air museum Skansen (normally SEK 100-180), which opened in 1891, combined with a ‘fika’ (coffee and cake break) at one of my top happy places in the world, Rosendals Trädgard (see a pic of their beautiful flower gardens below)! Joining local families and visiting travellers at tables set up under the apple trees, it is a place that lets you forget you are in a buzzling Scandinavian capital. While it seems to have got even busier compared to when I was first here 12 years ago, it is still a place I love dearly and will return to again and again. Skansen is only a shortish walk or ride on tram 7 away and is so big, you could spend the whole day exploring the different areas, watching craftspeople at work, learning about Nordic animals or about domestic ones in the children’s area and seeing a variety of traditional Swedish houses and farm buildings.

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As I was keen to repeat my lovely island experience from Gothenburg, I also took the boat to Stora Fjäderholmen island (normally SEK 145), a half hour boat trip from Nybroplan pier. There are thousands of islands in the Stockholm archipelago, but it would have taken way too long to get there, so I guess I’ll just have to return again. You can walk around the small island (see pic below) in no time and see glassblowers at work, look at wooden boats or watch the sailing boats go by from one of the cafes. Or, like me, share your lunch with Tyson, the island’s resident ginger tomcat (see Instagram for pictures).

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A great evening option included in the Stockholm Pass is the Grönalund amusement park (normally SEK 115-250 without rides). I was thrilled to see, after already having booked my flights, that the inspirational Patti Smith (I love her memoirs Just Kids and M Train), was going to play a gig on the last night of  my stay, plus, to top it all off, there was even a solar eclipse that night! To get in for free on a music night all you need to do is turn up before 6pm (I made it to the front row by arriving around 4pm, but just go when they open if the concert is important to you or join later if not). Needless to say, her gig was epic, such a lovely atmosphere and I met lots of other gig goers from different countries. It finished around 9.30pm and you can catch tram 7 to the city centre afterwards, they had plenty of extra buses, too.

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Design Hotel or Quirky Hostel – Your Choice

I spent my three nights in Stockholm in three different places, all a few minutes walk from each other. I can recommend design hotels Tegnerlunden and Birger Jarl for a great night’s sleep (pictured below is the suite I stayed in at BJ, but the regular rooms are equally stylish, they are about a 15-20 minute walk or a short metro ride from the main train Station T Centralen) and both also had fantastic breakfast buffets. I only wish I’d had more time to enjoy them.

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Alternatively, City Backpackers Hostel offers a central (10 minutes on foot from T Centralen) and friendly welcome to weary travellers on a budget. The four-bed dorm was comfy, they have great facilities and the breakfast (not included, neither are the sheets, probably the only downsides, but common in Scandinavia) was great, too.

Three More Tips

Make sure you don’t miss Kungsträdgarden metro station, as it has the most fascinating painted ceilings and walls, the below is just one section of it, google it, it looks amazing!

Stockholm Kungstradgarden Underground Station

Sweden is generally fairly expensive, but you can save your money and the environment by refilling your bottle with tap water, as it’s drinkable and there are water taps in public areas or just take it from any sink.

And, if you’re spending a whopping SEK 21 for a stamp on a postcard home, make sure your effort isn’t wasted by putting it in the bright yellow letterbox, not the blue one for local mail.

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Disclaimer: Life is a Festival was provided with a 48 hour Stockholm Pass by the nice folks at Destination Stockholm. Prices are as of August 2017, please confirm them online before you go. Opinions expressed are those of the author. All photography used in this blog post was taken by Life is a Festival.

 

Gothenburg Travel Guide – Using the City Card, Festivals & Island Hopping

The first time I went to Sweden I visited its capital Stockholm and absolutely loved it. But I’d also heard lots of good things about Sweden’s second city Gothenburg (or Göteborg in Swedish), so I decided to head there this time around. It has a lot of great museums and other attractions, many of which are included in the City Card, and lots of cultural and arts events all year round, such as the Göteborg Film Festival (January), popular music festival Way Out West (August), the Göteborg Book Fair (October) and also a large culture and arts festival, Kulturkalas, which happend to be on from 16-20 August 2017 when I was visiting.

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The Kulturkalas Festival

Göteborg’s culture festival Kulturkalas has hundreds of free events for all ages happening around town every August and attracts huge numbers of visitors. As I was pretty lucky with the weather, it was a pleasure walking through the city’s parks, which were decorated for the festival and offered lots of things to try and lots of yummy pop-up food stalls. If you’re travelling with children, there are many craft workshops to try, even metalwork and I saw many small kids proudly pulling along little wooden carts, sometimes with a teddy bear in it, which they had made themselves. But there are also walking tours, a bus tour of all the churches of different religions around the city and non-stop live music on many stages and on some street corners. The main information tent is near Kungstorgsplatsen and the volunteers are happy to help you with finding events. Alas, most of the programme is in Swedish, with a smaller section in English, but they also have a great website, where you can search for individual types of events or by date. My favourite event was a contemporary dance performance at the Göteborg Opera, for which you just had to pick up a free ticket beforehand. I checked earlier that day and of course it was sold out, but decided to return just before it started and got a ticket without any problems as there are usually some returns. So never give up when someone tells you something is sold out (this applies to most events I go to in any city or country btw.).

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Is it Worth Getting the City Card?

I was lucky to have been given a 48 hour City Card to try, but would definitely buy one anyway, as it included many cool attractions as well as (unlike in Stockholm for instance) public transport (buses, trams AND ferries). The City Card starts at SEK 395 for 24 hours, SEK 545 for 48 hours and SEK 695 for 72 hours. This does sound like quite a lot if you’re on a budget, but a public transport ticket already sets you back SEK 90 for one day (a single trip is SEK 29) or SEK 180 for three days and you can easily do enough sightseeing in 1-3 days to get the best out of your card. All attractions mentioned below are included in the card, but don’t worry, you can also have a great time exploring the city on foot and for free if you like.

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What Should I See? 

This is, of course, entirely up to your own travel preferences. As the weather was so good while I was visiting, I decided to spend two of my four days just exploring the islands (more below), but there are plenty of high-quality museums to keep you busy all day, such as the renowned Gothenburg Museum of Art, Maritiman (a collection of historic ships to explore in the harbour), Universeum (a science centre with a rainforest and ocean zone, open until 8pm on weekdays) and the Volvo Museum, if you’re a car lover. Sadly, the one I really wanted to see, the design museum Röhsska, is closed until June 2018. Next time. You can also get an amazing bird’s eye view of Gothenburg from Utkiken (86 meters high, stop Lilla Bommen near the Opera). Make sure you time your visits well, i.e. leave the attractions that are open longer until the evening, e.g. Liseberg Amusement Park (often free concerts, but be aware that rides are not included in the city card).

Gothenburg Utkiken View.jpg

Bus and Boat Tours

Seeing any harbour city from the water is always the best way to get great photos and Gothenburg was no different. I had time for a Paddan Canal Tour (normally SEK 175), a flat open-air boat with live commentary in Swedish and English by a tour guide. This was awesome as it had picture opportunities galore (e.g. of the Feskekorka, the city’s fish market) in just 50 minutes and even went into the harbour (don’t sit in the front and on the side if you’re afraid of the odd splash of sea water!). I also did a 2.5 hour Archipelago Tour with live commentary in Swedish and English (normally SEK 280) on a historic ship from 1881, which is perfect if you’re in need for a break from all the sightseeing (coffee, cake and lunch can be bought on board, card only, no outside food allowed), but can take a good chunk out of your visiting time, if you’re on a tight schedule. Instead I recommend a visit to Brännö island (20 minutes by tram to Saltholmen, 15 minutes on the ferry), where you can have lunch by the sea or go for a swim or a walk in the same time. I also did one of the short 50-minute Bus Tours (normally SEK 189, from Stora Teatern near Kungsportsplatsen) in the morning as it gives you a quick overview of the city’s history via a recorded commentary in a number of languages. There are also plenty of walking tours for a leisurely guided stroll through the city.

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Island Hopping on the Archipelago

The main reason I’d come to the West Coast was to be by the sea and to explore the archipelago just off the coast. The Southern Archipelago islands are car-free and can be reached by ferry in 15-30 minutes. Simply take a tram to Salholmen and any of the ferries from there (pick up a free booklet plus a map of the islands on board plus a timetable as some are more regular than others). The ferries are very comfy and generally have clean toilets, which can be useful when you’re out and about all day. My favourites were Brännö and Vrangö and I’ll post separately about how to plan a trip there. Make sure you bring a credit card, as many places in Sweden do not accept cash.

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Fika Breaks, Shopping for Local Products & Dog-friendly Travel 

My only regret during my four-day visit to Gothenburg was how little time I had to check out the city’s many great music venues, street art, cafes and shops. I did have an evening stroll through the Haga district and made an effort to spend a morning walking around the city centre plus enjoying a ‘fika’ (Swedish for coffee break) in the lovely secluded courtyard of Da Matteo cafe on Vallgatan. There is a cluster of cool shops in the same block (Swedish design, clothes, second hand books, flowers) plus some food trucks for a great lunch option, so it’s fantastic if you’re short of time. I also happened to find lots of cute dog sculptures all around town and the Gothenburg tourist office website even has a dog-friendly guide to the city.

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Meet the Locals

Swedish people are generally relaxed and friendly folks, but most of them tend to be on the reserved side. So in order to experience life like a Swede, West Sweden started a great initiative called Meet The Locals. You can browse a list of people and activities online (visiting a farm, meeting for coffee, going on a boat trip) and get put in touch with your chosen local. I tried this but due to a lack of time on my part as well as my local’s part, we didn’t actually manage to meet up. However, I still had lots of nice conversations with people on trams, in cafes mostly while visiting the islands and due to my dog project Cuddle a Dog a Day (so many cute Swedish dogs!). I also randomly met another translator at a bus stop who invited me to his home, what a lovely gesture, which also gave me an insight in Swedish everyday life.

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Of course, all of the above only scratches the surface of what there is to see and do in the West Swedish city of Gothenburg. I’m most definitely going to return for another visit as soon as I can! Feel free to leave a comment if you have additional tips or questions. You can also find more pictures and videos of my trip on Instagram and Twitter.

 

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Disclaimer: Life is a Festival was provided with a 48 hour City Card by the lovely people at Goteborg.com. Prices are as of August 2017, please confirm them online before you go. Opinions expressed are those of the author. All photography used in this blog post was taken by Life is a Festival.