You don’t need white-sand beaches, coconut cocktails and fine dining to enjoy a romantic holiday with that special someone. The beauty of the built environment can be as equally entrancing as any tropical island.
But as the saying goes, every rose has its thorn. Even the most beautiful destinations can have hidden dangers for unwary travellers. Here are six cities that ooze romance in their own way, and advice on how you and your partner can make sure you have the romantic trip of a lifetime without getting stung.
1. Lisbon, Portugal
Breathtaking coastal scenery, authentic café culture and a vibrant nightlife make Portugal’s capital a European favourite for visiting couples. With luxury hotels intermingled with the pastel colours of the Old City, traditional and modern multicultural Lisbon live side by side.
The alleyways of Alfama are renowned for their cosy Fado houses, where tourists enjoy local cuisine and sample some of the area’s best wines. Fado is a traditional Portuguese music style defined by evocative singing and stirring acoustic guitars. Nothing says romance quite like an evening in an intimate local Fado house, tasty Portuguese tapas and a sunset overlooking the Atlantic.
Although Lisbon is generally regarded as one of the safest cities in Europe, pick-pockets and bag snatchers have still been known to target tourists at metro stations and major attractions like Sao Jorge Castle. To avoid being pick pocketed, do not carry your wallet in your back pocket. If you’re carrying a bag, keep it zipped and wear it over your shoulder so it’s close to your body. You should also keep an eye on your bag in restaurants and bars, and avoid leaving it on the floor by your table.
2. Florence, Italy
The birthplace of the Renaissance, historic stomping ground of Michelangelo and capital of Italy’s revered Tuscany region, the riverside city of Florence is the perfect setting for any blossoming romance. Narrow streets sprout from the banks of the Arno River, which flows through the heart of the city, with moody wine bars and gelato stalls tantalising travellers from the world over.
For the premier Florence experience, a few nights at the world famous Belmond Villa San Michele is sure to delight couples. Dating back as early as the 15th century, with the present building boasting a façade designed by Michelangelo, the hotel offers one of the most luxurious experiences in Europe. What better place to pop the question than the notorious ‘Lover’s Corner’ in the outside dining area?
Masterpieces like Michelangelo’s David at the Accademia Gallery and Botticelli’s Birth of Venus at the Uffizi Gallery are must sees, but remember that the museums are busy all year round, so wake early and beat the queues.
Florence is regarded as a safe destination for travellers but there are still cases of petty crime so it’s important to keep your wits about you and keep your belongings secure. Pickpockets in the area have been known to work in pairs so be wary of any strangers trying to approach you and distract you whilst their partner attempts to steal the contents of your bag. If a stranger offers to help you with your bags or shows you how to purchase a ticket at the train station, politely decline their offer as they may ask for money for their services.
3. Galway, Ireland
They say that love can be found in the most unlikely of places, and with its rugged and unforgiving landscape, Ireland may not be the first thing on the minds of holidaying couples. However, the authentic harbour city of Galway on Ireland’s West Coast has natural and cultural beauty to rival anywhere in the world.
Galway is proudly traditional and is one of the few places where you will hear the Irish language (Gaelic) spoken in the streets and shops. The 18th century Eyre Square in the town centre features quintessential Irish pubs where visitors can warm themselves with genuine Irish folk music and a pint of Guinness. For more modern fare, the Latin Quarter with its atmospheric medieval stone architecture features contemporary restaurants, boutiques and galleries.
A sunset stroll along the Salthill seaside promenade, affectionately referred to as simply ‘The Prom’, is a must for visiting couples. Cosy pubs, dramatic seaside views and even a Ferris wheel in summer make The Prom one of Galway’s premier attractions.
There have been a number of reported deaths at Galway’s Cliffs of Moher where visitors have stood too close to the edge and fallen. A wall has now been erected to protect visitors so respect the warning signs and don’t attempt to climb over the wall for that perfect panoramic shot of the Atlantic Ocean.
The powerful River Corrib that runs through Galway has also sadly seen some deaths due to drowning so be cautious when walking on the river banks and walkways, especially at night if you’ve been out drinking.
4. Kyoto, Japan
Think of Japan and you may picture a towering Tokyo cityscape, bustling intersections, bright lights and technology marvels. But the picturesque cherry blossom gardens, temples, shrines and geisha of ‘Old Japan’ remain, and can be found in stunning Kyoto.
Over 1,000 Buddhist temples, including the breathtaking Golden Pavilion, make Kyoto an attractive and exotic destination for couples. For traditional beauty it’s difficult to look past the Golden Pavilion, officially named Kinkaku-ji.
The atmospheric dining district of Pontocho Alley is another must for couples travelling to Kyoto. No cars, modern buildings or unsightly signs are permitted on the narrow street, preserving its reputation as the most beautiful in the city. Tourists will find traditional Japanese dining, contemporary restaurants, and even see geisha working in clubs.
Japan is well known as a safe place for travellers, with a very low crime rate. However, like other Asian countries, Japan has local customs and strict laws that can potentially catch visitors unawares.
If you are greeting a local, bow your head and bend forward at the waist to show respect. This is a widely used common greeting and is often used in tandem with ‘good morning’ and ‘good afternoon’.
There is no tipping in any situation in Japan, whether you’re at a restaurant or in a cab – tipping someone is actually insulting!
Japanese law allows police to stop foreigners on the street to check identification, so carrying your passport on you at all times is recommended. If caught without identification, you can even be arrested.
5. Quebec City, Canada
The French-speaking city on the Saint Lawrence River could be the closest thing to a winter wonderland you will find anywhere in the world. With horse-drawn carriage tours, open-air ice-skating in the Place d’Youville and world class dining options, it doesn’t take much to fall in love with, or indeed in Quebec City.
The Old Quebec region of the city is rightfully considered home to some of the most stunning colonial architecture in the world, with its narrow cobbled streets lined with distinctly European stone buildings drawing visitors from around the world.
Site of the famous Chateau Frontenac Hotel and Citadelle de Quebec, couples won’t find any shortage of architectural marvels. The ‘Carnival de Quebec’ is an annual winter festival running from January 29 to February 14 in 2016, and is one of the largest winter festivals in the world. Highlights include parades through the city, a masquerade ball and outdoor sports events.
During the winter, temperatures in Quebec sink as low as -10 degrees Celsius so be sure to check weather reports before you go so you can bring the proper clothing.
Putting in the effort to brush up on your high school French will ensure you avoid potential hiccups during your stay in Quebec City. Our Foreign Language Survival Guide will help you navigate language barriers like a pro.
6. New Orleans, USA
For couples looking for a more upbeat romantic getaway, Louisiana’s famed ‘Big Easy’ has it all. You won’t find palm-fringed beaches or serene highland resorts on the banks of the Mississippi River, but if world class live music, unique cuisine and nonstop nightlife is your flavour, it’s next stop New Orleans!
Undoubtedly the best way to explore the USA is the classic road trip. While renting a car can give you the freedom to explore the lesser-known places on the map, it also carries with it a few risks.
If you hire a car overseas, it’s important to remember to stick to any local driving laws or rules. Make sure you hire the vehicle from a licensed rental car agency, borrowing from a friend or relative would not be covered under your policy. Additionally, breaching the terms of your rental vehicle agreement would also not be covered under TravelCare, so take the time to read the small print before you cruise off into the sunset.
The Vieux Carré, or French Quarter, is the most well known neighbourhood in New Orleans. Couples will love taking a lazy walk down Royal Street, with its antiques stores, art galleries and talented street musicians. A horse and carriage ride at dusk, followed by some traditional creole food and live music at Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse, is the perfect itinerary for couples searching for authentic urban romance.
Another New Orleans staple, the annual Mardi Gras Festival draws visitors from around the world. But remember, it’s important for travellers to keep their guard up when attending festivals overseas.