Travel Europe

The coffee lover’s guide to off-season European city breaks

October 8, 2017

Summer is starting to feel like a distant dream. Getting up in the morning is more and more of a chore. Fear not, it may simply be time for a quick break to turbocharge your Autumn/ Winter. Europe offers visitors an exciting array of possible sights, tastes, and experiences. Plus, there’s plenty of great coffee to keep busy travellers perky during their break. 

Venice for Coffee Lovers

The City

Winter sun and gondola on the Grand Canal, Venice, Italy

The Grand Canal in the winter sunlight, Venice

Cities may style themselves ‘the Venice of the North’ etc. However, there’s only one Venice. Even better, it’s a jewel that really sparkles during the cooler season. As the summer sun fades, watch as the city becomes ephemeral. With the sun hanging low in the sky, its buildings cast their reflections deep into its many canals. Wander through the maze of backstreets and hidden alleys before taking a ferry out to the glass-producing island of Murano. The workshops, cool bars, and restaurants there easily merit a full day of exploration.

Window display in Murano, Venice

Window displays to brighten a winter’s evening

The Coffee 

Service at Caffè Florian in St Marks Square in Venice, Italy

Coffee and cake at a cost, Caffè Florian

It’s hardly surprising that the Venetians, the quintessential Mediterranean traders, all but introduced coffee to Europe. Caffè Florian in Piazza San Marco is, in fact, the world’s oldest coffee shop. Although it’s not a cheap cup of coffee (€23 with a cake), expect waiters in full suits and service on silver trays. With much of its original decor still intact, patrons will feel as if they’re re-entering the 18th century as they pass through its doors.

The Practicalities 

Venice Marco Polo Airport has links to Italian, European and US airports. Water taxis will take travellers straight to Piazzale Roma. From there they can move on to other places in the city. High-speed trains connect the city to Italian destinations such as Milan, Florence, and Rome. Book in advance on the Trenitalia website. Sadly, costs are higher in the city due to its unique transport system (vaporetti). Also, Venice is a tourist honeypot with clear consequences for the wallet. However, it’s possible to find good accommodation deals on booking.com and Airbnb. Get more ideas for your break in Venice by following this link.

Copenhagen for Coffee Lovers

The City

Boats and bright building in Nyhavn, Copenhagen, Denmark

The colours of Nyhavn in Copenhagen, Denmark

What Copenhagen lacks in light and heat, it more than makes up for in vibrancy and human warmth. ‘Hygge’, broadly translated as ‘cosy’ for English speakers, defines this northern city. Head to the busy port area of Nyhavn to channel your inner Dane before setting off to explore more of Copenhagen. Art lovers shouldn’t miss the Carlsberg Glyptotek and its fine winter garden. It’s a warm place on a cold day. Finally, children of all ages will love the winter wonderland feel of Tivoli around Christmas.

Entrance to Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, Denmark

The lights of Tivoli at Christmas, Copenhagen

The Coffee

The Coffee Collective at Jaergersborgade is a legend in coffee. Yes, it’s busy and can feel somewhat commercial. However, there’s a reason for this- the care and attention poured into every cup of coffee. Some customers may prefer more sophisticated drinks using filter methods such as Aeropress or V60. Others will simply want a plain espresso. Regardless, they’ll almost always get a great cup of coffee.

The Practicalities

Copenhagen Airport at Kastrup is on an island just outside the city. It’s a short train ride to the central train station. The metro system covers most of the main areas of Copenhagen. This means that it’s quite easy to get around. Like its Scandinavian neighbours, Denmark isn’t exactly a budget destination. However, Wake Up Copenhagen mostly receives top reviews from travellers. More to the point, it shouldn’t break the bank!

People drinking coffee at Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen

Winter garden at Carlsberg Glyptotek

Paris for Coffee Lovers

The City

View of the Eiffel Tower from below in Paris, France

The Eiffel Tower from the ground, Paris

If there’s one city in Europe that everyone should visit, it must be Paris. First, savour the old world ambience in the winding streets around Montmartre. Then, brave the tourist mayhem at The Eiffel Tower. Flea markets, palaces, world-famous art museums- Paris has literally got it all. Yet, its greatest joys are often found in those overlooked spots like Parc des Buttes-Chaumont.  To tell the truth, this city needs a lifetime of exploration.

The Coffee 

Cup of coffee at La Caféthèque in Paris, France

La Caféthèque led the coffee revolution in Paris

Coffee is a mainstay of French life. Much like Italy, locals pack the local cafés in the morning and down their espressos with gusto. Of course, French people can be conservative about their coffee. Yet, there’s now a burgeoning Third Wave scene. True aficionados shouldn’t miss favourites such La Caféthèque and Café Lomi. Follow this link to learn more about the coffee scene in Paris.

The Practicalities

Most visitors will arrive at one of the city’s three main airports (Charles de Gaulle, Orly or Beauvais). Regular trains and buses transport travellers directly into the city centre. Those coming from London or Brussels have the additional option of taking the Eurostar train to Paris Gare du Nord. In terms of accommodation, travellers should think carefully about the area where they want to stay. Montmartre offers authentic charm while Le Marais is central, lively and bustling. Regyn’s in Montmartre is a good option for budget-conscious travellers.

View of sunset at the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France

View across the city from the Eiffel Tower

 

London for Coffee Lovers

The City

Interior dominated by wood at 114 Tottenham Court Road

114 Tottenham Court Road, London

At first sight, it may lack the grandeur of its cross-channel rival. Add in a transport system that seems to be on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Yet, despite its failings, London is an energetic city that showcases up-to-the-minute coolness. Take a walk along the Thames in Southwark. London Bridge is no longer falling down and foodies will adore the hip places to eat and drink in the area.  Also, the district around Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street is unmissable. Think bookshops, boutiques, Indian restaurants and The British Museum (free). You’ll hardly believe that there can be just so much to see, do and eat. Vibrant, thy name is London!

The Coffee

Bun, sandwich and coffee t 114 Tottenham Court Road

Food and coffee at 114 Tottenham Court Road

The scent of freshly brewed coffee fills the air while The Rolling Stones’ Hot Rocks album plays in the background. However, the real soundtrack is the whirring of the latest Italian espresso machine, accompanied by the regular beats of the barista’s portafilter from behind the bar. Welcome to 114 Tottenham Court Road. This coffee shop personifies the coffee scene in London. It sells a selection of single estate coffees from far-flung countries like Kenya, Ethiopia and Guatemala. Needless to say, this is a great spot for coffee lovers who want a break from their London adventure.

The Practicalities

After a lifetime of travel in over forty countries, it wasn’t until I visited London in September 2017 that I had this experience. The train from Stansted stopped in the middle of nowhere. Then, a voice announced that there was a delay because ‘someone is removing their cow from the line’. The Germans in the carriage around me laughed cruelly.

Travellers should constantly check the TFL (Transport for London) website. This is particularly true on Sundays when they close busy lines for maintenance. Many may find London’s airports ugly and grubby, but there are quite a few of them to choose from. Here’s looking at you- Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, London City and Luton.  London doesn’t have the reputation of being a cheap city. However, budget-conscious travellers should check out the Indian YMCA. This hostel offers great value in a central location.

Milan for Coffee Lovers

The City

Rooftop view with statues at dusk at Duomo di Milano

View of the roof at Milan Cathedral at sunset

Milan may not possess the immediate appeal of other Italian cities. That being said, it now exhibits a newfound confidence following its recent Expo. Also, the city increasingly packs a punch in terms of its tourist offering. Visiting the roof of Milan Cathedral is an experience that won’t be quickly forgotten. Due to the crowds, book in advance here. Walk through Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II to Piazza della Scala, home to the world-famous opera house. Via Verde, the street running along beside Teatro alla Scala, leads into the Brera district. Once there, explore the warren of streets filled with old world boutiques. Make sure to finish the day at 10 Corso Como, a café meets art shop. It’s the epitome of style. Looking for something quieter? No problem. Click here to take a trip to one of the Italian lakes.

Garden interior at 10 Corso Como in Milan

10 Corso Como is a stylish spot

The Coffee 

Located in a verdant residential neighbourhood, Orso Nero is a café for true coffee lovers. The brainchild of a Canadian expat and his Italian wife, its look is sleek and simple. Yet, with products sourced from top Italian roasters, the coffee is often spectacular. Coffee drinkers will go crazy for the fruity African filtered coffees, while those who want to drink Italian-style in Italy won’t be disappointed either. Although its location may be a little challenging to find, it’s worth seeking out Orso Nero on any trip to Milan.

The Practicalities

Malpensa, Linate and Bergamo are the three main airports that serve Milan. Travellers arriving at Malpensa can take direct train services to either Stazione Cadorna or Stazione Centrale. There are buses to the city centre from Linate and to Centrale from Bergamo. The city has invested in its Metro system, which now covers most destinations of interest within the city. A day ticket covering all transport in Milan costs €4.50. As for accommodation, it’s best to avoid the area around the Central Station. Ostello Bello, near the centre of the city, receives good reviews and offers great value rooms.

GalleriaLooking into Vittorio Emanuele II, Milan

View towards La Scala in Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Milan

Dublin for Coffee Lovers

The City

Tilted view at Fitzwilliam Square, Dublin

A corner of central Dublin, Ireland

Dublin has been at the forefront of every change in Ireland over the last forty years. That’s a lot of change! Yes, Dublin can be expensive and exasperating, but it’s rarely dull. Seek out its lesser-known haunts like the gardens of Dublin Castle (free) or the Chester Beatty Library (also free). Regarding the latter, the Lonely Planet describes it as one of Europe’s best museums. Temple Bar is now totally passé. Instead, in-the-know visitors head to the city’s burgeoning Cultural Quarter. For your information, it’s between George’s Street and Grafton Street. Foodies of all ages will love Murphy’s Ice Cream. Meanwhile, the bar in the Central Hotel has a cosy retro feel that even Copenhagen would envy.

Portrait of cow looking at Murphy's Ice Cream, Dublin

Even the cows approve of Murphy’s Ice Cream

Tired of the bustle of the city centre? Dart out to Howth for a walk with views of the city, Dublin Bay, and the mountains. Dublin may be damp at times, but it’s always fun! Indeed, don’t let Irish weather put you off visiting. These ‘Rainy Day Dublin’ recommendations provide solutions to Ireland’s leaky roof problem.

Interior view of the Central Bar in Dublin, Ireland

Shabby chic meets Irish ‘hygge‘ at the Central Bar

The Coffee 

Dublin hosted the 2016 World of Coffee Championships. This sums it up! The Irish spoof news website, Waterford Whispers, often mocks the current obsession with coffee. Articles include Coffee Shops to Outnumber People By 2025 or an expletive-filled review of a coffee bought at a petrol station. 3fe fathered the Third Wave tsunami that hit Dublin and it’s a 15-minute walk from Trinity College. Visitors who prefer to stay in the centre should check out the Tasting Menu (book in advance) at Vice in Middle Abbey Street. The award-winning Brother Hubbard North in nearby Capel Street combines coffee and fabulous food. Ireland may soon introduce Scandinavian-style alcohol restrictions. This could be the perfect time to join Dubliners of all races, nationalities, and creeds in their new mania- coffee!

The Practicalities

The transport situation is improving, particularly since the introduction of the tram system (Luas). City destinations along the coast are usually within walking distance of a DART (train) station. However, there’s still progress to be made. Despite years of talking, politicians have yet to build a rail link to the airport. Therefore, travellers arriving by plane reach the city by bus, coach or taxi. One advantage of Dublin is that many of its sights are in the compact city centre.

Unfortunately, it’s not a cheap city, for visitors and locals alike. Travellers should shop around when looking for a place to stay. Book in advance!

Have you any great tips for off-season travel? Is there a coffee shop everyone should know? Leave a comment below or send your story to me by email at Unlatinoverde@gmail.com

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