Gairloch, The Scottish Highlands
Scotland has become an increasingly popular Staycation destination in recent years along with the property market in the Highlands seeing more and more people from across the country opting for a new Scottish way of life. The North Coast 500 (NC500), a road trip around Scotland’s north coast, starting and ending in at Inverness Castle, has always drawn tourists from near and far to appreciate the awe-inspiring landscape. Stops like Ullapool, the gateway to Stornoway and the Outer Hebrides, and Applecross on the West Coast have gained respectable reputations for scenic stops en route.
Gairloch is also on the NC500 route, although lesser known to many road trippers. Mountains meet the beach at the small clusters of houses that make up the village. The beaches are rugged and wild even in the summer months, but on multiple trips to Big Sands beach with my family over the years there is a real peace and sense of pleasant detachment from the bustle of the real world unlike anywhere else I’ve visited on the coast. The village is home to a number of quaint cafés and art galleries as well as wildlife boat tours and Inverewe Gardens (the northernmost National Trust property in the UK) is only a hop away in the car and without a doubt worth a visit.
Everyone knows Barcelona’s cosmopolitan energy. The city has been one of Europe’s most popular city breaks arguably since it was put on the world stage during the 1992 Olympics. There is no doubt why the city has accumulated such popularity with good weather all year round, bars and terraces galore and streets littered with beautiful architecture and monuments that are practically begging to be explored. This does come at a price of an estimated 8.5 million visitors every year with so much more of wider Catalonia to be discovered.
Girona is only an hour train ride from Barcelona’s Sants station, making it practically unmissable for a day trip if not its own dedicated trip. Although it doesn’t have Barcelona’s famous sands and Gaudi architecture, Girona is a true authentic Catalan experience. Not only can you hear more Catalan spoken in the streets, the fusion of medieval and Roman buildings breathe regional pride. There are mazes of cobblestone streets, alike Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter and El Raval to fall upon and even a selection of filming locations for Game of Thrones fanatics. Visit Girona in Calçotada season in February or March to see the city come alive with some of the best regional food outside of Barcelona. Calçots are large spring onion like vegetables grilled on charcoal and served with a special sauce, enjoyed by everyone and simply can’t be missed if you can help it!
Utrecht, The Netherlands
The lively student city of Utrecht is only 30-minute train ride from Amsterdam. It is no secret that the Netherlands’ capital is becoming more of a saturated tourist trap in and outside its peak summer season and when cities like Utrecht have so much to offer it would be rude not to have a gander in what has been dubbed a cosier alternative to the Dam according to Holland.com.
Canoe or water bike down the canal, which have all the charm of those in the country’s best known city, but with the bonus of avoiding all of those tourist Instagram snaps. The city’s canals are lined with shops, restaurants and even a homage to everyone’s favourite Dutch cartoon rabbit, Miffy (or Nijntje in Dutch) with a whole museum dedicated to her. All this not to mention, in summer the city’s green spaces really come to life and boasts one of Europe’s greenest cities awards. I think it’s got to be on your 2023 travel list.