Saturday, 1 June 2019 / Kuranda QLD 4881, Australia

Kuranda Village, Skyrail and Scenic Railway


Imagine a village in a wild west-themed adventure park; one with saloons, wide pathways and shops full of trinkets which are probably the same stock that failed to sell in 2001. That's what Kuranda felt like to me. But not in a bad way. More of an amusing, novelty way. You can just tell the village is geared for tourism - it hits that nail firmly on the head - but unlike other tourist attractions I've visited on the otherwise modern east coast of Australia, it provokes a nostalgia for the theme parks I visited when I was a child.

If you're staying in Cairns, which was my first port of call on my east coast Australia road trip, you can access the Skyrail to Kuranda via the suburb of Smithfield. It's also easily accessible if you're staying in Port Douglas or Palm Cove. Buses to Smithfield run pretty regularly from these locations, but if you're not confident taking the bus you can book a tour which will pick you up from or near your accommodation. Click here to visit the Kuranda Skyrail website to view the available tours.

I booked the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway & Kuranda Scenic Railway with return transfers from Cairns & Beaches for $128 (approximately £70 at the time of writing) and it was worth every. Single. Penny.



The Skyrail


I was picked up by a friendly driver who detected my accent and was quick to tell me he had relatives in the UK (as many Aussies do). He whipped the tour bus out to Smithfield in around 20 minutes, dropping us off right outside the Skyrail terminal. From there, I just flashed my tour pass and received my ticket for both the Skyrail and railway.

As I travelled during off peak season, I got a whole gondola to myself. These big green pods can carry five people, so I was pretty content with the ample space and lack of bodies spoiling my view. And what a view it was.



My advice is to face backwards for the first 10 minutes of the Skyrail. You'll get an amazing sight of the sparkling coastline, rainforest shrouded hills and Cairns' suburbs. After that, you'll glide into the far reaches of the rainforest - a sea of greenery as far as the eye can see.

Red Peak and Barron Falls


The first stop is Red Peak, a small station in the rainforest with a free guided tour on an elevated walkway. I had already been on a rainforest tour earlier in the week, so I decided to traverse the walkway alone, which took me less than 10 minutes. There's plenty of signage telling you what's what, and a few birds flitting around to keep your attention piqued.

Barron Falls by Jen Lou Meredith
Barron Falls


Get back on the gondola and fly over some more rainforest before descending through the canopy once again. This time, you'll land at Barron Falls. This, for me, was the highlight of the trip. Walk out onto the manmade viewing platforms to see the falls in all their glory, breathe in the wondrously fresh air and listen to the endlessly relaxing sound of water gushing over the crest.

Barron Falls almost seems like it shouldn't be there. It's like a giant has scooped out part of the rainforest, leaving thousands of litres of water to cascade down bare stone into the river. In fact, local Aboriginal lore depicts the journey of Buda-dji, a carpet snake who travelled from the coast to the Atherton Tablelands, carving out the river and its creeks in his wake. It really is a breathtaking sight and I highly recommend viewing it from the glass platform located 160m above the Gorge.

Kuranda village


The Skyrail takes you over the mighty Barron River on the approach to Kuranda Skyrail Station. You'll get your mug snapped by a photographer as your gondala arrives, and you can purchase the shot as a memento when you disembark. There's a nice shop at the station which sells lots of locally-made souvenirs; I bought a handkerchief for my grandma and some ground coffee for myself to enjoy when I get home.

Barron River


The Skyrail station is located right next to the railway station, so if you're short on time and can't explore Kuranda, you can just hop on the train straight back to Cairns (or wherever you need to get off).

If you do have time to explore, however, simply take a three minute walk into the village centre, where you'll find lots of little shops, cafes, walks and wildlife attractions.

I started off by exploring the Jumrum Creek Conservation Park, Jungle Walk and River and Esplanade Walk - altogether just under 4km of walking, so make sure you take good shoes. If you have to do just one of these, I recommend the Jumrum Creek Conservation Park walk - halfway through you'll come to a very pretty creek where the light filters through the trees and makes for beautiful photography.

Jumrum Creek


If you've walked about as far as you can manage in the North Tropical Queensland heat, head to the shops and cafes for browsing and refreshments. There's lots of art available here, including Aboriginal art, as well as handcrafted items and hippy-style jewellery and clothing.

Past the shops, you'll find the famous Kuranda markets, which are open seven days a week, as well as a butterfly sanctuary, tropical bird aviary and koala park. Although zoos and parks masquerading as 'sanctuaries' make me feel a little uncomfortable, I decided to visit the koala park as I heard that it had a good reputation. Unfortunately, the visit was a let down as the koalas had a really small shared enclosure with just a couple of trees, and 'hold a koala' sessions were being offered, which I personally disagree with for the sake of animal rights.

Koala at the Kuranda Koala Park


The Kuranda Scenic Railway 


Make sure you head back to the railway well in time for your train, as you'll probably want to snap a photo at the iconic Kuranda railway station. Opened in 1915, this station retains much of its vintage charm, and secures its Instagram-worthy aesthetic with the abundance of tropical potted plants lining its platforms. While you're here, you can nip round the tourist shop or grab a snack and drink for your journey.

Kuranda Railway Station


Once it was almost time for my train to leave, I hopped on and sat down. I thought I had an entire booth to myself, when a large family came and sat down beside me. I'm not really a huge fan of kids, so I stuck my headphones in and focussed on the beautiful view, when I felt a tap on my shoulder. One of the staff roaming the train spotted that I was on my own, and very kindly ushered me to my own booth further down the train, where I could watch the view without interruption.

The Kuranda Scenic Railway


The journey is complemented by a commentary on the railway's dramatic history and notes about the landscape. To give you a very brief sneak preview, the line opened in 1891 after nearly 10 years of planning and building, lost contracts and strikes. Tragically, 32 men died in construction accidents while building the railway and its 15 tunnels and 37 bridges.

The journey is 23 miles (37km) in length, stretching from Kuranda all the way into the Redlynch suburb of Cairns. We stopped at one final lookout point for Barron Falls, as well as Freshwater Station where there is a tourist info centre, gift shop and a cafe inside of an old train carriage.

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Overall, the whole trip, including exploring Kuranda, took just over six hours. It was a beautiful journey in both directions, with views that I'll never forget and photos that mean so much more than just an Instagram post. 

If you want to see more of my travels, click here to read my blog posts or follow me on Instagram @jenloumeredith
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Monday, 27 May 2019 / Whitsunday Islands, Queensland, Australia

Cruising the Whitsundays from Airlie Beach


It was my last day in Airlie Beach. If I’m being honest, the weather hadn’t been great. Naive little me was expecting sunshine and hot weather in winter, but Australia was delivering a melancholy combination of showers and clouds. Although it wasn’t cold, it also wasn’t ‘outdoor weather’, so paired with my lack of sleep from the previous evening spent slaving away on my laptop, I wasn’t really in the mood for a trip to the Whitsundays, one of Oz’s most beautiful offshore paradises.

In fact, I was so tempted to cancel my tour with Explore Whitsundays, but I knew that I would be wasting so much unrefundable money, as well as the opportunity to see this aforementioned paradise. White sands, turquoise seas, a lookout point to take your breath away. That was all waiting for me, if I could just pull myself out of bed.

Another reason I didn’t want to leave – my bed. But not just any bed, one in a beautiful guest house in the hills of Airlie, overlooking the beach, forest and, further away, the Whitsundays themselves. It was my last day here. Ahead of me, I had a long day on the water, a 12-hour overnight bus journey and a stay in what I would later find out to be a creepy, dated hostel in an eerily quiet Hervey Bay.

Airlie Guest House, on the other hand, was unbelievably perfect. I had my own room and private bathroom, which may seem standard to hotel-frequenters, but after weeks of dorms and shared facilities, I was aching for my own space. I’m a very social person, but I also like to just chill out by myself in order to recalibrate my mind.


So, back to my lack of motivation. I somehow got up and dressed, and my mood lifted slightly when I saw the sun rising over the bay. It looked like there was actually a possibility of sunshine. I ate breakfast on the deck of the guest house as the local cockatoos romanced each other in the nearby trees, before finally saying goodbye to my little slice of peace, quiet and solitude.

I had to take all my bags with me because, as I mentioned earlier, I was getting a bus to Hervey Bay straight after my tour. I looked on Explore Whitsundays’ website and it stated that I could store my luggage, so I brought my bags down to the marina and was met with some confused looks. Apparently no one knew about this service, but they let me store my luggage for free in their office anyway.

Textures


There were probably around 30 to 40 people on the ‘bullet’, a boat which takes you out to The Whitsundays in just over an hour compared to the larger, overnight stay boats which take two hours or more. Note that if you take the bullet, you will get wet, unless you bring a poncho. I didn’t do this, and usually I’m pretty overprepared. So I was sitting there, cold and wet, dreading the rest of the tour and the following bus journey. A great start.

First off, we went to a snorkelling point where most people got off to swim around a bit. I stayed on board; I didn’t plan on snorkelling because I didn’t want to get wet, but after the ride out I may as well have. Apparently the water was pretty warm, but some Kiwis remarked on how salty it was and how cold they felt when they got out. It was a super windy day, and being in a boat with little shelter, we were completely exposed to the elements.

Whitehaven Beach


After snorkelling, we sailed to Whitehaven Beach, the main beach that most of the tours frequent. I was really looking forward to sunbathing, and practically ran over to a spot to lay down my towel and work on my tan. However, the sand on Whitehaven Beach is extremely fine, and because it was so windy, the breeze would pick up the sand and deposit it just about everywhere. I had so much sand in my hair afterwards – and I don’t even know how, because I had it tied up.

So, following a pretty unsuccessful sunbathing session, we had some lunch, and then set off on a walk to the lookout point.

If you thought this post was turning into a miserable diatribe, don’t worry. It gets better. Much better.

Hill Inlet from Tongue Point


Hill Inlet serves up some views that I’ve only ever seen in a brochure. In fact, if you’ve ever perused a brochure for The Whitsundays, this view is probably what you’ve seen. You can see Hill Inlet from Tongue Point on Whitsunday Island, which is around a ten minute walk with quite a bit of stairs. Work your way up to the top and you’ll find several viewing points, which are usually filled with tourists – so you’ll probably only get a couple of minutes to nab your perfect shot before someone else starts tapping their foot with impatience. If you can find a quiet time of day to visit – maybe with your own boat to avoid the tours – then do so. I enjoyed this view even with the crowds, so it would be magical without.

Here, you’ll see waters so crystal clear and blue, flowing amongst white gold sand dunes sweeping through the inlet. Together, they make huge ‘s’ patterns which can only be adequately appreciated from above. The inlet is so large that you have to admire it from several different viewing platforms in order to take in its enormity. All that aquamarine is a sight I’ll never forget.

I think we were given around half an hour to view the inlet, after which we got back onto the boat and headed to the marina.



I left satisfied, purely for that last beautiful view. The rest of the trip, I could’ve actually been happy without, as I was still a little bit damp and covered in sand. If I could give you a piece of advice, it would be to avoid booking a day tour on the same day as your bus journey. Which I didn’t actually do. I had booked the tour for the previous day, but Explore Whitsundays had overbooked and moved me to the next day.

I imagine I would have enjoyed a helicopter tour of The Whisundays instead. But hey, you don’t know these things unless you experience them.

If you want to see more of my travels, follow me on Instagram @jenloumeredith
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Friday, 24 May 2019 / Cairns QLD, Australia

10 fun facts about Cairns


I landed in Cairns a few days ago, and after spending the weekend exploring I've already discovered so much about this tropical tourist hotspot.

If you don't know much about Cairns, it's a small city in the North East of Australia, situated on the coast. It's dubbed 'the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef', and there are dozens of tours to the reef which depart from the Reef Terminal to the east of the city.

1. The airport is surprisingly small


Seeing as Cairns is such a popular place, you might think that the airport would be bigger. It's actually the 7th busiest airport in Australia, but it has just two terminals and only one runway.

The car parks are located directly outside the arrivals and departures entrances (unlike Britain's busiest airports, where you have to take a shuttle unless you pay a premium to park close). This makes it really handy to be picked up or taken to the airport. I caught an Uber from the airport to central Cairns, which cost $15 (around £8) including an airport pickup fee of $2.

2. As soon as you land, the landscape will take your breath away


Cairns is surrounded by rainforest-covered mountains on one side and the coast on the other. When I landed, it was sunset and the sky had turned into a tropical pink blanket over the mountains. While I was waiting for my Uber and admiring this stunning vista, I couldn't help but smile as I knew I'd picked the right destination. On the drive into central Cairns, I caught a glimpse of the coast - it looked so peaceful, just waiting to be explored.

Cairns is incredibly photogenic, so make sure you bring a good camera on your trip.

Pelicans playing with fire on a beach notorious for crocs


3. You can't paddle or sunbathe on the beach because of crocs (not the shoes, although I run away at the sight of those, too)


If you want to spend your holiday on a beach, flitting between the sand and water, tropical Queensland probably isn't for you. There are saltwater crocodiles all over this part of Australia, so it's best to avoid beaches just in case a croc is laying in wait. Unlike other deadly creatures in Australia, crocs aren't more afraid of you than you are of them. They will attack wherever there is an opportunity for a meal, so if there's a sign telling you not to swim - don't swim. 

With this in mind, I haven't actually seen a crocodile on the beach here. But I don't really think I want to.

4. People are out and about all day


Due to the fact that a) Cairns is a city, and b) it's also a tourist hotspot, you'll find people milling about at all times of the day. So if you're worried about feeling isolated, don't! I've been out at the crack of dawn to catch the sunrise, and there were people jogging on the esplanade, getting coffee and driving about.

Cairns has a laidback vibe, but it's still lively.

Cairns Esplanade after a rain shower

5. The roads take ages to cross as a pedestrian


Roads in Cairns are really wide compared to British roads. In some roads where I live, you'd be lucky to get two cars passing each other due to how tight the widths are. In Cairns, the roads accommodate large vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians. However, although there are pedestrian walkways along many roads here, crossing the road is a little more difficult, as it just takes so long. Bear this in mind if you're a slow walker or have a physical disability, and plan routes where you won't have to feel rushed.

I actually prefer getting from one side of town to the other via the esplanade, as it's a prettier walk without any cars.

6. It feels very safe for female solo travel


As I mentioned earlier, there are people out and about in town all day, so I've never felt like I'm alone. That, mixed with a friendly vibe, has made me feel safe and welcome. I've met plenty of other solo women travellers, so the city is obviously well-known for this aspect.

Runners in the Cairns Marathon April 2019


7. The weather here can change in seconds


As I've been writing this, the weather has changed from torrential rain, to high winds, to full sun, and back again. When you're out in Cairns, I would prepare for all eventualities, as you never known what kind of weather you'll get stuck in. One constant is the humidity; summer is coming to an end here now, and it's still humid. I can't imagine what it's like in December!

8. You can't avoid the noise of planes


Cairns airport is a 10-minute drive away from the city centre, so you're probably going to hear a plane several times throughout the day and night unless you're way out of the flight path or you're staying in accommodation with soundproofing. I wouldn't say it bothers me, though. It's not unbearably loud and it doesn't wake me up at night.

Cold brew from Aqua Lagoon Cairns

9. Bats casually hang around in trees on the streets


I was walking to the shopping centre when I heard the chirping of what I thought was a flock of very loud birds. I looked up, and to my amazement I saw dozens of bats hanging in the tree above me. Sadly, around a third of the bat population in Queensland were killed last year in an intense heatwave, so it's wonderful to see them here (hopefully) thriving; although, some locals don't like that they congregate in Cairns and have the potential to spread disease.

I personally love bats and think they're beautiful creatures; but I understand how some people are scared of them thanks to vampire stories and the potential rabies threat. If you're scared of bats, I would avoid walking under large fruit trees, as they are attracted to the nectar.

10. The locals are super polite


I always have so much respect for locals, as a tourist. I understand how frustrating it can be when your favourite restaurants are crowded with tourists and you can't get a seat, or when you have to dodge people throwing their arm out for a selfie almost everywhere you go. And it's even worse when there are really rude or loud tourists who ruin it for everyone. But I didn't come across many locals in Cairns who (at least openly) showed their disdain for tourists. Many people have smiled at me while I'm out and about, apologised if they've accidentally got in my way, and even struck up a conversation with me and recommended attractions to visit. I feel really welcome here, and it has made my stay that little bit more special.

Follow more of my travels here on my blog, or on Instagram @jenloumeredith.
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Thursday, 9 May 2019 / Australia

Travelling solo from the UK to Australia



A year ago, I never thought I would be on a plane by myself on my way to Australia. But that’s where I am now, flying somewhere over Turkey as I write this. I’m on a 24-hour journey to the other side of the world. A place that I’ve never visited, and have no links to.

Why travel solo to Australia?


I was in London last summer when I came up with the idea of travelling to Australia. I overheard a conversation; somebody was reminiscing with their friend about a visit to Darwin, having spent their days pearl diving and sleeping on a boat. It sounded idyllic, taking a break from the pressures of everyday life and going off grid in a beautiful part of the world (although living on a boat was off the table as, quite typically, I'm prone to sea sickness).

I became hooked on the concept of Australia and stewed on it for around two months before finally deciding to go. For so long I have been stuck in a routine, albeit a pleasant, comfortable one. I thought things like solo travel were for people who were freewheeling and living on the edge. Sounds silly, I know; but it took until that epiphany last year for me to realise that, actually, you can do anything you want (within means, obviously; I can’t fly to the moon. Yet).

So, why Australia? Well, this being my first big solo trip (I’ve travelled solo to Europe a fair amount), I thought it would be wise to visit a country where English is widely spoken. It can be intimidating enough travelling alone as a woman (more on that later), but travelling alone to a foreign language-speaking country seems like a trip for an older, wiser me.

On top of that, Australia is a country so vast that you feel like you’re seeing several countries in one trip. The humid, tropical north of Australia is completely different to the mild south, and the culture and aesthetic in both areas is a far cry from the raw, expansive outback. I was aching to see the Great Barrier Reef, endless coast lines, sprawling cities and, of course, koalas (go one, tell me I'm not basic).



Planning a solo trip to Australia


I spent a lot of time researching this trip. I advise booking your flight first, as prices can go up really quickly and you might not get the dates you want if you leave it too late. I put aside an afternoon to compare airlines, utilising the magical power of Skyscanner and altering the dates and times until I found the cheapest flight option.

I also used booking.com to find hostels and guest houses. Booking.com is probably one of my favourite and most regularly visited sites. I love the list-making feature, where you can plan out future journeys (or many, many fantasy journeys, in my case) by selecting hotels and categorising them into lists. This is where my Monica Geller-like organisational skills came in handy. I had lists for every location that I wanted to visit, so that I could compare prices, facilities and locations to find the right one for me.

I decided to stay in hostels because I want to meet people. I rarely get to see a lot of new faces where I live in the UK, and although I love my friends, I wanted to push myself to meet more people. All the accommodation I’m staying in is central within the locations I’m visiting, and I did this so that I would never have to travel far to see anything (I’ve already travelled for 24 hours – why would I want to use up more time on transport?).

I left six months to research and plan this trip, and I would say that’s the minimum amount of time you should leave before you even think about setting foot on a plane. Unless you are a freewheeler and live on the edge. In that case, freewheel away.

Flying from the UK to Australia with Singapore Airlines


On Skyscanner, my airline options within my date range and budget were Singapore Airlines, Emirates and Cathay Pacific. I decided to travel with Singapore Airlines as the reviews were good and the price was decent. Flying with this airline means a stop over in the beautiful city of Singapore. Unfortunately I won’t get to see the city, as I’m only stopping for three hours. That’s another trip on the bucket list.

I’d never flown With Singapore Airlines before, so I really didn’t know what to expect. I’m a frequent budget airline flyer, mostly travelling with Ryanair where they charge you for oxygen and give you the side eye if you ask for more than one glass of water.



On Singapore Airlines, however, things are a little different. I’m only a few hours into my flight, and already I’ve eaten a delicious vegetarian breakfast (pre-booked via check-in on the app), chocolate orange ice cream and several glasses of water and apple juice. All included in the flight price. This might seem standard for some, but if you’ve never flown long haul with a non-budget airline, it’s a delightful treat.

The seats are very comfortable – unlike the planks of wood covered in sticky patent leather on Ryanair – and the in-flight entertainment is good. I watched Crazy Rich Asians this morning, followed by Creed II. The flight attendants are super polite and so immaculately dressed that I feel like I’m slumming it in my leggings and un-ironed shirt.

Is it scary travelling solo as a woman?


Lot’s of people have asked me if I’m scared about travelling alone. Honestly, although the odd thought crosses my mind, I find comfort in the fact that thousands of women travel by themselves every year. Yes, you should absolutely be aware of your surroundings, plan your journeys well and try to keep away from sketchy areas or people who give off a weird vibe. But I would give this advice to any tourist, male or female.

If you’re feeling unsafe, look to technology. There are so many apps that you can use to help you throughout your journey. I use a tracking app so that my loved ones back home always know where I am. I also have Uber at the ready in case I get stuck somewhere without public transport. It’s also handy to have mobile payments set up on your phone just in case you lose your debit card.

Follow me on this adventure


If you want to find out more about my trip to Australia, or any of my other travels, click here. You can also find me posting regularly on Instagram, so why not comment on my photos or send me a message with your recommendations?

I hope that my journey inspires you to travel, solo or not. I can’t express enough how travel is so enriching, and teaches you about the world and yourself. Go forth and explore!
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Monday, 18 March 2019 / United Kingdom

Top 5 European travel destinations for solo travellers travelling lightly


Solo travel anywhere in the world is a rewarding, life-changing experience. From trendy weekend getaways, to adrenaline-pumping hiking adventures, there is a destination for all. With the right budget and super efficient packing skills, you can go anywhere in the world.

Travelling alone for the first time, especially as a young, independent woman, has often been frowned upon in the past due to overriding fears about safety, or the idea that women are not strong enough. In 2019, this is not the case with over 86% of women travelling regardless of current world events, or fears about safety and solo travel in general.

Here are the top five travel destinations in Europe that are guaranteed to leave a lasting impression on any solo traveller: 


Lisbon, Portugal


The Portuguese capital is top of the list when it comes to budget travel and light packing. Lisbon is packed with culture-thriving experiences, from music and film festivals, to rooftop bars and art museums.

You will never be short of something to do and you can even hire yourself a guide for the day to take you to see the sights in style. Food and drink is also significantly cheaper than other neighbouring European cities so you can indulge all you like, then get lost in the city’s artistic culture and impressive architecture.

Find last minute holiday deals in Lisbon here.


Vienna, Austria


Austria’s capital will leave you bursting with excitement, with its charm and sleek architectural presence. You can take a trip to the famous Opera house to catch a show or two, or just lose yourself in Vienna’s incredible skyline from above, and take a stroll along the city streets to catch glimpses of soaring city cathedrals, and eccentric cafes.

Find last minute holiday deals in Vienna here.


Bratislava, Slovakia


Significantly smaller than many other European cities, Bratislava is known and loved for its quirkiness and main attractions, including St Martin’s Cathedral, Devins Castle grounds, and the Old Town, which is full of restaurants, bars and cafes.

A picturesque place, with many opportunities for long walks, free activities and a short distance away from the border of Hungary, Bratislava is somewhere not to be missed out on.

Find last minute deals in Slovakia here.


Amsterdam, The Netherlands


Known for its appearance in the film The Fault in Our Stars based on John Green’s best-selling book (as well as many other pop culture references), Amsterdam is ideal for a short weekend break, where you can soak up the culture and history of one of the most iconic cities in Europe.

From renting a bike, to exploring the Anne Frank house and museum, and taking a ride on the iconic trams, this city never ceases to amaze for its unlimited selection of things to see and do.

From Stansted airport, flights take less than an hour, and all you’ll need is a change of clothes, the essentials, like shower gel, and of course, your passport.

Find last minute holiday deals in Amsterdam here.


Budapest, Hungary


Familiar with the George Ezra song Budapest? Catchy, right? Just like Budapest, as in the place itself, which is always buzzing with life!

In terms of budget, this city is again, relatively cheaper, yet is still packed with things to do and is divided by the Danube River. The 'Shoes on the Danube Bank' memorial pays homage Jews who were shot by Arrow Cross militiamen in the Second World War, and is a must-see experience that will leave you feeling moved. It contains sixty pairs of iron shoes in total, and is one of the city's main attractions.

Find last minute holiday deals in Budapest here.

From going on a solo backpacking adventure, to travelling to a business meeting, annual conference, or culture experience, there are many different reasons for escaping reality. Europe is one of the best destinations for solo adventure and mini breaks, with its reputation for offering amazing cultural experiences, without needing to take all your life belongings with you on the flight.
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