If you want to discover a new side to your favourite cities, save money, learn the lingo, and eat, drink and dance like a local,
The second-most visited city on Earth – after Hong Kong – London receives over 17 million tourists a year, but it can be a bit daunting, particularly for first-time visitors. There is so much choice over what to do, see, eat, drink and experience in the metropolis that it’s difficult to know where to start. Staying in a homestay, however, gives you a head start: as well as providing a warm welcome and a relaxed environment, hosts can help you plan your itinerary so that you make the most of your trip.
As the precipitously long queues at the Louvre and the great crowds in the Quartier Latin attest, the French capital is a magnet for tourists. But Paris is also home to several under-appreciated arrondissements (districts), notably neighbouring Ménilmontant and Belleville. A homestay is a great way to experience these cosmopolitan areas, which have multicultural populations, spacious parks and an array of cool bars and arts venues, as well as the Père Lachaise cemetery, the final resting place for Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf and Jim Morrison of The Doors.
From deep-fried baccalà (salt cod) to saltimbocca (veal steaks, prosciutto and sage, rolled and fried), the eternal city is a joyous place for foodies to explore. Offal, bucatini (a hollow tubular pasta) and artichokes also feature strongly in the distinctive Cucina Romana. Although the city centre is packed with restaurants, the most traditional and atmospheric places to eat tend to be in the outlying neighbourhoods. Few hotels are found in these areas, but homestays often are, and hosts are a great source of recommendations.
Barcelona’s residents are fiercely proud of their identity, and conversations – not to mention street names and signs – are typically in Catalan. Although Spanish and English are widely spoken, learning just a few words of the local language will help you to navigate your way around and engage with the city’s residents. Some homestay hosts even offer language classes, which provide as great an insight into Catalonian culture as Barcelona FC, Antoni Gaudí’s fantastical architecture, or the Gothic Quarter.
There are plenty of opportunities to soak up Irish culture in Dublin, but few are as adrenaline-charged as a trip to Croke Park, headquarters of the Gaelic Athletic Association. One of the world’s great sporting arenas, this historic 82,000-seater stadium hosts fiercely contested hurling and Gaelic football matches: the former is considered to be the fastest team sport in the world, while the latter is like an exhilarating cross between rugby and football. Both are great spectator sports, but you’ll have a more memorable experience if you tag along with your homestay host and cheer on one of the local teams.
Czechs drink more beer – roughly 250 pints per person per year, more than double the figure for the UK – than any other nationality on Earth, and the country is famous for its brewing tradition. Beer (pivo) has been made in Prague since the 990s, and today the city’s big brewers like Staropramen compete with a host of independent microbreweries, which have sprung up over the past decade or so. Despite this heritage, traditional pubs (known locally as pivnice) can be surprisingly hard to find, especially in the city centre, which is filled with tourist traps and stag party favourites, so ask your homestay host to direct you to their local.
While the Danish concept of hygge has become a global phenomenon, few people outside of the Netherlands have heard of the Dutch equivalent. Gezellig is an amorphous word meaning cosy, comfortable and convivial, and Amsterdam provides ample opportunities to experience it first-hand, from leisurely canal boat trips to quaint cafés with roaring fires. Perhaps the best way to get a feel for gezellig, however, is by settling down for a home-cooked meal with a local family, something that is offered by many of the city’s homestays.
Perhaps the hippest city in Europe, Berlin hums with creative energy. The contemporary art scene is particularly vibrant, and there are currently around 450 galleries, with more opening up all the time. Exhibitions are staged in everything from Second World War-era bomb shelters to reclaimed garages. While it is easy to view works by big hitters like Wolfgang Tillmans, Max Hetzler and Olafur Eliasson, tracking down shows by the next big names is trickier. Many homestay hosts, however, are clued-in to the city’s art scene – and some are artists themselves.
Long under-appreciated, Lisbon has finally emerged from the shadows. As well as being strikingly good value, the Portuguese capital boasts an architecturally rich historic centre, over 3000 hours of sunshine a year, and superb seafood. Lisbon’s nightlife is also famously good, but finding the coolest clubs can be a challenge. Venues open and close and veer in and out of fashion with bewildering speed, so take advantage of your host’s local knowledge before heading out for the night.
From theatre to comedy, books to films, the Scottish capital has a festival to suit every taste. However, trying to secure a hostel or hotel room during the summer season or over the Hogmanay celebrations can be a real challenge – and, often, greatly expensive. Fortunately the city’s growing number of homestays provide a much better value alternative.
This feature was sponsored by Homestay.com; all content is editorially independent. Header image via Pixabay/CC0.