I’d previously heard of booking holidays where you don’t know which hotel you’re staying in until you get there, but before my recent experience with Wow Trip Travel (not to be confused with Wow Air – totally different) I wasn’t aware that you could get entire trips planned for you, where everything is a surprise even the country, and the city within it. For someone who loves to plan, research and get excited about every break I wasn’t sure how I’d find having no idea or control over where I’d be spending my weekend, but here’s how I got on.
For the sake of transparency, our Wow Trip package was provided complimentary, which included flights and hotel. All other experiences, activities and our weekend spending money was paid for by ourselves.
To be honest, having a trip planned for me was a really nice change, albeit a bit strange to not have to worry about anything. I’m so used to flapping about with boarding passes and making sure I’ve checked in on time, and have a copy of the hotel reservation it was quite refreshing to not be doing any of that.
During my trip I was tweeting about the experience, so before I get into our actual weekend and what we got up to, here’s the practical answers to some of the most asked questions I received.
How Wow Trip works
You need three bits of information to get your trip booked up. The dates you want to go, ranging from 2 – 7 nights, the details of the people you want to go with, and the budget you want to spend. Trips depart from Edinburgh, Manchester, Birmingham and all London airports, and your destination will be a European city, with euros as the currency.
Trips start from £150, and as a minimum they guarantee a 3 or 4 star hotel with a central location, direct flights, and that they’ll manage the whole thing, including checking in, telling you the weather forecast, and ensuring your hotel is booked and paid for.
If there’s a city you know you definitely don’t want to go to, you can discard one from the list, and any extras at a cost of £5. Handy if you know you’d hate the surprise of certain places.
You get your own log in details on the Wow Trip website, and 48 hours before the day you fly you can log in and download the weather forecast, and at that point if you really want to, your boarding passes. For those who want to keep the surprise to the last possible moment, you can avoid finding out until you’re actually at the airport.
Everything else is taken care of for you. Our group rocked up to Manchester and Stansted airports, straight through security and onto the flight…to Cologne!
Wow Trip Day 1
Our flights were early morning, with Ryan Air, and the short flight time of less than two hours meant we had plenty time on our first day to explore. We got the train from the airport into the city, and then the metro from Cologne Central to the stop nearest our hotel.
I know some people really panic about pre booked transfers, but it was so easy to navigate, and definitely worked out cheaper. All airports usually have train or taxi options so you arent going to struggle.
Our hotel was the Holiday Inn Cologne Central, and for someone who usually likes to scour the galleries of hotels before I stay there I was very pleasantly surprised. It was in a central spot as promised, and rooms were very modern and clean. Checking in to the hotel was the easiest part of all, there were no bills to be paid or anything, just a case of picking up your key.
After a morning of travelling we were all pretty hungry, so the first thing on the agenda was to get some food. As I’d already been to Cologne before, I suggested we head down to the river, where there are so many restaurants and cafes to choose from. As with most cities there’s always plenty to do on the water front, and our hotel was about a ten minute walk away.
Despite visiting Cologne in the past, I wasn’t disappointed at all. I think the more you visit a place the more you get to know it and can enjoy it that bit more every time you go. I think because of this I was a lot more relaxed about what the weekend would hold, and was looking forward to seeing some of the sights again.
That said, if I had found myself in a city I’d never been to before, I absolutely would have spent the entire flight there reading the city guide that Wow Trip provide for you, to find out where I should be heading to.
That’s the good thing these days about technology, you can find yourself in a brand new city that you’ve had no time to prepare for, but still have help at hand via google, blogs and social media. Travel just doesn’t need to be a worry anymore, and with Wow Trip it can go one step further and be a nice surprise, even for people who don’t like surprises!
The river front in Cologne is part of the Old Town, and there are rows of coloured houses and hotels with outdoor seating. We checked out the menus at a few before sitting ourselves down and ordering a round of Kolsch, the locally brewed beer. We spent our lunchtime discussing what we would plan to see over the next couple of days.
It’s a good job we loaded up on carbs over that lunchtime, because we spent the rest of the day exploring quite a lot of the city. We found the famous row of coloured houses in front of St Martin’s church, spent quite a bit of time at the iconic Dom Koln cathedral, both inside and the surrounding areas, and sitting in beer gardens enjoying the warm weather and German beer.
After a late afternoon ice cream, we decided to make our way from the centre along to the Belgian Quarter, to see a different part of the city. The walk there took us through the shopping area, and past many pretzel stalls and bakeries.
The Belgian Quarter wasn’t quite as buzzing in atmosphere as we had hoped, but we did find a great outdoor bar decked out in the LGBT colours, and sampled plenty more German beer. We ate in that area as well, a nice little Italian, before calling it a night.
Wow Trip Day 2
We were up pretty early on day 2, a group of bloggers all wanting to make the most of the quiet streets, and good lighting on summer mornings before the crowds arrive. I went straight to the old town, and spent some time wandering the cobbled streets, and admiring the old German architecture that is so gorgeous in this part of the city.
On my first trip to Cologne we found this amazing bier haus, which I went on the hunt for to see again, and also found a pretty little square I hadn’t seen before. When there’s no people about you don’t tend to get herded along with the crowds, so it was nice and peaceful.
After I’d exhausted the medieval streets, I went along to the Hohernzollern Bridge, the giant green bridge that you will cross if you approach the city by train, and one that is pedestrianized and covered in love locks. Again this was so much nicer in the early morning before the crowds, and gave a fabulous view back over the city and the cathedral.
Meeting back up with the others the little square near the coloured houses was starting to come to life again, with shops opening and tables and chairs being put out.
As a group of 13, we weren’t tied into any schedule or timetable, but some of them had arranged a walking tour of the city, and wanted to head back to the hotel for breakfast (which was included). Being up and ready, and having been to Cologne before I decided to skip the walking tour, and instead take the train to the nearby town of Bonn, somewhere that had been on my list on my first visit but we ran out of time.
It was really easy to catch the train from Cologne central, and only cost about 8 euros. I arrived in Bonn before 9:30am, and my first stop was one of the bakeries for a pastry and an orange juice. It was Saturday morning, and the best way to describe Bonn is a beautiful but lazy town, full of locals living a slower pace than that of a city.
It was market day, so I went to the market square and enjoyed wandering among the fruit and cheese stalls. The city hall was ornate and grand at the far end of the square, and it was just about the only building of grandeur in the town. The rest was quaint streets, quirky little buildings and locals pottering about the squares.
There were two things I really wanted to see, both relating to one of the most famous composers in the world. Beethoven was born and raised in Bonn, and in the central square there is a giant bronze statue of him. As well as this, the house he was born in is still there today, and has been transformed into a museum of his works and life.
It’s totally adorable, and inside it still has the old character of tiny rooms, little corridors, nooks and crannies, and more floors than appear possible from the outside. His music and instruments are on display, and the house next door has been transformed into a gift shop.
Photos weren’t allowed inside, but my favourite part of the house was the back garden and courtyard. Sitting for a breather and a drink on Beethoven’s garden bench was pretty surreal, and despite there not being all that much to do in Bonn, it was well worth the short trip out there.
I stayed in Bonn for most of the morning, and could have easily spent the rest of the day there, with lunch at one of the cafes, or something from the market, and then a wander through the gardens and down to the river which is supposed to be beautiful. Instead I got the train back to Cologne to meet everyone else for lunch.
They’d all really enjoyed their walking tour, arranged through the tourist office near to the cathedral. The guide had been very engaging and full of personality, so if walking tours are your thing then the girls I was with really recommended it.
Despite the unbelievable heat we decided we couldn’t visit Cologne without climbing to the top of one of the cathedral towers. We didn’t do it on our last visit so I thought I would this time. It’s 4 euros entry, and over 500 steps up the spiral stone, narrow, swelteringly hot staircase to the top. The climb wasn’t the most pleasant, and it seemed never ending but the view over the city, and the breeze up there at the top was just about worth it.
All those steps deserved a beer, so we went to a bierhaus nearby that was recommended by the guide on the walking tour, called Fruh. We spent a good couple of hours here enjoying the beer and the atmosphere, with what seemed like every German in Cologne.
We had planned to go out for dinner, but after a long, hot day exploring the city and all those steps we decided instead to take another tip from their tour guide, and go buy a picnic to watch the sunset by the river. We bought bottles of champagne, and snacks from the supermarket at the station, and made our way across the Hohernzollern bridge to the steps on the other side.
It’s definitely something I would recommend, as the atmosphere was great with plenty locals doing the same. The sunset looked beautiful over the recognizable skyline too, and was a lovely way to end the day, and sadly the trip for me too.
Due to other commitments I had to travel back first thing in the morning of day 3, but the trip for the others included that full final day. From their photos it looked like they had a more relaxing day enjoying some of the local parks, eating pretzels and drinking more beer.
Would I recommend a Wow Trip surprise escape?
I completely would for certain circumstances. If you’re short on time, inspiration, or just want to let someone else deal with the practicalities of going away this would be perfect for you. The same if you want a last minute break but don’t have the time to plan it all out yourself, or want to surprise someone as a gift.
I think flights and hotel with breakfast included were excellent value for money (I think our trip value was £250 but this is an estimate), and I didn’t spend more than £150 on food, drinks, public transport and lots of ice cream as spending money for the whole weekend.
From what others were saying, Cologne was somewhere they may not have chosen themselves, and they were pleasantly surprised by it. For me as someone who had been previously, I enjoyed revisiting some of my favourite places from my last visit, as well as getting the opportunity to venture further out to Bonn. There are benefits of revisiting somewhere you’ve been before, but as I mentioned earlier if you are set against somewhere you can omit that destination in your preferences.
Wow Trip recommend their services as gifts, which is actually a really nice thing to do. It also means as the gift giver you could also join in with the surprise. The hassle free nature of WowTrip, as well as flexibility to let them manage it all based on your preferred options is a really big pull for many, and I had at least five or six guys message me to say they were going to treat their Mrs!
Disclaimer: WowTrip provided the experience for us, which included flights and hotel with breakfast. All opinions are genuine and honest.
When some of the others on the trip have written up their experience I’ll add the links here too.
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