Is there a skill or a hobby that you’ve always enjoyed or been curious about? It could be studying history, getting better at painting, writing a novel or improving your photography. Perhaps you’ve dabbled in a pastime and found it enjoyable – only to let life get in the way of pursuing things further.
You’re not alone. With busy lives and family commitments, it can be easy to forget about ourselves and the activities that make us happy. That’s why being on holiday, when you’ve left life’s distractions at home, is the perfect time to get back to learning.
Learning a new skill can improve our sense of wellbeing, as well as helping the brain form new neural activity patterns. In short, if you liken the brain to a muscle, learning keeps the muscle healthy and active.
With all this in mind, we’ve put together an article designed to inspire you. Each of the five suggestions below not only covers a new skill for you to learn – but lets you do it while on holiday. The reasoning? A change of scenery is sometimes all you need to get started.
Our learning holidays cover the UK and Europe, and suit both solo and group travellers.
Learn ancient history in Sicily
Human civilisation flourished in Sicily. The evidence is in the Greek temples and the Roman villas; in the Baroque churches neighbouring Duchy cathedrals. It remains a uniquely desirable destination, contested for thousands of years by different nations. The result is a melting pot of cultures and flavours.
Today, Sicily is ground zero for history tours that give us a fascinating look at these different influences.
Tours are typically 4-12 days long, with transport and accommodation covered – sometimes meals, too.
Expect a dedicated tour guide and a small contingent of other guests to join you on the trip, allowing you to make new friends along the way.
Where should a good tour of Sicily take you? Well, there are seven official UNESCO World Heritage sites dotted across the city, including the rocky Necropolis of Pantalica, the ancient archaeological site of Agrigento, Villa Romana del Casale and of course, Mount Etna. A good tour will cross many of these off the list, but should also include stops at ancient – unassuming – towns, allowing you to enjoy the local cuisine and Sicilian way of life.
Expect to pay: £1,500-£3,000 for a week-long trip
Learn to paint in Amsterdam – home of the Dutch Masters
The Golden Age of Dutch art produced some of the greatest works in history. Prior to this, paintings had typically focused on the religious and divine, but during the 17th century, artists like Johannes Vermeer found a niche in the ordinary everyday – and delivered incredibly realistic works that stand the test of time today.
There’s something to be said for learning a skill in a country that changed an art form for ever. Unfortunately, we can’t become a Vermeer or van Loo overnight (or even in our lifetime!), but a painting holiday in Amsterdam will give you a chance to scratch your creative itch with the iconic canals and stately buildings as your backdrop. You can book accommodation on a platform like Airbnb, then fill up your itinerary with courses and classes from an institution like Vondelpark Atelier (Vondelpark Workshop), or a listings site like viator.com.
If you’ve been to Amsterdam before and want to try somewhere new, The Hague is a great alternative. Sample the local food, soak in the sights and get painting.
Expect to pay: £60-£100 per class (approx 90 minutes) excluding travel and accommodation
Enjoy a writing retreat in Yorkshire
Got a novel that’s stagnating? A short story that needs writing? Or just an urge to get creative for the first time? The Yorkshire Dales are home to some great writing workshops that will let you put pen to paper in a quiet, remote setting.
One of the key benefits of a formal retreat is that you’ll be alongside other creative writers who are trying to better themselves. Regular feedback on your work from peers and pros alike will help propel your story along.
You could opt for a workshop that shuns modern technology. After all, do you really need WiFi and a TV if you’re trying to focus on your work?
If a formal workshop isn’t your thing, you could look around for cottages in the area and bag yourself a bargain. Enjoy a few days – or weeks – of solitary living without any distractions.
Expect to pay: £600-£1,000 for a week-long workshop (excluding travel)
Learn to make pizza in Naples
We know, this is the second Italian destination on this list, but we simply couldn’t write about food and neglect Naples – a place where eating is considered one of the central pleasures of life itself.
The southern Italian city is part of the Campania region, birthplace of pizza many moons ago.
Head to Naples today and you’re greeted with rustic pizzerias whose owners will teach you to knead dough and make a delicious Margherita in a traditional wood-fired oven.
Neapolitans like their pizza with a thick crust (pizza alta), and will argue passionately that this is the best pizza in the world.
If pizza isn’t your thing, there are also pasta-making classes that you can book online. These will often take place in the teacher’s own home, giving you the chance to learn to make hand-cut and machine-cut pasta in a relaxed setting.
Expect to pay: £20-50 for a pizza-making class, and roughly the same for a pasta-making class (excluding travel and accommodation)
Learn photography in Snowdonia National Park
When it comes to photography, location matters, and there are few destinations as picturesque as Snowdonia. The National Park in North Wales is rugged and untouched – it looks simply stunning through a viewfinder.
A quick search online and you’ll discover that there are photography workshops in Snowdonia to suit every level and budget. Workshops that cater to larger groups will give you that all-important social element, too.
Expect to pay: £200-£600 per day (excluding travel and accommodation)
Learning later in life keeps the mind nimble, and gives us social opportunities too
Don’t be swayed by the idea that it’s too late to learn. Priscilla Sitienei, a Kenyan midwife, learnt to read and write at the age of 90.
Later life learning can also help you meet people and make friends. Keeping socially active is incredibly important as we approach – and enter – retirement.