travel

Porto

Porto is Portugals ‘second’ city, after the capital of Lisbon, and is famed as the place that Port originates from. Set mainly around the Douro river, it’s a great city to visit for a relaxing weekend of sunshine, seafood and port wine.


  • Currency: Euro
  • Local time: GMT +1
  • Language: Portuguese

Stay: The Porto Concierge

When searching for accommodation in Porto, it can be confusing as to which area is best to stay in, but we decided we wanted to be close to the river and its many bars and restaurants, as well as walking distance from the cool Baxia neighbourhood, so narrowed down an area on the map and began our search.

The Porto Concierge apartment that we stayed in was perfect – We were met in person  and efficiently checked in, given tips on where to eat and explore, and they even left us a bottle of wine as a welcome!

The apartment (Behind Blue Eyes) was also in an excellent location – Just a few minutes from the river in one direction and a (very steep) but pleasant walk uphill to the bars/restaurants of the Baixa area, which truly comes to life at night! Everywhere was within walking distance, which is exactly what we wanted.


Do: Port wine tour, cable car, Baxia neighbourhood

No trip to Porto is complete without learning about the history of port, and the best way to do this is obviously on a port wine tour! We booked in advance through Viator and paid £28 for a 3 hour tour with 7 port wine tastings, which turned out to be pretty good value! It was also great meet other people on the tour who had come from all corners of the world! We went to three port wine houses, were given a full history of port wine and then taught how to properly taste the port itself. A brilliant afternoon!

The Porto cable car starts at the top of the Dom Luis bridge and gently carries you down to the riverfront on the south side, towards the Port Wine cellars. At €6 for a one way trip, its an inexpensive way to get a unique view of Porto across the water.

The Baxia neighbourhood is Porto’s busting nightlife hotspot, and an excellent place to go on a Friday & Saturday night. In the daytime, streets may seem deserted in this area, but come back in the evening and you’ll realise each seemingly derelict doorway has turned into the entrance to a bar/club!


Eat: Patio do Duque, Bar Tolo

Undoubtedly one of the best meals we had in Portugal was at Patio do Duque  – a tapas restaurant serving up excellent quality food at very reasonable prices. We ordered a lot of tapas to share (chorizo sausage, tomato & mozzarella skewers, calamari & cod fritters to name just a few) plus a bottle of wine and water for the table and the bill was €38! The staff were very attentive and took a lot of time to explain anything on the menu that we didn’t understand. Highly recommended!

A short (15 minute) car journey from the centre of Porto takes you to Foz do Douro; one of the closest beaches to the main city centre. There are plenty of bars and restaurants to try here, but our recommendation is Bar Tolo, located a couple of roads back from the sea. The service and the food were both equally great, and the menu offered a wide variety, from more traditional tapas dishes to full main courses (the blackened pork cheeks were exceptional!). On a warm evening, sit outside in their pavement-side garden, or head up to the cute rooftop terrace with a sea view if it’s open (peak times).


Drink: Base Bar, Cafe do Cais

There are plenty of bars to explore in Porto, but we recommend starting your evening at Base Bar; a relaxed bar with an extensive cocktail menu, live DJ and bean bags to chill out on! As it gets dark, festoon lighting illuminates the area and gives a magical feel to this unique drinking spot.

Touristy as it may be, a drink at Cafe do Cais right on the river front is the perfect place to soak up the atmosphere and enjoy the views. We paid a bit more here for a drink than you would in other places in the city centre, but with views like this bar has, you can hardly complain at an extra €3 on your bottle of wine!

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Bucharest

A city that may not at first spring to mind for a city break, but should definitely be on your list! With lots of garden bars tucked between amazing architecture, a charming old town with a huge variety of cafes and restaurants and Europes largest urban beach, there’s plenty to keep you busy!

Sample itinerary


  • Currency: Romanian Leu
  • Local time: GMT +2
  • Language: Romanian

Stay: Old Town

Evenings in Bucharest centre around the old town, and so staying nearby makes for easy access to all the bars/cafes/restaurants. We stayed in an amazing apartment that we found on Airbnb, owned by CityLife Suites, and at £230 for three nights, it was a real bargain! The communication from the owners was great, and they also sorted airport transfers for us and gave a huge list of recommended bars and restaurants, which gave us a great starting point for exploring the city!


Do: Therme, Garden Bars, Old Town

Therme spa is located around 30 minutes by taxi out of the city, but it absolutely worth making the trip for. I recommend buying an all day ticket (80lei/£15) as once you get here, you won’t want to leave! The outdoor pool area is also home to Europes largest urban beach – brilliant for a sunny day – and the pool also has a huge swim up bar. Inside, there is a regular activity timetable, and when the sun goes down it turns into a lit up party paradise!

There are plenty of garden bars to choose from in Bucharest, and if you have a spare afternoon, definitely take some time out to visit one. My favourite was Gradina Floreasca as not only did they do great food (see below) but the pool was amazing to relax by for the afternoon and the drinks were very reasonable.

Spend your evenings in the old town, wandering the streets (all pedestrianized, which is lovely) and take your pick from the many cafes and restaurants that line the streets. In the good weather tables are filled outside and the buzz of chatter fills the air. There are also plenty of bars to keep you occupied into the early hours.


Eat: Les Bourgeois, Gradina Floreasca, Hanu’ Lui Manuc

Dinner in Bucharest depends very much on what you’re looking for in terms of cuisine, but here are plenty of amazing places to eat!

Located in the heart of Old Town, Les Bourgeois has tables sprawling across the street and an extensive menu offering local Romanian dishes as well as plenty of international options, and all for a very reasonable price. The pork chop with truffled potato is my personal recommendation!

Breakfast at Hanu’ Lui Manuc was a leisurely experience, and we were seated in a very pretty outdoor garden. The breakfast menu is simple; omelette or fried eggs with a choice of cheese, ham or smoked salmon. Working out around £3 per person (including a hot drink) it was a great place for a cheap meal that was still very good quality.

We visited Gradina Floreasca for the afternoon to spend time in the relaxing garden bar and make the most of the (free) swimming pool. The food here was excellent – the chicken and avocado salad in particular – and it’s definitely worth heading here for an afternoon in the sun and a delicious lunch.


Drink: Nomad, Pure Vida, Gradina Floreasca, Bound Bar

Visiting in summer months can mean soaring temperatures, so if you’re in need of a drink to cool down, consider the outdoor patio at Bound Bar. The giant mojitos were a personal favourite, and if you fancy a dance in the evening, this bar turns into a club at night.

Gradina Floreasca (as already mentioned above) is a garden bar in the heart of the city, and has an extensive drinks menu of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. The perfect place to spend an afternoon with an Aperol Spritz!

If its a drink with a view you’re after, then Nomad and Pure Vida are the places to aim for – they’re two of the best rooftop bars in Bucharest.

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Budapest

Budapest is one of those places that everyone seems to have been to, and everyone seems to adore – and for good reason! Sightseeing and spas in the day, then partying with ridiculously cheap drinks in cool bars at night. What is there not to love?!

Sample itinerary


  • Currency: Hungarian Forint
  • Local time: GMT +1
  • Language: Hungarian

Stay: Downtown

When choosing where to stay in Budapest, it’s worth noting that Buda and Pest are two different areas of the city, split by the river. Most of the sightseeing and nightlife happens in Pest, so this is definitely the side to stay. When looking at a map of the city, you want to be to the right of the river.

Budapest has an excellent transport system, meaning that wherever you stay in the city, nothing is too far away. However, if you’re heading to the city for the nightlife, you can’t go wrong staying anywhere downtown. You’ll be within walking distance of Kazinczy street, which is the main hub of evening entertainment. Many streets twist and turn off of here, and they’re all worth exploring as ruin bars pop up in the lest likely of places!

The map below shows the area I recommend staying within for the overall city in red, and the blue is downtown if you’re after the nightlife.

budapest


Do: Spas, sightseeing, ruin bars

You must try one of the renowned spas whilst in Budapest, and if you only have time to visit one, make it Szechenyi. With a huge heated outdoor spa pool, along with a huge variety of spa baths, jacuzzis, steam rooms and saunas indoors, this place will keep you occupied for hours and you’re guaranteed to leave feeling relaxed. (Tip: take your own towels to save on a fairly hefty fee to hire them) If you feel like indulging and visiting more than one spa (like we did!) Rudas is also well worth a visit. Very different to Szechenyi, the focus here is indoor pools and saunas, many with a set order of use based on increasing the body temperature gradually. The real gem here though is the hot whirlpool on the roof, offering stunning views over the river Danube.

There is plenty to see in the city during the day, and most can be accessed on foot. St Stephens Basilica, the incredible Hungarian parliament building and Heroes Square are all must-sees and will guarantee some excellent Instagram snaps!

Famed for its ruin pubs and bars, nightlife in Budapest is like nothing else I’ve experienced. From quirky garden bars with candles and hammocks to huge clubs perfect for dancing in until morning, theres something for everyone here! Szimpla Kert is undoubtably the most famous of Budapest many ruin pubs, and for good reason. With so many rooms to explore and an outside beer garden too, hours can be spent here (and were) drinking away the afternoon. Szimpla also run a farmers market on Sunday mornings thats well worth a visit.

Other bars of note worth visiting are Fogas and Instant for large dance venues that stay open late, and the colourful and quirky garden bars Psst Shhh! & Koleves (both a bit tricky to find, located on Kazinczy U, but worth searching for).


Eat: Karavan, Kazimir Bistro, Comme Chez Soi, Gelarto Rosa

Eating in Budapest is fun and varied; they have everything from 5* restaurants to amazing street food!

Stop by Karavan street food park for a chance to try some of the local cuisine. I personally recommend the Langos (a bit like donut bread) with sour cream and cheese. Doesn’t sound appealing, but please take my word for it and grab one, you won’t regret it!

For a dinner that offers traditional food in a relaxed atmosphere, had to Kazimir Bistro. Located downtown near the famous ruin bars, it has a friendly locals feel and authentic Hungarian cuisine. Not to be missed!

Another restaurant well worth a visit is Comme Chez Soi. It’s Budapests answer to fine dining, and the prices are in line with this, however the lunch menu is a lot more affordable for those on a budget. They’re closed on Sunday and get very booked up the rest of the week, so worth making a reservation here in advance.

If ice cream is what you’re craving, make sure you head to Gelarto Rosa, a great ice cream parlour that encourage you to pick multiple flavours so that they can turn the contrasting colours into a delicate ice cream flower. Another one for Instagram!

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Bratislava

I visited Bratislava with my sister as part of a weekend break combined with Vienna. We spent a day and a half exploring the city, taking in the sights and trying the local food, and it turned out to be one of the prettiest cities I’ve been to!

Sample itinerary


  • Currency: Euro
  • Local time: GMT +1
  • Language: Slovak, German

Stay: Old Town

Bratislava is a very small city; you really can walk everywhere in the centre of town, and so technically it doesn’t matter where you stay – everywhere will still be accessible!

We chose to stay in Old Town Bratislava, which was covered in cobbled streets lined with cafes and restaurants, all seeming to lead to Hlavné námestie (Main Square).

We stopped off at a lovely wine bar in the square, aptly named ‘Wine Not?’, which had lots of outdoor seating complete with patio heaters and blankets, meaning that just because the temperature drops, the people watching doesn’t have to end! As night falls, the fountain in the middle of the square comes to life, lit up in an array of colours and makes for a great instagram shot, if thats your thing!

There were a wide selection of Airbnbs available all over the city, and all at extremely reasonable prices. Ours was on Panksá, a pedestrianized street one road behind the main square, and we loved that we could throw open the windows and look down into the streets below, watching the hustle and bustle of the city.


Do: Bratislava castle, Michaels Gate, Old Town

Bratislava castle is like something out of a fairytale, and is visible from most points in the city. It’s well worth taking some time to wander around this historic building – A gentle but definite uphill climb from the city centre will get you to the edge of the walls, and from there you can explore at your leisure.

In the middle of Old Town stands one of the oldest town buildings – Michaels Gate, or Michalska Brana as its known locally. For a small fee, you can enter via a discreet door from the street and find yourself inside a small museum, housing the Exhibition of Weapons. Wander around the museum inside the tower, climbing small flights or stairs as you go, and you will find yourself at the top of the tower, offering an observation deck with excellent views all across the city. A must do on a sunny day!

Human sized sculptures are dotted all over Old Town, and prove quite the tourist attraction. Often queues of people waiting to be photographed with these, it’s a must-have picture for the collection from your trip to Bratislava! Cumil ‘The Watcher’ was our favourite, although we got a few strange looks when we decided to lay down next to him when it was our turn for a photo!


Eat: No1. Slovak Pub, Modra Hviezda, Urban House

No trip to Bratislava is complete without a trip to No1. Slovak Pub. A tourist hotspot maybe, but its a chance to throw yourself into the culture and experience local Slovakian food in a (very warm) quirky pub in the centre of town. It was our first stop after dropping our bags off, and although on reflection we paid quite a lot for the food, I would 100% recommend it as an easy introduction to the cuisine.

We only had one evening in Bratislava, so we wanted to make sure we chose well for dinner. We had been recommended a particular restaurant by our lovely Airbnb host, and so we set out on foot (you really can walk everywhere!) to hunt the place down. Tucked away underneath the castle is the amazing Modra Hviezda – A real gem in the city! Slightly tricky to find, but more than worth it when you do, the food was outstanding and of very high quality; very reasonable too. Apparently it is always extremely popular (mainly with locals who book tables weeks in advance) so its worth giving a call to see if they have space!

If you’re after a spot of brunch in the city, head to Urban House, A fun and lively coffee house serving an excellent brunch menu. We went for avocado on toast with a poached egg and were not disappointed!

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Dublin

Dublin was my first taste of Ireland, and I quickly discovered that the Irish are about the friendliest people you’ll meet! The city is very compact, so everything is in walking distance – Even the Guinness Storehouse which is the other side of town.

Sample itinerary


  • Currency: Euro
  • Local time: GMT
  • Language: English

Stay: City centre

Dublin City centre is fairly small, and so anywhere with a central postcode will be fine for exploring. We walked everywhere on foot (even home from a night out!)

There was a large group of us – 8 in total – and so we chose to stay in an Airbnb so that we could all stay together. This worked out well in terms of food too, as we cooked breakfast in each morning (food bills in Dublin quickly add up, it’s not the cheapest city!) and were also able to go back and enjoy the communal living space in the evening that you wouldn’t get with a hotel.


Do: Guinness Storehouse, Irish pubs

You can’t go to Ireland and not drink. Well, this is what I was told when I attempted to go whilst partaking in Dry January! Turns out it was true. Our very first stop when we got out of the cab from the airport was a pub, The Ferryman, which turned out to be a traditional Irish pub full of locals – Perfect start to the weekend! We visited many more pubs over the weekend, some more touristy than others, but we had a brilliant evening in Whelans, a live music venue in the heart of town that is a favourite of Ed Sheeran and also the filming location of PS I love you…

The Guinness Storehouse is a must-do if it’s your first trip to Dublin. We timed our visit so that there was time to explore the factory (upon entry, you wander around at your own pace – expect to spend around an hour doing so) and make it to the Gravity bar at the top for sunset. Your entry ticket includes a pint of Guinness in the bar, and the views you get from the top are brilliant. It’s worth noting that tickets for the Storehouse can be purchased in advance on their website, and doing so will save you money and queuing time on the day.


Eat: Chai Yo, 777

Dinner in Dublin needn’t be an expensive affair. Chai Yo was recommended to us by a friend who had previously been to Dublin, telling us ‘the food is great and you’ll have a lot of fun’. And wow, did we have fun! The waiting staff turn what could be a standard Thai meal into a full on party; singing, dancing and performing at tables in-between courses being served. The entertainment would have been enough for me to recommend it, but as it turns out the food was also excellent, and the bill wasn’t eye watering either! (Tip: Check out the set menu, 4 courses for €17.50 can’t be argued with!)

If you weren’t specifically looking for it, you would walk straight past 777, but it’s worth seeking out as this Mexican is truly a hidden gem of the city. The funky restaurant has great music, an expansive menu and excellent cocktails. The best bit? On a Sunday, every dish is €7.77 – A welcome break from the usually expensive dining out in Dublin.

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Copenhagen

Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark, is the perfect place for a weekend city break, and even if you’re visiting for just a couple of days, theres plenty you can pack in to get a real taste of Danish life.


  • Currency: Danish Krone
  • Local time: GMT +1
  • Language: Danish

Stay: Inner City

Copenhagen is pretty compact, so most places are accessible by foot. Staying in the inner city area (we were near Nørreport station) made it super easy to get around, and there are lots of reasonably priced Airbnbs in the area to let you experience a true Scandinavian way of life.


Do: Nyhavn, Freetown Christiania, Canal tour

A trip to Copenhagen isn’t complete without a visit to Nyhavn (New Harbour) with its brightly coloured houses lining the canal. Visit early in the day to avoid the crowds, and don’t get sucked into the tourist trap restaurants along the water – It’s much cheaper to walk a few minutes beyond and find somewhere to eat there. (Theres a great street food area just over the bridge into Christiania, more on this below).

Based largely around the water, a canal tour is a must do to see the city from boat level. There are several tour companies that offer 60 minute cruises departing from Nyhavn – The cheapest is Canal Tours Copenhagen at 50DKK (around £6) per person, but expect to queue!

Freetown Christiania is a self-proclaimed autonomous district in Copenhagen, and is a must see! Incredible street art and a laid back vibe takes you into a different world from the busy tourist area of Nyhavn, and its the perfect place to visit to pick up a cheap beer and sit with the locals in the sunshine. Please note that once you enter Freetown, the taking of photos is prohibited.


Eat: Neighbourhood, Mad & Kaffe, Broens Gadekøkken

If you’re looking for a cool spot for dinner that won’t break the bank, head to Neighbourhood and enjoy their selection of low-carb pizzas and an excellent cocktail menu. There are two locations in the city, and its worth noting the one in Nørreport takes bookings.

Brunch is a particular favourite weekend hobby for the Danish, and if you’re looking for a great meal and to eat where the locals do, make your way to Mad & Kaffe – But be prepared to queue! You can design your own brunch here, selecting 3, 5 or 7 items from a list of options they give you. Highly recommend adding an iced coffee to your order – they’re amazing!

For great street food head over the bridge from Nyhavn to Broens Gadekøkken (The Bridge Street Market). There is a wide selection of stalls and a couple of bars – A perfect place to stop on a sunny day, and conveniently located as a pit stop on your way to Christiania.