travel

Barcelona

Barcelona is the perfect city to visit if you’re after a mix of architecture, great food and a long sandy beach. Although fairly spread out, if you stay in the Eixample area most on the central part of the city can be explored on foot – Make sure not to miss the winding streets of the Gothic Quarter.


  • Currency: Euro
  • Local time: GMT +1
  • Language: Catalan, Spanish

Stay: Roommate Gerard

This was my first time staying in a Roommate hotel, but it certainly won’t be my last! Roommate Gerard was perfectly located in central Barcelona in the Eixample  district. It is a short 10 minute walk to the El Born area with its trendy bars and cafes, 20 minutes to the Gothic Quarter and around 30 minutes walk from the beach, meaning pretty much everywhere in central Barcelona is easily accessible on foot.

The rooms were minimalist in design and equipped with everything you need for a city stay, plus a few little extras to help you settle in. The beds were huge and amazingly comfy, and the bathroom followed suit in spaciousness, and had great products that were restocked daily. The surround sound system that you could link your phone to via Bluetooth was also a fun addition to the room.

There is also a rooftop complete with pool and loungers exclusively for guests use, which is great if you want to soak up some sun away from the crowds on the beach. There’s even a bar with drinks that can be charged to the room, so it’s easy to spend an afternoon relaxing up there!


Do: Sagrada Familia, Barceloneta Beach, Las Ramblas, La Boqueria Market

No trip to Barcelona is complete without a trip to the Sagrada Familia. Although the basilica – designed by Gaudi – is unfinished, it’s a hugely impressive building, and even more so from inside. If you want a tour of the building it’s worth booking tickets in advance as the queues on the day can get very long.

One of the major benefits of Barcelona is that there is a beach within walking distance of the city centre, and it’s a nice beach too! There’s a wide stretch of golden sand, and although there aren’t many lounger to sit on, many people stretch out on blankets or take a stroll along the surf. The edge of the beach is also lined with plenty of bars and restaurants for when you start to feel peckish.

If you’ve had your fill of sunbathing on the beach, head back into the city along Las Ramblas, one of the most famous streets in Barcelona. Always packed with tourists, the bars and restaurants that line the street are fairly pricey here and definitely aren’t catered towards the locals, but it’s a great place to stop and people watch.

Located just off of Las Ramblas is the Boqueria Market, which is a great place to stop and sample some fresh produce, including cured meats, cheeses and freshly squeezed juices. Watch your bags in this afea though as it’s a hot spot for pick pockets!


Eat: Tantarantana, El Rall, Pizza paco, Chocolat-Box, Chichi Limona, Bacoa Burger

The food scene in Barcelona is excellent – I can almost guarantee that you will be able to find whatever you are craving! We ate a mixture of local food (tapas, paella, churros…) along with great pizza, burgers and pastries. A few of my top places to eat are listed below:

  • Tantarantana – Located in the El Born district in a tucked away square, this place serves authentic tapas in a cozy setting. They have lots of tables outdoors, bu these will need reserving unless you want to sit down past 10pm.
  • El Rall – The paella here was great, and very reasonable! There were several different varieties (we went for Valencian with chicken and rabbit) and the local house wine was €5 per half litre!
  • Pizza Paco – Just down the road from Tantarantana, this pizza place is always packed and for good reason. Cheap, tasty pizza with an extensive toppings menu.
  • Chichi Limona – A great place to stop for breakfast or brunch in the Eixample area. The pastries here were so fresh they were still warm from the oven!
  • Bacoa Burger – If you’re craving a burger after a morning of soaking up the sun on the beach, head to Bacoa Burger for good quality meat and a selection of sides to accompany.
  • Chocolat-Box – Perfect for a pit stop if you fancy indulging in some typical Spanish churros with rich chocolate to dip them in.

Drink: Story, Mescladis, El Born district, Roommate Gerard rooftop

There are so many tucked away bars in Barcelona that it would be impossible to visit them all, but whether you’re looking for a pavement side cafe, a wine bar or a lively late night music venue, you’re guaranteed to find it somewhere in the city!

The El Born district is an excellent area to find a spot for a pre-dinner drink. My favourite was Mescladis, a little outdoor garden style bar serving drinks to locals and tourists alike. They don’t stay open late, so make this a pit stop for a drink before dinner.

Story, not far from Mescladis, was another favourite. They often have live music in the evenings and has an excellent wine list. It’s cozy and the perfect place to relax after an evening meal.

travel

Krakow

For a city that has equal parts history and nightlife, look no further than Krakow in Poland! With a small but charming Old Town, excellent food options and enough bars to keep you entertained for days, it’s a thumbs up for Polands second city.


  • Currency: Polish Zloty
  • Local time: GMT +1
  • Language: Polish

Stay: Aparthotel Stare Miasto

Aparthotel Stare Miasto could not be more centrally located. Less than a minutes walk form Old Town Square, but with all the peace and quiet of a tucked away retreat, this place was an excellent find!

The apartments are designed with open brickwork and ceiling spotlights, giving a modern, inviting feel to the studios. The beds were super comfortable and there was a daily maid service.

The front desk were always on hand to offer tips and recommendations of places to go/restaurants, and we were also able to leave our bags for the day upon checkout, which was a great help for exploring the city on our last day.


Do: Explore Old Town, Planty Park, Vistula River, Hire scooters, drink vodka!

Staying in the centre of Old Town made it easy for exploring the main square and the market. We spent a lot of time relaxing in the Old Town Square watching the charming horse and carts take people on tours of the city. The Old Town is surrounded by Planty Park, which is definitely worth taking a stroll in. A great place for people watching and taking a break from the hustle and bustle of the nearby market square.

Heading lightly out of Old Town, we walked down to the river and took a boat trip for an hour long the Vistula river. We got great views of the castle and cathedral on the way back, so decided to climb up and explore the area after the boat ride.

All through the city you’ll see electric scooters dotted around. They are really easy to hire – Simply download the app of the brand you wish to hire (we used Hive and loved them) and then scan the QR code. Simply scan again to check out when you are finished! It’s a great way to get around the city, and have some fun at the same time.

You can’t go to Poland without tasting vodka, and the best place we found to do this was Wodka Bar (address: Mikołajska 5, 31-027). They had vodka tasting paddles and over 40 flavours to choose from. We were advised to get a board between the two of us and see how it went, which was great advice – I think one each could have been dangerous! The best flavours for us were caramel, cherry and coconut!


Eat: Kogel Mogel, Mr Pancake, Old Town Market, Amarone

Our first evening dinner was at the amazing Kogel Mogel, a Michelin Guided restaurant in the heart of Old Town. With warm candlelit lighting and a live pianist, the atmosphere was great, as was the food. Main courses worked out around £12, which for the quality of the food was an outstanding price!

Breakfast on Sunday morning was a stack of fluffy, chocolate drenched pancakes at Mr Pancake. They have an extensive menu of both sweet and savoury pancake creations, along with a make your own option and a selection of other brunch items. We went for the Nutella pancakes and then added some extra M&Ms and Magic Stars to the top, because, well, we didn’t have enough chocolate already!

If you’re after a tasting menu, look no further than the lunch menu at Amarone – 7 courses for 69PLN! The dining room was elegant and the service was excellent. Food was served as a tray of 5 appetisers, followed by a main course and then dessert. We loved every dish, and would definitely return here to try out more of their seasonal lunchtime menus!

If you’re after a quick snack/bite to eat in the afternoon in the city, head to the market in Old Town Square. There are so many options o choose from, ranging from cheese to pork dishes through to our favourite – Pierogi. The stall we went to had so many different flavours to choose from, and did a mix and match selection plate for us to try!


Drink: Pub Propaganda, Singer, Wodka Bar, Pijalnia Wodki i Piwa

The nightlife in Krakow is excellent, and has everything ranging form trendy bars through to ruin pubs and night clubs.

As mentioned above, the Wodka bar is a must visit for sampling vodkas in the city, but pretty much every bar you go to will have multiple flavours of the spirit on sale. Pijalnia Wodki i Piwa is definitely one to head to if you’re wanting a cheap round (or 4!) as shots here are £1 each! Set out in a diner style, it was super crowded and loud, but had a party atmosphere about it, and who can complain about a bit of jostling at the bar when drinks are so cheap?!

If you’re heading to the Kazimierz district for your evening out (which is highly recommended for at least one night of your trip) then you’ll be spoilt for choice for bars. One of our favourites was Singer, named after the sewing machines that form part of the tables. This place gets very lively into the early hours of the morning!

Pub Propaganda was also a great discovery – This definitely comes under the ‘dive bar’ heading, so don’t expect a drinks menu or anything fancy. The barmaid was friendly though and happy to recommend beverages. Be warned: Drink the ‘Mad Dog’ shot at your peril!!

Our last stop of the night was Eszeweria, which was lit with an abundance of candles and fairy lights. Warm and inviting, it would be easy to spend hours in here, cozied up in one of the many tucked away corners.

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Valencia

Located on the East coast of Spain, Valencia has a lot to offer for those looking for a long weekend away. With a charming Old Town, excellent food, buzzing nightlife and a beach just a short metro ride away, there is something for everyone in this city!


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

Stay: Expo Hotel

The Expo Hotel in Valencia is in a great location for exploring the city; within walking distance of Old Town and also with easy access to the Metro for trips to the beach or the hip Russufa district.

The rooftop here steals the show, with a large swimming pool, plenty of sun loungers and a bar selling local drinks and excellent burgers. It’s the perfect place to spend some time relaxing after strolling the streets of the city.


Do: Botanical Gardens, City of Arts and Sciences, Eat Tapas, Explore El Carmen, Turia Park

Although it would be easy to spend the entire time just eating and drinking your way around the city, Valencia has lots to see and do, so put on some comfy shoes and get exploring!

On the edge of the city – just a short walk from the Expo Hotel – there are lovely Botanical Gardens that are definitely worth a visit. Home to many of Valencia’s stray cats, along with (of course) a fascinating array of plants and flowers, it’s a great place to wander around and take a pause from the busy city streets. If green spaces are your thing, also set aside some time to stroll the Turia Park, which runs around the city centre and is build in an old river bed.

The City of Arts and Sciences is a huge complex that is home to the Valencia Opera House, the Museum of Science, an Oceanographic and a Hemispheric, plus lots of events taking place throughout the year. Tickets can be purchased in advance for individual attractions or in bundles if you want to visit more than one and save money. Hop on the Metro and you can reach this area within 10 minutes from the central city.

Technically, ‘sample the tapas’ should be under the eat heading, but it really is a way of life here and so it’s made it to the list of things to do! Many places, for small side street cafes to large restaurants serve tapas all day, and you will rarely see empty seats outside the cafes in the summer. Add a jug of Agua De Valencia (cava, orange juice, vodka and gin) to your order and watch the world go by while picking at some lovely fresh nibbles.

The neighbourhood of El Carmen should definitely be on your list to explore. A maze of small winding streets that are covered in amazing street art and murals and are home to some of the best backstreet bars and cafes that we found on our trip. The more lost you get, the better!


Eat: Bar Cordellats, El Rall, Restaurante San Miguel, La Chipirona

There are SO many amazing places to eat in the city that these really are just a selection of restaurants for inspiration more than anything.

One this that we did notice was that a lot of restaurants offer a ‘menu of the day’ – some for lunch and some for dinner – but they were always excellent value and really tasty food. One of the best upmarket menus of the day we did was a lunchtime menu at La Chipirona. Fresh fish is huge here, and while the starters come in meze form to share, for main there were three dishes to choose between. We went for the local fish/rice dish and were definitely not disappointed!

For a quick lunch stop thats guaranteed to fill you up, grab a Bocadillo (a Spanish type of sandwich) at Bar Cordellats. Located near the central market, this is a great place to stop if you are exploring the city centre in the day time.

One of the best paellas of the whole trip was had at El Rall, a permanently busy restaurant located in a small but charming square in El Carmen. We ordered the traditional Valencia paella along with two glasses of Agua de Valencia, and it was the best version of the drink we had too!


Drink: La Bella De Cadiz, Che Vins, El Carmen

Located in the trendy Russafa district is La Bella De Cadiz – a quirky cocktail bar with a huge variety of drinks. It’s a great place to go for some late drinks after dinner, as it stays open until 1.30am and 2pm on weekends!

Che Vins is the perfect place to stop for a glass of wine, and the owner was super knowledgable, talking through the various wines he had in stock and making recommendations based on what we usually liked drinking. We went for the wine of the day, which was served with some tapas on the side and was such a reasonable price.

There are lots of lovely local side street bars that can only be discovered by strolling the streets after dark. El Carmen is the perfect district for this, as it’s full of winding streets and neighbourhood locals.

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Prague

The capital of the Czech Republic, Prague, may well be known for its abundant stag dos and very cheap beer, but it is also a stunning city with plenty of culture and lots to explore! Visit in the summer for outdoor dining and drinking, or in December for crisp winter days and gorgeous Christmas markets.


  • Currency: Czech Koruna
  • Local time: GMT +1
  • Language: Czech

Stay: The Majestic Plaza

Centrally located and very reasonably priced, the Majestic Plaza hotel was a short 10 minute walk from Old Town Square, and the same distance from the river. The area it was located in was safe and far enough away from the crowds that we got a quiet, peaceful nights sleep.

Breakfast was included in the price and there was an excellent selection, including continental hams cheeses and breads, cooked hot food, fruit, yoghurt plus a wide selection of drinks, including sparkling wine!


Do: Charles Bridge, Old Town, Wallenstein Gardens, Boat tour

The architecture in Prague is gorgeous, so definitely spend some time wandering around the city and taking in the sights. Old Town Square is a great place to start, and several walking tours can be taken from here too.

The streets of Old Town offer everything in terms of food and drink, from pizza, pastries and spit roast pork through to chimney cake and ice cream. No trip to Prague is complete without trying the Chimney Cake (trdelník), ideally with a huge swirl of ice cream running through the middle! Similar to a donut, these cakes are made from rolled dough that are then roasted on a spit.

Crossing the river away from Old Town, you will find the entrance to the Wallenstein Garden. A manicured garden that is home to the Senate building, these gardens are a lovely place to stroll around and take a break from the large crowds that often overtake Old Town. There are many boat trips offered along the river, several of which can be booked from outside the Wallenstein Garden. We opted for an open top boat tour (50 mins) as the weather was lovely, and at 250 CZK (around £8.50) it was a fun and very reasonable way to spend an hour.

Although a lot of peoples evenings are spent in the bars and clubs in Prague, it’s also a lovely city to walk around in the evening and take in the views across the river. The best is arguably from Charles Bridge, looking over towards the castle on the other side of the river.


Eat: Karlova 30, Bohemia restaurant, Fat Cat

Karlova 30 may be located in a touristy part of town, but served local and authentic tasting food in a cozy atmosphere. I ordered the Czech goulash which was served with dumplings and it was great. The food was great value, and the wine was reasonably priced at around £3 a glass, but it’s worth noting they only take payment in cash.

In Old Town, Bohemia restaurant had a lovely outdoor courtyard for dining in if the weather was good, and a large indoor restaurant incase it was not! The local pork dish here was very tasty, served with a fried egg and chips. Again, this is a cash only restaurant.

For some fast food in an upbeat environment, head to Fat Cat. With a big menu of carb heavy food, it’s the perfect place to go before you head into town for some drinks! The parmesan fries here were very good, and we washed them down with a great cherry beer. The list of beers here is impressive, so definitely stop by if you’re a fan! This restaurant and brewery takes card.


Drink: Švejk, Café Mánes, Pub Sul Fiume

There is no shortage of places to drink in Prague, but my favourites were definitely the ones where I could sit outside.

Café Mánes was situated right by the Vltava river, and has a lovely outdoor terrace overlooking the water. The drinks here were a little more expensive than the standard bars in town, but the view more than made up for the extra cost. It’s cash only (this turned out to be very common in Prague!) so make sure you have plenty on you as there weren’t any ATMs nearby that we could see.

Švejk is another outdoor drinking spot, serving very cheap local wine. A bottle here was around £8, and was served ice cold. Another cash only bar, but we were used to it by this point, and also appreciated the waiting staff telling us in advance.

We stumbled upon Pub Sul Fiume, which depending on where you look may not be listed on a map. It’s an outdoor garden bar located on the banks of the river, away from Charles Bridge and Old Town. It had a lovely atmosphere, shairng tables which encouraged chatter between visitors, and a great wine and cocktail list. This was – shock – cash only!

travel

Riga

Riga, the capital of Latvia, may be small but it is a charming city with a lovely Old Town, plenty of bars and an ever growing dining scene. Perfect for a two night stay, visit when the weather is warm to make the most of the outdoor cafes and bars.  


  • Currency: Euro
  • Local time: GMT +2
  • Language: Latvian

Stay: The Grand Poet

The Grand Poet is an outstanding 5* hotel located just a few minutes walk from Old Town, and right on the edge of Bastejkalna park. With impressive rooms, a superb spa in the basement and a selection of bars and restaurants, this is the perfect place to stay if you’re looking for a touch of luxury on your trip to Riga. A champagne breakfast is included in the room rate here, and it is easily one of the best hotel breakfasts I have had. More on that in the ‘where to eat’ section below!


Do: Explore Old Town, St Peter’s Church, Central Market

Riga is a small city – accessible totally by foot – but there is still plenty to see and explore. Old Town is a great place to start, with it’s amazing architecture and colourful buildings. Start in Bastejkalna park at the Freedom Monument and walk directly into Lívu Square, from which you can wander down the many cobbled streets and discover local bars, restaurants and shops.

St Peter’s Church is definitely worth a visit, and for €9 you can get the lift to the top of it for panoramic views across the city. Opening times vary, but are listed here.

Central Market in Riga is the largest market/bazaar in Europe, and sells pretty much everything, from clothing to fresh fish/meat, chocolate to herbs and spices. It’s a great place to observe every day life of locals, who visit the market daily to pick up fresh produce. The area that it is in isn’t quite as touristy as Old Town and whilst not unsafe, we were warned to watch our belonging here and it definitely did have a different feel to it, so just keep your things tucked away if you visit.


Eat: Restorāns “Pētergailis”, Galerija Istaba, The Grand Poet

Located in the heart of Old Town, Restorāns “Pētergailis” offers excellent quality food in a cozy setting. The lamb from the specials menu was so tender and fell off the bone, and the presentation was that of a work of art. The desserts here were also amazing – Opt for the white chocolate ice cream with chocolate truffles for a seriously sweet hit. With a great wine list, plus an extensive cocktail menu, this is a great restaurant for either lunch or dinner – Just book ahead if you would like an evening meal; it get’s booked up days n advance.

Breakfast at The Grand Poet is truly a ‘grand’ affair. Offering everything from pastries and continental cheeses and cold cuts through to full cooked egg, bacon etc, the spread of offer is huge, and is accompanied by a wide selection of juices, hot drinks and champagne – all included in the room rate.

Galerija Istaba is an art gallery, shop and restaurant located in Central Riga, and offers the chance to eat in a place where there is technically no menu. They have meat, fish and vegetarian options that change daily, based on what is fresh and available, and for the price of the main course you select you also get a selection of starters brought to the table. The lamb here was juicy and perfectly cooked, and the mixed salad starters were fresh and tasty. The waitress here was very friendly and happy to suggest other local bars and restaurants she thought we would like during our stay. Totally recommend this place – Just book in advance as there are only 8 tables.


Drink: Folkklubs ALA pagrabs, Easy Wine, Kaļķu Vārti

Old Town Riga is teaming with bars, from the outdoor drinking areas in popular squares to underground cave pubs, there is something to suit everyone and every budget!

Folkklubs ALA pagrabs is an underground cellar bar offering the chance to listen to live Latvian folk music and enjoy a few drinks in a relaxed environment. There are different drink deals here depending on what day of the week you visit, but it is reasonably priced regardless of happy hour offers and is an excellent place to spend a couple of hours in the evening.

The concept at Easy Wine is unique; a chance to try 60 different wines that you dispense yourself, and the cost is based on how much each individual wine is and what measure of wine you would like. You are given a card pre-loaded with €50 which you place into the wine dispenser, select your measure form 50ml, 100ml or 150ml and the price of each is displayed above the dispenser. A great way to try several different wines from all over the world.

If the sun is shining, head to Kaļķu Vārti for a large expanse of outdoor seating and very reasonably priced drinks in the daytime. Located in Lívu Square, the atmosphere is buzzing here and it’s the perfect place to stop for a drink and soak up the sun.

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Bern

The capital of Switzerland is often overlooked as a city break destination in favour of the more popular Zurich and Geneva, but Bern has its own charm and is a largely undiscovered city, making it a perfect escape for those wanting a slightly slower pace of life but the classic Swiss feel. 


  • Currency: Swiss Franc
  • Local time: GMT +1
  • Language: Swiss German

Stay: Hotel Schweizerhof

Located in the heart of Old Town, right opposite the main train station is Hotel Schweizerhof; a luxury hotel offering 5* accommodation complete with on site brasserie and spa.

Checking into a Junior Suite on the 6th (and top) floor of the hotel, it was quickly clear how this hotel had earned its 5* rating. With views of the parliament building and further afield across to the mountains, plus a large bed, a living area and separate bathroom with roll top bath and rainforest shower, this room was something special.

The spa is totally worth a visit during your stay, whether it’s simply to relax and unwind by the pool and enjoy use of the sauna, or book in for a luxury treatment. The Golden Relaxation massage that I had was exceptional, and left my skin feeling silky smooth.

Breakfast was included in the room rate and was served in the brasserie each morning, consisting of a cold buffet and extensive hot menu that could be ordered fresh from the kitchen. It was the perfect start to the day, and in a city where food and drink can quickly add up, it was great to have it included in our stay.


Do: Bear Park, Old Town, Bern Münster

Across the river just the other side of Nydeggbrücke bridge is the Bärengraben (bear pit) when the Bern bears live. Stop by and try and spot one of the three bears roaming around the park. At first glance it looks as if they are kept in a small enclosure, but the pit connects through to the large park below, where they have free reign of over 6000 square meters of space leading down to the river. Whilst at the bear park, grab an ice cream from Gelateria Eiswerkstatt, a recently opened ice cream parlour serving up some unique flavours (black vanilla, blueberry) plus the more traditional scoops.

The old town of Bern is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is easily explored by foot. Start at the main train station and cross to the Zytglogge (clock tower), from which you can explore the many cobbled streets and covered shopping arcades. There are plenty of small coffee shops and cafes situated amongst the shops, many of which offer outdoor seating and a change to stop and watch the world go by.

For incredible views across the city and to The Alps, climb the tower inside the Bern Münster. Costing only 4 Swiss francs, it’s a great way to take in a unique view of the city and surrounding areas, just be warned – it’s a steep climb of over 300 steps, and there is no lift!


Eat: Jacks Brasserie, Lötschberg, Toi Et Moi

No trip to Switzerland is complete without indulging in a classic Swiss fondue, and the one at Lötschberg was excellent. Opt for the classic ‘half & half’ (priced at 25 Swiss francs PP) which is served with bread and potatoes to dip. The restaurant itself has an extensive wine list and a cozy interior, and is the perfect place to spend an afternoon.

For a special evening meal in the city, head to Jacks Brasserie. Located within Hotel Schweizerhof, it’s very convenient if you’re staying in the hotel, but also easily accessible to visitors staying in other parts of the city. The seafood platter here was exceptional, and they offered a lot of Swiss classics, as well as a variety of French inspired dishes. The staff were very knowledgable and were readily available to suggest a wine from the menu that would compliment our meal.

If you haven’t had your fill of fondue, visit restaurant Toi Et Moi and head straight for the dessert menu. For 14 Swiss francs a person you can indulge in a Swiss chocolate fondue, served with seasonal fruit, marshmallows and mini smarties. It was more than enough chocolate to share between two, and we were glad we opted for this as lunch instead of a dessert afterwards – it was surprisingly filling!

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Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka has something to offer everyone – Culture, safaris and golden beaches await in this diverse and exciting country. Two weeks is plenty of time to get a good feel for the country, but anything from 10 days to 4 weeks and beyond can be spent here! 

Sample itinerary


  • Currency: Sri Lankan rupee
  • Local time: GMT +5.5
  • Language: Sinhala, Tamil, English

Kandy

My trip started in Kandy, which is in the Hill Country and around a three hour drive from Bandaranaike International Airport. We checked into Randholee Resort & Spa, just outside of Kandy. It had an incredible infinity pool with incredible views over Kandy and the hills beyond. The hotel offered dinner on site which was a huge bonus for us as we didn’t arrive until 8pm and after a long flight didn’t fancy exploring the city that night. The next day we took a tuktuk tour of the city, visiting the Botanical Gardens, Temple of the Tooth, Kandy Lake and Kandy viewpoint. We then left our driver and wandered around the town, stopping for food in a local restaurant called Kandyan Muslim Hotel which turned out to be amazing and one of the cheapest meals I’ve ever eaten! Drinking is not huge on the agenda in Kandy; its a very religious part of the country and many places are not licensed. If you’re after a cold post-dinner beer though, head to The Pub, where good snacks and drinks are served – just don’t expect to find any locals in there!

Ella

From Kandy, we took the train to Ella, which I highly recommend! Often named as one of the most scenic train journeys in the world, it’s easy to see why almost immediately after you depart Kandy. Opt for second class to ensure you have the authentic experience of open windows & doors – first class may have air conditioning, but you may as well be on the Eurostar and most importantly, you won’t get that classic ‘hanging out of a door’ shot. We stayed at The Secret Ella during our time in Ella, and it was incredible. The service was impeccable (every room comes with its own butler) and the food at the restaurant was divine. It was the best Sri Lankan curry we had on the whole trip! As for things to do in Ella, the list is long. You can’t leave without seeing the nine arch bridge (walking distance form The Secret Ella) and for the more adventurous, tackle Ella Rock. The views from the top are incredible and totally worth the climb, but make sure to set off early so you avoid the peak sun and take plenty of water. Expect to spend at least two hours climbing to the top, and note that the last 30 minutes are steep and rocky – trainers/walking boots essential! In the evenings, Ella town comes to life. There are plenty of bars and restaurants to keep you entertained, many offering live music. Particular mention to Matey Hut, which served authentic local food at a very cheap price – just be prepared to queue!

Udalawawe

Moving on through the country, we hired a driver (a tuktuk driver we had met in Ella who also ran a taxi service) to take us to Udalawawe National Park. We had booked a room at Private Organic House for the night, which we knew in advance was able to organise a safari for us the next day. The accommodation was basic but clean and the staff friendly. There are only three huts on site and a communal dinner is served each evening, which is a lovely way to meet other travellers. We set off at 5.30am for a safari run by the owners of the accommodation, and with only four of us in the truck we all got a window seat. It was an amazing experience, getting so close to the elephants in the park without any barriers, and we also saw plenty of exotic birds and smaller wildlife, including jackal, mongoose, jungle cat and deer. It cost the equivalent of around £60 for two people, including all park entry fees and was added to our bill on departure.

Unawatuna

On arrival in Unawatuna, it quickly became clear we had arrived in paradise. Thaproban Pavillion Waves is easily one of the best hotels I’ve stayed in, and oozed luxury from the moment we checked in. The infinity pool takes centre stage here, and the rooms boast balconies/patios with views directly over it. Sundown drinks are also served on the decking beside it, and at the end a small private beach can be found. The rooms were large and spacious with incredible air conditions and luxury products replenished daily. The breakfast in the restaurant (included in the room rate) was great and the lunch menu by the pool also very good and a reasonable price. Unawatuna itself is a lively beach resort, with countless restaurants and bars right on the beach. Sweeping round the bay, there is always somewhere offering happy hour, and the fish and seafood served at many of the restaurants is some of the freshest I’ve ever eaten.

Hikkaduwa

Our final destination of the trip was the gorgeous beach destination of Hikkaduwa. Our hotel, Sapphire Seas, was located right on the beach and had stunning views over the pool and out to the ocean. The rooms were all fitted with air conditioning and every first floor room had a balcony that overlooked the pool and the sea. In Hikkaduwa itself, there are plenty of restaurants in town to choose from – particular mention to Home Grown Rice & Curry and Thambili Cafe who served exceptional food – as well as a large selection of beach bars to keep you entertained in the evenings. If you aren’t content to laze by the pool all day, the turtle hatchery is a lovely way to spend an hour, and not only does your entrance fee go towards keeping the turtles of Hikkaduwa safe, you learn a lot during your visit too!
From Hikkaduwa we took a taxi to the airport, which took around 3 hours (including rush hour traffic) and boarded our flight to London (via Doha). We had an evening flight so left the coast late afternoon, but if you have a morning flight, I’d recommend staying closer to the airport the night before as traffic can be very unpredictable!
travel

Venice

Venice, famed for its canals and gondolas, is made up of over 100 islands connected by small bridges. With no cars or bicycles, only boat or foot to get around on, it has a very serene feel and is a great place for a relaxing weekend getaway. 


  • Currency: Euro
  • Local time: GMT +1
  • Language: Venetian, Italian

Stay: Hotel Al Nuovo Teson

Centrally located near San Marco, Hotel Al Nuovo Teson is the perfect choice for comfortable yet affordable accommodation in Venice. We were warmly greeted upon arrival and given a map and several suggestions for a local dinner, which was a huge help for first timers in what can be a very confusing city!

The rooms, albeit small, were well lit and comfortable, and came with a minibar, daily maid service and a fully stocked bathroom. Everywhere was within walking distance, and the best place that we ate (Taverna Scalinetto) was literally around the corner.


Do: Gondola ride, I Tre Mercanti, Rialto

A trip to Venice isn’t complete without a ride on a gondola. These famous boats are located all over Venice, and the gondoliers easily spotted in their stripy uniforms. Wait at any of the ‘Gondola Service’ signs if there aren’t any readily available and a boat will show up in no time. It’s worth noting that the prices are set, so don’t try to haggle! A daytime ride will cost €80 for 30 mins, while a night time trip after dark is set at €100. Steep? Yes. Worth it? Absolutely.

Famed for its tiramisu, I Tre Mercanti is located on the corner of a canal and offers up an impressive 30 flavours! They aren’t all of offer at once though, so stop by and look at the menu, and if there’s one in particular you fancy trying, ask when the next batch will be out. We tried their original and the Nutella, both of which were divine! They are all handmade each day on site, and if you’re lucky you’ll turn up when they’re doing exactly this, on display in the window!

The Rialto area is one not to be missed. Go early to explore the local fish and fresh food market, located a few streets away form the Rialto Bridge. After that, I recommend stopping for a coffee (or an excellent hot chocolate) at Naranzaria, which has lots of outdoor tables literally on the side of the Grand Canal. Just watch out for high tide, when the water can lap over the edge and up to the tables!


Eat: Ristorante Al Giardinetto da Severino, Rossopomodoro, Taverna Scalinetto, Trattoria da Denis,

You’re spoilt for choice with the number of restaurants in Venice, but we were keen to experience local and authentic places whenever we could. We asked for some recommendations from our hotel, as well as other travellers we met on the trip, and the result was a holiday full of excellent food!

Ristorante Al Giardinetto da Severino could easily be walked past if you weren’t looking for it, but once inside you’ll discover a grand dining room lit by candles and filled with chatter. Smartly dressed waiters keep your glass topped up and a smile on your face, and the food only serves to broaden the smile. The house lasagna and Black Tagliolini are our recommendations.

Rossopomodoro is located near San Marco, very centrally, and while it is often frequented by tourists, the pizzas are excellent and a very reasonable price. They have expansive seating inside, but if its warm enough definitely opt for one of the outdoor seats as you can watch the bustling street life pass by while you wait for your pizza.

Taverna Scalinetto is tucked away in a back street, but is totally worth searching out. It’s authentic and cozy inside, with a great outdoor terrace situated under a vineyard for the warmer weather. The charcuterie board was excellent, and the spaghetti carbonara was the best we’ve ever eaten – no exaggeration! House wine is reasonably priced and very good, and the service was all done with a smile. Definitely recommend!

Trattoria da Denis was another back street find, and the layout made it easy to chat to other diners while we waited for food. House wine was very reasonably priced and bread was brought to the table shortly after we arrived. It was our first meal in the city and a great introduction to Venetian cuisine.

travel

Lisbon

Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, is the perfect place for a weekend city break. Excellent food, plenty of outdoor terraces to soak up the sun and a gorgeous expanse of water at the south of the city, there is plenty to keep you occupied! 


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

Stay: VIP Executive Éden Aparthotel

We booked the VIP Executive Éden Aparthotel through lastminute.com and loved our stay. One of the key benefits of this hotel was undoubtedly the rooftop swimming pool and terrace, offering panoramic views across Lisbon. There were always sunbeds available, and a bar offering a poolside drinks service.

The beds were comfortable, each room came with air conditioning (very much-needed in the 36 degree heat we experienced in the city!) and daily maid service. Despite the large number of rooms, the hotel never felt crowded.


Do: Walking tour, Time Out Market

Wanting to make the most of our time in the city, we booked a four-hour walking tour of Lisbon through Urban Adventures, which showed us the best of the city through the eyes of a local. Not only did we learn about the history of the city, we also got to sample a variety of local dishes along the way including traditional pastries, port wine, cheese & marmalade. We then finished the trip off with boat trip across the water where we were greeted with a seafood platter and green wine. A highly recommended tour!

The Time Out Market in Lisbon was the original, and a stay in the city isn’t complete without a visit here. There are countless options to choose from, offering food from all over the world. We went to a local dish by chef Marlene Vieiras, and the stand offered specials of the day. Our ‘Wednesday’ dish of Pork belly with clams was delicious!


Eat: Meson Andaluz, Restaurant Mili, Gelados Santini

For a cheap but incredible international meal, head uphill to Restaurant Mili, a local Bangladeshi restaurant that has won a Tripadvisor certificate of excellence, and for good reason. The fish was incredibly fresh and the special chicken curry was authentic and cooked to order so spice levels can be personalised. The meal was finished with a complimentary shot of cherry liquor – local to the area – which rounded the meal off perfectly. It’s also essential that I mention their house wine is €5 a litre here, and no, that is not a typo!

The candlelit steps leading down to Meson Andaluz instantly create a magical feel, and although there is more often than not a long wait for a table, you are seated amongst the storm lamps and given a drinks menu, encouraged to order a drink and soak up the atmosphere until a seat is available. The food here was divine – particular nod to the seafood paella – and the service excellent. It was a little more expensive than the rest of the places we ate, but worth every penny, or euro as it may be!

If it’s sunny and hot, you’ll most likely want an ice cream at some point on your trip, and if that’s the case, make sure you don’t pass by Gelados Santini. There’s a huge variety of flavours and toppings, and its open until midnight every night!


Drink: Topo Chiado, Lost In Esplanada, Rooftop @ VIP Executive Éden Aparthotel

For an afternoon beer in the sunshine, head to Topo Chiado – a gorgeous terrace in the middle of the city centre that is perfect for kicking back with a sangria and people watching. The views over the city from here are amazing, and there are sun loungers on the floor below the bar if you want to really soak up some sun.

Lost In Esplanada is the perfect bar to go to for sweeping views and a great sunset. It’s a fairly steep climb to get there, but once you’re up, you find yourself transported to a magical garden of swinging chairs, candles and fairy lights. Reservations are recommended if you want a table outside.

The rooftop at VIP Executive Éden Aparthotel is a hidden gem; you can’t see it from the street but it’s open to the public, not just guests, and a short ride in the hotels lift will bring you out to an expansive roof terrace complete with bar and swimming pool. Drink prices are very reasonable too!

travel

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.