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Where next?

Amsterdam

I’m heading back to Amsterdam in October with my sister. We were meant to stay at Roommate Aitana over Kings Day in April, but due to COVID-19 the trip was sadly cancelled. The hotel have kindly offered us an upgrade for our rebooking, so we’ll be staying in a junior suite, and I can’t wait!


Madrid

I love Spain and I love Spanish food, so it’s surprising to me that I’ve never made it to the capital of Spain. This is set to change August Bank Holiday weekend when I’ll be heading to Madrid for three days. I’ve been warned it gets exceptionally hot in August – good job I don’t mind the heat! We’ve booked a hotel with a pool, for when we need to cool down, and continuing my love of Roommate Hotels, I’ve booked to stay at Roommate Oscar, which apparently has one of the best rooftops in the city!


Seville

A couple of weeks after coming home from Madrid, I’m heading back to mainland Spain – this time to Seville. Named as ‘the frying pan of Europe’, it’s going to be around 36 degrees in mid-September, so again we’ve booked a hotel with a pool as we will definitely need some down time. We’ll be staying at Eurostars Sevilla Boutique, which is in the centre of the city and we managed to get a bargain price of £365 for 4 nights!

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Mauritius

Mention the word Mauritius and instantly you think of white sand and blue sea. Head to Belle Mare on the East coast of the island and that is exactly what you will find. A perfect place if you want some time to eat, drink and relax. 


  • Currency: Mauritian rupee
  • Local time: GMT +4
  • Language: English, French, Mauritian Creole

Resort: Belle Mare

Belle Mare beach is arguably one of the best on the island. Situated on the East Coast, there is a gentle breeze all year round meaning even on sweltering days it never feels too hot. There are several upmarket resorts to choose from, as well as several more catering to those on a slightly more restricted budget. What I loved about this area though was that walking along the beach, it never felt crowded or busy, or like too many hotels had been crammed in. It was always calm, always peaceful.

At around an hours drive from Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International airport, it is worth booking a transfer in advance so that you have someone to greet you in arrivals and whisk you away to your hotel.


Hotel: Emeraude Beach Attitude

We booked to stay at the Emeraude Beach Attitude hotel as part of a package with British Airways and could not fault the hotel. It is a small, adults only set up and the staff were friendly and attentive throughout our stay. The moment we arrived (after 16 hours of travelling door to door) we were warmly greeted and offered a cold drink and lunch before being checked in, which was hugely appreciated.

Rooms: The rooms were clean, comfortable and spacious, and mere steps from the swimming pool. With daily maid service and refreshing of towels, plus an inclusive mini-bar we were left wanting for nothing.

The air conditioning was also highly effective (and much needed in 36 degree heat)!

Food: All inclusive hotels can often be hit and miss with their food, but I can honestly say we never had a bad meal here. As the resort is small (just 61 rooms) the food is cooked in small batches and is constantly being cooked/topped up, meaning everything was super fresh and piping hot.

  • The breakfast options were plentiful and always in buffet style (with a chef station for excellent fresh omelettes).
  • Lunch could be had from either the buffet restaurant, which always had fresh salad plus several hot and cold options each day, varying from both Western and local cuisine. Taba-J, the Mauritian street food cart on site was an excellent choice for lunch also (or a mid-afternoon snack!), and if eating here, I particularly recommend the chicken roti!
  • Dinner comes with three options: A buffet meal with self service, à la carte with a set menu at the main restaurant (on rotation basis, roughly every other night) or a special meal at Kot Nou – the hotels signature restaurant. You can dine here with your feet in the sand and traditional food brought to you by smiling waiters.

Bar: The bar area is situated between the pool area and the main restaurant, and is open from 11am daily. Serving everything from cold soft drinks and iced coffees through to local wine & spirits and excellent cocktails, you’ll never go thirsty here! The all inclusive package really came into it’s own here as pretty much everything on the menu (bar imported spirits) was included!


Do: Boat trip, water sports, day trip to Port Louis

Although the main aim of most peoples trips to Mauritius is to relax, for those wanting to venture out of their hotel, there are lots of options for those who wish to be a little more energetic.

Our package with Emeraude Beach Attitude hotel included a glass bottom boat trip out to the coral reef, which was an excellent way of exploring the local marine life. There was also the chance to snorkel in the clear waters part way through the trip, and snorkels were provided.

Still on the water theme, there are many watersports options that can be booked on Belle Mare beach. From waterskiing to parasailing, paddleboarding to  kitesurfing, the prices were reasonable and the activities ran daily.

If you’re wanting to explore a different part of the island then consider a day trip to Port Louis, the capital of Mauritius. It is around an hour each way in the car, and taxis can be arranged by the hotel reception for those wishing to take the trip.

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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.

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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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Zante

Zante is well known for its stunning beaches and it’s turtles, and there are plenty of options to discover both on this island. With all but guaranteed sunshine and warm temperatures from May-September, plus loads of gorgeous beaches, this island is an ideal summer getaway.


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

Resort: Alykes

Alykes is a lovely resort on the East coast of Zante with a long sandy beach and plenty of tavernas and bars to keep you occupied in the evenings. The sea isn’t tidal here, so stays at the same level on the beach all day. The water is totally clear and shallow a fair way out so it’s perfect for swimming.

There are plenty of beach bars and tavernas along the shore, offering drinks and ice cream in the day and relaxing evening meals at night. Buca Lounge Bar was a particular favourite – their ice cream selection was the best we found, and they had an extensive cocktail list.

There are plenty of options for trips from the town if you fancy a day out – We did a turtle cruise for €25 each, including a coach transfer to the South of the island and then three hours on a boat. Plenty of time for turtle spotting plus a couple of swim stops in crystal clear bays.


Hotel: Potamitis Studios

We booked the Potamitis Studios through TUI and had an excellent stay. The family run apartments are spotlessly clean, have a lovely pool area with plenty of loungers and there is a weekly Greek night that is not to be missed! They are in a great location, just a 10 minute stroll from the beach and all of the bars/tavernas in Alykes town.

The food at Potamitis is great, and if you choose to you have the option of breakfast, lunch and dinner here. Plus, the pool bar stays open late so you can have a drink after dinner with some of the new friends you’ve made (and trust us, you will – it’s super friendly here!).

Note that air conditioning is an extra €50 when you check in, but that’s quite common with Greece, and it was very much needed in the 34 degree heat!


Restaurants: Fidelio, Fishalida, Anatolikos, Koukounari

There is an impressive selection of tavernas in Alykes, and we were really spoilt for choice on where to eat.

For restaurants right on the beach, head to either Fishalida (excellent fresh fish, although lots of options if you’re not a fish fan too) or Anatolikos. The latter was described to us as ‘like something straight out of Shirley Valentine’ and that was so accurate! Cute chequered table cloths on tables right by the beach. Both have perfect settings for a meal as the sun goes down.

We ate at Koukounaria one evening which had a lovely outdoor terrace and an extensive list of home cooked traditional Greek dishes. Particularly recommend the beef stifado here. It was also recommended to book here as it gets very busy around 8pm.

Fidelio was another favourite, serving lots of Greek dishes with particularly good side salads with most dishes. The local wine here was also very good, and crazily cheap at €7 a litre!

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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!

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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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Iceland

Iceland is truly a unique country to visit – like nowhere else I’ve been. With ice glaciers, geysers and waterfalls, plus a geothermal spa, the scenery is stunning and there is so much to explore. With the added bonus of the chance to see the Northern Lights several months of the year, this is a once in a lifetime place to visit! 


  • Currency: Icelandic króna
  • Local time: GMT 
  • Language: Icelandic 

Reykjavik

Landing into the capital of Iceland – Reykjavik, makes this the most logical place to start your trip. A bus from the airport takes around 45 minutes, and private shuttles to most hotels in the city centre can be arranged. 

The capital is small and totally accessible by foot. Allow yourself a day to explore, eat and drink around the city, leaving time to climb the Hallsgrímskirkja, which is the tallest church in Iceland. The views are amazing, and if you time it right you can be at the top for the hourly ringing of the church bell. 

Stay at the centrally located Hotel Leifur Eiríksson for easy access to the city centre and incredible views of the Hallsgrímskirkja directly opposite. 


Golden Circle tour

To see the best sights that Iceland has to offer, join a Golden Circle tour (we booked in advance form the UK through Viator) which will take you to Thingvellir National Park, Gullfoss waterfall and Strokkur waterspout at Geysir. Along the way we stopped at various small waterfalls and viewing points to see as much as we could of the rural Icelandic countryside. 

Take layered clothing on this trip as the temperature can change rapidly in Iceland and our tour was a full day excursion – I was very grateful of my gloves and extra jumper when we were standing on the edge of Gullfoss – I didn’t want to move from the amazing view but it was remarkably cold!


Thórsmörk excursion

Without doubt my favourite day in Iceland was the private tour we took of Thórsmörk; a valley nestled between glaciers and located around a three hour drive from Reykjavik. We hired a private driver with a very large 4×4 jeep, who drove us expertly through some fairly extreme weather conditions and down into the valley. The scenery along the way was stunning, but nothing compared to what we found once entering the valley. 

We parked the car once we could drive no further and then walked into the valley along a number of small (and sometimes very icy!) paths. Snow was falling by the time we reached the small lagoon, which had amazing naturally formed blue ice sculptures. We spent a couple of hours exploring the area, and only saw a handful of other people the whole time we were there. It felt very remote and like we had experience a truly authentic part of Iceland.


The Blue Lagoon

No trip to Iceland is complete without a visit to The Blue Lagoon, a geothermal spa with average water temperatures of 37-39°C. It’s the perfect place to relax and unwind, floating in the naturally heated waters and covering skin in the mud masks (provided on site) for a real pampered feel. 

Entry costs are from 6900 ISK (£43) but a trip can be booked in combination with drop off at the airport, which is what we opted for. We had three hours at the lagoon in the morning, including time for a shower before we were picked up and taken with our luggage to the airport for our flight home. For those wanting to spend longer at the lagoon and maybe sample some of the food on offer at their restaurant, a full day excursion can be booked from the centre of Reykjavik. 


The Northern Lights

You can never predict when the Northern Lights will appear, but visiting Iceland at certain times of the year enhances your chances of seeing this magical display. September-March are the best months to visit if the Northern Lights are high on your list, as in the summer months, Iceland gets very little darkness. 

We booked a tour for our first night with the hope of seeing them, and stuck lucky. While my photos do not do it justice, the pictures of it in my mind will remain with me forever. 

A lot of companies offer a deal whereby if you do not have success on your first trip out, they will offer a free second trip the following evening, so this is well worth looking out for. We booked ours through Viator, who are one of many who offer this ‘return trip’ option.

travel

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!