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.

travel

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

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

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.

travel

Zanzibar

Whether you’re transferring after an action packed safari or heading straight to the island for some serious down time, Zanzibar is an excellent destination when your number one aim is to relax on soft white sand with the crystal clear Indian Ocean lapping at your feet. 


  • Currency: Tanzanian Shilling
  • Local time: GMT +3
  • Language: Swahili, Arabic, English

Resort: Bwejuu

Bwejuu Beach has been voted in the top 30 beaches in the world, and is located on the South East coast of the island. This part of Zanzibar is one of the most unspoilt, offering pristine white sand and stunning azure waters, with many untouched coral reefs that can be ventured out to. The transfer time from the airport is around an hour, and I recommend pre-booking a private, air-conditioned car, as arriving at this airport can be fairly overwhelming in terms of the amount of people outside arrivals; many of whom are waiting to offer you a ‘taxi’.


Hotel: Breezes Beach Club

I stayed at Breezes Beach Club & Spa for 5 nights, and wow do I wish it could have been longer! Time seemed to stand still here – my only concerns were which cocktail to choose from the menu and whether to sunbathe by the swimming pool or take a stroll along the gorgeous beach.

The food options on site were brilliant – think themed nights and a la carte meals – and I highly recommend that when booking you choose the Full Board option, as it works out most economical come check out.

With four dining locations, three bars and a chai tea room serving afternoon tea daily, plus shops, a scuba diving centre and a Frangipani spa, this hotel has everything you need for a relaxing break without ever having to leave resort!


Do: Stone Town

I highly recommend visiting Stone Town, the capital of Zanzibar while you’re on the island. Whether you choose to stay a night or two before transferring to your chosen beach resort (Stone Town is on the coast, but the luxury resorts are on the other side of the island and the beaches are cleaner and more relaxing there too) or take a day trip from your hotel, you don’t want to miss out on Stone Town.

With its winding streets and alleyways, I almost guarantee that you will get lost at some point in Stone Town, but the locals were very friendly and more than happy to point you in the right direction. A helpful tip I found was to be guided back to the waterfront, as finding our hotel (we stayed at Zanzibar Palace for one night and I highly recommend it!) was very easy from this point.

If you have time, book onto a walking tour of Stone Town, as nobody can show you the city better than a local guide! We got to look around the former slave market, which was a fascinating looking into the darker history of the city, as well as visiting Darajani Market, which I warn you now, is not for those with a delicate stomach or sense of smell. With lots of raw meat and fish, it’s an attack on the senses, but a really interesting look at the daily life of residents of the city.

Make sure you set aside some time to visit Memories gift store to get those all important souvenirs and gifts to take home. We found that once we got to our beach resort, the opportunity to buy gifts was next to zero, so we were very glad we’d picked up what we wanted in Memories.

travel

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!