We stayed in the Cannaregio district, the northern part of town. It is about a 15 minute walk to St Mark’s and 5 minutes to the Rialto Bridge. We took the opportunity to try out Homestay
, where you stay with a host – a bit like a B&B really – and our host Monica recommended walks for us to do and restaurants to visit, we loved how local we felt – it was a far less touristy part of town.
|Our room, from £71 a night including breakfast, dressing gowns and slippers and a private bathroom, Homestay
The room was much more comfortable than I imagined it would be, we could come and go as we pleased with breakfast as an added bonus with cooked eggs and fresh coffee…oh, and this was right outside:
|Denim jacket: £59, Topshop. Bag: £167.20, Radley (a backpack has completely changed my sightseeing experience – so much easier!)
|Our room was one of the windows on the left – and this canal was our view
Venice is not exactly large, so we walked most of it – quicker and more convenient (especially in the winter months when the crowds are less) – plus you see tons of side street osterias (local bars) which we kept vowing to come back to…
From the airport, the waterbus into Venice is so easy and takes around 40 minutes (luckily our stop was the first one), and costs €15 each. I’ve heard the water taxi is splendid but as it was foggy when we arrived we chose to save our spending money.
WHERE TO EAT
Now, I was under the impression that everywhere we’d go would serve home-made pasta SO much better than you can get in the UK and every pizza would taste like heaven. I have to admit, this wasn’t quite the case – eating on the go and with convenience can mean you don’t always end up in the perfect place – but we did find a few great little places.
Rosa Rossa –
A recommendation from a lovely blog reader (thank you for that), we had a great night here, it had a great atmosphere and my gnocchi was melt in the mouth good. Dinner for two, including starter and drinks came to €70 euros.
Dai Tosi – possibly the cheapest, most authentic pizza we ate. The most expensive pizza on the menu was around €8 and the waiter talked us through the menu, advising us against pizzas without the freshest ingredients. Fully booked every night, you’ll have to book in advance (we rang on the day), but it’s worth it – our whole meal came to €30 (including half a litre of wine).
– a Venice institution, we went here for our last breakfast as a leaving treat. Right on St Mark’s Square (which means good people watching), it is expensive but not outrageously – a coffee costs €9.50 – but is served in such a splendid, one of a kind setting. It’s often hugely busy in the summer months – but in the winter you can easily get a table.
Osterias – we learnt quite early on that if you want cheap, easy, tasty food (with a good atmosphere), then do as the locals do and visit some of the many Osterias or Bacaros – small wine bars serving small snacks – Cicchetti – like Venetian tapas.
|Street Food stall serving fresh seafood
– near St Mark’s, this was our homestay host, Monica’s favourite place for lunch.
|Mixed plate of Cicchetti and 2 glasses of wine – €15
And what to drink? Well, wine is super cheap and no one blinks an eye when you order the house red – they’re all good. I’m not actually a wine drinker (I tried a few glasses of Prosecco) so quickly adopted the (pretty much) National drink of Aperol Spritz – between €4 and €6 euros a glass – always worth a tipple on the way home.
|Bar just behind St Mark’s Square
WHAT TO DO
1. GET LOST
Albeit not on purpose, we got lost a fair few times in the backstreets of Venice. It’s all the canals, and the fact you can’t really do a direct route to anywhere…but, this is how you stumble upon the most beautiful little bars, the cutest little houses and the tiniest shops selling trinkets (and sometimes Marvis toothpaste for under €5, which I stocked up on).
|Coat, £325, Gant. Shirt, Margaret Howell (old). Sunglasses, £150, Kenzo at Monnier Freres. Trousers, £79, Cos. ‘Clerkenwell’ bag, £199, Radley. Trainers, Senso (old). Gold-plated bracelet: Clarice Price Thomas
2. St Mark’s Square
You can’t not do St Mark’s…we had friends staying nearby so walked through most days, it has such a buzz of atmosphere – Cafe Florian, The Doge’s Palace, The Bridge of Sighs…and if you get the chance to walk through at night it really is spectacular. Avoid buying coffee (or anything) in the main square (unless of course, it’s from Florian for the experience), there are plenty of great places just a few streets behind.
|Puffa jacket, £59.95, Uniqlo. Skirt, Asos (sold out). ‘Portman’ bag, £179, Radley. Glasses, £98 with prescription lenses, Bailey Nelson
Set in an unfinished palace (where Peggy Guggenheim also lived), the Guggenheim is a wonderful space filled with great modern works by artists such as Jackson Pollock, Picasso and Francis Bacon. On a rainy Saturday, this was probably the busiest place we went but not unmanageable – €15 well spent (closed Tuesdays).
|Jumper, £80, Hush. Skirt, Asos (sold out). ‘Portman’ bag, £179, Radley.
4. Pescheria (fish market)
Just by The Rialto Bridge, this is where the local restaurant chefs buy their fish. It’s fascinating walking through, right by the Grand canal and there are lots of fruit, vegetables and pasta to buy as well (even premixed fish risotto kits etc – great for gifts!).
Just wow. For €10 euros entry, this place is just unmissable. We went at the end of the day just before close and we were the only people inside – the ceiling is a masterpiece by Tintoretto and the building itself is filled with works by other artists including Titian. This photo can’t really do the colours justice, it’s possibly the most gold I’ve ever seen in one place and is truly stunning. An absolute highlight.
I really didn’t know what to expect from Burano – I was told it was a less touristy version of Venice but we really weren’t prepared for the candy coloured gorgeousness that awaited us. Just €15 return trip by boat, it really is a hidden gem and a great opportunity to get out of the bustling chaos of Venice.
host recommended two restaurants on Burano where all the locals go – Al Gatto Negro or Romano. The first was closed so we headed to Romano, we were told to try the fish risotto (their famous dish) – it was delicious. We got a table really easily and ate outside in November – such a treat!
LONDON – Covent Garden
WHERE TO START…
Monmouth Street, without doubt is one of my favourite Streets in Covent Garden, perhaps even in London. The cobbled streets, the small boutiques, the Covent Garden Hotel
with its iconic striped awnings and Union Jack flag…it’s an instagram dream.
Every morning in London should start with ‘proper’ coffee. I love the decor in here as much as I like the coffee. And it’s always worth the queue…
The shops on Monmouth Street are great for window shopping, but also more affordable boutique shopping – my favourite stores are Laura Lee Jewellery
and the newly opened Club Monaco
Savvy shoppers should download ‘The Pass’ app
(free) for daily updates, discounts and deals for Covent Garden stores, restaurants and events.
WHERE TO EAT
Indian for breakfast? We’re not just getting ready for our Indian holiday, it’s just really, really good. I’d heard about the breakfast here from a few people, and was sold on the idea when it meant it was the one time you don’t have to queue to eat in this now famous restaurant.
I’ve only ever had the bacon naan roll here, mainly because it’s so good I’m scared to try anything else. There’s something about the soft naan, chutney…it’s to die for. Trust me.
Our new favourite lunch spot in Covent Garden. Traditional French food (the owner hails from Lyon) – Croque Monsieurs, home-made soups and charcuterie – all reasonably priced, served with a wonderfully homely atmosphere and to a typically french soundtrack. You don’t feel like you’re in a restaurant, you feel like a guest in her home. And a stones’ throw from Covent Garden market. J’Adore!
If not to eat, then to photograph, yes?
WHERE TO SHOP
I love everything about The Cambridge Satchel Company – it’s ethos, it’s branding, its attitude. My ‘Cloud’ bag
is my go-to bag at the moment – the perfect cross-body weekend bag. Being a boring woman in my old age, I went for black – but the colours in store are amazing – and I love all the small leather goods, all of which can be personalised and embossed (with metallic embossing, even) – perfect for Christmas gifts.
Okay so it’s not particularly glamorous but have you seen the product in store…? Rag & bone, Elizabeth & James, even Dolce and Marni…definitely worth a look – and the Covent Garden store has the best product I’ve seen.
INSTAGRAM SPOTS (or just for a wander)
Who can resist meandering through the colourful, hippy vibe of Neal’s Yard? I’ve heard great things about The Wild Food Cafe
Covent Garden Market
The market is not what it used to be for me as a child, it’s definitely more about the more modern stores for shopping, but it still can’t be missed – I like the antique phone stalls and all the hand-made soaps…
I may not be able to afford a class at this wonderful academy, but I sure can appreciate a good floral display.
And for the evening? As a special treat, I love ‘Balthazar’
for dinner – a slice of New York for a fraction of the price of an airfare.
And for somewhere to stay? London prices are sky-high as we know but I treated my husband to a stay at The Nadler
last year for his birthday and can’t recommend it enough – rate are between £165-£210 a night and it is perfectly located, right in the centre of Soho (you hear a bit of Soho noise but more of a murmuring), a 10 minute walk from Covent Garden, and it really feels like a luxe boutique hotel rather than a basic tourist feel.
|Tile porn at Balthazar
|Sunglasses: £20, Next. Sweatshirt: £24, Next. Lipstick: ‘Bright Poppy’ by Bobbi Brown. Photographs: Marisa Georgas
WHERE I STAYED
What a gem of a hotel – one of Mr and Mrs Smith
‘s more affordable offerings (rooms start from roughly £200 a night for a double room). In the Art district on the Left Bank off Boulevard Montparnasse, near Jardin du Luxembourg, it’s on the same street where Gauguin lived. Don’t expect anything too grand – its rooms are homely yet bijous, the beds super soft and the staff wonderful – just what I was after. It’s also on a straight route from Gare du Nord metro line.
The stroll to the river takes about 25 minutes (and just a few stops on the metro, which is less than 100 metres from the Hotel) – and it is a beautiful stroll through St Germain…
|Lunch at Vavin, Boulevard Montparnasse. Sunglasses: £20, Next. Snake effect bag: £20, Next
On the walk to the Seine, you pass numerous Patisseries, often with queues outside – and you have to stop in Bon Marche
– foodies heaven. Even if you don’t buy, you can adore:
WHERE I WENT
The great thing about Paris is that you can stroll the streets and take in the sights for free. I travelled mainly by foot and metro (which is such great value – €1.80 for a single trip, no matter how many stops/changes).
The Eiffel Tower
Obviously, it’s a must – but don’t feel you have to climb it – just appreciate its beauty in the landscape (I’ve actually heard that the view from the Arc De Triomphe is better – but I didn’t get to go up it this time as my glasses broke in the queue and had to go back to my Hotel!).
|Coat: £55, Next. Jumper dress: £32, Next. Fringed leather bag: £32, Next. Pom pom flats: £28, Next
We went super early morning to catch the early light (that’s blogging, for you), and walked up to Jardins du Trocadero for the infamous view – there were about 15 wedding and engagement photoshoots happening at the same time – it was quite hilarious. Hashtag tourist.
|Jumper dress: £32, Next
Half of the museum is currently closed and is due to reopen 12th November 2015 – but it was still wonderful to stroll the beautiful gardens and see the wonderful sculptures (and it’s only €7 entry). I felt truly French taking my book, and sitting in the gardens watching the world go by.
|Rodin’s ‘The Thinker’
|View across the street from Musee du Rodin
Ironically, I have always wanted to visit the bridge of love messaged padlocks (my family are all locksmiths) but it wasn’t really on my agenda this time. And that’s when we accidentally stumbled upon it! It isn’t such a dramatic vision as I anticipated, but lovely to see whilst walking along the river, which was how we captured it.
|Coat: £55, Next. Cashmere mix scarf: £40, Next. Sweater: £24, Next. Bag: £20, Next. Jeans: £12, Next. Sunglasses: £20, Next. Lipstick: ‘Bright Poppy’ by Bobbi Brown
But of course, in Paris, you just eat macarons and hot chocolate,
non? Well, we tried…and Angelinas
is the place to do it.
|Macarons for gifts – not particularly frugal, hence just the one box!
And then from Angelina’s, you’re a stones throw from Jardins de Tuileries and right by Le Louvre…you decide.
Just walking along bustling Le Marais in the evening is exciting anyway – so many restaurants, bars – so little time! This was a wonderful recommendation from an instagram follower – and it was great. The good thing about Paris is that all the brasseries are pretty much capped, there is nowhere that is particularly pricier than others. You get good quality food for roughly €25 a head. Cafe Charlot is a great brasserie with bustling atmosphere and cool clientele – it reminded me of Schillers
in New York (or rather, Schillers reminds me of Cafe Charlot).
I would recommend travelling a bit around the island, even if just for the occasional lunch out – because there are some amazing ones to try. Nowhere really takes longer than 45 minutes to get to…
We rented a car for around £60 with Ok Car Hire
and they were great. Island Bus
offers buses to all the local resorts as well.
WHERE TO EAT
The Fish Shack, Talamanca
– what a wonderful experience. Just some beach chairs on some rocks as you sit and eat watching the waves crash against the coast. There’s no menu to look at, they just tell you whatever fish they have that day. And it was delicious (could be all the Ibiza salt they were seasoning it with – it’s the best).
If you’re driving, follow signs for Sa Punta restaurant and then follow the coast round. A meal for 2 costs roughly €40, and some of the best, freshest fish you’ll have tasted. We went for lunch but apparently it’s great for dinner, too. We also went late afternoon around 3pm and there was no queue for a table (have heard it gets very busy at lunch).
If going in peak season, you’ll need to book or else face a long queue – because the food is that good. Again, there is no menu – the waiters take you inside and just point and describe what they’re serving that evening. We had the meatballs, black olive tapenade, squid and lemon sole – it was all very salty but totally divine. My dodgy iPhone photos (because I forgot my camera flash!) just don’t do it justice…
Cost: roughly €38 for 2 (and the waiter had to tell us to stop ordering anymore dishes – because we tried!).
If you want a great meal, even better ambience, and a feel of how crazy Ibiza starts to get as night beckons – you must try this place.
We arrived at 10pm, but it only got busier the later it was! By the time we left at midnight there were still queues – but we were never rushed off our table. If you book ahead, ask for a table outside as it gets very warm inside in the summer. The restaurant serves classic tapas – and all is incredible – we loved the Padron Peppers and Patatas Bravas. Dinner for 2 came to €35 (including beers).
– one of our favourite spots to eat, it’s up the road from Las Dalias (by car) and has a great atmosphere. Known for being favoured by resident hippies and artists in the 70s, it is packed all day long and serving great seafood, delicious pizzas and aioli I am still thinking about whilst typing this.
It’s basically the shop of my dreams. A huge warehouse style shop with tons of bits and bobs, furniture, homewares, crockery – it even has a cafe and a food section (I bought a packet of black truffle crisps that I’ve since managed to hunt down on Amazon – but my bank balance is NOT pleased).
I bought a neon wool fringed cushion to lift all our grey interiors, the best crisps I have ever tasted and a Hammam beach towel – but I was really restrained – I was thinking about my luggage allowance, to be honest! I could’ve spent all day there.
|Balcon de Europa, Nerja
For those who haven’t been, Nerja is one of the few ‘unspoilt’ places on the Costa Del Sol, it is a Spanish town with only a couple of hotels, not too many high rises (they actually have rules about paint colours and the height of buildings towards the sea)and probably the cheapest local food around – you’ll find it hard to find a freshly cooked paella for over €5.
|Playa El Salon
All beaches on the Costa Del Sol are man-made so you won’t find the lovely light sands on the Costa Brava, but they’re still pretty amazing. Without doubt the prettiest is Burriana – it’s more manicured with hills behind, beautiful villas, rentable sunloungers and great restaurants – ‘Ayos’ always has a great vibe for paella and Ayo himself is a local celebrity.
I actually prefer Playazo which is near where we stay – it’s a sweeping beach where more locals hang out – we take our own chairs and if you walk along the coast you are never too near any other sunbathers. The beach bars along here by the allotments do great seafood and their boquerones are always fresh – Chiringuito Mauri was a favourite this trip.
For special occasions and views, try 34 Carabeo (but book ahead for an outside table). We went to La Joya at the top end of town which might just be my new favourite – it has a gluten free menu and amazing specials – I had a tuna steak which was out of this world (not bad daiquiris, either). We love Za Za rotisserie chicken too for a great affordable meal, and the Brazilian restaurant by Torrecilla beach is €12.90 for all the meat you can eat!
Tapas is the best in Nerja – traditional tapas – buy 1 drink for €1.50 and get free food – (you shouldn’t really pay for tapas). Try Pepe Moles, Sevillano, El Pulguilla (very Spanish) or the Dutch Oven.
Tutti Frutti is where everything kicks off late – don’t expect any bars to be busy until 1am. We usually have a few pre-dinner cocktails at Cochran’s for a lovely view or La Casita towards the top of town(€4.50 and made in front of you) – it’s not fancy but has a roof terrace and you’re pretty much done after 2 drinks!
|My favourite tipple: gin and tonic (and it came with a side of free anchovies, naturally)
My absolute favourite place is El Molino – a wonderful local tavern with a local flamenco singer, Jose Manuel. Get there around 11:30pm as it fills up fast and at midnight they turn off the lights and he sings the most beautiful song to the Virgin Mary. Order sangria (as spritis are expensive) and sing and clap along to classic Spanish songs as the locals dance to flamenco. It really is enchanting.
I loved this place in Little Italy, great food, good atmosphere and you can eat your tacos sitting underneath the stars as part of the restaurant is open air.
I went here with some friends a couple of years ago and I really liked the vibe, it felt laid-back and cool and served my kind of American dishes, as well as Craft beers. A classic burger is only $10 and the portions are BIG.
|Menu at Neighborhood
Taco shop with cool decor, Mexican wrestling masks on the wall, and great food with tacos, gourmet burritos and quesadillas.
Hash House A Go Go
THE best place in San Diego for breakfast and brunch. However, everyone knows it so expect long queues! Frugal tip: the portions are HUGE so maybe go halves on a dish.
|Hash House stuffed burger
Minimal menu of pizza and drinks, which helps keep the prices fun and the atmosphere better (and they do gluten free!).
Hip cocktail bar with cool outside areas (think cacti and globe lighting), try a craft cocktail during their Happy Hour (which are most days!).
Altitude Rooftop Bar
22 stories up, a buzzing bar for great views of the city and Petco Park. It’s in the Gaslamp district as well, so it’s a good area to be in if you’re thinking of continuing the drinking theme…
Craft + Commerce
Great place for drinks and hanging out, their cocktail menu is superb and just because you’re there, you should probably try a beer cocktail…
There is a real buzz around Little Italy on the weekend, and not just for the great pizzerias: the Farmers Market is a great way to spend a Saturday, trying freshly made juices and admiring the flower stalls (as well as great people watching).
San Diego Zoo
If you have kids, there couldn’t be a better place – they have baby pandas. That’s possibly all you need to know – a great day out.
|With friends a few years ago
I’m talking Target, J Crew, Anthropologie and all those American stores we love which we either can’t get in the UK or they’re ridiculously expensive over here. Well, they’re all in San Diego and that’s always a day well spent in my opinion.
Balboa Park is like walking around Spain, Moorish architecture and gorgeous landscaping make this a great pit stop. Not only is it great to walk around and grab an ice cream, it is also home to Museums and galleries, such as the San Diego Museum of Art. And in the summer, it holds numerous festivals and even has an open air theatre, holding a Shakespeare Festival over the summer.
The Old Town of San Diego is possibly one of my favourite places in California. Traditional Mexican restaurants, historical charm and a market selling Mexican trinkets you’ll never need but want (this is where I bought my neon Day of The Dead skull). Go late afternoon for a stroll amongst the old buildings (even visit the supposedly haunted ‘Whaley House’) and then enjoy some margheritas and burritos in Fred’s (my favourite Mexican – if you go on a ‘Taco Tuesday’, all tacos are only $2 each – you might have to wait for a table but it’s worth it).
Take a boat from the port over to Coronado, if you’re looking for a wide expansive beach with the softest sand you’ll ever feel underneath your feet, you won’t be disappointed. There are also lots of great bars along the walk down to the beach – we loved stopping off at Burger Lounge.
|Views from the boat on the way to Coronado
San Diego is home to a lot of start-up breweries and it’s a great place to discover the microbrewery scene, there are 20 in Downtown San Diego alone, and even more if you venture upstate.
It’s hard to do a ‘Frugal’ guide to Helsinki as it is pretty expensive generally. It is on the Euro but best for a weekend minibreak, and here are my favourite places:
Fantasic food, intimate surroundings (there will probably be reindeer on the menu but when in Rome…)- the 3 course set menu is between 33€ – 39€ but is all sustainably sourced, organic and delicious.
Rent a Bike
|Looking less than chic a few summers ago!
Like most nordic countries, cycling is the best way to see the city. Rent bikes or join a tour (Bike Tours Helsinki
costs €50 each but includes, tour, bicycle and a snack!) – last time we were there a new cycle superhighway was being developed making it quick and enjoyable to get around.
Discover Alvar Aalto
The Finnish designer’s work can be spotted throughout the city, whether it’s passing by the Finlandia Hall on your bicycle, stopping for a coffee in the Academic Bookshop, or browsing the fruniture stores to see all his furniture which provided a great source of ‘inspiration’ for Ikea!
|‘Finlandia Hall’, designed by Alvar Aalto
Enjoy a Sauna
Saunas are a huge part of the culture here in Finland, but nothing beats ‘Saunasaari’, an island dedicated to its art. It costs roughly €100 euros a head for the day but this includes ferries, delicious lunch al fresco and the chance to relax in a sauna with glass walls which overlook the city. Or relax in a hot tub outside with a bottle of cider (and yes, you can wear a swimsuit!).
Flea market Style
In the summer, browse the numerous Flea markets or outdoor market halls, the Hietalahti flea market on sundays is popular, or the Hakaniemi open air market hall is a great place to pick up fresh bread and cheese and enjoy it by the Archipelago.
The best Streets for shops and good bars are Frederikinkatu in the Design District and Errotajankatu – Liberty or Death is a trendy cocktail bar here, or try A21 on nearby Annankatu.
Where To Stay
Air BnB is your best bet to save money but still experience a slice of Helsinki. This Architect’s Apartment
below starts at £74 a night and is in the centre of town.
Where To Stay:
I’m in LA, I don’t drive so I always stay somewhere on Sunset Boulevard
– you can walk to bars, shops and a Starbucks and it always helps with
your orientation. You feel like you’re in ‘proper’ LA with all the live
music venues and bars. I like West Hollywood, and if I’m feeling flush
(and only staying a few nights) my favourite is The London Hotel
– the price includes coffee and breakfast (always helps).
However, last time I stayed at The Andaz and it is perfectly situated and really good value – plus free coffee in the mornings!
What To Eat
great Mexican restaurant in Silverlake, always guaranteed to be
bustling. I love it when you order guacamole in LA it always has huge,
fresh chunks of avocado and the bowl is always brimming, as opposed to
our English servings…
is my favourite place in LA. You can walk to it easily from The London
Hotel (perhaps this is why I stay there!) as it’s on Sunset Boulevard.
Just walking in transports you to an ‘American Graffiti’ era – take some
quarters for the Jukeboxes and order a classic Melburger – perfect. A
meal for 2 with all the sides won’t set you back more than $30, either.
Where To People Watch
Melrose is pretty cool, or Santa Monica Boulevard has loads of cafes
to sit outside on a weekend.
Where To Shop
There isn’t really a main High Street in LA, just little pockets of shops. I generally head to Century City
(basically a Westfield) or The Grove
– both of these shopping malls
have J Crew (Century city has the added bonus of Madewell). Or the
Beverly Centre (walkable from Sunset Boulevard) has Bloomingdale’s and
just opposite are my favourites Old Navy and Target (stop in Baja Fresh
for delicious frugal lunch, as well!).
What To Do
– although I wouldn’t recommend going on any of the rides, the
unmistakeable pier with its amusements is iconic. The beach is
sprawling, and you can rent bikes from here and cycle all the way to
Venice Beach (the whole trail is about 8.5miles) – make sure you pick up
a Hot Dog Stick
on your way through (they’re actually delicious)…
|Shooting on Santa Monica pier with Red Magazine a few years ago…
We stayed at The Georgian Hotel, an affordable hotel from the 20s Santa monica heyday, right on the seafront. It’s also close to 3rd Street Promenade, the cool shopping area – yes, they have a J Crew!
|The Georgian Hotel
If you like music, go to Amoeba Music on Sunset Boulevard – it’s like stepping into a real life Empire Records.
While you’re in this area, Umami burger
is nearby and possibly the best I’ve ever tasted (Liberty Ross
recommended it to me, whilst I was on a Red cover shoot, so it’s
celebrity endorsed!) and is worth a visit (if you’re not burger’d out).
|The ‘Umami’ burger
Mount Hollywood Trail
Get out of the hustle and bustle of the city by doing this trail, and stop by Griffith Park.
It’s a little gruelling (make sure you wear trainers and NOT leather
shorts, like me) but worth it for the fresh air and amazing views over
|With my husband – halfway through the trail!
In California, if you drink soft drinks it is pretty much always free
refills. So when a waitress grabs your drink and says ‘Do you want
another?’ – just say yes!
capital, with over 2,000 shrines, is a must-see city. It’s just over 2
hours on the Shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo but feels a million
miles away from the city of lights.
WHERE TO STAY:
was not only my favourite Hotel in Japan, it is quite possibly my
favourite Hotel in the world. Boutique style accommodation with only 7
rooms, book in advance but it’ll be worth it, stylish modern rooms with
antique furniture and the staff act like your personal concierge. Every
evening between 5pm-7pm you can enjoy free drinks as the staff help you
decide where to visit, print maps and give personal recommendations.
Everywhere they suggested was out of this world. It is also in a great
location on a cute antique street right by the Gion area (Geisha
WHERE TO VISIT
Fushimi Inari Shrine
far my favourite shrine, it has a wonderful loud, market street leading
up to it with music, shaved ice (essential if you are there in the
summer), matcha (green tea) ice cream, street food and trinkets. Then
behind the shrine is an incredible length of the famous red Tori gates,
which are seemingly endless.
|Strawberry shaved ice
The Golden Pavilion
so it burnt down a couple of times and is actually not as old as first
thought but it’s still pretty incredible, almost entirely covered in
gold leaf. And it has beautiful gardens, too.
little way out (we had to get a local train) but well worth it for a
day, I would rent bikes as there are lots of nature trails here. It’s a
bit like a giant national trust park, with lakes, places of astounding
beauty, and behind one of the shrines is the most amazing ‘bamboo
forest’, which is definitely worth some snaps.
|Rivers and bamboo forest of Arashiyama
looks like a street from another era, and it used to be traditional
teahouses, some Geishas still entertain in some establishments but
mainly it’s full of restaurants and bars (and in Japan, there’s not
really such a thing as tacky, rip-off restaurants like you have in
London – all are pretty much great). The street runs along the river and
from afar looks like shacks and at night, all lit up, you can feel the
buzz of the restaurants come alive.
is the traditional geisha district of Kyoto, and here you might see a
Maiko (Geisha in training) or even a Geisha roaming the streets. It has
beautiful cobbled streets and is easy to walk around, you can also see
the small red bridge from the film ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’.
Gion corner, there are daily shows showing 7 different types of
Japanese performing arts. In July, the Gion festival has parades all
through the streets, we just caught the end of the festival when we
|Part of the Gion festival
WHERE TO EAT
– a restaurant in the Pontocho district and recommended to us by our
Hotel and probably the best sushi I’ve had in my life, and roughly £50
for two of us. We sat at the bar and the chef made each dish in front of
us, and gestured us how to eat each item – some items needed no sauce
and others should be eaten all in one go etc. It made us really
appreciate the food.
Must try: the fatty seared tuna…
this is a typical Japanese Izakaya (like a Japanese pub) where food is
simple, tasty and you can drink more than you would in a restaurant. You
would generally order drinks and then keep ordering small dishes to
accompany. They’re often more local and in this one we had to take our
shoes off and eat sitting on floor level. Try: sake with water.
– a trendy, hip place serving only local produce. The place was packed
with a great atmosphere, we ate at the bar – get your hotel to book for
you as there was no english menu but they were happy to help. We just
pointed to other people’s food or things they were cooking and it worked
perfectly! Everything we ordered tasted so fresh, and prices really
reasonable – we loved it.
was where we realised there was more to life than sushi: have you tried
okonomiyaki?! Basically savoury pancakes served on a hot
plates…delicious. The restaurant is on the red bridge from the Gion
district but great value and not too touristy – a must.
decor, although it gets busy. We went around 2:30pm to miss the crowds
which seemed to work, as there can be queues. Known to be some of the
best ramen in Kyoto, I tried the popular ‘dipping ramen’ which involves
dipping cold noodles into a hot soy broth so you fuse the cold and hot.
My husband tried the signature dish: burnt soy ramen.
Where To Stay
We stayed a few nights in Hotel Cerulean Tower – a nice, business-y hotel but a few minutes walk from Shibuya station (and the famous crossing), which is VERY central.
|View from our room at Hotel Cerulean Tower
Where To Eat
Possibly our favourite night in Japan altogether was this ‘Fish Shack’ style restaurant – ‘Uoshins’
– it’s opposite Nogizaka station, near Ropponghi, and offers fresh fish
in a cool, relaxed setting – everyone eats sitting on crates.
|Really reasonable menu
my favourite Japanese dishes sushi and katsu curry are not that common
in Japan. The main dishes we ate were noodles (ramen or udon), nabe
(broth style dish), tempura vegetables, BBQ skewers and sashimi. That’s
not to say we didn’t go out of our way to find the best places, though!
This Japanese curry restaurant – ‘Coco Ichibanya’
– is a chain which has just branched out to the US – I hope it comes
our way soon. The best katsu curry of my life (you choose your spice
from a scale of 1-9) and only £4.50 – take that Wagamamas!
sushi (conveyor belt sushi) is kind of considered low-rate in Japan,
it’s a bit more pricey in Tokyo than somewhere like Kyoto but still
nothing like UK prices. Each dish will cost you just over a pound..the
two of us ate lunch in Heiroku Sushi near Harajuku for £10. They also more ‘western’ sushi such as salmon and avocado – my favourite…
a little bit Touristy BUT…good food and atmosphere and it was
supposedly the inspiration behind the fight scene in Kill Bill – Gonpachi
in Nishi Azabu does great meat skewers. And if you get tired of noodles
and fish? Mos Burger is the Japanese equivalent of McDonald’s but you
can get teriyaki burger (or a normal one), so you still feel like you’re
staying on the right side of culture.
What To Do
My husband loved Akihabara
‘Electric Town’ – the largest town of electric appliances in the WORLD.
It’s so bustling in the day and it’s also a real hub for Manga and
Anime fans and collectors. Yodobashi is a 9 floor electronics
store and the basement has an entire floor dedicated to photobooths
where you can enhance your features and add graphics like anime!
|We made our eye huge and whitened and dewrinkled our skin, which is why we look about 16 years old!
Tsukiji Fish Market
is apparently going to be relocated now Tokyo has won the Olympics bid,
but if you get a chance to go before it relocates, it is well worth it.
It’s a hub of activity and there are good restaurants in there…did
you know that Japan eats 20% of the world’s fish content? It’s actually a
If you love shopping for trinkets (or ‘tat’ as my husband refers to it) whilst seeing culturally beautiful buildings, then Sensoji Temple at Asakusa
is a must. The Temple is surrounded by hundreds of little stalls
selling magnets, Hello Kitty phone charms, postcards, food stalls etc.
However, if you’re planning to do Kyoto on the same trip, this ‘tat’ can
be bought much cheaper there.
Walk though Takeshita Dori in Harajuku to see all the stalls and goth shops (a bit like Camden and very touristy) and then cross over to Yoyogi Park –
a place of serenity amongst the madness. On Sundays, loads of guys
dressed as Elvis dance with their radios and you see some sights! Walk
through the park to the Meiji Shrine, it’s really beautiful and if you’re lucky on a weekend, you might see a traditional wedding.
|Wedding at the Meiji Shrine
Karaoke – we actually did karaoke in a tiny village in the Japanese Alps but there are loads of places in Tokyo – Ropponghi or Shinjuku
are probably a good place to start. You can hire your own room (even
for 2 of you) so no need to embarrass yourselves amongst strangers and
most rooms come with telecom service for drinks and tambourines! Shidax looked impressive in Roppongi and apparently the one from ‘Lost in Translation’ is called ‘Karaoke Kan’.
Where To Shop
The only thing I wanted was STICKERS! We had a Japanese Tourguide for one day in Tokyo and she took me to ‘Loft’, possibly the best stationery store in the world. B Side Label is also a great sticker store in Harajuku.
|Post-it note heaven!
And then my list wouldn’t be complete without Daiso
– the 100 yen store in Harajuku! When I was there the exchange worked
out at roughly 65p…you could buy pretty much everything – toiletries,
stickers, Hello Kitty wallets, lampshades….need I go on? LOVED it…
Lastly, we used the Metro the
whole time, found it really easy to use. As we were there for 4 days,
we got the pass (a bit like an Oyster) and topped it up, and it was
roughly 80p a journey. Taxis were very expensive and not worth it.
We planned our whole honeymoon with Unique Japan Tours and it came with a personal Tourguide
for one day in Tokyo – ours was so friendly and helpful and she planned
the day according to what we wanted to see, do and how far we wanted to
walk etc. You can book day tours here – I would highly recommend it if you don’t have loads of time and find it hard getting your bearings.
Tokyo Cheapo – a cheapo’s guide to doing Tokyo on the cheap (my kind of blog).
The Guardian’s Best Budget Restaurants Tokyo – this was how we found ‘Uoshins’.
That Food Cray – love this blog and all its recommendations. She highlights some great burger bars in Tokyo, too.
The world famous museum has re-opened after a 10 year refurbishment. And is more resplendent than ever (loving the Farrow & Ball tone walls!). Home to the much loved ‘Night Watch’ by Rembrandt, I personally love the Vermeer paintings.
Obviously this is on most people’s To Do list, but make sure you actually get in by booking tickets in advance. There is pretty much always a queue (even off season) and by booking tickets, you could save yourself valuable time.
always worth going to this, if only for some beautiful instagram shots!
The market is on the canals and it is amazing to see how much different
variations of tulips there are, and it’s not only open at the crack of
dawn – it’s open 9am-5:30pm.
at all touristy but if you manage to get an hour to pop into
Amsterdam’s equivalent of Wilkinson (but way more chic), then you must!
Great homewares, beauty products, accessories and fab stationery, I dare
you not to come back with a few bits. See my last post on Hema here.
can purchase these cards for 24, 48 or 72 hours at a time and for an
all-in fee you will gain free entry to museums, attractions and they can
be used on public transport, too. If you’re planning on a lot of
sightseeing, this is a great idea.
|Card for 24 hours is €42
it’s not exactly chic but it’s fun and all part of the experience! If
you haven’t got much time to stop for lunch, grab a croquette from these
‘vending machines’ and carry on your way – and it won’t set you back
anymore than €1…
good, reasonable restaurants is hard in Amsterdam. This one is both,
and has a beautiful canalside location, too. Main courses will set you
back around €20 each.
Rent A Bike
You can go pretty much anywhere for this and the roads are so set up for it, it’s actually probably safer than walking! I used Mac Bike to get around the city and felt like a real local.
I love Berlin. It’s definitely my favourite city in Europe, I love the
cool art vibe, bar scene, concrete jungle streets with graffitied
artwork on the side of buildings…I’ve been many times and mostly on a
budget. Here are my tips on what to do:
1. Free Berlin Walking Tour by New Berlin Tours
This is my NUMBER ONE recommendation in Berlin. It’s 4 hours long, with a break in the middle and I have done the Classic Free Tour 3 times and loved it every time. You just tip at the end if you enjoyed it (which they make sure you do, as their tips are their earnings!). I learnt so much from this tour, and it’s so fascinating as so much of the history is so recent – and they even show you important stuff like the window from which Michael Jackson dangled his baby! All of these below sights are covered in the tour:
2. My favourite building is the Berliner Dom, and the views from
the dome are great (even if not particularly pretty):
|Berlin relics and graffiti
The Holocaust Memorial
(or Memorial To The Murdered Jews of Europe) is a really astounding sight. The free tour takes you through and discusses at lengths all of its different meanings and concepts, however, there is also an exhibition
underneath which is really interesting.
is a must-see. Climb the Norman Foster designed Cupola and you can see right down into parliament (a purposeful design, allowing all governments to be transparent in their dealings). It’s free but there’s a big queue – register online
before you go.
5. Berlin Wall Eastside Gallery – this is the longest stretch of the Berlin Wall and Artists have been commissioned to design a section of the wall, it’s fascinating just to walk along and appreciate the art as well as think about what it was like to live behind these walls (this stretch alone is about a mile long).
6. Check-point Charlie for some cheesy photos.
7. Oranienburgerstrasse – in the trendy ‘Mitte’ district, this is great in the evening, and where most of the bars and clubs are as well as lots of old derelict buildings now used for galleries and exhibitions. We stumbled upon many galleries simply by chance.
Where To Eat:
- Dada Falafel
-there is a huge Turkish community in Berlin and it shows in their
food. This is a hole in the wall place with possibly the best falafels
- Pan Asia – I had sushi here in the summer, we ate outside and it was delicious.
– amazingly brilliant winebar where you pay €2 for a glass and the pay
what you want at the end…dependent on whether you had a nice night!
- Tiergarten Quelle
– this was our FAVOURITE place in Berlin – it’s underneath a railway
arch and very dingy but VERY German – selling beer by the litre and the
LARGEST plate of meat you’ve ever seen for €9 – all served with
traditional mash and hearty vegetables. Great atmosphere, a bit like an
old beerhall. And great value.
in the Spanish frame of mind, I thought I’d share my top Barcelona
spots – a MUST VISIT place if you have not been! You can get really
reasonable flights on Easyjet and the subway from Barcelona airport goes straight into town.
Here are the top tips I keep on file should any of my friends decide to go:
– this is an amazing indoor market in the centre of Barcelona, just off
Las Ramblas. An absolute feast for the senses and great to mingle with
all the local traders.
Sagrada Familia, great to see, but quite expensive to go in (around €20 each) and the best architecture can be seen from the outside…
Parc Guell – we loved walking around here, the park designed by
Gaudi: surreal, mad colours and amazing views. And best of all – FREE. I
would do this early as you have to climb a huge hill so best not to do
in the heat of the day.
Tapas in Barcelona is amongst the best I’ve ever had – I would rather do all these restaurants again over the sights…
you only do one restaurant, do this. It is BUZZING and full of people
both inside and on the streets, all waiting for a table…..the trick is
to go, put your name on
the list and then go back (or stay and drink) but it is worth it, which
is why there are so many people waiting! The tapas is amazing – and
great value (Spanish know a good thing when they see it) – we loved the
croquetas jamon (ham & potato croquettes) and the calamari.
C/ Mallorca, 236.
– on street called Pintor Fortuni – just off Las
Ramblas, v trendy restaurant but still great value. Tapas with a twist,
we loved the raw tuna and guacamole and Calamari Andalusian.
– on Calle Muntaner, we loved this place – bit of a
walk but worth it. Very Art Deco, like The Wolseley in London, or Pastis in
NYC…..very Spanish – their croquetas jamon were the best.
– tucked away on the backstreets of the Gothic Quarter, this restaurant
serves modern Catalan cuisine and is always very busy – a good sign!
“Oh my god it was good. I could have stayed there all day!” – May Frost, Freelance Journalist
Cookshop, 10th Avenue and 20th Street
THE best brunch in New York – indulge in a fried egg sandwich (it comes in a brioche bun with a chorizo sausage patty, and served with potato hash) and enjoy the bustling atmosphere.
Delicious tapas, great to pop in for a beer and patatas bravas after a hard day shopping.
Catch, 21 9th Avenue
Great location in Soho and the seafood is delicious. Very relaxed, tapas style food, you
can order small sushi or crab linguine dishes without the oppulence of
‘seafood dining’. And the truffle fries are delicious! Also, great
restaurant which you can guarantee would have an atmosphere on say, a
Freeman’s, Bowery + Chrystie
It’s like eating in someone’s living room, but they’re super cool and have loads of antlers on the wall and make really delicious, food. And it’s busy. Guaranteed to always have a good vibe.
The Fat Radish, Orchard + Canal
Go for brunch and try the best Bloody Mary you might ever tatse. the avocado on toast is good, too.
Schiller’s, 131 Rivington Street
This is the place I’d open in London if I could. Very New York,
brasserie style food and uber cool dining without the hefty price tag. I
love that the wine is listed by price and just labelled ‘Cheap’,
‘Decent’ or ‘Good’. Try to find out what nights the DJ plays too…
They say you’re not a New Yorker if you haven’t had this pizza…and I
only tried it last month. There is no point even looking at the menu,
the Artichike Pizza is incredible, if a little rich…make sure you
share it (or order by the slice)!