Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv is Israel’s cosmopolitan city situated along the Mediterranean coast. Tel Aviv is a liberal city with lots going on with lots of restaurants, bars, shops and plenty of world class nightlife. Tel Aviv is a 24 hour city which is always buzzing with something going on. The city makes a great holiday as it has the weather, beaches and lots to see and do in terms of culture. It really does have something for everyone!

I have been fortunate enough to travel to Tel Aviv on many occasions with the airline I work for, on some trips I have been lucky enough to get a decent layover with enough time to get out and explore what this cool city has to offer, and on other occasions I’ve had a minimum rest layover with just enough time to go out for dinner before bed. Tel Aviv is somewhere I would love to go on holiday and really delve into it some more.

Sights & Activities

Herzliya

Herzliya is a suburb situated to the north of Tel Aviv and is an affluent area set along the coast. It’s only a 20 minute drive from Tel Aviv but has a much more relaxed atmosphere than the hustle and bustle of the city. It has a gorgeous marina area with a good choice of up market restaurants and hotels. The beach is also really nice and clean, and always offers up the most stunning sunsets. Herzliya makes a great place to visit from Tel Aviv if you want a chilled out day by the beach then head down to Herzliya, just note that weekends can become quite busy.

Jaffa

Jaffa is my favourite area in Tel Aviv and also happens to be the oldest part of the city and was originally an ancient port which is where the city of Tel Aviv grew from. Jaffa has so much character and is full of authentic charm with narrow streets and alleyways. There are lots of places to eat and sample many Israeli dishes and plenty of traditional sweet shops. Shopping in Jaffa is also great and it is known for its flea market, and from that lots of galleries, boutiques and craft shops have opened up in and around it. It’s a great place to pick up a whole variety of items from home wares, jewellery and all sorts of trinkets.

The area is also quite artsy and has plenty of street art, studios and galleries dotted around. There are lots of sights to go and visit around Jaffa with its famous Clock Tower which is a good meeting point in the old town. St Peters Church is also a must visit, it’s a stunning church and monastery which was built in the late 1800s by the spainish government and is set overlooking the ocean.

Just by St Peters Church is also the Wishing Bridge which has all the star signs on the hand rail, and ledgend says that if you stand by your star sign and look out to the sea your wish will come true. It’s easy to get lost in Jaffa for the day as there is so much to see and do, and exploring the small streets is the best part to really understand the local culture, you will also find the locals really friendly and I loved talking to many of the stall holders around the markets they were all so welcoming. I would recommend basing yourself in Jaffa when visiting Tel Aviv as it’s full of original charm.

Food & Drink

Benny The Fisherman

Benny The Fisherman is my favourite restaurants I have been to in Tel Aviv. Set along the marina in Herzliya this restaurant serves up plenty of fresh and traditional Mediterranean food. The fish is meant to be incredible and fresh, I have been a few times to the restaurant and always order the salad meze and fresh bread.

The first time I visited I couldn’t believe how many dishes came out, there was such a huge variety of salads, vegetables dishes and dips all for approx ยฃ10 and if there’s a certain dish you like you can ask for more and they will keep refilling it for you.

Sit outside if it’s a sunny day as the views over the marina are lovely and with the fresh dishes it’s the perfect spot for lunch or dinner at sunset. You can also order plenty of grilled meats and a variety of fish, but if your vegetarian like me then the salad meze is more than enough and so filling!

Dr Shakshuka

Dr Shakshuka is an authentic Israeli restaurant located in the old town of Jaffa, this ramshackled eatery is tucked down an alleyway undercover in between some older buildings is always full of locals. The outside seating area set in a quirky square is a lovely place to sit for breakfast, lunch or dinner. There is a good choice of traditional Israeli food as well as the famous Shakahuka which is a North African dish of poached eggs in a tomato sauce, a couple of us ordered the dish to share and it was delicious along with the fresh bread and meze. If your in the old town this restaurant must be added to your must do itinerary.

Yam 7

Yam 7 is a chic restaurant set along the beach in Herzliya, this stunning restaurant has beautiful panoramic views of the shore and beach. Yam 7 serves fresh seafood and has a varied selection of food to choose from. It’s also a great place to come for cocktails at sunset. We had quite a large lunch so opted for a few side dishes and appetisers to share and watched the sun go down with some drinks which was amazing!

Transport & Getting Around

Tel Aviv is really easy to get around and there are plenty of options available. As I’ve only ever visited on layovers with work I have always opted for taxis as I’ve always been time constraint. Taxis are pretty cheap and not very expensive, and the drivers are always happy to provide lots of tips of things to see and do and provide information about the city. Taxis by law must always use their meters, just note that taxi tariffs go up by about 25% between the hours of 9pm to 5.30am on the night tariff, Shabbat and Jewish holidays.

Bikes are also a great way to get around and Tel Aviv has many bike paths, if cycling isn’t your thing then there are plenty of electric scooters too. If your prefer public transport then buses are regular and reliable. Trains are also available and you can get trains from one end of the city to the other.

Top Tips

I would recommend if your planning a trip to Telaviv then to allow for atleast 1 week to really explore the city and try and do a few day trips to Jerusalem and the Dead Sea. Tel Aviv also a has a great selection of beaches to choose from, and lots of places to eat and drink and its also know for its party scene, and also hosts one of the biggest gay prides in Asia. Tel Aviv is not at all how you picture Israel to be it has a very Mediterranean vibe to it. However when leaving the city ensure you dress respectfully especially if visiting any religious sites.

Important Information

Brussels

Brussels is the capital city of Belgium and is the most richest and populated city in the country, and its centrally located. The city is home to the EU headquarters, and lots of other larger businesses. The capital isn’t just a hub for business but is steeped in history, culture and gastronomy. The city is a real melting pot of mixed cultures, it has its French speaking nationals known as Walloons and its Dutch speaking Flemish nationals, as well as having many other cultural influences from the many migrants that live and work in the city.

I had always fancied visiting Belgium and especially wanted to travel during the festive period. So decided to search for some flights for a quick weekend break, as I only had 2 days annual leave left I decided my husband I could do a night stop in Brussels and tie in visiting the Christmas markets. We got some pretty cheap flights from London, we paid about ยฃ50 each return, and booked 1 night in a hotel, so the trip itself is very inexpensive. However when your in the city it can be expensive for eating and drinking etc so bare that in mind when booking.

We flew out first thing on a Saturday morning and flew home Sunday night, and visited the first weekend of December. I’ll be honest I’m glad we visited Brussels but I wasn’t completed blown away by the city, and in comparison to other European cities I didn’t feel like this was the best city I’d ever visited. However don’t let me put you off as I’m great believer in visiting places for yourself to decide. I have travelled all around the world and found places that I absolutely love and when speaking about it with other people they said how they hated that particular place. So always go with an open mind, I just like to give my honest opinion on my blogs.

I think timing had a lot to do with our visit as we visited during one of the busiest times of year, so found the city extremely busy and you could barely move around the Christmas markets at night, and then when we revisited the markets during the day just found it all to be a bit tacky and unauthentic. Even though we thought the markets in all honesty were a bit naff there was still plenty of great places to visit in the city, and if your looking for a cheap getaway and somewhere not too far you can easily do this.

Sights & Activities

Agora Square

Agora Square is a small square which has the Charles Buls fountain (Belgian politician and mayor of Brussels back in the late 1800s) set in the centre of it. In the 1980s a few crafters and artists started a small artisan market in the square, and today still has several stalls dotted around it. The square is overlooked by the most beautiful traditional Belgian buildings too. When we visited there were some buskers and street performers, this little square has a really good buzz on a weekend and a great place to stroll around.

Brussels Christmas Markets

Brussels is famous for its Christmas Markets and during the month of December there are pop up markets sprawled out all over the city with a variety of stalls selling gifts, food and drinks aswell as having fair rides. The main and largest market is Winter Wonder which is located at Plaisirs d’Hiver. There are also several other smaller markets throughout the city located by and around De Brouckere, The Bourse, Eglise Sainte Catherine Church, Tour Noire and Marchรฉ aux Poissons.

I would recommend to visit during the week or during the day as the crowds that are drawn by the Christmas Markets are excessive. I have to admit the Brussels Christmas markets were not my cup of tea, I prefer smaller and less busy and commercial Christmas markets, which offer more crafts and home made goods. I did find the Brussels Christmas markets were very touristy, busy and a lot of the stuff being sold was mass produced, however this is just my opinion and my taste, and I have been to other Christmas markets in the Baltic’s and Scandinavia which I much preferred!

Comic Strip Art

Comic Strip Art is all around the city from streets, alleyways, gables and everywhere in between. You can purchase a brochure at the visit Brussels desks for only โ‚ฌ2.50 which provides a map of a walking tour. We just decided to stumble across the various artworks while walking around the city, however if your really into comics and street art then I would recommend purchasing the brochure.

Some of the wall murals include some famous characters from comic books such as Tin Tin and Astรฉrix aswell as many others. I think the street art had to be one of my favourite things about the capital, I loved strolling around the streets and coming across the various artwork.

Eglise Notre Dame Au Sablon & Parc Du Petit Sablon

Eglise Notre Dame Au Sablon is a huge gothic church and one of the most beautiful in the city, and is built in similar style to that of St Michael & St Gudula Cathedral. It has intricate and brightly coloured glass windows and just across the road is Parc Du Petit Sablon which is a small garden surrounded by statues of the country’s famous scholars from the 16th century, and has a fountain in the middle, it’s a nice quiet park which is good if you want to sit down and escape the busy streets.

Eglise Sainte Catherine Church

Eglise Sainte Catherine Church is a grand church and the original tower has stood there since the 14th century, and other elements of the church have been added and restored over the many years its been there. The square in front of the church and the area around it also plays host to many of Brussels Christmas markets during the festive period.

Egmont Park

Egmont Park is a lovely leafy little park that is quite hidden away, and has several statues – the most famous one being one of Peter Pan. There is also a former orangery which has been converted into a restaurant. This green space in the city is a great place to take a break from sightseeing it’s a really peaceful space.

Grand Place

Grand Place is in the heart of the city and is a UNESCO world heritage site as soon as you walk into the square you can see why. Its stunning and intricate detailed buildings are some of the most beautiful buildings I’ve ever seen in Europe. Originally it was constructed in the 15th century housing market halls, trade guild houses and the town hall. The Grand Place was almost completely destroyed by the french back in 1695, but was fully restored in less than 5 years, that’s why there is a variety of different architectural styles.

During the festive season the Grand Place has a huge Christmas tree and a light and sound show which runs every hour on the hour and every half an hour on Fridays and Saturdays. The light and sound show is truly dazzling and not to be missed!

Jeanneke Pis

Jeanneke Pis was created in 1987 and is found down a dead end alleyway, this small statue is of a small girl peeing. To join the theme of peeing statues in the city a dog peeing against a post was also created in 1998 called Zinneke Pis, which I only found out about the dog statue after our trip, so if you can and have time I would recommend trying to visit all 3 of the peeing statues.

Mannekin Pis

Mannekin Pis is a public mascot for the city of Brussels and is a fountain of a small boy peeing into it. Very little is known about the history of the fountain, and there are many myths and stories surrounding this tiny statue and how the small boy came about?! The statue was first mentioned back in archives back in 1452 and was known then as ‘Petit Julien’. The statue has also been stolen several times over the years and the current statue dates back to 1965 after the mannekin had been stolen again.

The small statue has over 800 outfits and costumes as its tradition to dress up the statue for special occasions and events. This small statue is a must see when in Brussels as it is the symbol of the city and you will see lots of souvenirs with this little guy on, visit early morning to try and beat the crowds of tourists surrounding the small statue.

Mont Des Arts

Mont Des Arts means ‘hill of the arts’ it’s a walk way and garden which provide great views over the city, and is home to many of the cities art galleries and museums. While we were there they had a art light installation called Submergence which was thousands of hanging lights which lit up to the rhythm of music, which was just at the top of of Mont Des Arts steps.

Place Royale

Place Royale is set in the royal quarter of Brussels and is a neoclassical square which was created back in 1775 through to 1782. It is surrounded by many of the cities most popular museums. If your into history and museums then this is the area to come!

Royal Gallery of St Hubert

Royal Gallery of St Hubert is the most beautiful Victorian shopping arcade located near to the Grand Place, it’s a great place to wander through. There is also a Neuhaus chocolate shop too if you wanted to stop for a quick sugar hit, as well as lots of other shops and cafes to explore. We visited the arcade both during the day and night and in the evening when it’s lit up is when it’s at it’s best.

Royal Palace & Brussels Park

Royal Palace and Brussels Park are some of the most famous landmarks in Brussels. The Royal Palace hasn’t been occupied by the Belgian royal family for over a decade, but today it is the headquarters for the Belgian constitutional monarchy. Brussels Park is next to the Royal Palace. You don’t need to spend lots of time visiting we walked over to the Palace had a look around the outside and then went and had wander around Brussels Park, I have to admit I wasn’t mesmerised by the Brussels top sights and attractions, but as this is such a famous building in Brussels we decided to pay it a visit.

St Michael & St Gudula Cathedral

St Michael & St Gudula Cathedral is one of the most famous buildings in Brussels and was originally built back in the 9th century, but was replaced by a Romanesque church is 1047. Throughout the centuries the church has had many remnants added to it, and underwent several renovations back in the 1980s and 1990s. The cathedral has the most detailed stained glass windows which date back to the mid 1500s! This is a really lovely cathedral to visit and really calm inside.

Thetre Royal De Toone

Thetre Royal De Toone is one of the major attractions in Brussels and is loved by both tourists and locals. This puppet theatre was opened in about 1830 by Toone Genty, when the Spanish occupation of the Netherlands was in place and all theaters were closed to prevent the actors from raising political pieces against the Spanish rulers. As a result, doll shows started to pop up as it was easier to tolerate the fierce dialogues when pronounced by lifeless dolls. More than 180 years later, this popular entertainment has grown into a Royal Puppet Theater.

There are only shows on certain days and times, however you can visit and have a look around which is free to enter, we had a little look around, although have to admit I’m not a massive fan as I find puppets spooky! I have a slight fear of creepy dolls and puppets so if you do to this place might not be for you either!

Food & Drink

Balls & Glory

Balls and Glory is situated in the heart of Brussels and creates a variety of giant meat balls and vegetarian balls which have a liquid filling, and served with Stoemp which is a traditional Belgian dish consisting of pureed mash potatoes and root vegetables.

We ordered the vegetarian dish, it was definetly a unique take on home comfort food. The sauce that it came with was kind of like a Thai sauce, it was a strange combination but was really tasty. If your on a tight budget then I wouldn’t recommend this place as it was quite expensive for what you actually got. We paid almost ยฃ40 for 1 drink each and a vegetable ball dish each.

We did enjoy our meal here and if your rushed for time the service here is really quick you order at the desk and they bring it to your table within a few minutes. It’s kind of like a hipster fast food restaurant. It’s a great place to come and visit if you want to sample traditional Belgian food with a twist!

Cheese Kot

Cheese Kot honestly was one of the best places we visited in Brussels for food, something so simple but tasted delicious. This small cheese shop with a few stalls to sit at offered raclette baguettes, which were a bargain at only โ‚ฌ6 each, and made a fantastic brunch bite, it’s also a great place to visit for lunch too, or if your just a cheese fan.

The sandwiches are made fresh to order and you choose your cheese which is then melted straight from the cheese wheel and scraped into your baguette, and you can choose 2 additional fillings. I ordered the mushroom cheese and added fig jam and gherkins, and my husband ordered the garlic cheese with fig jam and friend onions. They were both so tasty that we kept craving them for the rest of the day!This place is a must visit when in Brussels for cheap, delicious and authentic Belgian food this is the place to go!

Gaufres Waffles

Gaufres Waffles is located in the beautiful Royal Gallery of St Hubert. It serves up traditional sweet and savoury Belgian waffles. We decided to stop in here and ordered the original waffle which is just dusted in icing sugar. To be honest I’m not a massive fan of Belgian waffles I find them a little dry and bland compared to American waffles. If you do have a sweet tooth maybe opt for one that’s covered in chocolate sauce and ice cream as the traditional ones are a bit tasteless.

Neuhaus

Neuhaus chocolatiers are famous all around Belgium and date back 1857 by Jean Neuhaus, a Swiss immigrant. The first shop was opened in the Royal Gallery of St Hubert. Neuhaus grandson was also the inventor of the praline, which you can purchase in store. There are lots of Neuhaus shops located all over the city and it’s great to pop in and purchase some traditional Belgian chocolates. They sell a variety of ready to go boxes and gifts, as well as ones from the counter.

The Judgy Vegan

The Judgy Vegan was a great find in the city and cooks up comfort food. We visited the cafe just before we headed to the airport for our dinner. The cafe has a cosy feel to it and the food was amazing I ordered the autumn tofu and vegetables which were delicious, and my husband ordered a hot dog. The tofu they used was incredible and had a really nice texture. If your looking for an affordable and filling meal this is a great place to visit!

Accommodation

Vintage Hotel

The Vintage Hotel is a retro chic boutique hotel situated in the neighbourhood of Saint-Gilles. We really enjoyed our stay at the Vintage Hotel the public spaces were really well decorated and had a really nice feel to them. The rooms are decorated in funky retro prints but are very basic, but as we were mostly out exploring what the city had to offer and only spending 1 night it didn’t really matter. There is also an air streamer located in the entrance courtyard of the hotel for anyone wishing to do a spot of glamping in the city.

We booked the hotel in advance and got a really good deal of ยฃ100 for the night which is cheap for Brussels especially around Christmas time, however rates always vary. The rooms were really clean and quiet and included WiFi. They also offer a reasonably priced breakfast at โ‚ฌ10 per person for a continental breakfast buffet, we had a sleep in on our second day so missed it, and opted for brunch in the city, but the breakfast sounded reasonable for a Western European city where normally hotels charge double that for breakfast!

I would recommend the Vintage Hotel to anyone visiting Brussels especially if you want something a little quirky and unique rather than your box standard chain hotel, and the location is great in a quieter end of the city but with lots of cafes, restaurants and shops near by. The city centre can be reached by foot of by a nearby underground.

Transport & Getting Around

The best way to get around the Brussels is by foot it’s quite an easy city to walk around and by doing so you can take in the cities beautiful architecture and come across the many parks and green spaces. We did use the underground metro a few times which cost approx โ‚ฌ2 each per trip, which we took from nearby our hotel into the city centre.

There is also a train which runs from Brussels Zaventem airport to Brussels Central Station every 10 minutes between 5am and midnight everyday of the week. The train takes 18 minutes and costs just over โ‚ฌ12 per person, which is quite expensive for public transport but was still cheaper than a taxi transfer which we did take on the way back as we cut it quite fine on time, and it did cost us โ‚ฌ50 for a 20 minute car journey so it just depends on your budget.

There are also frequent trains to other major cities all around Belgium such as Bruges and Antwerp, which can easily be reached in very little time.

Top Tips

My biggest tip to visiting Brussels over the festive period would be to try and visit during the week as it should be a bit quieter, if your visiting over a weekend like we did then go prepared and don’t be shocked by the crowds of people. Try and visit the Christmas markets during the day as they are much quieter compared to the swarms of people during the evening.

If you love mulled wine like we do then go prepared and take a reusable coffee cup with a lid for it to be put in, as it was so busy we found we almost spilt our drinks with people knocking into us, it was just too busy not to have a lid on as we almost ended up wearing the wine. The stall holders do provide reusable cups for a small deposit and when you return them you get your deposit back, but we used our own instead and meant you didn’t have the worry of having a spillage down yourself.

I would recommend that if you have 3 days in Brussels then try and get the train over to Bruges to spend a day, I really wish we had booked an extra day as I have now been recommended Bruges and told how much nicer it is compared to Brussels.

Important Information

Delhi

Delhi is India’s capital city and covers a huge area. Delhi is situated in north central India. Old Delhi to the north and New Delhi to the south together create this huge metropolis. Delhi is India’s second largest city and India’s second wealthiest city after Mumbai.

Delhi is a real melting pot of different cultures and religions, and just by walking down one street you can see a whole range of different faiths being displayed from Mosques, Hindu Temples, Sikh Gurdwaras, Catholic Churches and many more and everyone just seems to live peacefully, and has a certain level of respect for one another which is lovely to see.

I have always wanted to travel India fully and my husband and I have always said we want to save India as a holiday for when we both can get an extensive amount of time off work, as both of us have said ideally we would love to spend at least 4-6 weeks or more exploring India from north to the very south of this huge country.

With my work I am fortunate enough to get to travel to Delhi, we only get a 24 hour layover in the city, however it’s enough time to venture out for a few hours to seek out many of Delhi’s top landmarks and attractions. Every layover I have in Delhi I always try and venture out to explore this incredible city and I’m never disappointed. I love India’s culture and Indian cuisine is one of my absolute favourites! I have visited Delhi serval times now, and it has definitely wet my appetite to explore much more of India.

Sights & Activities

Akshardham Temple

Akshardham Temple was built back in the early 2000s but is built in a traditional old style. The work that went into creating this temple is immense and intricate and is made of sandstone and marble, which has all be hand carved. There is a boat tour and lots of information all about Hindu teachings and history. Unfortunately you aren’t allowed to take photos of the temple but it’s a must visit when in Delhi as it really is a work of art both outside and inside the temple! Most nights there is also a water and light show after sunset which is meant to be incredible.

Chandni Chowk

Chandni Chowk is a bustling chaotic shopping street and market area in the heart of Old Delhi, selling everything from traditional Indian sweets, jewellery, saris, spices and everything in between. There is so much going on it’s a real shock to the senses – the noises, the smells and the amount of people, but this to me felt like real India. Even though I was only in the area for a short while it was great to see the locals going about their day to day lives, and getting an insight into what it’s like day to day on the busy streets of Delhi.

The area is great to come and explore down the alleyways and streets and to sample some typical Indian street food. Chandni Chowk was once a grand promenade and was the route of royal processions during the Mughal era, it was created in the 17th century, and its hard to believe when you visit it today. Yes it’s busy, dirty and chaotic but somehow it’s also charming and I really enjoyed visiting this part of the city.

Chandni Chowk can easily be reached when visiting the Red Fort it’s directly across the road from the main entrance. Although Chandni Chowk’s maze of lanes and alleyways can come across intimidating, many of the markets and bazaars tend to group the vendors together in accordance to what they sell. This makes it a little easier to find what your looking for, however if you still think you may struggle there are plenty of personalised shopping tours you can book onto.

You could easily loose a day in this part of the city, we just walked around after visiting the Red Fort, but I would love to come back and book onto one of the many street food and historical tours there are available. When visiting my best bit of advice would be to wear comfortable shoes, dress conservatively and ladies try and carry around a scarf or pashmina incase you want to enter any of the many temples or places of worships dotted around the area. Also go with an open mind as I’m really not exaggerating it really will be a shock to all of your senses!

Connaught Place

Connaught Place is a busy business and shopping hub in the heart of Delhi and set in a ring of colonial Georgian style buildings. It’s full of big name shops, cafes, bars, restaurants and cinemas etc, there are also lots of markets near by too selling plenty of traditional Indian wares. I have to admit I wasn’t blown away by this area it was great to see but was a bit too commercial for my liking, however if you want abit more authenticity head up the road to Janpath Market.

Delhi Haat C.C.I

Delhi Haat C.C.I is a small shopping mall with a few floors selling various Indian crafts and souvenirs made from Craft Cottage Industries. It sells clothes, homewares and much more all at affordable prices and you can pay cash or card, it’s great if you know what your looking for and it’s easy to shop there hassle free. I bought the most beautiful brint pink pouffe cover with lots of sequins and patchwork for only about ยฃ15.

Humayuns Tomb

Humayun’s Tomb is the resting place of the Mughal Emperor Humayun, and was commissioned by his wife. Today it’s a UNESCO world heritage site and it’s thought this tomb inspired the Taj Mahal. The tombs are set in the most beautiful and pristine gardens, it is one of the best preserved Mughal monuments in India and the many buildings are still in really good condition with many of the small details still intact. The build took from 1565 and was completed in 1572.

The gardens from the 17th to 19th centuries were filled of Humayuns descendants and entourage, and there is approximately 150 graves throughout the tombs and gardens. There is a small entrance fee to enter the grounds and it was absolutely stunning to wander around the buildings. It also didn’t feel over crowded and full of visitors which makes a nice change from the busy streets of Delhi.

India Gate

India Gate is located in the heart of New Delhi and is a 42 meter high war memorial, it’s similar to the Arc De Triumph in Paris. The gate commemorates the 70,000 Indian soldiers that lost their lives fighting for the British army in World War 1. The construction started in 1921 and was complete in 1931. When in Delhi this is a must visit, it’s easily accessible and doesn’t take up much time at all to walk around it.

Lotus Temple

As the name may suggest Lotus Temple is built in the shape of a lotus flower set in lush green gardens and surrounded by pools of water. It was built back in the 1980s and is a Bahia temple, it’s a really beautiful and quirky temple and the inside is simplistic and welcomes all religions to come and worship. The temple is free to enter and while we visited there was some speakers and singers there.

Parliament House

Parliament House is the Houses of Parliament for all of India, it isn’t located too far away from India Gate so the two can easily be done at the same time. The main building is a circular shape and construction started in 1921 and was completed in 1927. There is also a parliament museum and library located next to the parliament building. When we visited Parliament House you couldn’t get up close to the main building as there were lots of security, so we only got to see the outer buildings.

Qutab Minar

Qutub Minar is the highest tower in India standing at 73 meters high and built in 1193. The tower was built to celebrate Muslim dominance in Delhi after the defeat of Delhiโ€™s last Hindu ruler.

Apart from the tower, the Qutub Minar complex comprises the first mosque to be built in India – Quwwat-us-Islam Mosque. There are also lots of tombs and pillars and ruins on the site , and the detail carved out into the red sandstone is still really clear to this day.

Qutab Minar is one of the main sites to see in Delhi, arrive early to avoid crowds. Entrance costs about ยฃ5 per person and it was one of my favourite places we visited in Delhi, this should be at the top of your itinerary when going to the capital.

Red Fort

Red Fort is a historical monument in the heart of Delhi it gets its name from the red coloured sandstone it’s made from. The Fort was constructed by the Mughals back in 1639, the Fort was used for ceremonies for the royals, today it is used for national and political functions. There is more to the Red Fort than just the red fortified walls on the outside, once inside the Fort there are lots museums, halls and palaces within the grounds.

There is a small entrance fee to pay to enter the Fort and you can pay a few pence to get one of the many tuk tuks to drive you from the ticket booth up to the main entrance of the fort. Once inside there is lots to explore, while visiting the Red Fort allow time to explore Chandni Chowk which is within close walking distance. I would recommend between 2-3 hours to explore inside the Red Fort fully.

Food & Drink

Chaayos

Chaayos is a chain tea house which are located all around Delhi and also other parts of the country. They provide lots of chai tea options aswell as lots of snacks, meals and a variety of traditional Indian drinks. All Chaayos are clean inside and make delicious chai.

Delhi Street Food

The bustling streets of Delhi are filled with vendors selling a huge variety of snacks and food for on the go! I would suggest having a research of street food before venturing out so that you know what your eating and have an idea of what you want to try. While out and about I tried Bhelpuri which is a savoury snack made of puffed rice, vegetables and a tangy tamarind sauce.

Be open minded to trying new food in India as more than likely it will be vegetarian, and the only thing you might want to consider is if any tape water has been used in the ingredients as that is what can cause Delhi belly.

Haldirams

Haldirams started out as a traditional Indian sweets and snacks shop back in the early 80s and today it is now a huge chain with shops and restaurants all around the world. There are several in Delhi, I visited the shop and restaurant in Chandni Chowk. It’s fast food is quick and easy to order and the menu has lots of traditional Indian food to try, I ordered the Thali and the Ray Kochori.

As well as delicious food there is a good selection of Indian drinks I couldn’t resist a chai and mango lassi. If your a little worried of eating in Delhi or on the streets but want to try traditional Indian food then head to one of the Haldirams around the city to help build your confidence with Indian food m, as its loved by locals which is always a good sign.

Pindi

Pindi is a chic little restaurant serving a whole range of Indian cuisine and specialising in lots of chicken dishes. The little restaurant is tucked away in Pandara Road. It’s a nice and quiet with good service and ambience, and a great place to escape the crazy streets of Delhi. The Pineapple Raita was really tasty and a good way to cool down the spiciness of the curry.

Transport & Getting Around

The only way to describe India’s road and transport system is congested and chaotic! If your short on time and only on a quick trip then I would suggest getting drivers as they’re vehicles should have air con and comfortable seats, and the drivers will know and understand how the roads work. If your travelling India for longer then there is a whole range of various transport options available for getting around and to suit all budget types, although if you have the budget splurge out and pay a bit more for a nicer seat or cabin!

Top Tips

When visiting India try and go as prepared as possible, as some of the streets can be a hard to navigate and sometimes there can be a slight language barrier, so go armed with google translate, guide books, maps.me app etc. I always have maps.me downloaded as it’s a great app that works offline and when I’m walking around Delhi or in taxi I always check it to make sure I’m heading in the right direction.

Other tips for India would be to always carry a scarf or pashmina for ladies that would like to enter various temples, also dress modestly when exploring India. I always tend to wear either a long maxi dress, or loose fitting trousers and T-shirt.

There is a huge amount of tours available throughout Delhi, however whenever I go I always opt to use Taj Mahal Trip which is a tour group that provides drivers to take you around Delhi or to the Taj Mahal or they can tailor make tours to your preference. They can be contacted either on Facebook or by WhatsApp (+91 91402 08445). I have used them serval times and they are always reliable and quick at getting back to you with any questions you may have.

Important Information

Shanghai

Shanghai is one of the 4 major cities in China and China’s largest and richest city. Shanghai is also one of the worlds most populated cities. This huge city is located on the east coast of China and is a financial hub, the port is also the worlds busiest container port in the world. Shanghai has a diverse melting pot of various buildings from the skyscrapers in Pudong to a scattering of Art Deco colonial buildings, and traditional Chinese buildings. Shanghai is very different compared to other Chinese cities.

I have been fortunate enough to travel to Shanghai on many occasions with the airline I work for, and have tried exploring different parts of the city on each layover I have had there. Shanghai was not how I imagined it, and has had many foreign influences over the years.

There are many areas of the city to explore and see, and the city has a huge food scene both high end, and places to eat for the more budget conscious travellers. Shanghai is really where east meets west. Shanghai was not what I expected and it’s a really hard place to describe as it doesn’t feel very typically Chinese but you defiantly know your in China (not sure if that quite makes sense) but that’s kind of how I feel when I visit Shanghai, I really enjoy visiting this city but still not quite sure how to describe it or what to make of it.

Sights & Activities

French Concession

The French Concession was a former designated residential area for the French. It’s boulevards are lined with trees, and it has a suburbia feel to it. It feels like your in a completely different city compared to the rest of Shanghai’s metropolis. The French concession can be tracked back to 1849, where it gradually developed into the largest and most affluent areas in all of China. In the 1920s, it was the best and richest residential area in Shanghai. In 1943 the Chinese government took it over, and after nearly a 100 years ended its history as a French concession.

Today the French concession is one of the most sought after areas in the city and is home to lots of live music venues, boutiques, wine bars and European delis. The area also has a large arts and crafts scene there and the area is a great place to explore on foot getting lost down many of the leafy avenues and watching locals go about their day to day lives.

Maglev Train

Maglev Train is a magnetic levitation train which operates in Shanghai, this super high speed train is an attraction in itself. The train can reach speeds of up to 270mph. On one of my trips to shanghai a few of my colleagues and myself decided to take the Maglev Train from Shanghai’s airport to Pudong. I would recommend taking the Maglev either to or from the airport to experience this high tech train.

Nanjing Road

Nanjing Road is one of Shanghai’s main shopping streets and stretches almost 3 and half miles long, starting at The Bund and finishing at the junction by Jing’an Temple. The road is one of the worlds busiest shopping streets, you can buy everything from high end fashion to your cheap tacky souvenirs and everything in between! It’s great to visit in the evening as this is when all the neon signs are lit up.

Qibao

Qibao is a great place to visit to escape the modern city life of Shanghai, and get a chance to see a traditional ancient water town. Located in the Minhang district, and only about 11 miles out of downtown Shanghai it’s easy to reach by the metro system. As the only ancient town forming part of greater Shanghai, with a history of over 1000 years. The town was built in the Northern Song Dynasty from 960 to 1126 and grew into a prosperous business center during Ming and Qing Dynasties.

Today Qibao has lots to offer visitors from temples, museums and lots of shops and street food in the old town. Crickets are popular in the town and not just for eating but a traditional folk activity dating back centuries of cricket fighting, which is still popular today, and you can see plenty of places selling crickets. Which seems a bit cruel to me but it is part of traditional Chinese culture, there is even a museum dedicated to crickets in the town. I would recommend heading to Qibao in the morning to try and beat the crowds and you can easily spend half a day or so there.

The Bund

The Bund is Shanghai’s most iconic symbol and associated worldwide with Shanghai, London has Big Ben, Sydney the opera house, Paris the Eiffel Tower, and The Bund is Shanghai’s most famous landmark. The area is known for its impressive mile long waterfront views of Pudongs huge skyscrapers and the Oriental Pearl Building. On one side you have views of modern tall buildings, and on the other side is a reminder of Shanghai’s colonial past with lots of old historical buildings.

I would recommend trying to go to The Bund both during the day and in the evening to witness what it’s like day and night, however the evening is definitely my preference as I loved seeing all the buildings lit up. The promenade is a great place to take a stroll along and take in the views. The buildings are lit up at 7pm so go a little before then to see the nightly light show and to get a good viewing spot. Just make sure to check the weather before hand as sometimes fog and rain can ruin the views of the bund, check for the clearest evening while your there.

Tianzifang

Tianzifang is an artsy and hipster area in the city, which transformed itself from old traditional shikumen stone houses which formed lots of small alleyways and lanes in former back streets of the french concession to now housing cafes, bars, boutiques and design studios. Tianzifang is also known as the Soho of Shanghai, and it’s full of so much creativity even the old walls are used as canvases to display street art and sculptures.

It is an absolute must to visit this unique area of the city, it is one of my favourite spots in the city, and I loved wandering around the small alleys exploring all that they had to offer. It’s also a great spot to visit for food as there is so much choice so make sure to go hungry!

Yuyuan Bazaar & Old Shanghai

Old Shanghai is full of historical buildings, narrow bustling alleyways and inscense filled temples. It’s a real insight into how Shanghai would have been in days gone by. Yuyuan Bazaar which is also known as Yuyuan Market is outside of Yu Garden, and in the centre of the old town, the bazaar is full of ancient buildings which are now full of shops, stalls and restaurants. I’ve only ever visited during the day, but have heard that the evening is a great time to come to see all the buildings lit up.

Yuyuan Gardens

Yuyuan Gardens is one of Shanghai’s top attractions and dates way back to the Ming Dynasty, and is over 400 years old! The gardens are typical Chinese gardens with rockeries, carvings, carp ponds and pavilions. Yuyuan gardens are set in the Bazaar which is filled with lots of shops, restaurants and stalls. You need approximately 2 hours to explore the gardens, and I would recommend going early and avoid a weekend if possible, it’s only a few quid to enter the gardens and well worth it. The gardens are one of my favourite attractions in Shanghai, and while there make sure to stop off at Huxinting Tea House.

Xintiandi

Xintiandi is a chic pedestrianised shopping, eating and entertainment area in the heart of the city. It retains the antique walls, tiles and exterior of the Shikumen residences of old Shanghai while having a totally modern interior. It’s great to spend an afternoon here wandering and shopping around or you can come here in the evening to sample one of the many upscale restaurants and its nightlife scene.

Food & Drink

Huxinting Tea House

Huxinting Tea House is situated in the heart of the old town next to Yuyuan Gardens. This beautiful ornate tea house is a must when in the old town. It’s one of China’s most famous tea houses, and is steeped in history and is over 200 years old. It’s a great place to visit to escape the chaos of the old town. It has some excellent teas to sample, you do pay a little more here but it’s well worth it for the setting and location. I had jasmine tea, however if tea is not your thing then there is also other traditional Chinese cuisines and refreshments to try out.

Lost Heaven

Lost Heaven is a chic restaurant serving up Yunnan (region in Southwestern China) specialities, the food was very similar to that of many South East Asian cuisines it was a real mix. Many of the dishes incorporate coconut, fresh chillies, flowers etc, and the ambient atmosphere is buzzing. The dishes are really well presented and not only look great but taste great. There are several Lost Heaven restaurants now dotted around the city, but I visited the one on The Bund as after dinner it’s nice to go and see the bund lit up in the evening.

Nanxiang Steamed Bun Restaurant

Nanxiang Steamed Bun Restaurant serves up Shanghai’s most famous dumplings and soup dumplings, is it a bit of a tourist trap?! Yes! However the dumplings are delicious and the place is huge, expect queues and avoid on a weekend would be my best bit of advice. I would recommend coming here to sample the food as I really enjoyed it, and its famous in the city, it’s definitely worth a visit if your in the old town too. If you are in a hurry there is also a stand up bar outside where you can order dumplings to eat there if your rushed for time.

Shanghai Grandmother

Shanghai Grandmother is a popular restaurant with both locals and tourists as it’s really well priced and cooks up a great selection of traditional Chinese food. It’s also only a short distance from the Bund. I have visited the restaurant a few times before I went vegetarian, and had some of the most delicious pork dishes, however there is a good selection of vegetarian dishes available too. When visiting the bund make sure to stop at Shanghai Grandmothers either for lunch or dinner you won’t be disappointed!

Tianzifang Street Food

Tianzifang is one of my favourite places to visit in Shanghai and amongst its small labyrinth like alleyways are lots of choice of small boutique style cafes, restaurants and bars and lots of street food to choose from. Make sure to come hungry as there are snack stalls at every corner. The street food is an eccentric mix from traditional Chinese food, western food and everything in between. I had to have the foot long french fries! I also stumbled across a colourful dumpling stall and couldn’t resists getting a dumpling that looked like a cute penguin. In Tianzifang there really is something for everyone’s tastes.

Transport & Getting Around

Shanghai has an extensive public bus system which is really inexpensive however it’s hard to navigate with the language barrier. Shanghai also has a clean subway which has signs in English as well as Chinese, however it can be extremely busy.

I tend to use taxis to cover larger distances of the city, and try and walk to most places if it’s not too far. Make sure to downsload maps.me so you can easily find your way around the city without WiFi and roaming, and if you can’t speak the language. I also find it helps to plan your route and pin everything on the map, and that way you can easily work out walking distances etc.

Top Tips

When visiting China try and go as prepared as possible, yes there is a huge language barrier and not many of the locals speak English, so go armed with google translate, guide books, maps.me app etc. Also if you have any dietary requirements try and get one of the cabin crew on your flight over to write out a little card for you in Chinese with your dietary requirements or ask a hotel member of staff. Im vegetarian and luckily work alongside some great Shanghai based crew and got them to write me a card which states I’m vegetarian and don’t eat meat or fish on a piece of card for me, and now every time I go out to eat I just show the waiter/waitress the card to make sure I’m not getting any surprises when I order.

When staying at any accommodation try and get a business card or address so you can show taxi drivers. A lot of the big hotels actually have small little translate cards you can ask for which have their address on plus lots of other popular attractions that you can show taxi drivers. I always have maps.me downloaded as it’s a great app that works offline and when I’m walking around Shanghai or in taxi I always check it to make sure I’m heading in the right direction.

Important Information

Beijing & The Great Wall of China

Beijing is China’s capital city and situated in the north of the country. It is one of the nations ancient cities and is the political, economical and cultural heart and soul of China. There is so much to explore from it’s historical past to futuristic developments and booming businesses.

China has always been somewhere I’ve been fascinated by with its huge population, vast size and diverse culture, I knew it was somewhere I always wanted to explore. I have been lucky enough to travel to China with my work and have been to both Beijing and Shanghai, and why China might not be everyone’s cup of tea; love it or hate it – it’s definitely unique!

Every time I travel to Beijing I try to see something new or discover a part of the city I haven’t ventured to before. There are so many temples, beautiful parks, historical monuments and people watching to be done in this city. I have tried some absolutely delicious food in China, and also witnessed some of the weirdest food items on menus, but the best bit of advice to visiting China is to go with an open mind and take China for what it is. Beijing really is an incredible city with a rich culture and a great city to get culturally lost in.

Sights & Activities

Bell Tower & Drum Tower

The Drum Tower and Bell Tower were for centuries the tallest buildings in Beijing, towering over the surrounding hutong. The 46m high towers would provide the city with time keeping, the drums would beat to sound the curfew after nightfall in the Qing dynasty, and thereafter every two hours to coordinate the patrols of the city’s nightwatch. Both towers have really steep stairs which aren’t great for people who suffer with vertigo, both towers are worth the stair hike and provide great views of one another as well as city views. The drum tower has daily performances every hour so time your visit to make sure to catch one.

Confucius Temple & Imperial College

Confucius Temple and Imperial College is a stones throw away from the incense filled Lama Temple. The temple is China’s second largest Confucian temple and is a haven of calm and contemplation. The temple has towering stone columns with scriptures, bright colours, intricate detailing, achievements of scholars past. The temple was once the site of the imperial college during the Yuan, Ming, and Qing dynasties, and now a museum consisting of multiple scholarly halls showcasing the educational system in imperial China. When visiting Lama Temple be sure to walk over and explore this beautiful temple steeped in history.

Hutong

Hutong’s are the very essence of Beijing and are the alleyways, courtyards and neighbourhoods that cut across the centre of Beijing. Wandering them is an absolute must to get a real understanding of the culture and street life of the locals. After I visited the drum and bell tower I hoped in one of the many rickshaws near by which offer small tours for about ยฃ10, however you can explore by foot quite easily too. Looking into these passageways gives you an insight into what old Beijing would have been like.

The driver I had didn’t speak a word of English but drove me around for about an hour and pointed at a few alleyways and buildings and did make a few stops for me to look at various buildings even taking me to someone’s house and courtyard where I ended up having an older couple talking to me in Chinese and showing me what seemed like family photos, I still have no idea what I saw and if it was of any importance but it made for a funny trip and and gave me a good insight into Beijing’s inner city residents.

Jingshan Park

Jingshan Park is in the center of Beijing located by the north gate of the forbidden city. It is a huge royal landscape garden which covers 57 acres, and also home to Beijing’s highest point which provides amazing views over the forbidden city and the rest of Beijing. During the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties, the park served as an imperial garden.

There are lots of palaces, pavilions, statues and artwork as well as lots of trees and plants. In 1928 the park was open to the public, and has since been popular with both locals and tourists, and is a beautiful green retreat to escape the hustle and bustle of busy Beijing. I visited here on a really hot day and really enjoyed escaping to this oasis in the middle of the city. If you visit the forbidden city be sure to visit Jingshan Park after.

Lama Temple

Lama Temple is located in the northeast corner of the city, and is an ornately decorated Tibetan Buddhist temple. It’s also considered as one of the most perfectly preserved lama monastery’s in present day China. It was originally built in 1694 during the Qing Dynasty, this building was the residence of Emperor Yongzheng when he was just a prince. However, in 1744 the Qing Dynasty formally changed the status of the residence to that of a lamasery, and so it became the national centre of Lama administration.

There are 5 main halls to wander as well as prayer wheels to spin, and lots of Chinese lion statues and other typically Chinese silhouettes. It’s a really grand temple full of incense filling the air, and while your here it’s easy to also visit Confucius Temple and Imperial College as it’s really close by and it’s also near to Baihe Vegetarian Restaurant.

The Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China is the biggest and main symbol associated with China. The Great Wall is the longest wall in the world, and is definitely one of the top attractions in the whole country and a UNESCO heritage site. With over 2300 years of history it gives a glimpse into China’s days gone by. It was built in different areas by different states and dynasties to protect different territorial borders, and to protect the Silk Road trade and to prevent invasion from various nomadic groups.

If there’s one thing you do in China make sure you visit the wall, you can book onto a variety of tours. Some of my colleagues and myself booked transport through our hotel concierge which picked us up early morning. It only takes between 1 to 2 hours to reach the wall depending where you are in the city, and what the traffic is like. The ticket prices includes a chair lift up to the wall and you can tobbogan down. The chair lift provides great views over the forested areas below and the tobbogan down is so much fun! You can buy the professional photos from both which were an absolute bargain I never normally buy the photos from attractions, but they were so cheap I bought both from the chair lift and toboggan.

There are various tours packages you can book onto to visit the wall. The driver we had organised our tickets for us and waited for us while we hiked along the wall, we had several hours to explore before he took us back to the city. We paid about ยฃ40 each which included private transport to and from our hotel and the entrance. We went for half a day, however you could easily spend days, weeks and months exploring the full 13,171 miles of the Great Wall. We only skimmed the surface during the few hours we were there.

I absolutely fell in love with this part of China as I have seen it so many times over the years and on films etc it felt quite surreal visiting the wall myself. Try and get there as early as you can to try and avoid the crowds, just as we were leaving in the late morning it started to get a lot busier with crowds and tour buses coming in. When I visited it was a bit foggy so I didn’t get the most clear of views, so I would like to revisit in the future and maybe go in the winter time as I would love to see what it’s like with snow and frost and on a clear day. If you have a few days in the city then check the weather before and choose which day would be best to visit; weather wise.

Tian Anmen Square

Tian Anmen Square is the heart of Beijing and the largest public square in the world. Named after the Tiananmen (Gate of Heavenly Peace) located to its north, separating it from the Forbidden City. The square has cultural significance as well as it political and historical, and is home to many of Beijing’s Monuments and museums such as Tian Anmen Tower, Monument to the People’s Heroes, the Great Hall of the People, the National Museum of China, and the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong. The square is an absolute must visit when in Beijing and can easily be visited prior to entering the forbidden city, it draws in crowds from all over the world as well as locals, and its great to get there early to try and beat some of the crowds.

Food & Drink

Baihe Vegetarian Restaurant

Baihe Vegetarian Restaurant is a dream come true in Beijing when the food scene in China is so heavily dominated by meat and fish, this place is a breath of fresh air and the perfect place to visit vegetarian or not. If your vegetarian it’s great to be able to choose off the menu without worrying what’s actually coming out, as there can be a language barrier in China and most dishes have meat or meat broth in them. Here atleast you can rest assured whatever you order it will be vegetarian.

This restaurant is hidden away down a small street not too far away from Lama Temple. The courtyard restaurant come tea house has a great menu with lots of creative mock meat dishes, and has an English translated menu. I tried the ‘chicken’ kung pao which was so delicious as well as a side of vegetable dumplings.

The restaurant is like a small oasis of serenity compared to the busy streets of Beijing. If you worry what you might end up eating in Beijing then make sure to pay this place a visit, it’s slightly more expensive than other restaurants in Beijing, but was still pretty reasonable and your paying more for the ambience and calmness. The staff were also really lovely and one waiter wanted to talk to me a lot to practise his English.

Bao Yuan Dumplings

Bao Yuan Dumpling restaurant is located in the North Chaoyang district which is full of street food vendors, restaurants and bars. The restaurant may not look like much from the outside, but they cook up an absolute assortment of multicoloured dumplings with a variety of fillings including several vegetarian options. The dough dyes they use to colour the dumplings are all natural made from carrots and spinach etc. They also serve many other Chinese dishes, this place is well worth a visit with its huge menu catering really well for vegetarians, and it’s so cheap you can order a variety of dishes which won’t break the bank!

Transport & Getting Around

Beijing has an extensive public bus system which is really inexpensive however it’s hard to navigate with the language barrier. Beijing also has a clean subway which has signs in English as well as Chinese, however it can be extremely busy.

I tend to use taxis or the many motor rickshaws to cover larger distances of the city, and try and walk to most places if it’s not too far. Make sure to downsload maps.me so you can easily find your way around the city without WiFi, roaming and if you can’t speak the language. I also find it helps to plan your route and pin everything on the map and that way you can easily work out walking distances etc. Many tourists also hire bicycles to explore the city, however I would only recommend this if your a confident cyclist, as it’s a very busy with lots of road traffic and pedestrians.

Top Tips

When visiting China try and go as prepared as possible, yes there is a huge language barrier and not many of the locals speak English, so go armed with google translate, guide books, maps.me app etc. Also if you have any dietary requirements try and get one of the cabin crew on your flight over to write out a little card for you in Chinese with your dietary requirements or ask a hotel member of staff. Im vegetarian and luckily work alongside some great Beijing based crew and got them to write me a card which states I’m vegetarian and don’t eat meat or fish on a piece of card for me, and now every time I go out to eat I just show the waiter/waitress the card to make sure I’m not getting any surprises when I order.

When staying at any accommodation try and get a business card or address so you can show taxi drivers. A lot of the big hotels actually have small little translate cards you can ask for which have their address on plus lots of other popular attractions that you can show taxi drivers. I always have maps.me downloaded as it’s a great app that works offline and when I’m walking around Beijing or in taxi I always check it to make sure I’m heading in the right direction.

Important Information

The Highlands & Isle of Skye

The Highlands of Scotland are located in the north west of the country and spreads out to the many islands off the coast. The Highlands offers the ultimate wilderness getaway, and if solitude is what your after, then look no further than The Highlands and the islands. These areas are so sparsely populated and full of so much natural beauty it’s the perfect relaxation break.

Scotland’s natural playground really does have something to offer everyone from vast empty coastlines, mountains, lochs, historical castles and monuments and so much more, the landscapes are truly breathtaking!

Last year my husband and I were round our friends house for dinner, and we were all talking about how we would love to explore the Highlands, my husband had been several times before and highly rated it. So that was it we decided to start planning a couples long weekend away to explore this stunning corner of the UK.

We managed to get some cheap flights up to Inverness, hired a car and booked a glamping Geodome for us to stay in, and have ourselves 5 days to explore. We did so much in these 5 days however there is so much more to see and if you go in the summer there are lots of wildlife tours you can book onto. We visited the first weekend of October so unfortunately many of the wildlife boat tours had stopped running.

We honestly had such an amazing trip and were so surprised this was in our home, normally I am the worst for jetting off to exotic far flung locations, but after our break in the Highlands I definitely want to make a more conscious effort to explore more of the UK.

Sights & Activities

Ben Nevis

Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in the UK, situated in the north west highlands and part of the Grampian mountain range. It is close by to the town of Fort William, and attracts many tourists and hikers from all over. We checked the weather before going and worked out which was the best day for us to hike up it, we only made it half way up as the weather conditions changed, and it became very windy, so we made it to a lake which is about half way up the mountain and stopped there for a bit and started to head back down.

The walk up is amazing and you get the most incredible views of the mountains and the natural beauty that the highlands have to offer. To hike to the very top of Ben Nevis would on average take between 4-5 hours, however this is fitness and weather dependent. Make sure when you visit you wear walking/hiking gear, and take plenty of water and snacks with you as once you start the hike there isn’t anywhere to stop and buy anything, however the water from the streams is so clean you can drink from it. If you plan on hiking up to the top be sure to allow for a full day to get up and get back down.

Bridge of Oich

The River Oich is part of the Great Glen and has a suspension bridge designed by a brewer turned engineer. The 46 metre Bridge of Oich was built in 1854, a few years after floods swept through the Great Glen and destroyed the original stone bridge.

Cairngorms

The Cairngorms is the UKs largest national park and has so much to see and do from mountains, forests, lochs, waterfalls, villages, distilleries and plenty of wildlife. The Cairngorms is also the most popular ski resort in the UK, and attracts many visitors who are interested in snow sports, rock climbing and mountain biking.

We visited the Cairngorms and started off our day in Aviemore which is like the gateway to the national park and is popular with visitors. We had lunch there and a wander around many of its shops before heading off on a road trip driving around the Cairngorms and stopping off to admire the views. You could easily spend your whole holiday in the Cairngorms as there is so much to see and do and lots of hikes and trails to follow. As we were short on time we just spent a full day there but I would love to go back and explore some more!

Commando Memorial

The Commando Memorial is close to Spean Bridge and was created in 1952 to commemorate the British Commando Forces which were put together in world war 2. The monument is a large bronze statue of 3 commando soldiers overlooks the training grounds of the Commando Training Depot which was established in 1942. It provides amazing views over Ben Nevis and Aonach Mรฒr.

Eilean Donan Castle

As we reached the mainland after being on the Isle of Skye we made a quick stop at Eilean Donan Castle to see it lit up at dusk, the 13th century castle is perched on top of a small tidal island where 3 sea lochs meet, Loch Duich, Loch Long and Loch Alsh. It’s about half a mile from the village of Dornie. The castle is open to visitors too, and has been featured on several films and tv series and is one of the most photographed castles in all of Scotland.

Fort William

Fort William is a town in the western Scottish Highlands, on the shores of Loch Linnhe. Fort William is great base to explore Ben Nevis. The town has a cute little high street filled with pubs, cafes, restaurants and lots of souvenir shops. We came into town after visiting Ben Nevis for some lunch and a look around the shops.

Isle of Skye

The Isle of Skye is one of Scotland’s top destinations to visit and after visiting I can clearly see why! Isle of Skye is connected to Scotlandโ€™s northwest coast by a bridge, and is 50 miles long and the largest of the Inner Hebrides archipelago. This island has so much to offer its visitors from its rugged landscapes, quaint fishing villages, medieval castles and lots of wildlife such as eagles, seals, otters, dolphins, whales and deer to name but a few!

We visited the Isle of Skye in just one day, however you could easily spend days and days roaming this island especially if you are into hiking trails, and if you come in the summer there are lots of whale watching tours and wildlife kayaking tours available to book. We started off our day early as it took 2 hours to drive to the Isle of Skye from where we were staying. Our first stop on the Isle of Skye was in Broadford and we visited the cute and quirky Market Square there, it’s a few small units which sell lots of antiques, souvenirs, crystals and trinkets as well as serving hot drinks, we had a look around and grabbed a hot chocolate before venturing off to explore the rest of the island. Broadford is the first stop after the bridge onto the island, and a popular stopping point for many tourists.

We then headed north of the island to the Trotternish Peninsula and decided to visit the Skye Musuem of Island Life which is an original highland village, and gives visitors a chance to see what island life was like 100 years ago. The museum has lots of information, artefacts from days gone by and was really interesting to see what the villages would have looked like. It’s only a small museum and entry is only ยฃ3 per adult and cash only.

In the northeast of the island there is lots to see we drove upto Duntulm Castle which is just fragments and ruins left of the castle, but it does provide beautiful views over the coastline and the landscape behind, we stopped there briefly and also wandered down to the rock pools below, as just as we were driving to it we saw a seal poking its head out of the sea in the distance so thought we would go down to the rocks to see if we could see anymore,

In the Trotternish Peninsula there is also the Kilt Rock and Mealt Falls which both can be viewed from the same viewing point. Kilt Rock is 90 meters of sheer cliff drops. It gets its name as it resembles a pleated kilt. The Mealt waterfall plummets over Kilt Rock from the top of the cliffs to the rocky coast below and is fed by Mealt Loch.

As we continued to drive around the north of the island we kept making little stops off at places and another hidden gem we stopped off at was Camasunary Bay which gives spectacular panoramic views over the jagged coastline.

One of the Isle of Skye’s top walking routes is up to the Old Man of Storr, which is a situated on a large rocky hill, and is a large rock formation that stands tall. We visited the Old Man of Storr but from a distance as the walk up to it can take over an hour, and just as we got there it started to rain and the clouds started coming in. So we walked a little bit up to get a better view but then came down before we got soaked by the weather.

The day started to go by so quickly and before we knew it, it was mid afternoon so we headed to get some lunch in Portree which is the islands capital and largest village. Portree looked like a postcard with its pretty pastel coloured buildings over looking the natural harbour. There are a few boutiques, a visitor information centre and some restaurants all serving up fresh seafood. We grabbed a quick bite to eat there from one of the chippys and strolled around some of the shops.

After Portree we decided to drive up to Fairy Glen which are small grassy hills with lochans (ponds) in between which makes this place look like a scene from a fairytale.

As the day was coming to an end we decided to make one last stop before heading back to the mainland, and we drove over to Dunvegan which is on the west coast of the island and famous for Dunvegan castle. We paid to enter the castle and it’s grounds which was ยฃ14 per adult. The castle is stunning and has been well preserved, and is the only Hebridean castle to be continuously occupied by the same family for 800 years – the Macleod Clan. The gardens and grounds of the castle were created in the 1800s, and are an oasis compared to the barren moor lands that surround the castle. As we came late in the day we didn’t have too long before the castle closed so we walked in and around the castle, and only went through some of the gardens. Dunvegan Castle is an absolute must visit when on the Isle of Skye as it is an important and typically Scottish landmark on the island.

Once we left Dunvegan castle we then started to head back to the mainland before it got dark. There is so much to see and do on the Isle of a Skye I really wish we had more time there as there was still plenty to see. Even if your short on time on your highlands trip be sure to keep one day spare for a visit to the Isle of Skye.

Loch Ness & Fort Augustus

Loch Ness is the most famous loch in Scotland and is surrounded by mystery with tales of sightings of a Loch Ness monster living deep beneath this freshwater lake. Loch Ness contains more water than all the lakes in England and Wales put together. Loch Ness is about 23 miles in length and offers plenty of natural beauty all around, with lots of hikes and trails all around the legendary loch. Just behind our Geodome was a gorgeous trail with stunning views over the Loch, my husband and I were even lucky enough to see 2 deer dash out in front of us and into the trees.

There are plenty of cruises and boat tours available on Loch Ness, however we opted to walk along it, and visited Fort Augustus to admire its views over Loch Ness. Fort Augustus is nestled on the most southern tip of Loch Ness and lying on the 60 mile long Caledonian Canal. Fort Augustus is a tourist hotspot and there you can watch boats steering through the large locks. There are plenty of shops, restaurants, cafes, tours and cruises of Loch Ness in Fort Augustus.

Mallaig, Morar & Arisaig

Mallaig, Morar and Arisaig are all seaside villages/towns located on the west cost of the highlands. We came to these on our last day and drove along the coast and stopped at their harbours and beaches. Mallaig is a fishing port town and is also popular with Harry Potter fans as the Jacobite steam train which runs from Fort William to Mallaig and was featured in the Harry Potter films.

We came to Mallaig first and stopped there for lunch and a saunter around the shops and port, after that we then drove along the series of beaches known as the Silver Sands which dot the coastline from Morar to Arisaig. We stopped at lots of these beautiful beaches and coves and had them all to ourselves, they were so peaceful and rural.

Our last stop before having to head back to Inverness to catch our flight home was Arisaig which is a small village which leads on from Morar and is situated on an inlet in the Morar peninsula surrounded by the blue sea, rocky coves and white sand. I absolutely fell in love with the west coast of Scotland the beaches were absolutely gorgeous and hard to believe they were in the UK.

Urquhart Castle

Urquhart Castle is situated on Loch Ness and is one of the Highlands most famous castles. With a 1000 years of history the castle ruins gives visitors a taste into medieval times. As we were driving back to our Geodome from the Cairngorms we saw the castle so quickly pulled over to view it, the castle was stunning and we caught sunset just in time.

Food & Drink

Chlachain Inn

Chlachain Inn is located in Mallaig, there isn’t a huge choice of places to choose from in this little port but this looked nice from the outside and had a warm fire going inside, we stopped in here lunch and the food was great. I opted for the halloumi burger and it came with the most delicious relish!

The Bothy

The Bothy is a traditional pub and restaurant next to the Caledonian canal in Fort Augustus. It has lots of traditional Scottish food on offer and the portions are huge! So make sure to go hungry, I had the mushroom pie which was was very flavoursome and just what I needed on a cold day. The Bothy is also a great place to visit for a drink too, as it’s set in a gorgeous 200 year old cottage and it has a friendly atmosphere.

The Cluanie Inn

On the way back from Isle of Skye we stopped off in Glenmoriston at the The Cluanie Inn. The great thing about Scotland is that it is full of cosy pubs and inns. We all weren’t massively hungry so stopped in there for a drink and a small dinner. The place was really popular with tourists and had a good range of food and drinks available.

The Grog & Gruel

The Grog and Gruel is on Fort Williams high street, and is a small alehouse and restaurant. There is a variety of dishes available and lots of American and Mexican food available to order. I decided on the vegetarian haggis which was really tasty. They pride themselves on offering a big choice of local and regional brewed ales and craft lagers and hearty comfort food.

The Wildcat

The Wildcat on Fort William high street is a vegan and zero waste cafe which also has a refill shop at the back of the cafe and sells organic and ethical every day products. We stopped in here for a piece of cake and a chai latte, which was honestly one of the best chais I’ve ever had. The cafe has a very hipster look and feel to it but I really liked this cafe and is a great place to stop for a pick me up.

The Winking Owl

The Winking Owl is a chalet restaurant in the town of Aviemore in the Cairngorms. It cooks up Scottish and international dishes with amazing views over the mountains. We came in here for lunch before exploring the rest of the Cairngorms. There is also a lunch menu available and we ordered the brie wedges to share to start with and they were amazing!

Accommodation

Inver Coille Camping & Glamping

When we were originally looking into where we wanted to stay, we knew we wanted something quirky and cosy. We came across the Inver Coillie Camping and Glamping site which offers several glamping options such as Geodomes, bell tents and pods. As there was 4 of us we opted to book one of their geodomes, and we were definitely not disappointed!

The campsite is nestled in a beautiful wooded area along Loch Ness, and only a 10 minute drive into Fort Augustus, it’s a great location for exploring the Highlands. Everything has been well thought out at the campsite, all the glamping pods are all well spaced out, bathrooms are immaculately clean and heated! When you book a Geodome you are provided with your own allocated bathroom which is code locked, which is great as you can leave all your toiletries in there. There is also a picnic area with fire pit and recycling bins. Just by the bathrooms there is also a communal area of sinks for washing up etc.

The dome we were allocated was gorgeous and we had the woods directly behind and a beautiful stream running just outside the dome. Inside the dome there is a double bed and a day bed which converts into a double. There’s a table and chairs and small kitchen unit which has a hob, and all the kitchen utensils and crockery you need along with a kettle. The dome comes with a starter pack of tea, coffee, sugar and biscuits. They also supply you with a bag of logs on arrival for the log burner, after that you can then buy extra at the reception. The log burner was amazing and made the Geodome so toasty.

There was no WiFi or signal at Inver Coille but actually it was really nice to be able to fully switch off from the world. There was some solar run lights in the Geodome and some battery operated fairy lights but no electricity, however they supply you with a battery pack so you can charge your electricals, and you can leave gadgets charging in their reception.

If your looking for something a little bit different from your average guest house or hotel, and want a truely unique experience then I would definitely recommend glamping in the highlands.

Transport & Getting Around

As the highlands covers a huge area I would recommend hiring a car, we picked up a car as soon as we landed at Inverness airport and dropped it off before we flew home. Having the flexibility of a car is great and means you can pull over at beautiful spots and find places you didn’t know existed along the way.

With Scotland’s rapid weather changes it’s also good to have a car to escape from the rain. The roads are pretty quiet in the highlands just be prepared to drive along a lot of country roads, and the weather can take a turn for the worse. Hiring a car was pretty inexpensive too, just make sure to book in advance to get a great deal.

Make sure to check out driving laws in Scotland as there are a few variations compared to other areas in the UK, for example a new law has come into force which makes the legal drink-drive limit in Scotland much lower than elsewhere in the UK.

Top Tips

My top tips for visiting the Highlands is to pack for the weather make sure you pack plenty of warm and waterproof clothes and take some hiking boots with you, as much as I hate hiking boots as I think they are the ugliest invention known to man, they are highly functional in the highlands.

One other tip is to research before you go and maybe download maps.me and pin out where you want to visit, as when we went to the Isle of Skye we went without a plan and ended up driving back on ourselves as we realised we had missed one of the major sights out, and especially if your time constraint then planning out an itinerary will mean you make the very most of your trip.

Important Information

  • Currency: British Pound
  • Language: English
  • Map
  • Weather

Margate

I had never really ever considered going to Margate and I hadn’t really heard much about it other than when it was in the Only Fools and Horses episode when they have their disastrous jolly boys outing to Margate.

A little a while a go one of my oldest and closest friends asked me to be her maid of honour at her wedding, so straight away I knew I had to organise her an epic hen weekend with the other bridesmaids. When I asked my friend where she would like to go on her hen do he reply was ‘I really fancy going to Margate’ shocked at her response half expecting her to say somewhere hot and exotic abroad or a big booming city in the UK, I decided I best get to work researching this small seaside town.

While googling I was pleasantly surprised at how trendy Margate seemed to be as I had no idea how hipster Margate really was, with lots of cafes, bars and quirky shops on offer, the hen do planning had officially begun!

When we arrived into Margate we were so amazed at how lovely everything was and it was so good to see a Great British Seaside town being bought back to life, and small little businesses booming in the area. We honestly had such a great weekend in Margate and it really exceeded our expectations so much so I really would love to go back for another weekend in the future. If your looking for retro seaside kitsch – then don’t delay and head to Margate!

Sights & Activities

Dreamland

Dreamland is one of Margate’s main draws, like many British seaside towns Margate has its own amusement park. Dreamland is along one of the main streets and directly opposite the beach. It has something for everyone from a variety of rides, entertainment, art installations, food and drink vendors, music venues and even a roller disco. We didn’t really know what to expect from Dreamland half expecting it to be your usual tacky seaside amusement park, well did not disappoint one bit!

While from the entrance it doesn’t look particularly appealing, however once your in its full of vibrant colours and a really relaxed atmosphere. It was also really good value for money, we bought wristbands online prior to going and paid about ยฃ9 per person which included entrance into the Dreamland and unlimited rides. We spent a few hours trying many of the rides and wandering around. We were lucky when we visited as queues weren’t too bad, however I can imagine in the height of summer the park being quite busy. Dreamland is an absolute must to any Margate trip!

Haeckels

Haeckels is a shop and spa which promotes coastal natural ingredients as well as conservation and beach clean ups. This small luxury skin care brand showcases many of Margate’s coastline natural supplies and ingredients. I stumbled across this little shop overlooking the seafront just before heading home, and wish I had known about it before as they offer a variety of spa treatments onsite too. I treated myself to the most gorgeous smelling candle. If your a girly girl like myself then make sure you pop into Haeckels and possibly even try out one of their spa treatments.

Margate Clock Tower

Margate Clock Tower is in the centre of town and was constructed to celebrate the golden jubilee of Queen Victoria in the late 1800s. When walking along the Margate Main Sands or heading to Dreamland this beautiful Victorian clock can’t be missed! It’s one of Margate’s stand out landmarks.

Margate Harbour Arm

The Harbour Arm is a concrete pier in Margate overlooking Margate Main Sands and the beach front high street. The pier was created in the early 1800s for its lighthouse. Today as it stands it’s a small extension of Margate’s trendy scene with a few small cafes, restaurants, galleries and even a micro pub (The Harbour Arm) and showcases many art exhibitions and music events which run during the summer, check individual businesses for opening times during the winter period.

A symbol of Margate also stands at the end of the Pier – ‘Mrs Booth’ a famous statue in Margate which is also known as the shell lady, which is a large scale replica of the shell lady ornaments sold in all of Margate’s souvenir shops. The Harbour Arm is a lovely pier to walk along (although very windy) you get amazing views over the ocean and the seafront.

Margate Main Sands

Main Sands is Margates main stretch of beach and has its own tidal pool. The beach is really clean and well kept and a sandy beach too. The promenade is lovely to walk along both during the day and the evening. The beach is really popular with dog walkers and families and during the summer has beach bars and seafood stalls. Just by the Turner Contemporary by the Harbour Arm are some steps to sit on and enjoy ocean and beach views.

Old Town

Margate is a regenerated seaside town and when stepping into the old town you can see why so many hipsters are attracted to this trendy part of town. All of Margate oozes retro seaside chic. The old town is really quirky and full of buzzing cafes, galleries, vintage shops, junk yards and niche shops and has lots of colourful street art to view.

The old town really is the hub of Margate and you can easily spend a few hours wandering the old streets and dipping in and out of its many eccentric shops. Some of the shops that stood out in the old town were Peony Vintage, Madam Popoff Vintage, Pothead, Little Bit, The Light Keeper, Kings Emporium, Handsome Freaks and Fort Road Yard to name but a few. It’s really great to see so many independent shops and businesses open and running it’s so refreshing to see and a nice change from your box standard high street chain shops. A trip to Margate wouldn’t be complete without a meander through its colourful old town!

Shell Grotto

The Shell Grotto has to be one of Margate’s more kooky attractions, discovered in 1835 and with 4.6 million shells covering these once hidden passageways, it is definitely a pretty odd site to behold. The Shell Grotto is still steeped in mystery to this very day with so many unanswered questions who, what, why and when?! You really have to come and see the Grotto for yourself and you will leave as puzzled as when you first arrived, but it really is such a cool place to see, and it’s less than a fiver to enter which is an absolute bargain, as I really have never been to anywhere like the Shell Grotto before!

Food & Drink

Beet Bar

Beet Bar is a little hidden vegan oasis tucked behind a street in the old town. This quirky cafe delivers the most delicious healthy vegan food, juice drinks and health shots. The service was really welcoming too. We visited on a Sunday for some brunch and opted for the avocado on toast with sun dried tomatoes, and it came with a small dessert of your choice, I chose the mango sticky rice and it was just delicious! I really liked the decor in Beet Bar, basically to sum this place up its just super cool and has great food and drink at affordable prices!

Fez

Fez is a wacky bar located on Margate’s high street, this micro bar has a friendly atmosphere, and the decor is very off the wall with a floor covered in sand, and bric a brac covering the walls, ceiling and every surface going. We popped into this cool little bar in the afternoon for a quick shot which was part of the task for our hen party treasure hunt that one of the bridesmaids had organised. We did try to come back in the evening but got there too late as last orders were at 11.30pm.

GB Pizza Co

GB Pizza Co is situated looking out on Margate’s seafront and is small little locally owned restaurant which serves up delicious fresh wood fired pizzas. We came here for a late lunch/dinner and the pizzas were just fab and they have prosecco on tap too, what more could a girl ask for?!

Harbour Cafe Bar

Harbour Cafe Bar is a cute and cosy cafe overlooking the sea and serves up cooked food as well as a selection of hot drinks and cakes. We stopped in here for a quick pick me up and grabbed a drink and cake while we waited for the weather to clear.

Mar Mar

Mar Mar is the new place to go in Margate and is honing in on the recent trend of plants and succulents. Stepping into this cafe/shop is liking walking into an exotic jungle set just on the streets of Cliftonville. A selection of cakes are made daily onsite. I had a delicious chocolate and coconut flapjack and chai latte, and afterwards did some plant shopping to bring home some cute little succulents, which hopefully I won’t kill off! As well as selling lots of plants they also sell lots of cute stationary, accessories and books etc.

Sundowners

Sundowners is Margate’s only LGBT bar, club and restaurants and overlooks the coastline. Set in an old building we headed here for a few drinks before we were meant to hit another club in Margate, but we all ended up having such a good time in Sundowners we ended up staying. The night we visited they had a Boy George tribute act on which was fantastic. It was such a great vibe and everyone both staff and punters were so friendly, everyone just gets along and starts up conversation in this place.

The Bus Cafe

The Bus Cafe sits on the promenade and overlooks the beach. This old 1980s double decker bus has been converted into the cutest cafe and cooks up delicious fresh and seasonal food and uses as much local produce as possible.

The cafe also does lots of good within Margate’s community and supports lots of local charities, and as well as doing all this also ensures it’s not creating to the waste problem and uses only biodegradable and recyclable packaging. We came to the cafe for lunch when we first arrived in Margate. This cafe has gorgeous views of the beach, delicious food and great staff. The Bus Cafe is also next to a few little street food stalls and Ziggys Bar which during the summer months I can imagine are really popular.

The Old Kent Market

The Old Kent Market used to be a cinema and bingo hall years ago, and has been lovingly restored, and still holds lots of its original charm.

The market has a range of different stalls selling food and drinks, as well as some cute micro pubs/bars. There are also some units selling crafts and a variety of products and services.

Accommodation

Sea View Terrace Air Bnb

As Margate is a seaside town it has a good selection of hotels, bed and breakfasts and guest houses to choose from. As we were a group of 11 we opted to search on Air Bnb, and we stumbled across the most beautiful 4 storey beach front townhouse situated in Sea View Terrace. It was perfect for our group with 6 bedrooms all with en-suites, it was great for 11 girls trying to get party ready! The downstairs space was also amazing and meant we could have pre-drinks and hen party games without feeling like we were crammed in. The house was in such a great location we could walk into the town centre within a few minutes, and it was a refreshing stroll along the beach promenade.

Transport & Getting Around

Margate is really easy to get around once you have arrived, I would recommend going around the town on foot, as everything is easily walkable and you get to walk along the seafront and take in Margate’s cool and edgy vibe.

Top Tips

The only top tip I would have is for girls with hair, my god Margate is windy (or was when we were there), so expect to look windswept the whole time or just wear your hair up so you can actually see where your going!

Important Information

  • Currency: British Pound
  • Language: English
  • Map
  • Weather

Nicosia

Nicosia also known as Lefkosia is the largest city in Cyprus and is also the islands capital city. Nicosia is rich with culture and history and today is the worlds last and only divided capital city. The barbed wire and guardtowers of the Green Line cuts the city into two, with the northern side being the capital of Northern Cyprus and the southern half being the capital of the Republic of Cyprus.

The airline I work for fly to Larnaca and recently I was lucky enough to be rostered a trip there with a 24 hour layover. We stay in Nicosia so I decided I wanted to go and explore some of this city in the short time I had there and wanted to make the most of it.

As I only had a short time in the city, I spent the morning sunbathing at the hotel and then my colleagues and myself ventured out and got a taxi into the centre as we were only a few minutes drive away. We explored the main streets, had the most delicious late lunch and crossed over into the Turkish side of the city. I really liked the atmosphere of Nicosia the locals were all so friendly both on the Greek and Turkish side of this split city.

I really want to come back and visit Cyprus on holiday as I feel this island has so much to offer and I would love to visit the coast and some more of the historical monuments and natural sights.

Sights & Activities

Faneromeni Church

Faneromeni Church is located in the old part of Nicosia, and its one of the oldest churches on the island. It is thought to have been constructed in 1222 as part of a Cistercian monastery for women. The church had to be completely rebuilt in 1715 due to the damage it suffered during an earthquake.

The church is located on a small square which has lots of little cafes and restaurants near by. The inside of the church is very grand with lots of large chandeliers and ornate detailing. This is one of the main historical sites to see in the city centre and is an absolute must when wandering around the city streets.

Ledra Street & Onasagorou Street

Ledra Street and Onasagorou Street are the two main shopping streets in Nicosia and are the busier streets of the capital filled with many big name shops, restaurants and cafes. The streets are also filled with lots of local cats which the locals seem to look after pretty well. Both of these streets are pedestrianised and it is the most lively part of the old town. Most tourists tend to visit these streets as they are another of Nicosia’s top sights.

Ledra Street Check Point

The Ledra Street Checkpoint cuts one of the busiest streets into two with passport control kiosks. Itโ€™s a divide that has split the Turkish Cypriot community from the Greek Cypriot community for decades. From the checkpoint the border spreads outwards dividing Cyprus in two. The crossing was closed for many years only several points were opened up in 2003, but in 2008 Ledra Street opened up its checkpoint allowing people to walk across the border. Today it is a symbolic of how divided the island of Cyprus still is to this day.

Crossing the divide should be something that all visitors should witness to understand some more of how life is in the worlds only divided capital. When crossing the border make sure you take your passport as you need to show it when leaving one side of the divide and show when entering into the other side. We went late afternoon after our lunch and the border crossing was pretty quiet and it was also on a weekday, I have read that on a weekend the checkpoint can be busier and sometimes might have queues, so try to aim to cross first thing in the morning or late afternoon.

Turkish Nicosia

Once crossing over into the Turkish side of Nicosia you can straight away see the difference of culture to the Greek side. I really enjoyed exploring the narrow streets and small shops and market stalls.

There was lots of street art around this part of the capital too, and several mosques to see, one of the largest and most grand mosques of the capital is Selimiye Camii mosque with its gothic architecture it really stands out. Just across from the mosque is Bandabuliya which is an old covered market that has been running since the 1930s and is a major landmark in the area, it has undergone some renovation recently to ensure it can continue running and to retain its original features.

You could easily spend a full day wandering around the streets and sights of this side of Nicosia, we only spent a few hours and saw so much and was great to see many of the locals too.

Food & Drink

To Anamma

To Anamma is a small Greek restaurant located on the famous Ledra Street in Nicosia. There is outdoor seating at the front, but what really makes this little restaurant special is it’s pretty little courtyard outback which is decorated with lots of greenery and has a relaxed atmosphere. The staff are so warm and friendly and couldn’t do enough for us and even catered for me being vegetarian.

They have a meze option on the menu for โ‚ฌ14.50 per person which includes Greek salad, breads, tzatziki, halloumi, grilled vegetables and grilled meats etc all finished off with a dessert. The food was honestly some of the best Greek food I’ve ever had, and it just didn’t seem to end just when we thought all the food had came out they just kept delivering more. They swapped my grilled meat for grilled vegtable skewered and cous cous which was really great of them to do.

If your in Nicosia then make sure to add To Anamma to your itinerary and make sure you go hungry as you will be given so much food if you opt for the meze option.

Top Tips

When planning your trip over to the Turkish side of Nicosia be sure to catch one of the Whirling Dervish Performances which run daily Monday to Saturday between April through to September, I unfortunately discovered that they had this traditional dance after I had visited and wish I could have caught one of the performances.

If your a crazy cat person like myself then go prepared and take some cat food along with you to feed the many street cats, we took some of our leftover food from the restaurant to feed them which they seemed very happy with.

Important Information

Hua Hin

Thailand has to be one of my favourite countries to visit and always holds a special place in my heart, as it was the first country my husband and I visited in south east Asia, and we fell in love instantly with this amazing place. We have been fortunate to travel to Thailand on several occasions and a few years back we both had a random week of annual leave booked in June and didn’t have anything planned so decided to jet away to Thailand.

As we only had one week and not much time we opted to stay in Hua Hin as it’s easily accessible from Bangkok, it’s south of the capital and about a 3 hour car journey. We chose Hua Hin as it’s located on the beach, and there isn’t much to see and do there, and we both really wanted a chill out break, and knew if we went somewhere with lots around we would be wanting to go and explore everyday. Hua Hin has been a popular getaway for the royal Thai family for over a century.

We booked a stunning resort and spa and spent 5 nights relaxing by the pool and beach all day and in the evenings venturing out to the town for massages, dinner, drinks and Hua Hins many night markets. Hua Hin isn’t the most exciting place in Thailand however if you just want a relaxed trip and you are strapped for time then Hua Hin is easily accessible and affordable, and you won’t be beating yourself up about not venturing out sightseeing as there really isn’t that much to see or do in and around Hua Hin.

Sights & Activities

Hua Hin Market Village

Market Village is Hua Hin’s largest shopping complex located in the centre of this sleepy seaside town. The complex offers shopping, dining, entertainment and a cinema. With over a 150 shops and restaurants there is something for everyone all under one roof. The mall is very modern but also offers lots of affordable products and food options. The mall runs a free shuttle service between the mall and Hua Hin’s many resorts and hotels.

Hua Hin’s Nightmarkets

Hua Hin has a really good selection of night markets in the town centre to visit we went to several different ones. Chatsila Nightmarket was one of my favourite markets and is more like an arts and crafts market with lots of locally made items, it has a really nice relaxed atmosphere and there is food stalls too.

Hua Hin Night Bazaar is also another night market to explore it comes alive at night with the many street vendors and stalls. It may not have as big of a variety like the night markets in Bangkok or Chiang Mai, however if your really into your seafood there is a big selection of seafood stalls selling fresh quality fish and shellfish street food dishes.

The Grand Night Market is popular with locals and sells more main stream goods such as gadgets and electricals, clothing and homewares with also some street food stalls.

There are also several other markets to explore too, I would suggest every evening just wandering around the town centre, and see what you stumble across as this is how we found the various markets, shops and restaurants and it’s a great way to spend an evening just getting lost amongst the many stalls and people watching over a cold drink.

Hua Hin Train Station

Hua Hin Train Station might seem like a bit of a strange place to go and visit however it was built during the reign of King Rama VI, and is only a short distance from the town centre, Hua Hin’s railway station and adjacent royal waiting room are brightly painted wooden buildings that are Thai in design but have a Victorian feel to them. Hua Hin many years ago had no road access and train travel was a new alternative to get from Bangkok to Hua Hin instead of by boat. The train station was built in 1926 and the town gradually grew around the station.

It’s only a small attraction and we came here early evening one day before heading out for dinner, and had a wander around. There is also a small brightly coloured shrine opposite the station with lots of animal statues which is quite nice to go and see too.

Food & Drink

Anantara Hua Hin Resort & Spa

The Anantara food which was on offer was absolutely exceptional and we had the most delicious lunches by the pool during our stay. The resort has a good selection of western and Thai dishes but we always opted for the Thai and Asian dishes as we always like to try and eat local delicacies as we can eat western food anytime while at home. I also tried lots of the cocktails from the menu and all were amazing and not over powering and great drinks to have either by the pool or to finish off the evening. I also managed to drink my body weight in fresh coconuts by the pool daily.

Hua Hin’s Nightmarkets

As we ate in the resort for breakfast and lunch, in the evenings we enjoyed venturing out and seeing what the night markets and local restaurants had to offer, so each night we would try somewhere different. Hua Hin is a great place to try lots of fresh seafood from the many local stalls and restaurants. You won’t be disappointed with the food around the town centre as there is so much choice, and it’s all so affordable and much cheaper than eating in the hotels and resorts, and also helping the locals make a living.

Accommodation

Anantara Hua Hin Resort & Spa

Anantara Hua Hin Resort was the first hotel from the Anantara brand. It is an award winning resort and spa, and set amongst lush green gardens. The grounds of the resort are truly stunning with lots of plants, flowers and lotus filled lagoons. The main pool area in the hotel is simply gorgeous and is really big and doesn’t feel crowded and has a fab swim up bar, and really comfy day bed seating around the other side of the pool bar for casual lunch time dining in your bikini.

There are 190 rooms and suites on offer at the Anantara Hua Hin and all have a terrace or balcony. The rooms were spacious and absolutely immaculately kept, with one of the hugest beds I’ve ever slept in! The room decor is in keeping with a traditional Thai theme. The bath was so big it was more like a hot tub! It also gave you the option to have an open plan room and bathroom are there are sliding doors to shut off your bathroom from the bedroom. Everything felt really well thought out and luxurious. The staff were all so friendly and welcoming and couldn’t have been more helpful.

There are also several bars and restaurants to choose from dotted around the resort. We only ate breakfast in the mornings and would order an informal lunch around the pool as we went out into the town in the evenings for food. The breakfast was absolutely delicious and so much choice available. It was a buffet breakfast but had everything you could possibly imagine to make for the perfect breakfast. The lunch options were also really tasty and always cooked fresh to order.

The resort also offer their guests the chance to learn some Thai cooking, kick boxing or kite surfing. There is a spa that offers a load of different treatments and uses Elemis products. There is the option to either have your treatment by the pool or in the spa itself. We never actually got round to using the spa we literally snoozed by the pool all day and then went to the night markets in the evening or would grab a foot massage from one of the many massage parlours around the town before going to bed.

The Anantara is a real treat and relaxing getaway, the only thing that we weren’t too impressed with was its beach front setting, it’s great that the Anantara has it’s own private stretch of beach, however it wasn’t the prettiest beach we had ever set foot on and there was some litter about. We just felt that the whole resort was so well cared for and the attention to detail was second to non, however it seemed like the beach had been forgotten about, that was the only downfall that the resort had in our opinion.

I really can’t recommend the Anantara enough if your on a budget and time constraint this is the perfect week long getaway that won’t cost the earth!

Transport & Getting Around

Airport Transfers

To get from Bangkok airport to Hua Hin we booked a transfer in advance which did cost about ยฃ45 each way, you can get a taxi from outside the airport however we wanted to have everything arranged prior as we didn’t fancy messing around after an 11 hour flight, we just wanted a transfer ready and waiting which worked out really well, and also I’m not sure if it would cost more or not just picking one up at the airport.

Getting Around Hua Hin

Shuttle buses are laid on by the resort and will take you into the town, from what I can remember they only cost about a ยฃ1 each and you could arrange for them to come and pick you back up in the evening too. We used their shuttle buses most nights. There are also taxis and tuk tuks readily available too if you didn’t want to be stuck to a set pick up time.

Important Information

Muscat

Muscat is Oman’s capital and is situated on a port in the gulf of Oman surrounded by deserts and mountains. Muscat was never somewhere I ever thought I would travel to or ever really fancied travelling to to be honest. Several years back though I got rostered a Muscat through the airline I work for. So I decided to make the most of my 24 hours there, and I can honestly say I was not disappointed!

Muscat was somewhere that really took me by surprise. The landscape was baron but stunning with vast amounts of rocky mountains, and gorgeous turquoise blue ocean which could be witnessed for miles upon miles. The locals were all so warm and welcoming too. It was somewhere which I didn’t really know much about and after visiting once I am so desperate to go back and do lots more exploring.

While I was on my 24 hour layover in Muscat a colleague and myself decided to book onto a half day tour of sailing along the Omani Gulf and searching for wild dolphins and going snorkelling. The tour was amazing it picked us up from our hotel at 8.30am, and took us down to the port where our boat was waiting for us, the tour company run small groups so there were 8 of us in total. The boat was a modern boat which had a nice deck and outside seating area.

After we set sail on our boat we could really admire the Muscat landscape in the distance and could see all the beautiful rocky coves that surround the sea. It wasn’t long before we were out on the open ocean and all of sudden spotted hundreds of wild dolphins jumping out of the water and swimming around and underneath the boat.

I couldn’t believe how many dolphins there were out there. It was truely breathtaking to see them swimming freely and enjoying themselves. We also saw a few baby dolphins with their mums too which was just incredible!

After we sat watching the dolphins for a while, our boat driver took us to a rocky cove where the water was crystal clear and calm, and it wasn’t too deep and a perfect spot for snorkelling. We got on our snorkels and jumped into the warm water, and got to see lots of colourful fish, coral, sea cucumbers and even managed to swim alongside the most beautiful turtle and watched it coming up for air from the boat.

After we spent a while swimming and snorkelling we sailed back to the harbour and were driven back to our hotel where we finished our tour at about 12.30pm so it’s a great little tour which doesn’t eat into too much time. The boat company also included soft drinks and fruit to snack on, the tour only cost about ยฃ30.

I did this the other year so unfortunately can’t remember the exact tour company I used back then. However a lot of my colleagues that go to Muscat frequently use a tour company called Hunter Tours, which offer a whole range of excursions.

Muscat has so much to offer and I am so desperate to go back and would even consider a holiday there, as I found it a lot more laid back and welcoming compared to other Middle East countries. There is so much natural beauty around the Oman Gulf that I would really recommend a trip here to any nature lovers out there.

Important Information