The British Council has designated 2017 as the ‘UK India Year of Culture’, and there are loads of ways to celebrate, but many of them involve a trip to find India in London – perfect if you can’t afford a flight to Delhi just yet. Here are the key happenings to put on your itinerary, without leaving the UK.
Guards at the Taj, Bush Theatre, until 20th May
The Taj Mahal hasn’t lost any of its appeal since it was built in the 1600s – it’s still considered one of the world’s greatest buildings, and a must-see for anyone visiting northern India. However, the craftsmen and slaves used to create the Taj paid a high price for their part in the most beautiful building in the world, as Rajiv Joseph’s play reveals.
Quill London is at the forefront of the local and national calligraphy scene, with a huge social following, a calligraphy workshop programme, pop-up projects and a physical store keeping up with customer demand.
I’ve chosen to test Quill’s entry-level course, the Beginners Modern Calligraphy Workshop (FYI, there’s no apostrophe). This is the perfect class for a novice because it’s only 2.5 hours long, so there’s no big commitment to make. The question is: can you actually pick up a new skill in less than half a day?
Can you ‘do’ Helsinki in a day? You won’t see everything the city has to offer on a Helsinki day trip from Tallinn, but you’ll get a taste of Finnish culture before returning to the cheaper and more laid back Estonia. It’s the best of both worlds for travellers on a budget.
Getting There and Getting Around
There’s more than one ferry company going from Tallinn to Helsinki, but some aren’t so reliable; you could risk being stranded overnight on the wrong side of the water. I chose a two-hour crossing with Tallink (€32pp), having paid online and checked in online to save a few extra Euros. The crossing was smooth, but the facilities weren’t brilliant (limited food choices, few seats and hardly any toilets). However, you can sit in the food court area by Burger King without buying anything, and nobody bats an eyelid.
People may rave about the award-winning art scene in Manchester and the street art in London or Bristol, but I want to add another city into the mix. With weird and wonderful architecture in Sheffield, not to mention the artists and creatives seemingly around every corner, ignore the Steel City at your peril.
Eye-Catching Architecture in Sheffield
The Park Hill estate is a concrete hulk of Brutalist architecture, inspired by Le Corbusier. Completed in 1961 as a rejuvenation project for one of the city’s poorest areas, Park Hill was initially a success but gradually fell into disrepair as it mirrored the declining steel industry in the 1980s.
The city of light can be dazzling, which may explain why it’s on so many travel bucket lists. Paris seems maze-like and full-on at first, with its different arrondissements (neighbourhoods) and its constant trendsetting, but once you start wandering you’ll see it’s not so daunting after all. Are you ready to explore?
Your First Trip to Paris: The Basics
Start as you mean to go on…
If you’re travelling from the UK, choose the Eurostar over planes. Charles De Gaulle airport is nowhere near where you want to be, and it’ll cost €10 for a train ticket to the city centre, whereas the Eurostar takes you straight to the Gare du Nord.
The Mayor of Paris’ website has a ‘First time in Paris’ guide full of tips – I like the sound of the helium balloon tour in the André Citroën Park (weather-permitting).
Using the Metro is pretty straightforward, and the ticket machines have an English language option. Buy a carnet which gives you 10 tickets – much easier than buying a single or return each time. Try to avoid travelling at rush hour (09:00-10:00 and 18:00-19:30).
Read the free Metropolitan magazine on the Eurostar for up-to-date events listings and more ideas of what to see. Text is in English (phew!).
The big Tourist Office is at 25 Rue des Pyramides, near the Opera metro station.
Find out which local markets are on during your stay – useful for buying fresh food or souvenirs.
Safety tips are as standard for any European city; keep an eye on your valuables, be wary of walking alone at night in quiet areas, and don’t react to tourist scams (e.g. someone asks if you’ve dropped a gold ring, in the hope of distracting you).
We all know the French are a stylish bunch, but save your Louboutins if you’re seeing Paris on foot. Swap them for a pair of unisex Stan Smith trainers by Adidas – loved by the ever-chic Phoebe Philo of Celine, seen in a 2013 issue of Vogue Paris and sold at hot designer boutique Colette, where Pharrell Williams even issued a limited edition customised Stan Smiths range.
You don’t have to do these, but you’ve heard about the hype…
I won’t big up the Eiffel Tower – you’re either desperate to visit or you’re not bothered, let’s be honest – but get alternative city views from the top of the Arc de Triomphe and Notre Dame. The Arc de Triomphe is open from 10am-11pm, with free entry for under 18s. Adult tickets cost €9.50. Notre Dame is open 10:30-18:30 Mon-Fri and 10:00-23:00 Sat-Sun. Tickets are €8.50, and queues move quickly.
Montmartre’s famous Sacré Coeur church is open daily from 6am-10:30pm. The nearby Muséede Montmartre (2/14, Rue Cortot) is on a side street, and it’s open every day from 10am-6pm. There’s also Paris’ last working vineyard, Clos de Montmartre, opposite.
If you won’t rest until you’ve seen the tiny Mona Lisa, pre-book your Louvre tickets to cut down some queuing time. The Paris City Pass gives you free entry here, and to many other museums and galleries.
Desperate for a Seine cruise? High-end evening trips can cost up to €180pp, which isn’t good value in anyone’s books. Instead, the Paris Tourist Board has a range of daytime cruises from €6pp. Bateaux Parisiens has lunchtime trips from €33pp, including a one hour tour; if you get a Paris City Pass you’re entitled to a one hour Bateaux Parisiens Seine cruise (without food) for free.
The Musée des Arts et Métiers (60 Rue Réaumur) is a bit like London’s Science Museum, with exhibits covering science, technology, energy and communication, including Foucault’s pendulum. Visit from Tues-Sun, 10am-6pm, and late night on Thurs until 9:30pm. Tickets are €8 for adults and €5.50 for children.
Food and Drink
Not every meal is baguette-based or best consumed with wine…
Dovecot is a pretty well-hidden venue. Tucked at the end of Edinburgh’s Infirmary Street, in what used to be a public bathhouse, the Dovecot Studio produces tapestries and rugs for worldwide clients. It also maintains its own creative foundation, and the Dovecot Gallery shows contemporary art exhibitions, which drew me in to visit.
The Dovecot Gallery’s leading current exhibitions are striking in their own right, but together they make a formidable pair, and they’ll be running until late September to give you a serious culture injection.
The Royal Academy’s latest exhibition, Wanderlust, is like being given an intravenous drip feed of retro travel photos, postcards and scrapbook materials. It’s like swallowing hundreds of ‘vacation’ Pinterest boards in one go. For anyone with an incurable sense of escapism, this is a drug, and it’s delivered by a little-known bachelor from Queens, New York, who never went abroad.
A self-taught American artist, Joseph Cornell created mixed media collages using anything from Baedeker’s travel guides to old maps, tickets, compasses, adverts and newspaper clippings, calling his collections ‘explorations’.
I’m the proud owner of the complete Poirot DVD box set. It’s pretty addictive watching a moustachioed David Suchet (as Hercule Poirot) solving crimes with his little grey cells in overdrive. However, I’m under no illusions that real crime is anywhere near as neatly solved as Agatha Christie would have us believe.
Whilst Forensics: The Anatomy of Crime is Poirot-less, it does contain more than enough genuine artefacts and stories to keep whodunit fans in suspense. I’d already read crime writer Val McDermid’s book (of the same title), which acts as the official companion to the exhibition, so I had an inkling about some of the displays and their place in the history of forensics. If you haven’t already bought the book and don’t have time to read it beforehand, try to get your hands on a signed copy from the Wellcome shop.
The Prado and the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum are two of the main attractions in Madrid’s Museum Triangle and they’re featured in every decent guidebook to the city. I was lucky enough to spend a few hours in each one during a trip to Madrid, but I know not every tourist has the opportunity to do this, especially on a tight schedule or budget. That means it’s time to weigh up the options and compare the two, from their collections to their visitor experiences, and the nitty gritty of opening hours and ticket options.
It’s a country with beaches, tropical rainforests, mountains and deserts, dotted with Mayan temples and vibrant cities; yes, Mexico is anything but one-dimensional. One minute you could be listening to a mariachi band in a zócalo (town square), the next you could be wandering through a national park or getting to grips with water sports.
With so much to see and do, it can be hard to build your perfect itinerary. So, to kick-start your Mexican holiday inspiration, I’ve narrowed down some of the best things you should do during your trip.