Back in September, the BBC reported that the UK is heading towards its coffee shop saturation point. Even in small towns, you’ll find several different coffee chains and some independent cafes within 100 yards of each other. As for London, you can barely move for baristas, but finding independent London cafes is trickier.
We all like a trip to Costa (the UK’s most visible coffee chain) now and again, yet independent cafes are far more fun to explore: the mystery of a new menu, a different blend of coffee or tea, and finding out if there are books, board games or artwork to enjoy. This is definitely the case in London, though I do realise some independents can take the biscuit when it comes to prices and pretentiousness. With this in mind, here are the best unpretentious and independent London cafes you should try.read more
When you think of Vienna, you think of palaces, Orson Welles and sharp architecture, accompanied by apfelstrudel. You perhaps don’t put Vienna in the same price bracket as Reykjavik or Copenhagen, which draw as many worried glances as jealous stares when you tell people you’re going there.
Brace yourselves, kids, because Vienna is more expensive and demanding than you think – I found Reykjavik and Copenhagen much cheaper and friendlier for city breaks overall, and with more food choices, despite their pricier reputations. This makes it difficult when you’re a solo traveller in Vienna, or you’re a first-time visitor trying to see the city minus a hefty credit card bill.read more
The Brighton Fringe is now in full swing until 4th June, and the Brighton Festival will be doing its usual artsy thing until 28th May, so the city is on a high.
If you’re a first-time visitor trying to see some entertainment, but wondering how to squeeze in some tourism on the side, help is at hand. You can absolutely see the city without missing out on niche Fringe shows, especially as many venues are right in the middle of the action.
The Classic Tourist Route for Brighton Fringe Visitors
If you’ve never been to Brighton before, you can’t ignore its most obvious tourist attractions: the Palace Pier (bright lights! Fish and chips! Out of control children!), the beach (pebbles! Hardy British swimmers! Sticks of rock, à la Brighton Rock!), and the Pavilion (cool domes! Really old! Once a hospital for injured WWI soldiers!).read more
Hygge (pronounced HOO-GAH) is the lifestyle trend that just won’t die. It’s a not-quite-translatable word that represents a feeling of cosiness and contentment, often found through enjoying nature, snuggling up in a warm nook, catching up with a few friends or enjoying some proper comfort food and maybe a mug of hot chocolate.
Though the word originated in Norway as a rough description of wellbeing, it really took hold in Denmark from the 18th century, and it’s now one of the most fundamental pillars of Danish life. The inclusions are broad, from a fun-loving bloke you meet (that’s a hyggelig fur) to a welcoming house bursting with food (just really hyggelig). In contrast, somewhere cold, dark and unfriendly would be uhyggeligt, but so too would someone addicted to technology. Told you it was hard to explain.read more
Tea is a great unifier. It’s a comfort and a problem-solver; it’s enjoyed all over the world with perhaps a greater fervour than coffee. For travellers, taking tea is a way of absorbing local culture, but it can also be a much-needed break in an otherwise packed schedule. The fashion designer Waris Ahluwalia once said, ‘I like the pause that tea allows.’ He’s not the only one.
Today I’m looking back at a not-so-recent trip to the Czech Republic (my memory was jogged by a friend who’s travelling there this summer) and remembering that brilliant pause, at a traditional tea house in Prague.read more
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…read more
When I’m busy writing about far-flung city breaks or adventures abroad, I forget to shout about the sights on my doorstep here in Sussex. It’s high time this was resolved, especially as East and West Sussex have some really unusual attractions that need to be in the spotlight. From an Indian-inspired pavilion to a 15th century Chaucer text, these unique locations are certainly worth your time.
It started life as a small Saxon village, but today Arundel is a busy town, dwarfed by a cathedral and a huge castle that’s nearly 1,000 years old. Just along from the castle, you can hire a rowing boat at Swanbourne Lake, before checking out the Blackfriars ruins as you head back to the main streets.read more
The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is nearly upon us for another year – where does the time go? In fact, time is all too precious when you’re at the Fringe, and it can feel as though you need to be a logistics expert to pack as much into your day as possible.
However, taking a breather in between shows doesn’t have to involve lurking in the nearest Starbucks. Those tiny bits of free time can be maximised by doing something fun, unusual and also cheap.
Dine student-style in Southside – 30 mins
Nearby venues: Underbelly Med Quad (V302), BBC@Potterow (V25), Assembly George Square Theatre (V8).read more
The website says it best: ‘At a Death Cafe people, often strangers, gather to eat cake, drink tea and discuss death.’ Not to discuss the weather, or your latest celebrity crush, but something much more dramatic and important that affects us all. You know, the big impending sense of doom that we Brits are generally too polite to talk about.
Death Cafe is a unique not-for-profit franchise, spearheaded by Swiss sociologist Bernard Crettaz in 2004, pops up all over the world. The UK-led website (inspired by Crettaz and run by Jon Underwood) lists 1325 previous meetings, which have been held everywhere from San Diego to Stratford-Upon-Avon, and from Brisbane to Beijing; it’s hoped a permanent cafe can be established in London soon.read more
“It’s Luigi! The actual Luigi!” I hissed at my family as we waited for our coffees to be prepared at Rome’s famous Bar del Cappuccino (50 Via Arenula). Luigi Santoro, an award-winning über-barista, is the much-discussed man behind the place’s success, drawing a steady stream of both nonchalant locals and excited visitors six days a week. Clippings stating his claim to fame lined the right-hand wall as we walked in to queue for our drinks. There he was in print form, captured in the pages of newspapers from Japan and Italy, with his thick moustache and a face gripped in concentration.read more