48 hours in … Cardiff

Europe’s youngest capital city, Cardiff is also one of the easiest to enjoy. The old docks are now a striking waterfront and the compact city centre is packed with museums and concert halls, energetic nightlife, great food, some of the best shopping in western Britain and a vibrant cultural scene. It’s also home to world-class sports stadium, and with Cardiff City FC joining the Premier League this season - for only the second time in the Club’s 199 year history - there’s never been a better time to visit.

TIME TO CHECK IN

With the rapid expansion of tourism in recent years, Cardiff offers plenty of choice for places to crash, but few are as impressive as The Exchange. Housed in one of Cardiff’s most significant historical buildings, this 200-room luxury hotel was once the headquarters of the global coaling industry and where the first £1 million business deal was made in 1904. Another luxury option is the glass-fronted St. David’s Hotel, recently taken over by the achingly-cool Principal hotel group and located on Cardiff Bay. However, if boutique is more your style, The Pontcanna Inn offer just ten wholly Instagrammable rooms, whilst Hotel Indigo has recently expanded into the city with the addition of an impressive roof terrace that offers spectacular views of Cardiff Castle and the surrounds.

DAY ONE

10:30 – FEED YOUR CURIOSITY

Arguably the best way to plunge straight into the vibrant life of Cardiff – and get talking to its people – is to take a culinary tour of the capital’s thriving food scene with a local guide from Loving Welsh Food. Cardiff Tasting Tours will take you all over the city centre, calling in at specialist food producers, retailers and the famous indoor market. Six delicious food and drink tastings include continental meats, cheeses, cockles, laverbread and Welsh beers and ciders, plus along the way you’ll pass beautiful parks, majestic buildings and landmarks including Cardiff Castle and the Principality Stadium.

14:00 – VISIT THE DRAGON’S LAIR

Whilst Cardiff City FC may be joining the Premier League, if you want to really understand the soul of the Welsh people, back track to the Principality Stadium and partake in a tour of perhaps one of the world’s most enjoyable sporting arenas, home to the fierce Welsh Rugby Team – and host stadium for the UEFA Champions League Final 2017. Experience the build-up before the match in the Dragon’s Lair, Wales’ team dressing room and hear the spine-tingling roar of 74,500 fans as you walk down the players’ tunnel towards the hallowed turf.

OR

14:00 – EMBRACE AN ADRENALINE RUSH

Wales has no shortage of rapids on its rivers, but the Olympic-standard ones at Cardiff International White Water roar and tumble through this man-made white water course right in the heart Cardiff Bay. Two-hour coached sessions of exhilarating whitewater rafting are suitable for complete beginners and seasoned experts, and if rafting’s not your bag, you can opt for canoeing, kayaking, stand up paddleboarding, “hotdogging” in inflatable kayaks or bodyboarding. If you still want more once you’ve finished on the waves, you can strap on a harness and cross the high ropes timber structure towering above the white water course – before tackling the Burma Bridge, Monkey Swing, Barrel Crawl and Zip Wire.

16:00 – EXPLORE THE CITY OF ARCADES

It’s 160 years since the first of seven Cardiff arcades – The Royal Arcade – opened, and there has been a recent push to celebrate the collective glory of the city’s “crown jewels”. With over 100 local eateries and independent retailers, the arcades allow for a shopping experience peppered with character, eclecticism, stories and history; all brought together under a roof of classic Victorian and Edwardian architecture. Don’t miss Gin and Juice, the only cocktail-come-salad bar in the city; tattoo and barber shop Sleep When your Dead; and the world’s oldest record store, Spiller Records.

19:30 – GET STUFFED ON COWBRIDGE ROAD

Home to a mind-boggling array of independent eateries, the long stretch from Victoria Park to the River Taff is the perfect place to take evening stroll and decide on where to eat. From pizza at The Dough Thrower to nouvelle Indian cuisine at Purple Poppadom, build-your-own burgers at Time and Beef or delicious Lebanese takeaway at Falafel Wales; this is authentic foodie heaven. If you prefer your dinner with a local flavour, make a beeline for new Pontcanna bistro Milkwood, where you can chow down on dishes like Sewin (Welsh sea trout) with leeks and brown shrimp.

22:00 – ENJOY BEER AND BLUES

Cardiff is one of the best places in the UK to sample the taste bud-teasing pleasures of craft beer. At Porter’s, which contains Wales’ first pub theatre (and has no sign over the door) they serve a honey beer called Hiver and a seaweed ale that goes by the name of Kelpie. It’s also one of many venues offering jazz night’s – albeit more dancing than placid – across the city which also includes industrial-styled Tiny Rebel, Americana speakeasy Bootlegger and the aptly named Café Jazz. Visit in October for Sŵn festival which transforms the city into a musical adventure playground.

LATE – SNACKS AND STORIES ON CHIPPY LANE

When the night is done you might be tempted to grab some late night grub, and where better to visit than Chippy Lane, technically Caroline Street, which is considered to be first place that the eponymous fish and chips were sold in Cardiff in the 19th century.

 

DAY TWO

10:30 – BRUNCH BEAUTIFULLY AT ANNA LOKA

Not the name of the owner, Anna Loka roughly translates to ‘Earth Food’ in Sanskrit, and at this restaurant you’ll find exactly that: a plant-based menu where you can load up on a full vegan breakfast with peanut butter and coffee pancakes on the side. If you’re hankering for a more traditional brunch menu try The Early Bird for must-have French toast or proper café Garlands where you can enjoy a “Good Morning Mumbles” breakfast which includes Welsh Rarebit, laverbread and cockles. For something completely different try the Indian breakfast at Milgi.

12:00 – BREW UP ON A CRAFT BEER TOUR

Explore the art, science and culture of brewing a Cardiff Craft Beer Tour by Brewerism Brewery Tours. Over the course of three to four hours you’ll have the chance to see the full brewing process at Crafty Devil Brewery before hitting 3-4 stops – from trendy taprooms to marvellous micropubs – all within about a 15 minute walk around the hip Canton area of the city.

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12:00 - DISCOVER PROPER WELSH HISTORY

Few places define Welsh identity as profoundly as St Fagans, which opened in 1948 in the grounds of a 16th-century manor house as the very first national open-air museum in the UK. Since then more than 40 original Welsh buildings from different historic periods have been rebuilt piece by piece in the 100-acre park including houses, a farm, a school and a splendid workmen’s institute. Get out of town to visit this glorious architectural treasure house which is deservedly the most popular heritage attraction in Wales.

15:00 – INDULGE YOUR SWEET SIDE

Extraordinary cakes and pastries are worth making the journey north to the Maindy area of the city where Cocorico Patisserie can be found. This is Instagram heaven featuring creative creations including the Banana in Pyjama (banana mousse, pineapple cremeux, mango jelly and coconut dacquoise), Praline Spinner (vanilla dipomate, Gianduju crumbs, salted caramel with Dulcey and Gianduju whipped ganache), and a spectacular array of colourful macarons!

16:00 – PHOTOGRAPH SOME FURRY FRIENDS

Besides the grand splendour of Cardiff Castle, one odd quirk to take note of whilst enjoying a stroll around its exterior is The Animal Wall. Designed by architect William Burges for the 3rd Marquess of Bute, the much-loved wall features models of animals including moneys and lions, a seal, pelican and many more, poking out ready to be snapped.

18:00 – DINE WITH DIFFERENCE

Based at Her Majesty’s Prison Cardiff, The Clink is a fine-dining venue run by prison inmates serving organic Welsh produce has been voted one of the best restaurants in the UK. Taste the very best of Wales while giving a helping hand to those who deserve a second chance in life.

19:30 – CATCH A SHOW

Finish your weekend by taking in a show at the incredible Wales Millennium Centre on Cardiff Bay. This architectural marvel is also a globally significant cultural landmark – a performing arts centre with a mission to “inspire our nation and impress the world”. Home of the Welsh National Opera and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, it also stages musicals, stand-up comedy and art exhibitions.

Day trips from London – must-do experiences in Hastings, Battle & Rye

Jump on a train heading south-east from London and in under 1.5 hours you’re in what is known as ‘1066 Country’ (due to its connections with the famous Battle of Hastings in 1066), in the towns of Hastings, Battle and Rye. Visit for a day of unique heritage, seaside experiences, festivals and much more!

 

3 MUST-DO EXPERIENCES – HASTINGS

Not only is the Jerwood Gallery set in a stunning glass building on the Old Town’s fishing beach it’s also at forefront of contemporary art with changing exhibitions and home to a fabulous collection of 20th- and 21st-century British art.

Head down to St Clements Caves and embark on a Smugglers’ Adventure. You’ll join notorious smuggler ‘Hairy Jack’ through underground tunnels and caverns on this interactive experience that tells the tales of smugglers through the ages. You can also enter the attraction via the original West Hill funicular railway, which retains its original Victorian wooden carriages.

Stroll around the picturesque Old Town, a bustling haven of cobbled streets, ‘twittens’ (narrow passageways) and a flourishing arts community, which you can explore through its myriad of antique stores and independent art shops. Alternatively, explore off-the-beaten track at the America Ground and White Rock area of Hastings. This cool, creative neighbourhood has a fascinating history and is now home to independent restaurants, cafés and shops, funky clubs and bars, as well as Source BMX Park, the biggest underground BMX park in Europe, which runs its own ‘Battle of Hastings’ in September.

 

Where can I eat?

Fresh fish lands on Hastings’ beaches every day, serving the town’s restaurants and cafés. Head down to The Stade area, the town’s fishing and cultural quarter, and dine on smoked fish and fresh cockles at Rock-a-Nore Kitchen, or admire the views of the seafront while munching oysters and other delicacies from the sea at the Old Custom House Restaurant. Round off your lunch with a luscious homemade ice cream from Di Polas ice cream parlour, where flavours range from sea salt caramel to apple and ginger.

 

And if you do want to stay overnight…

Hastings has some genuinely charming B&Bs to choose from. Among them is The Laindons, a pretty guesthouse with five rooms located in the Old Town within a Georgian Grade II-listed building. It’s kept so much of its original character and comes with fabulous views of Hastings Old Town. The Old Rectory boutique B&B is also housed in a historic building and is beautifully designed within, showcasing work by local artists and designers. For hotel choices, check out The White Rock Hotel, a stylish seafront property with contemporary, comfortable rooms and a terrace café/bar, perfect for a meal or drinks while overlooking the coastal view. 

 

3 MUST-DO EXPERIENCES – BATTLE

Re-live the atmosphere and tension of more than 600 soldiers clashing at the annual battle re-enactment of the Battle of Hastings. Held every October (13-14 in 2018), visitors can expect a day being immersed in medieval life and discovering what it was like on this famous date that changed history.

The market town of Battle grew up around Battle Abbey, built by William the Conqueror following the Battle of Hastings as a penance ordered by the Pope. Now looked after by English Heritage, along with the battle site, you can explore the abbey ruins and even stand on the spot where King Harold was said to have perished.

The town of Battle that subsequently spread beyond the Abbey walls is now a charming town to explore and offers cultural gems during the year. Throughout October is the Battle Arts & Music Festival, featuring events ranging from classical recitals, contemporary dance, author events and a range of artistic masterclasses and demonstrations.

 

Where can I eat?

For a light meal of sandwiches, cream teas and homemade cakes, Lavender Abbey Tea Rooms – with its cosy log burner to warm up against during the cooler months – is a popular choice and runs an interesting programme of evening events. A picturesque option is The Orangery at Ashburnham Place, where you can have lunch and afternoon tea in a Lancelot Capability Brown-designed building, which is home to many delicate plants including the oldest camellia in the country. Or stop by The Bull Inn Pub & Restaurant – a 17th-century coaching inn – for English pub classics such as pies, fish and chips, and steaks.

 

And if you do want to stay overnight…

Once a gunpowder owner’s residence, on the site of an 18th-century gunpowder works, the PowderMills is now a gorgeous country hotel in Battle, set in 150 acres of parkland and lakes. Just outside of Battle, overlooking the tranquil village green of Sedlescombe, is the family run Brickwall Hotel, which was built at the end of 16th century for the local ironmaster. And, for a luxury B&B stay, try Boreham House, around a ten-minute drive from Battle and situated in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. This Grade II-listed Georgian house, originally the home of the local apothecary, also offers a converted self-catering cottage in what was the house’s original stables and coach house.

 

3 MUST-DO EXPERIENCES – RYE

Made up of attractive cobbled streets and a gamut of narrow passageways, the medieval town of Rye is made for exploring. It’s like stepping back in time as you discover buildings dating back to the medieval, Tudor and Georgian eras. It’s quaint and quirky – Mermaid Street, for example, is home to ancient buildings with unique names such as ‘The House Opposite’ or ‘The House with the Seat’.

Close to town is Great Dixter, the birthplace and home of renowned gardener and writer, the late Christopher Lloyd, and is well worth a visit for its glorious gardens – incorporating a walled garden, the sunk garden and the peacock garden – and for its horticultural events that run throughout the year.

For a true taste of Rye’s countryside, head to the award-winning, 850-acre Oxney Organic Estate, around six miles from the town, for a guided tour of its vineyard, and enjoy a tasting of its organic still and sparking wines, which only use the vineyard’s grapes and follow a natural winemaking ethos. It also has holiday cottages on site and recently introduced renovated vintage shepherds’ huts to stay in.

 

Where can I eat?

A pretty little clapperboard pub on the outskirts of Rye where the Military Canal meets the River Rother, The Globe Inn Marsh has a fantastic menu of locally sourced fish and other local ingredients, plus a bar that stocks more than 40 gins.

Another great fish restaurant is Webbe’s at the Fish Café, located in a listed building near the Landgate Arch in Rye, and was the first completely fire-proof building of its kind in the UK when it was built in 1907. It’s all about fresh local fish here, brought in from the ports of Rye and Hastings,  

Ten minutes from Rye is restaurant with rooms, The Gallivant Hotel, with a superb bistro that overlooks the beautiful sandy dunes at Camber Sands. It’s passionate about using local produce across its menu, with a daily changing menu highlighting the season’s best, and boasts a large list of English wines.

 

And if you do want to stay overnight…

Sloping ceilings, creaky floorboards and a diverting history encompassing 18th-century smugglers make the Mermaid Inn a special place to stay in Rye. History oozes out of every corner – its cellars date back to 1156 and the building itself was rebuilt in 1420 – although you’ll find a very contemporary welcome.

Another fine example of a historic inn is The George on Rye’s High Street, which dates back to 1575. A luxury hotel, each room is designed with its own bespoke furniture and colour theme. Dine at its in-house restaurant and enjoy a drink in its own pub, The George Tap.

Looking for more of a glamping experience? A ten-minute drive from Rye and you’ll find yourself in the village of Beckley, and at Swallowtail Hill, a farm, meadow and woodland where you can stay in either of its charming cottages – the Woodcutter’s Cottage or the Meadow Keeper’s Cottage – or its two cosy wood cabins. It’s a great place for a full digital detox.

 

Getting there: Hastings, Battle and Rye are located in the county of East Sussex on England’s south coast. Trains leave from either London St Pancras or London Charing Cross (depending on your destination) and take around 1.5 hours.

Six of the best English country gardens

An English country garden is a sight to behold and there are plenty within an hour’s journey of central London that can easily be visited on a day trip. Here are just a few suggestions of some of the best late summer season gardens to visit before autumn sets in.

 

RHS Wisley, Surrey

The Royal Horticultural Society has a wonderful gem in the heart of Surrey with its gardens at Wisley – there’s a rich variety of areas to visit and it’s a garden that continues to evolve. Last year saw the opening of its new Exotic Garden, a beautiful showcase of plants with a tropical look but which can grow well outdoors in a typical British summer climate. You’ll find a dazzling array of flowers, palms and dahlias, which look their very best up until late summer. Discover pretty mixed summer borders, as well as visit the exciting, vibrant displays at the Trials Field, designed to inspire visitors and demonstrate good environmental practice. The many roses at Wisley are in stunning bloom and August is also a great month to view the vivid blues of Agapanthus. Garden lovers should put the 4-9 September in their diaries for the RHS Wisley Flower Show; expect to see a Flower Bus, Anita Nowinska’s exhibition of floral artwork and more than 100 dahlia exhibitors.

Getting there: Take the train from London Waterloo to Effingham Junction (45 minutes) then a taxi to Wisley (ten minutes).

 

National Trust Cliveden, Berkshire

The numerous, magnificent gardens of Cliveden – ranging from the Water Garden, Walled Garden, Round Garden, the Long Garden, the Parterre and all the spectacular garden sculptures – are maintained by the National Trust and are as glorious to visit in the late summer months as they are early in the season. All summer long there’s a riot of colour and scents from its Rose Garden, where more than 900 roses bloom until September. The Rose Garden was recreated just four years ago, based on an original 1950s design by famed garden designer Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe, and include various elements of the gardens’ original 18th-century wilderness landscape. A lovely way to top off a trip to Cliveden’s gardens is by booking tickets to an event in its formal gardens. Bring a picnic hamper and enjoy performances ranging from a new adaptation of a David Walliams novel to a reworking of a classic Sherlock Holmes case. And while the historic Cliveden House, on the wider estate, is now a luxury hotel, you can buy a ticket for a short-guided tour available three afternoons a week until the end of October.

Getting there: Take the train from London Paddington to Bourne End, (50 minutes) then walk a pleasant two miles through countryside to Cliveden.

 

Hatfield House & Gardens, Hertfordshire

History emanates from every corner of Hatfield House, the home of the seventh Marquess and Marchioness of Salisbury and their family; the estate has been in the Cecil family for 400 years. As well as the chance to see some of the finest examples of 17th-century architecture in the country, visitors will find Hatfield’s gardens just as impressive. Explore the roses and herbaceous plants in the West Garden, designed more than 100 years ago, and the Sundial Garden that was commissioned to mark Hatfield’s 400th anniversary in 2011. It’s also a wonderful place to discover contemporary sculpture set within the gardens – the new ‘Renaissance’ water sculpture by renowned sculptor Angela Connor, sits on the North Front of the House – as well as attend performances during its summer Theatre in the Park programme. Look out for the unique event on 1 September when the Urban Soul Orchestra performs classic Ibiza anthems in this gorgeous setting.

Getting there: Take the fast train from London Kings Cross to Hatfield, (20 minutes) and walk 15 minutes from the station to Hatfield House.

 

Leeds Castle, Kent

Leeds Castle is perhaps one of the most attractive castles in England – and its gardens are just as spectacular; there’s more than 500 acres of stunning parkland and formal gardens. Its Culpeper Garden – named after the 17th-century owners of the castle – is a fine example of an English country garden, an informal layout with roses, poppies and lupins creating a wonderful colourful display. Its Woodland Garden runs alongside the River Len and is currently being redeveloped to create six magnificent individual gardens to explore. Visit in September (15-20) for its Festival of Flowers; discover floral displays inside the castle and around the rest of the grounds, all themed around ‘Ladies Day’ in 2018. Admire the creativity of award-winning floral designers, participate in floral workshops and watch specialist talks and demonstrations. Fortunately, if you like what you see, your admission ticket allows you to visit as many times as you like over 12 months, so it’s worth returning to admire the gardens in different seasons.

Getting there: Take the train from London Victoria to Bearsted (one hour) and take the coach shuttle service from the station to the castle, which runs between April and September.

 

Eltham Palace & Gardens, south-east London

Eltham Palace has an illustrious history; starting life as a medieval palace, it became a Tudor royal residence and was turned into an Art Deco mansion created by millionaires Stephen and Virginia Courtauld in the 1930s. The palace is a must-visit, yet so are its 19 acres of historic gardens, which, like the home, boast a mix of medieval features in its landscape. Late summer is all about its long herbaceous border that encircles the medieval palace, which becomes a riot of purples, yellows, blues and coppers. It’s also home to 18 different varieties of oriental poppy plus a huge assortment of peonies and clematis. Wonderful scents arise from the plentiful roses in the Rose Garden and the Rose Quadrant, which include several historic rose varieties; late summer is also the perfect time to see the wildflower meadows and colourful dahlias.

Getting there: Take the train from London Charing Cross to Mottingham (25 minutes) and then walk to the palace (ten minutes).

 

RHS Garden Hyde Hall, Essex

Set in 360 acres of land, RHS Garden Hyde Hall was donated to the RHS in 1993 by renowned gardeners Helen and Dick Robinson and is in one of the driest parts of the UK, with an average rainfall of just 600mm. Hyde Hall's Clover Hill is a patchwork of colour, with vast swathes of grasses and herbaceous perennials flowing through its landscape. There are plenty of horticultural highlights; Hyde Hall holds the national plant collection of Viburnum, numbering around 250 accessions; the Dry Garden is one of breathtaking beauty even where there is very little rainfall. Don’t forget to visit the Global Growth Vegetable Garden, which opened last summer and features unusual fruit and vegetables from around the world. Plans for next year include the Big Sky Meadows, an ambitious planting project to create up to 50 acres of perennial meadowland.

Getting there: Take the train from London Liverpool Street to Chelmsford (30 minutes) and take a taxi or bus to Hyde Hall (20 minutes).

Lost Treasures of Strawberry Hill: Masterpieces from Horace Walpole’s Collection

Lost Treasures of Strawberry Hill: Masterpieces from Horace Walpole’s Collection

48 Hours in… Leeds

One of the only cities outside London to have its own ballet and opera companies, Yorkshire city Leeds is a hotbed of cultural gems, a city with a rich industrial and sports heritage that has become an energetic, contemporary city with a flourishing food and drink scene. Home to its own international airport (Leeds/Bradford Airport) and just two hours by train from London and one hour from Manchester, spending a weekend in one of the north of England’s most exciting cities has never been easier.

 

TIME TO CHECK IN

Leeds has a wide range of hotels to suit all budgets yet if you’re looking for high-end accommodation, check out the only independently owned luxury hotel in central Leeds, Quebecs. This Grade-II listed, four-star property is situated in one of the city’s most impressive terracotta brickwork buildings, located in the attractive Victoria Quarter. Another luxury option is the city’s oldest hotel, The Cosmopolitan, which combines a historic setting with contemporary style. Leeds has some lovely boutique hotels too; in the heart of Leeds, the Malmaison is the place to go if you’re into cool, quirky interior designs while riverside hotel 42 The Calls, located in an 18th-century former flour mill, will soon be undergoing a multi-million pound investment under new management, set to develop it into five-star luxury accommodation.

 

DAY ONE

09:00 EMBARK ON A WALK OF DISCOVERY

It’s common knowledge that to really get to know a city you should walk it – and this is just as true of Leeds, where you can download self-guided walks around the city with a treasure hunt theme! Just over a mile each, Curious About Leeds has devised routes that take you from Leeds Art Gallery to the River Aire, and a second route from the river to Park Square. The beauty of these walks is that you’ll take in not just the city’s famous sights but also the more unusual ones. Expect to see the chic Victorian Arcades, Europe’s largest covered market – Kirkgate Market – former mills whose fortune the city was built on and secret squares to explore. Also look out for iconic street art; Leeds is home to the UK’s tallest mural, Athena Rising, as well as works such as Cornucopia next to the Corn Exchange and the George Street Mural at Kirkgate Market.

 

11:00 DELVE INTO THE CITY’S PAST

The story of Leeds unfolds at the Leeds City Museum, where – through six impressive galleries – you’ll find artefacts from archaeological finds to displays reflecting city life today. It’s also home to the Leeds Tiger… one of the most recognisable and loved exhibits at the museum with a fascinating back story to discover.

 

13:00 TAKE EARLY AFTERNOON TEA

It will be hard to tear yourself away from the pretty period furniture and mismatched crockery at vintage tearoom Just Grand! but try to as there’s plenty to tempt you on its menu. Located in the city’s Grand Arcade – a Grade II-listed Victorian shopping arcade that now boasts a good mix of independent retailers – you’ll reboot energy levels enjoying drinks from its huge assortment of loose-left teas (Yorkshire tea is, of course, on the menu!) and the delectable afternoon tea menu. Why choose a plain scone when you could choose from its wide range of flavoured scones such as black treacle and date, Earl Grey and Lemon, and ginger and apricot. Just Grand has also introduced a Gentleman’s Afternoon Tea – finger sandwiches, locally produced pork pie and crisps along with a choice of Yorkshire bottled beer.

 

15:00 EXPLORE CONTEMPORARY ART IN A HISTORIC BUILDING

One of Leeds’ leading centres for contemporary art is at The Tetley, housed in an Art Deco-style former brewery. It’s not just the collections inside that are worth exploring – the building itself is an Insta-favourite; founded in 1822 – Tetley is one of Leeds’ oldest (beer) brewing families – it’s of huge social and industrial significance to the city. As well as changing exhibitions there’s a rich programme of events to take part in, including art workshops.

 

17:00 ENJOY COCKTAILS AND PRE-THEATRE DINNER

A department store might not the first place you think of for cocktails and dinner, but when’s it’s The Fourth Floor brasserie and bar at the city’s branch of the high-end Harvey Nichols, you know you’re in store for a treat. Superb views of the city greet you as you enjoy cocktails in the glamorous bar – think gold dome lights and circular banquettes – and the menu in the brasserie focuses on using the best Yorkshire produce in its creative dishes. It’s perfect for a pre-theatre meal, with the dinner service starting from 4.30pm.

 

19:30 CATCH A SHOW

Take advantage of the fact that Leeds is the only city outside of London to have its own ballet and opera companies and book tickets for a performance by either Opera North, one of Europe’s leading arts organisations, which produces the classics as well as lesser-known works and musical theatre, or the Northern Ballet, where you’ll find original productions as well as new interpretations of classic ballets. 

 

DAY TWO

09:00 DISCOVER HISTORIC TREASURES

Ever fancied seeing a world record-breaking suit of elephant armour? Here’s your chance – at Leeds’ Royal Armouries Museum, which sits on the waterfront at the city’s docks. Five galleries hold more than 8,000 fascinating objects, including Henry VIII’s tournament armour, the five heroic swords based on the prop weapons used in movies Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, and the incredible centrepiece of the whole museum, the Hall of Steel – the largest mass display of arms and armour created since the 19th century.

 

11:00 SET OFF ON A SPORTING JOURNEY

Yorkshire boasts a legendary cricket heritage and, for cricket fans around the world, the Yorkshire Cricket Museum is a must-visit. It’s here that you’ll discover artefacts from Yorkshire’s cricket legends, the bats and balls used by iconic players as well as multi-media interviews with cricket heroes.

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SET OFF ON A SHOPPING JOURNEY

A raft of unique independent retailers can be found under one stunning roof at the Grand Arcade, a shopping venue built in 1897 where its fine Victorian architecture – including an exquisite glass roof and beautiful arched windows – is just as much of a draw as the shops. It’s a lovely surrounding in which to explore the stores, which range from luxury menswear retailer Labels, My Vibrant Home for stylish handmade interiors goods, and The Handmade Collective, where you’ll find unique gifts created by 60 local Yorkshire design-makers to take home. You’ll also find a vibrant shopping district at Victoria Leeds, an eclectic shopping destination combining Victoria Quarter and Victoria Gate with traditional the British high-end department stores of Harvey Nichols and John Lewis and more than 90 boutiques.
 

13:00 VEG OUT FOR LUNCH 

Also finding its home in the Grand Arcade is Roots and Fruits, a fantastic vegetarian restaurant that’s recently upgraded its menu to be mainly plant-based. But there’s no compromise on flavour… this Leeds favourite is packed with local, seasonal produce and presents dishes such as Roots and Fruits Jerk Jackfruit with a secret recipe jerk marinade and giant Rainbow Salads.

 

15:00 LOSE YOURSELF IN A CHOCOLATE METROPOLIS

Leeds is home to the UK’s first two-storey chocolate emporium at Hotel Chocolat and it’s here you can learn the delicate art of chocolate-making at its Chocolate School, just one of the chocolate-filled experiences on offer here. Chocoholics may want to embark on its Tasting Adventure and there’s always further opportunity to taste the glorious sweetness in its Mega Café; look out, in particular, for its signature hot chocolate.

 

17:00 GO CUCKOO FOR CREATIVE COCKTAILS

Come to quirky bar Cuckoo for its imaginative cocktails, such as Peanut Butter Martinis and Dirty Grasshoppers, or to sample local craft beers served through ‘Giraffe Towers’, and stay for its amazingly fun décor. Murals, paint-splattered animal heads, cool neon lights and a secret rooftop garden all make a visit to this bar a colourful occasion.

 

20:00 TASTE THE CREATIVITY

Restaurant Man Behind the Curtain – with a name inspired by The Wizard of Oz – offers a magical culinary experience where you’ll be wowed by chef Michael O’Hare’s creativity. The restaurant’s tasting menu of 10 to 14 sequences’ includes hand-massaged octopus with capers and lemon; birds nest and kimchi ramen and cardamom & lemongrass soup with chilli sorbet- a treat for both the eyes and the taste-buds.

Alternatively, visit Bundobust for delicious Indian street food and craft beer that make this place one of Leeds go-to places for easy, deliciouscuisine. Still hungry? Try Matt Healy x The Foundry. This Leeds institution has recently relaunched with Yorkshire-born chef, Matt Healy (runner-up in BBC’s MasterChef: The Professionals series), at the helm. The interior and exterior was redesigned and rebranded as Matt Healy x The Foundry. In the kitchen, Matt is concentrating on a menu of simple British dishes using up to five ingredients. A sample menu may include baby chicken ‘kiev’, wild garlic and duck fat potato, or pollock, charred leeks and potatoes with romesco sauce. Watch this space as the restaurant is quickly becoming one of the hottest spots in Leeds.

 

22:00 Leeds’ nightlife rivals that of any major British city and it’s particularly good for quirky bars. For a slice of hipster heaven and craft beers head to the cool, vintage-style Outlaws Yacht Club; drink cocktails from teapots at the Alice in Wonderland-themed, eclectically decorated The White Rabbit; while the Belgrave Music Hall is where to go to enjoy craft beers and cask ales across three floors of a 1930s venue that comes with a fabulous roof terrace, live music events, film and comedy or art exhibitions. Beer is also big news in Leeds; why visit one brewery when you can visit four on the Leeds Brewery Tour, and, if you’re coming over in October, look out for details of the city’s Oktoberfest.

60 minutes from… Cardiff

Wales’ vibrant capital city Cardiff is hosting one of the country’s biggest festivals between 3-11 August – the Eisteddfod – which brings with it a raft of concerts, carnivals and the chance to embrace Welsh culture and language. Once you’ve enjoyed the celebrations and explored Cardiff itself, an hour or less away from the city are some spectacular destinations that offer an alternative, yet equally exciting, vibe to Cardiff’s.

 

Swansea Bay

When a destination is packed with award-winning beaches, charming villages, historic castles and is the birthplace of legendary Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, you know a visit to it is going to be a fulfilling one. An hour by train or road from Cardiff will take you to Swansea Bay; here, you can spend time walking in Dylan Thomas’ footsteps, by visiting his birthplace and childhood home on a guided tour at 5 Cwmdonkin Drive, which has been fully restored to its 1914 condition, before heading to the Dylan Thomas Centre for a fascinating exhibition about his life and works. Stroll around the attractive Swansea Marina, head down to the National Waterfront Museum to discover 300 years of Welsh innovation and industry, and sample local foodie favourites such as cockles, laverbread, fine Welsh cheeses and scrumptious Welsh cakes at the largest indoor market in Wales, Swansea Indoor Market. This is all before you’ve even had the chance to set off on a scenic walk along its promenade down to the pretty coastal village of Mumbles and explore the ruins of Oystermouth Castle (not forgetting to stop off for a mouth-watering ice-cream at either Verdi’s or Joe’s Ice Cream). You’ll have fallen in love with these picturesque coastal views by then, but even more stunning, award-winning beaches await you around the corner on the Gower Peninsula – Britain’s first-ever Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It’s a haven for walkers, surfers, kayakers and sailors alike.

 

Abergavenny

Set in a picturesque location at the foot of the Black Mountains and the edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park, Abergavenny is close to some outstanding walking trails. But this attractive small town is also a foodie heaven – it hosts the must-visit Abergavenny Food Festival each September. This year marks the 20th year since it first took place and, as well as hundreds of stalls selling the freshest Welsh produce and cookery demonstrations, there’s a diverse selection of forages and tours operating as part of the festival, taking advantage of the bountiful Welsh countryside nearby. Yet the town is worth a visit year-round; from castles to Roman remains and standing stones, you’ll find Abergavenny is a heritage gem of south Wales. Raglan Castle may have been built more as a ‘show’ castle rather than as a defensive fortress yet it’s an equally impressive site. Just a 20-minute drive away is the mesmerising Blaenavon World Heritage site – across 33 sqkm you’ll discover Wales’ industrial past through fascinating attractions such as the Big Pit National Coal Museum (a must-do is the Underground Tour for an insight into what life was like at the coal face) and the Blaenavon Ironworks.

 

Newport

Just 30 minutes from Cardiff is a Welsh city, located close to the English border, that has bags of history and is a familiar name on the world stage of politics and sport, as a former host of the NATO Summit and the Ryder Cup. Explore the city’s long and varied history through Newport Cathedral and the diverse collections at Newport Museum and Art Gallery, before heading to the glorious 17th-century mansion Tredegar House. Set in acres of beautiful grounds, it was built by the Morgan family, the same family who, in 1906, built the nearby Transporter Bridge, a fine feat of early 20th-century engineering and one of just seven working Transporter Bridges in the world. Go back further in time as just a few miles from Newport is the National Roman Legion Museum in Caerleon, located inside the remains of one of only three permanent fortresses in Roman Britain. There are some incredible finds here – the only remains of a Roman Legionary barracks on view in Europe and the ruins of the most complete amphitheatre in Britain.

History aside, this is also a golfers’ paradise – 15 minutes’ drive from the city centre is the five-star Celtic Manor Resort, its six restaurants, five bars and two spas…and three world-class championship courses, a golf academy featuring a floodlit driving range and two golf clubhouses!

 

Chepstow

A charming market town on the Wales/England border, Chepstow is a hotspot for walkers; not only is it part of the Wye Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and at the very start of the Wales Coast Path that then stretches 870 miles up to north Wales, it’s also the home to an annual walking festival. This five-day walking event takes you through Chepstow and the jaw-droppingly beautiful countryside of the Lower Wye Valley. Walking is also the best way to explore the town itself, home to Britain’s oldest remaining Roman stone castle, Chepstow Castle, where you’ll find the oldest surviving castle doors in Europe, as well as home to Chepstow Museum and its fine collection of local artefacts and 18th- and 19th-cenutry paintings of the Wye Valley. Just a 15-minute drive away is the magnificent Tintern Abbey, one of the best examples of Gothic architecture in Britain and one of Wales’ most-well preserved medieval abbeys. Sports fan? Head to Chepstow Racecourse to enjoy exciting race meets at the home of the Welsh National.

60 minutes from… Edinburgh

If you’re coming to Scotland’s capital, Edinburgh, to enjoy one of its many festivals, you’ll soon see why it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as well as one of Britain’s greatest foodie and nightlife hotspots! And with gorgeous beaches, romantic castles and the vibrant buzz of Glasgow all only an hour away, you’ll be able to experience the country’s diverse landscapes, history and culture too, all within easy reach of a day trip.

 

The Borders

Picturesque coastlines in the east and rugged hills and moorlands in the west greet you at the Scottish Borders (bordering northern England), all of which is easily reached thanks to the Borders Railway, which connects Edinburgh and the Borders town of Tweedbank in less than an hour. Have your camera at the ready on this lovely rail journey as you pass by iconic architectural gems such as the Lothianbridge and Redbridge viaducts. Alight at Tweedbank to visit Abbotsford House, the home of famed writer Sir Walter Scott. This romantic mansion was built during the early decades of the 19th century and very much reflects the tastes of one of this era’s most prominent authors. Close by is the attractive town of Melrose, which is not only the home of the magnificent 12th-century Melrose Abbey, but also to two National Trust for Scotland gardens. Priorwood houses Scotland’s only dedicated dried flower garden and Harmony Gardens features a beautiful walled garden with breathtaking views over the abbey and the nearby Eildon Hills.

 

Glasgow

Did you know that Edinburgh, the capital, and Scotland’s largest city, Glasgow, are only an hour apart? A lively, creative city, Glasgow is renowned for its mighty industrial heritage and world-class shopping as well as its vibrant arts, culture and music scene; it's even a designtated UNESCO City of Music! Discover why it won this status on a Glasgow Music City Tour, while fans of street art should check out Glasgow’s first dedicated tour to the genre, the City Centre Mural Trail. Football lovers can take tours of the world-famous Rangers and Celtic Football Clubs, while you can discover the city’s artistic and industrial legacy at a host of inspirational museums, such as the Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum, the Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery at the University of Glasgow and the Riverside Museum of Transport and the Tall Ship on the banks of the River Clyde.

 

North Berwick

In just half an hour by train you can swap Edinburgh’s cityscapes for coastal relaxation. North Berwick and its stretches of golden sands are spectacular – and if it’s glorious views you’ve come for, you won’t be disappointed. Sweeping vistas look out to Bass Rock, home to the world’s largest northern gannet colony, and to the Forth Islands. Take a boat trip out to the islands for an even closer inspection, while bird lovers should also pay a visit to the town’s Scottish Seabird Centre. Alternatively, if you fancy a game of golf overlooking these wonderful coastal scenes, tee off at either of the town’s excellent links courses, the Glen Golf Club and the North Berwick Golf Club.

The town itself is home to a fine collection of cafés, bars and shops, from vintage-style tearooms to stylish coffee shops…also make sure you hit the fish and chip shops and ice-cream parlours, it’s tradition at a British seaside resort! For heritage seekers, don’t miss the 14th-century fortress Tantallon Castle and Dirleton Castle, which houses some of the oldest castle architecture in Scotland.

 

Stirling

If you’ve ever watched the film Braveheart, you’ll want to visit Stirling. The iconic National Wallace Monument, which overlooks the scene of Scotland’s victory at the Battle of Stirling Bridge, gives a fascinating insight into the world of Scottish hero William Wallace. History pulsates through every inch of Stirling; explore the streets of the medieval old town, encounter intriguing royal history at Stirling Castle, and even see the world’s oldest football at the Smith Art Gallery and Museum. Perhaps one of the most absorbing attractions that tells the stories of the area’s past is the Battle of Bannockburn Experience. This 3D, immersive experience takes you into the heart of one of Scotland’s most historic battles, ending with a visit to the Battle Room where visitors can take part in the interactive battle game. And, if you’re a fan of the hit TV show Outlander, take the time to visit Doune Castle. Located around 15 minutes out of town, multiple scenes from the popular show were filmed at this splendid castle, as they were for Game of Thrones and Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

 

Peebles

South of Edinburgh, on the banks of the River Tweed, lies Peebles, a small, attractive town with a distinctly artistic vibe, that’s framed by gorgeous countryside scenery. Scottish novelist John Buchan, author of The Thirty Nine Steps, made his home here and a picturesque 13-mile walking route is named after him, the John Buchan Way. Alternatively, head out hiking in Glentress Forest, which is also brilliant for mountain biking, as its trails are one of Scotland 7stanes (seven mountain biking centres in southern Scotland). Despite its size, Peebles boasts a number of art galleries and studios and its historic past is prevalent on every corner; ancient relics are dotted across town, from the ruined Cross Kirk to an old Mercat Cross (which depicts a town’s right, granted by a monarch or baron, to hold a regular market).

 

You might also like…

  • Rosslyn Chapel - Discover intricate carvings and unique stonework at one of the most intriguing places of worship in Scotland, in the village of Roslin, 30-minutes’ drive from Edinburgh. Explore its story from its founding in the 15th century to its depiction in the novel and subsequent film The Da Vinci Code.
  • Musselburgh - Step into the past at this historic market town that derives its name from the mussel beds found on nearby shores. It’s also home to the oldest racecourse in Scotland – which hosts many race meets throughout the year – as well as to the historic nine-hole Musselburgh Links golf course, which has royal connections going back to the early 16th century.
  • Linlithgow Palace - Explore royal history at the birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots, a palace that was once a stopping point for royalty en-route between Edinburgh Castle and Stirling Castle. Visit in the summer to enjoy its annual jousting spectacle.

Spotlight on… the Midlands

All eyes are on the Midlands region of England right now, as the city of Coventry starts its preparations to be the UK’s City of Culture in 2021. As well as improved transport links across the city, there are plans to ensure venues and attractions have the best possible setting for the year cultural celebrations and the Coventry Transport Museum has already reopened after a £9.5m redevelopment programme.

Yet Coventry is not alone when it comes to developing landscapes – the Midlands is on a roll. And, with these cities only within one to two hours train journey of each other, it’s easy to visit multiple destinations in this region on one awesome trip.

 

What’s happening in… Birmingham?

Britain’s second largest city, Birmingham, is to host the Commonwealth Games in 2022, which will shine a spotlight on the city as a premier sport and leisure destination. Between now and then several of Birmingham’s neighbourhoods are undergoing a revitalisation. In Digbeth, for example, the architecturally striking 1930s Typhoo building (where tea used to arrive in Birmingham from London) will be converted into artistic spaces, bars and restaurants, while a 13-acre site by Eastside Locks next to Digbeth Canal will be developed into a leisure area along with a hotel and apartments. Digbeth is fast becoming a cool and creative neighbourhood, with businesses utilising the area’s industrial heritage to open independent and unique bars and restaurants. New bar in the area The Ruin, has also unveiled a mural-style map featuring 12 independent and unique neighbours, together called ‘The Digbeth Dozen’. Created by Birmingham graffiti artist Title (Andy Mills) it features venues such as the street-food focused Digbeth Dining Club, brewery and taproom Dig Brew Co, quirky golf and cocktails venue Ghetto Golf, and The Mockingbird Cinema and Kitchen, situated in the iconic Custard Factory.

One of Birmingham’s most iconic Grade II-listed buildings, The Grand, set on the 19th-century streetscape of Colmore Row, is currently undergoing redevelopment and is scheduled to open in early 2019 with a 180-bedroom hotel, complete with restaurant and bar, a spa and the city’s first rooftop infinity pool. Several cool bars and cafés have already set up home in the development - The Alchemist, Gusto and 200 Degrees cafe. Other recent developments in the city include the Paradise district in central Birmingham, launching across phases and which will eventually consist of a vibrant mix of shops and restaurants, plus new metro tram extensions are already underway to maximise connectivity around the region.

There’s plenty to enjoy in the city this year too; for a start, it’s foodie festival heaven. This summer (28-29 July), visitors can explore a drinking hall, two live-music stages, a comedy tent, cinema, tasting sessions and talks at the Craft Drink Festival. September welcomes the Birmingham Chilli Festival, bringing live cooking demonstrations together with music and street performances, while October hosts the food and drink joy that is the Wine, Cheese & Chocolate Festival, celebrating the very best in British artisan suppliers.

Birmingham is also a hot location right now for the film and TV industry; Steven Spielberg filmed a large part of his recent movie Ready Player One in the city and the hit TV show Peaky Blinders is set here during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Discover Birmingham’s darker past on Peaky Blinders-inspired walking tour.

Getting there: By train, Birmingham is 20 minutes from Coventry, just over an hour from Nottingham, 45 minutes from Stoke-on-Trent and 1.5 hours from London.

 

What’s happening in… Nottingham

Nottingham is renowned for its legends and historic attractions and is currently in the throes of making those attractions even better. Standing proudly overlooking the city Nottingham Castle is undergoing an ambitious transformation due for completion in 2020. In less than two years, the site will welcome a new, interactive Robin Hood Gallery, visitor centre and a Rebellion Gallery – showcasing the city’s rebellious history – will open in the Ducal Palace, plus a year-round events programme will be introduced. Perhaps just as famous as the castle is Robin Hood’s hideout, Sherwood Forest, which this summer welcomes a new visitor centre, aimed at providing a contemporary perspective into this legendary landscape.

Talking of Robin Hood, between 7 July – 30 September, an exciting sculpture trail is coming to the city; called Hoodwinked: a twist on the tale, it will be a contemporary take on the traditional stories of the legendary outlaw. Artists such as graffiti artist Kid 30, Sarah Manton and Jessica Kemp of Curious? Nottingham are contributing to the trail so expect a real mix of styles.

Also gathering pace is a raft of stylish new bars and restaurants. In the heart of the city’s entertainment centre, The Cornerhouse, GinSecco (a gin and Prosecco bar) is due to open later this year, offering unique cocktails that are inspired by the city’s heroes, such as fashion designer Paul Smith. One of the latest restaurants to hit Nottingham’s foodie scene is Alchemilla, which has a strong focus on plant-based cuisine, and The Alchemist, located in a splendidly gothic-style building. And for a spot of retail therapy, opening in the near future is the Engine Yard at Belvoir, a castle estate half an hour’s drive from Nottingham, bringing a new shopping experience to the area.

Getting there: Nottingham is just over an hour by train from Birmingham, 1 ¾ hour from Coventry, 1.5 hours from Stoke-on-Trent and two hours from London.

 

What’s happening in…Stoke-on-Trent

Best-known until now for the gorgeous ceramics once manufactured here, the 19th-century buildings on the Old Spode Works in Stoke-on-Trent – a city also known as The Potteries, thanks to its abundance of ceramics companies – have been reinvigorated. Following five years of development it’s gradually opening up as an area to eat, drink and visit; the new Potbank Café has already opened and visitors can head to the Spode Museum Trust to find out more about the area’s heritage.

Museum development in town is also continuing apace as work has begun to move Stoke-on-Trent’s famous Spitfire to its stunning new multi-million-pound home, at The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery. When it returns to the museum in 2019 it will be housed in a new glassed-fronted gallery.

The area is home to leading ceramics brands, with many of the factories open to visitors, such as World of Wedgwood – its museum is now free to enter – Portmeirion and Emma Bridgewater. The latter’s factory has also turned a piece of derelict land into an urban garden, which is now stocked with flowers, herbs, vegetables and poultry. Called the Secret Walled Garden, it also hosts garden events. Elsewhere, last year saw an extension to Trentham Shopping Village – ten minutes’ drive from Stoke-on-Trent – with 18 new units opening alongside the existing 63 shops, cafés and restaurants within the Shopping Village.

Getting there? By train, Stoke-on-Trent is less than hour from Birmingham, 1 ¼ hours from Coventry, 1.5 hours from Nottingham, and 90 minutes from London.

Spotlight on: West London

Seriously good bars and cool street markets, cutting-edge theatre and smart hotels; Earl’s Court and Shepherd’s Bush may be well-known enclaves of west London – international backpackers and short- and long-term visitors have been coming to these neighbourhoods for decades – yet these areas of west London have undergone something of a renaissance in recent years. Earl’s Court Exhibition Centre is gone, streets have smartened up and there are hidden gems to discover.

 

Where to…Eat

Shepherd’s Bush

Mustard is a treasure on Shepherd’s Bush Road; a cool neighbourhood diner with sassy décor, offering up a brasserie-style menu. Its ‘Green Menu’ is packed with delicious vegetarian options and its daytime and evening menus have a considerable collection of innovative dishes all utilising British produce.

Attracting a young, hip crowd but still maintaining a traditional British pub feel is no mean feat – yet The Defector’s Weld does it with aplomb. It’s a great pub to visit anytime, but especially at the weekend; Sundays are all about its ‘Roasts and Records’, winding down after its busy Friday and Saturday nights hosting eclectic DJ performances.

Bring your appetite and head to Bush Hall Dining Rooms for a cool diner-style restaurant serving hearty comfort food and all-day weekend breakfasts. There’s also a generous cocktail list and, if you’re going to a gig at the neighbouring Bush Hall, you receive a 10% discount on your meal.

Looking for fine dining? Find it at Shikumen, located at the Dorsett Hotel, for first-class Chinese cuisine that uses British produce prepared with traditional Asian flavours and cooking styles.

Coming soon: A new restaurant Maple is set to open at Westfield London in summer 2018.

 

Earl’s Court

The Prince is something special – one street transformed until the end of the summer into an avenue of four restaurants, three bars and an English country garden (retractable roof comes as standard), all of which is less than ten minutes’ walk from Earl’s Court Underground. Food ranges from top-quality burgers and Thai canteen-style cuisine to top-notch fried chicken and bao and yakitori grill, while a deck connects it all together with the revitalised Prince of Wales pub at its heart – and possibly makes it London’s largest beer garden!

Serving up satisfyingly British, giant-scale Sunday lunches as well as everyone’s favourite, the bottomless Saturday brunch, mean The Lillie Langtry and its divine Victorian cocktail lounge means it’s always an attractive venue to visit to quench thirst and satiate hunger. The owners have also launched an innovative project called Brush and Bubbles where people can come together, whatever their artistic ability, to chat and paint while enjoying a glass of bubbly.

The Pembroke is as quintessential a British gastropub as it gets. Feast on delicious meals in the intimate dining room of this historic building, enjoy drinks in its lively downstairs bar or relax on comfy sofas and snug armchairs in its upstairs lounge bar. Head to its roof garden when the sun’s shining and come back on a Sunday when it hosts its ‘Hangover Club’ for Bloody Marys, feel-good brunches and Sunday roasts.

The Evan & Peel Detective Agency is one of the places to spend an evening in Earl’s Court; this speakeasy style bar promises a distinctly memorable evening. Book an ‘appointment’ online to get in. You’ll then be taken into a small basement office to discuss your eating and drinking needs. Huge amounts of fun and an evening to message home about.

 

Where to…Stay

Shepherd’s Bush

K West Hotel & Spa may be a four-star haven but it also prides itself on its cutting-edge style and ambience. And that’s down to its location within former recording studios where legends such as The Kinks and Bob Marley laid down tracks. Its Studio Bar is all chic furnishings and chandeliers, playing host to a cool urban crowd at the weekends. And its spa features London’s first ‘snow paradise’; chilled to -15C, a cabin has captured the feel of a snow drift designed to complement the spa’s hot-cold therapy, alternating between steam and ice environments.

Another four-star option in Shepherd’s Bush is the Dorsett Hotel, which is conveniently located for a trip to the nearby shopping paradise that is Westfield London shopping mall. Behind the historic building façade lies a distinctly modern design, destination bar and restaurants, and a chance to rejuvenate at its Spa Mika, which overlooks Shepherd’s Bush Green for some added tranquillity. And, if you’re looking for a boutique-style property that’s literally right next door to Westfield, check in to W12 Rooms, where bedroom décor is vintage-inspired.

 

Earl's Court

Look beyond backpacker hostels and you’ll find an assortment of hotels to suit all budgets. Mere minutes’ walk from Earl’s Court Underground is the colourful, contemporary style of the Hotel Indigo Kensington secreted within a luxury Victorian townhouse. It’s a bright and comfortable accommodation option with its own Italian restaurant on site – Theo’s Simple Italian – if you like what you eat you can book on to one of its regular Italian cuisine masterclasses. Steps away from here is the Henley House Hotel, another townhouse property that overlooks a picturesque residential square and combines its classical features with modern décor. Art is a key element the property and you’ll find specially commissioned photographic prints in the guestrooms as well as artwork in its garden conservatory. Boutique hotel Twenty Nevern Square is a real find three minutes’ walk from Earl’s Court station; this four-star accommodation has individually designed rooms influenced by a range of international styles; think Egyptian sleigh beds and hand-carved four-poster beds.

 

Where to…Play

Shepherd’s Bush

Quite simply, you’ve arrived in shopping heaven; Shepherd’s Bush is home to Westfield London shopping centre, a heady combination of high-street and luxury stores, beauty bars and entertainment. It’s a great place to spend even an entire day, particularly if you’re travelling with kids; you can book them into KidZania – an indoor city for kids between 4-14, with 60 real-life activities for them to participate in while you treat yourself to some retail therapy. Alternatively, head down to the newest All Star Lanes venue at Westfield London – aside from the ten bowling lanes, keep yourself amused for hours in its karaoke booths and three Art Deco-style bars.

For altogether different type of shopping experience, but one that’s equally memorable, head to Shepherd’s Bush Market. It specialises in fresh food and fabrics and is a proper west London treat; established more than 100 years ago, it’s a much-loved fixture in the neighbourhood. An extension to the market opened earlier this year, the Old Laundry Yard, an unmissable mix of food stalls, ranging from Venezuelan street food to Nigerian barbecue, and a creative community space.

There’s more to Shepherd’s Bush than shopping; catch up with culture here too. Book tickets to a gig at the O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire, which has hosted some of the world’s most inspirational artists, from David Bowie to Adele, Amy Winehouse to Muse, as well as being a hotspot for talented newcomers. And, just ten minutes’ walk from Shepherd’s Bush Underground station, is the Bush Theatre; thought-provoking performances take place across its two theatre spaces and it’s become renowned as a home to showcase original work – be the first to see plays penned by the world of theatre’s newest and most exciting writers. 

 

Earl’s Court

When you’re in Earl’s Court you’re only a 20-minute walk from some of the capital’s greatest museums, such as the Natural History Museum, the V&A and the Science Museum. Yet take an even shorter stroll to another two museums to have on your must-visit list. First is the Design Museum, which moved to the area less than 18 months ago from its east London location, and is 2018 European Museum of the Year. Come for inspirational exhibitions or to join a specialist workshop in design practice. Right next door is the picturesque Holland Park and its 55 acres of gardens and woodland and Japanese-style Kyoto Gardens to explore. Second on the list should be an institution that describes itself as ‘a private palace of art’…and that’s a pretty accurate description of the Leighton House Museum, the former home of Victorian artist Frederic, Lord Leighton. He curated a glorious collection of art that encompasses a mesmerising Arab Hall with a golden dome, beautifully detailed mosaics and paintings by Lord Leighton himself, all in various stages of completion.

Within half an hour’s stroll from Earl’s Court you can explore some of the capital’s greatest and most fascinating sights. Kensington Palace, home to both the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and the new Duke and Duchess of Sussex, is where royal history comes to life – visit its unmissable exhibitions, which currently comprise Diana: Her Fashion Story and Victoria Revealed. And for a fascinating afternoon out, take a stroll around Brompton Cemetery. One of London’s seven historic cemeteries, it’s here you’ll discover the stories of the thousands of people buried here among historical monuments, woodland, stoned arcades and catacombs.

Bristol: England’s urban art capital

This summer, Upfest – Europe’s largest street art and graffiti festival – returns to its home in Bristol, south-west England, between 28-30 July, for its special tenth anniversary. Watch artists from 70 countries as they paint live on the city’s surfaces and join in art workshops, buy from affordable art sales and dance to the live acts on the music stages across the weekend. Inspired by Upfest? Stay on in Bristol and discover why the city is a world-leader in urban and graffiti art.

 

What to…See

The mysterious street-art phenomenon we all know and love as Banksy hails from Bristol and his dynamic and acclaimed work is dotted all over the city. Download the Banksy trail app and discover his thought-provoking murals at your own pace. The app highlights his works that are easy to spot, such as those situated around the Floating Harbour, Park Street and Montpelier. The largest collection of his works, including Mild, Mild West, can be found at Stoke Croft, Bristol’s cultural quarter; browse the numerous art exhibitions and unique independent shops also found here, plus immerse yourself in the neighbourhood’s buzzing music scene. The app also highlights where you can see other Banksy pieces that are now either faded or part obscured, as well as the location of his (now-closed) Dismaland. Visit Bristol also has its own street art map to guide you through some of the city’s iconic urban art locations.

 

What to…Do

Alternatively, there are several street-art walking tours to join. Interested in learning a little more about the rich and diverse history of Bristol along with its art heritage? The Ultimate Bristol Walking Tour explores everything the city is about, from the pirate Blackbeard to Banksy. Where the Wall runs two tours, the Banksy and Historic Harbour walking tour – which, as well as taking in Banksy, also includes the history of this port city – and the Bristol Street Art Tour. Fancy having a go at graffiti art yourself? After the latter tour, every Saturday and Sunday, participate in a graffiti workshop at its #SPRAYSTREETART Introducing Stencil Art spray sessions – plus you get to take home your own artwork. Graft is another company offering bespoke mural and graffiti workshops for both adults and children, as well as art tours around the city, giving a unique insight into Bristol’s graffiti and street art heritage.

Make sure you include a visit to M Shed; this Bristol history museum, set on the city’s wharf, highlights more than 2,000 years of the city’s stories from its trading past and industrial heritage through to its music, art, industry and technology. You’ll also be able to see an impressive mural by renowned street artist Andy Council in his signature dinosaur style. Also check out Bristol Museum & Art Gallery – home to Banksy’s 2009 exhibition, some works can still be discovered around the museum.

And what can you expect from this year’s Upfest? An exciting development to celebrate its tenth anniversary, Upfest will feature works inspired by the world-famous animated family The Simpsons. Three Upfest artists, including Bristol wildstyle writer Soker, have been selected by The Simpsons creator Matt Groening to bring Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie to life using their own styles.

As well as the chance to explore the works from more than 400 artists taking part in this multi-venue festival, you can brush up on your own artistic skills. Workshops from life-drawing to graffiti art are on offer and the festival is a real family affair – kids can get creative at the Creation Station where they can have fun with different materials, while the Nacoa kids’ area, which takes over an area of South Street Park for the festival, offers everything  from badge making and face painting to making giant paintings.

For a slightly different urban art trail this summer (2 July-2 September), Bristol will be home to Gromit Unleashed 2, where more than 60 giant individually designed sculptures of Nick Park’s Wallace, Gromit and Feathers McGraw will be dotted around the city. Gromit Unleashed began as a public arts trail in Bristol in 2013, as a collaboration between Wallace & Gromit’s Grand Appeal, the Bristol Children’s Hospital Charity and Aardman Animation.

 

Where to…Stay

The four-star Mercure Bristol Grand worked with Upfest on the 2017 upgrade of the hotel and now features more than 500 pieces by local artists, including bespoke commissioned installations by Gemma Compton and Cai Burton. Sister property the Mercure Holland House hotel also has a street-art themed bedroom.