With digital detoxes being all the rage, you might feel bad for spending an evening endlessly scrolling through the world of Instagram, but there might be an upside! Recently I wasted a few hours on the ‘gram but instead of liking and stalking people, I focused on all the London-focused ads that were thrown at me. So here we are, my non-sponsored – What should I see and do in London according to my sponsored Instagram posts?
Visit Honest House Christmas Market Honest House is London’s newest ethical marketplace and they were advertising their Christmas Marketplace on the 8th + 9th December on Brick Lane. This sounds right up my alley (or lane!) and if my trains are working this weekend I’m actually going to check it out as I’m curious about some brands. #GoGreen
Go To An Exclusive Gigs With Sofar Sounds
I’m actually signed up to them, but so far (HA HA) I haven’t tried to get tickets for any of the shows as the timings have never worked for me. I should look into making it happen at least once, preferably with an amazing band of course.
Staycation at Hotel Kip
Is it just me or does this sound like the dream: stylish monochrome interiors paired with comfy beds which don’t cost you the earth. But sadly I can’t justify a staycation in Hackney when I live so close to the Overground that brings me to my own comfy, less classy bed.
Treat Yourself At The Boutique Spa
When I was thinking about ‘New Year, New Me’ the answer presented itself in the form of an ad for The Boutique Spa and promised to help me with my nails, facials, massage, waxing, teeth whitening, Botox & fillers, micro dermabrasion AND laser hair removal. At the end I’ll be a whole new Tea. Where do I book?
Drinks at Hackney Coffee Company
Can’t say I’d take a train to get a coffee, but their logo is going to stick with me so if I ever find myself hungry in Hackney I might pop in for coffee, cocktails or food. Or all of the above.
Staycation Kimpton Fitzroy
Apparently Kimpton Fitzroy wanted to let me know they’ve opened in London. Sure, I want it, but do I look like I can afford a night at the Kimpton? Maybe I can sneak into Fitz’s Bar for a drink?
Dine at Hot Stone
Hot stone and bowling was a very popular activity for birthday parties when I was growing up the Netherlands (yes we’re weird!). I love it in theory, but wouldn’t it be more fun if you could bowl with the hot stone afterwards?
Book A Secret Adventure
I’ve actually looked at Secret Adventures before, but never got a chance to book anything. I have since subscribed so who knows I might be sailing underneath the Tower Bridge in the future and being smug how little I paid.
Trip to Fictional Country of Belgravia
It’s as if IG knows I’ve run out of annual leave days so they served me with another London hotel for a staycation: COMO The Halkin in Belgravia. Maybe I can pretend I’m heading to the fictional country of Belgravia that’s featured in Netflix’s finest The Princess Switch and they’ll give me a royal suite?
Galleries … So Many Art Galleries
I’m never sure if I want to step into one of those smaller galleries. I have lots of opinions about art, but I wouldn’t win any debate and I feel like you need to be able to when you walk into one. Out of all the ads I’ve seen John Martin Gallery and Hales Gallery tickle my fancy.
And For Days I Don’t Feel Like Leaving The House…
Stay in and watch obscure film via streaming service MUBI or buy DVDs via BFI. Funfact: I’ve been a MUBI fan since attending a party they hosted at Cannes Film Festival years ago, but their Cheesy Christmas Movies selection is zero so I’m going to stick to my gold old faithful channels for my Xmas film fix.
It’s been years since Taco Bell first introduced yours truly to (Tex) Mex cuisine and crunchy, mouthwatering tacos. Since then I’ve been on a journey to savour all sorts of Mexican-style flavours, textures and herbs wherever I can find them. And while most US chains have long since made their way to Europe, it’s taken years and years for me to cross paths again with the Bell. Until finally last week, when they found their way to London’s Hammersmith (and now Holborn too). Their crunchy tacos still have that special something and I’ll definitely be returning to stuff my face with more, but they can’t compare to some of the favourites I’ve collected through the years.
Favourite all-rounder – Wahaca as there is always one nearby when that craving hits you, and their sweet potato/feta taquito is everything!
Favourite Margarita – the Pink Chihuahua at El Camion has more cocktails than you can imagine, but the pomegranate margarita stole my heart.
Favourite burrito – Pink Cactus! Whatever the crunchy thing is they add to their burritos just does it for me. And don’t forget their addictive sauces with the power to transform any boring dish into mexi-heaven.
Favourite misses – the Mexican couple at Maltby Street market brought a tear to my eye with their little tomales stand, but when I returned there was no trace of them. Bless you my taco angels wherever you are…
Favourite non Mexican Mexican – Korrito (Korean Burrito) at KERB in Southbank. Because why not mix those two worlds together?
Favourite grab and go – It’s always a choice between Chipotle, Benito’s Hat, Tortilla and Chilangro, but I have to say Chilangro is the one for me. But be warned Chilangro, Taco Bell is fast on your heels!
Favourite IG place – La Bodega Negra has brilliant neon signs to snap, and if you love your fish this is the dish, but altogether a little too fancy for me.
Favourite local – Jalisco in Brixton went through more name changes than Prince but they haven’t lost their magic touch or secret recipe. If you don’t want to wait for the queue on the weekend check out the stand and let the sombrero-wearing chef make your tastebuds smile. The title of ‘Best Quesadillas’ and ‘Best Frijoles’ also goes to them.
Amsterdam is perfect for a quick Friday to Sunday city trip. While the city has a lot to offer, if you’ve only got 48 hours then I have the ultimate guide for you on where to stay, where to eat and what to see that won’t leave you too over- or underwhelmed. Here’s a custom-made itinerary I devised for a friend which went down brilliantly with her party of four.
I wish everyone could experience a stay at boutique hotel The Exchange, where the rooms are ‘dressed’ by fashion designer students, giving each room a character of its own. But if your budget doesn’t allow it, the Volkshotel is a great alternative. And the best thing? It features a cocktail bar and a rooftop terrace so you never have to leave. Chains like Citizen M, Hoxton and Generator Hostel are also present in Amsterdam, so if you like familiarity, they’re your best bet.
Amsterdam is easily doable on foot, but you’ll probably end up on the tram when it starts to rain. Tram tickets costs €7.50 for 24 hours – you purchase them on board and only cards payments are accepted. If you think you’re a cat and have 9 lives, you can try cycling in Amsterdam. Download the Citymapper app to get around with getting lost, though losing yourself can be a fun diversion.
QUICK TIP I
Amsterdam has some top-tier museums and like in most cities I recommend booking ahead. As there’s a lot of choice, here’s a few of my faves in order of importance: Anne Frank House (doesn’t need explaining), van Gogh (obviously!), Stedelijk Museum (modern and contemporary art classics), FOAM (snaptastic photos) and Rijksmuseum (art and history, plus the famous I AMsterdam sign)
QUICK TIP II
Eating out three times a day can add up. A budget breakfast & lunch tip for your stay: find the nearest Albert Heijn to Go and get a selection of bread rolls, a jar of peanut butter (I recommend Calve extra crunchy) and a pack of cheese (Beemster jong belegen is a favourite) and you’re all set for a very cheap Dutch breakfast and lunch during your weekend. Fingers crossed for picnic weather!
QUICK TIP III
Chances are you’re on a late afternoon flight/train, meaning there’ll have been some delay and you’re likely to arrive later than expected. If you’re running late when arriving at the Central Station, grab some food at Wagamama, Salsa Shop or Burgerij.
What’s a good Friday night in Amsterdam? If you feel like going out for a quick walk I’d recommend The Red Light District – famous for the windows and ladies of the night, or 9 Straatjes – known for its canals and cute houses.
Happen to be in Amsterdam on the last Friday of the month? Make sure to spend it at Vincent on Friday at the van Gogh museum. I know you’re like … ”Tea, why would I spend my Friday night in a museum?” Well…aside from the paintings, there’s jazz bands, silent discos, and ear painting workshops…not bad eh?
Alternatively, there’s Boom Chicago, an English comedy troupe performing topical sketches, improvisations and songs. Alumni include Seth Meyers, Amber Ruffin and Jason Sudeikis so it’s not too shabby. Check out their programme here.
Want to dance the night away? I don’t know where the cool kids go, but my favourites are Melkweg or Paradiso, both have club nights and themed music evenings where you’ll definitely look good on the dance floor until the lights come on at 4 AM.
Kick-start your day with the 10.00 AM Free Sandeman Tour. The Amsterdam edition one of my favourite tour companies. During the 2.5 hours long walk you’ll be given a concise but attention grabbing overview of city’s history and culture.
The tour ends in the Jordaan neighbourhood, which is nice to stroll around on your way to the Foodhallen! An indoor market with loads of food stalls covering every corner of the world, I usually opt for burgers at the Butcher, but next time I want to consume everything Taqueria Lima can throw at me.
Time to walk off your meal or take the tram to the Central Station – on the way you can check out the Bloemenmarkt, or Flowermarket. I don’t really see the fuss, but it’s always crowded, so it must have some hidden charms? I reckon the countless flower stands filled with tulips must have some hidden mind-control powers of tourists.
Once you make it to the Central Station take the free ferry to Buiksloterweg to A’DAM Tower to really get your swing on – yes we’re talking the highest swing in Europe, plus a viewing platform (both have to be paid for separately). And when you’ve finished with the adrenaline rush, why not spend the rest of the evening celebrating at its bar?
Late Night Local Snack: In the UK you might stop by McDonalds for your late night cravings. In Amsterdam why not try out one of the food vending machines at FEBO. You’ll be in heaven! Deep-fried snack heaven that is. Make sure you keep €2 change in your wallet to try beef croquette, cheese soufflé or deep-fried bami.
On Sunday get your culture on and visit a museum or two you’ve already pre-booked. Depending on when your flight/train leaves you might want to spend the afternoon at:
Hortus Botanicus – the city’s botanical garden, filled with pretty plants and insta-worthy glasshouses.
Brouwerij IJ – a little brewery wtih tours and tastings all in the shadow of the giant De Gooyer windmill.
Willet Holthuysen – 19th century-style canal house with a tiny Versailles garden
Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder – a pristine Catholic church in the attic of a canal house, where worshippers hid during the ban on their religion.
Now sloooowly make your way towards the station and walk via 9 Straatjes, even if you’ve seen it on your first evening it will look very different during day light. There’s more than enough small boutiques, vintage shops and coffee places to keep busy.
Before heading back to the station, treat yourself to a big and fancy lunch as no one has time for airport food. Head to the Insta famous MOOK Pancakes or Coffee & Coconuts if you have enough minutes to spare, go for Vinnies if you have less time and need to stay close to the station, or fries at Manneken Pis if you are really in a hurry.
Your journey back is the perfect time to plan your next visit, because Amsterdam is going to leave you wanting to go back over and over again.
Under the guise of seeing more of what the UK has to offer I ended up on an eye-wateringly early 7 AM train to Leeds with a mini itinerary and about 9 hours to explore the city. To me, Leeds was just the place in the north that the Keiser Chiefs, Mel B, and Malcolm McDowell came from, so I was curious to see what it was all about. Here’s what I got up to.
Arcades & Alleyways
Fun fact, if you get into the city at 9 AM on a Saturday, nothing much is open. Which makes it the perfect time to grab a cup of coffee/tea from one of your favourite chains and explore the hidden arcades and alleys before they get swamped with shoppers. How amazing are these ceilings?
Blue Rinse Vintage
I should have read up on Leeds’ vintage stores before I set off as they were everywhere and I do love a good vintage find. I only went into Blue Rinse to see what the fuss was all about and have to say that their corduroy offering did not disappoint.
Leeds Kirkgate Market
This market is full to bursting with fresh fruit and veg, delicious street food and all things arts and crafts. It’s also the founding location of Marks & Spencer which opened a stall there in 1884! I just loved walking around the gorgeous building and seeing the city come to life with everyone setting up.
The Corn Exchange is something I saw on TV and always imagined it as a huge mall type of thing, but it’s actually a much smaller space that houses independent shops on the upper section and food places on the ground floor. Don’t leave without marvelling at its magnificent ceiling.
Royal Armouries Museum
Here I was complaining about the lack of armours in castles … well looks like they are all on display in Leeds at the Royal Armouries Museum. Along with historic weaponry from various eras and parts of the world. The museum also features outdoor jousting tournaments, ghost hunts and if you want to blow off some steam – a crossbow range.
Leeds Art Gallery + The Henry Moore Institute
The Leeds Art Gallery and the Henry Moore Institute house fine collections of contemporary art pieces and sculptures that will keep you busy for at least 1 hour. I’m a huge fan of both, but if you’re not into it go here for the Instagrammable coffee shop and photo wall.
Parkinson Building Library
The University of Leeds’ (not to be confused with the nearby rival Beckett University!) main building is a nice piece of art deco architecture and the library/reading room looks like something out of Harry Potter. Especially since my uni only had five desks that were never free. For more Potter, head further into the campus to see university’s Great Hall, which screams Hogwarts.
Woodhouse Moor & Hyde Park Corner Cinema
I mentioned here before that I wanted to go to Hyde Park Picture House in Leeds ever since seeing a picture of its external ticket booth. There was sadly no time to go and see The Wife – so I’m saving that for another time. Keep an eye out for activities in the nearby Woodhouse Moor – I was lucky enough to catch a quidditch practice session in action, with the hoops and everything.
No trip to Leeds is complete without a visit to Kirkstall Abbey. About 20 minutes outside the city centre, you’ll find yourselves a world away at the complex that used to be the home to an old Cistercian monastery. These days it’s an adventure playground for kids, dogs and photographers, plus it hosts a food market on some weekends. Despite the crowds, it’s easy to find a little corner to hide away and get whisked back a few hundred years.
Abbey House Museum
Across the street from the Abbey you’ll find the Abbey House Museum, which I wanted to skip as it I thought it would just give background info on the abbey. But it’s actually set up as a Victorian high street, with shops, a bar and chemist. The upstairs floor does feature the history of Kirkstall Abbey, as well as a section on childhood. I was so happy I did end up going as it’s actually one of my favourite types of museums: dusty, clustered and too many things on display.
Leeds is a great place for a short trip, but I wouldn’t recommend doing it in just one day – I only just managed it due to a custom-made itinerary from a local and good walking weather. Instead, make a weekend trip out of it and perhaps combine with nearby Manchester?
Who doesn’t love visiting a museum? I know it’s of my favourite rainy Saturday morning activities and now the season has started I’ll be doing another round of museums and seeing which one is truly worth your visit. I want to make it as fact based as possible, so I’ve opted for a traditional grading system.
I’m looking at the 4 things that are most important to me: location, exhibits, value for money and the layout. So, how easy is it to find your way around? Do you need a map? Does how they’ve arranged all the exhibits make sense or leave you more confused than when you entered? Is it far from the city centre and can I combine it with a visit to something else? To top it all off, there are extra points to be had for places with a wow factor.
Kicking off with the Museum that’s been the home to British art since 1897, it’s Tate Modern’s overlooked and dusty uncle: Tate Britain.
Location – 15/20
Tate Britain is located in Pimlico, not really a must-see London neighbourhood. Though I did see a lot of people with carry-on suitcases so it might be an Airbnb nirvana? It’s about a 10 minute walk from the Pimlico Station or Vauxhall Station in Zone 1.
Pretty quick to get to, but since it’s a bit out of the center and there isn’t really another activity you can combine it with I’d say it loses some points.
Exhibits – 10/20
Holds a permanent British collection, offering an overview of paintings, photographs and sculptures by the island’s finest. It has all the big names but not the world-famous works you might know for them – it’s like the the B-sides of an album.
Value For Money – 20/20
Like most museums in London, anyone can browse the permanent collection for free while temporary exhibitions start at £13, which is very fair for the capital .
Layout – 10/ 20
To make sure you don’t miss anything, do grab a map as it’s easier to navigate. The placement of the paintings is hit and miss: in some rooms there would be 20 crowding a wall, while others would have a lot less, making it feel inconsistent.
Wow Factor – 10/20
Points for the gorgeous neo-classical portico entrance, the dome ceiling and for that forgotten corner that’s left from how the building used to be in the 90s.
Total: 65/100 points. It’s a reasonable enough art museum, where you’ll have lots to enjoy, but it falls down for its lack of big-name pieces and it doesn’t have the grand magic of its newer, hipper brother on the South Bank – Tate Modern.
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